Thursday, 17 November 2011
Saturday, 22 October 2011
THE SKY & CLOUDS AND STUFF
This new obsession of mine, the one that has me checking out the sky as I do my Tweeting and my Facebook seems pretty safe to me compared with some of my more toxic obsessions of the past and it is free. It takes a little time but I do get great pleasure from this new observatory role.
It began with my looking at the sky in the mornings but now has given me a whole new appreciation of the wonders of nature – I do hope it’s not too late what with the climate and change and all that. So far my main obsession is with the colours of the sky which are amazing. Nobody ever told me that the sky can be lemon and turquoise at the same time then produce exquisite cloud of sharp shape or billowy consistency all in the space of minutes.
A lot of my skywatching is from the 53 bus as I travel from Greenwich to Horse Guards Parade in the early evening. My bus pass saves me money not time but as the bus goes from outside the door it is not only convenient but a fascinating look into other people’s lives. This is the only downside of my skywatching it collides with my ear wigging facility. I am inveterately nosy and I love the scraps of conversation that hit my ears as we trundle along. A lot of them are in languages I don’t understand but enough are in English to make it worthwhile. I also like to look at the Old Kent road and imagine how it was a hundred years ago or fifty even. I am fascinated by the number of religious establishments with marvellous names that are in this one thoroughfare
But back to the sky that is now darkening quietly. And all I can see out of the window is lights – lights of houses lights of streets and dark grey trees, during the day that began with clouds and sun battling it out for supremacy, we have had grand mottled cloud formations followed by a kind of text book blue sky with flat bottomed clouds that looked like a sky in some old masters painting. Then dramatic dark grey banks of threatening clouds with silver linings (like what they are supposed to have!) Then back to blue skies and finally a less than sensational sunset. This show is all free and legal and lovely and as yet it is not taxed or co-opted into some vast advertising empire so I shall continue to skywatch to my hearts content and to marvel.
Monday, 3 October 2011
SPEAKING OF THE WEATHER
At last we have weather worth talking about, we British love to talk about the weather and we have given ourselves full reign to witter and chatter on the radio in the street or the pub or anywhere we are we discuss our remarkable good fortune in a few days of glorious sunshine. The fact that we walk among cornflake leaves and kick aside chestnut sheaths makes it all the more delicious. We had stowed the sun cream and put the barbecues away and looked forward to months of rain and cold. And now! To stymie us all the weather has played a marvellous trick on us and we swelter happily under blue skies, we denude ourselves to varying degrees and lay back and enjoy it.
The fact of the surprise nature is the crucial element in all this, I have been in Italy or the south of France and got thoroughly jaded with the regular sunshine, it is unremarkable and tiresome unless you want to lie on a beach. Here I dash out into the sunshine with silent squeals of joy and arrange my body to catch as much of the magic beams as possible. And that’s the thing the surprise nature of it and the knowing than any day now the skies will assume their usual grey and the rain will teem or drizzle and it will be cold and drear and time for thermals and Long johns (not compulsory) to huddle indoors to rush from place to place carrying pounds more weight in clothes and to grump full throttle about the weather and the warming planet, the price of fuel and how horrible it all is – the weather but for now rejoice at our great good fortune to live in a place where nature still has the capacity to spring surprises on us in Autumn.
And I like to talk about the weather!
Friday, 16 September 2011
SWEARING AS WEAPON ( A HEALTHY EVENT )
Last Saturday I went to a party in Highgate. A long way from Greenwich but well worth the journey. We met fascinating people and I got to show off my ancient knowledge of Istanbul in the seventies the Pudding shop in particular and my new friend, from Istanbul, spoke of using the place to pick up foreign women and that one of his friends had married an Englishwoman who he met there. We are hoping to go to Istanbul in November so we were delighted to meet him and asked him to try to find us a flat to hire when he goes in October.
These parties of my partner’s friends are usually quite boring with them all talking about art and photography which I find a bit dull – probably because I can’t join in – but on Saturday we had a nice debate with an economist about capitalism and how it does or doesn’t work. Then we went on to speak of the resurgence of Stalin as popular figure in Russia and I got on to my usual shtick of the Soviet Union not being a fair representation of Communism so it got nice and lively and I guzzled and ate everything in sight (according to my love!) so when she dragged me to the tube I was nicely inebriated and in the best of form.
Something wrong with the Northern Line as usual at weekends but we got a seat and I was still rattling on about the Cuban health service when a crowd of young guys got on and distributed themselves in small posses all over the carriage. Next to me was a young woman who was reading her book and trying to ignore the two guys who were trying to get her attention. The rest of the guys watched and laughed as the two teased her, I would have told them to pee off if it had been me but the poor woman became increasingly purple in the face and looked as if she might cry.
I heard my voice yell at the men in the terms of a Billingsgate porter to leave the woman alone and they all stopped what they were doing including the two teasers who slunk away, one of these told me I was quite right and they retreated to the other end of the carriage. ‘Are you English?’ one of them shouted. ‘Of course I expletive am!!’ I yelled back and now I felt elated and scared in equal measure. ‘I shouldn’t have done that’ I said to my love. ‘Well it stopped them didn’t it!’ she said. The woman in question got off at the next station. The men got off shortly afterwards calling us obscene names almost under their breath as they went and we giggled our relief. My love said they thought I was Russian but I don’t know many Russians who are quite so lucid in the vernacular but who knows. I reckon it was my advanced age that shocked them so much. There seems to be a common belief that after a certain age swearing stops. Not true but at a recent poetry reading the compere came over to me and warned me that the next reader was a ‘bit sweary’ I retorted in the vernacular and he left.
Now I feel very proud indeed of my performance it was almost worth the hideous hangover I had on Sunday. But I don’t really recommend this method especially if you are male or under seventy!!
At last I have found an advantage in age -along with the bus pass.
Thursday, 15 September 2011
Suddenly I am awake. I look at my watch, it is five am. I feel very ill. I lurch from bed, stand, make a small tight circle and fall to the ground. I must get an ambulance. Down the stairs on my backside I grab the phone sit on the floor, talk. A woman asks if I can open the front door. I can and do, she stays talking to me until two men arrive with a stretcher and cart me off. They mutter ‘stroke’ I mutter ‘brain tumour’. I am in among the blankets when I vomit. I hear myself cursing and weeping about how ill I am. Me, the stoic. They put a plastic mask on my face. The mask scratches along my face as I am removed from the ambulance. I protest, the guys say they didn’t do it on purpose. I am vomiting again and face down on a trolley, and then I am in a neurological ward covered in bits of elastoplast and wires. Now I am required to perform tricks with nose touching and leg pricking then more nose touching and cross eyed fumbling. I must eat they say, nice bright nurses, an assortment of doctors all interested in my welfare. I am told that I will have a scan within 48 hours to find out whether I have a tumour.
All change now, I am in another ward and nil by mouth. I want to contact friends. My dog is in the house alone. Too busy, says the nurse. I try to text but am cross eyed, I get a cleaner to find the number for me on my mobile, I speak to my friends, they are with me within the hour. I give them the house keys. I sleep. I am awake, I ask for food, I am nil by mouth. I ask the nurses to contact my partner. They are too busy but will do it later. I sleep and it is morning now – too early to phone people the nurses say. Nurses enter and leave my field of vision. An old lady rings for a commode, calls out, a desperate voice. It is too late, the nurses change her bed. I ask if I can wash, I dip my right hand in the bowl of water, it is tepid, I put both hands in, the water is warm. My right hand no longer feels heat. I sleep and when I wake there is a woman in white at the end of my bed. (She is a pharmacist, but I neither know nor care who or what she is.) I tell her I am starving and that my next of kin has not been contacted. Within a few minutes contact has been established with the outside world and I have a cup of tea. In this ward all urgency for a scan is on hold as nurses fleet foot past. I fell off my perch on Thursday and clearly I should have chosen another day. Weekends, all therapies stop. I am on no medication. A wonderful nurse hoists me into a bath, I realise the lack of sensation involves my entire right side.
Monday, my fifth day here, visitors and doctors arrive at roughly the same time as a porter with trolley. Scan now. I am delighted. I will know what is wrong with me. I chat to a friendly porter. We arrive at scan. A jug of beige gloop is presented, in the hand of nurse. ‘So we can see your bowel clearly.’ She says brightly. 'I’m for a brain scan.’ Her face goes through doubt to belief. She withdraws gloop. Back to ward. Doctor and acolytes talk about me, nobody addresses me.
‘Atrophy of the brain.’ He mentions en passant. He hasn’t looked at me. ‘Do what?’ I say. ’Yes?’ He says coolly – all acolyte heads turn to me then back to him. ‘Did you say I have atrophy of the brain.’ ‘No, I didn’t mention atrophy of the brain.’ I am speechless. My friend, who is visiting, mouths to me: ‘He did.’ We nod to each other, we are not mad. ‘Why is she not on aspirin?’ says the big man. He sweeps into the distance with entourage. I invest in the tiny TV and telephone that is attached to my bed. I am given aspirin. I am moved to another ward.
In the new ward, where there are no plugs for TV an elderly lady, surrounded by plastic bags, sits on a chair. She sighs and smiles at me. ‘Been waiting since ten this morning.’ It is four fifteen. ‘What for?’ ‘I’m going to the rehab ward.’ She tells me this is the acute stroke ward. So, I had a stroke did I? Second day in this ward I am spotted by a consultant from the neuro ward. He will hurry my scan. I am moved to a single room.
Next day, the eighth. I am wheeled down to have a scan. I have missed my turn. Porters take an hour to fetch me. I ask how long. I am told that I am lucky to get a scan at all, most stroke patients don’t. I ask why. The young nurse tells, breathlessly, that only yesterday the scan was in use for a nineteen year old boy involved in a traffic accident. I tell her that in my opinion all 19 year old boy racers should be culled summarily thus freeing up the scan for the old, who by their nature don’t have time to wait. A joke? Her face is delicious. I have a terrifying scan.
My third consultant tells me I have no tumour. Relief is brief. I can’t walk and see no prospect of doing so, ever again. I try to walk, fall. I make friends with the tea lady
I’ve been here two weeks and the bed manager sweeps in to tell me I am off today to rehab hospital. ‘Get your stuff together!’ she marks me off on her clip board. ‘They’ve a bed for you and they won’t keep it.’ ‘I shan’t be taking it.’ I want to be consulted before they shift me like an errant Zimmer frame. Punishment? I am left alone all day in my room. The tea lady remembers me. My friend arrives with my washing. Verbose nurse leaps into action. Addresses him as my son. In words of few syllables very clearly. I am neither his mother nor an idiot he says. Next day the registrar asks me if I will go to the rehab hospital. Of course I will. Once more, left to my own devices I practise falling over.
Space, air, an internet connection, African nurses, some of the advantages of rehab. I am wheeled to the breakfast table. I join five patients at the table. Twenty minutes later no sign of food. I am told this is usual. After we eat we wait a further ten minutes to be wheeled back. Day 2 I discover capacity to wheel self. Day 3 I find I am able to walk if I hold on to a wheelchair. I appropriate one for my use. Day 4 I am sent to physiotherapy and given a ‘walker’. I had a Horner Pica stroke, says the Physio woman. Oh! I look it up on the net. Not helpful. But I am glad to have a name for it.
At evening meal we are accompanied by a Max Bygraves tape of WW1 songs. Chomp to Roll out the Barrel, chew to Tipperary. I complain and the music stops, my fellow patients express relief. I enquire why they had said nothing. ‘Mustn’t grumble!’ but they do. They complain to each other continually, a low key, undirected whinge.
My love of pints of tea in the morning is directly responsible for some of the speed of my recovery, and anger of course. How dare my body do this to me? I loathe the dependency on other people for the most trivial of my needs. My first long haul walk is to the kitchen; my second is to the shower. I am tested by the occupational therapist. Can I make a cup of tea? I can and I qualify to be sent home. I am amazed to discover that many of the nurses appreciated my input and hug me goodbye affectionately, I am touched. Off I go in a hospital car with an unnecessarily cheerful boy who sings along to radio 1 all the way home.
Thursday, 18 August 2011
The last time I went to Belfast was just after my partner died when I stayed with his mother and we spent most of the time weeping & protesting at the death of our hero. I remember sitting in her house in Carrigart Avenue looking at the hills and feeling angry, sad cheated ,and thinking I would never get over the loss. I did of course and now fifteen years later I decided it was time to go over there and put some flowers on his grave. My visit was prompted by the fact that I dreamed about him nearly every night for weeks.
The mother, a stern woman who smoked forty fags a day, never let alcohol pass her lips and made astounding moral judgements on her daughters and none on her sons I had liked instantly. This seems perverse but she was easy to be with and when came over to stay we would do all the charity shops in Lymington where she insisted on haggling and announcing that she could have got it for a quarter the price in Belfast. She had a great sense of humour and we could just sit and laugh together, talk about nothing in particular for hours at a time. She died a year or so after Micky, and the family didn’t tell me, though I heard the day of her funeral.
So really I never knew Belfast at all, just parts of the Falls road and one intrepid visit with my friend to a Shankhill pub (and that’s a different story.)
We booked in at the Ibis to an excellent room which suited us admirably. We needed to eat and the first pub we went into had stopped serving food so we had a half of excellent Guinness then another half and listened to men barking at each other and rushing in and out of the door with betting slips. Two televisions showed horses galloping and the table was full of beaten dockets. Nobody took any notice of us at all while we took a keen interest in everybody and even began to make our own bets. I took some photos of a line of backs at the bar which my friend will transform into a painting (rejection?)
An extremely effective barman brought out the second half and seemed keen about our welfare; he got us a taxi and told us about a good restaurant and a nice pub with Irish music. We ate and found our way to Kelly’s bar where we chatted to people who were interested in us and apparently liked strangers. We both find people fascinating and are happy to speculate and talk to anybody willing to hear.
The whole point of going to Belfast was to put flowers on Micky’s grave and I got the plot number from a very helpful guy at Milltown cemetery who actually knew Micky.(some coincidence!) We got sunflowers because I love them and they remind me of him. So, Sunday morning we spent and hour or two searching for the grave and finally left the flowers outside the office with a note giving the plot number and saying we couldn’t find it. The flowers had suffered from being in the room since Saturday and I thought it was pointless taking them back again. We went to the first pub again where a man with a purple nose declared his admiration for me and got me a half of Guinness and I’m not sure if Micky would be ashamed of me drinking halves or glad that I had come to see that women should drink halves – the first I expect.
On Monday we phoned and went up to Milltown again and got instructions to speak to Jim on the strimmer and he guided us to the grave where the flowers lay on the grave already. I was amazed and moved that somebody took the trouble to put them there and am glad that we looked in the wrong part of the vast cemetery. Micky would have laughed his socks off if he knew about us searching in vain and I found this gesture amazing but typical of the Belfast people, a kindness and warmth that I don’t find anywhere else. So thanks again Micky for bringing me over to see your grave, for all the laughter and joy you brought me and I feel close to you again now.
PS I feel as if I have done the right thing at last and it was not a sad occasion rather a reclamation of those many years we spent and all the laughter we enjoyed together. Now I am back I miss him again but it is not the savage pain, now I remember how great we were together and am grateful. Not everybody gets to have a Micky in their life!
Wednesday, 3 August 2011
The only thing I had in common with Amy Winehouse was the fact of our addiction. She was terribly young and I am old, she was talented beyond description, I am not. She is dead and I am alive. Being part of the so-called 27 club trivialises and glamorises her death. As if it is some kind of an achievement to die so young. It is not it is sad beyond belief.
Amy was pursued by the media relentlessly, every mishap was recorded with glee and reproduced on Facebook and peered at on Smart phones, relished by Joe public. We all played a part by watching in fascination the downfall of this vibrant highly talented young woman and it was compulsive. How low could she go? Yet we loved her didn’t we? Or did we? Or was it just a vicarious pleasure in her outrageous behaviour? Who knows? But if the media would have let up just a little, have had some compassion and not gone for the jugular with pictures of her humiliations she might be alive now. The Red tops pilloried her and we all watched knowing the end of her story.
She was also hounded by dealers who fed off her in the same way as the media. Everybody consumed her with relish and left her empty except for talent. I am not sure how we can scupper the media lust for sensation – except by refusing to buy the papers that frenzy feed off such sadness, and I am not sure how likely that is. About dealers? We can lock them up but they proliferate at an alarming rate.
I took drugs in the early sixties for fifteen or more years I was a registered addict and got my drugs legally via prescription. The advantages of this method were manifold: clean drugs of a consistent quality, clean syringes and needles, a kind of stability in my life and best of all no big time dealers. There were of course bent doctors who would virtually sell prescriptions and ones that were on a power trip and expected deference as part of the deal. There were also some remarkably dedicated doctors who cared about their addicts and devoted a massive amount of time and energy to a thankless lot of people. There were small time dealers among us who sold on anything they didn’t need, almost always to fellow addicts.
Nobody led me astray I was a willing participant and it should be made clear that addiction to heroin is very pleasant to begin with for the participants. It is and always has been hell for friends and family. There was little incentive to recruit new addicts and I was not rich enough to indulge in the way that Amy did, I didn’t have access or I might have died forty years ago.
There were some famous addicts then too but the newspapers were not so avid then. We did not have to associate with dealers so we didn’t up the ante. I also knew a lot of addicts who led useful lives while maintaining a habit. The fact that these people paid taxes and did not fill our A&E departments with noisome smells and strident voices should be a factor next time we consider making drugs legal.
The idea of registering addicts raises itself to the top of the ideas box every now and again and ritually gets rejected mainly because it is seen to be deeply unpopular with the moral majority, exactly the same people who enjoy being appalled by the Amy Winehouse dramas.I believe even some of the more liberal sections of the police are in favour of a system of legalisation so when will it begin? Portugal began to treat addicts as sick human beings rather than as criminals ten years ago and it has been a success so why not Britain?
When I worked as a volunteer on a local working women project the fragility of the average addict was dreadful and bore no comparison to the condition of the registered addicts I knew. Also they were subject to appalling violence and abuse from dealers.
I believe that the death of Amy Winehouse was tragic and while it is by no means certain that if drugs had been supplied legally she would be alive now. I am positive that legalisation would not only cut down on young deaths but also cut down radically on crime
I stopped taking drugs not in rehab but in my own home because I wanted to. I had become thoroughly bored with the entire process. I had support from my partner and a doctor. I had already cut off all connections with other addicts. A deciding factor in my case was the fact that the local clinic had said I was a hopeless case. I am still an addict and like Amy will be one until the day I die. The fact that I have not touched any hard drugs for nearly forty years notwithstanding.
I was lucky Amy was not.