Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Mice - 1, J - 0

One of the disadvantages of living in an older house is that there are lots of holes. Lots and lots of little holes.

Mostly this is fine. Old houses were built to breathe, rather than being sealed and impermeable like new-builds. But it does occasionally mean that what is outside can get in without too much of a fight.

Last night I heard rustling at one of the larger holes. This particular hole is an intentional one that will soon have a pipe running through it, so it has been blocked up temporarily. But not well enough, it seems.

Once I had calmed down enough to tell myself that mad axe murderers don't normally squeeze through three-inch gaps, I worked out that it must be a mouse.

Now, mice don't scare me at all. Indeed I quite like them .... outside.
They can steal my strawberries and nibble on broadbeans in the garden if they like. But I don't want them in my pasta!

Something Had To Be Done.
So, grumbling to myself that this really isn't my job and if someone hadn't decided to drop dead suddenly, the hole would have been filled months ago, I dug out the box of traps, duly baited one (peanut butter) and set it last night.

I just checked it this morning, with much trepidation as I hate emptying the traps. And there it was - sprung and empty.

Somewhere in the house there is a very contented, well-fed mouse, thumbing its whiskery little nose at me.

This means war!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Finding my own style

All my life I have been the sort of person who "makes things".
I am definitely no artist, but I do enjoy fiddling about with fabric and yarn and playing with colours and shapes. In the past, there was always a bag with some project or other beside the sofa, ready to pick up instead of a book or in place of turning on the TV.

When R died, that desire to create seemed to die with him.

I decided very early on that I would cut up all his plaid shirts and turn them into comfort quilts and cushions for myself, friends and family. I even got as far as dissecting a couple of really tatty shirts, cutting off and saving the buttons and deciding which parts were reusable.

Then I stalled.

I couldn't see in my head what I was going to do with them. The images just weren't there. And even though I would have still had the fabric, I was happier knowing that the shirts were safe in his wardrobe for me to see at any time, rather than cut up in a box.

And so that side of me was placed on hold while I concentrated on working, keeping the place going or simply breathing, depending on what sort of day it was.

But lately I find I am starting to have ideas floating around my head once again, and my hands are itching to do something that doesn't involve typing or getting dirt under my fingernails.

Some friends are due to have a baby soon, so I thought I would dust off the sewing machine and make a little cot quilt.


I have always been very much a traditional 'squares and triangles' sort of quilter, but I was surprised to see this one turn out a lot brighter, yet simpler than normal and with lots of blank space that called out for meandering quilting, rather than my usual straight lines. (And yes, it has finally occurred to me that a quilt with large white spaces probably isn't ideal for a small child, so I may have to go back to the drawing board for the baby!)

I've noticed this change of style and direction in other aspects of my life as well.
Take clothes, for example.

Various friends and my no. 1 niece have 'taken me in hand' lately. They have ignored my increasingly feeble protests and dragged me shopping for clothes. Partly because the weight that fell off when R died seems to have stayed off and I had very little that fitted me any more, and partly because my wardrobe was well overdue for an overhaul in any case.

And now, much to my surprise, I find myself with several skirts in my wardrobe, and a pair of shoes with heels, of all things. Just about everything we bought was feminine, rather than practical, which is a huge departure for me. I spent a couple of days wafting around the house, wondering who this girlie person was I occasionally caught sight of in the mirror. I also have to remind myself to wash my hands when I come inside from the garden, rather than wiping the mud off on my already-grubby jeans!

It seems to be happening to my decorating style as well.

Together, R and I tended towards the slightly-cluttered, comfortable country style of d├ęcor. Earth colours, natural textures and lots of wood. That sort of thing.

Now my extension is slowly coming to fruition, thanks to the work of my wonderful BIL. It has nearly reached the decorating stage (at least upstairs) and I find I am leaning totally towards sleek, clean, uncluttered lines, fresh Spring colours and bold big-pattern fabrics for the curtains. None of which I can imagine having if R were still here. When the furniture goes in, I plan to keep it as minimal as possible as I seem to need space and air much more than the cocooning comfort of the past.

When I look at these changes, I wonder if that was how I always was. Did our previous choices simply reflect the fact that everything was a compromise between the wants of two people, and was therefore never entirely satisfactory to either of us? Does this mean that now I can be entirely selfish and have exactly what I have always wanted? Or have I mentally drawn a line under the past and started moving in a different direction? Or perhaps the shock of R's death has awoken a part of me that I didn't know was there? I really don't know.

Of course, given the choice, I would turn the clock back in an instant. But I can't do that, and so it is interesting to watch myself in a detached sort of way and see the awakening of a new person. I wonder if the new one will be someone that the old person would still like when the metamorphosis is complete.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Let down and lifted up

I find that this new life is very much a balancing act. Even the tiniest weight on one side can totally destroy my equilibrium.

On the negative side of the scale, I have just been let down hugely by some friends. After being kept dangling for several months with one excuse after another, I was told this weekend that they just weren't going to be able to do what they had promised faithfully that they were going to do. And this was after I had offered them several opportunities to back out gracefully and had offered to pay for the work, rather than them doing it as a favour.
As a result, my renovations have essentially been held up needlessly for four months and I am back where I would have been if they hadn't offered to help in the first place. I feel disappointed in them and very let down.
Hey ho. I guess it gives me an opportunity to put my current zen-like mood to the test!

On the plus side, my wonderful BIL and another friend, Chris, came over at the weekend and fitted the new bathroom. As well as the pleasure of seeing a job well done, it was lovely to spend some time talking about R and looking at boxes of old photographs. We have all known each other since university - R and I got together in our first term, nearly 28 years ago - and these two friends were constant features in our life together.

Where did all those years go? How did we go from optimistic youth, via enthusiastic career-person through to contented middle-age without noticing the passage of time? It barely seems possible. Let alone to have it all end, in the blink of an eye, just over a year ago.
Yet end it did. But having these two strong pairs of arms there, ready to hold me up when I wobble, almost makes it bearable.

And then there were the others. Three other sets of friends just 'happened' to be passing through the area over the past few days.
If you knew where I live, you would understand that no one 'just passes through'. It isn't really on the way to anywhere. But however poorly disguised the excuses, the love behind it was appreciated in every case.

And all these warm positives have tipped the scale back to the optimistic spectrum, for a while at least.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The calm after the storm

That's how it feels now after all the emotion of the last couple of weeks.

I so hope I can keep this feeling with me for a while.
I like calm. It allows me to feel R's presence in my life rather than his loss. It means I can look after myself properly as I know he would want. It lets me concentrate on my work so I don't need to worry about not earning enough to pay the bills. It gives me time and headspace to think about the other people I love - the ones who are still here.

Calm doesn't mean that I am forgetting him. It doesn't mean that I no longer love him. That will never happen.

i carry your heart with me
(i carry it in my heart)
i am never without it
(anywhere i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate
(for you are my fate, my sweet)
i want no world
(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart
(i carry it in my heart)

e.e. cummings

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

So that's that

A whole year has passed.
When it started, I couldn't imagine how I would make it to the next hour, let alone survive an entire year.
Yet here I am, at the start of a new year without R. I am now allowed to transition to half-mourning and start edging my black dresses with grey or mauve.

Marking the passing of time affected me much more than I imagined it would, so I am lucky in that I was able to take the last week off and be entirely self-indulgent.

Yes, there were many, many tears. My own mixed with those of his sister who came to share these few days with me.
But even the tears are starting to take on a healing quality. A safe means of relieving pressure or a way of resetting my mood when it sets off on a downward spiral. They are no longer an end in themselves or simply a way to block out the pain.

Yes, there was that gut-wrenching moment when I realised that, however well I may have survived and for all I may have achieved over the past year, I really wasn't going to get the prize I wanted.
He wasn't going to come back.
Not ever.

Yes, we talked and talked about the past, what we have lost and how much we miss him. But we also spent a lot of time with our eyes to the future - that place in which he is a memory, rather than a tangible part.

S now finds herself on the cusp of a new life as well; her daughter is about to start her second year at university, while her son has just done his GCSEs and will shortly be learning to drive. The children no longer need her detailed attention, and Mum's taxi will soon be in less constant demand. So she also is able to see the new broader horizon, full of possibilities for taking up new interests, changing job or moving house. We agreed that the thought of this open-ended future is scary and exhilarating at the same time, but we are both interested to see where it will take us.

And we worked off some of our emotions.
S is very much a city girl. She is normally immaculately dressed and beautifully made-up. After four days of weeding, digging, planting, chopping down trees, taking things to the tip and miles of walking, she was delighted one afternoon to look in the mirror and see her unbrushed hair, dirty face and muddy jeans and to feel those slightly aching and hitherto largely unused muscles. There is also something very satisfying about a celebratory meal at the end of a good day working outside.

With all this, in our own quiet way, we marked the passing of a life worth celebrating. I smiled as I opened the bottle of champagne. R always delighted in teaching young friends and family members how to do this, as he felt it was one of those life skills that everyone needs, like how to change a tyre or eat an oyster without pulling a face.
Or indeed how to fall asleep elegantly!

Monday, 3 August 2009

One down, one to go


Thank you to everyone who sent good wishes and positive thoughts for today. It feels good to have it behind me and indeed I can truly say I enjoyed it.

Mostly.

The day got off to a bad start when I went to let the birds out and found one of my ducklings dead having managed to strangle itself in a freak accident with the door of the duck house. Dealing with a little sad, cold body before breakfast was not what I had in mind at all.

Then there was a lot of wobbling as I was preparing to go out.
I realised I would need a rucksack and that nearly set me off, as R always carried everything when we went walking. I couldn't immediately put my hand on the little green day pack he always took with him, and tore the house apart finding it.

I can just picture him packing it on the kitchen table, listing out loud the things he would need and nagging me to get a spare pair of socks in case of blisters, a hat in case the sun came out and a decent waterproof in case it rained! I didn't have any chocolate to pack either, which made me sad. R would always have a bar of Fruit and Nut or something similar about his person when we went walking and, even though I would absolutely insist that I didn't need any chocolate before we left, he would produce it with a flourish half-way through the day. And I would always eat at least half of it, despite my earlier protestations!

The walk started well.
We met at the Community Centre which is actually a mile or so outside the village. There were about 20 walkers ranging from 11 to 71 in age, and at least 8 dogs which quickly formed a pack and rampaged up and down the line of people.

We had walked about a mile up onto the moor when I realised I couldn't see Moose. I walked to the front of the line and there was no sign of him, then I ran to the back. Still no dog.
I was starting to get a bit worried when a farmer drove past in his Landrover. We flagged him down and asked him if he had seen a collie on its own. He hadn't, but gave me a lift back to my car so I could go and look for him.
And there was Moose, sitting waiting for me outside the Community Centre with a look on his face as if to say, "What kept you?"

Relieved as I was to find him, this did of course mean that I had to run / yomp back nearly two miles to catch up with the other walkers. I'm not a happy runner in shorts and running shoes, so walking boots and rucksack were an unpropitious combination to say the least. By the time I reached them, my face must have resembled a particularly hot and bothered beetroot, and I was ready for my bar of chocolate which I did not have.

I'm happy to say that the rest of the day was uneventful and very enjoyable. The atmosphere was totally relaxed as we walked up onto the ridge, and I could move from one group to another for a chat without feeling at all lonely or out of place.

I really can't put into words how much this place has become a part of me. Walking along the ridge with the incredible views to either side I can give myself up to the beauty of the landscape. R taught me to love hills. This is ironic as he came from Essex which is one of the flattest counties in Britain. Wherever we went, if we were going for a walk, then we would have to go up. The hill was the challenge, and the view at the top the reward. When I'm up on the top of the world, which is how it felt today, I can believe he is with me. I know he would love to see the tougher, fitter person I have become since he died.

I missed him desperately today, but the place and the people helped me get through it. When we got back to the Community Centre, the non-walkers had fired up the barbies. I was hungry enough to eat a small sheep, so the lamb burgers went down very well indeed (this is Wales, after all!).