Sunday, 22 August 2010


I have a confession to make.

I like flowers. And I like my house to be full of them.

It would be good to be able to say that, when I say flowers, I mean just locally-grown blooms. But although I am happy to fill the vases from what I can find in the garden or field, if I cannot forage enough for the house then I will buy them. And though it puts a huge dent in my environmental halo, I am not terribly fussy about discovering their origins. One year I shall finally get round to planting the cutting garden I have always wanted, but until then I shall have to live with the guilty conscience.

An old boss of mine who was very prone to temper tantrums would always buy me a bunch of flowers when he had been particularly obnoxious. These normally ended up in the bin on the way back from work or, if they did make it home, I never felt particularly well-disposed towards them as I felt I had 'earned' them

R never once bought me flowers as an apology. When he did bring them home - which he did often - it was just because. He had a favourite flower stall in St Ann's Square in Manchester where he would discuss the relative merits of the different blooms with the owner, and would come back with detailed instructions about how to prepare them for arranging.
I often received alstromerias simply because he was so proud he could remember the name! They make me smile now whenever I see them.

There have been a lot of flowers around the house since R's anniversary. They were looking distinctly shabby this morning, though, so it was time for a good sort and overhaul.
I once had a lesson in flower arranging for the craft section of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award thingy. It soon became evident that my talents lay elsewhere...

But with a bit of weeding out of the droopy blooms and judicious removal of crispy leaves, and by cutting the stems a little shorter and moving them to smaller containers with fresh water they can be eked out for a few more days. Which puts a smile on my face and goes some way towards rescuing my eco-credentials.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

A surprise visit

I, or rather R, had a lovely surprise visit yesterday. Martin, one of R's friends from university, said that he was coming up to put some flowers on his grave and would I like to meet up for lunch. We agreed to meet at the burial field, so I told him the number of R's grave in case he arrived there first.

As it happens, he got there about 10 minutes before I did, and I found him wandering around the field looking a little lost. He had been expecting a consecutively-organised grid system, which is a long way from being the case.

I have walked up that hill so many times now that I had forgotten quite how difficult it can be to track down R's grave. These days I can find the little 4-inch diameter stone marker in the middle of a 3-acre grassy field almost on auto-pilot. Head up the hill towards the telegraph pole, stop walking uphill when level with the corner marker then head towards the bench until the distant hills are visible through the gap in the trees. Turn ninety degrees, and if the telegraph pole at the bottom of the hill is straight ahead, X marks the spot. Or rather no. 63.

I guess it is just something that needs a little practice, and I have had plenty!

We sat there on the grass beside R's grave, in the sunshine, for a couple of hours. It seemed totally natural - two old friends getting together to catch up with all the news since they last met. We chatted, had lots of hugs and cried a little. We reminisced about the wild days of our youth, and laughed at some of his and R's misadventures. Moose wandered around the field sniffing at all the revolting things that dogs find interesting. We talked about R and even to him a bit. The swallows dived and weaved overhead. We placed the flowers on his grave, after divesting them of their plastic wrapper, elastic bands and sachet of plant food as everything has to be biodegradeable. We admired the view. Martin apologised for not having come back before now. But that was OK, he had rung and e-mailed and there were good reasons for not doing so. And I knew he had not forgotten.
That's what matters - not forgetting.

In the end we didn't get to have lunch. It didn't seem very important. A quick coffee and he had to be off again.

What was important is that he remembers.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

On top of the world

In a small village the social calendar is characterised by its predictability. We don't like radical changes, and want to know by looking at the date what is coming up in the next couple of weeks.
So August might be a bad month for me, but the wheel keeps spinning and the regular events come inexorably round in their turn.

This Sunday was the date of the Summer walk. Last year it helped me a lot in getting through some of the bad days, so I was very much looking forward to this year's walk. And I wasn't disappointed.
The group was smaller than in previous years, but there were still several people who had left their 'other halves' at home, so I didn't feel like the odd one out for once.

We walked up to the moors to the Llyn Mawr nature reserve above the Carno valley, and then followed the path back past our local wind turbines. I rather like being up above the huge blades - it puts them in their place somewhat. Although we climbed somewhere between 400 and 500 feet, it was a long, gentle and easily-manageable gradient. The sun shone benevolently and the slight breeze prevented overheating, and an elusive glimpse of a hen harrier made the climb worthwhile.

The only thing that marred the day was the fact that I couldn't take Moose with me. He has had arthritis in his shoulder for a while now, which we have been managing with a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement and regular doses of an NSAID. Sadly about a month ago the stiffness I had started noticing in his back legs suddenly worsened almost overnight. They are sometimes so wobbly that he falls over, and he is having difficulties walking much more than a mile or so - and then only at a very slow pace.

He seems happy enough in himself though, and still charges around my paddock like a mad thing when the mood takes him, so I am hanging fire on asking for steroids for now. But it has not stopped me embarking on another of my internal debates, this time about the moral implications of hip replacement surgery for dogs. I am sure I will be revisiting this one in the near future!

Saturday, 14 August 2010


When the phone rang early this afternoon it was my friend Jane in Manchester. "Come for dinner," she said. "My French friend Myriam is over with her partner, and we are having a proper English roast beef dinner to celebrate!"

Immediately my response was to trot out the usual litany of excuses. It is a nearly two-hour drive each way - I will spend more time in the car than I would with them. I'm tired, I've been working hard all week, there is too much to do tomorrow, I have a deadline to meet and don't know when it will be finished. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Jane, who knows me far, far too well, simply replied that they would be eating at seven. I should think about it and give them a ring later to say what I had decided. At which I muttered something to the effect that I was unlikely to change my mind, and put the phone down. And grumpily went back to work.

As I finished up the job, proofread it and sent it off, one of those "Good J, Bad J" conversations played itself out in my head. What were the alternatives? A nice meal, a change of scenery and good company for the evening. Versus something to eat involving eggs and courgettes (again), an evening of CSI re-runs and my knitting. So what if you don't get back until one in the morning - you haven't got to bed before that for months now, you aren't suddenly going to change this evening. Stop thinking about this and JFDI.

It took a good couple of hours of batting this back and forth before I finally gave in and rang to ask them to set another place. The old J would have been in the car and off without a second thought. The new one, it seems, still needs a darned good talking-to before the message gets through, but at least she gets there in the end!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


Remember this?
This is how the granny flat at the back of the house looked on the day R left it.

With the exception of the plastering (which I bartered for my old, decrepit Land Rover) and the electrics, most of the work was done by my BIL, who spent short blocks of time here working on it over a period of months. This was good in a lot of ways as it meant that I had an occasional house guest during a very dark time, and also that I did not get too overwhelmed with decision-making. On the down side progress was very slow and patchy, and he has now 'disappeared' on another job in the way that builders are wont to do, which means that downstairs still looks like a building site and the kitchen is still located in boxes in my spare bedroom.
And he won't be able to come back for at least a couple more months as my sister is threatening to pack up herself and the kids and come and live with me if he doesn't do some outstanding work on their house!

But upstairs is entirely finished, and I can come and admire his handiwork and the peaceful, uncluttered space and ignore the chaos below.

What a transformation.

R and I both always loved this room. It is light and airy in a way that the old part of the house isn't, and it has one of the few windows that actually look out over the garden. So five and a half years after he started pulling it apart, it is nice to be able to use it again.

I still need to make the blinds and lampshades, otherwise it is finished. But what it did need was a couple of pictures for the walls, and there was nothing suitable in the collection we had built up over the years.

So I had a little splurge.
I have admired Ann Lewis's work for a couple of years now, particularly her North Wales landscapes, and finally had the cash to treat myself to two of her linocuts.

The first is for R.
Daffodils and narcissi were his flowers. When they are in season, the house and garden are full of them, and I have planted a lot on his grave. This simple study makes me smile and think of him.

The second one epitomises much of what I love about Wales - the dramatic, harsh landscape, the rugged colours, the seemingly ever-present threat of snow (or certainly rain), low skies and challenging climbs. R's Mum used to come to Snowdonia to climb in her younger days and, although R did not take up the sport to the same extent, he had exactly the same attitude towards anything with a bit of gradient. He would be up it like a mountain goat, leaving me to puff along in his wake. It did wonders for the thigh muscles.

I hope he would approve of all my choices.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Things I have learned

That two years is no time at all. You don't forget, you don't stop loving, you don't stop wishing you could see him just once more to say goodbye properly.

That, despite the pain, sadness and the great gaping void his death created, it is still a billion times better to have had him in my life for all those years than to contemplate the thought of never having loved him.

That people really are important, and that I wouldn't have got through the last two years without the unwavering love and support I have received.

That I have some very good friends, and that these are not necessarily the people I would have listed before 5th August 2008. Some have dropped away, but others have stepped up to take their place. Some are here in my physical world and help with hugs, cake and practical work. Others are thousands of miles away and yet have been my unstinting cheerleaders on this journey, even though we have never met. I am grateful to every one.

That R really cannot be found in things. He is in my heart and always will be. Now I am starting to believe this it is becoming easier to divest myself of the 'stuff' that has been holding me down. It is a slow process, but it is ongoing and I feel much better for doing it.

That I will not explode in a puff of smoke if I ask for and receive help.

That I am probably a better and more humble person for having to do so.

That J, the person who disappeared almost without trace two years ago, has slowly been making her way back into my life. She is still rather battered and bruised, and has changed in many respects, but she has come back, and I do rather like her. It is good that she is home again.

And that, knowing all these things and with R in my heart, I am no longer afraid to move forward, to do things differently and to change my life radically if that is what I choose to do in the future. Life can be good if I allow it to be.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The last drop

I may have mentioned R's bulk-buying habits once or twice.
There were few things he loved more than a bargain. Indeed I am still working my way through the pile of vacuum cleaner bags he bought over three years ago, and this is not by any means for want of vacuuming. By my reckoning it will probably be another year before I have to buy any more.

He took the same approach to his grooming products. He wasn't a man for aftershave or cologne, not even when he scrubbed up and put on a suit, but when he finally settled on a shower gel that suited him, he naturally ordered several bottles, rather than just one like a normal person!

For many, many months after he died, I mostly wore his jeans, T-shirts and sweaters. And used this shower gel daily. It gave me comfort to feel totally enveloped in things that felt, looked and smelled like him. The scent of the shower gel on my skin made him feel close by, perhaps just in the next room. Always out of sight, but within range of at least one of my senses.

I still do wear his Calvin Kleins, but now it is because I like them, rather than needing to do it. I carried on using the shower gel, but no longer every day - just when I felt a little down. But even R's stockpile had to run out eventually, and I think there is only enough left for one more use.

When it has gone, I don't think I shall buy any more.

Next week is the second anniversary of his death.
When I look back at the way I was this time last year, I can see how far I have come on this journey. I can still feel the madness building up in me as it always does at significant dates, but the intensity of feeling that so overwhelmed me last year is less ferocious this time around.

So it somehow seems right to let go of this crutch this week. It makes me feel like a small child preparing to ride her bicycle for the first time without stabilisers. I have come this far using it as an aid. Now it is time to let go and ride freely on my own. Even if I fall off a few times at first.