Friday, 29 October 2010

Misery memoirs

It's an odd thing.
The last couple of weeks have been great.
I have been rushing around doing things that I love doing, with people whose company I enjoy. But I don't feel compelled to write about it.
Why is that?

I sometimes wonder how this blog makes me appear.
Yes, I have been through the trauma of R's death, and that was every bit as awful as you would imagine, and then some. But that has now been absorbed into me. It is as much a part of me as the fact that I have brown hair or love language or have to drink my morning coffee out of one particular cup.

But it is still so much easier to write about the bad times than the good.

The bad thoughts seem to tumble out of my head, through my fingers and onto the screen almost without thinking about them.
The good ones are much harder to write about without appearing smug or trite or irritatingly self-satisfied.

In my natural state I freely admit that I am one of life's Pollyannas. I like to see the best in people, and discover good things in bad situations. And it's true. Even in my darkest days it was still possible to smile at the absurdity of life or at little kindnesses shown to me. Or at the beauty of a sunset over the hills, or just the velvety ears of a dog who has stuck by my side through all of this crap.

I wish it was possible to simply will grief away.
Believe me, if it was, I would have done it. It is not for want of trying. Despite my monumental efforts to keep it in its box, it continues to seep into every corner of my life.

But that is not all that I am.
There are times that I feel there is a large "W" branded on my forehead, but deep down inside I know that it isn't really there. There is fun and laughter and song and dancing in my life too, along with all manner of other good things.

Perhaps it is time to start acknowledging those things and writing about them more, so I can start to believe they really exist, even without him.
There will still be bad days - I know and accept that - but maybe acknowledging the good things will allow me to truly absorb the fact that life can be good again. And indeed is.

Monday, 25 October 2010


We had the first hard frost of the Winter this morning. All the animals' water bowls were frozen, but not the outside tap fortunately. But it is still jolly cold on the hands - time to call back those gloves and scarves from their Summer hideaways.

The sun has been shining all day, though, as a consolation prize. Crisp and cold is good. Let's hope it stays that way long enough for me to get the leaves raked up from the lawn and cleared from the gutters.

I am feeling a little more positive about Winter today.

The wood store is full, I remembered to have the oil tank filled. The garden is half-way to being shut down for the Winter; perhaps another couple of weekends will get it sorted so I can get off to a flying start next Spring. The freezers are full of food, the lambs are booked to go off next month which will leave me with the bare minimum of animals to look after and feed.

Apart from the turkeys, that is.

Every year about this time I wonder whatever possessed me to buy in turkey poults. Well for a start they are probably the only animals around here that actually turn a profit. But that profit comes at a price. Turkeys are quite the most brainless critters I have ever encountered. Their worried curate expression and gentle peeping noises go some way to making up for their lack intelligence. But only some way.

Every evening - and I mean every evening - from the day they arrive in August to the day we say goodbye in mid-December I have to physically pick them up from the fence where they have decided to roost and carry them to their shed for the night. It isn't so bad for the first couple of months while they are still small, but those birds are starting to get heavy now. Nor do they cooperate. Not one little bit.
The novelty of chasing around the paddock after renegade turkeys in the dark and bitter cold quickly wears off. Particularly after the fifth night in a row.

That is one job I shall be very happy to see the back of.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


That's what they call it, isn't it?
It's a pretty euphemism for a not-so-pretty concept.

The subject has come up a few times lately, both online and in real life. It is another of those topics that I used to think was black and white, and now realise comes in a hundred shades of grey.

In one conversation I was on the receiving end of a little bit of stick (nothing too aggressive) for not letting the hospital take any of R's organs when he died. Back in my old life, I would probably have had the same attitude; he's dead, what does it matter? It was the living person who mattered, not the shell of his body.
R agreed. He carried a donor card (as do I) and indeed took it further to believe that organ donation should be a matter of routine, and each individual should have to opt out of it, rather than opting in.

But it really wasn't that simple.

When we had That Conversation with the doctors at the hospital, R's sister-in-law brought up the topic of organ donation. The doctor very gently explained to me what could be taken.
Corneas were mentioned, and the visceral nature of my response shocked me. They absolutely couldn't have his eyes. Not that. Anything but his eyes.
I don't know why. The words spilled out before I had thought about them.

Then the doctor explained that, to harvest the organs, he would have to be taken away before he had gone. And at that moment I knew I couldn't let it happen.

I could no more have let them take him away at that point than I could have sawn off my own foot. It wasn't so much the idea of taking parts of him away - that really wasn't important to me. I didn't see his body again after I left the hospital. Just didn't want to. But it was simply impossible to conceive of letting them take him away to die on his own on an operating table while the surgeon waited with knife poised. Had he gone as the result of an accident or after an operation, it would have been very different and I am pretty sure that I would have let them do it. If they could have let him go first and then taken his body it would have been alright too. But after two and a half days sitting beside him in Intensive Care, I had to see him through to the end of his journey.

The doctor was very good about it. In fact he looked quite relieved, and told me that he wouldn't have been able to agree to it either if he were in my position. It would be nice to think that R had helped someone else after he had gone, but it just wasn't possible for me.

Life (and death) really wasn't as simple as I had fondly imagined.

Saturday, 16 October 2010


... supper consisted of coffee and chocolate.

This afternoon the pigs came back in boxes. My lovely friends Lynn and David picked them up from the butcher with their own pork, which saved me a trip and gave me the opportunity to sort out the freezer before it arrived.

The last time this happened was around three years ago.
The porkfest weekend was always one of the highlights of the year. The house would be buzzing with people. R would have a list of orders from colleagues at work. I would make up the brine for the bacon, we would chop and mince and season, and then make sausages. A lot of wine would be drunk, and lots of food eaten. It was a celebration of the end of a year of work, of the type that has been held at the end of the growing season all around the world since time immemorial.

This year is such a contrast.
The house was quiet as I weighed and labelled and rewrapped, although I did have a pleasant couple of hours as I drove around the area, delivering people's orders. The meat looks great - a lovely dark pink with just about the right amount of fat on it. After seven years of raising pigs, it looks as though I have finally got the feeding right. The recipients - particularly those who supplied me with buckets of apples - all appreciated their happy pork.

Then home to put the belly pork into the salt to turn it into streaky bacon and make a start on chopping and mincing the shoulder meat. Tomorrow I make chorizo. I also cheated this year and left the legs with the butcher to turn into gammon and ham - I just don't have the energy to do it myself, and he does a great job.

And at the end of all this, the last thing I want to eat is meat. I did buy some fish for supper, but I didn't really fancy that either - so chocolate and coffee it was. Tomorrow I can start eating properly again.

I still sometimes wonder what I am doing with all this. What is the point when it is just me here?
I have already decided not to get the ram in this year for my ewes. They were very late lambing and the lambs are not yet totally weaned, so it seems only fair to give them a rest. I shall no doubt regret this next year when there are no lambs bouncing around the field in the Spring. But perhaps there will be time and room for some more pigs.

I think, I hope this is just season-end melancholy. The greenhouse probably holds one last picking of tomatoes, and I have been digging over most of the vegetable beds before I cover them for the winter. There is the possibility of a frost tonight, so I shall probably have to bring in the shelling beans tomorrow as well.

As much as I kick against it, the year is closing itself down around me. Is there really any point in raging against the dying of the light?

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Keep, throw, donate or recycle?

I have been doing quite a lot of clearing lately.

It is a slow process. Much slower than I expected it to be.

Everything has to be examined and smiled at, or a few tears shed. Every book has to be checked for train tickets or bits of paper with scribbled notes on used as bookmarks. Every item of clothing has to be held close, the memories remembered and a decision taken as to whether I can let it go yet. Every notebook has to be checked just in case it contains some of his writings or perhaps some important detail about the house.

I thought I would be good at this. I can throw out or donate my own belongings without a second thought. Yet William Morris' exhortation to "have nothing in your house that you do not know to use, or believe to be beautiful" doesn't really help when faced with a drawerful of what a friend of mine calls "kibble". Those little things that obviously once had some purpose and were put away because they might be needed again, but it is not entirely apparent why. I wish I were brave enough to just take a binbag and empty all that sort of stuff into it, but I'm not.
So the process continues at its own snail-like pace.

I did have to laugh at this, though.

At the bottom of a drawer I found a box containing every single expired credit card, library card, AA card (the Automobile Association, not the other one!) and assorted other cards covering a roughly ten-year period.

Can someone explain to me why a grown man, apparently in his right mind, would keep all this?
If I check on e-Bay will I find that a ten year-old expired Labour Party membership card will fetch a small fortune in the right circles? Was he planning a new career as a house-breaker and collecting a toolkit for opening locks? Did he actually use them for scraping ice off car windows?

And when you have explained that, perhaps you can give me some idea why he might have kept these as well!

Monday, 11 October 2010

How I hate this part

The pigs are loaded up in the trailer ready to go.
They followed the little trail of apples up the ramp with almost no fuss at all, which always makes me feel such a heel. Sometimes I wish deep down inside that they would do a Tamworth Two and make a bid for freedom.

My neighbour offered to take them to the abattoir for me with his pigs, but I always feel it is incumbent upon me to go with them on their last journey. I am sure it makes no difference to them whatsoever, but it feels like my last duty to these animals that have given me so much pleasure for the last few months.

All I have to do now is fill in the movement licence paperwork and write down my instructions about how I want them to come back.

I eat meat and have no guilt about that, and I know that my two porkers have had a good life - longer and much more natural than the vast percentage of the pigs raised in the UK and elsewhere. They have had the sun on their backs, a large patch of ground to excavate, a wide and varied diet and the ability to run up and down to their hearts' content. They had a good scratch behind the ears whenever I walked past.

They are also a pair of intact boars, and conditions here aren't suitable for overwintering pigs - I simply couldn't keep them even if I wanted to do so.

But I still feel like a total cad this morning.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

No man is an Iland

...intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

When I learned last week that my friend and colleague Heather had lost her beautiful partner Kate, I could feel a downward slide starting.

It is difficult to say whether this was a reopening of my own slowly-healing wounds or simply empathy. Perhaps the two are the same. Or perhaps it is a desire to take onto my own shoulders some of the shock and pain that I know she is feeling right now. Because I am stronger now and have a better idea of how to cope after travelling this path for a couple of years.

But that is not possible. This is a journey that we take on our own. People cheering from the sidelines help a lot. Of course they do. But the steps have to be walked nonetheless. Every one of them.

The funeral was this afternoon, and the morning got off to a very tearful start. I was very close to deciding not to go. The thought of travelling there and getting through the service on my own was almost too much.

Then the postman arrived, bringing with him a mysterious package from the other side of the world. Intrigued I opened it - and burst out laughing. A rather silly online conversation some weeks ago had resulted in delivery of a handmade felt squid! Don't ask - it doesn't make a lot more sense even if I explain it, but it couldn't have chosen a better day to arrive.

A stuffed cephalopod may not be everyone's idea of the perfect companion to a funeral, but come along he did - in my pocket - as a reminder that someone was looking out for me today. Thank you Sue from the bottom of my heart.

The service was short but poignant. K D Lang's version of Hallelujah was heartbreaking.
I couldn't face the crematorium, so went straight to the wake with a couple of translator friends. Despite the people around her, Heather looked so alone. I recognised that look on her face - jaw clenched with absolute determination not to cry. Because you know full well that if you start, the tears won't ever stop. But she made it, and she can take the first few steps into her new life knowing that she did Kate proud.

My journey home took me very close to R's burial field, so I popped in to say hello and show him my new red boots that I wore today as an antidote to all that grey and black.
I think he would have liked them.