Sunday, 12 September 2010

The last swallow. The end of summer

A bird dive bombed our barn window yesterday as I stood doing the ironing. It’s a common occurrence up here on the hill; birds disorientated by the trickery of light from changing skies, that or being chased by Bobby, our ten month kitten as he hones his hunting skills.

I dashed out to see whether (as is often the case) the bird was simply stunned. A swallow with a slightly dull metallic blue jacket and tail streamers lay twitching on the decking. The absence of the usual russet colouring told me it was a juvenile, probably from next doors field shelter which is onto the third clutch. It would never have made it in time to migrate with the others anyway.

Most of the swallows departed a couple of weeks ago, two weeks earlier than last year. As they prepared for their journey to warmer climes, I knew there would be no Indian summer. The air thronged with their song; a rambling warble of trills and twitters, reminiscent of radio interference. Large flocks perched on wires and practised their aerial acrobatics, circling gracefully overhead and swooping low over the garden and fields in front, entertaining us one last time.

Meanwhile, the only flutter from the swallow in my hand was from the breeze which fanned its feathers. His head hung downwards. I waited a couple of minutes but nothing. Even Bobby, who had been smarming expectantly against my legs rolled his eyes, flicked his tail in disgust and stropped away in the direction of the blue tits chirruping over the buddleia, eager for more action.

The swallow had died and with it, in the blink of an eye, the last of summer disappeared. What a summer it has been...

It’s a blog all of it’s own, and a very long story but this summer I found two sisters whom I have never met. Until a few years ago, they didn't even know I existed. They say truth is stranger than fiction. You couldn’t write my life story. No-one would believe it.

I’ll always remember it as the summer that Idle Jack became a man. We found out at the end of last term that he had been skipping lessons. He even missed an exam.

His year at college was supposed to be re-taking the GCSE’s he'd failed at school.Instead, he spent a year doing nothing, or nothing to do with enhancing his education. We’d had enough. Having tried everything; positive parenting, grounding him, withdrawing privileges, it was time for tough love. And it was tough.

We told him we wouldn’t support him to go back to college - it was time to get in the real world; get a job. We suggested an apprenticeship; Trainee chef. He would always find work as a chef; he could go on a cruise ship once he qualified, maybe travel the world. The girls all love a chef.

He resisted, of course. He came back from his first apprenticeship interview regaling us with how it had gone, how the head chef had praised him, the questions he’d been asked and how grateful he was that I’d helped him with his interview technique. The following day while he was out, I had a phone call. It was the manager of the restaurant, ringing to re-arrange the appointment my son had cancelled due to a family crisis.

Oh, there was a family crisis that night, I can tell you. My son, Idle Jack - now Walter Mitty.

I drove him to his next interview and sat outside, waiting for him.

“They said I did really well,” he gushed, as he came out after only ten minutes. “And they want to offer me the job. I have to ring them tomorrow to let them know whether I’d like it or not.”

I ask you. In today’s economic climate. I still don’t understand what he was thinking.

Needless to say, he didn’t have time to take his shirt and tie off when he got home before I made him ring them back to graciously accept their kind offer.

It was the right decision. A couple of weeks after starting the apprenticeship it was GCSE results day. This was one occasion when I would have been happy to be proved wrong. But I wasn’t. Eldest son failed all his re-takes. It had indeed been a wasted year.

Academia isn’t for everyone, I told him, putting on my best positive voice. This summer he’d turned it around; he’d got himself on an apprenticeship - a worthwhile career plan - in a couple of year’s time when all his friends are leaving college and Uni looking for a job, he’ll have the advantage.

Six weeks into the job, I’m beginning to think I might have to change his nickname. I can’t exactly keep calling him Idle Jack when he works in a kitchen from 10am until 10pm, on split shifts.

But in true Jane Austen (and Helen Fielding) style it is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces. As hubby and Son No 1 ride off into the sunset in gainful employment my next set of life challenges spring up as sure as night turns to day.

With major surgery knocking at my door, my youngest son has to see a Rheumatoid Paediatrician tomorrow. He keeps getting deep necrotic ulcers in his mouth and after several appointments with Paediatricians and numerous blood tests the worry is, he may be showing signs of developing my Behcets disease – certainly, his immune system seems to have been compromised.

It’s another worry, to add to the many. But then that is life, full of ups and downs. Seasons change. Some are harder than others.

For our house, the summer has gone, along with the swallows, winging their way for winter in South Africa.

We’re off too – not emigrating, but we’re going to the Caribbean on Tuesday for some sun, fun and relaxation.

After the summer we've had, we need it.

So until another day


Thursday, 2 September 2010

There's no such word as Can't

What’s your mantra?

There’s no such word as can’t

This is mine because I believe that when you really, really want something you must never say the ‘C’ word. You can do anything if you set your mind to it.

My Nan drummed it into me at an early age. Whether it was schoolwork or music, dance or athletics, whenever I said ‘I Can’t,’ Nan would look me straight in the face, her expression serious and retort with gusto, ‘Of course you can. There’s no such word as can’t. Keep trying.’

Sometimes, I puzzled and fretted over her words. There were lots of things I couldn’t do. I couldn’t get A+ in Maths, however hard I tried. I couldn’t get my souffl├ęs to rise like Margaret Owen in Domestic Science classes. I couldn’t run the 100 metre hurdles in under fourteen seconds.

Years, and countless times later of Nan batting those words at me, I found I’d developed huge resilience, a staying power, a dogged determination that nearly matched her strong will. My never say never attitude served me well in my career, personal life, health – especially those times when ill-health threatened to ruin everything. And with the successes came confidence, and a belief that if I tried my very best and kept going, then maybe I could. Nan was right. There really was no such word as Can't.

Now on the second anniversary of her death, whilst I recognise it’s a mantra I’ve maintained most of my life, I have to confess; over the last year or so there have been times when I’ve been lost as I floated in limbo, endlessly waiting for the surgery that’s going to miraculously improve my physical and mental well-being.

Last week, I had to give myself a swift talking to. I’d done so well over recent weeks and had come out from under the duvet where I’d been hiding.I’d stopped swimming because it hurt my jaws to push my chin forward. Or that was my excuse. I couldn’t be bothered. I preferred to sit home and wallow in pain and gloom at my predicament. But a few weeks ago I realised I missed it. Swimming helps the rest of my bones not seize up. It stops me feeling like a lump of lard. And whether it hurts or not, swimming isn’t going to make my jaw problems any worse.

I’m now back swimming four or five times a week. Already, my body tone has improved which makes me feel better about myself and I know I’m preparing myself, physically and mentally, for what’s to come. Exercise has helped the endorphin levels - perhaps it’s psychosomatic, but I feel as if I’m coping with the pain better - I’ve certainly stopped going to bed in the afternoons to shut down from it.

But swimming alone isn't going to help me. I need something to stop me going backwards, sliding towards the open jaws of the black dog of depression.

Come on, Deb. There’s no such word as Can’t. I have to fight back.

It’s easy to say. But the most difficult thing with my periods of ill-health (and other adversities,) is finding the strength to believe in myself again.

As I sat there, feeling sorry for myself, frustrated at the lack of control, I summoned all the positive thinking and strength I could muster for the a final assault. Knowing myself as well as I do, I need a plan or plans. I need goals; something to work to, something to look forward to, something to help distract me and not dwell. Most of all, I need to believe.

Fed up of waiting, we booked a holiday for the 15th September. I may as well be in pain in Antigua as sitting home, looking at the four walls and waiting. We all need the holiday and it will be good for the boys for us to have some proper time together, and if we don’t get away now, it might be months. We’ve had to cancel two holidays because of my health this year.

Next, I chased the hospital and the manufacturers of my replacement joints in the USA tmjconcepts - I sent a nice, but strongly worded e-mail. I can't go on like this. I need an idea of when the surgery is. I have to make certain domestic arrangements. With a husband who works in London most of the week and two boys to organise, it’s not unreasonable to at least have an idea of when the surgery might be, is it - especially if, as I’m told, I might be out of action for several weeks.

On the writing front I would like to announce that I am OFFICIALLY a writer, not because I’ve been accepted for publication, but because I’ve had my first rejection for Living in the Past from a publisher. Well, that makes me a proper writer, doesn’t it? So I've also made a few writing goals which I need these to keep focussed because there were times this year when I gave up - it didn't last, of course - after a few days, I felt anxious, restless and unfulfilled. Writing is the milk in my tea; the fondant on my cup cake, the ice- cream on my jelly.

I intend to finish Country Strife, my second novel and get it on the RNA New Writer’s Scheme for 2011. I’m going to finish the two stories I have in mind for women’s magazines (and submit them.) Finally, I’m going to push on with my idea for non-fiction book about living with pain/long term illness – nothing gloomy or self indulgent - something light with some positive messages. I think it might also be cathartic.

There we are. I have a plan. I feel strong. I have my mojo back. It's just as well.

Last night I had an e-mail from my Consultant.
"How does the 13th October sound for your surgery date?"

Nothing comes to he who waits.

“You can do it. Believe. There’s no such word as Can’t.”

I miss you Nan. But you’d be proud of me.

Until another day