Health and well being, mental health, Technology, Uncategorized

It’s a strange world

stress

This photograph is taken from an online collection and is therefore no-one I know, but the last few months and weeks have brought sad news to myself and my husband and in all three cases the news is concerned with stress and the effects on our brain and body.

Firstly I have a friend, a lively, intelligent lady in her fifties who holds down a job, runs a home and family but who has had a really hard year with memory problems, black outs, limb weakness and feelings of being ‘not quite there’. The medics gave her a diagnosis of early onset dementia in June which as you can imagine horrified her and her family and friends. After months of delays and cancellations she has undergone many sessions of testing and assessment and that diagnosis has now been discounted, but with no clear treatment path to be seen and no actual diagnosis as to what might be wrong, even though all physical ailments have been discounted.

Ten days ago my bright, lively niece who had just celebrated her thirtieth birthday was rushed to hospital having lost all feeling and movement in her one leg. This was followed by blackouts and slurred speech. After a barrage of examinations and tests all the obvious illnesses, stroke, MS, were ruled out and finally after many hours with a neurological psychiatrist she has been given a diagnosis of Functional Neurological Disease or FND. There is no way of knowing how long she will be in hospital, how long it will take for her symptoms to ease or disappear, in some people they are permanent, at least at first and for others they can be transitory. A light bulb moment led me to think that perhaps FND is what my friend is also suffering with so she is heading back to her consultant to enquire.

What these two ladies have in common is a history of rushing at life at 100mph, of overloading themselves, taking on just one thing too many. FND is when the brain and the body don’t communicate efficiently, the analogy given is that of a computer, the hard drive is fine but the software is malfunctioning, therefore the brain needs to be retrained. The disease seems to often strike those who have anxiety or depression, those who suffer with migraine or epilepsy, those hating loud noise and bright lights but equally it can just arrive with anyone. Whatever the reason in both cases these ladies are having to take a break and rest both mind and body.

Thirdly my husband’s cousin, a fit man in his early seventies has just been given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and has made a sharp decline in the last twelve months with memory and recall. What follows will be a hard and difficult journey for him, his wife and family.

Is it just me who feels that there are so many more people suffering in this fast, high tech world than I remember from the slower days of my childhood? I know that there are many reasons for the onset of illnesses, both physical and mental, but with so many of our school children suffering with stress and anxiety it makes me think that the time has come to put some breaks on the ours we spend glued to mobile phones, computers and screens generally.

All of them, even blogging and reading blogs can soon become addictive and there is a heady rush when we receive a positive comment and there can be a nagging feeling of being ‘out of the loop’ when we are away from our internet connections.

Having said that, in this instance I genuinely would like your feedback as to whether you have had similar thoughts or experiences and any ways that you may have decided to ration your online time.

Health and well being, mental health, Philosophy, Uncategorized

Apologies and poetry

To anyone who follows my blog, please accept my apologies for not being ‘there’ just lately. As I’m sure you all know life has a way of throwing not just one, but a series of hurdles, coming thick and fast through the ether to trip us up, fill our time and stop us doing all the things that give us most pleasure. Hopefully I am at the tail end of this particular run of troubles, none of which I am pleased to say were of major consequence but together they filled up my days and emptied my head simultaneously.

Last weekend I attended a creative writing course at Ty Newydd, the home of Writing in Wales. The title of the course was “How to write Historical Fiction”, especially relevant as I continue to work on my Great Grandmother’s story. However on the first evening we were assaulted with fifteen minute writing challenges to shift us quickly from our usual comfort zones. So journalistic reporting, 100 word stories and poetry were all required, each piece having to be completed in 15 minutes. Very good writing practice!!

My reporting and short story went straight in to the bin at the end of the evening but I hung on to the poem, tweaked it a bit, as I am no poet and here it is for your consideration. The remit we were given was write blank verse about someone you love.

 

Louis

My heart lifts

When the telephone rings and

I hear the words,

“Can Louis come to stay?”

 

Preparations are simple,

Out come the puzzles

The Lego and train.

Record his favourite programmes

In case we have rain.

The weekly jaunt to Tesco

Becomes a foraging trip

As I scour the aisles for a turkey dinosaur

Chocolate pancakes and so many more

Delights…..

That usually pass me by.

 

He’s in,

Through the door

Shouting, “Granny I’m here!”

The force of his cuddle

Takes the breath from my lungs,

And the house fills up

With clutter and noise,

Demand for a drink,

“I’m SOOOOO hungry,

Have you made any buns?”

 

We head out for a walk,

Hunting for dragons,

Searching for the Gruffalo,

Filling our pockets with treasure.

Leaves, twigs and stones,

Conkers and a feather or two

All make it home

To be turned in to art works

Worthy of the Tate.

 

We’re both in the bathroom,

The bubbles are flying

As he makes pretend cups of tea,

Then serves one to me

With a face splitting grin

Declaring,

“Watch out for the spider,

He may be in yours!”

 

Towelled dry,

Nestled in warm pjs

We snuggle side by side

To read once again

Of Harry and the dinos.

His tired eyes droop,

His arms circle my neck

And the whole world

Is right there as

The day comes to a close.

“Night Granny”, he says

“Love you more than chocolate.”

And I head for the stairs.

 

I sink into a chair

Reach for the wine,

And reflect for the thousandth time

On just how much joy

Can be packed in to one small boy.

 

 

Uncategorized

The benefits of a short break

canal

It has been a busy summer, there have been many visitors and lovely times spent with friends, family and grandchildren and now is the time to take a break. After a lifetime spent in education September has always been a special time for me, a time of fresh beginnings, new opportunities and a preparation for the hard work to come over the following year. So when my better half suggested we take a holiday, it was a joint decision to shun the airports and ferry terminals, railway stations and motorways and head for once deeper in to the wonderful countryside of mid Wales and effectively ‘step off’ the roller coaster of 21st century life for a few days.

We have booked a canal side cottage outside the small town of Crickhowell, where the interior has been turned upside down to maximise the views and there will be no passing traffic other than the soft chug of canal barges. We will be surrounded by wonderful countryside for walking, a pub is just a stroll away in the evenings and our journey will be a mere two hours down the back roads of Wales, a treat in itself. The idea is to have a short holiday that actually does relax and replenish as so often when you return from a fabulous time abroad, the hassle of the airport, the jet lag all combine to create the need for a holiday to recover from the first one. I am sure that we will take more long holidays, we both have a list of places we long to see, but just for now being able to throw a case in the car, the walking boots and raincoats….this is Wales and one has to be prepared for rain!…seems to be a very attractive proposition.

The bag is packed and we await our home sitter who is coming to live in and take care of the cats so first thing tomorrow we can abandon responsibility for anything other than ourselves and escape. It really doesn’t matter how short the journey, exploring a new area is always exciting and the thrill of not knowing what is round the corner ahead has always given me a tingle, so what’s not to like about a staycation?

Days out, Health and well being, mental health, Uncategorized, Walking

Through the eyes of a 4 year old.

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What would be a perfect day for you? A lazy winter’s day spent by a roaring fire with a good book and glass of wine? A summer’s day at the beach with friends? A walk in your favourite place with time just to be? A trip to the shops with money to spend?

Any or all of those options would suit me on occasion and provide a thoroughly enjoyable day but my eyes were truly opened last week when my young grandson Louis came to stay. This was his second visit without his parents and he really enjoys the feeling of being a ‘big boy’ and staying with Granny and Grandad. He is a bright, bubbly and inquisitive little person, always ready for an adventure and doing something new. We had many outings planned depending on what the weather should turn out to be and the week actually included a trip down the canal in a horse drawn boat and a ride on a narrow gauge steam train, both of which were thoroughly enjoyed. However the two highlights of the week were firstly a visit to our local library where he was invited to scan the barcode on his chosen books and then stamp them with the return date. Louis comment, ” I never thought I would be allowed to do something so amazing!”

Secondly the absolute success of the week was a day out at Lake Vyrnwy, involving little more than messing about in the river (including slipping and needing a change of clothes!), a walk to the waterfall, checking for dinosaurs along the way, a picnic on the rocks and after strolling back to the car, an ice cream and a play in the adventure  play park. He was so dirty by the time we got back home that there was no option but to put him in the bath and as he played in the bubbles he said to me,

” That was the best day ever Granny, there were so many good things happened I can’t count them all.”

It brought a lump to my throat as I realised that all the fancy toys and electronic games just don’t come close to good old fashioned fun, and that’s exactly what we’d all shared. To all of you blessed with grandchildren I wish you many hours of simple fun, it’s the most important thing we can give them, that wonderful blend of time and the great outdoors.

 

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ageing, Health and well being, Uncategorized

Age is just a number, right?

old ladies picture

This picture is meant to make us all laugh and smile but this week I was slapped in the face with the reality of growing older. We all like to think that we are doing quite well at coping with our advancing years, brushing off the increase in number with a smile and a casual comment, ” Of course I don’t feel anything like 64, or whatever age we may be” We dash back to the hairdresser for another cut and just a hint of colour, a few lowlights, carefully apply our almost invisible make-up to give us a youthful glow, eat another plate of salad in the vain hope of getting in to our favourite pair of black trousers but try as we might change is happening, little by little that we can’t ignore.

I turned 65 a couple of weeks ago and celebrated in style with my family, enjoyed opening my gifts and cards and thought very little about the passing of another year. The following week however, my husband and I had plans to visit Warwick and Stratford and Avon; the hotels were booked, the theatre tickets for Stratford had been purchased many months ago and we were both looking forward to the RSC’s latest production of Macbeth.

It all started to go wrong when I began to pack. We live in the country and much of my life is spent outdoors in practical jeans and T shirts, sweaters and jackets, but we were off to the city and needed to up our game clothes wise. I needed to fill my case with a mix of clothes belonging to the ‘smart casual’ label. Within half an hour our bedroom resembled that of a teenager; as I tried on a combination of trousers and shirts, skirts and tops, none of which seemed to either look or feel right, I was in despair. My weight has not changed for some time, but somehow while I wasn’t looking my body has! Bits that used to be rounded are now flatter and vice versa; I stick out where I used to go in, I have a little bulge above my waistband that I feel certain must belong to someone else and has just been misplaced. My poor husband did his best with reassuring comments and compliments but to no avail, I simply could not deal with the changes I was experiencing. There was nothing for it but a call to an old and dear friend of similar age, who understood completely, shared similar moments and we both ended up laughing. I know it was silly, juvenile in many ways but it was a moment of reckoning. I really had to face up to the fact that this was the best I would be from now on and I should rejoice in my positive attributes and good health.

So we went away and had fun, I forgot about the clothes episode and enjoyed seeing new places and sharing new experiences with John. It was our anniversary and we had booked a table in a lovely Italian restaurant. The wine was excellent, the food delicious and at the end of the meal I stood up to visit the Ladies Room. The floor throughout the restaurant was swirling black and white marble, the stairs leading to the restrooms the same. Too busy looking at the wonderful pictures on the walls I failed to see that the first step was a shallow one set on the diagonal and in an instant I fell up the marble stairs. The staff were kind and attentive, I felt a complete fool. Assuring them that I was fine I scuttled to the sanctuary of the Ladies and checked myself out. My left knee had born the main impact and was already black and blue and swelling fast. My right shoulder and ribs were tender and aching but otherwise I seemed to be OK.

Returning to the table I told John what had happened, he called for the bill and we left. I managed to walk slowly back to our hotel and spent the rest of the evening with a cold compress on my knee, slowly recovering from the shakes and the overwhelming feeling of stupidity. Yes the restaurant could have highlighted the lower step, but I should have been paying more attention ( and it wasn’t that I had drunk too much, only two small glasses of white wine). My brain then went swiftly in to ‘what if’ mode, what if I had hit my head? what if I had broken a bone? Thankfully I had done neither and at least I can rest assured that I don’t have osteoporosis because that floor was extremely hard and would certainly have broken any brittle bones.

A week has passed, my knee is now a normal size and coloured in various shades through green to yellow, the stiffness in my shoulder and side almost gone but I still feel worn out and quite shaky when I remember the speed at which I fell, the inevitability of knowing I was falling but could do nothing about it. The experience has made me understand how awful it must be to be truly old and take a tumble; not only for the pain and discomfort but the lack of confidence which must surely follow.

I wear variofocal glasses and yesterday had them checked as I know the frames were a little loose and I may have been looking through the wrong section of lens, which will not have helped. I also went for my ‘over 60s’ health check and was told that my blood pressure was raised yesterday. “Not to worry,” said the nurse when she heard about my fall, “these things really shake you up. We’ll check you again in a fortnight.”

So a lesson, well learned in the last couple of weeks: aging is inevitable, change will happen and all we can do is make the most of what we have. Nothing is more important than our health, and as I regain my suppleness and lose the aches and pains I am truly grateful. I shall never approach an unknown set of stairs again with such a cavalier attitude.

Health and well being, Philosophy, Uncategorized

Priorities

I have been away from my Blog for a month or so and apologise for not reading or commenting on others for the same length of time. Life became hectic with visiting grandchildren, a trip back to Cornwall and a visit to hospital for my Father for a further operation, all of which made me ponder on the subject of blog writing. Why do we do it?

Initially I chose to write a blog to start the writing process again, to kickstart my creative side and try to find a more disciplined approach to writing, all of which was successful and the third book is now underway.

So should I continue to write a blog? Or is it in fact nothing more than an ego trip? Is anyone out there actually interested in what I or anyone else actually says? Are we all kidding ourselves that our thoughts, ideas and experiences are of value to others?

Over the last hectic month I haven’t really missed my interaction on the site, my mind has been too preoccupied with the realities of life, which I have been living first hand and in a very immediate way rather than from the second hand stance of my key board. Instead of writing about situations I have been experiencing them, everything from dinosaur games with a four year old, sharing food and wine with old friends, walking the coast path in Cornwall with my husband and caring for my 94 year old father, making him tasty meals and reminiscing to take his mind off his discomfort.

We need a balance in life of the practical and the more academic and it easy to become a slave to technology, to social media in general and to spend increasing amounts of time away from  real life. It has been a busy and often exhausting few weeks but I have relished the reconnection with the world, warts and all and have learned that however much I enjoy keeping in touch via technology it doesn’t come close to the real thing.

Note to self: work on the balance.

Uncategorized

The first sentence

pen and paper

A few weeks ago I wrote about my recent family history discoveries and the story of my great grandmother and how I was being sucked in more and more to the story of her life. It has almost become a compulsion to find out as much as I can about the events leading up to her marriage and eventual widowhood and my searches have led me to finding an unknown cousin, who knew more of the story than I did but was happy to share all he knew, also to a willing local historian who lived in the very same village and has reassured me that he will be able to furnish me with many details and much background information. Also from my father I learned that this love match, for so it would have seemed to be initially, was not always a joyous one as Thomas was a man who had little concerns over beating his children and as my great grandmother, Gally, was described by all who knew her as a gentle and caring lady, that surely can not have made for a happy life. It also appears to be that after his death, she never mentioned her husband’s name in conversation, it was as if the 19 years they had together had never happened.

When I first began to research the story I felt sure that it would be worthy of writing about, the basis of a novel was sitting there in front of me and all that was needed was  some further research in to life in the years between 1865 and 1940 and I would be off, my fingers flying across the keyboard as I shared this moving tale with an audience. So why am I finding it so hard to begin? There is an empty page in front of me, I have had a fairly definite idea of the structure of the book from the beginning but I am finding it so difficult to get that first sentence down.

Distractions are easy to come by: the laundry needs folding, a cake must be baked, the sun is shining so the outdoors calls, e mails must be read and replied to, texts sent, calls made and even the dreaded housework has come to stand between me and my writing. Even writing this blog is an excuse not to have to begin the first sentence!

Am I alone in finding this the hardest part of writing? I would welcome advice and hints, suggestions and strategies although possibly what I really need is a kick in the nether regions.

I have taken one positive step in signing up for a writing workshop next week entitled, “How to start your story” so I have high hopes of returning with the first sentence crafted and that wonderful feeling of wanting to get on with it, of my desk being the place that I want to be above all others.

Health and well being, Uncategorized

The Organ Recital

tablets

This post links in with my last one concerning health and well being but with a different twist.

I have just finished reading “Midwinter Break” by Bernard Maclaverty, a thoughtful tale of a middle aged couple taking a winter break in Amsterdam. We get to see past events from their long relationship from both their view points and to understand the ups and downs that are an inevitable part of any long standing relationship. At one point they mention the ‘Ailment Hour’, an hour set aside each day, usually after breakfast when they discuss their current ailments, diagnosis, recovery or what step to take next. I found this amusing as I recognised only too well the aches and pains they refer to. The author then highlights another couple who treat their aging ailments in the same way but refer to the time spent as the ‘Organ Recital’ and this made me chuckle aloud.

Some months ago we spent a weekend away with two friends whom we know very well and couldn’t help laughing as we all arrived at the breakfast table and brought out our bottles and packets of tablets and pills. Some were most definitely needed, medication for diabetes for one and an iron deficiency for another but we also had a wide array of vitamins and mineral supplements, glucosamine and turmeric. We are all getting sucked in to the belief that some or all of these ‘magic’ ingredients will ease the ache and stiffness of our joints as they grow older, that a full dose of Vitamin B will stave off memory loss and on it goes. I am not criticising myself or our our friends for taking these supplements, they may well help and almost certainly are doing us no harm, what I am questioning is the validity of all these aches and twinges. Are they serious? or do we just notice them because we have the time to do so?

I consider myself to be a busy and active older person, I spend time with my grandchildren, volunteer at the library, attend Tai Chi class and walk almost every day for a few miles or more, do my own housework, read and write, cook and enjoy trips out to cinema and theatre, but I cannot escape the fact that I have more head time than when I was working in a full time professional capacity. If I had to jump out of bed at 6.30 am and rush through an early morning routine and head off to work I wouldn’t have time to wonder about the ache in my right hip or to check on the knee twinge I felt walking yesterday. I am not trying to discount the genuine illnesses that come along with age to many unfortunate people, the pain of arthritis, the ache of rheumatism are all too real but I have noticed that when I have a grandchild to stay for a few days and my hours are packed with activity I rarely notice any twinges.

As a dear friend once commented, ‘The good thing about getting older is that this week’s ache or pain appears and takes all your concentration, so allowing last week’s ailment to fade into the background.’

So I am determined to give my twinges less thinking time, to cram all the cares and concerns about my physical health in to the Organ Recital and do my best to banish any stray thoughts that may appear outside the appointed time. My Father , who will be 94 in April has the view that if your body seems to be working OK when you wake up, then get up and face the day with gratitude and this seems like a good attitude to me especially when I am lucky enough to have good health apart from those occasional twinges. Now all I have to do is master my thoughts!

mental health, Philosophy, Uncategorized

In sickness and in health

cute-cartoon-wedding-couple-24627604

As I sit at my computer today to write this Blog two friends of mine are going through one of life’s hardest experiences. Both in their early sixties and having long looked forward to a happy retirement and more time spent with their little grandson, Bob ( I have changed their names) is currently on the operating table having a cancerous tumour removed from his oesophagus, along with healthy surrounding tissue while Sally waits anxiously, pacing corridors and drinking endless cups of cold coffee or stewed tea. Having received a diagnosis last year Bob has spent many months undergoing chemotherapy treatment to shrink the tumour before surgery and whilst the operation gives him a good chance of more years he will never again be able to eat in the normal way. I am not aware of the total picture as he goes forward but imagine he will be restricted both in amount and type of food and will most probably be facing a diet of pureed food for the remainder of his life.

Bob and Sally have been married for many years and I know that the journey has not always been an easy one but facing this major hurdle has brought them closer together again and Sally has been an absolute rock for her husband to lean on. This is one of those moments in life when we truly see the calibre of people, their responses to hard times and difficult issues tell us so much more about them than all the shared good times and fun days out. They have been showered with love and support, offers of help and kind words but ultimately this is a battle which they have to fight together and all we as friends can do is to offer both emotional and practical help. They are in our thoughts today.

The situation made me ponder this morning on marriage and those promises we make and certainly if we marry in our twenties or thirties the times of struggle and illness seem a far distant thing although disease, redundancy and even death can strike at any age. When you marry late in life as my husband and I did, you do it with eyes wide open and an implicit understanding of what may be to come. We knew that we would be extremely fortunate to sail through our older years with no ailments and already there are times when we have to accommodate each other’s weak areas: he has type 2 Diabetes and now some tinnitus in the right ear, I have bouts of sciatica and have to watch my right hip but those things apart we are still in good health, we enjoy our food and a glass of wine, we walk almost every day, often many miles with few ill effects, we enjoy travelling and visiting new places, we can still run around and play with the grandchildren. We are blessed because without good health every aspect of life becomes harder, more challenging and less fulfilling.

So whilst sending our love and support to Bob and Sally we are also taking a moment to appreciate what we have and not moan and gripe about a blister on the heel, or a grumble of indigestion. To end this entry I would like to share with you one of the readings we used at our marriage ceremony as we felt it was perfect for our situation and it stands alone as a lovely reminder of what love is truly about, especially as we grow older.

 

 

What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nanna came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

 

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

 


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The importance of ancestry

Margaret Owen (nee Davies)

Life has been throwing some strange coincidences my way just lately and as a result I find myself embarking on a journey of discovery about my forebears, the area in which I am now living and inevitably, myself.

In September John and I booked ourselves places on an open day at Gregynog Hall near Newtown, Powys. This lovely old house lies high in the hills of mid Wales about fifteen miles from where we now live. It has had a long and chequered history but is currently owned by the University of Wales.Gregynog

It was a glorious autumnal day and we wandered through the beautiful gardens and grounds enjoying the ancient woodland and the peaceful nature of the place before joining the group of about 20 for the guided tour of the inside of the house. To my knowledge I had never been here before  but as soon as we entered the building I experienced that deja vu feeling and this intensified as we made our way through the rooms. The feeling was especially strong when we went upstairs and were invited to look at some of the bedrooms which still contain the original arts and crafts style furniture made by the Missed Davies who owned and lived in the house in the early nineteenth century.

The tour and accompanying talk was fascinating and dealt mainly with the house’s history as it passed from one wealthy family to another, and the day ended with a superb afternoon tea served in the panelled dining room.

As we drove home I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I had been there before and called my father, now nearly 94, to ask if he had taken me there as a child, thinking that this could be the answer. He had not, but he then went on to tell me that my great grandparents had worked for the estate, my great grandfather as the carter and my great grandmother in the house before her marriage. I was instantly intrigued as you can imagine and he then went on to tell me the sad ending of the story. Once the couple were married they went on to have five children and were living in an estate small holding when my great grandfather Thomas Owen was badly hurt in an accident at work resulting in the amputation of his leg. As a result he was unable to carry out his duties and the family were evicted from their home and had to return to my great grandmother’s family home as paupers and throw themselves on the mercy of their relatives.

I realise that this is not an unusual or rare occurrence as a tied dwelling was just that and when the work could no longer be done, the cottage was needed for a new  employee but it has made me look at the woman in the photograph above with new eyes as I try to find out more about her and her story. She looks kind, but strong and I know from my father’s recollections of her that she was a much loved lady within the family and someone who would do all she could for others.

As I have begun to search for more details in this sad story I have met a local librarian who has helped me enormously, I have met the Librarian from Gregynog Hall who has added my family names to those she searches for within the estate archives and I shall be going later this week to the University Library of Wales in Aberystwyth to look through some of those estate records for myself. I would love to know what role Margaret had, was she housemaid or cook, laundry woman or dairymaid? The house played host to many famous people from the world of politics, art and music and was the retreat used by Stanley Baldwin and his family for him to recuperate after the stresses of dealing with Edward’s abdication in the 1930s. It is a privilege to feel connected to such a property and such a history albeit in a small way.

Each week brings new discoveries and the journey is a fascinating one.