Sunday, 4 November 2012

and another thing...

I've been thinking about how to continue this blog, and think it would be best to leave it as a place to write about our relationship in the past tense, to celebrate Chip's life (and in a small way, mine) and the things we created together, specifically our homes and gardens, past and present. I'm still engaged in the process of transferring 30 years of transparencies and prints into digital images, and I find blogging a congenial way of sharing them.

I'm also going to revive my 'dying light' blog for whatever artworks I can create or rediscover, and start a couple more: ScrapBook about my adventures with the puppy, and In Deepest Devon about the place I live and consider to be far more about who I really want to be than anywhere else I ever lived. 

If anyone has any comments or suggestions, I'd be pleased to see them.

so, grief...

I expected the welling heartache, the tearing sense of loss, the hollow pain, the aching, slow, readjustment to a radically rearranged world. I've felt it before, to varying degrees: when my dad died, or a loved pet (fortunately have yet to lose a good friend to death), or I lost something of myself some other way. It's just another bereavement, I thought, harder and more intense than the rest, sure, but it's familiar territory, I have the map, I'll find my way to the other side.

I was wrong. This time there's a triple  threat: along with the exquisitely distilled sorrow, there is horror and fear. The horror comes in sudden images from Chip's final month, like a slap in the face from an invisible hand: I'm not talking grand guignol horror (although there was a little bit of that), just the way that the disease took life from her bit by bit, slow and inexorable as a glacier, grinding away at that magnificent spirit until it was reduced  to a simple need for help; awful, in the fullest sense of the word. I had to suppress these feelings to get by, to provide the only help I could give, simply by being there to the end, but after the slap in the face (you remember, a mixed metaphor or two ago), it comes back, and I have to feel it now, damp-faced and shivering.

And the fear – anxiety is a better word – manifests itself in many ways. All through our 30-year relationship, Chip was the worrier – her glass wasn't so much half empty as smashed to pieces on the floor, its erstwhile contents irretrievably staining a prized Persian rug. My role was to be a reassurer. Now she's gone, though, I seem to have taken it on (anyone here who's read Alfred Bester's The Pi Man will know how this works). Scrap has diarrhoea (always outdoors I'm pleased to report) and I'm assuming virus at best, fatal congenital condition a possibility, normal puppy development an unlikely tale. A few floaters have appeared in my left eye, and I'm thinking macular degeneration or detaching retina, but can't get an appointment with an optician until tomorrow.

Previously, I have always been able to reassure myself by relying on a natural resilience and good health, as well as a history of making the right decisions in a crisis, but the last year or so have taken so much out of me physically, emotionally and spiritually, that I don't think I can take another hit right now without sustaining some permanent damage, so I'm over-protective and fearful.

I have to keep reminding myself that 'It's only been x weeks [currently x=8] since Chip died, you can't expect to be anything other than you are right now,' but in one sense it seems an age, and another it's still happening now. I'm more or less fully functional in terms of getting out in the world, talking to people, 'acting normal', doing what needs to be done, but at the same time, I'm (temporarily, I continue to hope) also insane.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

So how have you been, Ray...

...and the simplest answer, and the one I'm inclined to give whenever the question is put to me in person, is, 'I'm all right,' even though the last thing that 'all' is, is right. The problem with trying to say something more profound, or accurate, is that the process of grief, of sorting through the emotions, of recovering from the necessary insanity of Chip's last few weeks, when I had to suppress all that rage, horror and awe, and ignore the sense of loss gnawing and tearing away, is an amphetamine rollercoaster with more twists than a Tory and a tendency to jump the tracks every now and then and plummet into darkness. It is it difficult to say anything cogent, with things changing all the while – not just from day to day, but minute by minute sometimes. Quite a lot of the time, though, I'm rather enjoying the ride – all that LSD I took back in the day has prepped me well for periods of temporary insanity – which is why I say 'all right'.

I intend to keep this blog going with photos and stories about our relationship, while I make a new one about what happens next.  In the meantime, for those who have not seen it, there was an obit of Chip in the Daily Telegraph: .

Here it is in full:

"Pip Granger

Pip Granger, who has died of cancer aged 65, was the daughter of a pornographer and smuggler-turned-mail-order-astrologer and drew on her “bohemian-criminal” childhood in a series of interconnected novels set in working-class Soho in the 1950s.

The novels, which began with Not All Tarts Are Apple (2002), mainly focused around the life of Rosie, the daughter of a prostitute and alcoholic born in the East End of London who is taken in by a couple living over a Soho café, where she grows up surrounded by a colourful cast of low-life characters such as con artists, shyster lawyers, cross-dressers, prostitutes, fortune tellers and thieves — all big-hearted sinners who live on the margins, befriend young Rosie and protect her from harm.
Laced with cockney slang, Pip Granger’s four novels — the others are The Widow Ginger (2003), Trouble in Paradise (2004) and No Peace for the Wicked (2005) — are full of convincing period detail, evoking a picaresque world that largely vanished following the introduction of the 1959 Street Offences Act and the arrival of the “Swinging Sixties”. Not All Tarts Are Apple won the Harry Bowling Prize for fiction.
In Alone, a memoir which became a bestseller when it was published in 2006, Pip Granger showed how close young Rosie’s experience was to her own.
She was born Patricia Jacqueline Priscilla Cliff on July 26 1947 at Cuckfield, Sussex, and was always known to her friends as “Chip”. Both her parents were alcoholics, and her early childhood was marked by blazing rows and drink-fulled accidents. Just after her first birthday her family was evicted from their cottage for non-payment of rent — a pattern that would recur at intervals.
Her parents separated when she was five and, neglected by both, Pip and her older brother Peter were largely left to fend for themselves. They shuttled between homes in overspill estates around Dagenham, where their mother worked as a teacher, and their father’s top-floor flat above the Two Is coffee bar in Old Compton Street.
He had made money publishing pulp fiction in the Second World War, but subsequently lost everything. During Pip’s childhood he sold erotic literature, smuggled in from the Continent, and wrote radio scripts, though he spent much of his time in Soho’s pubs and cafés, snooker halls and more dubious establishments, acquiring friends ranging from The Goons to gangsters such as the Richardson brothers and “Mad Frankie” Fraser (with whom he played poker). A qualified pilot, he also flew light aircraft, in which he would sometimes take his daughter on trips to the French Riviera, returning with the plane loaded with smuggled brandy, tobacco and books. Later he became a mail order astrologer.
As a child Pip was never aware that her father was involved in anything shady or illegal; neither did his bohemian lifestyle make her feel different to her friends: “In Soho,” she recalled, “such people were thick on the ground.” One of her father’s best customers (for the erotic literature rather than the contraband hooch) was the Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli, who would serenade her while he waited to be served. Famous names such as Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire, regular visitors to Soho, would stop for a chat ; Annie Ross lived on the floor below; and Pip recalled bumping into Billie Holliday on the stairs.
But her most vivid memories were of Soho’s market traders, shopkeepers, craftsmen and, above all, the prostitutes, whom she recalled as being mostly French and “looking amazing”. “Prostitutes openly plying their trade was a common sight in Soho back then,” she recalled. “In fact it was these working girls that kept the streets safe. They would watch over children if their parents were at work... Before the Street Offences Act of 1959 life was lived far more out in the open and on the streets — there were always children playing and people selling things.”
Pip recalled that very few residents of Soho had a bathroom, so once a week a procession would make its way to the community baths: “We were all a bit grubby, but that was the way it was so it was just accepted.” The sleazy element of Soho, which she felt was much exaggerated in the press, was provided mainly by street traders selling dodgy photos: “They had handfuls of Brylcreem in their hair, so much that it looked like patent leather,” she recalled in an interview. “They’d have trilby hats, big lapelled suits and wide turn-up trousers. They always had great big wodges of folded-up notes and would hiss out of the side of their mouths to would-be punters.”
After leaving school Pip Granger worked in an office for a while and later trained as a special needs teacher. In Westminster she taught children who had been excluded from school. In the 1970s and 1980s she worked in Stoke Newington and Hackney.
Eventually forced to quit teaching due to ill health, she turned to writing, first non-fiction partworks. She began writing fiction in the 1990s when her brother was diagnosed with brain cancer. Her novels were a way of remembering their shared childhood. Yet she remained prouder of her successes in turning around the lives of children with behavioural and learning difficulties than she was of her writing.
Pip Granger observed that the energy of life in Soho in the Forties and Fifties came from people who had endured the war and whose “need to Live, with a capital L, was urgent”. Soho represented a refuge for those who wished to escape the restrictions of a Britain still in the grip of post-war austerity and curtain-twitching respectability. Her last book, Up West, published in 2009, was described as an “emotional history” of the West End, particularly Soho and Covent Garden, during the area’s bohemian heyday in the two decades between VE-Day and the mid-1960s.
Pip Granger’s first marriage ended in divorce, and in 1988 she married Ray Granger, with whom she moved to a house in North Somerset. They shared a love of wildlife and gardening and she wrote most of her books in a shed in a wildlife garden that they created together.
Her husband survives her.
Pip Granger, born July 26 1947, died September 8 2012"

The last pic of Chip and I together and the only one featuring The Scrap

Friday, 7 September 2012

Monday, 3 September 2012

passing thought

Sometimes I think that C will never get out of bed again, will never see our garden again, or walk around it with me, will never taste fresh figs again, or gulp cold water on a hot day, or lie in the sun in a hammock and reach up to pick an orange from breakfast, or wear any of those fine clothes and shoes with which she bedazzled the streets of every town she has graced with her presence: and then I think, oh but she did do those things, and dozens, hundreds, of others equally exquisite and bliss-provoking, and she did them many, many times.

And then I think about something else.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

still here...a vignette

Yesterday, and I’m talking to the visiting hospice nurse to fill her in on C’s condition. We were standing either side of the bed, talking over C, who is in Sleeping Beauty mode: her face, still lovely, and pale beneath the fading tan, is framed by the lace of her nightgown and the broderie anglaise trimming the pillow. She has been asleep for hours, and did not move when the nurse, Viv, came in.

Viv and I were discussing the best way to minimize the occasional acute pain she has been getting from the ascites that has swollen her abdomen, and which is greatly aggravated by any movement, and particularly coughing. The nurse had suggested she would be more comfortable if propped up in bed, but I pointed out that in stillness, C was in absolutely no pain, but when moved, was in agony – brief, admittedly, but still agony.  ‘She doesn’t like to be manhandled,' I said.

Timed to perfection,  the words ‘Speak for yourself' floated up from the frail figure on the bed.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

the first shoe

It's been a wild fortnight, settling down a little now: the irony has bled away from the blog title. It’s two months since C got out of hospital for definitely the last time (she insists on dying at home, and preferably in the garden if I can get her there, and has made absolutely bloody sure that no medico in the south-west peninsula is unaware of this) and we had a fine time, so good and full at times that there was no hope of me getting on here, although the real reason for the sparsity of posts is the usual laziness and difficulties in finding time to upload photos.

As a result, you will miss various planned posts: one was entitled Star Quality, about the way C enchants doctors (one of whom she moved to compassionate tears by teasing out how her grandfather had died of pancreatic cancer), nurses and ambulance drivers with her extraordinary life force,  sense of humour, kindness and awareness: even the guy who brought her home from hospital in a taxi was moved to comment to me when they arrived, ‘That's an extraordinary woman you have there.’ (‘I know,’ I replied, because I do.)

Another one was provisionally entitled Deadlines and Goals, and the importance of having things to look forward to and aim for in the near and mid-future, in order to facilitate living in the present: with our various anniversaries, pet and people birthdays, we can keep much of the calendar covered, but for some while she's been looking to the triumph of reaching 65 on 26 July (she had a lovely day, btw, eschewing all vague half-formed plans for celebratory jollies in favour of doing what she loves best, spending a sunny day in the wildlife garden we made), and once that was reached, and the weather went off, she felt suddenly bereft, and low, and the next significant date, my birthday in October, seemed a little too far away. We beguiled our time with the Olympics, though, dashing out into the garden to ‘beat the bounds’, an activity that involves wandering up and down the paths, checking things over, seeing what's coming and what's going, pausing occasionally to do a little light deheading and often breaking off to get involved in some delightful task, so that the bounds are rarely beaten in one go, sometimes not in three or four.

Then there was one I hadn't titled, about our small adventures the Friday before last, when C found a monthly art class she could go to in the depths of the country, there to fulfill an ambition cherished since the days of 1950s TV, to have a go on a potter’s wheel, when she made two ‘recognizable’ pots (her words). This led to thinking if there was anything else we'd never done that would be nice, and we've never had a puppy (all our dogs have been mature rescues), so, being the modern man I am, I immediately got on-line, and tracked down some Jack Russell crosses in Winkleigh. C then spent the weekend asking ‘Have they rung yet?’ every half an hour (they hadn't), so on Monday, when she was taking a constitutional down to the Millennium Green, I rang the local vet and discovered there were three JR puppies at Cheriton Fitzpaine, but  a few miles away. We were there before lunch, and chose a chap called Scrap, to be delivered the following Friday.  That lunchtime we went to buy supplies: kibble and chewtoys, a collar and a cage; much fevered and joyful anticipation in the house.

That evening C was talking to our friend Phil on the phone when she felt a bit sick, so she asked me to take over the call, which I did, taking the phone on to the landing. Five minutes later I came back into the bedroom to find C hunched over a bowl. ‘This isn’t good,' she said, and indeed it wasn’t, with bowl filled with gobbets of bright red blood.

Of course we got the medical cavalry in, but with C refusing to contemplate hospital at any price, there was nothing much for them to do but stand by and palliate. Although she brought up blood three more times that night, it was progressively less copious,  blacker, and more clotted, giving hope that the bleed was over, but it came back the following day, when C’s lovely GP was in attendance. This caused a crisis, in which she lay back on the bed fighting, rasping for breath, her eyes rolled back in her head, lids half-closed. 

I was holding her right hand to my heart, and the GP stood to her left, stroking her forehead, both urging her to relax, to let go, as she fought and fought, and then suddenly she was still: breathing stopped, suspended, pulse too: I turned my head to look at the clock, which says more about me than I’d care to know, and looked up at the doctor. As I did so, there was a huge, tearing, intake of breath, and Chip jolted forward, her eyes open, as an adrenaline surge restarted her heart – that was something to witness. 

And since then, slowly, steadily, she has improved, with no more bleeding: she is still tied to a syringe driver feeding her pharma heroin and a powerful anti-emetic sedative, a combo that leaves her pain-free and often slipping into that realm between consciousness and un, where many delightful nonsenses gambol free, but the Marie Curie End of Life nurses have been withdrawn. Also, the puppy was delivered to us the day after the second bleed, and, as far as I am concerned, has a lot to do with C's rallying: there's always room for a little more love in everyone’s life.

She remains, of course, very weak, too weak to get out of the bedroom, and although she is eating a little of what she fancies, drinking plenty and peeing well (something I did not know is that people dying of wasting diseases generally stop peeing naturally before they die), it’s difficult to see how this would improve radically enough for her to get out into the world again unassisted, if at all.

A blood transfusion was mooted, but she would have to spend days in the hospice in Exeter to get that, there are no guarantees, and she would still, in a phrase she repeats like a mantra, be waiting for the other shoe to drop. She has refused, and I am with her all the way.

So our days have resolved into a routine of puppy play, daily re-up visits from the community nurses, daytime TV and lots of simply lying down, holding hands, and floating free

I’ll be back very soon with some photos

Friday, 13 July 2012

whack and crack

So, Monday morning I get up to make C a cup of tea, and after three seconds, I'm flying. Unfortunately, after four seconds I'm landing; halfway down the stairs, on my coccyx. Probably not the worst pain I've ever had, but it's up there, and still pretty potent, and intermittently sickening, 96 hours later.

This led to a bit of role reversal, with C, feeling better every day, looking after me, although I can still get about. On Wednesday, we even had a couple of hours in a rare sunny garden, until C felt a pain in her side and went indoors. I soon followed, and we followed the time-honoured ritual of falling asleep watching a recording of Homes Under the Hammer (we know how to live!).

Around seven, I roused myself, woke Chip and went to fetch a meal: when I got back C was screaming in agony as the pain in her side went exponential. I'd seen this before, when my pal Bill cracked a rib, but I kept my counsel and did my best to mitigate what C described as the worst pain she ever felt (and she's had pyelonephritis, a fractured skull, tooth abcesses and recurring shingles with the ME) until Devon Doctors got there. It is a rib injury, they decided, although I do not think it can be broken because it has settled over the last 36 hours into a relatively dull pain, so I assume – hope, really that it's a crack. She's gone to Day Care for the first time today (she got a lift!), theoretically a chance for me to play music and do the heavy, noisy or noisome housework that I can't really do when she's here, but I can't really face making or eating breakfast,  let alone Extreme Dysoning.

As someone on my internet forum suggested, I'm going to have to stop dancing under ladders and breaking mirrors over the heads of black cats...

Saturday, 30 June 2012

two dozen

Today is the 24th anniversary of our first wedding. 
I really want to celebrate this, the fact that C has taught me everything I know about loving and being loved, the beautiful things – gardens, homes, animals, numerous numinous moments of joy and laughter – that we have created, or cared for, or both, and all the tenderness and natural beauty we have enjoyed together. And the way I would celebrate is in words and pictures, but right now, a rare burst of sunshine and C woke up feeling better than she has for months, so we're off to make more memories, or simply to drift in the infinite present, poised and immortal, so it's going to have to wait.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Coming home

C finally had her procedure on Friday, and according to the consultant, it went as well as they could have wished: C is certainly feeling, and indeed looking, much better for it. They fitted two stents in the 'biliary tree' (which I had not heard of before) and another, four inches long, in her duodenum. They have listened to C, have taken in account her two wishes to see out this summer – should it ever begin – and never to have to come in to hospital for further restenting. The position of the duodenal stent means they will not be able to replace the biliary stents should they fail again, so they have taken a belt and braces approach to the latter.

C is staying in hospital over the weekend as they wean her off the syringe driver that has been delivering round the clock anti-emetics and morphine, but the current plan is for us (my friend Phil is coming to stay at Sandford tonight) to go and break her out after tomorrow, at which point I'm hoping the medical stuff will be replaced by more pretty pictures...

Friday, 8 June 2012

another bulletin

C did not have her procedure on Wednesday because the equipment broke down. This means that three times in the space of the past six days, she has been kept nil by mouth for up to 12 hours or more (that's no water either, not kind for someone with a disease that leaves her dry-mouthed at the best of times) without any result. The hospital has simply failed her in their duty of care, despite the best efforts of the nursing staff and some of the doctors, and after her experiences there this time and last time, I'm convinced she will never go in again.
She was due to be the first patient treated this morning, and we hope she will be back home by Monday at the latest.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


Just popped home to water the plants (as if they need it in this weather...) get more clothes, cancel things, etc. They are going to replace Chip's biliary stent today in an endoscopic procedure, and I hope do something about the stricture on her duodenum which is the reason she's puking so often: I don't know whether this stricture is caused by the growth of her pancreatic tumour, which suggests a second stent just below the pyloric sphincter, or through inflammation of the pancreas as a result of an infection in the bile duct, which will be reversible with antibiotics.

In better news, there's no sign of growth in the secondaries she has on her liver, and no new lesions. All being well with the procedure today, she should be home by the weekend, to enjoy the monsoon.

Friday, 1 June 2012

What we did on our holidays & health bulletin

Yes we did have a lovely time in Hope Cove, until the last night, when C started to be very sick.  We had to get the duty doctor out to give her a stabilizing shot, and the giddy thing we would do on our 30th anniversary (see previous entry) turned out to be simply driving back home. She made it, though, without mishap, then virtually immediately began throwing up again. Since then she has been better for brief periods, but was significantly worse on Wednesday and yesterday, and she is now back in the Royal Devon & Exeter hospital. She was slated for an endoscopy procedure today, but was too ill, and will have it tomorrow: it's possible her stent has been blocked, or that there is an unspecified obstruction in her small intestine close to the point it leaves her stomach.

A week ago today we were both enjoying what we agreed was the best day's holiday we had ever had, drowning in beauty on the Devon coast: today, in the hospital, the conversation turned on euthanasia and funerals.

Her treatment has been complicated by the Retard Family's bunfight and attendant holidays, which have also cut off all local bus services from Saturday lunchtime to Wednesday morn, so I'm going to stay in my son's house in Exeter from tomorrow (he's off to Kent to house-sit for his Mum and Dad), meaning I'll have no access to the internet or my home phone for a while.

Anyway, here's some of the best of the 200-odd digital photos I took in the two days (as well as two 36-exposure films).

Our room had a balcony overlooking the beach

Hope Cove from the headland. The hotel we spent the first two nights is the large building on the right: on the third night we switched to one at a similar height on the opposite side of the Cove, which boasted a 10m swimming pool that we made full use of - C is an excellent swimmer
Here's one for those who wonder why I make so few appearances on this blog
Here's my darling on the South-West Coast path, sunning her knees and enjoying the lovely,
if incongruous, sight of an exposed headland smothered in bluebells
What though my wingèd hours of bliss have been,
Like angel-visits, few and far between

Romantics cant resist a clifftop garden, glittering sea and the odd wild rock (see below)

sweet dreams, darling girl, sweet dreams

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

scenes from the rollercoaster, part 93:

Yesterday, Chip felt awful, unexplained and immovable pains, nausea, hot and cold shivers, an inability to eat, deep misery – C dreading that this presaged another hospital bout, rather than the holiday she had planned for later in the week; we went to the GP in the late afternoon and got a broad spectrum anitbiotic for what she (the GP) thinks might be a urine infection underlying all the other symptoms, and C had a quiet evening zonked on prescription meds (most anti-nausea medicines seem to be small quantities of heavy-duty sedatives and anti-psychotic drugs) falling asleep in front of recordings of Homes Under the Hammer.

This morning, she suggested we take a walk up the hill behind our house, to the oaks where her ashes are to be secreted, and she positively zipped up the slope, without aid of sticks or asthma medication; we saw several hares, and a roe deer doe, and admired the wonderful view over the village and the extraordinarily blessed and verdant valleys and hills in which it nestles, with that special Devon colour combo of red earth, lush green and clear blue and white in a sky rinsed by the Atlantic, and felt privileged to be alive and here in the infinite now. 

the old oaks
Then, again at the instigation of the valetudinarian, we extended the venture by climbing to the top of the field, and over a fence into the grounds of Creedy Hall, the stately(-ish) home on the other side of the hill, where we walked through the Rookery Wood that tops it, admiring the natural gardens of mossy tussocks and nodding campion, shuttlecocked ferns and starry stitchwort, listening to the birdsong pinging down from above, all pleasures heightened by the thought that we were basically bunking in to someone's garden – although with C parading around in her sapphire pendant, cashmere and £2,000 shoes, I don't think any would have dared challenge her. It was glorious

Dressed for the country. The shoes are bespoke, and made from reindeer leather recovered
early in the 20th century from a Russian ship that sank in the late 18th century
And on the way back down the buttercup-strewn hill we stopped at the oaks, and Chip nominated the very hole where she wishes her remains to reside (and those of Kezzy, too). Neither of us believe for a moment that she will be able to appreciate the view once comminuted, but both agree that it's a fine and fitting place for her to end.

Later, we planted out some salvias that arrived in the post today, and some sunflowers C had raised from seed, had a fine outdoor lunch of smoked salmon and creamcheese on Finn Crisp rye biscuits, with cracked pepper and lemon; then I came in and wrote this, with moistened eyes, but, this time, not tears of sorrow.

Tomorrow, once we have taken possession of some oxycodone patches (C keeps throwing up the slow release tablets) we are going to the quaintly and ironically named Hope Cove, to stay for three days in a hotel on a low clifftop above a sandy beach looking out westward over the sea towards Cornwall: the weather forecast is for sunshine and 25°: we'll probably be home on Sunday, but as that day marks our 30 years as a couple, we may just do something giddy...

That's enough pics of C in the Rookery

Oh go on then, just one more, framed in campion
The way home

Thursday, 17 May 2012

moving on

As many of you will already know, our dog, Kez, died at 9 pm on Sunday 6 May, aged 14. He had been failing for a long time, with recurrent bouts of inflammation in his gut, and went into a swift decline over the weekend: his refusing food – an unprecedented occurence – told us he was on his way.

K-Paws in his sleek, plump prime, complete with ginger eyebrows
And of course we were both heartbroken, each in our way, but even in the middle of that (or, to be more geographically precise about it, the middle of the beginning of it), we were both aware of pressure lifted: not just the background worry of a sickly animal in the house, but also of the various strictures he put on our day, in terms of feeding, pilling and walking him, of trying not to step on or fall over him (he had a lifelong penchant for plonking himself down next to people's feet), of having our walks curtailed because he didn't want to go or was simply Not Allowed.

So, in line with General Policy, we made points of getting the yellow book so we could visit some local gardens over the summer, going for walks with each other (or on our own) rather than with old, tired dog, and C surprised us both by booking a holiday – three days at the end of next week – in a hotel looking west over the sea in the quaintly-named Hope Cove. When we first got K in 2003, when he was five, he was chock full of Mainwaringish bristling bluster and hair-trigger barks, and couldn't be taken anywhere near a hotel because of his vigorous attempts to repel, with bleeding eardrums, all who dared to come within ten feet of our room. We could have taken him in recent years, I guess, as deafness has been his friend in the repelling-boarders line of his doggy duties, but we got out of the habit. Anyway, the three days end on 27 May, our 30th anniversary, which is nice.

Anyway, here's my darling looking gorgeous and feeling hugged in cashmere, enjoying the local walk:

C thinks she looks like her mother here, but I have to squint a whole lot harder to see her, rather than the lovely woman for whom I fell so hard 30 years ago

The way home. Every now and then, everything's right about a snap

The loss of Kez meant that C was without a pet of any kind for the first time since she was in her 20s. And then we noticed that a wren had built a nest in the broken-down brick 'shed' at the top of the garden, or at least we assumed so, because it would fly in and out of holes in the wall (one just under the eaves, the other at ground level) carrying grubs and insects in, and faecal sacs out. It seemed completely unfazed by our presence on the new, extended patio/rockery/thingy I've been making, and we watched it for ages. It was not long before C began to refer to it as 'our' wren.

Our new pet
new, extended patio/rockery/thingy

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Anyway, so I had it in my mind to write a follow-up to the last post, called 'Garden Garden' about our love for and delight in the gardens we have made, the closest thing to children we have had together, but the more I thought about it without actually sitting down and doing it, the more ambitious and sweeping it became (much like the gardens themselves did, come to think of it), and what my meagre readership (lookship?) demands is news and photos of my darling, not conceptual art nor tales of horticultural derring-do: so...

The first eight or ten days after C got home from the hospital were magical, as the blissy weekend described in the last post turned into a week or more of sweet unseasonality, with the pleasures of spring and summer colliding in a kaleidoscope of sun-kissed colours and textures, and we spent all our time outside. A day or two into her convalesence, C was to be found in the time-honoured pose of several generations of her female line, with her arse appearing from a flowerbed.

 Her determination to eradicate all traces of dandelions from the beds, along with her decision to get some wear out of previously saved-for-best outfits – as well as favourites from her youth, once grown out of, into which she now slips sylphily – has made for some lovely sights in the garden.

Sadly, though, she finds it increasingly difficult not to overdo it, so she feels exhausted and has to take to her bed: she has also recently had problems with sickness associated with bending or twisting her body, and it's almost a blessing that the rain has set in: the dandelions certainly think so. Despite the decline in the weather, on the use it or lose it principle, she still takes Kez out every day for a stately totter down the lane and into the Millennium Green, albeit rarely much further: but that's down to the dog, 14 yesterday and still a source of much joy (as well as an inexhaustible well of stinky farts) to us both, rather than any lack of will to enjoy the countryside on C's part.

a walk in the woods
You will feed me - look deep into my eyes and relax – you will get me kibble...
Hypnodog rides again

With the weather poor, and C struggling to accomodate a new regime of painkillers while still maintaining a semblance of consciousness for the majority of the day, we've been spending a lot of time in the bedroom. This is no bad place to be, with views of wildlife through the window
Roe deer grazing under the old oaks at the top of the hill: C's ashes will be buried under one of these
venerable beauties – the oaks, not the ungulates
and no shortage of flowers inside:
spring stalwarts – never knowlingly undervased at our house

thank you Susan

Oh, and last  weekend,  we went into Crediton to visit the farmer's market and in the space of 20-30 minutes, no less than 10 people, mostly strangers, complimented C on how well and gorgeous she was looking, which of course she was...

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Home, Home

a warm welcome
When C was a girl – when C was P, in fact – she used to go on the train to visit her granny in Lancing, in Sussex. The train stopped at Hove, where the guard, or the station master, would announce the fact in a two-note descant, 'Hove, Hove,' a chime we have adopted when referring to home: and home, home never seemed more melodious than it did today, with C emerging yesterday from eight days of Hogarthian horror in a hospital showing the strain of Tory depredations into a weekend of such confirmed Springiness that it bounced our souls skyward.

garden, dog, bench, Sun, beloved... smiling on

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Just for clarification

Nothing has actually changed with today's news, except that we have more information. Plan A is still in place, the plants still grow, the sun still rises and C is still here, confounding medical expectations and filling rooms with her particular light.

good news and not so good news

The endoscopy was a success, opening the stent again, and C will be home tomorrow.

Sadly, a CT scan revealed secondaries in her liver, so the prospect of C having 'a year or two' dangled by the consultant if she proved to be free of other tumours has been removed: they are equivocal about her seeing out the summer, and the most likely outcome is that she will get progressively weaker and her life more circumscribed, so it's back to plan A and wringing the last drop of juice from life.

Ever since I had to tell my mother that my father was dead, and saw the light go out in her eyes, I've hated to be the bearer of bad tidings, but it seems to be my lot.

Anyone who wants to talk to me, feel free to ring. I'll be glad to hear from you

Monday, 19 March 2012

waiting game

C has yet to have her endoscopy: it may happen tomorrow, but probably Wednesday, with a view to getting her home on Friday. She is in reasonable good spirits, eating a bit, and is now in a much better ward with views of the sky and distant hills and a nice group of women.

Over the last few days, our friend Phil has given up his study leave and weekend to come down from Wales and ferry me around, which has allowed C to have a daily commune with her darling dog K in the car park: this was yesterday

apologies for the blurs: a few drops of moisture condensed on the lens

Saturday, 17 March 2012


The hospital has established that there are no secondary cancers apparent, which is great, and also that she has septicaemia, rooted in an infection in the liver caused by a blockage of the bile duct.

They are currently treating her with IV antibiotics (she is still inclined to throw up anything she swallows unless she gets a shot of a powerful anti-emetic first), and she will have an endoscopy on Monday to see exactly what's causing it and to remedy it: it might be the stent is blocked internally with tiny pieces of gall-stone or other detritus, in which case they will attempt to clear it, or it might be that the tumour has closed it beyond the stent, in which case they will attempt to fit a third or adjust the current one.

Thanks to everyone for their concern: I'll post again on Monday when I hope to know a little more

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Bulletin: Back in the Jug Agane

C was well enough yesterday: we had visitors, she went out to Big Cred to do some shopping, Then, suddenly, around 8 pm when I was getting dinner, she had a serious shivering fit – rigours I think they call it – that went on for about an hour: then she was too hot, and then she started to throw up. We got her warm and stabilized, and she slept for a while, with me dozing in the armchair for a couple of hours, until about 1.30, when the fool dog decided he had to go out for a pee and a crap. As C was sleeping soundly, I kept him downstairs with me while I cleaned up the kitchen and dithered around until about 2.15, when I delivered him back to the bedroom, had a few words with C, who was barely conscious, then went to bed in the guest room. By this time, I had woken up, so I read for a while. I turned the light out at three, then almost immediately heard the unmistakeable sounds of vomiting on the baby monitor we use as a one way intercom. 

She could not keep down water, pills, anything, so I phoned the night medical service, got dressed, and waited. They came at four, and the doc gave C a shot to quieten her stomach. I went back to bed at 5 (setting the alarm for 7.30 so I could wake up C in time for here morning pill regime – so many of the various pills she takes have sedative effects that she cannot rely on an alarm clock to wake her), and slept until 7, when the baby monitor woke me again – fool dog needed out. So I took him downstairs and let him into the garden and made C, who was awake and stirring, another cup of weak Earl Grey tea, current tipple of choice. At this point it was 7.30 or so: C had her pills and ran a bath, while I got into our bed and got my head down for two more hours, interrupted only by going down to the kitchen a couple of times to make C - who had acquired a raging thirst, the symptoms just kept on coming – more tea.

She felt OK, if a little weak and unwilling to contemplate any activity that didn't involve staying in bed, and we bumbled through the morning. Around lunchtime I phoned the GP's surgery to ask about the problems C is having with night sweats and shivering, and she, having just read the night doctor's report, decided to come out and have a look. She (the GP) thinks that the stent put in in November is failing, and feels that C should have it replaced, if possible: if it isn't possible, well, they will try and keep the infections at bay with antibiotics, and she will simply get more and more jaundiced. So, there was a great flurry of activity and packing (four bags: clothes, entertainment, drugs and food – the catering at the RD&E, in direct contrast to the medical care,  is beyond inadequate, it's an insult),  and once again, my love left in an ambulance at around 3.30. 

It's very difficult to keep things in the day when something like this happens. For months now, we've been able to forget, for long periods of virtually every day, that Chip is dying, and to concentrate on living, on the love we have for each other, our dog, our home, our garden, our lives. Neither of us had any inkling that this latest bout was anything other than a dip on the rollercoaster. It felt like a blow to the solar plexus

It may yet prove to be just another dip, and I'm sure my natural optimism will reassert itself, and probably quite soon, but right here, right now, in this moment, the house seems horribly empty, purpose and direction lacking, nothing to do but wander about, and howl my devastation at the everyday reminders of separation, and wait for news...

I'll keep you posted

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Furiously making lemonade since 1947

It's nine months to the day that a clueless klutz of a registrar made a brutal bollocks of giving C the news of her diagnosis (in an open ward, just before visiting time, naught but a curtain for privacy, no support, etc.), and according to the medical statisticians, she shouldn't really be here now. And although she has had a few bad days this week, unable to keep food or drink down and deeply, if temporarily dispirited, this morning she woke up all perk and painfree, kept her breakfast down, took Kezzy for a walk on the Millennium Green and insisted on climbing Rose & Crown Hill to the community shop to pick up my newspaper as I slugged abed. I'm pretty confident she's going to beat the epidemiologists' odds.

But then again, she should have been dead years ago, perhaps not even born: it started with the car-crash that left her pregnant mother dangling from a branch over a stream by her bra-strap; then her premature birth after her not strictly sober mother fell down stairs; then foetal alcohol syndrome; a fractured skull at three; a tonsillectomy that led to a haemorrhage so brutal that she almost drowned in her own blood; hepatitis B; pyelonephritis; and all that before she got out of her teens. People use words like gutsy, courageous, a fighter, but that doesn't cover it for me: what C has is bloody-mindedness, resilience and a long-held determination – borne out of the bitter experience of others close to her, notably her brother, who was diagnosed with cancer just as he was about to fulfill his lifetime ambition of being a photographer – to follow her dreams and to make the very best of the less arduous parts of a life which has included far more than its fair share of pain and illness (I haven't even mentioned the bulk of it), to pour out tenderness and loving kindness to any creature more helpless and tremblingly vulnerable than herself, and to inspire far more love and devotion in others than she thinks.

So here's a few relatively random pictures from a life that is still being well-lived

Beatnik phase

Leaving for the Harry Bowling Prizegiving
Researching for Up West. Honest

Pet and Bec's wedding, 1983

c. 1980 The schoolteacher years
Aged around 20

Ibiza 1970s

with Toots by the sea c. 1986

Elm Grove 1984

Cork St Vermeer, mid-1990s
Road trip in Kermit

Sweetheart Abbey

Sleeping at the Mansions
I don't know which animal is down there, but I can tell from the look that there is one
Here comes trouble...
With Marc Ennals – I always treasure the photos that showed her ear-rings in flight