The Deckmaster

One of the advantages of working from home is being able to enjoy the summer weather so I decided to take full advantage by obtaining quotes to have part of my garden decked. Subsequently, I contacted four contractors but as is the case here in Britain only two bothered to turn up.

I selected the company I had previously used for a small fencing job and as they had appeared to be fairly efficient arriving early, bringing along surplus timber just in case and speeding through the job. However, as he initially said he wouldn’t be able to start the job for some weeks I was amazed when he turned up one morning unexpectedly and told me that he’d had a cancellation and was able to start. A bit flustered I reluctantly agreed and that was when he asked me for an advance to pay for the timber delivery. Now that should have been the first red light but he was a small business and he had been very vocal about his marriage break up and child custody problems, so we agreed that he could have access from early the next morning.

I have to admit to being a tad disappointed that he didn’t arrive until mid-morning the next day citing family problems. It was then I noticed he was on his own carrying all his tools in a supermarket carrier bag so I enquired about his partner to be informed that he had left and was now working alone. I have to admit to being very concerned at this point but as I had paid for the timber I felt that I had to run with it but later that morning I was horrified when he asked which bus he should catch to the local hardware store as he had run out of screws.

The job progressed but I was seriously disappointed, it sloped and when it was finished it looked like something a first year woodwork student had cobbled together totally lacking the professional finish which I had asked for. The two steps I specifically requested onto the garden sleepers with incorporated ramp for my hedgehog visitors which I had provided a sketch for was frankly an amateurish eyesore and I had received a handful of splinters from the handrail alone. I realised that the works displayed on his website were clearly earlier projects when he’d been working alongside his former colleague or “borrowed” from google along with the reviews. The final straw was when he asked if I could lend him a level so I ordered him off site. Barbs, my bestie, told me to have a couple of vodkas as it would look better in the morning; it didn’t!

My not-so hedgehog friendly ramp

Letters From Heaven

I’ve got a secret; one I’ve been dying to share with you for a week or so! I’ve been debating for some time whether to go freelance and I’ve done it. The deciding factor for me was after an uninspiring 1:1 with my area manager in which I was told “the company did not reward loyalty or long-term service”. So after this disheartening meeting I had a eureka moment; for those that have seen one of my favourite films “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” remember the scene where the Judge debating on whether to retire shouts “today’s the day”?

The old fella had long disapproved of the organisation I worked for and every year when they failed to provide me with a cost of living pay rise claiming a dip in overall company profits despite both the directors driving around in brand new Range Rovers, he pointed out that even Dick Turpin wore a mask.

So I tendered my resignation and four weeks onwards I’m doing okay and waking up looking forward to each day instead of hauling my tired arse down to the bus stop before 6am each morning. Ironically, the day after I resigned a white flash on my Dad’s old armchair caught my eye. I picked it up and my heart somersaulted when I realised it was one of his old business cards. It now sits on my laptop under my wrist rest as a reminder that the old fella would have been oh so proud. I don’t know what lies ahead but for the time being I know that this is the right time for me.

For those out there thinking of taking the plunge; try it you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner #followyourdreams

The Queen’s Speech

As children when the old fella kissed us goodnight the evening before our birthday he would deliver what became known in our family as the birthday speech, more eagerly anticipated than the Queen’s Christmas Day one. His speech started with the immortal line “now this is the last night you’ll ever be thirteen again because when you wake up in the morning you’ll be fourteen” and this fast became a family tradition

I’m pleased to say that as we got older this particular tradition stopped; think Dad recognised the teenage eye rolling and wisely decided to quit whilst he was ahead. However, it was resumed when my nieces were old enough to appreciate it and woe betide if granddad ever forgot as he would be curtly telephoned before bedtime by the intended recipient to remind him that he was late.

Another part of our family folklore was that as a small child my sister, used as a tactic to delay her bedtime, would always chant “don’t turn the light off, don’t shut the door & talk as you go down the stairs” when my parents went to kiss her goodnight and it comforted me to repeat it to the old fella every evening when I took my leave of him at the care home. So it somehow seemed appropriate when the vicar included that phrase during the service at the funeral reminding us that by leaving the door open he would always be with us.

Family traditions and rituals are the tapestry of our childhood memories and remind us of the love woven into our daily lives. What sometimes appears to be an insignificant word or gesture will frequently become an echo of time past which will often bring a smile or much-needed inspiration on an otherwise rainy day. By treasuring our family customs it enables us to hold on to those we love who are no longer with us but yet still guide and inspire us through turbulent and difficult times. Somehow I know that the old fella would think that that is the best legacy of all.

The Dementia Taboo

Last year I had a rare night out catching up with some former colleagues over a drink and a bite to eat. Whilst it was great to see them I felt for the main part that they were tiptoeing around me and wondered whether I had a neon tattoo on my head emblazoned with the words “fragile; dementia carer please handle with care”. One of the husbands of the other girls was in remission from cancer and they all expressed concern over his recovery and yet in much the same way as Voldemort is referred to in the famous Harry Potter novels as “he who must not be named” dementia in many social situations becomes the elephant in the room. Now I’m not blaming my friends as I know it’s a difficult subject to broach and frankly some of the behaviours of many dementia sufferers scare the bejesus out of most of us but here’s the thing; it currently effects 850,000 people in the UK alone and by 2025 it will be over a million so chances are everybody at some point will know someone struggling with dementia.

Make no mistake Alzheimer’s is a killer and a destructive force in the lives of many, in much the same way as Motor Neurone, Parkinson’s, Cancer and any other progressive illness. There is no get out of jail card once you have been diagnosed and there is no recovery for this marauding killer that steals your loved ones right in front of you, piece by heartbreaking piece. One of the most bittersweet moments of my struggle was that I did not travel the old fella’s dementia journey alone for my bestie Barbs, was also fighting her own battle with her father who was also diagnosed last year. We’ve laughed & cried together, vented, raged against the injustice we have suffered at the hands of the social care system and shared advice in navigating the treacherous waters of Alzheimer’s but both of us have also sadly discovered that many of our other friends not knowing what to say to us have ended up saying nothing at all. Frankly, are we any less worthy of compassion simply because our loved ones no longer have the mental capacity that they used to. Is it any wonder that so many dementia carers feel isolated and alone?

So can I ask you to do just one thing for me today for all the families lacing up their boots to face another day of battle in their war against dementia; ask them how they are, drop them an email, write them a card, give them a call, offer to meet them for coffee or pop over to their house with a bottle of wine. Granted, Alzheimer’s has some appalling symptoms and causes sufferers to do fairly uncharacteristic things but I promise you, it’s not infectious and you can’t catch it. So go on be a good friend in the life of a dementia carer today after all what’s stopping you?

My wish for you is that you continue to astonish a mean world with your kindness #grandfather #grandad

My wish for you is that you continue to astonish a mean world with your kindness
#grandfather #grandad

The Cost Of Love

Our 2016 remained bitter right up until the very end after old Hobo was attacked by another cat whose owner had irresponsibly failed to neuter their pet. After four weeks’ of unsuccessful treatment at the local vet we were referred to a veterinary ophthalmic surgeon (the eye Supervet) where he has undergone an operation and ongoing treatment with the bill currently running at £2,000; financed solely from my much-needed new car fund. Even with cutting edge technology it’s uncertain whether he will regain full sight in his eye but I know the old fella would have wanted us to try. On one of my many visits to the surgery I sat listening to the receptionist answering calls from other pet owners in the same situation as myself and at £120 initial consultation fee many deliberated on whether to proceed with treatment once they were advised of the cost.

For many the charges are way beyond what they can afford and there are very little alternatives for those having no access to the finances required. I wanted to save old Hobo’s sight so I have made my peace with driving my ropey old Renault Clio until it makes its last journey to the junk yard in the sky but at least I’ll do so knowing that I did my absolute best for him. You see we made a commitment eleven years ago when we brought him home from Woodside Animal Sanctuary that we would take care of him for the rest of his life; even if it bankrupts me! However, it troubles me that in the twenty-first century we still live in a world where the level of care and healthcare available for those we love is determined by the size of your wallet.

When we sought care homes that would accommodate my Dad, a very insensitive and inexperienced social worker told us that you “get what you pay for”. It troubles me that the most vulnerable in society have their care dictated by their family’s personal funds. Having lived in Turkey I am all too aware that there are countries with no free healthcare and the limited options for people who don’t have the funds available for treatment are heartbreaking.

The constant worry and sleepless nights when our loved ones are sick are increased tenfold when we know that we just don’t have the resources available to be able to pay for the best possible treatment or care. So tell me then do we love any less by simply not being able to pay our way or do those we cherish pay the ultimate price for that?

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Kindness Matters

During my time in Turkey I was fortunate to meet many charming people many of whom inspired me and many that I shall never forget; two of those were George & his lovely wife Laura, retired expats who lived in one of the apartments in our block. We used to chat at the pool and exchange book recommendations and as I was fairly new to Turkey they helped me out with advice such as which dolmuş (bus) takes you to Maveshir market and various restaurant recommendations; all very important for a green expat. One day whilst I was sat poolside sunning myself, he beckoned me over and asked me if I liked cats; does the Wizard of Oz like munchkins? I was beyond enchanted when I discovered that the balcony of their apartment was alive with mother cats and kittens. One of the things that I had found the hardest to bear when living in Turkey was the poor animal welfare & cruelty so stumbling across this safe haven for mother cats and kittens filled my day with sunshine.

Like many retirees George & Laura, were living on a budget and as pet food is generally very expensive in Turkey, they fed their house guests a diet of pasta, fish and whatever meat was going cheap in the butchers that week along with donations from friends and neighbours. Street animals have a very hard life in Turkey and it’s common for them to be poisoned, beaten & kicked or have stones thrown at them by children. In our neighbourhood pregnant mother cats soon discovered that George & Laura’s balcony was a protected sanctuary for them to safely deliver their kittens free from predators, harsh weather and cruelty.

So I was delighted when Laura told me that she has begun inviting neighbouring Turkish children over to meet the young cats and kittens in the hope of re-educating the next generation which in turn might improve the lives of street animals. Their obvious delight in discovering the simple pleasures in helping to feed & play with these small mites was a joy to watch. Whilst I know that no one will ever be able to save all of the street animals in George & Laura’s small corner of the world they had without doubt begun to make a huge difference for the precious little lives in their care.

“Teaching children to be kinder to animals today, is our only hope for a kinder world tomorrow”

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For Next Year I Think I’ll Just Be Happy

Without doubt this has been one of the worst years of my life having lost my much-loved Dad following a devastating year of unbearable terminal illness. It’s hard to believe that his accident was twelve long months’ ago and he went overnight from driving the old folk to the supermarket to not being able to tie his own shoelaces. There have been so many enlightening lessons and although I always thought I was a strong person I clearly didn’t know what strong was until now.  I’ve met some people on this journey that have been like bottled sunshine on a very rainy day and some not so much. Whilst I cannot wait to embrace the New Year and hopefully a new start ultimately I will begin it a little sadder, wiser but a damn sight more fierce than the person I was twelve months ago.

What I’ve learned this year:

Karma does exist so even in your intensely frustrating moments you just have to sit back and let the universe deal with it

Fight for what you believe is right even if it takes every ounce of strength you have and then some

Learn to say no

People can be insensitive, selfish and will disappoint you so just appreciate and be grateful for the kind ones that warm your heart in your darkest of moments.

Don’t hoard beautiful things waiting for that special occasion to use or wear them; that special day is every day in which you are fortunate to walk this earth

Take some time to sit awhile with the elderly and infirmed and let them share their stories; you might just learn something!

Don’t leave words in your heart unspoken waiting for the right time; seize the moment and be bold for there will never be a perfect moment

Did a random act of kindness from a stranger on one of your bleakest days make all the difference? Then pay it forward; the world needs more of that.

Never underestimate the power of touch; hold a hand it may provide comfort to some lost soul facing their own struggles

Celebrate successes, special occasions and life, all with reckless abandon & joy for these will be the golden days you will remember for the rest of your life

Laugh as much as you can and whenever possible

Don’t be too proud to accept help

It’s good to talk so find a friend (two or four-legged) who understands the difficult road you’re walking

When it gets too much let it out and have a good cry, big fat shoulder-heaving noisy tears; you’ll scare the neighbours but you’ll feel lighter in spirit

Don’t side-line the things that make your heart sing because all of us need a tuppence-worth of happiness to add a little light to our troubled hearts

Sometimes you think you may never smile again and maybe you’ve forgotten how to but rest assured somewhere down the road the clouds will fade and the sun will shine for you again

Don’t pretend you’re fine when you’re not; there is no shame in admitting you need someone to help share your burden every now and then.

No one debilitating disease is worse than any other to each victim of Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Motor Neurone, Parkinson’s, Heart Disease, Strokes, they are all equally devastating and crush millions of families the world over. So for those still fighting their own battles have courage & faith, my friends; you got this!

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Love Is A Net That Catches Hearts Like Fish

Without doubt the old fella has left an enormous hole in our hearts but his legacy was living every moment in the joy of simple things and sharing laughter with those he loved. Often when I left my laptop open I used to find him surreptitiously reading your comments & chuckling in response to a story I had written about him as he was bemused that you all found the allotment exploits of an eccentric old pensioner amusing. He enjoyed your pictures of places he would never get to visit and was fascinated that we could connect with people living on the other side of the world. I will miss him more than I thought possible and the way he greeted me everyday with the words “hello sunshine”.  I also know in my heart that he would want you all to remember him with a smile as he did with you.

As some of you know Chloe Hellcat, the smallest of our cat family was rescued from the water by a kindly fisherman, which is how she came live with us and by which time as a waterside feral she had become an adept fisherman herself.

Sadly this is a trait we haven’t been able to remedy and unfortunately last summer she discovered an accommodating ornamental pond in the village spending a week trawling the pond to bring home wriggling Koi Carp larger than herself. Chloe always loses interest in her quarry after dumping it on the lawn so it was no surprise one Saturday morning when I found not one but two large golden carp flopping around on the grass. After the immediate shock wore off it was action stations as I frantically ran around the garden, filling a bucket and gingerly putting the slippery little suckers into it. Just as I had successfully installed both fish into the pail the little minx returned with yet another which I wasted no time in reuniting with its fishy friends.

As there is no ornamental pond within my garden the most obvious solution was to accommodate them temporarily in the old fella’s pride and joy until we could discover who they really belonged to. So after an anxious telephone call, Operation “Rescuing Nemo” was launched when my Dad called the local village hair salon to ask them to tell my mother to stop at my house on the way home after her regular shampoo & set.

My mother is no fan of any creature of the wriggling variety and I think it’s fair to say was pretty much horrified when I asked her to sit in the passenger seat of my cramped Renault Clio and grip a bucket of fish between her knees; no easy feat in a Jaeger skirt suit I assure you. However, as the journey to Dyson Abbey was only a two-minute journey she reluctantly agreed but I knew that Dad’s ears would be ringing once she got home.

As is always the case during the busiest time of the year, when holidaymakers flock to Devon to sample, amongst other things, our ‘andsome cream teas, frequent road works magically appear overnight. So it was no surprise on this Saturday morning that the short journey from my house to the old folks involved a longer detour through winding leafy country lanes. Whilst we whizzed past luscious green countryside, I was anxiously negotiating the meandering roads as my mother screamed at me to slow down each time water splashed her legs and I think she would have had apoplexy should any fish have escaped the bucket.

Additionally as it was so hot I had opened the windows so whilst squeezing right into the bramble covered hedgerows to avoid oncoming traffic my mother’s new “do” was completely windswept and speckled with leaves & the odd feather giving her the appearance of a manic “Miss Havisham”. I couldn’t help but feel she was going to be less than happy when we eventually got to our destination.

As luck would have it when I pulled up there was nowhere to park so we had to leave it on the main road which meant that the old dear was not going to be able to edge out of the car unnoticed. As I opened the passenger door for her, Dad was waiting on the other side of the low garden wall and the sight of a dishevelled Mum regally sat in the front seat with this bucket gripped between her knees reduced him to hysterics which I knew would cost him dear later.

When he recovered himself enough I passed the bucket to him so that he could liberate the fish into their new home. I have it on good authority that the old dear gave my Dad fish every evening for dinner that week, however, as I understand the old fella declined preferring instead the old faithful banana sandwich as he reckoned he wouldn’t be able to look his new lodgers in the eye if he devoured their cousins.

The old fella always wanted something positive to come out of something negative and in the spirit of all the rescues that we have carried out together as a family, if you’re on Facebook take five minutes to check out Jodie’s Cyprus Dogs Rehoming and if you can please share, as I think he’d kinda like that.

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To Lose Someone You Love Is To Alter Your Life Forever

This is a post that I never wanted to write and hoped that I wouldn’t have to for many a long year but sadly our time ran out last week and my dear old Dad passed away. As he has been the inspiration for so many of my stories it only seemed right that I pay tribute to my childhood hero the best way I know how.

So how do you say goodbye to someone who has been the constant light guiding your ship into harbour and the gentle wind that helps steer you across the sea onwards to new horizons; the honest truth is I don’t know that I can. My kind-hearted old Dad has always been the one that has been there for us like a solid anchor in a rough ocean.  He never yearned for a bigger house, a faster car or a fortune; in fact, he truly believed his fortune lay within the family he raised, the home he built and in the flowers he grew. Although he was a retired electrical engineer it was simple pleasures that brought joy to his day like tinkering in his shed or digging out the weeds. His loving legacy is evident in his garden, his granddaughters and the laughter that echoes around the walls of our family home.

You see the thing is I don’t think I would ever have been ready to have said goodbye so I am left bereft and lost; a broken heart can do that to you every time. So thank you for your kind messages and my heartfelt thoughts go out to all those out there who are also struggling with their own loss.

So in the coming grief-stricken months there’ll be memories, more precious than rubies, packed away in lavender-scented tissue paper like a favourite old sweater which will be brought out to console us on our loneliest days.

I could be mistaken but last night when I looked up I’m sure there was an extra star burning brightly in the midnight sky shining over us just as the old fella did every day of his life looking out for those he loved.

“The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. For nothing now can ever come to any good”

Goodnight sunshine x

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The Old Fella

 

You Think You Have Time

My darling daddy has just returned from his final hospital stay; there will be no more. My childhood hero who has fought the hardest bravest battle during the past six months and has been sent home for the last time with an end of life package.

His delight at leaving the hospital is all too evident and all we want is for him to happy, pain free and comfortable. So for the next few days or weeks we’re going to make them the bestest ever, filled with happy memories, no words left unspoken and absolutely no regrets for a joyous life lived.

You’ll forgive me if I’m away a while I’m sure but I want to leave you with these thoughts; buy the damn expensive shoes, leave the housework for a time, walk in the rain, laugh more, be kind, tell them you love them and on a summer’s evening “I hope you dance“.

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