Love Always Wags Its Tail

Demanding clients and long working hours had left me weary and grumpy with a headache so I decided to take young Ruby for a quick stroll as even though it was overcast, it was still very humid. Having left her for an hour and half that morning to do the shopping run, I was dismayed when I returned and she’d managed to open the cleaning cupboard and destroy a packet of wet wipes and tumble drier sheets not to mention a Yankee Candle diffuser. So I thought a short walk when the dark destroyer and I could cool off would be the order of the day

As we strolled on one of my favourite walks along the country lane that runs past the cemetery, I came across an elderly gentleman who I frequently met on his way to the graveyard with a bunch of fresh flowers in his shopping bag when we always stopped to say hello. He had confided in me the day before that he’d just adopted his little Bichon Frise from the local animal sanctuary. The pint-sized dog, now called Max, had been seized by the RSPCA from a puppy farm.  You could tell he adored this little dog sporting a brand new harness and sparkling collar. He proudly told me how when he went shopping the little dog was always waiting for him on his little blanket on the sofa right where he had left him and after Ruby’s adventure that morning I couldn’t help but feel a little envious.

He sadly confessed he’d lost his wife earlier in the year so had taken his new friend up to the cemetery to introduce them both to each other and also to let her know that he wasn’t on his own anymore so she didn’t have to worry about him.  He was also thrilled that he’d seen and met so many people since walking the little fella and I suspected like many elderly folk, he had felt isolated and lonely since his wife passed.

Did angels have a hand in bringing these two souls together, I’d sure like to think so. As I waved to the companions walking home alongside each other my day suddenly didn’t seem quite so grey as I was reminded that there are good people in the world and sometimes just sometimes there are happy endings too.

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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

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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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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The Long Road Home

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past six months people will carelessly break promises and at a time when you need them the most, callously let you down.  Maybe we’ve lived in a cosseted world where my Dad has been our family’s moral compass always leading by example and providing help where he can. So it has been an education for me that neighbours and those we have long considered family friends have fallen by the wayside apart from when they call to enquire what we’ll be doing with his lawnmower, power tools or car.

I’ve discovered that the care the elderly and infirmed receive is a direct reflection of how deep their pockets are and in many cases woefully inadequate or just plain sub-standard. There is no instruction booklet on navigating the stormy waters of the social care system and you better grasp the jargon pretty quickly because not doing so will cost you dear. Having been cut adrift to find my Dad a residential placement we had a crash course on just how difficult this road can be for novices. This journey has been a revelation with moments of sheer despair, frustration, overwhelming hopelessness and countless sleepless nights. We have met less compassionate souls that truly have no business working within sectors where they encounter traumatized families and occasionally individuals that have been like bottled sunshine on a very dark day have crossed our paths.

What advice would I give those forced into a heart breaking journey of their own? I would tell them to use every resource at their disposal and then some. To fight even on the days when you feel you have nothing left and to never give up. We were made to feel that we were “difficult & problematic” for insisting on an acceptable standard of care and on occasion bullied into enduring something which fell way below. There is no doubt that the social care system fails many and for those fortunate to have a family prepared to challenge procedures the outcome can sometimes be very different than for those that don’t. I feel very strongly that the elderly have a right to dignity with care and when you have to deal with a system where policy becomes more important than the welfare of the most vulnerable in society then it’s time you reviewed it.

Nothing is ever just one phone call or just one email and sometimes making, what for others would be a straightforward appointment, takes weeks but more often than not, months. We all know that when you call a service provider it’s a bit of a lottery in terms of who answers the phone so imagine speaking with yet another dismissive jobs worth concerning a loved one’s welfare. Trying to hold down a job and manage my father’s affairs leaves little time for much else; my hair hasn’t been cut since December and I am badly in need of a dental appointment but that has had to wait as there are more pressing things on my ever-increasing agenda. My phone bill is nearly equivalent to the cost of a small car and I can’t remember the last time I have had a night out with friends. There are days when the sheer enormity of the task in hand becomes just a little overwhelming but I have come to realise that sometimes you just have to put down your sword and leave slaying dragons for another day.

So what keeps you going despite the constant rejections and refusals? Without a doubt it’s that smile from your Dad; the one you thought you’d never see again. The smile that says he’s safe at long last surrounded by compassionate people and that the hard fought battle was truly worth it. And so on a sunny day here in Devon you shed a tear and say a silent prayer of thanks knowing that he will now have the best possible care for the remainder of his days which my friends, is truly priceless.

The old fella with two of his favourite carers

The old fella with two of his favourite fabulous carers

Change Is Never Easy; You Fight To Hold On & You Fight To Let Go

Do you remember the scene in “Great Exotic Marigold Hotel” where Judi Dench’s recently widowed character was speaking with her broadband service provider and the call centre representative insisted on speaking only with the account holder? I have lived that scripted conversation with so many utility providers over the past few weeks resulting in endless calls, form filling and emails.There is no flexibility within their scripted conversations which enable them to deal with people struggling with huge emotional loss

This journey has been a big learning curve for me in so many ways I never thought it would be as hard for many different reasons; the heart-breaking handwritten notes that my Dad had left for me amongst his jumpers many still unworn, preferring instead to live in his gardening clothes. insisting that when he’d gone that the local charity shop take his old clothes “but no pick & choosing mind you”. The many clippings torn carelessly from gardening magazines and newspapers to be stored for later use. The pocket diaries where he had meticulously recorded the weather and his gardening schedule every day.

Dementia or Alzheimer’s is a hateful creature which creeps in and suddenly steals your familiar and beloved relative away replacing them with a complete stranger who no longer has the same interests or in some cases preferences. An acquaintance of mine dismissively suggested that caring for an adult with reduced mental capacity is no different from looking after a small child. I disagree with that entirely; an adult has a lifetime of financial responsibilities, cupboards full of memories, and a devastated family who overnight have lost a beloved relative. I have met some amazing people on this journey who have been like bottled sunshine on the rainiest of days but many others not so much.

Having reluctantly spent the weekend sorting through the old man’s treasured possessions which are little more than tatty junk, I have been reduced to tears by the discovery of my first school note-book, his communion medal, my niece’s first crudely written & misspelled love letter. What price can you put on a pocketful of memories precious only to the one who saved them? In a rare moment of clarity when I told my Dad I had found them he said “I know they’re not much but they meant a lot to me though”.

Irrespective of what the future may hold and how many cavalier individuals touch our lives, my old Dad will always be right there with me in the scent of wild garlic and Queen Anne’s lace rustling on a gentle spring breeze, a warm hand in mine on a cold winter’s day, the smell of wet earth after a summer shower but above all he will always be my very first hero.

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Until The Very End

During one of my visits to the hospital to see the old fella I spent some time with the spritely gentleman in the next bed who was ninety years’ young. He’d had a similar accident to my Dad but said he had sadly resigned himself to never returning to his lovely little bungalow with the beautifully tended garden.

He confided in me that he had never had cause to stay in a hospital before and had kept himself busy nursing his wife through a stroke for the past twenty years. As I made us both a cup of tea in the small ward kitchen the nursing sister told me that when his wife was eventually admitted to hospital he used to visit her every day come rain or shine and would stay from early in the morning to late at night.

As we chatted over our cup of tea and a chocolate digestive biscuit he proudly told me with a twinkle in his eye that he had been married to the love of his life for sixty-nine years but smiled as he said “mind you, we’ve had our ups and downs”. As an incurable romantic I had to ask him if he knew the first time he met her whether she was the one and without hesitation he said “absolutely”.

He said that he’d first met her at a fun fair and after he’d sweet-talked her into sharing a dodgem ride he’d asked her to a dance and three children and seven grandchildren later they were still together. After another chocolate digestive he went on to tell me that she was now in a nursing home and he would be joining her at last. I remarked how nice it would be for them to be together and he leaned forward and whispered “She has dementia m’dear and hasn’t recognised me in over ten years but I’ll be happy if it’s my face that she sees every morning when she wakes and the last one she sees before she goes to bed.”

As I sat holding his hand he smiled and I could see his mind wandering back to happier times and I envied him as he had found that which all of us longed for but which many seldom find within their lifetimes. I choked back a tear as I realised that he already knew how blessed he had been.

Everyone knows how to love but only a few know how to love forever

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The Bell Still Rings For All Those Who Truly Believe

Hello friends!

I know it’s been a while but for those that don’t already know my darling Dad had a fall last week whilst the old dear was away on a Turkey & Tinsel weekend with the Women’s Institute. No doubt getting up to go to the little boys’ room without putting the light on he fell and shattered his hip waiting there from 5.30 am until much later when he was discovered. Regrettably, because he had had been sat there for so long his blood pressure dropped and he had another stroke in the ambulance on the way to hospital.

I can’t deny it’s been a tense week with Dad critically ill where he hasn’t known any of us. However, I am delighted to say that we have turned a corner and he’s back on the road to recovery. Whilst it’s a road we’ve taken before it’s one he won’t be walking alone and with Ayesha’s Passing Out Parade in June, I rather think his stubborn determination and heart will have him waltzing along rehabilitation street.

So on Christmas Day we will be heading off to Burrator Ward in Derriford Hospital in Plymouth to bring some festive cheer to the old fella along with a trunk full of Tupperware boxes stuffed with Mum’s homemade seasonal buffet; that’s if he’s no longer a “Nil By Mouth” patient! Beverley Big Pants and I will be traditionally dressed in our Christmas Jumpers and rather splendid earrings bearing a strong resemblance to the the Ugly Sisters, the grande dames of pantomime; oh yes we will!

So I want to take this opportunity to wish all doctors and nurses a safe & happy Christmas and thank them for giving up their family holidays so that we can all still have time with ours.

I think as you grow older your Christmas list gets shorter because the things you want can’t be bought.

Decisions, decisions ...

Decisions, decisions …

We Never Know The True Value Of Water Until The Well Runs Dry

A burst water main managed to bring an entire city to a standstill on Thursday with flooding causing problems on main access roads and water supplies to many households interrupted. From mid-morning until early evening many of us were left with no water supply at all.

The old fella in true gardener style keeps a series of rain-water butts strategically placed around the garden and generously offered us a cold water bath, however, I think it’s safe to say that my germ-conscious mother was less than unimpressed and frankly if he’d continued to press the point he may well have been facing a cold water shower of his own.

The local water company was bombarded with complaints both via the telephone and social media ranging from not being able to make a cup of tea to having a bath. Whilst their engineers battled in severe wind and rain to fix the problem they also arranged deliveries of water to those most vulnerable in the area.

Normal service returned to our water supply by early evening but I thought that all the negative and self-absorbed comments a tad ridiculous especially when there are millions of children throughout the world who don’t have access to clean water day in and day out. For us it was a minor inconvenience for them, life & death. I would like to hope that this has served as a timely reminder especially at this time of year of how blessed most of us are to have easy access to clean water, healthcare, a roof over our heads and food on our tables.

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May All Who Come As Guests Leave As Friends

I may have mentioned before that two of our rescue cats prefer dining alfresco irrespective of the weather and that I usually am the one to sprint onto the patio to present them with the Table D’hote menu usually just after 5am when I’m getting ready to depart to work.

Hobo has always been a fussy diner but Charlie is not quite as discerning although I think it’s fair to say that he possibly may just love food more than life itself. After wolfing down his own platter he will usually sit inches away from one of the others drooling until they submit and walk away leaving him to the spoils.

The other morning I’d dished up the day’s specials when both Hobo and Charlie shot into the kitchen as if they were being pursued by the Hounds of Hell. I thought that perhaps a fox or badger had slipped into the garden and went to investigate.

Imagine my surprise when I spotted the cunning culprit gripping the edge of one of the bowls happily munching away. It was a little hedgehog!

As some of you may remember a couple of years’ ago I purchased a hedgehog house on a whim which was eventually placed between two of the larger lavender bushes because it was sheltered and protected from the cats. It became something of a standing joke with my family as they were certain that it would never become occupied but I remained optimistic.

Last summer I couldn’t help but notice the rustling in the lavender bushes and the cats lying in wait for hours but I didn’t explore further fearing a rodent encounter. I should just mention that Milo is the biggest scaredy cat of all, Hobo’s best friend is a house rabbit whom he sits alongside for hours, hasn’t much time for other cats unless they’re kittens and Charlie’s first and only love is a tin of Felix. I even caught a baby magpie using him as a step-ladder last summer to reach the bird feeder whilst he napped (his other favourite occupation).

Since then I have noticed a mother and baby hedgehog wandering around the lawn scavenging for peanuts and slugs. My Dad’s delighted with the presence of his little “Gardener’s friends” as they protect his precious dahlias by keeping the pest population at bay.

As I suspect the hedgehogs are fattening themselves up for the big hibernation, they have become regular supper and breakfast guests lining up alongside our feline family for both breakfast and supper. Of course, at Dyson Abbey we operate an open house policy and a twenty-four hour running buffet so we’re only too happy to oblige.

It’s hard to imagine these precious little creatures which have been such a large part of countryside folklore are under threat; fifty years’ ago there were thirty-six million now there are less than a million. With the hedgehog population in dramatic decline rest assured there will always be a welcoming dish of cat food for any of these enchanting wee folk here at Dyson Abbey.

Want to help the hedgehogs in your neighbourhood? Then you’ll find some useful information over at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

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