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.

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

 

Some People Care Too Much, I Think It’s Called Love

At the weekend the old fella was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and we spent a tense couple of days not knowing whether he would pull through but when I rang the hospital ward that morning I knew when the nurse said he was sat up in bed asking for his breakfast that we had turned a corner. So later that day after my shift finished I drove to the hospital to check on him.

As is the case when I visit him of late, he dozes after a couple of minutes of conversation since his stroke so I sit there either reading, drinking or my other favourite occupation of people watching. I couldn’t help but notice an elderly lady sat by the bedside of a disabled man gently holding his hand and stroking his brow; the love and tenderness evident in every caress. This gentleman was unable to talk or control any of his limbs but it was evident that he knew his loved one was close by. A short while later, a nurse came in with a tray and demonstrated how to feed him through a tube. We caught each other’s eye as the elderly lady struggled to handle the feeding tube and smiled at each other in compassionate understanding.

As I got up to go and fetch a coffee from the vending machine as I knew that she wouldn’t want to desert her post, I asked if I could get her one. She fumbled around to find her purse and I assured her I had plenty of change from the car park ticket machine; frankly I was pleased to be able to do such a small thing for her as I have known the loneliness and sadness of a bedside vigil when sometimes just a kind word can make all the difference on a bleak day.

When I returned we started chatting; two strangers united in the responsibility of caring for a sick loved one and she explained to me that she had nursed her son at home for the fifty years of his life but said that sometimes he went to a day centre who were very good with him she assured me. She confided in me that after a fifteen week stay in hospital he would be returning home at the weekend which she said would save her two lengthy bus rides to the hospital each day.

“He’s my world” she said gently stroking his hair back from his forehead. Suddenly my burden no longer seemed all that heavy. This devoted mother’s plight had touched and humbled me in a million different ways.

I left the hospital that day a little lighter in heart feeling grateful knowing that there was still immense love in the world and that goodness does exist if you just know where to look for it.

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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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A Piece Of Our Hearts Is At Rainbow Bridge

For the past thirteen years my Dad’s constant companion and shadow has been an old border collie called Sonny who was rescued by the old fella when he came across him being thrashed by an impatient farmer for failing to nip the heels of the sheep but clearly no amount of beatings was going to change this poor dog’s submissive behaviour. My Dad being a canny old fella knew there and then that the fate of this young pup lay in his hands as most failed sheepdogs are usually despatched with a bullet from the farmer’s gun so waving his walking stick in the air he approached the farmer saying “Now then fella m’lad, that’ll be enough of that” and promptly took the young dog off the farmer’s hands right there and then without any further argument from the farmer.

My mother was less than impressed when this fairly bedraggled and smelly dog was brought into her pristine kitchen but had become accustomed over the years to my father bringing home various waifs & strays so begrudgingly set about finding something to feed the poor animal. After an overly-enthusiastic bath and groom the bewildered animal settled at my father’s feet, which is more or less where he has been for the past thirteen years. We often joked that Dad probably loved the newly named Sonny more than the old dear. It took some time for Sonny to gain confidence even the cats knew he was a complete pushover and whilst the farmer had not appreciated his kind temperament everyone who met him was charmed. I am always amazed by the good nature of animals in spite of the poor treatment they receive from those that should know better. Sudden movements and loud noises still frightened him and the fact that he never barked were signs of his former abusive life but the old fella loved him dearly.

In fact they were seldom apart, every time I cycled up to the allotment Sonny would be contentedly laying on a blanket in the sunshine watching his master with adoring eyes, who would be toiling amongst his beloved dahlias.

The saddest thing is that as both old boys have fought their health own battles they have been separated when they when both needed each other’s comfort the most. It’s been hard watching them both deteriorate and I’ve come to terms with the fact that the old fella will never be coming home as the brain damage is just too severe for him to cope with the smallest of tasks. I’d also been in denial over Sonny so with a reluctant heavy heart made the decision to help him take the journey to Rainbow Bridge where he passed away in my arms as the person he loved the most on this earth could no longer remember his name.

I truly believe it’s possible to die of a broken heart but I am comforted that Sonny will be waiting just on the other side of the bridge to walk the old fella home when his time comes.

Sleep well bonny lad

Sadly the only pictures I have of Sonny and the old fella have been lost or damaged so I thought they’d both approve if instead I posted a picture of Handsome Benny who Blind Dog Rescue UK are trying to find a UK home for as regrettably his other one fell through. I sure would appreciate it if you could share beautiful Benny’s story so he can find his forever home just like the old fella’s boy.

 

Benny

Just ‘Cos You’re Breathing Doesn’t Mean You’re Alive

I’m tired and fed up; fed up with being brave, fed up with pretending everything is going to be okay and honestly a little resentful at putting my life on hold again. The truth is that despite being in denial for some weeks, my lovely Dad will never be the same again and whilst he’s made a wonderful physical recovery he struggles most days to remember what day of the week it is and what he had for breakfast. Heart-breaking though it is, I have to admit that overnight we have lost my beloved Dad.

This is the post I have dreaded writing the most because by doing so I have to finally admit that my Dad will probably not be coming home and writing those words fills my heart with an unfathomable sadness. I know that my Dad’s no more special than any other dad but to me he’s been the anchor that has steadied our ship and his kindness has enveloped us in an embrace that warmed our hearts just like an old favourite sweater on a winter’s day, reassuring us that there was goodness in the world on even the darkest days.

The surgeon made him aware of the risks when he had his hip operation and we were told that they had a medical dilemma which meant that they couldn’t treat both the stroke & shattered hip simultaneously but he had been adamant that he wanted to pursue the operation. I remember someone telling me that the sooner you treat a stroke the more of the person you save and in my Dad’s case it was to be very little. When the old fella made the decision he was completely coherent, had been driving the “old folk” to the supermarket the day before for the weekly shop, read a broadsheet every day and was able to discuss current affairs almost as well as a foreign correspondent; now he struggles to operate a basic television remote.

The fact of the matter is no amount of sleep, medication or a different environment will alter that now. Our lives have changed dramatically, I go to work and visit him on the way home every day but when he thanks me for coming I realise he doesn’t remember that we had the same conversation the day before and the day before that. There will be no evening telephone calls to discuss our day & bid him goodnight because quite simply he is unable to concentrate on anything for very long. He still kisses my hand when I leave that’s on one of the rare occasions when he hasn’t fallen asleep mid conversation.

We’re not the only family who have been left devastated by the effects of a stroke and no doubt we won’t be the last but at this time and moment I am suffocated by black despair. There’s no quick fix this time around, no magic potion waiting to wake him from this deep slumber and regrettably we are just starting out on this journey of unchartered territory. Some days fragments of my old Dad appear and then just as quickly disappear again. There will be lots of dragons to slay along the road not the least being the callous and faceless bureaucrats with their senseless & often ridiculous form filling.

As he has always told me we never know what’s around the corner, I think I’m all out of wishes and I have frequently wondered during the past few weeks if my Dad really understood the decision he made exchanging physical well-being for mental coherence. I can’t help but feel that sometimes he made a deal with the devil and came up short-changed.

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Driving Miss Daisy

A few weeks’ ago early one morning the old fella jumped in the car & said he wanted to see if he hadn’t lost any of his driving technique having been unable to drive for the past eighteen months owing to the stroke.

“Jump in” he said.

To say that I was astonished was a slight understatement and as I hadn’t yet had a superhero strength breakfast I wasn’t exactly sure that I was up to the task in hand.

After putting the key in the ignition his size eleven feet hit the pedals and the roaring noise coming from the engine must have awoken the entire village. As we juddered away from the kerb I regretted not having brought a pair of ear defenders along with me.

A few minutes down the road my Dad pulled over and smiling said “I’ve forgotten where all the controls are” which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

I suggested we take the back roads, “nonsense” he scoffed. The white knuckle ride down a steep incline nearly resulted in my forehead smacking into the dashboard three or four times as my Dad hit the foot brake just a tad too heavy and I tried to negotiate with the Almighty about extending my life expectancy a little further than that morning in exchange for less erratic attendance at our local parish church.

The journey took three times longer on account of all the detours we took to avoid hills so that the old fella wouldn’t have to carry out a hill start; our home county Devon is all about the hills.

Not for the first time that morning I wondered whether I was in some Bob Newhart sketch where I was the terrified driving instructor and my Dad was the clueless pupil; no doubt the amount of expletives I was muttering under my breath would probably ensure I was never going to Heaven anyway.

“Deborah, will you just jiggle those mirror thingamys around” as he was parallel parking outside the medical centre. As he revved the engine harder than Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One Mercedes and smoked billowed out from the exhaust, he managed to attract an appreciative audience who were beginning to take bets on whether he would manage the herculean task. As it happened the receptionist had been alerted to my father’s arrival by the speed of sound and brought his repeat prescription out to the car.

Turning to me Dad said “That was good of her, wondered how she knew we were here”

I replied that it was likely that they had probably been able to hear us in Yorkshire unless they were in a medically induced coma and not wanting a repeat performance suggested he leave the car on the drive when we returned home.

As we pulled up we were met by my two nieces who were brandishing their provisional driving licences and trying to cajole me into taking them for a driving lesson

Jumping out of the car I smiled sweetly and said “No problem, Grandad’ll take you, I’m all out of brave pills”.

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The hardest thing is watching somebody you love forget they love you

Dearest Dad

I know you’re scared and if I’m honest I am too and more than a little devastated. As you have always said to me life is seldom fair and you are so right. Your stroke had been a bitter blow for the family but we have been so proud of the way you have dealt with your rehabilitation and will always be grateful to the medical team who have supported you throughout.

It was a truly priceless moment when you were able to sit behind the wheel of the car again for the first time in eighteen months beaming ear to ear with joy from regaining your independence which regrettably would be short-lived. I have been right here alongside you throughout the highs and lows and cheering you on from the side lines. It’s been a big learning curve for all of us and I think I’m a better and more patient person as a result. You have borne this struggle with grace and humility which is something many would have wrestled with. You have fought valiantly against all odds and overcome every challenge so it seems a cruel disappointment to ask you to do that again particularly as there will ultimately be no reprieve or happy ending this time around.

We’ve both known for some time that things just haven’t been right. A bigger and more fearful spectre has crept into our lives whilst we were busy focusing on your rehabilitation one which we both chose to ignore partly through fear and partly ignorance. We all quickly dismissed your forgetfulness as tiredness or a side effect of your medication. Forced smiles and pretence isn’t something that you or I can do very well for any length of time and inevitably we have had to face up to the consequences.

I’ve always thought that you need to roll with the cards you’ve been dealt but I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel a little dismayed at having my new-found freedom brought about by your recovery, snatched away quite so soon. As much as we would like to even we can’t beat this malevolent condition.

By the time you read this we will have started the process of tests again and yes there will be changes some good and some less welcome. There will, no doubt, be a few less than sunshine days when we will all rage with frustration but amongst them will be precious moments too. So let’s make these the best days of all filled with our favourites things; picnics, blackberry picking, kite flying and sitting on the porch watching the sky ablaze with lightning during a summer storm. Neither of us can change the future but we can make every cherished moment count.

So for now old fella, whilst this is just another setback along the road it’s a journey you won’t have to walk alone. We will always be able to smell the flowers and there’ll always be more dances but as with everything else in life we need to take this one step at a time just as we’ve always done.

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Ask Yourself Who You Want To Help Today, Then Put On Your Cape & Do It!

The Flying Fryer, the mobile fish & chip van, has been providing delicious fried foods to our village for the past twenty years long before the arrival of pizza delivery and Chinese takeaway. No Saturday night in could be considered the same without one of their deep-fried treats.

Whilst my mother doesn’t approve of purchasing food bought from a mobile vendor deeming it unhygienic & unsavoury, Dad and I used to sneak out on the nights she was at one of her Women’s Institute meetings for some golden cheesy chips smothered in salt and vinegar and served in the obligatory newspaper. Just for those that don’t know, they most certainly always taste better in newspaper although these days the newspaper has been replaced with a more sanitary wrapping. I usually smuggle them into the house disguised in a supermarket carrier bag so that the neighbours are unable to report our treachery back to my mother.

Harry, who owns the Flying Fryer is a big fella and devoted to his wife Maureen; there is a theory that the longer you are married to someone the more you tend to grow alike & in this case it was irrefutable. They had worked side by side in the small van like a well-oiled machine for as long as I could remember. On the morning in question Dad had strolled up to the local Medical Centre for his weekly appointment with his physiotherapist and bumped into them both in reception. Maureen had broken her wrist and was bemoaning the fact that she wouldn’t be able to help her husband with the lunchtime rush and he wouldn’t be able to cope alone. So naturally unbeknown to us the old fella offered his somewhat limited assistance which was gratefully accepted.

As the afternoon wore on and it started to become dark and numerous phone calls around the village had failed to locate him, I was despatched by Her Maj to ascertain my Dad’s whereabouts. The old dear was convinced he was lying injured in some ditch, I on the other hand, made a beeline for the allotment where I found the dynamic duo of Ernie & Sid, his allotment buddies giggling away tight as ticks laying waste to the last batch of my Dad’s dandelion wine. When I enquired about the whereabouts of my tee-total father they informed me that he was helping out a friend and I’d best check the village car park.

When I eventually tracked him down there he was behind the counter of the Flying Fryer beaming and chatting away with the customers whilst handing out change and taking orders. I stood under the street light watching him for a while. The joy on his face was obvious when he was teasing the children and carefully counting out the cash.

As I strolled over to the van, Harry said “It’s okay Bob, you go on as I think we’re about done for the night. Thanks for your help, you’ve been a right Godsend today. In fact, don’t know what I’d have done without you, mate”

My old Dad’s flushed face lit up like he’d been showered in golden pennies. As we walked home together arm in arm he smiled at me and said “I just wanted to feel useful” and in that moment I realised that our friends and neighbours had given my Dad something which none of his immediate family had been able to: a sense of purpose and for the old fella that had been more precious than treasure.

Back home, not everyone appreciated the local village hero as my mother insisted he sleep in the spare room claiming that she wasn’t sleeping alongside someone who smelt like smoked kippers.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another – Charles Dickens

Old Mother Hubbard's Cottage (from the nursery rhyme) now a Chinese Takeaway

Old Mother Hubbard’s Cottage (from the nursery rhyme) now a Chinese Takeaway