Back to the Future?

Can’t believe I was actually doing this last week! When you are in the thick of just surviving you don’t have time to write about it. But melting snow I was and two days later when the wind had dropped but the drifts were still daunting I graduated to venturing out and carried 5 litres of water up on my back in a rucksack. Daughter doesn’t want me to do this but as I seem determined she insists I take the dog. ‘Dogs save lives’ she says.

Oh WATER! – such a precious commodity. This proper stuff that I’ve heaved up the hill is rationed for drinking and teeth cleaning. Melted snow when boiled will do for washing up and then the dirty water will flush the loo. How long can we keep this up before we take up a neighbours offer of a holiday cottage with all mod cons i.e. water? A couple of kettles of boiled snow are thrown over an exposed pipe outside but the effort is too great to pursue. Try a heater in the loft for 24 hours. No joy. Next day we all venture out over the drifts, kids ‘n all, and go to the swimming baths for showers. Neighbour calls while we are out and says he’s got a tractor and snow blower on the job and is attempting to clear the track. We just might be able to drive halfway up. The spectre of trying to cajole the 4 year year old that a mile walk through snow drifts is fun is optimistically starting to fade. Bingo! – we manage to drive all the way up by putting my foot down in the trusty Subaru AND we have water on board. So the tide is turning. Next day, on son’s advice, we move the heater to the cellar as heat rises and position it to confront the Beast from the East. At some imperceptible moment, there’s an unfamiliar gurgling in the loo cistern and the sound of spluttering. Oh my!

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1st January musings

Seems like everything’s changed and nothing’s happened ……..

My mum died aged 97 at home after a short illness. I suppose that’s good news?  But losing that person who has known you for ever is definitely earth shattering in an underwhelming sort of way. Inevitable but heart piercing.  You start to see yourself differently – no longer the sandwich generation. Now the older generation.  Suddenly, the buck stops here.  Future proofing is in danger of taking centre stage as panic sets in. The increased likelihood of falling, of dementia, of diminishing eyesight, hearing, dexterity and energy.  A foreboding sense of stepping into her life where she left it, literally into her shoes, her sheets and her jumpers. Her pictures on my bedroom wall.  And her penchant for toast and marmalade taking over my breakfast.

But here’s  Jeremy thrust into changing the world in his late sixties in a totally unplanned life event. Turning politics upside down.  Struggling with his mild mannered nature to rise above the mantra of business as usual. Trying not to be too nasty to the nasty party. Attempting to reconcile leavers and remainers with a solution that is still somewhere out there in the ether. And won’t be apparent until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.  I’m so bearing with you on that one. 

My big birthday present to myself in 2017 was going to The World Transformed in Brighton in September. It’s hard to muster up the atmosphere in retrospect but at the time I described it as being parachuted into a utopian optimism. The election was celebrated as a winner despite being lost. The energy and enthusiasm of a younger generation in waiting was infectious. The concept of Acid Corbynism was the particular idea that grabbed me (https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/10/why-time-has-come-acid-corbynism)

Reconciliation of the old and the new, of history and the now,  of the young and the the old.  A very personal squaring of the circle for me as an old hippy who has been here before, who was once wedded to the mission of changing the world back in the 1970s. But somehow got diverted from the task by the sequence of events that turned out to be life. 

The idealism of the counter culture and its legacy have been prominent this last year. I helped put on the exhibition at the Townhall in Hebden Bridge  (http://www.hebdenbridge.co.uk/hippies/) and contributed to the talk at the local history society.  Just weird to be history so soon. 

Mum’s Eulogy

Dorothy was born on 1st October 1920 in Stoke Newington, Hackney London. Her father was from Hoxton, now trendy and upmarket but at the time very run down. Remembering her humble beginnings, Dorothy in her later meanderings, would proudly tell her Carers that she came from the slums of London! Her mother was from the North East and had been in service as a cook In fine houses in Harrogate. The cooking talents of Dorothy senior were legendary and the family home in Stoke Newington was always full of friends and neighbours sampling her tripe and onions and stuffed hearts. All through the 20’s and 30’s, despite the Great Depression, her father managed to stay in work with a shoe company and although they may have lacked other material goods the family were always well shod!

Dorothy was a bright and intelligent child attending Daniel Defoe School. She gained a place at a grammar school but the family circumstances were such that she couldn’t take it up. Like many girls of that era she had to leave school aged 14. She forever regretted her lack of education. It made her feel inferior and disadvantaged and she spent a life time trying to change it. She was determined she would eventually get out of Stoke Newington. She promised herself that somehow she would leave it behind and the world would be her oyster. We might call her ambitious, adventurist and aspirational but within the family, her father complained frequently that ‘this girl has ideas above her station!’

Ironically, her opportunities for breaking out of her environment came with World War II. During the blitz of 1940, she was working at Faraday House on night duty as a telephonist when all the buildings around St Pauls were hit. The devastation was. captured in an iconic photo of London in flames and smoke while St Pauls stood proud. Her fiancé at the time came searching for her in the morning convinced he would find her in the rubble. But she survived and soon after joined the Wrens, the Women’s Royal Naval Service, being amongst the first women to join the navy. She was stationed initially at Scapa Flo in the Orkney Islands. She often told the tale how the regular sailors were dismissive of the fact that the women could survive the rough crossing from Thurso through the Pentland Firth but in fact it was the men who were all sea sick.

By 1944, she had been selected to be among a contingent of Wrens for a mission that initially remained secret but turned out to be a long voyage to Australia to cover the war in the Pacific. Her diary of the 1st January 1945 is as follows:-

“I saw the New Year in on board the Union Castle ship the ‘Athlone Castle’, in mid Atlantic, on my way to Australia – the promised land. Here’s hoping. Now accustomed to life on board. Today it has been quite hot but we wrens are still wearing slacks. Practised ‘Action Stations’, guns fired. Sewed strips on for the troops (!). Getting plenty of sleep these days. The clock goes back another 30 minutes tonight.”

She goes on to describe starlit nights on deck, handsome sailors in whites, flying fish, fabulous food and breath taking scenery through the Panama Canal. In fact she says the entire trip is more like that of a pleasure cruise.

But in amongst her excited entries is the thread of daily confirmation classes, being confirmed on board and her first communion. She makes frequent reference to the words ‘Please God may I continue to be a good Christian’.

Dorothy sailed into Sydney harbour on 27th January 1945 not with the the usual sunshine pouring down but through a veil of mist. Australia changed her life. She encountered people and places that she could have previously only dreamed of. Friends for life were made. She was having such a time of it that she opted to stay on till 1946 until the war In Japan was over. Her horizons were unquestionably broadened.

On returning to London and perhaps to avoid the inevitable anti climax she met and married Jennifer’s father Derek after a whirlwind romance. Derek was a handsome and charming army officer who seemed to know where he was going. He came from a family of strong women with a suffragette history. He had a place at Cambridge to read economics and plans for a career in timber in Canada.

A year later Jennifer was born. The student married quarters in Cambridge were freezing during that notorious winter of 1947 and although there were crates of gin available there was no milk or discernible food and Jennifer’s makeshift bed was on a window ledge. Mother and baby of just a few months old were rescued by Dorothy senior and bundled back to Stoke Newington for some home cooked food and family warmth. Not a cross word was ever said between husband and wife but that was the uneventful end of the marriage. (Perhaps there are shades of Ecclesiastes here. We pursue the good life only to be met by disappointment and disillusionment. Vanity all is vanity!)

So here was Dorothy, now a single parent, as was her sister Betty with her daughter Sandra, back in the family home where they lived a happy life filled with love and security in a house buzzing with friends and neighbours.

A new and exciting phase of life in the 1950s was about to begin. Dorothy got a prestigious job as a personal assistant to a Harley Street ear nose and throat consultant. He was a doctor to the stars, including Lawrence Olivier and Vivienne Leigh. He was an avid art collector and Dorothy accompanied him to auctions at Sotheby’s and Christies eventually being entrusted to choose and bid on his behalf. It was here that she developed her own taste in art and antiques and started collecting for her own home. She loved beautiful things around her which each had a history of their own. By all accounts it was a glamorous life and a social whirl. It was on a night out with a group at a dinner dance that she met the mystery guest who was to become the love of her life. She married Charles Zalan, Hungarian by birth, now naturalised Australian in 1961.

It was through Charles work that Dorothy ended up making her home in Germany, living there for nearly 20 years and making many friends both German and British. By chance the British army was stationed in the same part of Germany and with some army wives Dorothy became involved as a volunteer with The Guild of St Helena. It was through her work looking after ill and elderly displaced people that she was awarded the MBE in 1978.

Dorothy was fortunate to have travelled the world with Charles and they considered many places for their eventual retirement. France was a hot favourite because Charles brother and family lived there. But England was where her heart was and she persuaded Charles that that was where his was too.

After extensive house hunting, they settled in this lovely Cotswold village of Box in Gloucestershire in 1979. They threw themselves into making Box their home with much enthusiasm and anticipation but sadly Charles health deteriorated and the cancer they hoped was cured recurred. Charles died in 1983. His funeral service was here in Box church and his ashes are in Minchinhampton graveyard where Dorothy wishes to be reunited with him.

Dorothy lived on her own in Box for another 33 years but she was never lonely. She threw herself into village life and made Scar Hill Farm the home of her dreams. She made friends of all ages. She joined the WI, gardening club, theatre club and attended church regularly until she could no longer make the 9am service. She was on the church flower arranging rota for many years and this was one of the many talents at which she excelled. She regularly won the award for best marmalade at the produce shows. She enjoyed coffee morning every Friday. She played Bridge and was a member of Minchinhampton golf club. She was also a member of the Amberley British Legion and walked regularly with The Amberley Amblers. As a member of the the Old Coteswolde Field Club, she went on numerous residential and day field trips. She regularly attended NADFAS (National Decorative and Fine Arts Society) lectures in Cirencester. In fact, it was often very difficult for the family to find a window free for them to visit!

However, she had a very close relationship with her only child Jennifer and she was proud of her grandchildren Tom and Molly. Family Christmases alternated between Scar Hill Farm and Latham Farm In Yorkshire. Interesting holidays were numerous with friends or family.

So … Dorothy had such a full and active life that it was crushing when the first signs of Alzheimers appeared at the age of 94. When she became frightened and anxious about what was happening to her, Jennifer came to live with her in Box. But one morning she awoke early and said decisively “I need to come to Yorkshire with you and I want us to leave today. And I don’t want to say any goodbyes.” She realised it would be just too painful.

Ironically, the Alzheimer’s largely protected her from the huge wrench of leaving Box. The short term memory of her beautiful house and all her lifetime collection of possessions faded imperceptibly and she never enquired what had happened to them. Instead she went further and further back into her childhood and early years trying to make sense of who had been who in her life. For the last two years, a constant anxiety and struggle to understand what was happening to her seemed to torture her and preoccupy her waking hours. But the light did come back into her eyes whenever she saw her great grandchildren Wil, Raffi and Sam. They were the ones who could bring her into the present and gave her back her smile.

The tributes from people that knew her remark on how she was welcoming and hospitable. A stalwart lady with sparkly intelligent conversation, always interesting, always generous and nearly always willing, someone who enriched the lives of those that knew her.

The family know how important Box and its people were to Dorothy. They know this is where her heart is and where she would want her life to be celebrated.

How I came to Hebden Bridge and stayed for 45 years!


On the 7th day God rested and on the 8th day he created something even better.  

At least, that was the idea of the moment at 11 am on the 5th September 1970 when a group of 5 friends opened the co-operatively run ‘head shop’/”freak store” that was and still is On the Eighth Day. The shop/ arts and crafts gallery/alternative hangout centre was located in the now demolished New Brown Street in Manchester’s city centre. It became THE place to tune in, turn on and drop out. Young people gravitated there in droves and it is probably true to say that no-one who went into the place ever forgot it.  

The 8th Day was the brain child, or should I say the love child, of drop outs Mike Slaughter and I, together with solicitor Brian Livingstone and businessmen Phil Aaronson and Ray Kay. I can say with certainty, it would not have happened without the contribution of any one of us, such was the powerful chemistry of this bizarre mix of talents. I remember a heated conversation with Ray along the lines that it “wasn’t all about the money”. He challenged us by saying that if the money didn’t matter we should throw Saturday’s takings on the fire. Needless to say, the money didn’t burn.  

Our ethos was to create an alternative way of living based on community collaboration and creativity and to develop a self sufficiency of lifestyle that was ‘outside the system’. To this end, we needed to leave the city and search for an affordable rural idyll. We found it in Hebden Bridge.  

Marion (veteran of the Haight Ashbury Summer of love) and Reg (sculptor and artist), the archetypal original hippies, were already living at Nabby Nook in Eastwood. They were earning a scant but sufficient- for-their needs living by making embroidered kaftans which they brought to the 8th Day on the train with their kids in tow. Their creative designs were hot sellers for the city’s would be hippies (then strangely called ‘heads’). Mike and I visited Marion and Reg for a ‘food for free’ meal of wild sorrel and fern tops and we were immediately sold on the potential of the rugged landscape within such easy reach of Manchester.  

By coincidence, , Mike Slaughter had previously worked with Mick Piggott and John Pickering (Asbestosis Action Group) at Thompsons Solicitors in Manchester on Industrial Injury Claims and Mick and John both lived in Hebden. Mick had been part of the South Manchester Commune which had moved to Latham Farm on the hillside above Old Town in 1970. Sadly, but maybe predictably, issues arose within the commune that resulted in Mick and Jean becoming the item they are today. Well, that was the free love generation for you! Mike and I were beneficiaries of the fact that the commune was disbanded and they sold us the farm for the price they had paid for it £1750. Mick and Jean had registered Latham with Communes magazine as a crash pad which resulted in a constant stream of interesting newcomers and various waifs and strays descending on us adding to the rich mix of alternative culture.  

Significantly, Latham became the rural retreat of choice for all the city dwellers who worked, volunteered or visited 8th Day. In return for a mattress and macrobiotic meal of rice and veg, these creative free spirits helped fix the roof, concrete the floors, install the central heating and seed the lawn. But they also carved the Yorkshire stone into Buddhas, sewed velvet into long dresses and swirling capes and leather into bags and belts. They sold their hand made wares in 8th Day and that is how they lived.  

Before long, the visitors and guests found their own cheap house or squats and the stream of immigrants to Hebden Bridge increased exponentially. Another mini community was set up at Chiserley Fieldside with Paul Styles,Sally, Rick and Liz Allen, Bernie, Lynda and Janet who together with Paul Goldman, American Dan and his partner Paul formed the core of pioneers who developed the whole food and restaurant side of 8th Day which by now had moved to the Oxford Road student area. They commuted daily from Hebden to Manchester in the works old van returning with yet more city dwellers to the many crash pads becoming available in Hebden Bridge.  

The barn at Latham farm became a workshop for home designed hippy dresses, capes and kaftans. Madeleine (fresh from fashion school) and Ian were co-opted to the team. Cutting machines were purchased, a cutting table erected and eventually after an ad in the Hebden Bridge Times, a little army of local homeworkers were recruited for sewing. There was still a skill base In the community from trouser days and as the demand for their funky fashion spread out from Manchester and expanded into other towns, the hippies brought some much needed work back to the indigenous community. The whole outfit eventually outgrew the barn and with the help of more expertise from Andy and Bebe, by now resident in Cragg Vale, it was established in Bridge Mill renting the top floor from David Fletcher.   

Mike drove around the country in our VW camper van to sell our wares and it is on the proceeds of this enterprise and with a little help from our friends that we managed to rebuild the farm from is derelict state. Children followed with accompanying goats, chickens, geese and an organic vegetable garden. Such was the extent of the building upheaval that following the birth of my first child I had to exit and enter the house via a ladder from a first floor window.  

The kids remember a pretty idyllic childhood being outdoors come sun, wind, rain or snow and Molly says that the hippy kids were different from their local counterparts because “they were dirtier, scruffier and feral”. As a result, come school time, they were pretty much ostracised by local parents as ‘offcumdens’ – a term of mild abuse to describe their difference. Meanwhile, our barn became the focus of band practices for several incarnations of bands and there was a steady stream of musicians, including the Edgar Broughton band, frequently to be found crashed out on any bit of available floor space. The kids thought it was great fun even though they frequently had to go to bed with cotton wool in their ears due to my anxiety about eardrum damage.  

After a long trip to India to seek nirvana, Brian Livingstone returned to England with hepatitis as well as spiritual awareness and soon after he bought Weatherhouse Farm on the same hillside close to Latham.There followed another big building project and massive tree planting exercise attracting a further wave of exiles from the big city. Brian was the most amazing host being universally acclaimed for his hospitality and generosity. In the 80s, Weatherhouse Farm became the venue for Brian’s infamous parties, by which time we had all settled down and got proper jobs but I like to think the spirit of the times and the idealism we nurtured lives on in Hebden Bridge today.  

 
 

Some Other New Year’s Eves

Thé first one I remember was in the late 70s or maybe early 80s? Mike and I were involved in bands in those days. So I was usually playing (keyboards) or babysitting – depending on who drew the short straw. On this particular evening we had a saxophonist friend coming up from Devon to play with us at the Carlton Club (now flats) in Hebden Bridge. I can’t remember which incarnation of band – Rocking Chair maybe? Or did that one never leave the living room?

Anyway this guy and his partner came up to our farmhouse on the Yorkshire moors in a hire car and went off to the gig in the van with all the gear. During the evening it snowed. And it snowed and it snowed ….. there was no way we co could get the van back up the track so we walked home and …. It was still
snowing. In the morning the hire car was nowhere to be seen. It was completely buried. And then there was the big freeze. In those days we didn’t have neighbours with snow blowers or the money to hire snow ploughs. The only way out was to dig yourself out with a spade and trust me that could take weeks. Our friends went home on the train without the car. The hire company were incredulous constantly ringing to find out when they could have their car back. I kid you not, it was MAY before that car could be moved. A long cold winter if you lived at 1100ft.

Another memorable one was the Millennium. This one took a year in the planning and there was even a committee which met every month involving serious allocation of duties under the headings of music, catering, fireworks, lighting and composting toilets. It turned out alright on the night. In fact it ‘were reet good’.

2008 was in the Charente. And I remember this one for the particular location, the ambiance of La France profonde, the company of my daughter and her good friend and the totally inedible cheese fondue that I managed to crucify. Having been bequeathed my mothers 1960s fondue set and being in the land of cheese and wine and proper bread, it seemed the inspired choice for New Year celebrations. Cheese fondue benefits from a dash (I repeat a dash) of Kirsch not a half a bottle of cheap firewater from Lidl.

Subsequent New Years Eves get a bit hazy after that. But I do remember the one when I made about 40lbs marmalade. I can’t remember whether I had nowhere to go, no one to go with or was just too lazy to bother. But at some point in the evening I was gripped by the desire to be productive and embarked on a massive mission which ensured I had to stay up till midnight and beyond.

This year I’m in bed by 10pm writing about what I haven’t done and reconciled to catching up with Jools on iPlayer tomorrow. Pathetic I know but I’m lovin’ it …..

Xmas 2016

What a year (to forget)!

The personal and political collide making for tumultuous change. Keep calm and carry on must be the most overused cliché but seems the only appropriate expression to use.

Keeping calm when daughter returns to the family home after 17 years in France with two children and six suitcases to re-establish a life and career on this side of the channel. Her very own Frexit.

Keeping calm while geothermal heating is concurrently installed involving weeks/months of drilling and digging outside, an endless supply of mud inside and out and no living room while underfloor heating is laid. No room to swing a cat let alone for two active boys to launch into a superhero mission.

Keeping calm when my mother announces to her new black African carer that she shouldn’t be eating with us because she is a servant, not family or friend. Gulp! Is this dementia speaking? Or a long buried cultural attitude that has just lost its socialised veneer? But poignantly, after 2 weeks, mum wept when Agnes was leaving to go back to Africa as she feared she might never see her again.

Heightened emotions and anxiety seem to characterise mums particular form of dementia. It makes for a sad life and I haven’t found the antidote. But she is still physically fit and in her own home although in truth the bungalow has never really been her home. Her heart and her memories are elsewhere in a jumbled up jigsaw that will never be put together.

I spend my time yo-yo-ing between the generations as the proverbial sandwich filler while clinging on to a thread of cultural life in the form of La Cercle de Lecture. Currently reading Simone de Beauvoir’s La Femme Rompue (a woman destroyed). Well how appropriate!

But never mind – keeping calm and just about carrying on ……..

#JezWeCan

This blogger has of late been particularly vegetative politically. But in every other aspect of life has been overwhelmed with major crises of augmentative proportions. Hence – no blogging, no motivation for blogging, no inspiration for blogging.  Zilch. 

The Scottish Referendum was exciting but failed to initiate a post.  The General Election came and went. So far, so underwhelming.  I voted Green, being mega- pee’d off with the offer of Austerity-Lite from the Labour leadership.  I even felt vindicated by the fact that my vote didn’t make a blind bit of difference to the end result despite friends threatening me that hell would freeze over if I didn’t vote for Ed. Labour lost by a landslide anyway. 

Then came the Greek crisis and a mega political infatuation with Yanis Varoufakis. I still hang on to his every word. BUT I understand why Tsipras backed down and gave in to the Euro Bullies. The alternative was too horrendous for Greece to cope with alone. Even though 60% of voters were apparently up for risking it.

And now we have Jeremy.  Bless’im.  Bless him for agreeing to stand.  Bless him for talking straight. Bless him for standing by his principles.  Bless him for trucking around the country at the age of 60 something rallying the committed and the disenchanted. Bless him for initiating the most exciting political debate for decades which was sadly missing during the election campaign. Bless him for ignoring the personal abuse.  Bless him for his calmness in not rising to the bait. And bless him for motivating me to write again. 

And him such an unlikely JC figure. It doesn’t even matter if he doesn’t win cos he’s started something. But I think he will win. And it doesn’t even matter if the Labout Party splits as a result because it is about time the Labout Party did split – Into those who believe in capitalism and those who believe in kindness. High time for them to stop getting the two confused.  And when it comes down to it,  the electorate will also have to choose whether they believe in capitalism or kindness and I’ll go with the majority cos I believe in democracy. Even our crummy first past the post sort of democracy cos that’s all we’ve got for now.   And if capitalism wins in the short term,  I’ll pursue the Creative Commons and continue growing the alternative.  “In a world thus redirected from the ‘shareholder value’ of neoliberalism to the ‘labour value’ of postcapitalism, there would still be labour. But, increasingly, it would be labour voluntarily shared for mutual benefit, rather than contracted and corralled by a capitalist.” (https://opendemocracy.net/robin-wilson/this-time-it%E2%80%99s-different)

But call me naive and simplistic and unrealistcally optimistic I don’t think capitalism will win. #JezWeCan!!!!

Charlie – To be or not to be – that is the question!

In and amongst wall to wall world wide coverage of events in Paris, long conversations with daughter resident there, email exchanges with francophile friends, reading and re-reading of articles that free speech is all or respect for others is all, culminating in Russell’s uncharacteristic reticence to proclaim anything other than the fact that ‘Love Is All You Need’, I got Mum out of ‘The Home’.

Turns out that these days it is mainly late stage nursing patients, often bed bound, who are resident there. Is this because the current ethos is to try to look after people in their own homes? Or is it the eye watering expense of residential care should the client have more than £23,000 in assets? Either way, my mum had a major wobble as soon as she realised she was stuck there. Despite a plethora of competent staff, she was isolated in her own room, didn’t want to fraternise with the few mobile inmates and thoroughly resented the rigid regime. I visited twice daily and on every visit I was greeted with ‘I hate it here’. Staff reassured me she would ‘settle, but actually I didn’t want her to ‘settle’. So it was a no brainer to approach Mrs Nice Manager and ask if we really had to stick it out for the trial month and hand over the few thousand quid that that entailed. Mrs Not Quite So Nice assumed a slightly pained expression but said we could go.

I am now on a crash course of understanding dementia, specifically Contented Dementia (Oliver James). This involves agreeing with everything Mum says, never interrupting her and most importantlŷ not asking any questions. The latter is the hardest. If I forget and ask “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee or would you prefer hot milk? ” or “Do you think it is time to go to bed now?” the look of bewilderment immediately reminds me of my mistake. I am learning to speak in short simple factual sentences, never making more than one statement at a time. And the moment is always NOW.

It is easy on Day 1 of life’s next big challenge to convince myself I CAN do this. I CAN put the rest of my life on hold because this is what I must do now. My mother needs me more than anything else in the world. In the past she has always selfishly demanded more of me than I was prepared to give. She never appreciated that anything in my life was as important as her need for me. Jobs, children, partners, grandchildren, friends, events, study. Nothing compared with her need to have me all to herself. But This is different. I examine my own feelings and wonder why on earth I feel this compulsion to give in to her now. Am I succumbing to to the need to be needed? I remind myself that this same mother (in another lifetime) abandoned me to unimaginable six year old grief, when she left me in a boarding school for children of ex service personnel. Because she had a twenty- something- year- old life to lead. My apparent loyalty and devotion defies all logic. I am suspicious of it. But all I can do is act on a gut feeling of certainty that the the life of this extremely vulnerable frail old lady is inextricably interwoven with mine and now is not the time to untangle it.

Paris has been on the streets today in a collective emotional declaration of ‘Je Suis Charlie’. Despite agreeing with some dissenters who have cogent arguments against being Charlie and the uncomfortable feeling of showing solidarité in the company of the likes of David Cameron and Benjamin Netanyahu, I have a sense I would liked to have been there. To share with so many others the sorrow and sheer incredulity that the predictable irreverence of cartoonists could cost them their lives. The lives of soixante huitards with whom I feel I have so much shared history. This is bonkers! But the bigger complicated picture looms large. Colonial legacies. Marginalisation of minorities. Rampant racism. Inequality. Illegal wars. Radicalisation of people with confused identities. Dangers as well as elation when large numbers of people gather to speak with one voice. So at the end of the day, I have no idea if I am Charlie or whether I am not Charlie.

But ironically, at the end of this particular day, the Last Tango was thankfully not in Paris. It was in Halifax!

More on Mum

Today is the day I am due to take Mum to Horsfall House. She woke up at 6am and is very anxious. They are taking me to this home. Some strange place and you won’t be there. She seems to have forgotten the reasons she wanted to go. I try to remember. But there will be nurses there who will look after you. I think about the stark room I have seen and mums lovely house. There is no comparison. Should I have done it differently? But I can’t look after her. She is now so demanding of my time. But I could have got care in. Trouble is I am so knackered and emotionally wrung out I can’t think straight, So shall I use this time for respite and rethink and discussion with friends and family? I haven’t had any proper conversations with anybody because mums face contorts when I say anything she doesn’t understand and if I’m out of the room she shouts for me. I can’t even begin to think about the practical side of how to physically pay £5000 per month In advance by direct debit. Haven’t had a chance to ring the solicitor to sort out Power of Attorney. I keep thinking about how I could make the room nicer. I will take Brian Dowling’s painting. It means a lot to me so hopefully it will mean something to Mum even though it is new, so not familiar yet. I will take her V cushion and the little lavender one. I’ll take the new Countryfile calendar she was so pleased with. And some chocolates. And I will buy some flowers. It is a room that faces south so gets the sun but the view is obscured by another wing of the building. I can’t remember what is on the floor. Keep thinking this is the last time she will sleep In her bed, this is the last time I will make her supper, this is the last time I will make the porridge that she loves. Why am I doing this? Because she asked me to. Because she begged me to. Get me out of here, she pleaded. Did she REALLY mean it? Have I got it all dreadfully wrong?

We have a cup of tea and she is making some sense. She knows and accepts she is going today. I don’t want to take my furniture with me. I want to leave all my rubbish behind. I want to leave all my worries behind but I can’t get rid of them. You MUST leave them behind. Otherwise there is no point. Think positive. Think of a new beginning. I just want to go to sleep. OK you have another little sleep …….

Mum – Xmas Eve 2014

I am feeling so sad tonight. I have been on the edge of tears all day as it has been such an emotional roller coaster. Mum wants to go into Horsfall House so we went there this morning with my very hurried application form. The very nice manager asked us bluntly whether we would want a place next week if available. I looked forlorn and confused and mum said yes. I asked if we could have a trial and she said one months trial is their policy for everyone. I said I felt negligent because I hadn’t even gone to look around yet. So she said I can go next Monday at 11am. I don’t think mum has given it much further thought except to say they will sort her feet out and at one point this evening in a distressed moment she said ” oh please Jen get me out of here” – out of this house that she has idolised and fretted about so much. She doesn’t seem to be interested in anything to do with it now. She said to the lady at Horsfall House “how nice and peaceful it is here even though it is Xmas Eve”. I am just staggered that this is happening. I can’t believe she actually knows what she wants. It is probably the best thing for her but how come she can recognise that when she is so confused about everything else? I will remember this moment for ever.
Somehow in and amongst the mayhem and tears I made the traditional glazed ham and spiced red cabbage that I always do for Xmas eve. We decided Tom and Molly and children wouldn’t come back to eat. I was frightened of D getting agitated by the disruption and Molly didn’t fancy driving in the dark. They will eat the curry I made for Anna which is still hanging about. So it was a mournful little Xmas eve supper for me and mum. D had a tiny taster and wondered what meal this was. She has been so anxious today trying to remember things that are probably not real so impossible to remember anyway. She had me driving round and round Minchinhampton today looking for something but couldn’t remember what it was but if she saw it she would remember so we couldn’t give up. This something was producing all the power that would sort everything out.