Gardening is GOOD for you!

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When I got home from work on Friday a letter was waiting for me. I could see straight away it was an NHS letter, the blue franking on the front of the envelope, the letter I had been waiting for and dreading, the appointment for my yearly check-up, year two following treatment for breast cancer.

The chances of the return of the kind of cancer that I had are highest in the first three years, and then the risk drops down quite significantly. If I make it to five years then the chances of it returning are lower than that of all the other types of breast cancer.

So on Friday night, fear paid me a visit.

Fear is a horrible thing. In my case I panic and start to think about the ways in which I might become ill and die at any moment soon. Fear makes me feel sick, it makes me tearful, fear makes me angry and it makes me want to drink a lot and blot it all out. So on Friday night that is exactly what I did.

When I woke up on Saturday morning I thought, “This is no good, I can`t be ruled by fear and spend my time worrying about something that might never happen……” so I told fear to fuck off.  I decided to tackle my garden which as some of you know, resembles a miniature jungle at the moment. I worked hard from 1pm and did not stop until tea time.  An entire wheelie bin packed with weeds and brambles later and after a long period of neglect the front garden is once again looking pretty.

Front garden

I can see the individual plants, I am so pleased, they were being choked by brambles, the lawn was two feet high. By the end of the day, I was so stiff I was hobbling around like an old aged pensioner – oh hang on a minute, I am an old aged pensioner hah! But fear had left me, hurrah!

Today I am starting on the back garden, it is a mammoth undertaking as it is about sixty feet long. A few years ago, a well-meaning neighbour had most of it chipped for me. She hoped it would cut down on maintenance but unfortunately the weeds have grown through the poor quality liner and now the grass is about four feet high. Bind weed chokes many of the plants in the border, it is a huge task yet one which I shall embrace with joy and pleasure. I have my gardening mojo back and I have a plan.

As for fear, well when fear buggered off, fear left something behind.  Fear left hope, positivity and delight in the things that matter to me most like nature and nurture and love.

While we are on the subject of love; my friend Carol Hands who lives across the water in America, is ailing at the moment. Carol writes some of the most awe inspiring, intelligent and truly beautiful blogs here that I have ever read.  Her blog page is called “Voices from the margins.” I have shared many of them, Carol is a poet, an academic and a propagator of peace and balance in these difficult times. Carol if you read this, I know you are in pain. My love is bouncing over the ocean to find its way to you, accompanied by hope and positivity.

Happy Sunday.

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I need a Pongo-meter!

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I recently attended a dementia café at a venue not far from where I live. My talk was to carers and was about the work of the charity who currently employ me as an advisor to people who have dementia.  My presentation was in full swing and we had been debating all of the different gadgets that can be purchased to make life a little easier for people with dementia such as speaking clocks, front door sensors which will remind you to pick up your keys, mobile phones with GPS trackers, for if you become lost outside and so on.

This particular venue is a lovely old building in a very swanky part of town, so all those attending were extremely well off. Some spoke in clipped accents similar to Hyacinth Bucket or sibilantly, like Joyce Grenfell and were all jolly, jolly nice women.  I mean that, they are really lovely women.

One of the ladies listening asked me (and you have to imagine an upper class English accent)  “Has anyone designed a Pongo-meter yet?”  and I said, “A pongo what?  I`m sorry?”

“A Pongo-meter,” she responded, “I will need one when I am older to measure the levels of ammonia in the air.”  She went on to explain that her greatest fear when she is old is that she will become incontinent and that her home will smell.  She is worried that she will be so immersed in her own pong, she will lose awareness of the fact that she needs to take a shower or change the sheets.  She suggested that when the levels were high enough, the Pongo-meter could be designed to speak and say something like, “ Mrs. So and So, you need to take a shower.”

I responded that I thought her idea an excellent one yet fraught with potential problems…….

For it all depends upon whether or not the individual with the dementia can remember A) what a shower is and B) where the shower is situated………

Back to the drawing board!

Take a look at this. The work of Anne Nicholls.

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My dear friend Annie, has a forthcoming exhibition at the Artrix, here is some information about her work……….

Invisible: A New Look at M.E.

This exhibition of art and poetry by Anne Nicholls runs from 4th April to 20th May at the Artrix, Bromsgrove, Worcs., B60 1GN. It illustrates some aspects of Myalgic Encephalopathy/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as experienced by Anne and many of her fellow sufferers. This frequently misunderstood condition is painful and debilitating. Many sufferers are permanently bedridden and often have to spend their lives in a darkened room. Some can’t even tolerate noise to the point where they can’t take part in conversations. Around a quarter of a million sufferers in the UK have had their lives hijacked by ME. Others, like Anne, are only 40% disabled.

Accessing appropriate medical care is challenging. Luckily last year campaigners managed to persuade parliament to take it seriously. The NHS will hopefully stop telling sufferers it’s all in the mind and if they just got off their arses and bucked their ideas up they’d be fine.

Anne also has the support of the ME Association, The Salus Fatigue Foundation, Professor Paul Moss and Dr Rick Dunn of the University of Birmingham. Dr Sarah Myhill, who wrote the wonderful book “Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Myalgic Encephalitis” (2nd Edition) also offers her endorsement. Dr Myhill’s phrase Mitochondria not Hypochondria sums it up. As momentum gathers, the exhibition is receiving increasing encouragement.

For the employers, colleagues, families, friends and carers of those who are sick of scepticism on top of illness this is a great opportunity to understand what it’s like. And for sufferers, it’s a way of explaining how they feel.

Anne 1

After all, a picture paints a thousand words………   below is an example of Anne`s work.

Anne 2

 

Unfair sentencing for sex offences #metoo

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Very recently a young actor called Bruno Langley who is well known in the UK for his role as Todd Grimshaw in Coronation Street, was convicted in court of sexual assault. Bruno did not go to jail for his crimes, instead he received a twelve month Community Service Order, a £250 fine which will be paid to each of the two young women whose breasts and crotch he grabbed while off his face on alcohol, a twelve week “rehabilitation course”, a twelve week police curfew, a twelve week tag and he will be on the sex offenders` register for the next five years. He will almost certainly never work as an actor again; his promising career is ended. I commented at the time that I felt quite sorry for him. Several of my friends agreed with me and some did not, it`s the way of the world but I`d like to clarify, why I made that comment.

None of Bruno Langley`s behaviour is acceptable, he was clearly extremely drunk when these events unfurled and he has since admitted that he has a serious alcohol problem for which he is now receiving treatment. Bruno also explained to the court that he has some mental health issues as a result of unresolved conflict in his earlier life so I imagine he self- medicated with drink. This obviously doesn`t mitigate what he did but it in some way explains what happened and why the lines for him, became blurred.   It isn`t the sentencing per se that makes me feel sorry for him, the unacceptability of his behaviour is not in dispute. It`s the severity of the sentencing he received that troubles me, for an offence that I consider trivial in comparison to many other levels of sexual assault from which the greatest percentage of perpetrators walk away acquitted unless they are black, in which case they are far more likely to be sentenced to a prison term.

It seems to me that in the current climate of #metoo, Bruno Langley has been pilloried for his crimes, while men like Trump, Weinstein, Branston and countless hundreds of others are never going to wind up in court because of what they allegedly did. They are far too wealthy to have to undergo the experience of such humiliation, they can quietly settle the matter out of court should the likelihood ever rear its embarrassing head and from the safety of their palatial homes, they can most likely continue to behave in the way that the press reports they do. It`s all wrong, it`s a disgrace and it`s bloody unfair. So that is why I feel sorry for Bruno Langley.  It seems to me he has been scapegoated and because of the current climate the decision of the judge was a legal expedient.

Perhaps it is Mr.Langley`s​ karma, perhaps he will go on in his life and achieve something magnificent to attain for his crimes, I do hope so and I hope he will be given a second chance. His remorse in court was said by the judge to be absolutely genuine. As for the two young woman who took him all the way to court when in my opinion the issue could have been resolved far more helpfully for all parties out of court, I imagine in hindsight they wish they had never pursued the matter into the public domain and it is my opinion that they haven`t done women any favours. I bet I am right.

#metoo

Going round the sciatica bend……

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It`s no fun having sciatica. It really bloody hurts, it feels like two gnarled old men have cut a long incision into the back of your thigh, dug in their fingers to take hold of your ham strings and then both are proceeding to pull mightily, in opposite directions like a ham string tug of war. The resulting pain sends what feels like electric shocks shooting down my buttocks and onwards towards my knees making every step a mini torture. It`s vile and relentless. I can`t stand up straight and so I walk along in a stoop, like a really old lady which is slightly less painful. My GP sent me to a physiotherapist who gave me a whole set of exercises to do which are in practice, Iyengar yoga. I find that they do help but only after you are able to get over that initial pain barrier so that you can actually carry the exercises out!

Sciatica is so awful, some women describe it as being on a par, painwise, with childbirth and I would agree with that. So I have to take a shed load of painkillers to numb it. I have tried Co-codemol (puts me to sleep) Naproxen (didn`t have any effect) and Ibuprofen which works but only if I take enough to knock out the whole of Birmingham. My GP recently offered me Tramadol but this is what the web says about Tramadol….

Tramadol is used to treat moderate to severe pain. … Fatal side effects can occur if you use tramadol with alcohol, or with other drugs that cause drowsiness or slow your breathing. … Tramadol can interact with many other drugs and cause dangerous side effects or death.

Death is a bit of a bothersome side effect, so I think I`ll stick to a G & T in the evening thank you very much, it works really well for me. Yes it`s no fun having sciatica.

Meanwhile, when in the park retrieving my dog`s ball (that is the singular readers) which he hardly ever brings back to me, I have devised the sciatica knee bend, done with a straight back I can even rise up again afterwards. I sit down to peel vegetables, I enjoy piping hot baths and I spend my weekend break pottering which is lovely. So I`m very lucky really, it could be a lot worse.  Life is good.

I am an anarchist!

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As many of my readers know, I am employed with the Alzheimer`s Society as a Dementia Support kind of a person and as such, I get to visit lots of the various workshops we put on for our service users and their carers. One of the more popular ones is called “Singing for the Brain.” The local group near where I work in Solihull often entertains as many as fifty people and the facilitator arrives with his guitar and strums us through about an hour`s worth of songs from the mid nineteen hundreds upwards, through the century. We still sing It`s a Long Way to Tipperary” and “Roll Out the Barrel” occasionally interspersed with “Yellow Submarine, Rhinestone Cowboy and When I`m 64.”  Songs of their eras.  Everyone is linked together by bunting, which is passed around the circle as our strummer sings hello to each participant by their first name. It`s a really successful, sociable occasion and it helps people to feel they are still part of their community, even if they are quite far along the path of dementia.

I was pondering, how will the Singing for the Brain groups change and adapt as we move further into the 21st Century?

I find it hard to imagine a whole group of OAP`s singing “Smack my Bitch Up” or “Anarchy in the UK,” but it is a possibility. Personally I shall be singing, “Georgia On My Mind, California and whole mix of Sarah Bareilles, especially “Gravity,” which I love.

What will you be singing if you develop dementia?

Globally, dementia is one of the world`s biggest killers and we currently have 850,000 people diagnosed in the UK. It is so prevalent that many people think it is a natural part of ageing but it isn`t. It is a disease that kills the brain and it can be a devastating illness, which is why groups like Singing for the Brain are so important in making life more bearable for people with dementia, their families and carers. It is still possible to have a life when you are diagnosed with dementia.

On the 21st of September, it is World Dementia Day. You can help by ringing your local branch of Alzheimer`s Society which is present all over the globe, and becoming a Dementia Friend.

Together we can and we will, create a world without dementia. The number to ring if you are in the UK is:

0300 222 1122

It`s free.

 

 

We`re all doomed I tell you, doomed!

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I`ve had the past week off as annual leave. It`s just as well really because I have some further, unexpected tests and scans to get through relating to my breast cancer or breast banana as I like to refer to it.  Just when you thought etc. etc……

My book

I was due to visit a cousin in Ireland this week but another time cuz, too much on my mind at the mo`.

The holiday at home has afforded me some much-needed time to reflect on my mortality and possible demise, which may be earlier than I anticipated even a year ago although obviously I hope not.  When I was given the news that the banana may have migrated to my other breast, at first I sank into the Slough of Despond but eventually I find, my mind habituates to even bad news, the most morose of thoughts and emotions lessen and in doing so, they become more manageable and life goes on.

I have been reflecting on my life and whether I have any regrets. I have a few, but then again…..

I regret sending Fred Ryland a valentine`s card which read “Roses are red, violets are blue, cabbages stink and so do you.“  Mostly though, being of the nature that believes everything happens for a reason, I regret nothing and I remain an optimist.  I find the main problem with having an optimistic nature is that optimists really believe they can help people become better human beings and are genuinely surprised when we realise yet again and far too late in the day, we cannot.  Hey ho, I digress.

One of the things that living with banana has given me is a really chilled out attitude to the things that don`t really matter which I have discovered is almost everything. Take this morning for example, I have eaten a piece of toast and butter spread liberally with salad cream with a fried egg on top.   Accompanying this feast, I then chomped down an extremely large piece of gorgonzola cheese, two big chilli olives and a bowl of baked beans with at least a desert spoon of Lidl tomato ketchup stirred in.   To finish it all off I took my daily supply of paracetamol, mega doses of magnesium, vitamin D3, cod liver oil, devil`s claw and curcumin supplements.  I fluctuate wildly between eating healthily and not touching alcohol, to downing a bottle of wine and smoking five fags in each hand all at once.  Do I care how much I am abusing my digestive and bodily systems? Not a jot, I`m going to die anyway. Oh come on!  It`s the only thing we can be really sure of and as my sister Sue`s wife said to me the day my sister died, “I knew she was going to die, I just didn`t think it would be today.”  (“It`s a good day to die today,” Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man.)

I don’t want a funeral. I`ve been to three recently and another one on Monday of next week. They have all been sad and that is absolutely fine of course but I don`t want sad, I want a happy affair.  The only funeral I have ever attended which was an affair involving lots of laughter and celebration was that of a dear friend and colleague Debbie Lees. Hers was a humanist funeral that really spoke of her, it was great.  So after I die, I`d like some kind death person to come and remove my body please and cremate me and may my family and friends have a big party, get drunk, take illegal substances if that is their bag and have a laugh remembering the me who I am.  And I don`t want any hymns sung, I`d rather you sang “Is that all there is?” and “Cabaret” and “You`ll never walk alone” and “The sun has got his hat on,” at the top of your voices and send my ashes off in the form of a firework. Hah!

So there you are, I don`t have anything to leave anybody, if there is one thing I learned from my Buddhist studies, it`s that material things do not matter.  I was about to write something mean and unpleasant here about clinging to wealth and belongings and about hypocrisy but my mother Bess suddenly materialised across the table from where I`m sitting and drumming her fingers on the wood, tut tutted at me and said, “Now, now Helen…..” so I won`t. She died 23 years ago and she is never far away. Thanks mum, you taught me there is a time and a place for everything and most of all you passed on to me your irreverent sense of humour which showed me how to laugh at life`s adversities.  I`ve enjoyed a lot of laughter in my life, you can`t beat it.

So, more tests over the next two weeks and the results at the end of the month, meanwhile, where did I put my baccy?

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Gone but never forgotten!

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My ex mother in law Joyce, died yesterday morning. She would have been ninety on June 22nd and for the past few months has been deteriorating with what her G.P. described as  “a touch of Alzheimers,” as well as various other conditions.  She was a poor old thing when she slipped away and my immediate emotion was one of relief, no-one wants to see another human being linger when they are already struggling.

Joyce and I never shared a close relationship, in fact for two years of our lives we did not see or speak to one another at all and they were two good years for me, for Joyce was always so very critical of me, my lifestyle, my parenting skills, my skills as a housewife. I won`t list here the many, many times she undermined me and whittled away at my confidence because she is gone now and it was all so very long ago. Instead, I`d like to comment on the few occasions she made me smile and try to sustain those as my enduring memories of her.

We were walking together up Longbridge Lane, we`d been to the local shops for something or other. It was a hot summer day and a wasp started buzzing around my head.  Joyce began to bat her hand around my head in an effort to scare the wasp away. Suddenly she swatted the side of my head so hard, she bounced my glasses off my face and half way across Longbridge Lane. She collapsed in hysterics and laughed about it the whole of the rest of the way home.

Joyce`s little side swipes were always quite obvious to me however, not to innocent bystanders. For example, when I was leaving my marriage for the first time in November 1991 for my Christmas present Joyce gave me a bag which had “Bon Voyage” printed across the front of it.

I was quite a bit older when I started to take Joyce and her sisters Jean and Lillian out for meals from time to time. I don`t know why I felt duty bound to do this for Tony and I had been divorced for a lot of years and I`d had two serious relationships during that time although I did love Jeanie. (Jeanie also died, two weeks` ago and her funeral was just the other day.) I used to call them The Golden Girls and every meal I took them to, panned out in the same way.  They would mooch around for a table and sit down. Lillian would then complain it was “too draughty” and they would move.  Jeanie would then complain it was “too dark” to see the menu so off we`d go again. It was not uncommon to move at least four times before they were in agreement. Then Joyce would be imperious and terribly rude whilst ordering and say things like, “this glass is dirty (it never was) bring me another clean one immediately,” in hindsight she may have been in early dementia for some years and this could quite easily have affected her perceptions but at the time, I recall being deeply embarrassed and the numbers of waiters and waitresses I have apologised to over the years doesn`t bear thinking about.  Then they would bicker, like three silly children, all the way through their meal.

I was with Joyce on Thursday, a day and a half before she died. She was being nursed in a residential home and we all knew she did not have very much longer, she was so terribly frail and had stopped eating altogether. Like many people with dementia, Joyce was repeating a single word over and over again and the word she chose was “please.”

I know she wanted to go home but she was ensconced in her long term memory by then and probably didn`t know where home was. I tried distracting her which didn`t work and in the end I said to her, “You know Joyce you don`t have to say please, you could say another word….”

“Alright,” she said in a tiny little voice, “what word shall I say?”

So I continued and suggested, “well, you could say balloon, or tomato.”

“Or I could say shit.” She said to me.

“You could indeed,” I replied.

So Joycey sat there, like a little bird in her big bed quietly saying “Shit, shit, shit.”

When I left, I kissed her forehead and said, “Goodbye old lady.”  And she gave me a watery smile and I thought, she is still there, she is still Joyce underneath that haze of dementia.

RIP Joyce Inman.

June 22nd 1927 – June 10th 2017

 

 

 

 

Can you hear me mother?

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I have just discovered I have a second cousin I knew nothing about. He lives in Ireland on the west coast I think, which is somewhere I have wanted to visit ever since I watched Ryan`s Daughter, it is such beautiful countryside and coast.  Looking at his posts on Facebook, it has been interesting to see that although we have led entirely different lives, our politics are definitely on the same page.  So I`m nicking all his posts, as you do, thanks Paul.

Going to visit Ireland is on my bucket list. Having survived the dreaded banana last year, I can`t wait now to retire and start seeing some of the places I have always wanted to travel to.  Especially as life delivered me a bit of a blow yesterday. It all started so innocently……..

I went to get my ears checked at hospital. I`​ve had to wear hearing aids for a year or so as my colleagues had made so many jokes out of my misunderstanding stuff they had said to me, here`s an example;

Colleague: “Would you like a cup of tea?”

Me: “Tuesday at ten thirty.”

The doctor checked my ear. He wasn`t gifted in being pleasant or engaging, actually I have encountered paving slabs with more people skills so when the words slipped out from his tongue, I was somewhat unprepared.  “I need you to have a brain scan,” he said. I enquired why. “Because there may be something going on in your brain that is placing pressure on your middle ear and creating the feeling of your ear being blocked.”

“Like a tumour?”

“Yes, it`s very rare but we cannot rule it out.”

Now this man was unaware of my recent experience, so I said, “I had cancer last year.” I don`t even know why I told him to be honest because all he said was, “What kind?” and I said, “Breast cancer,” and he said, “Oh.” Then he told me I would have to wait 6 to 8 weeks for an MRI scan.

I drove home feeling absolutely shattered. I stopped at Aldi and bought a gigantic steak, (I haven`t eaten meat in weeks, I am sorry cow) and a bottle of wine and went home and got quietly plastered.

In the new light of Saturday I went to see my brother Al, who has also been deaf for a long time. He had the exact same experience a number of years ago and had to wait months for his scan so he put it all into perspective for me, thanks Al.  But it has led me to pondering life, the universe and everything again and realising how tenuous it all is and as Alan Rickman commented shortly before his recent death, “we are but a moment in the chair.” So yes, I am going to Ireland and yes I am going back to India and yes I am going to return to Oz and say hello to Darwin again and yes I am going to spend every day in the present moment and cherish it.  None of us can predict what is going to happen as last night`s events in London – awful, awful stuff, so clearly demonstrate.

So second cousin Paul, put the kettle on, get me some of that seaweed that tastes like bacon would you please and see you in the not too distant future.  What?  Pardon?

Tuesday at ten thirty I think………..

 

 

 

It`s the way I tell `em!

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I have been thinking about doing stand-up comedy, I seem to be able to make people laugh so why not.  Why should my life become more sedate just because I am in my sixties?  So – I was mulling through some of the situations I have found entertaining in my past and thought I could employ the fact that I have survived cancer, as a starting point so here goes with some of my ideas…….

I had breast cancer in 2016, I underwent a lot of treatment including chemotherapy and one of the side effects of chemo` is chronic constipation. I needed a shed load of Senakot and it reminded me of a time years ago when I was similarly affected and went to visit my local Boots where everyone knew me. I asked the pharmacist for some Senakot and she said, “Are they for you?”  For some reason, I have no idea why, I suddenly felt embarrassed and blushing mightily I replied, “No, they`re for my mother.”  She looked at me in a puzzled sort of a way and said, “Helen, your mother died fifteen years ago.”   “Ummmm, for my mother-in-law!” I hastily corrected myself. How daft.

During treatment my immunity levels dropped and I found I was troubled with all sorts of niggling ailments that I would otherwise have fought off, including a permanently stuffy nose. One of my friends suggested I purchase some menthol crystals to inhale some steam and clear it. I tripped to the chemist once again and said to the pharmacist, “Do you have any crystal meths?”   She looked down at me, which isn`t difficult as I am only five foot two and said, “Helen I think you mean menthol crystals?” and then smiling she said, “Mind you, this is Acocks Green, how much do you want?”

And talking of my mother, many years ago my mum and I walked into the Midland Bank in the Green to withdraw some money. My parents had a flat over the bank and at that time, they also had a beautiful ginger cat called (unsurprisingly) Tom.  Most days Tom was in the habit of strolling into the bank through their open office window, for some fuss and a saucer of milk.  Behind the counter worked a young teller called Richard. Richard was ultra conservative and a bit of a fuddy-duddy for such a young person.  Bending over the counter towards my mother and in hushed tones Richard whispered, “Mrs. Pitt, did you know your pussy`s got fleas?”  He was absolutely unaware of what he had just said and my mother and I were in bits, collapsing with laughter. 

I reckon if I add a couple more anecdotes, I`d have a reasonable ten minutes to deliver at my local open mic night……..