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This can be found on mrbertblogs.co.uk/podcast

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Branching Out

I am going to continue writing up my diaries and some other things here but in order to keep myself occupied I am going to start a podcast, which will be linked to this blog, and which in theory will me rambling on. It’s an experiment for now.

I am hoping it will be up and running today.

Watch this space.

Losses

It’s been a bit of a week all round.

Last week, whilst I had been visiting her, my Mum had started to breath in an odd way and the care home owner had phoned for an ambulance. My brother had come over too. The paramedic team had come, tested her, said she was in remarkably good health for a woman in her mid-nineties, but she had a chest infection.

Then on Monday of this week, my brother had phoned me to say she had taken a turn for the worse. I went into work and was told there was about to be a meeting. Long story kept short, the decision was made to close the theatre and cancel the rest of the play’s run – two weeks. Which was a bit of a shock because most people were expecting the theatres to go dark around April. I’m freelance so that was the end of my income. We had a meeting on the stage with one of the producers, and then as it was our final evening together we headed off to the pub. I then spent over an hour talking to a legendary stage producer which was quite extraordinary and totally unexpected. And then I headed off to South London to see Mum.

My brother was with her. We were the only two visitors allowed in the home because of coronavirus. Mum was in what looked like heavy sleep, though she is deaf so doesn’t respond to sound. Usually if you take her hand she will hold it, but she wasn’t doing that. I sat for a couple of hours, then had to get home so I said my goodbye to her. My brother stayed all night, sleeping in a chair next to her.

I missed the last overland train, had to get a black cab to a tube station, and got home about 1am. I slept ok. My brother texted early the next morning to say she was still the same, but called about 9.30am to say she had quietly died.

And that’s it.

Mum fell for the final time in October 2018, was taken in to hospital, not given the physio she needed, got pneumonia and had the norovirus in her ward (which I got from visiting her and ended up vomiting through a theatre performance into a waste-paper bin. Only one member of the audience complained by emailing in the next day that someone had obviously been being sick in the lighting box and there had been a lot of walking around.)

She came home and lived in a hospital bed in my parent’s downstairs front room, and a complicated care systemwas put in place by my brother and myself. Mum carried on regardless and was eventually taken off end of life care in February 2019. By which time my Dad had got cancer in his mouth.

He died in March and Mum lived on, but care costs were astronomical and we couldn’t sustain them financially, so my brother organised her to come and live in a London care home near where he worked, last summer. And so she continued to live there, with me visiting once a week and my brother seeing her most days until this week.

I had started therapy in February 2019 as I was worried about my mental health, and promptly uncovered to my complete surprise the extent and complexities of my relationship with Mum. I have worked them through over a year, and so Mum’s death has been manageable for me. Without therapy, I have little doubt I would have had a breakdown.

So now I am in a rather surreal time of my Mum dying, with impeccable timing as I lost my job with no prospect of another, and coronvirus suddenly tightening its grip on the country.

I have been reading and laughing and weeping over Elizabeth Strout’s astonishing Olive Again. There is so much human insight and compassion in her writing that it has been almost overwhelming to read. Even so, this caught me by surprise from the story Light:

After a minute, Cindy…..said, “Well I’m sure you didn’t scream and yell a lot like my mother did. She was difficult, Olive. But then she had a difficult life.” She turned her face back to Olive.

And Olive said, “Oh I think I did scream and yell a lot…I can’t honestly remember, but I think I did. I was pretty awful when I felt like it. My son probably thinks I’m a difficult woman, like you think your mother was,”

“Well I still loved her,” Cindy said.

“Yuh. And I suppose Christopher loves me.”

Mum was a difficult woman. She did her best for me all my life, and I did the same at the end of her life.

We loved each other.

Life In A Nutshell

This entry says so much about my family, I was quite taken aback when I read it.

20th July 198..

Woke up fairly early but didn’t get up until nine o’clock when mum (sic) rushed in the room screaming why weren’t my curtains open as they should be at half past eight and everyone (i.e. one neighbour) would think I was extremely lazy. Received a letter from Janet at last! She also wrote to Mum and Dad thanking them for the cards. She is getting married in March. I am almost completely packed now believe it or not. Mum went in to town at lunchtime and I watched “She” on the television which was fun. I also got a letter from the A.S.A. (Advertising Standards Authority) saying the complaint had been discussed with the result that it was thought to be a disturbing advert but one which would not have any other effects I vaguely remember this – I think it was a newspaper advert with a photo of blindfolded man about to shoot himself in the head, and for some reason I wrote off to the A.S.A about it. The new next door neighbours moved in this morning. My brother came about five and played some music. After supper Dad sat down and accused him of wasting two years, as has now tried for job in the Social Services. He stormed out. My other brother is going to ring him.

The Americans Have Gone!

Things I learnt:

  • Pastry isn’t a dairy product
  • UK urinals are too high
  • Fluorescent orange is actually “tangerine”
  • Americans don’t wear coats in the winter
  • Why have one bathroom when you can have two
  • The Post Office will change old currency
  • Why have one oven when you can have two
  • Google maps doesn’t work in London

A jolly time was had by all – thank you again. Safe travels.

Windows and Decisions

5th October 2018

The window fitter turned up and after chuntering on to himself loudly and complaining constantly, said the pane of glass he brought didn’t fit because it is a standard size, and today’s standard size is thicker than the pane we have which is relatively old. The upshot is we have to get another pane of glass cut. This is the smallest job of the whole window replacement mularky. Of course half the contents of this room are still in our living room, where we have vinyl going down in a few days time. So he went away and I rang the company and politely complained. Two big jobs have gone smoothly and one small replacement pane has taken three days so far. I didn’t want the fitter being blamed as he had been given the wrong information. Obviously the initial “surveyor” has fouled up by not doing his job in detail – surely he would know glazing thickness has changed. I made the point that two measurement errors have caused the company’s staff a lot of unnecessary work and inconvenience for us. Luckily I have not had to take any time off work. I said it had to be done before the vinyl-fitting day, and the new pane of glass has been ordered pronto.

Wasted more time sorting out my own birthday “surprise”, by booking tickets for Wise Children at the Old Vic. Must remind myself of the definition of “surprise”. My back is better but I decided not to go swimming, as it was lunchtime by the time the fitter went, and I don’t want to risk making it worse like last time. I braved it and looked into some of the stuff in the spare room and there’s less than I thought. I managed to get some sorting done and I’ll try and finish tomorrow. We still need to find out best way of getting rid of the sofa, and hiring a car to transport it. I’ll look at the local council’s website, which is usually useless.

Decided to try for ASM on the next production and I texted my boss about it but he has a lot on his plate at the moment and hasn’t got back to me yet. Feel better for making a decision, though.

My brother texted asking if we could meet next week but I can’t as it’s my private tuition time. We do need to sign the Power of Attorney.

8th October 2019

I have to say I’m feeling absolutely exhausted, not helped by Dad telling me last night on the phone that Mum had sort of fallen at the top of the stairs. I rang back today and he said she’s OK though had fallen asleep on his side of the bed and woken not knowing how she had got there as Dad was on her side – I imagine they’ve never swapped sides in their lives.

I cannot explain to anyone not in my situation what it’s like having parents so old, so determined to live independently and now starting not to cope. Watching Dad walk up the stairs right behind Mum with his head pushed into her back to keep her going, just waiting for them to tumble backwards – it’s madness. I’m not thinking about them all the time – whilst I wouldn’t say I’m burying my head in the sand, I am happy not having to directly face what they are going through because I’m not in the house with them – they are nevertheless always at the back of my mind which is so stressful.

I’m exhausted. My desk and half the box room contents are still sitting in the living room. The new pane of glass is due imminently (it HAS to be right this time) and it has come on time because the living room new flooring is going down – so if they don’t get the window fitted this time – I can’t go there. I can not go there.

My back is better and I got a lot more cleared and organised in the box room over the weekend so that’s all good. I got through it quicker than I realised. Sorted out loads of cards, just keeping special ones from people that had an attachment in the writing or sending. I may be making decisions I regret going through my past life but it has to be done. I found a long strange letter from a sort of friend who I imagine is no longer alive, a set of printed photos I have absolutely no memory of being taken, Christmas cards dating back to the mid-1990’s, a large wooden parrot I used to have hanging up when I lived in Highgate, a metal figure from a holiday in Sardinia, tins of 20p’s, a Glen Baxter plate, a box of cassettes, and I got rid of a number of books. The point of this clearing out originally was to get my teaching files out of the hallway, both to declutter the hall and to get it ready for new flooring, so job is mostly done.

I’ve booked Company with the £100 theatre tokens I won. And I went to Dorking (initially having bought a ticket to Woking) to collect my picture from an auction house with extremely unhelpful people. But the picture is lovely and a good buy despite the dreary day trip.

How old?

19th July 198..

Dad took Pop out for a drive this morning which left Mum and I alone in the house (eek!) for the morning. As Anne (my piano tutor – an acutely shy girl) is on holiday I didn’t have a piano lesson so was able to listen to all of “The Archers” in peace and read the magazines and reviews (17 years old going on 57 years old…). Then around lunchtime (I sense the peace isn’t going to last…) Mum started on at me about getting a proper wallet to keep my money in which led me around to getting ready to go. So I made a great list (does that mean a long list or a stupendous one?) out of everything to be packed and did as much as I could so I’m about 3/4 ready (was that mother’s actual devious plan for me to achieve?). Dad couldn’t find my passport and as he had cleared his draw out yesterday or some time so I had visions of it being in the dustbin (always looking on the bright side). I couldn’t sleep for worrying about it and then at 11 o’clock (morning or evening?) Mum came upstairs and found it in her dressing-table drawer! I’ve put labels on my suitcase and have to get a wallet and films tomorrow.

Friends

18th July 198..

Toddled off in to town this morning fairly early as mother wanted me to pick up a lamb shoulder from the market butcher the since demolished beautiful indoor market replaced with ghastly shopping centre half full of empty retail spaces. I presume we will eat it tomorrow. Went to the card gallery card shop where Jane and Anna school friends were both working. Jane’s French friend had gone home yesterday. Anna said she had been working in the members’ canteen at the Yorkshire Show note I had no job – too busy being sent on errands by my mother probably. She also said she had been to see ‘S.O.B.’ a film in which Julie Andrews swore I seem to remember with Jeremy my best secondary school friendwere they going out with each other? but didn’t enjoy it that much and in future will only go to films she really wants to see!! Jeremy didn’t want to see that film (or ‘Tess’) so I know whose sic the loss! After fish and chips for lunch REAL fish and chips I had a boring afternoon but bought a puzzle magazine life on the edge from Mannings you see- I said they were the newsagents which wasn’t much good. This evening I had my hair cut and washed it. I now look as if I have a square head my mother used to cut my hair and inevitably it ended in tears or a shouting match. What was wrong with the barbers??? I must sought out traveller’s cheques next week, Dad’ll ring bank.

The Americans Are Coming!

They are here next weekend!

My to-do list:

  • Buy dairy products and coffee
  • Join a private members’ club
  • Remember what “pants” means in the US.
  • Remember for them a four hour train journey is not an epic quest. It isn’t far.
  • Buy a face mask to wear a face mask when meeting them
  • Dress moderately
  • Don’t swear
  • Remind them about the free app that opens and closes London Bridge
  • And that taking the stairs at Covent Garden tube is quicker than the lift/elevator.

We’ll have an awesome time.

Worries

The excitement of the Yorkshire Show is over. Where can my life possibly go next? Let’s find out…

16th July 198..

A week to go and I will be off to Austria! I went on an exchange with the Anglo-Austrian Society if it still exists. The Austrian boy had already stayed with us. We weren’t the best of friends. Got a letter from Gunter Austrian boy this morning which took 3 days to get here, his last took 12 days! He siad my German was very good I didn’t speak a word of German when eventually I got there with hardly any mistakes. Simon called round in the morning to see if I wanted to go for a walk with him and Kim I still have no recollection of that dog which I did. Went round the Stray (see photo above) where he couldn’t get the collar back on her and she got quite visious (sic) but he didn’t help matters much nothing judgemental there – my mother’s son. Arrived home to find Mum had sorted my medical almost. A full one costs £15 so she rang Mrs Johnson neighbour who couldn’t help couldn’t help what?? and Mr Stamp my German teacher at school who said I would probably just need a general one. So I have an appointment with our doctor those were the days for next week at 9.10am. Mr Stamp also said £30 would cover me to take to Austria well that would be £130 nowadays Gunter hadn’t answered that question in his letter. Didn’t do anything much for the rest of the day! (& evening!).

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