Off on the road again, and smelling like a tart’s boudoir…

…It’s been a while. Over a year, in fact. This doesn’t mean that I’ve been sitting at home ironing (I guess some people sit when they iron but not me). I’ve been to Las Vegas, Red Rock, New Orleans, Lisbon, Glastonbury, Brighton. But it’s been a while since I’ve travelled alone. So today, I’m off to Krakow, Poland.

To get to Krakow I have to first run the gauntlet of duty free at East Midlands Airport. And perfume.

I don’t smell. What I mean is, I don’t smell of anything with a brand name attached to it. I don’t wear perfume. No one ever bought me any – and I guess that’s where most women’s first experience of perfume comes from – the Anais Anais in the white bottle with a pretty flower as a birthday or Christmas gift. However, no one ever bought me any perfume. Maybe I just wasn’t seen as “girly” enough. My daughters both wear perfume. And my grandmother distinctly smelt of eau de something from Avon. But for me, it’s always been soap and water. And an unperfumed deoderant. Obviously.

 

 

I have a very strong sense of smell. I am short sighted and ever so slightly deaf in both ears. However I can smell the change in seasons, the sadness in people’s hearts and my hamster’s cage before I even get in the house.

So walking through Duty Free to get to the Escape Lounge at the airport is an assault. Particularly at 04.30. And it’s hideous.

Why do people want to smell of these vile, chemical concoctions? None of them smell pleasing. None of them smell of sheets that have been dried in the wind on a summer’s day, or freshly mown grass, or a frosty morning. They are sweet, sickly and over ripe. And that’s just the aftershave…

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Next stop…Poland…

 

 

 

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Thoughts on Poland…

For a child growing up in the 80’s, Poland seemed a strange place. Western propaganda had done its thing. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would one day visit. Or that I would ever actually want to. Poland seemed to me, to be a drab and dangerous place. Cold, hungry, with men with strange names (Lech Walesa was continually on the news).

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An enduring figure from my childhood. It wasn’t normal.

 A place where the Government made you do strange things on pommel horses, suspended rings and with ribbons; bending your body into all kinds of awkward shapes to perform for the Olympics. A place where no-one smiled. And all of this was before I read 1984 and Animal Farm, which just compounded my prejudice.

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A childhood spent feeling inadequate after watching these girls from Eastern Europe

 

Eastern Europe seemed remote and unfriendly. A place to fear.  A place that had its finger on the nuclear button with its warheads pointing straight for West Bromwich (my place of birth). The 4 minute warning was imminent. I’d read “When the Wind Blows” and watched “Threads”. And I’d eaten enough over cooked cabbage to know why Eastern Europeans always looked so miserable on our tvs. (As a child the vegetables for Christmas lunch were put on to cook when the turkey went in the oven). I joined CND and campaigned to ban the bomb. (I am still a member and unfortunately I am still campaigning).

So today is my first  visit to Eastern Europe. And I can’t wait.

Ten years or so ago, I began teaching English to speakers of other languages. My very first students were a Polish couple who worked in a local factory and wanted to improve their conversation skills. I charged very little for the lessons as they were almost guinea pigs for my fledgling teaching business. I was also very nervous. Would we have anything in common? Did I have to avoid the word “communism” (As if it would come up in everyday conversation anyway!) Would they shout at me if they didn’t understand me? Would they make me perform triple backflips whilst explaining the past tense? Yes, I actually was that naive about Eastern Europeans.

Needless to say, I’d needn’t have feared. Theresa and Bolo were a wonderful couple of students. They were so kind. And very quickly we discovered that hey? Guess what? We laughed at the same things! We shared the same interests – our children, travel, food. We had the same worries in life. We are the same.

I’ve met many Polish people since Theresa and Bolo. And many Eastern Europeans. Most of them have been too young to remember Lech Walesa and the struggle for democracy, however some have expressed regret at the fall of Communism. All however, have been in the UK. Today, I travel to Poland to finally meet people in their own country. This time, I will be the tourist, the visitor, the one with the language barrier. And I finally get to find out if they eat anything else other than cabbage (I rather suspect they do…)

Fear of flying…

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I have a love/hate relationship with flying. I love the sense of adventure I feel when I climb onboard the plane, bound for destinations that my ancestors only dreamed of, full of promise and excitement. I love the feeling of escape as I walk through the Departure Gates, leaving behind all thoughts of work and home, alone to self indulge and gorge on the unknown; new places to seek, new foods to taste, new languages to misunderstand,  new history and art, new smells. I love the little indulgences. Time is irrelevant. When else would a glass of wine with a bacon butty seem reasonable at 05.00? I love the camaraderie of being with other passengers, this merry band of pilgrims on our way to pastures new (except the screaming kids. And the drunks. And anyone who tries to make conversation with me).

But boy, do I fear flying. Well, it’s not flying that I fear. It’s crashing and dying.

Yes, yes, I know that statistically, flying is the safest form of travel. Yes, yes, Mr Richard Branson, I know that I have more chance of dying in a road accident on the way to the airport than actually on board the flight itself. And yes, yes, I have made vague attempts to understand the technicalities of flight, thermal dynamics, jet engines and wingy things that move.

But I still just don’t get it. My brain cannot rationalise how such a big, heavy, metal box full of people can stay in the sky.

So my travel plans are always a mixture of fear and excitement. And a few days before my plans come to fruition, my stomach begins its downward spiral of dread, preparation for doom (the will is in the box under my bed, girls) and self reproach for putting myself in yet another state of panic. For me, flying is like playing Russian Roulette. Yet how else can I fulfil my travel dreams in such a short time?

My first thought when planning a new journey is: “Will I have to fly?” And if yes, then for how long? So far, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia have not made it onto my fuckit list. Not because they have little to offer me – on the contrary – I would love to visit. No, it is the thought of spending 12+ hours suspended in mid air that puts me off buying a round the world flight ticket. If I could sail then I would. If I could walk, then I would. Maybe train?

Last year I flew to Reykjavik, Seattle, Las Vegas, Dallas, New Orleans, Washington and back to London in the space of 10 days. I fervently thought that such plane hopping would cure me of my fears. After all,  Americans use planes like buses apparently. Alas, no. This morning, on board my flight to Krakow, the kindly flight attendant provided me with a paper bag in which to vomit. And no, I hadn’t drunk wine at 05.00…

And it all looked just…so ordinary

 

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From this office, selections for the gas chamber were decided

…as though it had been administrative buildings, or maybe a factory. The truth of course, is that it was both. An organisation whose principle purpose was the extraction of labour and then the extermination of people who were “surplus to requirements” and who seemingly posed a threat to the regime.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about visiting the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. As mentioned in previous posts, twentieth century history was sadly lacking in my education and all I knew of the Holocaust was what I’d read in Anne Frank’s diary as a child and from programmes I’d listened to on the radio. It all seemed such a long time ago. Would my visit provoke wailing and gnashing of teeth or was I just too divorced from the events that happened, to feel anything?

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Birkenau

I arrived on a bitter cold January morning. Minus 17 degrees celsius. My first thought was for the inmates of the camp and how on earth any of them managed to survive the extremes of temperature. Clearly most of them didn’t.  To begin with, many people weren’t even registered upon arrival. The elderly, infirm, pregnant and children were gassed straight away  which is why it’s difficult to ascertain exact numbers of victims.        Exposure, starvation and disease killed those who weren’t murdered. Of an approximate 1 million prisoners, only 7,000 were liberated by the Soviet Army on January  27th, 1945.

Of all the facts that I had learnt about Auschwitz before coming to visit, the one thing that I couldn’t comprehend was just how it was logistically possible to kill so many people. Coming to visit answered the query for me. Auschwitz-Birkenau and the other components of the concentration camp relied on other methods of killing than just the gas chambers.

Many victims existed with such little food (approximately 1400 calories) and worked in such physically demanding jobs for 11 hours per day,that starvation and exhaustion killed them. And this was a deliberate part of the “Final Solution”, not a mere consequence of unseen events. Not everyone was destined to go to the gas chambers.

Wandering round both camps, it was impossible to process what exactly had happened here all those years ago. The buildings looked so regular. So institutional. The documentation in the exhibitions looked so efficient. Everything was devoid of emotion. So matter of fact. And I think that’s how it was arranged, and how it was executed. There was a “problem”. It needed a solution.

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The Final Solution

There was nothing to suggest any sense of humanity. This was not built as a place to live. This was a place whose purpose was to dispose of an unwanted problem in as efficient a manner as possible. Identities were removed along with souls. And if money could be made out of the labour of those lost souls before they met their miserable demise, then all the better.

There was a war on, after all.

Trying to rationalise this train of thought is impossible for anyone who has any sense of humanity and greater people than I have debated and will continue to debate how it could happen. All I know is that I felt such sorrow at the seeming “ordinariness” of the place. The displays of human hair, suitcases, crockery, shoes, spectacles and prayer shawls made me feel wretched. Possibly because such atrocities continue to happen in the world; it seems we have learned little since the Nazi genocides.

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When I see him again, I’m going to kill him…

My husband,  Mr T. shuffled off this mortal coil two and a half years ago. I can’t work out who was more annoyed – me or him. Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t ask to go, and I’m sure it was as much of a surprise to him as it was to me. Nevertheless, off he popped, without as much as a “thanks for the memories”. He didn’t wash his plate up either.

Widowed at 40 with 2 virtually grown up children, I had 2 choices. Either I could eat the entire contents of the Bournville chocolate factory in Birmingham, put on my widow’s weeds and abandon myself to loneliness and certain insanity until it was my turn to roll up at St Peter’s Gates, or I could live a life, of sorts.

I found myself single, solvent and harbouring a morbid preoccupation with death – that it could happen to me at any time. I also developed itchy feet. After a visit to the Doctor who assured me that the Athlete’s Foot could be cured with some cream, I realised that my feet were in fact itching to get out of this crazy world that I found myself in. I wanted to run. Fast. And far away. Well, as far as I could get without having Social Services knocking on my door, accusing me of child neglect.

On Wednesday I booked my plane ticket. On Saturday I flew to Florence, Italy. I did remember to tell my children and a couple of friends before I went…

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I ended up in Florence…well if I was going to be miserable, I’d may as well be miserable surrounded by beauty.

 

 

 

Rage, rage against…everything

 

When Mr T died, I made it my mission to become an A grade widow. I have always dealt with “stuff” in a practical way. I’ve passed every exam I’ve ever sat, got every job I’ve ever been interviewed for. Surely there would be a book or a website that would tell me what I needed to do, in 5 easy steps. Once I passed the “widow” exams,  my heart would stop breaking, my stomach would stop churning, my neck would stop aching and the fear of everything would go away.

The only books that I could find contained guides to law, finance, practical housekeeping (I seem to remember reading about ensuring that I made delicious, nutritious soups to freeze, ready to eat on the days I felt unwell. Soup? Food? Freezing bags? The only thing I prepared in advance for the shit days was a constant supply of cigarettes and a barrel full of sherry. God knows why sherry. I hate the stuff but it seemed to be the only thing in the house, it being Christmas and all) and, eventually, dating again. “Don’t compare your date with your husband.” LOL. They didn’t tell you how to get through the long, lonely hours of the night, when the bed’s too big. They didn’t advise on what to do when the yearning came to lay on his grave (as I did one night), or dig him up for one last hug ( I actually asked if I had the legal right to do this. “No”, was the unsurprising answer).

 

They also didn’t touch on  how to deal with the “skin hunger”, a phrase which I came across on Google, to explain the need for intimate physical contact with someone. Anyone who could love me the way that Mr T did. I stalked people on internet dating sites and eyed up anyone new who came into the bar. I wore a huge hat with “I’m a sad, desperate, lonely widow who’s going mad, please fuck me”. No one offered (possibly the frog eyes, fag breath and drunken slur put people off. Possibly the fact that they cared enough about me not to take advantage of me). I made the bit up about the hat but I might as well have worn it, I was so obviously needy.

 

Yoga, exercise, meals out with friends, worthwhile causes were all suggested as ways of getting through the day. Which all sounds well and good when you’re not actually trying to get through the day. I was rigid with fear and pain. I couldn’t even be bothered to open my eyes. I lay on the bed and existed.

My wonderful friends adopted me and my girls and literally dragged me out of my bed, poured bottles of wine down my neck and rocked me until my sobs subsided with exhaustion. We were all exhausted.

Finally, the books didn’t explain the extreme self- centredness that would come with this horrible new world; one in which I couldn’t communicate with my children, let alone help them to deal with their grief.  On top of my own grief, I felt remorse, sorrow and guilt at my inability to deal with anyone else’s pain. I turned into a selfish, self loathing individual. I stared for days out of the window. I drank anything I could get my hands on, smoked everything that would light and wailed. Above all else I no longer wanted to be here. I resented my children for keeping me on the planet . They were going through important exams at the time. Did I care? Did I fuck.

I can recommend “A Grief Observed” by C S Lewis as being the closest I ever came to relating to someone’s reactions to the death of a spouse.  He never got over the loss of his wife. His emotions were raw, ugly and irrational. How anyone carries on with their normal jobs and their normal lives after such an event is beyond me. I knew from the moment my husband died in my arms that I was never going to “get over it”. I couldn’t be the demure, majestic Jackie Kennedy. I was snotty, spotty and a bore. I knew it and couldn’t get out of it.

My husband was dead and so was my life. It’s difficult to write without using the usual cliches about losing a half of you, feeling like you’re free falling, having a limb amputated but all of these and more are true. The grief that I felt was indescribable but – annoyingly- completely normal. No matter what books I consulted about bereavement, widowhood, grief, I couldn’t get around the fact that my feelings were totally normal. GP visit? “It’s perfectly normal for you to feel this way”. Bereavement counsellor: “You must get out more. Try going back to work, get some routine back into your life”. Surely my grief was the greatest griefs of all griefs that have ever been felt. Noone could possibly have gone through this living hell in the way that I was? It hurt to realise that I was just one of many who were grieving for someone or something, and that everything I was feeling was “normal”. “Sorry Mrs T but you’re no one special. Yes we understand your husband’s dead but that’s life”.   I read the posts of optimism and hope that people posted on my fb page and I tried. I really tried. But my soul was lost. Nothing mattered anymore.

I felt detached from the world. I watched cars go by when I was queuing for traffic and hated the fact that, for these people, normal life was carrying on. I listened to conversations on the bus as I went to register his death – in particular a conversation between two elderly ladies who religiously analysed the funeral that they had been to the day before “It was a lovely do but I didn’t like all that chicken stuff. I don’t like eating with my fingers. They needed knives and forks”.  I wanted to scream at them: “My husband is dead! Fuck the fucking chicken!”

When I got into town to register my husband’s death, I had to run the gauntlet of “chuggers”. Lovely bunch of guys; I’m sure on any other day I’d smile and maybe even donate. But on this day, I kept my head down and ploughed through. It was Christmas 2011. The Christmas market was in full swing, people were present buying and a young guy approached me with his charity tin. “Hi madam, would you be interested in donating to…. (some charity, I forget). “No thanks”, I mutter, head down, no eye contact, desperate to escape to the sanctity of the register office where my marriage would officially end. “Why the long face, let’s see a smile”. “Well, I’m just off to register my husband’s death, so forgive me if I don’t smile” I spit at the poor unfortunate guy. I’m ashamed to say I felt glad to offload some of my anger at him. He’d done nothing wrong. I left his forlorn expression and marched off. My world was shattered and woe betide anyone who came near me with glad tidings of joy.

At the Register Office, I was met with the usual sympathetic words and kind acts from well meaning people. I read the Coroner’s report on the post mortem in silence. There was nothing wrong with Mr T. In fact, they had to do a second series of tests to try to find out what the hell he died from. Natural causes. And a propensity for the finer things in life: wine, cheese, me. “Have you any questions?” asked the kindly Registrar, after I’d filled her in with the details of my husband’s demise -“He just looked at me and died”. “Well, can I still say I’m married?” came my desperate question as I looked into her eyes. She leaned forward and sadly informed me that, as my husband had died, my marriage was now over and I was no longer a wife. I had fought for years to become my husband’s wife. It lasted five.

 

 

I’ve had enough…time to cut and run

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Ponte Vecchio in my widow’s weeds. And the beginnings of a change from dark to blonde hair.

My first experience of travelling solo came 6 months after my husband suddenly died. It was less of a rational decision and more of a subconscious uncontrollable urge to run away. The urge came on a Wednesday, built up through Thursday and by Saturday I was in Florence, Italy. By myself. In a country I didn’t know with a language that I didn’t speak.

I prepared well for the trip. I went to the hairdressers and dyed my hair blonde. I then rang my sister and told her the news. She was more shocked about the hair than the sudden trip to Florence. “Why?” she asked to both. “I just needed to” was my response. Lucky for her, I hadn’t done what I really wanted to do, which was to shave my head completely, in a outward display of the inner pain that I felt.

 

Anyway. Solo travel to Florence. Why Florence? Well, firstly it was a place that I hadn’t visited with Mr T so there weren’t going to be any memories. Keen to secure a First Class Honours in Widowhood, I had read and promptly acted on the idea that, to cure oneself of constant reminders of the past, it is necessary to create new memories. Secondly, it was a place to do things. I dreaded being alone and having nothing to do but stare at happy couples, in love, or even not in love. Everywhere I went, people were in couples. Meh…

Having a love of Art and Art History, I knew that if anywhere was going to soothe my aching soul it would be Florence, city of Renaissance Art and Architecture, where I could get lost in history, culture, anything. I also love Italian food so I knew I wouldn’t starve. It’s only 2 hours from home so it was practical, in case anything should happen at home and I needed to rush back. It was only 2 hours from home so that if I should have an attack of mad cow’s disease I could be returned back to my local psychiatric unit, which was keeping a close eye on me at this point due to my manic depression.

 

It wasn’t so much the practical issues of travel that concerned me. I was always the one to book the holidays, arrange the transfers and pack the cases. Solo travel meant being alone. Having no one to share my thoughts with. No one to enjoy a glass of cold wine or beer with. No one to share the joy of visiting places only previously seen in books or magazines. No one to say “I can’t believe I’m standing in front of ….” for the umpteenth time. Was it really going to help?

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Looking up for God in the Duomo… not finding Him. Feeling abandoned in the presence of serenity. A desperate feeling…

How does one travel alone without feeling isolation and like everyone is looking at you, feeling sorry for you and wondering just what you did that was so bad that no one would go on holiday with you? When I’ve spoken to people about solo travel, they tend to fall into one of two camps. There’s the “oh yeah, I do that/would love to do that”. Or, more often, there’s the “God, I couldn’t do that. What? Just you? No one else? I wouldn’t have the guts”. Is it guts or lack of choice? Or just a desire to be hidden amongst a multitude of people who didn’t know my story and frankly, didn’t care. I needed to escape the cloud of despair. I needed to forget what had happened for just a short time and be somewhere where no one knew Mr T. I seem to have been married to the most well known landlord in Britain.

 

It began that fateful night when the lovely police officer, whilst taking my statement, recognised my husband and  said “Is that Richard Taylor?” “Yeah”. “Blimey, I was only in the pub a week ago”. The following day I had a phone call from a local Funeral Director. “Hi Vickie, I don’t know if you remember me but it’s Debbie from the pub. You know, Gill’s friend”, “Hi”. “Er, I hope you don’t mind but the case came through about Richard and I wondered if you would like me to organise the funeral”. “I didn’t know you were a funeral director?” “Yes, would you mind?” “No, that’s a great idea”. Mr T was off to meet his maker with the help of a friend. What could be better?

 

Over the course of the next few weeks, I came into contact with: a random AA guy because my bloody car broke down (still in Mr T’s name) “Oh, I heard about Richard. Great guy, so sorry”. A taxi driver who happened to start a conversation as we drove past the pub that what was my home and now wasn’t (I moved out) – “Poor bloke had a heart attack”. “No he didn’t.” “Oh, how do you know?” “Because I’m his wife and I was there”. The teachers at my girls’ school knew what had happened before we had the chance to tell them – they used to have lunch every Friday in the pub.  My eldest daughter was having her hair cut at a local salon when one of the other customers started gossiping: “Richard from the Nurseryman had a heart attack and died” (No he bloody didn’t!) I couldn’t get away from him.

 

This still happens albeit on a less frequent basis. I learnt very quickly how much my husband was loved and respected. This had increased my anxiety about the funeral. What if people thought it was  rubbish? What if we forgot the cutlery and people had to pick up the chicken with their hands? By May I’d had enough. I was off.

Has anybody seen my husband?

Mr T and I lived in a pub. He ran the pub and I drank the wine and taught foreign students how to speak English (not at the same time). There are now countless numbers of Chinese and Arabic students wondering around Nottingham asking strangers “D’yow no the wayi te thi airport?” I digress. One of Mr T’s more irritating habits was to disappear. He could be anywhere in what was a very large pub. I spent most of our 15 years together asking people “Have you seen Richard? I’m going to bloody tag him”.  When he was buried I at least thought that I would now know where he is… not so.
One day last year, I visited Mr T at Tithe Green, http://www.woodlandburialoxton.co.uk/, but spent 30 minutes trying to find him. This part of Sherwood Forest is a meadow, which is left to grow wild flowers and has no headstones (only slate plaques laid flat on the ground). Mr T and I had accidentally stumbled upon Tithe Green Burial Ground after a visit to Rufford Park, where we escaped from the stress of pub life by taking a flask of tomato soup, ham and mustard sandwiches and a bag of bird seed. We were driving home when I spotted a road sign advertising the place. “Ooh look, an ancient burial ground” says I, always the geek and always eager to visit a new place of English Heritage. Perhaps a long barrow would be found, or a circle of ancient stones. It turned out that the “burial ground” is just that. A part of Sherwood Forest that is laid aside  for modern day burials rather than for our fore fathers. Nevertheless, we took a  couple of leaflets from the handy container in the car park and read through it at our leisure in a nearby pub. This was about 3 years before Mr T died. We kept the leaflets and later put one of each inside our wills. If and when we died, this is where we’d like to go. When Mr T died, it was assumed that the funeral would be at the local crematorium. We had already made other plans. He was off to Tithe Green.

A tree is planted in memory of the loved one  (Mr T’s is a Rowan – lovely berries in the winter), and as they’re all young trees, they look the same.  The land looks so different in winter and summer. My husband had been buried in November 2011, so that by the time I finally  went back to visit after the funeral (couldn’t bear to visit for ages afterwards), the whole place had changed. Trees covered in leaves and flowers everywhere. No bloody husband.

I wandered up and down each row, reading the names on each plaque. I found Mr T’s neighbours; a lovely lady who was a music teacher was somewhere nearby. As was the doctor and the plumber. In November 2011 As Mr T was a local pub landlord, we figured that this little community would be in need of someone who could pull a mean pint and decided to put Mr T and his “basket casket” in with these other fine folk. Yes, when choosing someone’s grave, it is vital to consider all of the variables. I didn’t want him hanging around with n’er do wells, and a plumber was always useful when the public toilets blocked for the tenth time so I figured Richard would be appreciate of one for a neighbour.

I found all his neighbours, but Mr T surely had disappeared. I even thought of ringing the local pub at one point, convinced that he’d nipped out for a Stella and lime.

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I eventually found my husband…

 

Finally, after much frustration (had they actually dug him up and moved him somewhere quieter – he did get rather vulgar when he was pissed and I could imagine the neighbours complaining about his stupid jokes),  I spotted the estate manager chatting to a lady who was holding a box, so I wandered over to them. “Can I help you?” says the awfully helpful Steve. “Er, I appear to have lost my husband” says I. “Oh, I can certainly help you with that. I just have to inter this lady’s ashes and I’ll be right with you”. Cue mortified look from me, who promptly shuffled off muttering “so sorry to disturb you”. Eventually I did find Richard, who no doubt was having a huge Sid James like guffaw at my expense. He now has fat balls hanging from his branches which the birds love and I can find him at a moment’s notice.

..

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Birds love fat balls…

Sorrow is the seventh wave…

 

Life without Mr T consists of waves. They begin in a small way. The sorrows I mean. They trickle in and then fall away again with the minutae of life. The grief appears as pin pricks in the eyes and in the heart. It  slowly retreats again as daily tasks and busyness, and joy of life takes over.

Without warning, the grief spikes begin to gather momentum and to close in. It can be in the morning when first awakening, hopefully to be calmed with life’s daily grind. Or it can be an early evening feeling, when the day’s work is done and there’s nothing to fill the mind other than the past. This is when I try to  focus on the future and make plans. Life must continue after all, in some form or other.

So I push onwards, onwards and onwards…

Then comes a day like today.  The seventh wave. A day when no matter how much the sun is shining, how many birds in the park are entertaining me with their squabbles over left overs from yesterday’s picnics or how many children run around with joy in their hearts, glad to be free of the chains of the classroom.  Or even the fact that I am travelling around this beautiful country (France), with all that it has to offer. This day belongs to my husband. I cannot “think of the good times” and “be glad that he didn’t suffer” – how does anyone know this anyway? What happens when the light goes out of someone’s eyes as they look at you? The seventh wave of sorrow will wash over me and there’s not a thing I can do about it. I have to succumb and go under. I have to take a deep breath and just hope that, as for the past 2.5 years, I will resurface. Again.

 

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I took this picture of myself and then promptly burst into tears….

 

I’m feeling sorry for myself of course. I’m grieving for the loss of my own life. Of my own present and for our future lives in Spain, which would have begun in a month’s time.

For the loss of the one person in my life (ever, including the shrinks) that truly understood me. That never questioned my sometimes skewed view of the world – because he thought that way too. That shared my love for hardware shops,  with all the paraphernalia and the smell of wood, varnish and the opportunities presented in the gadgets (I love gadgets). Stationery shops and the smell of new plastic pencil cases. The potential wrapped up in a brand new pen. For the absence of a love that understood how  people can rage and shout and still be in love. For the loss of the recognition that sometimes I need to be alone, I cannot communicate and I cannot cooperate  but how, at other times,  I cannot abide solitude and need to just cling to him, digging my nose into his womblike armpits; to feel safe.

So I try to be still. I try to let the wave wash over me and feel the emotions. To embrace them as signs of the love that we shared, of the love I still carry. And I weep. In a park. In Grenoble. Full of people eating their baguette lunches  on the grass and enjoying the sun. For me, the sun will come out again and the wave will recede. Soon…

In the wee small hours of the morning… Tea and Venn Diagrams…

One of the things about being a widow- or any type of singleton I guess- is the joys of being able to keep weird hours. Bed at 18.30. Awake with tea and cupcakes at 03.30. The only thing that keeps my circadian rhythms within some sort of normal boundaries is my part time job at a pet shop. And that’s a weird job anyway, given that I either start at 06.00 or work until 20.30, with copious amounts of rabbit poo and customers wanting massive goldfish in tiny tanks…

It’s safe to say that I’ve had approximately 4 normal nights of sleep since Mr T left. Admittedly, some of this is due to age and my bladder’s inability to hold onto liquids for longer than 3 hours through the night. However, most of it is due to a restlessness I’ve acquired. I live in my head most of the time, unaware of the latest trends in music, tv programming and Pokemon crazes.

Apart from world news for which I have an obsession, I have lost interest in people and what they get up to. I have a running commentary in my head where Richard tells me exactly what he thinks of the state of the nation. We chat inside my head about the minutiae of life. And so I’m never alone. He took me step by step recently, through the redecoration of my staircase (“don’t forget to put dust sheets down and get the Hoover under the hole you’re drilling to suck up the dust”), and eases my anxieties by making me list what is wrong and then drawing up action plans. He even reminds me to take my pills.

What a pity he can’t spoon with me at the end of the day, the way that we used to…

Widowhood is different to other losses. It’s the loss of the other half of a partnership that’s so close, each person can speak for the other, can think for the other and completes the other. The loss of a partner involves the loss of a half of oneself. I kind of thought that the other side of me would regrow with time, or that I would find another Mr T to fill that hollowness. Well, it’s 5 years in November. And in the Venn diagram that is life, I have still been a lone circle, wandering around in a confused state, waiting for the other circle to come along, merge and form and new whole…

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When two lives merge into one…

Then I met Buddy…

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One day Buddy came into my life…and gave it back to me.