Clare Wise

Scrooge

 

cats

 

This is the sight that greeted me this morning, on shuffling my way to the kitchen to make Clare’s breakfast smoothie: two very middle-class, very well-fed felines on a balmy summer’s morn, giving their best Bob Cratchet and Tiny Tim, freezing and starving in a cold Dickensian winter…

I left them outside. I’m that kind of guy.

Another hot day today. Not a lot of movement from the sis, but I’ve lost count of the smoothies she’s consumed – very heartening, as I use a base of a prescription drink called “Ensure” that has all the various vitamins, minerals etc in it you need, but, as it’s calorie-rich, it’s wildly sweet – so, mixed in with that and whizzed up, a combination of raspberries, blueberries, Galia melon, nectarine, banana, apple and a dash of lemon juice. Very scrummy.

I know we live in a time when we can get everything we want whenever we want. And, being an old fart, sometimes that saddens me. I remember the wild excitement of spending summers with my German cousins and coming back to the UK with a jar of Nutella (for those of you not in the know, a chocolate/hazelnut spread, to top toast, ice cream, or whatever); the great joy of mid-summer, just at the moment of the Wimbledon tennis championships – the first strawberries. Amazing. Now I can buy Nutella not 100 metres from where I’m typing this, in the same store that sells strawberries year-round. But… and there is a point to this rant… the fruits we are eating now, in our summer, the fruits I am whizzing up for Clare’s smoothies: berries, peaches, nectarines, are all so wonderfully tasty – because they are in season, locally. Not brought, semi-ripe and chilled, half way across the world by plane, but are picked when ripe and eaten within moments. And the taste is the taste of pure, juicy, ripe summer. I tried to instil in my daughter, Gaia, the idea of eating seasonally – and I started to do this by planting vegetables in our garden in London – so that she knows not only where the various fruits and vegetables come from, but when they are pickable. I know I banged on a few posts ago about the glut of beans emanating from my garden at this time, but I still get a thrill from picking a bean that I have grown from a bean, pressed into compost in a pot, back in March.

I’m wittering now. Apologies. This is what comes from days with nobody to talk to. Apart from brief exchanges with Clare, which are either about the domestic, or slightly drug-fuelled. I’m having my first beer of the evening – it’s nearly 6pm – maybe the heat and the alcohol are getting to me…

I just checked my weather App – according to them at 6pm in London it is 91 degrees (that’s 33 Celsius) – I must have sun-stroke.

Love to you all

Ice Lollies on the couch

Phew, what a scorcher…

Hot, hot, hot today.

Unfortunately we had another rather bumpy night last night. Although the start of my nocturnal-wakenings was due to the crying baby in the flat above me. Bless it. I hope I got my own back at around 3am, when Clare requested a fruit smoothie, so I gleefully ran the decibel-busting NutriBullet for a good few seconds more than was actually required. Childish of me, I know. But you have to score the points where you can. And a 50-year-old man versus a baby??? It’s an open goal…

I spent the morning in the Himalayas with Michael Palin in Clare’s garden, gently re-burning my knees, but by lunchtime the request came through from the bedroom for a ‘change of scene’. Now that Clare has the posh “whistles-and-bells” hospital bed, her old inflating pillow-raiser has been relegated to the basement. But a few minutes and a few yards of string later, and the old pillow-raiser found itself tied on the end of the couch. Clare could therefore lie at whatever angle she wanted – relaxing, looking at the garden, or, as transpired early afternoon, sitting and working her way, very professionally, through a strawberries-and-cream ice lolly. Glorious to behold.

The freezer is now filled with various assortments of lolly – I hope I have covered whatever takes her fancy in the coming days. I did have to throw a few out that I’d found earlier – notably a “Mojito Poptail”, which had, in big letters underneath: “Contains Alcohol”… probably not the iced-treat-of-choice for someone with as many opiates in her system as my sister.

The District Nurses turned up this evening, but after seeing Clare, decided against giving her the big shot of pain-killers. As she was pretty relaxed already, they were anxious that knocking her out for the night wasn’t necessarily the best course of action. Fair enough. So, let’s hope for a calm baby upstairs, and a calm sister down the hall.

Love to all

“A Water Stripe”

What is a “Water Stripe”?

This was requested by Clare at some point in the wee small hours of last night. She had recently had enormous amounts of pain-meds exploded into her system, and was pretty stoned. I had recently been dragged out of deep-sleep to facilitate whatever it was she needed. And we found ourselves at an impasse. A water stripe… a water stripe… aaaah, of course: a straw. Clare drinks her water out of the glass with a stripy straw. We got there in the end: a multi-dimensional game of charades, word-association and theatre-games. Similar to the fun we all had (those of us who are parents, anyway) with our small children when they tried to explain a word they don’t know with words they did. Actually, German is a rather good language for this – if you don’t know the word, you can probably make it up with a couple of words you do know. They are great fans of what is known, I believe, as a “compound noun” – just mash words together to make a new one. We do it in English as well – “wristwatch” in German is “Armbanduhr” – basically a “bracelet-clock”. Graceful. Less graceful is this one – a 63-letter compound noun, allegedly the longest word in German. Ready?

Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz

The word, which means “the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef”, was introduced in 1999. It was given the abbreviation RkReÜAÜG thankfully. Although try pronouncing that.

I am so glad that Clare isn’t concerned with labelling of beef issues at 3am…

After a rather difficult night, with awakenings every couple of hours, I needed to get out of the flat for a moment this morning, so I dragged the mother-in-law’s helper down the street, to “hold the fort” while I zoomed around on the bike, picking up various prescriptions and bits of shopping. And was finally able to finish making my batch of damson jam, that I’ve been preparing over the last days: gathering the fruit; stoning the fruit; buying the sugar; sterilising the jars…9 pounds of jam, all jarred up this morning. An honouring of the ancient damson tree in our garden.

Shebo, our wonderful Macmillan nurse, popped by at lunchtime to check that all was well. We are going to try a new way of getting through nights without pain and thus regular waking – an injection, just before bed, of a drug that Clare takes at the moment in pill form. A District Nurse will come when we wish and give Clare the injection. I think we can start this regime tomorrow at bedtime. And hopefully quiet nights will ensue.

 

Clare treetop
Greg & Clare Amazon

Just found these two photos. When my daughter, Gaia, was in the last months of her Primary School, aged 11 (2011), and had already passed the exam to get into “Big School”, we took her out of school and round the World for just under 5 months: Borneo, Australia, Brazil, and then Ecuador and The Galapagos, where Clare joined us. Who knew, that my sister,  this fantastically cultured urbanite would love the extremes of the Amazonian rainforest as much as she did? I was in awe of her. The top photo is way, way up in the Primary Forest canopy, on a reasonably rickety platform, searching for macaws; the bottom is the two of us, I think looking at a sloth, on a tiny tributary of the Amazon. She was a wonderful, intrepid, fearless explorer. And still is. And I am still in awe.

Just settled her down for the night. Wish us luck.

Love to all.

 

Khyber Pass

Clare’s flat is on a hill. The name of the street has “Hill” in it – it’s that sort of incline. London is famous for its subsoil – “London Clay” – thick, green-grey heavy clay, that I’m sure you could turn into pottery. Clay reacts to groundwater and drought in a fairly excessive fashion: swelling, shrinking, cracking… Thus 3-storey houses built on a hill, on clay, tend to want to relocate the way gravity takes them. Downwards. (Not good for property prices, as the posher houses are at the top of the hill, but I digress…)

When Clare bought her flat, we discovered that her bedroom floor had a difference in height of 2 or 3 inches between the walls, due to the subsidence over the years. Now, you can either throw money at the issue – take up the floor, pack out the joists, and re-lay the, now, levelled floor. Or, if you’ve spent all the money you have in the world (and quite a bit more) purchasing your dream property, you call your brother. Who calls a mate. Between us, we nailed all sorts of various thicknesses of wood onto the heavily-inclined floor, and laid on top of them 8 foot by 4 foot sheets of plywood. Thus making a levelled floor for Clare – hoorah. But a levelled floor that was a good inch higher than the rest of the flooring in her house. Not to worry – a lovely carpet was laid on the plywood and a lovely oak sill, chamfered (i.e. – angled) made the underfoot Portal between hallway and bedroom. Gorgeous.

Until you have to start having to negotiate the change in level with the commode-wheelchair. Not a normal wheelchair with bicycle tyres and suspension: an unforgiving, small-solid-wheeled utilitarian contraption, where Clare feels every tiny jolt and bang. So, manoeuvring over this “Khyber Pass” has been something of a pain – pulling the front wheels of the chair to the sill, lifting the whole front of the chair, and repositioning the wheels on the other side, to be repeated with the back wheels. And in the wee small hours of the night, on the way to the loo, fraught with anxiety – mostly on my part – as the last thing I want to do is to cause any pain.

So, I took out this lovely sill. Found a couple of thin pieces of wood in Clare’s wood-store, and Duck-Taped them to the change in level. And it works like a dream.

We were able to glide over the junction this afternoon, and Clare spent a good hour on her sofa, looking out of the patio doors to the garden beyond; me showing her various emails from the last days (not the shopping ones) and her being able to have a proper change of scene.

Took it out of her, though, and the rest of the day has been spent in bed. Fair enough. We expanded horizons, and then retrenched.

Didn’t manage a shower. But tomorrow is another day…

Love to all

NHS DIY

 

bed 1

Steph, our Aussie mate, has asked for me to include a photo of how I can “pimp up”, with my Do-It-Yourself skills, whatever our National Health Service throws at me. The photo is actually from last summer, when I nicked my mum-in-law’s bed for Clare – a shackled walking stick (attached to two timber bearers I had affixed to the bed’s base), and my climbing rope, knotted at intervals to help Clare pull herself up to sitting, or back along the bed to lie down. This was when she’d just been diagnosed, and I’m afraid that climbing ropes would not be much use to her now. Although this system is presently being used by my mum-in-law, very successfully. As Life always likes to keep you on your toes, my mum-in-law was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a week or so ago. My suggestion was to put her and Clare in a double bed together, top-to-toe, so that every once in a while they could push their control buttons, raise themselves, and have a chat (probably about the shoddy standard of nursing they are subject to…)

Clare and Greg

This  photo is one I found recently – of the two of us in the late 1960s. I’m the one on the right. Clare looking embarrassed as she’s probably just realised she’s forgotten to put any trousers on… And you can probably tell that our mum cut our hair.

Clare managed to get through last night without starvation – actually didn’t really touch anything, but I’ll continue to make sure there are lovely titbits on offer (for those of you in the US, confused at this, please read “tidbits” – whatever a tidbit is…)

I really should learn the magician’s trick of being able to pull away a table cloth at speed, leaving everything still in place on the table. On taking Clare to the loo this afternoon, I went into hyper-drive – attempting a whole bed-linen change – I feel fairly confident that I could be in the pit-stop team on Formula 1 racing now. Almost managed it in the time allotted to empty a bladder. And a change of pyjamas to boot. We were planning on a shower, but are lightly penciling that for tomorrow afternoon – can’t have too much excitement in one day, and fresh linen should be enough of an achievement.

That’s what is clear at this time – celebrate the small things, the small moments. I think it’s probably a Buddhist thing (or some New-Age nonsense, more likely) that if you find yourself with matching socks as you leave the house in the morning, that is a cause for celebration. And I couldn’t agree more. If the rest of the day is spent finding the cure for cancer, or brokering World Peace, then that’s a bonus.

And there are gems, there are tiny powerful moments, if we just make ourselves available to witness and mark them. They are there, every day, all around us.

Here Endeth the Sermon

Love to all

Oestrogen and Valium

So, it was pointed out to me today that I had missed the very personal connection that Clare has with the play “Waiting for Godot”. Even worse that it was pointed out by her fellow-thespian in the production we undertook at school. The protagonists in “Godot” are two tramp-like figures, Estragon and Vladimir. Usually played by men, but in this case, at St Peter’s School, York, in I think 1982 (someone I am sure will tell me I am wrong), played by my sister and my then girlfriend. Thus Estragon and Vladimir became, amongst us thesps “Oestrogen and Valium”. It was my then girlfriend, and Clare’s still top-mate (and mine, obvs), Rose, who reminded me of that fact this afternoon.

Circles within circles.

Raining today. Good for the garden.  I had to wait in for the delivery of another piece of kit, from the wonderful Occupational Therapy lot. An above-bed table – you know the sort they have in hospitals, on wheels. On this we will load all the nonsense Clare needs to hand at night, as she can’t reach over to her bed-side table very easily. Useful for cards as well.

The table is built now and in place. Although, rather annoyingly, it only stretches over half the width of the bed. No good for billiards, then. I will “pimp” it up before bedtime, working out where everything needs to be, and with my handy roll of Duck Tape, make sure nothing moves in the night.

Clare is worried about “night starvation”. I don’t know how many of you know about the malted drink, “Horlicks” – it’s basically malty powder that you add hot milk to. Allegedly a sleep-aid, and in the early 1930s it marketed itself on combatting “night starvation” – god knows how we all get through the night without it… To combat Clare’s worries, tonight, on her new above-bed-table will be a veritable banquet of fresh fruit salad, some tinned rice pudding (which she will only eat cold. Never hot) and a banana – pre-nicked at the end, for ease of opening. If that doesn’t work, I tell her tomorrow it will be  a boar and a flagon of mead.

Right. Time for teeth-brushing and a trip to the loo. Then the symphony of medications. All written down on a piece of paper in the meds drawer, so I don’t go “off-piste”. Would hate to get her stoned…

Love to all.

Godot

Samuel Beckett – one of Ireland’s great dramatists, is probably most famous for his play of the early 1950s, “Waiting for Godot”, where the two principal characters spend both halves of the play waiting for someone who never turns up. Just after the play was written, one of the finest and most cutting lines of theatrical critique was penned about the production – summed up as a play “where nothing happens, twice”…

Today nothing happened. But only once.

Clare, both as a result of her new pain meds, and of the huge afternoon yesterday, relaxed all day. Just brief kickings from me to have a smoothie, chicken sandwich (sent back to the kitchen for being “too dry”), fresh fruit and linguine with bacon and tomato.

She has been, in her own words, relatively pain-free, but the blunt instrument of pain-medication has just sedated her. Fair enough.

And I was not even able to burn my knees in the garden again today, as it wasn’t sunny, so just fussed around with admin. Mostly deleting the hundreds of emails in Clare’s Inbox, almost all about shopping.

Not even an interesting moment with the cat. It was just one of those days. When nothing happened, but only once…

Love to all

Himalaya

I spent a rather lovely morning in Clare’s garden, lying in the hot sun, reading Michael Palin’s travel book “Himalaya”. For those of you not in the know, Palin started out in the comedy world – part of “Monty Python” – then, some years later, found his new niche, as a traveller – making films and writing books. I love reading travel books more than anything, and sitting in a garden in North London, I revel in finding myself relocated in the Hind Kush, the Khyber Pass or Islamabad. But it’s the mountains that really draw me. The High Places. Probably why I ended up living on a street called Crediton Hill…

And I suppose I am Sherpa at the moment to Clare’s epic mountain-climb.

I concentrated on reading and burning my knees this morning, as Clare rested. The afternoon was somewhat busier. A visit from a Doctor and Nurse from the Palliative Care crowd, segueing with a lawyer finalising Clare’s will. All very Grown Up. But Clare did beautifully with both professionals.

The upshot – pain meds increased by a significant amount. Lets see how we are over the next days – Clare gets pissed on the sniff of a barmaid’s apron, so she will probably be away with the fairies. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as she is in pain. And we are still in the time of the caveman when it comes to dealing with pain – it’s a sledgehammer approach, unfocussed and just sedating. But I don’t want to pre-judge, so let’s see what tomorrow brings…

And, of course, my day would not be complete without more cat-related bemusement. The large grey thing refused to eat his full bowl of food. Continually head-butting me for a whole other full bowl of food. I held fast for most of the day. Finally I gave in – there’s a stray cat that hangs around in the garden who gets the food that “His Highness” doesn’t eat, so I scraped out Grably’s bowl to put on a plate to put in the garden for our feral friend. No sooner had I scraped it out, than Grably descended on it and ate it all in a one-er. Go figure…

Love to all

Beer

The problem with getting your younger brother to do a manual task after 5pm, is that beer enters the equation…

5pm a bit early for the bar to be open perhaps? I remember when our daughter was a baby, I saved my first beer for when she went to sleep for the night – to start with, 6.30/7pm. And did that beer taste great… Then, for some reason, “Cocktail Hour” slipped. The first beer at bath-time. And then at her “bottle” time. But 5pm soon became the time – and you can all glean from this that I don’t have a proper job, with proper hours. Although 5pm is sacrosanct. Mostly.

Anyway. The Hospital bed needed building, the old bed needed dismantling, and the worker needed a help. In the shape of a bottle of “Newcastle Brown Ale”. One quick slug, and I perched it on the commode/shower chair seat and started attacking Clare’s old bed with a monkey wrench. As I took the first pile of timbers away I, of course, knocked over the full bottle, which merrily glugged its foamy contents out all over the carpet. A thorough clean ensued, but there is still a faint whiff of “pub” about the bedroom…

The bed is in. It raises, tips, angles and can make pretty much any shape you desire. I managed to put it together without bleeding – which is probably a first for me. It also has an electric mattress that keeps inflating and deflating to stop pressure-sores, but we don’t need that yet. I’ve hung the control device on a stick taped to the bed-frame, so it’s easily accessible, although it has 10 buttons on it, and Clare needs glasses, so god only knows what shape we’ll be in when next I see her…

We had sesame-seeded tuna and garden beans for dinner (yes- beans AGAIN) with our lovely friend, Emma Clarke, who had come over to help with some admin.

A last whisky while I type this and hopes for a peaceful night.

Love to all

Girding (and washing) of loins…

The Internet definition:

Gird (up) your Loins (humorous):
to prepare yourself mentally to do something difficult
Usage notes: This phrase comes from the Bible, where girding up your loins meant to tie up long, loose clothes so that they were more practical when you were working or travelling.

Clare and I mentally girded yesterday morning, and by mid-afternoon were both as prepared as Usain Bolt at the start of his 100 meters. Although we were slightly slower. Using the commode-wheelchair-thing, with a couple of towels on the seat to make it a bit softer, we made our gentle way to the shower. And a resounding success. Clare, bless her, totally unfazed by her brother in his underpants (and not even posh Marks & Spencer ones – these, I think, 3 for £5 at Sainsburys), washing her hair, helping soap down and rinse off. A quick dash back to the bedroom to change the bottom sheet and lay out towels, before processing back and drying, moisturising and donning new pyjamas. Huge relief, followed by huge amounts of towel washing and drying – I think we used every bath towel in North London.

And a good dinner of baked cod in tomato, capers and basil, followed by Clare’s neighbour’s delicious Indian rice pudding.

By 9pm, a Hospital bed had been delivered, so I will try and get it set up today. Will manoeuvre Clare onto her sofa in the living room, and then take apart her old bed and put together this new “whistles and bells” one. I am sure it’ll make life so much easier and help with pain, as it tips and folds in various places, has an air-filled mattress, and raises up to make it easier to get out. Hope I can follow the assembly instructions – I’m not very patient with manual-reading – I’ll probably build it upside-down, so Clare gets regally tipped onto the carpet. Watch this space…

Love to all

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