Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Goodbye My Darling

(Picture taken by our friend Claire Wilson last year.)

2.11.40 - 26.12.10

On Boxing Day my lovely Pip died. It sounds such a cliche to say that he fought for his life, but he really did, and was so brave and so funny at a time when most people would have given up long ago. And he never ever forgot to say, "I love you, Pop".

Deathbed scenes such as those written about or filmed may happen but in my Pip's case, he elected to die alone. He wanted to protect me, as he always has. Being me, I said nonsense (to the nurse, not wanting to distress him), and waited until he was further along the line before I crept in and held his hand. There were no vows of eternal love, no gazing fondly into each other's eyes, but silence as his breathing slowed. Every now and again he gave a sigh, then carried on, just as he did when asleep. I kept waiting for him to open his eyes and say, “Pop? What are you doing? I told you to go home.”

The minutes ticked past, and I looked at his watch. The curtains around his bed were dotted with gaudy flowers, and I started counting them. I kissed his hand, wishing it to respond to mine. My dear brother in law, sitting awkwardly behind me, stroked my back. Outside the curtains the nurses were trying to track down another nurse who hadn't turned up for her shift, were trying to find her number. “I've got it, it's under Bet Mob!” came a triumphant cry.

And finally, my Pip stopped breathing. I expected to feel some momentous wave of grief, to sob loudly and noisily, as I have been doing for the past week. Instead there was a sense of shock, of disbelief. For the man lying there looked nothing like the vibrant husband that I love so much.

We collected his things; I took his wedding ring and his watch. The nurses provided us with a booklet entitled What to do following a bereavement, and my brother in law and I staggered disbelievingly down the now-familiar overheated corridors out into the grey gloom of a quiet Boxing Day.

As we walked back to the car, Pete put his arm around me, I snuck mine round his. Awkwardly, for there is a considerable distance in height, we walked back to the car, sharing stories of a very special man. “You gave him an inner contentment that he'd never had before,” said the generous Pete. “You've made such a difference to the family.”

My Pip gave me love in abundance, confidence, pride and a sense of right and wrong. He was unfailingly generous, courteous and incredibly brave. His wicked sense of humour, his ability to charm any woman alive, and his quick thinking will be remembered by all, and that is one of the things that I shall hold onto on those days when everything is too much.

I feel privileged to have loved, and be loved by, such a very special man.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Survival Plan

Dogs know when something's up, they really do, and little Molls often sits in the window looking out - for her dad? Yesterday a friend volunteered to look after her whenever I want if I'm going to be out for a long hospital run, so I took Molls round to meet her. You know people who love animals and Sheila adores them, cuddled Molls and I know that she would be much happier there having a cuddle with Sheila on the sofa in front of the fire than sitting in the cold at home while I'm out.

I am constructing a Survival Plan for Christmas which I have been dreading but everyone has been so kind and supportive that I feel a bit better about it now. The current plan is that my brother in law and I will go in and spend time with Himself on Christmas Day itself and he was very pleased about that, as am I. Then after I've walked Molls, my dear mate round the corner has invited me round there to eat with her daughter and grandchildren – and to bring Molls – so that will be lovely for us.
In the following days I am hoping to do a walk for the magazine (weather permitting) and see various friends.

This is such a strange situation – I have to take one day at a time and keep strong and positive for both of us. He is so incredibly brave and funny that I wonder how he has kept so positive for so long. The nurses and doctors all appreciate how special he is which makes a big difference, too.

So wherever you are, and whatever you do this Christmas, I hope there are moments of happiness.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Carn Euny - a muddy walk in West Penwith

This is a fogou (see below) - it seems amazing to think that Viv and I did this walk when it was warm and sunny - aah those days...

A friend of mine sadly died last year and asked that his ashes be scattered at Chapel Carn Brea, adding, “but if it's raining, don't get out of the car.”

Carn Euny is well known for its large underground passageway or fogou (Cornish for cave) which was possibly used for storage, living or ritual. Just below the sign to the fogou is a dark little lane leading off to the right: we walked round the back of a cottage on our left and continued until we reached a fork where a barn was being rebuilt. We turned right here, then immediately left, where we met a bunch of serious walkers clutching maps. “It's extremely muddy,” they said, looking at my sandals and Viv's trainers.

“We don't mind,” I said cheerfully, eyeing their sensible walking boots, caked in mud. Minutes later, wading through ankle deep mire, I began to wish I'd worn my boots. Behind me, Viv squelched and skidded along the narrow lane, muttering. The nettles were vicious too – I'd never been stung through jeans before.

Looming ahead was Carn Euny Well – there are two, apparently, though we only found one, and slightly eerie it was. Hung from the trees nearby were festooned all kinds of 'cloutie' – strips of rag, a key, a scarf, the letter Z and a teddy bear. Legend has it that if you wish to be healed by St. Euny's Well, “you must come and wash upon the three first Wednesdays in May”. Another method of healing is to tie something that had been in contact with the affected part to a tree: as the rag rots, the illness should pass away.

“Look here's a candle,” said Viv. “Oh – it's black. Do you think my fingers will drop off?” To be on the safe side, she decided to wash her evil fingers, but “it's Monday – it's probably bad luck,” I said. “And you might fall in.”

Disturbed by her new-found superstition, Viv heaved herself out of the well and we followed the footpath round to the left towards Tredinney Common. “I have to say, this walk is very interesting, but very inadvisable,” Viv said. “I can't believe how un-muddy you are. Were you a goat in a former life?”

Soon we reached the end of the track, crossed a road and turned right then immediately left where we walked through a car park to see Chapel Carn Brea which is the most westerly hill in Britain and where a beacon is lit every Midsummer's eve. The hill is 657 feet above sea level and looking out to the horizon we counted three layers of blue, where it met the skyline.

Climbing a dry path to the summit we gasped, looking out at distant waves breaking off Longships, then further round to Stone's Reef. St Just lay to the north, Sennen and Lands End to the west, and Mounts Bay to the southeast. Land's End Aerodrome was nearby, distinguished by a red wind sock and tiny planes that buzzed above us like friendly bees.

We were going to be adventurous and try a different route back but Viv wanted to be back before dusk, so we retraced our steps. All too soon, it seemed, we arrived back at Carn Euny and looked back, over the moorland and fields.

You can almost feel how very ancient the land is here: rugged and largely untouched by human hands. The only buildings visible were farmhouses, barns and a church tower on the skyline, their exposed granite walls weathered from endless Cornish winters. So many of us spend our lives rushing around, while here the world stays still. Here, you can think and breathe.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Is that a lemur by the fire?

I was looking at our pictures of Fowey from March this year, and this is one of my favourites taken on the Hall Walk - this is of a boat at Pont Creek. Take a deep breath and let go of those worries. That's better...

I finally got to the Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary yesterday with my mate Viv, and what a beautiful (if freezing) day we had. Arriving, we were shepherded into the farmhouse and found ourselves in a room crammed with photos on the walls (rather like Flowerpot's flat). At the far end of the room was a large cage with a white cockatoo standing on top. Nearer, two elderly black labs reclined on the sofa, giving us a rousing welcome. A black and white cat was curled up on one of the chairs, and then - I blinked - warming his hands (paws?) in front of the woodburner was a lemur.

For animal lovers like myself and Viv this was sheer heaven. John and Joy Palmer, who run the sanctuary are two of the most generous, intelligent and warm people you could ever meet, and seeing round the park later I was amazed at the huge selection of rescue animals in huge enclosures, so they all have plenty of room to run around, and are evidently extremely happy. If ever you're near Liskeard, do take a look, it is more than worth your while.

I did a hospital run on the way home, as Viv lives very nearby and was able to look after Molls while I popped in to see Himself. Seems he won't be out for another few weeks yet which is a shame, but at least he is being well looked after, even if he is longing to come home. His highlight today was managing half a Weetabix for breakfast. It's amazing how such a small thing can lighten a day.

But I was able to tell him about Porfell and hope to take him there next year. Meeting a couple like the Palmers and seeing the wonderful work they do with those animals can only enrich anyone's day.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

More Upheavals - don't mention Snow...

Well, I'm sorry to be a spoilsport but I am so sick of the word SNOW I could scream. But here in Falmouth we have had extremes of weather that I've never seen before all in one day. We woke to snow. Half an hour later, we had a huge thunderstorm with lightning flashing ahead. That calmed down and gale force winds blew up, with lashing rain.

A half hour reprieve, during which I dashed out with Molls and realised just how incredibly cold it was – got back and looked out of the window to see huge golf ball sized hailstones, followed by snow. All of which took place in the space of two hours.

While we've all been disrupted, I had to put off an interview with Porfell Wildlife and Animal Sanctuary which I have been trying to get to for some time. First time Himself was starting to be poorly, then they were going away and this time we were snowed in, so I am hoping to go next week – or at least before Christmas.

The couple that run it are now in their 70s and came to Cornwall in the 1970s with the idea of running their own smallholding. They arrived in an old minibus containing a pony, rabbits, budgies, two dogs, and a horsebox with their daughter and her pony. Joy followed in an old Triumph Herald with yet more animals including the cats.

Their dreams have multiplied, and now they aim to “provide a safe haven for elderly and problem exotic animals for the rest of their lives. The work of our sanctuary is recognised nationally by zoos, wildlife parks and other organisations.

Here at our animal sanctuary you will see groups of single sex animals, such as Ring-Tailed lemurs. Elderly animals like our dear old meerkats in retirement in a nice heated enclosure. You will see some who can breed, like the White lipped tamarins. Mother, Tammy had twins last year, they look as they have just drunk a large glass of milk, with milk still on there lips.

Not forgetting old favorites like zebra, capybara, owls, ocelot and lynx. All enjoy environments created to suit their individual needs. New to the park are Black lemurs – we have registered to become part of the E.E.P. European Endangered species programme; to help these very rare lemurs, ours are past their breeding prime at the age of 27 but are helping us to highlight the plight of the Black lemurs of Madagascar.”

They sound such an inspirational couple, I am longing to meet them. So hurry up weather and warm up so I can get there!