Monday, 21 December 2015

Crossing the bar

Even before that last breath and lingering silence, the sky mourned; sending biting winds and rain to dash against the pane; raging when we could not..... Yet it was the sun that finally called to you in the quiet of that empty room; leaving worn out bones as a final remnant of all you once were.

Later, within woven willow draped in the colours of the sea; we watched as you were borne aloft upon the shoulders of young men made boys by grief.
 Then, sat amongst familiar faces weighed down by heavy hearts and shared memories; we found you once more , amidst the warm words of a final farewell.  





Friday, 13 November 2015

Stop all the clocks....

By the lamp's soft glow 
I sit and I knit;
 a stitch for each laboured breath
you take, 
as the click of the needles 
and tick of the clock
measure time slipping away

Clock ticks, needles click; 
a pump whirs and flashes
 in synchronised rhythm.
Dark hours pass,
to the low rasp of breath
of a life not yet extinguished

The clock stops,
 needles lie still;
no longer clicking to the tick.
Breath fades 
and all is silent

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

All change

Fairy clocks count down the slow creep of days,'til Autumn's past and the dark bite of Winter takes a hold    
        
Wild winds have stripped trees bare; laying waste to leaves that lie slowly crisping on    the ground
     


In search of sheltered spaces,spiders swing from line to peg and creep inside;whilst snails slide up tendrils to nestle in curled leaves and dream 


Slugs  slip-slide over patio slabs in their slow waltz to honour the dwindling sun; leaving delicate trails that glitter in thin sunlight, leading to dark, damp places under patio pots.

In bark strewn beds, berries blush as fungi grow then decay.....
 and people pass, heads bent against rain, oblivious to their fading glory.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Autumn




 Now is the season of slow mists
that hang in hollows;
of silvered spiderwebs
strung from branch to branch
like tattered wedding veils;
A low golden sun
that flames the tips of leaves
on roadside bushes;
 and lengthens shadows
across naked fields

It is a time of foraging;
of fingers, red stained
as bursting berries hanging heavy
 on woodland brambles,
tumble through  painted hands into plastic pots;
to scent the kitchen with childhood memories,




Monday, 27 July 2015

Gulls

On bended wing they swoop low, skimming waves; 
their mournful cries a perfect foil for the jingle jangle of pier head rides. 

They are the post sitters, people watchers...
 Still as statue fortune tellers who wait, with baited breath for picnics to appear 






Then, with one mad dash and scramble they strike...



Swooping on unsuspecting chip eaters, sandwich snackers, beach sitters
to snatch at tasty morsels from reluctant givers


laughing uproariously at their criminal exploits
before flocking out past foaming breakers 
to sanctuary 
in the pitch and swell of deep water waves




The end of the pier

We drove to the coast, in morning greyness; the heat of a still new sun barely cutting through cloud; causing goosebumps upon exposed flesh as I gazed a while at restless waves buffeted by unrelenting breezes, clawing at polished pebbles under spume. 






The pebble beach, remembered by the soles of my feet, yet different to my eyes; was all but empty, as huddles of thin clad souls took solace in sweaters, and headed to the end of the pier.


So we too trod the boards, worn by feet and time, under the watchful eye of gulls; stepping on shadows of antique fixtures and filigree fence work .

 

... and suddenly, there they were, in all their painted glory; champing at the bit for a hurly burly ride up and down then round and round; spinning faster and faster.....  the wonderful painted horses of childhood.


Close up their colours, still newly bright, vied with the jangling organ music of yesteryear, imploring we, the lookers on, to come and have the ride of our lives! 
Two small children, grins as wide as wind burnt cheeks hastily scrambled aboard, waving at the small assembled crowd as the music piped up and the horses began to trot..... and I secretly thought to myself  'yes, that is the very horse I would have picked,' as I turned away to seek amongst strangers a son searching for bigger thrills than those these horses had to offer.


Just then, the sun appeared, chasing past clouds and fragmenting the sea with ever changing hues; beaming down on neon rides, with gaudy flashing lights and the ever present thud of music at full throttle... a siren song for thrill seekers to come and test their nerve..... and there he was, my once small boy, high on mechanical arm, hanging in space, waiting to be flipped and swung..... whilst I, the reluctant onlooker and carrier of bags, quietly wished he were small again and the comforting swoosh of coconut mat on wooden slide  still  thrill enough for us all. 











Wednesday, 8 July 2015

crow road





I travel the crow road, watched from lampposts and overhead gantries by the silhouettes of dark sentinels; staring motionless as a carriageway of strangers drive in stop, start slow formation ....each in their own self contained world of metal, and morning thoughts. 

At times, leaving their lofty look-out posts, they flap in lazy circles, weaving through pylon strung lines or skimming low over stalled traffic; crowing raucously at we mere mortals stuck behind motionless wheels, staring past lorry backs to the congested road ahead.....despairing of ever reaching our journey's end. .... 



Once, for a fleeting moment, I watched as a young crow with outstretched wings drifted over the hedge and on above the snaking lines of traffic belching fumes and frustration....... then onward to the shelter of tall trees.
In that moment, we truly were traveling as the crow flies.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Re stitching

This week I finally said goodbye to the wonderful surgeon who put me back together again. Five years on from initial diagnosis and surgery, I am no longer quite who I used to be; time and circumstance remoulding both physical and spiritual form. Last time we met, he asked me to write a piece for his website; yet I had hung back, unsure that any words I scribbled down could even begin to convey such a maelstrom of events. 
 On the drive home, it slowly occurred to me that the words I sought had already woven themselves into those blog posts written when the thoughts and memories swirling round my waking hours slipped through fingers and onto the page. As a quilter carefully stitches separate patches together to make something new; so I have unpicked and re stitched my words ; to try and create a coherent whole.


I first felt it in the shower, a lump the size of a plectrum; hard and unyielding beneath my fingers, in stark contrast to the soft surrounding flesh. I ignored it at first, knowing that I was soon to go for my annual scan; I put it to the back of my mind, carrying on regardless whilst it resolutely remained; a solid nugget under probing fingertips.


At the clinic I smiled through the mammograms, scans and biopsies; willing this to be a cyst, a blocked duct, a figment of a hypochondriac's imagination...... I told my husband all would be well, and went alone to get my results.....but then the nurse walked into the room with the specialist, and in that instant I knew.There is that sudden moment of clarity when you hear what is to be said before a single word is uttered. The look between specialist and nurse confirmed what in truth I had known all along.I went into preservation mode, poker faced; discussing the practicalities of the surgery to follow.  Lumpectomy was not an option... mastectomy? One breast or two? 'Like ordering tea at a posh cafe,' I remember thinking in a wry moment of black humour.

Words flew over and around me as I watched hands sketching quick drawn diagrams, weighting up the pros and cons. The specialist and surgeon were both so kind and attentive; giving me time to ask questions, double checking I had understood the mechanics of the procedure. I smiled, I nodded, whilst all the time my unspoken thoughts were spinning into free fall.On the drive back from the hospital reality hit, as it surely must. I pulled my car over to the hard shoulder and howled, then, mindful I was heading to work, wiped my eyes, gave myself a stern talking to and found my poker face once more.

By the day of the operation I had switched to self-preservation mode; reminding myself that both sister and cousin had been here before me, and that I would not be without a breast when I awoke. My husband and son chatted in the car, but I cannot to this day remember any of the conversation; just the pinched look on their faces as we said our goodbyes. The waiting was the worst; sitting in a ward allowing all manner of thoughts to tumble unchecked through my mind….. but suddenly there was the reassuring voice of Mr Mathur, introducing his team, and patiently going over the procedure.

I did experience a mild sense of panic as I stood naked but for a pair of briefs, being drawn upon ready for the off..... Slightly alarmed I noticed not one but two lines were being drawn upon my chest ' it is only the one' I said; quickly to be reassured that In fact the lines were to measure the natural fall of the chest, so the reconstructed breast would closely match the natural one. As I had opted for a DIEP flap reconstruction, a hand held ultrasound was used to map the viable veins on my stomach, which was to be the donor site. At one point it resembled a small child's attempt at dot to dot, and I smiled quietly at the thought of how I must look with this strange new graffiti inked upon my skin.

Suddenly it was time... a porter came and off we went. It's strange, but to this day I cannot express that feeling as I was wheeled into theatre; it wasn't fear or dread as I thought it might be; but more a sense of overwhelming inevitability. 

Waking up and realising that I still had the shape of a breast under bandaging and drains, helped enormously on my road to recovery. Cancer strips you of many things, but a missing body part was not to be one of them. In reality chemotherapy is a hard road but manageable. Your hair will regrow and your skin will glow once more; you will regain your energy, the deep seated ache in your bones will finally dull,  and you will discover a profound sense of who you are.

 Unlike Humpty Dumpty I have been put together again, in a different, more complex manner. My scars now faded to silver meander like contours across my body mapping the years of openings and re openings; of harsh lights, soft voices and blue scrubs. These are the tattoos of an incredible journey, which act as a testimony to the skills of a team of dedicated surgeons, and the amazing healing powers all our bodies possess. I have reclaimed this tired body moulded by circumstance and surgeon's scalpel; becoming familiar with new curves and old wounds. There is more balance in my life; I have learnt to be still and breathe the world around me. My wide eyed trust in the inherent goodness of others has been reaffirmed by the incredibly skilled and caring medical teams who came in and out of my life with more frequency than I ever thought. There has been trauma, loss a
nd bewilderment, but this has been tempered by laughter and the friendships forged in the fire. 
I have emerged older, wiser, and as yet unbroken; eternally grateful for the medical teams, family and friends who carried me through.




Monday, 4 May 2015

past life

Idly turning on the TV  last night, I found myself watching the C word on BBC 1; a drama that opened a window into my past; to let memories like light from far distant stars come thinly shining into the present.
Just under 5 years ago, post diagnosis and major surgery; I left my first chemo session pumped full of FEC, steroids and anti sickness pills, feeling fine; even stopping for sushi on the way home. This was the calm before the storm; as by 10pm that evening I was throwing up, despite the back up anti sickness meds, the back up back up anti sickness meds, and an iron will. 
I had no idea you could vomit 10hrs straight..... But yes, sadly this is physically possible; although towards the end, it was clear that my stomach was completely voided, and what was being produced was pure bile.... bright green and bitter on the tongue.
 A swift trip to the hospital to rehydrate and receive further  anti sickness back up meds soon put it right; although the difficulty they experienced inserting the cannula should have set alarm bells ringing.
By my second chemo session, it was clear my veins were having nothing to do with the process, resolutely shutting down; unyielding to the gentlest of nurses. It was decided that a PIC line was in order..... and had my veins allowed it to pass through, this would have made chemo far simpler... But no, my right arm refused to countenance such a scheme; which is how I ended up on an operating table being told by a doctor that I would just experience some pressure on my chest as a Hickman line was inserted......he lied; but then again how could he know; he after all had never experienced this procedure!
Then the inevitable happened; my hair began to drift out in clumps, as we knew it most surely would. My husband and son couldn't face shaving it, so two dear friends, armed with a pair of clippers, took photos as they clipped my hair into a Mohawk , and then down to a buzz cut.... We laughed and joked as the clippers did their work... compared to the Hickman and the vomiting, this was the least of my woes.
A week later, I realised even the buzz cut was rubbing off onto pillow cases and the back of sofas. Like Hansel and Gretel, I too was leaving a tell tail trail marking my movements  around the house.
That evening I decided it had to go! I ran a steaming hot bath, and, taking a brand new razor, began to shave my head. After the second stroke I realised this was a bad idea; I was now immersed in 'hair soup' ! I scrambled out of the bath, wrapped myself loosely in a towel, drained the water, cleaned up every last strand of hair; then realised that I must finish what I started, or totally lose my dignity as even with a buzz cut, there is a surprising amount of hair. I took the razor, headed for the shower and carefully shaved the rest of my head. There was now hair all over the shower curtain and the bath tub. Wrapped in a now damp and distinctly hairy towel, I cleaned the shower curtain, re cleaned the bath, and discarded the towel in the laundry hamper... Only to notice I had missed a tuft of hair. So I took the razor, leaned over the basin, and finished the job; then cleaned the basin, cleaned the cleaning cloth and consigned another hair laden towel into the laundry hamper. 
Two hours from that fateful decision, I wiped steam from the bathroom mirror and steeled myself to look at my reflection. It was as I thought; despite the neatly rounded skull of a cesarean baby, it was definitely Uncle Fester's twin sister staring back at me!!



Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Cobweb walking


Weathering the darkest of days has left me tongue tied; scrabbling for lost syllables with which to weave an intricate web of words from thought to page. I am,as yet, merely cobweb walking; precariously balanced upon the crumbling remnants of a decaying past; my mind still sluggish from Winter's hibernation. 
As the days lengthen, I shed layers as a snake sloughs skin; flooding the house with colour and light to banish those dark shadows lingering in dusty corners amidst the desiccated remains of long dead flies........
.......until, as the Spring sun gently illuminates newly bared skin; warming patio flags, beckoning leaves to unfurl and buds to burst; the birdsong that brings in the morning, brings with it a sense of balance restored. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

loss

The air hangs heavy with  silence, pressing its leaden weight through darkening rooms. All warmth has leached away, leaving a hairline crack through which has seeped the sadness of lost memories; and a glint of silver on once familiar skin.
Shadows move through unguarded doorways; deepening as days stretch to night, and the slow tick of the clock marks the passing hours.... and I, curled catlike under heavy quilts, taste the bitter taint of words as yet unspoken; as the creeping chill of empty sheets numbs me to the core.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Etched on skin

 Red scars now faded with time to silver; meander like contours across my body. They map the years of openings and re openings; of harsh lights, soft voices and blue scrubs. The sting of anaesthetic and the hand of a stranger; as tubes pushed deep into veins, and sutures tugged at soft flesh. 
In the aftermath, when poisons ceased to seep into every cell, and syringes no longer a part of daily routine; I began to reclaim this tired body moulded by circumstance and surgeon's scalpel; becoming familiar with new curves and old wounds. 
Five years from the cold realisation of a hard lump under probing fingertips; I have taken control - etching upon skin a design of my own choosing, to tame both scars and memories; the sting of needle and ink a mere ghost of what has already been.
 A lotus now blooms along my spine, with hamsa to ward off further ills... realigning chakras and letting in light once more..... A fitting ending to a dark episode.



Monday, 19 January 2015

Cold snap

Jack Frost has sent his icy breath curling round the garden; setting grass in stiff spikes, and icing every hollow. Filigree patterns etched on each leaf and frond hold their own delicate beauty; whilst the ghosts of spiders webs hang still in shadowed corners; frozen mid decay.

All is quiet and still; the birds still roosted in litchen lined nests, or perched on power lines; feathers plumped against the cold.

A sudden flurry upsets the peace, as reluctant cats tumbling into the morning air, breathe soft mist and startle as paws contract on cold flagstone; causing a flexing of feet and mad scrabble to retreat back into the warm......

.....and I, with cheeks pinched and joints slowly stiffening ; swathe myself in cashmere wraps and woollen mittens, ready to step into half light of a day not quite begun, to embark upon the early morning commute.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Out with the old

Last night, the wind howled round the house like a dragon unleashed; chasing away cobwebs and the final vestiges of an old year fraught with the destructive forces of a raging sea. 
We inside, who battened down the hatches to shelter in warm darkness; listened to rain lashing against the panes; cleansing and purifying our groaning timbers that have held strong through tempest's eye.

Now is a time for calm; to clear away the debris of this storm just fled, leaving a mere ghost of itself in the brittle leaves haphazardly scattered on rain soaked lawn; and splinters of heartwood  embedded in soft flesh. 

 We will once more fill the rooms with soft light and tend to smarting wounds; a little more wary, yet ready to brave the next wave that is sure to break.