One benefit of a Pandemic Lockdown has been my realisation that I don’t really know the area where I live. Despite being here for over 30 years I have spent the time raising 3 children and working. So never really undertaken any solo exploring. I went where the children wanted to go – the park, the beach.
The excellent weather that made the lockdown bearable for many encouraged me to visit Hardwick Park which is a short walk away and also the nearby farm roads – both became the destination for our daily exercise. https://www.durham.gov.uk/hardwickpark
As the lockdown eased and we could, responsibly, travel outside of our immediate surroundings I started investigating what was nearby – and not crowded.
A short drive to Seaham on Father’s Day, brought us to Nose Point. Originally a mining area (Dawdon Colliery – one of the last to close in the North East). It has since been developed into a nature reserve with wildflower meadows, ponds and seating areas along its many paths giving open views along the coastline.
Another day and we drove to Barnard Castle (!) – a town we know well yet rarely walked the surrounding countryside. It was a rainy afternoon but good to be out stretching our legs.
Reclaimed railway lines are often uncrowded on weekdays and so we took the opportunity to re-visit Wynyard Woods Walkway. This was a popular spot when the children were young as they could safely practise cycling along its level and wide path, (it was called Castle Eden Walkway then, not sure why it changed its name). As it has two main entrances, we had two walks starting at either end on separate days. Always surprises me how things look different from differing approaches.
Billingham Beck Country Park is a small area alongside the A19 and which I have driven by numerous times. An interesting walk and the nearby traffic was not intrusive – just wear sensible shoes, the paths were muddy.
This was my first visit to the reservoir – I am still surprised by that statement as it is approx. 2 miles from my house yet I didn’t know it was there. And, if not for the Covid Lockdown I probably still wouldn’t!
There are many other ‘Covid’ studies currently active – as well as trials investigating drugs there are others investigating the impact on mental health and wellbeing, development of antibodies and identification of length of immunity etc.
The Chief Medical Officer was keen to mention and thank those patients who had volunteered to participate in all these clinical trials. If you, or a relative, are so ill with Covid-19 that you require observation in an Intensive Care Unit I imagine agreeing to participate in a study that will possibly save your life is an easy decision to make. Volunteering to support the investigation of a possible vaccine does take some thought and courage and yet is vital if preventing further spread of this virus is to be achieved.
Listening to and reading about current efforts to both treat those effected and to reduce further outbreaks made me think about clinical research in general and wonder – do we, as a population, understand how treatments (medicine, equipment, procedures) are developed and safely brought into the ‘patient care pathway’. As we undergo a surgical procedure, submit to treatment using ‘state of the art’ equipment or swallow a new medication do we understand that others – healthy individuals and patients with a similar illness have volunteered to test these on our behalf?
There are a number of ‘stages’ that developing new treatments work through – from the original thought to the safe prescription – and these do rely on the involvement of people. We often hear the term ‘guinea pig’ used in connection with research and the term does imply ‘untried, untested’ preparations and so I appreciate this can discourage people from agreeing to take part. Yet, my purpose is to encourage you to consider such requests.
Clinical research in Britain is extremely well governed – both in the laboratory and in the clinical setting. All new preparations undergo testing by ‘healthy volunteers’ in laboratory settings which highlight possible side effects. Once the safety/efficiency stages are complete it is ‘put to the test’ – and progress is then reliant on people with the specific medical conditions participating in trials to demonstrate and confirm the beneficial impact (dosage, application, length of treatment etc).
And it is here that progress is dependant on the population – the majority of hospital consultants and many GP practices regularly participate in trials. There are a variety of ways to become involved (and you can decline and/or opt out at any stage of the process without any impact on your future care).
The commonest method is to be informed of an appropriate research trial when attending a hospital/GP appointment. Large epidemiology projects, which study factors relating to health, are often ‘advertised’ in local papers and readers are encouraged to ‘self-refer’.
Many long-term studies such as Bio-Bank have no direct benefit to the participants as the study team are collecting data overtime to identify health trends and offer information for future health care planning. Although, there are benefits, being a participant and knowing that your weight, exercise level and lifestyle choices will be observed over time does, at least sub-consciously, encourage healthier decision-making. https://www.ukbiobank.ac.uk/about-biobank-uk/
The majority of my career in the NHS was working with the Clinical Research Network (the ‘Research Arm’ of the NHS https://www.nihr.ac.uk/explore-nihr/support/clinical-research-network.htm). I was always grateful when a patient agreed to participate in a research study. I understood that there were many reasons for their decision – access to innovative treatments, possibilities of a cure, ‘trying something new to see if it helps’ – but always underlying this choice was the willingness to contribute.
‘It may not help me but may help others’ – and for this, I say ‘Thank You’ on behalf of the future.
(Disclaimer – whilst encouraging participation in suitable research please understand I do not know your specific health circumstances so seek advice from appropriate health professionals)
NB – the terms ‘Studies’ ‘Trials’ ‘Projects’ are used throughout and are interchangeable (used in this way to demonstrate that this occurs naturally in clinical areas too)
Please email with any questions or comments using email link below
A positive of the Coronavirus Lockdown in 2020 was the opportunity to share cooking skills with the children – guess it also helped pass the time and we all enjoyed the results.
We planned a weekly menu which included food that neither of them were used to preparing. Taking it in turns and introducing Themes. One week we cooked food from countries we would like to, or have, visited – India, China, Hungary, USA. We also prepared British national dishes and Oliver learnt how to make Yorkshire Puddings and Sage & Onion stuffing whilst cooking a roast chicken dinner.
He also introduced us to UNI food by cooking a meal he often cooks himself. It involved chicken, mashed potatoes, spices and herbs – not sure if it has a name but smelt and tasted delicious.
I purchased a new gadget – a Waffle iron. It did take some practice to perfect the technique but Oliver was a willing participant 😊
His favourite cake is a Victoria Sponge and one day he decided to learn how to make one. We used the traditional method I had learnt at school although I permitted the use of a food mixer rather than a wooden spoon – I am really not that cruel.
The cake was very impressive, better than any I turn out.
Emma is already a very proficient chef and now was keen to learn how to make pasta. I know that the shops sell good quality dried and fresh pasta yet there is something very therapeutic about making your own. A stress-reducing activity I used frequently when I worked.
Mixing flour and eggs, then kneading the dough could transport me to an Italian lakeside kitchen away from the trials of the day.
Her first attempt was spaghetti and again, we used the traditional process although we used a mechanical cutter rather than a sharp knife (I have used a pizza cutter on occasion, and it does work well). Once cut the spaghetti was spread over the clothes airer to dry whilst we prepared the meatballs.
Another day Emma made Orecchiette using an attachment on the Food Mixer. This method has its own challenges as the pasta has to be crumbly rather than a dough and good hand/eye co-ordination is required in order to cut the correct length. One hand needs to operate the blade whilst the other hand separates and spreads the pasta shapes as they fall. This also needs to dry for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking.
We enjoyed the orecchiette along with a homemade marinara sauce, cheese, and roasted peppers.
Next on the list was Gnocchi, this is a mixture of potatoes and flour which is hand shaped then cooked in the same way as pasta. We both decided this was more tricky and it was easier to buy. Although we did enjoy eating the finished product.
The fourth, and most difficult was Ricotta and Basil Tortellini. A learning process for me too as I had not made these for a long time (like 2 decades ago). Once pasta dough is made and rolled thinly it was cut into circular shapes and the filling prepared. It is easy to overfill these so be careful. Turning and twisting to obtain the correct shape was fiddly – but by watching a short YouTube video (www.youtube.com )
Emma was soon producing professional looking Tortellini.
These were accompanied by a simple, but gorgeously tasteful Tomato, Garlic and Basil sauce and it all disappeared.
Emma ‘It took 3 hours to make and 10 minutes to eat’
The imposed ‘Lockdown’ in 2020 by the UK Government meant 2 of our 3 children had to return home. The youngest because he is a university student and all the educational facilities were closing down and going ‘online’. The eldest because she had been working in the USA, her contract had recently finished and she was planning to do some travelling in the Americas before heading back – the Foreign Office instruction to UK tourists aboard to ‘come home’ put paid to all her plans. Rather than be isolated in her Edinburgh apartment she headed straight from LHR to us.
Although we did see our children regularly my husband and I were used to having the house to ourselves so adjustments had to be made – it had been a long time since our house had groaned with the weight of teenage ‘clobber’. We are fortunate to have space and I quickly realised that to maintain harmony it would be beneficial to have divisions, which were discussed and agreed. As both were studying (one full time and one part-time) the dining room became a joint study and general dumping ground during the week for their ‘stuff’. This avoided their bedrooms becoming too chaotic and remained a peaceful sanctuary for sleeping and escape.
Thanks to modern technology they both recorded video presentations, sat exams and held project meetings with fellow students. It was interesting to observe how educational requirements could be delivered in this way and ensured that they maintained some level of communication with tutors and friends. I benefited as they taught me about Zoom – and soon we were having weekly family ‘catch-ups’ and quizzes.
When the Yoga teacher from my weekly class decided to offer a weekly Zoom class I was there – and able to offer advice on how to use the software to others in the class, and call through for assistance from the in-house IT team if needed! I then encouraged other groups that I belong to try it out, with mixed success although many of us ‘retirees’ are more capable than we believe ourselves to be.
Although their studies are important it was also important to ensure that there was some enjoyment during the ‘lock down’ so we introduced ‘Saturday Games Night’ –a family meal followed by a chosen game. I am not a fan of Monopoly so using online shopping was especially useful to browse then obtain new games. I became a fan of ‘Ticket to Ride’ although I only won once. We re-discovered card games, ‘Pick up Pigs’ and Uno. The meal itself was to be something not often cooked – usually because it was particularly time consuming, well now we had plenty of time.
Becoming even more adventurous one Saturday Emma arranged a Cocktail Party. We dressed up and learnt how to make our own simple cocktails prior to dining on Rotisserie Chicken Caesar Salad – having cooked the rotisserie style chicken myself as the local supermarkets were not doing them at present.
We also searched online for evening entertainment – and discovered many ‘live’ performances on YouTube ( https://www.youtube.com/ ) which helped reduce boredom alongside offering an opportunity to see performances that previously would have passed us by. Another ‘find’ was the Friday Night Quiz presented by Darlington Hippodrome (https://www.darlingtonhippodrome.co.uk/whats-on/ it can also be accessed via their FaceBook page) The question master, Julian Cound, ensures everyone has a fun evening (and understands the rules). As the quiz is usually 7.30 to 9.00pm we arrange a ‘Takeaway’ meal for approx. 7.00pm making the evening a social event whilst supporting a local business and giving the usual chefs an evening off.
We also managed to celebrate Easter with an Egg Hunt.
And, a birthday with a party and cake (a special cake decorated by Emma)
When the children were young, whatever was going on, we all ate a Sunday Roast Dinner in the evening and planned the week ahead – we re-introduced this which I think added a sense of normality to our situation.
We are fortunate in living within walking distance of Hardwick Park (http://www.durham.gov.uk/hardwickpark ) so enjoyed daily walks around the park and were able to photograph the emerging Spring, we also were lucky enough to notice frog spawn and then tadpoles in one of the small lakes. Normally we walk too fast and infrequently to take in the small details, we also noticed how noisy the birds were early in the morning – then realised that it was the noise of rush hour traffic that was missing.
Another opportunity presented by the lock down was to reduce the number of tasks on my ‘To-Do-List’, although no sooner did I complete an unfinished sewing project or spring-clean a set of cupboards more jobs were added on the list . I fear my list will never be completed.
We had reason to call out an emergency plumber (blocked pipe back-flowing through ceilings!) which added a sense of emergency and entertainment one day. Whilst still maintaining social distancing it was good to have another conversation in the house. This also highlighted that the seal around the bath needed re-doing so I learnt a new skill – taught by daughter – in how to apply silicone sealant. I now feel confident enough to tackle the seal around the kitchen sink, (although Emma undertook that task too as I think my role is more ‘assistant’).
Alongside keeping a sense of ‘living’ in the home we also maintained contact with extended family members via telephone (still think voices are better than emails), assisted elderly neighbours by shopping and baking treats. Aware that some friends were finding the situation challenging I also visited and had face-to-face conversations whilst maintaining social-distancing visits to those finding life challenging. I am sure that anyone walking past was entertained as I shouted from the pavement to a friend standing in the doorway – just as well we were not sharing secrets. Whilst, perhaps, acting at the edge of what was acceptable I am sure that these 10-minute chats had a lasting benefit and helped those unable to leave their homes.
We were so lucky with the weather, if this had occurred in deepest winter it would have been a bigger struggle for many. Despite working from home (WFH) my husband was in the garden for hours on end, we even had the occasional BBQ and sat out on a morning with coffee. Newly hatched ducklings arrived from a nearby stream, and we watched them eat under the bird table, the birdbox had a nest with 4 eggs so we looked in daily via the in-box camera.
Whilst, as a family, we were able to cope with the restrictions (although I was always short of flour and yeast) and to find pleasure in many of the things we did I am very aware that many struggled. These struggles and difficulties took on many shapes – financial, well-being, boredom, physical – and for many it will take a long time to recover. As a family we clapped every Thursday for all Key Workers and having been a Health Care Professional I have an understanding of the personal impact such situations have on Clinicians but this situation has also broadened our understanding of the ‘Key Worker’ – it is not just those who wipe the ‘fevered brow’ but also the Refuse Collection Workers, the Prison Officers, the Policeman on the Beat and the Driver of your local Bus. All these roles underpin the functions of our society and by continuing to work they risked the dangers of Covid-19 on our behalf. I read a comment somewhere (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram?) that resonated with me and I mentally noted its importance ‘We may all be in the same ocean, but we are not all in the same boat’.
Whilst we have each had periods of ‘downtime’ with loss of energy and motivation I do think that having the children back helped each of us cope and kept us active. Without their presence I think it safe to say that husband and I would have just continued doing what we do, the two children were determined that the situation was to have more positives than negative and we became caught up in their thinking, taking on whatever plans were put forward. That we remained engaged, in turn, encouraged them to complete any necessary tasks so that the fun events were just that – fun.
Our latest event was an afternoon tea party to commemorate 75th VE Day. Again we were lucky with the weather, eating outside and dressing as near ‘1945’ style as our wardrobe permitted. But nothing lasts for ever and our daughter needs to return to Edinburgh – to continue ‘social-distancing’ whilst opening up her home after 18 months and starting a new job.
Meanwhile our middle child decided that living in Stockholm with its lack of social distancing was too worrying for her so, thanks again to modern technology and WFH ability, packed up husband and baby and moved in with father-in-law in the north of Sweden, in amongst a forest. Baby took so keenly to the wide-open space; Jane and Kasper now wonder how they will be able to take him back to the city.
I first visited Las Vegas in 2018 – it was August, crowded and the average daily temperature was 38C. It would be no understatement to say I was not taken with it all. Yet, I had the feeling that I could have had a better experience.
This year I had the lucky opportunity to go hiking in Utah and Arizona in spring (and just before the Covid-19 virus impacted all our lives – so lucky indeed)
As my daughter was already in the USA we agreed to meet in Las Vegas and stay a few days.
To my surprise Las Vegas is so much nicer in the spring.
We stayed at Caesar’s Palace (https://www.caesars.com/caesars-palace) which is the size of a small town and an experience in its self. Our room overlooked the fountains at the Bellagio, a very nice view.
I take no enjoyment in gambling away my hard-earned pension and do not understand Roulette or Blackjack so the casinos had no real draw for me. Although we did try our luck on the ‘Slot Machines’ – so much more complicated than the old ‘one-arm bandits’ at the end of seaside piers. We played with a very small amount although can see how players can be drawn in for the possibility of a big win.
This visit was more pleasurable, not only because it was quieter and cooler, but due to what we did. We became tourists, eating outdoors in pavement-side bistros and visiting tourist spots such as The Mob Museum (https://themobmuseum.org/ (real name The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement). This was an informative and interesting presentation of an area of modern history. Normally my tolerance of museums is 60 minutes yet here I was, happy to spend the afternoon. Plus, the shop actually sold items that were both useful and reasonably priced.
We also booked ourselves on to a walking tour of the Downtown area ( https://lasvegaswalkingtours.net/) Kelly, our guide was so knowledgeable as well as entertaining and I would fully recommend booking this tour if you visit. Kelly shared so many insights that only a ‘local’ would know and his presentation style was fun and easy to follow. I could relate many facts that explain the nature of Vegas – but that would spoil the story for you.
In no time at all we were heading to Springdale, Utah in our hire car for 2 days hiking in the Zion National Park.
We stayed at the Desert Pearl Inn (https://www.desertpearl.com/en/homepage) Again we were lucky with the view from our room – we overlooked a river and the distant hills. The gentle river became a raging torrent one morning after an overnight storm.
The national park entrance was only a 10 minute walk which meant we had no parking issues. The entrance fee was only $36.00 for both of us for 2 days and included access to the Shuttle Bus service.
(https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm) The Trails ranged from flat and wheel chair accessible to strenuous as well as The Narrows which required specific waterproof gear and courage.
If you do not want to hike but still wish to view the scenery you can board the shuttle bus at the Visitor Centre and do a round trip gazing from the window. Or, perhaps alight the Shuttle at selected stops, view the area then hop back on the bus (they seem to run approx. at 10 minute intervals).
We arrived in the evening on our first day so just walked a short distance along the Pa’rus Trail. The next morning we were up early and travelled on the Shuttle route to the end stop (Temple of Sinawava) . Before we set off on the Riverside Walk we watched an early group wading through the water to hike the Bottom Up Narrows.
We had taken provisions and spent the day walking the trails, using the shuttle occasionally to travel between trailheads. We lunched amongst the rocks at Emerald Pools and gradually made our way back to the park entrance. The day was dry and sunny – and of course, we were so awestruck by the scenery we did not notice our necks were burning!
We had to change our plans for the next day as it had rained heavily overnight and continued to drizzle throughout the day. So, on with the waterproofs, we walked the Pa’rus Trail to Canyon Overlook – it certainly looks different in the rain. Once at the Trail Junction and having walked over 5Km we decided we were too wet and cold to walk another trail so hopped on a shuttle and went for a warming lunch.
Then it was a short drive to the next adventure – Glamping (https://www.undercanvas.com/camps/zion/) This was more comfortable than I had thought it would be and the tent, once the log-burner was lit, became very cosy. Then the rain worsened and I lay awake for hours listening to the thunder and wondering where we would be in the morning if there was a landslide!. We woke in the morning to calm – and cows grazing in nearby fields as if nothing had been amiss.
Following breakfast we packed up and headed towards Antelope Canyon. We had already been informed that our pre-booked afternoon tour of the Lower Canyon was cancelled so thought we would head to our hotel in Page and sightsee along the route. Whilst on the drive we were contacted and informed the Upper Canyon tour booked for the following day was now cancelled and the area closed in order to reduce transmission of the Covid-19 virus. Very understandable, although disappointing. ( https://antelopecanyon.az/)
A swift change of plan and re-booking of hotels and we decided to head to Sedona, Arizona which was our final stop and stay an extra night.
To break the journey we stopped at Horseshoe Bend – nature at its most magnificent! It almost made up for missing out on Antelope Canyon.
Although we spent 6 hours in the car the scenery and wide roads ensured it was not the painful experience it would have been on the cramped roads in the UK.
Arriving in time for dinner in Sedona we ‘googled’ the eating possibilities and discovered an Italian restaurant within walking distance. Called Gerado’s Kitchen (http://gerardositaliankitchen.com/) They do not take bookings so we decided to go straight away – and so glad we did. It was Saturday night and the queue grow very quickly. Luckily we did not have to wait long, nor were we rushed once seated. Great food and atmosphere and hidden off the main road it had a very authentic atmosphere, fully recommend a visit.
Next morning we were up early and soon hiking in the hills. Parking at the trailheads can be a problem as the car parks are fairly small so parking along the roadside is common (although not popular with the those who live there).
There are a large number of trails to chose from, with a variety of difficulty, so we focussed on two main areas. A selection along the Soldiers Pass Road where I especially liked the Teacup Trail – not too strenuous, fairly flat with well laid paths. On our second day we headed to Long Canyon Road and were at the trail-head for the Devils Bridge Trail by 7.30.
This hike was more challenging and there was a section near the Bridge that I filmed from a distance whilst my daughter courageously jumped the bridge and waved back. Truth be told I was so far back that the photograph was actually taken by a kind Australian lady.
Heading back to the car at 10.30 we noticed the crowd had grown and the sun was warming so being out at dawn had been a good choice. After a second breakfast back in Sedona we headed out looking for a trail that had been recommended to us – we never found it but did spend the afternoon walking short scenic trails amongst trees that were showing signs of spring and on the ground flowers were starting to bloom. Occasionally the land widened and we would find ourselves back among the Red Rocks mountains.
Again, we were lucky with the weather which helped as we constantly had to change plans as the impact of Covid-19 being more evident. We had booked a night hike which involved Star-gazing and a Hike/Yoga afternoon both of which were cancelled. So, we just walked – the large spaces made social distancing easy to manage.
The city of Sedona is in a beautiful setting, was spacious and clean. Everyone was friendly and unhurried. I would certainly like to visit again.
We had planned to spend the final morning staying in the city itself before heading to Phoenix and our evening flights, unfortunately my flight had been cancelled and I was re-routed via Dallas leaving on a morning flight so instead we had a dawn drive to the airport.
Despite the constant changes to our plans the holiday had been totally enjoyable and of course – I will need to return so I can visit Antelope Canyon.
An empty house following the Festive Season meant I could escape the domestic scene for the day, a break from cooking and cleaning. The weather was kind as for once the sun was shining and the sky was blue as I headed to Barnard Castle and Bowes Museum.
Note – those with children may be interested in the Lego Trail within the museum – keeping the young visitors occupied whilst you look at the exhibits, it appeared very popular and well planned.
Born in Spennymoor at a time when the local Durham pits were still active, the artist spent his life portraying ‘moments in time’ and therefore leaving, as his legacy, a picture history of a bygone culture. https://normancornish.com/
Norman Cornish started his working life at a local pit and only committed to painting full time as his reputation grew and commissions increased (although from my further reading I noted that this was not an easy decision and he needed much encouragement).
The entrance fee to the museum covers all the exhibitions so I worked my way to the Cornish exhibits via both the temporary and static exhibitions – an interesting hour, especially the small although informative showing of fashion photography by Chris Moore. https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/chris-moore-interview Not a name or genre I am familiar with, his narrative accompanying a video of catwalk fashion was very insightful.
The Cornish exhibition is not vast, enough to illustrate his technique and talent whilst also planting a seed in the viewer for more information regarding other works. Of this, so I discovered, there is plenty to be found locally. He was born in November 1919 and so many local galleries and museums celebrated his centenary – for example Spennymoor, Bishop Auckland and Durham – with displays.
Two things came to my mind whilst standing in Bowes museum. First, listening to a comment from a fellow viewer who had noticed that there are very few of his characters smoking. Once I heard this, I searched the paintings and also then wondered why this was. I am of an age to recall that smoking was a common habit and the majority of Pubs were ‘smoke filled’ yet in his paintings very few of the men were smoking nor is there an impression of the ‘indoor fog’ that normally inhabited the pubs and inns.
Secondly, the majority of buildings he painted are still standing and I noticed, and collected, a leaflet titled ‘Cornish – The Norman Cornish Trail’ which described a short walk around a section of his hometown highlighting the scenes he painted.
The sun was still shining and as Spennymoor was only a short detour on my way home I thought I would follow this up. Encouraged also by noting that ‘Edward Street’ was one of the stops on the trail. Of all the paintings in the exhibition this was the one I had most admired. Just an ordinary wet autumn day, the rain so obviously falling that I thought if I touched the painting my hand would come away wet.
Once at Spennymoor the start of the trail – Town Hall – was easy enough to find and yet I failed right away. I went right instead of left and so was at Item 10 not Item 1!
Deciding to stick with it and go backwards did not make any difference. I came across others also undertaking the trail and was greeted by ‘locals’ who are used to seeing such visitors to their town. The pride in the ‘local boy’ was obvious, and some stopped to share a little knowledge or pointed out the next stop on my list – one even noted I was going backwards.
Edward Street looks so different now compared to the painting as cars are now parked on both sides of the road making the area look cramped and narrow, different from the original scene with no car insight. St Paul’s Church still stands proud at the top of the street.
Rosa Street school is still active although surrounded by modern housing.
The Zebra Crossing that Cornish often used illustrating everyday life, such as children heading to school, was easy to find – and it looks very unchanged, even the shop fronts were familiar.
Before leaving the town, I called in The Bob Abley Art Gallery adjacent to the Town Hall, which has a permanent exhibition of local artists many of which show scenes of Miners at work before the landscape changed forever.
2019 has been a time of big changes, births, graduations and the death of my remaining parent. Alongside the physical tasks required following these events it is surprising how such changes alter individual life patterns and personal reflections.
Our first grandchild arrived safely in May. What kind of grandparent I would be had not really entered my consciousness (I was not one of those who eagerly anticipated a baby anytime my adult children appeared to be in a ‘serious relationship’) and, to be honest, my main concern during my daughter’s pregnancy was that everything went well and mother and baby came through the experience alive.
Being a grandparent has brought changes, although our experience is not very ‘hands on’ as the new family live in Sweden. It is different in some ways – a different language and different child-rearing customs needed to be recognised and – similar in others, in that it is lovely to have a ‘little person’ in the family and it is good to observe the new parents growing into their role. And, very good they are too.
Modern technology/software such as FaceTime has shown itself to be invaluable as we happily disperse advice and answer questions whilst also being able to watch baby develop. Obviously ‘advice giving’ is fraught with danger so I consciously state ‘this is what I would do, other options are ……… ‘
Just as we were growing into this new role and embracing the ‘next generation’ my mother’s health declined, and she passed away one Sunday morning. Poignant timing as we were in Stockholm visiting the new baby.
Her funeral arrangements had been made some years previously – she suffered with Dementia so it was important that she was involved in the planning whilst able to state her wishes. Despite this there was still plenty of tasks to arrange and complete.
As well as the practicalities there is also a grieving process to work through. No matter how expected the death of a relative or friend it still comes as a shock. Alongside the increasing Dementia my mother was 86 years old and becoming prone to Falls and Infections so her decline in physical health was obvious to us all.
As we worked through the funeral arrangements I became aware that I was dealing with the ‘tasks process’ and not addressing the ‘personal-to-me’ part of bereavement. Then, the realisation that I had not really addressed my father’s death 2 years earlier. At that time there was a lot to do and I spent many months sorting out a chaotic financial muddle and due to the family dynamics it was not straight forward. That had distracted me from acknowledging his death (links to Bereavement advice at end of article)
I had left home at 16 years old to begin a career in nursing (in the days of the Cadet Nurse) and had never moved back. I visited regularly and despite these visits declining as the years passed, I still phoned to speak to my parents most weeks – working life, marriage, children and living approx. 200 miles apart does impact on these relationships even with the best of intentions.
Yet despite regular conversations I was not aware that they were struggling with their situation – looking back I now realise that Mother was covering up her fears and concerns, making light of their declining years and not being open about failing health.
I understand that this is common with elderly parents. The need for independence, the reluctance to admit that handling difficult situations is now too much of a burden and it is easier ‘to let things slide’.
A sudden illness requiring emergency admission of my father to hospital was the eye-opener for me. Rushing to the hospital and meeting my mother at the entrance I recognised that she herself was not well. Then a sudden realisation that despite her claims of ‘everything will be fine’ we knew the time had come for interventions. I was glad of my NHS insights and knowing instinctively who we should talk to – hospital staff, Safeguarding teams, GP etc. Eventually both parents were identified as requiring 24-hour care and became residents of local Care Homes.
Although I hear negativity about Social Service departments I can only comment from my own experience which was very positive. I felt listened too and supported and they worked with myself and siblings to identify the correct care setting for both parents. This did result in them being in two different Homes although arrangements were made for regular visits and contacts.
Emptying the house was a mammoth task although as we progressed the evidence of a declining ability to cope showed itself – ‘how did we miss this’ was a question asked frequently. So, although not able to cope with what was happening to them, they were able to develop ‘coping mechanisms’ to hide this from us and they obviously did it well.
The positives that did come out of all the trauma was, once in a Care Home setting they both improved physically and as Mother’s Dementia progressed it was re-assuring for the family that she was safe, secure and cared for.
So alongside the conversations with Health Care Professionals we were also having dialogue with Landlords, Banks and Utility companies etc as well as the Office of the Public Guardian as there were no Power of Attorneys in place. Then before all this could be resolved Father’s health declined and he died – which takes me back to the origins of this tale.
I became so caught up in the practicalities of the events – funeral arrangements, accessing funds to pay increasing debts such as Care Home Fees and funeral costs and supporting the family that it never occurred to me I had never taken even 5 minutes to sit down, take a breath and reflect on his death.
It took me until my mother’s funeral, to acknowledge this. My parents were both in their late 80’s when they died. They had been young adults when starting a family so myself and my siblings were ourselves reaching retirement age. As a consequence their deaths were not totally unexpected yet their absence does alter the family structure and we are, to all intents and purposes, orphans.
Bereavement is individual to each person and we all handle such life events in our own way. Often this is an unconscious process and whilst for many loss and grief display themselves through tears and visible sadness it can also be evidenced through stress, anxiety and increased susceptibility to minor illnesses. Unresolved this can lead to longer-term illnesses and effects on mental health so obtaining information from local Bereavement Groups and websites etc can be supportive during the grieving process.
Yet life moves on and adjustments in the family relationships are made, consciously or otherwise. Meanwhile Baby is growing well, developing his own character and having visited us recently I have had very ‘hands on’ experience of the role of Grandma.
Yes, we are in the middle of a heatwave but I had signed up to enter the Marmalade competition at our local Agricultural show in a few weeks’ time. The Seville oranges were in the freezer – well, they have a very short season around February time and I hadn’t wanted to make the preserve that far in advance. My diary for the summer is fairly full so it was now or never.
I spent the evening juicing and chopping the oranges. I used a Delia Smith recipe but, honestly, all those that I read were so similar I could have used any.
Up early the next morning to beat the heat of the day. My oven is a Rayburn – a joy in the winter but not so great in a heatwave as it maintains its cooking temperature for ages after use.
The recipe stated that the ‘setting point’ would be reached approx. 15 to 25 minutes after the mixture reaches a rolling boil – my pot of oranges took 40 minutes. This often happens and I think it is something to do with the Rayburn’s heat distribution so had factored it into my plans (part of why I needed an early start).
When I had defrosted the oranges I realised I had more than was needed so as well as making marmalade I also made an Orange Sorbet.
I chose a recipe from the Internet, too hot and bothered to trawl through my recipe books and I found one that only needed 3 ingredients. Orange juice, sugar and Star Anise – mixed, boiled, removed Star Anise, once cooled into the Ice Cream maker then in the freezer for a few hours = Dessert ?
One benefit of having a husband reluctant to fully engage with retirement is that he still goes ‘to meetings’ and often these are in London. So, having only small expenses to pay (my travel costs and hotel breakfast) this is a cost-efficient way to enjoy a visit. Early July offered such an opportunity and we planned a very busy 48 hours, as it turned out we were perhaps too keen although dry sunny weather helped.
Our first excursion was to the Prince Edward Theatre to see ‘Aladdin – the Musical’. The story line was that of the 1990s Disney movie rather than the original tale of wizardry and treachery so very suitable for family viewing. As with the movie the Genie is the star of the show – witty and expressive (similar to Robin Williams in 1992, I have not seen the latest remake with Will Smith in the role). The production is very spectacular with seamless scene changes and vibrant coloured costumes. Unfortunately, in the second half, there was a technical ‘glitch’ which delayed the production for 20 minutes. This was a shame as it spoilt the atmosphere in the theatre. Once re-started everything worked perfectly although the audience rushed off once it had finished so there were no curtain calls for the cast, which I think they deserved.
Leaving the theatre at 10.30 (much later than anticipated) – too late for dinner but in need of something before bed – we had only walked a short distance when we came to to ‘Il Cucciolo’. It stays open until 11.30pm so we dived in for a plate of pasta and a glass of Italian wine – a lovely end to the day.
The next day we had booked a guided walk and as it did not start until 1.30pm at Temple Tube station near the Thames we decided to go there late morning and wander along the river.
But first, early lunch at Somerset House. When the weather is good the courtyard is a very relaxed setting to watch the world go by (or in this case watch numerous toddlers chase the pigeons whilst my husband wondered how long it took for the birds to tire of the pursuit).
Although there are occasional steps the route taken was easy to navigate. Gavin, our guide was entertaining, enthusiastic and very informed and this contributed to the success of the trip. Although I have visited London numerous times when working – and walked in the area between meetings etc so much of what he showed us was new to me. I now wonder how often I actually looked where I was going!
Having no firm plans as to what we would do with the rest of the day – and there were many options – we decided to go to Wimbledon and join the queue. We both have played tennis and do follow the sport, especially the Slams, so felt this was an opportunity not to miss. Whilst my husband had visited Wimbledon in previous years, and will always mention his great aunt Ethel Thomson Larcombe who win the 1912 Ladies singles competition, it was my first visit since childhood (and that school visit was outside of the season).
As expected the queue was long – very long – and we were happy to settle on the grass and enjoy an ice cream. When it was our turn to move (after 2 hours) and commence the walk through the waiting area, along the path and to the entry gate we had not realised that there were only 6 matches in action – 3 of which were on the Show courts and therefore not accessible to us. The 3 remaining matches were mostly in their final set, the ‘Resale’ office was closed and ‘Henman Hill’ was already over-crowded so the prospect of watching any tennis was minuscule.
Even though we had waited patiently for all that time, if we had been informed of this, we would have left rather than pay £18.00 per head to walk around a crowded arena, be crushed on the steps near ‘the Hill’ and then find the Museum was closed. I understand that due to the good weather and that many matches not being taken to a ‘final set’ everything was on schedule but still, I feel we should have been informed at the gate. The one thing of cheer – as there were so many empty seats on Court 2 we were allowed in to watch a mixed doubles match nearing its end. So, I was able to see Heather Watson and her partner win and what a lovely person she is, smiling and engaging with the spectators.
The completion of play on the centre court coincided with the end of play on Court 2 so we then had to join the thousands heading to the Tube station. This was pleasanter than it could have been – slow steady progress, held at the station entrance until safe to enter the platform, trains appearing every 5 minutes. A constant stream of precision and patience. Transport for London (TfL) at their best.
The festival is very popular although due to the amount of space I never felt crushed by the crowd, helped by the day being sunny, dry and not too hot. There were many gardens that we already know of – ‘Back to Nature’ co-designed by the Duchess of Cambridge and the Springwatch Garden.
There were workshops and presentations on a variety of gardening topics. We sat in on a couple which offered a chance to be in the shade and were interesting even to such a non-gardener as myself. The gardens and displays, as you would imagine, were beautiful and my photos do not do them justice. We walked over 11 Kilometres so the train journey back into the city was a welcome rest.
Then it was time to collect our luggage and head ‘up north’.
I enjoy learning the history of a city, how and why it developed its footprint, the buildings that grew, the ones that didn’t survive, it’s famous sons and daughters etc. I find such information enhances the understanding of a city’s character.
I was recently given, as a gift, an opportunity for a guided tour of Hidden London (https://funlondontours.com/tours/hidden-london-walking-tour/ ). The alleyways and courtyards of the Temple District and Fleet Street were introduced to us by our guide Gavin. In 1.5 hours, we were led through the very unknown (to me at least) history and hidden gems. Now, I could describe the tour in detail but that would spoil the surprise should you be encouraged to go.
All I will say – as is so often the case – if you live in London you are likely to have walked by the alleyways and buildings and not looked up, stopped to view or understood in whose steps you were walking. At least that is how I felt – I was familiar with the area yet felt I had not seen it at all. Note to self – look where you are going!
The group, on the day I went, was made up of 10 people who were from out of the city. Gavin was very informed and shared his knowledge in a friendly and entertaining way – it was as if he was living the tale he was telling, which made it all the more real.
Trying not to give anything away yet sharing the enthusiasm from the walk is difficult. So, briefly, we started at a taxi rank, understood why wedding cakes look like they do, walked across a river without using a bridge or wetting our feet, learnt of hidden sanctuaries of famous authors (remember to touch the stone) and tourist scams.
We heard of the lasting influence of the Knights Templar, the particularities of famous figures and the uncomfortable origins of well-known nursery rhymes whilst walking amongst the evidence of more recent history.
What always surprises me in such busy crowded cities is how easy it is to be in a peaceful park and/or seating area away from the bustle so do ask your guide about the weekend access gate to such a place.