Sorry I've been a bit quiet on the blog this week. I'm worried sick about my friend's little boy. He's having a lumbar puncture today. They've had to bring in an anaesthetist from Great Ormond Street Hospital, as their own didn't feel happy about anaesthetising such a young child. Now they've got a specialist and hopefully, once they have the spinal cord sample, they'll be closer to finding out what is wrong. There have been murmurs of spinal meningitis, and a different type of leukaemia. He's such a gorgeous little boy, silvery-fair hair, blue-grey eyes. Mr G calls him Hellboy and we're used to seeing him running and jumping all over the place, but over the last few weeks I have only seen him lying pale and inert in his car seat, seeming almost too weary to open his eyes. It's his mum's 40th birthday soon and she was planning a big party. Let's hope she will have something even bigger to celebrate - her son's recovery.
Our friends' little boy is still in hospital. They've moved him to a central London one where he's been in an isolation room, so he won't pick up any germs from wards or patients, and they have tested him for just about everything, including Weill's disease and leukaemia but still can't find out what is wrong. He's all right for an hour or so, then suddenly his temperature whooshes up to 41C (106F) and he flops. He's got no appetite, he's in pain when he walks and they just don't know what's causing it. He's only two, poor little thing.
They're letting him come home tonight but he has to go back in on Monday for more tests. His dad has been spending all night at the hospital while his mum takes the three-year-old and the eight-month-old home, then comes back the next day. The two oldest boys are with a relative. We're all praying it's just a strange virus which will wear off. He's been given heavy doses of antibiotics but they haven't worked. His poor parents are worried sick, as are we.
My first ever jazz piano lesson which took place in the kitchen of the local church, where they have an old upright piano, consisted of being given scales and chords to learn - which I can't do till I buy a keyboard. I bitterly regret having given my Technics digital piano away to a junior school in Highgate. It would have come in handy now. I never really got on with it. It didn't sound in tune, though when I took it back to the shop for testing, their instruments said it was OK and the engineer said it must be my ears, not the keyboard!
Our neighbour who had the near-fatal motorbike accident at the end of Feb has been allowed out of Stoke Mandeville spinal injuries clinic for the weekend. He came home on day release last Saturday and said he was in the strange position of being the most badly injured, but least disabled, person there. He had far more fractures and internal injuries than everyone else, but the spinal cord wasn't damaged so he won't be confined to a wheelchair like most of the others. He is learning to walk on a frame and crutches (the latter being difficult as he can't use his arms very well yet as his shoulders were badly affected) and was looking very well. His ribs were so badly broken that his whole ribcage has shifted to the left and he has a huge lump on his side. He counts himself as extremely fortunate and says he isn't in a lot of pain.
It was funny last night. They tried to get Chi Mimi to come home but she wasn't having any and leaped out of her mum's arms and ran through the hedge to our other neighbour's garden (the 97-year-old who IS out of hospital now!). She must have been lured back eventually as she didn't come in last night, but when our neighbours went out to visit his elderly dad (who doesn't recognise him anyway as he has Alzheimers very badly and is in a secure ward as he kept beating up the other patients and escaping!), she crept back here very quietly and we found her asleep in her cardboard box, tucked away at the back almost invisible, with no paws or tail sticking out for a change. I don't think she wants to be found!
I have given up on a late holiday in the sun and am now planning a trip to Liverpool to see the Magritte exhibition before it closes, and a visit to my sister's in Patterdale, a replacement for the one I had to cancel when I was ill and on antibiotics a few weeks ago. What is it about this area? Is there some strange miasma in the air? I have never known so much illness as I have since I came here, what with Mr G's brain haemorrhage and strokes, and the problems that have befallen friends and neighbours - far more than I have mentioned; I've just highlighted the most serious ones. Perhaps I'd better get out before it gets me!!!
A week ago yesterday, Mr Grumpy had a birthday party. He held it on Sunday afternoon so that his friends could bring their children. It was very enjoyable, especially as several people brought bottles and I was the only one drinking as the others either had to drive, or wanted to be hangover-free for Monday.
His friend with the five sons is a good cake-maker and I commissioned her to make a chocolate cake in the shape of his favourite hand gesture. This wasn't quite what I was expecting, as it was a bit too lifelike. I think she could have left out the creases and wrinkles. At least she didn't add the age-spots!
One of the five sons, the second youngest, aged 2, wasn't at all well. He went to the doctor's next day and was diagnosed with tonsilitis, but today he was admitted to hospital with what they think is an infection in his hip joint. That doesn't sound good at all. His dad is staying with him all night, while mum looks after the other four at home. We're all very worried about him.
Today, I gave out leaflets in the town centre on behalf of my chiropractor. My God, I have never been so exhausted! I came home and had to lie down for two hours. It was the sheer strain of standing up and pinning on a smile for all that time, looking constantly left and right for likely customers. No, they're too young. Yes, he looks sporty, might get a sprain... How about those two with the walking sticks? Okay madam, you don't have to take one if you don't want it, but do I really deserve that filthy look? Now I know why those Oxfam and Greenpeace chuggers are always so young!
I was moved to write this after reading that people had unfairly accused those who jumped from the Twin Towers of committing suicide. The poem is very raw, but I shall work on it. I just wanted to get down this first draft today, on the tenth anniversary.
From the 100th floor, that’s all it took. Ten
seconds, though they didn't know.
And the body’s acceleration to 200 mph, also unknown.
They just knew, with flames behind and a crumbling tower above,
That they had to leave, jump with no parachute,
Free-fall, and hope. Just hope, and pray.
This was no suicide; they jumped to live, not
That jump was their last brave, desperate chance at life.
Certain death behind, they jumped for a miracle,
Hoping perhaps that some kind, loving god
Would reel back evolution and sprout them wings,
Supply a fluffy cloud, or reach out a giant, soft hand
Or spread out mattresses like in the
And that's what I thought it was that day, as I sat in Debenham's cafe.
I recognised the location. I'd been there, on that set. Yet this movie
Was one I'd never seen before. "What film is this?"
the silent crowd around the screen.
A man turned round. "This is no film, it's real, it's happening now."
And then I saw them, first one, then more, falling,
Like punctuation marks in the sky.
A pair were linking hands, floating like butterflies, wingtip to broken wingtip.
No godly hand, no cloud, no mattress. Sobbing, I wondered
What they thought of as they flew. How long did ten seconds
seem to them?
An instant, a lifetime, eternity?
They jumped for their children, their parents, their lovers,
They jumped for life. They filled their lungs with hope,
their final breath.
They are tattooed upon the New York air,
Bright icons in the dark smoke of a murderous sky.
It's Mr Grumpy's birthday tomorrow (65, since you ask) and I've bought him a card featuring a sneering cat with the caption, 'Hee-hee. In cat years you'd be one hundred and eleventy-twelve.'
Originally, he said he didn't want a party as it was too much work, so I began organising a surprise one with his friend, the one who has five boys, the youngest three being all under three. She is a professional caterer so I had run the menu by her when she suddenly rang me last week and said, 'Guess what? He's decided to do his own 1950s party.'
'What do you mean?' I asked her and my guts lurched in horror when she replied, 'Steak and kidney pud, steamed pudding, spotted dick, rice, sago and tapioca.' Well, get me to a sick bucket! Of all the foods in the world, this kind of stuff that we used to have to eat for school dinners was going to be served up at his party. Not only that, but he was going to cook it all.
'What about the kids?' I asked. 'They won't like all that stodge. Can I at least get some sausage rolls and crisps?' The reply to that was that crisps didn't exist in the 1950s. (I'm sure they did, plain crisps with those twists of blue paper with salt in them.) I was relieved when he gave in and came back from Sainsburys with a monster bag of crisps and yes, some sausage rolls. Phew! Though how do I know the kids won't dive head first into the monster steak and kidney pie and trough the lot, then through sago at each other?
Despite feeling as if he were going down with a lurg and hobbling painfully around with his plantar fasciitis (I've given him exercises to do, a machine for stretching his toes on, soft gel insoles - but will he use them? Men!!! My brother in law has it too, and since doing the exercises, he's a lot better), Mr G started the preparations yesterday. The only thing he'd let me do was clean and chop the kidneys for him. The fox sat outside the patio doors the whole time and was finally rewarded with a bowlful of leftovers.
Then he had a call from his friend A with the five kids. Mrs A5, I shall call her. Son no. 4, aged 19 months, had got a terrible temperature and was burning up and she wanted to take him to A&E but, as she was lumbered with childen 3 and 5 as well, she needed Mr G to go with her. The cooker was turned off, bowls and saucepans were covered up and four and a half hours later, Mr G returned as A's husband (whose name also begins with A so I shall call him Mr A, had finished work in his shop and was able to take over.
I've just texted them. Child 4 is still unwell but the doc said it was a virus, and Mrs A5 has made the birthday cake I ordered, in the shape of a 2-fingered salute, Mr G's favourite gesture. I hope I get a chance to take a photo before it all disappears!
PS. I brushed and vacuumed the kitchen floor, which measures a whopping 20ft x 16ft, and continued right through the ground floor of the house, de-cobwebbing as I went. I'd just had my back tweaked at the chiropractor's and shouldn't have been lugging heavy Henry Hoover around, so at the end of my session I felt I had wasted £35 and needed to go for another appointment. I went back into the kitchen to put out some suet balls for the birds. One of them was in bits, so I took it out of its little netting bag and carried it out onto the bird table.
On my way back to the kitchen cupboard, my foot scrunched and skidded in something that felt slightly bulky. 'Oh b*****r! I've dropped a suet ball,' thought I. 'Now I'll have to sweep it all up. Grrr!' But alas, it was far worse than that. Next-door's cat. Chi Mimi, who has a very delicate digestion following a stomach operation, had scoffed a load of Flad's cat food and biscuits and thrown up the lot, in a great, undigested, crunchy heap and I had trodden it in my velvet slippers and smeared it all over my recently cleaned floor. It had even gone down the grooves between the floorboards. Nice! Hot water, kitchen towel (lots) and disinfectant spray and I got most of it up.
Yesterday evening, I thought I'd earned a nice glass of wine in front of the telly. Mr G went to bed at 10, leaving me bellowing' Jerusalem' and 'You'll Never Walk Alone', as it was the last night of the proms. Suddenly, something large and black came scuttling under the door. The eyes of two cats were rivetted on it. My blood ran cold. Cockroaches! OMG! I thought of them running all over my clothes in the wardrobe and infesting the kitchen cupboards. I'd never seen one in the house before. This truly was the beginning of the end. I was leaving. Now!
I galloped up the stairs, shakily bleating for Mr G. 'Whorrissit?' barked his sleepy, cross voice. 'There's a c-c-cockroach in the lounge.' He clomped down the stairs with a torch and illuminated the thing that was starting to climb up the wall. 'It's just a big, black beetle. You woke me up for nothing. I'm going back to bed.'
He left me with the monster. It wasn't as large as the stag beetles you've seen on my wildlife blog. It was longer and kind of in sections, or ribbed somehow, and jet black. 'Kill!' I ordered the cats. 'Huh,' they said and wrapped their tails round their noses in a decisive gesture. So, using the old tumbler and postcard method, I shook it out into the garden and watched it scuttle away under the hedge. It does make me wonder what else is lurking in this house that I don't know about. I still don't know what Mr G is keeping under that loose floorboard in his office which I saw him replace very hurriedly once, when I came in unexpectedly. He's screwed the board down and I don't know where he keeps his screwdrivers. A bag of diamonds? A gun? Gold bars? Dare I even investigate? Well, buying my own set of screwdrivers would be a start.
My tomato plants were not a total failure. I picked these just as they were beginning to colour up and I ate the left-hand one for lunch with some smoked salmon and rocket salad. It was sweet, juicy and delicious and it's a real tragedy that the relentless rain ruined the rest.
I've had to give up on my plants :-((. They are a sorry sight. The stalks have rotted, the leaves have gone brown and the tomatoes are still green, with black patches of blight. I think that with all the rain we have had for weeks on end, they have simply drowned.
I'm not talking about alcohol here, of course, though my first cat, Sandy, had a penchant for sherry and used to lick out the glasses after my parents' guests had left, fall over and start snoring; no, I mean good old water.
I leave a bowl of pond water, renewed daily, by Flad's food bowl, but he only ever drank from it when snow was on the ground last winter. He prefers to drink from a plastic plant saucer full of rainwater, which I also top up from the pond. He shuns tap water and I can't say I blame him, because ours tastes foul. They seem to add extra chlorine on Sunday nights, so make sure I have some mineral water in. My friends in Ottawa used to stick a jugful in the fridge for a few hours, as they said it tasted better then, but if I tried that I would be bound to knock it all over my ham, lettuce and everything else.
Chi Mimi, though, is a different kettle of fish entirely - or rather, a different bundle of fur. She loves tap water, positively adores the taste of chlorine, and will only drink running water, from the garden hosepipe or the kitchen tap, as you can see from the photo. Wish I could curl my tongue like that. It would make scooping up ice cream a whole lot easier.