September ends whilst I look for answers

September has been a roller coaster of emotions after a summer of eye operations and anxiety. The days have shortened as I searched for answers. I struggle. My skin problem on my hands erupted magnificently and weirdly and my arm joined in with some painful episodes. Then it was time for a retreat weekend on the Gower returning to some yoga practice, meditation and reflection- going slow and enjoying delicious vegan food. I’m trying to give up meat so it was perfect. Even 6.30am swims in the sea filled me with joy. The eco house had a special calmness about it. Then came my youngest grandson’s 4th birthday party in my chalet at Oxwich when both my sons, their partners and children came for a Sonic party. It was lovely and felt relaxed. I feel so grounded when I’m there and I love it when grandkids arrive for a beach trek. I’ve found a beginners yoga class I can fit in on my visits for six weeks. Gentle rather than challenging which is what I need. In contrast the next weekend was spent at Silverstone with my brother, his partner and my youngest son. Camping is not my thing, getting up at 5am crawling out my cosy tent into a cold dewy field to go the loo! But the racing was exciting and the company first class. We played cards every evening whilst the pound dive bombed and laughed until late.

Medical things took over again visiting the consultant after a 9month wait who told me the same as he did 2 years ago. Non classical tennis elbow. Painkillers and wait or injections and surgery. I’ll wait. Then I took a different tack. I visited an old friend who retrained as a nutritionist and naturopath to treat me holistically in a different way. So now I’ve agreed to commit to a 5 week plan of diet change and supplements with high hydration. This will take some doing but I’m willing to try as none of its invasive just a change of habit. We will see if my will power is strong enough not to lapse!

My work at Samaritans helps me get my life into perspective as I am in a much better place than most. Loved and supported by most people. Still missing mum.

Friday 16th September Remembering Monty’s arrival 4 years ago

What an amazing moment when Monty arrived at 1.10am by emergency Caesarian section in Singketon hospital in Swansea. Little did I know how much I would love him and what joy he would bring to my life. I had welcomed three other grandchildren from my eldest son with absolute delight so why would this be different. Somehow it was. I can’t express my feelings about this little boy as I would wish simply because I don’t know why this has happened. He is the first baby of my youngest son and his wonderful partner. Every day he brought happiness to my mum having an extraordinary connection with her until she died aged 92 when he was 2 in January 2020. Since then he is a bundle of joy and happiness every week when we look after him and now calls himself Sonic Monty after Sonic the Hedgehog. So the party is themed as a Sonic the Hedgehog party with his three cousins. I know I spoil him terribly and he has his nana wrapped around his little finger but my love overflows to him. What can I do? I hope I can be there for him when he’s 14 and 24 when I’ll be 77 and 87 if I live that long. I hope his life will be filled with joy. Happy birthday Monty. Penblwydd Hapus.

September begins

This weekend I have been on an Autumn Abundance yoga retreat on the Gower. The yoga was challenging- I’m still stiff and aching in my joints and particularly my arm . Felt strangely emotional on the first evening of yoga. The place was a beautiful eco round building that was simple and made me feel I want to build a round house full of oak and glass! That won’t happen of course but it’s a lovey fantasy. It felt like a special place to be. The food was amazing- vegan and gluten-free. Just what I needed as I go meat free this month. I’m enjoying talking about food again and changing to more nutritious food with lots of veggies. I’m using some recipes from a book about psoriasis. I have to stop having these flare ups as they are so painful on my hands. We got up before dawn on two days and went for a swim in the sea as the sun rise. Wow was that so special although way too early for any sensible person! I loved it and even got there early one morning and played some Tai Chi watching the sea and waves rolling in. It was a bit choppy for swimming. The sunrise was stunning. Weirdly a bride in her dress joined us on Saturday morning and got on a paddle board to be photographed in the rising sun as it shone on the water. Looking forward to my grandson’s fourth birthday party next weekend in the beach house!

Oxwich at 6.30am just before swimming
My eyes with cataracts
My eyes without cataracts
The beautiful yoga space

Second eye operation in August 2022 and back to the beach and sea.

I just can’t believe that I have convinced myself to have my right eye operated on but the results from the first eye op were so amazing I thought yes let’s do it. I need two good eyes to see the world. My blood pressure was surprisingly high even though I was calmer on the outside. I knew that the anaesthetist was going to inject into my eye and who in their right mind would let him do that. Crazy! But I did and it was bearable.I breathed my anxiety away and hoodwinked my nerves and I survived it. Still when I could see the anaesthetist’s face and the syringe and needle it is most bizarre. The “ hand holder” was a wonderful sister who was calm and in charge, making me feel at ease. Once again I didn’t need a sedative, just will power. It was soon over. Routine to them but ginormous to me. Again the whole procedure felt surreal, as if it was someone else having this operation. It didn’t feel real. My grandkids were intrigued for a bit but soon returned to their games when I returned to them. It was very hot.I had a little double vision for 2 days then everything was in high definition in both eyes! Wow. No fuzzy bits, just crystal clear. Beautiful.

Back in Oxwich was just delightful and I managed to “talk “ to mum when I walked along the sand dunes. It was now very busy at weekends once it was scorching. I had new windows and door in the chalet, followed by new guttering and soffits, so it feels properly maintained and future proofed. Started doing yoga on You Tube as my back is so stiff. I hope I can be more flexible if I keep it up. My hands were really bad with redness around spots with yellow heads on – horrid and so sore I couldn’t close my right hand. I was given antibiotics as they seemed infected which helped quickly. I just don’t get what sets these flare ups off. Frustrating. Lots of family staying and visiting me in my beach house which is uplifting my spirits. Playing with small children is affirming, life will go on here when I’m gone. They will come here with their children. At least I can leave them this legacy as well as memories of our time here. It’s a pity C doesn’t like coming here. I feel lovely and grounded here.

My identity game for the grand children
Today’s collection
Walking through the woods
Testing the new bench
Looking for dragonflies
Painting sea urchins

Tram Sunday and visiting graves in July 2022

I wanted to put flowers on Mum’s grave as I promised her on her birthday. Last year I met my brother there in June, but this year I wanted to combine it with the Tram Sunday event in Fleetwood which I’d visited before with mum and dad. My wonderful son’s partner volunteered to come too which was a delightful surprise. As I was nervous about a long drive after my eye operation she drove. That also made it like a real holiday for me as I didn’t want it to be a sad occasion. Unfortunately it was during a heatwave so we had to be careful. Sunglasses and hats at all times.

It was so good to be back at St Hildas church in Bilsborrow. I was home in that place with all my family. The flowers looked lovely. Inside I was deeply sad, I wanted to hug them all. Is that crazy? The church and graveyard were immaculate. Such a beautiful and peaceful place. I remembered getting married there. I looked at our old house Greenacres as we passed on our way to Garstang and Booths for lunch. Then across the Fylde to Fleetwood glimpsing Blackpool Tower on the way.

Being back in Fleetwood was lovely, lots of warm memories and a gorgeous sea view from the North Euston Hotel. Everyone was so warm and I appreciated that on such a busy weekend. We went to the amazing market as me and mum had loved wandering through the stalls. The old trams were interesting but the festival atmosphere along the Main Street was great as 50-70 thousand people descended on Fleetwood. Stalls lined the main street with fairground rides in the side streets. It was buzzing unlike the usual quiet dowdy streets. The wacky parade was unusual which we watched outside an Italian restaurant drinking coffee and drawing people. I stood on a chair to video parts of the parade. Then we wandered further to an indoor car boot sale and on to Freeport outlet – one of my favourite places I went to with mum – trying on clothes and shoes together. I enjoyed K’s company when shopping. We returned to the festival which was now like Brecon Jazz with bands playing and everyone drinking and sitting in the park near the hotel. It was scorching hot. We managed to persuade the hotel restaurant manager to let us have a table to play Rummikub as it was empty. We had a glass of wine there and I began to win at last! The main bar was heaving, standing room only and long long queues for drinks! After a short siesta we returned to the Italian restaurant for dinner. It was gorgeous food – giant prawns cooked in lobster sauce and stir fried veg. So tasty. The staff were exhausted but the chef came out to check we were happy with the food. Walking back to the hotel the street was deserted, everything packed away, only the pubs were spilling out on to the pavement with very drunk people but no nastiness or fighting. It was a bit surreal as it had been so packed with stalls and rides, families with prams, tattooed women and half clothed men, ladies with Zimmer frames or walking sticks, hardly room to move earlier. It felt like it had been a film set and now the filming had finished. Quite odd. I had loved it’s energy of the festival.

A short siesta before Rummikub and a snack in the bar.

The next day we caught the tram to Blackpool where we went to the Pleasure Beach only to find that you can’t wander around the rides unless you had a forty pound ticket! We both had fond childhood memories there, but we detoured into the arcade on the front where I was reacquainted with slot machines and the wonderful two penny machines. Back on the tram we travelled back to the central pier and walked to the end past all the stalls and arcades to have a cold drink at the end and watch bathers in the sea. It really is a vast beach. Another visit to an arcade to try and win a prize for Monty and enjoy spending a couple of quid. Strict limits. K is very good at it and I enjoyed it. It was just good fun. Only spent 2 pounds and we laughed as tickets poured out of the 2p machine. We pooled our winnings and managed to swap our tickets for toys. Then off we went on the tram to find this Spanish restaurant I’d found on TripAdvisor that was good for tapas. We had to wait for a free table but it was absolutely delicious. A good find. Back on the tram along the long promenade to the hotel. It’s handy having the tram terminus outside the hotel.

A short stroll on the beach before a siesta and Rummikub in the bar. Each day of this short trip was getting hotter. Our journey home worried me as the news started saying avoid travelling. We set off early after breakfast and made good time til just before the Thelwell viaduct where roadworks concertinaed 4 lanes into 3 and we had 20 mins of very very slow traffic. It was boiling hot. With no air on we had the windows opened fully to survive 35.5 degrees. It was lovely not driving. We stopped at the quirky Lockgate cafe just past Tarporley, one of my old stopping places when I used to drive from Brecon to Preston. Delightful place. Then we stopped at Ludlow Farm Centre. Having food was a mistake as service was painfully slow and it wasn’t very cool. The farm shop did not disappoint – fab cheese and old Gloucester spot bacon and sausages. The cheese lady was from Nateby near Garstang. Great Lancashire accent. I fell asleep on the next bit, thank goodness I wasn’t driving. When I got home to Brecon I felt as if I’d been away for a fortnight not three nights. I was exhausted so had a cuppa, a shower then crashed out asleep! What a wonderful few days, drawing, Rummikub, old memories, new memories, back in Lancashire, back to Bilsborrow and mum, dad, gran and grandad’s graves, back to my roots. Happy days.

On Central pier Blackpool
Three ladies waiting for the parade in Fleetwood
View across to the Lake District from my hotel window
Wacky parade
Only in Blackpool!,
Gorgeous dawn

Eye injection and operation survived in June

Today is 48 hours since my eye operation to remove cataracts and replace the lens. My eyesight has been deteriorating quickly since Christmas so when I went for an extra eye test it wasn’t a huge surprise when the optician told me I needed this operation. I knew I needed help but I wished I could have a general anaesthetic not local. Naturally I read everything I could find and when I saw the consultant I was still hoping for a general not local. I was advised against a general so reluctantly accepted this. The consultant put me at my ease and didn’t come across as pompous or arrogant. He listened to my anxieties. At this point I still didn’t think I had the inner strength to go through with it.

I spoke to a relative’s sister who had recently gone through it and she answered my questions honestly about her experience. That helped, but my dread continued eating away at me as I waited for the operation day. Then my op was put back a week. Then I caught Covid for the first time and only tested negative one day before the window for the operation but I had lived in fear of what Covid might unleash on me, fear of giving it to my family, fear that the op would be cancelled or postponed, fear of someone injecting into my eye. I was quite a mess inside my head.

So I had to convince myself that these guys were experts, had done this operation loads of times so it was routine to them. I had to give them complete control over me for less than an hour. How easy that sounds. Mental battles with yourself are awful. Even when you win you also lose. The last ten days were the worse, but at least I didn’t have Covid. Thank goodness for tennis on the TV- Queens, Eastbourne and the beginning of Wimbledon. Plus new episodes of Borgen to begin on Netflix. I felt exhausted. And I hadn’t even set foot in the hospital yet.

My main problem was the anaesthetic and it was truly strange. After eye drops to numb the surface of the eye the anaesthetist injects into the eye around the back of the eye to numb the whole eye socket from the eyebrow to the cheekbone. I had read about it so I knew what happens, but was surprised when I had to look up towards him and could see him and the hyperdermic needle. The image will stay with me forever. But I kept super still and with some discomfort and not a sharp pain it was done. We then had to wait a little time so just chatted! I kept my self together by breathing steadily and telling myself this will soon be over, holding the nurse’s hand, listening to the surgeon as he was really encouraging. I could see lights and hear the lazer but no pain, more of a sensation or pressure when he was working on the cataract. Every so often he would quietly say – stay absolutely still no sudden movements so I presume he was doing the tricky bits like putting in the new lens. I was in the theatre at 11am, out before 12 , had lunch then after some blood pressure checks off we went. I had an eye guard on but they had removed the dressing amazingly. Unbelievably I just have to put eye drops in 4 times a day for 3-4 weeks and that’s it, assuming there’s no after effects- my new eye lens is there to stay. I can’t believe it. Yesterday everything was blurry, in the evening it’s like someone has switched on the high definition button. Colours are amazing, clarity perfect, just a little bit of a headache now and again which will pass once the anaesthetic wears off . The iris is now the usual size but I’m wearing sunglasses outside for protection. Very cool. I’ve had my blood pressure checked again as it was a bit high even after the operation and that’s back to normal.

So I’m left with amazing eyesight through my new lens. I feel I have survived rather than been brave. It feels like it has happened to someone else- a bit surreal. I don’t feel elated just relieved. All that time wasted on fear. One funny thing that happened was that the nurse wheeled me from my room to the theatre in a wheelchair. As we turned the corner she took me to the lift to go down one floor. I smiled as I had to stop myself from telling her I had a phobia of lifts, a deep fear…… I closed my eyes and just listened to her chatting away to me. I survived that too!

June 2022 Adventures in Latvia

My travels continue in the Baltics, arriving in Riga, Latvia. I liked the old town although more cobbled streets for my aching feet to endure. Lots of shops and businesses shut, so a less wealthy feeling than Tallinn and Tartu in Estonia. We stayed in quite a neglected area, but the highlight was a visit to the amazing and huge Riga market- the biggest in Europe. It was full of ordinary people shopping. The fish hall was outstanding, a feast for the eyes and for drawing. The veg and fruit hall and stalls outside were stunning, some stalls were colourful and carefully arranged, others were more simple, just a few sparse things. As I wandered I found myself behind a statuesque woman in a modern, new beige trench coat, with very long black hair walking slowly in a distinctive Tai Chi walk. I was fascinated by her grounded presence. Quite different from the bustling, determined local shoppers. I sat down by a table and drew her.

The market was vibrant. I was entranced by the fish stalls and loved drawing there. We also visited the Decorative Arts museum, where I was pleasantly surprised for a small museum. One hanging sculpture of coral was amazing, so got immersed in a drawing of it and it’s shadows.

Fish eyes are always interesting

Then on our last day we took a train to the beach. What a view of the Baltic with 25 miles of sandy beach. We had a great walk on the beach and through the beautiful forest, a great paddle and a superb lunch. A great last day.

June 2022 – meeting the Estonian President and Drawing in Estonia

Returned from The Baltics on the last Day of May, beating the chaos at airports of jubilee weekend. Drawing with Martyn, Kathy, Shiela and Madeline was a mixture of fun and challenge. We started by flying to Tallinn in Estonia. It’s a beautiful historic city, cobbled streets and medieval city walls. Walking around the city was exhausting but you slowly came to know this northern Baltic place. Sitting amongst the monumental sculptures from the Soviet era was a highlight when we took a bus out to the National Estonian museum. There were parts of huge sculptures resettled there. Immense blocks of granite and marble , heads of Lenin toppled sitting on the ground, fascinating. We sat and drew them in bright sunshine, calm but bizarre. Catching the train to Tarth through endless young birch trees and flat green fields was quite boring and shapeless. Tartu was a university town again with a cobbled centre but very quiet. Sleepy in the morning, lively at night. Few tourists. The leaning Art museum was quirky on the main square and we all loved the fabric shop full of rolls and rolls of fabric and every imaginable dressmaking need. But best of all was catching a bus to the outskirts to another national Estonian museum, newly built, a stunning modern building with an amazing collection and the most iconic installation taking you through time from the beginning of their indigenous people on a turquoise river of light and sound. Recovering from that in the restaurant I even met the President of Estonia – how mad is that! I was choosing a cake when I asked two Estonian women about the sprat cake, they proceeded to go through all the cakes telling me whether they were good or not. I settled on the Ukrainian honey cake. Shortly after that delightful encounter one of the ladies came to talk to us and told us the man in the suit getting coffee was the Estonian president and we should ask him for a photo. After a short giggly debate we decided to try. He was charming and willing to chat and have a photo taken with us. The Estonian looked on with amusement and I thanked them later. I looked him up and he truly was the president newly elected and previously the director of this museum, Alar Karis.

Alar Karis Estonian President in Tartu with me on right of photo!
Me and Lenin, Tallinn
One of the Soviet era monuments Victor Kingissepa 1988
Lenin’s ear Tallinn

After a great three days in Tallinn and having tracked down a crazy hat before three more days in Tartu we caught the train to Valga on the border between Estonia and Latvia. More young birch trees and pancake flat fields. At the border we got off and the station was enormous like a city or cathedral. No one there, very run down just a few people waiting to go to Latvia. Met one young man from Australia, wish I’d spoken longer to him but he said we’d got an hour to wait so he’s off to explore Valga. The station was like what you’d think Russia used to be like, but abandoned, soulless. There was an A4 sheet of white paper pinned to an old notice board which had the Latvian train times on. Other people waiting were ordinary folk either Estonian or Latvian, no one spoke. The train arrived on time. Inside were bench seats made from laminated bentwood, 50s style. It was a very slow lumbering train that stopped everywhere. No tourists just locals. It was high off the ground so we had a good view of the flat green fields and a bit more variety of trees. The border was a shallow wire fence, we didn’t stop. A few hours later we arrived in Riga. I had drawn all the way- one of my continuous line drawings of trees and buildings and pylons.

Valga station Estonian Latvian border
The journey
Of course I dipped in the Baltic Sea!

May begins

The month starts with two sons having health problems, my big worry brain takes over, which increases my anxiety to a new level. One grandson has to have extra funding to attend school in September so the fight for one to one support for him has begun. He has a rare genetic syndrome called Trysomy 9p. He has few words so we try to learn some Makaton signs. He is a sweet little boy who is overcoming each problem bravely and very determinedly. My daughter-in-law is amazing, having given up work to look after him, truly wonderful dedication. My help is minimal but I try as much as I can. His development is slow but happening. His brother and sister are wonderful with him, playing and communicating all the time. So caring. It’s amazing to watch their patience.

April walking and swimming and Ukraine

My walking has become a meditation when I feel truly myself mostly on the long sweeping beach at Oxwich Bay. It’s wonderfully underdeveloped, just sand dunes and sea. They’ve banned the launch of jet skis so no droning wasp sounds in the evening. I prefer watching the amazing kite surfers when it’s windy and paddle boarders when it’s calm. Each week my grandson and I explore the rock pools and paddle in the curling waves, giving me the best feeling ever. He’s a very special little person. Every time I pick up an interesting shell I think of my gran and mum. I can see them both bending from the waist absorbed in their search on so many beaches in my life. Shells and stones are so beautiful to look at and draw, taking you somewhere calm and tranquil along this huge expanse of a seascape. The feel of their texture is like a comfort to me, helping to take worries away or at least accept them. A moment of calm. I love looking at the sea, however it is behaving. This month it has been different every weekend. It fascinates me. I’ve been in twice only to swim, it’s still mightily cold but zinging when you come out to dry. Paddling on the way back from my walk to Three Cliffs Bay continues to delight and is really good for my feet.

I met a lady and her son from Ukraine one Sunday as I walked past a holiday house singing ‘The wheels on the bus” to my grandson as he’d slipped into a rock pool and got squelchy wellies and socks when we saw a crab and we both got over excited. She spoke little English but explained that they had come from the centre of the country which was bombed by planes and she was so happy here. Her little boy was six and instantly played tag with Monty, chasing each other and standing on the gate watching the horses. The second time we saw her I took a welcome present of toiletries, nail varnish, hand cream, a Batman toothbrush and a sketch pad with pencils. They were delighted. Then as we returned from a walk she appeared with two sets of pyjamas for Monty. So lovely a gesture.

Swimming each week on a Friday in the local pool with Monty has been so good. He treats it like a play area, but along the way he has a strong kick and has the beginnings of a front crawl with his swimming aids. These weekly routines are important to us both. We finish off with an ice cream lolly and a soft play session in the pool cafe. Then it’s off to get fish and chips. The day is filled with joy.

We had a lovely egg rolling family get together on Easter Monday when all four grandchildren played together on the beach and we hid eggs outside my chalet for them to find. It was such a nice occasion, everyone eating, talking and playing together. Just being.

Missing mum but I’ve got to accept that sadness for a little longer.

My eldest grandchild in full flight