May 17th

Absence

By SecretSpi

I've been a bit scarce over the last while, as my mum has been unwell. She was diagnosed with lymphoma back in November, and I've been going back and forth since then. The last three weeks (nearly) I have been here in the UK, as my mum's wish was to spend her last days/weeks at home, not in a hospital or hospice.

My mum passed away on Monday, in her sleep, in her own bed, in the house she'd lived in for 54 years, where I grew up.

Every day, there are cards coming in, and phone calls. Words used to describe my mother are: amazing, unique, intelligent, determined. I'd often wished for a more "mumsy" mum, like other people's mums, but I suppose her being the way she was made me what I am.

She crossed the Atlantic by boat twice - once in 1930, as a small child, with her mother and four sisters, on the "United States", landing in Halifax, Canada. In March 1956, she crossed back again, on "The Empress of France", on her honeymoon with my dad, who was the love of her life. They landed in Liverpool.

I miss her terribly.

 
May 16th

A Spiritual Pub Crawl

By Gerry

Back in the early 1980s I went on a spiritual pub crawl – well, there were so many fascinating oddities to investigate. For instance, a talk about the Knights Templars of Aquarius happened at a local university lecture theatre, not the most metaphysical of venues, nor did it at first turn out the most absorbing of talks. Ho hum, I found myself tapping my fingers, but then, halfway through, the speaker had a rush of enthusiasm and announced the thrilling news that Osiris had incarnated as Nicholas Tobin and was living in Jersey along with his wife, Isis, who had incarnated as Margaret Tobin. Our speaker knew this because, as luck would have it, he was a celebrity incarnation himself: no less than a figure than Horus, son of Osiris and Isis (though not necessarily the son of Nicholas and Margaret Tobin).

 

Well, after that I had to find out what other wonders might be on the go. One of them was Eckankar. I can’t exactly remember what this involved except something to do with an alleged Eck current (not to be confused with Ecky Thump, the Lancastrian martial art promoted by ‘The Goodies’ on vintage TV). Living Eck Masters included the Americans Sri Darwin Gross and Sri Paul Twitchell, and I confess, in shame, that their names, both gross and twitching, had me sniggering with inappropriate relish.

 

The best fun, though, was with the Rajneesh people. These were followers of ‘the hippie guru’, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and if I mention that ‘Bhagwan’ means ‘god’ you can see we were flying high. Actually, there was more than flight in later years as poisoning, arson and prison sentences accumulated around their base in Oregon (so be warned, folks, go carefully with spiritual enthusiasm; it can drive you mad). Anyway, the big news at the time, for me at least, was Dynamic Meditation. It had five stages. Firstly, you’d exhale extremely quickly for ten minutes (forget inhaling; it’s bound to happen); then you’d have a freak out for another ten minutes (shout, laugh, run around, cry, whatever); thirdly you’d have ten minutes jumping up and down with arms raised, shouting ‘Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!’ (and looking inevitably like an ape); then fourthly, at a signal you’d freeze – no motion, everything still – for fifteen minutes; finally you’d celebrate with fifteen minutes free dance.

 

Well, it sounds nuts, especially the ape aspiration, but it actually had a cracking good point. You’d get your body to a state of maximum activity, then stop.

 

That’s the key. Deep, deep stillness after a big, big build up. And what might you find in that stillness? Ah yes, what indeed…

 

I only visited the Rajneesh people a few times – well, there’s only so much “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!” you can manage in one life. But I spent a lot more time with what sounded an even crazier bunch: Charismatic Catholics.

 

When a friend told me about their existence I could scarcely believe it. You see, I’d been raised a Catholic and had imbibed the black-robed message that everything important happened centuries ago, leaving nothing for now except obedience. But ‘Charismatic Renewal’ didn’t sound that way. It sounded wild. It sounded weird. I had to find out.

 

Conveniently, the local group needed a guitarist, and I wanted an excuse to learn the guitar, so I morphed myself into the Music Ministry (as the jargon went), playing rhythm on their sometimes jolly, sometimes meditative, ‘Songs of the Spirit’. Now, one of the big features of Charismatic Renewal was – maybe still is – ‘Speaking In Tongues’. What would happen is we’d start with an upbeat song (thank you, Mr Music Ministry), then there might be a spontaneous prayer or a spontaneous Bible reading, then maybe a stretch of silence or a contemplative song. After a while a murmuring might start. Mutter mutter, murmur murmur, lots of syllables with no overt meaning. Other voices would join in till there were mutter-syllables all over the place. But here’s the thing, it worked. Felt deep. Felt strong.

 

What really blew the head off, though, was ‘Singing In Tongues’, especially when the local groups gathered for a big session each month at a school hall in Longbenton. How to describe it? People would start off chanting the syllable speech and this would form a note. Then others would join in, chanting at different pitches. My guess is we were singing notes on the chord of C. Some would go with a low C, some with the E next up, others on the G above that, and some would go for the higher C. But I always found the best intensity was with the E even higher. Now, if you have lots of voices, male and female, holding a spontaneous harmony, you can – if daring – go melody surfing: slide down from the high E, give a twirl en route to the C, rise a bit then skim down to the G, build again, and so on.

 

As I say, that stuff could blow your head off, but what followed was even better. Silence. The singing ceased as though by spontaneous agreement, and the stillness afterwards went as deep as the singing flew high.

 

And that’s what I’m talking about in this blog, the alternation of intense activity and intense quiet. You thought I was talking about amusing groups and cults, didn’t you – but no, the topic is stillness after intensity.

 

The deep, deep stillness after the big, big build up.

 

It’s actually how hymns work in church. You need to know the tunes of course, so it’s best at Christmas when the old favourites come out – Hark the Herald Angel, Silent Night, Once in Royal David’s City, and so on. You can really give singing like that some welly, and the more you give, the more you’re energised.

 

But that’s not the best bit. The best bit is Communion. Everything goes still – relatively speaking of course – while the communicants shuffle up the central aisle, stop at the kneelers, then return along the side aisles (I’m talking about York Minster here). There’s something about that movement, it makes a circular breathing pattern, a ritual with its own resonance. But the Communion, ah what can I say about that? Firstly, it doesn’t always work, but if you’re ready for it, if everything slots into place, well, you can step into the next dimension. A symptom, for me, is tears in the eyes. And the tears are there because your carapace has been penetrated. And your carapace is the thing you need most of the time so you don’t get overwhelmed by everyday stuff – you know, the ups and downs, the contradictions and impossibilities. Fair enough, we all need a carapace. But when it gets penetrated – shattered – then you know how life could be, if only.

 

If only what? If only gravity could get switched off. If only the weight of necessity could get switched off. If only the confusion of fitting and not fitting, of asserting and not asserting, of obeying and not obeying – if only all that got switched off, and we were free. Ridiculously, simply free. Clearly, obviously free. Gloriously, amiably free.

 

What’s it like? It’s like grass and trees and sun and skies. That simple. That obvious. All as it naturally should be. So of course your eyes are wet. You’re lucky to avoid breaking down and doing the full dramatic blub in mid aisle. And you get back to your seat and you know you’ve made the connection.

 

The deep, deep stillness after the big, big build up.

 

As I say, it works best at Christmas – sometimes anyway – not guaranteed. (I felt poorly this year). But what else is there if we want to continue our spiritual pub crawl? Well, something I love nowadays is fast walking in York – threading through the holiday makers and the shoppers in all their dawdling variety, striding faster than people half my age, a third of my age (hey, indulge an old guy’s pride, it won’t last long). Ease the shoulders, lift the head, zoom along Coney Street, stride up Stonegate. And one of the key aspects is there’s no room for thought. It’s all focus and go.

 

And when thought stops, the deep stuff can begin. This is stage one.

 

Stage two is York Minster. Go as a visitor, no special time of day – afternoon, if you’re me. And, of course, you’ve got to slow down to get through the door, but the main point is to stay slow. Wander to the back of the nave and look up so you see all the way along the cream-white ceiling, soaring with tracery, spangled with golden bosses, and hinting of heaven’s proximity, just a quarter inch higher, just the other side of that furthest lick of paint.

 

Then walk the centre aisle, slow, dazed and magnificent. Drink it all in. Know the great fluted pillars, the sprouting side aisles, the vertiginous stained glass, the choir screen guarded by fifteen English kings.

 

Drink it in, for this is stage two. The body has raised its energy, and now the soul can take over. Let the energy pour into the vast astonished cavity of the torso, that strong thing, the throbbing motor, the self within.

 

Afterwards, as I walk the streets of York again – slow now, wondering now – it seems I see the city afresh. Doorways appear that were never there before, secret between shop fronts, doorways to who knows where, to mystery, to unknown adventures. New buildings sprout, upper storeys loom, it is the perception of Eden, and the world is afresh, exactly the same as before, yet tasting utterly changed.

 

Better yet, find some open space, somewhere with lots of sky (Park and Ride outside York will do nicely). And when you look up, the sky is, yes, the same as normal, with its ranks of puffball smudges, white on azure, multiplying to the distance. Yet the whole domed spread begins to appear like a skin.

 

A skin? What lies behind?

 

It’s as though we have a soul-sized launch pad inside us, and the more fuel we pack in it, the more deep feeling we give it, the more it can launch our perception – till we glimpse through the skin of the sky and sense another, far vaster, soul behind, so vast that calculation withers. So lovely that description – like calculation – must surrender with a smile.

 

And is that the end of the spiritual pub crawl? Of course not. It goes on, independent of time or place, regardless of building or ritual, just as amiable, silly, tremendous or deep as you wish. It’s all a matter of perception. All a matter of glimpsing, sensing, tasting from the throb of the soul.

May 10th

Saffron

By Jill

Saffron and personal musings:

 

SAFFRON

After many years, we are going to visit Saffron Walden once again; an historic town where once, apart from the wool industry, there flourished the growing, harvesting and trade of the saffron crocus's bounty.  Saffron, a precious commodity used for dyes (as in the saffron robes of Buddhist monks); medicinally; for culinary purposes and it is even reputed to have aphrodisiac properties. 

I once saw a programme about the silk and spice routes and watched workers painstakingly harvesting the stamens from which the saffron is derived.  The stamens: the reproductive core of the delicate flowers.  I understood then why saffron is such an expensive spice.

I decided to look into saffron a little more today and my research led me to discover some interesting facts, which turned out mainly to be concerned with the etymology of the word stamen and its close connection with the word stamina.  Stamen apparently was originally the warp of an upright loom.  Stamina, maybe in myth, to do with the threads spun by Fate about the longevity of a person’s life and, hence to the common use of the word in modern times.

I like to delve into etymology and so all this I found very interesting.  Something new learned every day...

However, in parallel, as I was thinking about saffron, stamens and stamina I had briefly dwelt on another, seemingly unrelated topic and yet it, too, has to do with ‘core’ and ‘stamina’.  Simply put, it appears that the latter seems necessary not only in a physical sense but also in order to maintain one’s inner true core or true self when others’ forceful doctrines, life circumstances or even our own inner critic threaten to sabotage.

 

May 7th

La Rochelle

By Old Fat Prop

Prop’s Pubs #4

Golf Weekend, Fitzpatrick’s Bar, La Rochelle. France.

‘Ryan Air Flight  Blah Blah Blah for La Rochelle now boarding at gate nineteen-thousand-two-hundred-and-fifty-six’

We were in the Stansted airport bar drinking breakfast. Dave Taylor’s wife, Sandra had dropped us off at the airport and we were trying to recover from that experience.

Our drive down the M4 was like some special effects movie involving time travel. I peeked between my fingers as we G-forced onto the M25 slip road and I noticed my watch was now running backwards. I was sure we passed the Millennium Falcon, Sputnik and Apollo 13 on the M25. 

Doug’l (Doug ‘l fuck anything) Watson had spent the first part of the journey leaning over Sandy’s  seat and looking at her boobs until Taylor stuck his thumb in his eye as said, ‘Doug’l how does that look, mate?’

We re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and arrived at the airport in time.

 

We finished our breakfast pints and scrambled around looking for directions to the departure gate. We determined that although our tickets said Stansted, gate nineteen-thousand-two-hundred-and-fifty-six was actually closer to Madrid.

‘Final Call for Ryan Air Flight Blah Blah Blah to La Rochelle.’               

We boarded and to our surprise there were only seven people on the flight including the four of us. Crazy Ron dropped himself in one of the emergency exit seats above the wing. We settled in seats nearby.

The steward, a well groomed young man who’s name tag indentified as Brendon, told Crazy Ron that it would be £20 more to sit in the exit seat. Ron grumbled and moved his enormous frame into one of the lesser, cattle class seats.

As we prepared to take off, Brendon the steward informed us that regulations required that someone sit in the exit seat to operate the emergency door in case of an emergency. Crazy Ron informed him that he would sit there... for £20. Brendon huffed a bit, quoted some international regulations at the grinning Crazy Ron and then departed in a strop. We didn’t move.

The flight was uneventful as the flight crew ignored us for the entire one hour thirty five minute flight. Doug’l Watson lost his bet with Taylor that he could pull a flight attendant, much to the relief of Brendon.

I got up about half way through the journey and said to Brendon, “Hey, Biggles, How much to take a dump?”  Brendon had retreated to his pantry without comment and closed the curtain.

A voice identifying itself as the pilot announced the usual, terrifying flight information about altitudes, outside temperatures and ground speeds. Then in things you only hear on a Ryan Air flight, he asked first if anyone onboard had ever flown into La Rochelle.... and if they could remember what it looked like from the air...

We crashed on to the runway or at least a B road and that annoying ‘call to post’ racing music announced the fact to the survivors.

From the airport, we taxied to town and straight to Fitzpatrick’s Irish Bar on the Quay front, our spiritual home on a previous rugby tour. We threw our bags in the corner and settled in at a tall table near the bar with a good view of both the front windows and the sports telly.

Crazy Ron announced that it was his round and we all shouted “GUINNESS” in unison as he went to the bar. They went about £11 a pint at the present exchange rate. Crazy Ron, a world renowned IT consultant, began talking to himself as his vast IQ calculated his currency burn rate based on the drink flow rate coefficient, exchange rates and I think the tidal schedules in the Sea of Tranquillity.

Behind the bar, Fiona-the-lovely began cranking out the Guinness. She remembered us from our Rugby Tour a few months before and smiled one of her Helen-of-Troy smiles. It was the kind for which men would start wars. Her smiles contradicted her words fending off Crazy Ron’s romantic enquiries. Crazy Ron was a last minute addition to our golf tour after his latest marriage crashed in a smouldering heap a few weeks before.

Taylor shouted over to Crazy Ron; ‘Hey Dick-face, quit fucking around with the staff and get on with the pints’. Crazy Ron didn’t break stride in his conversation but flipped us two fingers in acknowledgement of Taylor’s request.

Finally the pints arrived. That great feeling of expectation and exhilaration which all men feel while drinking their first pint of a holiday swept over us. It didn’t last long.

The bar owner, “Sven Gorran” Fitzpatrick, came over to our table about half way through our first pints and shook hands all around.

‘SVEN!’ we shouted in unison. ‘How good was Ulrika?’ ... Fitzpatrick bore an uncanny resemblance to the football manager, Ericson.

He said in his Galway burr, “Gentlemen, I can’t tell you how good it is to see you all again, ... because it isn’t. I assume you ‘ve stopped by to settle the damages from the last time your tribe of baboons desecrated these premises?  And may I request that none of you try to inseminate my niece, Fiona or any of the other bar staff on this occasion.”

“SVEN!” we all shouted again in unison. He smiled and turned away muttering some Gaelic phrases of which “Póg mo thóin”   was a significant part.

We all ordered small beers on our rounds but switched back to Guinness at £11 a pint when it was Crazy Ron’s round. Sven brought over a tray of chips and sausages in a clever marketing ploy to keep us drinking in his pub and to divert attentions away from Fiona by substituting one primal urge for another.

This was a bit disappointing as it removed the aspect of a great meal in one of the small local restaurants. The last time we were in La Rochelle, Taylor and I devoured two towers of Fruits de Mer and four bottles of wine one evening and I was looking forward to another go. On that occasion, Crazy Ron had ordered the “Connard ala Orange” which literally means ‘Orange Cunt’ while trying to order some duck (canard) in his very limited French.  The waiter wasn’t impressed and Crazy Ron’s bewildered look just made us laugh harder.

‘Sven’ sent our bags around to the hotel in a taxi to keep our bar tab ticking over. By early evening, Doug’l had made several unsuccessful attempts to convinced Fiona that Crazy Ron was on the sex offender’s list back in the UK and that he had a wife and nine kids.  

She came over to our table several times to clear away glasses and plates, always wearing an unforced natural smile. I watched the dynamic as she stole occasional glances at Crazy Ron. It seemed that the long suffering, perpetually mismatched Crazy Ron, the President-for-Life of the Train-wreck Marriage Club, had somehow managed to impress the fair Fiona.

Eventually it became known that Fiona had agreed to accompany Crazy Ron for a glass of wine after her shift finished.

We paid our rounds as we drank them, as is the unusual, usual practice here. We finished our last pints and prepared to leave Crazy Ron and Fiona to their desires.

Crazy Ron came back into the pub from a quick trip to the Cash Point. He was talking animatedly on his phone. He hung up and looked at us with an astonished expression.

“The ex-bitch! I can’t fucking believe it... she’s cancelled all my credit cards and reported them stolen.”

We all laughed as we abandoned the astonished, penniless Crazy Ron in the pub with Fiona.

Taylor shouted back over his shoulder “Tee off at 10AM dick-head, Eighteen holes, a fiver a hole... hers not included.’

We stopped twice on the walk to the hotel for cognacs. When in France, drink cognacs.

 

 

 

 

Fitzpatrick’s Pub.

Scores:

·         Drink: 8/10. Typical ex pat Paddy line up. Bulmers and Magners.  Guinness at absurd prices so make sure you take Crazy Ron along.

·        Food: 5/10. Free sausage and chips and although they have a substantial pub-grub menu, we never sampled it.

·        Atmosphere: 8/10 Good laugh, lots of tourists and only a few ex-pat locals. Rugby shirts from clubs all over the world including one of ours from previous tours on the walls and ceilings, including one from a guy now serving life for murder.

·        Staff: 10/10   ‘SVEN!’ was his usual abusive and welcoming self. Fiona is a 10 in anyone’s book.

 

 

 

May 6th

The fly.

By ST

I wrote this a while back. Just for fun.

 

The Fly

‘What’s that?’

Michelle sounded excited. Strange, she’d taken her medication - an opium derivative mixed with high-grade ectoplasm.

‘Stephen, look.’

I swiveled my head one-eighty, and toggled the retina on my tungsten eyeball. The pupil focused on the window pane.

Window pane?

Read: Eco-planetarium enclosure. Earth year 8011.

Michelle and I were the lone survivors of WW7. We were humanized invertebrates, in old-fashioned terminology. Outside, galactic entities raged an unceasing assault on our fortress.

Entities?

Read: alien life forms – parasitic zealots.

Amos, my in-built computer, had calculated that we had four minutes to live – give or take a micro-second – unless…

…There wasn’t an option.

Until my lens zoomed in.

I fed the picture into Amos’ data bank for analysis. It took a mind-boggling three minutes five seconds – Amos could evaluate whole planetary systems in that time.

‘It’s a fly,’ I said.

It’s a fly!

Michelle turned around. She moved across and hugged me. ‘Oh, Stephen.’

I sucked in a breath. ‘Our first.’

The slit in her face opened. Out poured more – battalion after battalion.

Our army.

Genetically designed to feed on the aliens.

‘Open the window,’ I said.

May 5th

your help needed...

By ST

My website recent stats show I had around 400 unique visitors (crikey) last week, but not ONE comment. Which is strange, and I think I got something wrong.

Today I have edited the comments box on WRITERS BLOCK page so that readers can just post a comment without disclosing names or email addresses, which protects me and you from all things bad that happens on Internet.

Could I ask you very helpful peeps to post anything to demonstrate that my stats are real - and if you want to read my blog page and news flashes page they're totally free from abuse.  

Much obliged, in anticipation.

stephen.  

Here is the site: stephenterry.weebly.com

May 4th

Weekend Challenge VII

By Noods

This weekend's challenge...

A chance encounter forces a change in direction. The piece must include a pair of shoes and a lightbulb moment - as subtle or as sledgehammer as you like.

Less than 500 words please by Sunday night. Look forward to reading your contributions! Noods x

May 3rd

Something on my mind...

By Jill

Getting the house ready today for our son's weekend visit, my mind wandered in quite a few different directions while carrying out mundane tasks. 

Faint ideas for storylines did come forth as I'd hoped, but I was also given to pondering upon the question of why some people have so much suffering in their lives.  Of course, we all go through bad times and we all 'have our cross to bear' as the old saying goes, but some do seem to have more than their fair share of problems in life and possibly combined with physical suffering too.  

These thoughts stem from a conversation I had with someone on Monday and from the fact that my thoughts are with a particular friend at the moment who is going through yet another difficult time.

Maybe there is no answer, but I do wonder why...  

I could posset several psychological reasons/possibilites, but won't as I'm not sure these theories are the full story anyway.

It could be interesting to read others' thoughts/ideas on this fundemental matter.

 

Apr 29th

Cemetery Days

By Whisks

My mother died fifty years ago this year. The cemetery is near the grammar school that I eventually attended, so I visited occasionally

Sometimes there were flowers on her grave. I never knew who left them, but once I put sixpence under the flower holder, to thank the mystery visitor. I checked for years, and it was never taken; only became more and more covered in mildew and slime. Then it disappeared. Another mystery. I doubt it was my father who visited, but it might have been. We never talked about it; we never talked about anything. 

He had a few girlfriends after my mother and I’d go bonding away, then they’d disappear with no explanation. I even briefly had a stepmother which caused a ripple of excitement as I was the only one in my class with such a trophy, but we don’t talk about her. The marriage lasted five months and she was gone without a word. 

Then within two short months, 1983-4, three things happened: 

First, my beloved grandmother died. My father’s mother. I’ve blogged about her before. 

Second, I’d been planning to go to South Africa, but delayed because she was ill. When it was all over, I set off to the opposite end of the earth.

Third, my father took up with another woman. I didn’t know this then, and thinking back it was a hard time for him - losing his mother and, in effect, his daughter, in the space of two months. Poor Dad. I couldn’t have helped him though. He wouldn’t have let me.

He came to visit me when I’d been in SA for nine months and in the run-up, he’d asked for my street address. I’d explained that there was no postal service where I lived with my partner; and only a dirt track - we had a P.O.Box - but I believed the actual address to be XXX and thought no more of it.

So, he came, saw I was all right, hope he had a nice time, and went. 

About six months went by. We were in the village one day, and called in at the post office, on the off-chance anyone had sent us a letter there (Poste Restante) and not to the P.O.box. It happened. 

And yes! A blue airmail letter from England, with my surname. Only when I’d opened it, did it become apparent that it was for my father, not me. Our initials look similar, and Mr/Ms aren’t so different in spidery handwriting. I couldn’t think why anyone would be writing to my father, six months after he’d gone home. But no. It had arrived while he’d been with us, and languished unclaimed, ever since. 

This was how I found out about his new lady friend, G. From what she’d written, they were clearly close. She chattered about people I knew and people I didn’t. He’d only stayed with me three weeks, but she - whoever she was - clearly felt moved to write while he was away. Very close, then.

So who was G? What to do now? I’d opened - innocently - a private letter addressed to my father, who’d never once mentioned her existence, even though he phoned me at my work every week. 

He’d be horribly embarrassed; perhaps cross with me.

I didn’t own up straight away, but did eventually. He flustered and blustered and told me next to nothing. 

For weeks, I stewed. Who was this new woman? I had no idea how old she was, her circumstances. You may think it was none of my business and you may be right, but I worried. For all I knew, she could be a nineteen-year-old gold-digger, and I knew my father was lonely. You know that moment when the parent-child relationship reverses and you need to protect your vulnerable dad? That happened. If she was nice and made him happy, then fine; I’d be pleased. Relieved, even. But I still needed the dossier on her; I was on the other side of the world, for heaven’s sake. I took to referring to her as ‘The Floozy’ to my workmates. 

Other members of my family were more forth-coming, and I relaxed a little. Yes, they said, she did make him happy. I phoned him one Christmas Day from Swaziland but he wasn’t where I thought he’d be. He was spending Christmas with G and her family. Oh, OK. I hadn’t known that.

I finally met her when I came back for a visit in 1987. 

Yes, she was nice, in her forties, and only six years younger than Dad. A simple soul, not a bit like my mother, or my stepmother. She didn’t get het up about things, and seemed genuinely kind. And oddly nervous of me: neither of us knew what to expect, and she was no floozy; I felt bad about that. Dad was very much part of her family, and they were easy with each other. I saw a whole different side to him: her children seemed to know him much better than I did. I confess I felt jealous at times. Hurt, even. How come you know so much about my father that I don’t? Why does he talk to you all so freely, when I can count our proper conversations on the fingers of one thumb?

Despite our complex relationship - or perhaps because of it - I longed for that ease of talking, and knew that even though it was frequently well-hidden and unspoken and we misunderstood each other ALL the time, there was love between my father and myself. 

However, G was well-and-truly part of his life, and I had my life. I didn’t have to worry about him old and alone any more. It jolted me, and was a good thing.

 

Time went by. I returned from South Africa. G moved in with Dad. At last, I saw him relaxed with someone, and they both remained happy together. He and I continued to have our explosive run-ins, but G was there to mediate; to dissipate, when we went head-to-head. I appreciated her calming presence. When he got in a temper, she spoke to him as I’d never heard anyone speak to him, and stood up for me when necessary; and he listened to her. That hadn’t happened since Nanny. Our relationship improved because she was there. 

She wouldn’t marry him, and he accepted that - which was very un-Dad-like. Living in sin? Oo-er.

 

It was G who phoned me the morning Dad died, suddenly and unexpectedly. Twenty years ago this year. 

We arranged the funeral together, shared those dark days around a death. 

To my enormous surprise (honestly), I’d been named Executor in Dad’s will, and so I had to trawl his paperwork, finding out even more about him that I didn’t know before. 

It made me so wistful and sad - all those wasted years between us. 

When I came to letting his pension people know, they asked if he had a spouse or any dependent children. I was thirty-nine and not dependent. He was widowed and divorced. Oh well. Goodbye, pension. 

Then I said, ‘Hang on. He has a partner living with him - for some years. Does she count?’ 

Seemed she might do, but she’d have to apply by herself. 

G shook her head. No, she didn’t want anything she wasn’t entitled to. 

I nagged. OF COURSE Dad would want you to claim his pension, G. OF COURSE he’d want to provide for you. He’s paid in all those years, and it would pain him HUGELY if it all went nowhere. He’d be really cross - and so will I be. CLAIM IT for crying out loud. Nobody else can. DO IT. 

G continued to prevaricate, I continued to nag. I am my father’s daughter and eventually I won.

 

Now, twenty years on, G and I still meet up regularly. I invite her to my family things, she invites me to hers. She’s continued to look out for me, and I know she does it because of my dad. I know I can call on her in an emergency - she’s said as much - and sometimes I have.

Dad arranged his dates very cleverly. Birthday 29th April, Deathday 27th August, Christmas 25th December. Neat four months intervals. 

So those three times a year for the last twenty years, G and I meet at the cemetery. We clean the grave, she brings a pot plant - a cyclamen, azalea, primulas - and I bring cut flowers. I divide them up between him and my mum, who’s separated from him by thirty yards and thirty years.

I split up the flowers as fairly as I can: one for Mum, one for Dad until all the holes in the vases are full, so they can’t squabble. It makes G laugh. If there are any over, I take them home for me; it pleases me that all three of us share the flowers. 

 

Then G and I go out for lunch and a chat. Catch up with what’s been going on in our lives. We talk easily, perhaps because she didn’t know me as a child. 

She always pays for our meal, covering my hand and saying my dad’s paying for it and she’ll always be grateful. She talks about a person I never knew, and I learn something every time. She’s answered the odd question about him that’s puzzled me for decades. I’m still finding out things about this towering person in my life. I wish I’d known more, understood more, when it mattered. 

I call her my semi-stepmother, because they weren’t technically married, but she is family to me. 

 

We both like our cemetery ritual and may meet the neighbours - relatives of other dead people tending nearby graves. We share watering cans, remark on the weather. I like seeing other families there, all quietly, respectfully, remembering their dead. Such a gentle time. We note new graves and sit on the bench under the flowering cherry for a while, commenting on the passing of time. 

The hump on my dad’s grave has never settled; it remains a hump and both G and I laugh, and say that’s just like my dad. He won’t let it sink, he won’t. Not now, not ever. 

Last Christmas, the groundsman happened to be passing, and said my dad’s grave hump had been there too long and they were going to level it off. With one voice, G and I cried, ‘No!’ 

He left it.

 

Today is Dad’s birthday and for the first time ever, G couldn’t make it. She’s in her eighties now; had two hip replacements. She’s not well. 

While she was on the phone this morning, I looked up the condition on the NHS website. Said I’d come and pick her up, take her to A&E. She said, no, no, no. She’d be all right. Her daughter lives round the corner, and if she needs to go to the hospital, she can ask her. 

I suggested a few things she could try, and she said she would. I made her promise to go to the doctor’s tomorrow if they don’t work. May be something and nothing. May be something and something. 

So today I took my flowers to the cemetery alone. Divided them up between Mum and Dad and a few spare for me. Included some daffodils this time; they're not usually available at the end of April and my mum loved daffodils. Felt very strange without G by my side.

There are a couple of new graves, some crying people who don’t know where things are and how the cemetery works. 

 

Life and death. They both go on.

Apr 28th

Weekend Challenge VII

By Noods

Apologies for the brevity. We’re sailing at the moment...

I would like the subject of this week’s challenge to be - and it all ended in disaster. Less than 500 words please. Look forward to reading! X