Monday, 22 September 2014

Not That I Said Anything That Bad

A guest blog from Genevieve, number 1 daughter. She thought she had upset me by commenting on my appearance in Freda, the wig, when my confidence was ... and is... at its most fragile. It really wasn't nearly as upsetting as she imagined but she is renowned for her tact - not! 

A daughter in trouble with her mother usually has to endure a period of penitence; serving this with presentations of cups of tea coupled with low murmured apologies, an urgent sense of over-helpfulness - never has a family member been so enthusiastic to do the washing up and demonstrations of fake adoration to the dogs who simply look at you like you're a dolt. (Like usual). 

When a daughter says something insensitive about their mother's cancer treatment, this requires a different type of penance - a repentance like never before. The tea will go cold, the dishes unacknowledged and the dogs will look - well, the same. Couple this with living in London, a mere 200 miles away - the battle for forgiveness is nigh impossible. 


My friends will tell you that I am easily the most insensitive person they know; my forthrightness and outspokenness traits that strangers dread - even before they meet me. A valiant attempt to be sensitive, subtle and sympathetic receives no acknowledgement but at gatherings, friends will easily recall all inappropriate things I have ever said. Then I go home for rest and recuperation and the same thing happens at dinner. I will receive no commiseration, but unfortunately the name has stuck. 

There is not a lot I can do about it. But be sorry. Very sorry.

Mum started losing her hair a few weeks ago, after enduring two chemathons with a cold cap full of anti-freeze. This was an incredibly painful experience for the first hour, which only Dad was allowed to be witness to (probably because Mum was using a lot of expletives). One of the tough things about coming home has been seeing wisps of hair around her shoulders and resisting the temptation to pick them off one by one. I remember moulting on my school jumper and sitting at the dinner table doing homework, whilst mum would pick them off and tell me I must brush my hair. (Not a sensitive thing to say to her right now, I don't think). I keep staring at Mum, wishing the hair to stay attached as it is one of the few things she has prayed for during this brutal treatment. But to no avail. But her bravado is contagious and I can only mimic it as we cheer for my little brother (me, at the wrong times) on the cricket field. 

My immense sense of pride was struck at a particular moment this week when mum decided it was time to go and visit the wiggery. And in typical Barr humour, amongst the more painful moments, there were many hilarious fashions she adorned prior to picking a wig that looked most like her own hair. I can only imagine, I wasn't there. To indulge you with another Mrs Doubtfire quote:

"Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match."

Sometimes in my attempts to be overly jovial in what is a time of pain, sadness and weariness, I can strike out with outrageously inappropriate comments but the sentiment behind it is the genuine article. Like when we are quietly hurting, we can lash out at the people we care about - one knows not to take it at face value but to try and endure what is a battle of wits that runs alongside the physical pain. My dad must be an expert at this right now. Actually, this has always been an amazing gift of his.

The amazing thing about writing is, that unlike the spoken word, you can rewrite history. And so, without any grandiose gestures or cocky glances at the sky above, I will take my time and say this right:

Mum, you are beautiful. With hair, without hair, with pretend hair - regardless. Your beauty lies in many things - your incessant pride and support of your family, that tight grimace on your face when you are trying to endure pain, your ridiculous sense of ambition with regards to your children competing in the Olympics, the slow blink you have when you're tired but trying to stay awake to talk to us, your inability to resist checking that we have everything before we go anywhere, the adorable look of concentration on your face when you are trying to serve in tennis. If anything, seeing you go through this battle, has made you the more beautiful for the strength and endurance you show, in your quiet fragility, in your bad temperedness. Unfortunately, you seem stuck with it.

I may say things wrong all the time, but I like to think I make up for it saying some pretty damn sweet sappy stuff too. 
Trying to serve! Cheeky! 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Uncle Frank, Aunt Jack and other Wiggery Pokery

I said at the outset of this process that I did not want to wear a wig and I threw everything into the Save the Hair project including two four hour sessions of the incredible pain of a wearing cap full of anti-freeze. And yet the hair has gone the way of many of my battles so far - I am losing it at a rate of knots and comparing it to other folks I know, I currently have more hair than Mr O'Polo but am on a par with Il Presidente of the Cricket Club. In fact, I have the sort of hair arrangement that would make me instantly eligible for any male religious order of the 16th century (before Henry VIII sacked the monasteries and Katherine of Aragon in one fell swoop*).

So on Wednesday morning, we headed off to York (once my favourite shopping place but now somewhere I only associate with pain and distress) to the wiggery nominated by York District Hospital. Parking in the centre is cost-wise like parking in Mayfair on the Monopoly Board but we did it and arrived at the appointed time. Wiggery shut and in darkness, answerphone only on. So we went for a walk and bought a lovely wedding present for my gorgeous friend Sally who is marrying Helen today (massive good luck and love to you both) and walked back. Wiggery shut and in darkness, answerphone only on. And now I am properly cross. Every time I come to York things end badly.

Anyway, I stuck my head (bald) round the door of the shop next door to enquire as to whether they knew when the wiggery woman would appear. Of course, irony of ironies, it's a hairdressers - the absolute last place I want to be. But they were amazingly kind. They sat us down, gave us coffee, explained that the wiggery woman was a tad unreliable, phoned her assistant to try to track her down (who, it turns out, was on a beach in Cyprus) and, just when we were throwing in the towel, took our number in case we had not gone too far to turn back when WW arrived. And as we reached the car, they rang. She had arrived and I stomped off down the street whilst my beloved put another fortune of shekels into the machine in the car park.

She did apologise profusely which was a good thing because I am currently a woman of uncertain temper... And then we began. Now when I told my gorgeous daughters I was making a wig purchase they thought it sounded fun. May I say, it's only fun if you don't have to do it. I am doing this because I do not want to be an object of pity or fun and because I don't think I can rock the scarf look - of which, more later.

The woman looking at me in the mirror finally, after three different wig tries, is something like me. I've only banged my head on the table in front of me once in despair and the decision is made. My beloved likes it and although he will still be going to bed with a slaphead, he won't have to go out in public with one.

Then we move onto (because I won't wear it, or her as she is now named Freda, all the time) other headgear. First the skull cap, I look like Professor Quirrell unravelling into Voldemort from Harry Potter but not as bad as when I've practised at home with scarves. And then WW comes in with one of those scarf hats which she deftly winds round my head and suddenly I'm in either Fiddler on the Roof or Yentl and my beloved and I look at each other and in unison say: "Uncle Frank and Aunt Jack" and if you need reminding of one of our favourite bits of Mrs Doubtfire the link is below. We crack up and anything that makes us laugh in our dark moments is absolutely to be relished.

So since then Freda has had a couple of outings and seems to have been well-received though my critics are predisposed to be kind, I know. I am learning some level of compliance and acceptance and am trying to stop fighting the process at every stage. However, round 3 starts in 6 days and I am dreading it again and hoping that this object lesson in going with the flow will help me through days 1 to 10 without me becoming the wailing axewoman of Burton Leonard - though I can't promise.

Finally, three wonderful things have happened this week - yes, cause at last to celebrate and believe that the tide is turning finally in our favour though I know there is more bad stuff to come:

1  We have a gardener and he is ace. The Amazonian jungle is currently being transformed into Harlow Carr and even if I can't help him, it warms my heart to look at it. It will be stunning in the spring - hopefully, as will I.

2  Number 4 has come home from Edinburgh for the weekend. She is beautiful and perfect and seeing her has lifted my spirits - even if I've only got her till Sunday night.

3  Number 1 has a massive acting role. A just reward for tenaciously battling on when there seemed little hope of more work. More details to come but let me tell you, this is a biggie!

Uncle Frank and Aunt Jack in Mrs Doubtfire

*nice quote from my favourite Shakespeare play, MacBeth, for you literary folks.

Finally, this is dedicated to Kieran who is in St Michael's at present and has made me laugh this week despite her illness which is so much worse than mine - proving conclusively that I am a wuss.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Fledglings, Flooding and Fur Balls

How appropriate... a little F alliteration. The F word most frequently in my vocabulary for the last week has been none of the above as I have dealt with my worst days so far illness-wise.  Not serenely, like the Lady of Shallot floating down the river to die, but bawling like a baby, wailing and swearing and rowing with pretty much everyone who has been unfortunate enough to see me on the days Wednesday to Saturday. But though still very short of sleep, I am feeling a bit better ...  for now.

So on to other F words; the roller coaster of a week health-wise has been accompanied by the Mother F -er of all weeks emotion-wise. Number 4 went up to Edinburgh on Saturday with my beloved (me too ill to make the 6 hour round trip with house-moving and shopping in the middle) and number 3 departed to Newcastle finally yesterday. If anyone had said to us this time last year that both would get their first choice universities, we would have snatched their hands off so I am so thrilled for them that all their hard work has brought them to this reward. Even if their reward is our loss - we shall miss them more than words can say. Twenty nine years of children at home, twenty six in this house and now it's me and the old man. Quiet. But my aim was always to give them the safest, most loving and welcoming home I could and for that home life to make them feel confident enough to go out into the world and fly. And now they have.

Number 3 (and I did make to Newcastle yesterday - hurray!) got the same team talk as the rest except we did it at home so I didn't embarrass him by crying in front of his new friends. The gist of it goes like this:

1 Have a wonderful time and try everything you can (with the obvious provisos regarding the law, physical danger etc)
2 Look after your body - you only have one (and as I am discovering to my cost, if that doesn't work, the rest of your world goes tits up around you)
3 Let us know, often enough so we don't worry, that you are still alive
4 Come home whenever you want but never come home out of a sense of duty. If I need you to come home I will say so
5 And never forget how much we love you and how enormously proud we are of you

So I managed not to be the most embarrassing parent yesterday though I will continue to be the most vociferous and vocal cheerleader for them all, however distant the sidelines. And their brave, new world and mine are opening up before us. For me, not the one I planned for this year with a large amount of downsizing of expectations in the short-term but, more importantly, for them. They, wherever they are, will be my picture window on the outside world for now.

So, the second F: we got back from Newcastle, me remarkably controlled and not doing the weeping, wailing thing though I did ask my beloved as we went over the Tyne Bridge whether we could go and snatch him back. No, apparently. And a while later, sitting down to shepherd's pie, I detected the distant sound of dripping, nay, running water. Thinking it was the overflow pipe outside, I went into the hall only to discover that a modest indoor swimming pool was filling via the medium of the hall ceiling. I had left the tap running in the bathroom (not a lot but enough) and as all the plug holes upstairs are regularly filled with hair (of which more later) the water was running from the basin, on to the bathroom floor and through the ceiling (only re-plastered in January) and on the floor. Diving boards being delivered tomorrow! No really, I had to 'fess up as there was no one else to blame and my beloved, who has feared for his life for most of the week due to my ferocious temper, now thinks I am attempting to drown him.

And finally. The Battle of the Barnett is officially lost. I am now moulting faster than the senior dog and hair is everywhere. I know this will be a short stage but in the meantime, I suspect I have swallowed a goodly amount. Fur balls are looking like a distinct possibility - should I go to the vet? Anyway, having sworn a good deal at the outset about NOT wanting to wear a wig, I am going to be compliant and make an appointment at the wiggery because actually my head gets really cold now and it's that or a Where's Wally hat. Maybe I'll do that instead - who knows?

The last match of the season for number 3. He's clocked up over a century in the last two matches. Old bat gone to Newcastle now and a new bat hopefully on its way soon - thanks Louise!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Seconds out ... Round 2

Painting a little picture here first... it's 4.00am on Sunday morning and I had my second lot of chemo or what number one calls The Chemothon on Friday afternoon. I am currently at the 'pumped full of steroids' stage which means that although I have taken the strong sleeping pills, I have had the princely sum of three hours sleep and now have been wide awake for the last three hours, reading, working my way through the next bit of the plot for my second novel and listening to my beloved breathing heavily, but blissfully not snoring.

Quick update now on matters since I last wrote. I now have, I think, some sort of handle on how the next five bits of Chemothon are going to work. I was poorly for eleven days in various ways and, to be honest, part of this was self-inflicted. Not deliberately, of course, but I am a carpe diem kind of girl and when I was feeling ok for small parts of a day, I dashed about being the old me and paid for it big time by mid-afternoon and by tea-time was utterly miserable. All of this I had been warned about (especially by the intrepid granny - sorry, Mum) but a new plan was called for which works like this: I still wake up early - old habits etc (though not as early as this!) - and feed dogs, do ironing, walk dogs etc. Then I work till lunchtime unless I am lucky enough to have a visitor (but only one and only in the mornings please). Then I take the phone of the hook, shut down every kind of communication device (number 1 says I am imagining the level of my own popularity here but it's a bummer when you get woken up to be sold PPI) and go to bed. This has the effect of me feeling better in the evening, actually doing some cooking and not working my way through my entire and extensive vocabulary of swear words to my nearest and dearest.

During the 10 day hiatus of feeling better (not the old me but at least someone I recognise) various things have happened and some of them were very special. When I signed up for this journey into unknown and hostile territory, there were two dates that I wanted to be well for ie in week 3. One was the wedding of the beautiful daughter of one of my oldest friends who was delightfully marrying the eldest son of other very close friends. I knew I couldn't do the whole wedding 12 hour marathon but I wanted to be able to manage the church, drinks reception, wedding breakfast and speeches - and I did. But before I could do that, I had to have something to wear. The rest of my life - and appearance - may be going to hell in a handcart but I am going to look good on the way, while I can anyway. So children 2 and 4 who have the combined fashion knowledge of a year of Vogue came shopping with me. I think I tried on 18 dresses, picked, zipped, admired, unzipped etc by the two of them in a two hour period in Harrogate. And then I spent THE MOST AMOUNT OF MONEY I have ever spent on myself. Coat, dress - if I'd bought the shoes I would have been LK Bennett's favourite customer of the month - I just swallowed hard and pressed the code of my credit card.

So togged up on Saturday lunchtime, having spent a couple of extra hours in bed, I am ready to go and just patting (not even brushing, mind) my hair into place when it started falling out. Hands covered in hair. This is the worst time for this to happen. But it's not noticeable my beloved assures me and aside from the thought that I am going to sit in the marquee at the wedding going bald, I take my courage in both hands and we go. Slight other problem is forefront in my mind as we drive to the wedding in the Land Rover - a slight problem of humungous proportions in my head. Lovely Basil of Low Graythwaite Hall (finest B&B in the Lake District) will be there and his customary and affectionate greeting to me is always to ruffle my hair. If he does this, my hair may well come off in his hands as it came off in mine. Frantic texting. He is headed off at the pass by my friend Louise and hair mostly stayed on my head.

We had arranged beforehand that I would be collected by number 2 child and taken home when tired so that my beloved could party on, guilt-free, because I cannot expect him not to party for a year just because I can't. The plan worked perfectly - or so I thought that evening. Safely home in my bed and blissfully asleep until 6.30am on Sunday morning when I woke up and thought I'd check on the whereabouts of the party animal who had promised to come home in a taxi in the small hours. Not in bed with me, not in the spare room, definitely wouldn't be in number 3's bedroom which smells like teenage boy and no one, however drunk, would voluntarily sleep in there. Not in either of the bedrooms in the barn and not occupying any of the sofas downstairs. So I assume that he is tucked up in the spare room at a friend's house because someone will have scooped him up and taken him home. Apparently people did try. But no, the man who now appears to have morphed into my fifth child, slept in the Land Rover in a field gate in Kirkby Overblow and staggered dishevelled through the front door at 7.30am and went to bed. As number 3 so succinctly put it, as he berated me for not giving my beloved a proper bollocking: "You would have taken my car keys off me for a year!" Not an option in this case sadly, though he spent all day Sunday keeping a very low profile.

Meanwhile on Sunday I managed to play a few short sets in the village tennis tournament and although not even placed this year, I loved it and though there won't be much tennis for a while, just hitting the ball amongst some of my favourite people did my soul good. Maybe somehow, in the third weeks, a little social tennis may have to occur - because it's a tiny bit of the old me that I can hang on to.

The most important event of the week though was yesterday when number 4 went off to university in Edinburgh. Her first choice, the course she wanted so badly on a spanking new campus and she and I have wept on and off for three days. She came bravely with me to the Chemothon on Friday. Tough call but her choice. It can't be nice seeing mum in pain being pumped full of stuff that makes you ill in order to cure you. But she did (with number 1 and my beloved). Then yesterday morning she left. My beloved took her because a six hour round trip would have been too much for me so I couldn't help her unpack, see her meet her new friends and hug her in her new home. But I am so proud of her. She will make the most wonderful paediatric nurse because her tender care of me for the last two months has shown me all I need to know. I hope she will love every minute of her new independence and she will be in my thoughts and my heart every day. Very, very proud mummy.

Then number 3 decided he would also make me proud. Iffy day, weather-wise, but cricket was on and we (number 1, Alex the boyfriend and I) went to watch the boy bat. And he certainly did us, and the team, proud. Seventy eight runs, top scorer, four sixes (two, alarmingly over the roof of the pavilion where I was sitting) and a truly brilliant knock. Only one match left before he too leaves home to go to university.

The other stuff to report on a less jolly note is that despite two painful four-hour sessions with the cold cap, I am losing the hair battle and am now moulting more than the dog. Number 1 had the happy task of telling me that I had a bald patch just before we went up to cricket. I didn't succumb to a hat because, well, I've known the cricket team for such a long time and certainly the adults on the team are good friends and some of them are still balder than me. So toughed it out and wouldn't have missed my boy batting so well for the world. But as I type I have to pause to brush the hairs off the keyboard. I may have lost this battle but I will win the war.

 My beautiful youngest daughter.

Me and Basil - not ruffling my hair!