Wednesday, 28 November 2018

A TEMPORARY DISTORTION OF VISION

Last month I wrote about the importance of sight in the run-up to my first cataract operation. I am delighted to report that the operation went well and I am now two weeks into what can only be described as a ‘no man’s land’ of very weird vision. My ‘new’ eye gives me almost perfect sight, brilliant clarity and new, vivid colours – but there is a power struggle being fought with the unoperated eye, which stubbornly returns fuzzy, myopic and astigmatic vision. In brief: I can’t really see very well, which limits my ability to write, read, drive (an absolute no!) and many other normal everyday pursuits. This is temporary – or so I keep telling myself, as I contemplate the number of days which might lie between now and the other eye’s operation next year. In the meantime: a shorter blog than usual! Here are the beautiful flowers sent to me by my family.

Reading was the first challenge in this new state, but I soon found that by increasing the font size on my Kindle to ludicrous proportions, both eyes manage to return some kind of image to my brain. This system forces one to become very selective. At the first hint of tedium in a paragraph, the book is put ‘on hold’. My target of reading 80 books this year has been abandoned! Opting for thrillers, I hurtled through Robert Galbraith’s ‘Lethal White’ and have just started Michael Connelly’s ‘Dark Sacred Night’. Unfortunately, I had to set aside Faith Martin’s penultimate novel in her Hillary Greene series (Murder in Mind) which I’d been looking forward to, as she spent far too much time introducing old characters.

I miss rushing outside with my camera. I’ve taken a few odd photos of the garden, but actually the weather hasn’t been very conducive to such pursuits. The fun of uploading the results to the computer has dissipated: it’s now hard work. Luckily there’s no-one around to watch me gazing at the monitor through my old glasses, from which the left lens has been removed, but which are more of a headache than a help.

This is not meant to be a catalogue of complaints! Bear with me, dear reader, as I set out for you the reasons why my life is a little different from normal. On the positive side, I can still touch-type, and although I may seem a little crabby now and then, I count my blessings every time I glance across at the clock and find that if I close my bad eye – yes! I can see the time!

P.S. Please tell me if I’ve made any mistakes…

Friday, 9 November 2018

SIGHT

As the day approaches when my first cataract operation will forever change the way I see everything, I find myself surrounded by an Autumn of wondrous colour. For a while now I’ve been attempting to manipulate photographs which demonstrate the blurred world in which I exist without glasses, and the ones I’m attaching to this article may give you some idea of how beautiful it can be at this time of year.



I was five when my poor eyesight was first noticed and the only remedy was the device I still use: glasses. For a young child wearing glasses is a burden because it immediately attracts unwanted and often cruel attention. In the nineteen fifties the choice of frames was severely limited. They were provided by the NHS, ugly and unflattering, the only concession to one’s youth being the choice of colour: blue for boys and a hideous shade of pink for girls. From the outset my lenses were thick and heavy, and inclined to break the moment they fell off onto unforgiving playground surfaces. When this happened at school, a friend would be delegated to take me home because I couldn’t then and still cannot see to cross the road without my glasses. When I was nine my exasperated mother marched me to the optician where I was prescribed a set of ‘games glasses’. These were blue (no concession for girls) round-eyed things, even heavier and not a million miles away from the ones John Lennon subsequently sported, at which point – of course – they became fashionable. Eventually even these broke!

Me as a bridesmaid, 1970!
As time moved on and fashion changed, opticians introduced ranges of non-NHS spectacles; trends were set and prices began to rise. The sixties saw heavy dark frames which grew enormous in the seventies and early eighties, changing shape many times over subsequent decades. Metal rims grew in popularity and colours exploded. One of my favourite pairs was a huge, clumsy-looking affair which from today’s viewpoint when I look back at photos of myself wearing them, appear hideous!

I’m looking forward, not to the operations on my eyes, but to the difference it will make to my life – from waking up in the morning (presently attempting to find out the time and more often than not getting it wrong) to reading a book before going to sleep. Eyesight (poor or otherwise) is a gift, one which we take for granted, but without which our world – and the way in which we inhabit it - would be a very different place.



Saturday, 27 October 2018

LATE OCTOBER UPDATE

I’ve received a date for my first cataract operation! In fact, I’ve received two, but they are the same. (Why did the NHS waste money on sending out two identical letters to me?) Anyway, the date is an odd one – Sunday 11th November. As most people know, this is Remembrance Sunday, which this year is quite important as it will mark one hundred years since the end of the First World War. I double-checked the date on the letter(s) with my diary, and in the end I rang the telephone number specified if you need to change the date. The cheery receptionist was ‘not in her office’ and when she rang me back in response to my message, she mentioned that other people had called with the same query: is this the correct appointment date? Well, it turns out that it is correct. It would seem that the consultant and his staff, and all the admin staff, will be carrying on as usual on that day. I am surprised, but I applaud them for their dedication, and I confirmed that I do NOT want to change the date, I’m anxious to get this first operation out of the way!


It’s been a strange week: a funeral and another death. I’m getting sick of funerals – I seem to have attended rather more than my fair share over the years, but one reason for this is that at one point in my life I sang regularly in a Church choir, and we were often needed to sing at funerals. I used to enjoy that, because it felt as though the lovely old hymns and music we sang held a healing quality unlike that of words alone.

These days, losing friends and family members is very depressing. This funeral commemorated the life of an old and highly valued friend who, with his wife, lived in the same village in Mid-Devon where we used to live. Going back there for the service brought with it a host of memories. The day was bright with Autumn sunshine, warm and mellow with those unmistakable greens, golds and russet browns of trees beginning to lose their leaves.

The other death has been more sombre – if this is possible. It has stirred up a past I would prefer to forget. As I said to a friend: ‘I feel as though a door in my mind has been blown open and I can’t close it.’ For two days I fretted and struggled to cope, until my husband mentioned our dear old friend and mentor Mrs S. ‘Think of her,’ he told me, ‘and what she might have said.’ And I knew exactly what she would have said, in her wonderful down-to-earth Devon tones, scolding and yet comforting: ‘Gad… stop thinking about it! Get on with your work!’

I’m not writing much at the moment. All my writing ‘energy’ went into finishing ‘Stopping Time’ which I published in September. Some ideas are stirring for another book, but such is the way of this incredible muse, I need to wait until they become clearer before I begin to set them down. In any case, I’m hoping to get my eyes sorted out before I start another book!

Final thought: if my operation is at 11.00 will the surgeon keep the two minute silence?



Thursday, 20 September 2018

GLOOMY MORNINGS

The sudden fading of Summer comes as a jolt to the system after so many bright, sun-filled days and it’s all too easy to fall into a darker, more gloomy mood. News, both political and geographical, fuels rather than detracts from this state. As I turn on the lights I am reminded that from this day on my electricity bill will rise over a period of six or seven months as the days grow shorter and colder.

We have been working hard out in the garden, through and around the odd rain shower and drizzle, to take down a distorted old fir tree which was in danger of being toppled by high winds and crushing our neighbour’s fruit tree and greenhouse. Actually, it has been quite fun, although I haven’t been the one doing the donkey work. My job was to pull on the rope as each tall branch came down, ensuring its safe arrival on to our lawn without damaging the fence or my other half! With this large blue rope wound round my waist, I felt like a Tug of War participant! I hate seeing trees fall, but this was a necessity and the added bonus has been the lightening up of this area of the garden which previously suffered from damp and year-round shade.

Light – or its lack – plays such an important part in our mental health and well-being. When a close relative was suffering from both depression and bereavement at university, a small dark room – pleasant though its furnishings made it – was greatly improved by the installation of a ‘light box’ or ‘daylight lamp’. The effects of using this were good, and I now use a similar device in the bedroom first thing in the morning. The lamp lay idle during the Summer months, but this last week has seen it back in action.


Back to the garden, where a Dahlia I purchased early this year and which I had given up hope of flowering has suddenly produced this gorgeous bloom! The garden always holds back a surprise or two, especially at this time of year, and such bright cheerful colours can lift the spirits better than some other remedies for depression. I hope it lifts yours too.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

STOPPING TIME - THE WAIT IS OVER



Why does everything happen at once? On Tuesday I underwent the first tests before cataract surgery. Included as a bonus (!) is the opportunity to experience a powerful and dazzling light being shone into one's eyes. I was struck by the irony of having suddenly become a victim of my own fiction, having just finished my second book in which the heroine - at one point - finds herself forced to stare for a prolonged period at just such a light.

And here it is! After two years of a real roller-coaster ride, I've managed to finish - and publish - the sequel to my first book. I think it's safe to say I've loved writing this one. There were gaps in time when life interfered badly with the process, particularly when I lost my mother, but the story wanted to be told and has forced its way into print.

Should you care to take a look, here is a link to the Kindle version which is for sale on Amazon, and where you should also be able to find the paperback. 


Enjoy!

Sunday, 22 July 2018

TWO WORDS

“Describe your book…” my formidable cousin wears a challenging look on his face: “in two words.”

“That’s impossible!” I gasp. How can anyone describe anything in TWO WORDS? I lose him for a minute while another of his guests commands his attention.

We are standing in his garden in the Malvern Hills where thirty of us are celebrating his golden wedding anniversary. I haven’t seen him for eleven years… and true to form he’s testing me. He always has done! The ten years difference in our ages dictates our relationship, but we have remained firm friends. A brilliantly clever man, he can be hard to take: shrewd and ultra-critical. Yet this is the man who has just had us all collapsing with laughter during a speech in which he described how he wooed and won his long-time, long-suffering wife. So I become fascinated by his question, it remains stubbornly in my mind until I can find an answer. I think long and hard, subsequently, about how to describe ‘Losing Time’ in two words before the answer shines out in its obviousness. ‘Losing Time’ is about just that: losing time.

The novel relates many of the kind of experiences many of us face in our lives: wrong decisions, betrayal and events which take entirely different turns from those we expect. The story also delves into stranger, more fantastic possibilities in which great gaps in time are created, but behind the plot lies a certainty that the passage of time is irreversible. Every day – every hour – which passes is lost and cannot be regained. Meeting my cousins again after an eleven-year gap is a stark reminder, as well as a nudge to the future: will we all last another eleven years? Which of us will be gone by then? The simple message in all this is, of course, ENJOY THE MOMENT!
We linger over fifty-year-old photographs, laughing and missing our parents, aunts and uncles no longer with us. I subsequently remark to my husband that a lot of the fun they brought to a family gathering seems to have disappeared along with those gentle, self-deprecating people who never failed to find humour in the most difficult of occasions – or do we live in more serious, mundane times?
My cousin’s question now forgotten, he returns to me and promises to read my book.

“You won’t like it,” I tell him, knowing him to be a reader of more stuffy, serious tomes.

“How do you know?” He protests, laughing. “I’ll try it, anyway.”

I remain certain he won’t read it, but it lies for a moment on the table for all to see, and maybe a more sensitive soul will pick it up and decide to have a go. Time will tell!

And time, of course, is what I am still mulling over as I continue editing my second work ‘Stopping Time’ which I hope to publish very soon. Now, how do I describe that in two words?




Friday, 25 May 2018

EXPERIENCING THE COSMIC EGG

Earlier this week we spent a magical day celebrating my birthday at Buckland Abbey, a National Trust property which lies on the fringe of Dartmoor. By some lucky chance we were also able to experience Andrew Logan’s marvellous ‘Cosmic Egg’ which forms part of his ‘Art of Reflection’ Exhibition and is currently on display at the Abbey.* 


I say ‘experience’, because the work is huge, standing five metres (more than sixteen feet) high. This breathtaking mirrored structure was commissioned by the Greater London Council for Peace Year in 1983. According to the National Trust, ‘The egg is the universal symbol of the life principle and the mirrored shell of this egg represents cosmic time and space swirling to reflect the world today’.



The temporary custodians have positioned it inside the Abbey’s Great Barn which is a perfect environment in which to absorb the impact of such a beautiful and unusual work of art. The effect of its size and reflectiveness is to produce astonishment and speaking in whispers, if at all – which is probably exactly what its creator hoped for.

This week my burden of grief (following my mother’s death last year) has at last become manageable and eased considerably. No-one warns you, and I had forgotten – because my father died so long ago – about the weight of this emotion and how it can drag you down, both physically and mentally. I’ve been in a very dark place, but some rays of bright sunshine have quite literally begun to lighten up the farthest corners.



 

Last Saturday many people around the world were glued to their television screens watching a British Royal Wedding. Four members of my family, including me, decided this would be a good morning during which to carry out a task we had been putting off, and which needed fine weather. We assembled at a petrol station just off the A30 where other travellers and holidaymakers were busy breaking their journeys and fuelling their cars, anxious to reach their destinations in time to watch the wedding. We were the only ones to drive away on to Dartmoor and make our way in convoy to a small, quiet place where we carried out our assignment under clear blue skies.

Afterwards three of us decided to go to the nearest pub, where we found a comfortable table and ordered drinks. And yes, you’ve guessed it: there in the corner a TV hung on the wall silently broadcasting the arrival of Princes William and Harry at Windsor. 

Gradually the pub filled up with cheerful Devon folk, all ordering food and drink and many of them ready to watch sport which was belting out of the other TV in the other bar. Suddenly there was a hush and a rush of women towards ‘our’ TV – the bride had arrived, and we all wanted to see her dress. 

Throughout the hubbub which accompanied our food, the Royal Wedding continued its silent transmission. The pomp, glory and fun shone out despite the interruption of an automatic switch-off, gales of laughter and loud good-natured commentary from some of the locals.

Andrew Logan, creator of ‘The Cosmic Egg’ tells us: “It is very difficult to conceive the universe. You can’t see it, yet it is all around you; so vast you can only begin to come to terms with it through mathematics or art." 



We are so tiny and our lives are too brief ever to conceive the truth. How vital, therefore, to enjoy every single moment when we can. We four who were released from our duty on Saturday can now move on, while the ashes of the person we loved will forever sing and dance in the breezes across the moor…