Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Events, dear boy, events, though this time of a personal nature, though thankfully I am wholly unaffected. But perhaps you will do my stepmother a small favour. As for Voltaire and Satan, there’s a certain wisdom there

Well, I headlined a recent blog post ‘Events, dear boy, events’ which, I’m sure, many will have recalled as the response given by one Harold Macmillan, a former prime minister of Britain when he was asked by a journalist what was likely to blow his government off course. I suppose a companion piece to that quote would be the old joke ‘What makes God laugh?’, to which the answer is ‘When you tell him your plans’.

Well, I’m glad to report that nothing has gone amiss in my life, but ‘events’ have occurred, or rather an ‘event’ has occurred, in the life of my stepmother. More than eight years ago, on March on the night of March 17/18, two days before her 70th birthday, she suffered a massive stroke. She was in a coma for three days and in hospital several months, before she went to live in a nursing home. Things looked very bleak.

One minor blessing was the stroke did not affect her speech or brain, but she could not stand or do anything physical unaided. If she needed the loo, it required the use of a large contraption (of which Mr Heath Robinson would have been very proud) and two carers to hoist her out of her armchair, move her to the bathroom, then sit her down on the loo. She never complained.

There were several meetings with all sorts from social services, including one woman who simply insisted that my stepmother (who I shall refer to as Paddy, as that is her name) should reconcile herself to the a life in which she could never live independently. But my stepmother did not give up (and to this day spits when she is reminded of that woman).

Her older sister, the aunt I have been staying with these past few years in the Bordeaux area to go to concerts with, was also having none of it and tracked down a very capable physiotherapist (who also deserves a name in view of the help she gave, Emma Mees) who bit by bit by very slow bit managed to get my stepmother to regain the use of her legs and her right arm and hand. (She might well have also more or less regained the use of her left arm and leg but was rather lazy about doing her prescribed exercises, which is a shame).

So after a year and a half at the nursing home, she was able to move back into one of the cottages she owns, one which she had inherited from her sister. (There are three in a row, her own, the one she inherited and a third, in between, which at some point she and my brother bought together. She later bought him out and thus owned all three. They are three separate granite cottages, but all one building and her one motive for buying the middle cottage (it is, in fact, called Middle Cottage) is that she was a very keen gardener and wanted to make sure all the gardens surrounding the cottages were very nice gardens.

She is by no means wealthy and the course of events - that word again - which brought the other two cottages into her ownership was as much luck (if you can call the death of her sister, to whom she was very close and who left her a cottage in her will ‘luck’). She lived in the one cottage for several years, but was intent on eventually moving back into her own cottage if for no other reason than it was the one she and my father, who married her after my mother died, had lived in.

A small area beneath the stairs, which until then had been used for storage, was rather neatly converted into a lavatory with wash basin, and that meant she was able to live a more or less independent life. She spent her days sitting watching an awful lot of daytime television, and occasionally listening to classical music (in Classic FM - snob that I am, I refuse to and listen to Radio 3 when I listen to music on the radio) and every so often reading. That was her life for the past, what, four years. I return from London on a Wednesday night, did her shopping on the Thursday and spent a few hours with her every day for three days until I had to bugger off back to work in London on the Sunday morning.

Last Saturday - today is Tuesday night - I was called at about 10am by her carer of the day to say she couldn’t move her left arm and leg. As it turned out she had suffered another stroke. An ambulance was called and then the air ambulance which flew her to the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Treliske, Truro. And there she remains as I write. But now the good news. I have learned that there are, broadly, two kinds of strokes: one, the very serious kind, she is brought about by a burst blood vessel in the brain; and then a slightly less serious kind which is brought about by a blood clot.

She, ‘thankfully’, suffered the second kind. So her speech is not affected and although, now 78, he thought processes are often painfully slow, she is very much on the button. The use of her left leg and arm and still adrift, but I was told today that the occupational therapist (who remembered her from when she first washed up in Phoenix Ward, Treliske, eight years ago) has already had her standing on both feet. I really, really, really hope she will be able to get back to the state she was in before last Saturday morning and will be able to come back here (I am writing this in the kitchen of here cottage) to resume the life, albeit the limited life.

That, I’m sure, gives you, dear reader, yet another take on ‘events, dear boy, evnets. The irony is that before her first stroke she was a very active woman, spending all day gardening and twice a day taking her two springer spaniels for a walk, one very long, usually on Bodmin Moor, the other a little shorter. Her condition after her first stroke did bring her down a lot and she has been an anti-depressants. But - the relevant ‘but’ - not once in the eight years since that first stroke have I heard her complain. Not once.

. . .

I am not religious, and although were I asked ‘do you believe in God’, I would truthfully reply ‘yes’, it is most certainly not the God the Christians, Jews, Muslims or Hindus would recognise. It could, I suppose, be described, though very loosely, as a ‘humanist God’, although no such thing exists. My God is, when I am not beset as I have been a few times, by Churchill’s ‘black dog’, simply a faith in what makes humans admirable: their kindness, humour, optimism, altruism, sociability, laughter - that kind of thing. But I did the other night say, as I was brought up to say as a child an Our Father asking for my stepmother to at the very least to be brought back to a state where she can live the reasonably happy life she had before last Saturday. As we say, in a storm any port will do.

That reminds me of the story - and give me a moment while I google it - of the story of . . .

. . . Voltaire who, when on his deathbed, was asked by a priest to renounce Satan. His replied: ‘Now, now, dear man, this is no time to be making enemies.’

Quite. So whether you share my modest views or are a fully-fledged Godwhacker, you might care to remember my stepmum in your prayers tonight and ask whoever for the grace that she pulls through and has another few years on this earth. . . .

There is the old joke about why the Irish rarely suffer from memory loss. Well, apparently, however bad their memory becomes as they reach their dotage, they are said never to forget a grudge. Unfair? Who cares? My father met my stepmother in 1964. Both were working for the BBC and she, as I hear it (from her) fell in love with his voice before even setting eyes on him. Quite how, I don’t know.

The trouble was that in 1964 my mother was still very much alive and didn’t die for another 16 years (of a massive heart attack as it happens). But my stepmother and father began an affair. I don’t know the full details and have never made it my business to get chapter and verse, and what I do know has been volunteered by my stepmother. I gather my parents’ marriage (like rather many marriages) was not made in heaven and they most certainly had their ups and downs. I also suspect that my father, who though irascible and intolerant, was undoubtedly charming and had already had an affair or two. There are things we can only look back on and try to piece together. We’re most probably wrong, but

. . .

My stepmother inherited a small sum from her aunt and bought a small cottage here in St Breward. Although her heritage is wholly Irish, and although her two sisters and her brother (who became a priest, though later lapsed and married) were born in Ireland, my stepmother was born in Bodmin. Her father ran the local - well, what was it called in those days: mental hospital? So she was familiar with North Cornwall and loves it and with her inheritance bought what she renamed Rose Cottage (and in whose kitchen I am now sitting).

She and my father then jointly extended the cottage and built a kitchen, study/bedroom and bathroom. All this while my mother was still alive. He lived with her in her flat in south-east London and the two of them would spend weekends down here in Cornwall. My mother didn’t know, but I’m sure she suspected and perhaps she did know a little of what was going on. I didn’t though. One day, in January 1981, I happened to be staying at home and found my mother dead. After ringing for an ambulance (and being told ‘well, if she’s dead, you won’t want us then’), a few hours later I had to ring my father to tell him his wife, my mother, had died. She died at just 60.

As it turned out this was rather a good turn of events (that word again, and I am not, 30 odd years on being quite as callous as you might think). Three years later, my father married my stepmother when he retired. She also retired, early, at 45, and they lived what for her must have been quite an idyllic life, although even she had to walk on eggshells, given my father’s irascibility. And then he developed prostate cancer at 67. It spread and he died in July 1991. She was devastated.

I must confess that I, who had been very close to my mother (though a little less close in her final years due to my then still jejune sensibility and after what I regarded as ‘a betrayal’ - and Christ how slight it was. I still flush with embarrassment at the thought of it 35 years on) did not immediately get on very good terms with my stepmother.

My father did not invite me to their wedding because he feared I might ‘cause a scene’. That, too, irritated me, because I have always been reasonably polite and know I would never have done anything of the kind. But over the years I have got to appreciate, like and then love her all the more, not least because she has a very good heart and would do anything for anyone.

So, dear reader, down on your knees and pray, in whatever way you know, for a useful outcome to her current predicament.

Oh, and if you’re thinking that I am taking something of a risk by being so candid, don’t worry. I only know of two people who read this blog and neither knows my stepmother or knew my father. Secrets? They’re for spilling. There’s no other reason for having them. ‘Jejune’? I was 66 on November 21 last, but isn’t ‘jejune’ what this blog is? I do hope so.

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