Looking Beyond …

thoughts and deliberations .. a theme is too restrictive


Reasons to be Cheerful….

It has been a short while since my last post and good discipline dictates that I should be making regular entries in order to keep on track (whatever that looks like).  I know that it is about time that I put together some sensible thoughts, peppered with some amusing anecdotes and maybe, just maybe, even focused on my original intent to journal my progress on the career change front – especially now that I have actually started my first internship.

There have been several started and abandoned ‘scribblings’ throughout the past week or so.  The trouble is that I have not been in the right state of mind for completing these.  Unable to trust what might emerge from the fingers rattling across the keyboard, it has been preferable to stop.  Life just hits me like that from time to time and it often seems that the best I can hope for under such circumstances is to stem the flow of negative thinking.

So, trying to progress beyond this point at the weekend, I was reminding myself of all the reasons why negative thinking was inappropriate. The 1970’s hit by ‘Ian Dury & the Blockheads’ came into my head – ‘Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3)’.   I smiled internally at the memory of excitement when I succeeded in getting a request played for my brother on the local radio in our teenage years. Same band – playing ‘Hit me with your Rhythm Stick’.

For the time being then, I leave you with my own record of many of the reasons I had to be cheerful over the week end (even though I wasn’t).

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Memories from childhood … ‘hit me with your rhythm stick’,

Dad wanting to climb ladders, neighbours trying to stop him quick,

Mum sat in the Garden, enjoying homemade scones for tea,

Riding bikes with Michael, countryside and feeling free,

Sunshine, coasting down the hill, on to the river’s edge for rest,

Promise of good things to come, tickets waiting for Begfest,

Summer, Sandra, Cathy, Tom, Catherine and Dorota,

With smiles, stories and joyful songs, baptised in deep water,

A thank you for a job well done, a chance to go the extra mile,

The random things that pick you up, a picture book, a baby smile

Clean shoes, fresh bread and a splatter free car,

Family knits on the line, supper at the Uni Bar

Joining the youngsters in their adult domain,

Al fresco dining with good friends that remain,

But best of all that quirky mix of

Cheese and pineapple on sticks.


Having taken the trouble to bring all of these things to the front of my mind, I feel somewhat more cheerful and certainly grateful.

Hope to update you soon on progress on the work fulfilment front – as you will have noticed by now there are a lot of distractions.

What do you do to try to steer your mind out of a seemingly inevitable downwards spiral?



I want to ride my bicycle

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One of the challenges of starting again with work options is that it has a far-reaching effect beyond what is actually being done in ‘office hours’.  Priorities need to be re-examined in all sorts of different ways, and for me, with particular reference to finances.

Near the start of my ‘bridge year’ planning process, I had to check that the proposal was economically viable and out came the family finances spreadsheet that I launched back in 2005 upon becoming the proud owner of a certain suite of programs without which, it seems,  the world might not function. With renewed purpose, a full day was spent catching up on lost entries in order to prove that we were indeed solvent.  It is a wonderful thing when everything adds up into neat coloured columns, and there is nothing like a beautifully laid out set of numbers and the odd graph, to aid the feeling that everything is under control.  Even though the spreadsheet suggests that there is going to be a significant deficit, at least the picture is now clearly presented and can be acted upon.

With the evidence documented I have been able to shelve the worry of not knowing whether our abrupt loss of income is going to lead us into financial ruin.  It is a bit like writing a list of things to do – even knowing that the list is impossible to achieve, it helps.  Progress can be marked and a sense of realism about the possibilities is arrived at.  Expectations are readjusted and take the place of blind optimism heavily underpinned by internal panic.

It seemed that there were remarkably few certain ways of cutting costs.  After stopping Gym membership and reviewing money that we donate, switching supermarkets and reducing transport costs are the most likely candidates for making an impact on outgoings.  The holiday budget is ring fenced – take those funds away, and the prospect of being unable to recharge drained batteries, instantly drains the batteries.  Not good.

This week then, I have taken to riding my bicycle.  For a whole five days, the Skoda sat parked outside the house and my bicycle and I formed a new friendship.  Admittedly, the first day, this friendship was a little closer than I expected.  It being a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon and with a couple of hours in the park in prospect, a skirt was quickly wrenched from the depths of my summer wardrobe.  Having decided that my modesty was not at risk, and addressed my safety with a helmet, my husband and I set off at speed towards the park.  About half way I noticed a tugging which I unwisely dismissed as meaningless – after all, the bike seemed to be running along smoothly and I was enjoying the ride.  Arriving at our destination I attempted a nonchalant dismount.  Disaster threatened as it appeared that my elasticated skirt was going to detach itself from me far more readily than from the bike.

As if by magic, a knight in shining armour appeared and released the brakes from the wheel so freeing my skirt, which now sported additional repeat patterns stamped around its circumference.  As I casually muttered something about signing up for a bike maintenance course, behold, he put a card into my hand with details of the very same.  Cycle training was indeed his trade.  Now that is a course I must sign up for this year.

Barring that little episode, all other rides, and in particular the route to and from my new placement, have been delightful.  OK so I have not encountered steep hills or stormy weather, but I am quite enjoying this particular economy drive.   My trip to work now takes just 15 minutes, of which the first 10 consists of a scenic jaunt through the local country park.  No sacrifices there then.

In fact, taking the bike out in this manner has provided the opportunity to rediscover an affinity with nature.  It is, in particular, the sound of birds singing that enlivens the soul first thing in the morning.

As regards to progress in other areas of cost cutting, the supermarket savings are proving something more of a challenge just now.  The clash of interests when faced with choosing fair trade over economy or free range over factory is heightened.  But I tell you what – at just 50p a pot for chicken livers, that alternative bolognaise recipe which has the added bonus of coming from my ‘Cooking with Care’ healthy eating cook book, is set to make a regular appearance in this household.


Two sides of a coin


After my last post, I felt it prudent to make this next entry more upbeat in order not to alienate my readers.  I speculated on which aspect of my forthcoming week of freedom that I would find to focus on and write about.  There were few plans for the week – unusual for me – making it a welcome space to spend time with my sons, enjoy the peace afforded by the now decreased activity of the builders, and take a deep breath before my first internship begins.

So when I was greeted home from an evening of singing early on in the week, with the news that my father had been readmitted to hospital after dialling 999, it quickly became clear that the week would be dominated by experiences similar to, but perhaps more intense, than those I had left behind and written so painfully about last week.  Early the next day, I was back on the road travelling North and reflecting on the possibility of viewing events from a different perspective and taking a more positive stance on what I have to offer in encouraging my parents in their difficult lives.  Focussing on this, over the past couple of days, has helped me to see some things that might otherwise have slipped by unnoticed.  It would have been perfectly possible, and just as honest, to have written up these last couple of days in the same vein as I did last week but I have found, that there are indeed, two sides to every coin and always more than one way of looking at things.

So here it is, the other side of the coin:

Sometimes, things are just meant to be.  As the crisis unfolded through the late hours of the evening, I realised that apart from the dozen people coming round to share a meal the following night, a couple of ‘coffee’ dates, and the fact that my youngest had only just arrived home for a three day visit,  there was nothing standing in my way of rushing up to offer support and make sure that both Mum and Dad could be properly cared for.  If you detect a hint of irony, and some will, then I admit that letting go of those things did matter, but friends and family are easier to make peace with than employers and disappointments don’t last for ever.  There are a myriad of other complex arrangements that I might have had to untangle and do battle with my conscience over and I was truly grateful that I had negotiated an extra week of rest between jobs, making the decision to run to assistance a bit of a no brainer.  Truth Number One – sometimes just being available is the biggest gift we can give, and all that is required.

To say that I leapt out of bed at 4.30 am the next day and sang along with the birds as I made my three hour journey, is stretching the truth to an unrecognisable position.  My natural poor ability to rise early in the morning, and my truncated sleep opportunity at both ends of the night were never going to lead to a bright and breezy disposition at the start of the day.  The fact that I was up and out of the door  just 10 minutes after my planned departure time, that I steered my way through the driving rain for three hours managing to refuel before the car ground to a halt, and that I arrived safely in good time to relieve the night carer from her already extended hours, was achievement enough for me.  That I managed to stop, at precisely 8.00 am and get through to the GP practice was a bonus.   Truth Number Two – it is OK to be pleased with your achievements, even if  they are personal ones that might present someone else no problem at all.

As I arrived back at the home I grew up in, I was met at the front door by Jo.  Jo and I had encountered each other – admittedly in an intimate situation – for the first time only last week, but she greeted me enthusiastically, by name, and as if one of the family.  Clearly she had everything under control, and by the time I  had exchanged hellos and kisses with Mum, there was a welcome cup of tea in my hand.  Together, we chatted, sorted and caught up with medication complications – with a little assistance from the GP who was able to fill us in on the antibiotic treatments that had been started, substituted and then completed during the course of the last week.  The strategically placed yet empty packets, with their confusing instructions, could be ignored.  Together we agreed what plans might be in the best interests of my parents over the coming days.  The ‘boss’ of the care company arrived to pick up her charge and to chat about requirements over the coming days and I was struck by her overriding concern to work with the family in providing what is needed, rather than to protect her business needs and profits.  Truth Number Three – not all the professional agencies work against you all the time.  It often feels like the rest of the world has no understanding, but I was able to take encouragement in knowing that the caring agencies really can care and are often more flexible than they are contractually obliged to be.

Jo had arrived at 11.30 pm the night before and taken over duty from a neighbour who had been called in (or did she just turn up?) when the ambulance had arrived.  Having a neighbour on hand, who without fuss or flinching, will voluntarily clear up unsightly deposits of  blood, decipher the system for using the washing machine and the clothes airer pulley system,  tackle a day’s worth of washing up, clean, administer eye drops and medications according to vague instructions given over the phone, attend to Mum’s personal care, and deal with the inevitable concerned phone calls – for several hours – is quite remarkable.  What a blessing it was to have arrived into this situation where all things domestic had been attended to.  I was moved and heartened by the lengths to which this quietly caring and unassuming neighbour had gone, in order to assist.   Truth Number Four – people can be remarkably generous and willing to help out in an emergency.  It does us good to allow them to.

With Dad in hospital for an unknown period, and Mum needing 24 hour care, sorting things to enable me to come home was likely to prove challenging.  But remarkably, for the second time in less than a week, the local cottage hospital which also provides respite care, confirmed that they were able to offer a bed for an indefinite period of time.  They know Mum well.  Very well. It is the perfect place for her to go to and no one in the family worries about how well her needs will be met during her stays there. There have been several times in the past couple of years, when Mum has been waiting days or weeks for a bed to become available there, in order to provide a place where she can rehabilitate following extended hospital stays.  I was therefore grateful that arrangements for respite really were as simple as getting Mum into the car later that day, and delivering her into the hands of the trusted staff there.  Truth Number Five – having tried and tested respite care arrangements makes all the difference in a crisis. 

After dropping off Mum, I would then be free to move on to the county hospital and see how Dad was getting on.  Reports were that he had fainted in the hospital earlier that morning and was undergoing tests.  Remarkably, the hospital was happy to share whatever information I needed – none of the usual difficulties of patient confidentiality.  Perhaps a couple of questions on a more practical level might not have gone amiss. This I realised, when packing a bag for Dad proved a little more problematic than it had been for Mum.  To begin with,  I had no idea what he had with him at the hospital (this turned out to be slippers and pyjamas only) and then, I found that I was not acquainted with where he keeps or puts aside his most essential of belongings (indeed, half the time it transpires that neither has he).

Whilst packing, I noticed a potential spanner in the works.  I spotted reference to a hairdresser appointment on the calendar.  If this was for real, it would seem sensible to delay the afternoon’s proceedings and enable Mum to have her hair done. Who knows when the chance may next arise?  I therefore referred to the list of phone numbers that had been carefully written out by hand on a sheet of card.  The list had been made readily accessible and legible for Mum in times when she was more able and willing to use the phone to make calls.  During the course of the day I used this Godsend not only to find numbers for the hairdresser, but also to contact the GP, both hospitals, the care agency, the milk man and neighbours.   A couple of sneaky shots taken with the mobile phone, and I now have all the information available to me from home on future occasions.  Truth Number Six – information is key.  Yes, most things can be found on the internet, but a handy written-out list of useful telephone numbers can save a lot of stress.

Pleased at having stuck out the wait for the hairdresser, and unpacked Mum and her belongings at hospital A, I was on my way to visit Dad at hospital B by 4.30 pm.  What an enlightened ward he was in.  Visiting hours 11 am until 7.30 pm.  The flexibility afforded by this had made the day manageable.  The usual restricted one or two hour windows at both hospitals would have caused impossible schedules but as it was, I could visit Dad,  and then take the ten mile journey on to Mum to put her mind at rest.  They have no means of communicating with each other due to Mum’s hearing problems and Dad’s lack of conversion to the benefits of the mobile phone.  I learned that Dad was stable, with no more bleeding, but set to stay at least another night.  He greeted me with heavy snoring followed by appreciation and my mind was at rest that he was on the mend.

When I finally arrived back at base, I was able to use up the ready meal that was about to pass its use by date, taking pleasure in the knowledge that this would most definitely earn me Dad’s favour – he is always keen to avoid waste and would be sure to be checking up on the situation before long.  Whilst pausing to eat, I wearily realised that with both parents out of the house, I had an unprecedented opportunity to clean floors, bathrooms and carpets without risk of the advice and pitfalls that usually cause such tasks to be abandoned before they are anything more than a helpless thought.  The opportunity was taken the next morning, as the task that needed to be done was to find the missing items that I had mistakenly assumed to be with Dad at the hospital, along with the missing spare key that was no longer in its appointed hiding place.  I thoroughly enjoyed the treasure hunt that followed, not only did I find  Dad’s keys, house spare key, wallet, missing paracetamol, two mobile phones and their respective charging units but best of all, in the process, I unearthed the key safe that I had long since purchased to go on the outside of the house, and then spent the next two years looking for.  As I reported to my Facebook followers that evening, I went to bed tired but mildly content.  Truth Number Seven – nothing compares to the satisfaction of finding something after days, months, or even years of searching.  Perseverance can pay off! 

The following day, leaving the house remarkably proudly, I ventured this time to Dad’s hospital first.  His nurse had clearly got the measure of him by now and I was proud to find that he had been causing staff some amusement with his insistence on knowing when he might be able to climb a ladder once more.  Using this veiled threat as evidence to suggest that another night in hospital might be a good thing for all concerned, it was agreed (in the safety of the nurses station)  that this would be in the best interests of everyone.  Leaping up to find me a visitor’s chair (after all he was my host) it became clear that Dad was back to his old self and had his own ideas thank you very much.   It was with some difficulty that I successfully extracted myself from the hospital leaving Dad to argue it out with the nurses for himself.  I did however manage to get the hospital to agree to arrange him transport home as my parting gesture and thankfully it was unnecessary for him to carry out his threat of self discharge to a taxi in slippers and pyjamas.  Apologies to the man in the next bed whose condition meant that laughter was uncomfortable in the extreme.  Truth Number Eight – some of the most difficult personality streaks in your family can turn out to be pure entertainment and amusement to those around them bringing pleasure and lightness to their day.

On to visit Mum before tackling the long journey home.  She was up, awake and alert.  Which is more than could be said for me by now.  I was seriously wondering how I might survive the drive home without stopping every ten minutes or so.  I had already been on the wrong ward looking for Dad, and returned to the wrong car park after picking up bread at the Co-op and now I was dropping to sleep whilst Mum and I grasped each others’ hands with my head resting on hers.  For a precious moment, I had my Mum back.  She was looking after and caring for me as I was metaphorically collapsing into her arms.  Truth Number Nine – whatever the circumstances, there can be precious moments that are priceless and make everything worthwhile.

As I filed my report to Dad by phone, I became perplexed that I couldn’t get the key to open my car door and rather perturbed that I seemed to have parked it so badly.  A whole minute later, I decided that it might be better to try the right car.  My journey home was extended due to accidents on the road, but I didn’t find it necessary to stop once.  I was fully alert for the full duration of the drive….constantly yawning but at the fist sign of sleepiness I was able to say to myself  “I can do all things….”

Just maybe, engaging in a positive outlook and being grateful for the things that do work out well enables us to believe that all things are possible.  It has certainly helped me to feel satisfied that I played a useful role and have been of value over the past few days.  Perhaps I can even have more confidence in adding the descriptor of caring back on my CV.