Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Back on the Boat!

We took our boat out for the first time last weekend - and it was bliss.  There's something hugely relaxing about being on the Thames. Maybe it's because you can't go faster than 5km/hr on the river. So you're forced to sit back and watch the wildlife (including ducks, geese, swans, grebes and - if you're lucky - kingfishers); look at the houses and enjoy the sunshine. What was shocking, however, was to see the tide marks on the trees and garden sheds. The river level must have been up by over a metre (3-4 feet) at times.  And the silt it left in it's wake has coated all the plants, shrubs and reeds in a thin white dust, conjuring up images of what Miss Haversham's garden would look like if she had one. We were thinking of leaving London and buying a house on the river last year.  But after all the rain we've had - and all the damage that's been done around the country - I think we'll stick to boating for now.

Friday, 11 April 2014

My Turning Point

I went to see my dad today and on the train home I felt really happy and grateful that he's settled into his 'luxury retirement home' and seems to be enjoying life. So I decided to pop into my local church and say a quick thank you prayer. Sitting in the quiet, very simple building, I started thinking of all the people and events that brought me to this moment of gratitude and realised that where I am today - a successful woman running my own company with wonderful friends and family and a loving husband - is down to my work experience job on the Big Breakfast in June 1993. If I hadn't become addicted to The Big Breakfast when it launched in 1992 - and resigned from my PR job aged 29 to do work experience on the show - my life would look very different. And I might not have had the chance to have lunch with my father, sit in a church and say a big thank you to all the people and events that got me to where I am today including supportive friends, demanding bosses, a TV job that was so exhausting I decided to get a Life Coach to help me redress the work/life balance (which turned out to be one of the best things I've ever done) and a dating site (which gave me a visual idea of what I wanted my online business to look like and introduced me to my husband.)  The list could go further back, but The Big Breakfast was definitely my turning point.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

What to do about Dad - and all the other YAHIEPs (young at heart, independent elderly people)?

When mum died last year we soon discovered that there aren't many lifestyle choices available for widowed people in their 80s who want to be independent - but who need company and a bit of TLC.  It seems you either a) live on your own or b) move into a care home (which has lots of negative connotations). Dad didn't want to live on his own. Not because he couldn't cook for himself and take care of himself. But because he felt lonely and vulnerable.  So we started looking at the alternatives - sheltered housing, McCarthy & Stone assisted living flats, retirement flats, senior living flats, etc - and soon discounted all of them.  The rooms in the sheltered housing places we looked at felt like bedsits. The McCarthy & Stone assisted living flats ticked quite a few boxes, but not enough.  And the retirement flats had no sense of community. So, reluctantly, we started looking at care homes - even though dad didn't need full time care. Just a helping hand and a friendly smile. Some care homes had amazing websites but the reality was quite different. Depressingly different at times. The smell of disinfectant and the vacant look of the residents sitting in the lounge of one of the care homes I looked at with dad made me want to cry. Other care homes offered very pretty self contained flats or bungalows for the more "abled elderly" - plus access to a main house for meals and company. But they were in the middle of nowhere. That's not quite true. They were within driving distance of small, charming, West Sussex towns, but not within walking distance of anything.  So if dad got bored of looking at the South Downs - and didn't feel like driving - there would be nothing else for him to do.  No corner shop to walk to. No cafes to pop into for a quick cappuccino. No churches nearby for a Sunday service. As he himself said: you're in God's waiting room.  Our search went on for months until we finally came across a 'luxury, residential, care home' in Worthing that offers dad everything he needs: a large, attractive room within a beautiful house that's within walk distance of shops, cafes, a barber and the sea - plus all his meals, activities and company  It's not cheap but it's worth it. Dad's worth it. The only downside is that it has the words 'care home' in its description. And dad - who's a very proud man - doesn't  like the negative connotations attached to them. So if you're reading this and you happen to be a property developer - or know one - please think about building places for people like dad. Men and women in their 80s (and there are more and more of them these days) who still have a lot of life left in them.  The YUPPIEs who have grown up and become YAHIEPs: young at heart, independent, elderly people. In other words, men and women who want to be part of society. Not tucked away from it all in acres of beautiful, landscaped gardens in the middle of nowhere. And if you can avoid the words 'care home' in the description, that would be a bonus too.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

I Miss My Mother

Mum died last July, aged 82, and I really, really miss her.  She'd had 5 breast cancer lumpectomies over the past 20 years and had always refused chemo and radiotherapy.  She was lucky that her cancer wasn't aggressive. But it got her in the end. Unbeknown to us, it metastasized and went to her spine. We found out last February and hoped she'd beat it again. So much so that I didn't change my September wedding date. But she complained of a sore rib after a weekend with one of my sisters, went into hospital and died two weeks later. It was completely unexpected. One day I was told mum could leave the hospital at the end of the week. A few days later I was told she wouldn't survive the weekend. My dad, sisters and I were with her until the end. We set up a rota, camped out in her hospital room, talked of where we'd lived in Brazil and sang her favourite Abba songs when she woke up in the middle of the night. We didn't discuss what was happening (to be honest I don't know if mum knew what was happening) and kept praying she'd prove the doctors wrong and get through it.  So when my sister texted us first thing on Monday morning to say that mum's blood pressure and oxygen levels were up and that she'd managed to eat something, we thought she had.  But at lunchtime, as I was getting ready to go to Worthing to take over the rota, she called to tell me that mum had slipped away whilst holding her and my father's hands. I've never loss anyone really close to me before (I'd never even been to a funeral before mum's) so I was totally unprepared  for the pain, the grief, the sadness, the confusion and the overwhelming and all-consuming sense of loss. And still am, to be honest. One minute life's ok. The next I  hear, read or see something that makes me think of mum and the tears are back. Like now. I'd give anything to be able to buy mum an overpriced bunch of flowers on Mother's Day or send her a montage of silly photos on a Moonpig Mother's Day card. But all I can do on Sunday is remember mum, be the daughter she'd like me to be (happy above everything else)  and take care of dad.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Walking in West Sussex and Realising it's Home.

It's been over two years since I last wrote and a lot has happened in that time (more about that in future posts) but I'm back. And because I'm entertaining the idea of writing a book at some point, I thought writing this blog would be good practice.  Jeremy (now my husband) and I have just spent a glorious week's holiday walking in West Sussex. We hired a cottage in Byworth - which is just outside Petworth - and with the help of Ordnance Survey Maps, went on some amazing walks along rivers, across the South Downs and through pretty West Sussex towns and villages including Burpham (The George is a great pub); West Dean  (where we had a delicious roast beef sandwich at The Dean and Ale Cider House) and Arundel. We saw thousands of wild daffodils in the West Dean Woods; had coffee and cake at the Aero Club Café in the Goodwood airfield whilst watching small planes land and take off into clear blue skies; and gave our muscles a good workout by climbing up to the Beacon Hill vista point.  At some point during the week it suddenly dawned on me that West Sussex is my home.  I always thought Brazil - and Sao Paulo in particular - was home. But the truth is I've lived in England for longer that I lived in Brazil (20 years in Brazil, 26 years in England). And as my parents settled in Sussex (mostly West Sussex) when they moved back here, it's where home has been ever since.  And still is. But I only realised it this week.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A Glorious Indian Summer!

Although lots has been said and written about the awful weather we've had this year, we've actually been out on the boat more times this year than last year. And other than a very rainy Sunday in September - see below - the weather's been fine. This weekend - 15/16 October - was exceptional, as you can see from the photo I took of the stretch between Henley & Hambleden. Gloriously warm days; cool, crisp evenings; a delicious dinner at The Little Angel in Henley and a fantastic breakdast at the Chocolate Theatre Cafe. What's not to love?

Boating in the Rain ...

... isn't much fun at all. This was a weekend in September - just before the glorious 'Indian Summer'. As it's my job to secure the ropes when we go through the locks, I got pretty wet. But luckily it was a Sunday and we were on our way home. And if I remember correctly, Saturday wasn't too bad. If it had been, we wouldn't have gone out on the boat. There's just no point.