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Short story: Our Bench by the Sea

Our Bench by the Sea
The strains of the carousel punctured my thoughts and brought me back to the moment. Sitting here on the bench, lovingly donated to this public walkway overlooking the beautiful bay by the family of Joan Walker, who was sadly missed every day, apparently, the gentle warmth of the sun was making me sleepy.

Many years before, we had asked made our children promise, when the two of us had died, they would do the same for us. They would install a bench and lovingly add a plaque with our names on it, locating it somewhere near this bay, giving them, and anybody else, a place to rest while walking in the sun…or the rain…whatever took their fancy. A place for the children to remember us and for us to feel together for eternity.

My husband and I had agreed that if it were possible we would seek each other and meet here in the afterlife. It had long been our favourite place to walk, hand in hand, chatting about anything and everything, or watching and quietly criticising passers-by for not controlling their dogs, their children, the fumes from their cigarettes, anything that took our attention. We just loved watching people and making up stories about their lives and could often be seen giggling at some shared joke or cheeky comment. Obviously, nobody knew that we were talking about them, but it was ‘our thing’.

It is one of the things I really, truly missed about being with him. Our people watching walks together in the sunshine. Of course, I missed everything about being with him. We had enjoyed a wonderful life together. We knew what made each other tick, knew each other’s failings and had put them aside creating a perfect life for ourselves.
Behind me, the fenced-off green beside the old car park had recently undergone a transformation into what a huge sign promised ‘An Old-Fashioned Experience – The Thrills of a Child from Years Gone By.” A funfair at the beach for the duration of the summer. Squeals of delight could be heard from the children as they spun around in brightly coloured teacups which had goofy faces painted on the sides, looped the loop on the mini rollercoaster and circled the carousel, riding on exquisitely painted, galloping horses, their little arms folded tightly around equally beautiful twisted poles which shot unnaturally through the horses’ manes. It was many years since our own children had grown out of these family funfairs, preferring instead the fear and adrenalin of rides appropriately named ‘Queen of Speed’, ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Spin Ball Whizzer’. Rides, which were more likely to inflict a feeling of pure terror than mere butterflies in the tummy. They were welcome to those rides. When our children were at the age that they still needed accompanying to theme parks, it was scary enough just to be holding their coats and taking the photos. In fact, I argued that it was far scarier for the bystander than being on the actual ride itself. I had never been a fan of funfairs – the carousel was enough for my fragile stomach, thank you very much but, these days, the young children could keep it all.

Those days were long gone now. I was on my own and it was a comfort to come and sit here in the sunshine and remember those good times. My husband and I had enjoyed so much time here, but I had lost touch a little, over the years that had passed, and I was alarmed to see teenaged boys and girls hovering, yes, hovering, along the promenade below. What was I missing? They appeared to be unattached, nothing grounding them at all. My eyes were not what they used to be, I told myself I was just unable to see what was keeping them those few inches from them ground. Dogs no longer appeared to have leads to control them. Instead, when they strayed more than a few feet from their owners, they were pulled back by a seemingly invisible force. The dogs didn’t seem bothered by whatever was controlling them, they just knew that it meant they needed to stay close to their owners. Everyone seemed to be drifting or hovering around peacefully. The café along the promenade, hugely popular in our time, still drew lots of custom. It looked different from this angle but had probably changed a lot over the passing years.

Some movement along the pathway caught my attention. A truck was being driven scarily close to the edge, its reversing beep alerting all around to its presence. A couple of middle-aged people were walking directly towards the truck. Faces I recognised were starting to come into focus. Watching them closely, I realised they were fading out of focus because of my tears, my children. My so grown-up children! They were standing at a spot where it looked as though a new bench was about to be placed. My daughter was holding a plaque. They clearly had not spotted me or thought I would be late as usual so didn’t look around for me. I had planned to be here early just to spend some time alone with my thoughts. I slowly walked along to where the truck driver was depositing the new bench and I stood quietly beside them. They both knew that I had wanted to wait until my husband and I were both together in the afterlife and I am sure they sensed my disapproval, but they also wanted to pay their respects, so I had decided to stay out of it and ensured that I kept quiet.

“Oh, Mum’s here!” my daughter smiled tightly but turned her attention back to the bench and plaque and my son gave a nod in my general direction, clearly upset by the whole process. I smiled and held back to allow them to get the bench in place. It was no mean feat. The bench was going to be located on a slope so needed a permanent wedge in place. That done, they both stood back to admire their handiwork and looked extremely pleased with themselves. I gave my own nod of approval as I checked it out from a few feet behind them. My son, I could not remember him ever handling a screwdriver, let alone a drill, secured the plaque in place confidently and I swelled with pride. He was frowning and trying to work out if he had secured it completely level on the bench. My daughter tried to reassure him that it was fine and to remember that the bench was still on the slope and itself was not entirely straight.

It was then that I saw him for the first time since we had been parted from each other, and goodness knew I had tried! Walking, almost drifting, slowly towards me. Was he hovering too? Typical of him, the old show off! I smiled. I was not entirely sure how this worked. Would he be able to see me? I was not sure that my children could see him. They did not even acknowledge him, so I assumed not. Stupid, cancer! Stupid, bloody cancer! It was too soon for us to part, far too soon! As he got closer to where I was standing, I could see that his eyes were full of a desperate sadness. He ignored the children, probably didn’t see them, and knelt by the bench. Then the sobs began, wracking his whole body. I wanted to be able to comfort him, to tell him we would be together again soon, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t touch him.
“Mum is here,” my daughter whispered to him and he took a small step backwards, looking around him but his eyes never resting on mine. It was at that moment that I was able to read the inscription on the plaque.
“Judith. Loving mum and wife”. That was all it said. Simple. As if reading my mind, my daughter grabbed my husband by the arm and said, “I know we said we would do this for you both, but there is plenty of room to add you to the plaque one day, hopefully not too soon”. Mum understands and wants you to have somewhere to come and sit with her, whenever you want to.

He stood up and my son and daughter put their arms around him and hugged him tight. They were all crying now but they were all together, which was a great comfort to me.
They chatted, and he asked if they would mind leaving him here on his own, so my children headed off towards the other car park, hugging him tightly and arranging to see him soon. He sat down on the bench, our bench, and I sat myself down beside him. I placed my hand in his. He looked down at his fingers. I held onto his little finger in the way I’d always done, and he moved it. I knew he was able feel me there with him. I stroked the back of his head and let my hand linger on the nape of his neck. He tilted his head back in acknowledgement. It had worked, and we were back in contact with each other again!
“I miss you so much, Judith,” he murmured, his eyes slightly closed, “but I knew you would come.”

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Daily Life, Poem, Writer's Blog

Your Last Breath

One last exhalation, your  life is now gone,

No matter you’re rich or you’re poor,

When the sum of your life is your very last breath,

What remains, not the same as before.

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A shell of your being, lies stately and still,

You’re no more than when you first came,

Into this world, you had nothing at all,

Leave with no more than your name.

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No matter, the friends and the family near,

The end’s still the end, nothing more,

Nothing on earth will be bringing you home,

Your spirit, it’s time now to soar.

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Your winter of life found you sorrow, alone,

Life’s cruelest blows you were dealt,

Warm memories shared of a time which has gone,

If only you knew how much sadness we’ve felt.

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Now, as you rest in your bed silently,

The hope we have for you, release,

Gone is the solitary life you have led,

Among angels, may you now rest in peace.

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Bronchiecstasis, Daily Life, Lung condition, Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, Writer's Blog

Bronchiecstasis – a cough too far.

My mum was in her early seventies when an already nasty chest condition, Fibrosis, suddenly became so much more. She had been experiencing breathlessness on a regular basis since before my dad, her husband, passed away a few years before but now it was becoming debilitating.

Appointments, x-rays and tests at the respiratory clinic of the local hospital revealed scarring on both but, more importantly, more pronounced on one, of her lungs. Breathing was fast becoming a struggle and everyday tasks became more than just chores, they became almost impossible to carry out. A persistent cough, often resulting in a sticky mucous, prevented this once-confident and proud lady from leaving home much if at all. Not the best condition for a recently-bereaved person who needed the company of others. Fearful that she would cough hard enough to induce vomiting, she ventured out less and less until only the most necessary of trips out were made and, only after meticulous planning.

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As a family, we found this difficult to comprehend at first. Why was our mum and grandmother no longer keen to come to our homes and spend time out with us? We pushed her to join us at events such as Christmas or birthdays or a slow walk at the beach but there was always an excuse, a reason not to join us.

Mum’s consultant seemed to evade a lot of her questions, giving the vaguest of responses. I found him quite rude and offhand, initially,  but we later discovered he was confused and a little puzzled because of the way in which her symptoms were presenting. This was not a standard fibrosis diagnosis but every six months, further x-rays and scans were taken which were giving a wider picture of the progression of the illness.

Restricting as the constant coughing and breathlessness were, none of us were prepared for the next phase. For a while before she admitted it to any of us, Mum had been coughing up blood. Just spatters at first, into a tissue, and then slightly larger amounts, at which stage she became more concerned. Having lost her husband to lung cancer, we think she had convinced herself that she was to meet a similar fate, and she eventually confided in us and allowed the consultant to progress further investigations.

One would assume that with the cough, the mucous and the inability to breath freely, the list of symptoms might end there. Surely that was enough suffering for one person to endure? But it was not to be. One morning after a particular spell of breathlessness, which included the unpleasant sensation of somebody sitting on her chest, crushing her very ability to draw breath, mum woke up with a metallic taste in her mouth. She sat up, intending to take a few sips of water, and instead was rewarded with blood pouring from her mouth. She coughed, and was presented with even more blood. She called my sister-in-law who called an ambulance and mum was rushed to hospital. They recorded that she had coughed up well over a 200ml of blood, and that was just the measured amount, so it was in fact much more.

At the hospital, mum was given a drug called Tranexamic Acid which, via a man-made form of amino acid called Lycine, prevents the body from breaking down blood clots, thus stemming the flow on a temporary basis. However, investigations were needed to find out where the blood was coming from. Scans and x-rays revealed the source of the bleeding and the likelihood of a condition called Bronchiecstasis. The irreversible scarring (fibrosis) was nasty enough but this new condition brought with it a whole new ball game. The airways in her lungs, already damaged, had become abnormally widened due to this condition, which had led to a build up of mucous, itself leading to an increased vulnerability to infection. The most common symptoms of Bronchiecstasis are a persistent cough for which there is no cure or alleviation, itself resulting in over-production of mucous and extreme breathlessness and, in very rare and complicated cases such as mum’s, coughing up blood which is caused by one or more of the vessels in the lung splitting open.

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Mum has had many spells in hospital following larger bleeds (called massive hemoptysis) since this condition was diagnosed and there have been some successful treatments of some of the split vessels. The procedure is called a bronchial artery embolisation (or BAE). Amazingly, during this procedure, the radiologists insert a needle into the artery, usually via the groin or inner elbow, and a catheter wire is placed into the artery right up and into the damaged lung, sealing off the bleeding/damaged areas with minute particles. This is all done while the patient is awake and lying on a flat surface, which is extremely difficult when you have a persistent cough. Mum has had a few of these procedures and they keep trying, although the day will come when the bleed is so severe or her arteries so damaged that they can do no more but make her comfortable. The possible future scenarios are dreadful but we try not to dwell to much on that for now.

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Mum is on a permanent low-dose antibiotic which is delivered via a nebuliser, as well as having a supply of Tranexamic Acid which she can start at home to control smaller bleeds, the agreement being that if they become worse she has to be taken straight to hospital. A massive hemoptysis, is coughing up more than 100ml of blood in a 24-hour period. Before this happens, and often as an early warning sign, breathlessness increases, which is caused by blood obstructing the airways. It’s slightly more difficult in mum’s case as she is constantly breathless, but often she feels more poorly when a massive hemoptysis is imminent.

If a younger, less fragile, patient suffers with this condition, surgery such as a lobectomy, to remove the most damaged part of the lung would be offered. This was investigated but the tests showed mum’s heart would not withstand the trauma of such surgery. So, for now, we all simply plod along from day to day. Mum does nothing much because exertion is too exhausting and she is fearful of leaving her home should an attack happen. If my mobile rings at any point before 7.00am, I can pretty much guarantee it will be my sister-in-law waiting with mum for an ambulance, alerting me to meet mum at the hospital to go through the whole life-threatening palaver again.

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Her care whilst in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has been very good, overall. She has been admitted to various wards and the staff, while over-worked, are always kind and caring. As family, we have been treated with kindness and compassion, especially during her worst episodes.

 

Daily Life, Poem, Writer's Blog

Heartbreak for a lost soul

Sadness and heartbreak, of hope there is none,

From the womb shared with siblings, you came,

Help offered gladly, unwanted, denied,

Choosing life’s pathway cannot be undone.

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Vocational choices, there have been a few,

Offered progressions aplenty,

Why, then, oh why, when great chances arose,

Were they shelved with you starting anew?

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Pennies and pounds with no meaning, were lost,

Bailed out more times than a few,

Intention to settle, time and again,

Beds came and went, opportunities tossed.

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False accusations, my way they have flown,

Cutting deep swathes through my heart,

My soul’s been destroyed, such hurt undeserved,

Turmoil is the life into which I’ve been thrown.

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A life, not so easy, its start often wrong,

Booze laced with violence, the norm,

Escaped it to save you, such threats were disarmed,

The life we were leading, we did not belong.

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Now, with your choices, your life keeps the pace,

Of the hunted and damaged and torn,

Desperately tried to keep you from such harm,

Even now, still you sling that life back in my face.

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Not sure I can help you, it’s you who must change,

Chances, they will become few,

Control of your life is what now you must take,

No more can I do this, your world to arrange.

canyoudieofa

Ceroc, Dancing, Writer's Blog

Ceroc Fusion’s newest venue in Acle

One thing you can never guarantee is the weather and last night was no exception. Cold, verging on, but not quite, freezing, misty at the start and, irrelevantly, dense fog by the end of the evening. But Ceroc Fusion’s keen dancers are a hardy bunch, not to be deterred by a drop in temperature or dampness in the air.

The evening commenced for us with the Sat Nav which we programmed on a ‘just in case’ basis, but it wasn’t needed. The new venue, Acle War Memorial Recreation Centre to give it its full name, was no effort to find with a spacious car park onsite.

We arrived early enough to help Anna, Robert and Carol set out chairs and lighting and were greeted with a slightly flustered, but smiling,  Anna who, naturally, wanted everything to be faultless. The hall itself is perfect for the purpose, spacious and with a good-sized stage for the teacher and DJ. The floor itself, a sports hall style with badminton court markings, was very comfortable to dance and spin on. While obviously not a sprung floor, there was no pressure on the knees and it can be compared to the floor at the John Innes Centre for those who have danced there on a Wednesday night.

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The hall at its most basic – before we added chairs and lighting, a DJ and a class.

As you arrive, the toilets are on the right and to the left is an indoor bowls green. Following the corridor around there is a members-only bar on the left hand side, where dancers are able to purchase drinks and snacks throughout the evening. Opposite to the bar door, on the right, is the door to the dance hall. The overall feel of the venue was amiable and welcoming.

By the time we arrived, the others had set a number of chairs and a few tables around the edges of the hall. We focused on lighting, flags and banners, while Robert set up the stage with his DJ equipment in readiness for the lesson.

With the weather being so cold, a huge turnout wasn’t expected but eager dancers started to filter through the doors at a little after seven, with the hall quickly filling up as the minutes ticked by. When the beginner lesson started, there were well over 60 dancers lined up on the floor, including a number of nervous beginners who had signed up for their first night.

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A selection of dancers practise a move during the beginner session.

The beginners lesson with Gemma ran as smoothly as ever with three packed rows and, by the time it was complete, the hall was filled with more than 90 keen dancers. The floor was busy and everyone seemed to be enjoying the variety of classic and new tunes offered by the DJ, Robert.

It was apparent that we had underestimated the number of dancers who would turn out, and we deposited a lot more chairs after the beginner lesson, simply to allow everyone a spot to rest their legs between dances.

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Dennis, Ceroc Fusion’s photographer, took lots of photos of the opening night, which will appear on the Ceroc Fusion Facebook page.

Despite the room being so full, the high ceiling kept it cool enough to enjoy dancing without the need for fans at this stage, although some are likely to be needed when the warmer weather returns – it WILL come back I am sure. With this venue, there is also the option of opening up the side door (hidden in the above picture by the curtain on the right hand side of the hall) which will provide some air flow when needed. Last night, with the frost and fog swirling outside, was definitely not the time to test it out.

Friends, old and new, joined the intermediate lesson while Julie and Carol took the beginners out to enhance their learning from the beginner lesson. Good feedback was received from the new dancers and, when their session ended, they joined the main hall and freestyle dancing continued until 10.30, when it was time to say goodbye to this, our first night at Acle WMRC.

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After each move is taught, dancers move along to learn with a new partner.

As I mentioned at the start, the weather is always as diverse as the dancers who attend a Ceroc night. Our journey home from this great evening was cloaked in thick, almost freezing, fog but it had no impact on our evening.

Feedback from fellow dancers was positive, the beginners all keen to return – signing up for the offer of six lessons for the price of three before leaving. Sad that it was to have lost the venue at Great Yarmouth on a Friday,  Anna has done well to secure such a lovely, accessible venue on a Thursday night. Most definitely a great new addition to Ceroc Fusion.

For further information about Ceroc Fusion, my personal blog about some of our local freestyles or Ceroc in general click on these links to find out more.

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Daily Life, Poem, Writer's Blog

Winnie!

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I really need my snuggly Winnie,
He helps me to drop off to sleep,
I cling to his softness and cuddle him close,
I’m too young to be counting sheep.

For Winnie, my soft, friendly, comfort,
He lies by my side in my cot,
His nose near my nose as I drift into night,
Please don’t lose him, I’d miss him a lot!