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Blog 9 Funerals and Soap

Hello dears, how are we all? It has been a strange kind of week. I have heard from my sister Elizabeth in Italy who can’t sleep since lockdown has eased and face masks are in place. I don’t think she is drinking enough wine, I tell her. Drink more. This might help. And sister Rebecca has decided that instead of buying a poodle she wants to be a cowgirl. A cowgirl I ask her, I am intrigued? How do you do that? “You go for a week to Texas herding cattle with real cowboys, do you fancy it?” I think I do, although not sure how happy husband would feel if I take off for a week of horses and cowboy boots when not long ago I came back from New York New York. (More about this later) But who wants to travel anywhere soon, anyway? I think of Rebecca skilfully swinging a lasso above a rhinestone studded powder blue stetson mounted on a white stallion – its tail swishing as she clings on with her slim denim thighs. I try to think of myself on a horse behind her but I don’t have the same vision. My hair is in my face and my stetson has fallen off, my horse is stumpy and has poop at its rump, and probably some foam at the bitt. She is lean and sparkling and I am untidy and wobbly and bumping up and down. I question how much I might get out of herding cattle in Texas, apart from saddle sore. Rebecca probably wants to fall in love, again, I think. With a cowboy. Not a bad idea. Send me a link, I say. I will ask Oliver.

And the AHHH – or rather the ‘R’ which Boris has come up with is not worth the power point it is printed on as according to a skilled mathematician I heard on the radio, ‘R’ doesn’t really exist. Ahhh, that is such a shame! And to think that the Rolling letter that can be delivered with such exprrressive spit is unrrrreliable when deciding who is greatly threatened by Covid-19 next? It’s not funny. But it is still in place. I watch with trrrrepidation.

Rrrrr.

I talk to my beloved godson Henry. He is my personal young doctor practicing in the Midlands – he calls to find out how I am doing. We talk about breathlessness, coughing fits and time. He thinks I should go for an X-ray but when I tell him that the doctor just keeps telling me on the phone to give it time though she can’t say how much time as we don’t know enough about the virus and its aftermath. Henry declares the doctor is naughty. I can think of another word to describe the doctor but don’t share it with him, as I take my godmotherly duties seriously. We waltz around the conversation again about coughing, bricks in my chest and time and come to the same conclusion about X-rays and naughty doctors for not sending me for a scan. On our last turn with the same words and this time laughter I realise, I may never find the answer to the question, am I ever going to feel ‘normal’ again? You will Mary, but it can take ages, he reassures me. We decide the breathlessness can also be attributed to anxiety at not knowing when I will feel normal again. It appears I am in a vicious cycle. The next day, I can breathe freely. Covid recovery is lengthy, annoying and worrying and it makes you really sad. I am now an expert in tears.

As well as being busy with anxiety and coughing I have began to covet my neighbours pizza oven even though the good book says that I shalt not! It’s the stuff of dreams. Rustic and built with reclaimed sleepers and some horse poo, a bit of field and found bricks. I love it. I socially distance my way up to see Stuart and his beloved wife Rachel who live atop a hill surrounded by musical notes and butterflies. Stuart was the one who built the oven – a beautiful clay dome on legs and we discuss the challenges of slicing into ancient railway sleepers. We admire the space where once the timber was attached to a rail track and I think of people travelling freely, in a distant steam filled decade, well dressed and deserved of the finer things in life – like potted shrimps and the freedom to travel in carriages above railway lines. I admire Stuart’s legs – he screwed them together himself. Not that long ago I tasted the goodness that came out of this pizza oven and to have one in our own garden makes perfect mozzarella sense. Delicious hot pizza. Ahh.

I brake the good news to Oliver who is elated to find that he can now, once again, go to the river to fish. I am going to build a pizza oven, do you want to help me? Not today my darling honey bunny he says, I am going fishing. When are you going I ask? Five o’clock, he says tightening his rod with the face of a 12 year old looking at a new BMX. That’s wonderful I say, please can you bring me some clay from the river bed. He looks at me. Que? For the pizza oven, I remind him. I need to mix clay with sand and poo and stuff, you find it in the river. Blank look again. It’s for the pizza oven, I say. The one I have been coveting, remember? Sure he remembers, and on his way out he forgets to take the bucket for the clay. Rrrrrr!

As well as chasing sleepers online I have been busy with making soap and bath bombs for my charity. We can’t get away from the fact that although this virus restricts movement, hinders hugs, instills fear and rattles teacher unions, it is still killing people. A lot of people. And this is the sombre reality. Many more people are still very ill and may not make it.

This week I took a service for a friend whose lovely mum went to hospital for a hip replacement and was swept away by the disgusting covid. Her recovery was ripped away along with her life. What keeps ringing in my ears during this pandemic apart from the words ‘daily death toll’ is ‘underlying health conditions‘. And it makes me mad. No one is ever ready to die, and especially no one is ever ready to lose a mother, no matter what the underlying health conditions might be. There were still days to be lived, lessons to be taught and learned, words to be spoken and hands to be held, no matter how thin the skin or how many underlying health conditions someone might live with. Lives are still worth living and saving.

Claire had a beautiful coffin laden with spring colours and flowers and we said goodbye to her under the sunlight accompanied by birdsong. I knew Claire, and she was funny and feisty and underlying health conditions or not, she was taken too soon and without warning. She has left a silence in what was once her home and a void in the lives of her husband and family. So very sad.

As we came away from the natural burial sight the funeral director Adam showed me his leg. He pulled up his trouser, it was black and blue after he had been butted by his billy goat. That might learn him. He then showed me the far section of the burial ground which was lush with trees that mark each resting places. I would like to be buried somewhere like this, I said. ‘Ahh yes’, he said ‘and we will know which plot is yours won’t we Mary, it will be the one with the little stall at the end of it selling soaps and bath bombs.’ “Haaaaarrr, you are so funny, Adam”, I say. He agreed with me.

On the drive home I think of the new fragrances which have been delivered – lime, basil and mandarin, ahhhh, and parma violet. Grapefruit and honeysuckle, ahhhhh! And once home, I get to down to some proper work. Mixing oils and luscious ingredients and forming shapes, moulding, bagging, tying, pricing and driving down to the isolation soap station at the bottom of the road to lay them in their places for sales. A ten pound note waits for me. Ahhhhh wow! I am building up a customer base. I consider selling them online.

That night I get a call from my twin friends. Sarah and Paula. They are in lockdown in Dubai and we have missed each other since our trip to New York New York in January. We are on zoom together and reminisce about the city that never sleeps that is still being crippled by the covid curse. We talk about the workers in the diners, the tour busses and the theatre who will all now be out of work. The hotel we partied in will now be deserted. The roads will be quiet, the vodka bottle that filled our glasses will be sat covered with dust in a shuttered bar on 5th Avenue. The waiters that served us in Central Park will be out of pocket, the streets empty, the people silenced, the viral fear hovering above everyone. How we took for granted the freedom to walk amongst the locals and hum Paul Simon songs as we trod the pavements that hosted tall and beautiful buildings. As we drink our Zoom spritzers we laugh about Paula suffering from alcohol indulgence and my midnight wanderings in search of rooftop discos so that I could dance, but I could never find. We ‘ahh’ at the perfect burger we ate that time, and the stillness of the Twin Towers Memorial park where there were little pockets of snow in the flower beds. We talk about how one day, we will see each other again after the covid curse is lifted and begin to make plans to once again walk some city streets, probably Liverpool in October. Paula sings Coco Cabana through the phone screen to my daughter and we giggle like children. We are all still children, I decide.

After making one last batch of grapefruit and orange zest bath bombs yesterday I speak with another lady whose husband has passed away. She tells me through her tears, there was no one like him, he was such a gentleman. He was taken too soon and I couldn’t be with him at the end. All his life he made me happy. and I couldn’t be with him at the end. I feel so awful she says, he was the most wonderful man. I believe her. After the service next week I hope to introduce her to the idea of getting together with others going through the same pain. I shall tell her about the Alison Bereavement Society and hope that this might shine a little bit of light at the end of her dark tunnel of sadness.

Until next time darlings, thank you for reading, thank you for donating and thank you for caring. I have now raised £5845 which is pretty amazing! Just £1155 to go! I am sure we can get there. Please share this blog and keep alert, keep your face masks on whatever you do don’t stand or sit next to anyone who is coughing, like I did!!!!!

Lots of love,

Mary

xxx

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Almost out of bed with Mary – blog 4

A blog to help raise money for a good cause

Almost out of bed – with Mary.

By Mary – day 8

Well, yesterday was almost a normal day. Normal as in I woke up and watched a lot of short funny videos sent to my phone. Lungs felt ….gosh, not very heavy. Cough has subsided. So I got out of bed. Felt good. Got dressed. Felt restrictive. It’s been rather nice not strapping myself into a bra every day. But this only really makes for trouble though as husband keeps asking to see my boobs.

I went down stairs and then did a few things here and there which did not involve showing my boobs and then at about 6 o’clock I thought about food and noticed half a glass of wine on the table.

Oh that looks nice, I think. One sip won’t hurt.

I took a large sip. The red juicy flavor of an Italian vineyard was deep and warm. I thought of how good it was going to taste with the home made lasagna heating in the oven. Husband relaxed to see me feeling better. He smiled. He must have thought that after some wine, I might show him some flesh.

We started a conversation face to face. A novel thing to do, these days. I am still over two meters away. I started telling him about my sister Rebecca and her coronavirus that she took to Berlin from London and had to quarantine for 14 days in a shut down hotel when, I felt a deep sinking feeling in my torso. My liver probably needed more oxygen to break down the Italian wine and so down I sat and internally, very quickly, down I sank.

It was horrible.

I can only describe it as a weight that you have on the end of a fishing line. When you release it to the depths it falls and falls and falls until it hits the sea bed. Free and plummeting it abandons itself to the physics of water until it can travel no more. That’s what it felt like, in my chest, a deep heavy sinking sensation that made me draw deeper on the air to keep my buoyant.  I went to bed.

And here I shall stay. There is no point in going downstairs if I can’t do what I usually do downstairs which is, around evening time, have a glass of wine with some food and a conversation with Husband.

I woke up today thinking of the weight, which has since lifted. I just have a lot of aches and pains around my back. A lot.  And the cough is easing. But the sinking weight reminded me something. It reminded me of going to Norway for Hege’s (pronounced Hedge’s) wedding and fishing on the Fjords with my dad. I caught a fish that was eating a fish that was eating a fish. And so today, whilst I sit in my bed, with just the pillows and the last of the midget gems, I thought I would share this story with you now.

Almost out of Bed with Mary part 4

The Story of When I Caught a Fish eating a Fish Eating a Fish eating a hook– no lie!

Norway is a wonder of a place. It is nothing like England or Scotland or Wales. There is something so impressively honest about the place. Even the prices of the wine doesn’t put me off going.

We were off to Hege’s wedding. She was finally going to marry Peter, thank the heavens. After 20 years of toing and froing they found their medium of love and this event was going to be such a wonder to witness, it could not be missed.

Sister Elizabeth came along with her young son and her husband Fred, flew over from Italy to join us. He was armed with Marlboro lights and a thirst for wild salmon. We hired a very large car, more of a minibus, I recall.

Once we had strapped in children and assumed the pecking order that is a family coach, we set off on tarmac. The sun was high in the sky and the clouds had all gone away.

I asked my dad, Where we were going?

We had five days until the nuptials and had to get from the South of Oslo to Lillehammer some four hours drive to the North.

Let’s just follow our noses, he said. There you go, Mary, there’s the map.

I looked at the map. I observed where we had started from and where we needed to finish. I saw some nice sounding places. That sounds pretty I said, Christiansand, then passed the map to Oliver who closed it and passed it to Fred, who passed it to Liz who used it as a napkin on her knee. She peeled an orange. 

We were following our noses that were pleased with the sweet citric air of the car as it married with the warm grey smell of Norwegian tarmac. Singing along to the radio, into the unknown, we drove, all trusting our noses, together. One father with two son in laws, two daughters and two grandchildren. No one was happier than we were, that day. No one that I knew of.

Driving along the Norwegian coast feels like a perpetual rhythm of ins and outs. Our noses took us to one destination that we liked the look of; Sandjeford. We left the car to look at the accommodation, which our eyes didn’t like. So on we went. Back in the family Mercedes bus, we drove on. So now what are we going to do, I asked Dad. We just keep following our noses and see where we get to. You need to trust your nose, he said, tapping his.

And so we did. A few hours later we found ourselves in a place called…. something …Sand. It was beautiful.

At a family friendly camping spot with cabins, facing a glistening fjord we met a nice Norwegian who owned the place, he had a small boat which he was keen for us to use.

Our accommodation was a pretty cabin made of yellow pine that smelt of sweet grass and candle light. The ornate door opened to comfort, white sheepskins and warmth. It is the closest I have ever come to sleeping and showering in a cuckoo clock.  And there was enough room for all of us. We all congratulated Dad’s nose and all our noses for bringing us to this place and that night I snuggled up next to my baby and fell asleep to the distant sound of an imaginary ticking.

The men would go out fishing during the day and my sister and I would wait with our babes for the catch. Knives and breadboards at the ready. When they left we would push our small prams around the fjord and explore the surrounds. Lots of pine cones, pine needles and sand made up the ground and cabins that were skirted with red plants in tidy pots. Very tidy the Norwegians, you know. They look after their stuff.

If you walked far enough around the fjord you came to a large wooden building that was a clinic. What type of clinic, I don’t know but every morning and evening lots of people from the clinic would come out and bathe in the dark water. Stout women in rubber caps. Maybe they are all depressed, said Liz and they are overcoming some sort of trauma. Maybe, I agreed. Or maybe they have all just lost someone they love and need some space to be calm. Maybe, said Liz.

That evening when baby was asleep I took the fishing rod to the jetty where the boat was tied up. I had waited all day for my fishing moment and being a girl in my father’s company meant that I was not a fishing priority. I was a woman breast feeding a child. Why would I want to fish. Who would mind the baby?

The summer sun lit the sky and even though it was almost eleven at night, the light was an amber dawn.

I cast the weight and hook into the water away from the boats on ropes that clunked nearby. I looked out to the distant lights holding the rod. Just me and the slopping noise under the jetty. Peace.

 I must have stood there for only a few minutes when I felt something bump the rod. Then there was a tug. I tugged back. Then another tug. I began to reel the line in. It didn’t feel that heavy but there was a lot of wriggling and bumping going on. Which got wrigglier and bumpier and heavier the more I reeled. Soon I was stood over the catch which I had landed onto the jetty. I looked down. What kind of fish was it? It was long and pink coloured. But there was no hook in its mouth. There was though, a smaller fish which looked like it was being regurgitated, or eaten. One of the two. And this little fish whose tale was in the pink fishes mouth was also eating something. It was eating a much smaller fish and it was this fish that had eaten my hook.

Wow, I thought. That is amazing. I couldn’t save the tiddler that had munched on my hook but the others were tossed back to the water, back to their game of survival that would continue under the banging boats on ropes.

Now, if smart phones were a thing in 2006, I would have photographed my catch, but they were not. Or at least, I didn’t own one. My phone only allowed you to text, make calls or play a game called snake.

I was pleased though, I had actually caught a fish eating a fish eating a fish eating my hook. And me being a woman! A lactating woman at that!

When I got back to the cuckoo clock I told my family.

You would never guess what just happened to me. I caught a fish eating a fish eating a fish eating the hook on the end of the fishing line! Everyone looked at me. Baby smiled. She wanted milk.

No you didn’t said Oliver. Yes I did. No you didn’t, Mary, said Dad. Yes I did. I just did then, on the jetty, by the boats tied up with ropes. I did, honest. Why don’t you believe me? I did! Just now!

 I thought their disbelief, mean. They thought my story hilarious and so we went round and round. I did, honestly. Just then, trust me. No you didn’t, stuff like that doesn’t happen. Yes it does I say, it just happened to me, just before. On the jetty.

And on it went until they all finished down their last swallow of Italian red wine and faded off to bed. Liz believed me. That’s great that Mar’, she said. Hey, next time you go make sure you take me. I want to see what it’s like to catch a fish eating a fish eating a fish eating the hook. Ooh, smelly. Baby needs changing. And she handed me baby Honor and went to sleep herself. I looked at baby Honor. You believe me don’t you. She blinked and looked down at my chest. And pulled at my jumper.

The next day Dad took Liz and me for our own fishing experience, he might have thought I was having fishing delusions with my story of multiple fish on one hook. Maybe. Or perhaps he thought I had a gift for catching a reality food chain?

 We sped off in the small boat, him at the tiller steering away from the jetty, the husbands,  the cuckoo clock, the children. We were having some father and daughter time. We fished and talked and laughed, considering that mum had only died in October we seemed happy. It was June, after all and there was a new baby amongst us. Being on the boat with my dad, was a special experience. He was a great fisherman and with his girls of course, all he did was re-tie hooks to lines, attach our lures and weights and tell us again and again how best to fish. After a while we would bring the lines back in the boat and go somewhere else. All the time our vessel was heading nearer the small harbour across the fjord.

Before long we had lost all the tackle to the rocks below which meant no more fishing. We had to go shopping. Yay!

 There is nothing nicer that tootling across some water, then tying up your boat so that you may go shopping. He was great to take shopping, my dad. He understood the need for good sunglasses, a new rain coat, and some more fishing tackle. He got it. Maybe this was his little plan all along, get the girls fishing then take the girls shopping. Probably.

Later that week we made it up to a different cabin on the shores of Lake Mjøsa. The sky was still blue, the sun was still burning the ground. We relished the pretty red wooden houses and road signs that made us aware of the moose. We passed tall pines, mile after mile after mile. The mountains were green the river we sped next to was blue and white, some river bed rocks were parched dry. Hot to the touch, I imagined.

The morning of Peter’s and Hege’s wedding, the men decided to go a-fishin’. This time it was on a river, a contributory to the Mjøsa.

One hour, two hours, three. Still no return.

The wedding was at 1? Can’t remember. They had left early. Rods in hands and flies in boxes.

I tried not to worry. Liz and I busied ourselves with the business that is being beautiful. How was I going to breast feed and wear this strapless dress? Liz looked at me. You need a shawl, she said. I didn’t have one. This would present some public awkwardness later on but this story is not about breast feeding. No.

Where was I?

Yes. Liz and I were dressed and ready and the children were also ready and washed and clean and fed and ready to go the wedding on the hottest day in Norwegian history. The gulf stream is real. I have felt it.

But. Where were the men? We looked up the campsite past the cabins, walked up river in party shoes staring in to the distance  past  the trees. We couldn’t see much. Time was ticking. We had taken four days to get up to Lillehammer. We couldn’t possibly be late.

With minutes to spare, back they came, one by one. They had set off as a trio and came back not knowing where the other one was. First Dad, he wanted a shower, then Oliver, he was too late for a shower and then Federico, who nearly didn’t make it, at all.

We get to the church. The Norwegians are dressed in their beautiful national dress, all hot, all clothed in wool, all proud and flushed.

As we sit in the church which was made purely from wood and painted to look like marble. Oliver looks at me.

I return his gaze. Sorry we were late, he said. Mary, the fish, you’ve never seen anything like it. I hand him baby who plays with his nose.

As he tried to tell me about the river, the fields the trees, the flies, how he got lost, how he found his way back again, just in time, in walks Hege. Dressed like a bride should be and beautiful.

The vicar starts the service, Oliver is still telling me about his fishing. He stops talking for a few minutes. Then he starts again, he wants me to know the size of the fish he caught. How amazing the feeling was, what he did with it. He whispers in my left ear, telling me how he landed it. How much it fought his line, how he nearly fell in trying to land it. It was amazing, he says. The most thrilling catch, the biggest fish…..just brilliant…

I don’t believe you, I say.

What? He says. I’m telling you. I caught a fish. Why don’t you believe me?

I listened to the wedding vows recited in the chunky Norwegian dialect and considered the time it had taken the person who painted the pillar next to us to turn a wooden tree trunk into an Italian marble pillar. He insisted, I caught a fish.

I don’t believe you.

Why not he asked.

I don’t know I said, maybe for the same reason that you didn’t believe me when I told you that I had caught a fish eating a fish eating a fish eating a hook.  I looked at him, he laughed. Yeah but it’s not the same thing is it.

I looked away.

And suddenly Hege agreed to her wedding vows with a very loud YAH! We all jumped and laughed. She was certain that’s for sure.

No doubt in her mind, what so ever. What so ever.

The end

NB: I hope you have enjoyed this blog, I hope you are all well and I hope that if anything amazing ever happens, like overcoming coronavirus or catching four fish on one hook or telling someone you love them or being told by some one that they love you, I hope that you are believed and trusted, to be telling the truth. And so are they. Without a shadow of a doubt.

As you know I am raising money to help start a charity to help those bereaved and sad. If you would like to contribute towards this then please do

Until next time. xx