Contemplating moving house


September at Nonam

I have embarked upon the de-cluttering of eighteen years in one place because I want to sell my present house with its large garden and many rooms. It has just got too much to manage. I recently returned from four weeks in Sri Lanka to a wilderness of a garden.

I had left it early in August in the care of the handyman who has helped me with the autumn pruning for several years, but returned early in September to be told that the perverse British weather had prevented him doing more than cut the grass twice and attempt to prune some leylandii.

The fact that the clippings and cuttings remained on the ground in damp heaps waiting for me to pick up and pop on the compost heap, could have had something to do with the fact that M thought I was returning later than I did, but it did mean that I had to set to work sooner than I had anticipated – and am still hard at it five weeks later, although the end is now in sight for this year.

I console myself that the exercise is good for me when I come to the end of the day feeling a mite tired, and that I am a very fortunate octogenarian to still be able to enjoy working in the garden wielding secateurs and sawing or lopping wayward tree branches.

On the days when rain threatened to stop play, I doggedly worked at emptying the contents of several large lever-arch files; shredding sensitive material before consigning it and non-sensitive printed ‘stuff’ to the recycling bags.

Using the pedometer app on my android phone, I discovered I’d walked 2.5 miles in one day simply walking to and from these work stations in my den. Cutting down time spent in front of the computer – and all but one of those crafty alcoholic snifters that somehow felt so necessary now and again, I have shed fourteen pounds – and feel the fitter for doing so.


Human Rights and Wrongdoings

Like so many people, I have been appalled at what is happening in Gaza. There can be no excuse for the mass slaughter of innocent civilians no matter how much blather is spouted by the Israeli publicity machine.

I am old enough to remember the terrorist tactics of the Stern Gang in what was Palestine. The blowing up of the King David hotel and the blood bath that ensued before the UK, to its everlasting shame, pulled out of the situation and left the Palestinians to their fate. The rest is history: the sponsorship of the Zionist ambitions by the USA, the UN, and all those who subscribed to the arms supremacy currently enjoyed by Israel.

I suppose Arthur Balfour, a British politician, must bear the brunt and blame for having, in 1917 allowed those Jews seeking asylum from persecution in Europe to find sanctuary in Palestine. By giving these refugees a place of safety, he also gave them an excuse to call it a homeland; but Palestine was never the property of the UK to give to anyone, commendable though this gesture was.

Since 1947, the Israelis, some descendants of those original refugees, have systematically stolen land and property from the Palestinians. They have reduced the host nation to becoming second-class subjects in their own land – without rights or hope of a future. Here we may be forgiven for drawing parallels with the Nazis, and what they did throughout Europe. Bit by bit Palestine has been reduced to the strip of land known as Gaza; another ghetto. Now, even that is being violated. True to tradition, according to the history of the Old Testament, the Israelites were ever the aggressors; driven to acquiring the land of their neighbours and arrogantly calling it their own. Some things never change.

Perhaps that was the reason the Romans expelled them from Jerusalem two thousand years ago – warning all Jews never to return on pain of death; a warning that was never revoked.

Meanwhile, the world’s politicians wring their hands and spout their rhetoric while Netanyahu puts up two fingers at the United Nations and tells all of them that Israel will stop only when it chooses.

All this we can ponder on while we remember how the might of America and UK marched and blasted its way into Iraq on the mere pretext of supposed weapons of mass destruction.

The catastrophic meddling of George Bush and Tony Blair has resulted in a maelstrom in the Middle East that will have repercussions for years to come, yet Israel has obtained, against all international agreements, atomic weapons. The disillusioned expert who disclosed this to the world in 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, has spent many years (eleven in solitary confinement), entombed as a political prisoner in Israel after being lured to Italy, and then kidnapped by Mossad. He is still not allowed to leave Israel even though he has served the heinous prison terms imposed upon him, despite pleas from his worldwide supporters that he be freed.

All this and the world looks on.

Age, Life’s Quiet Companion.

I wonder how many other older people like me watched the recent programmes screened last week and this by the BBC, as well as the Panorama programme on Wednesday evening. It made salutary viewing and brought the predicted outcry, bluster  and hot-air from politicians and the media. Such revelations always do, for a short time, like the revelations about paedophilia and prominent names, but then the blustering gives way as the hot-air bubbles are pricked and the rhetoric drifts away to be forgotten – except by the victims and their families.

In 2004 I visited a geriatric ward in Cardiff’s Heath Hospital and was so incensed by what I saw, I wrote to the then Minister of Health, Jane Hutt AM, and her Deputy Minister, John Griffiths AM, at the Welsh Assembly in Wales. I invited them to do as I had done, but to do so without warning and without their retinue of civil servants in attendance.  They never did, although they wrote (the letters remain on my files) suggesting that the patients involved could write a letter of complaint to the hospital authorities.  Looking at the patients involved in the Panorama programme, I doubt many of them would have been capable of doing so, and their families were too scared of the possible repercussions on the patients.

Why was I there? I was visiting my aunt; then in her early nineties, who was a patient there for about one week for observation and treatment. She was visited twice a day by her daughter who ensured her mother both ate and drank the nourishment she had prepared at home while she was there. My aunt was summarily brought home by my cousin when she found her mother in some distress having soiled her bed following several calls for a nurse to help her use a bedpan. The patients either side of my aunt were not so lucky, having family who rarely visited and only did so late in the evening.

While visiting, I witnessed a male ward orderly, serving tea from a trolley, pick up full cups of undrunk tea; replace it with a fresh one but make no attempt to help the supine bird-fragile figure, lying helpless and moaning on the bed to even sip her drink. When I remarked that the patient needed help, the response was, ‘That’s not my job.’

We have heard that same reply all too often since it became fashionable to delegate responsibility in what has become the blame-and-claim, compensation-seeking  culture of our modern world. Old people are as much a part of our culture as the young. They belong with their families. My father lived with my family for seventeen years following my mother’s death.  I won’t pretend there were no tensions. He drove us mad – at times, but he meant well and I remembered the doting father of an only child, who’d carried me everywhere when I seemed to be at death’s door for almost two years. So, when it was my turn to care, I was fortunate to have a husband who believed in the same values, and who originally suggested that my dad came to live with us.

Hearing that the company operating the care-home in question made a profit of some one million pounds last year, makes one realise how much money is involved in families and local authorities financing such places.  It would make more sense if the state helped families to provide necessary care for people in their own homes. Carers who drop in for a few minutes are not the answer. Better provision of better trained, better paid carers would make more sense and would be a more efficient way of utilising tax-payers’ money. Older people need to have their personal dignity respected, but don’t need to be locked away in seclusion where unseen, they can be subjected to the kind of abuse we witnessed on the Panorama programme.

Animals Can Teach Us A Thing Or Two

Being woken in the early hours by what sounded like the entire contents of one coconut tree falling on the roof above me, is not the kind of awakening anyone would choose, but the thunderous bumps and thumps were proof that the mongoose family that has chosen to make its home in the space under the roof of my host’s house, were waking up and enjoying their daily dose of furious gymnastics before starting their work for the day; hunting and killing any snakes or rats lurking in the garden before they could enter the house. They would be gone for the entire day, returning at dusk to climb up the wall of the building, via a banana tree, to get back through their entrance hole to sleep off their daytime exertions. Hearing their noisy wrestling matches has reminded me of Rikki- Ticki-Tavi and Kipling’s Just So Stories and what a lot we can learn from animals.

My grandson, like everyone in the family, is a walkover where animals are concerned, so when one of his birds, he keeps pigeons and doves, was being systematically bullied and persecuted by its fellows, it was taken into the house where it quickly became domesticated (as far as birds can be) and accepted by the elderly dog, another rescued refugee, to such an extent, that soon pigeon was taking a daily bath in the dog’s drinking bowl. When it became apparent that dog didn’t mind, grandson decided that providing an extra water bowl, exclusively for the daily ablutions, might be worth a try. It’s worked, as pictures put on Facebook by my grandson have proved.

This reminded me of a stray kitten I found in the middle of a dirt track almost twenty years ago when I was living in Cyprus. I braked hard when I saw in the car headlights, something move in the road. It turned out to be an un-weaned kitten, perhaps it had wandered away from its mother, but more likely had been dumped by the side of the road, as so many unwanted puppies and kittens were. Picking it up, I quickly dropped it in the lap of my passenger and took it home. We cleaned it up and dribbled warm milk into its mouth, then put it in one of my carrying baskets ( I already had several cats), and hoped it would sleep; it didn’t, but howled all night in the basket by the side of my bed.

All three of my rescue dogs slept on the floor around my bed. The smallest and fiercest, a Cypriot hunting dog called Perdy, although spayed, was fascinated by this latest arrival and was even attempting to lick the kitten through the grill of the basket. Holding my breath I tried opening the door of the basket, and before I could stop her, the wee kitten was snuggling up to Perdy and suckling her empty teats while the dog began a frenzied licking of the tiny body. With peace and quiet restored, we all fell asleep.

When I awoke, I saw one bedraggled kitten that had obviously been licked for hours by one would be canine mum, but who was now hungry and wanting rather more than Perdy could offer. Later, having taken the tiny creature to the vet, I was told that dog’s instinctive licking had saved the kitten’s life as it needed the constant stimulation of her tongue to help it to keep warm; as well as helping with its circulation, the constant licking aided digestion by encouraging the body to expel waste. What had appeared to me to be a near drowning with excessive maternal love, had in fact been a life saving instinct to preserve. Sufficient to say that from day one, Kittypuss was the recipient of canine devotion par excellence from all three dogs, including Rambo the giant German Shepherd.

Second Round and Still Standing

The second operation has been as amazing as the first, but second time round everyone on the ophthalmological team recognised me and there were smiles and greetings from them as I passed from one to the other in the chain that is this amazing ophthalmological team before entering the operating theatre.

Having reached the sterile outer sanctum, seventeen of us were sitting on our chairs, all gowned up, hair-netted; socks on feet, and clutching our notes plus precious box containing the all important lens for transplanting, when the clinical assistant, who’d been responsible for sterilising the area around the eye; then applying several eye drops to dilate the pupil, as well as administering the first round of local anaesthetic to the cornea, looked at me and started chatting in English. The conversation meandered until he was asking me what I did before I retired because I spoke English so well and it was the first time he’d ever spoken to an English person who spoke English he could understand!!!!  at which point, we were interrupted by two elderly men who piped up with the same observation, to which I replied that it was all part of my job as a TEFL teacher plus other things – then followed a further explanation of what was TEFL of course, since not everyone thinks about teaching English as a foreign or second language.

Anyway, before we could  get involved further it was my turn to be ‘done’ and this time I was determined to notice everything so was really alert and nosey rather than scared stiff and almost suffering a panic attack when the sterile sheet was popped over my face so only my eye was revealed. This time round it all seemed to take place more quickly and in no time at all I was being helped off the operating table and walking out when I spotted the little elderly Sri Lankan woman who was in a wheel chair and shaking so much they’d put a blanket around her shoulders, so I went up and gave her a hug, we smiled and I gave her the thumbs up sign, which brought another smile to her face.

Later, after my Sri Lankan friend  Nanda  helped me dress and I was enjoying a cup of tea and one of the Hemas  Hospital’s very ‘dainty’ (a la Lady Bracknell) sandwiche, with my fellow patients, while the chap who’d weighed us and popped in the first set of drops; marked the eye destined for treatment with a dot of Primapore plus cotton patch on a flap of the same adhesive tape, gave us a pep talk, which Nanda later translated to save the poor fellow having to give the same spiel twice.

This is now the second day and the eye continues to be comfortable. I am able to see everything very clearly and sharply. I can manage without glasses, but my varifocals, useless before, are proving quite helpful for using the keyboard of the laptop I’ve been given the use of during my stay here.

It remains a mystery as to why I have had ALL this amazing laser surgery, plus implants, medication, blood test, ECG, etc., for so much less than it would have cost in UK as well as doing without the predicted long waiting time had I waited for the NHS post-code lottery.

Ah well, off my soap box. Enough ranting for one day.

The Power of the Word

I was reminded of something I read by John Donne, ‘Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls; for, thus friends absent speak…’when I received letters from two friends now living many miles away; it was so true. Their words, written in their own inimitable ways were so different, yet in those words I could still hear their voices as clearly as if they were in the same room with me.

While I enjoy emails, and being able to Skype those friends who, like me, enjoy dabbling in computers, there is still something very special about a handwritten letter or message in a card; although the increasing costs of postage are fast rendering the paper and pen version of correspondence a luxury to be indulged in occasionally; rather like those now frowned upon indulgences like; butter, cream, and alcohol. Though I confess, I still believe that a little of what you fancy does you good – in moderation.

Portrait Picture of Tony Benn

Portrait Picture of Tony Benn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I‘ve been reading Free at Last, the diaries of Tony Benn for 1991 to 2001 and am still only half-way through, but his views, once considered by many to be maverick or outlandish, are proving more acceptable and honourable than any of those held by today’s politicians at Westminster. I blame the media, as well as members of his own political party, for encouraging the denigration of his ideas and concepts. Reading his diaries delivers a view on what a life dedicated to the service of his electorate really meant. He believed that his constituents came before party; such a view would have been poison to someone like Tony Blair, and those who think like him, believing that the party, like John Mortimer’s Mrs Rumpole, is ‘she who must be obeyed’.

Rumpole of the Bailey

Rumpole of the Bailey (Photo credit: Sarcasmo)

Of course, being honourable, honest, and having principles you feel you have to ‘stick to’, is probably rather old-fashioned these days when lining one’s own pockets and offering to use one’s  influence in return for money is making headlines in the daily news. It just goes to show – nothing changes, only the names and the faces. So many highly qualified people are having difficulty in making a living, while these political fat-cats get sleeker by the minute, with no end in sight to their globe-trotting glitzy persona. Ah well, a good book on my shelf is a friend that might turn its back on me, but remains a friend.