I’m very lucky to be healthy enough to walk to work. You can imagine how delighted I was to find snow on my way last week. Enjoy!
I’m very lucky to be healthy enough to walk to work. You can imagine how delighted I was to find snow on my way last week. Enjoy!
I finally heard back from the hospital that they haven’t lost me in the system. My surgery will take place in March and that I’ll get a letter in the next week with a specific date and details of what to expect. I will admit to feeling very nervous about the procedure: I’m not going to a private hospital this time where I’ll have my own room and a nice breakfast the next morning. I always likened the private hospitals to “hotels with drugs” because I was in absolutely no severe pain after surgeries there.
NHS hospitals have a certain reputation here: they’re not very well maintained, not entirely clean and we have to wait and wait for a surgery date only to be told that the date will be postponed by letter. It’s an irritating process I’ve entered into here and I’m forced to admit that the system isn’t perfect.
It’s made me think… Am I better off here?
I met an Englishman in the past couple of weeks who said that he really liked his visit to Las Vegas but he thought that he really wouldn’t want to be poor there. I could only agree. As someone with chronic illnesses I would have been entirely unable to reach a certain standard of living over there – I’ve needed surgery too often. Had I remained in the US and got my diagnosis, I wouldn’t be able to get health insurance thanks to “pre-existing” nonsense that health insurance companies give Americans. I still can’t quite see how any American in my position (and there are quite a few) would be able to get the treatment that they need. For instance, I wouldn’t be able to pay for my surgeries – who can afford that? I wouldn’t be able to work without the surgeries curbing my symptoms. In short, I would have quickly been destitute and in so much pain that I would probably want to kill myself.
England saved my life. I don’t want to kill myself. I handle my pain management as best I can and I know that after this surgery (all going well – *touch wood*) I’ll still be able to work and I’ll be able to afford the mortgage. I am still a valuable member of society. In fact, all things considered, I’m a high-achiever.
I had a hard week this past week. I had a head and chest cold from Saturday to, well now really. I was well enough to go back to work on Wednesday though and struggled through the last three days. It’s little wonder that I caught a cold: I’m still very up and down with my grief so it’s little wonder that I am a bit run-down.
While I was off work I was feeling terrible – mentally as well as physically – so I watched some films I’ve been meaning to see for some time but haven’t been in the right mood. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was great and the ending nearly had me vomiting but the basic premise was wrong. The camp commander’s family lived near enough to the camp that his son could see the camp outside his bedroom window. The son presumes it’s a farm and, although he’s told not to, goes to visit. And there lies my problem. The Germans were far too efficient to allow a Jewish child to sit on his own for long and certainly wouldn’t allow an Arian child to sit and chat to an inmate. I had to keep reminding myself of this fact afterwards in order not to dwell on it.
The other film I saw on Monday was Life is Beautiful. Despite it being a holocaust film, it is life-affirming! Completely unbelievable yet when the end comes, I found myself thinking “How’s he getting out of that?”
On Tuesday I saw Casablanca. Have you ever seen it? It’s more than just a love story. Very very good. Then I realised that I’d want to do myself in if I didn’t cheer up so then I saw a comedy which didn’t work well and was completely forgettable since I cannot remember which film I saw. (!)
Wednesday at work was OK. I really struggled in the morning but felt a bit stronger in the afternoon. I was still coughing my way around the office but managed to stay the whole day. Unfortunately we received an email saying that our free car parking was coming to an end as of the end of October. That coupled with the fact that my friend who I’ve been carpooling with three days a week is retiring made me really start to panic about money. I came home and started doing the numbers: should I get a train ticket or do the local Park and Ride? The train is more reliable with winter coming but will mean that my feet will take a beating and I’m getting the same feet problems my mom has… The Park and Ride costs about the same, I’ll walk almost as much but will mean that I can carry things more easily… As you can see I’m still debating the pros and cons of my options…
Thursday was awful. One of the partners from our head office came in, full of the joys of spring and said to me “Isn’t it a wonderful day?” I looked at him and said “What’s so great about it?” However, I really wanted to say “How do you think I’m going to afford to visit to my father’s grave next year now that my friend is retiring and you’ve taken away my free parking?” but managed to resist. Biting your tongue is often a good option in the office. He didn’t quite know what to say and left me alone. His comment sent me into a foul mood on top of my coughing around the place. I cried for a while in the toilet. Lucky for me, my HR lady was in a meeting with him that morning and, when she emerged, she said that he truly hadn’t known that my dad had recently died. So now I knew I had to brace myself: the guy isn’t a heartless bastard and I knew he would apologise. Later that afternoon he apologised nicely and said that I must have thought him very insensitive. Well, I said it’s OK, as you do, and that our HR lady had mentioned the conversation they’d had. He was still being nice to me so I told him “Don’t be nice to me.” I don’t know about you but I go to pieces when people are nice to me. Well he laughed and said “Get back to work! (pause) No seriously…” and he touched my arm and apologised again. I went to pieces. I HATE crying in the office.
That night Helios and I were meant to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in concert but I asked him if we could skip it and cuddle on the couch instead. I’ve seen DVDs of the band and would like to see them live (Their rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has to be heard to be believed!) but I just wasn’t up to it. I don’t regret skipping it but hope to see them again at a point when I’m feeling better about life.
Luckily I had a dream where I was actually having fun on Thursday night – one of the symptoms of my polycystic ovaries is strange and vivid dreams. I was at an office party where a number of other office parties were taking place. (This happens a lot in the UK.) As I’m organising my office Christmas Party this year, I think my brain was concentrating on that! It was OK until I saw a popular girl from my high school. When she turned up in my dream, all jet-lagged and unhappy, I went over to say hello. Everyone in her office wanted to talk to me about UK/US differences and how I felt about living in the UK. She didn’t talk to me much, which made me think that she was jealous which made me feel slightly superior. I know it’s pathetic but after the day I had, just feeling competent was an achievement. While I was chatting, the people from my office left so I went off to find them. In another room there was a wave machine and I went surfing. It was great fun and I woke up wondering if I should really be beating myself up as much as I do?
Friday at the office was easier: the head-honchos weren’t in and I got on with some filing. I’m not looking forward to the next couple of weeks at work: my line manager (wonderful woman!) is on her fortnight break and I’ll be in charge of office admin. I’ve been left plenty of notes and have been told to ring her if needs be. Normally her going away is a little stressful but nothing I can’t handle. I acknowledge I’m really not myself at the moment, however, and I hope I don’t struggle while she’s away.
I grew up in the Midwest United States. It’s a flat region. The land is flat – like a piece of paper. Indeed, it could be considered to be flatter thanNorwich! The land is vast and featureless. There the farmers grow corn and beans. In fact, have you ever seen North by Northwest? You remember the bit where the protagonist is running away from the airplane that’s coming? That was filmed in my region!
The winters are unspeakably cold and are characterised by snowstorms so violent that you can’t see your hand at the end of your arm; ice storms that create beautiful but deadly sculptures on the trees and fences; and wind that makes snow drift like sand in a dessert. It can be a cruel place to live. I think the people who stay have a rugged determined streak. The place has a beautiful barren quality in the winter. If you grow up there, you can’t help but be a strong individual.
The summers are equally taxing. I will say it’s hot but that is something of an understatement. It’s a sweltering hot. The humidity, without a cloud in the sky, can easily reach 98%, 99% and even 100%. Imagine a Turkish bath but with the sun beating down on your head… As an Englishwoman, my first instinct is to open the windows in the flat if I’m hot but in theUSI close everything and turn on the air conditioning. For example, I remember my ex had a hard time with this concept; I’d notice he’d open the window of the car and I’d tell him to close it again: it was hotter outside! It’s little wonder that we don’t spend a lot of time in the sun!
I grew up in a more innocent time. Terrorism was something that happened to other people in other places. As much as I see that Americans were wrong for believing that two oceans would keep out the madness, at the time I didn’t appreciate the cocoon that I lived in.
On September 11th 2011, with 5 hours time difference, it was the afternoon when I first got an email from a friend about the attacks. The first thought was that it was a tragic accident. The next few hours, with yet another plane and another plane going down, we all wondered with horrified awe “What next?” Although I didn’t know anyone there, I couldn’t help but cry.
My ex husband was due to be on a conference call with someone in the World Trade Centre and, frustrated, he left the meeting room to find out why he couldn’t get through to find no one could get through to New York.
A few months later my ex and I travelled to the South of France. We overheard some Americans behind us in a queue talking about the new and severe safety procedures put in place when they travelled. My ex – in a very loud voice – said “New Yorkers got what they deserved on September 11th – they’ve been funding the IRA for decades!” While my ex believed the attacks were a consequence of meddling in international politics, I focused on the future.
At the time I said to anyone who would listen that we shouldn’t send troops over to Afghanistan and Iraq. Because Americans felt they had to do something, I advocated sending over the Army Corps of Engineers to Afghanistan and building hospitals, schools, irrigation systems and roads to encourage farmers to become builders and, those that remained in farming, should be given help and advice from the Americans to ensure that they grew food – not poppies.
Of course having a more positive response wouldn’t cure the world’s ills, but we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today had we looked at September 11th as an opportunity to break out of our cocoons, to show that we value life equally across the world, to provide inspiration for the politics of understanding and forgiveness. Sometimes it’s a good idea to draw a line under something horrible and, by doing something positive in response, the world benefits.
Ten years later my life is a million times better than it was back then: I’m married to the love of my life; I have my multiple diagnoses for my chronic illnesses and, thanks to plenty of time and effort, I manage them reasonably well; and I live in a quiet village and enjoy a relatively stress-free life. Unfortunately, some people haven’t had such a positive decade.
Peace to you and yours.
It’s been over a week since my dad died. I couldn’t go to the funeral so instead sat at home and cried while looking at photographs. Mom went in my place and I asked her to see if she could collect some photos from his brothers for me. I’m not saying I don’t have photos, I am saying that I emigrated and only brought with me what I could carry. More photos would be nice.
Mom rang me after the funeral. She said Dad looked great. Everyone in the family said how big he’d gotten but Mom didn’t see it. Bless. She always was very tactful but I knew he was large, even by American standards. She recognised most of the family but had to be re-introduced to a few. Bearing in mind that she was divorced from Dad over 35 years ago, I’m impressed she recognise anyone as I’d have thought they all would have changed a lot. She said the service was lovely. She took a couple of pictures of the gravestone and of the flowers that I’d sent – carnations and roses. It was a beautiful bouquet.
What made Mom and me laugh was that a couple of Dad’s ex-girlfriends went to the funeral to pay their respects. I think that Dad would have liked that – family, friends and a harem of three attended his funeral.
The day after the funeral I went back to work – as I only got two days compassionate leave. I worked Thursday and Friday this past week. I struggled but was, in some ways, relieved for the distraction of work. I’m working on finishing a huge filing project so all I did for two days was archiving. OK, I stopped for a cry from time to time but I made the effort and that’s what counts.
Thursday morning I was first in the office. There was a small bouquet of pink roses and carnations from one of the girls and, of course, all I could do was cry – especially as those were the flowers that I’d sent to pay my respects. At least I was in the office alone and had enough time to pull myself together before everyone else arrived.
Dad had Parkinsons Disease from a shockingly early age. It must have been awful to be diagnosed with something that will kill you slowly and remove so much of your mental capacity. For a few years we hoped that medical science would come up with a cure but stem cells haven’t yet yielded successful results.
The first symptom was a tremor. He said he felt it in his left (he was left-handed) thumb but I first noticed it when his left hand was incapable of stopping. You know how ice tends to stick to the bottom of a glass? He could shake that stuff loose without any effort at all! At one point we went to one of those professional portrait people, I remember it clearly because I had to hold his hand to keep it still. Parkinsons crept through his body steadily: his right hand began to shake, then his feet and legs and he began to have problems walking…
One of the side effects of his many medications was the faces he would pull. I’m sure part of the reason I have such an expressive face is because I used to mimic him. I stopped mimicking him after he said “Are you making fun of me?” He didn’t understand that I was trying to be like him.
Parkinsons not only made Dad shake. He had dementia and paranoia and regularly hallucinated. In the end he suffered more than anyone ought to – more than my worst enemy ought to. He had Parkinsons for over half his life. He was only 66 when he died.
I’ll try to remember the good times. When I was young he used to take me to McDonalds of an evening and, when I’d call him “fatso” he’d never got angry, he’d just call me “skinnyso”. I’d mock his thick 70s moustache and laugh at his platform cowboy boots. Despite my scorn, Dad never got angry. He’d just come back with a silly retort – “Shazam!” and I knew he didn’t take it personally. It was moments like this when he’d say “I love you” not by saying “I love you” but by calling me “Daughtershine”.
I was a bit older when I arrived at his house to find that he’d taped the college basketball game on the TV – “you have to see this”! I was grateful he’d taped it. We’d won the game in the last seconds when our player threw the ball from the halfway line – a successful last-ditch effort. Dad and I shouted and punched the air together.
Thanks for everything Dad. You may not have been able to give me monetary things but you gave me the ability to laugh at myself. I’m sorry I wasn’t a better daughter to you. I know you wanted grandchildren. I know I was a disappointment. I’m sorry for that. I miss you.
You may recall that I was born an American but moved to England for good in 1995. I can’t help but mention the odd difference between the two cultures from time to time…
My Helios is a red-head. While I was raised to not judge people by colour of their skin, in England there is a long-held prejudice against red-heads. Oh sure there is the preconceived notion that red-heads have a terrible temper on both sides of the Atlantic. But in the US that’s really where the generalisations and persecution stops. When I was young, the thought that red-heads have a terrible temper never stopped me from making friends. Consequently I found that red-heads don’t have any more of a temper than I do.
However, in England the treatment of red-heads is so objectionable that it’s little wonder they are commonly thought to have a terrible temper. This English prejudice ranges from a cold adjective thrown at a red-head to downright humiliation. Helios is regularly called “Ginger”. While in the US this is simply another adjective to describe a red-head, while in England “Ginger” is usually said with a cold venom.
More disgustingly, red-heads are also regularly called “ginger pubes” – as if red-hair shouldn’t stop on their heads. It is common practice for hen parties to go to pubs and force the prospective bride to perform certain embarrassing tasks. These tasks always include asking a red-headed man to reveal his lower-garden for general ridicule.
Red-heads are always considered to be less attractive than blonds or brunettes. I was once told by a former friend to never have children with Helios just in case it came out ginger. “You wouldn’t want a ginger baby!” she said. I didn’t stick around long enough to ascertain if she meant that she understood about the prejudice and how hard a red-headed child might have life in the UK– or if she simply meant that any child that Helios and I might have produced had the potential of being ugly. It’s a good thing I’m not a violent woman because that former friend nearly got a smack in the mouth!
I first met my Helios on the telephone – he worked in a different office of the same company. We became friends without really knowing what the other person looked like. So when we had the necessary conversation involving what the other person like when we met for the first time, he described himself as “fat, bald and ginger”. Well, let me tell you, he’s not fat – he’s actually very trim considering he has a desk job! He’s bald, but I’m not in my 20s anymore and now find a man without hair to be very attractive. As for ginger – that’s just a hair colour to me. Although in the environment I’m discussing, you can understand why I thought he was putting himself down in three quickly-typed adjectives.
It’s a practice that I never really understood – the ridicule of another group simply because they are different. There are enough hurdles in life without placing another before someone needlessly!
The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is 21st June. For London, sunrise is at4:42 a.m. and sunset is at9:20 p.m. today.
Having grown up in the Midwest US, I really appreciate the longer summer days. Sure, the summers here are cooler and you cannot guarantee sunshine in England, but the extra sunlight certainly does brighten the mood!
Happy Summer everyone!