Sweetpeas For Dave

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I so wish this was scratch-and-sniff and I could fully share these beautiful sweetpeas wth you all! They have such a powerful scent, my husband’s allergies won’t allow him to be in the same room. But every year he grows me a pot full because they are my favourite flowers and they bloom in July, which is doubly significant as it is my birthday month and also the anniversary of the death of my younger brother, Dave, age 22, who also loved sweetpeas.

I have struggled for some time to find a way to mention him. We as a family find it difficult to talk about him, even after all these years. His death was so violent, so sudden and so incomprehensible. Far fom home. It is still too raw.

This month is so difficult because he died the day after Mum’s birthday, 5 days before my birthday and 7 days before my son’s second birthday, and in between all those dates we had to cope with a post-mortem, an inquest and a funeral. In fact, I learned of his death as I was getting my toddler son ready to attend his friend’s birthday party. I hid my tears as I operated the music for Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs. Since then, we have added three more July birthdays, so this month is bitter sweet.

One of my other brothers and I have spoken about him in recent times, we have different perspectives as I was away from home in the latter years and there are huge gaps in my memories. However, Judith at Nature Knows Best published a post today that happened to be about grief and the colour of one’s kitchen (yes, really, pop over and read it), and it struck a chord – in particular because we are currently choosing the colour of our kitchen! I commented on her post and it seemed to open a way for me to publish my own post on this topic.

Dave was an artist, poet, lyricist, bongo player; he loved animals, nature programmes and being outside; he hated being cooped up. He worked intermittently, finding it difficult to fit in and adhere to another’s routine. He worked for the park’s department so he could be outside.

When we were young, people thought we were twins, there were only 13 months between us. We both looked like our dad: mousey hair, skinny, short-sighted. He was not in robust health through his short life. I remember him having Scarlet Fever and breathing problems. But he was so strong, he could easily beat me at arm wrestling and I still remember the Chinese burns!

Dave was a bit of a cuckoo and there are few photos of him past a certain age as he rarely seemed to be present for family photos. He was always off doing his own thing. The one below was given to me by my best friend, Denny, with whom he wrote many songs and whose guitar he decorated. Denny still uses it. It is well-worn now!

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I cut some sweetpeas every year and bring them into the house for him. They are fragile, colourful and last only a short time, but they have a strong impact while they bloom and few are unaffected by their appearance.

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Copyright: Chris  McGowan

Ever Tried Wrangling Young Rabbits?

This may seem a strange question on a health and wellbeing blog but bear with me. 

This morning, I was woken by such a commotion in our front garden which seemed to then moved and down our drive. I could hear children, adults, a dog barking, someone shouting to a cat and a child calling to someone or something else and a lot of running back and forth. It took me a while to process it all. At first I thought the neighbour’s dog must have escaped again. I couldn’t hear my husband so I hauled myself out of bed and opened the curtains.

Rabbits! Two of them. Scampering all over, children chasing, adults cajoling and admonishing, a cat and a dog being restrained, utter chaos. I didn’t recognise half the humans running amok on my lawn, jumping over the newly blooming irises. I reluctantly went downstairs and found my husband completely oblivious as he was making juices and hadn’t heard a thing.

I went back upstairs, looked out and one of the fathers gave me a smile and a thumbs up! I assumed that meant ‘success’ and ‘thank you!’

We went about our morning tasks, I had a shower and washed my hair, husband finished juicing, and when he took out the compost discovered that the rabbits belonged to the son of our newly-widowed neighbour, a birthday gift for her older son. But they were back in their hutch, locked up and she was going out, not being any the wiser as to how they had escaped. It appears it wasn’t the first time, and her son gets so distraught when they do.

Not half an hour later, husband goes outside only to discover them sitting at the top of our drive where the young apple trees and tomato plants are, the cat from next door keeping a nonchalantly watchful distance. We had no idea what to do, neither of us having the first inkling of how to entice a frisky pair of bunnies back to their home, nor being sprightly enough to chase after them!

Picture the scene: I am standing holding a towel not exactly sure as to when it would come into play, my husband is wandering about looking clueless and wishing his phone would magically conjure up the neighbour’s number, but we don’t have it.

I suggested he at least shoo away the cat – it doesn’t take any notice of me but doesn’t like him at all – and then he remembered he had neighbour number 2’s number in his cycling book (really) from when we rescued her escaped dog (do you see a theme developing here? We have also in the past rescued former neighbour number 3’s ducks, neighbour number 4’s chickens and neighbour number 5’s two daft senseless dogs from being run over!).

It turns out, number 2 doesn’t have neighbour number 1’s number either, they communicate via Facebook, but does have new neighbour number 3’s (who lives in former duck neighbour’s house, are you keeping up?).

To cut a 2 hour long story short, we got the rabbits coralled behind our shed, hemmed in by wheelie bins and a fireguard.

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The end of the line, nowhere else to run
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Gotcha!

Throughout the entire procedings, the robins kept a beady eye on us, their nest is nearby and they interrupted their collection of nesting materials.

Then the cavalry arrived – or rather by the wonders of bush telegraph, the local neighbourhood rabbit-whisperer!

She wrangled them into a plastic recycling box which was quickly covered with my towel and lugged them back to their home. Which, it soon became evident, was falling apart and all they had to do was lean against the door and the catch fell down, and out they romped.

The grandad had been so excited at making the hutch himself for his grandson’s birthday, but unfortunately the wood near the catch was rotting and the screws were loose. These rabbits were very nifty and not short of a few brain cells.

My husband made a temporary repair, the catch was tied up and a box leaned against the door. An hour later, they were still ensconced in their residence looking a bit out-witted and not at all happy,  but safe.

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Back home

We had all been worried that their young owner would come home from his school trip to find them gone – there are several dogs adjoining our garden, including a Jack Russell and a Retriever, so it could have been very dodgy – it would have been too much so soon after losing his dad, but hopefully he will be none the wiser.

His mum came home and thanked us profusely. She is going to buy a more secure hutch.

What I wanted to say here though, was that out of a potentially disastrous and emotional situation, a new friendship is building.

I have never said more than hello to our neighbour as she passes by on her way to or from school always in a hurry, but since her tragic loss, we have offered help in the form of using our drive for all the visitors coming to support her and her son has begun chatting with my husband when they see each other on the drive: it seems he has a keen interest in cycling, as does my husband. Today was my first proper conversation with his mum as I explained what had happened with the rabbits. She was so grateful and so relieved and as we chatted about her son, she mentioned that she wasn’t sure she had the confidence to take out the two boys on the bikes by herself. I immediately offered my husband’s assistance and she looked really pleased and suggested that perhaps he might take the older son out on the bike track some time. I said he would be pleased to, and he later agreed.

It was a good feeling to have helped saved the day and prevent the family from having to face another loss, as well as finally getting the opportunity to meet properly and offer our friendship if she ever needs it.

Postscript: This episode was particularly poignant on this day when news was coming out about the awful slaying of young children and their waiting parents and grandparents at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester. It felt good to feel useful and to do something positive for our young neighbour at a time of helplessness in the face of such an atrocity.

My thoughts are with all those affected.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Being Thankful During Difficult Times.

I have so many things to be thankful for. I know that and am grateful. For one thing, my family.

I had planned an amusing post about the Easter weekend visit from our littlest grandchildren, their first Easter with us. We had lots of fun and the weather co-operated long enough to have an egg hunt in the garden on the Sunday morning. (More later). Then, that evening something horrible happened – not to us, thankfully, but to our young neighbour. Three ambulances with flashing lights were there for two hours, but he was gone. He was 34 years old and leaves a wife and two young children, one so young he will never have any memory of this time or his dad, the other much older who will remember and miss him forever.

This sad event has affected me very badly. I can’t stop thinking about them and how they’re going to cope, and if they’ll even be able to stay in their home. Fortunately, they have a lot of close family around them, supporting them.

It took me most of the week to realise that the depth of my sadness and growing depression was not caused just by the shock but was mostly about the young children. It brought back memories of when my brother and father died suddenly and tragically, in separate events, and I had to process it all whilst still caring for my young children and trying to keep life as normal as possible for them, when it was anything but for me. I found it incredibly hard. This realisation brought on a bout of sobbing I never thought I’d experience again. Neither of them knew my brother (my son was just a toddler and my daughter not yet conceived), my daughter doesn’t remember my dad. (You can read about him in the Original Writing section of the menu).

During that following week, I heard of three others who had lost their lives – all this whilst also sending positive thoughts to three friends who are undergoing serious medical treatments, and fielding repetitive calls from my elderly mum.

I shelved my Easter post idea, I hadn’t the heart and it didn’t seem appropriate.

I’ve been in a bit of a slump.

I had no desire to post, no inspiration, no energy. I ate copious amounts of (raw) chocolate.

Help arrived in the form of my brother and sister-in-law. They are about to emigrate to the US and are doing their farewell tour. It was touch and go as to whether I could get through without any waterworks! I really am extremely happy, and indeed excited, for them as they are moving to be near two of their children and their three young grandchildren. My mum on the other hand is very unhappy and convinced she will never see them again. I spend a great deal of time trying to convince her otherwise.

We had a busy, lively and very chatty 3 days. Lots of eating, lots of talking – till 2 am – we even played a silly game of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? ( I won, not that it was a competition ;-)). My sister-in-law loved walking in the surrounding countryside, fulfilled her desire to have a ride in our Morris Minor and learned how to make a wholewheat loaf from scratch (no breadmaker involved!). My brother brought an ancient photo album of us when we were kids that I hadn’t seen in a long time, and which brought back lots of memories, a few tears and some laughter. Oh,  and we watched The Tour de Yorkshire cycling!

The tea towel was an attempt by my brother to hide his shiny pate whilst I took the photo, and the cardigan over my husband’s head was a hundredth attempt to see if the night-time screen on his iBooks page was working!! My sister-in-law is pretend-stabbing Heston Blumenthal’s Persian Christmas Pudding, which we had been saving for them since Christmas. They loved it. My husband is from Yorkshire and decided to don the new top our son (from Lancashire) gave him and go for a ride during the early stages of the race, no doubt imagining ‘if only…’ The Carrot, Apple & Spice Cakes with Cashew Frosting were a nice afternoon treat.

We ate homemade soup with homemade rolls; watermelon, curry and brown basmati rice with a green salad; pasta with tomato, veg and red lentil sauce, vegan parmesan cheeze (soaked almonds patted dry and ground with nutritional yeast and a pinch of dry mustard) and green salad, and a lovely fruit salad with vanilla CoYo coconut yogurt. We made a family-sized banana berry smoothie with tiger nut milk for breakfast (but no cacao, see Paul’s ‘Too Much Cacao’ Banana Baobab Smoothie!). The weather was just mild enough to enjoy it outside. The apple and cherry trees were in blossom, the forget-me-nots were making a show and the birds were very busy and very loud!

By the time they left, my physical energy was exhausted (in a good way), but my spiritual energy was restored. I felt like my old self again. Yes, my eyes had misted over when we had waved them off, but mostly I was happy and rejuvenated. We had FaceTimed all three of their children and spoken to their American grandchildren. We Skyped my son and chatted to my daughter on the phone. They were relaxed, amusing and chatty despite he taking time out from a busy working day and she being in the midst of invigilating exams – a tiring and stressful time of year – and it was wonderful to hear her so. They made arrangements to visit them too before their final departure.

So, now I feel up to posting some photos from Easter Sunday:

Raw chocolate crisp nests with homemade marzipan eggs were quickly separated and split up as Littlest Little liked the eggs and Elder Little liked the chocolate! Outside, it quickly became apparent that Littlest Little had a thing about silver eggs: he rejected them in favour of the red and gold ones, but his sister was happy to oblige!

They managed to find all the eggs and make it inside before the heavens opened – I wish I could post the picture of Littlest Little with more chocolate around his mouth than in it! The Easter bunny was extremely generous and had even handmade and wrapped all the silver eggs himself;-) It was a lovely, amusing time (oh, apart from the catastrophic flood from a burst radiator in the dining room just as dinner was about to be served! Our son was an absolute hero, stemming the tide for nearly 3 hours before a plumber arrived).

Thank you, family.

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Dad and Dave’s cherry tree currently in blossom

Rest in peace, Jamie.

Also published on Bernadette’s 52 Weeks of Thankfulness page over on Haddon Musings

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Hand in Hand: A Poem for Father’s Day

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We skip along hand in hand

I on the inside you on the outside

the birds sing the sun shines

on your little girl and my doting dad

*

We stride along side by side

I on the outside you on the inside

darkness falls the moon shines

on your feminist hippy and my fifties dad

*

We stroll along hands on the pram

I on the inside you on the outside

the birds sing the sun shines

on my newborn son and my proud dad

*

We saunter along,  a stick in your hand

I on the inside you on the outside

The clouds darken the rains fall

on your oldest child and my aging dad

*

I shuffle along hands by my sides

down the edge of the road

the air chills the trees stir

I’m all alone you’re no longer here

*

I miss you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

My Dad Walked Straight and Tall Like A Soldier

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My dad

walked straight

and tall

like

a soldier

*

My dad

messed about

in boats

like

a sailor

*

My dad

rode cycles

and bikes

like

a youngster

*

We walked

and

played

like

father and daughter

*

Then…

*

Grudgingly

I laughed

at

his antics

and jokes

*

Moodily

I removed

my make-up

and

rings

*

Frustrated

I cried

when

my arguments

failed

*

Guiltily

I accepted

his

money

and aid

*

Then…

*

Happily

we walked

and

laughed

till we cried

*

But…

*

Devastated

I learned

that

he

suddenly

died

*

Gratefully

I thank

his

support of

his daughter

*

My dad

was proud

and

smiled

like a

father

*

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Copyright: Chris McGowan