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I've muddled my days. This is the day my older sister leaves. Both she and my little sister are very emotional. I am calm on the surface. This mimics the way we coped with boarding school separation all those years ago. Heading back to school was difficult for us all but while my sisters were very vocal with their distress, I went quietly. I resigned myself to my fate and just got on with it. I thought I coped better than they did but realised years later that I internalised my feelings which was as destructive, if not more so.
Osama Bin Laden has been killed. I tell Mum and go to tell Dad who is on his computer. As an ex-journalist he should be interested but he says he doesn't want to be disturbed. I laugh with Mum about this. She wants to see the news and I walk her to the lounge. Dad joins us, boots up the computer, turns the tv down and plays a song from Youtube, one they used to dance to as teenagers. The two of them take a wonderful trip down memory lane. This completely overshadows the breaking news, and rightly so.
This is the first time in ten years that all three of us sisters are together. Mum wants us to go through her jewellery. We sit together to do this but are all in different places emotionally. A is sobbing and hates doing this as it feels wrong to her to be sorting jewellery while the owner is still alive. J is flying home this evening and knows she needs to do this before she goes. For me, it was really special reliving the memories of how much we used to love exploring the jewellery box when we were children.
Today we tackle the shelves of books that will never be read again. They create huge amounts of dust as we sort them by author. There is a running commentary about which ones were good and which ones weren't. A few books are replaced on the shelves to be kept and we use recycled string to bind up the remaining books. We laugh as we try to control the piles as we tie them up. When the job is done we load them into the wheelchair to transport them to the car. We're hoping to get some money for them.
After days of his negativity, I ask him to tell me something positive. He tells me about the ants whose nest is near the swimming pool. During rainstorms, the nest and all its inhabitants are washed into the pool. The ants find a way to coalesce into a single mass in the water and, after the storm, he goes and scoops the ant-raft out with the pool net. He lays the net gently on the ground and suddenly the black mass disperses as the ants scuttle off to rebuild their lives. I wish he had more stories like this.
The taxi comes at ten, a bright pink cab from the women's only taxi company. Thuli, the driver, is chatty, bright and interesting. Her satnav doesn't recognise the address so I use her map book to plot the route. It is a very old book and still has some of the old apartheid street names so takes some detective work. I have to phone Jean to confirm directions but am surprised by how much I recognise on the way. The fare costs a fortune, even by UK standards, but you can't put a price on being safe on these roads.
It's a strange sub-plot alongside my visit. My brother-in-law has recently been reunited on Facebook with the daughter he last saw about seventeen years ago. She's still living in the UK and has a child so he's become a grandad overnight. He asks me to take something back with me to give to them. When I meet him and his partner at the mall, they are so excited to tell me about the things they've bought for the baby. They are bubbling. I am flat. Tomorrow will be the last day I ever spend with my mother.
I try not to think about the big goodbye and focus on doing what I've been doing the past ten days. I massage my mother's legs with oil to soothe the dry, paper-thin skin. I trim her toenails. We laugh a lot. I insert the remaining photos I had brought for her into the photo album. When it's time to go, she makes an effort to sit on the side of the bed and we hug for a long time. I make a joke about seeing her in 2021, tell her how much I love her, then I leave.
The flight is uneventful. I sit next to a young woman who is heading out to see her mother and is excited. I tell her I've been to see family but don't elaborate. I feel such an overwhelming grief as the plane takes off and realise I'm saying goodbye. I don't want to break down on the plane so I distract myself by watching movies back to back. I don't sleep much and am relieved when I'm home. The reunion with R and the kids is wonderful but is tinged with a sadness that I know will shadow my days.
My first day back at work and it's surreal being back in England. I set out for my evening meeting and hit a traffic jam. I decide to find another way but instead of pulling over and consulting a map, I rely on intuition. Once I realise I am heading in the wrong direction, I keep going in the hope I will find a road to get me back on track. By the time I check the map and realise I have to turn back, I have missed the start of the meeting. I am surprised how little I care.
The second of three evening meetings. I hate the stuffiness of some of the politicians who are there and love the vibrancy of the young people. There are coffees/teas laid on for the adults but nothing for the kids so when I am offered something to drink, I refuse on principle. I remember that J carries a supply of drinks in his van and we arrange for these to be brought in. The meeting starts to the sounds of young people popping open their cans and the satisfied and appreciative slurping. This draws frowns from some around the table.
I go for the second interview. I am welcomed warmly and the interview goes well. I tell them how organised I am. At the end, they comment on the note in my CV about playing ukulele. I lament the lack of a local uke group, but they say there is one, and that one of the group works here. They take me to meet her and we chat a bit. In all the excitement, I realise that, as I'm leaving the building, I've left my bag in the interview room and have to go back for it. Not very organised!
These are some strangers who passed through my world today and who never noticed me: the long-haired man walking alongside the A28 with a little dog carried in a baby's sling; the old man who jogs every morning in the park with his dog who always stoops to pick up the poop; the bad kid from downstairs who stands below my window to have a fag; the two men - one young, one old - who cross the park to stand at the old tree stump to talk; the two men walking along the A2 who I thought were possibly migrants.
She brings the little box out from behind her back and passes it to me. It is badly wrapped in brown paper, the tape is folded in some places and the bow that she's fastened to the top is old, creased and stained, obviously recycled from some long distant bouquet of flowers that she was given. She is excited and is bobbing up and down on her toes as she passes it to me. She doesn't say anything but her eyes are twinkling. I tell her she is really kind. She giggles shyly and nods at me to open it.
I am really anxious about handing in my notice. I also feel incredibly sad which takes me by surprise but which shouldn't have. I try to remember all the reasons I've wanted to move on and remind myself of how difficult I have found this job. But somehow the potency of these feelings has receded and what rises to the surface is a nostalgia for the things I am really going to miss: the committed and passionate people, the teenagers, the vibrancy of the events, the excitement and the incredibly moving success stories of the difference our work has made.
Step on a crack, you'll marry a rat/snake or break your mother's back. On Friday the 13th, step on a crack and it will open up and you will fall through and be killed by the devil. I've spent my life avoiding the cracks. Consider the exciting opportunities I've missed: all the snakes I've never kissed; the chance to get my mother off my back by giving her problems with hers; or the opportunity to meet the devil in very dramatic circumstances. I have played safe all my life. Now it is time to start stepping on the cracks.
I meet with my staff team today and want to tell them I'm leaving, but haven't confirmed that A has received my letter of resignation, so I hold off. I feel awful to be talking about the future as if I'll be with them. I know that some of them only took this job because they knew I'd be managing them. I also feel bad I am leaving so soon after all the redundancies, having been one of the ones who was successful in holding onto a job. In the current climate this is the way it has to be.
I send emails out to let people know I'm leaving - first to my staff team and then to the wider team. I have a flood of emails in return which make me cry. Some tell me my news made them cry too. I know people are worried about how things will work when I'm gone but I also recognise that someone new will make new changes and will be good for the team. I have been there so long and done things my way during that time but someone with different strengths and methods will be invigorating for the organisation.
I cannot help myself. I look for patterns in things all day, and attach meaning to them. This morning when I was waiting at the station, I saw three swans flying overhead, a beautiful sight which was quite unusual. On the train home two geese flew by which is also unusual, and I linked them to the swans. I figured that the pattern would be completed by a single unusual bird sighting. I did see an unidentifiable black bird fly past and a single pigeon plodding in the road outside the house but I don't think either of these qualified.
"Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task." William James. I try to understand this procrastination. I wonder if I am lazy but when I sit and write down any day's events, it feels full of important things and I always feel busy. I think I'm either indecisive or afraid of failure. Or ... maybe, just maybe, I am more a thinker than a doer. If this is the case, is there any hope for me at all to be an achiever? I have to change, so, from tomorrow, I'm going to put off procrastinating forever.
You know the building is going to be amazing before you get there. The leafy lanes we drive through are luxuriating in the sunshine. The pebble driveway goes on forever. The house is huge and imposing. It has been divided into flats and we pass residents. One is reading the paper and drinking tea. A couple are wandering the grounds. It is a very quiet, smug and exclusive place. Three tables are set up outside the ballroom with champagne glasses which we will fill for the guests. We are given our tasks for the evening and take up our positions.
How the other half lives ... I'm told about the time they had a Titanic party at the house. They had some props people in to build a huge iceberg that he swears was as tall as his three storey house. They had just erected it when a gust of wind blew it over. It was hilarious. They had special effects in the ballroom which tilted the floor as people were dancing. They had to then vacate the building and head for life rafts which were lined up outside on the terrace. This was where they sat to eat their meals.
The thing about catching trains is that you meet people. We start off discussing which platform we need and end up talking about ourselves. She's a workplace coach off to do training around dealing with transition. I tell her that going through transition is like balancing between two boards on water. While you have one foot on each board there are many wobbly moments. Once you are able to leave the old board and move to stand firmly on the new one with both feet, things get easier. She says she would like to use that analogy in her training.
I get Skyped by the old man. He's sitting at his computer in his dressing gown. It's dark over there and the curtains are pulled. Every now and again I see the headlights of a passing car slide along the curtains. I am struggling to hear what he is saying because there is some strange background noise on his side. Turns out he is downloading some more music from somewhere and it keeps stopping and starting and interrupts our conversation. When it stops and I can finally hear him, I appreciate the effort he makes to be upbeat and positive.
I'm unsure about the insurance for the courtesy car we've been given to drive while they fix ours, so this morning I check with our insurance company. They tell me I'm not insured. I get a quote for a taxi to my meeting - £25! I phone R, who accepted the courtesy car in the first place and who assured me I could drive it. I tell him to sort it. He phones back to say it's done - I'm legal to drive it. I fight the urge to contact the insurance company to make sure he's got it right this time.
It was warm and sunny when I left home this morning and I had the window of the car down. As I headed for the coast the sky gradually darkened until I was driving towards a magnificent blue-black brooding sky. When the rain came it was huge heavy drops at first that needed only an occasional wipe of the windscreen. Then the full force of the storm hit and my wipers worked overtime to keep my view clear, the lorries lifted spray as they passed and I felt happy and relieved and hoped it was raining at home too.
The car they've given me to drive is very basic, worn and uncared for - but for some reason I enjoy this. It has no power steering, is really noisy and I can feel every bump in the road. The radio dials are missing but I worked out how to switch it on, change channels and work the volume by poking the end of a pen in the hole then clicking the pen on and off to notch the volume. I've been watching the mileage creep up and am pleased I will be the one to take it to 111111 miles.
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition that can affect any area of the body, but often affects an arm or a leg. It seems the pain receptors in the brain go haywire. It starts with a seemingly minor injury which you may or may not remember. Then, sometimes years later, a switch flicks on and cannot be turned off and you end up in excruciating pain of every sort. Even a breeze on the affected area can be intolerable. The prognosis is not good and treatment ofen just results in remission but there is no cure.
This is the best garden we have ever had together, with the woodland over the back, the fruit trees and bushes in the beds, the vegetable patch thriving. We eat lunch out in the sunshine even though it is windy. Afterwards I lay on the trampoline and shut my eyes to make myself hear and feel what's around me. The sun is warm, the birdsong so diverse and the wind in the trees is such beautiful music. For a short time, I forget the piles of things to be done and recharge while thinking how lucky, lucky, lucky I am.
There was a time when I was writing and submitting work all the time. I had a whiteboard where I recorded dates of submission deadlines and next to each one, I put the name of what I hoped to submit. I aimed to have ten pieces out for consideration at any one time. When rejections came in, I revised them and sent them back out again. I don't know what happened. Life took over. I lost my office, my whiteboard, my energy, in the house move. I look back at that person with such admiration and miss her so much.
There I was again, sailing close to a deadline. The Leaf diary competition has been in my diary for months. I workshopped "Renovating" and had positive responses from everyone; I just needed to get the word count down. It felt like a very small job which is why I left it so late. When it came to it, the damn thing demanded an overhaul. Every time I plugged one hole, another leak sprung up somewhere else. I did what I could to make her watertight and launched her at 23:41. God bless "Renovating" and all who sail with her.
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