Wednesday 29 July 2009


Dad made it so we could have a lovely day altogether to celebrate his birthday. It was a day full of laughs and jokes, and lots of photos were taken, until we got one just right.

In March however, Dad died.

He had fallen ill with an infection, which was not uncommon. Perhaps knowing that something was more than amiss, my step-mother called me and I spoke to him on the phone, but due to his fever, he had burbled incomprehensibly. My step-mother told me to keep talking - so I told him all my news.

The next day he was in hospital. We had thought it was a normal infection, but after a scan they found a tumour, which must have been growing inside. As Dad had requested not to have treatment, we knew this would probably be the end, so we all travelled to the hospital. He had a nice room, with a view of the sea. We cried, sat and held his hand, laughed and joked over funny memories of our childhoods and his dodgy driving skills. Dad was unconscious throughout, but we liked to think he knew we were there. After we had left for the night, my step-mother sat with him and - just like that- he stopped breathing. We had expected him to go on for a few days longer, but perhaps, once we had all been there and said our farewells he decided it was time.

I'm so happy for him that he has got his wish, but I'm even more glad that we all got to be there with him near the end.

Rather poignantly, the very last - comprehensible - thing he said to me, was 'when you are writing your thesis, think of me'. And I do.

Friday 2 January 2009

Dad II

My dad tried to take his own life recently - twice. He told us he had had enough, I understood why, but it was hard to let go. I said I still needed him: he had always been an important figure for me. While I had needed to act more as a parent to my mum, supporting her when my dad left, my dad was the adult I turned to for guidance and advice.

He didn't succeed, and selfishly, I'm glad. I have him around for a bit longer. But I realise now that of course, I'm old enough to make decisions without his input. I haven't relied on his advice for many a year. His life is plagued by his Parkinsons and frequent infections and he sees no point prolonging it. He has said he will wait for nature to take its course. I hope for him that it's soon, but not before we (all four of his children and his five grandchildren) go to celebrate his birthday later this month.

Hang on in there Dad. We love you.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

What can I do with her?

I'm in need of a little therapeutic outpouring.

I dread Christmas, and have done for many years. All because of my mum, because it's at Christmas that she can be at her worst.

Not sure where to begin or how to explain about her, but in a very emotional way she is extraordinarily controlling. She always gets her way and this has dominated (and plagued) my life.

It all goes back to her childhood. She had a lovely first six years being spoilt rotten living the life in India. Then she was sent to boarding school in England and forgotten about (at least that's how she sees it). An alcoholic mother who did forget pre-arranged meetings didn't help. My armchair diagnosis is that my mum is in constant need: she needs to feel loved, needed, appreciated and secure and she tries to ensure this by making sure people say things and behave in a way that makes her feel this way.

Myself, my sister, husbands and children are all paying for this aspect of her past and her present personality. We are all railroaded into paying her constant attention, 'thinking of her' at every moment, catering for her every need (woe betide those who put children first), praising her cooking, home, thanking her for her hospitality or help as if we couldn't have done without it...and so on.

For Christmas this year she has made my sister go to Bristol to collect her, take her to Somerset where she will spend five days, then I have to collect her from Somerset, take her to her home in Bristol, then to my house in Hampshire where she will stay for five nights including New Year's Eve. I have not offered this, she just asked and assumed. If I make out it's difficult she gets huffy, pointing out that she's taking us to the theatre (OH WHY did I agree to it?).

My problem is that she expects all this. I would probably happily offer to do some of what she wants, if she didn't always impose it on me. Not once has she noted that it may be a bit much to ask, that maybe my husband would not want his mother-in-law in the house all that time, that maybe we might have made other arrangements.

I have three other people to think of - not least my husband who is very unhappy about this. She will effectively take up most of his leave time and he finds her difficult at best. But once again it is all about her feeling wanted and needed and having the Christmas she wants. Trouble is - it's not what any of us want.

I feel furious that she's put me in this position again (for the nth time in my life), very very sorry for my family who deserve a relaxing break, incredibly resentful for being forced into this, but, as usual, powerless to do anything about it .

If I confront her about this a massive scene will ensue, with lots of tears ('how can you be so hurtful?") on her part. I know, because that's what always happens. I also know that she is 78 and will never change (because after all, it is me who is being 'selfish'). I feel thoroughly depressed and oppressed.

Friday 12 December 2008



That, was a really hard slog.

Now I can at least think about Christmas shopping, tax returns, Christmas cards and 'sigh' dealing with my mother's visit (she's only invited herself for New Year's Eve!).

Will be back to blog again soon, in the meantime, now to down some wine and have a bath.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

The moment my heart stopped still

Last week I drove my daughter to school. I inched along the narrow road opposite the school, tagging along behind the line of other cars dropping off, held up by the usual groups of teenagers pulsing periodically across the road in front. I hovered momentarily as Chloe stood on the pavement ahead of me, wondering when to cross.

Checking in my mirror, I saw one red car waiting behind and flashing my indicator as if I was about to pull out, I beckoned Chloe across. I watched her trotting over the road and then I saw the black car pull out from behind the red car. In the split second it took, I looked on uselessly, flitting from car to child to car to child and as the two seemed sure to collide, a bestial scream escaped from somewhere deep deep inside. The car stopped. Chloe stopped. A cigarette paper's width between the two. I had done nothing to stop it.

Life could have changed in that instant and it would have been my fault.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Chip chip chipping away

I feel like the ants and the rubber plant in that cheesy song.

I finished my first chapter. It was way, way, way too long but my supervisor was impressed. Then again, it was the personal, intimate, small-scale descriptive stuff - the stuff I do best.

Now I'm on the next chapter - the historical background, my hardest one - and I'm struggling again. Its taken five days to write three pages and progress is painfully, painfully slow. I'm pretty sure what I need to say, what sections to have, but - as my old english teacher wrote in my school report 'clarity still eludes her'. I agonise over writing the simplest sentence, finding expression difficult and spending hours finding the correct references and quotes.

Prior to beginning the chapter I spent weeks reading over my old notes, getting to grips with the mass of information I had on the topic, writing notes of notes, drawing out points. Yet I still don't have the facts, references and quotes at my fingertips. Surely, I think to myself, there must be a quicker way to do this?

Each day, I go to bed, desperately disappointed with what I have achieved. Each day I resolve that the next one will be more productive. Each day I try to think that I get a tiny infinitesimal bit closer to completion but the pace is frustrating.

It feels as if I'm trying to carve a stone sculpture with a toothpick.

Tuesday 26 August 2008


My last visit with my supervisor got me all fired up and inspired. It was good stuff he said - definite PhD quality but I needed to up my productivity. We discussed my slow progress and I set out a plan for the holidays. Do some work every day he said and I resolved that I would.

I decided that I'd work in bed every morning for two or three hours. The kids could fend for themselves.

The first week though I had to see my sister and then we went camping. I took some reading and I did a bit of that in the tent. The next week we went to my mum's. I did a little reading one morning but my mum was fragile and offered little opportunity to work. When we got back we had a lazy week, but I was badly distracted by the olympics which were on in the morning and I was seriously hooked. I worked and watched at the same time but got little done. Then - camping again, work was taken but not touched. Now the olympics is over but I got stuck on a Jodi Picoult book and couldn't drag myself away.

I've finished the book, but instead of getting back to my PhD I'm writing this blog. I don't get it. I enjoy doing the work, I need to do the work, I know that I must get on with why don't I do it? What is it that's stopping me?