Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Time to ask the right questiions

When I was young the last thing on my mind was to sit down with my parents, aunties, Grandparents and ask them to tell me about their lives.  In my late teens I often stayed with my Nan on my time off from nursing and we giggled our way through the days. Grandad and I had our love of books, birdwatching and nature to keep us talking for hours over a cup of tea in a china tea cup.

We would walk to the shops or library together like the best of pals. Me on the inside of the pavement as he protected me from the road, his brown shopping bag swinging on his arm. But I never once asked him or Nan about the Adult School. 

It was their homes I took myself to when I lay in my hospital bed in 2008, distressed in the darkness, unable to move. I walked my memory through each room recalling the chairs - chairs I now sit on at home, the glass clown by the fire at Nans, the bird paintings at Grandads - paintings which now hang on my walls. I rarely got upstairs as I was always asleep before I reached the bottom rung of the stairs.

Last year it was my late Grandad who silently took me by the hand and led me into the Adult School research I am currently doing. He wanted the story to be told. He wanted me to tell the story.

The interviews I am undertaking with many silver  haired ladies and gents make my heart sing out as I see their smiles, their joy in sharing happy memories with someone who is interested in what they have to say. But in my quest for stories, all too frequently I hear:

I wish I had asked my Mum...

I wish we had sat down and talked....

If only I had taken an interest...

So when I sit shoulder to shoulder with my Mum in The Archives and Heritage Dept of the Birmingham Library; we discover letters to and from my Grandad, minutes of meetings written by my great Grandad; notes about my aunt and uncle. 

I smile when Mum excitedly gasps your Dads name is here I didn't know he was on St Oswalds Camp committee. We find letters, brochures and photos some featuring people I have never known, others were uncles and aunts, Grandads and Grandmas who I never thought to ask...

My brain tumour gave me the gift of Time

Time to ask the right questions of octogenarians who want to tell their stories...

The Midland Adult School Youth Committee 1944 - including my Uncle in the backrow
Photograph courtesy of The Midland Adult School Uncatalogued Archives held in Birmingham Library Archives and Heritage. Photographer unknown

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Feel the buzz

On November 17th 2008 I pulled on my Ronhill tracksters, slid my feet into my blue and white running shoes and jogged away from the house.  My last run...

When my brain tumour stole my running and walking legs Mr H refused to go back out running.

I can't he would say, it is not the same without you

But eventually I manage to push him out of the door with a smile. I know running is good for him and I happily stand cheering when Mr H achieves his goals of a 10K and half marathon

I walk my slow hobbly walk around the village and learn to swim...

But over the last year I feel as though I have reached a walking red light. While everyone around me is running... I watch running groups pass the window,  listen to friends and family talking about their couch to 5K training, chat on the phone with friends doing the Race for Life. For Me!

But my running legs are screaming to get moving, they want a challenge, I want to exercise with people.. I want to feel the buzz

I can't walk 5K let alone run I tell the Race for Life organisers as I ask them to consider doing something for people such as me with disabilities due to the cancer...

We will look into it they tell me. But then it all goes quiet...

My friend Chris suggests I try aquafit at our local Gym so I find a group  leader with a sensitive approach to the fact that I have to do my wobbly, slow version of most of her exercises. I find myself grinning and humming the words as I lift my leg to the music while hanging onto the side of the pool.

In my search for more alternatives I discover a circuit training class for people with Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinsons disease. I am welcomed into the arms of this laughter filled hard working group. Vicky the leader is as bubbly as the best champagne and ensures each exercise is tailored to each members ability.. 

We are going to work you hard she tells me with a grin. 

It feels like I am back in the neurology physiotherapy gym I say when she insists I try to lift my left leg rather than swing it to the side...I am back on the balancing board, stepping slowly up and down off a step, using a resistance band to work my arms and legs so hard they shake...

Its back to exercise basics and I am feeling the buzz....

Life is not always about trying to fix something that's broken
Sometimes it is about starting over and creating something better

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A rare find

Oh my goodness I don't believe it, I don't believe it, I say as I look around to see if anyone is watching...

I stroke the orange and cream cover. Gently touch the front, run my fingers across the title and name. I check the date, yes 1814 I mutter to myself, Thomas Pole...

Last week a black cloud had settled over my happiness. Each morning when I woke, happiness sat in my shoes ready to be stamped on with each step I took. Too many seizures. Too many falls.

On Sunday over our cereal bowls Mr H announces you need a day out, a change of scenery, I am taking you to Hay on Wye. On our way we spot a red kite soaring above. I watch its forked tail wavering with the wind and my happiness floats out of my shoes. When we leave the car we mutter uselessly only two books each...

In the cinema book shop, always our first stop, I search for books linked to the research I am now undertaking on the Midland Adult School. I run my finger across the index board on the wall; education and religion this way. I cling to the handrail down four rickety wooden steps and pass two rows of wooden, magically musty book shelves; I find education first. 

As I smile at shelf after shelf of colourful books my breathing slows and my shoulders sink. I dangle my walking stick from my arm as I move along the rows and rows of books. I stop with a doubled heart beat when I spot the words Adult Education! I lift the first book from the shelf .... It belonged to someone called Colin Woods, all the books I slide from their home bear his hand written name. I wonder what he was studying as I start my purchase pile on the floor...

Mr H with his arms full of books, comes to find me. Anything? he asks

I nod grinning at the pile on the floor; look at the orange and cream one; I cant believe it. It's a copy of Thomas Poles' original paper on the first Adult Schools which he established in Bristol!

On the drive home the sun shouts its golden glory as it lights up the green Welsh mountains. I grin at the thought of getting my nine well thumbed books safely home to read. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Toy soldiers...

i am frightened of kerbs I tell my friend Helen when we meet for lunch...

Yesterday I walked back from the bus stop in a step, leg-lift, head down kind of way to avoid a trip on the rippled pavements...

I come to a corner without a dropped kerb, (a lowered section to allow mobility scooters, pushchairs and people like me to cross). I stand and stare at it. Whisper to myself you can do this...

I hesitate and gaze at the kerb edge intently. Just step off I say to myself...

I shuffle my feet to the edge. The road seems so far away; like I am about to jump off a cliff and crash into the dark wild sea.

I stand for a few minutes then turn around and walk back the way I came. Take a running jump at it my inner voice tells me...

I walk towards the kerb 'at speed' as I try not to think about the challenge that looms ahead.. 

But at the kerb my heart drops down to my stomach and I come to a lurching stop. I look up and down the road to check that no one is watching this foot shuffling, hesitant kerb stepper.

Then I walk back again...

As I head towards the kerb for the third time I try not to think about it, la la la. Just step down it's easy I tell myself as the kerb silently taunts me...

But once again my feet come to a halt . 

I look right and left. No one watching. 

Then I lower my stick into the road. Lean on it with my frightened right hand and arm. Take a deep breath then launch my left leg into the air. It lands in the road. I pull my right one after it. I am down. Shaking but down. 

One last furtive glance around and with tears in my eyes I walk the short distance home.

On Friday, at my first one to one Pilates session for 18 months, I tell Sue that I am frightened of kerbs. I need help with my balance again I say as fresh tears drip off my nose...

Ok let's start at the beginning she says. Do you remember the toy soldier?...

Obstacles don't have to stop you.
If you run into a wall (or kerb) don't turn around and give up,
Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.

Michael Jordan

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Call the fire brigade

I can’t do it I squeal as I look up into Mr H’s frowning face, my hiccupped laugh threatening to turn into a wail of despair.

I'm stuck. Not going anywhere. Get me a pillow

There must be a way he says as I sit there shivering…

We’ve tried everything I mutter. I am getting tired. Give me a minute and I’ll try again.

Try turning round Mr H suggests…

I would then I could pull myself up onto my knees but I don’t have the room to turn in here.  I tap the metal white sides which hold me prisoner.

Why did I suggest this I weakly grumble as I grab hold of the taps and try once again to heave my, now almost dry body up…

But I only manage a few inches before my feet once again slide away from me despite Mr H attempting to hold them still with his glue like grip…

I don’t know what else to suggest he says as he paces back and forwards wringing his hands…

Call the fire brigade I say trying hard not to laugh knowing a spurt of mirth will quickly turn into tears. Can you imagine it we giggle; 

dring dring, fire brigade please
I am a naked lady stuck in the bath. I can’t stand to get out. My legs and arms are floppily fatigued...

What about putting your trainers on?

It’s worth a go I say as, like a fire hose, I spray clean water around my naked body. Trying to remove any soapy residue to stop my feet from slithering and slipping like I am trying to stand on an ice skating rink despite the bath mat…

I huff and puff as I dry my feet and ram my blue and white trainers on.

Deep breath, another snigger, then heave ho. My arms shake.My right leg quivers as my left leg goes uselessly rigid. Mr H puts all his weight onto my feet to stop them running anywhere.

I am back on my bath seat. Forty minutes after I emptied the bath water, I am out. Exhausted.

Bad idea I mutter to myself.

Never again.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Grey day but the sun is shining

At choir we sing...

...its a greeeey day, grey day and the sun is shining, greeeey day but the suns gonna shine on everyone 

and my spirits ease themselves out of the murky mist they have been in for the last few days...

But as we walk out of choir, my eyes fill with tears when Julie says 

well it's the weekend. The one we dread...

Oh my goodness you get it and I didn't say a word, I exclaim as we pass an understanding hand over each others shoulders

The wave of grief, loss and what might have been, has been building inside my gut for a while. When I stop at the card shop to buy a Mothers day card for my Mum; with love from your daughter, with love from your Son glare back at me. Taunt me. 

I hate myself for dreading it.  I still have a Mum but I walked around yesterday with tears dripping off my nose and sniffed my way home on the bus I tell her

But its' pinkness permeates everything, flower shops are packed with flowers. In Tesco banners and bouquets announce the day. I want to scream what if I am not a Mum what about me. What if. What if. What if...

Plans are being made, lunches booked, I book one too for my Mum knowing that no one will ever need to book one for me...

Our conversation runs freely once the tap of emotion has been turned on. Maybe we should go abroad for a week we giggle, somewhere where Mothers day is not celebrated

I feel lighter now we are talking about it I say to Julie. We keep up the cover to make it easy for others but inside we are a turmoil of thoughts, sadness, longing  Julie adds through tears

...on our way back from taking my Mum out on Sunday I breathe a sigh of relief as I say to Mr H well thank goodness its Monday tomorrow. A new week...

A flower bloomed, already wilting, beginning its life with an early ending
R.J. Gonzales

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Two Little Words

As a child these two little words used to mean the bus conductor couldn't break into my 50p piece. Or the lady in the sweet shop needed to go to the bank. Or my Mum needed to raid the jam jar for my dinner money.

Then when I was working they meant a patients blood pressure was the same. Or a relatives loved one was still poorly. Or we were short staffed...

But today those two little words bring the sun from behind the clouds. They smear a smile onto my face. And they set me free to walk through the gate to the joyous days and months ahead... 

Seven and a bit years after [removal of] this blighter changed my life

The results of my brain scan show 

No Change!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The King of Makaton

On holiday after a day lying in the sun Mr H ties his bow tie and I choose a cocktail dress from our overfull wardrobe. When we sit down in the bar for our pre dinner sparkling water champagne, I spot a young man snapping photographs around us. It looks like you are having fun I say and after a chat we invite them to join us. In that moment of serendipity we meet two exceptional people...

Chris tells us he teaches Makaton: a language programme using signs and symbols to help people to communicate

Oh I would like to learn I tell him...

Can you teach me No Cake I ask

Of course...take your main hand and hold it up like this

then sweep it to the side, that's No Chris grins

Then cup your hand and place it on top of your other like this

That's Cake

I practice No Cake You've got it Chris smiles

I keep doing it as I stare at Mr H and he throws his head back and laughs. I explain that I eat too much cake so now Mr H can silently try and stop me!

Chris teaches Makaton at Hallam University, he also teaches some of the Police officers where we live Nicky tells us, Chris is too modest to tell everyone but I am so proud of him...

Some people confuse it with British Sign Language (BSL) Nicky tells us as we sip our ice cold drinks, but it is different. More accessible. Simplified

Chris chips in to tell us a tale:
About three years ago I was teaching a group of senior nurses when two nursing Professors who were sat in the front row, started talking to each other. I stopped teaching and said excuse me, please listen, I am teaching you...

Wow well done, people talking used to drive me mad when I was teaching...What did they say?

They stared at the floor. They went red. Embarrassed. 

How long have you been signing Chris we ask

Mummy started using it when I was a baby and couldn't talk. It helped me to visualise words. She told me stories, signed books for me.

I love my Mummy Chris says with a sideward glance at his Mum, She encourages me but she's strict. I tell everyone I am so lucky to have her as my Mummy. She fights so hard for me, she's a lioness. When people stare at me she has taught me to ignore it, so that's what I do. Ignore them. 

He has had articles written about him Nicky tells us beaming, her eyes twinkling with love and pride. if you tap Chris Sampson Makaton into Google and you will find lots more... famous then I smile. Mr H says Chris you are The King of Makaton!

We meet each evening after that, eager to hear more, learn more from Chris and Nicky. 

One evening, Chris takes his ipod out of his pocket and shows us a video of him signing a rap which he did for a drama group audition; he was immediately accepted they tell us. He shows us a recording of him teaching Occupational Therapy Students at a Conference to sign a song from Glee...

Please teach me Don't Stop Believing ...

Take your main hand like this..
Thats Don't

Then Stop is like No

Point to your head like this for Believe

Then this is for!

Thats our Mantra in life Nicky tells us Don't Stop Believing... Mine too or Never Ever Give Up I say

You are an inspiration Chris, you both are. 

The best teachers 
Teach from the heart 
Not from a book

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hope is like the Sun

A small cappuccino please I ask


A cappuccino without chocolate is no cappuccino at all I say

I agree the dark haired young assistant says as he shakes the bean shaped powder over my frothy white drink.

I sit at the only empty table next to two doctors dressed in blue scrub suits, A&E I think, not theatre I hope - too much of an infection risk. As I settle into the hard brown chair and pull out my book they lower their voices and lean towards each other. I stare at the words on the page and try not to listen.

Mr H rings my mobile in reply to my text I am here

I am too busy to join you now he says apologetically, hesitatingly.

Its OK I tell him, I knew you would be swimming in post holiday work on your first day back. I am as calm as the Caribbean sea, sipping cappuccino and reading. My head is still on the ship I smile.

I lift my suntanned face from the pages and watch pale people being pushed in aqua green and white wheelchairs, people walking with crutches, others holding tightly gripped hands. A cleaner mops a patch of floor and leaves her mark, a yellow plastic pyramid warning Caution! I don't belong here any more my mind whispers to no one in particular...

I scan my appointment letter and I am back at the airport - Go to Gate 19 and wait the screen tells me. My flight into the MRI scanner is due to take off at 15.00hrs.

As I walk towards Gate 18 to catch a lift to 19 a butterfly knot of anxiety starts to tangle tightly below my ribs. I breathe in and out slowly as I wait for my scan. My annual confirmation that I still have an almost tumour free brain.

I hope

Hope is like the sun, which,
as we journey toward it, 
casts the shadow of our burden behind us.
Samuel Smiles