Monthly Archive: August 2014

Week 14: Curve ball

Last week on his way home Husband had an accident on his moped, caused by a cyclist running a red light. Superficially it didn’t seem a bad accident. No harm done to the moped anyway. However, in attempting to avoid the collision with the cyclist and then self-correct, Husband shot out a foot, which met the tarmac, sending severe forces up to his knee and fracturing his tibial plateau.

He was taken by ambulance to UCLH. Three days later – that is, last Friday afternoon – he had an operation to insert a metal plate to hold the knee together. I had taken the number of the nurses’ station to call; this seemed better than hanging around the ward on the day of the operation. At 5pm I phoned up. The woman who answered couldn’t help, but assured me that Ron, Husband’s nurse, would call me right back. By 6.30, no return call.

I’m not an especially panicky person, but I did think that Husband might be dead. They wouldn’t want to give you that information over the phone, would they? Husband has an odd but powerful allergy – to sticking plaster – and I’d had to remind him to tell the hospital staff about it. Reassuringly, this led to his wearing red wristbands. But what if he had a similarly random but powerful allergic reaction to anaesthesia? What the hell is anaesthesia? I decided to go in. I arrived at the ward and saw the empty space where Husband and his bed had been. The first person I asked wanted to be helpful but didn’t know anything about Mr G. The second person couldn’t help either but told me to talk to Ron. Ron was busy with a patient and so I waited, stricken.

Finally, Ron had done all he had to do there and peeled away. I tried to intercept but a woman sitting by a man in the next bed got in first and called out to him, ‘We asked for tea half an hour ago.’ Ron promised to see to this.

Oh God. She thinks she’s in a café. Ron’s going to disappear to make tea. Oh God. I stepped in front of him and forced some words out of my constricted throat.

‘Excuse me, I’m looking for my husband, Mr G.’

‘I can only bring up one patient at a time,’ said Ron narkily.

This told me two things: Husband is alive! He wouldn’t have said that if he was dead. And secondly that I would have to grind Ron’s head into the dust.

I left the ward. Time to give myself a serious talking-to. I eschewed the lifts and walked down many flights of stairs to the reception which, at UCLH, is quite airy and calm. I had to dig deep to find empathy with Ron. He might have felt put upon by the woman demanding tea. Understandable. He’s not a waiter. He’s probably a good nurse. He didn’t know me; he had no idea I’d worked myself up into a state. He might have assumed I had some idea what was going on. All that is possible.

Additionally, it was most important that I do not appear at the bedside of my husband – gloriously alive but newly emerged from anaesthesia – like a fizzing firework gone off course.

Three-quarters of an hour later I was myself again. I returned to the ward and there was Husband, looking fine. A little spaced out, a little pale, but fine. In my handbag I had some slices of his latest bread, which had been in the freezer. He ate it like a hungry lion. All will be well. Just eight weeks of first-stage recovery to get through.

‘You know,’ he said, ‘I wasn’t worried about the surgery, but I was worried about the anaesthesia.’

‘Oh yeah, were you?’

 Goodbye, Alex


The bike (LX 125, known as Alex) was parked by the police at the Holborn Hotel after the accident. I collected it the next day. The concierge was most kind and sympathetic and wanted to know how the gentleman who’d had the accident was faring. Then I had to find someone to help me lift the bike off its stand because I couldn’t manage it; another kind person. I wheeled it off to this motorcycle parking place (in the picture) and got another kind passer-by to help me get it back on its stand so that I could chain it up. So much kindness around when you need it. But please let me never see this moped again.



Goodbye, London . . .

On Monday I brought Husband home from the hospital by taxi and he is now ensconced on the top floor, where he will mostly stay put for a few days. Living in the top two floors of a Victorian terraced house with many steps, each of which has a narrow tread and a high rise, is not fun for someone with one leg in a brace. He has read this blog piece and was shocked that I’d been unable to get information about him, but does want me to say that he found almost all the nurses very good or outstanding.

The moped is not being abandoned, in case you should think that. It is being sold. It is a very dependable vehicle.

And, no, we still haven’t exchanged contracts.

Week 13: Daily bread

We still have not exchanged contracts. The buyer has a second solicitor, at the behest of his mortgage company, and the second solicitor is raising the same enquiries as the first solicitor, and in a similarly tardy fashion. Meanwhile, we have been pressured by our moving company to place a hefty deposit to secure our desired dates, the dates we – seller, buyer, agent – have in principle long agreed to, but which come ever closer with no guarantee they will be met.

At least I have conquered the attic, that long-term beneficiary of procrastination, indecision and amnesia. It is now empty.

Stuck in this tight spot, I should like to concentrate on bread. These are some of Husband’s recent loaves, which it has been my pleasure to eat and share. I am otherwise dumbfounded, hence this week’s brevity.

Our daily bread: the rye sourdough

Our daily bread: the rye sourdough

Rye sourdough released from its baking dome

Rye sourdough released from its baking dome – requires good gloves

The weekend treat: the levain

Weekend treat: the levain

Gluten-free bread with linseeds; probably the nicest gluten-free bread ever

Gluten-free bread with linseeds; probably the nicest gluten-free bread ever


Inside a cheese and olive bread; also black rye loaf and levain

Inside a cheese and olive bread; also black rye and levain


Bubbling sourdough starter: not doughy at all. Might not look appetising but it leads to wonderful bread

Bubbling sourdough starter: not doughy at all. Might not look appetising but it leads to wonderful bread

Week 12: Documentation part 2

We still have not exchanged contracts. I would be at the point of despair, except that the buyer turned up here on Sunday. He does exist, he’s perfectly nice, he wants the flat. We were able to discuss details face to face and so get round some of the elaborate incompetencies of solicitors. We all shook our heads in astonishment and looked at the floor in resignation at just how bad conveyancing can be.

lettersI had recently emerged from the attic and so was rather grubby. In there, I had found a box labelled ‘stuff to sort’. (I might mention here that the attic is my domain, not Husband’s. I’m in charge of what goes up there.) The battered box contained a rather precious collection of old photographs and letters. Letters are an increasingly rare form of communication and all the more precious because of that, but what amazed me about this little treasure trove was that I’d entirely forgotten I had it. It could have gone up in smoke and I’d never have missed it. Now that I’ve found it again, I couldn’t throw it away. It will come to Portugal in a new box – the old one was too dusty – and be put away and then I will meet it again in another ten or fifteen years with a similar sense of why-did-I-keep-this combined with I-cannot-throw-this-stuff-away.

Everything on the Portuguese side is looking good. Best of all, my London accountant and the Doutora of Taxes in Portugal have made one another’s acquaintance over the phone and sorted out everything between them. I don’t have to worry about another thing, apart from keeping records and paying up. The mysteries of taxation and double taxation and everything related to them are theirs to keep.


Dad was the first-aider of the family

Dad was the first-aider of the family

At the start of this blog, I described the impulse for this move as ‘hardly felt’. None the less, I think I know when it was. The ‘slight inner adjustments’ (see Week 8: borrowing the words of Sebald) for me began in the final weeks of my father’s life. Like most fathers, mine liked to try to teach his children things. Like most children, at a certain age I stopped listening. In the last weeks of his life, I had my eyes and ears opened to some powerful lessons from my father: about bravery, about love, and about death. And when you feel love, and look very closely at death – a good death at the end of a long life – living is altered, even enhanced. You carry a small nugget of sadness and disbelief inside you, and a series of inner adjustments takes place. Possibilities begin to suggest themselves. The idea of change becomes appealing. Risks seem worth taking. Before long, you are making life-altering, life-enhancing decisions and hardly know how they occurred.

My father would be fully in support of this move. Or, from wherever he’s watching, is fully in support of this move. And the documenting of it in a blog: he’s somehow behind that too. Perhaps it is just a thin veil separating the living from the dead.

The view from the front terrace of our house-to-be

The view from the front terrace of our house-to-be

Week 11: Documentation

As this post goes out, we are on the verge of signing and exchanging contracts on the sale in London. It’s a few days later than my ultimatum, but good enough, I think.

Part of the hand-written inventory for the new house

Part of the hand-written inventory for the new house

The paperwork is also piling up for our purchase in the Algarve. All the documents seem to be in good order, but then we expected that from the Sensibles. Because it is, in a legal sense, three properties, we have three land registry documents, three tax title certificates and two habitation licences; one of the three properties is a ‘rustic’ property and doesn’t require a habitation licence.

We also have an inventory from the Sensibles, which includes this life-enhancing list of trees:

olive, carob, medronho (‘strawberry tree’), pomegranate, orange, lemon, peach, plum, fig, vine, apple, pear and pine.

Dad handsomeMy dad

Behind all this in ways he probably could not imagine, but I will at some point endeavour to explain, is my father. It is almost a year since he died. At the beginning of next month, on the first anniversary, we will raise a glass to him, a glass of Krug, gift of a generous author of mine in thanks for editorial work done, and which we have been keeping for this occasion.

Dad in the prime of his life, engaged in his favourite hobby: sea-fishing

Dad in the prime of his life, engaged in his favourite hobby: sea-fishing

In his final year, my father was too ill to enjoy life much, although he always managed to look rather fine: he had a head of thick, dark hair right up to the end of his life, and good skin, and so his appearance perhaps belied how he felt. Any compliments as to his good looks would be met with a characteristic wisecrack: ‘Oh, I’ll make a lovely corpse.’ (You can take the man out of Bootle, but you can’t . . . etc.) In the last few months of his life, he became so ill that he needed full-time care, which was provided by a mixture of the NHS and Social Services. This was, in so many different ways, a torment for every one of us. He developed vascular dementia. This sent his always considerable imaginative powers right off the scale, but he never lost the ability to recognise his family. Even if he thought he was under some kind of benevolent guard rather than in a hospital, and that tunnels were being dug throughout the surrounding countryside, and birds were flying in formation at the window while displaying shields, he still knew us, and in this we were enormously lucky. Every time we turned up at his bedside – which was often, as often as we could make it – he swelled with pride. ‘My children give me substance,’ he said.

My father had always been a reserved, slightly imposing, somewhat moody man. He bore the responsibilities of life heavily. He was as loyal and devoted a husband/father as anyone could be, but he rarely displayed his affection, certainly not as we grew older. He saw his role more as that of giving authority and trying to make sure we kids were toughened up a bit in preparation for a harsh world, and in this he was quite typical of his time, and it reflected his own, quite hard upbringing. What he particularly wanted for all of us was education and training and the opportunities that these could provide. His own ambitions had been thwarted at the age of fourteen when he had to start work to help the family purse. In so doing, he was turning down the scholarship he’d won to a technical school; the scholarship didn’t cover kit, which his family couldn’t afford, and anyway they needed another income. Eventually the RAF offered an opportunity and bombed-out Liverpool was left behind.

Dad at the very end of his life, in a brief respite from the exigencies of Care, enjoying a cold glass of wine on a hot day (photo by me)

Dad at the very end of his life, in a brief respite from the exigencies of Care, enjoying a cold glass of wine on a hot day (photo by me)

In the last weeks of his life, paradoxically, a burden seemed to be lifted from him. He was ready to die, and not in the least afraid. He was dignified in the face of many a bed-bound indignity, and brave in the face of much pain and discomfort. He never lost his sense of humour. On a few occasions he made me laugh so much that I corpsed and had to leave the bedside to go and recover myself. (Heaven knows what people thought! I guess you see everything in a hospital.) He drew us all closer to him, and closer to one another, and this was a joy amid all the sadness.

And quite how all this leads in my case to Portugal I see now I shall have to save for another post.


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