Thursday, May 22, 2014

Last night, I enjoyed my birthday present from Andrew - tickets to see Nine Inch Nails in concert at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff.  They are not Andrew's cup of tea, but he kindly agreed to come along.  We had excellent seats in an area of the venue I'd not previously been in - the upper balcony directly in line with the stage, so could see beautifully.  

We arrived just as the support band were finishing, and felt that lovely frisson of excitement when you are eagerly anticipating an event.  Happily, we were not disappointed, and I had one of the best evenings at a gig I can remember for ages.  

The thing that has to be mentioned is that the lighting was one of the best and most inventive I've ever seen, especially considering the set was rigged in a single day.  Every song brought the most dazzling and awesome effects, with amazing use of colour, and a really funky screen that fascinated Andrew, that was both opaque and transparent by turns, which had projected images on it.  Andrew said at the end of the gig, that for the lighting alone the evening had been worth going to.   

Musically, it was also amazing.  Kicking off with a song from "Hesitation Marks" they played a treasure chest of songs from their back catalogue along with stuff from the latest album.  I loved their live version of "Came back Haunted" - looser and more playful than the CD version.  It's hard to pick highlights from such a great night, but I particularly enjoyed listening to two of my favourite tracks back to back, "Sanctified" and "Closer" - both magnificent descriptions of sexual obsession, and both among my all time favourite songs. 

A pretty near perfect evening finished with their encore and they played "Hurt" - I really could not have asked for more.  I originally encountered the song as sung by Johnny Cash, and I still think his version, along with the amazing video, stands as the most eloquent and beautiful reflection on mortality.  However, the song can also be seen as a commentary on other sorts of pain and despair, whether the loneliness of bereavement or the isolation of depression, or even the pains of addiction.  Hearing Trent Reznor sing it will be one of my special memories.  

The only negatives I can possibly mention are not related to the band - it's more that we both loathe the Arena as a venue.  It has terrible accoustics and I am never happy with the sound quality when we hear groups there.  

One other observation - as we were leaving, I was astonished to see that some idiot had taken a child with them (aged about 8/9).  I've grudgingly learned to accept children at festivals and some concerts.  At Crowded House, for instance, it makes sense. The band look like geography teachers, and the songs are happy, family friendly singalongs.  NIN, with songs about angst, addiction, lots of sex, gloriously loud (as in belly-jiggling, ear-ringing loud) and a crowd gleefully singing along to lyrics like "You let me penetrate you, you let me violate you, I want to fuck you like an animal" ensure it is simply NOT a place that is appropriate for children.   Judgy pants hoiked, we then made our way home.  Fortunately, there's a large car park very near the venue and we were on our way home in minutes, and were greeted ecstatically by four very happy woofs on our return.  

Poor Andrew had to get up very early this morning to travel to St. Albans but I've enjoyed the day, with a head full of wonderful images and sounds from last night.  One of the other reasons I like the band is that Trent Reznor also has rescue greyhounds and I understand he works to support adoption programmes in the USA where he is based.  On our walk this morning, I discussed this with Callie and Sara and they were firmly of the view that he needs to write a really good song about squirrel obsessions but were very pleased that the family income was being spent on a fellow greyhound lover.   

Sunday, May 11, 2014

It's been really busy lately.  I've been making regular trips down to Singleton to see my friend.  One of the most encouraging things is seeing his excellent progress, so much so that he'll soon be leaving hospital.  Of course, there will be a long haul of recovery after that, including further physio but he is definitely on his way.  This has eaten into my time though, as of course each visit is bookended by at least an hour and a quarter of driving, and then getting through the large hospital to his ward.  One of the things he asked me to do was to support him by attending a meeting, where his future treatment and discharge could be planned by a multi-disciplinary team including his social worker and medical team.  It's always useful to have a spare pair of ears at these sort of things to remember who said what.  It's also been really lovely to connect again with his sister and mum.  

Andrew has also been working away a lot and this has a big impact on my time during the week.  When he's away, it means doing two lots of dog walks (four is too many to walk singlehanded), and this really cuts into the day.  One of the things we've decided is in the future, not to go above three hounds as that's the magic number for walking by yourself.  Usually I take the boys to Tredegar House and the girls to Hendre Lake.  At the lake there is always so much to see - I love watching the heron, and now there are freshly hatched goslings and ducklings to admire.  Most of the dog walkers over there are very friendly and the fishing guys are too.  I haven't seen the red eared terrapin over the winter but am keeping my eyes peeled for it to resurface now the weather is warming up.  

Last weekend we had our first show of the season.  We were at the West Somerset Whippet Racing Club for their annual dog show at Taunton Vale Polo Club.  Lovely venue, and we had a really fabulous day.  Beautiful spring sunshine and a gentle breeze to stop it getting too hot really helped. It was so warm I was wearing a sleeveless top all day.  Andy and Mick stayed wiht Rita and Roger for the day, and we took the girls.  I entered them into a couple of classes though sadly they didn't win anything.  The show had a really relaxed, friendly vibe and we were lucky enough to also meet up with some friends.  Sue brought her lovely greyhound Mick and also a big tray of marzipan Chelsea Buns, so us, Sue, Jackie and Paul, and Jenny all got together for a slice and a natter.  Brilliant.  Once the show was over, they laid on some lure coursing/racing.  We were busy packing up the stall so didn't take part, but the girls were really excited, and we've decided to take them back for another go, when we are not encumbered by the stall.  

Subsequently, our lovely day was given extra poignancy.  One of Jenny's two beautiful dogs, called Shadie, aged 15 came along, and to our delight won in the Best Veteran class.  Sadly, Shadie had to be put to sleep at home on Friday, after a very short illness, but it's lovely to think of him enjoying his day and that he was so well virtually until the end.  These pics were taken by Jackie.  Her greyhound, Cat, is in the first one, along with Sue's Mick and our two girls.  The second one shows the stall - Andrew is the headless man and I'm obviously talking to Sara.  Sue is next to me with her head turned. 


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My birthday week was busy, and big thanks are due to everyone who sent cards, greetings, Facebook messages etc.  Seems amazing to think I'm less than a year away from being 50.  

On the weekend, Rita and Roger came over to stay.  On Saturday, we went to Roath Producer's Market, a local market for food producers.  We've been before, and though it's small, there are some great stalls.  Bought some great stuff, and it's really nice to meet and talk to producers and particuarly to support those who farm to higher animal welfare standards. 

In the evening, we went to a new gastropub that has recently opened in Cyncoed, called the Discovery.  It's run by the same team that had Wood's Brasserie, which I always loved, so we went with high hopes.  We were not disappointed.  The refurbishment had turned out a really smart, comfortable place, with a fabulous menu and very good service.  We had a stunning meal which we really enjoyed, but and yes, there is a but.  Like many other restaurants, the current fashion is for bare boards, and bare, painted walls.  This looks great, but is a recipe for appalling noise levels. Not surprisingly for a Saturday night, the pub was full, and by the end of the meal, we simply couldn't hear ourselves talk - it was just too noisy.  Is it just me who finds this really difficult and spoils the atmosphere of what should be a relaxing, convivial night out?  Anyway we came home, and stayed up chatting till the small hours.  

I'd definitely go back to the Discovery, and it might be nice to try it at lunchtime when it could be a bit quieter.  

At the end of the week, just before Rita and Roger arrived, out of the blue I had a text from an old friend.  It simply asked me to come visit him at Singleton, one of the two main hospitals in Swansea.  With the weekend preparations in full swing, I couldn't get away immediately but by phone and text, got a bit more info.  He'd had two major strokes, so was immobilised and in need of some company.  So, on Monday, I headed off to Singleton and to visit.  Got stuck in road works on the Mumbles Road outside County Hall, but got there eventually.  Fortunately his room had a magnificent view out over the bay and I was so pleased to see him.  We had a lovely chat, and were then joined by his sister, who I hadn't seen for some years, so it was lovely to see her and catch up.  From my own experience in hospital, I know how important visitors can be, and the impact a smiling face can make.  

Seeing an old friend brought back many happy memories of earlier times, and it was  a bit of a shock to realise that we'd gone out together over twenty five years ago! The odd thing of course is that to me, neither he nor his sister had changed very much - OK, there were a few more grey hairs, and one or two more laughter lines but essentially very much as before.  It hadn't actually been twenty five years since I'd seen him, since we've stayed friends and kept in touch and have met regularly but infrequently through the years.  This, and my birthday, and more recent events, have led recently to me reflecting a great deal on how people enter our lives and continue to have an impact and effect for many years more than you might originally expect. 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

I thought it seemed more appropriate for the update about the funeral to have its own post.  

Since the funeral, the great and awful truism "Life goes on" has been playing through my mind.  And of course, it is so true.  Despite grief, dogs need to be walked, bills need to be paid, customers supplied, the house cleaned.  And in some ways, these things, by their very everyday quality, have soothed and reassured and helped provide structure.  I've had one or two days where I've struggled to get through more than the minimum but gradually feel that normal tempo is being slowly restored.   

Things took a big step forward on the weekend.  We headed over to Fonmon Castle in the Vale for the Countryside and Game Fair.  Our particular reason for going was to watch one of the arena attractions, the horseboarding.  Apart from this, there was a vast array of attractions, ranging from chainsaw carving to Hamster Displays.  The weather wasn't brilliant, a bit damp and chilly but it didn't put us off.  

The horseboarding was great.  I sat ringside with Callie and Sara while Andrew took some photos.  Callie and Sara were absolutely fascinated and very excited by it, squeaking with excitement when the horses thundered past.  I loved watching it, it was amazing - completely bonkers but I was full of admiration for the skill and courage shown by both the boarder and the rider and the working together.  

We had a look round at some of the other attractions then as there was a fun dog show, fundraising for Four Paws Rescue, we entered a couple of classes.  The girls came home with their first rosettes of the season! Callie won the Senior Rescue class, Sara was 2nd, and in the best Veteran, Callie came 3rd and Sara got a special.  Callie was eligible to go back for BIS, but we were cold and damp and needed to get back to the boys so headed for home after a very enjoyable day.  I attach some of the pics that Andrew took, of the thrills and spills. 

We travelled up to Altrincham for Jonathan's funeral.  One minor gripe - the crematorium was down a windy rural lane and very poorly signposted, and when we got there, had a tiny car park that was wholly inadequate.  Wish Trafford Council would improve the facilities. 

The funeral was very well attended - standing room only and a real crowd that struggled to all fit into the chapel.  The funeral was conducted by a humanist celebrant with eulogies from various friends and colleagues of Jonathan's.  It was beautiful - very funny at times, very moving and very appropriate for him.  

Then it was the long journey back down the M6/M5, battling through the traffic.  

Jonathan's ashes have now made the journey back to Wales and uncle Bill, his father has scattered them along with Sally's and aunty Janet's in a field the family still own, overlooking their childhood home in Three Crosses.  A tree will also be planted in Jonathan's memory.   

Fig, Jonathan's great friend, has kindly arranged a link to the funeral eulogies - you can find it here. 

 We are going over to see Uncle Bill over the Easter holidays. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

It's been an utterly horrible week.  I don't think I can put it any other way.  Most of it seems to have passed in a sea of foggy grief.  

A couple of things have exacerbated it.  Firstly, this seems to be the latest in a long string of deaths - starting in 2012 with Paula, then being followed by Dad, uncle Peter, Margaret, aunty Janet, aunty Floss and now Jonathan.  Jonathan's funeral on Friday will be the fourth one I've attended in six months.  The last two years have taken a very heavy emotional toll, and one of the odd things about grief is that each successive bereavement seems to make the pain of the previous ones worse rather than easier to bear.  

In the meantime, of course, normal life has to simply continue, and for the business that has meant maintaining our presence on Facebook.  That's been awful this week since this stupid craze has been doing the rounds of people doing no make up selfies for "cancer awareness".  Quite frankly, I just about feel ready to punch anyone who suggests I need my awareness raising, and that's before I get on the issue of not wearing make up. 

There is nothing brave about not wearing make up.  OK, I'll happily accept that  there are a tiny number of women who wear make up to conceal scarring, birth marks etc - for them, yes, different issues. But for most women, I can't see anything brave at all, and in comparing this even tangentially to the bravery of cancer patients seems wrong and narcissistic.  

I spend most of the time completely make up free and will wear it occasionally for nights out or special occasions but don't feel I need it.  I am not conventionally pretty, I am pushing 50, my skin is average, I have wrinkles and spots and scars and dark circles under my eyes - that's who I am.  Make up is like wearing a special evening dress - it's a nice treat but I'm under no illusion about it's magic powers of transformation.     It strkes me as a sad indictment of how far women have to go if we applaud their courage in not wearing make up - because that would be suggesting that our appearance is still our most important feature, not our character or our achievements, but our adherence to some artificial standard of beauty.  

Thinking about it, most of my female friends also don't wear make up or like me wear it infrequently - clearly we are all bottom of the class for being good, decorative little women.  

What has helped this week?  A couple of things.  Listening to Wagner. The dogs.  Going on a course yesterday at Busy Bees that I'd booked last year and really enjoyed.  Thinking about it, most of the women on the course weren't wearing make up, and quite a few of us were wearing sensible shoes. 

This week has been one of those times for feeling completely out of step with a wider culture - I'm sensible enough to know this feeling will pass and a lot of it is fuelled by grief which is making me particularly raw at the moment.   Fundamentally I'm happy and comfortable in my own skin - both literally and metaphorically.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I found this article about Jonathan when searching for funeral details.  It's a lovely picture of him and the article says a bit more about his work with Macmillan - something I hope will be a lasting legacy of his.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

This is one of the bitterest posts to write.  Dear Jonathan is dead.  He died yesterday at his home in Manchester. I always thought and referred to him as "cousin Jonathan" although technically he was my dad's cousin, but because he was so much closer to me in age that just seemed to work better.  Regular readers will know that I've had a link to his blog on my sidebar practically since I started my own blog.  

How do I begin?  Well, by telling you if you haven't already to read his blog.  The odd thing is that I would look forward to reading his blog usually because of his wonderful humour even though it was mainly about having cancer, surviving cancer and then having an unrelated terminal cancer - not usually cheery subjects.  Because we had both had cancer, this formed an odd bond and shared experience.  One of Jonathan's many admirable qualities was that he put things back.  Right up to his death he was working with Macmillan to improve the design of cancer treatments for patients.  His blog was a magnificent description of cancer - I hope so much it will have helped educate and inform people, not just about the illness but about being terminally ill.  

He was honest (often painfully so) but like all of us, he was so much more than just being about the illness that killed him.  He was intelligent (fiercely so), curious, well-informed, had a killer dress sense, a fantastic sense of the ridicolous, and the very rare ability to have a well argued debate and hold differing opinions without that getting personal, something I greatly admired.  He also had a deep well of compassion and a strong sense of voluntary service - he helped on the Lesbian and Gay Helpline in Manchester for many years, and I've already mentioned his work with Macmillan.   

He was a loving family member.  His immediate family has been hit by repeated tragedy.  Sally, Jonathan's sister died at a young age and aunty Janet, Jonathan's mum also had cancer and died late last year.  All of us are thinking of uncle Bill at this time.  

We saw Jonathan at Christmas and typically we ended up having a really interesting debate about drugs in cycling as well as hearing all about his plans for a midsummer party which I'd put in my diary.  I won't put a line through it - I will make sure we have a celebration that night and raise our glasses to a very special and wonderful person, who was deeply loved and will be missed more than I can say.