Thursday, 30 December 2010

Ups and Downs

What a Christmas period so far! Not a lot has gone as planned, some for the better, and some definitely for the worse. Due to the 'Great Freeze', our garden remains untouched and the allotment is exactly the same.

Christmas Eve saw us start the festivities by joining the team at the Big Issue Breakfast, a weekly support for the homeless. My last post on my other blog (a link on the right hand side bar) explains a bit more about what it is all about, but needless to say it was an uplifting time of meeting old friends and sharing time, chat and tea! Early evening and we were off to our own church for the 'Carols by Candlelight'. A wonderful and uplifting time with the church packed full, fifteen hundred candles illuminating as only candles can and voices lifting the roof as the joy of this time could finally be vented. A quick cold one in Soho Bar and then it was back home to a dinner of fresh tuna steaks with Amandas mother and an evening of chat before heading to Christchurch, and midnight mass at the ancient priory.

At almost a thousand years old, it is indeed ancient. For myself, and the tiny span of fifty years in it's lifetime  that I have found solace here, it has always been a place to re-focus in times of confusion. Inside, way up high on the back wall and set back above the alter is a large mural of Jesus, arms outstretched, and  looking down it would seem always at me. Between five and ten years old, I would be here with the rest of my school, blue blazers done up tightly with shiny brass buttons, and caps on straight. And then, whilst doing what all kids do and singing  'while shepherds washed their socks by night' and giggling with my mates, would at the same time be aware of those eyes of His looking at me, and feeling a little pang of guilt. Later, and at thirty years old, a four year period saw both my parents gone, job loss, divorce and becoming homeless. Once again this place was a refuge for prayer, even though at this point I didn't feel as though I really had any tangible faith as such, but I would pray anyway. Late thirties, I was blessed with Amanda, and as things progressed met her uncle who is a pastor, and after spending many long nights and early mornings talking, it became clearer to me just who those eyes in the mural belonged to. We married, got baptized, heck, even became church deacons at one point, but the one main underlying factor was a clearer and stronger understanding of what faith was. Now when I see those eyes looking down at me I stare straight back. It may be begging for forgiveness about something, thanking Him about stuff, or as is usually the case asking for yet more help, but my eyes are the same as that five year olds many years ago even if the prayers are a little different.

Christmas day, and having finally got to bed at 2am after midnight mass, we were enjoying a little extra lie in. What I had forgotten about was the fact that of course, grandchildren wake their parents at 4am, their own house kicks off at 6am after sending the kids back to bed, and as such our own wonderful daughter Claire phoned up at 8am to say Happy Christmas! The phone blared, I jumped out of bed, span around as though punch drunk, and ran to grab the nearest phone in nothing but my skin, still in a daze. Amandas mum had got there first, and so I will leave the rest to you're imaginations! Blushing did eventually subside, and we had a lovely Christmas lunch of roast beef, followed by pears cooked in mulled wine. As there were four chairs and only three of us in the house up until then, we had asked a friend of Amandas mums to join us, as she would otherwise have been on her own. And so it was that the four of us later collapsed into the lounge and opened some presents.

Boxing Day.........Granchildren Day!
It's easy to forget, when your own children have long since grown up and flown the roost, just HOW much energy little ones have. This energy doesn't diminish as the day goes on, it just develops an 'edge' as they get more and more tired. We had a lovely day, lots of food, good time with kids both younger and older, some more present opening and sweets.

Ella charmed us all, and Joshua made us laugh!

Now, to change the subject entirely, a while back I had a bit of breathlessness. As it turned out it was the onset of bronchitis. Steroids were prescribed just before Christmas, nothing changed, cough, cough, cough.
The day after Boxing Day and I had had enough. By now it had been three weeks, I was well and truly hacking like a trooper, brain turned to mush and head spinning. As it turned out, the doctors were still closed and so an appointment was made for 10.30pm that night to see the duty GP at Poole Hospital. I have to say that he definitely had the appearence of someone who had taken a little extra something to keep him going. He had already seen nearly seventy patients, had the whole night to go, and yet sat opposite me firing off question after question with an energy and arm flailing verve that only, and I do mean only, drugs can bring, and having worked very closely indeed with the homeless it's not difficult to see! Don't get me wrong, I don't approve, but I think his diagnosis was correct and I am not sure how these guys are supposed to do their job on just tea and biscuits. But I left anyway, a litttle happier having been convinced that it would take longer than I was imagining to get better, and with a wiggle of his little finger and a whisper of  'as long as it all works down below' and knowing blokey smile along with a drug induced manic handshake I left. Maybe my own GP tomorrow I think.

Yesterday, and it was the final farewell to a very special step-mum.
Dorothy married my father after my parents divorced back in the seventies. My mum never wanted to go anywhere, but after meeting Dorothy he was able to return to Germany many, many times, as she too enjoyed travelling. They both developed a particular love of Mittenwald, a love that I, along with my brother was able to share. The house would be hired by dad at the foot of the Karwendel mountain, and the three seperate groups would work their way south through France and Germany as quickly as we could, and all meet at the destination. My brother and I loved climbing the mountains around about, and when my father died, as was german tradition, we placed a cross on the side of the mountain. Dorothy later made a companion in someone else that enjoyed travelling, and together they explored Europe with a passion, and it was on one of these occasions that I was able to take Amanda to Mittenwald, as Dorothy and her friend were now too old to drive such long distances. During the weeks that we were in Dorothy's company, we enjoyed a side to her not readily displayed, one of fun and frivolity. I could go on for pages with tales, but the one that I shall leave you with is of the end of a day at Mittenwald. I had been dragging Amanda through the mountains for most of the day, we had set off after breakfast, climbed rock, scree slopes, traversed ice and snow and were now staggering back through town in the early evening, looking completely dishevelled in our hiking gear, boots and rucksacks. Suddenly, driving quite rapidly in front of us was Dorothy and Co, head hanging out of the car window shouting that she had tickets for us to attend the Schubert violin scholarship ceremony at the town hall, and that it starts in ten minutes. How such tickets were obtained I have no idea, but I think it may have been because dad was made an honourary member of the town when alive. Now, picture if you will, two bedraggled and sweaty hikers with rucksacks, running as fast as they can through town, and turning up at an event where most people are dressed as though straight out of a Ferrero Rocher advertisement. There were ballgowns, gold braid and military suits by the bucketload, and champagne at the door upon arrival. And then there was us two, dressed in our finery of gortex shorts, mud and sweat soaked vests, muddy boots.....and an event that cannot be missed! Dorothy was not phased in the least, and as she met us at the door, laughed out loud and handed us some champagne. The four of us then politely found our own little space amongst the german nobility (after leaving rucksacks with the cloakroom attendents mind you, we do have some style you know, and they went very well with the fur stoles and evening coats!) A wonderful evening of beautiful violin and cello music followed, and we were even happily accepted by the nobles regardless of dried mud trails everywhere we went. And THAT was Dorothy! I suppose that another migration south to Mittenwald will soon be arranged so that the cross can be replaced with a new one......lets hope so.....and maybe another Schubert session??


  1. Gary, I am so sorry about the loss of your very special step-mom. I have a very special step-mom myself (my mother died at age 44 and my dad then married a widow 17 years his junior). And I hope your bronchitis is on the mend!
    I so enjoyed reading about the priory and your Christmas. It is wonderful to me that you now see the mural of Jesus with the eyes of the 5 year old - that is the way it should be for all of us - seeing Jesus with innocence and trust. Blessings to you and your family this Christmas season and Happy New Year!

  2. My sympathies regarding your step-mom. It sounds like you had a very nice Christmas and are well aware of the special people in your life. I hope you get to feeling complete again soon. Take care. Happy New Year!

  3. Take it easy with that chest!

    My sister is a Doc, and when she was first qualified she used to pull 72 hour shifts in A&E. Her and her colleagues certainly had to "fortify" themselves against the onset of collapse!