And So It Is Christmas

As always, Christmas has been a long while coming and yet has arrived almost before I am ready for it.  The state of the flat would suggest I am still not fully prepared: the study is a mess and the lounge floor remains in need of a visit from my vacuum cleaner.  There are still several presents to be wrapped.  Never mind.

For the first time in my life I have sorted out Christmas almost entirely on my own.  I am far more pleased with what I have attained than I am disappointed by what has been forgotten or remains undone.

The salmon mousse is in the freezer:  I hope it will be easier to get out of the cling-film lined mould.  Wine and flowers have been bought so I am all ready to go to friends for Christmas lunch.

I recommend an early start to shopping.  By 08.00 I was in Marks and Spencer’s food hall, where a lovely blonde-haired lady called Anne helped me find all the things I found difficult to locate.  It is possible to receive great service in a supermarket: it is a matter of asking politely and being a considerate customer.

In previous years, two of us working together would have done Christmas Eve’s shopping  at one visit.  We should probably have found time for a coffee and a cake!.  Working alone, there is a limit to how much one can carry.  So it takes me three separate visits to various stores in Birmingham to purchase all the things I need.  But all is completed in time for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.  King’s College Cambridge never fails to please.  As usual, I enjoy it along with a mince pie and a cup of coffee and it becomes my rest in the middle of the day.

I manage a short visit to my friend Christine, who looks a lot better.  Then it is back to work in the kitchen and the lounge.  All the cards are now strung up and on view, and the Christmas tree is moved to a more suitable position in the bay.

I am watching the Midnight Mass from Leeds. It is a Roma Catholic celebration, but reminds me so much of what used to take place at St Alban’s in Birmingham when Anne and I sung there many years ago.  Tonight, the Sussex Carol is used at the offertory – I remember it well.   “It Came upon a Midnight Clear” is sung by the congregation – my late mother’s favourite carol.

And I plunge back headlong to land amid my memories: to contemplate so many happy Christmases past.  So what is wrong with that?   At least now I can enjoy being with those memories, re-presenting myself in those earlier times and with those who were around me.  Too heavy for this time of the morning!

Merry Christmas everyone!  May you have a really good Twelve Days of Christmas and find at least a little time to relax.  Thank-you to everyone who has sent me a card, text message, email, tweet or who has contributed to the blog.

Good night – more accurately Good Morning.

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No ‘F’ in Phone Line

It has been one of those days.

Only thanks to Liz, who badgered and bullied Virgin Media on several occasions, did I finally get my telephone back.  It was after 20.00 when two engineers finally appeared,  and by that time I had given up hope.  What appeared a large problem for Virgin Media, who termed it a “Network Fault”, was in fact no more than a broken wire in the switch box at the bottom of the stairs. Two polite young men took little more than quarter of any hour to solve the problem!  I had spent much of the day singing to myself: “No ‘F’ in phone line.  No no there’s no ‘F’ in phone line” to the tune of The Sandpipers’ song “Guantanamera”.

The Christmas Letter is now in this blog at http://stephenandanne.wordpress.com/2012-xmas-letter/  You will also see it on the menu at the top of this page.  I have a lot more photographs taken during the year and will try to add these and some more text if I have time.

Time – now there’s an odd thing.  I have spent much of the day sorting out the flat, washing, cleaning and tidying.  It is nearly done, except for a short edition of The Ironing! But it is hard to see what I have done with my time!

Am I really ready for Christmas?  Is anyone ever really ready for Christmas? There is plenty to do.  Tomorrow I hope to find a Christmas tree and put my many Christmas cards around the lounge / dining room here in the flat.

I have removed some pages from the visible section of the blog.  They have not been destroyed and will return in a few weeks’ time.  I intend to leave this blog as a memorial to Anne and a memory of my first months on my own  Readers will soon be redirected to another site on which will be 2013 items.

As always, i welcome all constructive comment and messages.  Please bear in mind that the site is in a state of change and will be so for until the beginning of next year.

Time for bed.  I am not sitting writing until 02.00 when I have jobs to do in the morning!.

Sleep well  S

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Return of the Blog

Spruced up and looking in my prime

Spruced up and looking in my prime

The blog is back.  Do I hear howls of derision or sighs of boredom?

Tonight’s post is something of a “dummy run” to remind me how the software works.  This will be one of the last posts on this site.  Soon I hope to redirect you to another address as life progresses.

Currently my 0121 telephone number is not working thanks to Virgin Media’s failure to cure a fault.  If you wish to contact me, please use my mobile number, email, Skype, tweet, or reply to this blog.

I shall put a Christmas letter on the blog, hopefully tomorrow or Thursday.

Thanks to Liz for coming on a visit to a lovely flat with me.  Special thanks to Robin and Barbara for locating a present for a friend and for taking me out to dinner.

Window wash

Birmingham looks great at Christmas.  The flat should look better after I have spent most of tomorrow cleaning and tidying.

By the weekend I hope to have a Christmas tree in the bay and all my Christmas cards hung up.  Why does the week before Christmas go so very quickly?

Oh, thanks to the kind man who cleaned the flat’s windows!

Good Night

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Tuesday – 8 May – Mu Penultimate Post

Why did I start this blog?  It was created in July 2011 to inform people of Anne’s condition and save me saying the same thing over and over again on the telephone each night.

Time marches on as this photograph taken last week in Glasgow suggests.

In fact, the clock was not working: perhaps time really does stand still on occasions!  For me, a lot has happened since my first post some ten months ago: Anne has died and I now live  in Birmingham.  My life has changed in many ways: it is still changing and may continue to do for some time to come.

The blog has been an important tool for me, as I came to terms with Anne’s decline and death.  It has fulfilled the purposes for which Anne and I created it: none of us need a nightly – latterly thrice-weekly – monologue about my progress through bereavement.  There is a limit to the amount even I can write about oneself without it becoming more than just a little repetitive, perhaps even boring.

I shall not leave you without information, but there are better ways to communicate this.  During the next week or so I propose to upgrade and update a web site I currently own.  This will allow me more easily to show what I am doing and invite people to comment or to support me.  The site is likely to include a blog, to seek contributions, and to be updated regularly.  Hopefully, it will become a far more diverse site and enable communication with a broader audience.

Once the new site is ready, I shall inform everyone of how to find it and include a live link.  

The posts on this current site I intend to leave where they are for a few months, before I eventually archive them to save space. I have no intention of destroying the blog.

Thank-you to everyone who has read the blog and who has made it the vehicle by which they have been able to help Anne or myself.   Anne and I appreciated people’s comments about the site, almost all of which were supportive.

So, for the penultimate time …

Good Night.

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Friday – 27 April – “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch”

This will be a very short blog to explain just a little of the week’s happenings, for they have been both many and varied.

Tuesday morning led swiftly to Tuesday afternoon and to Susan’s coming to help me with the flat.  During the afternoon I received a phone call from Amy to tell me Hepplewhite would be playing in a competition that evening – for the performance of music by a female composer.  A string quartet was highly likely to win the competition: I was welcome to come but was not to expect a Hepplewhite win.

The competition was interesting: four very different groups playing very different music.  Despite Amy’s prediction Hepplewhite won: three tired musicians were elated.

Amy, her mother, Tim and I returned to the flat to enjoy cheese, wine, tea and talking among ourselves.  We were interrupted by a small visitor – a mouse walking quietly but purposefully across the kitchen floor.  I decided there and then to name him – Maurice Mouse!  He has not been seen again, but I now know someone is sharing the flat with me.

Wednesday morning was a total come down after the previous evening: cold rain and wind swept across Birmingham as I lost my umbrella but caught my train to Burton.  Brian and I spent a useful two hours sorting out details about Anne’s estate before I returned to the flat, set the bread-maker to produce another loaf of bread, and made a start on a large episode of the ironing.

Dave and Sarah, “alias Mole and Duck”, joined me during the evening.  They were on their way between Leeds and Cornwall, taking the last of their possessions to Kate and Ted’s prior to the start of their year-long trip round the world.

Thursday was showery, but we missed most of the rain. Dave, Sarah and I walked around Birmingham and then on to the Jewellery Quarter.  While they enjoyed part of the heritage trail, I spent time with Robin and Barbara.  I received a shock: what I thought was a brass curtain ring, found in my mother’s button box, turned out to be a twenty-two caret gold wedding ring!

For the evening we found beer and then beef burgers – not my normal fare but a good evening with excellent company.  While the rain had held off for one day, it could not last.  Friday morning saw both Dave and I get very wet on our quick trip to Jessop’s to find an additional battery for Dave’s camera.

This evening I have been to hear Kevin play the Mozart piano concerto no 23 with its beautiful slow movement.  This was followed by Hepplewhite playing the Martinu concertino for for piano trio and string orchestra.

I think I may be beginning to appreciate modern music – only a few years ago this piece would have frightened me away!

All is packed for tomorrow’s trip to Helensburgh.  I shall return on Wednesday with Joy, and hopefully with joy.  (I promise I shall make that pun only once!)

(Blogging appears to be taking a back number: there are more things happening in my life and I am happier with what is happening to me.  Of course there have been times I have felt low, there are things it is difficult to discuss even with close friends.  The change is that I am beginning to take charge of my future: I have discovered that I am allowed both to enjoy what is happening around me and also to seek happiness.  Here’s to a little hedonism and to a good few days away.)

Thank-you to everyone who has been to see me, or who has spent time with me over the past few days.

Thank-you to everyone who has texted, phoned or emailed me.

Congratulations to Elizabeth and David on the birth of Eleanor, their first child.

Good night.

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Monday – 23 April – To the New St George

An unusual day – it is easy to say I have taken a step backwards as well as two steps forwards: I suspect all three steps have been forwards although one was much more painful than the other two.

I am not very good at leaving my bed: this is my indulgence and I am sticking with it for the time being.  Still, I am dressed and ready for action by 09.00.  The first task is to sort out a repeat prescription on-line – much easier than I expect.  The software works and accepts both my log-in and password.

Next to phone Warwickshire County Cricket Club, from whom I have not received my this-year’s membership pack.  I find a suitable phone number and am informed a new card will be available for me to collect tomorrow.  (The club almost certainly did send out the original membership pack, but it has probably gone to one of the other Burton Old Roads!)

Time to go to Snow Hill station.  I ought to walk, but find a bus arriving at the stop at the same time I walk past it.  The train to Solihull is on time, which means I am early for my appointment.  My iPhone shows me the quickest walking route from the station to the venue: all would have been well had I not input the wrong house number into my address book!  In the end I have to ring AM, who tells me the correct house number and is waiting for me on my arrival.

The meeting goes well: I find no difficulty working with AM and we make some progress.  She gives me homework to do before our next meeting in around a fortnight’s time.  By the time I leave, my mind is very tired: I am glad to retrace my steps to the station on a dry day.  It is even quite warm providing one is out of the wind.  A fast train from London takes me back to Moor Street from where I walk to New Street in order to purchase tickets for my Scotland trip at the weekend.

Home to the flat and to some much needed lunch – bacon and red pepper in a cream sauce with pasta.  This concoction of my own design is quick to make and tastes quite good.  Were I in less of a hurry, or were someone here to share it, I should use more vegetables and make it a whole lot more interesting.  Today my simple version suffices and is washed down with a cup of coffee.

Daniel (DMR Decs) rings and brings Claire and the children up to the flat to see me and to present me with a pepper plant.  This visit causes a few biscuit crumbs to be added to the lounge floor but provides my first meeting with lovely two-year old twin boys, Ethan and Joshua.  When they are gone I fall asleep for half an hour!

Time for me to attend the launch of the Symphony Hall and Town Hall 2012-13 International concert series.  I join Tim, Andrew and Martin after collecting my brochure from the table.  V joins us as we stand discussing the concerts over a drink of wine. After some half an hour, we are ushered into stalls seats where we hear a presentation about the International 2013 Season from Lyndon Jenkins and Paul Keen.  V has to leave us as she is on call: Andrew, Martin, Timothy and I enjoy canapés and more drinks.  I know I am very tired and so stick to orange juice.  We talk for an hour or so and I decide to buy a subscription package for myself and additional seats for the concerts at which I should like someone to join me.

By 21.00 I am walking back to the flat alone.  I ring Jane in Cambridge and then call Joy to tell her what time I shall arrive in Helensburgh on Saturday.  Then it is time to blog.

(It is St George’s Day.  I remember a socialist call to action based on the idea of a new St George.

This song is strangely apt as I feel it is time for action – to do something positive and to stop beating myself up for a situation which is neither my fault nor of my making. This-morning’s meeting was not easy: being totally frank about one’s own feelings is stressful and often creates an emotional “down” afterwards.

This-evening’s launch of the International series was always one of Anne’s favourite events in the musical year.  Last year she really enjoyed it: Anne could manage the canapés without problem whereas a large meal was causing her problems – only later were we to understand why.  Returning over last year’s event in my memory made the evening very hard – I should have preferred for brochure and booking form to have been sent by post.  But it was vital I attended, vital I felt the emotional pull and grieved for Anne’s absence.  With friends’ help I got through: my subsequent phone call to Jane helped me rearrange the pieces in my brain.

There remain dragons to be slain: from their lair deep within my mind they emerge intent on extinguishing my new life with grief and fear.  Not too fleet of foot, they can be left behind if I run away and immerse myself in other tasks.  Sooner or later they must be met with and conquered.  Let me not take this illusion too far: I do not imagine myself as St George, nor do I attempt to effect a maiden’s release from a dragon’s power.  I have begun to win my battles but need not see myself immersed in a war.  Despite a difficult day, I am no longer running away from myself.  Here’s to St George and to a merry England!)

Thank-you to AM for her help this morning.

Thank-you to Tim, Martin and Andrew for keeping me going this evening and to V for joining me for part of the time.

Thank-you also to those who have commented, phoned, texted or emailed.

Does anyone else use Twitter?

Good night.

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Sunday – 22 April – Plenty for the Weekend

Some corners are turned easily:  others are longer and require more careful navigation.  To-day I have not left the flat:  I have seen no-one and spoken only to one person on the phone.  This has been a good test and one which I have passed with only one short difficulty.

Friday morning starts with a trip to Balsall Heath Road.  I collect bread and milk to put into Pauline’s fridge and take the number 8 bus to the stop beyond Pershore Road.  I manage the burglar alarm without problem and find room in Pauline’s fridge.  The walk back up to Pershore Road and the wait for a 47 bus into town is a real stroll down memory lane: for twelve and a half years this was my route into town.

In New Street Station I purchase a further four weeks’ bus and train pass including the add-on to Lichfield.  Perhaps this will be the last time I need the add-on.  Next to the newest jewel in Birmingham’s crown – a Waitrose store has opened beside Snow Hill station.  This shop is small by the firm’s standards, but is filled – packed from floor to ceiling – with all the good things I used to find in the Lichfield shop.

Within fifteen minutes I have found all I need for this evening’s meal.  The bus stop is just across the road so I do not have far to carry my burden.  Back in the house I put food away and have a little lunch before setting up the bread-maker to make a seeded loaf.  It is an easy job, but it does need to be done according to the recipe!

I re-establish myself on Twitter.  You can tweet me using @OsborneSJ  I do not know how useful I shall find it, but I will give it another chance.  Do you tweet?  If so, please let me know how useful you find it.

And  so to cook.  Beef bourguignon is an old favourite and goes into the slow cooker.  There is plenty of red wine to make its sauce and the shallots look good.  I leave them in boiling water for five minutes before peeling them – it makes the task much easier.  A jacket potato and some broccoli are all the additional vegetables this main-course will need.  The sweet course is something of a cheat – a ready made meringue nest surrounded with fresh raspberries and topped with whipped cream on which four more raspberries are seated.

For the starter I sauté some some celery and pepper cut up very small.  I then make a white roux flavoured with English mustard. Into this sauce I  put the vegetables where they finish cooking.  Two rings of pepper are boiled and kept warm: into these I spoon the vegetables in their sauce.  The top of this creation is a dozen tiny prawns sautéed with a little pepper and spices  – a veritable Heath Robinson dish!!!

Victoria enjoys all three course.  We are both too full to attack the fresh loaf or the cheeses I have ready in the fridge.  By the time Victoria leaves me, around 21.30, I am tired and fall asleep in the chair.  Far too tired to blog, I take myself to bed and enjoy a good sleep.

Saturday morning dawns bright and I get up quite early.  Anthea phones me – she has read my text message from the previous evening.  We talk for most of an hour while each of us makes our morning drinks single-handed!  But what shall I have for breakfast?  The most obvious thing is the remnant of last night’s whipped cream: this I pour over fresh grapes for a most unusual but rather pleasant repast.

Julia and Graeme arrive: they drive a Saab 95, the same model Anne and I had enjoyed long time ago.  Unlike our Saab, whose floor rusted so that one’s feet got soaked in wet weather, this vehicle remains in wonderful condition.  We drive to Streethay where we spend an hour and a half collecting things from the kitchen: these will help Amy when she moves to her new house.  The house is still full of items and memories, both of which are best faced with other people present.

It is raining when we leave.  We return to Birmingham and park the car in Symphony Court while we walk across to Ju-Ju’s for lunch.  We all choose the cod and chips, which are beautifully presented and also taste wonderful – some things never change.

Walking back to the flat – again it is raining – we collect from the car the few things I have brought from the Streethay kitchen for my use: I had really missed my ladle and my long cheeseboard.  Graeme and Julia leave me and I have a quiet hour before getting myself ready for the evening’s concert.

I meet V outside the central library and together we go to Adrian Boult Hall to hear a student performance, “Romantic Classics in aid of Cancer Research”.  Roma Loukes, a young soprano, performs a piece in Chinese “Stand together in the same storm-tossed boat”.  This is followed by Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto No 1 with Liang Shan as soloist.  Tim has joined us – he knows Liang well.  The orchestra is good, although there are a few weaknesses, and the concerto’s second movement is begun far too slowly for anyone’s comfort, but as a whole the performance works and Liang really does sound good in the final allegro.

After the interval we hear both orchestra and conductor feel more at home with the  Dvorak symphony No 8.  This is one of my favourite Dvorak pieces, although as yet I know nothing of his early symphonies or his chamber music.  The final movement’s bright climax is effective and the few of us, under a hundred have turned up, strive to make loud applause!

V has enjoyed the evening.  I persuade her to come and look at the flat, which she does albeit with some reticence.  We sit for half an hour or so, but V will neither eat nor drink and is anxious to be shown the way to Five Ways station.  I enjoy the walk and stand on the platform with V until her train arrives.  My walk back to the flat is by way of Broad Street’s busy side.  The Saturday night revellers are happy and do not notice me:  I am warm, moving quickly under a warm coat: they stand around wearing no coats and only flimsy clothes!

Back in the flat I find a glass of wine – the bottle is open from the previous evening.  I send a text and receive a phone call.  By 01.00 I am fast asleep in my bed and hear nothing until 07.00.

There is nothing whatsoever in to-day’s diary, so I make no attempt to leave the bed until 09.00.  Having put a good television in the room, I use it it to watch the start of the London Marathon before using the bathroom and making a pot of tea.

There is little sense in making a loaf of bread and then not eating it.  I cut two slices and toast them: though I say it myself, the taste s wonderful.  Why buy a loaf of bread when it takes such little effort to persuade the bread-maker to produce one?  I eat breakfast and then allow myself to enjoy the television: when there is nothing I wish to view, Radio 3 takes over the surprisingly easy task of entertaining me.

Prawns and eggs both need using – a prawn omelet makes a quick and easy lunch, which I follow with an apple and a banana.  Who cares if my diet is odd, there is no one with whom to share my meals.

Hetti phones.  She and Amy have left Prussia Cove after a really useful ten days of master classes and coaching sessions. Hetti has had no reception on her mobile phone while at the house and Amy has only been able to get sufficient signal to make phone calls when in one particular room.  But they both sound happy: I am extremely pleased for them and hope Hepplewhite will be even more successful.

There is a job to be done: the study needs to be tidied so it can be used as a bedroom on Wednesday and Thursdeay nights. I bring various piles and boxes out onto the table in the main room and sort into piles.  There is plenty to discard and a number of items which should be elsewhere in the flat.  I need more room in the bedroom.

Currently, I share my bed with four of Anne’s teddy-bears and a cuddly lion.  There is a large basket full of smaller bears on a chest of drawers.  This has to go:  one by one I put the cuddles, part of Anne’s collection, into a large plastic bag.  Then I find myself overcome – I am pushing away what was a special part of Anne.  Paper tissues, a cup of coffee and stern self-admonishment are required before the process is complete.  Just what I shall do with the large bag’s contents I do not know – that can wait for another day.

There is plenty more to be cleared and there is plenty on the television to keep me informed, educated and entertained.  ON Friday,Victoria had brought a carton of New Covent Garden Soup  – Cheddar cheese and piccalilli.  I heat this and enjoy it along with the crust from my loaf.  There are a few grapes still to finish and there is always a little chocolate!

With jobs finished I watch the news channel and “follow” a few interesting people on Twitter.  Then it is time to blog.

(What do I make of my weekend?  It has been good. I have reminded myself I can still put together a three course meal – only for two on Friday, but I made enough for four and have put plenty of the beef dish in the freezer. 

Making new friends is never difficult for me, but is now rather different.  Since marrying Anne in 1978 we had made and developed friendships with many new people – almost always together. Now I have to do this alone and to think carefully about how my new friends see me.  This is a good test for someone who believes he has turned at least one corner. 

I must realise that not everything will go right, either with the new relationships I make or with my treatment of the items left here in the flat  Many of Anne’s “old friends” may have to go:  I am not averse to teddy-bears but cannot live in a teddy-bear mausoleum however much I cherish Anne’s memory.  

Streethay will no doubt bring more hard decisions, but there will be little time to visit it this week.  Hopefully, I shall maintain my progress and continue this learning curve: perhaps life is rally one long corner!)

Thank-you to Victoria for eating with me on Friday – it was good to cook for someone again.

Thank-you to Graeme and Julia for all their help on Saturday.

Thank-you to V for coming to Saturday’s student concert with me.

Thank-you to everyone who has phoned, texted, emailed or tweeted me.

Good night.

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