Sunday, 12 March 2017

On the loss of my Dad

                                 On the loss of my Dad

My dad passed away last Monday, February 27th. Those of you that know me well will know that he had been ill for some time now, but when the end came it was still a shock.
I was with him when it all began to unfold and although I was concerned, I didn't think he was about to die.
He'd been suffering with COPD for years now and he had deteriorated quite quickly in the last year or so, particularly in the last few months. I knew that he would probably die because of his illness but as it is a progressive condition I naively thought he had simply reached the next stage.
That morning he was lying on the sofa (he had been unable to get into bed since he last came home from the hospital just before Christmas). I noticed he was shivering and making strange noises and absentmindedly thought, "that looks like a death rattle," never dreaming that it actually could be. I asked him if he was okay and he said yes, he was just cold. I offered to put the fire on for him and went about my business.
A little while later he sat up and said he needed to go the toilet. His breathing was bad, as it was all the time these days, but he got himself to the living room doorway before stopping for a rest. After a pause he said, "I don't think I'm going to make it." I asked him if he wanted my help but I don't think he actually answered. I went to him all the same and put my arms around his torso so he would feel supported as he walked. We got to the toilet and as he closed the door I told him to take his time and call me if he needed help coming back. You might think I'm heartless, but I still wasn't overly concerned at this point. This kind of thing was sadly the norm by now.
When he came out again, he stood for a while, struggling with his breathing. Still, this was his usual strategy of resting and catching his breath. But this time it went on for a little bit longer than was typical and I asked if he needed my help again. I don't think he managed a response but I went to him anyway. I asked what he wanted me to do and he said, "Get your mum." Now I realised he was in real trouble.
My mum and I somehow got him back to the sofa and I set him up with his nebuliser. My mum told him, "I think you need an ambulance, George. You're going purple." He reluctantly agreed. Then he did a strange thing and said, "Someone sit with me." I sat beside him and put my arm around him while my mum phoned for the ambulance. Something was urging me to tell him that I loved him. To my eternal regret, I decided not to say it in case he thought that I thought he was dying. Which I didn't.
The next ten minutes or so is a bit of a blur. What I do remember clearly is that I said I needed to tidy up before the paramedics arrived so that they would have room to attend to my dad. He told me not to worry about it, but I got up and started rushing around. Why oh why didn't I just listen to him and stay sitting there with my arm around him? I'll never forgive myself for that.
I will also never forgive myself for what happened next. The paramedics were taking him out to the ambulance and I told them I would be out in a few minutes because I needed to put proper clothes on. I've learnt from previous experience that usually they sit outside in the ambulance for a bit stabilising him and taking more details before they drive away, so I thought I would have time to change and leave things ready for my mum to look after the baby, but by the time I went outside the ambulance was gone. Maybe this should have set alarm bells ringing, but I was just pissed off that they'd gone without me, to be honest. I went back inside and told my mum I would have to get the bus.
When I arrived at the hospital A&E desk, I gave my dad's name and they had no record of him being brought in. This had never happened before. On all the previous occasions he had been taken away in an ambulance and myself or my brother arrived afterwards, they knew immediately where he was.
"Are you sure they brought him here? They definitely drove off?" the man at the desk asked.
"Yes," I insisted.
I was told to go to the trauma desk and see if they could locate my dad instead.
The woman at the desk there seemed annoyed that the man at reception had sent me to her. She looked on her computer and asked me questions about where he was picked up from and so on. In the meantime, I had noticed the screen behind her displaying what ambulances were on their way and listing those that had already arrived. My eyes landed on the last arrival listed:

Male  Cardiac/Respiratory arrest/ Death  24mins

I immediately knew. My dad has been dead for 24 minutes, I thought. I almost asked if it was possible that that was him, but I was afraid to hear her response. In my heart, I knew it was him, but there was a glimmer of hope as it didn't list his age. All the other patients had their ages listed. The fact that this one didn't meant it could have been somebody else.
The woman at the desk told me to go back to the main reception and "ask for Clive." I now wonder if this is a code they use when they suspect the relative you are looking for is dead. I did as she suggested and this time the man at the front desk turned to a colleague and said, "What about the one who was brought in a little while ago?"
"I'll check," said the second man, walking away.
He wasn't gone very long before he reappeared and asked me to follow him. He took me to a room with "Relatives Waiting Room" emblazoned on the door. "A doctor will be along to talk to you in a few minutes," he said.
My stomach lurched and I started to shake uncontrollably. I knew what was coming, even though I desperately hoped I was wrong.
When the doctor walked in, I said, "You're going to tell me that he's dead."
She nodded. "I'm so sorry."
The next few minutes are a bit of a blur. I thought I was prepared for her to say yes. I thought I knew how I would react. I was wrong on both counts. I completely lost it. I cried hysterically and loudly. I'm normally a very controlled crier and I have certainly never cried like that in front of anyone outside of my immediate family. I remember wailing that he was all on his own and the doctor saying, "There were lots of people with him."
"But nobody who loved him," I said.
I will never, ever as long as I live forgive myself for letting him down like that. I will never get over the fact that in his last moments of consciousness, I wasn't there. I don't even know if he knew I was coming. He would never have allowed me to be on my own and I can't forgive myself for failing him in his final minutes.
Eventually I asked where he was and they told me he was still in the resuscitation ward. I asked if I could see him and they asked if anyone else was coming. I think they were concerned about me being alone as I was in such a state. I said I didn't know but I wanted to see him and they agreed to take me to him.
He was laying on the bed, covered up with a tube still in his mouth. It was the most surreal and devastating experience of my life. I went and put my arms around him and buried my face in his chest. I'm embarrassed to admit this as a 35 year old woman, but I remember sobbing "My Daddy," over and over again.
Someone brought a chair and sat me down and one of the nurses asked if I wanted them to stay or would I rather be alone with him. I asked to be alone.
I kept feeling my phone vibrate in my handbag and I knew it would be my mum or brother, which was unbearable. How could I tell them that he was dead?
Eventually, I calmed myself down enough to call my brother. "He's gone," I told him. There was a pause and then, "Okay. I'm outside. How do I get to you?"
A few moments later, the nurse who had been there when the doctor told me appeared again. "Your brother is outside," she said. "Is it okay if we let him in? Does he know?"
I said yes and shortly after, my brother was led in. I have never seen my brother properly cry as an adult, but he absolutely broke down, sobbing. For some reason he kept saying, "I'm sorry, Dad."
We cried together over our dad's body for what felt like a long time. At some point, we realised we couldn't put off telling our mum any longer. We both said immediately that we didn't want to tell her over the phone and agreed to walk home and tell her together.
As we prepared to leave, I noticed, for the first time, the silent machines around him and the computer screen with the big bold words,

Male, 76
Respiratory arrest
Known COPD.

I also noticed the plastic bag by the side of the bed, with "patient's property" printed on it. Inside were the clothes he had been wearing when he went off in the ambulance, all cut up in the rush to treat him, his glasses and most heartbreakingly for me, his mobile phone which I had only just charged up for him that morning. He must have put it in his pocket when he was being taken away, expecting to use it to call home later.
The walk home was the longest of my life. We walked in almost complete silence until we reached the underground station closest to home where a busker stood outside playing the guitar and singing Jeff Buckley's haunting Hallelujah. We were both stunned. The local underground station is tiny. It has just two platforms and serves a mainly residential area. Neither of us have ever seen a busker there before. He wasn't there earlier when we had been on our way to the hospital and he wasn't there later when we went back. But he was there then and he was playing that song of all songs.
I don't want to talk about what followed afterwards when we told our mum, but suffice it to say it was the worst thing either of us have ever had to do.
Now, two weeks after the event, other than the over riding emotion of guilt, the thing that keeps haunting me are the words on the screen beside him in the resuscitation room.

Male, 76
Respiratory arrest
Known COPD

How pitiful that this is what a human life/death is reduced to, just a few key words. It haunts me that it didn't even say his name, just "male." My dad was so much more than that. He was the eldest son of the late George Senior and Mary. He was the older brother of Tom and Mary, who sadly both predeceased him. He was the beloved husband of my mum, Rose. The adored father of myself and James. The most loving and doting grandfather to Otis and Julianna. An uncle. A friend. He was a good man. A kind man. A determined and strong man. A man who overcame the loss of his parents very early in his life. A man who never had much but was still willing to give it away to anyone who needed it. A man who was there for me whenever I needed him, be it carrying me on his shoulders as a baby, colouring in on the floor with me as a child, driving me around as an adolescent or supporting me as a new mother. A man who never gave up.

George Stevens, 76
My dad
A man who was loved

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Loneliness of the Long Term Depressed.

It's not often that I'm moved to tears by a celebrity's death. Yes, it's sad whenever a person you've admired dies and especially if it's under tragic circumstances or at a particularly young age, but I cannot abide grief tourists who jump on every celebrity death and act as if it is a personal bereavement. Firstly, I feel that it is disrespectful to the family and friends of the deceased who are genuinely grieving and secondly, it's not all about you FGS. But in the case of Robin Williams, it is about me. And it's also about you. And everyone you know. And everyone you don't know. It's about everyone. Because the one thing that his suicide proves is that depression can and does happen to anyone and that we really, really need to talk about it.
Robin Williams had the kind of career that most actors can only dream about, more money than he could ever have needed, a loving wife and children, and was pretty much universally adored by film fans all over the world. Yet in the end, none of that could save him from himself. Depression was something he struggled with for most of his life and although he had publicly stated this in interviews and spoken about his problems with addiction, few people would have known just how deep rooted these problems were for him. In fact, quite possibly, nobody knew except the man himself. Because one thing that anyone who has ever suffered with depression will tell you is that most of the time they will pretend that they are fine.
I've had bouts of severe depression on and off throughout most of my adult life. I've had suicidal thoughts. I once even stood on a bridge for thirty minutes contemplating throwing myself off. Most of the people who know me have no idea about any of this. Why? Because I was ashamed and scared. I was ashamed that I didn't know how to cope with life and I was scared that if I told anyone they would think I was crazy and idiotic and self-absorbed.
The day I stood on the bridge, I was tired. Tired of pretending that I was okay. Tired of putting on an act so I didn't worry my loved ones. Tired of "being strong" and battling the black dog of depression that had been following me for so long. I didn't really want to be dead, I just didn't want to feel all the things I was feeling any more. So what stopped me from going through with it? I could make up something dramatic and poetic about divine intervention or thoughts of my family and the like, but in all honesty, I don't really know why I couldn't go through with it. I think my overriding emotion was fear. At that moment, I was more afraid of dying than I was of living. And that really is the bottom line here. For some people with depression the prospect of carrying on with a life blighted by that kind of darkness is far worse than that of death.
In the last year, I've had a brush with death from DVT, watched my father fight for his life after pneumonia and a heart attack, and had my heart broken twice. All of these things have been hard to bear and the temptation to go back on the anti-depressants I have depended on in the past has been huge, although so far I have resisted. People tell me all the time how strong I am and how well I've handled things, but the truth is they know nothing about the real state of mind I've been in, because as usual, I've played down my despair and tried to hide it from them. I do not think I am a hero for doing this, I think I am a fool. Because if you don't ask for help, you probably won't get it.
I've lost a friend to suicide in the past and one of the things that struck me the most about his passing was how unexpected it was. Nobody seemed to have had any indication that he might be suicidal. Most of us weren't even aware he had been depressed, because he had kept it all to himself, and this is the fundamental lesson we must take from any suicide - if you are depressed, talk to someone. Likewise, if you think someone you know is depressed, talk to them. Talking is our only hope. Ignoring the problem and hoping it gets better just does not work, it only gives it room to grow. There is no magic fix and talking won't save everybody, but it does save some. It's what has saved me in the past, and continues to save me from sliding back into that dark place again.
We must all learn that depression is not something to be ashamed of, or locked away inside of the sufferer. The stigma surrounding mental health issues prevents many people from speaking out and it MUST STOP. The legacy of Robin Williams need not only be his film roles, lets try to make it one of love and start talking.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

I Don't Want to Talk About It

I haven't written anything here for a while now and there are a few reasons why. Firstly, the last few months have been super busy for me and I was working very long hours and travelling quite a distance to work. Secondly, I've been dealing with a big personal heartache - the end of my relationship.
It's not a big leap for me to assume that everyone who might be reading this blog will have been through a break-up at some point. I know that I'm not the first to have my heart broken and in point of fact, this isn't even the first time I have had my heart broken, but it is most definitely the worst. The man I've been in love with for almost a decade is no longer a part of my life and that hurts like you wouldn't believe. I'm not writing this post for sympathy or for attention, I'm writing it because as the title suggests, I don't want to talk about it.
 Inevitably, when these things happen, you find yourself having to tell people the same story over and over again and every time you do, the tears and devastation you've been trying to push down, rear their ugly heads again. I do not want to have to keep having that conversation, I just want to try and pretend that I'm not really going through this. Don't ask me questions, don't call him a bastard, don't tell me when you've seen him or anything you've heard about him. I just want to hide away from the world until I'm ready to resurface. Which I know will happen at some point. But not yet. So don't be offended if I don't reply to your messages right away or if I'm not the greatest company just now. To quote a classic break-up line, it's not you, it's me.
I can't listen to 90% of the songs on my iTunes at the moment because so many have memories attached or are just a little too close to the bone, but if any song sums up how I feel right now, then this is it:

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

God's Own Junkyard

I think it's fairly safe to say that I am a bit of a magpie when it comes to all things bright and shiny, so it probably comes as no surprise to hear that I have a keen eye for neon. I don't think I've ever grown out of that childlike wonder of seeing flashing lights at the fairground or the extravagant Carnaby Street Christmas displays.

Chris Bracey is the man responsible for creating many of the neon showstoppers we see around and about in London. Not only does Chris design and make these pieces, he also salvages and restores discarded neons from closed down theme parks and completed movie shoots. God's Own Junkyard, a London equivalent of Las Vegas' Neon Boneyard, is where Chris displays and sells some of the amazing lightboxes he has amassed over the 37 years he has been "The Neon Man." Currently located in Vallentin Road, Walthamstow, the junkyard is being forced to close it's doors to make way for housing developers, although Chris is determined that he will find a new home for the collection.

Sadly, the outdoor yard was cleared a couple of weeks ago now but you still have until November 10th to visit the Red Barn area. I was lucky enough to have a look around about a month ago now and had the opportunity to see the entire junkyard in all it's glory, which is why it makes me so sad to know that part of it is already gone. I would still recommend turning up and showing your support before the lights go out on this Walthamstow landmark, but for those of you who can't make the trip or missed out on the yard outside, here are just a few pictures I took of the delights on offer.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Kew Gardens

I have never been to Kew Gardens before this weekend, but over the years I've heard many friends' tales of their visits and the place has taken on a kind of mythical utopian status in my mind. I always intended to go and see it for myself but you know how it is when you live in London and you know you can go anytime; you never do. I'm ashamed to say that what finally tipped the balance for me was the neon brightness of the IncrEdibles posters that sprung up all over tube stations this summer, I'm a sucker for gaudy colours and pineapples. What can I say, I'm shallow. So on Saturday morning I set off bright and early to embark on my first Kew Gardens expedition.

I had no idea how huge a site it is. I mean, truly humongous! You could easily spend a long weekend looking around and leisurely investigating all the beautiful greenhouses and buildings. Sadly, I only had one day to see what I could and I barely managed a fraction of what is on offer, but what I did get to see was just breathtaking. Kew Gardens is how I imagine the Hanging Gardens of Babylon would look if it were situated in modern Greater London. It really is absolutely magical to stroll around discovering all kinds of plants and flowers that you never knew existed and then be casually greeted by a passing peacock in the grounds.

As part of the IncrEdibles exhibition, Bompas & Parr have set up a boating lake in Kew. The centrepiece is Pineapple Island which, you guessed it, is basically a giant floating pineapple. As you make your way around the lake, you are invited to row through Pineapple Island and visit the psychedelic Banana Grotto for which you must wear your specially provided 3D glasses. Negotiating our way around the lake as completely inexperienced rowers was a bit of a challenge but the incentive of the Banana Grotto kept us going and it was a beautiful day for messing about on the river Wind in the Willows style.

One of my favourite things about Kew Gardens was how much I felt like Alice in Wonderland as I wandered around. From Pineapple Island and it's Banana Grotto to peacock spotting and then encountering giant mushrooms made of hay. Curiouser and curiouser, indeed.

In the spirit of Lewis Carroll, I half-expected these shrimp plants to come to life!

Kew is a true Garden of Eden just outside of the smog and concrete of Central London, which really makes it even more of an oasis of calm and escapism. I will definitely be making repeat visits in order to see the parts I missed out on this time.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Sweet Treats: Witch Mix (Majomajo Neruneru)

The Japanese certainly know how to make sweets extra fun, don't they? Today I got to act out a childhood fantasy and mix a potion in a (plastic) cauldron thanks to Kracie's Witch Mix, or Majomajo Neruneru to give it it's Japanese name. Mixing the ingredients up is a little long-winded but it's also a lot of fun.

You start with a plastic base that has two circles, one with a star on the bottom and one without, and a detachable corner. The corner acts as a cup for when you add water to the mixture.

There are also five little packets of ingredients and a spoon for mixing.

The first step is to add pouch number one to the side of the pot without the star, followed by one corner cup of water and mixing it together. 

After mixing for a short time, you should see something that looks like this:

I'll admit the colour is not massively appealing so far, but it is suitably witchy-looking. 

Next, add pouch two to the mix along with another corner cup of water and stir again. 

The colour will now change to something more appetising-looking. 

Pouch number three now goes into the pot with the star on the base. 

This pouch contains little crunchy treats in the shape of stars and circles. You now have something of an enchanted Muller Corner and it's worth tasting at this point before you add any more pouches. 

Scoop some of the mixture, add some of the crunchies like a topping and enjoy. 

Now you can add another pouch. I added the black one first. 

Again, add a corner cup of water and mix. The colour will change again and the taste becomes a little different too. 

After this, you can add your final pouch, in my case, the pink one and watch what happens next.

The colour changes slightly once more and the mixture becomes frothier. The final result should look something like this:

This last mix was my favourite. Mostly because the foaminess made it taste like sherbet, which is never a bad thing. 

Like I said, it is a bit of a process to go through for a sweet treat, but I think it's a lot of fun and I'm a grown woman (allegedly) so I can imagine that little ones would love all the mixing and making. After all, who doesn't enjoy a little bit of pretend witchiness now and again, right?

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Out and About: Grain Store / Hot Pepper Jelly

Grain Store
Granary Square,
1-3 Stable Street,
King's Cross,
London, N1C 4AB.

Grain Store is the new brainchild of award-winning chef Bruno Loubet and The Zetter Group, of the Zetter Townhouse fame. Situated just a few minutes from both King's Cross and St. Pancras stations, it is nestled in the hidden gem that is Granary Square. 
The staff are friendly and warm without being overbearing and the menu is something else. If you are a vegetarian then you are in for a real treat because there are so many non-meaty dishes on offer, but not to worry, there's still plenty of meat and fish to be had for the carnivores amongst us. There are so many new eateries springing up all over London on a weekly basis that it can be hard to stand out as something special but what sets Grain Store apart is it's interesting and varied menu. Here's what I had:

Starter: Focaccia, dukkah and olive oil dip.
Main: Corn bread with tomato relish, creme fraiche, pickled cactus and scrambled eggs.
Dessert: Strawberry, passionfruit and mango sorbet.
Cocktail: Truffle Martini.
As well as everything I had being absolutely delicious, it was also very reasonably priced. I had all three courses and a martini for less than £40, (although a word to the wise, check the price of the specials before you order) and to make the bill even less scary they present it in a rather adorable form.

Hot Pepper Jelly
11 Broadway Parade,
Crouch End,
London, N8 9DE.

Hot Pepper Jelly is the cutest little cafe in Crouch End, if not the whole of North London. It's run by the loveliest people who make you feel like an old friend or at least a regular from your very first visit. The walls are decorated with beautiful photographic pieces (which are also for sale) and, my personal favourite, a huge pepper print. 

It is quite small, which adds to the cozy feel of the place and the menu is full of good old comfort food alongside traditional dishes with a peppery twist. I had the most amazing American breakfast (bacon, banana and pancakes) and an absolutely divine Strawberry Dazzler to wash it all down. 

At the counter you can purchase a jar of Hot Pepper Jelly for yourself, which of course I couldn't resist doing. I'm not sure how I'm going to use it yet but maybe I can take a little inspiration from Hot Pepper Jelly cafe's menu.