7

Twitter: Love or Hate?

Twitter and tweeting has been a lot on my mind lately.

To be honest, I feel a bit of antipathy towards Twitter, and also to the whole alter-universe that is social media. Perhaps I am a product of my generation – someone who grew up with a life that was not constantly interrupted by the internet. Someone for whom mobile phones and personal computers of any kind did not exist until I was a mature(?!) fully-formed adult who felt able to choose or reject their intervention into my life. Or perhaps simply someone, like most generations, who does not feel fully at home with the new technology that is outpacing them.

For many years I ranted against social media. I felt uncomfortable about lack of privacy and control over who saw the things that I shared, and, if I’m honest, I felt that relationships formed online surely could not match up to the integrity and depth of relationships made face-to-face. I did not like the idea of being forced to adopt technology by a market that was playing for profit rather than genuine social cohesion.

Eventually, to the amazement of my friends, I caved in. My progress onto Facebook was largely fuelled by the fact that my lodger always knew what was going on locally and I didn’t. He would be off to some intriguing music gig or discussion group and I would be saying ‘how did you find out about that?’ and he’d say ‘Facebook’. It happened too often to be ignored. Now, Facebook is one of the main ways I find out about events and share pictures with family and friends. It also forms a useful reminder system for someone with a rubbish memory. ‘You have eight events coming up this week’ dear old FB will flash at me. Of course that is the other problem – there is so much going on that if you tick an interest in everything you are swamped with choice. It is not an incentive to peace or personal space.

Twitter, on the other hand, I find harder. I properly embraced many forms of social media a few years ago when I stopped paid employment to focus on my writing and caring for my father. I knew that if I was serious about getting my writing ‘out there’ I needed to engage with others through social media. Websites and blogs and Twitter accounts are some of the first things an agent or publisher will look at when considering taking on a writer and their work. I was surprised at how much I took to some of these media, but Twitter is still a bit of a mystery.

In some ways I get it and I love it. I get that I can engage with the thoughts and ideas of people from all backgrounds from all over the world. I get that news comes instantly, and responses follow like my cat trailing me when I have a plate of hot toast with melted butter on top. (There wouldn’t be melted butter on top for long if my cat had his way). I also get that people are not always who they say they are, and that a certain amount of caution and intuitive cynicism needs to be exercised. I get that the whole Twittersphere is incestuous in the ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ culture – tweet me and I’ll tweet you, like my stuff and I’ll like back – which is what I find mind-numbingly difficult. It doesn’t feel ethical and it doesn’t encourage people to think independently and have confidence in their own views.

What has taken me longer to understand is that I need, as my son pointed out to me, to try to properly engage in conversations and interactions – just as if I was in a room with someone. This in itself sounds promising, because I am a confident person who loves chatting to people and learning from them. However the Twittersphere is a big place and interractions and Tweets come and go in a nanosecond. Some lead onwards and others crash and burn or fizzle out slowly while no one watches. To do it properly, you see, takes time. And regular contact. Daily contact, in fact, and many minutes or even hours.

This scares me! The bottom line is that what scares me more is that I sometimes get drawn into it. I wake up and switch on my phone and an hour later I am still pinging around the internet somewhere. I absolutely KNOW that I have better things to do with my time and I’m still out there, ineffectively ‘liking’ and ‘retweeting’ things.

Chat times I understand more. There are ones around mental health, caring and dementia that give me a chance to interact with the same people regularly and which genuinely provide a great network for support and advice. But the individual ‘pings’ – those little blasts that make up a huge great skyscape full of the litter-dust of people’s reactions – they sometimes cloud the original trigger so totally that it quickly spirals into an infinite round of navel-gazing.

And what of Love or Hate? In his prayer, St Francis of Assisi asked that ‘where there is hatred, let me sow love’. What is difficult about tweeting is that we don’t know where the seeds of our thinking will fall. Our intention may be good (or bad), but like the parable in the Bible we simply don’t know the kind of ground that will be receiving them.

I suppose that ultimately social media reflects the society we live in – and indeed forms part of that society. Good intentions can accidentally (or incidentally) lead to melt-down, but, on the other hand, hate-filled tirades can lead to an outpouring of public support and love. The bottom line, though, is that I would rather be walking by the river than checking my phone…

MAD MOMENT

Going for that high hill Peak District walk with my friend despite the weather forecast for rain all day.

MARVEL MOMENT

Despite the weather forecast for rain all day, driving to said walk in rain, putting our boots on in rain, driving home in rain, but for 5 hours of walking, not a drop!!!

© Anne de Gruchy

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1

The Spirituality of House Clearance

As you will be aware from my previous posts, my father has recently moved up to Nottingham to be near me so that he can benefit from the extra help provided by a residential care setting. It has been such a joy to have him nearby, and to be able to see him regularly and to take him out to exciting things such as Mahler concerts and steam galas.

During the transition period I found it really hard to write about my feelings and did a mega-copout by posting my series of articles on Simplicity instead of addressing the intense and traumatic experience of helping my father accept the need for the move.

This last month has seen me too-ing and fro-ing to Dorset, together with one of my sisters, to sort out and clear my father’s house. The house is being let unfurnished to provide an income to help with care fees – a decision my father was involved in. He was also involved in all the choices that we made about what he would like to have with him and what to do with the things that the family did not want or need.

Clearing the house has been alternately incredibly stressful and very moving, and was a process not made easier by having a severe ear and chest infection. Family relations have been strained to their limits, with full melt-downs followed by hugs and tears. Other people I have spoken to tell me that this is normal given the circumstances! I saw the New Year in at a local pub with my sister for company and loads of happy and somewhat tipsy people jumping up and down erratically as the TV above the bar blared out Auld Lang Syne.

The first week of sorting, with my sister alongside, was too full-on to draw breath. In five days we attempted to sort out and process all the ‘family’ possessions, furniture and sentimental keepings, alongside 91 years-worth of my father’s gathered clutter. Clutter is actually the wrong word for what my father kept – he is an incredibly detailed and organized man and everything was addressed, labeled, dated and filed in strict order, right down to old school brochures, medical correspondence, and the tear-off Postcards from his Talyllyn railway calendars. Some of his Railway magazines dated back to 1904!

Boxes are now packed and distributed and other things stored, ready for shipping to family members in Britain, France and Australia. People came and went and took things away. Visits were made by local charities and a hospice shop, auctioneers, model engineering friends, carpet fitters, gas safety checkers, and clearance people. My car returned to Nottingham pretending it was a removal van and not a small Mazda 2 with a tiny boot. Dad is now surrounded by familiar things – the walls of his new room sporting train pictures, one of my mother’s tapestries, family photographs, pictures of his house, and a map of Jersey – the island where his father’s family lived. He must be the only resident of a care home who can boast a genuine steam locomotive on the top of his bookcase! (It is proving quite a visitor attraction…)

Ten days later and I was back at the house again, and this time on my own. Despite the ever-changing personnel of decorators, electricians, window fitters, the skip man, estate agents, and the most amiable clearance team I have ever met, I managed to find time to say some ‘goodbyes’ over cups of tea and supper-invites. The strangest thing, though, was that over time the sorting began to feel like a spiritual process.

I really wanted to see things find good and appropriate homes and not simply end up in landfill, and as the days went on more and more options opened up. One friend of dad’s went over-and-above the call of friendship and made multiple runs to and from the house in his estate car – collecting things to sell in a charity sale in aid of dad’s church and taking massive piles of metal, wood and cardboard for recycling. Tools went to a charity for reconditioning and reuse in countries that need them. Another friend appeared and found new homes for my mother’s sewing and tapestry materials and sewing tables. I was introduced to a local project that took away crockery, saucepans, cutlery, the TV and other household items – to be provided to vulnerable people who were setting up home with little or no money. It was as if dad’s home was opening out its arms and giving of the gifts inside.

Do I sound sentimental? Yes, I suppose I am. But also I believe that if you open up your heart and long for something it will be given to you. That openness to spirit and that of God in the world allows these nurturing processes to flow.

In my last day I had some time to spare and managed to still myself from the urge to set off home early. Instead I took some time to contemplate and to walk the paths I loved in the winter sunshine. I took photographs and had a coffee in a local café. I accepted the wonderful hospitality of a bed for the night and a meal with dad’s friends. There was a short, said communion service at the church.

So… Now I feel ready to move on. I feel that this change has been the right thing and that the universe is in harmony with it. I am grateful that dad seemed happy and settled on my return. It is a new chapter for both of us, and I am open to where it will lead.

MAD MOMENT…

Having the decorators and house clearance team in tandem (NOT my decision!) – what a nightmare! Trying to separate the piles the decorators needed (curtains and curtain rails, lightshades, hoover, ladders, paints, tools) and the piles to get taken away. Finding the kettle under dust-sheets!! Miraculously, the only casualty was the centre of a loo-roll holder.

MARVEL MOMENT…

Saying ‘goodbye’ to Shaftesbury after clearing dad’s house – walking quietly in the cold winter sunshine along my favourite routes and lanes and taking photographs. It was almost a meditative process, and very moving.

annedegruchy.co.uk: image - Park Walk in Shaftesbury

© Anne de Gruchy

2

The New Functional

Over the past few weeks my mood has been very erratic, and several times I have been overheard describing myself as ‘dysfunctional’ to sundry friends and acquaintances.

Not only that, I have been like a magnet – drawing all my other ‘dysfunctional’ friends to me. In fact, I have had conversations with several friends along the following lines:

Me: I’m in a very weird place at the moment – I’m not functioning at all well.
Friend: Join the club – there seems to be something in the air at the moment.
Me: At least we understand each other.
Friend (or me): Yes, you’re the only one who doesn’t put the phone down/freak out/
run down the road laughing when I scream/cry hysterically/
spout strange gibberish.
Us: We must stick together and be there for each other.

So here we have it – I appear to be part of a community of dysfunctional people who are very good at supporting each other. This has been one of the blessings of my mental health problems over the years – all those wonderful and interesting people I meet along the way. And what people they are! People with amazing intelligence and quirky, questioning minds. People who are funny, who you can hold a proper conversation with. People who are there for you even when their own world is caving in.

I was talking to another friend about this recently and I began to question my language and the use of the word ‘dysfunctional’. I started adding qualifiers – that I only meant dysfunctional in relation to how this rather narrow-minded world sees normality and ‘normal’ ways of being in the first place. What is ‘normal’ anyway, and who’s to say that this is a healthy place to be? My friend immediately responded: ‘You are the New Functional.’

Brilliant! I love it. I had to reach for a pen and paper to write it down because my memory is as dysfunctional as my mental health. This was no easy thing, given that I was driving at the time. ‘Remember that phrase,’ I told my friend as I sent telepathic thoughts to the next set of traffic lights willing them to turn red so that I could safely record this moment of wisdom and insight. I have it beside me now – a scruffy piece of paper with my shopping list on it, and at the bottom the words: ‘The New Functional – communities of dysfunctional people supporting each other’.

The more I think about this the more I like it. It seems to me that it’s not about whether I, personally, am a ‘functional’ person or not. It’s more about how we deal with what we are given. The way my lovely friends have supported and helped me has been far more effective and fruitful (in terms of me feeling a bit better) than anything the mental health services have been able to offer me. The mental health services are overstretched and underfunded, and my hope that they may be able to give me someone to talk to regularly about how I handle things is probably misplaced. However an expectation that my friends will be there for me has always proved to be built on solid foundations.

Beyond this is the massive well of kindness and support available from complete strangers – something that has been facilitated by social media and people’s willingness to share their innermost feelings via blogs. The community of people who share experiences around their mental health is very varied – both in personality types and the kinds of problems we encounter – but when it comes to supporting each other we always come up trumps.

So I’m sending a toast to ‘The New Functional’ community. We’re doing good – and a big ‘thank you’ to you all.

MAD MOMENT…

Trying to be ‘crew’ on my Quaker friend’s narrowboat. The River Trent and Erewash Canal had never seen anything like it! If you want to talk dysfunctional, think me, rope throwing (in the water), lock keys (how do they work?), crossing narrow lock gates (balance? what’s that?), etc.

MARVEL MOMENT…

FREE intellectual stimulation! The excellent Firth Lectures at the University of Nottingham’s Theology Department on the topic of ‘Imagining Faith: perceptions of religious belief in modern writing’ – delivered by the ever erudite and wonderfully nuanced Rowan Williams.

© Anne de Gruchy

0

Of Haemorrhoids and the Trustworthiness of Internet Information

I have haemorrhoids. Or piles, if you prefer. Or those funny little grape like protruberances that can appear at the entrance to our gut at a part of the body that is best not described in an up-market blog like this one! They are pesky things that are common as you grow older – particularly if you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) like me.

Now my IBS more-or-less disappeared the moment I went vegetarian and hasn’t bothered me since, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for the haemorrhoids. Recently I had to go for a bowel scope – something that is now provided by the NHS to people of a certain age to check for signs of bowel cancer. The endoscopist took one look at my haemorrhoids and asked why they had not been banded – a procedure where they place a tight elastic band over aforementioned protruberances and wait for them to drop off through lack of blood supply.

Here we got to a problem because none of the health professionals involved seemed to agree about the best course of action. Only three years ago a consultant in Lincolnshire told me the haemorrhoids were too big to band and that the only option if I wanted to remove them was surgery – risky, painful, and not recommended unless you’re desperate.

I went to my GP who, in wonderful contradiction to the aforementioned hospital professionals, advised me to do nothing at all. All the procedures can be painful, he said, and the haemorrhoids can regrow. They’re a natural thing, he said, and unlike the hospital staff a GP sees the longer-term outcomes for patients. I should check out the information available on the internet and come back to him with my decision on how to proceed.

This was refreshing, but of course it immediately begs the question: what information can you trust when you search online?

The internet is an amazing thing, but you have to think about the motivation of the people who post information there. Those logging their experiences are more often than not those who have had a bad time of it. It is hard to get a balanced view. NHS sites are informative, but do not give success rates or long-term outcomes and tend to come from a Western, pro-medical intervention, point of view.

I attended a wonderful event recently at the brilliant Nottingham Contemporary. It was a discussion forum with the title ‘Media Gone Mental’. We considered questions about digital technology and our relationship to it. We looked at online identities, questions of intelligence and creativity, and whether digital technologies are good for us. The event was co-hosted by CaSMa (Citizen-centric approaches to Social Media analysis) and the Institute of Mental Health, as well as the Making Waves project that seeks to challenge current understandings about people who have experienced mental distress.

I love Nottingham for being a city that has so many stimulating opportunities to engage in discussion and debate. People are into ideas here, and proper communication. It was so nice to sit in a circle with an assortment of complete strangers, eating the best samosas I’ve ever tasted and, if not quite putting the world to rights, at least looking at the issues head on.

One of the questions posed at this event was ‘Is computer technology the democratization of knowledge or its commodification?’ This intrigued me, and I came to the conclusion that for me it is closer to the second of these options. Everything that is uploaded into cyberspace has a person or organization behind it – someone with an audience in mind and motives that are not always clear at first glance. Even our personal pages on Facebook and other social media represent filtered and untrustworthy versions of ourselves.

So, when researching my haemorrhoid options, I did so with my truth-seeker antennae set to maximum sensitivity. I searched on patient opinion sites, and NHS pages, and sites where companies have a stake in selling you something. I found alternative remedies that the GP had never heard about – nutritional supplements which, after much delving, appear to have some clinical evidence to recommend them. Unfortunately these are not currently available in the UK. I learnt a lot about haemorrhoids – and that I definitely want to avoid surgery.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total cynic. I find the information available online invaluable. But I like the internet best for the personal connections it allows us to engage in. The internet is an fascinating place and I have encountered some intriguing people and wonderful ideas there. It may not have helped my decision about haemorrhoid banding, but I’ve learnt a lot of other interesting stuff along the way.

MAD MOMENT…

Trying to work at my computer with my cat alternately sitting on my paperwork and sitting on my lap.

annedegruchy.co.uk image: cat on lap while working

MARVEL MOMENT…

Returning to the Carers’ Support Group after a gap of a few months. I had been distressed the last time I attended, and was worried about how this had affected the people there, but they are a lovely bunch of people and it felt good to go back. I also received a lot of support from the Alzheimer’s Society manager on my return – so a big ‘thank you’ to everyone involved.

© Anne de Gruchy

0

Letter to Louisa

Earlier this month I was one of millions of people who watched Louisa Johnson win the X-Factor.

I found myself watching despite the antipathy I feel towards these TV shows, with their brash noisiness and their wholesale promotion of a culture that says one person can live the dream while millions of others across the world struggle for the basic necessities in life. Louisa seems like a genuinely lovely girl and has the gift of that amazing voice, so I found myself rooting for her in spite of the infectious pleasures of Reggie ‘N’ Bollie and their particular brand of joy. Joy is in short supply these days, and it was a big bonus of the show this year to see the bouncy spreading of happiness by this irrepressible duo.

After I had switched the television off and gone upstairs to bed, it all felt a bit surreal. It is easy to get caught up in the noise and hype of the production and the excitement of the results. I was lying in bed, re-centering – focusing on peace again. But somewhere out there was a seventeen-year-old girl, still under the spotlights, being shepherded and mentored already towards the glittering career that she will no doubt have. I couldn’t get Louisa out of my mind.

The whole scenario felt particularly poignant because of my recent concern about the Quaker testimony of Simplicity. About not owning or using more of the earth’s resources than we need. Shows like the X-Factor, and celebrity status in general, produce some of the most skewed and unjust distributions of wealth the world has ever seen. But that is a big burden to sit on the shoulders of a young girl who simply has a dream. Louisa’s life will never be what it would have been if she hadn’t entered the competition. Her course is set, and it will be who she is, as an individual human being, that shapes the type of future and impact that she has.

I thought: If I had to write a letter to Louisa, what would I say?

I look back after fifty five years of life and there are many things I wished I had known earlier; things I would like to tell my younger self. But wisdom and insight cannot be forced or imparted simply by writing things down and handing this to someone else. It is lived experience relevant to your own life and spiritual growth, and comes at its own pace and time. How can you say to a seventeen-year-old girl who is about to get the stardom she dreamt of, that possessions and wealth and fame are not the things that matter in life? Part of me wanted to freeze-frame and capture the gentle innocence of Louisa’s expression as she took in, with a degree of amazement, what was happening to her.

So there I was, lying in bed, upholding Louisa in my heart. I wished her peace and strength, the time and insight to remain herself amongst all the pressures and the highs and lows of her chosen profession, but mainly I just held her in God’s light – wanting her to feel the incredible nourishment that is there if only you open your mind to it.

Thinking about this now, I have to remind myself that Louisa is also someone who, through her own hard work and self-belief, has made and taken-up this opportunity – that it is good to see her take joy in it. New year is a time when we tend to look back at what has gone, and also think about our hopes and dreams for the year ahead. They may be dreams of making the world a more peaceful or equitable place – or, indeed, of winning the X-Factor – but unless we open our hearts to the possibilities and people around us; unless we act when we are given the opportunity to do so; then they will never come any nearer to being reality.

MAD MOMENT…

Singing with my choir at our Christmas concert for family and friends with purple hair to match our purple and black outfits.

MARVEL MOMENT…

Simple ivy and lights, and the joy of going out in the dark streets during the Christmas season. Looking forward into the mystery of the coming year…

annedegruchy.co.uk image: ivy and lights

© Anne de Gruchy

0

People with Promise

I have a habit of connecting with people who have problems.

I often think that this is because I am a person with problems myself – a case of like attracting like, or of people finding others who have empathy with them. I really do believe that God – or the universe – brings people and situations to us when we need them, or when they need us, or simply when there is some synergy going on. So at any given time many of my friends and acquaintances, like me, will be experiencing mental health issues, or be snowed under with the stresses of caring for someone.

This is all well and good. It gives me a wonderful framework of friends who understand me, and a mutually beneficial and supportive network of people that is expanding all the time. And of course it’s not all doom and gloom – we have fun and laughter along the way, and share many interesting and exciting experiences together.

The difficulty comes when I try to have a one-on-one romantic relationship with people with problems. Or them with me.

I am a very up-and-down person – you have probably gathered that by now if you are following my blog. In my younger years the doctors slapped a ‘bipolar’ label on me, although this was later peeled off and replaced with ‘recurrent depressive disorder’ one. It’s nice to be disordered on occasion, but not to have a label. It makes you feel like you need to live up to some designer tag and produce at least three manic episodes a year.

Although I don’t do mania, I definitely feel like a Vivienne Westwood piece when it comes to my mental state: mostly full-on out there, somewhat flamboyant, and not at all symmetrical – and most certainly not containable within the social norms.

I love Vivienne Westwood’s clothes, but, like me, they can’t be easy to live with on a day-to-day basis. Those brave men who risk dating or even living with me, may be attracted to the bouncy outgoing bit, but the moment I hit a low they must wonder what’s happened to the happy, sociable person they thought they had hooked up with. Conversely, if they happen to meet me in a depressed phase and for some strange reason feel comfortable in a supportive role, then they often cannot cope with things once I turn into a flighty social butterfly with more energy than a bottle of Lucozade.

Add into this mix my Quakerly thing of seeing ‘that of God’ in everyone (human beings ARE endlessly fascinating and rewarding, whatever their background and life experience, and if you’re not open to this you miss out on some wonderful connections and people) and the result is a string of risky relationships with intense emotional connections, but a lot of gunpowder sitting in a big pile underneath us just waiting to be lit.

The other day I was bemoaning this state of affairs with a friend as we travelled together in the car. I said how I had now got used to my family and friends saying ‘Oh, Anne!’ and ‘Please be careful’ whenever I talked about the current state of my love life. This is partly my fault, of course, for being so open and honest with people I am close to, and I have learnt to be more careful and respectful about what I share now. But sometimes people’s reactions, and indeed my history (and there have been one or two mega-mistakes), make me question my judgement and instincts.

So we are travelling along, and I am saying to my friend how I have a habit of connecting with people who often turn out to have problems akin to my own, and he says, simply: ‘You pick people with promise.’

I love this.

I love that the people I pick have promise. And I love that the people I pick seem to somehow see some promise in me. It’s back to that positive language thing – looking at the good in a situation and not harping on about the risky bits. You can think yourself into the doldrums if you are not careful.

I just hope that any aspiring partner can cope with walking around with a woman whose hair is now the colour of purple pansies and whose mental state can resemble anything from a Sex Pistols T-shirt, to a carpet dress, to a tartan ball gown.

MAD MOMENT…

Ringing dad’s mental health team and the Care Quality Commission on a day when I woke up feeling depressed. Mental suicide.

MARVEL MOMENT…

Going to the optician to choose a new pair of glasses and instantly finding no less that three frames which I loved and were comfortable to wear! Now just have the difficult decision of which pair to pick!

© Anne de Gruchy

0

The Saga of Dad and the Gunge Boiler

Or how dementia and a distance of two hundred miles turns boiler breakdowns into a multi-faceted guessing game and a delicate delegation operation!

Recently, my dad’s boiler broke down. It didn’t owe us anything. To our family’s knowledge it had been chuntering along for all of the 30 years dad has owned his house, although the radiators had become distinctly lukewarm over time, and the death rattle when it started up had become ominous. Accurately ominous, as it turned out.

We found out about the breakdown when my sister made one of her regular catch-up phone calls to dad. He told her that the boiler wasn’t working and that he had arranged for British Gas to come out under their Homecare agreement. My sister rang to check, and, to her surprise, she discovered that this was true. However there was a delay of several days and, as dad is 90, has dementia and is severely sight-impaired, my sister did her best tenacious bulldog impression and the nice British Gas people agreed to come out the next day, which was a Friday.

Hereby starts a mysterious tale of information, misinformation and memory loss…

WHAT DAD SAID: The engineer came, needed a part and was coming back on Sunday morning to fit it.

WHAT LOVELY SISTER DID: Phoned dad on Sunday morning to remind him to stay in for the engineer’s visit.

WHAT DAD DID: Went to church. Well you would, wouldn’t you, if it was a choice of that or your boiler being in bits.

WHAT I DID: Rang dad and said: Is your heating working? Dad: I don’t think so. Me: Did British Gas come this morning? Dad: I went to church.

So I rang British Gas who told me that the part they needed (a pump) was not available until Tuesday anyway, and the Sunday visit had been planned to deliver some extra heaters, and that they’d turned up and dad had been out – did I want them to try again?

I turned down their kind offer. Dad would not have been able to work out or remember how to use a heater that he wasn’t familiar with, and he wouldn’t be able to read instructions as he is nearly blind. He would most likely have forgotten to turn it on, or off, or worried about what it was doing there and rung me up to find out.

So, to Plan B. This involved mobilizing some lovely local help. I rang a friendly neighbour and she agreed to go round and check that dad was OK and that the immersion heater was switched on for hot water. I arranged for the care agency to alert the carers to the situation, and for them to put extra blankets on dad’s bed and by his chair in the lounge. Fortunately it was during the warm early autumn spell, so I wasn’t too worried about the cold. I also arranged for the neighbour to go over early on Tuesday morning to ensure that somebody was in, and up, and there to open the door, when the engineer arrived.

TUESDAY: Neighbour came, engineer came, pump fitted but boiler would not work. Full, very expensive, system flush required. Neighbour and engineer agreed to come back on Thursday. After consultation with dad and my sisters, I authorized, as attorney, for the large sum of money to be spent.

THURSDAY: Neighbour came, engineer came. I telephoned dad and said: Is your heating working now? Dad: Yes, I think so. Me: Phew, thank God for that!! I put the telephone down and two minutes later dad’s lovely neighbour phones me: Well the engineers worked really hard (she said) but the system flush knocked out the thermostat and they’ve got to come back tomorrow to replace it.

FRIDAY: Neighbour – way beyond any call of duty – came, engineer came. I telephoned neighbour: Is the boiler working? Yes! Has the immersion heater been switched off? Yes! Have you got yourself a triple gin and tonic and a big pat on the back? Or, at the very least, a nomination for neighbour of the year award…

And so it goes. Dad’s boiler is working wonderfully. It is now blissfully quiet when the heating comes on in the morning, and I no longer need to wear an extra jumper in the lounge. Dad’s lovely neighbour joined us for a concert a few days ago, and we found ourselves immersed in the exuberant cello playing of Steven Isserlis as he joined the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to play Shostakovich’s amazing Cello Concerto No 1. I hope dad’s neighbour knows how much her kindness and help is valued.

There are an army of lovely people who support dad – some paid, many not – but without them he’d certainly be keeping company with the penguins from the British Gas adverts in their miniature icicle-filled worlds.

MAD MOMENT…

Cheesy crumpets in front of the X Factor? That’s about as mad as it got this week!

MARVEL MOMENT…

Wonderful Beeston Oxjam. Wandering the streets between musical and literary treats and venues, bumping into groups of interesting people, and simply drinking in the atmosphere.

© Anne de Gruchy