The Confidence of Youth Continued…(from the Dormobiling experience)

When I was eighteen and had passed my driving test, Vivien, my best friend at school, and I, plotted a holiday after A levels, round a large bottle of Coke. We agreed to put £2 each of our monthly allowance each week into the empty bottle. Vivien kept the Coke bottle and I remember that, a year or so later, she broke the bottle on a sheet and we counted the money. The other people in our form became quite jealous as we talked about this camping holiday in our last few weeks of school. I remember when we first became friends Vivien told me that she had asked my good friend, Maria, whether she would mind if Vivien became my friend too.

We agreed that our two aims were that Vivien would pass her driving test and I would learn Italian. (When we got to Italy I remember Vivien asking me the word for “meat” when we were in a shop and I could only remember that “zio” was “uncle”; I’m afraid to say that was the sum total of my Italian). As I had French covered and Vivien, with a German mother, had German covered, we felt optimistic that we could visit France, Germany and Italy without any problem.

Vivien agreed to work out the initial part of our journey, i.e. Belgium to Germany, and then we would go on to Austria and Italy. We were briefed by my mother’s worry that men would see us at filling stations and put nails down for us to drive over and puncture our tyres with the aim of having their wicked way. She also mentioned that we shouldn’t go south of Rome. I had the good idea that we could take Mum’s car as Dad also had a car, and Vivien provided the camping gear.

Vivien was responsible for the journey across the Channel from Dover to Ostend. She found us a place to stay the first night in Diksmuide, but as the carnival was going on all night outside our window we did not have a good sleep that night. To our horror we were given a double bed; however we were not “that way inclined”! Vivien told me about how her father organised camping trips for her and her brother to visit the First World War sites, whereas I had spent my childhood holidays at the house called Singleton in North Cornwall. Vivien often stayed there with us for holidays and she was impressed at the very easy relationships in my family.

We drove on through Belgium to Germany, and Vivien had arranged for us to visit her Uncle Rudy and his daughter, Vivien’s cousin, for lunch. Then we went on through Germany to Munich, and then into Austria where we visited Innsbruch, and then to Florence. Vivien brought the artistic side to our friendship, knowing places to visit in Florence, Rome and Venice. In preparation for the holiday and a visit to the Sistine Chapel I had read “The Agony and the Ecstasy” about Michaelangelo; Vivien joked that it was more agony than ecstasy.

One clear memory I have is of Vivien saying she would take over the driving one day; she later told me she had noticed I was falling asleep at the wheel. Another thing I remember is that Vivien saw a man hitchhiking, carrying a live rabbit and she suggested we picked him up; he came with us to wherever he wanted to go. It is Vivien’s recollection that we spent a lot of time in garages; at one, when we had a flat tyre and couldn’t turn the nuts, an Italian garage-man put a long handle on the spanner and then, when it turned, with a grin of triumph he exclaimed “Archimedes”! We had no problems at all with the Italian men.

Our A level results were due while we were away; Vivien had left an address so that her mother could let her know her results; following this I rang my mother to ask her how I had done.

We went into this adventure with confidence. While I failed on the speaking Italian side, Vivien seemed totally reliable in her driving, and in her knowledge of art.

As I lie here crippled with MS and unable to walk or write, I wonder whether the spirit of adventure was with me as I was aware that all was not well with my body.

Mary Smith   16th June 2016

 

 

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A Time I was Proud of

My boys were taught sex education by Charles in their last year at primary school. As I had experience as an ante-natal teacher, I offered to help when it came to explaining how a baby is born. I had large charts showing the baby inside the womb, and I used a model pelvis and rag-doll to explain what happens during labour.

One time, while I was helping Charles, the head-teacher came into the classroom showing Matthew Taylor, the local MP, round the school. The moment they came in, Charles, with his eyes dancing around, said to me “Mrs Smith, I don’t think the children quite understood how the baby is born; perhaps you would like to show them again?” At the sight of me pushing the doll through the pelvis held by Charles, with thirty eleven year old children watching intently, Mr Gunn and Matthew Taylor left the room quickly. Afterwards Charles said that he had never known two men leave his classroom so fast. I suppose this was because neither man had children or had been to an ante-natal class.

One of Barnaby’s friends remembers this occasion and recalls the embarrassment of the visitors, and the smug feeling among the children, who were not embarrassed.

I remained involved in sex education for a number of years.

Mary Smith   19th September 2016

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Our Sons

I was one of four children, and I remember my mother begging me not to have a fourth, but I was sure that was what Adrian and I wanted; looking back, obviously my mother was thinking like that because I had MS and she would have had an idea from my father of what, long-term, that could mean …

Now I am sixty-four and our children are grown-up: Barnaby, the oldest, is thirty-nine, Henry is two-and-a-half years younger, Jonathan is thirty-three and Oscar is thirty, so “our children” are no longer children. Other mothers have said to me that it must have been noisy in our house, but as they were not quarrelsome children they were not noisy. People asked me whether I wanted a girl and I can’t remember that I did. In those days there was no way of knowing the sex of the baby and so we accepted what we were given. I suppose it was only when our boys married that I realised I had, at last, female companions, and granddaughters as well as grandsons.

It seemed all four boys, or actually it was the three younger ones, were aware of my physical shortcomings; when Henry, Jonathan and Oscar were still quite young I had to ask them to turn my pages as I could no longer do it, and they saw me walking with two sticks, and then I had to use a wheelchair, as I do now.

Barnaby went to university and so he missed out on seeing my progressive illness having an effect on me. I wonder whether this has contributed to him living in Australia now … Barnaby is now, in fact, working on the human relations side of a large organisation in Sydney, using his university degrees in psychology and occupational psychology.

Henry went to university and went on to be a teacher in a primary school, where he specialised in literacy; it was this specialism that led him and a friend to think up the idea of starting a website called “Lend me your Literacy” (now known, for publicity purposes, as “Pobble”) which was to ask children to write pieces that were then published on the website, asking readers for their comments. This particularly interested teachers, parents and children as it went worldwide. Jonathan became involved with Pobble, using his MBA experience to manage the growing business side and to help Henry to make Pobble better known. They are both generous in crediting each other with the skills that they brought in to helping grow Pobble into a world-wide business.

Oscar, having taken a degree in psychology and sociology at Keele University, is a successful lawyer; he works in matrimonial law for a highly esteemed firm in London. We never expected to have a lawyer in the family, though it is certainly useful!

(Writing about our sons as adults also brings back many memories of all of them as children; Barnaby’s parents were very pleased when their two-year-old son learned to walk! He had no siblings to learn from, and our time spent at the Crown Hills mother and toddler group did not compensate for having no siblings).

We are definitely proud of all four boys and it is good to see how well they have done for themselves. Adrian is particularly pleased to see that they are good fathers.

Mary Smith   25th August 2016

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Another good idea!

When I was sixteen and Alice was fourteen, I was staying with Alice and her family on Jura and I came up with another “good idea”, which was that we would go and sleep on our own in bothies. I would go across the sea inlet from Glenabatrick to Ruantallen where there was a bothy which had been used by Rory Darrach, a local shepherd. Bothies are places with a bed where one could stay for a night, and with a fireplace and fuel for a fire, and a basic stock of food and utensils. We also had our own supplies of supper and breakfast and a sleeping bag. Alice went to a bothy at Cruib, further inland up the coast of Jura. We agreed that we would lay a place for another person as well as ourselves; for some reason I felt that was frightening, so I didn’t do it, but Alice did. We also said “goodnight” to the moon!

That evening I decided to have a swim, and, to show that I was on my own, I swam without a costume. I found that the bit of sea I chose to swim in I was sharing with a seal, who might have thought I was a mermaid with feet! I slept well that night and didn’t feel at all frightened, nor was Alice frightened.

Another time when I went to Jura with Alice and her family we saw a big ship anchored out at sea opposite Glenabatrick. We realised it was the Royal Yacht Britannia, and so Richard, Alice’s younger brother, played “God Save the Queen” on the trumpet. While we were there with her grandparents, her grandfather was out on a boat with some gillies and a man asked if he could join them. The gillies all took their caps off, recognising the Duke of Edinburgh; Alice’s grandfather didn’t notice the taking off of caps, and carried on his conversation, as was his way.

I have many happy memories of being on Jura.

Mary Smith     11th August 2016

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Dormobiling in Scotland (more important than the complexities of life!)

In September 1969 I was seventeen, had just passed my driving test, and was staying with my friend, Alice, who was fifteen, when I had one of my “good ideas”, to go dormobiling in Scotland. Alice was very practical and she arranged that we would visit her aunt in Drummond Castle. I had a slight sense of misgiving about this whole adventure as Alice was just recovering from anorexia.

I realised we needed another driver and decided, as my mother’s friend’s son, Stephen, had just passed his driving test and we needed a man on the trip, I would ask him. I phoned him and he was happy to get the train from London to Glasgow where we would meet him. We left the island of Jura, took the ferry to the mainland and made our way to Glasgow where we picked up the dormobile. I remember driving to the railway station in Glasgow and being surprised at the amount of traffic there was, but being brought up in London and having learned to drive there, I saw this as normal.

We met Stephen as planned, then we decided to drive up beside Loch Lomond and on northwards to Loch Ness where we saw no monster. At one point we did get out of the dormobile and we saw some purple heather; through it we could see the water and the hills beyond: a wonderful moment, and we bemoaned the fact that we hadn’t a camera. I said that it didn’t matter as we had seen this and it would be in our heads for ever. This, as well as our driving through Glasgow, shows the confidence of youth!

Alice arranged for us to visit her Aunt Wiss in Drummond Castle, and then we went on to Alice’s cousin, Jane Willoughby, for the night. It happened that she had Lucien Freud and his twelve-year-old son, Alex, to supper; we had heard of Lucien Freud but had no idea why he was famous. I imagine that as Lucien Freud was a famous artist we were told not to ask him any questions. I sat next to his son who I asked if he was enjoying Scotland; he said that he was enjoying a holiday on his own with his father. He later told Alice he appreciated having his Dad to himself as he has a lot of siblings. Jane sent us to camp in an idyllic spot in a glen beside a river.

Alice remembers one evening we decided to “camp” in the dormobile in a very quiet lay-by somewhere half-way up a hill or mountain in the Highlands. We had a peaceful night but were woken the following morning by a shepherd tapping on the window of the dormobile. He charged us a pound for our night’s camping and we paid it.

We then continued to the north of Scotland, where Alice had the idea that she wished to be the northernmost person asleep in mainland Britain that night. We parked the dormobile at the correct angle to ensure this, and Alice slept on the top bunk.

We also visited “The Burn”, a house belonging to Pleasance Russell at Blairgowrie, Perthshire, where my father, with his six siblings, spent holidays as a child. My father’s friend had not received my letter so they were not expecting us; they were in the middle of a dinner party and they kindly found chairs for us around the table and gave the three of us supper.

Stephen didn’t seem to have any relatives who had lived in Scotland or to have had any Scottish experiences.

After a couple of weeks we drove back to Glasgow; Alice has reminded me that on our way back we drove onto a car ferry, certainly a new experience for me and Stephen; it went without a hitch. Then we drove on to Glasgow and dropped Stephen at the railway station and returned the dormobile to the hire-place.

I don’t remember any moments of worry for us; I was only seventeen after all!

(Henry, having heard about my dormobiling experience, has suggested I write more about my “good ideas”…)

Mary Smith 30th May 2016

 

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Happiness

What makes me happy, living with “my” MS, is the effect it has had on people around me. These people are my husband, our four sons and my friends that I have made in their school playground. I am also in contact with my school friends who I talk to on the phone.

As it is four hundred years since Shakespeare died, one friend took me to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which I acted in at school; I was Demetrius and Pringle was an unforgettable Bottom! I don’t think we knew about being in love then, but seeing it now does make a difference!

I have been comforted by the fact that my father brought me up saying “Life isn’t fair”; I know that, now I can’t walk or write, but my situation is relieved by my friends coming to visit me regularly, and Adrian comes twice a week. My brother and sisters also come regularly and I speak with my sons on the phone.

I’m trying to show people why I don’t get depressed: depression has never been part of my make-up. I think I can thank my parents for giving me a good-enough start to life.

My next piece will be on the complexities of my life….

 

Mary Smith   19th May 2016

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Being Me

The remarkable effect of having MS is that I can’t use my right hand to write and to feed myself; I am now totally dependent on other peoples’ hands and feet, to feed me, brush my teeth, to take me out for a cigarette and bring me in again. The carers in this home will organise the hoist to lift me up and put me into bed, and in the morning another team of carers will use the hoist to take me out of bed and sit me in my wheelchair.

I was originally asked to write about feeding and being fed but, actually I am also bringing in the fact that I can’t walk and, as a journalist, I can’t write.

It is really weird being fed; some people shovel the food into my mouth as fast as they can, as if they are aware of the twenty-two other people who need feeding, and not really picking up my vibes: different people do things differently. Many people keep a straw in my mouth in the hope that I will finish my drink as quickly as possible: of course it is up to me whether I suck in the hot chocolate or not! I find that being fed is an opportunity to stop thinking my thoughts and to spend my time with someone else. A few of the carers appreciate the enormous frustration I feel; it is a situation that is not of my choosing and I am totally in the hands of whoever comes to feed me. Attitudes towards cleaning my teeth also vary; much to my surprise, my key-worker, who has never done shopping for me, appears to love cleaning teeth, and does it very thoroughly; a lady carer is happy to be his deputy and will shop for whatever I need.

When I go out with friends or family and someone has to feed me, we are both aware that I have no choice in the matter. Once I went out with a friend and some other person paid our bill, which made me think that this man, who didn’t leave his name, understood how it must feel for me in my wheelchair, and for my friend who was feeding me.

It is four years since I left our family home for these four walls in the nursing home. My social worker and district nurse both told Adrian that he had done a fine job caring for me, and they suggested I move into a nursing home. I have decorated my room with pictures, so I can see all my children and my grandchildren in one area. I say the walls are the story of my life, including the large picture that my father made of black-and-white photos of his four children, as well as various other pictures and furniture from our family home in Falmouth Road; and now I have the painting of asparagus spears which Adrian gave me as a recognition of my invention of the “asparagus fest”.

I can use my mind to dictate this piece; I spend the afternoon and evening in my bed where I lie and think, and think…. I have a whiteboard on which Adrian puts up what I’m doing each day, and a second whiteboard which I call the “memory board” where I ask carers or friends to write down particular thoughts that I want to remember. I totally appreciate the commitment of my many friends who come and visit me: for most people it is once a week. On the downside, I have occasional days when no-one is coming, and then I will watch DVDs that I have been given, or sent by Lovefilm as organised by my older sister, Jessica.

Recently I went to lunch at Adrian’s new house. Our son, Jonathan, was staying there with his wife, Lori, and fifteen-month-old Alexia. We sat down for lunch, Alexia and her parents at one end of the table, and me and Adrian at the other end; while Alexia was being fed by her parents, I sat in my wheelchair being fed by Adrian. The story of the different ends of the table, I aged sixty-four having lived most of my life, and Alexia at the other end of the table with her whole life to live and all sorts of abilities to achieve, seemed poignant.

I described my illness as remarkable; I am touched and proud that my friends say I am remarkable. My being aware of myself, and the poignancy of Alexia and myself being helped at the ends of the long table, shows that I am able to see the realities of the remarkableness of my situation.

Mary Smith   18th February 2016

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