Sunday, 31 July 2011

"Jim'll Fix It" (Part 1)

This is a tale of two halves, the first half having its roots in my childhood, so it feels sensible to me that I start at that point, way back to when I would have been about 8 or 9. Being the early 1970's, Bell Bottom trousers and mini skirts were all the rage, as were hotpants, and platform shoes. In the first half of the decade there had been opposition to the Vietnam War, whilst the music scene saw the rise of bands such as Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and The Doobie Brothers (and yes, I am still a fan). The Beetles had split up, with Paul McCartney relaunching his music career with Wings, whilst John Lennon was singing songs about peace and love with Yoko Ono. The early part of the 1970's also saw the untimely deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.

My Dad, being an officer in the Army Air Corps at the time, had been asked to fly the then reigning Miss UK to a spectacular event taking place at Roundhay Park in Leeds, landing his helicopter in the centre of the showground in front of thousands of people. How on earth he wrangled that one, I really don't know, but obviously it was an opportunity he was not going to miss out on. 

So that we could go watch this momentous event, we had been invited to stay with our ex-neighbours from our Netheravon days who had moved to Leeds. For me, the journey “up North” was very exciting – to my knowledge we had never travelled further than the “Watford Gap” - whatever that was! When we lived “next-door-but-one” to them in Netheravon Jim and my Dad were based at Netheravon airfield, and this period in our lives saw the start of a good friendship between the two men which was to last until the day my father died in 2002. As a child I adored Jimmy, and to be honest I still do! Whenever the two returned from exercise it was not unusual for me to run up to Jimmy, with the question “Did you miss me?”. Jimmy's wife, Joan, has never once failed to remember my birthday, and as usual, the card which arrived from them this year was addressed to “Little Jo”. This had been preceeded a few weeks previously by a package from Joan containing some old black and white photo's of the day at Roundhay Park.

Joan was a constant in our lives during those Netheravon days, and without batting an eye-lid took in my brother and me when my big sister suffered a serious skull fracture after falling off her bike. Needless to say it was the days before cycle helmets. What did two more children matter when she had successfully raised 5 of her own? We pretty much spent every spare minute we had in each other's houses and gardens anyway, playing games such as “Cow Boys and Indians” with the two youngest children, Richard and Andrew, who were about the same age as us.

Going back to the show at Leeds, what Jim and my Dad had both failed to mention to their respective wives was that Jim had “fixed it for himself” to meet and greet said Miss UK when she landed in my Dads helicopter at the showground, and escort her to her appointed place in the events. So, you can imagine Joan's surprise when Jim, having muttered to Joan that he “wouldn't be long” was next spotted striding towards where my Dad had landed the helicopter. It was, truly, a momentous occasion in the lives of the two families, one which has never been forgotten!

It was about this time that I started to hanker after a trip in a helicopter, preferably with my Dad at the controls. But the nearest I ever got to even sit in one was when I fought my way through quite a few boys so as to manage a brief look at one which was on display at an Army Air Corps event somewhere. Needless to say there was quite a bit of jostling going on, but I remember being completely bedazzled by all the different dials and switches.

So, this ambition of mine has lain dormant all these years. And then, at last it surfaced 40 years later, when purely by chance and "being in the right place at the right time" I met Dawn from the charity "Fly2Help". I was to finally realise my childhood dream..........

Monday, 18 July 2011

Destiny's child

This blog was originally written about three weeks ago, but since then events overtook its publication. The historical facts I have written about here are, the best of my knowledge, correct. But I would like to point out that I am no historian, and the facts have been pulled reluctantly from my memory and dusted down.

Last night I dreamt I was Jewish. Not only was I Jewish, I was also living and working in Poland in the late 1930’s at the time when Hitler’s anti-semitism movement was really gathering pace. To be honest with you, it was bloody with innocent victims indiscriminately picked out and slain in the streets, their only crime being born Jewish. In my dream I was absolutely petrified as I was herded in to a cattle wagon, separated from my husband and young children, and shipped off to some God-foresaken destination only to be slaughtered like an animal on arrival. In my dream I was there, I could smell the fear of my fellow travellers. I not only saw their suffering, I shared it. When I woke up, I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I was to find I was Jo, living in the UK, in the early part of the 21st Century.

Why did I have such a dream? I have absolutely no idea. Yes, I have read Anne Frank and I’m sure I read it as a teenager, although I cannot be 100% certain about that. But I have read it recently, finishing it a couple of months ago. Anne was indeed a most courageous young lady, a heroin of her time. And as time went by, she seemed to know what her fate was going to be. It wasn’t of her choosing and given a choice she would have been free, on her way to becoming a famous author/journalist as life had originally intended for her. It is ironic how she achieved her ambition, albeit posthumously. It is due to Anne, and others like her, that we can understand how terrible it must have been for the Frank family and their co-dwellers, having to live cheek by jowl, keeping absolute silence, hardly daring to breath in case of being found. Somehow they managed to survive, in spite of eating scraps and mouldy potatoes as food became more and more scarce. It is so sad that they nearly made it. Victory and release from their self-imposed prison was a matter of months away. For them, there was no industrialist giant such as Schindler to give them shelter, a sanctuary, a possibility of escape. But at least they had help – and those who helped them risked just as much as Schindler did.
So why did Hitler do it? Why did he hate a race so much that he not only wanted to punish it, he wanted to eradicate it. Why, when as far as I am aware, he was part Jewish himself? Why was he obsessed with his Aryan ideal becoming the master race? What would have happened had he succeeded in his ambition to wipe the Jewish race off the planet? Would his creation then have turned on him in the end, destroying their creator? I think so – but I’m sure there are people out there who would disagree with me. Why did he do what he did to a race that contributed so much to the economy of Europe at that time? The Jews were successful in every walk of life. They were Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers, Architects, Accountants, Musicians, Teachers, even Butchers, Bakers and Greengrocers. Was it that he did not have the capacity to achieve what his countrymen did that made him turn on them – his history, the very stuff his genetic makeup embodied – that made him want to destroy so many? Someone told me recently that Hitler had Parkinson’s. I don’t know íf this is true or not, and maybe as a result of his inability to control his own body he became obsessed with what he felt should have been rightly his.

And in spite of all that was witnessed when World War II finished, why have others gone on to do what Hitler did - turning on fellow mankind in a bid to eradicate them because of their religious beliefs?

Had I gone on to study History at University and fulfil what at one time seemed to be my destiny to teach the subject, as my Aunt had before me, I would have then been able to answer my own questions. Would I have been as successful a teacher as she was? I feel it necessary to explain at this point that as a child I was sent to a Catholic Boarding school courtesy of Her Majesty's Armed Forces. My Aunt at the time, having entered the Convent as a Novice about 4 years after my mother had left school, was living and teaching at the sister Convent in Surrey, hence why I was sent to Dorset. But in spite of the best efforts by my parents to avoid the embarrassment of Helen ending up at the same school as me, fate laid its cards out and and she ended up as one of my teachers. She was gifted at teaching and she made the subject come alive even to the point of embarrassing me with stories of my mother as a child, much to the delight of my classmates, upon which I used to open my desk lid and try to hide under it. It was undoubtedly my most favourite subject at school though, and it goes without saying she was my favourite teacher in spite of everything. (I would like to add at this point that although I wanted to teach, I had no intention whatsoever of ever becoming a Nun!)

But instead of treading a path similar to hers I chose to turn my back on my destiny and I chose to leave school at 16, to do a year’s not so hard study at college to become a Secretary. Having met and married my husband I ended up working in banking for 23 years and studied in my spare time for a degree with the Open University. I also managed to make the precarious leap from Secretary to Analyst - which at that time seemed practically impossible due to the old fashioned way in which the male-dominated Bank was run at the time. But made it I did, and without wishing to sound immodest, I was damn good at what I did - until the Parkinson's struck that is.

So, here I am, fulfilling my destiny - alive (just about!), married, two children, a degree with the Open University together with a smattering of O and A levels, a handful of other qualifications relating to my profession, and 23 years loyal service to the bank with the Black Horse and a Scottish Widow. I had for a number of years been in a role I found fulfilling and that I was good at. My intention was always to retire at 50, which I managed to achieve two years early, but not for the reasons I envisaged. I always thought that when I retired I would be at that lovely stage in my life when my children are spreading their wings and being income independant would abandon the parental nest, leaving Tim and I to enjoy our well-earned retirement in peace and financial security, travelling the world and enjoying our Grand-Kids before infirmity struck us down in our old age. Instead though, fate has dealt us a curved ball, with infirmity striking before I had a chance to finish enjoying what should be my prime of life. Instead I am fighting a loosing battle against my mate Parkie (in spite of rigorous sessions at the gym) and coping with a brain at times befuddled as if drunk on life itself. On top of that is the prospect of one day in the future being dependant on my family and/or strangers for assistance in the fulfilment of my everyday basic needs. Horror of horrors - not if I have anything to do with it!

For the first time since leaving college aged 17, I am out of work, nothing doing apart from the odd bit of gardening, earning no money, stony broke but at least a roof over my head which is all paid for and which belongs solely to me and Tim. I can't even afford to replace my car, which is slowly falling to bits - like its owner! The day I retired I put my life plan through the shredder then on to the compost heap at the bottom of my garden, slowly being mulched away to become organic matter for my vegetable patch. Am I bored? Not yet, and I hope never to be. I have to take each day as it comes though, each morning on waking I fight a battle to gain control of my motor and non-motor functions, from the moment I fall out of bed and shuffle like an old lady to the bathroom to carry out my morning ablutions, to the moment I fall in to bed at day end, dog tired. Yet as I drift off into sleep, it is in the certain knowledge that as I hand over control of my mind and my body to my mate Parkie I face yet another night of either sleepless restlessness as tonight, or a night of nightmares and hallucinations, at times even thrashing about so much I inadvertently injure Tim. I seem to recallbeing told the night before last that Yes, there was a white cat sat on top of our bedroom door, and last night Tim telling me to jolly well shut up and to go back back to sleep! He was somewhat fed up, and I can't say I blame him, so am I!

I once heard Bryn Williams describe Parkinson's as being like having one's body slowly encased in concrete. A horrible prospect, but unfortunately true if Parkinson's isn't stopped in it's tracks and kicked in to touch - back into its box where it belongs!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Last Thursday

Last Thursday was, for many of us, a day like no other. Together with old friends and work colleagues, we paid our last respects to Professor Tony Atkinson. Tim and I had both worked for Tony, myself only a year, Tim – quite a few more than that. We knew it was going to be a well attended affair, but hadn't quite prepared ourselves for just how many people were there. On the way over, Tim and I tried to predict who we hoped would be there, and who maybe wouldn't. During the time that Tim worked for Tony he said that he didn't ever once recall Tony loosing his temper.

Tony had a great many friends and acquintances, and during the service as various individuals who knew him well stood up and spoke about Tony I began to realise just how little I knew – for example I didn't know he was a Queen fan. In a bizarre way the eulogies are a part of any funeral service I enjoy, especially if that someone is as colourful a character as Tony was. To say that he let the grass grow under his feet would definitely do him an injustice – he was a true trail blazer.

For many of us, it was a reunion quite unlike no other – old friendships from a good 20+ years ago renewed, gaps in our knowledge filled (for me this was particularly true and I have Mike H to thank for that one), quite a few faces forgotten dragged out of reluctant memory banks. I don't recall when we all started drifting apart, it seemed to happen gradually over the years as we left to pursue new avenues and achieve our destinies – so it was good to spend those few hours together again and recapture the closeness and friendships.

Typical of the team Tony had 25 years ago, we were the last ones standing whilst others around us left and went back to their own lives. There was a kind of reluctance to finish what had been a perfect day and hasty arrangements were made to adjourn to the Wyndham Arms in Salisbury. Tim and I declined – we needed to get home for Antonia (Elise was staying at a friends overnight), and I was beginning to feel the usual fatigue begin to set in. Basically, I needed my bed!

So, who was there that we hadn't seen in a few too many years? Roger H, Rigger, Ray, Dave S, Bob and Jean, Dave C, Roy, Paul, Nigel, Mike H, Sue, Zain, Alex, Helen, Melanie, Meg – these are just a few out of the so many, too many to mention! There were lots of hugs, lots of laughter, and a few tears. There were stories of great success, bought about by words of wisdom and encouragement from Tony. I think to me the one who made the greatest impact was Alex – if my memory is correct when we worked together Alex was a laboratory assistant, but on encouragement from Tony she went to University, got her degree closely followed by her PhD. As a result of that encouragement, Alex has had quite frankly an amazing career and has travelled the world many times over. For us it was especially good to catch up with Dave C – we haven't seen him since before Antonia was born, he was our Best Man when Tim and I married over 25 years ago.

A few people I recall from those days who were not there, for whatever reason that was – Sarah, Karen, Eric, Steve, Iqbail and a few others whose names I have forgotten!

To quote an e-mail received yesterday from Zain with which I whole heartedly agree:

"It's a strange thing to say but I actually enjoyed (!) the day and the fact that it was such a great send off for a truely lovely guy. I can only guess that Tony would have been hugely chuffed to know how much of an impact he had made on so many of us."

Friday, 8 July 2011

And God made little green apples (or did he?)

I love watching my children whilst they are fast asleep - they both look so angelic and butter wouldn't melt. Often being the first to wake up, the job of getting the girls up and dressed on a school morning tends to fall to me as the "morning person" of the household whilst Tim heads down to the kitchen and gets their lunch boxes sorted. But rather than my rushing about in headless chicken mode (once I have got moving that is which on a bad day can take a little while), they both tend to react better to the softly-softly approach. This is the path of least resistance, I have tried many different ways, and this approach is best in order to avoid an argument and a refusal to get up, which is both time-wasting and non-value added.

But I really don't know why, I occasionally feel like being mischeivous where I tickle Elise under the chin, whilst making soft baby noises - along the lines of  "who's my lickle ickle baby girl" and " cudja cudja coo" and other such non-sensicle statements like "here comes the tickle monster" ..... well, you should have the drift by now. I think it hilarious but Elise's reaction is never favourable, and on a good day she will cock one eye open, look at me and then turn over whilst muttering under her breath "For Gods sake Mother". On a bad day though, its a different matter altogether.............. well lets just say it makes for an interesting hour until she leaves the house to go to school. Sometimes the temptation not to block her nose or tickle her eyelashes is almost over-whelming. I have also thus far also resisted the temptation of rousing everybody (neighbours included) with a rendition of my newly acquired LSVT vocal exercises! My household is not a morning household regardless of the time of year and unless I want WWIII to break out under my roof, I tend to leave this treat until a more appropriate time of the day - normally when I have the place to myself.

Instead, the practical jokes are put to one side, and Antonia unwittingly rouses her sister from her slumber instead. Whilst she is still half-asleep, she instinctively goes in to cuddle-mode and I carry her in to her sister's room, these days with my knees buckling! As time goes on this is becoming more and more of a challenge, and one day she will just be too heavy! Antonia loves waking her sister, and she does this by nestling in with Elise whilst giving her the mother of all cuddles - what a way to wake up and I know Elise absolutely loves it.

But as sure as eggs are eggs and God made little green apples (or did he?) both my children are starting to spread their wings which will eventually lead to them living their own lives away from the family homestead. This is inevitable, as is the likelihood that the drugs regime I am on will over time cease to be as effective - when precisely is anybody's guess. Unless a way of halting or even reversing Parkinson's is found, my options will in time run out - like the grains of sand in a glass jar. I am not the only one to be facing this fate, there are hundreds of other PWP's who are on the same road, some ahead of me in the distance, others along-side and more following. I would like to point out here that I am not being negative - just realistic. However I don't like looking in to what the future holds too much, it really does scare me and it may never happen. Instead I just live my life for each day whilst making plans only for the near future, and I celebrate what each day has to offer. Being an independent lady (in character that is, sadly not in finances) I have made it clear that I do not want either of our children to stay at home once their education is finished. My work will not be done, and Tim and I will have failed as parents, unless they both go out and discover what the world has to offer. I don't want either to become my carer - that is so not an option and for me it will be allowing my mate Parkie to rule my life.

But, when all is said and done my children will always and forever be my precious babes, no matter where they are and what they do!