Memoirs and memories

6 Dec

On 12 July 2021

It’s day 42 of this year’s 100 day project. But I’ve just counted and this is only my 23rd post so far. I’m not going to stress about it, but will try to keep carving out wee parcels of time more often so I reach day 100 before the end of the year.

Most days when we visit Mum in hospital we read to her, excerpts from her ‘memoirs’ that she wrote a decade or so ago. This evening as I stitched I listened to Mum’s mother, and Mum’s Uncle Walter reading HIS memoirs which he recorded 40 years ago. Uncle Walter was blind by the time he made these tapes .. he recorded them then sent them to his sister (my grandmother) who was living in South Africa at the time.

The first chapter includes his memory of the outbreak of the first world war. I’m still getting my head round this fact. Uncle Walter was very much part of my childhood… he came to us for Christmas each year, and insisted we all be upstanding for the national anthem before we watched the Queen’s broadcast on telly at 3pm. And this evening I heard his voice again, talking about the first couple of weeks of WW1.

Your bonus pic today is a sketch of a boat by Mum. Enjoy.

Back in Galloway things were moving apace. We had made an appointment to visit Fleet Valley Care Home in two days time. Meanwhile we kept the regime of visiting Mum every day – our visits had to be booked in advance with the hospital, and only one of us at a time. I still consider the negative impact all that time in hospital had on Mum – in unfamiliar surroundings, and no longer able to really make sense of things because of her dementia, her wrist healed, but she faded. I was deep in grief, had been for 6 months by this time, and was operating on some kind of auto pilot.

The only people I was really in touch with were family, my work colleagues (all online, which was possible due to the pandemic with all of us working from home, wherever home may be) and my friend Juliet. And I had become really aware that I had nothing to talk about apart from how Mum was, and how it impacted me. And this was of little interest to anyone else outside of our immediate family circle.

With hindsight it is clear, but even at the time I was aware, how very close to being absolutely broken I was. And this had all happened in a relatively short space of time – from January 2021 through till the July. Could I have done things differently? Could I have looked after myself better? I honestly believe that if you turned the clock back I wouldn’t do much differently. We were feeling our way, we were deep in grief, but also there was a Global Fucking Pandemic on, as I kept saying to anyone who would listen (which we have already established was a very small circle!)

I’ve been dipping into Mum’s memoirs again recently, and had forgotten about this passage from her early life in the Cape, in South Africa:

I had a serious illness when I was about 3 or 4 and remember little about it. I got diphtheria. The Dr was called from Somerset West and I was bundled up and taken down to his cottage hospital where (so I’m told) the matron refused to admit me because of infection, and the Dr had to threaten her with the sack to get me in. I remember vividly that after the crisis was over I was brought home and put into the spare room – the indignity of being put into nappies when I was long ago potty trained! My convalescence was long – there were not antibiotics, and penicillin had not yet been discovered.

And every time I read it, I can’t quite get my head around the fact that ‘penicillin had not yet been discovered’. I have, of course, done the most cursory of research to make sure that this fact is true (one of Mum’s superpowers is to state things with such conviction that you would never question it… only once or twice in my life have I discovered that what she was saying was ENTIRELY bogus). Anyway, I’ve discovered that penicillin was first discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, but I’m guessing hardly anyone knew about it at that point. And it wasn’t until 1942 that it was successfully used to treat a patient… so in the mid 1930s when Mum had diphtheria she would have had to wait about 8 years for a dose of penicillin, and even then it would have been unlikely she, a small girl, would have received it, as later in her memoirs she reminds us that that during the war priority was given to soldiers and war wounded.

Mum returned to Dumfriesshire, Scotland during the War, with her Mum and her two sisters. I will share much more, but this passage describes the second time she was (with hindsight) denied penicillin…

I got appendicitis and was sent to the Moat Brae nursing home where Dr Gordon Hunter took it out – he made a bad job of it as it wouldn’t heal and I have a huge scar on my tummy to this day. (No penicillin for non-combatants in those days – it was a new ‘wonder drug’ and kept for wounded and forces people. I was in the Nursing Home for at least 2 weeks which I really enjoyed and recovering at home for months – in fact I never went back to the Academy to my great relief.

Now, in late 2022 diphtheria has been in the news recently, following an outbreak at a refugee detention centre in the south of England. I’m glad penicillin can now be prescribed, and the outbreak seems to have been curtailed.

Later in life I recall Mum in bed ill with pleurisy. To this day I don’t really know what pleurisy is, but I’m guessing something to do with lungs. I could google it, I know, but that is not the point of this story. I was young, and was aware that she was really very ill. The doctor came to see her, and at some point while she was ill it was established that she was now allergic to penicillin! I have no recollection of what happened, or what symptoms led her to realise she had this allergy.

While Mum was ill, Dad would have continued working, and Rachel Chalmers, our babysitter, came to look after us. I adored Rachel. She was old, or what I thought was old. And her birthday was Christmas day. She lived with Emily, her ‘sister’ at the other end of Fleet Street. Mum described them as women whose loves had been killed during the war so they ended up as spinsters living together. Emily was petite and dainty, Rachel was tall and somehow mannish. I may be wrong, but I only remember one bedroom in their tiny wee house and assume they were not sisters, but partners. I hope so. I want to believe thy had all those years of love, instead of all those years yearning for the love that was taken from them during the War.

***

If you want to catch up on how we got to this point, this series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation. It includes, somewhere in there, a link to my fundraiser for Alzheimer Scotland… pause for a minute before you skip over that link, and know that any and every donation will make a difference. We are all much more hard up these days, I know, but if you have a spare pound, please consider gifting it – when enough of you do this, we can make a real difference to people’s lives.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, including the best Christmas cake for people who don’t like Christmas cake, then you could check out my recipes here.

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  1. Taking Smock of the Situation | Shewolfinthevalley - December 8, 2022

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