Tag Archives: SmockTales

Letting go

3 Mar

On 8 August 2021 I wrote:

There’s a new design a-coming.

It’s been a tough couple of days, with little stitching time. Somehow I held the tears back till I was about to drive back home again… not sure when they’ll end, so you may need to wait awhile for the new design. (You’re going to love it).

Some years before Mum’s dementia entered our lives, but after Dad had died, Mum called a Family Meeting, with her three children – myself and my two brothers. She wanted to tell us together what her wishes were for her remaining years, including details of what was in her Will, and her desire that we focus on quality of life, not length of it – she has always been very much in the DNR camp, but it was, I think, good for us all to hear this together so we all have clarity about ‘what Mum would want’ as she became unable to express it herself, or even to work out what the question was that she was being asked.

There is tradition on Mum’s side of our family to identify what things we might get on someone’s death, so I have a small side table that has a label with Mum’s name on it in the drawer, written in her GranBunnie’s handwriting.. There are other bits of furniture still at Mum’s with those same labels, others with initials written in chalk on the underside of the drawer by my Grandmother.

At the Family Meeting Mum wanted to go around the house with us, marking up who would get what. It was all written in The Book. This process of giving a future life to her treasures I think gave her pleasure, a satisfaction knowing that we would continue to love some objects that felt almost like an extension of her.

But, after Mum had moved out of the family home we just left everything as it was. The jars of various teas sat by the kettle (Assam in the morning, “David’s Special Tea” at 4 o’clock, chamomile or peppermint for visitors); the bottles of oils and vinegars and wee jars of favourite herbs and spices were by the Rayburn; the TV remote controls remained on the side table next to where she would sit; her favourite blanket draped over that same chair… in every room it still looked as though she might come back any moment.

We had been busy, of course. But also we had known that clearing such stuff would open the dam, and would unleash a torrent of tears. We felt we had time, we didn’t need to do it yet.

The only thing we did was to remove most of the things that had our names attached to them.

So, on 8 August 2021, I was driving back up to my own house, with what is now known as Gordon’s Big Cock in the back of the car. This is a Tibetan sculpture of a cockerel, encrusted in wee cabochons of coral and turquoise. It’s a mad thing, but a thing with such history, having been given to Mum by her much-loved Uncle Walter who spent time in Tibet in the 1930s and 40s. Paintings were gone from the walls – all my life The Owl had hung above the fireplace, in the childhood home I was born in, and in this house Mum and Dad moved to after I had left home. The collection of Indian paintings had grown when Uncle Walter died and Mum inherited more of them. The display cabinet had always sparkled with bits of silver, each item with a story to tell, a part of our family history. All gone from the cabinets now, all that was left were the green goblets (bought by Mum at a house sale); the blue porcelain serving dish that Gran used to pile high with wee sandwiches for tea; a set of odd porcelain ladles that none of us cared for; some pottery animal sculptures that mum had created. We had decided to remove the things that ‘would break us’ if the house was burgled or went on fire. We also knew that now was not the time to remove everything. So there were compromises.

But on that journey back, all my heart knew was that this was the beginning of saying goodbye to Mum forever. The comfortable home, filled with stories and memories and beauty was being dismantled; some of her treasures would live on and be loved in other homes, but not everything, there was an inevitability that many of these things that we held so dear would also be gone from our lives. And on the journey home, this was all too much for me to bear.

Some days I wonder if I feel so strongly about the association of the Things with their Stories and our Memories because Mum has dementia, and her stories have been washed away with her own memories? Or have I always had this strong connection, and desire to imbue everything with meaning, with connection? It makes it much harder to let things go when it feels like you are letting go of those connections too; but with practice, a lot of practice, I am getting better at it.


This series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation, an embroidery project I started after I realised Mum might have dementia. There I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life; while her memories were slipping away, like me at a party I don’t want to be at.

If you want a bit of cooking inspiration then you could check out my recipes here. Not sure there’s anything much that would make it to a Carer’s CookBook… but if you’re interested I will add some ideas for meals if you are caring for someone you love (and you both love good food!)

ALWAYS breakfast time

1 Mar

On 5 August 2021 I wrote

I’ve not been doing a lot of stitching but enough to make progress. And to keep me well. You did realise that this is about my own self care as much as anything else didn’t you?

Yesterday evening was beautifully warm and the outdoor light is the best for embroidery. It’s also good for crochet and sometimes that’s what I want/need to do. I flit from project to project. Don’t judge me.

When mum’s health deteriorated one of her few remaining pleasures was good food. Her appetite did not diminish and she repeatedly told us that if we put it in front of her she would eat it. She also took pride in the fact she had taught her 3 children to cook so well. And now she benefited from our good cooking.

But one of the earliest symptoms of her dementia was a loss of connection with time. She never could tell what time of day it was. We bought her a dementia clock which helped for a while. But it was an old school method which worked best – putting a note next to her place at the table to tell her the rough time of day. Some days we joked that the fairies put out the notes for mum; other days she no longer believed the note, preferring to believe that it was ALWAYS breakfast time. Time for toast!

I lived next door to her, worked from home as much as I could, and made sure she had a good meal at lunchtime. Casseroles went back and forth from one house to the other. I developed a repertoire of meals that could be prepped early in the day and then cooked quickly and eaten in a lunch hour. I thought of writing a cookbook for carers. I still think of it.

We realised at some point that Mum needed some tasks. She’d stopped doing things of her own volition and was struggling with mobility. She spent much of her day just sitting (or so we thought) and was bored. I recalled her telling us as children that only boring people got bored. And Mum has never been boring.

Tasks for Mum included taking the meat off a roast chicken carcass and cutting up fruit to make a fruit salad.

As it happens I have only just this week got around to getting rid of Mum’s dementia clocks – she had two, and they have both gone to new homes via EBay. We unplugged them both in July 2021, when Mum went into a home after considering taking one to her new home, but deciding against it as she seemed less interested in what hour of the day it was, and certainly had lost all of the anxiety around this issue – perhaps because she now knew that she didn’t have to take responsibility for things, and that she could trust others to keep her to her ‘regime’.

Re-reading this post reminds me of when we were home, struggling to look after Mum, to keep her safe, and to reassure her that she was ok, that she was safe and loved and we would do the worrying for her.

Throughout our lives, Mum had been someone who would get things done. Not just little things, or a few things; one of her skills was making this look easy, this talent she had for getting things done, for bringing people together to make things happen. Like campaigning for bypasses for all the towns along the A75; or for the local school to be saved from closure.

So, it goes without saying that making a fruit salad was something she just did without even noticing she had done it, so instinctive and simple was it to her.

But in Spring 2021, it was different. Mum desperately wanted to feel useful, and as though she still could do some things. Making a fruit salad seemed like a relatively benign task that might be possible. Surely her muscle memory would kick in?

There are more steps in making a fruit salad than you might think, and Mum was only capable of one simple step at a time. She sat at her usual place at the table and we placed in front of her a board, for chopping; and on her left were various fruit; on her right the bowl in which to put the chopped fruit.

Mum was unable to navigate peeling fruit, her fingers were no longer nimble and actually she couldn’t understand what she was trying to do with them, what movement was required to make the thing happen that I was talking about, but which she didn’t really understand. I showed her, but she then accepted my offer to do that bit.

So I peeled apples and peaches, and cut then into large wedges and placed them on the board so she could cut them. I feared looking away for a moment while she had that sharp knife in her hand. More and more we were swapping roles in our lives – she was my child and I was looking after her.


This series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation, an embroidery project I started after I realised Mum might have dementia. There I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life; meanwhile her memories were slipping away, like me at a party I don’t want to be at.

Or if you feel like a bit of cooking inspiration then you could check out my recipes here. Not sure there’s anything much that would make it to a Carer’s CookBook… but if you’re interested I will add some ideas for meals if you are caring for someone you love (and you both love good food!)

So many layers

21 Feb

On 2 August 2021 I uploaded to my Insta twice in one day, to make up for the lack of posting in previous weeks. Here is what I wrote later that day:

An evening stitching on the terrace in the sunshine is definitely what I needed today. Each day I feel as though I’m sucking more oxygen of life back into my lungs again. I look up and see the world continues to turn as it always does.

Meanwhile, on the phone this evening Mum tells me something that’s annoyed her about her brother, Simon. He’s pretending to have been an engineer evidently. And then he comes and sits there on the edge of her bed after he got all that money from the co-op.

Mum has no brothers. I suspect Simon is another resident in the home, but possibly not. Possibly someone from years ago. Possibly an amalgam of real people and things she’s heard on the radio, or overheard in a conversation. Possibly all imagined. It matters not. Mum knows she can tell him to leave if she doesn’t want him in her room.

The leaves and the bud haven’t turned out how I wanted them to, or how I imagined them. I could rip them out and keep re-doing them till I got them ‘right’. But why? This project was never going to be about getting it right was it? We’re all just learning as we go, aren’t we?

Mum says much less these days.

Last time I visited her I was wrapped up in a big hand-knitted shawl, and was knitting another scarf, so I was all wrapped up as I sat with her. I told her that James and I are going to Ireland for a weekend soon, to see her big sister, Jennifer. Mum looked up at me, and slowly, so slowly, formed a response to this news. She said, “So many layers”.

Maybe she was commenting on my various shawls, maybe she was reflecting on family life.

So many layers.


Before you go, you should know that there are a number of tasty recipes on this blog too… this evening I’m intending on making the tasty Spicy Turmeric Chicken, which is oh so easy and will be a lovely worknight supper. But have a browse at the recipes, see if there’s anything you fancy making.

This series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation, an embroidery project I started after I realised Mum might have dementia. There I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life; meanwhile her memories were slipping away, like me at a party I don’t want to be at.

The most precious horses

19 Feb

On 2 August 2021 I wrote

I’ve done a bit of embellishing of the petals, which is hardly see-able on this pic. It’s clearer in real life.

I need to do a wee bit more on the greenery and then I’ll start another design on this neverending 100 day project.

I’ve been gradually going through some of Mum’s things, and there are so many sketch books. What treasure! So today I give you a bonus of two rear ends from one of her books, and some wild horses.

Some of you will know that Mum took part in the #100DaysProjectScotland last year, with a small painting each day of something from her garden. Mostly it was flowers. She would create the picture, then photograph it and send it to me to upload on her Insta. You can see them there still – she’s @alixwolffe. But one day she just stopped. She just resolutely did not want to draw. Her eyesight was failing, she repeatedly told us she was blind. And she pretty much was, but also… also I think the dementia (although it was not noticeable to any of us yet) made it hard for her to draw as she had before, with such ease. Her brain maybe wasn’t allowing her hands to produce what she could see.

Anyway.. this weekend, Mum picked up the pen I offered her and sketched a horse. Then another. They are not the best horses she has ever sketched, but they are the most precious.

I love this picture of Mum tentatively drawing those horses. I wish I had kept them, but I left the picture in her room, and a few days later juice was spilt on it, and I threw it away, in the mistaken belief that there might be more.

The final picture, shows how much she had changed by the time she went into the care home, after 5 weeks in hospital. She was diminished. But when her broken wrist healed properly, she was again able to use her wheelie walking frame (she called it her ‘dancing partner’) to zoom about the home, stopping off in the various rooms and offices, always beetling about from here to there, and then wondering where she was, why and how she got there, and then how she was going to get back home. Luckily she still had the social skills to persuade a passing member of staff to give her a push back to her room if she was tired of walking.

I have been focusing again on Mum’s 100 Days Paintings just recently, as I have submitted them for an online exhibition in early March. It will accompany a physical exhibition at the Edinburgh College of Art of 2022 100 day projects.

I have submitted Mum’s paintings (2020) and my embroidery of The Smock (2021). Neither of us quite reached Day 100, but as I say, we are all a work in progress.

I’ll update you with further news, as I have it.


This series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation, an embroidery project I started after I realised Mum might have dementia. There I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life; meanwhile her memories were slipping away, like me at a party I don’t want to be at.

Before Mum’s dementia, this blog focused more on recipes, which you can find here. I’ve not been eating very healthily recently – too many big hearty meaty dishes, with mashed potatoes or pasta in a cheesy sauce – so I’m craving something a bit healthier, and think I might rustle up a Winter Salad, with lettuce, beetroot, blue cheese, pears and toasted walnuts. And a zingy dressing.

The War Has Ended

17 Feb

On 1 August 2021 I wrote:

I know almost everyone else is on about day 62, but here I am posting day 32 of my fisherman smock project.

I started looking after Mum at the very beginning of this year. Within a week I knew something was wrong, and started reading up about early stages of dementia. She ticked every single box. But at that point it wasn’t immediately noticeable unless you knew her well…

She had a phone call with ‘that nice man’ from the Memory Clinic on 29th April and he diagnosed mixed dementia. It came as no surprise to me, but Mum was shocked. I reassured her that she was still the same person, still Mum, that Alzheimer’s was just a word, that we were going to keep making sure she was safe and happy. And that I loved her, whatever.

And all this is true.

Mum needs fulltime professional care now, and although she had always wanted to stay home till the day she died, she has settled into communal living well, not that it’s been terribly communal yet as she’s in covid isolation and not allowed out of her room.

When I saw her today she was annoyed that some of the young ones (the carers) don’t know the war has ended. She was also pleased we could play musical instruments because that saved us from the Nazis. Conversation is no longer straightforward or predictable, but that doesn’t seem to matter as much as I’d have thought. I can piece together some of the jigsaw pieces to make part of a picture. But not all of them. And that’s ok too. She knows I love her whatever.

I moved back home again last weekend, properly here to stay now, after living most of this year in Galloway. I’ll visit Mum at weekends, but not every weekend, and that feels ok too. I know she’s ok, she’s comfortable, she’s being looked after by a team of professionals who can do it so much better than I could.

All I need to do is love her. And she makes that so very easy.

I don’t often share images of Mum publicly, particularly more recent photos. But as I’m recalling the days before and after she got her diagnosis of dementia, I thought you might like to see these three pictures. The first two were taken in the week before her diagnosis, where she looks pretty relaxed. The third one, without a hat, was the day after her diagnosis. She seems so very lost to me. And she was always someone who could instill confidence in the most anxious of people.

As children, Mum told us we could all fly. If we really wanted to. And I have always believed this to be true. Mum told me, so it must be true. It astonished me when I learned (when I was MUCH older) that not everyone is brought up to believe they can fly.

I still can fly. If I really want to. Try it. You probably can too.

During those early months of 2021, when we all knew Mum’s world was unravelling, we talked about being able to fly one day. Mum looked sad, and said that just perhaps she wouldn’t be so good at it any more, perhaps her flying days were over. In my head she still flies, we fly together.


This series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation, an embroidery project I started after I realised Mum might have dementia. There I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life; meanwhile her memories were slipping away, like me at a party I don’t want to be at.

If you feel like a bit of cooking inspiration then you could check out my recipes here. I have some sad looking oranges in the fruit bowl so shall think about making the easy peasy and miraculous Orange and Almond Chocolatey Cake.

Giving nature a wee nudge

13 Dec

On 14 July 2021 I wrote

It’s beginning to look like I might complete this cosmos flower, eh?

I was thinking about Mum’s garden today, and how very good she is at giving nature a wee nudge here and there to create something beautiful. It feels like she uses the plants as her palette and she paints something glorious.

When we were wee we had a big garden, including a kitchen garden where Mum grew enough vegetables for us to be virtually self sufficient throughout the summer. And one of Mum’s superpowers is getting people (especially kids) to do things… so some of my happiest memories are sitting with Mum at the table by the back door (it would be called on the stoep if we were in South Africa I guess) and shelling peas, extracting broad beans from their fluffy pods, topping and tailing gooseberries … I still love processing the harvest.

I think a lot about Mum.

In the first weeks, months, perhaps year I felt unbearably sad, thinking of how she is, how much she seems to have lost. And I guess, more selfishly, how much we have lost.

But more often these days I think of her with a smile on my face, recalling small details, generally of something recent. For instance how she declared this weekend how much she enjoys bedtime – and the nurse who was with us at the time commented that we should take comfort in the fact that she both knows that she enjoys bedtime and she can tell us so. It seems such a small thing, but he is right – and also, how wonderful to be 91 years old and to be able to do something you enjoy every day!

When I was with Mum I was telling her some of the things I have learned from her over the years, including making the best soup and how to sew. Mum was somewhat sceptical about the sewing, and to be honest when I think about it so am I. I do recall Mum encouraging me to sew, but I’m not sure how much she actually taught me – I learned most of it from books (in the days before the Internet and all those wee how to films on You Tube).

Mum also taught me how to appreciate birds in the garden. In latter years she declared that her garden was her wildlife sanctuary and (perhaps because she could no longer go further afield) she encouraged all wildlife to come to her… she would sit quietly at the big window, and watch all the activity just feet away from her. She had a pair of collared doves who lived just above her house and would come and sit on the back of the garden chair on her patio, before hopping down and eating seeds she had thrown out for them. And then the cheeky wee territorial robin, always at her feet, hopping around after her wherever she was in the garden. A sleek blackbird. A variety of blue tits and coal tits hanging on the bird feeder. Sparrows, so many wee sparrows and dunnocks. And over the years various pigeons, who became more and more demanding that food should be thrown out to them by late morning – if it was not there, they would hop up on to the window ledge and tap at the window till Mum noticed and threw out some food.

Birds would often get into the house – swallows would occasionally swoop in and then circle round and round the chandelier, before perching on one of its arms, trying to work out how exactly to swoop back out again. One morning we found a bird fluttering about inside the wood burning stove – the fire hadn’t been lit for weeks, so the wee bird wasn’t in danger of being burned. But it needed to be rescued, so Mum opened the glass door and picked it up, holding it so gently in her hand before letting it fly off outside. Other birds would fly into the conservatory (well, the door was always open and there were usually nice plants in there for an inquisitive bird)… and they would flap around, trying to get out the windows. Mum always calmly picked these panicked flappy wee things up in a way that I never quite mastered… and she would check them out, identify them (referring to the Big Bird Book if necessary) and then let them go.

These memories seem all just part of ordinary, daily life with Mum.

But she also had a talent for killing birds. It was a talent she only used rarely. One of my earliest memories was of being in the garden and mum picking up an injured bird (I think it was a baby blackbird) from under the hedge. Mum then turned her back to us, and when she turned around again the bird was dead. She had wrung its neck, put it out of its misery. I was in awe. This woman had some superpowers (not just being able to pick up a bird, but also to despatch it!).

And there was also the fable of Mum as a child shooting a sparrow with her bow and arrow. And then roasting it over a wee fire and eating it. This tale always seemed almost too fantastical to be true, but all Mum’s life she has sworn it really happened. Not much meat on a sparrow evidently.


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, and embroidery project I started shortly after I realised Mum might have the early stages of dementia. So, there I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life as her memories were being thrown around like so many pieces of jigsaw in a big box.

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

So fragile, so precious

9 Dec

On 13 July 2021 I posted

I’m up and at it today!

I’ll head off to see Mum in the hospital again soon… she is almost blind, so can’t read any more. She can’t listen to the radio as it’s an open ward. So, while we’re not there all she has is the noise and bustling activity of the ward and her own jumbling thoughts.

The Escape Plan is coming along, but it needs to be a plan that will keep her safe and that is not as straightforward as it seems. Elderly people can be so frail, so fragile. So precious.

Anyway today you have the beginning of the fifth cosmos petal. And a sketch book so no other bonus pics today.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with Mum. And with her dementia.

Initially I was desperately sad, full of fear and terrified of what was to come. My biggest fears (have I written this already?) were that she would (i) no longer recognise me and (ii) have a dramatic personality change and become angry and SHOUTY. We have never been a shouty sort of family, and to this day I find myself recoiling if someone properly raises their voice at me.

To cut to the chase, so far, neither of those fears have come to pass, so I consider myself incredibly lucky .. of course I would be luckier if Mum did not need to live in a care home, if she could continue living independently at home as she wished; if she continued to have full use of all her faculties, as they say. But, given that she has dementia, I feel blessed that it has developed as it has. Watching the progression has been profoundly sad at times, but never despairing or frightening. I have never dreaded going to visit Mum, in fact I find myself yearning to be with her.

A few months ago, as Mum’s verbal communication diminished yet further, I sensed that she was struggling with taking phone calls. She often found it difficult to find the words she wanted to use, and could hardly understand what I was saying half the time. The calls seemed to make her more stressed instead of offering any comfort. Her hearing has been iffy for years, but she no longer wears a hearing aid. So I reduced my daily phone calls from every evening before she goes to bed to one or two calls a week, and generally through the day. I was weaning myself off the calls. I don’t know if Mum noticed when I stopped calling altogether, if she remembered that we used to speak on the phone every day, or if she had a sense of how long since she last saw or heard from me?

Anyway, I haven’t called her for so long now. And I miss her voice.

I wonder what she misses? She seems not to miss her easy use of language, her vocabulary, where she could always find the right words. Sometimes these days she can’t find a word, and it doesn’t seem to distress her – she just pauses and then the whole sentence seems to drift away.

She listens when I tell her what a talented artist she is, and that she drew the picture which hangs on her wall – but it’s as though I am telling her about someone she really has no personal interest in. She remains politely faux-curious about it, often responding “Did I really?” but she has no further curiosity about this aspect of her life, this person I am describing to her. Perhaps Past Mum really is someone that she has no personal interest in?

And occasionally I recount her story of when she was a 6 or 7 year old in South Africa… when she was sitting in the dust on one side of a barbed wire fence and drawing the mules which were grazing on the other side – I can still see my drawing in my minds’ eye, and feel the excitement of discovering how the legs joined onto the body.

Last time I told her of this story, she was vaguely interested in it, though she no longer remembered it. But she did acknowledge that if she told me then it must be true!

She did, however, remember that the ring I wear on my finger was her Granbunny’s ring, passed to Mum and then to me. And she remembered that her Great Aunt Janey had a very small gullet (cue: fake coughing from both of us, to demonstrate the smallness of the gullet) and that the same Great Aunt Janey had very large bosoms, and wore long strings of beads … and those strings of beads would, on occasion, slip into a bowl of soup and then swoosh back and forth across aforementioned very large bosoms, creating an arc of soup across Great Aunt Janey’s top. I feel I have known about Great Aunt Janey’s soup encrusted bosoms all my life.

And then, Mum will recall that Great Aunt Janey always said that Mum’s eyes were “green as gooseberries”. And Mum’s eyes light up, those tired gooseberry green eyes.

I can’t rely on these stories always having resonance, but while they do, they are like magic talismans to me. Talismans? Talismen? Why can’t we have taliswomen?


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. Or you could skip straight to the post when I first mention Mum recalling when she worked out how to draw a horse here. You’ll see some of her sketches of horses too.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, or even making the best hot tomato chutney you will ever eat, then you could check out my recipes here.

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.

Roses after the rain

23 Jul

On 11 July 2021 I posted:

There are so very many shades of pink aren’t there?

The smock comes along slowly… and in the garden the roses smell divine. I’ve actually come away for a couple of days (reflecting that last time I did this, the time was cut short as Mum fell and broke her wrist) and it feels so very good to be home with The Captain for 48 hours. Yesterday we picked up masses of bedding plants from our neighbouring garden centre and filled every planter and trough and tub… the car was like that scene from Frankie and Johnny with the flowers in the van, you know the one? And now the terrace is a mass of colour again.

Your bonus pics today are roses after the rain. They still smell as sweet you know.

I had been away for a couple of days, but I think I was already back in Galloway when I posted this.

Being home had made me realise quite how much I had put my life on hold. How much The Captain (my partner) had too. And I realised that he missed me, though being a West Coast Scot he rarely admitted to it, not before a drink anyway.

I missed the easygoing relaxed life that we had created in the Valley. I mean we never did nothing, we were always doing something, had a project or two on the go, and despaired at how much more there was to do… but it had been so lovely doing stuff together for a couple of days, making our home feel more home like. And as I type this a year on, I am fully aware that this year we have not bothered to fill our window boxes and troughs with flowers.. perhaps because the pattern now is that we are away pretty much every other weekend, or more often, down in Galloway.

On this same evening I was knitting whilst messaging my friend Juliet on WhatsApp. I had made a mistake and spent about an hour un-knitting back to the place where I had made the mistake. And then I said to her: “I have finally unknitted to the mistake. And it may not be the mistake I thought it was.” (I can tell you now that it wasn’t, it was all absolutely fine, no mistake at all). She replied, “Ha! That’s not like you at all!” (which we say to one another when we admit to overthinking something).

And it’s only now, with hindsight, that I see what she did. And what I did. Juliet is amazing – I wish you all had a Juliet in your lives.

Anyway I hope your lives are all going well, and that if you need to unknit anything in your life you stop and think and check if there really is a mistake there at all. … and even if there is, does it matter? This last year I have learned how there are far fewer things that really matter in life than you imagined. And often they are not the things you might have thought mattered.

Remember to tell the people you love how you feel about them. And don’t just casually drop that love word into their lap. Make it special to them, tell them what it is about them that you love. They may never thank you personally for it, but it will stay in their heart and sustain them.


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, or (swoon) the most incredible blackcurrant ripple ice cream you will ever eat, then you could check out my recipes here.

I see the sea!

21 Jul

On 8 July 2021 I posted:

The slow pace and the sort of mindless/mindful focus I need for this project is good for me. I could just pick it up and do a single stitch, and that would be enough. But actually it never is. I always get drawn in, do more.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are of going down to the beach in the summer holidays. I’d put my swimming cozzie on under my frock, for speed of getting into the sea. Then mum would bundle us all into the back of the car, with our towels and buckets and spades and chittering bites.

As a child, isn’t the road to the beach the most exciting journey? … we all knew the EXACT spot where we’d first see a glimpse of the sea, shimmering beyond the fields, and we would all squeal, “I see the sea! I see the sea!”

In Mum’s memoirs she’s written of doing exactly the same with her sisters when they were all kids, being driven to the Cape in South Africa in their Dad’s car. Evidently Grandpa used to beep the horn to accompany their chorus of “I see the sea”. Until the time the horn stuck. And there was a constant beeeeeep for the three miles to the coast.

Your bonus pics today are of me at the beach. A few years apart.

In other news, we are putting in place Mum’s Escape Plan to get her out of hospital. More on that soon, once the plan is less fluid.

And just over a year on from writing that post, I have again been getting excited about seeing the sea. (this was drafted Monday 18 July 2022) We’ve had seriously hot weather the last few days and more tomorrow. We’re not as hot here in Galloway as some other parts of the UK are, but I took this morning off work and we were on the beach with the dogs by 8.30am. It was blissful, and being there just relaxing in the sunshine, in the gentle breeze, watching the tide going out, the tide coming in, has been just the tonic I needed. We spent all of yesterday morning there too, reading Sunday papers, embroidering, paddling about in the water, walking out to the island at low tide, and making friends with people who have discovered this magical place and were wild camping.

Looking back to last year though… the day before I wrote the post above, my brother and I had both gone together through to Stranraer to the hospital, to meet the discharge team, or whoever they were. I know we had struggled to establish how decisions were made about Mum being discharged, and who made those decisions.. and what criteria were used to make those decisions. We were pretty confident that as her principle carers (prior to being admitted to hospital) it was probably important that whoever was involved in making those decisions included us in the discussions… But I think if we had not pushed for our involvement, there would have been a decision made about Mum and we would have found out about it afterwards.

The team was trying to put together a care package, so Mum could return home. The package would comprise of 4 visits per day, to help Mum get to the toilet, and to get her dressed in the morning, and ready for bed at night. The rest of the time she would be on her own.

I still feel physically ill when I think of how this would have impacted Mum. Mum, if she was helped out of a chair, could manage to get herself about – her legs still worked. But she had broken her wrist, and for some years now had been used to pushing herself up off a chair by holding onto the arms of the chair with her hands, and using the strength in her arms to leverage herself up. She could not do this with a broken wrist bone which was not yet full healed. But she had dementia. She would forget this, and would try.

I could go on, listing all the many reasons this care package was not going to work for Mum – but for two reasons we never had to consider it further. Firstly, there are insufficient carers in the region and they could not cover all 4 visits every day. Until they could put all 4 in place, Mum could not leave the hospital. But secondly, we had already decided that a care home was really the only way we could see Mum being able to live with dignity, and this is what we wanted. We were considering paying for this privately, and had already looked at some options.

During the meeting, the social worker asked if we would consider Fleet Valley, even as a short term option until something closer to where we live became available.

Fleet Valley is the care home in the town that Mum has made home since the early 60s. We all lived a few doors along from Fleet Valley in the 60s, 70s, 80s, until Mum and Dad sold up and moved to the other end of the town after us kids had left home. I think initially we had been so focused on what was easiest and most convenient for us, while also giving Mum what we thought would be best for her, that we hadn’t seen what was right in front of us. Of course Fleet Valley was a sensible option. Apart from anything else, she would be cared for by people who knew something of who she used to be, and that (to this day) feels important to me. While so much of Mum’s identity has eroded, I like to know there are people with her every day who knew her when she was Provost of the Town, perhaps know that the pavement out to Port Macadam is known (by some) as Mrs Wolffe’s Motorway, remember her fighting to save the local school from being closed… this is part of who Mum is.

And, Fleet Valley, we were told would have a room available soon, in the next week or two. Would we be interested? Things were about to happen, and they would happen quite quickly.

Until then, one of us made the journey to Stranraer and back every day.


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.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, or even making the best hot tomato chutney you will ever eat, then you could check out my recipes here.

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