Deck the halls!

It is mayhem in our house. I know, most homes have a period of stress before Christmas but this exceeds anything I have experienced before. Firstly, the dogs think I am wasting too much time writing Christmas cards and wrapping presents that need to go in the post. There is the buying food online and discovering some things just do not travel outside London unless you find the smallest retailer who will do it because he loves food. And the local smokery who catch local eels and the American crayfish who are taking over our waters and can deliver to the door the day before Christmas Eve (we hope). The dogs care nothing for the present ordering, sorting the sleeping arrangements out and trying to work out how to decorate the 30 foot tree growing in the front garden. Luckily we discover a power socket located outside the house so we think we will be OK. Now all we need is a powerful trampoline and a small child to put the lights near the top. Actually, it is Gavin, our ex-SAS gardener who is coming to help us and I have every faith in a man whose solution to everything is a lump hammer.

On Monday and Tuesday I am on my own as Mr Mason has a meeting in London. Dogs decide this is the right time to bring as much mud into the house as possible, especially smearing it on the cream coloured carpet in the big hallway. We bought a lovely Afghan rug to cover most of the length of the hall but then Lark discovered that eating the fringing of the rug was very exciting. I retaliated with chilli powder, high strength, both sides and both ends of the rug. The battle is nearly won but it’s also a wonderful place to tear up cardboard, paper and kindling. The battle continues. 3 oranges disappeared from the side of my bed today. I have found 1. My new glasses lasted from Halloween until this week when the temptation of the chewy plastic of the arms proved just too tempting. Luckily she did not eat the lenses so I have just paid £95 to have them put back into the same frames. The optician was impressed by the destruction. He also asked why I didn’t use my Boots card when I collected my original sets of glasses (yes, I always get 2. I am not stupid). “I think you were wearing a cloak and fangs the last time I saw you and that might have put me off” I replied. He is the sort of optician – Brett – who is nice but probably wears comedy ties and socks all the time and drives his colleagues to distraction with inane jokes. I can bear it for 45 minutes but was glad it was his colleague who did my eye test.

Monday and Tuesday reinforce the idea that I find it very difficult to look after myself apart from bathing and getting dressed. Eating is a challenge, partly because I rarely feel hungry and also I feel quite unsteady in the kitchen so worry about dropping something or burning myself. Is this really me? I have always loved pottering around the house, especially the kitchen and yet now it’s somewhere I just pass through. During the two days I discover we have run out of Bonio!! It’s going to be a long two days.

Next week I have my long-awaited bone scan to see if there is anything obvious to pin the searing rib pain on. My least favourite test lasts nearly all day and the one bright moment in it is that we get to pick Mr Mason jnr up from the station so he will be with me when Mr Mason goes to collect Mr and Mrs Mason snr, a two day trip. Everyone else arrives on 23rd to much excitement and barking, I suspect.

I always enjoy Christmas and know this one will be extra special with both offspring and partners, Mrs Safaie Snr and Mr and Mrs Mason Snr making the first venture out of the house since I don’t know when. We will be 8 for Christmas lunch unless someone drops out. Whatever happens, it will be fantastic.

As a footnote, if you don’t receive a Christmas card, I do apologise. Those who read my blog will understand that with all the hospital appointments and afternoons spent in bed, I have a lot less time than usual. Those of you who don’t read the blog, well, you probably won’t miss my card anyway. And don’t think I don’t know who you are…

The trouble with Dog

I don’t know if you subscribe to the anniversary reaction theory or even know about it. The theory is that feelings experienced on a certain date – and they are usually traumatic or very frightening feelings – are felt again on the anniversary, usually at a reduced level but still, obviously, disturbing. I am not sure whether Dog subscribes to the theory but he certainly has the reaction. When we took him in, he had been badly treated and, even worse for a dog, dumped. Kicked out of the pack he so desperately wanted to be part of, he was running wild for some time. We don’t know how long but when he was eventually caught and taken to Battersea (the Old Windsor site), he was emaciated, full of fleas and with a secondary infection in a wound on his bony little bottom. It was not a happy picture.

After a month in the doggy hospital, Dog is placed in the kennels where we see him and decide to rescue him. We bring him home at the end of October. There are already fireworks going off but they don’t seem to disturb him. Dog doesn’t know how to climb stairs. He looks at them and then at us and we have to place one paw after another to show him what to do. Dog has never been in a car. He has to be lifted into the car and lifted out. He clearly has a lot of learning to do.

The first year we have Dog is challenging. He eats everything. He eats Mr Mason’s passport. He eats a £20 note allowing me to complete the Bank of England form which asks where the remainder of the note is with the immortal words “In the dog”. He chews furniture, he eats shoes. He eats a book telling us how to train a dog. He becomes extremely anxious about other people coming into the house and shows his anxiety by hurling himself around the room, throwing himself on and off the furniture at speed. In our small sitting room, this is worrying. Dog is a big dog. He now weighs a healthy 26kg but I would not want to be hit by a leaping Dog. Dog does not like us going out. It takes over six months before we can leave him successfully at home without him crying desperately. Dog is always good in the car, though, and travels hundreds of miles without complaint. He can also be left in the car during cooler months while we go shopping, for example.

So, back to the anniversary reaction. The first year we have Dog, he starts to behave strangely around the anniversary. Always clean in the house, he starts to wee inside again, without asking to be taken outside. He gets very clingy and chews things. I believe in the first year we consulted a specialist who was not much help. Gradually, he stops doing the bad things. But each year, the behaviour returns, albeit in a milder way. On our sixth anniversary, he shows no reaction at all. I think he feels he is now part of the pack and that we will not be dumping him any time soon although he still worries when we leave the house. If we do not say “See you in a little while” – those exact words – he will cry and fret. Master Mason once left the house without saying it and we had to phone him so he could say it to Dog via his mobile. Dog was satisfied.

So this year we have no reaction but we find out something else about Dog. The smoke alarm beeps to tell us we need to change the battery. Dog is terrified. I have never seen him so frightened. He shakes visibly and cannot be calmed. The smoke alarm beeps once every half an hour but it is too much for Dog. He cannot handle it. We do not understand why he is so frightened – whether it is the pitch of the alarm or whether he has been in a fire before. He clearly is utterly terrified and is on high alert, together with a full-on trembling we have never witnessed. Taking the battery out allows him to relax but it is several hours before he is totally calm.

Dog has many interesting traits. For such a large dog, he is frightened of a number of things including the Psychotic cat. This morning, I come downstairs to witness a queue forming in the hall. This traffic tailback has not been mentioned on the radio although that is something I would very much like to hear. At the head of the queue is the Psychotic cat who  has decided to go slow. Waiting patiently behind her is Dog who cannot bring himself to step over her nor move round her. I join the queue and try to persuade the Psychotic cat to move which she does, very slowly and very disdainfully. Inside, Dog and I high-five whenever  the Psychotic cat falls off the a chair back due to careless relaxing. Dog likes to jam his head under a carelessly idle arm, blanket or cushion. For a dog with so many cares, he likes to hide his head away, possibly under the impression many toddlers have – if I can’t see you, you can’t see me. His other favourite activity is sleeping, preferably in the totally relaxed don’t-have-a-care-in-the-world pose called roaching. Sight hounds are known for it. When fully relaxed, they sleep on their backs with legs up in the air, possibly dreaming of surprising the Psychotic cat. Who knows? But I suspect he probably has his best dreams when in his pyjamas.


Listening to raisins

In an effort to bring peace and harmony to my troubled mind, I sign up for an 8 week course of Mindfulness. I am not sure what it will be like except it is akin to meditation and that seems the right direction for me to go in. I have probably mentioned this before in my blog but, with the state of my memory, I cannot be sure and even if I did mention it, I am sure I did not blog about the first session. Mr Mason also enrols and together we trot off to The Haven in Fulham. There are quite a few of us for the first session and I know one of the women who is leading the group so it’s nice to see a familiar face. I don’t go to The Haven very often. I know some people swear by it but I find it less friendly and not as welcoming as Maggie’s where I spent a large part of my cancer treatment just hanging out with other people. Maggie’s has a large kitchen table and kitchen area at its centre with a log burning stove for the really cold weather. This should come in handy if the expected heavy snowfall we are predicted materialises in November. But, as usual, I digress.

We take our shoes off, divest ourselves of coats and bags and sit around in a circle with our feet supported by wonderfully comfortable meditation cushions. I sit separately from Mr Mason and, for solidarity, the only other man in the group comes to sit next to him. We do introductions and a short introductory meditation and then we have a practical exercise to complete. When I see what it is I fear Mr Mason will have great difficulty with it. We are told we are to be given 3 objects which we are to study intently. The objects are raisins and first we look at them. We then choose one (and I already have a favourite) and sniff it. Then we listen to it. Now I have never listened to fruit in my life, nor any other kind of food if I am honest. Of course, there is the popping of corn, I suppose but I can’t think of any other food which makes a noise. So, we listen to our raisins and mine does make a crackling sound when it is rolled between my fingers. I cannot look at Mr Mason because I fear he will be having an apoplectic fit at being asked to listen to a raisin. Once we have listened, we put them in our mouths and roll them around. Again, I fear Mr Mason will just chew and swallow without doing the requisite rolling so I cannot glance in his direction. After rolling, we get to chew and finally swallow the raisin. All this has been done mindfully so that we pay close attention to what is happening in the moment and use all our senses when completing this exercise.

After we have finished this exercise, we discuss how it felt for each of us and I am relieved to find a great deal of humour within the group. I even confess to having a favourite raisin and no-one says this is weird. We practise a mindful body scan which is the exercise we will be practising every day. I find it challenging to keep my mind on the task but this is the same for everyone in the group and we are told that is OK, too, as long as we bring our minds back to the point we are supposed to be focusing attention on.

Once the group is finished, we all huddle into a small area to don shoes and coats en masse and then we are whisked away by the lift and out into the autumn air. I suggest to Mr Mason that we walk back to Hammersmith via North End Road market which is one of my favourites. We buy fruit, vegetables and meat and then stop for a coffee. It is a very contented day and I have the necessary energy to enjoy it. We have done our mindfulness practice, we have had our required exercise and we have bought some great food. Arriving home, Dog is ecstatic to see us, as usual. His welcome is always cheering, even as he gets under our feet and trips us up, it is impossible not to be infected by his pure joy which is perhaps the best ending to a good day.


Season of mists and fibro fingers

When I wake up this morning, two things are different. Firstly, there is a lovely autumn mist curling its way around outer London which means Autumn has really arrived. The sun, which breaks through mid-morning is the kind that warms the skin but not the air. The second thing which is different is that I have a fibro finger. What is this? I hear you cry. The little finger on my right hand hurts. A lot. It hurts to the touch, it hurts when I bend it and before you say “Don’t bend it, then” it also hurts without either of these two things happening. Fibromyalgia is such a mystery. I go to bed on Sunday evening without any pain in my finger. I wake a couple of times during the night as the pain makes itself felt and by the time I wake finally, my finger is really hurting. I don’t use my little finger for many things – in fact, I can’t think of anything specific I use it for, but collectively it is quite useful. When I go to the shops today, the little finger makes it plain carrying anything is out of the question. It says it will only be used to hold up whimsically if I drink tea from a bone china cup. As I don’t drink tea, the offer is somewhat redundant. Gradually during the course of the morning my middle finger joins in. But the pain reminds me I have the results of a bone scan due this week. Never have I wished for damage from radiotherapy so much.

Dog and the psychotic cat try to distract me during the afternoon. Dog does a beautiful example of one of his yoga moves. It’s called the Stretch and Fart and he does it long and loud.  He has been known to startle himself with one of his own farts and manages to look shocked and reproachful at the same time. He could also give Captain Stinkypants a run for his money. The psychotic cat sits beside me on the arm of the sofa (I am on the sofa, not the sofa arm. That would be silly). I occasionally forget she is a psychotic cat and absentmindedly stroke her whereupon she bites me. The psychotic cat was rescued from a cavity wall in Putney. Sometimes she is so vile I think I might drive over there and put her back. In the end I turn on the tv and catch up with programmes I missed while we were away. Time is going so slowly this week and I feel we will never get to Wednesday when I hope to hear about my scan. Despite being outwardly calm, it breaks into my dreams and invades my subconscious. All I can think is ‘Roll on Wednesday’.

The bone graveyard

I am struggling. Is it OK to admit that? I’m finding it tough? Letting the android/cyborg/superhero mask slip a little is both scary and a relief. Having a chest infection has sent me back to the sofa to watch trash on tv and play Candycrush (thanks to SR for leading me down that Primrose path :-)) It’s also given me huge anxiety about all the things I’m not doing and… oh, it’s the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ making a re-appearance. I should be coping better. I ought to be doing more around the house. Tears spring from nowhere, apparently unprovoked, leaving me breathless and sobbing. What’s it all about?

As usual, the answer is bloody cancer. How dare it rear its ugly, monstrous head at a point when I think I’m getting back onto my feet? Cancer isn’t just the tumour, the disease at cellular level, the physical stuff. It’s also so much about the emotional stuff, the unprocessed, the primeval fear, I guess. To be faced with the possibility of dying is a real shock and it takes its time to work through the system, the system being taken up with breathing, walking, talking, sleeping (sometimes) and just getting on with the business of staying alive. Once the imminent threat is past there is time to think ‘What the hell was that?’

It feels so much better to admit I can’t do it all and that some days I feel like Marge Simpson, sent demented by her family and coming to a halt crossways on a bridge. When the police approach the car, she turns and does a great snarly roar at them which has them backing off fast. So yeah, back off, life! Give me a break and give me some space.

I still don’t want to sit and wallow, though, to allow the bastards to grind me down so I prescribed some light activity to help. Dog makes a lot of smeary mess on the window in anticipation, fear, delight, anger, concern and sheer curiosity so I decided to tackle those as I can see them from my sofa retreat. This means moving Dog’s bed and what a treasure trove I found underneath it. A shoe, many unfinished bone projects (he is currently working on a joint from a leg of mutton but this is quite a long term project), stolen cat toys, treats stored for another day – a cornucopia of doggy delights. He came back from his run to find his bed moved and his stash revealed. He was very brave as we removed the worst offenders, reunited the cats with their toys and the shoe with its partner, threw away the googly eyes he loves to remove from toys and hoovered beneath, no doubt ruining the aroma he has been carefully tending for weeks.

He takes life in his (very long) stride and has simply flopped to the floor to lie in the sun. Maybe I should take a leaf out of his book.