Gardens in the City

A meditation on hospitals, allotments and the National Health Service.

While I’m writing this I’m listening to the ‘NHS Symphony’. A new choral work commissioned by BBC Radio 3 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of our health service. It contains a collage of sounds from two Birmingham NHS hospitals, routine sounds and major life event sounds. From the cradle to the grave. From birth to death with the NHS. Humanity’s greatest creation.

All day until coming home and listening to this I’ve been at Sarah’s allotment. Together with Sarah this time though so often on my own these past weeks of her sea kayaking journeys to the Western Isles and Anglesey.

Quiet evenings walking over to Sarah’s garden in the city. To water it, weed it, care for it, notice what is happening there. Continue reading “Gardens in the City”

Stacks and Skerries

 

In her second sea kayaking post of June 2018 Sarah sea kayaks through the place that first inspired her to want do this, South Stack off Anglesey:

‘In June 2013 I looked down from these cliffs to see a group of kayaks in the sea and said, ‘I want to do that.

Many adventures have followed, and the frustrations of learning something new too…. but I knew that one day I would like to be in a kayak, paddling under the bridge past South Stack lighthouse. And – five years later – I am.’

Here then is the story of Sarah, paddling through and beyond her dreams and then out to the far islands where that beautiful red and white lighthouse is waiting.       

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I am back on a kayaking trip, this time on what I now think of as ‘my’ home paddling area – Anglesey. I have two days with coach Steve Miles. Conditions are very fair – no swell, and very light winds – so we have plenty of choice about where to go. We decide on ‘The Stacks’ for our first day.

Just out of Porth Dafarch and we meet Richard Janes on the water – one of the team from Sea Kayaking Wales. I will be out with them in July on their weekend ‘Exploring Marine Diversity by kayak’ .  As usual we pause whilst kayaking banter is observed, and then we are on our way  up the north coast – where I have not kayaked before, to South Stack and North Stack, or ‘The Stacks’. This north coast of Anglesey is particularly interesting from a geological point of view – and all I can do is be amazed, without the knowledge to describe what we can see here! Continue reading “Stacks and Skerries”

The Long Light & The Deep Quiet

A serious treat here for blog readers already following my partner Sarah’s sea kayaking adventures. Her story of three weeks in May and June, out in the Western Isles looking for what she found:

‘Here I have calm and deep peace. Time for me. Time to consider life. I have craved, needed, wanted this  – so much. To give myself some perspective, to reflect that life is short. Too short to not do what gives you joy. Too short to get side-tracked by the diversions that don’t matter.

I have a craving for quiet. I find it here.’

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Here then is Sarah’s beautiful story of ‘The Long Light and the Deep Quiet’

I have just returned from the land of the long light – having travelled the length of the Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles) and up to the Summer Isles. From the islands sprinkled far out into the Atlantic Ocean to an archipelago in the North West Highlands. 

My trip begins in Oban, where I am camping for the first time alone, and with my new tent. I send a photo to Ronnie who says it looks like a ‘tent brochure’! Little do I know that I am about to camp in a number of locations that could be the setting for tent brochures in some of the most stunning scenery, with few or no nearby tents.

It’s that sort of adventure.  Continue reading “The Long Light & The Deep Quiet”

It’s Warm In and Out

A day comes, even in these climate mess years of the long cold springs, when all is still and blue and you need to be out in it. Walking along, well me anyway, singing the long loved Lotus Eaters ode to springtime as I leave the house:

‘It’s warm in and out
The call for sacred hours…’

Everything ditched, all work left behind, you can’t get this day back tomorrow when the winds and clouds might be back.

Just walk.

Good news on the fence of The Mystery, the secret way between Smithdown and the railway tracks then out along Lawrence Road with the girls and infants at the Church of St Bridget. Continue reading “It’s Warm In and Out”

A Glimpse of Sky

‘There are times I think I would gladly die for a glimpse of sky’

Or at least that how the song goes in my memory. I also think it was written by Judy Collins. And though neither of these memories turns out to be true it’s Judy Collins who’s singing the song in my head, having added the word ‘glimpse’ to Stephen Sondheim’s original lyrics, while I work on Sarah’s allotment in Liverpool this afternoon.

The sky is the great gift we get for spending a lot of our time outdoors. You get on with whatever it is you’re doing, and on this afternoon that has meant a lot of digging and looking at the soil, then when you look up there’s the sky, different every time. Continue reading “A Glimpse of Sky”

Elmet: “Having already got out all our words for the day”

I loved everything about this book.

There, that’s the criticism out of the way, now let’s get down to details.

It arrived as one of many I’d laid in for the quiet days as work was put down and Christmas waited for New Year. I didn’t pick it up to read first or even third though. Attracted as I had been to the glorious cover I worried a little about ‘dreamily poetic’ in one of the review quotes and also had a sense I was going to find bleakness within its pages. After a difficult year I wasn’t immediately ready for bleak. Continue reading “Elmet: “Having already got out all our words for the day””

A Quiet New Year

The day before Christmas Eve I wrote and photographed a poem called “Letting Go: A Quiet Breath” and the quiet days have continued here from then through to this new year of 2018.

In The Mystery, watching the sun set on 2017. Photograph by Clare Melhuish.

These beloved souls are my three grandchildren: Finn, 3; Theo, 8, and Eleanor, 11. In the park with their parents, Simon, with Finn on his shoulders and my daughter Clare, who took the beautiful photograph.

A little later I’m on the other side of The Mystery, gazing up at the Moon.

As night falls on 2017.

The evening passes in quiet thoughts of what was good in 2017, what didn’t really work out and what might change as the year gets called 2018. We call these new year changes resolutions, but of course some of them are nothing of the sort. While we can all change stuff like what we eat, how much we run and, maybe, the work we do, much else that we’d like to happen is in the realm of wishes and dreams, like always.

Still, we can all change some of what’s immediately around us, so this morning finds us back at Sarah’s allotment, where we’ve spent several of these quiet days.

Two against nature, January 1st, 2018.

Continue reading “A Quiet New Year”

The Story of the The Beautiful Parks

 

As 2018 gets properly going ideas for Liverpool’s parks are starting to emerge. I’ll be able to tell you more soon, more about this story and what happened next. Listen…

There is magic all around us. Stories waiting to be told. In every park & street the future is waiting. Listen, while I tell you a story.

“In what would yet come to be looked back on as the early years of the 21st Century the people of Liverpool woke up to the beauty all around them. Gathering first in small groups in Autumn 2017 and telling each other stories of what they might do, in the parks and other places that had been around them for all of their lives, and many lives before but in the huddle and muggle of everyday busyness had been all but forgotten.

Here they began the re-membering and the re-doing of their place.

From early 2018 they started. Small things at first & many. The growing of things, the gatherings and re-gatherings. A litany of possibilities and a story-tellings of dreams. Dreams that got planted, stories that grew. Knowingly and quietly they began the re-growing of their Liverpool.

Listen, I’m telling you a story… Continue reading “The Story of the The Beautiful Parks”

Sarah’s Hands and Gloves

A letter from Sarah, introduced by Ronnie.

Have you ever known anyone whose fingers were gradually curling up into the palms of their hands, couldn’t be fully straightened out and were getting worse over time? If you have they might have a disease called Dupuytrens Contracture. Actor Bill Nighy does, you may have noticed from his films, and so do a good many people over the age of 50, including, until recently, Sarah Horton. Here’s the story of her hands and what’s been happening to them.

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Everyone likes a happy ending and some good news. So I’m delighted to tell you that I’ve now completed treatment – on the NHS – for my Dupuytrens Contracture, or DUPS (a benign but frustrating hand problem, which is often hereditary, as it is in my case).

This week I had my follow up appointment with my NHS Consultant Dr Syndikus and we both agreed that I have had a good result. Good news. It was not so easily achieved though.

This week I’ve been here in the Linda McCartney building, the cancer treatment building in Liverpool. I spent many hours of my life here between 2007 and 2010, and a few since, but mostly in those early years when I became a breast cancer patient.

In February this year I wrote a post on here called ‘Ten Years’. Ten years since my diagnosis of breast cancer, reflecting on the anniversary, and also because I was trying to get access to treatment for my hand condition, and was meeting some substantial barriers to that.

My GP, true to his word, followed up my request to access treatment, and spoke to Liverpool’s most respected hand surgeon, Mr Brown.

(Note – this was a surgeon I couldn’t get an appointment with as an NHS patient, as the not-a-doctor ‘decision maker’ had decided I wasn’t eligible for treatment until my condition got considerably worse, and required surgery. Whereas in early cases of DUPS radiotherapy is now considered a very effective treatment, especially beneficial for the patient as it avoids having surgery, as recurrence rates of DUPS after surgery are significant – about 40% after four years.)

Anyway my GP got in touch Mr Brown, who then advised my GP him I should be referred to Dr Syndikus at Clatterbridge Hospital on the Wirral. She’s an oncologist, and one of her tools is radiotherapy.

I was at first told that I wasn’t a priority and may have to wait to see her – but Dr Syndikus and her team worked swiftly, and by mid May I’ve seen her and most of the team at the radiotherapy department in Clatterbridge. They have very expertly made moulds of both of my hands, and by the end of June I’ve had my two sets of treatment, two series of five sessions of daily radiotherapy at Clatterbridge. All of this was arranged in a most patient-centred way, and allowed me to continue my work as a self-employed funeral celebrant.

I cannot speak highly enough of the whole process and everyone in the NHS teams who looked after me. An extra bonus by the way, and in contrast to all of my years of breast cancer treatment, is they also have a free car park at Clatterbridge for all patients. Proper and caring like.

After my treatment things happens without me noticing why. Continue reading “Sarah’s Hands and Gloves”

The Meaning of Life: Change and Decay

I know I keep talking about the meaning of life on this blog. The preciousness of all of our times here on earth, including my own as I enter my autumnal days.

Today has been more of this, particularly reflective for me as I’ve spent much of it on Sarah’s autumnal allotment, itself changing and gently decaying now, long past the summer’s end as the year’s light declines.

In through the Secret Gate.

The light this afternoon being that particularly sharp, low in the sky light, that comes on sunny days just before we turn the clocks back.

Dogwood in the autumn light.
Bonfires of the summer’s growth all around us.

All the colours sharp like they’ve been turned up to maximum on some celestial control. Continue reading “The Meaning of Life: Change and Decay”