Dying with dignity and loved by many

Maart

I HAVE known musician Maart Allcock, in a roundabout way, for many years (we were students together in Huddersfield) and followed his career since then via Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention and other more recent ventures with Kieran Halpin, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens).

He has always been a larger than life character, full of charm and warmth and beer!

The knot became tighter when 10 years ago I discovered that his wife Jan was childhood friends with my long-time friend Judith. Anyway, I wondered why he had disappeared from my Facebook friends, then suddenly on Sunday read this on his website.

In my humble opinion, it is both heart-breaking and beautiful.

No more introduction from me, just stay strong Maart, and know you are loved by so many people.

These are his words:

“Hello everyone.

People were saying after my appearances at Cropredy last year that I was unwell. I was not. I’d lost weight because I had discovered the joy of exercise and was working out regularly. I was actually very fit and any illness was far beyond the horizon.

This year was meant to be my travel gap year. I was going to revisit friends and favourite places around the world before slowing down to enjoy the evening of my years. I made it as far as Madeira in January for some heat, a place I’d never considered before, but I loved it. Such a beautiful fragrant isle, truly a paradise.

A week after my return, I developed jaundice, and had to go to hospital. Scans and tests revealed that there were more sinister things happening inside me. Now the race is run and the final chapter has begun, and my liver cancer is terminal. I am in absolutely no pain or discomfort at this time. For the time being, to look at, you wouldn’t think there was much wrong with me. I am fully mobile, with energy, eating and sleeping well, and totally at peace with what the future holds. How long that future lasts is anyone’s guess, but I probably won’t make it to next summer.

I shall play my final live performance at the Fairport Cropredy Convention this August, but I shall continue to make music while I draw breath.

My main priority now is to finish the autobiography I began in January, and which now has an additional final chapter. I had no idea the deadline was so strict then. I will go with dignity, good humour and good grace. I just have to wait now for transport back to my own planet. I only came for the curry anyway.

So, do not be sad. I achieved everything I ever wanted to do from daydreaming in a council house in north Manchester to travelling the world with my heroes, playing to thousands and thousands of people, and getting paid for it.

I have lived a lot, laughed a lot and loved a lot, and I shall leave this planet with eternal love and gratitude for my wife Jan, my three children Madeleine, Jered and Jane, and their mum Gill, and all of you who took any interest in this mad northerner. Thank you all so much. Be happy and shower the people you love with love.

Maart

Still here for now…  Harlech, Cymru, June 2018”

Live each day as if it is your Last

BLOG dad and me

My death waits like an old roue’

So confident, I’ll go his way

Whistle to him and the passing time

My death waits like a Bible truth

At the funeral of my youth

Are we proud for that and the passing time?

My death waits like a witch at night

As surely as our love is right

Let’s not think about the passing time

But whatever lies behind the door

There is nothing much to do

Angel or devil, I don’t care

For in front of that door there is you

(Jacques Brel)

 

ONE thing I have learned from my life, is that it is a short movie.

And if I die tomorrow I will be grateful for it.

Sure, it has been a rollercoaster with more depths and dark places than I care to recall… you can visit those if you wish in plenty of my other blog features.

But, it has also been a stellar ride; visiting so many beautiful places, meeting scores of amazing people, enjoying two successful professional careers, producing five wonderful children – plus three more I sort of adopted – and the best family and friends I could ever wish for.

And I know it will end soon.

For the past 30 years I have been living on borrowed time, since I twice cheated cancer and later survived an almost fatal assault.

But I am still here and my life defines me.

As it does for all of us.

A couple of summers ago, I sat talking with my 87-year-old mum about life, death, the universe and our own mortality.

She began reviewing the fact that most of her peers, friends and siblings have now died and the ensuing loneliness is sometimes difficult to bear.

I blithely joked that she is still healthy and active and has experienced a full life.

And that life should not be measured by age or loss.

As I looked at my ageing mum and in the mirror at myself, I realised that time never stands still.

In 2016, I happened to be in South Wales on a business trip, and decided to use my time there to visit the grave of a dear friend who died tragically young, 28 years ago.

Andrea Price grew up in the small mining village of Rassau by Ebbw Vale.

She was the sweetest and most funny girl I have ever met and we became inseparable soul mates, while we both battled cancer together during the winter of 1987 and summer of the following year.

Racked in pain, with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer – diagnosed while she was on a walking holiday in France – she knew her chances of survival were slim.

“But I’m going to fight it,” she urged, willing me to do the same. “I haven’t yet got my degree, I haven’t learned to drive… and I’m still a virgin.

“I want to live a bit before I die.”

She did.

But that did not dull the agony when in May 1990 I stood and shared heart wrenching tears at her funeral.

She was just 23.

For me, my memories of Andrea always remain, and often been my driving force to live.

Her smile and her laughter as she beat me in a physiotherapy game of football in the hospital gym, where she was only allowed to use her right leg and I only my arm. At the end of the game we collapsed side by side on the floor guffawing at how silly all this was.

Then there was the Wednesday night visit to the local rugby club for a game of bingo and a half pint of beer. We walked slowly back to the hostel at 10pm. She rested her head on my shoulder as we walked and suddenly whispered: “I love you Nic… we are going to win, aren’t we?”

I kissed her forehead and answered: “Of course we will.”

A year before her death I visited Andrea again in a hospital in Birmingham, where she had undergone a hip replacement operation in a last attempt by surgeons to remove the seat of her cancer.

I sat and clenched her right hand and looked into her sparkling eyes.

I giggled: “Hey, you’ve got freckles and hair!”

“Yes,” she answered, “I have been off chemotherapy for three months now to build up my strength for the op’.”

I had only known Andrea as a tall, underweight, pale-faced girl stooped under a horrendous NHS wig, which at times made her look like an extra in the Addams Family.

But now, holding her hand, this was how I was going to remember her.

True love never dies.

And something remarkable happened during my trip to south Wales.

After laying flowers at the cemetery where her body rests, I decided to post a copy of my first poetry book The Hill (with a brief accompanying letter) through the letterbox of her old home – vaguely hoping it might reach someone in her family.

My book included two poems I had written to Andrea.

Time passed and I naturally assumed the missive had failed.

But always be prepared for the unexpected.

Suddenly, I unexpectedly received an email from Andrea’s younger brother, asking if he could buy more copies of my book for other members of her family.

I fought hard to fight back tears as I read his email.

And later I cried again when he told me that her father (now in his 70s) was writing to me with some photographs of Andrea – the one thing I have never had is a photo of my beautiful departed friend.

In the words of Bob Dylan: “Death is not the End”.

I have faced the death of family and friends many times over the years.

The grief is always immeasurable, and in recent years some of those deaths were untimely and shocking.

Three years ago, I discovered that my former brother-in-law Dougie had died suddenly aged just 54.

It was a total shock. I had not seen or spoken to Dougie for many years, since my former partner and I split, but he was a lovely man and the world became an emptier place with his passing.

Then a few weeks later, I found out that one of my oldest and dearest friends Gill Gilson had died in the summer of 2014 after a long battle with lung cancer. Gill was just 56.

We met at university and became the closest of friends. We were never romantically attached… we were just good mates and stayed in touch for many years after graduating. She sometimes came to stay and we would sit and laugh as we shared many student memories.

I also remember Gill giving me a lift home from Yorkshire to Sussex in her old Morris 1000 Traveller and eating cold bacon sandwiches which she had secreted wrapped in foil in her glove compartment.

Memories of life are made of this.

Gill was a musician and a fabulous piano teacher. Her only weakness – and her charm – was she loved beer and I still remember the mornings I had to knock on her door to tell her to get to lectures because she had imbibed in a few too many jars the night before.

Gill oozed fun, gentleness and companionship in everything she did.

I miss her.

Then in the summer of 2016, I took a long overdue holiday in my old haunt of Chichester in West Sussex.

Whenever returning home – as I still call Sussex – I always made a point of catching up with another old friend, Jayne West.

Jayne and I met as teenagers while nursing together.

Any hope I may have had of a romantic attachment disappeared quickly when on our second date she told me she was gay and lived happily with her partner Julie.

She was the first openly lesbian woman I had ever met – in a time when personal sexuality was more closely guarded.

So instead of romance, we became lifelong friends. Each visit we would swap stories of the directions our lives had travelled and how much weight we had both gained.

I had not seen Jayne for over 10 years, so this holiday visit was going to be an extra special catch-up.

But before I set off for the drive down south, I discovered that Jayne had died in November 2013, aged just 56.

Her partner Julie was with her to the end.

It seems that time, life and death waits for no one.

So we live our lives as constructively as we can, seeking happiness and pleasure, loving and caring, and at times grieving.

And always knowing that our own time is limited.

And each day might be our last.

I recall two sets of lines from the movie Dead Poets Society.

The late Robin Williams, playing the role of school teacher John Keating, teaches his charges the essence of life: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.

“And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for… that you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.

“That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

And later, turning to fading sepia school photos of students taken decades earlier, he reminds them of the passing time and the brevity of life: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel.

“The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable?

“Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Listen, you hear it? Carpe – hear it? Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

We should all make our own lives extraordinary as we pass this way just once.

My own is almost run, and it has certainly been extraordinary

So my advice to all my children and other young people I know: live today as if it is your last… carpe diem.

Depression and the angry thief

BLOG Depression

I HAVE been depressed most of my adult life.

Depression impacts on every aspect of life and well-being. It is much more than feeling sad. It is a mood disorder that can interfere with everything.

Having untreated depression can put your life on hold for months, if not years… it can also lead to thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

My own depression festered inside me as a reaction to many things: the sexual abuse I suffered as a young teenager, a major life crisis in my late 20s, battling cancer in my early 30s, relationship breakdowns, the loss of two of my children, bankruptcy, assault, the loss of my home and the deaths of my soul-mate Andrea, my life-long friend Jayne and my amazing father.

Any of these things could have triggered the condition, and for me they did as a matter of course.

The depression manifested itself in feelings of deep lows or worthlessness – especially in a relationship or at work – but also in many other less obvious ways such as anger and irritability, frustration, OCD behaviour, tiredness, insomnia, forgetfulness, clumsiness and the inability to concentrate on one thing for long periods.

In my case, it was all of these, plus for many years, an over-dependence on alcohol.

But, there is a limit to how long you can lock things inside while appearing to function normally on the outside.

And my “normal” exterior collapsed in a complete nervous breakdown on 12 June 2013… a day when I simply could not hold it all in any more.

It is now five years since that collapse.

Those years have been an important period of professional counselling, the love and support of family and close friends and the catharsis of writing and unburdening my mind, memories and fears.

In the months soon after the breakdown I was struggling to get back to a life of any sort and was fighting my way out of the corner.

Now, I am so far out of the corner you won’t find me… I have at last found my way home.

But the Black Dog never leaves and the depression can still manifest itself abruptly… often when I feel I am being dragged back into that corner.

And without control I snap.

Irritability is a symptom of depression, and it makes total sense; depression usually plays havoc with our sleep patterns.

Lack of sleep causes irritability, and makes us less able to cope with day-to-day challenges.

With depression often comes aches and pains, and our digestive system can be affected, causing us discomfort. Pain makes us irritable and frustrated.

Moreover, depression can be overwhelming. Getting through each day often requires Herculean stamina.

So much energy is directed towards trying to cope that, if anything goes wrong, or something else is added to the pile, we snap.

We just can’t handle any more.

Sadly, our irritability is often directed at others, who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This isn’t acceptable, but it is understandable.

It’s good to wait until you feel calmer, then apologise, and explain how you felt at the time – it can be helpful for others to understand your perspective and give them a chance to help.

More tears and genuine remorse is a bi-product of depression.

The classic symptoms of depression – disinterest, lethargy, sadness, detachment, and sleep problems – can make our lives so difficult.

Suddenly, we’re don’t care about the things that we used to enjoy. We can’t concentrate on our favourite books, or TV shows. We don’t have the energy to get up, get dressed, and go out to meet friends.

So, we stop doing things.

Soon, we might not recognise the person we’ve become. We feel as though we’ve lost ourselves to depression. This also inevitably leads to anger; we become angry at depression, we might blame ourselves, and feel incredibly angry at our circumstances… why me, why has this happened?

Depression is an illness, yet we very often blame ourselves for having depression.

It feels like a personal failing.

Because depression is also a thief.

If we’ve been living with depression for a while, it can feel like it has been stealing from us.

It can feel like we have lost an aspect of ourselves, of our identity; we are forced to come to terms with a new ‘us’. We may wish we could go back to how we were before.

Depression can force us to give up work, or our studies, putting a stop to our life, for months or years. It’s common to feel that depression has stolen time from us, and to feel angry about what could have been. Depression can also make us lose touch with friends, or push away our loved ones.

We might feel angry – both with the depression, but also with them. It’s very easy to get lost in thoughts of what could have been.

It can help to try and look towards the future, rather than ruminate in the past.

We can’t change what’s happened, but we can set new goals that interest us, as we are now. We can reflect on the things that depression has taught us about ourselves, and what makes us happy – and make plans based on this.

We can even try reaching out to the people that we previously pushed away, and explain what was going on for us at the time. They may have been hoping from afar to hear from us again.

Looking forward, and achieving new goals, can ease the anger we feel at depression’s thievery.

If you feel depressed, talk to someone… be brave and confide, you will be amazed how many other people out there feel similar things and will let you unburden.

And how many will also forgive and help you to rediscover the real you.

There is light on the other side of that dark door… just have faith in yourself.

  • With thanks to the Blurt Foundation for the practical aspects in the second half of this blog: www.blurtitout.org
  • Thanks also to MIND, who have always been there: www.mind.org.uk

Child sex abuse survivor’s long awaited second book now published worldwide

BLOG cover

A CHILD-SEX abuse and cancer survivor’s long awaited second book of poetry is published worldwide today (Wednesday, 9 May 2018).

Multi award-winning writer Nic Outterside quit his 28 year career in newspaper and magazine journalism following a nervous breakdown in June 2013.

He began the slow road to recovery under the watchful eyes of his doctor and the support of his family. Part of the suggested therapy was for him to begin writing and talking about the life experiences which had led to his breakdown.

His first paperback book The Hill – Songs and Poems of Darkness and Light, published in November 2014. It was met with international acclaim and the first 1,000 print edition has almost sold out.

From childhood sexual abuse, through cancer, bereavement, bankruptcy, divorce, repossession of my home, the loss of two of my children and an assault which almost took my life, I guess there was a lot to write about,” says Nic.

Last week, Nic made the book more widely available by publishing a second edition on Amazon Kindle.

Now, after a three year wait, he has published its sequel Another Hill – Songs and Poems of Love and Theft.

“When I released The Hill in November 2014, I was struggling to get back to a life of sorts and fighting my way out of the corner,” explains Nic.

“I am still really proud of that work… it is certainly raw and maybe at times too personal. I now view it as less as an anthology of songs and poems, and more as a document of my life.

“By the middle of 2016, I was more than halfway through writing a raft of poems for the new book and by this time I was out of the corner, and still fighting.

“But by the time all the work for Another Hill – Songs and Poems of Love and Theft was concluded I was so far out of the corner you won’t find me… I have at last found my way home.

“I am so grateful to my close family and many friends who have given me support, inspiration and encouragement over the past five years,” he adds.

Another Hill – Songs and Poems of Love and Theft is priced at £2.20 ($3) on Amazon Kindle at: www.amazon.co.uk/Another-Hill-Songs-Poems-Theft-ebook/dp/B07CXYJTV4/

 

Sex abuse survivor’s first poetry book now available on Kindle and paperback

WP Hill

MULTI award winning writer Nic Outterside quit his job as editor of North Wales’ flagship newspaper The Denbighshire Free Press following a nervous breakdown in June 2013.

Nic launched his own publishing company and began the slow road to recovery under the watchful eyes of his doctor and the support of his family. Part of the suggested therapy was for him to begin writing and talking about the life experiences which had led to his breakdown.

From childhood sexual abuse, through cancer, bereavement, bankruptcy, divorce, repossession of my home, the loss of two of my children and an assault which almost took my life, I guess there was a lot to write about,” says Nic.

“My first book a paperback The Hill – Songs and Poems of Darkness and Light, published in November 2014 was a huge success, and last winter I started work on the follow-up.

“I also decided to make the book more widely available this week by publishing a second edition worldwide on Amazon Kindle,” he adds.

The Hill – Songs and Poems of Darkness and Light is a raw, and at times shocking, book of angst, joy and reflection on subjects as diverse as abuse, cancer, politics, depression, bereavement, love and joy. The full story behind the book can be listened to here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2N2X7t7awo

You can buy the book on Kindle, priced just £1.43 at:

www.amazon.co.uk/Hill-Songs-Poems-Darkness-Light-ebook/dp/B07CNZ75MZ

Alternatively you can still buy the First Edition paperback (120 copies left of the print run of 1,000) The Hill – Songs and Poems of Darkness and Light in paperback, is priced at just £1.99 with £1.80 for UK post and packing and is available via Ebay: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/The-Hill-Songs-and-Poems-of-Darkness-and-Light-Nic-Outterside-Paperback/222959978770?hash=item33e9734912:g:3O0AAOSwdjha6DvY

 

 

I died in 1988

nde-blog

 I AM not frightened of death… I have already died.

And it was beautiful.

My death all happened one bright day in May 1988…

“Tell me how it feels?”

It was my mother’s voice; there was no mistaking that. I struggled to say something but a dryness in my throat allowed only a smile.

She clenched my left hand.

Beyond her the ward clock reported 9.30.

I drifted back to sleep.

Sometime later I again opened my eyes.

Mother’s own eyes brightened and, as if from her mouth, I heard my father ask: “How is it son?”

I was surprised. I managed to reply: “Fine, but I can’t move.”

The ward clock betrayed 10.10.

“Is that all it is?” I asked looking up at the wall, knowing that I had been led to the operating table at 8.30am.

“It’s 10pm,” my father replied.

I gagged… why had I been out for more than 13 hours?

Over the next three days my parents, surgeons and nursing staff gradually outlined to me the most telling day of my life: a day when surgeons worked tirelessly to remove two thirds of my right lung and repair a damaged aortic artery.

It was an operation plagued with difficulty and twice they thought they had lost me. But working straight through, they never gave up and used finely honed skills to take away the cancer and repair my body.

So what of my own memories…

I recall being taken down to theatre that morning, laughing and joking with the trolley porter and nurse. Whether the personal euphoria was due to unreleased fear or the pre-med tablet I had been given some hour earlier, I will never know.

I also recall being administered the drugs to send me to sleep for the duration of the operation. Again, my memory is that of lightness and love.

I also have vague recollections of waking from the operation momentarily around 1pm that day, seeing my parents’ faces above me, and then coughing violently.

It was that cough that tore the stitching between my aortic artery and the remaining lobe of my right lung.

And within seconds my chest cavity began filling with blood as my lung collapsed and my heart went into overdrive.

I was enveloped by dazzling white light and warmth. Faces swirled above me and I looked down on my own prostate body on the hospital bed.

I was drifting.

Meanwhile, surgeons, doctors and nurses fought to save my life.

Apparently I died for 16 minutes and there was no pain, no fear, no despair.

Instead, it was a rebirth of life and spirit.

The physical aspects of my rebirth have been a boring gain in weight and seasonal hay fever, which I had never suffered from previously.

But the psychological changes have been manifest: no care for a career or future, dazzling vocal dreams, spiritual awakening, ESP and hours of deep thinking.

My own NDE (Near-Death Experience) changed me forever.

According to experts, such experiences may encompass a variety of sensations including detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light.

Neuroscience research suggests that an NDE is a subjective phenomenon resulting from “disturbed bodily multisensory integration” that occurs during life-threatening events.

NDEs are also a recognized part of some transcendental and religious beliefs in an afterlife, dating back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

Natasha Tassell-Matamua of Massey University, New Zealand, says that 20 percent of cardiac arrest survivors and between four and nine percent of the general public are estimated to have had an NDE.

“Those reporting NDEs often describe a profound psychological event that is mystical, transcendental, or even spiritual in nature; where the boundaries between space, time, and normal perceptual awareness become blurred,” she says.

Some who have survived an NDE describe an “out-of-body” experience and have been able to accurately describe resuscitation efforts.

Others have described seeing a bright light at the end of a tunnel, strange and other-worldly landscapes, or claim to have seen their lives flash before their eyes.

Now it has all been brought amazingly to life by the magic of TV.

Netflix’s drama series The OA, is a dizzying tale of Near-Death Experiences and inter-dimensional travel seen through the eyes of a once blind woman.

The series follows Prairie – a woman who lost her sight as a child, went missing aged 21, and returned seven years later able to see again.

As the series progresses, Prairie tells the story of how she ran away from her adoptive family to find her Russian father, only to be captured and experimented on by a scientist obsessed with Near-Death Experiences.

She explains that along with her fellow captives, she was killed over and again in a drowning machine to induce NDEs.

Brit Marling, who plays Prairie and co-wrote the show, said she first came up with the idea after speaking to a young woman who had experienced an NDE.

“When she described her experience, I was really riveted by the idea,” she says.

“She described leaving her body and the sensation of being above herself. 

“All concerns and preoccupations went away and the only thing that remained in her mind was this question: ‘Did I tell the people I love enough how much I love them?’ 

“It became that simple. Then she rocketed back into her body. 

“When you meet this woman, she has a kind of vividness and self-possession and ferocity that’s uncanny. It seemed like she’s really in control of her life.”

Researchers have identified the common elements that define Near-Death Experiences.

Although the features of NDEs vary from one case to the next, common traits that have been reported by NDErs are:

  • A sense/awareness of being dead.
  • A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness. Positive emotions. A sense of removal from the world.
  • An out-of-body experience. A perception of one’s body from an outside position. Sometimes observing medical professionals performing resuscitation efforts.
  • A “tunnel experience” or entering a darkness. A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase.
  • A rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light (or “Being of Light”) which communicates with the person.
  • An intense feeling of unconditional love and acceptance.
  • Encountering “Beings of Light”, “Beings dressed in white”, or similar. Also, the possibility of being reunited with deceased loved ones.
  • Receiving a life review, commonly referred to as “seeing one’s life flash before one’s eyes”.
  • Receiving knowledge about one’s life and the nature of the universe.
  • Approaching a border, or a decision by oneself or others to return to one’s body, often accompanied by a reluctance to return.
  • Suddenly finding oneself back inside one’s body.
  • Connection to the cultural beliefs held by the individual, which seem to dictate some of the phenomena experienced in the NDE and particularly the later interpretation thereof.

The NDE stages have been noted for their similarity to the so-called hero’s journey in literature. Kenneth Ring (1980) subdivided the NDE on a five-stage continuum:

  1. Peace
  2. Body separation
  3. Entering darkness
  4. Seeing the light
  5. Entering the light

He stated that 60 percent experienced stage 1 (feelings of peace and contentment), but only 10 percent experienced stage 5 (“entering the light”).

Instead, they reported dream-like or hallucinatory scenarios.

These mental experiences ranged from terrifying to blissful.

Others, however, experienced the opposite sensation, with 22 percent reporting “a feeling of peace or pleasantness”.

Heightened senses, a distorted perception of the passage of time and a feeling of disconnection from the body were also common sensations that survivors reported.

So are NDEs real and is there an after-life?

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement which dominated the world of ideas in Europe in the 18th century.

It included a range of ideas centred on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy, and came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state.

The Enlightenment was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method and reductionism along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy – an attitude captured by the phrase Sapere aude, “Dare to know”.

Yet, despite this mass expansion of education and reasoning, a nine-year-old child in 21st century Britain acquired more knowledge in one term at school than the average person did during an entire lifetime in the 18th century.

My great grandmother was born in 1875 and died in 1970, aged 95.

During her lifetime she saw the first motor car, manned flight, the discovery of penicillin, the development of the Atom bomb, the first satellites, and even man landing on the moon.

But she died before HIV/Aids, microwave ovens, home computers, colour television, the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, routine heart and lung transplants, cloning, cures for many cancers, CCTV, mobile phones and the internet.

Our knowledge is ever-expanding and whether you are a rationalist or existentialist, there is still so much about life and our universe which we have yet to understand.

But one thing is certain…I died, but now I am alive.

 

Words for Friends #13

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#13 Ann

Ann is the type of friend who comes into your life just once.

We first met 30 years ago while I was in hospital undergoing radiotherapy, following surgery for a malignant cancer to my right shoulder.

It was in so many ways “true love”… for while my first wife visited me just twice in my 10 weeks (my cancer ensured our marriage, which was already on the rocks, was over) in Velindre Hospital, Cardiff; Ann was with me every day. She was my saving grace, and a real-life Angel.

As a nurse she tended my mundane daily needs and dressed the slowly healing flap and skin grafts, which the surgeons had used to repair my shoulder and back. She also treated the suppurating skin on my neck and shoulder, caused by the radiation burns, ensured I took painkillers and sleeping tablets, and listened quietly to my fears and growing angst about my uncertain future.

We maintained close contact after I left Velindre, and she visited me regularly, when I was readmitted to another Cardiff hospital in April 1988, after the cancer spread to my right lung.

At this time the oncologists gave me a 1 in 10 chance of surviving five years. Yet Ann stayed close by, checking on my welfare by letter and phone almost every week. Her love was immense.

When my marriage finally ended, Ann and I enjoyed an all-too-short romantic relationship. She regularly told me that my horrendously scarred body was “beautiful” and urged me to “keep living”.

But, when I moved to Scotland in the winter of 1990, the geographical distance between us (this was before the days of email and mobile phones) meant we lost touch.

Seemingly forever.

Then suddenly, 26 years later, and thanks to the blue and white monster called Facebook; we found each other again.

We now maintain touch and banter by email, as if time had stood still.

Life and relationships for both of us have moved on.

But, Ann is, and remains, one of my most important and lovely friends and I genuinely do, owe my life to her!