An attempt at reconstitution

A phrase from the ‘Mum’ recipe included in the previous post has stuck in mind:

CARE – if you do the latter, don’t let any water get into it or let it get too hot, else it goes solid and you can’t reconstitute it.

She was talking, of course, about the delicate art of melting chocolate. However, it led me into an area of thought I would rather have avoided – or more likely have been avoiding, all this time. To what extent is the ‘Mum’ who appears in this my blog – the reconstituted Mum, as it were – the real one?

I started writing this blog, as I recall, around the time that Mum’s dementia/ psychosis was getting really bad. Around that time we had several silly arguments during my Sunday visits, about foolish claims she made, completely illogical conclusions she had come to, and her patronising insistence that it was me – the stupid child – who had got things all mixed up. Twice I came home from a visit in tears because of the illogicality of it all.  Dementia is something you are forced to learn about from scratch, and usually doesn’t look like dementia to start with. You make mistakes. You let it get to you because somehow or other you haven’t spotted it – that great black storm cloud on the horizon, barrelling towards you.

As far as I recall, the time I wrote my first post and started rescuing all sorts of ancient, spider-infested writings from cardboard boxes in the garage was about the same time I realised I could no longer talk to Mum on an adult to adult, person to person basis. I could no longer talk to her as a daughter. I could no longer ask her advice or rely on her for anything. On the contrary, she was going to be relying on me. It was then that I started this blog.

And so, I have often thought, the ‘dementia’ part of this blog (a relatively small percentage of it) has been an attempt to put her back together again, to recreate her, to preserve her – whatever. And the same for my father – whom I scarcely mourned when he died and did not begin to miss really badly until my mother began to leave me too. And the same of course for my lost life, my lost past selves. These multiple ‘goodbyes’ must happen to every human being as they age, I think – just maybe not all at once or concentrated into so short a time.

In painting word-pictures of Mum, and Dad, and me, and my sisters, I have tried to be honest. I mean, I find it difficult to restrain myself from writing honestly – that’s how it tends to come out – but I sometimes wonder if any of us – the typed up and published ‘us’ – are real? Or could it be that the typed-up and published ‘us’ is in some ways more real than the flesh and blood sad, distracted old folk we really are? Hyper-real.

Damn, I knew this was going to be difficult one to write. How can you put into words something so… transitory and vague?

I find it increasingly difficult to reconcile the Mum of the recipes, the Mum of the sewing box, the Mum with whom I Listened With Mother, the Mum who enraged me by throwing out my boyfriend’s copy of 1984 because she had happened upon the scene with the rats… with the thin, poor person in the plastic armchair, yesterday. I find it difficult to understand this creature who can no longer be shown how to drink from a spout on a plastic cup with the bright-eyed girl who went to grammar school and passed all her exams (except geography!) with flying colours in spite of the second world war. I find it hard to believe that this is a human being let alone my human being. I can no longer talk to her, nor she to me, and without the salve of words I struggle to feel any connection between us. It is as if we no longer belong to the same species, or that she has become animal… or vegetable.

I once had a lover who was – or claimed to be and I have no reason to disbelieve him – clairsentient. He asked me once about the bond between soon-to-be-Ex and I. Did it still feel, he asked, like an umbilical cord stretching between us? Did it still feel as if we were joined by a strong thread, navel to navel and that any separation would produce a painful tug? At the time I suspect I denied it, but whatever I said he would have ‘felt’ the truth as I was speaking. And he was right.

colored dust

It seems to me now that once you have really loved someone, willingly or not, that cord is formed and can never again be broken. You might say that the cord between Ex and I has worn awfully shabby over time and now more closely resembles a thin and greying old piece of elastic than the magnificently throbbing ‘shared umbilical’ of my lover’s psychic imagery. Still, it stretches through the miles between us.

And I suppose the same cord stretches between my mother and I. We are cut off from one another, adrift on different rafts, but still just about within sight. Maybe that is the final, almost-impossible lesson we are forced to learn – how to just be with someone. But how painful it is just to sit. How raw it feels just to be in a room with someone and not be shielded with words or even understanding. How hard it is, finally, to permit yourself to feel the cord stretching and stretching as the other person pulls away, and to know that you are never going to be able to cut the cord, however much it hurts.


I’ve just been dipping into an ancient blog which I was posting into from 26th of April 2003 to 22nd October 2006. Well, technically it was a blog but really it was little more than a personal diary gone public. I hadn’t grasped the concept of blogging for an audience as yet.

I remember the day my then-computer was delivered; I had the evening before acrimoniously broken up with the gentleman-in-name-only who had been going to set it up for me. Good riddance to him but bad timing. So there I was with a monster cardboard box containing a monstrous monitor, a monstrous computer box-thingy, a monstrous keyboard, a monstrous mouse, miles of monstrous cables ending in pluggy-in bits, and a multitude of sockets in the back of the monitor where any of the pluggy-in bits might or might not be plugged in. Plus some diagrams which I knew it would be pointless even to look at at. I’m afraid I do such things the ‘man’ way – set everything out on the carpet, put all the little nuts and bolts in a teacup and guess. If something doesn’t work I wrench it apart and start again. I get cross and exhausted but usually succeed eventually. Then I entirely forget how I did it.

I had never set up a computer before. At work we had a computer engineer. He (they were always he’s) set the machines up in the first place and he it was who would saunter along and make them better if they went wrong. In addition I was emotional. Traumatised, tear-stained and hiccupping, I set to work. That was around midday. By 10 o’clock I had a thumping headache but the computer was working. And in only ten hours.

My Stone Age blog was called Blue, with Stars. I’ve lost the username and password for it and can now only view it via a bookmarked link. It was called Blue, with Stars because of the little paragraph, which I used as a heading:

The robes of Wizardesses are blue with stars. The robes of Wizards are green with stars. And there are still Others, of whom little is known and less is said, whose robes are beyond description being of all the colours of the rainbow, and none. But all have stars.

This meant quite a lot to me but probably nothing at all to my readers, assuming I had any. It’s the first paragraph of a fairy story I wrote, or half-wrote, which was mislaid in one of my house moves. Midwinter, it was called. Maybe I’ll have a go at rewriting it.

Predictably, much of Blue, with Stars is tedious to read back and not recyclable. Nowadays I write for different reasons – to entertain, amuse, or at any rate contact other people, so I’m putting much more effort into it, searching around for more varied subject matter and editing and rewriting more carefully.

Re-reading an old diary can be a double-edged sword, a queasy business. There am I, but somehow twelve years younger and sounding twelve years younger. I want to shout to her ‘Look out!’ and ‘Don’t do that, you twerp!’ And then there is the inevitable sense of loss. What happened to the ‘me’ still marginally attractive enough to have a gentleman-in-name-only with whom to part company acrimoniously?

And then the exasperation on discovering that some of the things I have been posting about recently I was already posting about twelve years ago. I recently wrote a post, for example, called A BRUSH WITH HERBERT. I thought I was being clever with that title until I discover that on Saturday, May 21, 2005 I wrote a post in Blue, with Stars entitled – guess what – A Brush with Herbert. I think I may append the old post to the newer one for comparison. But can I really have been thinking the same things over and over, coming up with the same bright ideas and then ignoring or forgetting them, then coming up with them all over again? It’s Groundhog Day.

But it’s all grist to the mill* – seems a shame to waste it – so I decided every now and then to ‘lift’ selected high- or low-lights from Blue, with Stars should I happen to have posted something ‘lift-able’ on the equivalent of today’s date in 2003, 2004, 2005 or 2006. This is how it’s done on the Pepys Diary website Currently, for example, they are showing Pepys’ entry for Sunday 24 August 1662

(Lord’s day). Slept till 7 o’clock, which I have not done a very great while, but it was my weariness last night that caused it.

So rose and to my office till church time, writing down my yesterday’s observations, and so to church, where I all alone, and found Will Griffin and Thomas Hewett got into the pew next to our backs …

Pepys Diary website is excellent … it looks good, and it enables a busy person to follow one of our greatest and most prolific diarists without having to plough through the whole thing, end to end, which would probably take almost as long as the Dickens Challenge. Reading him this way also gives you a chance to ‘savour’ not only Pepys’ personality but the historical context in which he wrote.

So to kick off Blue, with Stars, and a few days late, here is part of the post for:

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Rosie is asleep on my lap. I wonder if all kittens are red hot, or is it only this one? She doesn’t seem ill or anything. She did get a bit of a fright this afternoon when the carpet-fitters finally arrived this afternoon to do the bedroom – leapt off my back, lacerating in the process, and went and hid under the dressing table until well after they had gone. It’s funny, she’s so bold most of the time, it hadn’t occurred to me she might be frightened of strange men. And they did hammer a lot. I thought the house might fall down. Put the mockers on the tear-jerking ending of Whistle Down The Wind, when ‘Jesus’ finally has to leave.

I’ve been watching that programme (can’t remember the name, there are so many similar ones) where contestants sing each week and the public votes to keep them in, or not. They are all so unutterably – mediocre. I can see each and every one of them singing on a cruise ship, to an audience of old ladies and slick lounge lizard types in white naval uniforms. One degree better than karaoke.

Have been exploring BookCrossing but am still trying to pluck up courage to release a book into the wild. I just think someone will see me. And they’re bound to run after me with it …

# posted @ 7:23 PM

Rosie, a tiny black kitten, had been rescued from a country road in Norfolk by one of the lady solicitors I worked for at the time. Rosie must have lost her mother and been wandering for some days. We thought maybe the mother was one of the gypsies’ cats, since my boss said it was an isolated area. She was then driven all round the M25 in a cardboard box, in hot weather, and brought to me. Thin, dehydrated and with diarrhoea, she was in a much worse way than I realised during that invasion of the carpet-fitters. However, the vet saved her and Rosie and I are still together twelve years and two house moves later. She is the ‘rosie’ element of my blogging name. I will plonk in a picture of her with this post.

* Apparently George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language (1946) dismissed ‘grist to the mill’ as a dying metaphor. Well, George – dead, dying or whatever – I just used it.