Saturday, 11 July 2015

Locked-in stroke survivor helps others have hope

       Two and a half years ago, I received a phone call from my nephew Dan. 'Please could I help his great friend Peter to publish a book on his experiences with and recovery from Locked-in syndrome?'

      Following a massive brain stem stroke which almost killed him, Peter Coghlan awoke from a coma totally paralysed, unable to move anything except for his eyes.  He was entombed by Locked-in syndrome (LIS), an extremely rare and little understood condition which may affect severe stroke or brain injury sufferers.

       Of course I would help. Who could refuse to share in such a remarkable story….that of a young man breaking free from his own body! Over the next few months of emailing, skyping and editing his writings, I came to know Peter very well – well enough to realise he was a very special person.

       But what I didn’t appreciate was just HOW special he was until I read the following email in response to a recent heartfelt plea from Peter – that his story be remembered for the benefit of other stroke and locked-in survivors. His refusal to accept that he would never walk or talk again resulted in the fastest known recovery from locked-in syndrome previously recorded, giving hope and inspiration to other survivors who, like Peter, refuse to lie down!

To All General and Neurological Practitioners, Hospitals, Stroke Specialists, Therapists and Stroke Support Groups worldwide:

“Peter Coghlan has done so much to inspire other stroke survivors.  He is a role model for "life after stroke" and must be the one in a million to live to tell the tale.

I have read Jean-Dominique Bauby's book: 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' (but how many have?) and he never recovered his full mobility or lived long enough to jump hurdles and return to the workforce.* 

Peter's book: 'In the Blink of an Eye' is a true account of the devastation to the lives of all stroke survivors.  Our group has been touched by his story and his dedication to assist others on a voluntary basis at hospitals in Perth WA.

Invite him over to speak at your conferences.  Use living images so that others can marvel in the technology that saved his life.”

Sally Allen (Coordinator/Secretary/Founder Member)
The Northern Suburbs Stroke Support Group inc.


*Unlike Peter who now runs a gardening service, cycles, competes in marathons and plays the guitar!)

“In the Blink of an Eye” by Peter Coghlan is available from Amazon



UK:
US:
AUS: 


You can follow Peter's continuing progress by visiting his website petercoghlan.com

From complete helplessness........


To pumping iron!




Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Runaway Children join the jet set!

A typical narrow boat or barge moored along the Peak Canal 


"Quick!" cried Jo "Switch on the engine!" Miles ran to the back of the barge and slipped the key into the lock. As soon as he turned it, the barge set off at an amazingly spanking pace for such a heavy vessel. Roots had just untied the rope from its mooring and was now trotting alongside with it on the towpath.
"Hey! That's them!" bawled one of the trench coats and started running towards the Judith Rose.
 "They've seen us!" Roots yelled.  "Press the Booster, Miles!"  He was just about to hop on board as Miles touched the large red button. This caused the barge to lunge forward at such an incredible speed, it yanked the unfortunate Roots off the towpath. "Sack this!!" he hollered, clinging desperately to the rope, his feet wafting in the air behind him. "Sack this for a Kleenex full of bogies!"
"Supersonic!" whooped Miles and he waved his fist above his head as the barge blazed along the canal, sending ducks and fishermen diving for cover. "Wit woos!"
Meanwhile, Roots had recovered his balance sufficiently to press his heels into the water and lean backwards like a skier. "Look at me!" he cried, jubilantly. "I've joined the jet set!"

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Turning a hose on hell

       Whoever thinks Manchester lacks colour has never been to Market Street on a Friday afternoon!  From Piccadilly Station, visitors can either opt for the tram or set off down the station approach. Either way brings you into Piccadilly with its bus station, big wheel, water features, hotels,  cafés, a variety of market stalls and an army of highly trained market researchers aka folk-trying-to-sell-you-stuff if you’ll only stand still long enough! Most Mancunians have learned to zigzag, military style, so as to avoid them.

       Walking in a straight line brings you onto Market Street shopping centre where several buskers take turns to entertain passers-by. On this particular day, a young man with an excellent voice and cut-glass accent belts out ballads accompanied by his guitar.  It must be his turn, as at other times we’re treated to a (not so tuneful) musician with some kind of synthesiser who plays 60s hits over and over and over again. But even his continuous rendition of ‘Apache’ by the Shadows is preferable to what follows on this baking hot afternoon.

       The young singer completes his repertoire, leaving the site free for the street preachers…..and today there are not just one, but TWO groups of them, both with loudspeakers and a determination for everyone to repent. The first group features a couple of visiting preachers from the States who talk a lot about hellfire but very, very little about  what we actually need to do to avoid it!

       Further along the street are two pairs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, holding out books, brochures and Watchtower and Awake magazines with serene smiles. They’ve been conducting this form of ministry since October 2013 and most people have got used to seeing them with their carts, passing them by with barely a glance. Occasionally, there’s a nod or a smile or an eager hand reaching to take the proffered literature.  Even more occasionally, someone may stop for a chat – friendly or otherwise – but communication is rarely if ever initiated by the witnesses who stand, quietly and patiently during 4 hour stints.

       Such a lot has changed in Manchester over the years: so many colours, cultures and languages, nationalities from all over the world.  No wonder preachers view the city centre as fertile ground – it certainly offers more potential than most churches these days!  However, there’s a tactful way to represent the Lord and a NOT so tactful way. A young Muslim family pass by as one of the preachers starts dismissing  the Koran along with the entire Islamic religion.  The husband stops, walks back to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and takes their magazines…..possibly as a ‘statement’. Whether the evangelists have noticed this small act of ‘defiance’ is debatable, but one of their crew approaches the JWs and attempts to start a debate, only to be ambushed by another man – unconnected with either religion - who wades in against the evangelist! The JWs are now free to distribute more literature without hindrance and further hellfire threats.

       Meanwhile even more fire and brimstone is being breathed by the second group of preachers, attracting quite a crowd. A blonde woman who claims to be a lesbian is yelling fiercely at the main speaker who is just as fiercely yelling back at her, both being roundly condemned by the other; the preacher to the hate crime police, the lesbian to hellfire on Judgement Day. At least she’ll have company, as (according to the speaker) most of us are going there anyway!

       Or are we? Will we all be engulfed by perpetual flames? Does hell as portrayed by many denominations actually exist? In order to find the answers, let’s examine the source of such beliefs:




       Cue Ancient Babylon, home of Nimrod and many uncanny practices still in use today. Fortune-telling, omen-spotting, entrails-reading, runes, star-gazing and communing with the dead all have their roots in this magic-obsessed city. Incidentally, Babylon also invented the fiscal system, which, considering recent history, some may regard as the ultimate nightmare!

       Ironically, atheists’ refusal to believe in a separate, invisible soul is backed up by scripture.  Here, death is clearly shown to be a state of total unconsciousness, a dreamless sleep from which, according to several Bible verses (particularly the Lazarus account) people will ‘awake’ to a physical resurrection when paradise is restored on earth.

“There is no dichotomy [division] of body and soul in the O[ld] T[estament]….The term nepeš [ne’phesh], though translated by our word soul, never means soul as distinct from the body or the individual person….The term [psy-khe’] is the N[ew] T[estament] word corresponding with nepeš. It can mean the principle of life, life itself, or the living being.” – New Catholic Enyclopedia

       The Mosaic Law did not allow for any form of spiritism whatsoever - in fact it was forbidden on pain of death for the nation of Israel - and it wasn’t until Greece began to stride the world stage that afterlife philosophies began to take root.

       In the fourth century CE, the Roman Emperor Constantine, unable to quell the rise of Christianity by other means and determined to unite his empire, cunningly  infused original gospel teachings with pagan beliefs such as the immortality of the soul, the trinity doctrine,  and – that most terrifying concept of all – eternal hellfire! The Biblical word rendered as ‘hell’ in many versions simply means ‘grave’ or  ‘death’. (Hebrew - sheol; Greek - Hades)

“The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture.” – The Jewish Enyclopedia

       Constantine’s ‘miraculous conversion’ marked the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire from which the rest of Christendom developed, combining Bible accounts with Babylonish rites and practices while keeping generations of adherents in ignorance. The Dark Ages had truly begun and the Bible was unavailable to the majority of people until the 16th century when William Tyndale translated the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English. His aim - for ‘even a plowboy’ to understand scripture - was not appreciated by the church; hardly surprising as, from the Vatican to house churches, Christendom has done more than any other organisation to promote spiritistic practices. According to one spiritualist I met some years ago, “the church already preaches life after death – all mediums do is prove it!”

       What harm does it do? Well, for one thing, the whole concept of life after death is a cruel deception, especially for people who have lost a loved one. Believing they can communicate through a spiritualist medium can lead to all kinds of fraud and extortion; even if the medium is basically well-meaning, it can still open the floodgates to a very dangerous world.

“….The nether world…..is pictured as a place full of horrors, and is presided over by gods and demons of great strength and fierceness.” – The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, Boston, 1998, Morris Jastrow, Jr)

       But the worst sin to my mind is the reproach beliefs such as hellfire and purgatory create towards God. Would a loving Father, even a sinful human one, hold a child against a fire until he screamed in agony? Is being damned to everlasting torture even just for the amount of sinning humans can fit into their three-score years and ten?

       I doubt it.




http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Two_Babylons.html?id=OD_ATrB-g2gC&redir_esc=y

PS. Just want to point out, although the dead are 'conscious of nothing' (Ecc 9:5), according to scripture death is a temporary state from which there'll be a resurrection to life on earth - potentially forever! (John 11:11; John 5:28) Death is the penalty for our sins and, having already paid the price, resurrected ones return with a clean slate (Romans 6:7 & 23) with the prospect of living forever.










  

Sunday, 7 June 2015

A walk in the Peak: Hathersage

The limousines set off, engines purring, up the road, past the smoking woodland, and out into open country. Joe gazed out of the window as they climbed steadily upwards onto the moors, which were particularly beautiful at this time of year, with the heather coming into bud and the sun casting a golden glow onto the peaks.
As they continued the journey however, the landscape grew bleak and blackened by peat, a desolate scene relieved only by coarse scrubby tufts of lifeless reeds and bracken. And if this were not enough to make Joe's heart sink, then the sight awaiting him would send it plunging into his trainers. – Extract from The Runaway Children Vol 1 – Flight from the Nunjas.

As this passage from The Runaway Children trilogy suggests, Derbyshire High Peak is an area of contrasts:  From lush, leafy forests and verdant valleys to miles of rugged moorland and jagged rocky outcrops. In fact, the area where I live is one of the most popular places for tourists in the world! No wonder that, on her regular visits home, my ozone-depleted, London-based daughter insists on at least one lung-challenging walk every day.
Which means consulting the Green Book, a guide to local footpaths by a husband and wife rambling team.  Unfortunately, it has disappeared, much to my darling daughter’s disgust. We try consulting an Ordnance Survey map instead but, like Captain Catastrophe, a character from The Runaway Chil.dren, can make neither head nor tail of it!). So we decide to re-visit a favourite walk in Hathersage, a few miles from my home. Like so many quaint Derbyshire villages these days, free parking isn’t easy to find, but there’s a generously sized car parked not too far from the village centre.
View of Hathersage

“Why are you wearing those stupid sandals? Haven’t you brought your walking boots?” asks my darling daughter (DD for short). I explain that I have indeed brought my walking boots but have forgotten my socks and, as the fields are dry and relatively flat, I can’t foresee any problems, despite the rather high wedged heels I’m wearing. “And anyway,” I add, “you haven’t exactly dressed for a hike yourself in those flimsy trainers.” DD merely shrugs and links my arm. I sigh with relief. First objection tackled, argued and put to bed. (And we’re still talking.)
Having reached the village, we make our way past allotments and a small cricket ground until the path leads us into open fields. “Oh look!” says DD pointing to a tree stump halfway through the second field. “Someone’s lost their glasses!” Now this is what I like about Derbyshire folk; someone has very thoughtfully placed the spectacles on the stump in such a way they can be easily seen - so if the owner is reading this and wants to retrieve them, I’d bet my life on them still being there!
DD is now in full stride, racing ahead of me. The view is breathtaking, so I ask DD to turnaround while I take a photograph of her against the tree-lined hills. “I don’t like having my photo taken,” she replies, going all Diva-ish on me, so most of my shots are of her disappearing rear. She does, however, oblige me with her profile as she stops to chat with a newly-sheared sheep. “I wonder if she’ll let me pet her,” muses DD. 
Gini and sheep

Now, Derbyshire sheep are an unusual breed, not easily alarmed and rather bold when it comes to cadging food from unsuspecting picnickers. They are also rather stubborn and this particular sheep is no exception to the rule. Having settled herself onto a comfy patch of grass, she’s reluctant to give ground, even when DD leans towards her. It isn’t until DD’s hand comes in for the pat that the animal decides to budge - just in time to avoid contact.
Another photo. “Oh Mum, do stop it!” sighs DD, turning her back on me yet again. “You only want pictures for your stupid blog!”
After a mile or so we reach our first place of interest: North Lees Hall. This imposing Elizabethan manor was once home to the Eyre family and is thought to have inspired the fictitious Thornfield Hall where Mr Rochester wooed ‘Jane Eyre’ and where his mad wife jumped from the turreted tower. Apparently, author Charlotte Brontë stayed in Hathersage (her model for ‘Norton’) in 1845 with her friend Ellen Nussey, the vicar’s sister.
North Lees Hall

“It’s very small, isn’t it?” muses DD but I’m too busy taking photographs again. I particularly like the clog-worn steps leading up from the back of the hall to an ancient footpath which I’m certain Charlotte will have trod, and the views beyond are spectacular.
“Oh come on, Mum!” DD is now decidedly grumpy, so I put my phone/camera away and we look for a way back to the village via the parish church. We amble towards a path which seems vaguely to go in the right direction. Just as we reach the style, a lady appears, walking her dog.
“Will this take us to the church?” I ask.
“All paths lead to the church,” the lady replies, adding: “In the old days, there had to be a way for every farm to carry their coffins for burial.” Here follows a pleasant discussion about Hathersage and its various features, including a dam, the rock pools along the top of the crag, and a swimming pool. “Only it’s closed today for cleaning,” says our new friend. Due to hot sunshine the previous day, a large number of families had cooled off in the pool, but only after smothering themselves with sun-cream: “Which made the water extremely greasy, I can tell you!” (Not to mention all the other unmentionable substances which may have been lurking – but let’s not dwell on that!)
Walking with stile!

Minutes later, DD and I are walking through fields towards the parish church and by this time my feet are starting to hurt. A lot. DD has already removed her trainers and is walking unfettered through the luxurious grass, so I decide to follow suit - only the grass isn’t that pleasant. It’s soggy and spattered with sheep droppings. “Don’t think this is such a good idea,” I say. “People can catch Lyme Disease from sheep, you know.” “Oh Mum, you’re so negative!” “But it’s true!” I insist, “and if anyone’s allergic to ticks or spiders in the grass, it’s you!”
“Spiders!?” DD squeals and starts dancing on the spot like a cat on a kiln, toes curling with horror. “Better get your trainers on, Quick!” I yell, secretly enjoying her discombobulation, as she struggles to put on her trainers and keep both feet off the ground. Somehow, she manages to re-shoe herself and we both continue.
“Oh,” says DD. “Tourists!” Sure enough, a few yards further down the field is a party of Chinese teenagers who have stopped to ask the way from an elderly gentleman sitting by the fence eating sandwiches. He tells them how to get to their destination at which they promptly set off in the opposite direction. “Hoi,” he cries, pointing his finger, “That way!” This the youngsters understood and set off on the right track.
“Lovely day, isn’t it?” says the elderly man, cheerily. “My missus has gone to Wimbledon, so I’m having a picnic and a nice long walk.” Actually, I feel a bit sorry for him, even when he tells me his wife has made his lunch before setting off for the London train, but he seems happy enough and willing to pass the time of day – much to DD’s annoyance. She’s walked on a bit and is now gesticulating, grimacing and beckoning me furiously from behind a hedge.
“Why were you talking to that man?” she demands, “We’re SUPPOSED to be on a walk!”
“Just being friendly,” I explain. “Can’t cut people dead mid-sentence, can I?”
“But you were sooooo loooooong!”
In answer, I get my phone out again and start taking photographs. DD harrumphs, not for the first time, and stomps off ahead of me. Honestly, I do TRY to catch up but am beginning to feel rather tired. Left to my own devices, I’d be having a nap by now.
“Here we are then! St Michael’s & All Angel’s Church.”
St Michel's & All Angels Church

Though mostly built in Tudor times, the structure of this impressive parish church actually began in 1381, and there have been other churches on this site since the 12th century.
The graveyard is thought to house Little John, allegedly a Hathersage man. Whether or not this IS the burial place of Robin Hood’s legendary side-kick is open to dispute, yet whoever lies beneath the Yew Tree before the church’s main entrance is certainly a very tall; when opened in 1782, the grave contained a male skeleton measuring 7ft. (Our dog walking friend reckons it was over 8ft judging by one of the thigh bones!) Little John’s neighbours include Robert Eyre, a veteran from the battle of Agincourt whose descendants built the church extension along with North Lees Hall.
Little John's Grave

By this time, my feet are really hurting and I’m looking forward to tea and cake at Cintra’s in the village. This lovely café doesn’t disappoint – in the garden behind the café, we order moist lemon cake, a delicious toasted sandwich and a generous pot of steaming tea from the very pleasant owner and staff! Bliss!












Friday, 22 May 2015

Back in time with the Brontë family

       With the sun actually shining for once, a free day ahead of me, and the determination to achieve at least one of the zillion things ‘to do before I die’, I set off with a friend for Haworth and the famous Brontë Parsonage Museum an hour and a half’s drive away.

Haworth Village
       Situated in the glorious Yorkshire moors, the Haworth is a tiny village with steep, cobbled streets and quaint little alleyways along which Ann, Emily and Charlotte used to trip in dainty little boots to post their latest manuscripts. On Sundays, the sisters and their brother Branwell would attend the church at the bottom of their garden to listen to their father’s sermons.
       Today, in this same small garden, furnished with plants popular in Victorian times, were crowds of people of all ages and nationalities. A whole class of (amazingly respectful) US teenagers were standing patiently in line with their tall, imposing teacher as a coach-load of well-to-do pensioners, who’d obviously pre-booked, were allowed, ever so politely, to jump the queue. As for the rest of we itinerant tourists, there was little choice but to wait. But hey, the sun was shining and the camaraderie was warm.
The Parsonage
       At last we reached the entrance to the Parsonage, which is large, spacious and remarkably cosy, though whether this was down to residue vibes from the 19th century Brontës or from the 20th century radiators is open to debate. According to the free guide at the door, Patrick Brontë arrived with his wife and children in 1820 to take up his post of Perpetual Curate. This was their home for the rest of their lives; sadly, Mrs Brontë and the two eldest daughters, Maria and Elizabeth, died within a few years of arrival, while the remaining children were also survived by their father. Patrick reached the grand old age of 84 before expiring peacefully in 1861.

Mr Bronte's study
       His study was the first room we entered. This was where Mr Brontë conducted all the business of the parish, founded a Sunday school and campaigned vigorously on behalf of his flock. One of his missions was to improve Haworth’s sewage system which was apparently worse than that of London’s slums. Unfortunately, despite their prominent pews in church every Sunday, his wealthy neighbours refused to heed the parson’s call to action, so his plans were scuppered. In the corner of the study is a small wooden desk on which his magnifying glass still lies. This he used for reading when his sight grew dim due to cataracts, a condition alleviated by an operation.

Dining room

       Most of the furniture in the parsonage is original and still in situ, bringing the family vividly to life. In fact, you almost feel as though you’re trespassing. In the dining room, for instance, Ann Brontë’s writing slope is resting on the table and you can almost see her writing, sitting in her rocking chair by the fire, or ‘taking turns’ around the room with Emily and Charlotte as they chatted about each other’s work. After Emily and Ann died suddenly and within a tragically short time of each other, a family servant told how her heart ‘ached to hear Miss Brontë walking, walking on alone’.  The sofa where Emily is supposed to have died is also in the room, yet the atmosphere is far from melancholy.
Charlotte's room
       For me, the most poignant item is in Charlotte’s room upstairs. Sharing a display cabinet with the exquisite bonnet Charlotte wore for her wedding is a tiny little lace cap – a gift for the child she was expecting but which died with her only months into her happy but tragically short marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate. Her room also contains a plaid day-dress – or rather a bodice and skirt, beautifully tailored and finished.  What struck me was how petite she was - but then, most people were small in those primitive days before Big Macs and heavyweight carbs!
       Other personal items included jewellery (tiny, tiny rings), cuffs, boots and stockings, all in perfect condition, along with collars and nightcaps of delicate lace created by Charlotte herself. There was even a lock of her mid-brown hair, amazingly glossy and untouched by time.

Mr Bronte's bedroom
      By far the spookiest room in the house is Mr Brontë’s bedroom where he moved after the death of his wife. It was here that Branwell also slept once his alcoholism had taken hold, endangering him and everyone else. The half-tester bed where Branwell took his last tortured breath is an exact replica of a sketch he drew, showing Death in the form of a skeleton summoning him to the grave. As I gazed at the copy of the drawing on display, a young Japanese man stood beside me to read Branwell’s inscription, written in spidery almost illegible letters. “Creepy!” he exclaimed, and shivered. No, he hadn’t read any of their works, but he’d certainly heard of the Brontës and travelled thousands of miles to pay homage.
       Actually, I felt a bit sorry for Branwell. Growing up as the only boy in a cultural hothouse with three geniuses for siblings must have been extremely tough. How is a simple guy to make his mark amidst such literary giants? His answer was to carve a career as an artist, and he certainly had plenty of illustrious patrons judging by the portraits in his studio. But while they are passable, his works could hardly match the towering achievements of his sisters – but whether his lack of talent stemmed from his drinking or was the catalyst which drove him to drink would be hard to fathom. There have, after all, been many hard-boozing artists (Van Gogh, Gauguin, Lautrec to name a few) whose gifts, unlike their livers, were scarcely touched by their excesses.
       Finally, in the Exhibition Room, amidst glass cases full of original letters, manuscripts, and other personal effects, is a huge wooden cupboard with 12 panels each depicting one of the Apostles. This impressive piece comes from the home of Charlotte’s dear friends, the Eyre family of Hathersage, Derbyshire. Their turreted house is thought to be the inspiration for Mr Rochester’s mansion, while the Apostles cupboard, which must be 8’ high, features in the scene where Jane Eyre is left alone with the mad-wife’s injured brother.
      I’ve actually been to the house in Hathersage on a recent mammoth walk with my daughter when we also visited the grave of Little John.....but that’s another story.

www.bronte.info




Thursday, 14 May 2015

Supernanny! Where were you when I needed you?

        Where were you when my two-year old was throwing tantrums in Tesco, screaming her head off in Sainsbury’s, crawling over tables in our local MacDonald’s, or darting traffic-wards from my grasp?
       Yes, I know I’ve got competition but I’m convinced that, had there been a prize for the most horrendous toddler West of the Pennines, my daughter would have won it hands down. In fact, two years after her appearance, there was a significant dip in birth rates in the area – no doubt due to otherwise fertile people having travelled on the same train with me and my hyper-active, utterly uncontrollable, ear-piercingly noisy little girl.
       And then, 2 decades too late, along comes TV nanny, Jo Frost (the ultimate Mary Poppins) who, with firmness and gentle persuasion is able to comfort, reassure and discipline the most headstrong 2- to 20-year old. Does she hypnotise them? Threaten them behind the scenes, resort to bribery? Or is she simply a miracle worker, sent from heaven to show mere mortals the way? 
       Sorry Jo, it’s all very impressive, but here’s the million dollar question – would you be as effective if the child you had to tame was your own? The reason I ask is that one of the most desperate mums I knew from our local toddler group had, in the distant past BC (Before Cate), been an excellent primary school teacher who never had cause to raise her voice, despite having a class of 30 very small people. Yet, just two years into motherhood, she was a broken woman.
       Another case in point is my own sweet child who was an absolute angel for anyone else. Like a miniature Jekyll and Hyde, her personality changed dramatically once I’d dropped her off at playschool or the home of a friend, only to revert to the growling, snarling monster which I had to cope with every day. Please don’t think I didn’t love her – she was (and always will be) the light of my life and genuinely adorable for most of the time – and after twenty-odd years she’s learnt to communicate without the blood-curdling shrieks. In fact, she was actually getting to be really good company before disappearing down to London, leaving me bereft. But that’s another story.
      The fact that I survived the first 5 years of motherhood – with no help whatsoever from supernannies, grannies or beneficent fairy godmothers - is due in no small part to the one thing I actually got right (and which, sadly, Cate’s mum didn’t ) - Bedtime.
Winning the bedtime battle
       Oh you Mums, happy are you if your baby is big. Mine was extremely small and colicky, so needed to be fed every 2 hours, then soothed for at least another hour before she’d doze off again. As she grew, feeding became less of a problem, but getting her to sleep was a nightmare. In fact the only way she’d settle was if some kind of motion was involved, which meant my pushing her round in her pram with older more experienced mothers nodding their heads sagely as they passed while trying to disguise a streak of sadism in their collective dirge: “It gets worse, you know”.  If I’d been given a pound for every time I heard that expression.......
       What I was given something infinitely more valuable - a pearl of wisdom by somebody I can’t remember but who has my undying gratitude and respect. It helped preserve my sanity and it’s one I’d like to pass on to all you other desperate mums.
      Apparently, ten months is a pivotal period in a baby’s development. This is the time when parents must establish a good bedtime routine which will not only benefit the child but may also tip the balance of control in your favour. For some, it may be easy. For others, like me, it is a fierce battle of wills involving every ounce of nerve and determination. But you have to win. With almost every family featured in Supernanny, there’s a real problem getting the children to bed. If the parents fail in this, they’re likely to fall short in other areas too.
       Why ten months? Well, by this time, a baby is used to having every need catered for. One cry brings Mum running - to feed, change, cuddle and pamper. No wonder he believes he is the centre of the universe and that adults are his slaves. Somewhere along the line, the child’s perception needs to be altered so that he learns to follow the parent’s lead instead of the other way round.
       In my case, having endured several months of broken nights with an infant clinging permanently to my hip, it was essential that I gain at least a couple of hours to myself. Colic was no longer a problem and a warm bath followed by a good feed and a bedtime story helped my daughter to relax. Even so, she refused to settle and the upstairs downstairs ritual seemed unbreakable. Until one evening, I put her to bed determined not to bring her down again, no matter how many times she protested. I kept checking on her, making sure she was dry and leaving her again. It wasn’t pleasant, but it worked. After that one nerve-jangling night, bedtime was a dream!
       So, to the person who gave me that invaluable piece of advice a great big, if belated, ‘thank you’. To Jo Frost, I wish you’d been around a little sooner!












Saturday, 9 May 2015

An artist's mysterious legacy

       
Unknown Girl by Josie Berriman

       Almost a decade ago, I lost my good friend Josie, a talented artist who lived most of her life in the High Peak. Her death was sudden and rather shocking, as she’d always looked so healthy and very much younger than her 74 years.
       A vegetarian, she was an amazing cook. Everyone in her acquaintance would turn down an audience with the Queen to dine with Josie, who was a remarkably generous host. Lashings of homemade soup, caramelised vegetables and exquisite puddings were washed down with good wine and conversation. She also loved a nightcap…..my taste for malt whisky developed after many cosy chats, sitting on an ancient leather sofa by the fire, musing on art, life, friendships, hopes and dreams.  
       It was by this same fire I found her early one evening, lying with her head on a cushion as she usually did when taking her afternoon nap. Only there was nothing ‘usual’ about her breathing. She was completely unconscious, only her lungs working desperately to suck in oxygen with every gasp. The ambulance came, Josie left and we never shared another whisky again.
       Though twice married, Josie had no children of her own but was never short of young companions. Several children, including my own daughter, learned how to wield a paintbrush thanks to Josie. This waterfall sketch shown here was literally ‘dashed off’ – demonstrating how to paint water with a few deft strokes. Yet, hurriedly produced as it was, it sparkles with skill.

Brief sketch of a waterfall by Josie Berriman

       Of course, nothing Josie created professionally was ever hurried. Her landscapes were amazing, her portraits brought to life with consummate skill. She never exhibited, preferring to accept commissions from friends.  Josie’s specialty was children - which many Old Masters struggled to capture – and animals, especially cats!
      Her main source of income was illustrating fashion and children’s magazines, such as Twinkle, and a wide range of books – one of which, “Dear Dear Mary” by Jenny Melmoth, is featured here: http://www.jenny-melmoth.com/publications/dear-dear-mary/ **
       After her death, some of Josie’s work was distributed to friends, including the above portrait of a smiling, fresh-faced girl, whose identity has so far remained undiscovered. 
       If anyone reading this can solve the mystery, I’d love to hear from you!

       The portrait below is 'Elysha', the daughter of mutual friends - it's slightly reflective as I photographed in its glass frame!



** Published by Alfresco Books 2005