Well, I’m on the home stretch now; the finishing line very much in sight.
Nothing is quite as expected, though. From early on I had made my wish to die at home be known but here I am in a bed in the Alexandra Unit, which provides palliative care and is the nearest thing we have in Dumfries & Galloway region to hospice provision.
Anyway, the change of plans was my choice. At home, although they would take every possible care to have the drugs I would need when the pain became more severe, I wasn’t going to have someone 24/7 with the key to the locked cabinet. I didn’t want to behave all undignified if I couldn’t get my drugs!
I was mentally preparing some funny stories to share with you (like the woman who wanted a cleaning job but not when she was a bit busy near Christmas) but it’s late and I need to take my ‘breakthrough’ morphine dose (learning the lingo!) which I’ve delayed to get this wee post out there. I’ll try to remember them – not that I’ll be seeing my house again, dirty or otherwise.
My son is home. He came down after my weekend flight and decorated the Christmas tree and made such a lovely job I realised I should have had him doing it every year! I think I issued a challenge to him and his partner to a game of Rummy. And my sister’s dog is wondering why she’s never been invited on hospital visits before now. Patients have treats hidden all over the place!
Wishing each and every one of you a happy festival time and many thanks for all your support and love.
It’s becoming a New Year tradition to walk off the mince pies, though the first one took place between Christmas and New Year and was my first blog post, which you can read here. The following years, we walked on New Year’s Day itself and you can read those posts here and here.
This year, I was determined to walk (I may not have eaten many mince pies but the cheese and chocolate pounds definitely need to be shifted) but knew I couldn’t tackle hills like I did on previous years. Lung cancer, breathlessness on exertion, and depleted energy levels has rather put the kibosh on climbing hills.
We felt most of our usual short walks would probably be hoaching with folk, making social distancing difficult, as January 01 was a glorious day after a hard frost. We – the DH, Wee-sis and I – finally decided on Cairnsmore National Nature Reserve, a few miles from Gatehouse of Fleet. Described as one of the wildest places in south-west Scotland it’s a great place for walkers of all levels of ability from those who want to tackle Cairnsmore of Fleet’s 2,331ft or walk to Loch Grannoch or any one of a number of walks including the Clints of Dromore.
We, however, were going to do the in-bye walk below the craggy Clints of Dromore. It’s a circular walk of less than two miles, along the old railway track, across moorland, some of which has a boardwalk over the boggiest parts and it’s relatively flat.
We parked in the Visitor Centre car park and headed off towards the Big Water of Fleet viaduct, a remarkable twenty-arch railway viaduct built in 1861 as part of the Portpatrick Railway. At 900 feet long and 70 feet high it is pretty impressive. It was closed in 1965 and the army wanted to blow it up, as they had the smaller viaduct over the Little Water of Fleet.
Cars were parked all over the place, people were everywhere. Thank goodness we didn’t choose a popular walk as even out in the wilds of Galloway it was difficult to remain socially distant, at least at the start of our walk.
Way back in 2007 I was commissioned to work on a project with sculptor Matt Baker and wrote five poems to complement Matt’s five sculptures hidden around the reserve. I insisted on a slight detour to find Heart in the remains of Little Cullendoch. The stone face is hard to find and is now much weathered.
Further along the old railway route we came to Ocean, made of slices of greywacke, the rock cut through for the creation of railway – rock that once would have been on the ocean floor.
Once, there was a test tube filled with sea water but that seems to have disappeared. I thought it would be good to climb up onto the Clints to find a third sculpture called Hush.
Mistake! I knew the sculpture wasn’t on the first summit reached by the sign-posted path. Last time Wee-sis and I did the climb we found ourselves climbing up and down over several summits. This time, I knew we shouldn’t go up the first path but make our way on the level until we reached the end of a fence, and then go up. However, I lost confidence in my idea and we ended up climbing up at the wrong point. While I had a rest, Wee-sis carried on and was soon lost to view. I had to give up, not least because the DH was chuntering in my ear about not overdoing things, it wasn’t safe, the sun was starting to go down…
As it was, Wee-sis didn’t find Hush at the top. I knew we had to go further before we started climbing – next time. I was bitterly disappointed at not making it to the top, even if it was the wrong top – though the energy expended mush have counted for half a pound of Brie and a couple of roast potatoes. I hope.
Next day, I was able to enjoy another walk, this time with no fear of meeting anyone – thanks to a very generous offer from a friend. John and Margaret have been very supportive over the months since my diagnosis but John’s offer of a field for me to walk in was pretty exceptional.
It is all on the level so easy walking borders the River Dee and has stunning views – and no people. Perfect. Indeed, the grazing geese were rather shocked to see humans heading their way and protested loudly before taking flight.
After my last Silent Sunday post here my blogging friend Jemima Pett left a comment asking if I knew the wood where there is an otter pool with a bronze statue beside it. By sheer coincidence, as part of my never-ending task of sorting old photos for scanning, I had a photo of the otter statue on my desk! I couldn’t not blog about it, could I?
The Otter Pool is situated on The Raiders’ Road, a ten-mile forest drive through part of the Galloway Forest. The pool, on the Back Water of Dee was always one of our favourite places for picnics when my son was small because of the wonderful, smooth flat rocks, the pools, some shallow, some deep depending on the amount of rainfall, and small waterfalls.
My son was a total water baby from the day he first crawled into the ocean and he loved being at the Otter Pool, spending the entire time in – or under – the water while I pretended not to be terrified.
This is the poem (from the collection Thousands Pass Here Every Day published by Indigo Dreams) I wrote for him in those days.
WATER GOD (To David)
Sun-gleam on wet bronze limbs,
seal sleek you slip
into the deepest pool.
From the rocks I watch,
afraid of your fearlessness,
breath held as brown water
closes over you.
Surfacing, you laugh,
a careless toss of your head
scattering miniature rainbows –
my water god of the Otter Pool.
Other children splash,
in sun-warmed shallows.
Their mothers silently question
my carelessness of you.
They do not know
how deep the fear,
the mother of a deity
who believes he’s indestructible –
my water god of the Otter Pool.
The bronze statue of the otter Jemima remembers was, unfortunately, stolen some years ago. He stood on a flat stone overlooking the water and every visitor stroked his head so it had turned to a gleaming gold. He is greatly missed.