Love lost, read and found
If I was asked to give some advice to anyone on life, I would reply ‘What do I know that will be of use to anyone else?’ But if I was pushed to do so, having long looked at myself, I think I would probably say, ‘don’t spend your life just planning ahead or even just looking back, do what you’re hoping to do while you still have the chance!’
In life some things just never go according to plan and a letter I once wrote to some friends a few years ago give me a fine if somewhat sad example of that.
In my case recently, the holidays have also proven a good example of that.
This summer 2014 we were planning a driving holiday through France and Spain stopping to visit and spend time with cousins along the way. It is a driving trip I have been long wanting to make to replicate the driving holidays of my youth when my parents used to drive us all from London all the way to southern Spain year after year, to spend summer with family and where they had come from. This was something I wanted my own girls to experience too and so that they too could connect with our family’s roots just as we had done in the summer the year before.
But just as the weeks were counting down and whilst I was in constant use of my van, I failed to realise that our car keys had long been misplaced and when I finally came to the conclusion that they would never be found, it took all of three weeks to order new keys and organise for them to be coded along with the car. My holiday slot came and went and without the car for my driving holiday and as a last resort I had to change and book a last minute beach holiday on the Greek island of Kefalonia instead. I don’t think the girls minded one bit that we ended up there instead of driving through the Pyrenees, but for me it was another occasion when our holidays didn’t go according to plan.
The previous year in summer of 2013, I finally got to take the girls on the holiday I had planned for many a year but unfortunately my wife missing out was not part of that plan. I always wanted her to connect most of all with all my family abroad and once she had gone, the need to connect with them was almost gone as well. But I saw the holiday though because it was something I had been meaning to do for too many years and perhaps I should have been more determined in making sure we had done so in the years before. But hindsight is a wonderful that few of us are blessed with.
In summer of 2012, due to Katherine’s on-going deteriorating health, our plans to have a family holiday off somewhere in sunny Spain were temporarily shelved. At best I still hope that Kath would enjoy a reasonably stable period so that I might yet take her to Lourdes but a full 14 day holiday was out of the question with the demands of her illness, her appointments and medication too.
As a consequence once again, just as had happened the year before, our plans to visit Spain and let our daughters meet many of their cousins and relatives living abroad, bit the dust. We had been set to do this exact holiday the previous year in 2011 but then it was down to the fact that Katherine’s father Ernest was fading fast and with him eventually passing away on July 24th, the mood to meet and mingle with family was well and truly scuppered.
Instead, Katherine suggested we go to Polperro Cornwall as it was the last place on holiday that her dad had taken her many years before when she was still just 16 and she wanted to reconnect with those memories once again in tribute to him. ‘Next year for sure’ she said about Spain and as it had been a few times before, it was put off for yet another year that would never come.
As it turned out we had a wonderful holiday in Polperro in spite of Kath’s often solemn mood down to the recent passing of her father and of course the girls’ grandfather Ernest.
Kath took us to all the places she remembered her father taking her and she even recreated some of the same photos she had taken so many years before in all the same old familiar sites her dad had taken photos of her with her brother Alex. It was also nice to connect with the idea of what Katherine had been doing exactly back when she was 16 and only 2 or 3 weeks away from meeting me for the first time.
As I have mentioned before, the cruel irony of this holiday kind of pilgrimage to Polperro was the unforeseeable coincidence that as well as it being the last holiday Katherine ever had with her Dad, when she returned with me and our kids in homage to him, it would also turn out to be the last time our daughters and I would ever have a holiday with their mum. Of course this cruel irony was lost on us at the time as we had no reason to even consider that Katherine or indeed anyone of us would not be around for years and years to come.
As much as we enjoyed our holiday in Cornwall, I was still a little disappointed we didn’t get our beach holiday in the sun and a chance to reconnect after so many years, with family of my own. We did get to go away to the New Forest for the bank holiday weekend but really that was the end of that in terms of a family holiday we would know while our family was complete.
But as I have said above, by the time the following summer of 2012 was here, my wife was in steady decline and any days out that our daughters enjoyed came thanks to them joining other family and friends.
By the time it came back round to starting school once again, we were only facing the Autumn of our time left together and too many plans that together we had made, was left up to me to decide if I wanted to realise them alone.
This is a merged letter of three that I sent out to friends in December 2011. It is both and an example of too much planning ahead and of me now looking back, when I wish someone might have told me, ‘don’t forget to do the things that you just want to do too!’
Thankfully (though my girls would not have agreed) this year’s start to winter has not brought us any of the snow that was so special in setting the mood for last Christmas and the holidays. As much as I like the change to the ordinary routines that snow brings all of a sudden, snow really impacts on my work and as a consequence my related earnings can be dramatically impacted too and hence there’s an inner Grinch in me. Last December, I had just finished a big planting job when three days later it was all covered in a foot of snow. ‘Not my responsibility’ I hear you think, ah but you see, that same customer had me back the following spring to quote on a big landscaping job and to secure the work I had to offer to replace all of the earlier planting that was killed off by the snow before any of them had had time to establish. Not so lovely and innocent snow now you’ll agree! Similarly, one customer who had me and my colleague for a whole day every week, would shut her garden down in December and only allows us back to work in late Feb or early March and was often delayed even further should snow be on the scene. Finally on the matter of snow, just like the ones you see in the movies; I built the finest Snowman ever the previous Christmas and for once at the front of our house where all of the neighbours could see and share its seasonal merriment but which was shortly after kicked over by local yobs momentarily threatening to burst the Christmassy bubble I had let myself become engulfed in. Even watching the film the Snowman over the Christmas holidays had only momentarily threatened to change my mind about welcoming snow,but within a minute of the film ending I had forgotten my wavering conviction and so still even now, I hope Snow for a while is a long time in coming!
Hannah turned 13 recently and in the blink of an eye a teenager has taken over from our little angel and we have just two little believers in Father Christmas left now. She is very sensible though and continues to make us proud in every way and so far the word ‘Teenager’ has not delivered the dread we attached to it. Watch this space…. Hannah has made great progress this year with the piano and I love hearing her play it adds something to the air of the house. Where once we had to ask her to practice, now she is drawn to the piano without ever having to be encouraged to do so. The only threat to her attention though is her Facebook account which we finally had to consent to allowing her to have on her 13th birthday when as a double whammy she was also given her first mobile phone. All of her other friends had both long before but we are trying to instill in her the value of tomorrow over the gratification of today.
Aimee is now 8 and much shier than her elder sister. She quietly goes about her business and we need to be careful the other two do not shut her out in the demand for our constant attention. She is taken piano lessons from her Grandmother Esther and has made incredible progress in such a short time being able to soak up instruction and play confidently. On occasion when not in the room I call out ‘who’s playing the piano’ because I can’t believe Aimee is playing at that level and am always pleasantly surprised at her talent. She is also very creative and loves to draw, write and make things and she has a very sharp sense of humour, so whilst she may be the quietest of her sisters, she certainly knows how to express herself.
Imogen is now 3 and started nursery at the same school Aimee goes to. Kath and I took turns having our photo taken with her outside the school on her first day and she went in so readily and happy. She loves the thought of being ‘a big girl now’. She is still a handful who wants things her own way but she is also very affectionate often coming up and demanding a kiss and a cuddle (long may it last). She is apparently very quiet at nursery and I guess she can be a bit shy until she has gained confidence around anyone new. Where last year she would chase our cat Sulley ragged around the house, now she strokes and kisses him constantly. But more than loving the cat, she loves telling everyone one, ‘Sulley is so greedy!
This Christmas 2011 we are hoping to be excused by family and friends over the absence of a Christmas card from us as unfortunately we couldn’t bring ourselves to write any despite having bought them. Sadly as you might of heard, we had lost Katherine’s dad Ernest to cancer earlier this year in July and where once he had been involved in everything, this year his condition finally caught up with him and for most of the year he rarely left his bed let alone his home. His last big effort for a family occasion was in May for Aimee’s 1st Holy Communion and his photo with her on the day proved to be his last. He passed away on July 24th and of course we were all missing him as he was a part of everyday daily life for us. But it has been harder still for Kath as she has lost her Dad and has the constant reminder of his absence as he lived just around the corner from us and of course she is also having to be the support to her mother in everything that Ernest once was. I just miss the man! Not because he was ‘Grandad or Dad in our family, though of course he was both of these. Ernest was my friend!
For our holidays this year we went for a week to Polperro in Cornwall which was nostalgic for Katherine in reliving a holiday and seeing places she had last seen when on holiday as a young girl with her father. I too had been there before as a kid with my parents but obviously this did not have the same symbolic and personal meaning as it did for Kath. We had a really good time and it was easy to see this meant a lot to Katherine.
The following weekend we went to the New Forest for two nights camping which was the first time we have done this together as a family of our own. You will never believe what it took to finally get Katherine to consent to the idea of camping in a tent, something which I had been trying to get her to do since we got married years ago. She had camped as a child and did not enjoy the experience. We had a great two days and nights camping. We set up the tent and immediately went for a long walk to explore the area, leaving the inflatable beds until later. That first night though was freezing and stressful and before we knew what we were doing we had ran out of light. We were like fish out of water, but the experience was made special with the most incredible star lit sky. The second night was milder and we had got our act together enough to enjoy the improvised dinner on the disposable BBQ before the diminishing daylight could plunge us into the chaos of the night before. The area was lovely with wild ponies roaming the campsite, and the local town had a carnival and parade that really added to our visit. Katherine has agreed to do it again perhaps in Spring or Summer 2012. I didn’t get to take the family to Spain as had been my intention but I haven’t given up on the idea for next year. I really feel the need to reconnect once again, with relatives and friends I have not seen in many a year.
Thanks mainly to Katherine and Angela’s efforts to round up the old gang, we just recently had a 21st anniversary group re-union with most of the friends we had not seen in over 20 years. We all met up for an xmas drink and catch up. Kath, myself, Angela, Fiona, Stella, her sister Anne, Peter and Aidan all made the reunion. No one knew how to reach James having lost contact years before and one other who sadly despite the drink taking place just around the corner from where he lives, he failed to reply to any of the messages and invites to show his face on the night. No one knew how the night would work out and I think to some degree everyone was nervous about the idea of meeting up in a group once again after so many years despite the fact that all the way back then, we spent nearly every day of the week together going out. But it turned out an enormous success and it was like we instantly all fell into the old grooves taking up the same roles and much of the dynamics despite the long years remained almost unchanged. We have all agreed to make it an annual event and though it’s far off, I am looking forward to next Christmas already.
I started the year by finally and successfully tiling the toilet closet under the stairs, a project which had gone through many unfinished phases over the years. We got a bit fed up and I guess disillusioned with decorating all the time which due to the size of the task, felt like we were never making progress. The last time we downed paint brushes we did not fully intend for it to be so many months before we found the motivation to resume and this was obvious by the fact that the paintbrushes, rollers and paint tins were never put away in any room. A real good push with galvanized will has seen us break the back of the decorating recently and we are now looking forward to most of 2012 being paint free. I must say that Katherine has been amazingly relentless in her efforts since she got the bit between her teeth. Having had the builders do so much work in our house with the loft conversion and knocking down walls and plastering three floors from top to bottom, we fast ran out of money to put in any finishing touches. It has been a long drawn out slog laying down laminate flooring and fixing skirting boards, dado and picture rails and as the motivation ran out, we started to get used to the look of bare plaster. So much so, that when we finally got around to painting our room, we went for a colour that looks exactly like plaster. Kath has really muscled down though and a lot of the painting is done thanks to her. We want to get our corridor and lounge flooring laid next as it desperately needs it and then hopefully we can take a much needed break from home improvements. Kath had a dream she won the lottery then got four numbers the very same week. She won just £51. Its going to take a lot more than that to pay for the flooring let alone the holidays I want!
My first year in trying to set up community gardening projects at our nursery site has proved very difficult. It has become clear where our strengths are and what our weaknesses are and we are going to have to address those quickly if we are going to make any success out of the venture. That said the council do like what we are trying to do and are offering us a new 25 year long lease on the site which would help us in our bid to attract funding to the projects. I just want to get all the right pieces and people in place before signing on the dotted line. From January 16th we are delivering a six month course in horticulture on behalf of a College in Cornwall and this we will do at our own nursery site so we are hoping this will kick start better things to come. Katherine and my sister Sadie are coming on the course which is good as the other 12 are all men. Hopefully as we develop the business it will open up an opportunity for Katherine to come and take an admin role and run the office and she is looking forward to that. To help pay the bills I still do garden landscaping which I really enjoy, and grounds maintenance which I am starting to detest! I guess it’s a balanced work diet!
Well I guess that’s 2011 in a large nutshell, hope we finally crack it big in 2012. Wish you all the best for a wonderful Year in 2012 and that you keep in good health throughout.
Love Kevin & Katherine, Hannah, Aimee and Imogen (and Sulley our cat, “he’s so greedy!”).
So my advice: ‘Live your life don’t just ride it. There will always be tomorrow but there won’t always be you!’