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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Sticks and stones I can cope with, but the past couple of years has thrown up an almost relentless series of words and sentences that I’d never heard before.

Individually they’re unpleasant.

Cumulatively they’ve been as draining as anything I can remember, and their impact has been much deeper and persistent than any bruise or broken bone.

 

Aggressive T2 tumour in the bladder… radical cystectomy…

We think you should involve the police… “I just want it to stop“… 

Congestive heart failure… passed away peacefully on 14th September

masses in the lymph nodes and pelvis… chemotherapy… inoperable… balancing quality vs quantity of life…

the diagnosis of Dementia is confirmed – Alzheimer’s/Vascular mix… unable to live independently at home… had another fall last night…

Anxiety attacks… learning support… there was an incident… not engaging in class… found crying in the toilets… didn’t turn up…

Significant degradation in the visual fields tests… low-pressure glaucoma… repeat these tests every 6 months… if it affects the other eye you will have to inform the DVLA…

‘Concrete thinking’… sensory overload… problems with language processing… gender dysphoria… meltdowns… 

…confirm the diagnosis of Autism – Asperger’s Type… Cognitive Behavioural Therapy… 

 

I know that everyone goes through this sort of stuff. I know that many, many people have it much worse.

I know I am blessed with loved ones, family and friends.

I know I have much to look forward to, much to be thankful for.

I know that diagnosis is a starting point, an opportunity to shape a new normal.

But right now I’d take a beating to not have heard some of these words, or to not hear them again.

 

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Right now, in the afterglow of 2016, there are a few things I know to be true.

2016 was not the Worst Year Ever

  • To be sure, the ‘important’ celebrity deaths seem on a different level, especially as they now include stars who came to world attention in the broadcast media age. It’s very sad that Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (her Mother) died within hours. But please, it’s only a tragedy for their friends and family. It makes me sad for them, and a bit sad for me as I’ve loved their films, but it’s not life-changing or tragic or unbearable. Really, it’s not.
  • Brexit and Donald Trump have rattled my cage and dented my rose-tinted liberal view of the world, but they’re not massively unsurprising. With a smidgen of hindsight, it’s quite easy to see them as a natural progression of where we’ve been going in recent years, perhaps somewhat extreme, certainly upsetting for me, but actually almost inevitable.
  • Similarly, while stories and images from Syria have been uniformly depressing and the scale of destruction seems more catastrophic, how different are they from Chechnya, South Sudan, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia, Kosovo and other conflicts of the last 25 years. The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is  similarly the natural extension of what’s been building for a long time.

I’m done with thinking of The New Year as Something Transformative…

Just because the year changes on the calendar doesn’t mean I can swivel on a sixpence and turn things around. There are things I can control and things I can’t, things that actually affect me and stuff that simply bothers me. I’m trying to stop caring too much about celebrity deaths, or what Donald Trump has proclaimed about Vladimir Putin, or what kind of Brexit we apparently want today.

But I can’t shrug off or simply change my attitude about a whole shitpile of things that affect me directly and are at least partly beyond my control. I can’t pretend to even consider the sort of upbeat “let’s make 2017 AWESOME” posts that are just about everywhere. Because while I am privileged and lucky to be British, white, born to affluent parents (etc), and we had many fine experiences last year, I can’t hide that, overall, 2016 was bloody hard. And the things that made it hard aren’t going away anytime soon.

  • My Dad still has inoperable cancer and has been increasingly breathless, which unsurprisingly is taking its toll on Mum, so they need our support more than ever, emotionally and physically.
  • Christmas 2016 was the last that Rachel and I will celebrate in either of our childhood homes.
  • We’re still helping Hannah through a protracted process to get her the support she needs to make sense of herself, feel less anxious at school, and to give her a shot at achieving her undoubted potential in an education system that seems to be going back generations in its approach to testing and exams.

Believe in Better

I do believe that it will be all right in the end, but I can’t see the end right now. So please, try not to encourage me to make 2017 amazing or exciting. Please don’t tell me to ‘consume less/create more, frown less/smile more’.

If I’m lucky, stay focused and can stick to my intentions, I’m hopeful I can be enriched in 2017 by

  • moving house (while staying local)
  • helping my parents downsize into a smaller home
  • spending more time writing this than getting annoyed on Twitter
  • continuing my cycling evolution; ride more often (commuting), further (100 mile rides), in new places (Wales, Yorkshire, France?), and more with our children
  • (re)watching Mad Men
  • helping our children to thrive, laugh and be everything they can be
  • the love and support of Rachel, Hannah & Eleanor, as well as my family and friends

Wish me luck…

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So this was my Tuesday evening, another gust in the shit-storm that has been 2015.

Hello…

Hi Dad, how are you?

Oh, not so bad.

How was the appointment? What was the news?

Oh, not good news … the cancer is back … in the bowel, causing a partial blockage … and in some lymph nodes … the cause of all my symptoms recently, lethargy, pain, not sleeping … it’s inoperable.

appointment next week to talk about options … another stoma bag … chemo … balancing quality of life against quantity of life … 

Meanwhile, Rachel is in Bridgend, again accompanying her recently-widowed mother to a hospital appointment, on top of which we think she may have had another TIA.

I’m not asking for sympathy, I know there are millions of people going through their own private shitstorms. I have so much to be grateful for, but I just want you to know that if I’m a little off, I’m sorry. If I’m off in a Bad Way, tell me.

We’ve not told the girls yet, we’re waiting for the appointment next week. If you read this and see them, please keep it to yourself. Thankyou.

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A Life Less Ordinary…

RIP Bernard Kenny; 3rd April 1931 – 14th September 2015

Beloved husband, Father of 4 daughters, Grandfather of 7, eldest of 10 siblings.

His father was a shipbuilder in Birkenhead, like his father before him, whom we’re pretty certain had worked at Harland & Woolf in Belfast while the Titanic was under construction.

Aged just 8, he was evacuated with his younger sister from Birkenhead at the start of WW2, only for his Roman Catholic mother to retrieve him from rural North Wales when it became clear he was attending a non-Conformist Protestant Chapel every Sunday. That would never do.

Still, it became clear that living so close to the shipyards of Birkenhead was no place for a young family in 1940, so he left with his mother and siblings to stay with his paternal Grandparents in Belfast. They were only able to stay there a short while, before having to take lodgings in a Protestant area. While walking to and from the Catholic school he was often stoned by the local Protestant children.

We soon learned to pick the stones up and throw them back…

It was only a matter of months before Belfast became within range of the Luftwaffe, and having fled Birkenhead they then lived through the Belfast Blitz with no air-raid refuge, only a kitchen table to shelter beneath…

A young man in search of a career...

A young man in search of a career…

He met the love of his life, Sheila, when he was 18, in 1949. He was working for a shipping company which meant he had to travel far and wide. After they were engaged in 1953, he left her behind to travel and work in South America for nearly 2 years. After he returned and they married on 1st October 1956, before they both travelled by ship across the Atlantic and up the Amazon to Peru, where they lived in Iquitos, before returning to Manaus for several years.

He served as British consul in Peru, reporting on rebel troop movements and once taking tea with Fidel Castro. In Manaus at that time there was barely 100m of surfaced road and little or no refrigeration, yet they managed to have two daughters there before returning to England.

He continued to work overseas, as he spoke fluent Portuguese and Spanish, and pretty decent French. He was an interpreter during the 1966 World Cup as the North West hosted both Portugal and Brazil, when he met both Eusebio and Pele. He worked extensively in Africa, escaping from Uganda after having his passport confiscated during ‘troubles’ there in the 1970s.

He had high blood pressure practically all his adult life, and had heart bypass surgery in the 1980s. He was a miracle of modern medicine, but medicine complemented by a tremendous human spirit, joie de vivre and optimistic outlook on life.

BernardandSheila

At Eleanor’s 3rd birthday party in 2008

His doted on his grandchildren, and they on him. Our daughters were his youngest (the older ones are in their mid-20s now), and they have such fond memories that illustrate his character.

He always wanted us to bring him a stick of rock from wherever we went on holiday…

he was brilliant at word games, he came up with words no one else had ever heard of, and he was always right…

he liked tripe!

And I need to thank him for my beloved Rachel, whom I first met in 1991. I always felt welcomed into his home and, coming from a small family myself (my parents are both only children), into the wider family. He introduced her to music, which influenced how we met. He introduced me to Laver Bread, now a staple (if occasional) weekend treat. I appreciated and admired (if not entirely shared) his love of opera singers, and his astonishing collection of 78s.

Bernard Kenny

By the end his heart had finally worn itself out. The smallest task was exhausting, and his decline sapped even his reserves of optimism.

At first glance you might have been mistaken that he was just another octogenarian who had lived a long life, and perhaps he was. But behind every octogenarian is a wealth of experiences that we would all do well to absorb and learn from. I am humbled before the things he endured as a child, awed by the fortitude and young courage that took him across the world in a time when that meant weeks and communications were primitive.

But all those achievements would mean less to him than his family, his almost-60-year marriage, his daughters and grandchildren. His attitude to life, his gentleness and his compassion for his fellow human beings will outlive him through his children and grandchildren. We will all miss him, but we will try to be inspired by his example.

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Thank you.

Thank you to the people who read my last post about my daughter’s experience and response to being bullied.

Thank you that none of you commented on Facebook’s wonderfully inappropriate choice of photograph to accompany the post. I deliberately left the post without any photos. But I assume its algorithm couldn’t help itself, and alongside the opening line “my daughter has been bullied“, appeared my WordPress blog avatar, a gem from a long time ago…

TwoThumbsUp

Thank you to everyone who liked or commented or offered gestures of goodwill, solidarity and love, who expressed their respect and admiration for her, and who reached out with human kindness to support her and us.

Thank you to those friends and colleagues who revealed their own personal history of being bullied, who offered us their own personal evidence that it can and will and does get better. Thank you especially to the person who wrote her a letter, despite having never met her, recounting their own experiences from decades earlier, encouraging her to look to the future with hope and optimism.

Thank you to everyone who shared the post, so that your own friends and networks could read it. We’ve received the kindness of strangers in the last couple of days. It has been at once humbling and heartwarming, but also heartbreaking to learn of so many other stories of bullying. It is not a new thing. It does not seem to be going away.

Thank you for moving me to tears repeatedly over the past few days. I was quite capable of doing it myself, but now I have you all to help me. You are helping us move forward with positivity and hope, with drive and enthusiasm.

Hannah celebrated a fabulous 13th birthday on Tuesday. She starts at her new school in 10 days’ time and almost literally cannot wait to get cracking. She seems two inches taller than she was a few weeks ago. We’ve not miraculously transformed from misery to happiness, but we are on our way.

Thank you.

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I want to talk about my elder daughter. She is 13 years old today, and she’s probably the bravest, most resilient person I know.

For a host of complicated reasons and many depressingly simple ones, she’s suffered with persistent bullying at her secondary school, for a good deal of her time in both Years 7 & 8. When issues have come to light, we’ve raised them with the school, who have responded quickly and supported her outside of these actions. But the bullies keep coming, and are seemingly never short of new ways to intimidate and demean her.

I don’t want to talk about the details of what she’s had to deal with, or my concerns about the ineffectiveness of some of the school’s responses, or that there may be a bullying culture within elements of her year-group. I don’t want to talk about how this has affected Rachel and I, or even how grateful we have been to many friends for their support. I don’t want to talk about how a few of her class-mates ‘found’ and followed me on Instagram, seemingly intent on looking for pictures of her (she doesn’t have social media accounts). I don’t even want to talk about the obscene, pre-meditated, coordinated text messages that led the school to recommend we involve the police.

I want to talk about my daughter. Throughout all this she has been amazing. Young in her year, she can lack confidence in social situations. She often seems more comfortable talking with adults than her peers. She withdraws from situations or people she finds difficult or uncomfortable. And yet, despite the regular undermining of her self-esteem, she rarely (if ever) stopped being enthusiastic about going to school, about learning and discovering. She continued to have singing lessons, has been an active member in the school a capella choir, performed in drama productions, wanting to be involved in the school. Three months ago she picked up a saxophone for the first time, and last week she took her Grade 1 exam.  Her academic progress has been good; none of her teachers have remarked about any change in her attitude or performance. She’s shown more inner resolve and strength than I imagined possible. She has been a credit to us and to her school in the face of ongoing taunting and intimidation from both boys and girls.

When she was asked by the (brilliant) local police officer what she wanted to happen to the culprit behind most of the text messages, she wasn’t bitter or vengeful.

I just want it to stop…

If only I could have been so level-headed through these last few weeks, during which the full extent of the bullying has gradually and horribly become clear. I’ve been through pretty much the full grief cycle, including rage, despair and guilt. I’ve felt ashamed for not protecting her, angry and frustrated at myself and everyone else for the wrongs she’s had to endure.

But we’ve taken steps to make it stop. We’ve worked with the school to ensure the offenders are left in no doubt that their behaviour has been, is and always will be unacceptable. Irrespective of that, she is moving to a new school. We believe she needs a fresh start, and we believe she will only get it in a different place. We want it to stop too, and we’re helping her build her confidence to step outside her comfort zone in the social life of a (much larger) school. We hope she can believe that she’s better than the bullies in every way imaginable and re-start what we hope will be the best years of her life (so far, anyway). Because she’s worth it.

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At the end of May we made our now annual pilgrimage to the Jurassic Coast. At once inspirational and calming, this has fast become one of my favourite places in the UK. We camp at the Golden Cap in Seatown, just a few minutes walk from the pebbly beach, the SouthWest Coast path, and the fabulous Anchor Inn, with possibly the best beer garden in the world…

Sunset Golden Cap Seatown Anchor Inn

We were only there for 3 days, but we managed to enjoy a lot of things, namely…

  • 2 breakfasts at the Watch House Café in West Bay
  • Watching the children somersaulting down the steep beach at West Bay
  • Having a whale of a time at the brilliant West Bay play park – far too good for kids
  • Walking up Thorncombe Beacon for lunch at the fabulous Down House Farm café
  • Having salted caramel icecream and making sand castles on Lyme Regis Beach
  • Stovetop coffee in the quiet of the early morning, sat in the sunshine, revelling in the view
  • Making s’mores on the Barbeque. I’m not a fan of marshmallows, but toasted and squished between homemade oat cookies, I’m prepared to be converted.

Perhaps best of all is the experience of  Wessex FM – which we perhaps cruelly rename Toilet FM. It’s the background music in the wash blocks and communal facilities, and it’s completely predictable. It seems to be set about 15 years ago. The playlist below pretty much sums up every tune I heard in the 3 days we were at the site. Disclaimer: I have left out Uptown Funk as the only current track.

Let’s hear it for the boy
You can’t hurry love (Phil Collins)
Candle in the wind
A view to a kill
Always on my mind (Petshop Boys)
We built this city
Sex Bomb
Don’t leave me this way (Communards)
A kind of magic
Wake up! (Boo Radleys)
Holiday!
Hungry like the wolf
There she goes (The La’s)
Oh what a night!
Get into the groove
You give love a bad name

And what’s not to love about that?

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