Stomach Cake

Stomach Cake

A very short blog to remember my precious mum in the run up to Christmas. I’d spent all night creating this special cake and Mum’s reaction was – Why do the reindeers have Square legs? And His stomach looks like he’s about to explode. We did eventually eat the cake after taking it to at least four parties where we had to stop people slicing into it.

Considering that Mum was the worst cook for anything savoury, her cakes were always gorgeous. She didn’t like this actual cake as it was a dense fruitcake which she always said gave her windypops.

Happy Christmas – it’ll be a quiet one this year and I can’t wait. Chemo coming to an end soon and no more ‘orrible drugs till January.

Bring on the windypops !

Take five

Take five

Mum passed five years ago and it seems like the day before yesterday. I stayed and talked to her for hours after she died and even though I know she’s gone, I always feel her mischievous presence everywhere.

I’m sitting in the chemo clinic waiting for treatment and Maura has just taken my lunch order. When mum worked as a a cleaner and domestic in Edgware General she used to bring me home whole meals on china plates, covered in clingfilm. Sometimes the food was a bit mushed together. That’s because she traveled everywhere on her bike, swearing at careless drivers and flirting with police or traffic wardens when she was told off for taking liberties.

She was terrified of being a hospital patient, but loved working in them, Sometimes, if I didn’t find a wrapped meal in the fridge there might be a handful of chocolates and even a get well card once. She’d tell me tales of getting patients out of bed and taking them for walks, despite protestations from nursing staff. And a midwife once confided in me that Mum had a magical effect on scared new mothers. She had suffered severe post natal depression, so she would have seen someone suffering and felt it was her mission to cheer them up, probably by bringing them chocolates that she’d nicked from another patient.

I remember going into her room at the care home and seeing her windowsill covered in model boats. She was never that keen on boating and I asked her about them. “I know you love the water and and Frank didn’t need so many, so I’ve borrowed them.” Did he mind? I asked. “He was furious, but it’s all part of the fun of living here.” she laughed. A little later in the day she produced a ‘going home bag’ containing thawed garlic bread, three sandwiches wrapped in foil, a can of Pepsi and three incontinence pads.

She’s with me today in spirit and there are chocolates on reception … I sense mischief.

The chemo chameleon

The chemo chameleon

“You’re just like you’re mother” or “ Meet the mother, know the daughter”. Sentences I lived in dread of hearing until Mum and I came to really understand and honour each other once she reached 80 and was placed by the mental health authorities into a secure care home.

A couple of weeks after my previous post I sought help with debilitating grief at becoming an adult orphan after losing my precious, funny, wonderful Dad. This was on top of losing three close friends just before Dad died in an instant. I told myself, slightly tongue-in-cheek that I was going nuts and was just like my mum. It made me smile to think about it as I noticed certain expressions, looks and existential stabs at the world which reminded me of her. I knew my mental state was poor, but I didn’t really believe it deep down until those two words were made real by my therapist suggesting that I was going through a type of nervous breakdown. But I wasn’t running down the street naked, singing Danny Boy at top volume ( like Mum did ) or pretending I was a prima ballerina and performing en pointe in bare feet ( again, like Mum did). I felt breathless all the time, agoraphobic and running on empty. Normal for grief and burnout, right?

It turned out that the breathlessness was from blood clots in my lungs and very low blood count. Even though I was hospitalised and felt awful I decided not to give in to the mental decline and fought the emotions, telling myself I was getting stronger. I wasn’t. I nearly died but thanks to a strong heart, the clots passed through it and lodged in my lungs. Then they told me that my low blood count could mean I went quickly into sepsis if I caught a fever. I caught that fever and was hospitalised again. While trying to make sense of everything from my hospital bed the main diagnosis came in – life threatening leukaemia – seriously?

Oh, for Heavan’s sake. What was going on?

Now I had an inkling into the mental turmoil my complicated, maddening, loving mother went through and if it was possible to love her memory even more, I did. Now I’m grateful for the near-death experiences as they’ve allowed me to understand the crazy life Mum lived and I have inherited her adventurous no-more-if-only attitude now that I’m on the road to recovery from this horrible blood cancer.

As for “Meet the mother, know the daughter”, my darling husband adored my mum and could see how I’d inherited her bravery and comical look at the world. And I’m so grateful for the chance of getting to know myself by experiencing the light and dark of life through her crystal blue eyes.

I’ve started a new blog as I feel that there’s a new adventure to tell – hop on over to www.chemo-chameleon.com for the new stuff. I’ll be checking in here whenever a situation occurs that directly relates to Kathleen Margaret Beldom. She would have been distraught at my cancer diagnosis and Heaven knows what she would have said or done in the hospital. I know one thing. It would have been the stuff of anecdotes and mayhem. Many years ago I had major surgery and Mum invited a priest one day, a very puzzled Rabbi the next and a group of gospel singers to sing outside my window. Happy days.

When new worlds collide

When new worlds collide

It is five months since my precious mum passed away and I realised this morning that there are so many life-changing things happening at the moment, some of which I’ve seen and some of which other people have helped me see. Although I think I’ve been seeing life with my eyes wide open, have I been trotting along with my blinkers on?

Yesterday I met up with best friends, old friends, work friends and made a new friend. And as I’ve got a head full of drama ideas, screenplay developments and time management issues, I put my listening ears on so that I could soak up other people’s lives and see life through their eyes. I recommend it if, like me, you’re a chatterbox. I think it’s rare to find best friends working successfully together. Everyone tells you that a) you need to have distance and neutrality in the work environment, b) familiarity can often breed work contempt and c) you should never hire your friends. Not true in my case with one of my besties. Sure, we’ve had a couple of creative wrinkles at some point in the past, but nothing that wasn’t ironed out immediately we listened to each other. Now we’re collaborating on big drama ideas and I have to pinch myself to think that a mad idea from a few years ago might actually be making its way toward the screen. It made me think back to the plays and panto scripts that mum used to write and send off to the biggest West End players she could think of. Fearless and confident in her efforts, even though she had no training and no experience of writing. I’ve still got the letters from some and one in particular sticks in my mind.

“Dear Margaret, Thank you for sending in your amusing script which we’ve all enjoyed reading. Whilst we have had a lot of fun trying to engage with your storylines we don’t feel that ‘Sonia and the dancing angels’ is quite right for us and are you sure that your 6-year old daughter actually wants to be an actress and ballerina? We wish you all success with the idea and encourage you to attend writing classes or a dramatic writing course to help you focus your creative thoughts. Yours (name left out for obvious reasons), Theatre Manager, The London Palladium”

Re-reading it recently I marvelled at the passive aggressive tone and could almost see the room full of creatives laughing hysterically at Mum’s script. Fair play as it’s not very good and her diagrams for lighting cues and ideas for special effects leave a lot to the imagination. But then I wondered if that letter left a deep impression on me as a child as she was in tears when she showed it to me and apologised to me for getting my hopes up. I took on her sadness and added a tinge of guilt even though I had nothing to be guilty about. I had so many stories and ideas floating around my head when I was little, but I didn’t write them down for fear of getting a similar letter and it could upset Mum again. Later in life I had dreams of writing books, plays and films, but stuck instead to radio production and factual television as I wouldn’t get a letter about them when people sat around laughing hysterically at my silly stories. Often I’d talk about an idea and people did indeed laugh at me, but in a nice way which didn’t make me feel guilty or stupid, just brave and creative. But drama? The idea of having your personal, imaginative story laughed at was unthinkable.

Next up, I saw someone I haven’t seen since his wedding nine years ago and his subsequent move to America. The cliche of ‘it only seems like yesterday’ made us laugh as we recalled our experiences of live radio shows that went wrong, that one extra bottle of red wine, just missing being arrested in Cairo and that we’re both at a place where new ideas and new career breaks are coming at us. Our trio was made up with a man who is now my new work friend. A fascinating, bright and creative man who is a drama producer and used to manage one of the UK’s biggest stars. Another person at that place where the world is beckoning us in a different direction. If we’d all been working on conventional paths we wouldn’t have had the time to meet for a mid-afternoon drink – thank you, Universe. Lots of listening and quite a bit of talking at this point focussed my mind with one of those BANG! moments. Heartbeat in the ears, clarity of vision and the sound of a giant penny clattering its way to the floor. How didn’t I clock this until I articulated it out loud? My New Yorker buddy and his mate (new friend) were waxing lyrical about my adventures in bus driving. It was great regaling them with the stories of my first lessons and subsequent run-ins with youths who wanted to board my training bus (never mime an “L” from the driver seat when you’re trying to show them that you’re a learner driver and they can’t board your bus). The inevitable “WHY DRIVING A BUS?!!!” question came up and I found myself answering it with a philosophical thread that was only emerging as I spoke, although it was obviously deep in my psyche. Flashback to ten years ago when things were going so horribly wrong in Mum’s life and I was in pieces trying to manage work, trips to the police station in Littlehampton, mental health workers and doctors. I broke down a bit with my step mum and dad as it was all getting on top of me. My step mum offered to come down to the coast if that would help and my dad leant back, closed his eyes and drifted back to a painful past, saying “Sometimes I don’t why you bother with her, I’ve often wished her under a bus.” He didn’t mean it literally, of course; he was using the bus as a metaphor for trying to forget. I think back now to any times I’ve left hand-over notes or travel plans. What have I pre-empted it with? “Just in case I’m knocked over by a bus or something… ” So now I realise exactly WHY I decided to drive the bus. I have turned that upsetting, negative thought into something positive that I could own and enjoy, rather than keeping the bus as a trigger to memories of plate smashing, yelling in street and being plonked on other families while things calmed down. Yes, that’s exactly why I did it and until I listened to new voices and really heard their question, I hadn’t realised it.

The final meeting was with two fabulous women who are loud, proud, role models and go-getters. One of whom is helping me build up my public speaking career and the other with whom I’m starting a new venture, based on the idea of sharing experiences and stories with other people who’ve had “alternative” parenting. Both of our mothers were called Margaret and both of them were crazy, but wise in their own way. Watch this space.

What a day – what fantastic people – and my ear drums need a rest. The best part of the day was coming home to my beloved husband who has given me the confidence, peace of mind and support to be able to pursue things I never dreamed I could do.

Blinkers off – ears open – I’m grabbing today firmly with both hands. What discoveries will today bring I wonder?

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