The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Sunday, 20 January 2019

RIP my lovely brother!

Well as we knew it was going to happen, my brother Phil died on Friday afternoon. I made the decision to fly back on Thursday as I felt his partner, Margaret, and oldest son, Darren, needed to spend some private time with him. And it was the right decision! I got to say my goodbyes while he was still "with it", although sleeping a lot. After I left I think he lost the ability to speak and would just doze most of the time, but occasionally open his eyes and smile or give them the thumbs up. Darren and Margaret had been to see him on Friday and had just returned home when they got a call from the hospital to say they might want to get back there quickly as they felt the end was near - and it was. They were with him when he died and I'm sure he knew he was loved - although I'm not sure he will ever know how much!

It was cancer of the stomach that killed him in the end and it came on very, very suddenly! He was only taken ill at the beginning of December and after initial tests they thought they might have caught it in time. It turns out that that gave him cruelly false hope as they quickly discovered it was a quick-spreading, very aggressive cancer and there was no hope! When I got to Wales to see him he actually looked a lot better than I expected (terribly thin of course but then there wasn't much of him to begin with). My sister and her husband and other brother drove up from Dorset the same day and we all went to the hospital together. There was some thought that maybe he had just been "hanging on" knowing we were coming but as I say, apart from being terribly thin, he was on good form, cracking jokes and being his usual self. We were all there when the doctor came in to talk to him and he gave his permission for us to stay so that we could all hear what was going on. The doctor very gently explained that there was no hope and said that he maybe had a week or two at the most. Then he asked if there was anything else he could do for him and my brother said "yeah, just one thing. Can you keep me alive till the end of the cricket season!" The doctor was Italian and I don't think he knew where to put himself but we all burst out laughing - that was my brother to a "T", always joking and, I suspect, trying to put us all at ease. In any case, it worked!

I went in to see him every day but you could honestly only stay so long as he just wanted to sleep. Still, he was compus mentis right up until the last days and we had time to have a good talk. Margaret and I made the difficult decision to ask him to talk about his final wishes - which he was happy to do - so as she gently questioned him I would write it down word for word. Occasionally they went right off tack and they would start reminiscing! "Hey Maggie, do you remember that time we went out for dinner and I had that poxy Moroccan tajine and you had four beautiful pieces of sea bass and you wouldn't give me any, you miserable bugger"! Then off they went in guffaws of laughter! It was really nice to hear and I wrote it all down, with the intention of writing it all up afterwards - which I did, "poxy Moroccan tajine" included!

He told us what clothes he wanted to wear, what music he wanted and the fact that he wanted his ashes scattered with his late wife's ashes in South Wales, then a few small things that he specifically wanted each son to have. They only have two sons so there will be an easy 50-50 split of assets of course!

Then he got on to the subject of where his will was, who he wanted to sell the house and his various bank accounts. One account had quite a substantial amount in it so at this point I put my pen down, took his hand and said "you do know you've always been my favourite brother don't you"! He burst out laughing and told me to piss off, so yep, he was still on the ball. He said that I could take anything I wanted from the home and I did indeed take a pretty china teacup and saucer (one of many that my sister-in-law had) as the boys wouldn't want most of it and it would go to charity. I then asked him for a very special item - his egg poacher! You know, the ones that cost £1 from Poundland (I couldn't find one) as I can't for the life of me poach an egg! He just gave me the evil eye and I successfully got that poacher through customs and safely stored in my cupboard now!

Armed with this knowledge I typed everything up and had him sign it - with me witnessing it - and then Margaret and I decided to head off to his bank to find out about the administrative formalities his sons would have to complete upon his death, as we knew they would be overwhelmed when the time came! Well believe it or not we walked out of there with a fully paid-up funeral plan (he had the choice of three) and had everything set up for when the time came. I know this might sound a bit ghoulish but we wanted to get as much done as possible and take that burden off the boys. Phil was happy with it all and so signed all the paperwork and as it turns out the boys are greatly relieved. They, of course, get to make final decisions regarding flowers and coffins and so on but the bulk of the admin has already been done and they are so grateful.

As I mentioned previously my oldest son and his wife flew out for the weekend. My youngest couldn't as he had just started a new job but Phil was ok with that. Then, quite unexpectedly, my niece showed up from Dorset, driving a total of 15 hours in one day to come up and see him with her family. You see, he really was loved!

Actually, Phil was a big kid who never seemed to grow up. Or at least, he always loved kids and was the "favourite uncle" who ended up playing water pistols and so on with the little ones - they all loved him. The little grandson from next door used to knock on his door and ask if he wanted to play football and the neighbours also have a video of him playing squirt guns with their granddaughters!

My niece's children made him a "get well soon" card which showed him playing water pistols with them in the garden.

I have a picture of him somewhere "teaching my two year old to smoke a pipe". Well he had Jordan toddling around Annecy with Phil's pork pie hat on his head and (unlit) pipe in his mouth. I'm not sure everyone would have approved but that photo is hilarious (and - no thanks to Phil - Jordan has never smoked!). I just hope that photo shows up some day!

Stuffing grass down my oldest's back!
Once we got our tears out the way we all started telling the stupid stories of "do you remember when ….". His son said he remembered one day walking through a muddy field with his mom and dad and Phil was going to show the boys how to jump over a muddy puddle. Which he did. Only thing is, his shoe got stuck in the mud on take off and he landed in the mud on the other side in his bare feet, with them giggling so hard his mom almost peed herself. And another time when they had been travelling by car and Phil had wound the window down because it was too hot. Then he turned to his wife and they got chatting away while driving along and he decided he was done with his coffee so pitched the dregs out the window - only he forgot he had just wound the window back up and he ended up with coffee dregs all over him. Cue more subdued giggling from the back of the car!

So I pitched in how my family had all driven down to the west coast of France and we drove over from the east of France to spend a 10 day camping holiday together. One day we decided to walk into town to get some groceries, but it was scorching hot and we had to wade through the sand to get to the supermarket. It was bloody hard going I can tell you, so we were all aghast when dingbat (Phil) showed up at the check-out with the most enormous watermelon which he insisted we had to have - so we made him carry that thing all across the sand dunes back to the camp site. Turns out he sank so much into the sand that he burned his ankles. My niece, Rachel, actually posted the following in-joke on Facebook!

A photo of Rachel and Phil on that holiday!
Phil was naturally devastated when his wife died suddenly three years ago. We all were, but none more so than him of course, but weirdly he was desperate not to die on 18 January - the anniversary of her death. Hopefully he didn't realize that he did indeed die on that day!

Phil with his wife, Brenda
So meeting Margaret 18 months after her death was, as he put it, an added bonus that he never expected. And they made each other so happy. Margaret has been an absolute rock since he became ill, moving into his house to take care of him and visiting him every day while he was in hospital. Yesterday she drove Darren into Llandudno to show him where he will have to register the death and then, I believe, she will finally go back to her own home 150 km away to try to get some rest.

Phil and Margaret
As I was waiting for my train to Manchester in order to fly home on Thursday a seagull came wandering brazenly up to me. I tell you, those buggers are massive. So massive in fact that, as Lee Evans said, they've even got bloody tattoos on their legs! So I took a picture of him - Phil would have liked that!

We both believe in the after life and he promised me he would be sending out white feathers, the symbol of your guardian angel, when he was strong enough to do so. But he made it quite clear that we wouldn't find them outside - he would be putting them inside so we could be sure it was from him!

I'm so glad I got to say my goodbyes Phil. You were brave to the end. I love you and miss you as one should miss a brother of course, but what I will really miss is our conversations because you were such an interesting, well-read man. Oh and I will miss your lousy jokes too. Love you so much. Until we meet again on the other side! Love from your little sis!

Saturday, 19 January 2019

I see we can all sleep well in our beds tonight then!

Just saw something similar on Cro's blog. This would be funny if it wasn't so scary. The guy seems to actually believe this BS! But you have to admit, he is a comedian's dream. Move over George W!

Wednesday, 16 January 2019


Isn't it great when family all pull together! I know we have our differences but geez when it works it's great! I've been schlepping round with my brother's partner trying to sort as much as possible for my nephews ahead of my brother's death. Got the funeral sorted according to his wishes, paid for, sorted out the bank accounts (what needs to be done as and when), including phone numbers, got all the info for the solicitor who will handle the will, the estate agent who will sell the house. Can't do much more to be honest. Then my kids flew out from Switzerland for an uncle they barely know really and we are all "family" again. On top of that my brother's youngest son in the Midlands called my sister in Dorset who called my aunt in Wales who called her son down the road - who will be picking up my brother's oldest son at the train station in about 30 minutes and taking him direct to the hospital! I hadn't seen this cousin of mine (the "pick-up guy) for probably 35 years until my sister-in-law died three years ago and here he is picking up my brother's son to take him to the hospital. It's a circuitous family circle but isn't it lovely when everyone pulls together! I know I would do it for anyone but to have it reciprocated is so very comforting isn't it!

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

North Wales!

I've been in North Wales (Conwy specifically) since last Tuesday when I flew out to see my brother, who has been hospitalized since around 27 December. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the stomach so I knew I had to get here quickly. What a shock that was as he only fell ill about six weeks ago! Anyway, I have been to see him and will (possibly) post more about him in another post, but I wanted to write a little about my stay in North Wales apart from as it pertains to my brother's health, because it has brought back so many memories!

My mom was from Betws-y-Coed (the chapel in the woods in Welsh) so I spent most of my summers staying in Betws as a little girl, and then working in my aunt's café on the quayside in Conwy after that. The first thing that strikes me is how pretty and green it is (all that rain you see), how many sheep there are (they are everywhere), and how lovely I find the Welsh language, which is now compulsory in Welsh schools. Truth be told it is probably closer to French than English and I just love that lilt!

I have been staying at my brother's house in Conwy. My brother's partner, Margaret, has been staying here since he became ill and for the first few days his oldest son, D, was also here. For D it is the ultimate struggle that we all have when we are still working, trying to get over to Conwy from Manchester (he doesn't drive), be there for his dad and also keep up with his work. To say it is stressful for him would be an understatement! Anyway, I arrived in Conwy by train and yet again it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful North Wales is.

This photo could have been taken from the back of my aunt's café (now a fish and chip shop)!

Conwy Castle
My sister, her husband and my other brother drove up from Dorset and after heading out to the hospital to see my brother we all ended up meeting up in Llandudno, where they were staying, to have dinner. Llandudno is also very beautiful with very gentile properties lining the long promenade. It was here that Lewis Carroll made his home for a time, I believe, and there are many, many statues throughout Llandudno paying tribute to his Alice in Wonderland characters!

The Grand Hotel - where my family stayed

The Mad Hatter

The promenade at Llandudno
My oldest son and his wife flew out for the weekend to see my brother (which he really appreciated) and took a trip up the Great Orme after their hospital visit - they told me it was beautiful! And to think in all the years I have visited Llandudno I have never been up there!

Great Orme
Another day after visiting my brother (he couldn't take too many visitors or for too long) we took a trip out to Betws-y-Coed as I wanted my son to see my grandmother's B&B (they loved it)!

My gran's place - Bod Hyfryd

Betws train station

Pont-y-Pair bridge
When the salmon are spawning they leap over the huge rocks at Pont-y-Pair bridge to try to get upstream. It is fascinating! Another time after the hospital we decided to eat in Conwy and ended up taking a walk on a very windy quayside to visit the "smallest house in Great Britain". My daughter-in-law, Lily, who is Swiss, just loved it and they have both decided that they are going to take a road trip round Wales at the earliest opportunity.

The smallest house in Great Britain
I apologize for not being so up-to-date on my blog reading/commenting but this week has been a bit intense, to be honest. It felt sad to be seeing all these lovely things without my brother, who is indeed terminal, but he could only take so much "visiting" at any one time. But we at least had time to create some good memories with him, I got to tell him how much I loved him, and he has promised to "come back and visit" from the other side as we both believe in the after life! I will write more about him in my next post.

Sunday, 6 January 2019


Isn't it funny how kind people can be! I don't know but I never expect anything and then when people show how kind they can be it always surprises me. Not making much sense am I! I'm not sure I know how to explain this but I am a bit of a loner. I don't even know if I have always been this way or if my god-awful marriage made me that way. I mean, if you keep people out they can't hurt you can they! For me being divorced I'm adamant that I will never live with someone again and I will definitely never get married again and that, in a way, makes me sad as there are so many good people out there. I just don't think I can take that constant, chaotic, brain-destroying crap again. Anyway that's my choice and I at least have the possibility to make that decision.  I know you should never say "never again" but I'm pretty sure that's it for me. That being said, it's been kind of weird this past week or so how friends just seem to have appeared out of nowhere!

When I went to Sicily in September I palled up with a lady called Carol. On these "solos" holidays you always seem to hit it off with someone (in my case usually the first person at the bar I guess) but Carol has called me a couple of times and I have enjoyed chatting with her. I told her to let me get my Sri Lanka trip out of the way and my son's civil wedding in March and then she was more than welcome to come out here and stay with me. Now she lives near Gatwick airport and has told me I am more than welcome at her place any time. So another thing on my bucket list!

Then yesterday I got a message from Karon who I had met in St. Lucia two years ago. We hit it off like nobody's business but of course when you don't live in the same country and don't see each other regularly things tend to fade. She asked me if I had ever done a solo trip but not through a solos organization. Well I'm not sure what she meant exactly but I told her I had done one totally solo trip to Morocco but that I didn't enjoy it that much as I like company. I was in Marrakech, which I loved but also travelled to the Atlas mountains, where those two young Scandinavian girls had recently been murdered!!! So, for myself, while I love my trips, I enjoy them more when I have company. I don't have to know anyone ahead of time - I just want to be sure that I won't be alone. In fact Costa Rica this year was with a travel group that wasn't solos-oriented but there were only six of us on the trip and it was a blast! Anyway, Karon and I decided that we should get together.  I invited her out here and she said if I wanted to come "her way" I would be  more than welcome and maybe we could invite Mo. It was weird really because after that trip I know six of them went off to Spain together and I told her that while I liked everyone on that trip it was only her and Mo that I would like to keep in touch with. So you know what, I hope she does come out here and I will definitely make the effort to spend more time in the UK and catch up with her and Mo.

Then back in 2010, after my husband had buggered off, I met Brian on my first solos trip and we have stayed in touch ever since 2010. Actually he has been out here twice and never, ever forgets my birthday and always sends me a Christmas card. He is an absolute gent. There was nothing "untoward" in that relationship, just another good friendship! Then I met Steve on my trip to Peru and we have stayed friends ever since. He, also, has been out here twice and I stayed with him in August of 2018. Maybe there is something wrong with me - why do I have to go finding friends so far away? Well actually I'm not totally anti-social to be honest but I guess, over time, I do crave the Brit sense of humour and so tend to look that way for friendship, although I have dear, dear friends here in France of course! I guess the problem is (a) the language, although I am fluent in French of course, but (b) I really, really love the British sense of humour. It is so totally different to the French (or any other sense of humour I guess)! Not better or worse, just different! Anyway, on our first night in Lima an ambulance went past and somebody cracked the "Eric Morecambe" joke and we all roared laughing!

Then yesterday I got a message from Marilyn, a dear friend from ages ago. We met when my ex and I moved into France in 1990. Marilyn is American and her husband was French so we instantly hit it off. Our kids were about the same age so we used to go skiing together and socialize. About 20 years ago they moved down to Chambéry and from there on to the US where her husband had been head-hunted. Only problem was, the day the moving company showed up to pack their stuff, Philippe was told that his job offer was rescinded! It was a cut-throat business and par for the course I guess. So that left her with a French husband already installed in the US without a green card but relying on his job to get one. She was a stay-at-home mom so not much use in that direction. So no green card, no medical insurance and what the hell do you do next!!!! In the end Philippe got another job, Marilyn also, and they made it but the stress must have been horrendous. Sadly Philippe got sick, ended up having a liver transplant, had a heart attack, I believe, and died about five years ago. In the meantime, her daughter married and moved to London and her son was transferred to Cork in Ireland so, as a newly-minted French national, she followed her son out to Ireland. She's not particularly happy there. "If you like baked beans you're well set" as while the people are lovely it's not exactly Dublin is it! Anyway she got in touch with me yesterday and we are going to meet up. Either I will go to Ireland or she will come here. So I guess I do make friends really, just not exactly "pop next door type"!

And finally, my lovely Dutchman and I finally got to see Bohemian Rhapsody yesterday. I wanted to wait a few weeks (four I think) after it came out so it wouldn't be so crowded but yet again the cinema was virtually full! To say we loved it would be an understatement! At one point I became aware of C blubbing and had to go fishing for paper hankies in my bag as he was starting to drip. But by gosh that was a lovely film. I really hope Rami Malek wins an oscar for his performance (the buck teeth not withstanding) as he was brilliant. Actually I can't believe he is 37 - he looks about 17 - but I saw him interviewed on the Graham Norton show and what a lovely young man he is! Good luck Rami!

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Have to dash to North Wales!

Well I guess it was the news we were all dreading but my brother has been confirmed as having terminal cancer, with maybe between one and three months to live! I spoke to my nephew yesterday and he said one month would be generous in his opinion. My brother has lost so much weight that his legs can no longer support his weight to go to the bathroom, and there wasn't much of him to begin with. So I have booked a flight to Liverpool on Tuesday where my nephew will meet me and we will catch the train to Conwy. At the moment Phil is in Bangor Hospital but they are hoping to move him shortly to St. David's Hospice in Llandudno. My sister, her husband and my other brother are driving up there on Tuesday also so hopefully Phil will hang on. He's not in pain, which is a blessing. I guess they have him so drugged up. He is still lucid but "drifts" a little now. Oh my gosh, I'm in such shock. I know people get old, people get sick and even young people get sick and die and life isn't fair. But it's just the shock of how fast this has happened that has knocked me for six. He has never been ill and never been to hospital. He used to work in the fish market as a young man in Birmingham's Bull Ring market when it was still outdoors and I guess that made him pretty sturdy - working outside in all weathers with his hands in the freezing ice! Who knows! My daughter-in-law said that it's sad that so many - men in particular - never go for a check-up, but while women kinda have to go for various check-ups, Phil had never been ill so had no reason to go for one I guess. Either way it's too late now. As I said, my shock stems from the fact that he only got sick mid-December so we're looking at about five weeks now!

My youngest son and gf can't go because they have both started new jobs (well Jen starts a new job on Monday in fact). That's ok by all of us as we believe what counts is how you treat people when they are alive and not when they are dying. My oldest son and his wife are hoping to fly in next weekend to see him so that will be nice for most of the family to be together. I contacted Steve to let him know yesterday and he said after my initial visit with my brother to let him know and he will drive down from Southport to meet up. It's only about an hour away and I was hoping to go and see Steve before he goes in for his bone marrow transplant. That is planned for mid-February, I think, and since he is off the chemo I don't feel nervous about being around him so much since I know he has to steer clear of crowds and their germs!

My brother's lady friend, Margaret, has been an absolute rock and is staying at his place in order to visit him every day. She lives about 120 miles away so that is the best solution for everyone. I will stay at my brother's place since I am on my own and there is a spare bed there, but I will happily sleep on the floor if necessary or get a B&B. It doesn't matter to me either way, but my nephew thought it would be a good idea for me to keep Margaret company. We have never met in person as yet - kind of a sad way to meet up for the first time isn't it! Phil and Margaret had booked a holiday to Cyprus for February and were planning on coming out to me after that for a long week-end. She will still be welcome of couse but …. All I can say is I have never seen my brother as happy as he has been these last two years with her and for that we can never thank her enough!

The only saving grace in all this is as I am retired I don't have to worry about work! Thank God! My nephew is flitting back and forth between his work in Manchester and his dad in Conwy. His work have been very good, apparently, but it is always a worry. I have only booked a one-way ticket at this point but will take the lie of the land after I see my brother.

I felt a bit weepy yesterday, although, as always, I don't seem able to cry. So in the end I put my big girl's knickers on and took myself off for a walk. Felt much better for it afterwards of course. I took the route I took previously through the grounds of the Eglise de la Bénite Fontaine (the Church of the Blessed Fountain) so I thought I would stop and fill my water bottle with holy water. Now I don't know what good me drinking holy water would do for my brother but it was strangely comforting.  I don't know if I will be able to post much for a while but I aim on taking my laptop with me as I still have a ton of stuff to sort out from my retirement and I suspect there will be a few quiet hours too.  So for the time being, I will sign off.

The view of the Mont Blanc from my walk - so comforting and peaceful!

Phil and me at les Confins, May 2017

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Sod's law!

If I had been returning to work, today would have been my first day back. Just as well I wasn't then eh because when I went out this morning to get into my car the battery didn't even attempt a splutter. It was so stone cold dead I think rigor mortis had already set in! Bloody hell, can you imagine, first day back and I have to call my boss and say "you'll never believe what's happened now"! I was routinely late most days due to traffic, and no, you could never get ahead of it by leaving 30 minutes earlier and 30 minutes earlier again - the traffic was always bloody atrocious! We had flexible-ish hours, thank God, but I just never made it in at the time I was aiming for. Don't get me wrong, I never minded staying later if necessary either because it's swings and round abouts isn't it, but when my bloody car wouldn't start this morning I could have cried. It had only been one day where I hadn't driven it so as far as I was concerned it should have been ok but there was nothing doing. My neighbour saw me getting out my charger and hooking it up to the electric but two hours later it hadn't moved. In the meantime he went and got his charger to see if that made any difference but no doing! Then he managed to drive up on my front garden to get level with my car and we tried jumping it but nope, still no doing!

Thankfully I am a member of the Touring Club Suisse (like the British RAC or the American AAA) and always have been. Thankfully, also, I always keep my subscription up-to-date and had recently renewed it effective 1 January - only to need to use it on 2 January! So I called the TCS and explained to the lady that I would need a tow truck but not necessarily this evening as my car was in my driveway and I wasn't going anywhere. She said somebody would call me within 10 minutes so I waited and waited and at about 30 minutes I wondered what was happening - when just then there was a knock at the door and there was my knight in shining armour with his trusty tow truck! It took him all of about 10 minutes to jump my battery with his powerful truck-grade battery - phew, that was a relief. You know how your mind immediately goes "oh bugger, I'm going to need a new car and I've just left a good job" (or is that just me?) but once I get my thoughts together I know I can sort everything out - I just didn't particularly want to sort it out tonight in the freezing cold. In the meantime, I had been calling Ford repeatedly and their answering machine kept telling me that all their lines were busy. In the end, knowing their small garage well, I figured they were still on Christmas vacation and hadn't gotten round to changing their answering machine message, which turned out to be correct, as later confirmed by the tow truck driver. That being the case, I then called a local franchise garage, Norauto, who were open and dashed down there with just one hour to spare before closing time. They were brilliant, got my car in and the battery changed all within the space of 40 minutes and with a smile too - that's not something you get every day! But credit where credit is due, I posted my thanks on the FB page of both the TCS and Norauto giving credit for their efficiency!

I did have plans to drop in at work today to exchange my badge for a retiree badge, pay for next year's subscription to the work's gym and then head off out to the computer shop to buy a cable I needed before meeting my lovely Dutchman to go and see Bohemian Rhapsody! As you can imagine that all went tits up (forgive my French) but at least my car is sorted!

And then this evening on my FB feed someone had posted the following photo of an accident on the motorway where I would have needed to pass on my way home. So first day back and I would have been stuck in another accident! Damn, the relief that I am retired is tangible!