Friday, 21 September 2007

How long is a piece of string?

[Original introduction, drafted Jan 07, included for being the one that got me started. Where have I been? I will explain when I understand!]

So, whose bright idea was it to get a poodle? Well mine, I suppose. But that was it: an idea. I was diggle-daggling.

diggle-daggle (this is me putting it in the dictionary – it’s not there really!). v. to shake a gypsy clothes-peg with a length of knotted string attached to it while play-acting an imaginary life. *n. a gypsy clothes-peg with a length of knotted string attached to it (tied round neck of peg).

I manically diggle-daggled - first with bootee and then rattle, before my mother’s fateful design with the peg – from age nought to 11 when I took up smoking and more seriously the ball-point pen (I knew I was a writer by then). But the pegs were the stronger, and more available, drug until aged 13 when my first thought every morning became, “How many cigarettes do I have?” And hormones had kicked in and the family were making a move to another part of the country. Bad times. I didn’t actually give them up till then.

My first run-away occurred at 13 – hitch-hiked Somerset to Edinburgh – but that’s another story. And was then. I prefer now and the future

Just to add, on the diggle-daggle days: it was a painful parting. I still don’t know why I did it. But into the dustbin went this perfectly weighted and worn collection, one sad, final time. And it was good practise for giving up a son three years later and prescribed sleeping-pills 16 years after that.

But they too are other, very sour, stories written about elsewhere and not public yet.

On a much brighter note: only a couple of months ago, dear Tom, in an effort to wake me up and get me writing I suspect (as well as, bless him, finding me some comfort) located gypsy-pegs on ebay and bid for them all one jolly Sunday afternoon. And here they are. A beautiful, vintage collection from Liverpool (Irish descendency? Romantic caravans?!) complete with knotted string (again Tom) and I love them. The feel of them, just as I did.

But I don’t have the strength to shake them now. and Lucy keeps chasing them – of course. They sit on the book-shelves beside me and I admire them. And it’s comforting to know they are there. And shakeable!

Now I just day-dream things out. A sort-of metaphorical diggle-daggling. Until sometimes they do become goals and they happen.

Many of the scenes I diggle-daggled as a child became reality in later life. As though pre-ordained and I just caught a glimpse of their future. My own. I was acting out destiny.

In memory: diggle-daggling was special and always exciting. But there were those in the family (most?) who thought I was mad and didn’t understand that I was bored. Intellectually bored. They just “labelled” me delinquent and turned their backs.

I know now it was incomprehension on their part and I forgive them. But it made life difficult.

As did announcing I would be Catholic when I was nine.

I know, and knew, all these things were blessings, graces from God.

And in a “diggle-daggle” day-dream, after my first watching of “Crufts” on TV (I watch lots of stuff now I’d have ignored before, just because I can’t move easily out of this chair – and I didn’t yet have Internet) the idea of Lucy was born. And planned. We found a breeder (Google) with a pregnant bitch. Apricot colour. And the puppies came into the world.

Lucy literally existed and, in theory, was ours. Tom just had to "train it" from London to Crewe (and back!), choose a female, the best temperament for our dysfunctional home and pay a deposit. Which he did. And fell in love. And we have a gorgeous photograph of tiny Lucy, just three weeks old, curled up in his hand, again on the bookshelves. (How precious these Argos shelves have become. Filled as they are with nearly every book I studied for my BA when I was in my mid-40’s, and now decorated by the special mementos of our lives. They were the first piece of furniture Tom erected when we moved in here, just four years ago, to make me feel at home. God, what a good son. And brilliant buy from the great council-house store!).

Anyway, so Tom had chosen Lucy - and vice versa by the sounds of it and what I see now! - and that was when the arguments started. Was it a good idea to have a dog (“never call a poodle a dog, they take offence!” I read somewhere)? Practical?

No, of course not. But Tom was smitten. And I still loved the dream...

Roman apartamento - large enough for Tom to own half with his family. Companion poodle. Companion/PA/helper - live-in. Bells of a Basilica, pastoral priests. Pizza (preferably ristorante downstairs which – who! – can bring me my food if Tom is out!). Sunshine, warm. Sound of Vespas and cheering “Ciao’s” mixed with aroma of espresso coffee. Tinkling fountain in the courtyard for Lucy and her friends to splash about in. Red Ferrari for Tom to be a boy in. Oh, bella, bella! It goes on.

And I am kidding. For a while just the idea of a friendly poodle at my feet (never under!) was enough.

And you see the blessing of the diggle-daggle?!

We argued and neither of us was consistent. We kept contradicting ourselves and, more vociferously, each other.

Quotes from Tom during this time:

* “but if we don’t get her now it will be like a miscarriage”;
* “I went all the way up there.”;
* “we’ve paid the deposit”;
* (pained face) “but we bonded, she knows who I am”;
* “it would make us more of a family”;
* “I always wanted a dog”;
* (pleading expression) “but she’s cute!”.

Even my brother, Blob (family nickname - origin unknown!), who still visits, agreed it would be Tom who was heartbroken if Lucy didn’t join us. We should “give it a go”.

You know, try as we might to convince the world we’re hardened, heartless individuals, Tom and I really are a couple of softies. True sentamentalists. And the arguments truly were from the heart. Because we both loved the idea but were hurting from the knowledge that I had MS and might not (probably would not) be able to look after her.

And Tom wasn’t going to be around. He didn’t want to be because he had to be “young”. And that hurt him, that he knew he had to let us down (though the hurt wasn’t showing, only the resentment at my having presented him this dilemma).

It was horrible.

And then a friend of Tom’s, Richard, offered to take him up to Crewe, this time to collect Lucy and bring her back – to live! When she was eight weks old. Perfect.

The ulterior motive for Richard was that he wanted to try out his new Porsche. “Run her in”!

So, together at last, Tom and I said “Yes!”

It was all good. Except it wasn’t. On the morning they were to set off I changed my mind...

Once in a while I see the reality of MS. The reality as others – mostly officials who haven’t got it themselves but feign to be experts (i.e. neurologists and MS nurse) - see it: the given prognosis for PPMS – the progressive worsening of symptoms and deterioration to be expected. And of course, the more my body validates their conjecture the stronger my anger and denial become. Which, in turn, gives me energy and a burst of enthusiasm. I believe in miracles. I use herbal remedies.

But, this morning, as Tom was travelling across S.E. London to pick up his Porsche pal (dear Richard!) and after saying my prayers, I looked back, over recent years.

And that’s when it looks bad - and I have to admit
“they” know rather more than I want them to – when I actually look back at the decline and fall (often literal) of it all. In recent time.

You see, day to day, even though you are often aware you’re worse than yesterday, you don’t recognise that this is permanent degeneration. You may have a “good” day tomorrow. What you don’t want to realise is that a good day now is what would have been considered a bad day, even a year ago. But five years ago? Six, when I got the eventual diagnosis (2001)? It would have seemed catastrophic/soul-destroying.

And, of course, it’s not. You go with it – especially by following the cross of Christ’s crucifixion. You join Jesus by offering your suffering up, as sacrifice, in prayer for the world (“Redemptive Suffering”). And it’s not hopeless. It does have a point. You are useful.

But able to look after a puppy? Keep it clean? And the house? Train it? Not likely. It was a pipe-dream. No. Everything we’d done, almost certainly, was for nothing. All the books we(I)’d read, the room we’d got ready, the supplies; Richard volunteering to sacrifice his Saturday; Tom, in love with a cuddly “toy”. The whole notion was ridiculous. I’d be permanently in the wheelchair (waiting in the hall) any moment and bed-ridden soon after that – give it five years. Poodles live, on average, 15! This must not be allowed to happen...

I rang Tom up – mobile-definitive-decision: “STOP!”.

But he wouldn’t. Said it was too late, all planned. We couldn’t let Richard down or Anne, the breeder, or Lucy. I’d had plenty of time to say this before. (Well, I think I had, at least once, but maybe not with so much conviction.. It’s not something you want to make a habit of, admitting you’re a helpless cripple (only I can say things like that!)). And it was no good. He wouldn’t listen (probably didn’t even engage – that would have made him panic (not because of my state you understand but those reasons he gave above!)). Mumbled something about ebay if it didn’t work out (what, selling her like a cast-off coat?).

And Lucy was on her way!

And I was kind-of glad.

And now, as I write this, it’s ten months later – January 2007. And Lucy is curled up at my feet - the sweetest, calmest creature you could ever wish to meet.

And let me tell you, because I know I’ve gone on too long, how we reached this point..

Well, after Tom stayed home the first week with Lucy - rushing up and down to pet shops, visiting the vets and groomers to put all in place – and after we’d successfully (?) house-trained her (Anne had already got her used to cat-litter trays), during the day and a couple of evenings a week, I was alone. Humanly. It was just Jesus and me and a canine (albeit a very small, timid one).

And it was too much. The pain in my legs was excruciating. And the fatigue was, as is with MS, chronic. I had known physical exhaustion before when Tom was born by caesarean and I was put in a strange council-flat (for the first time) with a violent, Chelsea-fan, husband – I make no connection! Maybe even with MS. Probably. But this was worse. My stupid legs and fatigue were letting everyone down.

But the Good Lord urged me on. I added more cayenne pepper into my daily regime of herbs and kept going. But it was showing, and I was a bit worried. And did shout about finding her another home.

Tom though, still besotted and absolutely adoring of his little “sister” just - as usual - buried his head in the sand and left me to get on with it. If anyone was going to do anything to change things it would have to be me. Of course!

And so time wore on and Lucy and I grew closer – I was liking chatting to her (though I was slightly concerned it might spoil my silent communion with God). I started to see she was the “companion” everyone (including the MS nurse and priest) had said she’d be and that, in fact, she was saving my sanity – there just is too much being alone. She was helpful to all (?!) my other relationships.

And I began to feel, she too, was a gift from God.

Physically, it was – and still is – a nightmare, but golly gosh (where did that come from? Enid Blyton? ‘Bunty’?! I’m a child again!) it does do good for the soul to be putting another before yourself. And on that she insisted!

The only thing left to worry about – as long as I could keep standing – was my writing. Because without that I am not me. I do not recognise myself.

And that’s when - oh blessings! – I learned about John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. And Charley being a (standard) poodle.

Oh joy, joy! Someone (the great and prolific Steinbeck!) had written with a poodle at his feet, alone in a customised pick-up truck (wow!), roughing it across America.

Oh, could anything be more comparable to Lucy and me in our cramped little council-flat with our diggle-daggle dreams, struggling to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’? It was perfect. I would write Travels with Lucy!

And Tom, again, with brother Blob, came to the rescue. By the time I had proved the point by writing this in draft they knew enough of this former journalist to know that when she said she’d write a blog (or two!) she meant it and had better be set-up with the Net (spoilt or what?!).

I bought a new lap-top and the DLA (Disability Living Allowance) let me install wireless (at least I hope it did; having Lucy was already more financial burden than I was used to. But you know how it goes: “It will be an investment!”).

And the boys got it going.

Thus, I set off on a huge learning exercise: not only was I still training Lucy but I had to get used to this cyber-space thing. And peruse all the information on blogs. I had to study blogs. And then there was the odd forum to join and join in on. Very unfortunately, the MS Society’s Forum is totally addictive.

I had to learn to conquer the universal addiction to surfing the Net. Quite a task!

Anyway, there we were, the end of January. And, all of a suddden, for the first time, I could say: “Happy New Year!” and mean it. It was “All systems go!” (except of course for the Central Nervous System which was going but in the wrong direction!).

And, because it’s the kind of person I am, with prayer and a diggle daggle I am filled with optimism.

Lucy and I are on our way...

Blog Note: okay folks, this post looks fine here (Word) but now I have to paste it onto Blogger (I can’t see well enough to write on that screen!). Please bear with me and forgive imperfections!