Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Hedging Bets

‘Well, YOU’RE obviously not blind,’ grins the woman at the end of the bench. We are at the vet and Grace is still in her harness. I am not sure quite how to respond. It always surprises me how the assumption on seeing a person whose eyes are apparently undamaged, who is without a helper and who isn’t actually feeling their way along a wall is that the person albeit with cane or guide dog, is fully sighted

‘Actually I am..well not blind.. but visually impaired.’

I am staring right at her which is always a mistake. I should really roll my eyes wildly in my head; stumble up to her and run my fingers over her face. At least a small eye twitch...but I haven’t the time to ‘do blind’. I have nice make up on. I did my own mascara. If I twitch I’ll smear it.

She looks doubtful ‘Oh, really?,’ (This must be in case I am not sure.) ‘I thought you were training the dog.’
I do my required two minute spiel about tunnel vision and she nods enthusiastically, all green-wellied lady of the manor politeness. Slones are not an endangered species in Cambridge. She has come in to see if the hedgehog she rescued yesterday has recovered. It had seemed a little ‘off’ which is the polite word for ‘run over’. The elderly receptionist assures her it has been doing fine

'I’ll just pop into the back to check...but I sure you can take it home.’ The woman apparently releases homeless hedgehogs in her expansive garden.
‘I have plenty of room,’ she snorts happily.

The receptionist comes back rubbing her hands, embarrassed. ‘ Err...would you believe it..the poor thing has expired.’

Expired? I think, imagining a tiny bar code and sell by date on the little hog’s tummy. At that moment the vet comes through looking his usual dishevelled stern Germanic self.
‘Her hedgehog’s dead,’ says the receptionist a little desperately.

‘Ah.’ The vet blinks Prussian-Blue eyes from behind his glasses. ‘We must do better next time.’

Mum and John arrive from a brief jaunt to New York. John had just run the New York marathon and bested his previous time, which considering he had only just started training when I saw them in France a couple of months ago is remarkable. All hail!

I once made the mistake of asking him about sports shoes. 'I can’t remember if I over-pronate or ..you know the other...but what running shoes on the market would you recommend? Structured insoles? How about resprung layering with sweat resistant technology..?' I had wittered in my best athletic sounding jargon. He had raised a baffled eyebrow. Turns out he wears ‘trainers’, the older, the more used to his feet, the better.

Between them (Mum and John, not the trainers) they still, in spite of marathons jet lag and lugging of baggage, have more energy than Ritalin-deprived, 10 year olds on Tango and spangles. They pile out into my garden chopping, sawing, weeding, mowing and generally saving its life. They rearrange my furniture, put lights up, clean the loo. Although Grace and I can only hunker down under a table and watch all this, I am very, very grateful. The lights in the kitchen make a world of difference. I might actually try reading a recipe book for once I say dancing around. I might even stop eating out of the saucepan and put things on a plate now I can see what they are. Grace inspects the garden and is surprised to see that her dog run is still there, now that the nettles and bind weed have been cleared. She is even more excited to find she can, when no one is watching, now sneak all the way around it and poo secretly in the grass around the back. Image: Grace (c) T. Bush 10

The week ends with my boiler going on the blink but more importantly with the release of the wonderful Aung San Suu Kyi. Nervous joy greets her, everyone glancing over their shoulders for the guns. What has the regime got in store next you can almost hear them thinking. Why now? Is it real? Safe?
We wait and see.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Death in waves.

Well I finally handed in my MA manuscript last week. It was a huge relief especially as last week had been a terrible mess. The cold I mentioned in my last blog had grown worse and worse until I was finding it hard to stay out of bed for more than an hour at a time....the hour being just enough to get to the shop or to stumble down to the riverside so that at least Grace could bound about in the glorious autumn sunshine. Mostly I shivered and coughed, eyes and nose streaming, trying to proof read and edit...I lie. Mostly I slept and my dreams were crazy and sad.

I dream I am a little girl in a hut near the sea. A man comes in and wakes us all, tells us to come outside quickly. I am small and having to carrying a basket and the sand is hard to walk on. It is very early in the morning but warm although it is oddly still, no wind, grey light reflecting from the white sand. I hold on to the back of my mother who is bent over, gripping, along with the rest of my family, to an outcrop of seaweedy rocks. Behind us a wave is coming, hundreds of feet high and although I can’t hear it , I hold my breath like one does when about to go underwater, waiting for the monstrous silent wave to come smashing down ....but there is no crash. I open my eyes..peek...
..and then I am a teenage boy in a makeshift hospital. I see my brother. Across is my father, an Indian-looking man with bandages on his legs. He is saying, smiling and crying at the same time, ..’It took all the women...but it left me my sons..

(I thought it was just a fever dream. A few days later, in the news, I hear about the tsunami in Sumatra. I wonder about that still... )

Then, on the Wednesday night my sister calls to say that Mark has died. Mark J was my friend, the older brother of a childhood buddy in Zambia. He was a lovely, handsome, gentle farming (he didn't farm 'genltes'..I mean he WAS gentle..and he farmed too..) man who spoke fluent chiNyanja and was a serious fundi of all things ‘Zambian bush.’ He played guitar, drank whiskey, loved to jitterbug (and had once pulled me, back then a rather stodgy teenager, onto the dancefloor and thrown me skywards and spun me around until I was dizzy and besotted.)
A few weeks ago he went to collect wages for his farm workers and a gang held them up and robbed them, shooting, for no apparent reason, Mark directly in the head and chest. And even then..and even then ..he clung on for six weeks undergoing extreme operations in a hospital in SA but his injuries were too much.
Violent death makes bloody rents in the world. People stagger listlessly, confused by the news, unable to know what to say to each other, to the close families left behind, the parents, the children, the partners. Those rents don’t heal like tears from other deaths. They go on bleeding for a long, long time. They make us feel shabby with helplessness, angry and weary.
Edani Bwino mzanga, wrote his frind Miranda. Travel well. She posts a photo of Mark on Facebook. He is smiling hugely, all blond hair and teeth, the afternoon sun golden on his face and the big blue sky fading to evening behind him.

But there is good news too at last. Two friends have bouncing baby boys, an Oscar and a Josef! And also, on Thursday, in a different hospital in SA, my Dad is given the thumbs up and a 99% all clear after a follow up check on his stem cell treatment. He flies back to Lusaka immensely relieved. He’ll have to go back again in three months but for the moment it is all realy pretty damn wonderful. As promised I have a rather dodgy photo of his rather dodgy bonce. His hair truly is growing in a Mohican on top and all curling backwards on the sides... pics don’t quite do it justice! Its hysterical!

I decide to send Dad a photo of Grace and I cheering him on. I go to C, my 90 year old buddy and show her the ‘countdown and click’ technique that can help visually impaired people take pictures of moving objects. She takes several great shots including this one of Grace and I leaping around in her garden in the glorious afternoon sun. Life is so precarious and precious isn't it?