Stating the blindingly obvious I haven’t posted for a while now. Not because I couldn’t be bothered, or didn’t want to, but simply because I could not bring my concentration to bear on it or anything much else for that matter.
In the last blog I stated how I felt inspired by my friend Marilyn’s ability to push on with life following the loss of her husband some eight years ago. I thought this would make it easier for me to do the same and accept the fact that Elaine is not coming back to me.
I may well have thought this but ‘accepting’ has proved somewhat difficult; also I had not reckoned with the ever recurring grief leaping out at damn near every opportunity to bollocks-up a given moment, or sometimes the entire day.
I figured I’d done well in having cleared a lot of Elaine’s personal stuff and was, I thought, fit to tackle the rest (mostly work related) but invisible buffers sprang up and I ground to a complete halt.
As spring turned to summer it seemed that everything required my attention NOW!
Garden to sort, vehicles too, cats to look after, shopping, washing, the house to clean, meals to plan and prepare (when I bothered) items to sort for the Vintage Barn (I’ll explain shortly) plus all the mundane phone calls and emails that constitute modern life to see to; not to mention trying to earn a fucking living to pay the bloody bills that always know where you are hiding.
My world was getting more and more cluttered, but worse still, so was my head. Mentally and often physically I was adrift in a sea of complete inertia with no land in sight.
This peaked one Saturday when, returning home after a shopping trip I flopped down in the lounge, lord of all I surveyed.
Everything was just as I had left it earlier and I began brooding on all that needed doing. An hour and a half later I’m still sat there wanting to move to get going and do something, any bloody thing, but I just couldn’t the enormity of it all was pushing me under.
“There’s no end to this, stop resisting let it drag you down, smother you- this is your life from now on!”
It was then I gently became aware of something more.
I’m beginning to wallow in it, to enjoy it even, to accept it because that’s the easier option to take, easier than facing up to and taking control of myself and the situation that had arisen around me.
Depression had been lurking at the threshold of my wounded heart for a good while now, and had somehow slipped through disguised as a friend proffering sympathy…cheeky bastard!
Standing up I thought;
But was I secretly welcoming it?
Was it again a case of the easier option?
It occurs to me here that most of you reading this know next to nothing about me outside of that written or hinted at in the blog or the book. Perhaps a bit of background would be the polite course right now.
I was born May’58 in Wimborne Dorset, the town I live just outside of at present. I was the youngest of our little family which consisted of Mum and Dad and my elder sister Sue, all sadly long dead now.
I had a happy childhood and although money was tight, Sue and I wanted for nothing and felt safe in the love that our parents wrapped us in.
My later school years coincided with the change from Secondary Modern/Grammar school to so called all- encompassing Comprehensive education.
It was a bit chaotic at the time and it didn’t help that the older generation of teachers, whom we had grown up to respect seemed to a man and woman all be pensioned-off at this moment and their replacements, barely much older than ourselves, somehow thought that being our ‘right-on’ friends was the way forward.
We were used to and indeed thrived, in a more disciplined routine; breakdown was inevitable and swift.
I loved history and art, but the teachers I studied under combined to make these worthy and beautiful subjects downright boring and my enthusiasm waned rapidly.
I left school with some exams under my belt but not really a damn clue of what I wanted or was going to do.
The easy option was to join the auction firm my dad was with, so I did, for a couple of years, but it was a dead end from the start and I jacked it in and ‘temporarily’ joined a local removals company owned by a family friend.
The temporary bit turned out to last eight years (you get less for murder), and I ended up travelling all over the country and continent. It proved to be an education in its own right and, as anyone who has ever done this job professionally will agree, you see every side of human nature possible; the good, the bad and the downright ugly!
As time passed I would arrive for work and sit with the engine running contemplating just buggering-off again. The job had become something to endure rather than enjoy. It was time for me to move.
Through a friend I met Alan who ran a ‘sort of’ decorating business. I had always been handy with a paintbrush so when offered a job I took it without too much thinking involved; again that easy option.
Turned out Alan’s imagination was bigger than his reality and after four months (much of it spent in the pub) the work dried-up.
I became self- employed and worked a short time for my sister’s partner, then did a year or so with a couple of plasterers. During this time I met Jim who was renovating a house to sell on and needed help.
We got on well together and I did much of the painting required and gradually turned my hand to the other jobs that Jim took on.
One of these jobs was the painting of Elaine’s cottage, I’m guessing most of you know the outcome of that.
Before her first marriage she had been dealing in small antiques and old costume etc, really what is now termed Vintage. She went back to this with items in a friends shop and then started doing local fairs and markets.
Elaine and I finally started living together full time in 1993. Never afraid of work, she did all sorts to pay her way and keep her then horse Teddy.
Trouble was the local venues didn’t pay very well for all the effort involved; she needed to travel further afield, this is where I came in.
She could set-up and sell okay but needed help loading unloading and driving and this now mostly fell to me.
We became a real team doing fairs regularly across London and the south of England. Later we branched out doing house clearance work and eventually Elaine started-up her own fairs.
Of course this meant we spent a huge amount of time in each- others company, forging a bond others could only guess at.
As cancer and treatments came and went we carried on as best we could, the bond between us becoming greater still.
By now I had started going with her on buying trips to collect and load the purchases and encouraged by my wife I started buying myself. It became a game between us as to who could bag the day’s best bargain, and she didn’t always win!
Being self-employed meant I could pretty much take time to help Elaine whenever I wished, so it made sense for me to stay with what I was doing (the right option), it also leant a sense of security for when cancer put Elaine out of action and I could stay home to be with her during treatments, without having to gain permission from an employer.
We had so much fun working side-by-side. It was often hard work but how I miss it now I simply cannot put into words.
It’s not just my wife I’ve lost but a whole way of living has closed to me forever, the exception (for now) being the vintage barn at Cranborne.
Housed in the garden centre at Cranborne, about ten miles from our home, Elaine was offered selling space in the vintage barn around the time the cancer was declared terminal, roughly five or six years ago now. Items sell on a commission only basis.
This suited Elaine, as it was somewhere else to sell direct to the public now that we were doing less and less fairs due to her regime of treatments taking their toll on her energy.
She loved it, we frequently travelled over with new items to arrange and squeeze in and she was soon publicising it on social media platforms to gain new customers and followers.
We carried on buying, and plenty of my time was taken up repairing, painting and tarting up…sorry…adding patina to much of what we purchased.
Elaine wanted me to carry on with the barn after her death. She thought it would help in getting me out of the house and meeting people again. It did, well to a point anyway, but it near broke my heart the first few times I went back there; buying at the sales again all but did the bloody same.
The mistake I made these last eighteen months or so, was continuing to buy more things but not facing up to and clearing that which I already had; the harder option put to one side.
The problem was I was fearful, lest parting with this ‘gear’ somehow mean parting again with Elaine and our way of life being lost to me forever. I just wasn’t ready to concede that it was already lost and not coming back.
The easier option was to do next to nothing and try to hold on; not the best decision but, I think forgivable in the circumstances.
With so many items around the house needing my attention plus everyday living to get through, as I said earlier, depression crept in and I could easily have folded.
Indeed in many ways I wanted to do just that, the easy option once more, but that Saturday afternoon as I stood I could imagine Elaine’s little hand tucking into mine and I felt her voice whispering into my heart.
“It’s up to you now, you must decide no one else can do it. If it’s all dragging you down then chuck the lot, it isn’t worth the grief…but, if you can work with it and not against there’s money to be found here, and change as well which is the more important thing for you now.
“Pace yourself Mark, each thing accomplished is a triumph, each one a step forward.
“You must not become a victim or it’s won.
“Make the most of the open doors before you; so many we knew together are now closed or closing, holding on is no option embrace the new that comes into your world.
“I won’t die any the more because of it; don’t be afraid to change.
“You’re here to live and you’ve cause to live for now haven’t you”?
I know she’s right, to be honest it wasn’t often that she was wrong; her belief so very strong in so many things, especially us.
There are a lot of physical items to remove from this house, this home, and from my life. I’ve a whole stack of crates untouched since our last fair together, Christmas 2019 at Devizes.
Treasures to unearth? (Hope you are still out there and interested Lynne)!
But whatever, the options are now all mine, sink or swim it’s up to me.
Clearing the ground will I know, clear my head and my heart too; what my life from then on becomes will make no difference to ‘us’.
Life with Elaine stopped when despite the odds, we got to the top of the hill together. Then I knocked the truck out of gear and turned out the engine for the last time; she had to get out, and foot off the brake I started coasting downhill alone.
I’ve been coasting ever since but I’m gradually getting slower and slower, I know that at some point in the future I will stop, then I’ll get out, lock the door, pocket the keys, and walk away.
I can’t walk back up the hill to her, she won’t be there anyway; the route for me is straight ahead, and I’ll have to trust my instincts when I encounter the options there will be along the way.
But I’ll not throw away those keys they still represent another option and a life not to be forgotten.
Change is upon me whether I like/want it or not. But to be perfectly honest with you all, I know deep down that I want it to be; that it is the right way.
I’ve allowed myself to be bogged-down long enough, lasting it out will make no bloody difference to that which has occurred, no difference at all.
Is this now the beginning for me? No.
The beginning of the end maybe? I doubt it.
But the end of the beginning? Yes I think so.
Churchill’s words miss- quoted from the darkest of hours.
It’s no longer the darkest for me, but it is not yet full morning either, though the streaks of light passing through the horizon tell me that morning is due soon and inevitable in my life.
However long it takes to reach me is kind-of down to me. Somehow it will come whatever, but I want more than a measure of control, the option to be mine again.
I know that I don’t have to sit around and wait, it’s okay to go forwards and meet it.
I have reason to do so, to live; but being so close I hadn’t seen this coming…..