The Empty Nest – Reflections

Dear Nick

Write what you’re feeling people say. But I’m feeling so many different emotions. It’s been 5 months and I don’t know how I managed to get here. I have been in a surreal dream world. The ‘Teresa ‘ I knew doesn’t exist anymore. The life I knew doesn’t exist anymore because you… don’t… exist …anymore. I don’t know who I am. I don’t recognise this world I’m living in. I have been tossed up in the air and haven’t landed yet and which way up I will be I don’t know. After the initial feeling of being in a pin ball machine, just being knocked from bumper to bumper out of control, I am not waiting so much to be hit by something else but perhaps taking the curved sweep across the top before I bump my way down again.

How can losing one person have such an effect on everything else?

I am exhausted. Exhausted with the events of the last year. Exhausted with getting up and coping. Exhausted with dealing with the company. Exhausted with dealing with your estate. I don’t sleep. I don’t want to eat. I cannot meet people. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I have to force myself to go out each day when all I want to do is stay under the covers.  A cloud of grief has hung over me for so long now I can’t see the sunshine or believe that it is there above the clouds.

Are you having counselling people said. So I took counselling. It was my hour. My hour to cry and reflect. What were my needs, the counsellor said. It was my time to wail if I wanted. But I wail in the dark of the night. I can’t let anyone see the true depth of my sorrow. It is so intense. It bubbles up. It bubbles up until it bursts over and overwhelms me. The sobs come in gasps and the tears flow so much my eyes get sore. I sound like an animal in so much pain you would shoot it to put it out of its misery.  My heart feels as though it is being burned with the pain. I can see the counsellor’s eyes welling up as she listens to me and watches me dissolve in front of her.

How can it be that you have gone? You no longer walk on this earth. You’ve gone for ever. I will never see you again.

And then I came to Canada to visit a girlfriend.

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I nearly didn’t. I’ve never come so close to backing out of a flight. What is all that about? Where is the woman I knew who is brave and capable? Sitting at the departure gate I felt I couldn’t do it. I would be away for too long. I wouldn’t cope. It was a mistake. Maybe I should just sit out February at home and hope time will pass. Maybe I would get there and instantly regret it? But I rang a friend and was reminded that I could do it. I could take this step to get away.

And it has been a liberation.

I am in another surreal world. My life in the UK seems a stage removed. I can still picture the events of the last months, but it is more like a story. Someone else’s story. It is very cold and snowy here. My favourite environment. I sit and watch the snow falling for ages. The sun on the snow falling outside looks like glittery, fairy dust swirling around in large sweeps of magic. There is a fir tree outside my window which reminds me of my own personal ‘monster’ from ‘A Monster Calls’. I haven’t done much. Just slept, sat, watched TV, but having permission to do nothing except please myself is such a new experience, it is calming. We took a trip to Niagara Falls. Such magnificence. I appreciated the majesty of it all. Something I haven’t been able to do for ages. I’ve had no feelings. Numbness had taken over my soul. Dimmed my eyes so that I couldn’t see.

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My grief is still with me. You still spring up on me in an instant dissolving me into tears, but I somehow feel a little lighter. The cloud has some gaps where I can see a shaft of sunlight peeking through the grey. It closes quickly again but I saw it there. It may come again. Maybe I can have a life without you. Maybe I can find joy. Maybe I am allowed to live. Maybe… There are some maybes now where before there was no hope. And If I cling on to the maybes…

love

T x

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The Empty Nest – Happy Birthday.

Dearest Nick

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Happy birthday!  You would have been 57 today.

It has been 3 months since you passed away. I still can’t say ‘died’. It sounds so unreal. You wouldn’t believe the effect you’ve had on us all. I didn’t know you could feel this sad.

I’ve learnt a lot over the last three months. I’ve learnt that some people like to take advantage of the situation and some people are extraordinarily kind. 

Family and friends have been constant. They have looked out for me, sat through my tears and listened without hesitation. They’ve badgered me to make contact even when I’ve been reluctant and antisocial. I feel very antisocial. I can’t cope with large groups – you know I wasn’t good with that anyway. I always made my way round the room to find you at parties when it got too much.

Work wise it has been difficult but I think we’re getting there. Somehow with help, I’ve managed to keep things going. For now.

How I’ve got to this point is a miracle. I’ve cried so many tears I should have been washed away in a torrent of waves by now. Grief comes in waves. Huge uncontrollable ones that crash over you unexpectedly and soft sobs, that pour down your cheeks at a kind word from a friend. I never know when they will sneak up on me to blur my vision, so it makes  life difficult. Difficult to go out, even on the necessary daily dog walk in case you bump into someone who says innocently ‘How are you?’ Instead of replying ‘How the fuck do you think I am?’ which is what I want to say, I politely apply the English reserve, stamped on my placenta, and reply ‘I’m fine.’ They need to say ‘How are you today?’ Because each day is different. Each hour is different.  Each minute is different. Some people don’t want to know that you’re not coping. They want to hear that you are ok, back to normal, everything’s fine. I suppose it shields them from their feelings.

But I’m not fine.

I’m not fine because I have lost half of me. There is a huge gaping hole where you should be. I’m not whole. I am existing. Not living.

The bed is too big without you. Sting nailed that one. I wake and there is a split second of calm before I look across at your empty pillow and remember. Then I must get up. Straightaway. What is the point of lying in bed when I’ve spent half the night awake trying not to recount the past months? I’ve taken to putting the TV on. The chatter fills the silence left after the kettle has clicked. One cup to make. The dishwasher to empty, dogs to let out into the garden and cats to feed. Our morning dance we used to perform together. Performed and perfected over many years. Each of us knowing the steps.

I do a mean solo performance now.

I’ve realised that I can’t revisit places we enjoyed together as it’s too painful for now so I must make new memories. This house, our home, is a mixed blessing. While it is our safety blanket which envelopes us in its familiar fold, it has turned into a house of sadness because we all expect to see you here. You are in the kitchen cooking; I swivel my chair in the office and expect to see you beavering away at your desk; or stretched out on the sofa watching TV; you don’t call out anymore in reply to my ‘hello’ when I come through the door.

You would be so proud of the kids. They are struggling but they are made of your stoicism and are battling through to find their equilibrium again.

You would be aghast at how difficult it has been to deal with the admin surrounding your death. It shouldn’t be. I think you must be the first person ever to die. Santander thinks so. After two previous appointments I am sitting in an office with a member of staff who looks as though he’s just left sixth form college.

‘I’d like to open an executor account please.’

‘What documents do you have with you?’

‘What documents do you need?’ Your colleague has already taken copies of every possible document I have. I’ve been carrying a folder around with everything but my bra size in it.

We started to fill in yet another form on line.

 ‘Have you grant of probate?’

‘No, I don’t need probate to open an executor account. I just can’t access the money in it until I have it.’

‘You need probate to open the account.’

‘Please can you check, as I’m sure I don’t.’

That was just the beginning. After phone calls and more paper waving (by him not me) it ended up with me walking out in tears of frustration. The sixth former rang later that day and sent flowers as an apology. They don’t seem to realise every time you have to ring or visit to explain what you need is like Brutus’ knife plunging into your heart.

But you’d be proud of me too. I’ve had to man-up. With the help of kind friends, I’ve sorted the boiler when it broke and the car when it wouldn’t start. I’ve had a few melt downs though. The best one was when the wine stocks began to run dry. I can see you raising your eyebrows at me. But you always knew the kind of wine I love, I didn’t need to know, I’d just ask you – now through trial and error I can answer a Malbec or Shiraz.

 I have lost half of me. I am not whole. I have people to do things with but have lost the person I did nothing with.

Not many are lucky enough to have the kind of relationship we had.

So we will keep going, my darling, because that’s what we must do.

All my love birthday boy.

Teresa x

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The Empty Nest – Goodbye is impossible to say – Nick Williams – 18/12/1960 – 05/09/2017

I am a writer but these are the hardest words I’ve ever had to find. How do you say goodbye to your best friend and husband, the father of your children, a beloved brother and brother-in-law, much loved uncle and friend to so many? So many lives touched by one.

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During his recent treatment for renal cancer Nick was asked to fill in a  form and write some interesting things about himself.  He looked at Ellie and me and said ‘’What should I write?’ We looked at him in amazement. ‘But there are so many interesting things about you,’ we replied. ‘What about that you backpacked around the world for a year for starters? Or that you have a terrific serve at tennis that is infuriatingly hard to return? That you are a whiz at solving things?’ Ellie did also suggest that his dad-dancing with random-leg-movement was interesting –  but he dismissed that.

We know that he was gentle, kind, thoughtful and compassionate because these are the words that you have used to describe him in your messages to us. But he was also clever, loyal, a true gentleman and in our family speak – an all-round good egg.

I want to tell you some things you may not know about Nick.

Nick’s family meant everything to him. He was our rock. He worked hard to provide for us and keep us safe. He was so proud of you Jo, Ellie and Harry. His loving kindness nurtured and guided you to become the wonderful young people you have grown into. You must take comfort that he will always be with you because he put the building blocks into your souls, showing you in his patient manner just how important it is to love and care for one another.

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Nick was an engineer. He loved to solve puzzles whether it was a cryptic crossword or resolving a problem at work. He could always see the bigger picture and used this skill to guide us through our traumatic times. One winter when we ran out of oil for the boiler –  in desperation I was at the point of volunteering to suck the end of the oil tube to draw the liquid through so that we could have heat again – but when I went into the utility I found that he had fashioned a marvelous device from an old vacuum cleaner, hose pipe, empty milk cartons and duck tape – lots of duck tape – that did the job perfectly. This was how he approached his illness. ‘Here is the problem – let’s find a solution and work towards it.’ Again he was protecting us and managing our pain.

Nick loved his garden. He took much pleasure in designing and shaping a beautiful garden for us to enjoy. Tending his veggie patch was his way of relaxing. Every year he would grow me sweet-peas because he knew they were my favourite.

We have had the happiest of family holidays, whether on the slopes skiing with dear friends or on the beach in Cornwall. He was our guide around the mountains and we would follow him without question –  knowing he had considered the needs of everyone in the group and would get us back safely at the end of the day.

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Nick was a brilliant cook. There was always a collective cheer when he went into the kitchen as we knew we would be getting a delicious sauce or interesting new recipe that he had discovered. It was tradition in our family that Nick always cooked Christmas dinner. He would spend the morning preparing and we would get a feast that always included, not one, but 2 types of stuffing as well as all sorts of delicious additions. It was our job to clear up the carnage left in the kitchen while he snoozed on the sofa afterwards.

Nick was a Parish councilor for 8 years, some of those as chairman. He felt strongly about this village that had welcomed us into its fold and wanted to give something back to the community.

I know we will all miss Nick for different reasons, whether it is on the tennis court or golf course, enjoying a beer together, discussing the problems about a job on site, providing the answer to a quiz question or simply just talking to him. Thank you for all you have given us, Nick. We are privileged to have had you in our lives. They have been immensely richer for it.

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Nick’s last word to us was ‘goodnight.’ I know I was so blessed to have you as my husband.  I can’t say goodbye to you, my darling, but I can say a last…  I love you… goodnight.’

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Nicholas Mark Williams ( Other Half) was diagnosed with renal cancer in April 2017. After surgery to remove a kidney he commenced a treatment programme but so sadly passed away at home, surrounded with love, during the early hours of 5th September 2017.

Our hearts are broken.

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The Empty Nest – A life in the morning of…

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Family Check:-

Eldest:- Crisis – Job contract is coming to an end. What is the next step in life?

Middle:- Crisis –Job is taking its toll. What is the next step in life?

Youngest:–  Crisis – ill and needing to get home somehow.

Me :- Mini crisis – keeping on top of everyone else’s crisis.

Other Half:- Crisis – still coughing but also anaemic. Having scans and tests to find out the problem.

It’s that time of the month I have to get the accounts for the company done. O.H is out visiting building sites. House is quiet. Ideal time to get my head down sort out these invoices, or so I thought.

Youngest is in Newcastle with Hand, Foot and Mouth. Feeling very sorry for himself. Understandably. With only a couple of days left before the Easter break he’s changed his train to struggle home.

The problem is he cannot be separated from his precious DJ mixing decks.

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Beloved mixing decks

Cocooned in three flight cases these, a speaker, plus a bag of washing have to be transported somehow from his halls at University to the south of England. It’s too far for me to go and get him. I can only drive to 3-4 hours at a time before I’m exhausted, so a seven hour + journey is impossible. His father is still coughing, exhausted himself, going for blood tests, chest x-rays and scans so there’s no way he will be able to help me drive to go and get him, if this was what was needed.

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1 of 2 speakers to be transported

So, to enable Youngest to bring the beloved decks down I ordered him a trolley to be picked up from a store in Newcastle. A kind friend has gone to pick it up for him because he’s feeling too weak and poorly but now we have the dilemma of how to attach the decks do the trolley as they’ve only supplied one bungee clip. My phone pings as I’m entering the data on the expenses sheet.

Youngest: – ‘Don’t know how to use it.’

Me:- ‘Open it up. I’ll send you a link to the page.’

Youngest. ‘I have opened it up.’

I managed to share the link to the trolley information page onto his messenger.

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Me:- ‘ I’m so impressed I managed to do that link.’

Youngest :- ‘Yeah I’m impressed too. But where does the rope go? ’He’s obvs not as impressed as I am. 

Me:- ‘Have a look at the picture on the link. You should have a bungee, springy, ropey thing to attach stuff with’.

Youngest :- ‘Yeah I do. How do I use it?’

Meanwhile the phone is going in the office from the supplier that I’ve been trying to contact about an order but the phone battery is dead so I cannot pick up the phone and take the call. I curse at the phone as it continues to ring and send O.H. a quick text with yet more cursing that we MUST get round to getting new phones for the office as these are shite and can’t hold a charge.  Supplier will just have to ring back.

I returned to my work but can’t match up any orders with invoices. We had a slight blip a while back where we had to do a lot of purchases while we were out of the office. One was on the way to the funeral. ( See last post -Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall.) All part of the joys of working for yourself.  Things didn’t get recorded properly hence I’m now at sea with what’s going on. O.H. has it all in his head. The pile of my inquiries on his desk is getting bigger by the minute.

Youngest. ‘I’m stuffed. It’s all rubbish.The train goes in an hour and I can’t get anything to stay on.’

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3 of these

Me:-  ‘What about more bungees? Anyone going to town who could pick some up for you?’

Youngest:- ‘No one is going to town.’

The office phone goes again. I still can’t pick up the call as the phone battery doesn’t have enough in it for even a ‘hello’. I returned to my invoices which I still cannot match up. It’s amazing what you learn when you start a new job. Who would have thought there were so many different types of sand ?

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We go to the most interesting places.

Before I started in the building trade I knew of only 2 – wet or dry, and that the right combo is vital for building successful sand castles.

Youngest:- ‘I don’t know what to do.’

Me:- ‘ Okay if the trolley idea’s no good you have to bring what you can carry.

Youngest:- ‘Which is basically nothing. Because I’m feeling so weak.’

Talk about milking it. What is it about men and illness!

Me:- ‘ You don’t need clothes you’ve got some here. Prioritise. Do you need all three decks? Your priority is to get home safely to recover. Anything else is a bonus.’

I need a coffee.

Youngest:- ‘There’s no point bringing any if I can’t bring all three because they only work together.’ He’s definitely not going to let this one go. ‘I just won’t bring any pants and socks.’ GreatThe thought of him going commando for a month doesn’t thrill me.

Me:-‘ Find a way of attaching things to the trolley then. I can’t suggest anything else.’

I take a slurp of coffee. ‘You need to find a way to transport them. If the trolley idea doesn’t work I don’t know what else will. Can you wrap the bungee tightly around the sides to hold them on?’

Youngest :- It doesn’t stretch far enough.’ God give me strength.

Me:- ‘ Have you got a clever mate who could help you think it through. Two heads are better than one and clearly yours is not working properly.’ That was as kind as I could put it.

I return to my invoices. The phone goes. It’s Eldest also feeling ill and having a day off work to recover.

Youngest is still messaging. ‘How would I get it up and down the escalator anyway?’

Me:- ‘Balance it on the step like you do a buggy. Or find a lift. Or ask someone to help you.’ Or use your initiativeIs it me? Have I done too much for him over the years that he now can’t think for himself or is it normal teenage behaviour?

I return to the invoices. The phone, which now has enough charge and is working, rings. It’s O.H. asking if I’m busy as he has another order to be placed. I reply ‘Of course. What do you need me to do?’ You know that was through gritted teeth with my professional voice on, don’t you?

It’s now midday. I’ve reconciled zero invoices. Completed zero accounts. I haven’t walked the dog. The dilemma of how to get the decks down on the train isn’t resolved. I now have an appointment with the chiropractor who is trying to get rid of my reoccurring headaches (Youngest springs to mind) and go to the supermarket on the way back. I gather my things and walk towards the door.

The phone goes again. O.H. needs a phone number. Number dispatched, I turn my mobile to silent and walk out quickly.

I thought life in my Empty Nest was going to be quieter. More restful. I had visions of floating through the day at my own pace. Mostly on slow. I quite fancied being one of those women who has a day bed for the odd moments when the pace quickened so I could lie back and be calm. If someone wanted to bring me a coffee while I lay there, so much the better. chaise longue

Youngest made it home. He had to take the packed trolley apart as he couldn’t get it in the Uber. Getting on and off the trains he must have looked pathetic as people kindly helped him.

He will have to travel back after the holidays. So if you see a 6ft 3ins, strapping lad struggling with a trolley loaded with 3 flight cases while dragging a bag of dirty washing, please offer him a hand, as it could be Youngest.

Haz

Making my Mother’s Day pancakes for breakfast.

It seems there’s a lot you can do with duck tape.

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The Empty Nest – Into Each Life some Rain Must fall – Longfellow

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Family Check:

Eldest:- minor crisis – job contract ends in 4 months so unemployment beckons.

Middle:- minor crisis – job not what was promised in the beginning so feeling frustrated.

Youngest: – no crisis – unless lack of clean clothes can be counted.

Me:- mini crisis – trying to remain in Florence Nightingale mode while O.H. continually coughs (I’m not completely heartless – it’s been for 2 months).

Other Half:- major crisis – suffering from a chest infection as well as… details below.

This quote popped into my life and I love it so much I thought it was worth sharing.  I’m determined to keep it uppermost in my mind in the future.

‘Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow! What a Ride!”’ Hunter S Thompson.

Life has been crazy since I last posted. Not crazy, ha ha but crazy, OMG. It has been a real mixture of highs and lows but reassuringly there have been enough familiar touches to remind me that some things stay the same. When I started The Empty Nest blog it was my antidote to all the negative stuff floating about, not only in the world but in our lives too. Writing is my cure. It makes me happy. I was determined to write a funny blog to cheer everyone up but… you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you… it’s been difficult at times to gloss over the sadder element of life in our empty nest. Don’t think for one moment that life here is always bright and breezy. We have many happy elements to it but like others, we also have many challenges to deal with, I just try and approach them positively.

Sometimes I have to dig deep.

The Christmas holidays were busy. Busy with the nest full of chicks and others who fluttered in to roost for a while. Sadly underlying all this the whole time we were coping with the demise of my brother-in -law. O.H.’s beloved elder brother had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer only at the end of November. Undecided each day if he was doing the right thing, O.H. carried on regardless, juggled hospital visits, site meetings and phone calls from Macmillan nurses, trying his best to support his brother and keep all his other plates spinning.

This all comes too close behind my own brother’s demise last May. I am number 5 of 6 children, so yes, odds are that there will be more of us to pass from this earth but that doesn’t help when you are faced with caring for a loved one in their final hours. Very sadly the speed of my brother-in-law’s illness surprised us all and he passed away in early February.

But…

It was at 8 am during one of these crazy days when the builders were banging away downstairs laying a new floor. I had a bad headache and decided the only place to be until it passed, was my pit. In the dim morning light, snuggling back under the duvet, I hit a lump as I stretched out my feet.

‘What the hell are you doing in here?’ It was Youngest, curled up on his (empty) father’s side of the bed.

‘Bloody noise! I can’t sleep. Thought it might be a bit quieter in here.’

‘Well, you can’t sleep here either.’ There are times when my bed is my sanctuary and NOBODY else can be there. ‘Out! I’ve got a migraine.’

‘Awww, Mum. Can I do anything for you?’

If I hadn’t been lying down already you could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather. This was Youngest talking. I recognised this as a light-bulb moment not to be missed.

‘Well, actually… yes. Apart from get me a glass of water, we need some food. The fridge is empty.’ Now, who knows whether it was the thought of replenishing the supplies or Youngest had reached a momentous stage in his life, but his answer astounded me.

Give me a list and I’ll go for you.’

An hour later Youngest was dispatched for half a dozen items including:-

  1. Catfood – the usual, any flavour but it must say senior on the packet.
  2. Dogfood – 4 regular sized tins of the usual
  3. Rice milk x 4

The morning passed and my headache improved. On venturing down to the kitchen I looked at Youngest’s purchases. No rice milk. Nevermind, maybe he forgot it.

Dog food –  2 family size tins. I didn’t even know they existed this big. We have two normal sized dogs, not a pack of huskies. It’ll take them months to get through a tin and by then it would smell like  huskies.

But his star buy was the six, neatly placed, tiny containers of gourmet cat pate. Not a senior in sight. We have two bog-standard moggies. Even we don’t eat pate this good. 

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Now here was my dilemma. Did I congratulate him because of the kindness of his actions, not wanting to put him off from offering again, or chastise him because of what he bought?

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Ah well, the cats will always be grateful for their taste of the fine life.

 

This post is for my brother, Paul

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and brother-in-law, David

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both wonderful, inspirational, caring men who graced this earth and I was lucky enough to have in my life.

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The Empty Nest – it’s not all about sex and drugs.

Family Check:-

Eldest:- no crisis – Christmas and partay season plus has a birthday coming up.

Middle :- slight crisis – pale skin and sunlight lying by the pool in Johannesburg don’t always mix .

Youngest:major crisis – Stomach pains and nausea!

Me :- major crisis – just realised Christmas is nearly upon us and still much to do.

Other Half:- major crisis– too much work, too little time – needing to wrap up work ready to shut down for Christmas. (Should also be panicking in case he hasn’t wrapped up my pressie)

A long weekend to Amsterdam seems an excellent idea for empty nesters when you book it back in the summer. As it approached, along with my Christmas to-do list, I realised it may not have been one of my finest. Still, we were booked so we were off.

Youngest:-‘ I’m not feeling well.’

Not the kind of message you want to get on your way to the airport.

Me:- ‘Oh dear. Symptoms?’

Youngest:- ‘Bad stomach pains, feeling sick, don’t want to eat.’’

He’s definitely ill. For youngest not to eat is like the world not spinning.

Me:- ‘So, at worst it could be appendicitis. At best you need to do a good poo. I need more details.’

Airport negotiated. I settled into seat 27C. It’s only a 50 minute flightYoungest will be alright until I land. I will not feel guilty.

Top tip:- don’t get a cab at the airport from the men who harass you outside saying it’s only 40 euros. They mean 40 euros each! We went to the taxi rank and paid 45 euros for four people.

Our legitimate taxi driver got us here:- Max Brown Hotels

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Loved it – Small, quirky but well positioned for walking around. Top tip:- Don’t have room 003 – downstairs and right next to the kitchen area – it sounds as though the staff are in your room with you when they clatter the plates in the morning. I was all prepared to moan when O.H. woke up. ‘Too bloody noisy’ and out he went to ask for a change of room. Room 407 was much quieter but only suitable if you don’t mind climbing three floors of very steep stairs, like this:

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Our friends in room 001 had no complaints.

Breakfast was a do-it-yourself job; perfectly nice, very continental. O.H. worked out how to make the perfect coffee from the machine which, of course, endeared him to me.

Walking along the canal, I sent a message:

Me:- How’s the pain now?

Youngest:- Whenever I move it gets worse like a twisting all across my stomach.

Blimey that doesn’t sound good. 

Me:- Best get yourself to the walk-in or ring 111 for advice. Have you pressed your right side? Do you have acute pain?

Youngest:- what’s acute pain?

Me:- So bad you’re doubling up.

Youngest:- Doubling up?

It can’t be acute – he’d be doing it, not asking about it. 

I skipped onto the pavement to avoid being knocked down by a bicycle outside the shops.

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Next, Anne Frank’s house. We joined the queue.  Top tip:- It’s online ticket entry only from 9-3.30 – book well in advance. After that you must queue. We waited an hour but when we came out at 5pm the queue was short.

There are more profound words than I can ever say on this but how they managed to stay sane in those small dark rooms for so long is beyond me.

Youngest:- ‘The walk-in takes hours. That’s what my friends have said.’

Me:- ‘Well that’s an option if you’re bad. Better waiting hours than a burst appendix. What have you been eating?’

Youngest:- ‘Chicken burger, baguette, chicken pasta dinner. Breakfast – regular hash browns, beans, egg and sausage. Best get walking into town. Hope I don’t chun.’

Dinner was a bad Argentine steak. Chewy and fatty. But the chef came out when I (nicely) complained, to apologise and give us a dessert platter to say sorry. Can’t moan too much when he was trying to make amends. Dessert was delicious but a bit off the bill as well would have guaranteed to raise his trip advisor rankings.

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After another broken night’s sleep in our garret room, this time not because it was so quiet but because the small double bed wasn’t used to having a 6ft 3ins O.H. sleeping diagonally across it, so decided to push me near the edge to see if I would fall out. The only option was to shove the bed right up against the wall and show it who was boss.

Another breakfast. This time managed to get the perfect coffee combo.

We found the sex museum. Verdict? It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I’m not a prude but I was amazed at how promiscuous the photos were from the 1800’s. And once you’ve seen one willy – you’ve seen ’em all, eh? Best if you have a photo of a pretty street instead.

 

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The streets and canals were very picturesque but not very Christmassy.

Woops, you may have a bell but mind my back you cycle, road hog!

Me:- ‘How’s the pain?’

Youngest:- ‘Still terrible. I haven’t eaten anything.’

Me:- Not always a bad thing. ‘Sometimes it’s good to have a fast, in case it’s a bug. Are you drinking? Water?’

We queued for the Van Gogh museum.  Such a talent.So many paintings from such a tortured soul. He only started painting at 27 years. Proves there’s hope for anyone.

Youngest:- ‘Can’t drink the water it’s cloudy.’

Me:- ‘Boil up the kettle and use that then.’

Youngest:- ‘But it will be hot.’

Not only Van Gogh who is feeling tortured.

Youngest:- ‘Just rung 111. They said go to the walk-in.’ Funny, is it me or did I not suggest this earlier?

Van Gogh’ed out, we caught the tram back to the hotel before heading out for dinner.

Youngest:- ‘The walk-in’s a long way. I don’t feel quite so bad now. What’s good for getting poos out food wise?’ 

 Hmmmm. Not so sure about this delicious burger now. Black and Blue
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Another morning and yes, another breakfast, but this time I didn’t have to wait for a wifi hotspot for an up-to-date report.

Youngest:- ‘Went to the walk-in.’ Blimey. Must still be feeling bad to warrant that.

Me:- ‘And? ‘

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We were out again and walking the streets. There are 15,000 bikes that end up in the canals. If you come past me so fast like that you might just join them.

Youngest:- ‘She poked my side to see about the appendicitis and gave me some anti-sickness pills.’

Well, at least he’s been checked out by a health professional. He must be ok. I’ll remove the ‘flights from Amsterdam to Newcastle’ page from my ipad.

Youngest;- ‘How’s Dam?’

Me:- ‘Lovely.’ 

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‘We’re just on the train to the airport to come home now.’

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I amsterdam.

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The Empty Nest – ‘Vows made in wine’

Family Check:-

Eldest:- no crisis – working hard with a large weekend work event looming.

Middle :- slight crisis – dealing with awkward passengers on flights can take some getting used to.

Youngest:-  no crisis – enjoying double duvet he persuaded me to buy him.

Me :- slight crisis – caught Middle’s cold so feeling sorry for myself while, of course, struggling on.

O.H:- minor crisis– too much work, too little time and having to fit in extra chores while I’m on a go slow.

 

‘Fancy coming wine tasting?’ a friend asked. Good idea I thought. Just the sort of random thing empty nesters can do on a Saturday morning! It is also O. H.’s birthday in December. I never know what to get him so a surprise tour around a vineyard and a slurp or two afterwards would make a perfect present. ‘I’ll book it. We’ll meet at 11am.’

It’s always a pleasure when someone takes charge and organises you, (see last week’s post on Acts of Service) so I paid up and left my obliging friend to it and promptly forgot all the details other than noting the time and date in my diary.

Imagine my frustration when O.H. announced two days before my ‘surprise’ that he and a few mates were going wine tasting at the local Majestic that night.

‘How lovely,’ I replied, successfully masking my annoyance.

Our Saturday morning arrived. I prepped OH that we were about to do something exciting (although not quite as exciting as it would have been if he hadn’t just done it, and no, I won’t bear a grudge). I looked for my friend’s email with the venue details. I looked through my phone messages. I could find nothing. The clock was ticking, the engine running and we needed to get going. I turned to trusty google and typed in ‘Wine tasting in Ditchling.It’s such a small place there couldn’t be more than one. Ridgeview Wine Estate  popped up. Tours starts at 11am. That was the right time. Perfect, must be the place. It was a bright, sunny, autumnal morning so, sat nav programmed, and we were off.

Sitting outside at 10.55 I messaged my friend.

‘Where are you?’

‘5 minutes away.’ Came the reply.

O.H. and I went into the reception area where Hannah, the tour guide, wrote down our name and reassured us that our friends’ late arrival would not be a problem as they could be directed out into the fields where we were now going to start the tour.

I listened to Hannah’s very interesting account of the history of the vineyard, watched the vines stretch out before me and nodded understandingly when she made an informative point, but by the time she explained about using large candles to protect the vines from frost I was starting to get concerned. It was 25 past 11. Where could they be? I kept glancing towards the entrance. They were walking.  Had they been knocked down by a car and now on their way to hospital? (I’m not a writer for nothing – no simple explanation for me,  I don’t do things by halves.)

After a while Hannah led the group from the fields towards the buildings to continue the tour inside. Lingering to the back of the group I surreptitiously rang my friend’s number. Her husband answered.

‘Where are you?’ I asked.

‘In the fields. Follow the buildings to the end and come and join us,’ he replied. I agreed and hung up. Perhaps there was a later tour and they had joined that?

O.H. looked at me. I shook my head.

‘I haven’t a clue what he means. He says they’re in the fields. But we’re in the fields!’

‘Perhaps we’ll meet up with them somewhere inside.’

We quickly ran to catch the group in a room full of large, shiny vats full of wine. I shoved my phone into my pocket just in time to catch Hannah explaining about the different processes the wine went through. We proceeded into the next room holding more machines for corking the bottles.

Half an hour later, after a few more rooms, we were seated in the most important one – the tasting room. Our friends still hadn’t materialized but this was the bit we were all waiting for.  I had given up looking for them around every corner. They were grownups. They would be fine.

Laid out on the table were 5 sparkling wines. We learnt that Downing Street had proclaimed Ridgeview as an official supplier and that the Queen served up a bottle or two to the Chinese premier. If it was good enough for them it would be good enough for me.

We started with this: –Cavendish  Ridgeview’s traditional blend.

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A rich golden colour with exceptionally fine bubbles. The nose is expressive with hints of red fruits.

I, of course, smelt it, swirled it round the glass and… only took a sip and poured the rest into O.H.’s glass. Well, it was his birthday treat – someone had to be the responsible adult and drive us home.

Next came this:-

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Bloomsbury Ridgeview’s signature blend ‘A light golden colour with a fine, persistent mousse. Citrus fruit aromas with hints of melon and honey.’

By the time we got on to Ridgeview’s Blanc de blancs:-

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100% single estate Chardonnay from our original vineyard,’ the sun was shining, the chatter in the room was LOUD, we had bonded with the delightful couple on our table who were on a weekend break from their young family and we’d bought a couple of bottles for Christmas morning.

I looked at my phone for news of our friends. Nothing.

‘Are we in the right place?’ O.H. whispered in my ear. I hadn’t confessed to my attempts at retrieving the email, nor my googling the vineyard.

I quickly sent a text.

‘We’ve just finished the tour. Where are you?’

Court Garden Vineyard’  came the answer.

We finally caught up with our friends in the The White Horse, Ditchling. And, after comparing wine tasting tour notes, I can now recommend two vineyards in the South Downs area.

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PS – Just a heads up for anyone looking for something unique – check out HUX – a new boutique specialising in handmade bags and accessories.

 

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