3am Eternal….

It’s 3am (actually it’s not as I write this, it’s more like 8pm but the thoughts that led to this blog post pinged into my head at 3am & hoping to eventually get some semblance of sleep, I declined to let the brain-fart creative juices run riot)

3am. In the days of my ‘yoof” it meant something quite different to where I find myself now: 3am might have been when I rolled through the door, perhaps *slightly* tipsy; 3am giggling chats with my school or uni besties; where we had face-packs & chocolate (& revolting White Lightning Or MD20/20 in the latter years) and shushed each other in overtly loud whispers.

3am Eternal, that absolute belter of a tune by The KLF with their ancients of Mu Mu! Now I have an ear-worm & find myself mentally humming. These days if I had the budget, I’d rather like to be more in tune with the Mui Mui (fashion darling!) but that’s another story…

3am now: when the rest of the world is sleeping. When all is quiet. When you feel alone, scared and any problem(s) you have feel insurmountable, all consuming and impossible to solve.

Ironically, I’m far from alone. I’m on a children’s hospital ward where 3am doesn’t mean all is quiet and settled. It’s an alternative, less pleasant version of a city that never sleeps.

Whilst the nursing staff go about their business calmly and efficiently, even if (when) the dreaded crash bell sounds or alarms from machines and monitors peal and squark; the heart-tugging cries of babies and children in pain or scared There is both an urgency and yet serenity of those on duty in these darkest hours.

We have a 3am visitor. A surgical resident called up to our ward because Minx isn’t behaving. Anatomically speaking.

  • 3am is when my imagination goes into over-drive. I’m over come with the ifs, the buts, the maybe’s; the pointless worries and the unhelpful questions that come unbidden when you’re a parent, and especially the parent of a medically, physically, cognitively or combination thereof child/ren.
  • In reality of course I know I’m far from alone. Wherever it’s 3am, there will be a multitude of man-kind engulfed by their own demons, be they parents or not. Those worrying over relationships, financial matters, jobs, mental health issues, where their next meal is coming from. I’m sure Dear Reader, you can add a plethora of reasons I haven’t listed.
  • I can add guilt to my annoying bed-fellows who hover sadistically at the 3am party. For however many of the worries my brain attempts to rattle through, I know I’m one of the ‘lucky’ ones.
  • I’m reassured by the surgical resident’s breeziness, by Minx’s visceral reaction to his proposal if matters don’t sort themselves out; even groggy from the after effects of surgery and the powerful pain medications pulsing through her, she is not one for rolling over and playing easy. She is not in favour of his plan and whilst a part of me knows that ultimately we may have to adopt the cruel to be kind approach, it is heartening to see she is strong enough, with it enough, to protest and rail against it.
  • So whilst I may wonder at 3am how I will ever juggle all the varying needs of my children, if I remembered to order medications, feed, equipment & supplies; did I send that email, reply to that message, make that all important phone call, at the very least I am fortunate to have those worries; the luxury for want of a better word to fuss and fumble, curse and sigh about all the never-ending chores.
  • I would take that in a heart-beat over the emptiness, the silence, the agony of losing a child. There are friends, far too many dear friends, who deal with that hollowed out grief. Who lie awake at 3am with the eternal knowledge that never again will they hold, sooth, cuddle or fuss over their cherished child. Who would give everything they had and then some to be in my shoes, (slippers) right now.

    So when I’m feeling overwhelmed and exhausted with it all, I will remember that in reality, I am one of the fortunate ones & banish those unhelpful spectres back where they belong. Dawn will come one way or another and the 3am fears will recede. We will fight on another day. ❣️

    The Trigger…..(Pull it)

    Recently for reasons that as yet I cannot divulge (I promise there is a blog post coming on this as soon as I am able; apologies for the cloak and dagger tactics. I’m not one of those “u ok hun?” PM/In box me” type people honestly!!) I have recently had to write an explanation of what led me to my break down almost 2 years ago. The account needed to be factual and pragmatic; the irony of trying to keep my feelings out of it when dealing with something so fundamentally, emotionally driven as a suicide attempt was not lost on me.

    Although I will (if asked) talk to close friends and family about what led to my attempts and breakdown in mental health honestly and forthrightly, it doesn’t mean there isn’t shame; that there isn’t guilt and that there aren’t things that I (still) hide. There are somethings that are so deeply personal (buried?) that I don’t think I’ve even allowed myself to explore them.

    In writing down the what’s, why’s and wherefore’s, its dug up a lot of suppressed memories, pain and feelings of helplessness, at a situation that was not of my own making. That’s not to say that I want to palm what happened off on someone/something else. I accept responsibility for want of a better word for the actions I undertook. However I reached that point where checking out seemed the only option to change what was going on around me.

    It occurred to me as I typed the details up that it was triggering a lot of emotions even though I wanted to be concise and almost 3rd person in my approach. And I as thought about that word “trigger,” I realised that summed up my entire experience of a mental health breakdown. Seems obvious I suppose. I don’t know – I can only speak from my personal situation.

    Suicidality  springs from a myriad of wide and varied causes;  I am no expert. For some it may be a single one-off event that causes the person to experience a sudden mental health breakdown (personal/financial/status loss spring to mind) for others something that happened in their past (abuse, specific traumatic one off/repetitive  event) which cannot be overcome.

    For me, it came about insidiously, through a relentlessly relentless piling on of pressures and this too is of course acknowledged as a common cause. I guess for me the idiom “at the end of my rope” has more connotations than just being at the end of one’s patience. Apparently the original source of this expression relates to tethering an animal to prevent it moving and wondering off beyond a certain distance.  Personally, (in a somewhat grimly, ironic humour) I thought it meant at the end of the hanging noose knot….

    My first suicidal ideation was triggered by the repeated use of the word COPE. An innocuous little word that is used to describe so many situations. As a parent carer of children with special needs, it’s not uncommon for others to utter “I don’t know how you cope!” This is something that I know many of my fellow parent carers  or carers in general will be nodding along with.

    Carers are often seen as saintly like figure. A cross between Florence Nightingale and Mary Poppins perhaps? Truth is, very few of us chose this life. The role chose us by circumstance or default.  I know there are some utterly inspiring carers out there who did actually choose to foster or adopt children with special needs (and thank goodness for them) to prevent little lives being institutionalised without families of their own.

    There are also those courageous individuals who when embarking on their journey of parenthood were given horrifying, frightening, diagnosis for their unborn child and yet chose to bring life into the world knowing they were doing so against the odds; that they  would do their utmost to love and cherish their child, no matter what. Other parents have had to face a child being diagnosed with cancer, degenerative or congenital conditions out of the blue or as a result of an accident or injury.

    Of course later in life more and more of us are facing the hideous reality of dementia in family members. Those with grandparents and harder still, their own parents or siblings who they see deteriorating in their day-to-day abilities; losing their independence and all too often a decline in mood, personality and recognition of their own nearest and dearest. Very cruel.

    Whichever way it comes to be, caring for someone isn’t something you get a medal for. There isn’t a huge amount of reward  – certainly not monetarily. If you can show that you provide care for someone receiving  specific incapacity benefits for over 35 hours per week and you earn under £123p/w (as of April 2019) from other sources of income, you can enjoy the princely sum of £66.15p/w (also April 2019) for the ‘privilege’ of being a carer. Even based on 35 hours per week(and the majority of carers I know ‘work’ substantially longer hours than that; 24/7 for many)  that equates to just £1.89 per hour. Wow. Best not get me started on that. A ranty blog post for another day no doubt.

    Anyway I digress. The point I’m taking a long time to get to is many carers ‘cope’ because there really isn’t any other alternative. And those of you who say you couldn’t? Well you would. If you had to. At least for a period of time.

    There are (too) many days I feel like sitting in a corner and rocking. Many days I wonder how I’m going to make it through the endless medications, physiotherapy, appointments, hospital visits and dealing with the practicalities and physicalities of caring for children with extra needs. Don’t get me started on the relentless laundry pile that never seems to go down, the food shopping and meal preparation that are just part and parcel of every day life in a busy family and I know I’m far from alone.

    But the point is I do – cope – I mean, generally speaking. It isn’t a life I chose but equally my children didn’t ask to come into the world with neurological,  medical and/or physical difficulties either. So I get up, I keep going, usually with a grin (maybe a grimace) and somehow it all vaguely fits together, we get to the end of each day with perhaps only a modicum of sanity and no clean school shirts for the next day (Febreeze anyone?!) because it’s the only way we carers know how too.

    There isn’t any one else out there to pick up the slack. Unless you are in the fortunate (and probably) unlikely position to be independently wealthy, the majority of carers get on with their role because they have to keep on keeping on. No one else is going to be there to pick up the pieces (or socks) if they don’t. No white knight (or even vaguely grimy one) will rush in where others fear to tred.

    So back to that pesky trigger of mine. What’s more frightening than ever is it’s not just carers that struggle to COPE. Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you can’t have failed to notice the inadequacies in the health and social care system caused by austerity, lack of (meaningful) investment, candidates and poor morale. The system itself has reached breaking point.

    The working conditions are sending droves of medical professionals overseas where they will have a better work-life balance and better remuneration. Fewer than ever medical students want to take on the role of General Practice and more GP’s than ever are planning to retire early. Figures released in July 2018 showed 1 in every 6 GP positions were unfilled leaving almost every surgery across England at least one Doctor short.

    Mental health services have also suffered hugely and in real terms, whilst there were expansive (and expensive!) promises given that funding would increase broadly in this area (£2 billion was pledged by Phillip Hammond in October 2018) in reality the fall in in-patient beds has led to those in crisis being sent hundreds of miles from home, away from their nearest and dearest which can, at least in my experience, only create more hardship. The inability to access timely, regional in-patient care is not just inadequate but dangerous. The focus on out-patient/community based care is of course welcome but it is not a replacement for those battling psychosis, severe depression, eating disorders and such like, especially when either the beds aren’t in familiar environments or worse still, available at all.

    Locally Harrogate Hospital plan to close the adult mental health in-patient unit at some as yet unspecified date in the future (rumoured to be later this year) and I for one will mourn this loss. Whilst I hope never to need in-patient services again, I made and have retained a very special  friendship with a fellow MH warrior. We often share some  deeply inappropriate, darkly humourous moments that unless you have experienced a mental health crisis, just wouldn’t be appreciated by  nearest and dearest.

    I am forever changed by my own break down experience both in good and bad ways. I have learned my tolerances are much lower than before so whilst I’m in an *ok* place much of the time, it doesn’t take much to alter that kilter and send me spiralling to darker places. But I have also learned I am stronger than I thought it was ever possible to be, that I can ‘cope’ with most of what life throws at me and that will do… for now

    Comfort food or food to comfort?

    Today has been a bit 💩 I’m not going to lie……
    We had to be Chez Hotel NHS Harrogate bright and early this morning for a date with radiology following G-Man’s “discussion” with a fire extinguisher on the last day of term. For the avoidance of doubt the fire extinguisher won & once again G and the NJ parted company. 😫
    Given that it happened late on a Friday and from past experience of the difficulties this causes, I didn’t bother to contact anyone medical until yesterday. But I got sneaky this time and bypassed the ward, going direct to G’s pediatrician.
    Recent visits to replace the NJ tube have been traumatic and getting more so each time. G has borne this bravely but enough is enough. The last experience left us all traumatised.
    I don’t use that word lightly but given the radiologist said we were going to have to abandon the placement due to the levels of distress and G effectively withdrawing consent, I knew we needed an alternative approach.
    I have asked in the past about some kind of amnesic inducing drug or light sedation and been berated for wanting to “drug” my child. However, the medical bods eschewing this approach only see a snap shot of my child for about an hour and usually aren’t in the room when the procedure is being carried out.
    Nor do they deal with the longer term fall out, the increasing hysterical approach to anything medical, the begging, pleading and promises he will be good, eat more, try harder; listening to this I defy anyone without a heart of stone not to be affected and I feel huge guilt. How do I reinforce this isn’t his fault?!
    At CAMHS appointments I listen as my child pours out his feelings of helplessness in the face of such procedures, his loss of rights over his own body and the feelings that he is not being listened to or even heard. And I question if it is right that he is put through this but we are left with little choice until a long-term solution is found.
    The radiology department are giving me increasing (well-intentioned) grief about the risks of his repeated exposures to radiation. I am told that each time they have to replace the tube in this manner it is the equivalent of undergoing a CAT scan in radiological terms. I have lost count of how many times the tube has had to be passed since it first went in in May and with no end game in sight, I am mindful we are potentially creating a different set of problems.
    So I threw myself on the mercy of our wonderful pediatrician, pleaded our case and to my immense relief, he immediately agreed and to save me having to battle and negotiate, liaised with the ward directly so that all we had to do was show up in the right place at the right time.
    There was the occasional raised eye-brow from a clinician TRIPLE CHECKING I definitely wanted to ‘DRUG’ my child but I think the steely stare and unwavering gaze assured her I wasn’t going to be persuaded otherwise and from there on out, G was treated with the utmost care and consideration and after the usual shenanigans of weighing, measuring, a gazillion questions, signing of consent forms, he was popped on a monitor, given the maximum dose of meds and was soon off his face, happily rambling utter nonsense.
    Truth told it was quite entertaining listening to his diatribe; apparently he was flying himself down the corridor, nothing to do with the trolley, porter, myself or the F1 accompanying! If it hadn’t been for his reaction to the taste of the medication, (lots of spitting and cries of DISGUSTING) I might have tried a cheeky request for some myself.
    I’ll spare you the ins and outs but it was so much easier and kinder to have the tube passed this time round.
    There is only one specific radiologist who can carry out the procedure and we are on first name terms now due to G’s frequent flier status! I know the names of his children, that he was born and grew up in Jersey just like me and that he’s off on holiday shortly so it was particularly hilarious listening to G shouting “Dude, stop that, why’s he shoving things up my nose Mum?! Dude seriously stop doing that, don’t look at me. NONE of you, face the wall! Why are you laughing?!”
    The best way I can describe the procedure is like watching someone rod the drains. My apologies to all medical people and specifically the radiologist concerned who no doubt trained and worked exceptionally hard for many years. To compare his skill and expertise to dyno-rod seems rather unfair and very dismissive!! But there is a lot of see-sawing of flexible tubes and guide wires, pushing, prodding, twisting and turning till eventually the sucker ends up in the right place!
    One hour later procedure complete, G still high as a kite, we were able to go back to the ward and let him sleep it off! He rambled and raved like a caricature of a Hollywood movie ‘drunk tank’ extra but he was funny and (mainly) charming and most importantly didn’t remember a thing when he eventually came round and found his tube safely back in situ. I count that as a definite win!
    Of course it would have been nice to be able to contact loved ones and let them know all was well but my phone and internet seemed to be playing up. I had received a mysterious text telling me I needed to make a payment to our phone provider and reacted with dismissal knowing that Mr DNTW’s has every thing set up on a brilliant contract where we get oodles of data, texts, unlimited calls etc. I assumed it was just my phone (or me!) playing silly beggars.
    But when eldest son contacted me on messenger saying he couldn’t call or text and could only use the internet when on wi-fi, I knew there was more to it. Still I assumed the network was probably down.
    Several hours later, when his nibs was back in Blighty, he messaged me to ask if there was a problem with my phone and that’s when began to wonder if there might be a little more to it….
    Child number 2, J, has been home for the last week. He’s our fabulously witty, dead-pan humoured, technology wiz with a knack for circumventing every manner of parental security and or block we have ever put in place. He has what was called aspergers but now changed to high functioning autism (don’t get me started). I tentatively mentioned the issues we were having and his face changed….
    £448 worth of bill later, we know what the problem was/is!!! Suffice to say J was mortified and Mr DNTW’s after a few ‘effs and jeffs” spoke to our mobile provider, explained what had happened and we are extremely grateful to their management team who were so understanding and agreed to refund the excess charges. Big up EE!
    So despite having left the house by 8am, not getting back till 3:45pm and feeling pretty drained all round, I felt the need for comfort food. Despite the fact that current air temp even “oop north” is on a par with the surface of the sun, I decided we needed a family roast with all the trimmings. A large portion of roast potatoes, chicken, lashings of gravy, Yorkshire puddings and veggies later my sense of equanimity is restored!
    It is only with a slight sense of irony that I reflect we have 2 tube fed children and one with food-sensory issues but nonetheless by small miracles, everyone ate at least something of what was put in front of them; apart from yours truly: I ATE all of it and then some…possibly double helpings……sssh! Don’t tell….. x
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    A picture paints a 1000 words?

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    When you look a this picture, what do you see?

    A smiling girl (admittedly that’s probably stretching the use of the word ‘girl’) and her dog? A woman who looks tired, definitely in need of a bit of slap (literally and figuratively?!) and probably some air brushing?

    This picture is so bittersweet in so many ways that I *almost* can’t bear to even share it.  My beautiful dog Buddy is in it and he’s no longer with us, departed over the rainbow bridge to be with other furry friends. It makes my heart ache all over again but he still brings warm thoughts and a semi smile to my face nonetheless. The power of canine love.

    But what this picture represents is so much more than the image at face value.

    Just over one year ago this picture was taken in the reception area of a psychiatric hospital. I was suicidal and had been admitted two days previously having reached crisis point and having made the decision to end my life.

    Even trying to write that phrase feels unreal and melodramatic.  Like a bad soap opera or overly prosaic novel.   This stuff doesn’t happen in the ‘real’ world. Except it does.

    I don’t know if it was a surprise when I eventually confided in some of my closest friends about what I had done and what at times, it feels like I still intend to do. In some ways reaching that point was a huge shock, even for me.

    If there is such a thing as a poster girl for depression, I’m not certain mine would have been the picture used (hopefully not this one anyway…it’s not my best side!) I was and still am (usually) a glass half full type person – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – a glass half full means there’s still plenty of room for more wine!

    See, I crack jokes, talk a lot, especially when nervous, I smile, put make up on, clean clothes, prepare meals, answer phone calls etc etc so how can I be depressed? And therein I think lies the crux of it: what does a depressed person look like? What image does someone who has reached the end of their coping skills project?

    I wouldn’t dream of speaking for others who have gone through and continue to battle their own demons. But in my experience, depression is such an insidious thing. So even if you seem to be the life and soul of the party, the one that is strong and capable, dependable and reliable, it doesn’t mean you can’t experience the gnawing, dragging, emptiness. The feeling that it’s all too much, no way out, nowhere else to run to.

    Too much effort, too much expectation, everything from getting up, dressed, one foot in front of the other a herculean effort. But it doesn’t mean you don’t keep DOING all those things. Sometimes the doing of all those very things is one of the ways you keep some kind of a handle on it, albeit a wonky one.

    So it doesn’t in any way seem surprising to me when I read accounts of how someone has gone about their day-to-day life, seemingly taking it on the chin, even appearing to have a great time attending events, get togethers, nights out….and then they end it all.

    The shock and grief to their nearest and dearest must be bitter, unpalatable and shrouded in disbelief.  There must be soul-searching. What did they miss? What clues didn’t they pick up on? How could they let their friend/partner/family member down so unreservedly? Why couldn’t they be stopped from choosing this final absolution?

    And anger, only natural too. Rage at their selfishness; that they left everyone in this mess, they stopped trying. Took the ‘easy’ way out.

    All these things run through my mind regularly, over and over, like a fuzzy old-fashioned film negative.

    I feel burdened by the weight of other people’s expectations of me and the damage that would ricochet through our family unit if I achieve my objective. I once had a crisis mental health worker give me the statistics of how many young people go on to take their own lives in the event that a parent ‘chooses’ to commit suicide. Harsh and horrifying and heaping on the guilt. Crafty, effective move that was.

    Perhaps because so often my every day life involves meetings with professionals in relation to the needs of our 4 children, it is so important (to me) that my armour is in place. Keeping up appearances, stopping them from defining me as *that* mother, that weak, special snow flake.

    The vast majority of professionals we deal with have been nothing but supportive and helpful, even sympathetic but there are always a few, (ironically the ones who in my view have most failed our wider family), who would like to define our ASD child’s difficulties by my ‘shortcomings.’

    The fact of course that respite care was proffered but never organised, dangled like a mesmerising carrot for so long, just out of reach; the fact that our child required appropriate specialist schooling and wrap around care, the inevitable self harm, suicidal idealisations, violence against myself and our other children, the regular police involvement, ambulance call outs, CAMHS care and so forth, all accumulated into some persistent, momentous ball of hell unravelling at lightning speed had nothing to do with my break down at all. I’m *just* that sad and pathetic and attention seeking……

    Mental health is still, despite the (much-needed) increase in awareness and highlighting by people like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and high-profile celebrities, radio presenters and such like, a taboo, a dirty little secret.

    Admitting that you have mental health difficulties, at least to me, feels a bit like shouting out the word VAGINA (or other awkward word of your choosing that doesn’t tend to come up in day-to-day conversation!) on a megaphone, naked on stage to a silently packed out Wembley arena, being globally transmitted by multiple satellites……

    I can only speak for myself but having chatted to other friends going through similar concerns, I know they too feel a sense of shame, being perceived as somehow weak and feeble, lessened.

    One of the most crucifying  experiences I had in the latter months of last year related to the ill-health of our youngest son. Due to severe gastrointestinal difficulties culminating in losing 5 Kilos in a 4 month period, an extended hospital stay and the insertion of a naso-gastric feeding tube, the lead paediatrician (also our regular consultant for both G-Man and Minx) called a multi-disciplinary meeting to discuss both children’s health concerns (they share many similar aspects) and a plan going forward.

    Present at the meeting (in addition to the consultant) were an Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, Dietician, Speech and Language Therapist, Community Nurse, Student nurse, Ward Sister, Disability Children’s Team Social Worker, Paediatrician, myself and Mr DNTW’s and a few others I can’t recall. I think the only person who wasn’t there was Uncle Tom Cobley*

    The consultant outlined the various medical difficulties, asked professionals for observations and then having brief knowledge of our background family situation asked for us parents to outline relevant events over the year.

    It’s trite but during that account, it did feel like time stopped. There seemed to be a palpable and  collective withholding of breath as I relayed the events of significance. I did my best to remain factual, honest, hiding nothing but not (at least I don’t think) boring them to slumber and derailing the topic with a pity party for one.

    I couldn’t make eye contact. I didn’t dare look up. My attempt to be detached failed. I cried; big, fat, salty tears of shame. And of course that always brings on the snot. So as I crumpled tissues and wiped and snorted my way through this hideousness, it brought with it crippling anxiety; the awareness that I had laid myself especially vulnerable to the people I need to work with for my children’s sake on a regular basis and I was in their eyes, at least to my thinking, diminished, fallible.

    I must take pains to clarify that not for one moment do I think the consultant was doing this to be unkind or humiliate me. His request came from a genuine place: to what impact psychologically were (are) G-Man’s difficulties related to what is going on in his life and how as a collective could we address this for the best patient care.

    It’s an ongoing situation. G doesn’t have an eating disorder; his medical ‘foibles’ are complex and require further investigation (even as I type a referral to Minx’s gastro team at GOSH is on its way), interwoven with understandable anxiety around food , the pain it causes and the bigger picture. He’s also under CAMHS.

    That there has been a fall out from my ‘situation’ on all the children, there can be no doubt. Even now, if I am unwell physically or seem low the children are hypersensitive to me, like little meerkats on guard.  It will take time for that to subside and what I am beginning to realise, it may never go away entirely.

    I’m still recovering if that’s the right word to use. I feel frustrated with myself and angry. There are too many should’s/would’s/could’s (which my mental health team would rap me over the wrists for) – unhelpful words those – and I suppose like the layers of an onion, or perhaps the facets of a diamond, (definitely preferable to root vegetables in my eyes!) are to be evolved and discovered in time.

    Therefore, just as the 4 c’s in diamond terms are all important – cut, colour, clarity, carat weight –  we know there is no such thing as a flawless diamond; technically speaking even those given a flawless classification have the tiniest of blemishes or imperfections – (bet you will sleep better knowing that hey 😉)  Having a love of all things sparkly and glittery, I’ll happily compare myself to a flawed diamond (less of the rough diamond please).

    Perfectly imperfect. Needing a bit of a spit and polish.

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    • Uncle Tom Cobley origin:
      “Uncle Tom Cobley and all” is a well used British expression to define (in slight derision) a lot of people. It’s akin to the expression “the world and its wife” and  comes from from a Devon folk ballad (Widdicombe Fair in case you are really interested!)  Uncle Tom Cobley (and all) is named as the last of a long (long!) list of men with a chorus ending Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

    These are my salad days….

    Once upon a time there was a person called Mum. Mum originally had a name but Mum had ended up having so many children that she was now just known as Mum or for a spot of variety: G-Man’s Mum, Minx’s Mum, eldest teenager who must not be named’s Mum, Famalam (a whole new level of confusion brought about by the “yoof of today’s” obsession with roadman speak) and other variations on a similar theme.

    Mum suspects that her local authority may also have some pretty choice names for Mum but they are unlikely to be printable (or provable!) here and that is a story for another day.

    Before Mum actually had her own children, she was actually a very good mum even though strictly speaking she didn’t qualify for the title role. At that point in her life she only had 2 tri-coloured cats so unless you considered the phrase “who do you think you are, the cat’s mother?!” applicable, she was reaching somewhat.

    It turns out it’s much easier to be a brilliant Mum when you have imaginary children (and real cats) and only occasionally baby-sit other people’s or smirk at other parents whose children are having a public meltdown, smug in the knowledge that you could do the job SOOOOO much better.

    However, Mum knows that she was indeed a very good mother pre children because in those halcyon days she spouted such wisdom’s as “There’s no reason at all that ANY child should have a crusty/snotty note when its so easy to wipe with a tissue” or “my child will eat all the things we eat, just in smaller, less seasoned versions.” She also proclaimed  sagely to her fellow thinking- about-becoming- Mum friends that children wouldn’t really change her life as it was so important that children learnt to be adaptable and behave in all manner of situations, accompanied by a tinkly little laugh. Mummy was indeed the epitome of smug…

    Then Mummy went ahead and had THE CHILDREN. Mummy wasn’t entirely daft/(un)lucky to have 4 little darlings all at once. No, she thought she would spread the misery joy over a period of years. And then they all lived happily ever after. 

    So child number 1 was born and Mummy spent her days between feeding/crying/elation and exhaustion with her head buried in such bibles of wisdom as Annabel Karmel, Penelope Leach, What To Expect the 1st year, Toddler Taming and other such patronising fabulous tomes of parental guidance (no I don’t mean the film category) so that she could qualify as The BEST Mum EVER.

    Since I don’t want this to be a bedtime story that bores you to sleep, I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow account of children 1 through 4’s every waking moment as it goes on for many (many, many, many) years but one skill that Mummy found accompanied her through the early childhood years and surprisingly still lingers today is something called THE GUILT.

    Guilt was and is her ever-present ‘frenemy.’ It’s amazing just how guilt can raise it’s cocky little head at any given moment and Mummy feels sure that if universities offered degree courses in it, she would have more than qualified for not just a BA (hons) but probably an MA and possibly even a PHD too!

    Mummy you see very early on discovered that guilt was there to keep her occupied in the small hours of the night (why does this child never stop crying/screaming…have I broken it?? Did I actually want a child/ren after all?? ) and was especially good at loudly shouting when she pontificated if her children had an off button once they had found their annoying dear little voices that she had waited so patiently for to utter their first babble.

    Guilt was there when Mummy went back to work for the first time and everyone else she knew was a stay at home Mummy. Guilt joined her when she resorted to controlled crying. It sat heavily on her left shoulder (I’m pretty sure that’s the explanation for all the pain in her neck anyway) as she sat with her fingers in her ears when at her wit’s end she decided to try controlled crying in sheer, utter desperation. That didn’t go very well to start with as Mummy was unable to control HER crying and it very nearly became competition as to who would tire out first…..

    Over the years Mummy learned that THE GUILT had an uncanny talent for sneaking up on her at times she would least expect it. Mummy thinks back and wonders if THE GUILT is what is responsible for driving her to wine every night…then she remembers an interview on early morning television that suggested that if you have a glass of wine every night – even if it is only the one – that you are actually an alcoholic and THE GUILT laps it up. It has a very good appetite does guilt and it isn’t picky what it feeds off.  Mummy tries not to let it be an appetite for destruction and I am pretty sure she isn’t referring to the Guns ‘N’ Roses album of the same name…..

    One of the things THE GUILT has an extra special relationship with and most likes to taunt Mummy with is THE FOOD; specifically feeding THE CHILDREN.

    Mum studied the various Anabel Karmel books from cover to cover and invested in more ice-cube trays that you can possibly imagine  – originally for the purposes of storing and freezing micro amounts of home-made, pureed baby food in but now mostly used for the ice in a gin and tonic.

    Over the advancing years she resorted to google too. Technology being handily available at all hours meant she could consult this oracle getting tips on baby led weaning et al and make notes about delicious recipes even in the middle of the night!

    Nonetheless, it appears that Mummy’s precious darlings weren’t reading the books and despite being capable of reprogramming the Sky box/DVD recorder etc (something Mummy still struggles with today) definitely didn’t seem to understand the guiding principles and ethos of those internet articles showing happy, smiley pictures of  babies/toddlers eagerly scoffing down quinoa and edamame dip, chia and lingonberry smoothies and that piled on the guilt still further.

    Mum is pretty certain even over 10 years on G-Man still hasn’t forgiven her for the polenta/spinach loaf she lovingly created (what was she thinking?!) When served he deigned to take the teeniest of mouthfuls, then threw it disgustedly as the freshly painted wall. Mum watched in dismay as it “walked” itself over and over like a possessed rubber man toy down the wall to land with a splat forlornly on the wooden flooring. G clapped delightedly at the ensuing greasy slime mark.

    You see, back in her earliest (judgemental) Mum days, Mummy made a solemn vow to promote healthy eating choices and to cook all organic, exciting, varied meals with plenty of vegetables from scratch! She thought that manufactured baby foods were the devil’s spawn.

    Mummy didn’t quite think this through however with baby number 1 as she had gone back to work near enough full-time, was still having to get up for feeds in the small hours and was pretty much totally exhausted after a day at work away from her precious one (child, not wine for the avoidance of doubt).

    Very quickly Mummy discovered that if she spent all her waking hours peeling/chopping/boiling/mashing and pureeing, it left very little time for doing anything else, especially playing/reading and interacting with her dearest first born…and that made Mummy feel MORE GUILTY than ever.

    So Mummy got the stick out of her ass  relented and decided to buy some JAR FOOD thus freeing up some of her time and hoped that it would assuage some of THE GUILT. Surprisingly at times, this seemed to quite nicely pile on THE GUILT and Mummy may or may not have decanted jar food into baby bowls and sprinkled a few cubed bits of veg on to the top when she took it to nursery in keeping with the (myth) homemade baby food plan that she had…

    Child number 2 helped Mummy on her journey with THE GUILT by being sensitized to dairy proteins once she had given up feeding herself  and put him on formula. This took the form of eczema so horrific that child 2’s back would weep open sores which made him very sad and cranky and the stealer of all the sleep for months at a time. He also started with asthma at the same time. Co-incidence? Possibly but it accompanied her special friend, guilt, very nicely.

    Mummy subsequently found that an extraordinary number of every day items contain milk or dairy in some form or another and therefore spent a great deal of time of her time reading labels in supermarkets and working out how she could make alternative versions of favourite pasta sauces that Child 1 would also eat so that she wasn’t cooking herself into the ground and could at some point attempt the art of conversation with The Daddy. Mummy is pretty sure that at some point the art of conversation led to child number 3 but at that place in time she was so sleep deprived she can hardly recall.

    Child number 3  – G-Man – had extremely horrible, painful reflux. Mummy knew this by the high-pitched screaming and the contorting and jerking of his back that exhausted his poor little body. He was also able to vomit at will, projectile and prolifically, even hours after a feed.

    The Daddy didn’t really believe the Mummy at first when she insisted it was more than a bit of baby puke until he witnessed with his own eyes the baby upchucking so violently it hit 4 separate walls, the floor and the ceiling all in one go. Mummy was just waiting for his head to start spinning in the style of The Exorcist but at that point the Daddy had seen enough and agreed baby G should see the Doctor.

    After several bumps in the road, poor baby G was hospitalised as his blood tests showed his chemical balances were completely out of whack and the medical bods suspected a condition called pyloric stenosis.

    A few days of tests and investigations disproved this and thus began the ‘interesting’ journey of trying to get infant Gaviscon powder into a breast-fed baby.  This was not in reality a very fun game and by the time The Mummy and The Daddy had actually mixed it up, spooned it in, chased it back into the mouth from the drooly-chinned screaming baby, he had cried so much and gulped down so much wind, it all seemed pretty much pointless anyway.

    Mum and Dad were assured he would grow out of it and that moving onto solid food would be the making of him. He didn’t and it wasn’t. There isn’t a single baby picture of him for the first 3 years of his life without a bib in situ.

    Fast forward many years to present day, reflux is still hideous and painful and despite the maximum doses of antacid medications and motility speeding drugs, G Man has ended up being fed by a naso-gastric feeding tube since last October and no one is quite sure where this is going….Certainly the last 3 months of paediatrics appointments have shown he has lost weight, albeit very small amounts, and the medical bods are again scratching their heads as to the best way forward.

    Child 4  – Minx – for a variety of reasons was born at a time that had been accompanied by much stress and worry. In her early weeks of life when her numerous difficulties and quite significant medical issues became apparent, Mummy was pretty sure that THE GUILT was responsible for what had happened and that made her feel it even more which was a bit counter productive in the end.

    Minx’s first foray into actual food rather than breast-feeding definitely didn’t go to plan.  Frequent chest infections, coughing and choking during feeding, poor weight gain and a seeming inability to maintain a good suck reflex meant she had been assessed by a speech and language therapist (SALT) by the age of 4 months.

    After listening to her feed via a stethoscope, the SALT was concerned enough to ask for a video fluoroscopy to be carried out. A video fluoroscopy is a form of x-ray imaging which examines the mechanism of chewing and swallowing using barium sulphate and this is  added to a variety of foods and drinks. Tasty… Whilst eating/drinking occurs, a series of images are taken at different stages and the barium makes it easy for the radiographer and SALT to view what is happening and pin point any areas of concern or difficulty.

    Although the test is not in any way painful or invasive as such, since the body is exposed to radiation, it is not something that is undertaken lightly, especially in very young children.

    Since Mum and Dad were very new to the world of special needs, they hadn’t really absorbed the ins and outs of it all and were most definitely in a haze of unaware, uninitiated denial. They certainly hadn’t thought through the why’s and wherefores of how this test would be carried out. In fact, since it was scheduled at short notice, they hadn’t even been given a leaflet or chance to look it up on-line.

    On the day itself, it became apparent that getting barium liquid into a child who was solely breastfed, had never taken a bottle in her life and had no experience of “eating” not even a taste off a spoon was going to be interesting problematic.

    Fortunately as both parents were present, The Dad was promptly dispatched to the nearby pharmacy to pick up a ready sterilised bottle, formula and jar of pureed baby food so that the procedure could get underway.

    For many parents, no matter what number baby you are on, their first foray into tasting food off a spoon is a moment to be cherished, photographed and exclaimed over delightedly.  Watching a baby’s varying expressions of suspicion, doubt, grimace and/or delight is usually a fairly monumental occasion.

    This first tasting experience in a freezing cold, sterile in more than one sense of the word, environment was somewhat marred; a most inauspicious start.  Suffice to say it didn’t go well on multiple levels; not the least of which were exacerbated by the SALT and locum radiographer having a bit of a barney difference of opinion about whether it was acceptable to expose such a small baby to radiation from the procedure.

    I think I did promise further up that it wouldn’t be a blow-by-blow account of each child’s developmental journey…. I seem to have spectacularly failed on that front as this piece is already much longer than I had anticipated when the mood to put pen to paper or rather finger to keyboard originally struck me, so I’ll try to get to the point of why inspiration struck to write the dang thing anyway.

    Mum remains nagged insistently by THE GUILT and despite all the reasons she should know better has endeavoured to continue making as many delicious,  varied home-cooked  meals as she can possibly muster….that of course is between the myriad of appointments/admin/general assorted crappery that comes from managing 4 children with additional needs and the day-to-day running of the house.

    Contrary to at least half of the children’s falsely held beliefs that Mum spends ALL DAY every day on Facebook, Mum was inspired watching Gino D’Acampo on a well-known known morning TV show (whilst doing the ironing honestly and not at all checking out she of the Willoughboobby’s fame fabulous wardrobe – total lust envy ) talking about a family favourite meal from his childhood which was so easy and so delicious and could be made up from leftovers too AND incorporate all sorts of hidden veg! Genius!

    Mum watched Gino and crew waxing lyrical over various stages of the preparation and thought to herself how quick and easy, cheap and HEALTHY it all looked.  Indeed her own mouth was watering and discovering that she had near enough all of the ingredient already in, save some courgettes and the conghiglione (that’s large pasta shells for the likes of you and I) Mum vowed to pick up the extra bits for dinner. *

    Several shops later, Mum had scoured the local area for the blasted conchiglione without success. Waitrose had a blank space on the shelf as did M&S (although a price tag revealed that the shells were over £3 for a mere few hundred grams!!) and Ocado had plenty of alternative suggestions but nothing useful. If Mum had stopped to think for a moment, she should have realised that this was a SIGN and stopped right there and just served up some chicken nuggets goujons with nutritious vegetables chips.

    Mum however was still lost in a thought- haze of smiling, pink-cheeked grateful children thanking her for such degustation and how the dinner time conversation would flow with abandon about all the new and varied food stuffs they would try together.

    So Mum went to the overpriced deli and purchased the conghiglione then set about this veritable feast of gastronomy. About 2 hours into the process Mum reflected that the ba**arding recipe hadn’t looked nearly so time-consuming and complicated on the TV, forgetting of course that Gino had one of those handy “here’s one I made earlier” bods for at least 3 stages of the process that had been condensed down to a 10 min slot on TV.  Nor had Gino used every single item in the kitchen as she appeared to have done. Mum surveyed the unholy mess surrounding her with gritted teeth but glibly anticipated the raptures of delight from her children and knew it would all be worth the end result. She did however decide at that point if she was ever going to make this again she was bloody well going to buy béchamel sauce rather than make it from scratch!!

    Fast-forward to dinner time, and the family gathered expectantly round the table, Mum anticipated their reactions excitedly. It certainly looked fantastic and smelled amazing! Plates were piled high and for good measure Mum had made a large salad and served some garlic dough balls on the side as an extra treat.

    Child 1 promptly reminded Mum that he didn’t eat pasta (except on camping trips with friends as a “necessity”) and mooched off to make himself scrambled eggs. Child 2 wasn’t home and child 3 point-blank refused to eat anything. Sigh. All hopes pinned on child 4, she did at least raise a spoon to her mouth….then informed Mum that actually she “wasn’t a big fan of this muck” and would just stick to the dough balls, salad oh and the shop bought orzo pasta ready salad in the fridge

    Mum could have just put her head in her hands and sobbed but she was far too busy shovelling in mouthfuls of the food to care at this point and The Dad seemed to be enjoying it anyway.

    The dog put his paw lovingly on her knee with big, pleading mournful eyes and told her without the need of words that he would happily scarf down any portion she was willing to give him.

    Although Mum has a STRICT(ish) ban on feeding the dog from the table, she did briefly contemplate putting something on his own special plate….and then she remembered it contained onions which are very BAAAADDD for doggies and cheese which was the equivalent of about 5 hamburgers or something  so she had read in the vet, so that was that.

    Mum has learned many a valuable lesson from that last venture into making meals off the tele…..and she won’t attempt it again for a while….but she might just tell the guilt to do one…at least temporarily….

    *in case like Mum you fancy trying the recipe it’s this one: https://www.itv.com/thismorning/food/conchiglioni-pasta-bake-gino-dacampo-recip

    Mum made the largest quantity using the vegetarian option and also used up some smoked salmon & sauce in some of the other shells. Note if you are serving strict veggies or those with dietary restrictions eg Kosher/Halal, you will need to substitute the pecorino or find a vegetarian version.

    (Wo)Man’s best friend ❣️

    This is a post I didn’t think I’d write for many years to come. One I shouldn’t even be thinking of composing. It’s not right. It’s not fair but here it is.

    I am also acutely aware that this ramble may be perceived as very self-indulgent. Far too many of my good friends have lost their children. I would not dream for one moment of comparing my grief to theirs. But nonetheless the sudden and very unexpected loss of our much loved dog burns white hot and I am hollowed out with sadness. For all intents and purposes, our pup was a fully paid up 7th member of the family. Well technically 8th I guess if you count the cat. (We do love her too!)

    If you have read any of my past blogs, you will know some of the difficulties and battles our family has faced over the last few years.

    Whilst it’s not a competition, no top-trumps fest, the day to day demands of medically complex children, the amazing quirks but also relentlessness of autism, endless appointments, clinics, surgeries, battles for and with various agencies and services takes its toll. You Buddy (or Sir Budston of Burnarrrr as we sometimes referred to you!) my wonderful little dog, helped alleviate some of those burdens.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I recognise there are many people, probably some of them reading this, who would give everything they have and then some to be facing those same fights and difficulties I mentioned, having lost their precious loved ones far too prematurely; but oh my boy, I thought we had so many long and happy years ahead; wondrous walks to stroll/pad through, delightful or disgusting (depending on your perspective) smells to sniff and cuddles on the sofa to sneak in at any and every opportunity.

    Buddy, much admired by all who met you, faithful four legged companion. How can we only have celebrated your birthday a month ago? How can it be that we never even made it to a whole year of you being in our lives, in our home?

    You were my birthday present almost one year ago. We had talked about having a dog for over 5 years before taking the plunge. A bit like having a child, it was never quite the right time to introduce a dog to our chaotic lives.

    Enlarging the family, moving house, redundancies, working abroad, relocating and leaving the island of my birth and the only home our children had ever known followed by house rentals before finally having a settled(ish) house of our own.

    Quite out of the blue and having been a steadfast, most resistant party, I’ll never forget the day my hubby, Martin, turned to me and asked if I wanted a puppy for my birthday!

    Minx was about to go into theatre for surgery number whatever and was giggling woozily from the pre-op medication. I recall being so taken aback I asked him if he had actually downed the pre-med instead! I was ecstatic and not about to give him time to change his mind.

    Although it had been a long time coming, I knew exactly what kind of dog would suit our family, our crazy-hectic-bonkers lives and had done quite a bit of research in the hope that one day… maybe…just maybe… we would be lucky enough to have a pooch of our own.

    We saw your picture first and a flurry of emails were exchanged before THE BIG DAY: your homecoming; my 40 something birthday. The moment I picked you up, cuddled you to me and laughed at the thought of putting you in the enormous crate in the back of the car, you filled our hearts so entirely. The void you leave behind is a chasm of epic proportions. I don’t know how or if ever it can be filled.

    It doesn’t seem possible that I’m writing about your passing over the rainbow bridge when we should be looking forward to so many more years of mischief and mayhem. More days fretting about what you might have managed to scarf down if one of us wasn’t quick enough to stop you – I lost count the amount of Lego I scooped up just in time; how many bits of this and that I retrieved from your doggy jaws. Your quivering nose whiffling along always seeking out, questing and foraging. You could smell a dropped blueberry from a 100 paces and hear the rustling of the treats bag in the kitchen no matter where you were in the house or garden; a pretty useful tactic when you were being cheeky and not wanting to come to us when called!

    You brought so much happiness. Joy, laughter, giggles and fun. And so much poop too! Martin tells me he cleaned up 12 doggy bags worth yesterday. Considering I last did it on Saturday morning and yesterday was only Wednesday, that’s quite an achievement. Especially since you were nil by mouth from Monday night on. And you were at the vets all day Tuesday….

    We joked it didn’t feel right to get rid of all the 💩; perhaps we should create some poo-based monstrosity altar dedicated to you? Your legendary pooping out an entire, intact nerf bullet still makes me smile now. (NB definitely not to be encouraged responsible readers/dog owners – the children learnt the hard way that I meant what I said if they left things like Lego/nerf bullets lying around = bin)

    A lot of expectation on such stumpy little legs. Not just the 6 people in your immediate family cuddling you, loving, and petting you. So many people that had the pleasure to meet you – our favourite coffee shop by the river and all the employees therein, our lovely groomer and her dog Poppy, friends and family and the seemingly never ending stream of delivery people with medical supplies or equipment, Amazon deliveries and so forth. Always an action packed day in this wonky-old household and you always ready to greet them with a deep woof, occasional bark and a wave of your magnificent plume of a tail. We often remarked your tail was bigger than you! It looked like it should sit in pride of place on a hat worn by one of the 3 Muskateers. And now I have a small piece of it saved in a memory box to remember you by. It smells still of the grooming, pamper session you had just last Friday. I’m glad it is of that and not the clinical smells of the veterinary practice, their kindness not withstanding. Your grooming sessions over the year cost more than my haircuts!

    You were my secret keeper extraordinaire. Too many nights I muttered oaths into the top of your sweetly curling fur when dealing with the latest co*k-up from various services, be they special needs, medical bods or utility companies. So many times I poured out my heart and soul to you, you listening attentively with your head on one side, adopting the classic cava tilt that all other cavachon owners will recognise in its uniqueness. When I was saddest you snuggled that bit closer. When I was happy you were delighted that there were extra treats and cuddles and when it was all just a bit too much, you expected nothing but ensured your presence was always felt.

    We joked often that you were not so much a dog – more part goat, part sloth. Your dislike of vigorous, brisk walks was the cause of much frivolity and it was remarked upon more than once that you were the perfect companion for a fair-weather not terribly exercise motivated owner such as myself. Too many times at the site of your harness and lead you would feign sleep or rush back to your bed refusing to come out, especially if it was cold. and dark. and raining. and there was a ‘Y’ in the day…..

    Of course now I know my darling boy, you weren’t just faking it; you weren’t trying to make me feel better about the dislike of walking in the 4-seasons-in-1-day climate of Yorkshire. You were tired. Your little body was constantly battling a build up of toxins that in the end would be your downfall.

    I try to take comfort from the fact that you are no longer suffering. That we could afford you the peace and dignity that is so often missing when our human loved ones are terminally ill. It makes a small dint in my grief.

    At the moment there is too much sadness in this household. Too many reminders everywhere we look: your water bowl empty, toy box neat and tidy, not strewn all over the kitchen. Your place on the sofa vacant. I think even Tilly the Cat in her own feline way misses you; after all she can no longer take a swift munch out of your breakfast or dinner when she thinks none of us are looking.

    Members on a wonderful Facebook web site I belong to for cavachon lovers have provided me with enormous support. An out pouring of love, empathy and sympathy. A stunning bouquet of flowers was delivered from them to me today. It made me cry again. But the tears were underscored by gratitude too. After all as Alfred Lord Tennyson said it best: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”Buddy 04/10/2016 – 14/11/2017 🌈❣️

    Comfortably numb…

    Life, at the risk of sounding self indulgent and more than a little self pitying can best be described in the title above. At least for the time being and that’s ok with me. Comfortably numb sits comfortably. 

    I have loved this amazing song for many years but, you will forgive me if I defer to the Scissor Sisters version and the soothing warbles of Jake Shears than the sanctimonious, anti-Zionist (read anti-Semitic no matter what he may say) Roger Waters opus. 

    It’s a song I have sang along and danced to in the past. Briefly thinking on the lyrics only in so far as much as trying to remember them for appalling, impromptu karaoke. 

    But of late, they are strangely soothing and a fitting discourse of this time in our lives.  

    Urban Dictionary’s top definition: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Comfortably%20Numb

    Doesn’t that describe the perfect “safe” place? Removed from the sharp stabs of real life, set apart from the disappointments, the difficulties, the knocks and the scrapes. And if that is so, then comparibly the edges dulled off the fun, frivolity, light and laughter?

    Does this make me melancholy? I do not think so. Does it make me less able to participate, share, enjoy? Perhaps. Nonetheless I will gladly settle for this numbness. There is little that can surprise me or scare me in this half life. It allows me to maintain a sense of glass half full. 

    I realised on our journey to hospital this morning that my benchmark for stress, nerves and worry is very different to what it once was. 

    Not to take away from any parent/carer watching their loved ones suffer or go through scary, frightening procedures but this is our norm. Different child, different hospital but largely the same. 

    Did I appear to the nursing staff cold, unfeeling? The soft “are you alright Mum?” after the anaesthetic had been administered and my not so little boy’s head gently laid back upon the bed, a kiss on his still baby-soft skin , barely registered. I was dry-eyed and calm. I have walked this walk, talked this talk more times than I can recall. Is that admission in itself shameful? Should I know, unbidden, which child, what number anaesthetic? Why? 

    I find myself waiting, pausing for a beat, attuned for updates. News of medical tests, results, tribunals, social care, and so forth; the envelopes received with post-marks from various hospitals, the no caller ID flashing up on my mobile, the ping of an email: I am both strangely alert – a cat on hot bricks and yet not really surprised by the lack of information.  I’m a bit bored of it all. Blanketed by ennui. 

    So for now I will embrace the numbness, float along. The bumps are smoothed out. Temperate but equally obdurate.