Poached Egg

Recommended: ‘Voices in the Park’ by Anthony Browne, for looking at different perspectives. His illustrations are full of quirky humorous detail and reflect the demeanour of the four different characters. One picture sparked off a discussion about anger in our class of Year 3 pupils. It’s the picture of the boy’s mother in full outrage that her son and her dog should fraternise with others and she clearly thought beneath them. It made the children laugh so much, after one girl had begun to titter.

After the giggles subsided, she explained why she’d found it funny. She said that she thought adults being angry is often quite funny because of the way they look and how their voices change, and they can’t really control themselves. Lots of the other kids agreed that it was a funny situation in the book, but that sometimes if an adult is angry it could be scary.

We had a go at doing angry faces and poses at each other and with great enjoyment. We talked out how ridiculous (child’s words) a person could look when cross, also how you might end up saying stupid things when you are angry.

 

This struck a chord with me and took me back a good number of years to our childhood kitchen. My Dad was a bit of an angry man sometimes. This particular day, he’d woken up in a mood and was for some reason insistent that I cook a poached egg on toast for my younger brother.

I’d never cooked a poached egg before, but knew it involved boiling water and a plastic spoon I’d seen my Mum use. This was my starting point. Boil the kettle. Pour water into saucepan and switch on electric hob. Great, I thought, now the egg bit.

While the kettle had been boiling, my Dad paced about a bit, grunting to himself before making his way into the living room. Things lightened up and my brother appeared from the sidings somewhere.  I looked for the eggs and put a piece of bread under the grill. The toast was ready on one side, but I still hadn’t found the eggs. I turned the toast and went about searching. There they were, in the fridge in a clear plastic pack which made a terrific crackling noise when I picked it up and when I snapped it open to retrieve an egg.

My brother watched me at close quarters and I was glad of the company as I felt quite nervous. He watched me carrying the egg towards the now boiling pan of water on the hob.  I knew I had to crack the egg like Mum did, so with all my gathered bravery I bashed the egg on the side and held it over the pan. Then with my thumbs I prised the shell apart and the egg plopped into the boiling water. I realised then the other side of the toast was smelling very brown and got it out with my hands. It was hot, so I started to blow on it and my hands before depositing it on the worktop. I really thought I’d cracked it, this egg making malarkey and began gathering plate, knife, fork and spread margarine on the toast ready for the egg to go on top. My brother and I watched the pot.

After a bit, Dad came in. The redness of his face told the tale of high blood pressure, angina and type 2 diabetes, though as a child I just took it as him having worked himself into a snit over the poaching of an egg.

“Isn’t it ready yet?” he asked with passion.

“I’m not sure,” I said nervously,” I’ll check.”

Grasping the slotted spoon I’d seen Mum use, checking. The water in the pan was still boiling and lots of white stuff swam about energetically.

“I can’t see it,” I said pushing the spoon around in the water. Having spotted a hint of yellow, my hopes were raised. My brother supressed a snigger.

“Where is it? Dad asked

“I can’t find it.” I pushed about a bit more, “It is in here,” I said. I started to snigger quietly and so did my brother, his shoulders taking on the vibration. Little gasps escaped.

After a bit more spoon wafting in the pan I yelled triumphant,” I found it!”

With the slotted spoon, I removed the egg and held above the pan for all to see. A shrivelled, pale yellow ball sat there looking not at all like a poached egg.

We both burst out laughing, my brother and me. We couldn’t stop ourselves. I can’t even remember if my brother ever ate the disaster of breakfast. I do remember vividly the feeling of euphoria and mirth, which defeated the anger and my anxiety completely. We giggled on for some time.

Dad left the room.

angry

 

 

 

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Wake up and The Weight of Life

Wake up

Sunday broke through the curtains and the heavy tock tock seemed then louder than I’d ever heard it. All was quiet and still in the little bungalow, apart from the monotonous clock and the occasional hum of traffic on the busy road nearby.

At first, I lay there just absorbing the noise into myself, into my breathing and letting my body take it all in. I throbbed with the rhythm of the expectant ambiance, a droning, troubled calm, brooding and stultifying. I began to twitch under the heavy blankets until I felt I would explode.

I pulled myself out and stood liberated on the carpeted floor, nobody stirring other than me. Alone, I was suddenly elated. I moved and peeped around the room, between brothers and sisters strewn about on the floor. Not a sign of movement and just me there in my golden moment. I paced the space between the sofa and the door, but in no time searching for unused air in the room began to pall and I decided to open the door. It squeaked a little as I pulled it into the room. There, beyond, was the hall – a big long fresh space.

Up and down I walked on tiptoe examining the walls, the floor, the ceiling and the little table with the telephone on it. The wood underfoot reminded me of gym and my step took on a flippant bounce.  Gradually faster and faster until I was skipping lightly, a few jumps and turns in between. I returned to the lounge and frolicked between the dead. Absorbed in my sport, I existed in my own world only, small step running between mounds of blankets and pillows, flirting with the edges of my solitude. I began to hum and sing. I felt happy, leaping about, up and down, unabashed and unfettered.

Just as I was running the length of my older sister, pretending to be on a horse, the door flew wide open and Granny appeared in her nightie. I was delighted and made towards her wearing a wide grin.

She caught my arm as I approached, twirled me round deftly and thwacked me soundly on the back of my leg with her free hand.

Wordlessly she disappeared. The door closed firmly behind her. I stood feeling wronged, foolish and small. Then returned to my makeshift bed where I lay down and watched the ceiling take up the light of the day.


 

Whenever I think of this incident it makes me laugh. It was a good lesson to learn not to disturb people sleeping in the early hours of the morning. It was a shock to be smacked, but it did the trick and it was the only time Granny hit. I guess that’s why it stands out, a bit like the little baldy patch among my newly grown hair. The rest of the hair is soft and growing happily, so that I’ll probably be able to do a wee comb-over to disguise it when it gets long enough.

The radiotherapy did it’s job, reducing the size of some the tumors and rendering some undetectable on MRI scan. The upshot is that things are quite stable for now, so I resolve to try and worry less and live more. I still have to consider the end, write my will and prepare for the inevitable. Somehow everything seems more doable and chances are I may have been bought a little more time for which I’m very thankful.

The Weight of Life

According to Dr Duncan MacDougall in 1901, it seems there’s a difference between the weight of a human being when alive as compared to when dead. It’s twenty one grams. What is it that weighs this much which leaves us when we pass on? Is it the soul as some suggest? Is it that constant working, moving, processing, transferring, making generates a weight or mass which is lost when the processes stop? If it was an object, weighing twenty one grams, what would it look like?

I like the idea of being given some lightweight, mouldable material, weighed and divided into bundles of precisely twenty one grams, and each person in a large shopping centre say, representing the missing mass in the form of sculpture. Imagine a whole shopping centre full of people’s missing mass sculptures. A sea of souls, all the same weight, but unique every last one.

Representing our essence isn’t something we do every day consciously, though I would say we carry it with us. When you see someone in the street you can guess a lot about them from their walk or how they are dressed, but of course this first impression is superficial and usually turns out to be nothing like the real person you would get to know. Imagine, if you could see the real person, the good in them, their trials and their triumphs, their dreams. How different would our society be? Would we help each other more?

When I stop to consider all the people who have helped me, I am truly humbled by the thoughtfulness and caring that goes into the simplest things. I’ve been supported in so many ways by people who have helped lighten the load for me. I wondered if this twenty one grams could represent the final load lightened, cares and woes forgotten, shedding of earthly concerns, anxieties cast asunder. How much do our worries weigh? They certainly cost.

Too much childhood anxiety and stress causes cortisol to wash round the developing brain, and can lead to a greater risk of diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer in later life. Luckily the plasticity of the brain means that given the right nurturing, children can recover from trauma and stress and can thrive. We know ourselves as adults too much stress and anxiety is not good for us, though many would say some helps them to perform better, and we are often reminded of the effects of stress on our lives, in terms of our health, but we lead such hectic lives in the modern world. How can we lighten up?

There are any number of self help books that’ll tell you how. My feeling is that we are often given to worry and stress about things that don’t really matter in any case and that realising how short life is can help you with sweating the small stuff.

A secondary cancer diagnosis will do that, though you end up with a new set of concerns. ‘Is my wig on straight?’ has been a recent one.  The major worry for me, the one that is always in the background, is about hurting my loved ones (especially my wee boy) with grief. What a weight that is to give someone you love. On a very selfish note, I hope I can take these feelings of love with me, people say you do. And to pass on, to shed the twenty one grams, must be easier knowing you have loved and have been loved. As they say in the song, it’s the greatest thing you’ll ever learn.

 

Time Past Waits There Patiently

Time Past Waits There Patiently

It’s been a few days now since the news of my brain (not that I’ve lost it entirely!) and I’ve been remarkably ok. Some happy moments combined with an overwhelming urge to set my world to order before I can no longer. This is pretty normal. I’ve also come to accept that this in this chaotic world, I can’t do it all. Also I want to paint and draw, walk, be with my family. I’ve been following them everywhere. They know, my son knows, about the cancer in my brain although he assures me that he’ll still love me when I’m stupid after the treatment. He says he likes the idea of winning more board games.

I’m to have whole brain radiotherapy, because there are multiple small tumours distributed over the brain and so picking them off one by one would be tricky and also may miss those present though smaller than can be detected. This has implications for the healthy cells of course. My memory long, short and working could be affected and I think I’m going to have to take this on as a real probability lest I should be disappointed at not being able to complete an easy Sudoku on the back of the paper when waiting for my Chinese carry out.

Seriously though, I’m terrified of this: my memory and thoughts with them myself, me, being lost. I want to try to write my memoirs like a download, a record and mainly just because I’ve always wanted to write.

I love stories, making my world into stories and understanding what has become of the child, born fifty years ago in a tiny mining town just South of Edinburgh. I’ve come a long way in 50 years. I’ve had a life like so many other people, ups and downs, and I would have benefited from knowing what I know now right at the start. As a baby, named after the childminder of my two older sisters, how was I to know anything really? We all learn in our own time. I have learned that life is short, and life is good, peppered with utter bliss though it can sometime hurt so much. Life is wondrous.

I’ve always marvelled at the fact that everything is made of atoms without exception and the atoms are made of around 14 different types of ‘stuff’ that arises when matter is formed. So that’s everything, you, me, the table, that insect that just inspected my cup of tea, the bacteria on this keyboard, the air I breathe in and out, all made of the same stuff. Like a big pot of 14 types of stuff arranged in different ways, connected somewhat, but distinct from one another as part of the world. Though I am alive, we’d say the table is not. The water in my glass is not alive, but the insect is. In the jumble of things, what is life? What is the magic that turns us from ‘stuff’ into living, loving, thinking and feeling living beings? Whatever it is, I’m glad I am touched with it.

 

The computer hums at me as I contemplate. I drink water and tea and wonder where to start. My memories and my story are waiting in there, while the radiation bounces round damaging cells. This will take a while to work its way about, so that in a few months an MRI scan will show how successful the treatment has been. My understanding is that healthy cells will recover and go on doing what they do, while the unhealthy ones will die and not reproduce themselves unhealthily. I’ve no idea really how the story will be and it might not be in order or make any sense other than to me. I feel compelled to I’ll choose a moment from the past I think. A while back I wrote some stories about my grandmother. I’ll get my breakfast if you’d like to read one…

Just a Trifle

The trifle appeared. From where and for why, I had no idea, other than this was Granny’s house and this was a trifle. The two would be irrevocably linked in my mind, as if in fact they were only one thing composed of millions of minute parts, including for instance: a custard dwelling place built upon a foundation of soaked-in-fruit-jelly sponge, topped with heart stopping roof of whipped cream sprinkled with rain of hundreds and thousands.

We ate politely with our shiny silver spoons, making sure not to snort or gobble. Granny said soothing things as we delicately scooped the last delicious scraps from the glass bowls. At the end of our meal she clucked happily, tidying the plates and cutlery into the kitchen. I thought: this is what a granny is.

She certainly looked like a granny; there could be no mistaking it. She was short and grey and her upper back was round like someone had stuffed it with a cushion. Her knuckles were knobbly and wrinkled and the skin on her face was papery and thin and it hung about her face as if it really didn’t belong to her. I wondered idly if she had once been really big but then shrunk. That was my Granny.

One Sunday morning, we sat at the tiny formica table in the kitchen while granny fed us toast with cheese triangles and cups of weak tea. My tongue was still reeling in disbelief that it was possible to eat cheese so early in the day, when Granny approached the fridge and announced there was to be a treat. My heart quickened at the thought of something sugary. Naturally this the perfect compliment to a sophisticated repast. Granny said the word ‘later’…

Disappointment and a feeling of needing not to seem ungrateful filled up my skinny little body. She asked us to guess what it might be. We didn’t guess but looked on silently, all three of us sisters, with eyes like saucers. Granny produced a large bowl and tilted it so that we could see. A yellow, shiny gloop stared blankly back. Granny explained the latter stages of trifle making with a girlish excitement I’d never seen in her so animated. I was It didn’t seem right seeing the trifle in this state; unfinished and less than magnificent. It was the spectacle of the finished piece I so adored. This stripped back, deconstructed half-dessert wasn’t the same and somehow I resented now knowing that it wasn’t a fantastical work of magic, but instead a planned, long laboured over and therefore ordinary work.

She also explained that we should wash up the dishes and do some weeding in the garden while she went to mass. With that she changed her slippers for shoes and her apron for a coat in the hall just beyond, and then, reaching up for her hat as she went through the door, she reminded us to be ‘good’. The door clicked shut and the sound of her clackety heels receded into the rumble of distant, intermittent traffic.

Once she was gone the house filled with an air of uncertainty. I’d never washed dishes before. Soon I found myself with my hands in the sink directed by my two older sisters, feeling warm water soak up my sleeves. I kept washing, but the dishes seemed to go on appearing for a considerable time. I felt the aching lack of granny and her quiet in the labour of this. A space opened up, filled with something I couldn’t yet name which made me realise that I was a child and this was a chore. My sisters dried and put the dishes away as I washed. They chattered and I listened.

Later, in the garden we stood about wondering how to find a weed. Every border adjoining the gently sloped grassy bank up to the back fence resolutely refused to give us any clues. The house-sized rose bed pursed its lips tightly, pushing out the perfumed petals, but showed nothing we could get hands on to show the required amount of work. Bewildered we went to the front garden where a perfect display of summer colour met our search. No weeds.

What were we to do? The instructions were clear. What would happen if Granny returned to find no weeds had been pulled out? I was gripped with fear of untold wrath. The pit of fear rose up and held me while my sisters went on looking.

Together they found the only weed in the garden: a thistle, a weed and no doubt. We discussed at length that thistles were weeds and this was definitely a thistle. It was as big as me. The leaves were broad and leathery. In full purple flower and jagged without mercy, the solid abomination took all of our combined wit and strength to remove. We laboured with trowel and fork, scratching our skin and soiling our clothes. The sun shone full on our efforts.

By the time we’d dug out the root, the perfect grass was flattened all about with trodden in soil and the defeated creature lying vanquished on the front path. The skin under my nails ached with dry summer earth, jammed in tight. We had worked, and now satisfied, made our way towards the side path to find a suitable resting place for the disgraced thistle in the back garden.

Just then an odd squawking noise rang out along the quiet road. We turned to see Granny at the front gate with her fingers over her mouth and eyes wide. Silence roared up and crashed upon us. Granny’s breath escaped.

“My thistle,” she whispered.

A silence lasted as mountains do. “I’ve been growing that for fifteen years.”

Later that evening, she offered us more of the magnificent and delicious trifle. She scooped out little helpings into our bowls and sighed. The escaping air filled the spaces, forgave us, and resigned me to my guilt at not recognising her labour in all of this. How she had put effort into all of her world for our benefit. Nothing at Granny’s went without noticing from then on.

_________________________________________________________

And so I return to the present and after a bowl of fruit with yoghurt and honey, I’m full but still yearning for cheese triangles and the warmth of her, and her trifle home.

 

Everything Changes

 

Everything does change in time, but believe me, things also stay the same. The crucial word here is TIME. I capitalise this, not because I’m shouting; it’s just so important I cannot overemphasise it.

I wrote this piece below, the first of (I hope) many such blogs, the same day as the fete held at my son’s primary school, during which…

I petted in the petting zoo, admired bouncing in the bouncy castle, and on the grass all around as Ms C. handles the monies, including those cascading from the children’s clothing and little clenched fists. Ukulele aficionados plunk and plick their way through classics of our time like, Jolene (wish I’d joined in!), We happily mill around with other parents and children, pore over books, plants, and all sorts of lovey tat and bric-a-brac. And, ear plugs at the ready, the Samba band, who could resist? Children street dance in groups, solo, in pairs. I’m blown away and so is my wee boy though he tries not to show it. Someone’s offering free lessons nearby to teach kids skateboard skills! Arrrghhh, the bruises, I can’t bear it!

‘Overprotective!’

GET BACK IN THE BOX!!

I watch my son have a rare old time, him loving every beautiful, tiny quanta of time. Me loving him. Especially him getting in a zorb,  without getting the screaming ad-dabs and make a good attempt at flattening that corner of the field. No worries though, eventually the grass will bounce back – don’t all living things? MRS NERG remember? ‘Overanalysing!’

GET BACK IN THE BOX

 

We (me and my son, that is) had a great time and enjoyed chatting and joking with ex-colleagues (I did a just under a year of supply there, was devastated at having to leave at the end of my contract but subsequently became relieved at not having to work alongside my husband in case he found out how fallible and frankly scatterbrained I really am).

‘Whoops! Is that ‘Imposter Syndrome?’

GET BACK IN THE BOX!!

————————————-

So I got the news yesterday I have breast cancer in the brain in more than half a dozen sites, small and treatable with whole brain radiotherapy. I’m still me but I feel a bit different. Well, my time is limited now, but how limited we really don’t know – without treatment 6 months, but a lady five years ago in the same position as me is alive and has not had a return of the brain metastases (secondary cancer sites). So who knows?

Can I unpick what’s going on? I can sit in the garden and talk about the plants and insects I see. I can eat a lunch prepared by my husband and eat watermelon. I can drink and enjoy a coffee, though it’s nicer at home out of one of my cup and saucer combos. I can look at my phone and Facebook and twitter in a daze. I can look at the missed calls and wonder why the hospital hasn’t left a message. All the things I can do, I did do and here I am now, typing, thinking I better get this out and in the open before it’s too late. But what? What is it I want to say, who am I talking to and what on earth am I doing here when I suppose there must be a billion things one is supposed to do when this happens.

Should I phone, Facebook and tweet my way into people’s lives to share my news and hear their reactions? I can’t really face that right now and here I am typing in an uncomfortable position with a timer on so I don’t go overboard and die at the computer before I drink my next glass of water. What am I saying?

The computer fuzzes and so does the fridge, distant sounds of the traffic outside, the noise of my head. The back door is open and the warm summer hums beyond. It’s a beautiful day, just all the right ingredients for a picnic perhaps. I can hear a pigeon. I have an invite to go with my ex-piano teacher to see a lovely meadow at nine tomorrow morning. My husband has booked two cinema tickets at my suggestion to see a film a nine o’clock tonight. It’s an Japanese anime. I love cartoons, drawing and cinema which lets me escape. In between I will sleep.

I took a photo of the brain scan, just one. One which showed a blob, left hand side, at the back. We couldn’t really see the rest, but scrolled up down in and out. I saw my face look ghostly and the sections of my brain, there on the screen. I felt a bit scared, fascinated to see the inside of my own brain, a need to stop the looking and leave as we looked on. I don’t know why it was so important to see it for myself. Perhaps I wanted to know it was real maybe just in case there had been some mistake. Like when we said after Mum died we wanted to see her. Why do people need that I wonder? It was there, definitely there, and real.

I have this feeling that I need to record this somehow, for some reason. I guess it’s not important why, just seems the right thing to do. Get it out and make it into something else. A poem perhaps, a work of some sort, almost like I need to write my thoughts before they are no more, before my memory fades and the brain I have is gone.

I’ve always liked my brain. I enjoy using it for all sorts of stuff – even the moving around. It’s got cancer in it now. I hope the radiotherapy can get rid of it. Radiation for the whole brain though, seems a bit blunt and I am scared that I will find things don’t work as well after the treatment. I can tell you I am not in control of this, there’s so much I want to do still. I wish I had not waited. I just need to get confident and do it really. I have to trust that it’s going to be okay, the treatment will have effect and the end peaceful when it eventually comes, hopefully not for a while yet. Meantime I know I must live my life and there is no other option. How I live my life is important though. It’s a question of how is my time best used and what things I can do to make it a good life.

My son is 10. I don’t want him to have to grieve so young, or at all if I’m totally honest, but he will have to sooner or later. I just hope they can buy me some time with the treatment. Hubby says our boy’s had a really good 10 years and those happy, secure years will stand him in good stead. I feel I don’t want him to hurt. A bit more time… A fly buzzes in. I welcome the distraction.

Six minutes to go writing. My phone didn’t ring but there’s a message, just going to play it. It will be about the treatment. It might be time to sign off for now and come back another day.

Meanwhile here is a picture of my brain, just to prove to myself, more than anything else, that this is real.

  What’s going on???

https://www.nibib.nih.gov/science-education/science-topics/magnetic-resonance-imaging-mr

Amazing to actually see this! This image is from an MRI scanner. Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner to be precise, which I like to be. How does it work?