Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


8 Comments

Why Tenerife?

In a country renown for its crazy festivals, on an island known for its love of fiestas, Las Tablas de San Andres is surely one of the wackiest. Don’t let the name fool you – it might take place on St Andrew’s Day, but it’s not at all religious, unlike many of Tenerife’s celebrations, which are based loosely on Catholic philosophy………

That was how I began this post,  back in December. The trouble with being “away” for so long is that you forget “how to do it,” write that is. Oh, not the tapping of keys or the putting together of words, but the train of thought, the remembrance of things said before, even the enthusiasm for a place or an event. I wrote a couple of paragraphs back in December, and then it occurred to me to check what I had written the last time, because I knew I’d written about this festival a few years back, and I didn’t want to repeat myself. When I looked, I realized that I had nothing new to say. I knew that I could say it better now (note to self: tidy up that post!), but the information, my feelings, my reactions were pretty much the same.

The beginning of my blogging hiatus perhaps began with this one in 2015. I was already out of love with the perennial round of fiestas which punctuates island life. My relationship with Tenerife, like a stale marriage, lacked sparkle and curiosity, and even love. Predictably, festivals come around, and I enjoy them, but they have all fudged together in my mind. They follow the traditional paths they have taken for decades, and  I needed variety. I was finding it difficult to raise enough enthusiasm to go, let alone write about them, which is not to say that you shouldn’t go to them, especially if you are here on vacation. The island does fiestas superbly, they are colourful, friendly, fun and a tribute to island heritage.

30652384_10216209121922004_7844071391715393536_n

Days on Tenerife don’t always end up the way you expect

Continue reading

Advertisements


5 Comments

In Defense of Hating to Shiver

My friend, Mike Sowden, wrote this marvellous piece in his blog, Fevered Mutterings, last week. A few years back I might have agreed, but, sitting here, blanket wrapped around my shoulders, sneakers and thick socks on my feet, reading it, I can’t help but take issue with him!

Dear Mike,

I’m sorry. I love your writing. I don’t think I have ever disagreed with anything you’ve written before. But … you see, I hate to shiver.

In 40 years of North-of-England weather, and 30 years of sub-tropical living, I have never felt as teeth-chatteringly chilly as I have over the last five weeks or so.

IMG_3262 Continue reading


2 Comments

Island Autumn

I probably wouldn’t be living where I am right now if I was as hooked on Autumn as I think I am. I could choose to live up in the mountains, where chestnuts grow, mists swirl, and the season looks more …… familiar. But I don’t. I live on the coast, not the warmest part, but warm enough to remind me each day that these islands are nicknamed “The Islands of Eternal Spring.”

20171019_081459

Even sand dunes are parched in October, as early-morning swimmers paddle into the ocean.

Autumn here is often marked by a return to greenery, rather than the loss of it in a fiery display of gold and orange. Some time in Autumn the rains come, and days afterwards, as the sun warms the earth again, even the most barren-looking tracts of land turn grassy. Within days, tiny, green shoots flourish like triffids, and the landscape is much  ……..kinder than before.

Continue reading


7 Comments

A Philosophical Journey and a Mission Statement

When I was very young, we lived with my grandparents, in an old farmhouse. Time and neglect had criss-crossed my bedroom ceiling with chips and cracks, and lumps where repairs had been attempted. Lying in bed, I pretended these imperfections were rivers, roads and mountains. My wanderlust was born tracing those imaginary highways.

Life’s a journey, and by the time, like me, you reach 70, its map probably resembles that bedroom ceiling. It’s a mess of meanderings, dead ends, summits achieved and strategic retreats. My 10-year-old self never imagined, nor wanted, a perfectly boring, straight road; but in my head my future was a highway with crossroads, which took me in a new direction from time to time. Nevertheless, I always moved forward, and seldom was lost. I also never arrived at my final destination.

On Third Age Attitudes

20171110_123426

A while back, I changed the subtitle of this blog from “Life on a Small Island & Beyond” to “Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age.” Third Age is the phrase used in Spain to describe those of us who have left the rat race because of age. (I thought very careful about how to phrase that.) It sounds a whole lot better than “seniors/senior citizens,” “retirees/pensioners,” and especially better than saying “folk of an advanced age,” or even “elderly,” doesn’t it? The Oxford Dictionary describes it thus: “The period in life of ACTIVE retirement, following middle age.” The emphasis is mine.

See, I have met far too many people for whom retirement has meant giving up on real life, and becoming an observer, and, especially, a critic, of what is going on in the world, without any longer participating. It might be enjoyable, but, honestly, all of these folk were …. boring. They had no first-hand tales to tell, their stories were of queues at the bank, gossip about neighbors, or that ever-popular topic, the weather. Some of these folk still inhabited the world of their past glories, stuck in a time warp of big hair, prawn cocktails, and Tom Collinses.

Many of my friends are of this age demographic, but they spend their time in finding new challenges and adventures. They write books, travel the world (and I don’t mean from the comfort of a cruise ship); they paint and draw, run successful blogs (as opposed to this one which is not), do volunteer work. They walk, climb, dance, cycle, study, windsurf, take yoga and Pilates and tai chi classes, and learn new skills. Some continue their work, because they are passionate about what they do. Most of us weren’t that lucky, or were too foolish to have found passion in our work, of course. Some of them make decent money from their Third Age ventures, others find the rare satisfaction of accomplishing something they have dreamed of for decades.

What my friends have in common is that they have never lost their curiosity. They ask themselves, “How will that next wave feel?” or “I wonder what’s over the next hill?” “How can I share this wonderful experience I just had?” or “How do people from this or that country view the world?” They want to know how to make their own bread, hats, furniture or pottery. They grow their own food or flowers, or simply ask themselves “What if…” Many folk find joy in helping raise their grandchildren, having the time for them they never had for their own children, when putting bread on the table was the main goal in life. It’s a different journey for each of us. What they do not do is park themselves up in the sidings, waiting for the train that carries the Grim Reaper to hurtle into theirs.

All of which is a long way round of saying that I am going to be focusing more on that aspect in this blog in future. It doesn’t come all at once, this discovery of Third Age freedom, like most things worth doing, it’s a learning curve, and bound by the same peaks and troughs as earlier stages of life. The trouble may be that it’s easier to give up, to sink back into the relative certainty of the lifestyle a pension affords most of us. It also takes more effort. It’s so much easier to snooze the alarm rather than get out for an early walk; down one more beer, intending to eat healthy from tomorrow on; or give up on that book and flick on the TV instead. I know because this is what I sometimes do. Not always, often these days I rise to the challenge, sometimes I don’t, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me …… there is less and less time to do the stuff I want to do!

me sea

Of course, Western society and attitudes encourage us to vegetate as the clock ticks. We may be exhausted from a lifetime of making ends meet, cowed by new technology, or coaxed into spending our pensions on new anti-wrinkles creams, exercise machines which don’t require us to move from our chairs (and that is no reflection on those who really cannot move from their chairs), or a new car, which remains, a status symbol, rarely used, sitting in our driveway.

Then, of course, there is the attitude of others, family, friends, the press, who subscribe to the conventional view of age. Family worry for us. Friends are afraid of being jealous if we do something which breaks the mold. I am indebted to a former friend, who, when I idly expressed a desire to get a tattoo when I was in my late 50s, said, “OMG but what will people think?” You miss the point, m’dear! Attaining age is attaining the freedom to “Not give a damn.”

The press view of anyone over 60 is that they are about to die. Even now, when the phrase Baby Boomer appears in the media daily, manufacturers and advertisers haven’t woken up to the fact that this segment of the population has spending power beyond false teeth adhesive and joint pain pacifiers, not that either of those things are unnecessary.

I am beyond lucky in the support I get from my sons, who encourage me to hike, write, travel, and keep fit in mind and body. I owe them a huge debt. I’m not there yet, but I am definitely on my way! You see ….. you never should stop travelling!

One of my heroes is Katherine Switzer, who broke the gender bias of the Boston Marathon back in 1967, when women were forbidden to participate. Just last week, at 70, she ran and finished the New York Marathon, now she’s breaking the taboos of age as well as gender! The oldest woman to place, by-the-way, was 84 years old, and the oldest man, 80. Switzer placed third in her age group. Although she won the New York Marathon in 1974, she doesn’t always win, but what she has done, since 1967 is inspire women, and now Third Agers. It ain’t, of course, the winning, but the taking part, and most of us are too afraid of failure, of being laughed at, or just too lazy to even try, or perhaps simply lack the confidence.  Check this if you think that finishing last is for fools.

I use marathon running as a metaphor, achieving something amazing can be anything you want to do, because you think you’re too old…..ask my friends how they felt when they saw their book cover, stood on the Great Wall of China, sold a painting or a photograph, got positive feedback  on their blog, or rode a wave.

On Being Fit for the Challenge

sunrise swimmers

Part of facing up to a challenge is being fit enough to do it, even if the fancy that haunts you isn’t a physical one, you do need to be fit to keep your grey matter healthy too; not to mention that life is simply easier if you keep those aches and pains at bay, and exercise and diet help that.

I had thought of starting a brand new blog on this subject, but since I am, and always will be, a student of this stuff and not a master, then it would be wrong to preach or try to teach about it. That said, over my last, two, non-blogging years I’ve learned and read much more about nutrition and keeping fit than at any time in my life. Honestly? I’ve always been kind of “fit enough.” I always had just enough willpower to reign in my eating when I began to bulge, and to exercise when I really needed to. Actually, I always enjoyed exercise, but what I didn’t do was to prioritize it enough. Now, as I said before, there is a gnawing awareness of time running out.

I definitely do not subscribe to the theory that one should eat the cake and drink the wine ad infinitum, because tomorrow we die. Sure I will eat cake and definitely will drink wine, and I will enjoy every crumb and sip, but not so much that it means that I will die tomorrow, as the day after tomorrow, or the day after that, because, heck, who knows what delights tomorrow holds? Seeing the aurora borealis or Victoria Falls, being out on the ocean at night where there is no light pollution to see the millions of stars and planets, are worth far more than that extra slice of pie, or the third bottle of beer.

So I might just be rambling on about food and drink, and exercise now, because I am sooooo fed up of people saying “can’t” or “shouldn’t” or even “why.” In that period I covered in recent blog posts, I twice stuck to a pretty rigid diet, and faithfully followed an exercise regime, because it was obvious that if I wanted to enjoy life, I needed to do so. And, yes, twice I have gradually given up on both. (Neither of those a first over a lifetime btw) Both times I have retained some of the information, gone overboard on Instagram with “healthy food” photos, or probably been so overenthusiastic that it couldn’t last. Rallying cry of we, Third Agers, might be “It’s never too late!”

The challenges we face are really no different than those we have always faced, it just seems, from my personal observation, that the older people get, the more inclined they are to not take on the challenge, because in their arsenal of excuses they now have “I’m too old for this.” The impetus we have, which we lacked when young, is that  …. to be brutally frank ….. we may not be able to start tomorrow. We have to start today. Right here, and right now!

 

 

 

 


4 Comments

Brexit, My Blog and Me: A New Journey Awaits

Me: The Sad Stuff

Almost a year after my father’s death,  I stand on a grassy knoll, to witness his ashes slide slowly into the ground, into the same spot where my mom’s remains were placed over 40 years ago. A fine mist of ash rises, and gently blends into the hazy daylight. The sod is returned. I lay a small posy of freesia on the spot, my mother’s favorite flower, the same flowers I’d left there a year ago.

In all these years I’d been unaware that there was a special place which marked where my mom’s final resting place. It was only my dad’s death which had brought it to light. At last, they are together again – not that I doubted that they had not been for the last year; not that I doubted that my mother had really ever left us, come to that.

A few months back, I’d had a clear picture in my head: the two of them standing somewhere in a garden or a wood, Trixy was bounding up to them. My dad is saying to my mom:

“And this is Trixy. I told you so much about her,” as Trix jumps up to greet him.

trix la palma

Trixy enjoying the sun at the last stop of our round-the-islands journey in La Palma. People ask me if I will finish off the trip, but I doubt it, without Trix it just wouldn’t be the same.

I’d lost her in May, oddly, on the anniversary of my mom’s death. It completed a trilogy I’d knew had begun when my aunt died. Dot, my dad, Trixy, at the ages they were, their deaths were inevitably going to come close together. That Fate threw in the knee problem, Trixy’s tumors, the septicemia, the cancer, a month of radiotherapy, and a frustrating battle with the inefficiency of hospital administration was, well, one of those things …… I don’t know about you, but it’s not the first time in my life I’ve wondered if the  Universe was testing me, seeing just how much I could take. Trixy’s death opened the flood gates, and allowed me to mourn it all. I felt as if the tears might never stop.

I wasn’t emotionally recovered by June 23rd.

Brexit

I’ve wondered over these last months what my dad would have made of Brexit, As a WW2 RAF officer he had worked and fought alongside people from all parts of the then Commonwealth, and he abhorred racism. He went out of his way to buy a copy of “The Big Issue” from a lady of Indian heritage, because he felt that others ignored her because of her appearance. His generation, more than any, had a right to talk about “the good old days,” not because of the war, but because integrity, tolerance and honesty were prized. I am gobsmacked that my own generation seems to have rejected all of that.

Brexit for me was the latest in a list of painful events. I took it personally, still do. It threw my world into further chaos. Uncertainty I do fine, so long as I have options. I haven’t known what my options are for over a year now, and I am very angry, still, at the ignorance and racism which brought this about. I am as European as I am English, and I am angry that I don’t have the control I had, or should have, and that’s just my selfish perspective. I think it is a huge tragedy for the UK.

Me: The Happy Stuff

Before Brexit, before Trixy died, things had been on the up. There is an end to a period like this, no matter how long it seems to drag on, but perhaps there is no clear moment when Fate swings in the other direction. I’ve long known that acceptance is key to surviving. Angsting and wailing are no use for anything. You need to go with the flow until it slows down a bit.

And so, in the weeks between the bad stuff, there had been gloriously happy times too. In Spring Guy and Rachael had become engaged, their happiness was infectious, and the negative energy began, perceptively, to shift.

Shortly after we returned from Florida the previous year, Rachael had lost her dad, another sadness on what had seemed like the downward spiral in which we were trapped. The upswing was intentional. It was Guy and Rachael telling Fate to “bring it on, we won’t give in to negativity.” The wedding, intended for this year, was brought forward by 12 months. It left me with very little time to concentrate on anything else, because they decided to celebrate their wedding in Tenerife.

My life became a round of florists and hairdressers, cake tasting and balloons, hurricane lamps and ribbons, and, of course, possible venues.

It all culminated on a perfectly balmy evening overlooking one of the prettiest beaches on the island, and one of the happiest, most emotional days of my life. I am acutely aware not only of Guy’s good fortune in meeting Rachael, but of my own. I have a dream of a daughter-in-law. My happiness level was at maximum.

14249959_10210536280904524_3290456553389173081_o

Just a few months before, as I drove, mechanically, to the hospital each day, I’d concentrated on the positive. In December I was due to turn 70, and it was looking very much as if 2017 was going to be “my” year. As it turned out, everything turned up roses in 2016.

During the months Austin had spent with me when the cancer was diagnosed, he’d promised me a very special 70th birthday present – a trekking holiday to Nepal in 2017. So you can guess how much I was looking forward to the new year!

As it turned out, that was also brought forward … to November of 2016 ……. so even before the wedding, I began another “get fit” plan. Once the wedding party left, it was time to get serious. I returned to the same regime I’d followed when I had septicemia, plus, I walked until I dropped at every single opportunity, whether it was along the coast, or up in the mountains. The latter was favorite to accustomise to the altitude.

Hiking releases endorphins for me like nothing else. I’d never hiked alone before, but now hadn’t much choice if I wanted to do as much as I should, and I found out that I relish it. Of course, I enjoy the company of friends, and sometimes organized walking, but there is something about being alone in the mountains which strikes a very fundamental chord, a closeness with Nature that’s rare when you’re with others. That said, I was lucky in my friendship with Pilar who did her very best to encourage and motivate me too!

20161022_152714

Still on a high from the wedding, I was happily munching my salads, when the universe lobbed another obstacle at me. With around six weeks to go before leaving for Nepal I woke one morning to see that the itching which had irritated me all night was due to a nasty rash forming around my waist. I knew what it was, and my doctor confirmed it – shingles. From friends who had suffered, I had gathered that the itching was unbearable. What I hadn’t realized was the sciatica which it provoked too. There was nothing more I could do, except take the antibiotics and continue the healthy eating. I certainly wasn’t up for walking much! In retrospect, I must have boosted my immune system pretty well, because I am told that my recovery was a quick one.

But that too passed. I upped the walking again as soon as I could, and stayed positive. I’m lucky that I was born this way. When something bad or dramatic is happening something inside my head kicks in and keeps me calm and positive, even when I’ve missed a lot of sleep.

And so my trip takes me first to Lancaster, and this grassy knoll. We’d hoped, the three of us, to be here together, but for many reasons that wasn’t going to happen soon, and I need some closure.

I turn to walk away, and head for London and then to Nepal.

me and oz nepal

My Blog

These last, few posts have been difficult to write. I am a fairly private person. But there has been a mental block which needed to be cleared, and perhaps this is the only way I could do that. As you can imagine, there were a lot more tears, gnashing of teeth, and cursing than I’ve admitted to here. This particular part of “my story” has already been weeks waiting for me to click “publish,” because once I’ve cleared that blockage I am committed to writing regularly again.

I stopped blogging, with a few impulsive exceptions, because I wanted to concentrate on family, getting well, and getting the most out of those good times. I’m ready to hit the keys again, but it will be slightly different, and I will update my “About” page to explain that.

I am pretty much saying “To heck” with social media. Of course, the world is in a sorrier state than it was when I was last blogging frequently, and it impacts all of us in some way or other. Social media can now be a pretty depressing place. I used to be able to ignore the racism and the hate, but now it seems to invade all our lives. We can ignore it, but it seems disloyal to those who can’t, especially those who can’t speak for themselves. Today I saw a post about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean on Instagram. My son, Austin, has been volunteering with them over the summer, so I perhaps know a little more about the heartbreak behind those photos than most people. I found myself finding the next post in my feed, from a blogger whom I like, to be trite in comparison, but it wasn’t. This is all a part of the world we inhabit, we should try to help those who cannot help themselves, who are victims of war, or racism, or sexism, or whatever else shallow people use to try to boost their own feeble egos. But we need to allow ourselves to enjoy and appreciate the overwhelming beauty of this planet and its people too.

That said, there is a lot of the trite and a lot of vanity on social media. I’m checking on my personal guidelines for both what I post and what I follow. I know that I am neither Paul Theroux or Steve McCurry, but I can strive to follow their example of excellence in writing and in photography. I can attempt to avoid the corny and the self promotion. That last is not easy, because we write and we take photographs for them to be seen. Balance in this, as in life in general, is a hard road to tread, but I can try.

To be the best we can be has always been a noble goal, but it’s more important now than ever in this age of stupidity and mediocrity. I know I’m leaving myself wide open in saying that. Hopefully, I can laugh at myself too. In my new-found enthusiasm for all things healthy I know that I’ve fallen well short of those standards on Instagram in recent weeks! I shudder when I think back to old posts on this blog, too. I have considered beginning anew, yet, aren’t we all the sum parts of what has brought us to this point in our journey? Maybe some of those posts are what I was, but am not any longer. In any event, expect more about food and health on here. Did I ever mention either in respect of my own life before, actually?

In the midst of the hiatus, I turned 70, but at times over the last couple of years I have felt healthier than I ever did. Sure I am not as agile or quick as I once was, but I see no reason to become a couch potato, sipping my gin ‘n’ tonic every night as I watch the sun go down on a world in which I am simply now an observer.

20170128_134821


2 Comments

Storms Within and Without: Stage 4 of My Personal Journey

Apt that in the English Lake District, home of the Romantic Poets, the skies are heavy,  Kendal’s  streets are grey, and our sombre mood, when we turn the key in my dad’s small bungalow a couple of hours later.

There is much to do, and I don’t know how much time I have before the hospital in Tenerife rings to say the tests are back, and they will begin radiotherapy.

There are people to ring, contracts to cancel, authorities to inform, lawyers to pay, newspapers to stop, banks to deal with, mail to redirect, and all the dozens of small, heartbreaking tasks a family death entails.

In the bottom of his wardrobe my father kept one of those steel home filing systems which were popular before computers. He frequently reminded me that when he went I would find all the documents I needed there. There aren’t that many. My father was a man of simplicity, and over recent years becoming even more so, giving a lot of his possessions to the charity shops which line Kendal’s main street. His intention was to lighten the load we now face.

On the top is a letter he had written in 2009. By then he was 86. I don’t think he thought that he would live as long as he did. The letter lists just about everything we need to deal with, including telephone numbers, right down to cancelling the service contract for his vacuum  cleaner.

In the next days I ring some of those numbers, only to find that the person has died in the meantime.

It’s his instructions for his funeral which puzzle me. No church, no priests. The emphasis is his. I fall asleep wondering how that is to be done.

The next day at the hospital we collect the death certificate. The cause of death is identified as cancer of the esophagus, undetected and not diagnosed until it took his life.

At the undertakers I convey his instructions; cremation, and what will happen with his ashes. We come to his instructions about his funeral, which will be in the small chapel at the crematorium, a place familiar to me. I explain his wishes, there are seconds of dead air, and then I hear myself saying that I will conduct the service myself.

If daddy had died before Dot I would not have heard that voice,  it wouldn’t have occurred to me that I could do something like that. Dot’s parting gift. It’s a year and a half since I gave the eulogy and at her funeral. I know I can do this, and something inside of me knows this is how he would want it. My father’s imprint on this earth, so far as I know, was very light. There are still mysteries about his life. He was the most private person I have ever known, and this simple ceremony is what he wanted. The date is set for a week ahead.

We muddle through that week. It’s busy. At times it’s fraught or tense, or simply depressing. I am fortunate that I have something my sons cannot have, the strong sense of my mother’s presence. It’s almost forty years since she died, and three days before my father died would have been their 70th wedding anniversary. My sons never knew their grandmother, and in his own way, daddy tried to do double duty to make up for that.

So many things in this bungalow are memories of my mother that I feel as if I am losing her all over again.

The day comes. It is appropriately stormy and gloomy. It’s a small family gathering, very intimate. I am grateful for the support, for people travelling a long way in horrible weather to pay their last respects.

It’s done. I found a flight, although there is still no word from the hospital, so I cannot follow my father’s wishes about his ashes until a later date. I have chosen May 20th, the anniversary of my mother’s death to do it.

All that remains is for the furniture to be collected. After it’s gone, Austin and I clean up as best we can, and go to spend our last night in a local hotel. The rain has been unceasing and a bitter wind howls along the river outside. I wake up in the morning to find the waters worryingly close to my window, and the staff talk about evacuating. We load up Austin’s car with the mementos of their granddad which Austin and Guy wanted to keep, and he sets off for London. I call a cab and head to the station.

Even by Lake District standards, the short trip to Oxenholme Station is scary. We were, literally, soaked to the skin whilst loading the car, and the taxi driver, a regular, who I know to be very experienced, has doubts that we will make it. Roads are flooding everywhere.

Eventually, I catch a train, not the one booked, which is delayed by the weather. Austin is stopped by police on a flooded road, pleads to be allowed through, and makes it.

Storm Desmond has arrived, and I feel like a rat leaving a sinking ship. It all seems apt.

Storm Desmond battered the British Isles (mainly Ireland, northern England and Scotland from 3rd to 8th December 2015, causing devastating flooding in Cumbria. I glimpsed just a little of the beginning of it from the train window that day.

 

 

 

 


1 Comment

When That Other Shoe Drops: My Personal Journey Volume 3

I rarely panic, well, not when I’m on dry land anyway. I have been known to flail about a bit in the ocean.

“Don’t forget to take your phone, Daddy,” I blurt out, as he informs me that the ambulance is outside. (See previous 2 posts to see what brought us to this point)

My default reaction is exactly the same as it was when I received the phone call from the hospital in August. Sit down and figure out what to do. My sons to inform, flights to book. Be grateful that the radiotherapy hasn’t begun. Trixy to kennels. It’s weekend and low season so getting a flight won’t be a problem, but I need to book return, because there is a hospital appointment Wednesday to get the results of that test. I am grateful there is enough in my account to pay for this, there are times when there isn’t.

What if ?……. Don’t go there. Deal with that if it happens.

It’s appropriately wet and grey when we touch down in Manchester.

Guy has come up from London, and meets me at the station in Lancaster. It’s a long weekend. Beyond his age, there is a mystery as to what exactly ails my dad. We wait all weekend, hoping for a diagnosis. Rachael comes up from London. She’s the one who makes my dad smile. The 3 of us get soaked to the skin, walking to the nearest pub for food and a break from the sterility of the hospital. I explain to the nurse in charge that I have to get back to the Canary Islands on Tuesday, and why, and that my dad doesn’t know about my cancer. I hate that they might think I am leaving him when he is so ill and so old.

When I leave on Tuesday there is still no diagnosis. Austin is on his way. My return trip turns out to be a waste of money because the test results are delayed. On my way back from the hospital, I do something I haven’t done for years. I call into a church and light a candle.  I don’t practice any religion, but I do believe in prayer.

I am researching flights when Austin calls. His granddad is weakening, and I should get back asap. Frustrated with internet searches I go to the airport to ask. It’s the middle of the night, but they confirm there are no direct flights to Manchester for a couple of days. I book to London and a train to get me back to Lancaster.

An hour out of London, I get a message from Austin to say he will meet me in Preston, where I should be changing trains. This doesn’t make sense.

Here he is on the platform. He carries my bag to the car, slams the boot, and turns to tell me what I already know. There is no way that he would have left his granddad in the circumstances. In the rain, in the car park we hold each other. I don’t know who is comforting who.

Emigration comes at a price, and that is the guilt you feel for those you leave behind.

daddyThese were the last two photos I took of my dad. I was on my way back from Florida in May of 2015 and we went out for lunch in Kendal. My dad was slow to smile, but he actually looks very happy here.