How do you measure, measure a year?


Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes.  Thanks to Jonathan Larson I know how many minutes there are in a year.

So as I’m writing this it’s now been five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred and sixty minutes since Dad died.  It’s odd, to be able to know that.  I won’t again, counting in minutes would be silly, it’s back to years and months after this.  But it’s a number that fits snuggly into the musical phrase that was designed around it.

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I just want to live while I’m alive.


A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.  Maya Angelou

The 23rd of May would have been Dad’s 65th birthday. I’ve talked a lot about him being ill, his death and how that’s affected me but there’s a big section of his life I’ve not mentioned on this blog until now.  Not because I’ve been embarrassed or ashamed by it, I’ll talk at length with people in person, but because it is something that a large section of the population can’t understand and I didn’t want to have to put up with negative comments that are inevitably on their way whilst coming to terms with a death.

But since it’s been over 6 months since he died and I seem to be doing better, talking about it seemed like a good birthday present.

For the last 4 years Dad has been known not as Donald, but as Dawn.  It’s going to get confusing writing about it because when we found out we asked him what he wanted us to call him and he said that only 5 people in the world could call him ‘Dad’ so we should stick with that.  But with ‘Dad’ comes ‘he’, ‘him’ and ‘his’.  Whenever I talked about him with others I still used male pronouns, but if we were out in public together I did make an effort to use ‘she’ and ‘her’.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

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First things first


It’s December the first.

Yesterday, I was sitting in the school pool wearing factor 50.  It seems very wrong to be in an open air pool in November.  I watched my first live fashion show – the secondary students put it together to raise money for the school’s Saturday school which provides education for local orphans.  They put on a really good show, models, dancing and a bit of singing.

This morning I worked as promt for the dress rehearsal of the secondary production of West Side Story. This afternoon I’m heading to Tunza to celebrate a first birthday – they are roasting a pig on the beach.

A kite swooped in on me and stole some of my lunch on Thursday.  I’ve seen it happen before – circling ahead and then diving down onto the kids to grab a bit of food, all happening too fast to warn them.  It had never happened to me before, I didn’t realise it had happened until afterwards.  I felt a change in the air next to my head and spotted that some of my food had gone.  Some of the children nearby laughed, some said things like ‘sorry Miss!’ but I found it entertaining, if nothing else.  At least it didn’t scratch me, being allergic to plasters means things like that can be a pain to keep clean, especially in the dusty environment we have here.

There have been other firsts too, seeing or hearing something and reminding myself to call Dad to tell him.  Then remembering that I can’t.  In 12 days it will be my Grandmother’s 100th birthday – the first since she died and quite a significant one.  Christmas will be the first without being anywhere near home, the first without getting a scratch card from Dad, the first in Africa.  There are going to be lots of firsts, it’s almost as if my life is now divided in two – when Dad was around and after he died.  All the potential things that could happen from now – boyfriend, husband, child, job, home, tattoo…whatever. Who knows.  It’s going to be odd, some times sad, but it can’t be sad forever.  I know he’s not going to be here for the important things.  It’s the little things, the silly jokes, the random thoughts, the odd objects that I think to tell him about that keep catching me out.  And it’s not as if it’s heart wrenching or anything, there’s just a small intake of breath, a pause mid sentence or foot steps stop whilst I remember and then I carry on.  Which is how you manage to have more firsts.

And so it is


Today was the day my father died.

When I went to see him on Monday he wasn’t very recognisable as my dad – he hadn’t been completely recognisable as the man I grew up with since he shaved off his beard 9 years ago – but the person lying in the hospital bed riddled with illness didn’t even seem like the person my dad had become.  But that person was still my Dad, so I held his hand, talked to him, stroked his hair, tried to give him a bit of water and sat with him.

The hospice has a room where you can paint, so I made a picture of an acacia tree and a mountain with wax and water colours.  I talked to my brothers and sister, distracted my nephew, played with my niece.   Yesterday was my niece’s birthday, so I told Dad that he could go whenever he felt like it, he didn’t have to hold off for the sake of us, but maybe not on her birthday.  So he waited a few more hours.

Some short memories:

  • Sitting on a swing in Westbury park with Dad pushing me from the front, I used to kick off his belly to get higher.
  • Sitting in a dark, damp caravan probably in Wales or Cornwall or Devon, lit by a crappy little bulb with hot chocolate made by Mum and Dad reading ‘The Dark is Rising’ – I still have to put holly over my windows when Winter is coming in to ward off the powers of the Dark.
  • Sitting in pubs with the Morris team with Dad tapping on an empty pint glass with his ring turned into his palm to make a better sound.
  • Sitting playing in his dusty workshop in Drayman’s walk waiting for Mum to pick me up.
  • Sitting (I’ve just realised that they all involve at least one of us sitting, but then he was quite sedantry) in the Space Cruiser at night, watching stars and stroms out of the moon roof – driving in the dark is always the best driving.
  • Sitting in the Grandmother’s house with the cat trying to climb up his legs and then just settling to curl up by his feet.

Waiting for the music to begin


18.32 30/9/12

I’m sat on the floor of Gate 11, Nairobi Airport.  I did try to find a seat, but they are all occupied by weary travellers, bags and people who for some reason keep replying ‘Si’ to me when I ask if the seat is taken.  The sun is setting behind the clouds over the airstrip painting the sky with oranges, golds, yellows and pale blue, a stark contrast to the greying clouds which looked so white as we flew through them.  I have about 4 and a half hours until my flight to London, which will bring me back at 5.55am.  As we were descending into Nairobi the Captain announced that the ground temperature was 27 degrees, but I felt a crisp chill in the air as I climbed the steps to the departure lounge.  I’ve managed to leave my hoodie in the downstairs flat so I have no idea how I will brace against the crisp Autumnal weather that October in London will bring.

The last few days have been strange, trying not to think about what I am returning to, but focusing on what needed to be done before I left.  Friday was quite entertaining with my classes – I’m hired as a year 3 teacher but have also been teaching singing to years 7 and 8 in a crafty swap with the PE teacher who has to cover music.  On Friday after covering Emili Sande’s ‘Next to Me’ and Maroon 5’s ‘Payphone’, I told the year 8s that they would have their regular teacher for the next few weeks because I have to visit my sick father, almost all of them told me to say ‘get well soon’ from them.  My year 3s seem quite excited to have the Head of Primary taking them and a few of them made me ‘We will miss you cards’ during their Golden Time.

On Friday evening some of the female staff took me to Diners – a restaurant towards the centre of the town next to our now regular Thursday take away place Sizzlers.  (This week for our chicken and chips with a film we watched ‘Never Been Kissed’.  I’m a little concerned how similar to the Drew Barrymore character I feel, especially now I’m writing about things, but no sign of Michael Vartan yet, which is a shame.)  We had a lovely meal mixing Chinese and Indian foods, before some of us headed off to Hotel Talapia next to Lake Victoria for a drink.  I think the bar staff were quite relieved that I ordered whiskey this time instead of a mojito as it takes them ages to make them, but they are a work of art.

Saturday was spent chasing up my plane ticket and organising my classroom – a job long over due.  I’ve sorted out the groupings for English and Maths, written out Monday’s timetable, arranged the planning, written some incentives to help my small people behave whilst I’m away and filled a draw with things that need to be organized when I get back.  There’s always a drawer like that somewhere and sometimes it takes me years to sort it.  Or failing that, I tip it all in the bin.

I tried watching a film with people downstairs – ‘Anchorman’ – but the DVD player was playing up, so I returned to my room to finish of ‘The Hatfields and The McCoys’, if you’ve not seen it, it’s worth a look, I think Kevin Costner won an Emmy for it recently.   People climbed the stairs to check how I was sporadically, but for the most part I kept to myself.

This morning I finally packed the suitcase with a few clothes, I’ve not got a black dress because Dad would like the funeral to be colourful on the whole. I watched more TV.  It’s a great distractor.  Three friends drove me to the airport; we sat having a drink waiting for the departure queue to reduce a bit and talked a fair bit of nonsense. I do know what is going to happen in the next week or so, I just don’t think it will fully hit me until I see my dad in a hospital bed.  Until then nonsense and distractions are a good thing.

When I got to Nairobi I realised that Mwanza Airport hadn’t checked my bag all the way through to Heathrow – apparently this is because BA isn’t one of their partner airlines or something.  I went to the transfer desk, they said fetch the bag and come back in 2 hours.  I went to fetch the bag and you have to go through immigration, which means a Visa and money I can’t really afford.  One of the airport workers fetched it for me, which cost me $5, then he said head to the transfer desk to hand the bag back in, but no luck again.  So I’m waiting. The floor is cold and I’m starting to get a numb bum, but no one is moving from their seats.  So I’m waiting.  Peering into the Duty Free and souvenir shops shows prices for tat I can’t afford.  So I’m waiting. Waiting for a seat, waiting for a plane, waiting for a lift from my uncle in the morning, waiting to spend the last few days of my dad’s life with him.

‘A storm is coming but I don’t mind, people are dying, I close my blinds.

All that I know is I’m breathing, now.

I want to change the world instead, I sleep I want to believe in more than you and me

But all that I know is I’m breathing, all I can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing now

All that I know is I’m breathing, all I can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing.’

Ingrid Michaelson

20.51

After standing at the check in desk for an hour and a quarter waiting for someone to come and check us in, I have a boarding pass and a luggage label.  I was getting quite frustrated and concerned that I would miss my flight, until, after 45 minutes, someone asked which airline I, and those around me, was waiting for.  A handsome man answered that he needed Swiss Air and ‘this charming young lady needs BA’.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been described as charming before, but I’m going with it.

Obviously after that I had to talk to him a bit, if only to pass the time until the BA rep turned up (there’s only so many times you can hear  “They are just coming in a few minutes” before you start to go slightly mental.)  I discovered that he is flying to Zurich (I’ll see you in Zurich Green Wing fans) and then onto Bangkok where he has lived for 6 years.  Originally from Shrewsbury he now has more of an international accent and works for a large hotel company.  His job involves scouting around different parts of the world for new opportunities – either mergers and take overs or new builds – promoting the experiences in that area.  He’s just had a not so great time in Zanzibar and I know have a rough idea of where to avoid when I go for my 29th birthday in February.  He has itchy feet and is thinking about moving but has a good life, with lots of freebies, which he is reluctant to give up at this stage.   A pleasant way to spend 40 or so minutes, I have no idea what his name was and since Swiss Air had not arrived to check him in and I had my ticket sorted, I had no reason to hang around the desk talking further.  Perhaps serendipity will mean that he chances upon this blog, so if he does… Hello!  I was at the airport with you, send me a message.

Unlikely, but it is a small world, as was shown by the next person I sat next to, an Englishman presumably in his 60s.  Over the course of a 10 minute conversation with him I discovered that his father was in the same hospice as mine is, he went to school down the road from where my father grew up, his son studied at Newcastle University too and I might well know his son as he works where I used to and is in a band with people I know.

Exile


“I feel a shadow passing over me, it could stay for ever more
Like a wave I’m breaking far at sea, there’s no one to hear the roar

And the days are drifting into seasons, they’re the hardest I have known
A million spaces in the earth to fill but, no going home, there’s no going home

I can dream before the break of day that I’m back with you again
Then the morning blows it all away and leaves an echo of your name

Still a thousand miles lies between us where we’re waking up alone
And what if I could cross a hundred borders?
There’s no going home, there’s no going home.

When it thunders from the empty skies I shall be there
No one to hold you when the storm birds fly is there no one left to care?

I search the rumours with my hollow plans and all I want is what’s mine
Lost and lonely in a foreign land I’m left too far behind the lines
I want to tear down these walls between us but I can’t do it on my own

A million spaces in the earth to fill and there a generation waiting still
We’ve got year after year to kill but no going home
No going home, there’s no going home.”

At 1am on the 26th of August, flying somewhere over Egypt I couldn’t sleep. I’d said goodbye to my relatives, waited for hours through a storm to pass so that we could set off and my travel sickness pills had worn out. So I couldn’t sleep. I had watched the film – Best Exotic Marigold Hotel if you remember – and there was nothing else on BA’s system that I hadn’t seen or didn’t have on my hard drive, so I turned to my ipod.

I started singing along to the Kate Rusby and Kathryn Roberts version of Exile from Steve Knightley. Obviously I was singing along in my head, I’m not a complete arse. At that point I kept repeating ‘no going home’, partially because it’s catchy, also because I wasn’t going home. Not for at least two years, and though the lyrics can be read as depressing, I listened to them as full of hope and adventure.

Now, a month later, I’m re-packing my suitcase and heading back again. Dad’s not doing too well and if I leave it much longer, then I might be too late. So better to go now whilst I can talk to him and sort out some bits and pieces than get back justt in time for a funeral.

In the last few weeks since people found out I’ve had some really lovely messages, so thank you if you were one of those. Some close friends haven’t managed to say anything, but what is there to say? Whenever I’ve had friends with sick or dying close relatives, I’ve not known what to say, mainly things along the lines of ‘It’s all a bit shit really isn’t it’ and then going on normally with people. And now that I’m in that situation, I’ve not got much more to say. It’s been commented on that I’m taking it all pretty well, but what more can I do? I’m disconnected at the moment, so can’t be of practical use, I have a job to do and children to teach, I’m now running the junior choir, teaching year 7 and 8 singing lessons and have started a staff singing group. I’m helping out with the West Side Story rehearsals, not to mention planning lessons and marking books. Today we made art works inspired by Rwandan Poo Paintings. They are cool, look them up.

When I go home, I’ll be visiting sick relatives (more than just Dad now, but he is in the worst shape) copying choir music, buying small instruments and chorizo to bring back. I’ll try and update this a little more regularly if you would like to keep reading. In the mean time. get on youtube and listen to Kate and Kathryn sing this song. It’s beautiful.