In a few hours it will be exactly four years since my Mum died, and I’ve been thinking about the Christina Rossetti* poem I read at her funeral:
I imagine it’s quite a common choice for that sort of occasion and that a many people find the sentiment in the sestet (final six lines) very comforting; I know we did at the time. What struck me tonight is how as time passes, feelings subtly shift. I still miss my Mum and often think of her but I have reached a point where I can remember and smile – the alternative is forgetting, and that would be sad.
*Oddly enough, Rossetti’s other poem about remembering was a reading at our wedding.
A couple of weeks ago, DH and I spent a few days in Berlin – our first break together since the Jam’s operation in January. We didn’t have a lot of time but we managed to squeeze in some history and culture, chocolate and cocktails, a walk in the park, a little football and a lot of bears.
To say the city defied my expectations would be inaccurate, as I didn’t know what to expect in the first place. I’ve only been to Germany once before, and Cologne in December with 40+ Year 7s doesn’t compare to Berlin in June with just my lovely husband! I knew most of the city was heavily damaged by WW2 bombing raids and that the architecture would reflect the subsequent division, and I knew that Berlin, especially post-reunification, is considered to be one of the most vibrant 24 hour cities in Europe. I didn’t expect it to be so welcoming or so beautiful.
We only had one full day and we spent most of it walking. From our hotel near the Tiergarten in what was West Berlin, we strolled along the river and then up past what remains of the Anhalter Bahnhof to Checkpoint Charlie. There we crossed into what would have been East Berlin and walked to the Gendarmenmarkt – a beautiful square that is home to the amazing Fassbender & Rausch chocolate shop. The plan was to stroll up to the Brandenburg Gate and pass through it before wandering back through the Tiergarten. However, we didn’t consider the huge outdoor football viewing area that had been created for Germany’s opening World Cup match against Portugal. After a brief surreal moment of being trapped in East Berlin, unable to cross over without long queues and bag searches, we realised we could simple walk a few blocks south and back along the edge of the park instead.
A little later we ventured back out to visit the Reichstag building and see the amazing views from the dome. We also heard the build up to the football but somehow the atmosphere was more jovial and less intimating that football crowds here in England – maybe it’s because they win – though I did spot a few fans downing the bottles of wine that they weren’t allowed to take into the viewing area, so it’s not just us that overdo it before we begin!
I should also mention the eating and drinking highlights. Our hotel had a fabulous cocktail bar, named after Marlene Deitrich, which served an impressive range of delectable concoctions, and Weissbier for DH. On the first evening we visited a restaurant recommended by a friend of Dad’s – Schildkröte – which seemed to be popular with locals and tourists alike. The waitress was very helpful but her English was about as good as my German. We were seated in the back room, which seemed to be reserved for bumbling English speakers, and we managed to get through a very pleasant meal (and quite a lot of Riesling) with only one significant miscommunication. However, the gastronomic highlight had to be lunch at the Fassbender & Rausch restaurant, which reminded me of Rabot 1745 in Covent Garden, as every dish contained chocolate in one form or another. The best bit was definitely the Törtchen!
Berlin also has a quirky side. We spent far too long in the Unter den Linden branch of the Ampelmann shop, buying trinkets for the Jam. Last but not least, as we explored over the three days, I collected as many pictures as possible of the ubiquitous Berliner Bären:
Alternative title: Oops I did it* again
Long term followers (and long suffering family members) might remember that I marked just over 300 exam scripts last summer, and moaned about it quite a lot. This year I marked 407 and the moaning increased proportionally. Many thanks to DH, Dad and our (recently upgraded – see Dad’s blog for more details) FFF for entertaining the Jam while I did it.
As I’m a glutton for punishment, I thought I’d share this year’s unseen poem with you and invite your thoughts. There could even be a prize for anyone who can say anything about it (however tenuous) that one of the 407 students didn’t…
Long Distance II by Tony Harrison
Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.
You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.
He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.
I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.
(*signed up to mark exam papers)
Last week we nervously headed back to the Evelina Children’s Hospital for the Jam’s first post-Fontan cardiac check-up. Although he seems well to us – more energy, better colour – it’s still frightening to contemplate what they might find under the surface (literally).
As it turns out, he’s doing better than we ever dared hope. His oxygen saturations are 93%, which is 10% higher than before the operation (and much closer to a ‘normal’ person’s 99%). His cardiologist (Dr M.) was pleased with what he saw on the echocardiogram too. He described the Jam’s result as “a good Fontan”, which basically means he has a good pump (his single ventricle), unobstructed pulmonary arteries and little or no leakage from the valves. He can fly long-haul; he can learn to swim; he can run around without getting breathless (as he’s repeatedly demonstrated over the last few weeks). When I asked about the future Dr M. reminded us that some of the earliest recipients of this procedure are now in their thirties and used the phrase “normal life”, which is not something we’ve ever heard before in relation to the Jam’s CHD.
I’m making steady progress through my reading list for this year. I’ve finished two books and am nearing the end of the third, but I need to read five books every four months to get through all 20 and that doesn’t take into account reading anything that’s not on the list…like the ones I couldn’t resist buying today.
From my 2014 book destash list I’ve read:
6. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The first Sherlock Holmes story and one of only four full length novels. Despite a unexpectedly detailed aside explaining Mormon history, I really enjoyed it and I definitely want to read more of the original stories.)
9. The Carrier by Sophie Hannah (A modern crime novel and very different from the Conan Doyle. I initially found the sheer number of characters confusing, but once I’d figured out who knew who and how, I was hooked. Although I guessed whodunnit, the motive and the twists involving other character were still surprising. I later found that it was part of a series and some of the characters would have been familiar to me if I’d read the earlier books.)
1. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013 Costa Winner and short-listed for the 2013 Women’s Prize – deservingly I think. I will write a proper review of this wonderful novel when I’ve read the last few pages).