Understanding What He Meant By “Hedonist”

Do you like visiting castles, stately homes, palaces and places of historical interest? Goldfinch has taken me to National Trust properties several times…I must say I have loved our trips.  I told him the other day, “I like to think of these visits as “house-hunting”.

This weekend we were in Buckinghamshire and we paid our respects to Claydon House.

claydon

Months ago, Goldfinch told me something about himself that I did not really understand. He labelled himself a “hedonist”.  I was a bit taken aback.  To me that word does not have a connotation I think my father would approve of.  “Hi, Dad, I would like you to meet the man I am in love with, he is a hedonist! Isn’t that spiffing?”

I have often pondered over what on earth Goldfinch means when he describes himself as a hedonist.  You see he doesn’t drink alcohol except on a rare occasion.  Neither does he drink tea or coffee.  I ply him with water and juice when he comes to visit me.  I have occasionally seen him order a Coca-cola in a pub – but that’s not a marked sign of hedonism is it?

He does not smoke or use any substances that alter the mind or give an artificial high. He plays badminton, occasionally squash.  He draws and paints.  He is a serious gamer – and I don’t mean the gambling kind – I am talking about board-games like “Dominion”. He likes the cinema.  He likes music.  He likes travelling and hiking.  He likes my home-cooking (brave man) and all the cakes I have baked for him.  He is also a hard worker. All of these are great interests, but none of them strike me as synonymous with hedonism.

This weekend I finally grasped what drives Goldfinch.

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He here is indulging in pleasure seeking at it’s best!

There was a mulberry tree and as soon as Goldfinch saw he was excited.  He was eating the fruit right off the tree and picking perfectly ripe berries and placing them in between my lips.  He had red juice all over his fingers and all over his mouth.

He was glowing with pleasure!  Today I saw a little boy who  grew up with a mulberrymulberry jam tree in his back garden and was intoxicated with the pleasure the mulberry fruit brought him.

The latest treat I am sending in the post, wrapped in several layers of bubble wrap – mulberry jam.

You will probably concur with the definition of HEDONIST I found online: “a person who believes that the pursuit of pleasure is the most important thing in life; a pleasure-seeker”.

I don’t consider myself a hedonist.  I enjoy pleasure, but it is definitely not the most important thing in life to me.  I consider joy as superior to pleasure.  Joy sometimes results from having to say no to what may seem pleasurable for sound and wise reasons. My parents taught us to focus on a long-term view and how to reap joy and deep satisfaction from being able to look back at persistent efforts and have no regrets or troubled conscience.  My parents emphasised the need for balance.  So a word like “hedonism” seemed an assault with the mindset we have cultivated.

Goldfinch knows how to relax.  He knows how to enjoy life.  He is willing to try new things and is adventurous.  If he doesn’t see any harm in something and he thinks it will likely be pleasurable, he will give it a try.

Seeing Goldfinch intoxicated by the pleasure the mulberry tree gave him, made me fall in love with him all over again.  I told him as we walked along hand-in-hand, “Until today I never really understood what you mean when you described yourself as a hedonist.”  I asked him later when we were relaxing in the park together: “Would you like to live forever?”

Now that I have seen how Goldfinch lives his life – unshackled by bad habits I would normally associate with hedonists, but rather, making the most of his time away from work.  Enjoying life and creation and letting the pleasure ripple through him.  I like it.  I am not ashamed of his kind of hedonism at all!

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The Way I Felt That Day!

There was one day when I had the most incredible news of my life. Have you ever received news that meant so much to you that your heart leapt? News that gave you a huge surge of elation.

When I saw the picture prompt from The Haunted Wordsmith it brought back to my mind that elation, the heart-leaping, spirit-soaring, joyful jubilation of hearing news that you have been longing for throughout many years.

I remember that day vividly. It was such a strange day in many ways.

I think I have mentioned that it was March 1997 when I first became involved in a local charity’s project and started my career as a volunteer. In May I started study leave for my GCSEs. I didn’t do any revision for my exams – I was fortunate to be able to rely on the many years of paying attention in class and doing my homework. But I was so glad to be free! At last I found something purposeful.

roofersI was able to work on some extraordinary projects throughout the north of England and Wales and worked with thousands of people. I became part of a core team that helped to train new volunteers. There are some very special people I want to write about in the future.

constructionTen years later, I left home in order to be able to work as a volunteer in a part of Southern England, where there were a stack of projects and not many volunteers (partly because the cost of living in that area is so high).  Although the first year was hard, because I missed my family and friends up north so much, it did not really take me too long before I started to feel at home down south.  I made many wonderful friends and fell in love with the countryside.  I ended up living on the grounds of a beautiful stately home and being allowed to roam their gorgeous estate, and because they trusted me, I paid peanuts for my accommodation, which was another fortuitous factor in my volunteer career in the south of England.

For all that time, I gave at least twenty hours each week to voluntary projects for which I was unpaid. In addition I worked on a part-time basis to earn the money I needed. I learn to live frugally and I am very glad of it.

I longed to become a full-time international volunteer. I had met many who were. But I was given a very realistic description of the challenges that are involved in that role. The accommodation is very basic and modest – well small, very small. There is a a strict schedule and volunteers are often required to work “over-time”. There can be challenges when sharing kitchen and bathroom areas with other volunteers who come from different backgrounds and cultures. The physical demands and difficulties in the various challenging assignments can be exhausting.

For many reasons, the number of single men vastly outweighs the number of single women. There are many many part-time roles for women, but the role of a full-time international volunteer is so tough, that it is normally only men who are invited to take up this role. The physical, emotional, mental tests they put you under are designed to reveal if you really can take on a self-sacrificing role and if you really can be sent anywhere in the world and adapt to any way of living. Many men cannot hack it. Yet in general, they are more likely to endure and remain in this role for longer.

When I was living on a shoe-string in the south of England, I was involved with projects all over Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and Bristol and beyond. I was also handling the accounts for local charities and had to deal with a complicated situation where a celebrity had made a huge blunder (it was sorted out eventually, but we almost had to get the police involved). To earn my crust, I worked within healthcare – I had a bank contract for zero hours a week. There were always shifts available, but mostly I worked for two six hour shifts a week. For two years I managed to live on my wages from twelve hours work, so I could devote more than thirty hours each week to working with charities on an unpaid basis. I was happy, very tired at times, but deeply happy.

construction clothesNow a special man, a friend, created an opportunity for me (I will save that story for another post!) and some time after that I received a telephone call, asking me if I would be able to travel up to London for a training day, as they would like to start using me on important projects on the site where all of the UK projects and around 25% of international projects were organized from. I was thrilled!

I went for the training day and fell in love with everything and everyone. My heart was bound up with the site in London which was an absolute hub for volunteers. There were 540 full-time volunteers at the time. (That number rose to 800 during the next three years.) Around half were married couples and the other half were single men. There were around ten single women, five of whom were over sixty years of age and had been widowed. There were also around 200 who worked their part-time. Over half of those part-time volunteers were single women. I was told again and again that it is extremely rare that any single women would be asked to become full-time volunteers, because of the challenges involved. On occasions, when it did occur, it would be if a single woman had a very specialist skill that was needed. Over the next six months I drove backwards and forwards between London and my accommodation on a countryside estate. It was seventy miles each way. I was doing two night shifts each week in London. I must admit doing night shifts did effect the rest of my week. But I managed. I had a very difficult and demanding schedule for six months during which I often felt I had jet-lag.

care assistantThe night shifts were necessary because they had an infirmary for volunteers who were seriously ill. Most of the patients were well into their nineties and were now effected by dementia, although their mobility was excellent. Most of those we were caring for had sacrificed opportunities to marry or start a family of their own because they were devoted to volunteering. So now, we became their family and gave them a very special standard of nursing care, marked by love and appreciation for all they had done and how special they were to all of the people they had helped over the decades. We also had patients who were receiving palliative care as they had advanced cancer, including some young ones in their twenties. Very brave. They could have returned home, but they wanted so much to keep their hand in volunteer projects for as long as they could and be near the other volunteers who had become like a family to them.

Then one day, they asked me if I was willing to come to London to work for two day shifts, the first was a Friday and the second would be the following Monday. I jumped at the chance. Working night shifts meant that I had very little chance to meet many other volunteers, just the direct team I was working with in the infirmary for volunteers who were seriously ill.

But during the Monday night shift I worked a few days before I was due to do my first day shift, since the day I had been trained six months earlier, I found out some news. I had mixed feelings. Suzie, the girl I was working with, told me that another part-time volunteer, who was a single woman, had been invited to become a full-time volunteer. Her name was Marta and she was German. I had never worked with her. She was a psychologist.

I wanted to be happy for Marta, who I had never met. However, I was crushed. All my hopes seemed dashed.

I drove back to the countryside on Tuesday morning after my night shift and stayed in bed all day, weeping. But then on Wednesday and Thursday I walked out in the woods and muddy fields through the pouring rain. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I was so bitterly heart-broken, but I couldn’t tell a soul about it. I found myself wishing I had never known the joy of meeting so many wonderful people and the satisfaction of slaving for others. I had never been so overwhelmed with sadness. It was awful!

dining room.jpgOn the Friday morning, I left my accommodation at 4.30am to make sure I was not late for the 6.30am arrival at breakfast, they had asked of me. I was rather nervous of walking in alone to a huge room where 400 would arrive for breakfast. I still remember who I was sitting with around the breakfast table that morning.

After breakfast I went to the infirmary and received my work assignment for the day. It was so different to be there during the day-time. I was able to do some work with Suzie, but also spent time with other volunteers I had never met before. I met Marta for the first time that morning. Kevin, the supervisor who had been coordinating my shifts for months asked me how I had heard and seemed to apologise to me because I think he knew how much I would have loved to be there full-time. Several of the volunteers I worked with during the day were very chatty but the question was asked of me several times, would I like to be a full-time volunteer. I was on the verge of tears again and again. None of them could know I had cried for the previous three days because I was convinced there was no possibility of being asked now that Marta had.

nervousI had lunch with Suzie and Nadine (another of the girls I worked with in the infirmary) and Nadine’s husband James. After lunch, we went back to work. Kevin asked me if I could make sure I was available in about half and hour and asked me to be at his office by 1.30pm. I made sure I had finished my tasks and was there at the time he had asked of me.

I was so nervous before I went though. I had been fighting tears most of the morning and I was not sure i could keep myself composed in front of Kevin. In addition I was going to have to tell him that I could not do as many night shifts as normal for the next month because I had to attend a training course and I was going to be moving home. I could no longer afford my accommodation (even though it didn’t cost a lot) so I was moving into a spare room that was part of a farmhouse, where I would be helping care for the animals on the land.

beforeWell, I knocked on the door, and Kevin opened the door and closed it behind me once I had entered. I was surprised to find one of the directors named Rod, who managed the entire facility there.

I sat in front of them very nervously. They asked me if I was enjoying my work there. They wanted to know how I was finding the travelling and how was doing night shifts effecting my regular week. I found it hard to talk, I am sure I felt myself crimsoning. Then they started talking to me about why Marta had been invited to become a full-time volunteer and how her experience in psychology were needed because they had a volunteer who had cancer who had suddenly lost her husband who had a massive heart- attack and died in one night. His bereaved wife had suffered a serious nervous breakdown and was in need of specialist care.

I nodded. I knew there were good reasons why Marta had been chosen. I knew I should be happy for Marta and for the infirmary that the needed skills had been available at the right time. They explained to me how very hard it is to obtain approval for a single young woman to become a full-time volunteer and how it was only given in exceptional circumstances. I nodded.

Then they explained that the infirmary was becoming busier and busier and they needed to expand it. More rooms, more volunteers. They knew I was one of the most experienced of the volunteers in healthcare and that I had showed already by my reliability and my attitude that I was eager and willing. They said they had hoped that I might be able to help to train new volunteers and to advise them more closely on needed equipment. They asked me if that was something I wanted, would I like to be more involved? Would I!

And then…

…they told me that when they had asked for permission to invite Marta to become a full-time volunteer, they had decided to request permission to invite another single woman to become a full-time volunteer, because they felt there was so much need within the infirmary. They said that they had approval to invite Marta two weeks before. And they told me that during the course of that very morning they had been informed that they had permission to invite another single woman in as a full-time volunteer…

…and that single woman was me!

I must have looked completely shocked. Well, I was shocked! Speechless. It had never crossed my imagination they would be able to invite both of us to become full-time volunteers. They said if you don’t believe it, here it is in writing. They handed me a long white envelope with my bame typed out on the front, and told me to take it home and think carefully about it and to let them know. But they wondered if I could give them an idea if it was likely I would accept. I was gobsmacked! “YES YES YES!” They asked me if I minded if they told the other team members, because the whole team had wanted me to become a full-time volunteer. I said “of course!”. We opened the door and all three of us left the office. Suzie was just outside the door and I remember her looking at me with a quizzical expression.

afterAt 2pm there was a meeting for all the infirmary staff. The supervisor and the director I had been in the office ran through some important information with the whole department. They then asked if everybody knew that there was going to be a new full-time volunteer joining the team. Everyone nodded and affirmed they knew Marta was going to be joining them. Rod shook his head. He said, “haven’t you heard that we are going to have another full-time volunteer?” Everyone was surprised and asked who? Rod and Kevin pointed at me!

I will never forget the reaction of the rest of the team! Everyone was so pleased. I was hugged by everyone. Some of the team said they had been praying for me to be invited in.

What a day that was! That picture right up at the top – the picture prompt – that is just how I felt. Heart-leaping, spirits-soaring, joyful jubilation! That was exactly the way I felt that day! I had never felt so utterly thrilled about anything. After the day was over, I went out to the car and rang my parents and my sisters! Then I drove over to some very close friends I was spending the weekend with. Three girls who I had worked with on many volunteer projects and loved the company of. They were thrilled for me.

Within a month I was living in London, sharing a tiny flat with Marta and Suzie. Three of us sharing a bedroom. Bunk-beds and a wall-bed. We shared a tiny kitchen and bathroom and had a living room which had a two-seater sofa and and armchair and a desk. But we had French doors and a balcony that looked out onto a lovely view of a green park with a cedar tree and a luxury apartments development where footballers, popstars and people had too much money lived next door to us. I still reckon we had a better view than they did as they were looking at our much more modest block of flats!

Moving to London to become a full-time international volunteer was like a dream. It was like coming home…even though I had been happy before.  I was happy on a different level. Everything felt right. The routine, the dignity, the rewarding work, the huge numbers of people I saw and worked with. I found I didn’t miss receiving wages. My main assignment would be in London, but at any point I could be sent elsewhere. I loved the astonishing variety London life offered. I found that I was thriving in this life-style.

I was deeply joyful and content – my life was challenging at times to be sure but deeply satisfying. I was truly happy. And then Jack was invited to become a full-time volunteer…

 

 

 

https://thehauntedwordsmith.wordpress.com/2018/11/23/daily-writing-challenge-nov-23/

https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2018/11/24/imagination/

A Slice Of Caramel’s Life

Melanie, the creator of sparksfromacombustiblemind is hosting “SHARE-YOUR-WORLD” and she has another fascinating list of questions for us:

https://sparksfromacombustiblemind.com/2018/10/22/share-your-world-10-22-18/

QUESTIONS FOR THIS WEEK:

Name two books that have influenced you and share how.  (Credit for this question goes to Teresa of The Haunted Wordsmith. She asked for TEN books, in her challenge, so the SYW folks got off a bit easy..) 

I am going to stick to the two required, because I am hoping to finish a post I started with my list off ten books that have influenced me.

When I was seven, going on eight, years old,  I had been allowed to borrow a book from the school library for the six week summer holidays.  It was Heidi.  The headmaster had told me that I must be sure not to lose it, I must bring it back at the end of the holidays or else I would not be allowed to borrow a book again.  I took his warning seriously. I read that book over and over that summer. I loved the story of Heidi so much.

Can you imagine how devastated I was when my Dad broke the news one morning….our school (which by now I had grown to love) had been burnt down by three boys? It was completely destroyed. Two were fourteen years of age and the other had just finished year 6 – he must have been eleven.  I still remember his name, but not the other two boys.  I always treasured my copy of Heidi because it was a piece of my old school. The Headmaster was touched when I showed him I had kept it safe. He asked me to look after it because it had become a very special book. When I left home at the age of twenty-five, I realized there was no way I could take my huge book collection with me. But my special copy of Heidi is a book I could not abandon. Even now it is in my bed-side table. I have been looking after it for almost thirty years.

depressionMy Dadda was utterly lost in his life.  He had made some bad decisions which had consequences that would tie him for the rest of his life.  He was intensely sad.  His father had died in childhood as well as two of his siblings.  He had many questions.  He was disillusioned with those he thought he could get help from, including religious teachers who had fobbed him off with nonsense when he asked them questions. He was dismayed by religious hypocisy. He had gambling debts. He used to get extremely stressed and was easily provoked and would become inflamed with fury.

Russian-Bible-photoMy Dadda read the scriptures for himself, they answered his questions…and motivated him to change his personality and stop his harmful habits. He became a loving husband and father.  He is one of many I know who have made changes after reading this book, however, the changes he made directly effected my life as a small child and meant that my parents would ensure I had access to the best education available. I know some people have strong feelings against this book, yet it remains the most widely distributed and translated book in all human history. Seeing the wonderful effect it had on my Dadda and our family is just one reason why I respect it immensely.

Two very special books to me….for deeply personal reasons. Whether you like them or not, you can’t doubt me for my sincere appreciation and regard for their influence on my life.


In your opinion, where is the line between art and not art? 

I am probably one of the worst people to answer this question because so much art is wasted on me, especially modern art or abstract art. I should have asked Goldfinch to help me with this one.

I do wish I knew more about art and had more ability myself. I gave up on drawing or painting myself when my art teacher at high school gave me poor marks for everything I attempted. I kind of lost interest. So I feel I am rather a dimwit when it comes to understanding art that is not plainly obvious to me.

Years after I left school, I went to an exhibition of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I took my time and looked at every single display and read the information plaque with each exhibit. I really enjoyed myself. It was the first time I had become interested in any kind of art again.

I visited other art galleries when I had the chance, but often wandered around feeling quite lost, even perplexed, because I didn’t understand why what I was looking at was in a public gallery and I was unmoved by what I was seeing.

Later, I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. I enjoyed myself so much. There was a fascinating display about poignant journalistic photography. I can’t remember everything I saw, but it was scenes such German and English politicians sharing a cup of tea prior to the outbreak of the second world war. Each photo was extraordinary to glimpse because they captured a moment that seemed so ironic considering the historical events that followed. It was a very clever exhibition that was very provoking.

But what I really enjoyed was American landscape paintings. I finally found something that made my heart jump. I think that is when I realized that for me, the art I personally respond to is when someone can capture the majestic grandeur of nature.

What touches my heart is the art I already see in the sky as the sun rises or sets, the art I see every May when gardens here start to erupt into an exquisite cocktail of colours, the art I am rewarded with when I walk up a fell range and the view makes my heart leap. I love the art in nature. And in all honesty, my favourite art on display in galleries are paintings capturing the wonder and marvel of nature in splendid detail. The artist that can capture the wonders of nature…I am going to pay to go and see their exhibitions in galleries and buy their paintings for my little nest.

But I totally respect that art is like music – there are many different genres and some art will speak to one audience but not to another. Personally, I feel I am a bit of an ignoramus when it comes to art. Goldfinch loves art. He would probably give you a much better answer to this question than I have.


What is something that really annoys you but doesn’t bother most people? 

What annoys me? I am not easily annoyed. I think the things that would annoy me, like racism, wilful ignorance or being belligerent and dogmatic, mocking someone else’s treasured beliefs, someone who thinks they deserve “better treatment” because they are wearing designer clothes or a flashy watch, would probably annoy most people.

I guess I am annoyed by people who have little consideration for fellow humans and lack respect for those with a different culture or outlook. Poor manners and behaviour like the examples I have mentioned make me cringe, and it is a challenge for me at times to remain silent. Words come into my head at times, but, hey, who am I to go around belittling eeeeeed-yats?!!! Better just to live by principles I admire, consideration for others and respect and dignity towards a member of my human family.

Hmm…well there is one thing that I find a little annoying. There is a store here that I really like. I tend to go there to buy underwear. (No pictures for this subject!…well, a thermal sock, that will have to suffice.) Now every time I go to the counter they want me to sign up for a store card.

Now I don’t have any problem with store cards, loyalty cards etc. I have worked in retail, and I know that the little information store cards can gather about their customers can help them make effective and efficient decisions when it comes to marketing and supplying which products to which stores. I don’t have any problem with a shop or business offering store cards, loyalty cards etc.

But the store I mention, their store card is a credit card. I don’t want any kind of credit card, loan, mortgage. I want to avoid debt until my dying day. I have seen the effect it can have on people. I had a credit card when I was twenty-one (it was handy when I was travelling to have a credit card) and I decided credit cards are not for me.

Every time I go to this store, the assistants try really hard to convince me to sign up for their store credit card and I explain over and over, I don’t want any kind of credit.  It becomes a bit embarrassing because they try so hard to convince me and I don’t like being difficult. I know those assistants are just doing what they have been asked to do by management. But I am resolute, I want to live in the black, not the red. It’s a personal choice, some people are fine with juggling credit and are pleased to have a good credit score. But it’s not for me.


Instead of our usual gratitude question, I’m posing this one for this week:

What or who in your life brings you the most joy?

I have a wonderful family…really wonderful. I have a wonderful world of friends. But because I am very soon going to lose him, I will mention the man I met one year ago who has been bringing me great joy…of course, my wonderful Goldfinch!

The past few years have been turbulent for me. The excruciatingly painful situation that dragged on with my ex-flatmate wore me down and caused me deep distress. Waking up one morning finding myself in an ambulance on the way to hospital after being the victim of a crime that has turned my life upside down. I had been feeling low. I was finding it really hard to imagine being happy in love again because I was so edgy and cautious around the men who tried to date me.

Then I met Goldfinch…and everything was right. Bless him, he had a mighty nose-bleed last night at the most inopportune time! He was embarrassed. I don’t know if he has any idea how special to me memories like that are going to be for years to come. You should see how enormous my smiles become when I am with him. I am a smiler anyway…but my smiles are even bigger with him.

Catrina And Catbells

I would like to introduce you to a very special lady, quite inspirational in truth.  Her story is now one of the most memorable periods of my life and as I look back I know I had a very special privilege that will stay with me forever.

catbells

She was so special, that I have been almost afraid to tell you about her, in case I cannot find the words to do her justice!  Let me try to portray her in the light of those who had the privilege to know her.

As a young woman, Catrina had left school and gone on to study and then attained a full-time job with a generous salary within a local business.  She had achieved all of this and yet she felt her life was in vain.  She did not feel that her career was rewarding.  She knew of others who had been involved in voluntary projects and saw the fulfilment and satisfaction that they manifested.

So Catrina gave up her job and began to get involved with voluntary projects.  She met her husband Darren and together they became immersed in volunteer activity.  They received extensive training and then moved to Africa, where they have lived and worked in several countries.

africa

They lived a life of giving…and were joyful for it.  They touched many people.  Many new babies born in the areas they worked in were named Darren and Catrina.

I have visited one African country, Ghana. But I have family and friends who have lived in various African lands.  Those who have lived there do say that their way of life is quite different in many respects.  They have had to get used to a different climate, different food, a different language in some cases, to frequent visits from local wildlife, numerous bouts of malaria and other unpleasant illnesses, power-cuts, difficulty in obtaining needed equipment.  They love Africa and say it is in their bones now, but, they have found themselves facing challenges which they never imagined.

There were occasions that were overwhelmingly challenging.  The roads in places are almost impassable especially after weather damage.  One of the hardships they experienced was when a team of workmates, who were travelling by bus, were involved in an incident.  Fifteen of their friends were killed.  Darren had to go and identify the bodies and make arrangements for informing their families.

For years they would come over to England for a couple of weeks to visit family and friends and were emanating joy and purpose in life.  I met them when I was seventeen.  They made a profound impression on me.  I wanted to have a smile like that!  For the next fifteen years, I eagerly read every letter and e-mail that was circulated detailing the adventures of Darren and Catrina and accounts of the inspirational people they met out in Africa.

I have mentioned before that I worked as a full-time volunteer in an infirmary caring for patients who were terminally ill or had dementia or were now dependant on nursing care.  However, we also had occasional temporary patients who were volunteers working overseas who had come back to England for some surgery or specialist medical treatment.  I noticed Catrina’s name on the list of scheduled visitors.

At first, I was just very excited at the thought of seeing her again.  I could never have imagined what was ahead for Catrina.  She was coming to England for some tests.  She had still been working full-time as a volunteer the week before their flight to London.  But for about a year she had noticed something was not quite right.  I could fill pages detailing the drama that unfolded over the next few days.

St BartsI am going to fast-forward to the afternoon I was with Darren and Catrina in hospital and they had just been told the news that essentially nothing could be done.  Catrina had cancer pretty much everywhere you can imagine.  That is the only time I saw Catrina cry.  I am going to step outside of the room and retain her privacy.

For the next six weeks Catrina was a resident of our own infirmary.  A room was adapted for her needs and she had the best possible care from our team of volunteer nurses and care assistants.  I told the girls before they even met her,  “This one is really special.  You are all going to fall in love with her very quickly and it is going to be very hard to see her go”.  How right I was!

Catrina was full of life right up to the end.  She was full of joy and full of giving.  The girls who cared for her were completely bowled over by Catrina’s ways.  As soon as the carers walked into her room, Catrina would turn around any enquiries as to how she was that morning into an opportunity to get to know everything about the carer.  She would find ways to get to their inner heart very quickly.  Everybody has memories of the personal advice and encouragement Catrina gave them during her last few weeks.  She busied herself with writing letters and e-mails to people she knew and loved, many of whom were back in Africa.  It think it must have grieved her to think she would not be able to go back to her home in Africa one last time.  She would not dwell on it.  She was going to use every precious moment to keep giving.  Her beautiful words to others will I am sure be treasured for many years to come.

She was one incredibly popular lady.  Many phone-calls came through switchboard for Catrina.  She had scores of gifts posted and a constant queue of visitors, some of whom traveled for hours to be able too see her.  As Catrina started to weaken and tire out more easily we had to limit the numbers of visitors so she could rest and be on her own with her husband Darren.

There was a large team of girls involved in the shifts in the infirmary.  Due to the support we had, I was still able to go away with my family on a trip we had arranged to the Lake District.  We stayed in Penrith and one day walked across a large range during which thick cloud descended and made us become quite lost.  It ended up being a rather long walk and we were all rather achy that evening.  So the next day we wanted an easier walk and I suggested a trip to Keswick and Derwentwater.  The first fell I ever walked up was Catbells  I have always been extremely fond of it.  It is a lovely friendly introduction to the Lake District and fell-walking for those who are not used to it.

I have been over that fell many times.  I like that you ascend rather quickly and are rewarded with stunning views over the lake below.

 view from catbells

When I returned to London, Catrina wanted to hear all about my family and my weekend away in the Lake District.  She asked me many questions about Keswick and about Catbells.  She seemed to be fascinated by it.  She made me go over and over the route to get to the base of Catbells and how the path climbs quickly.  I told her of the little island I always look out for where we have had adventures on holidays as a child.  She seemed deeply curious about Catbells and Keswick.

A week later I was caring for Catrina.  Darren had been invited to go for dinner with some friends.  Catrina wanted him to accept the invitation because she was sure they would be good for him.  He was glad I was there and Catrina kept reassuring him that she was very pleased to have my company.  Catrina asked me to put some music on selecting specific songs from her laptop.  She also asked me to shave her legs.  She told me they were really getting on her nerves.   I remember the first song on her playlist.  She told me Africa was in her bones and she considered it her true home.  True enough, she was sad at the thought of all those she loved so dearly and the shock news they had received of how ill she was.

Whenever I hear the soundtrack to Out Of Africa I remember Catrina.  Another song that was on her playlist….

….well, I cannot listen to that song at all anymore without ending up sobbing on account of Catrina.

The next day was the first time I saw Catrina was struggling.  I had helped her wash and dress.  She was expecting some important visitors who had lived out in the same area of Africa years before.  They had helped to arrange for Catrina to be cared for within the infirmary.  Catrina always used to apply her own cosmetics or make-up.  She had not had any difficulties until that day.  I left her room for a moment to put the towels we had used away and make something for her to drink.  When I came back poor Catrina had completely missed her eye-lids with her eyeliner.  She had drawn thick brown lines a centimeter or so below her eyes.  She seemed a bit confused.  I helped her to adjust her make-up before her guests arrived.  When they asked how she was, she told them that she was starting to find it really hard to concentrate which was frustrating because she had so many letters to write.

The next day Catrina took her last breaths.

After the Doctor issued a death certificate, I helped to prepare her body before the undertakers took her away.  Catrina had told us what to dress her in.  We tried to comfort Darren who was distraught.  To see Catrina who had been so full of life and joy and unselfish giving lying there completely lifeless was very odd.

Hundreds attended Catrina’s funeral.  Many others who were unable to travel linked in from other countries using an internet service.  Hundreds in their home town in Africa gathered to watch a broadcast of the funeral service.

After the funeral, Darren spoke to me and my best friend Marta.  He had a letter from Catrina.  Inside there was a photograph of the two of them from years ago.  It was a photograph they had taken during their honeymoon.  Darren asked me if I knew where the location was.  As soon as my eyes settled on the photograph I was startled with surprise.  Why, it was Catbells!!  The two of them were together on the top of Catbells looking down over Derwentwater.  I knew that view immediately.  Sure enough their honeymoon had been up in the Lake District and they had walked up one and only one fell, Catbells.

In the letter were specific instructions from Catrina about what she wished Darren to do with her ashes.  She had written him one of the most beautiful love letters I have ever seen.  She thanked him for the life-time they had shared.  She had lived, she had really lived.  She could not imagine any other life than the adventure they had shared.  Her expressions of love for him were deeply moving and as you may well imagine, Darren, Marta and I were all sobbing as we poured over Catrina’s letter.

Darren carried out all of Catrina’s wishes.  He returned to Africa which is just what she had hoped.  He still lives the same life of joy and giving.  When he returns to London he makes sure he comes to see the little team of carers who he says are like his sisters.  We certainly did keep an eye on him for many months before he left England and we have kept in touch since.

Catrina is very much alive in our minds and hearts.  She was a trail-blazer.  A life full of life, full of joy and full of giving.  She wasted none of it.  She kept on loving and kept on giving right to the end.  She is remarkably memorable for every good reason.  And whenever I have been to Catbells or even see a photograph… I see Catrina.  I see Catrina smiling and laughing.  There she is in our hearts, inspiring those who had the privilege of knowing her.  Her ashes…floated off in a breeze over Catbells… her honeymoon memory of the man she had shared her life with.

That is just a few pages of the story of Catrina…whose life could fill many thousands of pages.  That is just a short shapter on Catrina and Catbells.

 

Sleep tight Catrina…xx  You are unforgettable and inspirational.

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