I sit, Janus  faced, and consider the past year.    On the one hand it has been difficult and we bear the scars.   On the other hand we have survived and gained.

In terms of events, John had an operation on his appendix in April.   His experience of hospital was most unfortunate, and he had an alarmingly bad reaction to the anaesthetic and it took some time for him to recover (which however he now has.)   We attended the marriage of our son in July in Switzerland in July.   John decided to retire from the consultancy work he had been doing.   The events of the year have taken their toll on my physical symptoms (not to mention my grey hairs and wrinkles!).   We returned to Orkney where we had enjoyed wonderful holidays in the past with our young children, and rested there, and also enjoyed visiting family and friends in Scotland.   It is not one of the years I will look back on with gladness and triumph.   Yet in its grey starkness there is also truth and beauty.

I suppose, like a violent storm can mark the end of one season and the beginning of the next, this year completes a transition from one stage of life (working, active in role of parent, as John’s stepfather put it, ‘in the forefront of the battle of life’), to another (retired, grandparents, senior members of family, hopefully wise advisors and counsellors.)   Some of us find these changes easier than others do.

My mother used to say of difficult situations, ‘What does this teach us’?

Well, firstly, that the ravages of time ultimately cannot be evaded; the aging process is inevitable.   However strong, beautiful, clever, powerful, rich you are, ultimately we will all go the way of all flesh.   No-one escapes this, though in our foolish youth we all secretly believe (in spite of all evidence to the contrary) that somehow we alone will be singled out by Fate as especially lucky and though we may age, will not be diminished.      I always think when reading a biography of say, some Victorian politician, that although you cannot believe everything that is said in the book, of one thing you can be absolutely certain: everyone mentioned in it is dead.

Secondly, it is important to know who you are and what you believe in, for come the crisis,  that is where you will have to make your stand.    You had better pray that the gods you have chosen are true and will sustain you when you need them.  Although I am humbled and gratified by the kindness and generosity of all around me, never the less, when it comes down to it, you stand alone.    Only you can make the decision whether you will turn to the left or to the right.

So here I stand.  I am 62 years old and I face, like the rest of humanity, an uncertain future.   The general background of our lives just now – the news of the world at large – is not encouraging.   Watching the best TV programme of the year, in my opinion, Frozen Planet, one could both enjoy the Arctic and Antartic’s great beauty and regret its likely passing.   It was like a lament for the passing glory of our world, lovely, fragile, transient.     What will become of us?   I do not know.   None of us knows.   I felt as I watched as if I were looking back at the ending of some lost civilisation.

I found this year I had to abandon strategies that I have employed for many years.  I am, I think, a fair and generous person if well-treated, and I am slow to take offence.   But I have never been particularly forgiving of offenders, and I have extracted penalties from anyone who seriously opposed me.   Once I have decided upon this judgement (which I always carefully consider to ensure that it can be argued as fair beyond reasonable doubt), it is like the law of the Medes and Persians – impossible to repeal.      But I perceive, as Shakespeare put it, that if we all got what we deserved we should all of us get a whipping, and that people, being human, are fallible.   One should not measure everyone against some impossibly high standard.   They will all fail.    I would fail.   We are not perfect.   I have  striven to be just, but what I should have been was merciful.   It is odd how roles we are given to act in dramas often have a bearing on our actual lives.   I played Portia in a school version of Merchant of Venice.    I spoke the lines, ‘the quality of mercy is not strained’, but I did not really understand them.

But enough of my laments.   There is also cause for rejoicing.   We have survived by merciful Fate in fair order and our family is  whole and strengthened by the experience.    My lovely friends to a man and woman were insightful, generous, patient and loving.   Our kinsmen were stalwart and supportive.    Our children were wonderful, kind, mature, grown-up.   We were lucky.

So, I look forward to the coming year.    I hope to regain, if not some of my vitality, then some of my joie de vivre.    I look forward to the small pleasures of life.   Reading a good book in the shade on a sunny day in the garden.    Growing vegetables with John and eating the produce.   Seeing all our children together at Elisabeth and Rob’s wedding.    Watching our children build up their homes and hopefully assisting.   Seeing our grandchildren grow and develop.   Making myself (for a change) some clothes.   Going out with girlfriends for coffee or shopping.   Visiting friends and family and receiving them in our house.   Travelling a little.   Laughing alot.     Hearing from you.

Actually,  upon reflection, I’d have to count 2011 as a good year.   We experienced it and we’re still standing.    Any year that you survive has got, in the final analysis, to be counted as a gain.

I look forward to 2012 whatever it may bring.    It is good to be alive.

May you likewise live and prosper.

Erin and Dana in Jura,



So we approach the Winter Solstice once again.

I believe the Chinese have a saying, May you live in uninteresting times.   Well, 2011 was an interesting year.    When you look back on it – Japanese earthquake  and tsunami and nuclear danger, the Arab Spring, the collapse of the banking system, the perilous position of the Euro, it does not seem one of the sunniest we have ever enjoyed.   We ourselves had ‘an interesting year’ but we seem to have survived it with no lasting damage.

Of course there were some good times – the lovely wedding of Rory and Sarah in Switzerland, the days high in the Swiss alps in the apartment which Sarah’s parents kindly lent us, and the visit to her family home in a beautiful part of France which was new to us.   Also a peaceful holiday John and I had on Orkney, that magic and wonderful island, and seeing family and friends in Scotland on our way there.    In our difficulties at the time of John’s illness, our family and friends were very kind and generous to us and we would not have managed without their support, for which we are forever grateful.

But now we must look forward to the coming year and whatever adventure it brings.     For us the chief anticipated event is the wedding of Elisabeth and Rob in Sussex in mid summer, and the gathering of all our five children and their families in one place, which is a rare event – together with family and friends.   There is the pleasure of watching and helping (we hope) our newly married children establish their own homes, and the continued growing up of our grandchildren.    We hope to visit and receive friends and family  besides that and look forward to this.    Certainly none of us could have predicted the events of this year, but I think I may be forgiven for hoping that next year is perhaps not quite so exciting as this one was.    As President George Bush (Snr) once said, what’s wrong with boring?

I’m going to take my leave of you until then.   I hope this year has brought you more pleasure than pain, and that the coming year is favourable for you and yours.

Thank you for accompanying me during 2011, and I hope you will be with me in 2012.



I’m a bit behind this week because I’ve been feeling a bit below par, as I have recently altered my medication needed to ease the symptoms of my PD.    From time to time the timing or dosage needs adjusting, and I always find these transitions difficult.   I’m not sure how much of this is mind or matter.

In the first place, I don’t want to be taking any drugs.   I’d much rather be an organic, let-nature-take-its-course kind of person.

I was fortunate that during the birth of my three children, I did not require pain relief; but in that case the pain is of short duration, and you can endure practically anything if you know it will come to an end.   (And no discredit whatsoever to women who do accept pain relief – why ever shouldn’t they, if it helps them.)      But for years I suffered from migraine, (thankfully, no longer) and I certainly needed pain killers for that.   Still, that’s a one-off kind of thing, although I think if I had seen a year’s supply of what I took I’d have been quite horrified.    So one has to balance a desire for a natural life with the need to maintain a quality of life.     One would not wish to return to an age when drugs were not available.

In any event, I have not proved able to deal with this condition without the aid of some drugs.   I am grateful for the improvements they make to my life, and appreciate the expertise and study which has gone into producing them.  (Experts not Always wrong, after all!)    I am also grateful to the NHS for bearing the cost.

However, I’m always very reluctant to commit to a change, and in the end John has to persuade me that it will be beneficial.   I think his level of difficulty in doing this could be compared to that of trying to coax a flighty horse to enter a slowly moving train.    But in the end we consult, expert opinion advises us, and the new packet for trial is in my hands.

Big dilemma.   Should I read the ‘Possible Side Effects’ or not?    I do realise that the drug companies must list the known side effects, but by the time I’ve read to the end of them, I’m practically suicidal.   It’s no good John pointing out, only a little wearily, that the incidence of some of these peculiar results is one in ten thousand.   My logical self knows this is true, but my emotional self has retreated, sobbing, to under the stairs.

So, I take the drugs, much as Socrates might have lifted the hemlock cup, and am surprised to find, a few days later that my head has not fallen off, my ears have not turned green, and no demons have appeared at the foot of my bed.    I peer at myself in the mirror half expecting to see someone else there, but no, it still appears to be me.   Meanwhile, all the things that you might expect to happen are taking place (much as my advisor suggested) – feeling  a bit fragile, nausea, fatigue, disturbance of symptoms, etc.    Interspersed among these minor difficulties are bouts of panic, wondering if head is securely on shoulders, whether there might be a hint of eau-de-nil about my ears, and if demons ever actually put in an appearance at the foot of beds.

I think the drug companies should say:

There are a number of side effects which have been recorded from a few people who have taken this medication.   However, none of these will affect you.   Should you notice anything untoward, please inform your doctor.

Mind you, if I read that, I’d think – ‘The side effects are so terrible they’re afraid to list them’, and then I’d never take them at all.

In the meantime, I think I’m feeling a bit better.    I’ll just go and look in the mirror at my ears….


I had a snooze on the sofa the other afternoon, and when I woke, I saw that someone had sneaked in and left on the little table beside me, a peppermint chocolate.    Encased in its silver paper, it glowed in the dimness of the late afternoon.    I am very fond of peppermint chocolates but I just looked at it for a moment, reflecting that I knew there was only one left, so John had come across it, refrained from eating it, and left it for me.    Then my stomach asserted itself and dismissed the heart and its preoccupation with love.   This is a chocolate, it said.   Eat it.

So I did.   Chocolate is good but love makes it better.

And yes, I always know exactly how many chocolates there are in the house!