Sunday, 24 February 2019

The Everyday

In one way, I don’t have much to report. In another, I do. We have resumed normal life after our holiday. The list of jobs to do around the house and garden has increased. We are both well. I have a respite from health testing until May, when I get my next cancer surveillance scan. I continue to take drugs for my oesophageal ulcer. In other words, we are dealing with the normal challenges of everyday life. And given what has happened to us over the last three years, this is to be celebrated.

It takes a long while to come down from the stress of waiting for test results, when the big C is an option. We were on tenterhooks from the middle of December to the end of January. The holiday was a great antidote, but it wasn’t long enough. Since then, I’ve found myself much more tired than usual and sleeping much longer. T has been exactly the same. Oddly enough, during the stressful time, you know you are exhausted but you’re not able to rest. You always have to be on guard and you can’t switch off.  

Another thing you don’t seem able to do well under persistent stress is be creative. In the last three weeks I’ve written three new poems. In the previous seven, all I could manage was a bit of editing. But there was Christmas, New Year, an assault and the four anniversaries of dearly departed close family as well. So we had medical stress on top of the stress that is normal for all of those things. No wonder we are both so tired after the release from all of that.

I’m telling myself that there is no rush to catch up on the many things put off and not yet done (e.g. the cutting of the hedge and the pruning of trees and shrubs in the garden). I can do my writing and editing whenever I have the urge. I can go cycling and walking whenever the weather is good and the old body permits (the aches and pains don’t go away so easily). We can entertain friends, go to restaurants, see a movie, plan another holiday, read, watch TV, or do nothing.

Meanwhile, the madness of Brexit continues.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

On La Gomera

We are just back from La Gomera, one of the smaller Canary Islands. We’d had a very stressful January waiting for test results (thankfully my cancer surveillance scan was clear, making it two years and four months that I’ve been clear of cancer) and it was my birthday.  So we headed off for a well earned week of sunshine.

La Gomera doesn’t have an international airport. You have to fly to Tenerife Sud and take a ferry from Los Cristianos. This adds a few hours to the journey but is well worth it, as the island is more natural and less developed. We stayed at a lovely hotel on the south side called Jardin Tecina. It has white-walled and terracotta-roofed apartments spread out in a botanic garden across a cliff top. From our balcony we gazed over flowering shrubs towards palm trees and the shimmering sea.

It was 20 degrees every day. The midday sun felt very hot on skin that had not been exposed to the outside air for many months, so we sought the shade at this time. I would read and T would paint. Each day we went to the saltwater pool mid-afternoon for a swim, followed by coffee and cake on the sun-loungers.

The island is renowned for its walks. It is an extinct volcano with deep ravines and steep ridges that rises to about 5000 feet. The mountaintops are covered in a dense forest of laurel and myrtle that has its own ecosystem. When the wind blows from the north and east, clouds form and give misty rain on the summits and it gets pretty cold. This happened on my first day out, I’d hired a car to explore and do some walks, and when I got back from the cool and damp north side of the island T told me the sun had shone for her all day.

Thankfully the wind changed and the hillwalks I did on two other days were warm and sunny. One walk was up a steep sided ravine to a high village, then back down a stony ridge. I met a few walkers and a flock of goats. The other was through the forest with an ascent of La Fortaleza, the holy mountain of the Gomerans (who were ethnically Berber). It was a steep climb through crags to a flat topped summit, where altars and ritual sites have been found. This was the last refuge of the ethnic Gomerans after the Spanish invasion some 500 years ago. The conquistadores showed them no mercy.   

The hotel was a pan-European convocation. The majority of guests were German, then Scandinavian, Dutch and French. The Brits were in a minority. The food was fantastic. Breakfast and dinner were a tasting menu of different dishes, several cooked immediately for you by chefs at serving stations. We indulged ourselves so much that we rarely needed to eat lunch. The Gomeran specialities are palm syrup – dark, sweet and smoky, it is extracted from the sap of palm trees – and small black-skinned potatoes that are grown in terraces on the steep hillsides. By the end of our stay we were more tanned, somewhat heavier and wishing we had booked a second week.

We came home to stormy cold weather and the news that a good friend and neighbour had just passed. Her breast cancer had recurred aggressively and despite courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy she had succumbed. We put our unpacking on hold and went to the wake. The next day we paid our last respects in a windy and cold graveyard along with several hundred others. Despite the spitting rain, we were glad to be there.