Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My FaerieCon Weekend, or "How I fell in love with two thousand people at once and discovered the benefits of poetic vulgarity"

My Faeriecon Weekend, 
"How I fell in love with two thousand people at once and discovered the benefits of poetic vulgarity"

(Brief obligatory introduction: I'm an occasional contributor to CeltCast radio, and I'd promised Alex, the station producer, a review of Faeriecon and the concerts. So here you are!)

In March of this year, 2014. I learned that Omnia was coming to Faeriecon East, a fantasy-themed convention on the east coast. I looked at our projected bank balance, then quickly ignored it. "It's Omnia," I told my girlfriend, "and Faun. And Woodland. And SJ Tucker. At the same event. Fuck it, we're going!" And plans were made.

We arrived at the hotel at about noon on Friday, and I saw a few familiar faces, gave and received hugs, and checked into the room. Quick costume change, and off to join the burgeoning madness.  I was carrying my red dragon arm puppet, who goes by the name of "N'Aflawen Ddraig Goch ap Machynlleth." (If you've been studying your  Welsh, you'll know that that translates to "The Fierce Red Dragon from Machynlleth" - a real town, where I spent my childhood years.)

The convention itself was remarkable. SO much talent! Costumes you'd only dream of, and spirits and enthusiasm and verve enough to make anyone believe in magic. Within an hour, I felt as if I was in a world of fantasy, and I was in love with every part of it. During the next three days, I took, or had taken, dozens of pictures. I must give credit to my friend Jeremy Durant, who took far better pictures of the concerts  than I ever could. He's the above fellow with the big horns, seemingly startled by a small dragon.

We wandered about the hotel, visited the merchant's halls, met more people, and waited with delighted anticipation for the first of three concerts of the weekend, SJ Tucker, opening for Faun.
SJ Tucker, if you don't know her, is an American musician with an *unbelievable* voice.  SJ, also known as "Sooj", is friendly, articulate, talented beyond human reckoning, and a delight to listen to. You can experience her for yourself by going to her website, music.sjtucker.com. (To give you an idea of her musical skill, go to the albums page and click on the Sirens album, and play the song Carousel. She throws herself effortlessly off a musical precipice and never loses her way. That was recorded in 2006. She's better than that now.)

Sooj, along with her cellist Betsy Tinney and percussionist Ken Crampton, entertained for the better part of an hour, taking her audience through a mystical wonderland of magic, delight, whimsy, thunderstorms and alligators.

Then after a brief intermission, Faun took to the stage. Fog machines spilled clouds into the room and coloured lights and banners fluttered, turning the room into an enchanted landscape.

The crowd was very soon dancing to music that.... well, it's Faun, you know their music. If you don't, shame on you. Beautiful, ethereal, mystical, mediaeval, enchanting.... I joined in the dance, my feet often leaving the ground and my heartbeat at one with the captivating sound that carried us all away. Cello, lute, bhodran and hurdy gurdy and drums and voices and bells kept the magic alive for much of the evening.

 I was not alone in noticing that the crowd of 1200 people dancing to their music was making the light rig shake overhead, and the floor was bouncing, literally, beneath our feet.  
At one point I spun around and lost my balance, and crashed into some fellow who was likewise enjoying the music. I glanced up and apologized to the fellow I'd almost knocked over... Steve, from Omnia.  "S'alright, mate," he said easily, "It's Faun." What a way to meet the man for the first time!
It was close to midnight when Faun completed their third encore, and finally departed the stage. I joined the crowd spilling out of the ballroom, still lost in the enchantment of their music and not yet willing to return to the real world. But of course it was Faeriecon, the 'real' world was very far away. N'Aflawen and I called it a night by one  o'clock, and I found my way to a soft world of orphic chorus.

On Saturday morning I dressed in my satyr attire, with horns, ears, hooves and tail. I made my way to the merchants hall, where one table offered face painting. I became even more transformed into a satyr, and set about enjoying the day.

The doors to the Woodland and Omnia show were set to open at 8, and the line started forming at 6:30. By 7:45, the line snaked from the ballroom foyer, past the restaurant, through the lobby, and half a mile down the guest room hallways. So many people!!  So many stunning costumes! More than once, as I walked the line meeting people, I heard voices musically lamenting their inability to speak human...

The doors opened at 8:15, and the crowd surged into the ballroom. Most of us, myself included, had never seen Woodland or Omnia perform live before, and we knew we were in for a very special evening.
(Sadly, we exceeded the room's legal capacity, and the Fire Marshal order that nobody else be allowed in. So if you were one of the poor folk who left the ballroom to use the bathroom and found yourself unable to re-enter, that's why.)

Woodland took the stage at about 8:30, and gave the audience a wonderful taste of their talent and music. Primarily acoustic, with guitar, lute, cello, didgeridoo and drums, they wove a sonic veil of enchantment and mystery throughout the ballroom. Emilio and Kelly headline a wonderfully skilled, diverse musical band, well worth your time.

At 9:30, the lights dimmed again and the crowd became restless, knowing what was to follow. Omnia took to the stage soon after, and took the enthusiasm of the crowd to even higher levels. If you've heard that the band is 'animated', you've been misinformed. They are so much more than that. Steve and Jenny and Daphyd and new guitarist Philip danced and cavorted and played and spun with such enthusiasm, I think poor Rob was the only one in the entire whole hotel still sitting down, and that only because he had to play his drums.

Daphyd's sliding didgeridoo often extended eight-ish feet over the crowd, or else swung wildly over Steve's head as they cavorted and capered back and forth upon the stage, his booming bass a counterpoint to Steve's unstoppable pennywhistle.  Jenny danced between harp and bhodran and keyboard, like a beautiful sprite in love with the whole world.
The music flowed, Omnia and their fans danced and sang, the ballroom itself was alive with the music... there was not a soul unchanged. Omnia's music does that to people. 
During the performance of "We don't speak human", hearing a thousand people shout "FUCK YOU!" to the evils of industry and greed, is a magic to behold. Poetic vulgarity, indeed! Corporate trolls, hear us. We are legion, and we are coming.

Omnia played until nearly midnight, returning for three encores. During the final song, Morrigan, Daphyd split his lip on the didgeridoo but continued to play, his mouth bloodied but his spirit unfettered. 

After the concert, still afloat on the wave of music, I chatted with friends awhile, then made my way to the bar to see if I could talk briefly with the band on behalf of CeltCast.
I had my phone with me, of course, and tried to record a brief interview with Daphyd and Rob. (Daphyd's lip was fine by then, and he was laughing about it.) Sadly the recording on my phone was a garbled mess of bar chatter, so no recorded interview. Sorry Alex!! For the record, Rob did say he thought the audience was dynamite, and that he really appreciates having all of the amenities of a hotel in one building. No hiking half a mile to pee.  And Daphyd gave a very brief, humorous  a capella soundbite for Celtcast, sadly lost in the garble.

I introduced myself to Steve as the man who crashed into him the previous night, and we took a quick selfie. After a day of cavorting and dancing, my facepaint was no longer as clear as it had been hours earlier... I told Steve our picture looked like "a terrorist and a convict", and he enthusiastically agreed.

 Micheál Ó Laoghaire from Ravengrove Radio recognized me from my days at Wyldwood. "Miles!" he called out. "Good to finally meet you!"
When the bar closed at 2 am, Steve and Jenny invited everyone back to their room to continue the party, myself included. As we made our way through the hotel, Jenny observed with amusement that only Americans call the ground floor of a hotel the 'first floor'. "The first floor is above the ground floor, don't they know that? It's so silly." Steve turned and spread his arms wide, a grin on his face. "You know who's silly? Not only Americans. Everyone! All of us mutant monkeys. Humans, such a silly race."
Up in the hotel room, I chatted with Micheal, Christen Marie and Steve, while Philip and Emilio, and Stephan and Oliver from Faun played an acoustic jam.   
(Personal note: I *really* like the hurdy gurdy sound. Oh yes.)
Steve commented as we were talking that he and Jenny had both been nursing a fever for a few days now, and he didn't think the show was as high energy as it could have been. 
(Are you kidding?! If it was any higher energy they'd have had to replace the roof!)
By about 3 am I was struggling to maintain a vertical position, but the bands were still playing  - Micheal says they played until 5 - but I bid farewell, blew Jenny a kiss, and stumbled back to my room.
On Sunday, Woodland played an afternoon acoustic set in the ballroom, again carrying their audience on wings of music and fantasy. I sadly stayed for only half the set, because I had a long drive ahead of me.

Final goodbyes, a host of hugs and farewells and teary eyes, and even more pictures, 

and we stepped out of the world of Fairie and back into a chilly November day. 

What. A. Weekend.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

My visit to England, May 2009 (Goodbye Mum)

The events in this blog occurred in the summer of 2009. My mother was in hospice care, and I went to England for a few days to see her again and say goodbye, and to visit England and Wales again. While I was there I kept a journal of each day's events, which I emailed nightly to my brother Philip and my Dad. Some of this was a very personal and emotional journey.
I'm reposting it here merely for posterity.  


Preface: Before the journey

 On May 12th, Snooze and I will be flying to England for a week and a bit.

I'm going to visit England again, and to re-visit some of the places where I grew up. Tyglyneiddwen, Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, and other Welsh names you can't pronounce.
And it'll give Snooze a chance to visit England.

But the main reason I'm going is to visit my Mum.

My mother, Frances Mary Cook, has been one of my best friends and a supportive figure for years. My parents seperated in 1972 and divorced in '74 , but she knew I was pagan before I did! (She's not pagan; Mum is a devout Christian, but she understands and appreciates the pagan perspective. )

Mum has always had a very direct way of looking at the world. Years ago, in one of her letters, she mentioned that she'd like grandkids one day. Really, 'mentioned' is the wrong word. The first line of her letter was, "Miles, when are you going to breed?!"
And at one point our snail-mail conversation came around to sexuality. Out of the blue she said, "You're not bisexual, are you? If you are, the best of both worlds to you!" What a great thing to say! (Really, I consider myself bi-sensual -- I embrace both genders emotionally and spiritually, but not physically.)
And when I told her about my Wiccan pursuits, she immediately understood and accepted it. She was regularly sending me newspaper clippings about various goings-on involving Druids and Witches in the British Isles. She devoured JK Rowling's books, and wishes she could go to Hogwarts!

But now she is in the twilight of her life. She's in her 70's, and she is in hospice care with untreatable throat cancer.
She has become a frail, bedridden woman, finding comfort in her family and her memories. Her voice is gone; she communicates with pen and paper.
I know that when people learn of a sick relative, the immediate response is to send healing energy. While I appreciate the thought, I know that the time for healing energy is long past. What she needs is guidance for a smooth and painless transition.
My brother Philip went to see her a month ago, and now that Snooze and I have our passports (finally!), it's my turn.

This is something I've never done before - say goodbye to my mother - but it's something I need to do.


Day 1

We left Charlotte airport Tuesday around 2:30 pm. Our friend Athena is living at the house for the time we're away.

Flew to Philadelphia; I kept trying to identify where we were by identifying geographical landmarks between North Carolina and Pennsylvania, but failed miserably. 
Landed in Philly around 4, and we spent two hours at the airport getting a bite to eat and riding the Robert-Heinlein-inspired slidewalks to get the right gate.                                                       
When we arrived at the gate, they had British flag balloons up, people taking pictures, the pilot and crew shaking hands with people.... this was US Air's first flight from Philadelphia to Birmingham, and they were making quite a fanfare of it!

The plane left Philadelphia at 6:00 pm US time, and rapidly rose to 39,000 feet. We changed seats with another fellow, because the girl in front of us, an exchange student going home to Poland, WOULD NOT SHUT UP!! When we left them, the young man we switched places with was still talking to her. Bully for them! 

The flight was seven hours, but we'd left the US at 6:00 pm. When we landed in Birmingham, it was 6:00 am, sun was up, but it felt like 1:00 to us. The night went by in record time! Watching the moon reflecting over the clouds, as white as a beacon, and seeing the sun come up over Ireland - fingers of pink dawn to full sun in 15 minutes - was a treat!

We landed at Birmingham Int'l Airport (I didn't even remember Birmingham HAVING an airport!) at 6:00, got through customs, and picked up our car. The quite proudly told us we'd been upgraded to a bigger car, a 2009 Toyota with all the bells and whistles. I took a couple of careful laps around the parking lot, trying hard not to overcompensate for the wheel being on the other side, and tried not to drive on the wrong side of the road!

Nosed out of the car rental place into traffic, and kept on and kept on stalling the car. I'm used to driving manual transmission; it's my preferred system, but this one had a really sensetive clutch, I kept on stalling the poor thing.

Then coming out of the airport we took a wrong turn and went 15 (?)  miles down A45 to Coventry!! Got to Coventry, where I pulled into a gas station and bought a map and a bag of Jelly Babies. We went back to the airport and asked them for a different car; they gave us an automatic transmission Ford something, with diesel (!) and we drove out in that.

Found our way back to Solihull, and pulled into the Ravenhurst at 10:30. Linda heard us mucking about with bags and opened the door for us. "Hello, you must be Phil's brother - I see the resemblance." Wonderful lady, she gave us good English tea!

We borrowed her phone to call Janet, who first tried to give us directions to Swallow's Meadow Nursing Home, but then said, "Hang on, make this easier, I'll just come pick you up."

Janet picked us up a few minutes later, and we drove to Swallow's Meadow Road. And drove around Swallow's Meadow Road. And drove around roads around Swallow's Meadow. What she thought was Swallow's Meadow Nursing Home turned out to be an unfinished block of flats, and we had to ask several people before learning that the nursing home was one block away! Janet dropped us off at the door.

Got to the REAL Swallow's Meadow, found our way inside, signed in, and went up the the second (First, I'd forgotten that) floor. The doctor was just closing Mum's door as we approached, I looked in and we saw each other and I waved and smiled; her eyes got wide them she settled back in her bed and smiled.
Five minutes later the doctor opened the door and said we could go in.

Mum doesn't look as bad as I'd imagined she might.
She is VERY frail and small, with pale skin and thinning hair. She has a breathing tube connected to her neck that pumps warm mist all around. Her hair is thing, but not white. Grey, but not white. She has liver spots, and her right thumb was held at a funny angle, like the base of her thumb had been broken and re-set. (Had it?) But her eyes are still strong - not the watery, washed-out looked I'd been anticipating, but the strong, vibrant mischevious look I remembered. This was definitely Mum!

With cracking voice I said hello, and told her I loved her, and introduced Heather. Mum turned with a little difficulty to look at Heather and smiled weakly. I wonder if she was embarrassed to be seen in that state. Mum saw my camera and insisted that no pictures be taken of her, so there are none. 
Heather left us along for a few minutes, and Mum settled back in her bed and drifted in and out of consciousness, while I held her hand and stroked her hair and told her I loved her, and cried, I knew I was going to, but I didn't want to upset her, so I just cried as quietly as possible. Heather left us alone for twenty minutes, and I held Mum's hand and talked quietly about our flight and such. I didn't want my stuttering to distress her either, so whenever I felt a block about to happen I just held my voice until I felt I could speak easily.
Mum would open her eyes every now and then and tighten her grip on my hand, but never asked for pen and paper.

After half an hour or so I felt really worn out - jet-lag was beginning to set in - so I wrote on her notepad that I'd see her again soon, and that I loved her.

We left Swallow's Meadow and walked to Solihull Center, where we wandered around the shops for a few minutes and bought a cheap phone. The T-Mobile at WH Smith was cheaper than anything at Vodaphone, so we bought that. Then we had lunch at the Saddler's Arms - I had bangers and mash, Heather had fish and chips with mushy peas - and we took a bus back to Lode Lane. Of course the bus we took went the other way on Lode Lane; Ravenhurst was behind us! So we got off the bus - just in front of 160, as I think of it now - and walked back up the road to the Ravenhurst. By now I was almost delirious with lack of sleep, so Linda showed us our room, #3, and we both fell dead asleep.

It's now 5:30 local time; after an eventful day and a bit of an adventure, we've had a nap and feel much better!

(Janet, your hospitality and humor were a delight, please don't feel the need to apologise for having lost the Nursing Home!)         

More to follow..............

Love to all,
Day 2
Hi all,

We got up around 8:30 and went downstairs to a huge English breakfast. Fruit, toast, cereal, bacon, sausage, baked beans, eggs, and gallons of tea. 
Talked to Linda and walked around the back garden for a bit, then drove to Swallow's Meadow to see Mum.

Mum was awake and writing something when we went in, and she opened her arms to give me a hug. She smiled a lot, and her eyes were bright. Her color looked better today too, and she didn't have her neck-tube thing plugged in. She wrote questions for us and we answered as well as we could - "What did Philip say?", "How long are you here?". She wanted to write another question but dozed off in the middle of writing it, and instead smiled apologetically, crossed it out and wrote, "sorry, brain lapse. Rapid effect of childbirth." and gave me another hug.

At noon a man poked his head in the door to say they would be testing the fire alarm for a minute. We were treated to sixty seconds of ear-bleeding shrill electric screeching that made us all wince. It made Mum cross to listen to it - I asked her if that was common, and she said it was the second time in a week.

Heather gave her a gift, a tassle made of feathers and home-spun wool with a stone cross, that she hung in the window. Heather told Mum what all the different feathers were from, and Mum appreciated the gift.

I asked her when Larry would be coming by, and she wrote, "Due now I think." But we waited a while longer and Larry never came by. On the way out I asked a nurse who said he doesn't usually come by until about 5.

Mum was getting more tired, her writing was getting sloppy, and she kept dozing off in the middle of trying to write, so we let her sleep and went back to Ravenhurst.

But all in all, her color was much better today than yesterday. She obviously gets tired easily, but if she's in pain she doesn't show it. 
We left the car there and took the bus out to Walmley. When we got to 63 Fox Hollies, I saw that the security gate was open, so we walked up to the door and rang the bell. 

After a minute an eldery Sikh gentleman answered, and I explained that I wanted to visit the house because I was born here. He asked me how long I lived here, and I explained I was only there for a little bit, that I grew up in Wales but used to come back every summer for holiday. When I mentioned the names Frank and Dorah Cook, that settled something in his mind and he said we could look around.
Through a side window I saw a younger woman (wife? daughter?) storming through the house to confront the man about who we were and why we were there. I suppose he placated her enough to let us wander the grounds a bit. She watched us the whole time we were there, but I did take some nice pictures of the house.

Changes to the property:
The trees over the driveway have been cut way back to so as to only frame the driveway, not arch over it.

There is an ornamental pond in the beginning stages of existence, off to the right of the driveway.

Halfway down the driveway on the left is a new cottage.

There is a children's playhouse on the right side of the driveway.

The drive around the house to the right now stops parallel to the back of the house; there is a new retaining wall there. The side of the house was littered with children's toys. 

The little garden behind the behind the dining room is still there, but the path going back to the shop is boarded up.

The greenhouse at the back of that garden is no more. I don't think the property extends that far anymore.

I wasn't able to see inside much, only brief glimpses through windows, and I didn't want to make an issue of trying to peer in.

After leaving #63, we went poking around in Walmley woods. It's actually BIGGER than I remember! 

We picked some bluebells and rhododendrons to give to Mum, then went to The Fox pub for late lunch. Meat carved to order, all the yorkshire pudding, gravy and veg you could want, for $3.60 each. Hmm, no key on this computer for British pounds.

And I got rhubarb crumble with custard!! I haven't had decent rhubarb since Grandma Batty made it at Tyglyn! What a treat!

Took the bus back to Solihull, and learned to send text messages while on the bus.

And Philip, you didn't tell anyone about The Delhi, a wonderful Indian restaurant across from the Saddler's Arms. REAL Indian curry, oooooo slobber slobber.

(it occurs to me that half the content of these emails have been spent talking about food!) 

More tomorrow. 



Day 3

Got up around 8, had brekkies - another lashing of bacon, tea, etc etc - and went to Solihull to get some cash out and catch the bus to Swallow's Meadow.

Mum was dozing when we got there - had her glasses on and a notepad in front of her, but she'd dozed off holding it.

She heard us coming in and took her glasses off, smiled brightly and gave me a hug. We told her we'd been to Walmley, to see the house, and that we'd picked some bluebells and rhododendrons for her. She seemed momentarily confused but appreciated the flowers, and I tried to tell her about the trip to Walmley. She only seemed to be halfway listening, and kept nodding off.

I asked her if Larry was coming by, and she tried to write, "Where's Larry?". But her writing has been getting visibly worse, almost hour by hour. The word "where" was scratches and lines, and the word 'Larry' was written in increasingly tiny letters, all jumbled together. She gave up and closed her eyes.

While Mum was dozing I did look through a couple of old pages she'd written. I don't know who she was writing to, or when it was written, but she had said things like,

"What does the doctor say about it?"

"I feel like I'm only half aware of what's going on around me."

"I can't do anything - typically useless."

"Why am I here?"

"Tell him I love him."


Heather found a letter from Larry addressed to me, that he'd placed on the dresser on Monday. I think he'd expected me to find it on Tuesday but we didn't see it until today. So I called him and we made plans to meet at #160 at 3:00 o'clock.

Then the head nurse for her floor asked me if I'd like to have a chat in her office, so Heather and I sat down with her to talk about Mum.

She said Mum's deteriorating visibly, that even in the few days since she came to Swallow's Meadow that her condition is 'not looking bright'. Salient points of what she said was that when asked if she wanted a stronger dose of morphine, Mum had said yes.

The other day she had asked Mum if there was anything she could do for her, and Mum had mimed pulling the tube out of her neck and slitting her throat.

She said that since yesterday morning, Mum has refused having her hair done or putting any make-up on, as if there were no point to it.

And that she's not picked up a crosswords in four or five days.

I asked if she were able to go to the bathroom by herself, and the nurse said no.

She said that last night - Thursday night  - Mum was very agitated, and had tried to pull the tube out of her neck by herself.

The nurse asked me if I had any thoughts on further care - they have the option of providing advanced care, or allowing a DNR (do not resuscitate) order, and I said I didn't know if I had the authority to make any such decision. I did volunteer, though, that knowing Mum's pride, I really doubted she would want medical treatment to keep her lingering on like a vegetative shell. Remember that she did refuse chemo.

She said she'd like to hear from you, too, Philip. (She did give me her number, but I'll be buggered if I can find it now. I'll get it for you before we head back.)  

After that sobering conversation, I almost broke down in the elevator back to the ground floor. I asked Heather, "Have I just killed my mother?" and she said, "You did what your heart told you to do. I think Mary would be proud of you."

God I hope so.

She looks bad, you know. Lying in bed, her mouth open, the tube in her neck breathing for her. She can't eat, drink, taste or smell, or speak. And now she's losing the ability to write!

She's bone thin, her skin alternating between warm and cool. But she still has her eyes! Those see-through-you, bright brown eyes. Still full of spirit, even if she's not able to communicate. 

We went to see Larry at #160, and talked to him for almost two hours. He talked about how he and Mum met, about how he's lived in that house since it was built in 1934 - he was four when his father bought it, but now he pays rent to a landlady. He talked about how Mum used to spend hours polishing the brass, and tending the garden. 

He's let the garden go since she's been hopitalised. He cuts the grass regularly, but he hasn't weeded the flowerbeds or tended to the fishpond since October. "My heart's just not in it any more." Heather took some cuttings of ivy Mum had planted, and promised to replant them in North Carolina. 'Mary's Ivy', we called it.

He talked about how as hard as it is to accept, he will have to face the day when Mum ("My Mary, my sunshine") isn't going to be coming home. He said that she does have a DNR order in place. As much as he hates it he thinks that's for the best.

He worried aloud - many times - how he's going to survive once she's gone. The whole time he was talking about her, he was talking in the past tense. Poor soul.

Larry gave me Carol's number, and we're going to spend some time talking to her when we get back from Wales and Holmfirth. He also gave us the address of the cemetary where Frank and Dorah Cook are buried. I am going to pay a vist there before we head back. I've just realized that we went to see 63 Fox Hollies on May 14 - Grandma Cook's birthday. Wish I remembered that when I was there.  

The most depressing day here so far - but likely the most important. Bugger.

Mum, I love you. Always.


Day 4

Our day began with yet another first-class breakfast at the Ravenhurst. Getting spoilt, we are!

We left Solihull and drove to Sutton Coldfield, to visit Frank and Dorah Cook's grave. The cemetary is right next to Good Hope Hospital, on Rectory Road. Larry'd told us vaguely where their grave was, but I had to wander the graves before I realized they are arranged chronologically. So I found my way to the 1983 burials, and soon found 'Francis Arthur Cook and his devoted wife Dorah'.

If you ever do manage to go there, they are in plot #2317. I paid my respects, and we took the obligatory pictures before it began to rain.

Then back on the road, headed for Wales. Had a bit of trouble navigating the exits (junctions) between the M42, M6 and M5, but soon found ourselves heading towards Wolverhanpton, Shrewsbury and Welshpool.

Took more inevitable pictures of each of us posing by the 'Welcome to Wales' sign just outside Welshpool.

Followed the signs to Machynlleth, and I proudly showed off the Clock Tower to Heather. More pictures.

I showed her some of the older buildings, and followed my nose to the Train Station. Aside from the LED display boards over the tracks, it hasn't changed a bit! More pictures.

Walking back to the car, we heard violin and accordian music coming from a VERY old (1500's?) building, "The Tannery'  on the corner as you come around towards the Clock. We poked our noses in, and a couple of young ladies had created 'ambient scultpure', hanging hand-carved black wooden ravens and jackdaws from the rafters. They were rehearsing for an upcoming perfomance, We talked to them for a minute, then returned to the car.

Drove onto the A487 towards Eglwysfach. Damn, I didn't remember the road being that narrow - or that twisty!

Got into Eglwysfach at around 5:00, and I cheered as I drove past Tyglyn. She's still there!

We tried to find a parking space, and I was all the way to the church before I gave up and turned around back to Craig-Y-Derin to park in from of Ruth Jone's house. (That's how I remember it!)

Walked back to Tyglyn to have a look around.

I didn't see any "Bed and Breakfast" signs, so we rang the doorbell just to see what might happen. A somewhat apprehensive man answered, and I told him that I used to live in this house - I'd grown up here, He asked me what my name was, and the name David Batty rang a bell. He said his name is Dafyd James, He told me Tyglyn USED to be a B&B, but that he bought the house five years ago and it's a private house now. He's been doing some work on it. I asked if I could take a couple of pictures, and he said Yes, and would we like to come inside, He was obviously very proud of his work, and of the house. He lives there with his wife and three daughters, and several dogs.

He did insist, though, that I not take any pictures of his family.

Changes he's made to Tyglyn:   

The privet hedge, wrought iron fence and gate are gone - just open tarmac from the front wall to the road.

The porch is still there, but no stalwart concrete eagle.

There is scaffolding over the bay windows in front of Grandma's room, and the engraved "Tyglyneiddwen" sign was leaning by the side of the porch.

The inlaid tile floor in the hallway is just the same!

The ornate fireplaces and mantles in Mum's Sitting Room and Grandma's Room are just the same, but the walls have been repainted. No pics.

The Study was locked. No pics.

The Breakfast Room and Kitchen have been totally redone - he's knocked the wall out between the two rooms, and put modern countertops and appliances all through the kitchen. The Breakfast Room is now off-white, with hardwood panelling halfway up, and there's a modern fireplace in the side wall (towards Machynlleth).

There's a door in the Kitchen, leading out onto the balcony (!) that overlooks the back garden.

I couldn't take any pics of the Breakfast Room or Kitchen, but the balcony is visible on the outside,

The yew tree is gone - he said it was rotted and dying and in danger of falling into the house. He had it pulled down.

I did sneak a pic of the cellar steps - just the same as always, but the walls have been repainted. Damn, those are narrow! And steep!

(His wife, whose name I didn't catch, wishes you'd left some Elderberry Wine for them to discover!)

He's paved the driveway, put a staircase down from the back of the driveway to the back garden, and paved the side of the garden all the way down from the driveway to the back wall.

(I don't know how he plans to drive anything down there, but it's definitely paved!)

The apple orchard and Grandma's rhubarb patch are gone. The gooseberry bushes are still there!!

I wasn't able to go upstairs, and I think Mr James was getting a bit exhasperated with me poking around the inside of his house. So I took a couple more of the back garden, and thanked him profusely for his hospitality.

It brought a tear to my eye to see that the Old Lady is being watched by someone who obviously loves and cherishes her, and plans a lot of great things for her future. Tyglyn is most definitely in loving care!

I plan to write to Mr James and thank him for taking such good care of Tyglyneiddwen. I love that house!

We left Tyglyn and walked down to the School. It's become a private house as well, and part of it appears to be an artist's studio.

They've put a wooden fence up along the read edge of the building, and there are tons of construction materials, piles of things under tarps, shovels and wheelbarrows and pallets of sacks of concrete, all in the yard where the lavatories used to be.

I did get some pics of the building, though.

We drive up to Furnace, so I could show Heather Furnace Falls and the waterwheel.

Really great things happening there - it's been restored to the point of not falling into collapse, and it's been declared a Historic Site. There are information placards up all around it, with diagrams of how the wheel worked, what it was for, when it was built and so on. I got closer to it, and got a better view of it, then I ever could before! I knew it was built in the 1700's, but didn't realize it was used to make iron ingots.

Heather took a few pictures of it, then realized that our digital camera records video as well, and took several minutes worth of video footage of the building. And Furnace Falls is just as vibrant as ever!!

We drove back to Machynlleth, and asked at the White Lion for B&B rooms. $25(GBP) per person per night for a decent hotel room and breakfast. We checked in, then went down for dinner. I had roast faggots and mushy peas, and Heather had grilled salmon.

Tomorrow we plan to go back down to Eglwysfach so we can climb the Foel.

love you all,


Day 5

We woke up this morning in one of the hotel rooms of the White Lion in Machynlleth. Breakfast (more food) was thick Welsh bacon, mushrooms, poached eggs, fried bread and tea. Delightful!

Started the day walking around Machynlleth. Got to see the public park with ornate and impressive gate, Owain Glyndwr's parliament house, and some more 19th century Welsh slate architecture.

We saw where someone had scrawled grafitti on a wall, "Batty's wank lane". It looked recent.

Drove back to Eglwysfach, and went to St Michael's church. We spoke very briefly with an old, friendly vicar, Before he got in his car and left, he said the church was still open, to go on in. We'd just missed morning services.

We went inside and met the Church Warden, Joy Neil. I told her who I was, and she remembered me, and all of us. She expresed her condolences for Mum's condition. I asked her what the vicar's name was, and would he remember us? "That's Aubrey Newell," she said, "He'll remember you. He remembers everyone.

She told me about the 2008 celebration of RS Thomas, and gave me a program book from the poetry festival in his honor, and showed me his plaque on the wall of the narthax.

We took some pictures of the church, inside and out, and of some gravestones. I walked the cemetary to see if I might recognize any names, but no such luck. The name 'David Einon Jones' rings a bell, but not sure who that was.

Drove back to the fork in the road by the Post Office (now a private residence) and drove up the back road towards the Foel. I stopped to look in the old cave I remembered, and got a few pics of that.

Drove further up to the fourth cattle grid (bloody hell that was some white-knuckle driving! Narrow one-lane roads, drop-off cliffs, collapsing stone walls), and parked the car and followed the footpath up the Foel. We climbed probably two-thirds up, to where we could see the estuary, the Irish Sea, and distant land on the horizon. (Ireland?)

The wind was picking up and ominous clouds were looming, so we decided two-thirds was good enough. Besides, we climbed to the top of the Foel when we used to live here - I didn't feel the need to go right to the top again.

I realized that while I was born in England, and I've lived in several US states and Canada, Wales - around Eglwysfach and Machynlleth - that will always be "home" for me. Sitting on an outcropping of stone on the Foel, I felt at home. Settled, contented, at peace.

We climbed back down the Foel, and drove on down to Aberystwyth. Stopped just below the National Library of Wales to get a look around. We spent half and hour exploring narrow streets and closed (not shut down, just closed for Sunday) storefronts, before realising we were both quite discouraged by Aberystwyth. It had an air of irritability and hostility about it that left us both feeling vaguely depressed about being there.

Left Aberystwyth and drove back up towards Machynlleth. Stopped off at a handicrafts shop in Tal-y-bont to buy some touristy souvenir things for friends, then continued up the road.

In Glandyfi there's a new business, a sister project to the RSPB. The Nature Conservancy of Ceredigion has a public bird-watch program - they have an information center and a bird-watching hide built, from which you can see a family of nesting ospreys. I took pictures of the nest as best as I could be holding the camera lens to the telescope.

Went back on through Machynlleth, and continued up through Derwenlas.

I found out that there's a place called The Centre for Alternative Technology' that promotes eco-friendly living, reneweable power, things like that. Their campus is in Derwenlas. Google them sometime.

Continued up towards Dolgellau, and overland towards Queensferry. Had to stop in Bala to get better directions, and a really friendly chap who drives a lorry between Dolgellau and Huddersfeld told us exactly the way to go, which roundabouts to be careful on, even which towns have good public lavatories! Wonderful chap.

Continued on through Queensferry, through Manchester, towards Sheffield, to Huddersfield, and found our way to Holmfirth.

Driving through the country, it occurs to me just how close together everything is! Manchester is only 35-odd miles from Sheffield; I have to drive 35 miles just to get from Concord to downtown Charlotte and Concord is a suburb of Charlotte! Good god.

We drove across the Pennine Way toward Huddersfield - at night! Couldn't see a buggering thing.

Called Sam Chappell ("Chaps") to say we were entering Holmfirth, and where is his house?

We met up with him, finally getting off the road around midnight, and went to an Indian Take-away for curry.

I'm proud to say that Hilary's grandson is a wonderful, intelligent, witty man. Definitely a Batty.

More tomorrow.

Day 6

The adventure continues!

Woke up in Sam Chappel's house - he slept on the couch and gave us the bed - and we chatted about Hilary for a bit.

He has a lot of fond memories of Hilary, and obviously misses her terribly. He said that Simon left the family when he was seven, and he was never really close to his Mum, so Hilary raised him as her own. He said that she always had a smile on her face, that she was an eccentric and free-spirited woman. He said he got this new house because he couldn't live there alone when she died.
I got a little video clip of Sam talking about Hilary, and of him playing a piece of music that he wrote for her after her funeral.

We went outside and he showed me an unusual feature of the yard - buried under an overgrowth of brambles and ivy are three little stone houses, each no more than two feet high, and a tiny stone bridge. We think that a little girl who used to live there (he doesn't know how old the house is) played with them.
We drove into Netherthong, and Sam showed us the church, All Saints Parish, where both Hilary and Grandma Batty's ashes are buried. They have a brass plaque on the walk along the side of the church. We took some pictures of the plaque, and of the still-bare patch of soil from where Hilary had been laid to rest.

Then we went to look around the church. It's a beautiful, old gothic stone church, built in the early 1800's. Buttresses, gargoyles, huge oak doors with iron rivets, massive stained glass windows, the works. We took plenty of pictures. The main door was locked, but I saw a sign over the keyhole, "For key, enquire at the shop across the road". So we went across the road, and sure enough they gave me a MASSIVE cast iron skeleton key, eight inches long. It would not surprise me at all if this was the original key, two centuries old. On the same ring, looking quite insignificant, was a tiny modern steel key.
With great fanfare I turned the skeleton key in the lock and opened the massive doors, and we stepped inside. 

The church is not big, only eight pews to a side, but with spectacular stained glass windows in the over the chancel. But the sanctuary was behind locked interior doors, so I tried the smaller key, to no avail. We went up the side stairs to see if it would fit any other doors, again without success. When we were about to give up and leave the mysteries of the church untouched, I noticed a sign over the interior door that said, "push". So I did.
Eureka! The door swung wide open, we all had a good laugh, and went inside.
We explored the sanctuary, took more pictures, and I saw a row of books on one pew with a collection box. So we picked out some good books on British history and gardening, and I paid double what they were asking for them. We left the church and I returned the Most Awesome Key to the shopkeeper.

Back outside, Sam suggested that we go take a look at Hilary's old house. We drove there, and looked around her treasured, but now overgrown, garden. Heather suggested taking some flowers from Hilary's garden to put at the plaque, so we collected a good assortment and headed back.
We put the flowers in the vase, and I told Grandma and Hilary that we love them and miss them. We took more pictures, and I suggested looking around the cemetery. Lots of older graves, dating back to the 1700's. There was one, part of a pair of graves that framed the path to the main doors. The one on the left dated to 1810, and belonged to John Prowde, the Church Warden. The one on the other side could not be read, because the inscription was in Anglo-Saxon, or Runic, or something like that. Definitely not English! We took pictures of it, and I noticed a tiny little cairn, maybe a foot high and three feet across, adjoining the mystery grave. (Wonder if there's any connection between the little girl's stone houses and the cairn?) So we got pictures of that too, and of some wonderfully carved headstones elsewhere in the cemetery.

Then we went to look around Holmfirth. Sam showed us his favorite pub, The Nook, where we had lunch. Lamb and apricot burger for me. Not at all bad!
We poked around Holmfirth, fed the ducks and pigeons that live by the Holm river, and I took some pictures of a great heron that waded by.
We went poking through some old shops, then went back to Sam's house to load the car. We dropped Sam back off at the Nook, and headed out towards the M1.
I am so very glad to have met another member of the family! Sam Chappel is a good man, and definitely Batty. He's got our blood in him.

We arrived in Solihull around 8:30, checked back in at the Ravenhurst, met John Keppy, and went to have dinner. 

Tomorrow I'll go and see how Mum is doing.

Obviously, pics of Holmfirth will be sent soon.

love to all,


(Back at the Ravenhurst. Last night we'd locked the room door from the inside before going to bed. At midnight I tried to open the door to go to the bathroom, but the lock would not open! So in desperation I called John Keppy on my mobile and explained the situation. He opened the door from the outside and said he'd get the lock either looked at or replaced.)

We went out straight after breakfast, and took the bus to see Mum.
She was drifting in and out of consciousness when we got there, but opened her eyes enough to recognize me. She squeezed my hand repeatedly, but didn't recognize Heather. If anything, she had a look of terror when Heather came close - I imagine she didn't want someone she didn't know leaning over her like that.
Heather busied herself with refreshing the flowers on the windowsill while I talked quietly to her about our adventures in Eglwysfach and Holmfirth. I don't know how much registered, but just the sound of my voice seemed to soothe her.
She kept tugging at the collar that holds her tracheotomy (sp?) tube in place.
After a while she motioned to us to help her sit up, and with some difficulty wrote,"Tell them I need a doctor," then "they don't know me," then "Mrs Cook's daughter".
Heather went to get a nurse who asked Mum what she wanted. Mum motioned to her collar, and the nurse asked her if it hurt. Mum wrote, "AGONY", followed by, "I don't want any more."

The nurse brought her a dose of morphine to add to her liquid feeding tube. Mum resisted it at first, I think because she didn't want to be so drugged as to be unable to write or think. But then she relented, the nurse administered the dosage, and Mum fell asleep.

We left soon afterwards to go see downtown Birmingham.

We took the bus downtown - easier than driving - and while riding, I called Carol. We made plans to meet at Mum's room later that afternoon.

In Birmingham we went to a site I'd found online - a forty-foot high statue of the pagan Green Man, complete with live plants growing out of him. We got several good shots, in photographs and video, of the sculpture. (You can see better pictures of him than anything we took by opening Google, selecting Images, and typing in "Custard Factory Green Man".)

We walked on down towards the Bull Ring, and found a VERY old inn called The Old Crowne, built in 1383. It still has the original wall timbers and brickwork, and pictures of every Monarch who reigned during its existence. There were framed newspapers - probably originals - announcing the death of Queen Victoria, the abdication of Edward VIII, and the coronation of Elizabeth II. 
We took several pictures of the building outside and in, the decor and architecture.

Onward toward the Bull Ring, we stopped at St Martin's Cathedral, THE gothic cathedral in Birmingham. Gargoyles, flying buttresses, huge arching wooden rafters, carvings of knights lying in state, the works. Got more wonderful pictures.

In the Bull Ring, we window-shopped for the afternoon, and I bought several choice Doctor Who toys for myself and friends back home who can't find such things over there. (Do you know just how many years I've wanted a bloody remote control toy Dalek? Got one!)

Got back on the bus and returned to Mum at Swallow's Meadow. We finally met Carol - my sister by virtue of Mum and Larry's common-law marriage - and Frank (my assumed brother-in-law) and Larry. That's when I called Philip, just so he could be with us so everyone could be together.

We gathered around Mum's bed and chatted for a bit. She seemed to really enjoy having her family around her - even though she never opened her eyes, her breathing was comfortable and she smiled frequently. Her hair had been washed and makeup applied.
While we were in Mum's room, though, I noticed - and Heather agreed - that the light seems to have gone out of her eyes. No longer is the vibrant spirit and mischevious spark there. Looking into Mum's eyes now all I see is the shallow, unfocused gaze of someone close to the end.

When the nurses came in to replace her trach tube, the RN (Sue Angell, a wonderful woman) asked if we could all speak privately for a moment. She asked us who could represent Mum and speak for her. Larry said that nobody had been granted Power of Attorney, but they did have a solicitor to authorize the will. We discussed it - we all agreed that Larry, Carol, Philip and I represented her family, but that since Philip and I live too far away, Larry and Carol are her immediate family. So they signed the forms granting Advanced Care Practice.

The Advanced Care form asks, should anything take a turn for the worse, if we should move Mum back to a Hospital for emergency surgery, or keep her at Swallow's Meadow, which only has limited surgical and emergency care facilities. Keeping her at Swallow's Meadow would mean that such surgery would NOT be performed.

We all agreed that she should remain at Swallow's Meadow, even in the event of emergency. We based this conclusion on several factors:
Moving Mum again would likely be so stressful as to do more harm than good.
She didn't like the hospital; too clinical, too noisy, no privacy, and she can't have her flowers. Mum really loves having fresh flowers in her room.
She really likes Swallow's Meadow; she is treated with care and respect, and seems more comfortable there.
Her dignity and pride, and our respect for her sense of identity, are more important than grabbing at straws to prolong her life.

So the decision was made that Swallow's Meadow will be her final care, no matter what.

With that aside, here came the difficult questions: Does she want a Catholic service, or C of E? Do we have funeral arrangements made?

Larry said that she is C of E, and that she often said that she wants to be cremated and have her ashes sprinkled over the River Bly (sp?) so she could be with her beloved kingfishers.

Once that was dealt with and signed, we bid Mum goodnight and came home.

I love you, Mum. I can't say it enough.

God I wish this was easier.


Day 8

I wonder if I've been unfair to Mum in prior entries.

During my time here, the woman I've seen has been in a state of decline, her general demeanor deteriorating. This was really all I'd seen of Mum, every time I came by. I wonder if the morphine and pain medication she was on were making her more sluggish and vague, and I'd just assumed that was her normal disposition.

But was she normally more animated, and I was just seeing her on bad days?

This morning was a delightful change from what I'd seen before, to such a degree that I think I've underestimated her. She was animated and cheerful, and wrote quite a lot to me; we had a relatively long conversation.

When I came, Sue was talking to her; they were discussing her pain medication dosage.

I sat by her side and told her I love her. Mum wrote, "I love you too", and I knelt at her bedside and cried. I've tried to be nominally objective while dealing with this, but this was too much. I didn't know what to do.

Mum stroked my hair and held my hand - I think that having the opportunity to comfort me gave her something to do besides lie there. She could be a mother to her son again.

Between my speaking through tears and Mum's writing, we had quite an animated conversation, much more than I thought she was able to achieve.

Mum: What's that on top of the telly?

Me: It's a picture of a kingfisher - when we were in Wales I found this beautiful picture and had to buy it for you.

Mum: Show me.

(I went and put the postcard in her hands. She ran her finger across the text that reads "Penblwydd Hapus" and looked at me quizzically.)

Me: That says, "Kingfisher" in Welsh, I imagine - I never learned my Welsh that well.

(Mum looked at the picture a moment longer, held it it to her lips and squeezed my hand tightly.)  

Mum: I love you.

Me: I love you, too. So much.

Mum: I love you Philip. I love you David.

Me: Dad loves you, too. He asks about you all the time. He's very proud of his grandchildren.

Mum: Well that's something.


Mum: Last night I dreamt that I've died in your eyes.

Me: You'll never die for me, Mum. I'll love you always. You'll always be my beautiful Mummy.

Mum: Rubbish!


Mum: Where am I?

Me: Swallow's Meadow Nursing Home.

Mum: Death chamber.

Me: Do you think that's what it is?

Mum: No - I have God and Christ and all that with me.

Me: Yes you do! You will be well taken care of forever.


Mum: What am I doing here?

Me: You're in a nursing home - they're helping you get through your cancer.

Mum: "get through"?!

Me: I'm sorry, poor choice of words, You're here to deal with the cancer. They take good care of you here, everyone likes you.

Mum: Under the circumstances I'm glad to be here.

Me: It's a good place.

(Then she saw my digital camera on the table and asked to see it.)

Mum: No taking pictures.

Me: I promise I won't. I'll remember you with my eyes and my heart.

Mum: I'm going to die quietly.


Mum: Where is my Miles?

(I started to answer that I was right here, and she tapped me on the head with her pen and gave me an impish grin.)

Mum: I've written your name on my soul.

(We looked at each other and shared a warm, loving moment, eye to eye. There was the Mum I remembered from childhood. Will I ever share this moment with her again?)

Mum dozed off for about twenty minutes, but when she woke up, she mimed brushing her hair. She picked up her notepad and wrote, "Can ________ do my hair for me?"

"How would you like it done?" Heather asked.

"Rollers. Comb. Vitally important." she wrote.

So we helped her sit up and Heather set her hair in rollers. She had to do it twice because the first try wasn't good enough. Eventually Mum was satisfied with the result, and settled back to let the water dry.

A little while later Sue came back in to see to her trach tube, and Mum asked if we were going to be 'chucked out'. Sue said no; that we could be here anytime. Mum asked if we could spent the night here, and Sue said yes - so it was decided then and there that we would spent the night in Mum's room.

We told Mum we'd be back in a bit, and she motioned for me to fetch her handbag.

"Do you need lunch money?" she wrote.

"We're fine - don't worry about it," Heather said.

We left long enough to grab a bite to eat and see John at the Ravenhurst, and came back a while later. Larry was already here and we chatted quietly for a while.

After Larry left, Mum sat up in bed and swung her legs over the bed and tried to stand up. We jumped up to help her, and Mum wrote, "What am I? A cripple?" We asked her if she wanted to do and she wrote, "See the garden." So the nurse went to get a wheelchair, and we helped her get clean pajamas on, settle her in the chair and off we went.

When we got outside, though, it was colder than we realized. Mum pulled her cardigan closer and shivered, and when asked if she wanted to go back inside, nodded yes.

So we came back inside, and sat just inside the front door where Mum could see two cats roaming the street, and birds and flowers. We all sat quietly for a few minutes until Mum was visibly falling asleep and nodding forward in her chair - and impeding her airflow by doing so. So we came back to the room and helped her back into bed.

As I write this, sitting at Mum's bedside, part of me wants her back just like I remember and part of me wants her to go ahead and go.

This waiting is hell.

(12:30 am)

I think that the love one feels for one’s mother is greater, and stronger, and more life-defining, than the love one may feel for any other woman in his lifetime. (I’m sure both Oedipus and Freud would have a field day with the notion, and that a thousand books have already been written on the idea.)  I used to love Kelly, and Melody, and I love Heather more today than I thought I could. But Mum is… Mum. There is nobody else like her in my heart. There never could be.

(2:00 am)

Mum tried to get out of bed. She sat up and swung her legs over the side, and tried to stand. We helped her stand, but didn’t know where she wanted to go. I gave her a pen and she wrote, “need to wee”. We explained that the catheter takes care of that for her. She relented and sat back down, and as we were helping her back to bed Heather noticed that her leg was wet. Catheter tube must have gotten pinched or something. So we left the room and let the nurses re-set her catheter and her dressing.  

(3:00 am)

I think I’m glad to be pagan. I embrace Mum’s devotion to the Christian faith, I’m glad she has it. But Christianity does not allow for the duality of divinity, father-god and mother-goddess. I see the Goddess in my mother, as Mother to her sons, and Crone, awaiting the crossing of the veil. The recognition of feminine divinity needs to be valid, or else how can I accept that God has a place for Mum in heaven. I’m not making a lot of sense.

(3:30 am)

I’m sorry Mum, I know I said I’d be right here by your bed all night, but I need to lie down. I can’t sleep unless I’m lying flat.

(6:30 am)

Morning. Watching her sleep, I want to cradle her and make everything better. She's Mum, she deserves it.

Day 9

 We were awoken in Mum's room on Thursday morning by the night nurse, a cheerful woman named Joy. Mum was still dozing, so we quietly gathered our belongings and headed back to the Ravenhurst to freshen up. I was still emotionally drained and dreading (is that the right word?) saying goodbye to Mum for the last time.

We'd planned one last 'big outing' on this trip, a visit to a Bronze Age archaeological reconstruction site called Flag Fen. But my enthusiasm for the trip was tempered with the painful realization that I would never see Mum alive again. Several times on the short drive from Swallow's Meadow to Ravenhurst I was overcome with tears, and Heather had to drive.

We got back to Ravenhurst, showered and freshened up, checked the map, and set out for Flag Fen, near Peterborough.
The drive was luckily uneventful, despite occasionally getting lost. Road markers for Flag Fen didn't agree with the directions we'd gotten online, but we did eventually find the site.

Flag Fen is a wonderful place! Archaeologists discovered several rows of timbers, driven into the ground 3,000 years ago, which formed roadways, bridges and processionals over the fens. The roadways predated anything Roman, confirming the notion that early Britons were quite capable of building their own roads. A large portion of the uncovered timbers are preserved in a building, with a monitored climate, exactly as they were unearthed. 

Also on the site are reconstructions of Bronze Age and Iron Age dwellings, wattle-and-daub roundhouses with shallow, conical thatched roofs. Despite the fact that the houses were only three feet high at the top of the wall and twenty feet across, they feel very spacious inside.
The site includes recreations of Bronze Age crop and livestock farming, and a museum displays tools, jewelry, bones and weapons found in the site.

We took pictures and video, of course, spent a little while chatting with members of the staff, and bought some souvenirs and a couple of books by archeologist Francis Pryor, the site director, that are currently out of print.

At 3:00 we left Flag Fen, and drove back to Solihull. Congestion on the M1 kept us tied up in traffic for an hour. We made it back to Swallow's Meadow at 6, and met with Larry, Carol and Frank.

Mum was sleeping deeply; even with people talking in the room and the nurses administering her nebuliser she barely awoke.
I confess that I was glad of that - I had been worried what would happen if she would were awake on my last visit. I feared the scene I'd envisioned, leaning over Mum to tell her, "I have to go back to America now." We'd both know what that meant, and I dreaded my emotional collapse and the distress it would cause her. So maybe it was for the best that she was asleep. That meant that the last conversation we had was positive and loving, and that's what she'll take with her.

The five of us talked about Mum, and the trip back, and my journal entries, and we took some group pictures. Carol had given me a treasured photograph of Mum in her youth, and I held that for the pictures.

Larry, Carol and Frank left about an hour later, and Heather went down to collect our possessions, and dispose of trash, in the car.

I sat next to Mum, watching her sleep. I laid my cheek against her arm, and whispered to her how much I love her. I must have dozed off - after last night's vigil, and my emotional turmoil throughout the day, I was exhausted.

Heather returned to the room and sat with us a little while longer. Then when I confessed that I couldn't stay awake any longer, we got ready to leave.

I knelt next to Mum and watched as her chest gently rose and fell. Her fingers occasionally twitched and her eyelids flickered as she slept, but she didn't wake up.

"I love you, Mum," I whispered. "I love you so much. You are my life. I'm going to miss you. Thank you for - oh god - thank you for everything. Thank you for making me the person I am. Thank you for your sense of humor, your wit and charm. Oh god, I don't want to go. Mum, I need you. I need you. I'll always love you. I need you, Mummy. Come back please!"
I was leaning over her, my cheek touching her forehead as I whispered to her.
"Mummy, I love you, I love you. Be safe."

I closed my eyes and saw a glow around her.

"Keep her safe, God. Please do that. Keep her safe. This is an amazing woman, one of your masterpieces. Oh God please keep her safe. Take care of her. Take care of her. I love her so much.
"I'm giving her to you, God. I'm giving her to you. Please take care of my Mummy. Will you do that? I love her so much. Give her....." I couldn't finish the sentence.

I looked down at my mother through tear-streaked vision.

"Mum, go with God. You'll know when the time is right. Go when you need to. Be safe. Be safe in God's arms. He'll take care of you. Oh I love you, Mum. I'm going to miss you so much. Dammit I'm going to miss you. Go to Heaven, Mum. You won't have to hurt anymore. It'll be okay. God I love you.

"Goodbye, Mummy."

I turned to leave, and Heather knelt over Mum and whispered something. I couldn't hear what she said. 
"Ready?" she asked me after a while, and I nodded.
We left the room and I turned for one last look at my mother. She was laying in bed, asleep, frail, breathing softly. In the twilight of her life, she still looked beautiful to me. Part of me wanted to rush back in and hold her, hug the life back into her, but I knew I couldn't.

We turned and walked down the long hallway to the elevator.

That walk from the room to the elevator felt like the longest walk I've ever taken. Each step was taking me further and further from my Mum, from the woman who gave me birth. Memories of her flooded my mind as we walked.

Mum wrote to me frequently - really, she wrote to me more times than I wrote to her. She always wrote about going to the River Blythe with Larry, and would mention the kingfishers and other birds she saw. She loved the kingfishers. In one of her letters she mentioned seeing clumps of frogspawn in the reeds, and wanted to take some home to have some tadpoles and frogs in the pond. But how would it look to see a middle-aged woman wading in the river up to her knees collecting frogspawn? Maybe she should hire a young schoolboy to do it for her, she mused.

(Every step down this long hallway feels like hell. My heart is breaking, I can barely breathe. God Mum I miss you so much already!....)

Montreal, 1991. We'd all traveled there to see Philip's (graduation? wedding? God I've forgotten.) Mum didn't stay long there, but while we were there, there was some confusion about finding the right elevator in the hotel. Mum made light of the situation and accused Dad of getting all of us into trouble.
On that same trip, she talked to me quietly about going to her mother's house in 1988 and finding her dead in her rocking chair. Grandma Cook had died peacefully in her sleep. Mum took one look at her mother, and her first thought was, "God I need a drink." So the first person she called was her Alcoholics Abuse sponsor. Then she got on the phone with her solicitor, the funeral director, and other relevant people.

(The hallway feels so long. Taking me away from my mother. God, what kind of son abandons his mother when she needs him the most? Who the hell did I think I was? Dammit, what am I doing.....)

Wales, 1984. I'd come back to the UK to visit; I was staying at Grandma Cook's house. Mum and I made plans to take a train and spend a couple of days in Wales. We got to Machynlleth, and found our way to the White Lion, where the regulars recognized us! Mum asked for a ride to Eglwysfach, and we spent the night at Tyglyneiddwen, which had become a Bed and Breakfast. The following morning, Mum wrote in the guest book, "Feels just like home."
On the same trip, we'd gone exploring the lands around the village the house. We found our way to the train tracks, and walked along those until we came to a signal box. In the little maintenance shed (the door was ajar so we had a peek in) we found a railway logbook, open to the last entry, dated October 1973. At the bottom of the page was a space for comments, and Mum had taken out her pen and written, '1984. Still no train. Late as usual. Sack all the lazy sods." Continuing on that walk we found ourselves on the RSPB bird-watching trail, so we followed it, long enough to realize we'd walked the trail in reverse, coming out at Ynis-hir Hall!
Mum said that it was typical for the Battys to find our way through a maze by going the wrong way.

(Passing another open door in the hallway. Inside, a nameless, forgotten woman sleeps all alone, her family far away. I'm sorry for you, tho' I don't who you are. God, I'm sorry. You deserve to be loved.....)

In another letter, she wrote about seeing a van parked outside the house marked 'Stationery Control'. She said she could imagine a conversation between two employees of such a firm. "Oy, Frank, open the van. I just caught this pad of notepaper trying to make a furtive getaway!"

(I can't do this. I can't go on. God how long is this hallway?! I miss you, Mum. Please come back to us......)

Montreal. Tuesday, May 5th,1972. Dad and Mum had been fighting a lot. They're arguing loudly every night, and Mum's drinking more. We used to occasionally go to the airport; Philip and I liked to watch planes take off and land. Today, we all packed into the car and drove to the airport. On the way, at the foot of the Champlain Bridge we passed a burning house. I was worried that the fire would melt the metal of the bridge! We got to the airport, Mum got on the plane and left. Dad, Philip and I came home. Nobody had bothered to tell Miles that Dad and Mum were breaking up, or that Mum was going back to England for good. I was scared and confused. I didn't know why my Mummy had left us. For eleven nights afterwards I cried myself to sleep.

(I love you, Mum. So much!)

Montreal, 1972. We often went out to eat - two of Dad's favorite restaurants were Le Colibri, and Joe's Steak House. On one such drive, we went past a massive cathedral. It was dark, and raining. Mum noticed a row of statues of saints on the very top of the building, overlooking the road. "Ho, see, bods, perched up there like!" We shared a good laugh over it.

(Only a few more feet to the elevator. I can barely see for the tears. I love you, Mum. I want you back.....)

Montreal, 1971. Every Christmas morning for several years, Mum would fill a pillowcase with sweets, toys, puzzles, all carefully wrapped, and leave the pillowcase at the foot of our beds. Philip and I would lie awake listening for it, then pretend to be asleep as the door was opened and the pillowcases carefully placed. I'm sure she knew we were only pretending to sleep. We always knew it was her pretending to be Santa. There was always an orange wrapped in tin foil in the bag, and a toy car, among all the goodies so carefully wrapped with love.

(I'm having difficulty walking. Heather has to hold me up. I can't feel my feet moving. Why isn't it me in that bed - let Mum be strong and healthy again. God this is so damn unfair....)
Wales, 1969. The day before, we'd gone to Machynlleth. In a shop on the corner I'd spotted a toy robot I really wanted, but Mum and Dad hadn't bought it for me. I knew I had enough money of my own - 35p - so I was determined to go and buy it for myself. So early Saturday morning, I set out walking the six miles to Machynlleth. I figured I could go, buy the toy, and be back in bed before anyone knew I was gone. But there was a police roadblock set up halfway there to catch an escaped convict or something. They saw a seven-year-old boy walking a long road all by himself, and assumed he was a runaway. So they drove me to the police station and called the house. Mum answered the phone. "It's the police," she'd told Dad. "They have Miles." Then she came to pick me up.

(I don't want to think about what I'm doing. I'm leaving my Mum behind forever. God I feel like hell. Nothing makes sense.)

Wales, 1967. I was four years old. We'd gone to a garden bazaar, I don't remember where. There were tables of things to buy, and I'd spotted a brooch made from an old British penny, when the penny was a massive coin. The price on it was 3p, but I only had 2p on me. "It's for my Mummy", I told the lady, who let me buy it for 2p. I gave it to Mum, who smiled brightly, gave me a big hug and put it on. I felt so proud!
(Heather pushes the button on the elevator because I can barely move. I make it to a chair in the lobby and collapse, crying uncontrollably. Heather holds me and lets me sob into her shoulder. I'm a wreck. Nurses coming on for their evening shift see us, and they know immediately what's happening. I'm sure its a scene they see regularly. To their credit, none of them make any inane goodwill comments about "I hope it'll get better." They all know who we are, and know who Mum is. "We'll take care of your Mum," they tell me.)   

Wales, 1966. When I was a little boy, I slept in the middle bedroom in Tyglyneiddwen. I  used to get terrifying nightmares, and I would often wake myself up screaming for Mummy. "I want you, Mummy!" Then she'd be by my side, holding me close, whispering to me, making everything better. "I'm here, Miles. Don't cry. I'm here."

(I'm sitting in the chair of a nursing home lobby. I'm a 46 year old man, with a house, a job, adult responsibilities. But right now all of that is crap. Right now I'm a terrified little boy who wants his Mummy to hold him close and tell him everything is going to be alright.

I want you, Mummy.

I need you. Oh god I need you. I always will. I love you.

Heather helped me and we got outside. I was in no shape to drive, so she helped me into the car and we left Swallow's Meadow, and Mum, behind. I'll never see her alive again. That's it.

I'm never going to see my Mum alive again.

We drive to O'Neill's, our favorite pub in Solihull. Larry'd had told me that it used to be called The Barley Mow, and that's where he'd met Mum in 1974. We felt it only right that should be where we have our last good meal on this trip. 

We share a toast for Mum's final journey, finish our meal, and get home close to 11 o'clock.

Repack our backs, and get to bed for a few hours sleep before our 5 am alarm goes off to start the journey home.

 Day 10

The trip back was exasperating; we had to go through US customs THREE times - in Birmingham, and in Dublin, and again in Philadelphia. The US customs in Philadelphia took so long we missed our connecting flight to Charlotte, and they had to squeeze us in on the next flight.

But we got home safely late Friday evening!

The animals are all safe and sound; they forgave us for leaving.


My trip to the UK, May 2009 - addendum

A week after we got back - Sunday May 31st to be exact - I got the telephone call from my brother.

"Mum passed away early this morning, around 6am her time. She went peacefully."

We'd all been expecting this news for weeks now, and I think I'm lucky I was able to see Mum when I did. Heather thinks - and I agree - that she was just waiting to see her two sons again before she let go.

When he told me, I didn't react, I just thanked him for the news. We talked for a few minutes, and I hung up.

In the few days since then, though, I've felt moody, depressed. Not overly emotional, just 'out-of-sorts.' I thought I'd gotten the grief out of my system with my daily journal, but I guess not.

The funeral service for Mum will be on June 11th; alas I won't be able to attend. I've sent Philip a short letter to read on my behalf.

(I still love you, Mum - I always will.)



     Frances Mary Batty  1934 - 2009