On death and dying

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When you know someone you love is going to die it’s a strange thing. When you spend time with them they seem just the same, aside from their illness. You have to try and put it out of your mind, when you’re with them, that they won’t be with you for much longer. But it’s there, that knowledge, and it makes every moment with them so much more special. Every spoken word, every idiosyncrasy, is precious and treasured.

My Dad was a story-teller. His stories were famous. He would deliver them with enthusiasm, suspense, these incredible tales. When he was ill he would get tired and breathless, but he still told a few stories. I wanted to learn as much as I could about his life, so at every visit I would ask a question and type away as Dad slowly recalled and shared.

Over those months I wanted time to stand still. Work, family responsibilities, all these things vying for my attention. Like the sand in an egg-timer, it runs out fast, and doesn’t stop.

In the last few weeks he was really suffering. I offered to massage his feet. He was so grateful. Being bed-ridden meant muscles didn’t get stretched and used. Feet, then the calves of his long legs, once so strong now just skin and bone. Then hands, and fore-arms. Finally he asked me to do his back. Gently, gingerly, as his lungs and chest area were the source of the pain.

The last couple of visits with my children he spent time with my teenage girls on their own, dispensing advice, final words of wisdom. Harry read his poem. He recited it stood next to Dad. Dad made him recite it again, after giving him some guidance in how to project and slowly deliver. Just like Dad to give some direction to get the best out of someone.

My last visit with Dad was on a Sunday. We instinctively knew he was near the end, although it was the next day the nurse at the hospice told Mum he was in the ‘dying phase’. I had a good visit with him that morning, just him and me. He was mostly sleeping, brought on by the heavy drugs to control the pain. When the nurse came to check his medication he grabbed her hand so he could introduce her to me. That was my Dad. Always keen to connect people together. I fed him some soup. A couple of spoonfuls. I was glad to do it. He was not so glad. ‘Like a baby’ he said bitterly. That made me sad.

He asked after the children. I reassured him that everyone was fine, all was well. That seemed to put him at ease.

The next few days were hard. I knew I wouldn’t get to go and see him again until the Friday, which was Christmas Day. My mum was visiting every day, and other family members went on the Monday. My nephew sang to him. My sister accompanied my mum those last couple of days and said that when they left on the Wednesday he asked Mum for a kiss. We marvelled how such a small thing can bring comfort to someone when they are in so much pain. It’s a reminder to me of our humanity. The human connection which is still there right until the end. My sister also described to me how he had been moving his arm in a particular way whilst sleeping under the morphine-based drugs.  The arm movements were reminiscent of his casting action for fly-fishing, and we hoped he was dreaming of fishing a beautiful river.

My mum went every day, all day. It was my turn to go Christmas day. He passed away at 5:50am that morning, so I never got to see him again. It was a relief on that day. He had been suffering. His discomfort was visible to see, sleeping with his mouth wide open the whole time. It was a blessing.

I know people talk about ‘dying with dignity’, and choosing when to go. I’m not sure how one does that. It was hard seeing him suffer, but he was still there, and which of those final precious moments would we have wanted to curtail?

Life is precious. It is a gift. It is also not meant to be pain-free or devoid of suffering. We were born to die. We were born to struggle and have pain. It’s what makes us value life, and breath, and our human connections.

I don’t know why my Dad, or anyone in that situation, has to go through what he went through. To lose one’s independence. But that’s part of life too. Caring for one another. It’s what we do for those we love. Accepting that care and that gift of service, and allowing others to do that. We are all beggars in God’s eyes.

Letter to my Dad

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My Dad, Alan Carter, passed away Christmas Day 2015, aged 69. He had been diagnosed with mesothelioma (cancer caused by asbestos exposure) earlier this year. This is the letter I gave to him a couple of weeks before his death.

Dear Dad

I want to take this opportunity to tell you how I feel about you and the role you have played in my life. I am very grateful to have had you as my Dad – I really do think I have had the best Dad in the world. I have so many memories – family camping trips when we were young (and older), I remember you making Christmas presents for my brothers – a wooden fort, something that looked like the surface of the moon, the train set that pulled down over Jason’s bed.

I remember you taking us out early in the morning before school to collect conkers, then putting them in your vice later so you could drill holes for us to put the laces through.

I remember the first go-kart you made, and how we would take it to Selsdon recreation ground and fly down the hill.

I remember the year we had loads of snow, and your home-made wooden sledge that had metal runners, and how we would lie on your back and hurtle down the hill head first.

I also remember how every Christmas we would always have other people from church at our house for the day – you were always very open at inviting others into our home.

I remember the tree house, with the trap door (just a plank that lifted) and the rope ladder, and the tyre swing.

I remember my summer birthday parties, where I would be swaying in a long floral dress that Little Nanny had made, while you would entertain my friends singing with your guitar.

I remember the church camps, where you were a leader, and would whip everyone into shape.

I remember my teens, when you gave me and my friends lifts just about everywhere. Every church dance, convention or anything, we would have a car-full in our 15 seater people carrier. I remember you took us to Birmingham, for the ice-skating, and on the way back you were game enough to allow us, whilst driving on the motorway to pass a note out the window to some guys in another car that wanted Hayley’s phone number.

I remember the roadshows where you would co-ordinate – and ensure there was a director, a script, someone working on the scenery. You would be there at every rehearsal, not interfering, just supporting. And on the night, you would make sure there was organisation, that every prop and piece of scenery would be set up on stage in the time given.

You were master at putting up a huge 40 foot canvas back-drop, up a ladder. Nothing phased you, not even the request one year to have a huge ‘computer’ the size of a person crash in from the ceiling. ‘Let’s build it with boxes, stuff it with newspaper to make it really heavy, winch it up with a rope’ you said, and at the right moment you let the rope go and it crashed onto the stage, achieving the desired effect.

I also remember the extra activities and events you organised, not because you were asked to, or because it was scheduled in a calendar, but because you cared about the youth and young adults and wanted to provide them with what they needed.

The Isle of Wight Easter weekends were fantastic. There was that legendary moment at the dance on the Saturday night that you leapt off the stage blocks and attempted the splits, but I’m not sure now if that actually happened or has just gone down in folk-lore. These events, and others like the Anglo-French conventions were unique, enriching and inspiring to those that attended.

I remember these things, and I have long-since marvelled at your ability to conceive and create innovative events.

You had the same flair when it came to your other church responsibilities – arranging a weekend mission opportunity not only for the youth, but challenging all the High Council members and Stake Presidency to do a weekend mission. Creating lifelong memories and special experiences for all those involved.

Mission farewells in our home would see non-member friends and neighbours invited. You would go out of your way to connect with people and were never embarrassed to talk about the Church.

I remember you paying me for doing little bits of financial admin in your office when you had your consultancy at home whilst I was 16 or 17 – mainly so I would be able to put it on my CV. I remember when I was studying for my Business degree and you arranged for me to interview all the directors where you worked.

You were always looking for ways to help us and providing opportunities for us to work and learn.

All my life lessons I have learnt from you. Anything is possible. Doing new things. Making things happen, and not being a passenger. Also being calm, and kind. I have seen you help many people over the years. Not once have I head you complain or moan about helping someone. You always did it because you genuinely wanted to help. You also helped me when I went through challenges over the last few years. I couldn’t have made it through that without your support. That meant so much to me. Thank-you for forming a special bond with Harry. He is very lucky to have had so much time with you.

I remember all of it, I am so grateful for it. I really do think I have the best Dad in the world and I will spend every day for the rest of my life trying to follow your example.

Forever grateful

Love

Rachel

 

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Time management for working mums

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A coach once told me, I have a strong ‘achievement driver’ meaning I enjoy the process of setting myself stretching targets and then achieving them. Henceforth my interest in reading and learning from those that are the so- called achievement gurus, how to do more with less, how to prioritise your time, how to be successful seems to be the order of the day. I often find myself quite deflated though, after reading the latest person’s secrets of success.

Their lives are not like mine, I think.

It was on perusing James Clear’s website that the contrast struck me. I read and loved his blog on creativity, dipped a little into his one on maximising use of time – and therein lies the challenge. Time management and prioritisation written from the perspective of a man is different to that of a woman. Why? Because as a mother, and a working mother, my time is rarely my own to choose how I spend it.

Only last week I went to bed feeling super-motivated, I planned to get up early, (6.00 am) spend a couple of hours working from home on some key projects where I needed thinking time, and then by about 8.00 am I would then be in a position to help the children get out the door for their respective college and school activity, and then I could go to the office already feeling like I’d had a head start on the day.

So what happened in practice? Just as the time to wake came, so did my 8 year old, with complaints of not feeling well. For a few moments I had that conflict between my business-like, efficient alter ego who is keen to get to work, until I realised she had to be replaced by my mum persona, who needed to focus on my son and his needs. It only took a couple of moments for this to happen (I am highly trained in this particular scenario – it has happened many times before…). That realisation that whatever work or personal goals you have set yourself that day, they all have to be set aside at a moment’s notice – that’s what mothers are expert in – that’s real time and priority management

So this is where I am at odds with the current round of guru thinking. Take James Clear for example – it is clear (no pun intended) that his articles are written for the average working male – one that is supported by a loving wife who takes care of the school run, the homework, the sick child. Or no dependants at all. I almost had to laugh, perusing James’s website – his little article on his new eating regime, 2 meals a day only and fasting the rest of the time, which he describes as a time-saver, less time preparing and eating…. I wonder how that would go down,’Sorry kids, no dinner today, I’m saving time!’

Incidentally I wrote this on the plane whilst on a short flight back from Helsinki recently – in an effort to use my time wisely…

girls shopping

mother-daughter birthday shopping trip – after a morning’s work

It is something I do continually, all day every day, juggling work commitments and family commitments. The trick is to not sweat the small stuff, never get stressed about not being able to complete something you had decided you wanted to complete in your head when there is no real deadline.

So when are we going to get a really good book on doing more with less for working parents? At a guess I’d say all the successful working parents were too busy juggling to write it….

Other blogs from me you may like:

The great childcare debate

The ‘Get-It-Done’ Mum

Having your cake and eating it…

Techno-travel

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A recent family trip to Helsinki, Finland, found us taking advantage of the new apps that assist travellers when away from home.

The occasion was my brothers Stuart’s wedding to his Finnish fiancee Helianna. As there was a large number of us attending – I thought I would take advantage of airbnb to book our accommodation. This wasn’t the first time I had used this service. Rather than booking a traditional hotel, airbnb is an online portal which allows anyone with a spare room, house or apartment the opportunity to let it. This is handy for travellers as with the traditional mini-break you are only away for a couple of nights at a time. Having a house or an apartment to stay in can give more flexibility than a hotel, having kitchen facilities etc, and usually works out more economical overall, depending on where you stay.

View from our apartment window

View from our apartment window

For us we found an apartment in central Helsinki. The apartment was in the old industrial sector, and was eclectically furnished, featuring a curious blend of functional IKEA, antiques and modern art adorning the walls. The owner, Mikael was obviously well-travelled, and that whole-world influence was felt in the apartment.

ready for the wedding!

ready for the wedding!

My pre-arrival communication with Mikael, was all done by email and text, with detailed instructions concerning the apartment issued up front. The key was available for collection from the airport, meaning we didn’t meet the owner. All in all it worked for us, and our central location meant it was very handy as a base and a drop-in point for other family members staying in nearby hotels. It also made getting ready for the wedding fun, with a few of us together – my sister was certainly in demand as chief hair-stylist!

Helsinki harbour - 5 mins walk from apartment

Helsinki harbour – 5 mins walk from apartment

Getting around Helsinki itself was straightforward. There were several in our party all arriving at different times, and a myriad of different transport options were used, from trains and trams to the airport shuttle bus. When we had to travel out of town we used taxis. This is where my tech-savvy brothers showed the rest of us how city travel should be done, by using the uber app.

fantastic local restaurants on the same street as our apartment

fantastic local restaurants on the same street as our apartment

Instead of ringing a number, or flagging a taxi down, you use the uber app from yourphone to book a local uber taxi. Much like airbnb these are people using their own cars to provide a taxi service, often undercutting the local taxi firms quite considerably. The advantages are the payment is automatically taken up front via the app, as your payment details are preloaded. You can request a journey estimate in terms of time and cost before you book, and you can see exactly how far away the nearest uber taxi is from you in terms of time via the app. There is also the option to use a sliding scale to select what kind of vehicle you want to pay for – the more expensive you go the more impressive ride you get. We never had to wait more than 5 minutes for an uber taxi, didn’t have to worry about paying as that was all done. It worked for us, but others in our party spoke of a few hair raising rides they experienced! Apparently it is not legal yet in Helsinki for uber to operate, and there are other cities where the local taxi firms are working to prevent them from operating, but the simplicity of booking and paying online and the price saving indicates that this is one service that won’t go away.

Both airbnb and uber operate a rating system so customers can rate the service they get.This works both ways – airbnb hosts get to rate their guests – so any bad behaviour and they can be disallowed from using the service. The same applies with uber, drivers can rate their ride. This form of self-regulation and transparency is the web’s most powerful tool as it is instant and immediate and provides protection for both parties.

Family dropping by our airbnb apartment

Family dropping by our airbnb apartment

Placement Student meets the Prime Minister

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I chose to do a sandwich degree at university, which meant I spent the third year working before returning for my final year. I remember seeing the jobs posted on the noticeboard (yes they were real noticeboards not virtual ones back then). Even though my interests lay in marketing (as did most peoples) a placement in HR caught my eye. The opportunity was working for an oil company in London, manageable for me as my parents live on the outskirts so I would be able to live at home for the year. But what struck me the most from the ad was how organised and structured it was, the successful candidate would spend a few months in different parts of the HR team, and therefore get a really insightful placement.

I applied and was delighted when I got the job! I had a really great year and it was certainly interesting to be part of a huge international organisation. I spent time with the Employee Relations team, where my tasks, among others, were to organise the monthly company induction for new starters and to arrange the annual recruitment for the next years 20 or so placement students across the whole business. After a few months with this team I spent time in the salary survey team. This was the most interesting thing for me. I had no idea that all the oil companies worked together to set salaries, so that they didn’t lose skilled professionals to each other. I attended meetings at Shell-Mex house in London where they would go through every individual job role to ‘match’ or otherwise and score where their salaries were positioned. Of course all the information was anonymised, so anyone picking up a copy of the report would not be able to tell which companies were paying what. My role with this team was to print off all the graphs that would go in our own company report, using a fabulous piece of software called Graphwriter. I bet they don’t use that anymore. My time with this team taught me when working with numbers or details to check, check and check my work again (not my natural strength). I then spent time with the Training team – this was interesting as I had not really ever been aware or thought of in-company training before. The trainers were all seasoned professionals (men) that flew all over the world doing outdoor leadership events. It seemed very glamourous.

Conoco were really generous. I was able to attend loads of training courses such as Recruitment & Selection, which I needed as I had responsibility for recruitment of the next year’s placement students. I still remember today the series of career development workshops that I attended that used a workbook format and guided discussion from an HR Manager, something I have since introduced in my current role.

One stand-out event for me was the annual company day. I remember a team of volunteers in HR getting together to decide what our ‘stand’ would be for this day. Unlike any business I have worked in since, we had an unlimited budget, and a firm of consultants ready to arrange/create whatever we came up with. We decided to re-create an old fashioned barber-shop, as this fitted with the idea of HR providing good customer service. So our stand was fitted out with a proper barber’s chair, and a professional barber-shop quartet (they were the guys that did the Tetley Tea TV ads…) were hired to sing a song about ‘Good old employee relations…we’re hard-working, friendly and fair…’. Those of us that manned the stand on the day wore stripy aprons and straw boaters.

The day was simply jaw-dropping for me. I was blown away with the scale of the event. The PR team had arranged a ‘surprise’ visit from the then Prime Minister (or his lookalike!) John Major. Somewhere there is a picture of me in my boater and apron shoe-shining John Major’s shoes while he is sat in our barber-chair! The IT department had a ‘roaming’ robot wandering around the stands – a scale R2D2. The coolest thing was whoever was ‘controlling’ it remotely had a camera and a microphone so it would scoot on up to you and say something….

This was my first taste of an employee engagement event, and while I may have since missed the kinds of budgets they had in that sector, it did all seem a touch excessive at times.

At the other extreme, I remember a fabulous team-building afternoon that was put on for the entire HR team (around 30 people) organised by the team.

Our office location being just off Marble Arch, London (they have since re-located to Warwick) – our team event took place in Hyde Park. I remember a glorious sunny afternoon running around London searching for clues, doing school ‘sports day’ style races with eggs and spoons and sack in the park, and ending up in a Greek restaurant complete with plate-smashing and dancing. So much fun, and zero cost to this event completely. I have used the treasure hunt format several times as a team-building activity.

The whole placement was a successful experience for me, and this, coupled with a great lecturer who had negotiated with the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) that I could get student membership from having done my year’s placement, if I then took all the relevant modules on my degree course. This meant that I very easily obtained my membership, a pre-requisite for any job in HR, and which usually entailed lots of additional study and exams.

I do remember it being quite a push to cover the cost of the annual membership whilst still a student, however I took the view that this was an investment, and I was right, my membership opened the door to job opportunities almost as soon as I had graduated.

Other blogs from me that you may like:

Mentoring: a formal arrangement or an informal conversation?

Having your cake and eating it…

Having your cake and eating it…

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The first instalment in my recollections charting my career journey of the last 20+ years.

It is only now with all the talk about generation x, y and z that I realise I am just a typical product of my generation. The 80’s, my teenage years were characterised with success stories of women ‘breaking through’ into business, Anita Roddick with the Body Shop, Debbie Moore, founder of the Pineapple Dance Studios and Sophie Mirman of The Sock Shop. I remember keeping an article about Anita I found in the newspaper magazine, the story of her traipsing into her bank, child in pushchair, (while her husband travelled the world) asking for a loan to set up her new business. That was it, I thought, there are no limitations placed on a woman once she becomes a mother, only those she puts on herself. I liked her approach, the disregard for convention and rules, triumphing in the face of gender stereotypes and gentlemen’s clubs.

I knew I wanted to be a mother, but I also knew that the fire I got in my stomach when I read about the Branson’s of this world meant I would be seeking to combine the world of work with domestic duties.

It was like a problem needing to be solved, how to combine the two. I lapped up all the articles I read about women breaking the glass ceiling, about equality legislation, and about how the tide was changing. I really felt as if I was on the periphery of great opportunities that would be there for my generation.

Hence my choice to study Business at University was no surprise, I was interested in entrepreneurs, the boom generation all around me.

The question of how I would combine a full-time job with being a mother still niggled away at me though, as I could see a traditionally corporate role with the long hours not being a good fit. I remember coming across some talk tapes (yes, on cassette!) – my first experience of motivational speaking, that were delivered by a woman. While her messages were inspirational and impactful, it was the first seed that was planted suggesting that THIS may be a good career path. I knew I could present, and the idea of not working every day, but when I was working, doing something amazing that would command high fees – that would fit with my aim of combining a family with work.

Satisfied with this potential solution to my problem, I kept on with my studies, and waited for an opportunity to present itself…

I knew I wanted to have my cake and eat it.

Things I’ve learnt about dating the second time around

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Author note: No real dates have been harmed in the writing of this blog 😉

So once over the initial shock of finding the rules of engagement in dating had changed – I was delighted to have a co-conspirator.

Many a time in the last couple of years I have expressed that I felt like a teenager again – with all the angst, drama and agonising. Oh, the joy then to have my very own BFF to share it all with.

When life got ridiculously hard and beyond crazy I had someone that I could say what I wanted to, that would listen and be there for me. Right there from that first Saturday night when I was home alone I had a partner in crime. She comes round – on goes the laptop – and we start looking at ‘what’s out there’ on the internet dating sites.

When my ‘actual’ teenage daughter walks in the room, we close the laptop real quick and say ‘Hi sweetie, we’re just, erm…..shopping?’

The beauty of internet dating is it’s like a sweet shop. It costs nothing to look. And can then provide a source of constant entertainment. OK – soapbox moment – if all you have is a few lines to ‘advertise’ yourself – why would you put your profile name as ‘Alphamale’ or say ‘I’m rubbish at this sort of thing….’. There is an art to internet dating profile writing. Read what Amy Webb has to say about it in her TED talk.

https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_webb_how_i_hacked_online_dating?language=en

For many, intelligence is attractive, for me, personally, literacy is a must – any spelling mistakes meant the person would be instantly dismissed.

One profile I really liked the guy had written it as if it was the opening chapter of a book….about a boy meets girl (or man meets woman) blind date moment…..written beautifully, with wit, great descriptive language etc etc I thought wow this is one smart guy. Then when I initiated contact he was straight into a slightly inappropriate comment……so there you go. A brain isn’t everything.

So – looking is free. You don’t have to sign up, subscribe, show your personal profile or anything to begin with. A few hours of gawking however leaves you wondering…..what if.

Too scared to ‘sign up’ myself initially my BFF did this for me – and those first few tentative likes were clicks from her mouse, not mine. Then the waiting…will they respond…

Lesson No. 1. If you sleep with your phone next to you, turn off the volume when you go to bed. Nothing worse than being woken in the night to find ‘Tom’ has send you a smile – because you know curiosity will get the better of you and you’ll want to read his full profile.

Lesson No. 2 – Turn off all your email notifications. Slightly embarrassing to be sitting in a meeting at work and your messages ‘pop up’ on your phone for the person next to you to see ‘You have a flirt.’

Lesson No. 3 – Close all your browser windows on your work phone/tablet before you hand over to the IT guy to fix something – or you’ll have a slightly embarrassing moment as they see what you spend your lunchtime doing…

Follow this blog for the next instalment….

My 13 mile trip down Memory Lane…

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I run the Selsdon half marathon because the entire route takes in my childhood. Just getting to the starting point travelling down Addington Road I pass the house where my best friend at Primary School, Samantha Larkin, lived. I remember we would meet in our roller-boots, mine blue with a red and white stripe, and other times I would take my ‘Girls World’ to her house, a large plastic head-and-shoulder doll that you could make-up and style the hair.

The runners parking is at Selsdon Primary School, which was my school. It’s funny how playgrounds always seem smaller when you go back as an adult. The canteen block looked tiny, yet I ate my school dinners there every day, and even had a stint where I would get to school early to be the dinner money monitor and collect everyone’s payment for their dinners in exchange for a coloured wrist band. I remember the day when everyone came in excited because Britain had won the Eurovision song context with Buck’s Fizz’s song: ‘Making Your Mind Up’, and how a group of friends re-enacted the dance routine in the playground.

And there was the school field, where many a lazy summer lunch time was spent, sitting under the shade of the one tree at the top, making daisy chains and watching the girls that did gymnastics back-flipping across the grass.

The race itself starts from Selsdon Chapel, on the corner of Addington Road and Ashen Vale. This was the church I attended growing up. There is a black and white photo of me aged around 3 picking up a piece of wood when the chapel was a building site. The fabric of my life is woven into the walls of that building. From photographs of me outside aged 8, in a white dress and posing with a red rose on the day of my baptism, to having my birthday disco there age 14. There are countless photos of me and my friends sitting on the wall outside. Many memories of youth activities (the famous car-washes using the fire hose), roadshow practices, my friends and I helping out as waitresses at weddings.

Outside Selsdon Chapel at my baptism - aged 8

Outside Selsdon Chapel at my baptism – aged 8

Pictured inside – my 14th birthday disco dancing with Charlie Humphreys.

Pictured inside – my 14th birthday disco dancing with Charlie Humphreys.

The race starts heading down towards Gravel Hill, the route my bus used to take when I attended college at the split John Newnham/Ruskin site. (Funny to think I am now running a route I used to need the bus for!). We pass the bottom of Gravel Hill and run straight on to Spout Hill, and head up into Shirley.

Eventually the route takes me up Upper Shirley Road, pass a housing development that has a windmill sited in the middle of it. I smile to myself as this was the site of my college. I attended what was then John Ruskin 6th form (pic below). My 6th form days were fabulous, and I remember being part of the ‘tuck-shop tribe’ labelled by other students, as we hung out in the tuck shop during lunch and break. Memories of John Ruskin include how we would go ‘all out’ for Comic Relief, going to school in fancy dress (my friends and I dressed up as schoolgirls one year) and spending the day taking part in hilarious challenges, such as a lemon eating contest, or eating baked beans with a tooth-pick. Then there was the infamous Slave Auction, for which my friend and I got into trouble, for ‘bidding’ for slaves with tuck shop money. (We were just trying to raise the price of the bids). The slave auction consisted of a few of the stronger personalities strutting on a stage in roman toga-esque outfits, including one chap in leopard-skin print underpants, while we bid for them. The slaves we ‘won’ in the auction we just spent the afternoon hanging out on the field with…

Of course there was the annual review, a feast of musical delights featuring many of the talented people at college. There was a guy called Yurick, who I had a crush on through all of college (and never told anyone) – who sang ‘Kiss’ by Prince, a string of beads swinging across his bare chest. I got to sing with my friend Jenny, we were backing vocalists for her boyfriend’s band, and got to harmonise along to ‘Fade to Grey’ (Visage) and ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ (Depeche Mode). I also got to have a star turn taking the lead female vocals to ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ by the Human League – things will never be the same when I hear those opening lines…’you were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar…’. On the night we wore short black skirts and had our hair big. One friend said we looked like the ladies in Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’ video. Thank goodness there is no video footage of that evening. That would make prime you-tube content in today’s world.

Pic of John Ruskin College site, now a housing development, with a lovely windmill in the middle!

Pic of John Ruskin College site, now a housing development, with a lovely windmill in the middle!

 Our 6th form common room, on Red Nose Day – luckily - I’m not pictured!

Our 6th form common room, on Red Nose Day – luckily – I’m not pictured!

I keep on running – down through South Croydon, route of the 64 bus that would take me from home into Croydon for my Saturday jobs, or shopping trips, or to East Croydon Station for trips further afield. Then head up towards Riddlesdown – home of my secondary school. Coming in along Mitchley Road, I pass the small row of shops that students would sometimes visit at lunchtimes. The chip shop is still there. I pass the corn-field on the right – sloping up the hill. Now no crop is planted, but I remember distinctly how this would be our short-cut to the bus stops at the bottom. We were always fearful when cutting across the corn-field in case some farmer appeared and shouted at us for trampling through his crop. The bus stops at the bottom were the site where students would ‘bundle’ onto the cramped red double decker buses that would take us home. Further along on the right is the entrance to the ‘white path’. No longer a bumpy track over the chalk hill, it has now been tarmacked. But this was the path we walked every day through the woods to reach the school at the top. I have a memory of coming down the path in the snow, on my own after a drama meeting which kept me late at school, laden down with gym kit and my catering, and glancing to my right. My first and only encounter with a flasher was bizarre as I was so young I did not have the vocabulary to describe what he was doing.

This is the 8 mile mark on my run, and I am tired now, and very grateful for the enthusiastic marshall who is cheering me on at this point.

I run up into Hamsey Green, near the bakery my friend Jenny worked at. I remember her telling me about the day she was asked out over the counter by ‘Andy’.

Coming into Old Farleigh Road I remember how my brother and I would play tennis at the courts off there for a time. This hill is very steep and it doesn’t seem fair to have this so close to the end! The final turn is onto Sundale Avenue. Many of my friends lived in this area when I was at Primary school, so this is familiar territory to me. As I approach the end of Sundale Avenue I am looking for number 88, where my grandmother lived for many years, firstly on her own and then with her husband Lucas. When I ran this half-marathon for the first time in 2014 she was in a home and very frail, and the combination of the end of the race and all the emotion of thinking about her caught me as I lumbered past with my last few steps, exhausted and exhilarated, and feeling like I had truly taken a journey down memory lane.

On the wall of Selsdon Chapel post-race March 2015

On the wall of Selsdon Chapel post-race March 2015

Same wall - approx 25 years earlier with my friend Karen.

Same wall – approx 25 years earlier with my friend Karen.

Eulogy of a great woman – Irene, my Grandmother

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This is the eulogy I prepared and delivered for my Grandmother Irene’s memorial service held in November 2014. She had recently passed away aged 94.

My Grandmother, Irene, was described by my brother Jason as an ‘old school Londoner who always knew her neighbours and helped them out’. I remember a quotation she displayed in her kitchen at her house in Sundale Avenue which said ’happiness is a by-product of an effort to make someone else happy’.

Irene was the fourth child of Frederick and Violet Green, born 29th February (it was a leap year) 1920. They lived in a Victorian Terraced House with a little yard that backed onto the North London railway line with steam trains thundering past.

I remember my Nan telling me one time about her mother, Violet, saying that lots of people would come to the door that needed help, and she would always go and find something in her pantry for them to take away. I now know that her mother was a founding member of her local branch of the British Legion, and served faithfully for 37 years, including serving as Chairman and President. So Nan was raised with this example of service, which we know she carried through her own life.

Irene’s mother ensured that Irene could cook, sew and do practical things around the house. At the age of 16 Irene worked in a Counting House, and she writes of that experience, “I learnt to hold my own counsel, be a good listener and to trust no one – there is very little sentiment in business, but lots of envy”.

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A very attractive 19 year old, Irene married on 4th March 1939 Edward Alfred Carter (known as Ted) at Highgate, London. This was the year that the Second World War started, and whilst working during the day, Irene served as a fire warden at night during the bombing of London. Irene got to watch the aerial Battle of Britain over London from Putney Heath.

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Once the war was over, Irene had her two boys, Alan and Chris. They remember spending summers with their Mum in Wimbledon Park having picnics, building camps and feeding the ducks. Irene was a good mother and wife and always put other family members first. Alan and Chris didn’t hang up stockings for Santa, they hung up pillow cases and their Mum always managed to fill them! Irene was always fiercely proud of her two sons.

Irene worked most of her married life. I remember her telling me about her time at Alfred Marks Employment Bureau, she loved the fact that she was helping people find work. It was unusual for married women to work in those days, and I remember her no-nonsense approach when describing to me how she worked through even when feeling rough with morning sickness.

Irene’s husband Ted was beset with ill-health throughout their married life and Irene supported him and kept the family solvent.

On the 14th June 1962 Irene was baptised into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints along with Alan and Chris. This was the start of Irene’s exemplary service in the Church. She was an amazing cook and made legendary steak and kidney pies. When asked if he could drive the scouts to Cornwall a friend replied “Only if Irene makes me a bread pudding.” When entertaining Irene would always produce at least three dessert options and then she would ask the question “would you like a bit of each?” How could anyone resist strawberry trifle, lemon meringue pie and fruit salad all topped with ice cream?

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When both Alan and Chris had left home Irene lived for a time in a basement flat. When the paraffin heater in the hallway started producing black smoke she called the fire brigade. Having established that the potential fire was in the basement of a block of flats the fire brigade arrived with three large engines. Irene was totally distraught at all the bother she was causing and said to the firemen “But, I only wanted you to send a little one!”

Ted was hospitalised in 1975 and Irene was with him just before he died.

After a spell of poor health, Irene moved from Braemar Avenue in Wimbledon, to Sundale Avenue, Selsdon, to be near Alan and Rosalind and a hundred yards from Selsdon Chapel.

As grandchildren we liked having our Nan living so close by, especially as it was during the years when our parents had got rid of the television. So we would go down on whatever evening our favourite TV show was on, and she would spoil us with sandwiches, cake and drinks. I remember her decorating the window with pictures and flags when it was the Royal Wedding.

Irene gave many years of Temple Service. At one time, she was living in the Gate House with two other lady friends. On Saturday mornings they had an early start at 5 and to wake themselves up they would do the dance of the sugar plum fairies in their pink nighties. She was also the secret treat giver – whenever she would see one of the groundsmen’s wheelbarrows, she would perch a Mars bar on the handle so it would be there when they came back. They didn’t know who was doing this, but one time one of the gardeners lay in wait behind a bush and caught her red-handed.

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Irene also ran the church employment programme from Mitcham Chapel whilst still experiencing dizzy spells. She got great pleasure out of helping lots of people find employment using her skills developed whilst working for Alfred Marks.

In February 1986, Irene, (who was very nervous about flying) flew to the USA to serve a mission at the Washington DC Temple. It was whilst attending French classes there that she attracted the attention of an elderly American widower called Lucas Moe!

Irene was married to Luke in October that same year, she was 66 and he was 70. Having honeymooned in Florida, they completed their mission after doing an extra year as a ‘thank-you’ to the Lord for having met each other there at the Temple. Before their move back to England they were given a send-off by their friends they had made in the US. Irene always had lots of friends, as she was outgoing and went out of her way to get to know people, calling everyone ‘dear’, or ‘treasure’.

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Irene and Luke kept themselves busy, with working at the Temple, running the Church’s Family History Library at Wandsworth Chapel, and working on the transcribing of the 1881 UK census. Irene loved helping others with their genealogical research. Anyone that saw them together could see how happy they were. They were as affectionate as a couple of youngsters, often embarrassing us with all their kissing and hugging.

A few years later, in 1995 they emigrated to Farmington, Utah, and were settled there, until a Christmas visit to England in 1998 when Irene was advised by her doctor not to fly again, so they stayed in England, choosing to live in the village of Lingfield, a mile from the Temple, fulfilling a lifelong dream of Irene’s to live in the countryside.

Irene had strong principles and I remember her telling me that she had written letters to the Prime Minister and The Queen, over things she felt strongly about and received a reply from a Lady in Waiting. She was always lovely and gentle to us as grandchildren, but she was forthright in her views.

Irene’s character remained constant throughout her life, even as her and Lucas’s health failed. Any visitor to their home would leave with a pack of biscuits or other treat in hand.

Everyone here will have their own memories of Irene, that of someone who shone as an example to us all. Her zest for life, the twinkle in her eye, and her cheery disposition made an impression on many. Her acts of kind service that went above and beyond touched the lives of many.

I am proud that Irene Elsie Mary Moe was my grandmother and I hope that we will remember her, and her indomitable spirit.

Rachel learns to ski (sort of…)

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A trip to Seattle to spend time my brother and his family provided the perfect opportunity for me to have my first ever skiing experience. After picking up a jacket and trousers for $50 at the local thrift store, we headed off to ‘Mini Mountain’ for a ski lesson. I didn’t know what Mini Mountain was until we got there – but it was an indoor facility in a warehouse type building, with what looked like a few mini carpeted slopes. Great, I thought, they’re not too big – that will be easy. What I didn’t realise until my 4 year old niece jumped on first for her lesson, was that the carpet moved – like a giant conveyor belt. My niece did fine and it wasn’t long before it was my turn, and there I was, stood in front of the instructor, pointing downhill, when I was taught the technical terms for the two key ski positions, the ‘hot dog’ and the ‘pizza’. (I’m sure they have slightly more grown up names, like the snow plough and parallel where I come from!)

The conveyor belt carpet started up, and I instantly grabbed hold of the instructor’s arms as I started moving. His kind encouragement, spoken in the same voice he used with my 4 year old niece: ‘make a pizza, make a pizza’ sounded quite frankly ridiculous as I tried to get the hang of sliding forwards on a moving carpet. My legs at an angle wide enough that I was afraid of sliding into the ‘splits’, and knees bent and angled inwards, and I’m thinking I can’t hold this position for more than 5 minutes let alone long enough to ski anywhere. I got through unscathed however – without falling over or crashing onto the barrier at the bottom, and I was deemed ready to face the real thing.

The next day we headed off to Crystal Mountain (in the Cascade range of Washington, SE of Seattle). Walking around with my boots strapped on and no ankle movement whatsoever I felt like Robocop. My brother jumped on the ski lift with his son leaving me to tackle the ski lift with Erin (10 years) as my guide. At this point I could not control my skis very well and attempted to stop by clinging onto the stop sign which I found wasn’t fixed to the ground…

The chair came round and I sat back ok and started to enjoy the view, but once I saw the end looming I realised I would have to ‘ski’ off the lift down a steep bank – I got off ok but then attempted to ‘make a pizza’ but the icy covering meant I slid gracefully to the floor. And then couldn’t get up. At all. The guy from the ski lift hut took pity on me after about 5 minutes and pulled me to my feet. He first suggested that if I sit/squat over my skis I can use my leg muscles to push/pull myself into a standing position. ‘Yeah right,’- I thought – ‘as if I have that kind of muscle strength….’

Now standing, I could see the only way down was a long steep slope which I would have no choice but to ski down. My 10 year old niece launched herself off effortlessly and glided down. I knew this was one of those mind over matter moments. If you think you can do it, you can. Eventually I had the confidence to let myself go – and go I did, fast. The ‘pizza’ I was making did not seem to slow me down on this icy snow so I thought I’d just go with it and attempt to stay upright. At least the slope evened and had a long stretch ahead. Great, I thought, considering I don’t know how to stop I’ll just keep going. When I did stop I could see Erin back on the other side probably wondering where in the heck was her aunt off to.

So what I learnt about skiing very quickly was – sliding over snow on two sticks attached to your feet is not difficult. Controlling them, however, is.

I fell a few times and had to be rescued by my brother. Standing up when you have zero ankle mobility and two lengthy skis attached to your feet is not easy. And skiing is definitely NOT something you can just turn up and ‘do’ on your own. The funniest thing is when you

want to stop as you’re going too fast – so you fall over – but find you’re still going, and you actually have to ‘lie down’ on your side to stop completely hurtling down the hill.

Later when the snow was slushy on top I found when falling that my skis would bury themselves in the snow while my body kept moving, so I would have to be careful my knees weren’t twisted into some odd position. The other trick, when attempting to stand up, is to make sure you turn your skis sideways or otherwise one leg will be skiing off down the hill…

I did however master the nursery slope, and our next visit, to a steeper slope left me as flummoxed as if I was starting all over. Too steep to ski straight down, I was being challenged to ‘turn’ my way down the slope. Constantly falling and having to clamber up left me hot with exertion. I was happy to struggle on my own, as I had learnt the trick of releasing my boots so I could clamber up each time I fell, but my patient brother stayed close so he could haul me up. At times when I reached for his extended hand I felt perhaps there was a lesson for life here – it’s less effort to accept the help of others than to struggle on by ourselves, and at times, we all need a helping hand, especially on a ski slope

Pics: at the top with nephew Harrison and niece Erin; at the end of my first day with brother Dan; Niece Kate having a lesson at Mini Mountain

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