The Guardian Angel of Lost Stirrups

During this week the previous year my phone rang just as I approached Llangelynin Church, a call to inform me that my mother had passed away. I knew the instant it rang. I don’t really believe my mother hovers along with me as I ride through life, saving me from falls on the hillside and keeping my feet in a position of safety at all times, but I do like the idea of it even if only in symbolic terms, because this is exactly what mothers do. And then there was an occasion the previous winter where I actually did lose a stirrup and found it again in the strangest of split-second circumstances, so I feel entitled to the odd whimsical thought during this time of summer rain, rainbows, and humid mist.
Mum was cremated more than 70 miles away, and it’s a place I don’t really wish to revisit for the sake of remembering her as that would feel not only a worthless chore, but insincere. I’m not sure riding to Llangelynin church with a bunch of hedgerow flowers on the anniversary of her passing is especially more apt, because towards the end of her life Mum’s feelings about religion were gradually worn down to an angry indifference. But consecrated places are not always about the constraints of religion. More importantly she loved Wales, and all things flowering, despite her absolute refusal – towards the end – to believe she was ever knowledgeable of plants and once upon a time cherished a large garden. Remembering her at this peaceful, historical spot in the Welsh hills is surely the greatest symbolism of freedom after years of suffering the emotional and mental prison of dementia. Those years when the shadow began to move across her memory until the disease finally swallowed it whole, were the hardest years of all.  I realise that collecting flowers on the way to the church whilst astride Storm, might prove problematic. As well as a lot of dismounting I imagine His Lordship might presume I was collecting some of these delicacies on his behalf. So I gathered the bouquet a couple of days before, from the ancient, abundant hedgerows by the church. Before too long I had a small bouquet of natural beauties; Harebells, Foxgloves, Heather, Valerian, Cranesbill, Rosebay Willowherb, Campion; Bracken for greenery, and for fragrance, my own Lavender and Jasmine.
The day of the symbolic gesture – the day I choose to ride to Llangelynin with my bounty – is heavy with low cloud and drizzle. I tie the flowers to the saddle with a length of pink string. Storm is remarkably respectful and gives it only a cursory glance. Undeterred by the worsening weather, we set off at a smart pace, fired by the importance of our quest. On the small rise of Craigfedwen where the landscape would normally roll in front of us for as far as the eye could see, visibility is reduced to a thick wall of mist, and the only sounds are those of muffled bleating. I think about the song my brother and I chose for Mum’s service, by Enya: So I Could Find My Way. Before too long I admit defeat – I genuinely cannot find my way today. The heavens burst wide open and progress across the open mountain is made not impossible, but miserable and uncomfortable. Saturated, I turn for home. The pony gives me some tremendous heart-lifting canters through the wet bracken, raindrops and an array of petals flying in his mane. Does he know? As a symbol of freedom and a nod to the joy of wild Welsh foliage, I reckon we still completed our brief. And I suspect Mum had the last say.

From: mybook.to/MyLifeinHorses2

Three Things About Elsie

35150981._SX318_Florence, Elsie, and Jack, live in sheltered accommodation. When a new resident arrives Florence is convinced it’s someone she used to know, but how can it be when he died more than sixty years ago? As Florence lies waiting for someone to discover her after a fall, her mind takes her on a trip down memory lane. Perhaps she’ll discover who keeps moving her elephant and buying so much cake, and what really happened to Ronnie Butler.

Anyone with personal experience of dementia will perhaps be better placed to relate to this novel – especially the ending – because its strength lies in the observed detail and the superb characterisation not only of Florence but also of those working in sheltered housing or caring for the elderly. The secondary characters in this novel are as strong as the main protagonist, which goes against the grain but Handy Simon and Miss Ambrose not only lift the narrative, but help to set the mood. I love, love the dark humour mixed with poignant insights about life, death, and where we fit in the grand scheme of things, the sort of things we think about as we age and look back. The language, and the nuts and bolts of the writing are faultless and cleverly crafted. My personal enjoyment flagged a little here and there, especially through the mid-section and occasionally where the time-slips caught me out and also, because its incredibly difficult to write engagingly and consistently about such a tough subject. This is a very real book, maybe a little too real to be classed merely as fiction and escapism, but fair to say the essence of it crept under my skin.

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