Rhian, a babby at Christmas

Yes. That is something I wrote – and illustrated – on a piece of paper, when I was little and my sister was a baby.

My sister, commonly known as Rhian, Rhiazza, Rhi Rhi, and by one of our uncles, Rhajazzle, had to come into the world in the thick of our family drama, three months after our arrival in England as a single parent family. I don’t think our early aquaintance made much of an impression on me. The following summary of Mum’s return from the hospital is testament to this:

Me: Where’s Rhian?

Mum (reveals the newborn baby in her arms): Here

Me: Oh (wanders off)

To begin with, I like to think I did a good job of asserting my authority as the official Big Sister. I had to; Rhian had this really annoying tendency to get snot or dribble on my toys. When you think about it, making her promise not to before letting her play with them was a very reasonable solution.

Rhian was not a soul to be tamed, however, and my days of being the dominant sibling were short lived. Once she was old enough to play with me, I had control of most of the toys, but she was fully in charge of what happened to them. In an argument, she was a force to be reckoned with, and as an overly sensitive autistic child, her tantrums used to terrify me. At one point, I kept crying that I felt “unforgiven!”, and Mum, in a fit of uncharacteristic naivety, asked Rhian, “you do love your sister, don’t you?” Cue a big “NO!” from Rhian, and further floods of tears from me.

She still hasn’t forgiven me for…whatever it was, by the way. I have asked.

For the most part, though, she was a fair minded and considerate younger sibling. When Mum married John, Rhian, who had decided she was first in line to inherit the wedding dress, very kindly said I could borrow it if I ever got married. When we went downstairs for breakfast, I was apparently allowed to go first on my birthday. She also showed a lot of interest in my development; I distinctly remember overhearing her telling our parents how much better I was at eating my crusts.

As we shifted into adolescence, I don’t think much changed except that I was firmer about not wanting to play with her, and after a while she lost interest anyway. Suddenly, wanting me to play was replaced by wanting me to read extracts of my diary to her. Or making me play Super Mario Bros on her Nintendo DS because I was so entertainingly bad. I did have to take cover many a time when John had to help her through exam revision and things got a little heated, but hey, at least I was no longer first in the firing line.

One thing Rhian doesn’t tire of is seeing how far she can challenge me emotionally. Her becoming life-threateningly ill in hospital in September was her most successful attempt yet. Having been turned away from A & E twice with what was dismissed as muscle pain, Mum forced the medics to take her seriously, and she was diagnosed with aggressive pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, pleurisy, and pleural empyema with one collapsed lung. She was in agonising pain – and close to death – to start with. Yet when I visited, she was well enough to roll her eyes at me for fussing, and complain about being in a room full of old ladies. Definitely on the mend.

And now, as a third year theatre student, she is in her first professional show, as Princess Tiger Lilly in a pantomime* production of Peter Pan. Three months ago, I’d accepted this would be a miracle. Now she’s dodging the evil Captain Hook, while accepting fanmail from small children (!!!). Does it get any better than this?

Rhian, accept this 700 word long fanmail from one proud big sister. And Merry Christmas!

 

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Us as bridesmaids following our parents’ wedding

 

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At the hospital

 

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*Non-British readers: a pantomime is a British Christmas tradition that is a show full of slapstick, crossdressing, song-and-dance, and audience participation. Loosely based on famous fairy tales and contains more pop culture references than you would think could be crammed into two or three hours.

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Injuries and the like

My dyspraxic difficulty in predicting where oncoming people – particularly cyclists – are heading is an accident waiting to happen. Last Thursday, it happened. Barely two minutes after work, I went to cross the road from one corner to the opposite one. An approaching cyclist on the road at 12 o clock* looked like he might be cycling past me. The sensation of forcefully hitting the ground confirmed that he had actually tried to turn the same corner that I was heading towards.

New bruise collection? Check. Bandaged foot? Check. I’d also like to thank the passer-by from the hospital who wouldn’t let me go until she was sure I didn’t need medical attention. Anyway, I did what most self-respecting women would do: cry a bit, take a bath, eat chocolate and complain to anyone listening.

And reminisce about mishaps gone by. Namely a near-identical incident at a holiday/retreat centre when I was six. I was playing outside, didn’t see the girl on a bike in time and consequently got flattened. My sister likes to think I was re-enacting that moment. I like to think it was foreshadowing what was to come 17 years later.

Another time, I went on a trip with the Brownies to a rollerblading arena. I fell down. I got back up and kept trying. I repeated this until I went face first and sank my teeth into my lip. Blood was spilled and a dislike of slippery surfaces was ignited.

Then there’s my nearly-ten-years-old bread-knife scar. I don’t know what sort of bread that knife was made for, but definitely not the sort that displays resistance to pressure. In fact, it skidded wildly and took a pound of flesh from my finger. Which had to be strapped to my other finger. I distinctly remember showing my sister the used dressing the next day, and her responding “you’ve had your period on it.” Brilliant.

Medical issues have demonstrated two things. One: I over-react to touch. Back in Year 9, what started as an irritated eye landed me at the doctor’s, then the optician, then the walk-in centre and finally the hospital’s eye department, where I was diagnosed with a simple eye infection. I don’t know how the medics got the eye drops into me, but Mum had to pin me down, unable to move, and hold both my head and my eyelid. Eight times a day for at least a week.

Two: I under-react to pain. When I was 15, I found what looked like insect bites on my tummy. Three weeks later, I realised they may be infected, and went to the doctor. Following several ineffective antibiotics, I carried on as normal, until my parents got one look at my weepy, burning skin and took me to the walk-in centre. Turned out I had an extremely rare staphylococcal infection, was at risk of blood poisoning, and had been running a fever without realising. Yikes.

Yet somehow, I’m still alive. If I go a month without writing a blog post, you may rectify that statement. Until then, fingers crossed!

 

 

*Meaning he was directly ahead. Not to be interpreted as the whole thing happening at midnight.

 

My Grandmother, number 1 blog fan

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I think I can safely say that, after a month of more challenging priorities, my blog has taken a bit of a backseat in my life. Just for once this has not been due to procrastination, absent-mindedness or writer’s/blogger’s block. Not very much, anyway. On a more serious note, my whole family have been taking a step back from normality while dealing with my grandmother’s terminal illness and death, and all the practical and emotional implications. Times like this are not only very sad, but also surprisingly draining.

To begin with, I’ll say that Gill Farquharson-Pratt, aka Grannie was a very big part in the lives of all those in her family, myself included. She was a highly family oriented person, which meant that children, grandchildren and family connections in general were always of the utmost importance to her. In her grandchildren’s case, this meant going on fun outings, stocking up on junk food and making it clear that rules at home definitely did not apply with her and Grandad. She took a huge interest in everything we did, from new jobs, to first days at school, to concerts and shows, to our numerous cat anecdotes.

Besides relatives, one of the other loves of her life was pets. The last time I saw Grannie at her house, she was lying on the sofa under a blanket, which she promptly lifted to reveal a deeply unconscious Basil the Burmese cat, for whom sleeping under someone’s legs is just a fact of life. Having been working with computers seemingly within minutes of their invention, she was my blog’s number one fan, and a very keen Facebooker. I was reminded of this when I posted my latest Facebook status, and later found myself thinking how bare and incomplete it looked without her immediately “liking”, “commenting” and showing interest in every detail. I may grow out of expecting her to have read every status and blog post I’ve ever written but hey, only time will tell.

It was around the new year that Grannie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which spread to multiple other organs. In the months that followed, she seemed to go through more good patches than bad, making the most of every moment, and spending quality time with her family. She outlived her specialist’s expectations but went downhill very suddenly, within days of having received a very positive scan. She was rushed to hospital, where my mum, Grandad and uncles stayed at her bedside day and night.

My stepdad, sister and I went down to see her and when we entered her room, she opened her eyes wide and beamed as she gazed at us. She drifted out of consciousness after a few minutes, and did not open her eyes again after that. We spent our last day with her at the hospital to say our goodbyes and to support each other. It was that night that Grannie died, at 2am on Monday 20th May aged 69, surrounded by Mum, Grandad and my uncles. It was a tearful time for all, but she definitely died as she lived: surrounded by family.

The funeral was a couple of weeks later, and as funerals go, this one couldn’t have been more perfect. It was a beautiful summery day in the green countryside and everything went like clockwork. I played my violin at the reception, and I think Mum was only joking about playing a solo piece with spoons during the service, as she ended up doing a reading from Ecclesiastes instead. Most of us threw roses into the grave during the burial; my 2 and 4 year old cousins threw dandelions, blades of grass and whatever else they could find. After the reception, I went with other immediate family members back to Grandad’s house for some quality family time, alone time or a bit of both.

A month on, and I’m going through mixed emotions. I still feel a sense of guilt – why didn’t I communicate with Grannie more often? Why did I get too tense and nervous to tell her at the hospital what a wonderful grandmother she’d been? I go from feeling guiltily normal to down and depressed quite quickly, which isn’t fun if you’re not good at openly expressing emotion. One thing I am grateful for is not only being able to see her on her last day, but also the chance to deepen my relationship with the rest of my family, immediate and extended. That’s definitely one good thing that has come out of these recent months, and even more importantly it’s something Grannie would have approved of.
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