Fog

This morning, early, as I was driving back towards the west, low cloud rolled in. All was clear on the east side but as I drove towards the sun breaking over the eastern hills, behind me, silently flowing along the land, filling ditches and hollows, a bank of fog had swallowed the land.

I knew none of it, my mind full of spring and bulb shoots in the roadside verges, and the smell of the earth coming to life, risking defeat in later wintry weather but nonetheless itching to get going. I was thinking of how few times we see these changes; how many fewer when you’re new to a place and have – if you’re very lucky – ten years, possibly twenty, left to feel the earth turning towards summer.

With the sun behind me on the way back, trailing long shadows from the south-east, the hill line looked different. The landscape had changed, geology re-written. It was difficult to see what was wrong in the warming morning air rising from the heather, but when we stopped for a traffic light – there are none in these islands, so meeting one always means roadworks, always a wait – I could see the shape of the hills changing as cloud cream poured over the hills and drooled across fields sloping towards the sea.

Encroaching, obscuring, enveloping. The profile, colours and texture of the land disguised and erased. I had forgotten what shape it should be, but I knew it was wrong. Along the ridge line cloud rose thickly and spilled soft, making a new outline. The cloud was coming for us, threatening enclosure, obliteration.

Reading reviews of “Still Alice” – a film that won’t come here for months, if it ever does – I realise that the tinge of disorientation I felt, at knowing and not knowing quite what the place I live should look like, echoes dementia symptoms. I travel in a place I know, down roads with which I am familiar, and they look subtly different, unrecognised and strange. I feel lost.

They say about the weather here that if you don’t like it, you only have to wait ten minutes for an entirely different weather to arrive. I hope my mind has a similar capacity for renewal, and that when the daffodils come up and fill the roadsides with brilliant gold, consolidating the grass after the muddy floods of winter storm water, my thinking will again come clear and bright.

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Where are my keys?

Forgetting can improve health and fitness. True. Every time I have to go back to where I was minutes, hours, days before, to do the thing I’d forgotten, I get a little bit more physical exercise, and – and this is very important – I exercise my mental faculties and memories and, presumably, improve my memorising capacities. It’s what I want to believe, so let it be true.

In this category today were the following:

Arriving at the car and realising I’d forgotten the car keys, so returning to the house, find the key, unlocking the door and – immediately (yes, I knew exactly where I’d left them) – laying my hands on them. Then re-locking the door and going back to the car.

Another thing with the keys at work.

The same thing with the equipment necessary to do my job, remembering to go back and get it just as I was driving out the gate to travel ten miles up country. A couple of times, I’ve arrived in the northern depot without any of the equipment and had to go back to the start. It can feel as though every day is a potential snakes and ladders game, but with the potential of sliding off the board onto the floor, even before I start.

Then I forgot to put coconut milk in the Thai soup. The smell of my own breath alerted to me to something being wrong but it took a while to work it out.

Also, spelling errors. [Spekk, speek, speeling, spelling.] [altered, alerted.] [is, it, if.]

Again I wonder if a) some of this is normal ageing, b) I’m tired, c) it’s only memory, or d) something worse.

Sandy liquid

My neck seizes. I cannot turn my head. Perhaps some tensions in daily life, the concerns of the day, gather in the trapeze and stop it swinging. So I go to swim.

Laps in the pool, avoiding children on the odd-numbered forward strokes towards the shallow end and watching the ceiling on the even numbers to make sure I don’t smack my head on the end wall, and make the pain and seizure worse. If I’m lucky, after twenty or thirty lengths, the nerve or tendon or muscle or whatever it is that’s stuck and sore will give a little. Something will let go, will ping or snap or crunch. I need that release. A “sandy liquid feeling”, said the girl in the gallery, when I told her why my head was leaning, why I hobbled like a babushka in an ancient newsreel.

Lap after lap, like a meditation, I hear my thoughts repeating, worrying the phrase, matching it to the experience. The graunch of tendon, bone and nerve. Body parts moving under the skin, seeming to come free and release a tangle of emotion, but stopping before the end, as if stuck on a slide.

A sandy liquid feeling. No, not sandy liquid. Like tequila riddled with fluttering flecks of gold leaf, that you imagine might stick to your tongue. Or fizzy pop at the seaside in 1964. A liquid sandy feeling, then? True, it can seem like quicksand, sand as fluid, but the combination is wrong, the combining doesn’t work. Perhaps a comma would help?

A sandy, liquid feeling?

Or a liquid, sandy feeling?

The feeling itself is neither sandy nor liquid. it’s both, but most of all, it’s a “feeling” that has no definition. Sandy and liquid help a bit, but they’re not the whole of it. It’s definitely not liquidy.

Finally, I suppose I can say that it was a sandy, liquid, feeling.


I have never before worried so much about where a comma went. Is this obsessive analysis and reconstruction of meaning a writerly concern? Or is it a product of memory failure, that I don’t know any more quite what I want to say, what I mean, how to tell my thoughts. I don’t really believe that this circularity still counts as thinking.

I wish my quicksilver mind would come back.

Again and again

This morning I made a cup of tea and carried it to my bedroom. There was already a cup of tea by the bed, slightly warm. It must have been there half an hour.

Later, feeling thirsty, I made another cup of tea and picked it up to carry it to my desk. I looked across the room, saw a cup of tea already there, untouched. I put down the new one, picked up the other. It was almost as hot, perfectly drinkable. It can only have been five minutes old, or less.

This happens often.

I don’t know if it’s common, ‘perfectly normal’, or even a function of tea-drinking. I don’t know if this shows how far I’ve already fallen.


I was once an excellent speller – I could see mistakes a mile off, and type without errors. I had compliments on my accuracy and abilities.

Now, every sentence contains at least one word I can’t get right first time.

[com. con. contin. caoni. contains]

[tie. tim. tie. time]

At least I notice. That’s something.


 

 

A goldfish swam past

Some years ago I was in bed for most of the time over six months, recovering from a severe illness that left me underweight, exhausted and almost immobile. My home was, literally, a building site. Walls missing, cement dust everywhere. When I first came out of hospital it took half an hour, in blocks of ten minutes, to climb up three flights of stairs to the bedroom, the only usable space.

For years, I’d been working full-tilt for 12 to 18 hours a day in several jobs, lots of creative activities, and achieved a lot. I crashed every couple of months, sleeping for whole days. Humpty in pieces. (Not good, don’t do it). I’d had chronic fatigue symptoms for a year before getting a fungal infection in my lungs; I imagine my immunity was low. After my chest cleared I went home to recoververy slowly, a little every day. Waiting for enough energy to do the next thing, my mind was more or less blank.

One afternoon, as weak winter sunlight reached my window, I saw a thought coming. It was a long way over to my right. I felt excited, anticipating. I could remember thinking holding ideas and feelings in my mind, turning them over, finding a new way of integrating them, formulating afresh. I hadn’t done it for months.

The thought came nearer. I couldn’t see quite what it was, but I knew it was a thought, and that I would have it soon. I imagined it as a little shining fish, swimming towards me.

It arrived.

I thought.

I remembered myself – it was the start of putting myself back together again.

And then, inevitably, it moved away.

I tried holding onto the thought but it slid away, sideways, to my left, flicking against the light. Within a few seconds I could not remember what it was. (I cannot now. I only remember the shape, the golden feeling it gave me).

The loss, despair, was devastating. It was how I imagine drowning, what the fungus filling my body had felt like during all those weeks when it grew out of control in warm damp darkness, covering every alveoli opening with grey-green matter. I wondered if I would ever think again.


It took a while, but I got back to some of my former capacity. I could feel the difference. I had lost some of the edge – the twists, the flights – that I’d had before.

It has taken much longer to accommodate to living with the loss. Old habits launch me into ways of thinking I was used to, used daily for 45 years. Every day now, I hit the walls, find my limits.

And now, too, I’m getting older, I’m more conscious of little blanks and blips. Not just the one where you arrive in a room without any idea of the reason for coming there. Other things happen too, which might be evidence of ordinary ageing that I haven’t heard about, but might also be Alzheimer’s, dementia, or something resulting from earlier life experiences. How would I know?

What I do know is that I need to record how much I’m forgetting, how many times it happens, whether I really notice the changes. I trust that at least for a while I’ll be able to read and understand the thoughts I can write about here.

I also recognise the need to tell someone what’s going on. I’ve asked friends and family to tell me if they notice me forgetting things, but they laugh and tell me I’m worried about nothing. It would be hard to tell them about most of what I notice in myself and neurotic. I expect that what I experience isn’t uncommon, but we don’t talk about it until things have gone so far it’s obvious to everyone. Perhaps someone reading this will notice things I can’t.

This blog is to record my progress, my aide memoire. You can tell me about your experience too, if you like.