Paul – Love & Loss (part 1)


Thus far I haven’t been able to blog specifically about Paul and our relationship, but today, 10 years on from the eve of his death, it seems a fitting occasion, so I’m giving it my best shot, though much abbreviated.

If you missed how we met you can find the story here:

I had two marriages behind me and he was into his second of what I thought initially was a happy marriage. I was enjoying my newfound freedom as I had been more or less tied to husband number one since I was a mere child of 14 and soon after our divorce I married husband number two, so I certainly wasn’t looking for a new relationship.

Following two encounters with cancer and radical surgery I embarked on a degree course which I found quite challenging – and one evening I was doing work for college at a friend’s house, as my parents’ home was being rewired and they were having central heating installed, so their house was in a complete mess. The phone rang and Barbara answered it and it was Paul for me (Mum had told him where I was and given him the number) and he asked if I would meet him for a drink.

‘I’ll bet your wife doesn’t know about this’, I scoffed.

‘She’s gone’, he said briefly and I responded as one might expect, but I was really busy and wanted to get on with my assignment.

‘But I have so much work to do’.

‘I thought you were my friend?’ I melted, as he obviously needed someone to talk to.

We met at an old coaching inn and visibly upset he filled me in on the detail and also about his first marriage and the reason behind that divorce. He was partially covering his mouth, clutching at his chin and fighting back tears. I reached out to touch his hand in a gesture of support.

‘How did you know I wanted you to do that?’ he asked and I was hooked!

His story is as long and convoluted as mine and too involved to tell in a blog, so here is the abridged version:

When we first met he was estranged from his own grown up children, but before the divorce many years earlier, he had been a devoted father. Since that marriage broke down it had become increasingly difficult to see the children as they were growing up, and he had little contact with them.  His second divorce proved just as difficult and protracted – and even then he was still paying maintenance to his first wife, so once again his assets were to be decimated. He was broken.

Apart from his own three children he had three stepchildren (also grown up by that time) and throughout both marriages he worked full time as a tutor (latterly commuting 100 miles daily). Any spare time was spent on the never ending DIY, as he would usually buy older properties, live in them whilst doing them up, then sell. The process was repeated and I think in total he had lived in 17 or 18 homes in his lifetime.

We became a couple. He wasn’t perfect and neither am I, but he was probably very close to the man of the dreams I had as a young girl – the man I never thought existed. I was happier than I had ever been – and he started to laugh again too. We sometimes fought, but were totally devoted to each other and my heart would skip a beat whenever I saw him after being away from him for a few days. My sons and their families loved him and he them. After the birth of his eldest son’s first child, her maternal grandfather urged his son-in-law to let Paul know – and he made contact. I then cajoled Paul into rebuilding a proper relationship with them and they have been very supportive of me too.

Paul with my grandson

It was awhile before I discovered what an exceptional artist he was, as I had never seen him paint. It was only when he had to leave his lovely big cottage and move to a two-up two-down on the wrong side of the tracks that I saw his portfolio and his unique talent. I bought him a small sketch book and he started drawing on our many drives out into the country. He loved landscape and worked fast and would be onto his third drawing when I hadn’t even finished my first! I encouraged him to start painting again and even sent off applications for him to submit to various exhibitions, but he refused point blank.

It was a particularly cruel blow when I became seriously ill again and we both thought I was going to die just a year into our relationship. Without Paul’s help and sheer determination I don’t think I would have survived. You can read more about it here, here, here and here.

I introduced Paul to Hong Kong where some of my family live. It inspired him – the hustle and bustle of ships in the very busy harbour jolted his dormant talent into action again and with the flat 13 floors up overlooking the West Lamma Channel, he dragged the dining table closer to the window so he had a better view and set about looking for wood from the building site below, on which to paint. The Chinese workmen were very bemused by the tall, skinny, bearded gweilo, stripping plywood off old doors and nicking off with it! He bought paint, paper and ink too and produced one painting after another. His passion for his work had returned! He started submitting his paintings and drawings to exhibitions and entering competitions – and was a regular winner, especially at London venues and one of the prizes was a one man show in Bloomsbury!

Hong Kong Central.jpg
Hong Kong Central
misty ships copy.jpg
Misty Ships
Pearl Of The Orient 2.jpg
Pearl of the Orient
The Golden Arches of Cheung Chau scan.jpg
The Golden Arches of Cheung Chau

My father became terminally ill with cancer and was confined to a wheelchair and as I had no siblings I felt I should do my best for my parents. I worked two days a week at a factory near Paul and he would take me to work on Monday, then drive me the 30 miles down to my parents where I would stay till Thursday when he would collect me and I would work again on Friday and then spend the weekend with him, so it was very much a part-time relationship.The house next door to Paul came up for sale and my father would have moved quite happily, but my mother just wouldn’t budge.

Dad died in year 2000 and I retired from my job in 2005, but was still commuting to spend three days with my mum who by then was suffering with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s, therefore two parts of the brain affected. She had Meals on Wheels coming daily and her neighbour, Jean, popping in several times a day to check on her when I wasn’t there. The situation was becoming quite stressful for everyone and Paul and I didn’t manage to live a normal life together. The house next door became for sale on two more occasions, but Mum flatly refused to move.

Finally Paul and I made a decision; throughout 2006 I scanned the Internet for property we might afford in Scotland and we visited Dumfries and Galloway several times to look for houses big enough for all three of us (perhaps just with a garage suitable for conversion to a granny flat) and intended to move somewhere near the artists’ town of Kirkcudbright. We reasoned Mum was so far into her dementia that she wouldn’t remember that she wasn’t ‘ever going to leave’ her house. It would mean that we could live as a proper couple  and so we would finally get married. 2007 was to be our year.

Harbour Kirkcudbright


Mother’s Day (Alzheimer’s/Dementia – A Fate Worse than Death)

Screen shot 2014-02-03 at 07.32.15This is the first Mother’s Day that I haven’t chosen a card or gift for my mother, for she died in January. Although it was for the best – and she was nearly 96, it still affected me more than I ever anticipated. (As my mum had reached such a ripe old age and had been at death’s door a few times, I thought I was well prepared).

As you will have seen from some of my earlier blogs, she had a mixture of Alzheimer’s and dementia (two different parts of the brain affected) so life was very difficult for both of us. She lived with me till two years ago – until I could no longer cope, mainly because she had manic episodes where she would be very agitated and go without sleep for days and nights until she became exhausted, then she would sleep for maybe 12 hours or more and recharge her batteries – until the next time. Unfortunately I still had to get on with my every day existence and sleep deprivation is a form of torture. I actually reached breaking point and after one of the three-day/night episodes I phoned Social Services to say that sadly, I had reached the end of the road.

Mum and Dad
Mum and Dad
Bessie Croft and Family 11
1948: Mum with me at our new council house
Mum with her two grandchildren
Mum with her two grandchildren
Mum and Dad on their Golden Wedding Anniversary (he died in 2000, just a few months before their Diamond Jubilee)
Mum and Dad on their Golden Wedding Anniversary (he died in 2000, just a few months before their Diamond Jubilee)
Mum and Me
Mum and Me

She went into full-time care at the home were she sometimes went for respite, so was quite settled there – well, as settled as she would ever be. Her decline was gradual until the last few months when she was confined to bed, doubly incontinent, could no longer feed herself and had to be turned every two hours to prevent bedsores.

The light has gone out


The day before she died I gave her the evening meal and she ate most of it, including a dessert and drank a whole cup of tea. I had no indication whatsoever that it would be for the last time.

The following morning at about half nine I received a call from the home asking me to go there urgently. I flew there as quickly as I could and as I arrived the nurse told me Mum had passed away. The carers had turned her at 8am and at 8.15 the nurse checked in on her. When the carer went in with her breakfast just after nine she found that Mum had died. She was still warm when I got there.

So, after all the torment of recent years, she slipped away peacefully at the end.

Skype – plus funerals, James Bond & C W Stoneking

Paul's Coffin

I love Skype and as I mentioned in an earlier blog, it really has changed my life, for I share most Sunday lunchtimes with my family 6,000 miles away, though for them it is dinnertime. It’s almost as good as actually being there with them, as they just come and go, do their own thing and the kids show me their projects, play piano, ukulele, sing and generally make me laugh for an hour or two.

Two Sunday’s ago I was sitting with my notebook on my lap (so the view from their angle would have been looking upwards from my abdomen) and my youngest grandson (age 6) turned to my son and said, ‘Daddy, is Grandma pregnant?’

No sooner had I stopped laughing than my 13 year-old granddaughter showed me a little toy she had made for her brother. She said it was felt-work, fashioned with a needle and as I’d never seen it done she ran off to get some felt and a needle and commenced a new project so that I could watch. After a few minutes she said she was making a heart – a gift for me – and she would put it in my coffin!

I am perfectly happy that she can speak openly about my death, for two years ago she was inconsolable at the thought, sobbing uncontrollably – and it had come out of the blue. No one had been discussing it prior to that, though I had been treated for cancer several times before she had been born and it was no secret, as I live with the consequences (see earlier blogs) and clearly she had been giving it some thought.

It was devastating to see a child so heartbroken and no matter how much I cuddled her and told her I had no plans on departing this mortal coil in the immediate future, we still couldn’t console her. Composing myself I told her that my funeral should be a celebration of my life, as though it hadn’t been easy and I’d suffered bullying and abuse as a young girl, I had also done many wonderful things, which most people can only dream of. Often seeing wild animals in their natural habitat – and even been on a walking safari. I’d sailed twice to Cape Town and driven through Southern Africa and Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) to Zambia and seen Victoria Falls, the mighty Mosi O Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders) on several occasions – and frequently camped under the bright stars of a dark African night along the banks of the Kafue River, sometimes finding hippo spore in our camp the following morning! (I omitted to say I had also been arrested as a spy on a couple of occasions when I had only been out sketching, had a rifle pointed in my face and suffered what some would describe as hardships due to our various ‘states of emergency’).

I told her I would like a New Orleans style funeral, with ‘second lining’, lots of fun and laughter, as well as (perhaps) a few tears. She had no idea what I was talking about and in a flash of inspiration I asked my son if he could find on You Tube, the clip from the James Bond film, Live and Let Die. He did this in a trice and the whole family gathered around the computer to watch – several times.

My granddaughter, now all fired up, ran and got an A4 pad and started to write it all down, ‘What songs do you want, Grandma?’

‘Well at the moment I would like C W Stoneking’s, I heard the Marchin’ of the Drum and The Love Me Or Die’, but I might change my mind in a few years.’ With that it was back to the computer to look up the songs, which met with her approval. I added, ‘But I don’t want a religious funeral, perhaps a Humanist one if you can find a celebrant.’

Scribbling it all down on the pad she put her arm around me and said reassuringly, ‘don’t worry Grandma, I’ll see you get the funeral you want!’ So that’s how an 11 year-old, as she was then, became able to talk freely about my demise. On a recent visit to my home she informed me that when I die she would like my cooking utensils and my cookery books!

At the moment I don’t have time to die and for the time being have put the DIY on the back burner in favour of a bit of artwork.

Pas De Deux
Pas De Deux
Pas De Deux
Pas De Deux
Shifting Sands
Shifting Sands