Prelude 8

"Uncle Joe! Over here!"

The girls were wild with excitement again. Joe was visiting for the weekend and they were playing Piggie-In-The-Middle. Jojo was not very tall and struggled to catch anything when she was in the middle until Joe took pity on her and threw just a tad too low.

"Oi!" said Liesel, "that's not fair."

Joe feigned innocence and winked at Jojo who beamed with delight.

Fiona had fled indoors to some peace and quiet. Aaron sat drinking a beer, watching the antics.

Later he and Joe stood by the fire, talking.

"You have a great family", said Joe.
"I know, the best", Aaron replied.
"Then make sure you take good care of them."
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean."
"I don't. Spit it out!" said Aaron with some irritation.
"How many drinks have you had so far today?" asked Joe, "five? six?"

Aaron didn't reply.

Prelude 7

Aaron sat in the board meeting, hating every second of it. Daniel had made some crude joke and everyone laughed just a bit too loudly. False brown-nosers, the lot of them, and he despised them. His down to earth honesty did not serve him well in this corporate stratosphere. He was a simple man, not made for politics. He was a brilliant engineer and had worked hard to get this far, but he felt he'd been promoted to his level of incompetence.

He wasn't coping and knew it.

Prelude 6

He was late again. He worked late most days and Fiona wondered if it was really necessary. She was glad for the money but he'd changed since his recent promotion and she missed the fun they used to have. It seemed he was never in, and when he was he was tired, irritable and snapped at everyone. The kids had learned to avoid him for the first half hour after he got home.

She missed not having her husband to talk to like they used to. She missed his attentiveness, the fooling around with the kids, the excursions, the occasional dates, their love making. Life was so humdrum and she was too young to be a dull wife.

The only excitement she had was her part-time Marketing course - it appealed to her creative, expansive personality and she found to her delight that she was pretty good at it; top of her class in fact.

The front door opened and Aaron walked in. He smiled weakly at her and headed straight to the fridge to get a beer, the first of a few.

Prelude 5

Aaron hated the London commute - the tired grey faces, the selfish fight for space, the lack of any joy or light. The trains were delayed yet again. He didn't understand how this country that had so much rain could be so badly affected by it.

He sighed, thinking not for the first time about working locally, perhaps doing something more worthwhile, perhaps even taking a pay cut. But that was just not feasible - his electrical engineering job paid very well and they had adjusted their lifestyles to it. Fiona didn't work, preferring to look after the kids. He wished she would, now that they were a bit older – it would mean less pressure on him.

He loved electrical engineering, the precise, logical beauty of circuit boards, but after so many years he needed a change.


Prelude 4

It was Liesel's birthday and she sat with her father out in their garden gazing at the night sky. She loved the stars, the way they lavishly speckled the night, winking at the little people watching below. They had done this many times before, her father pointing out the stars and constellations he knew the names of, but tonight was special – she had a new telescope and they were going to look at moon craters.

She had always wondered why there was supposed to be a man in the moon, when with so much eye shadow and mascara it must be a woman. Tonight she even thought she saw a hint of rouge but that couldn't be. Her father said he thought she was probably right and they laughed together.

Mum brought out hot chocolate and marshmallows and they stood a while together looking at Lady Moon.

Prelude 3

Aaron and Joe sat together in the Spotted Dog over a fine pint of Old Speckled Hen. A log fire roared in the hearth, warming the room and the hearts of the men. Outside winter raged and threatened to invade the tranquil scene, but not yet. First there was another round to be had, more good things to be said, jokes to be shared, silences to be enjoyed. Finally it was time for last orders and the two friends said their good byes, shook hands and parted into the wintery night. The log fire continued to glow for some time, mindless of the splendid thing that is friendship.

Prelude 2

"Aaron, grab the line!"

Aaron dived after the rapidly disappearing fishing line, missing and hitting his head on the boat's edge. He watched in dismay as the line and their first big fish of the day got away. The tears welled up and so did the bump on his forehead.

His father looked at him and smiled "You'll be alright, lad. Every fisherman needs a big one that got away story, and you will get at least an hour of sympathy from your mother tonight!"

Aaron looked at his father, tall, lean and weather beaten. The sun had been out most of the day, keeping the wind down, and they had drifted lazily on the water for hours while the fish made up their minds. The long silences were punctuated with the occasional manly grunt and observation about the fish. Now and then they would talk about important things, but today they just shared the space as father and son. These times with his dad meant the world to him, and today had been almost perfect.

His father was right. Mum did make an awful fuss.

Prelude 1

“Daddy, Daddy look!”

Jojo was up the tree again, higher than ever before. Aaron smiled at the little fearless, defiant, joyful bundle.

Fiona fretted. “She'll hurt herself.”
“She'll be fine.”
“You always say that.”
“Yes, dear.”

It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon and they were sitting in the garden, about to start grilling the fish that had been lovingly marinated. Aaron liked to start the fire early and watch it while sipping a beer or two, sometimes for hours on end, staring into the flickering flames, pondering life or just thinking nothing.

Fiona lay on the sun lounger reading some best-seller. He looked at her, his desire stirring – she was a stunning woman, even after two children. She looked at back at him and fluttered her eyelids coyly. He smiled.


Elsbeth looked at Aaron as he lay in the hospital bed, his fading life bolstered by oxygen, intravenous drips and beeping monitors.

Why had God sent this dear old man her way, only to take him away again so soon? She had learned to trust His ways over the many years since her first childhood steps into faith, very often understanding much later the purposes in the sad things. Today however she did not understand. She loved Aaron and did not want him to go yet. They had prayed so hard for him and were still doing so, but increasingly aware that perhaps the answer might be “no”.

She remembered Aaron's first halting approaches towards her, the quick glances, the awkward exchanges, the hurried departures. She had seen him many times before and wondered at this sad man with the twinkle in his eye.

Now he lay there, approaching the full stop of his life when it should be the beginning of his eternal life. She had tried to talk to him about God but he was evasive and she did not want to press the issue. But now it was urgent and she felt a sense of growing despair.

Her daydream ended and she saw Aaron looking at her, smiling weakly. “Hello you”, he said.

She wanted to cry, but smiled back bravely.

“Don't be sad.”

Her heart wanted to break into a thousand pieces, but she had to to this now.

“Aaron, you need to make peace with your Maker.”

He breathed a laboured sighed, “Elsbeth, you know I can't make up thoughts and feelings that aren't there.”

“I know Aaron,” she replied, “but if you can't believe the testimony of others, believe mine. Do you trust me?”

He looked at her for a long time, thinking about Joe, his girls, his life.

“I do.”

She stayed with him for the rest of the afternoon, holding his hand while he slept, joined later by Liesel and Jojo.

Then suddenly he awoke, looking startled. He gazed at them, his girls, and smiled one last time, his eyes declaring an eternal love.

Day 87

Still coughing a lot and unable to start my new job, but as it was a fine day I ventured out briefly to stroll along the canal. I feel like I'm on the home straight, just waiting, and I hate it. I've always been a fighter, wrestling with life, sometimes stumbling, but always getting up.

Seeing my two girls makes me think that perhaps I didn't do too badly. After all what else is there to do but to propagate the species and make sure your shoots are not social misfits. I rest in the knowledge that two fine human beings will replace me.

Granted, Liesel's choice of Tony The Accountant still mystifies me, but after all the upheaval I put them through its understandable I suppose that she went with the safe option. And he is that.

Elsbeth popped in after work and we ate a meal together which she made - Steak and Kidney Pie - very tasty indeed. She has not pushed the topic of religion me, put I think she felt she owed me some revenge after my "do not worry" coup the other day. It went roughly along these lines:

E: Are you ready to meet your Maker?
A: I'm not sure there is a Maker.
E: What if you're wrong?
A: Insurance is no reason to believe.
E: Its not but it is a reason to take the issue seriously.
A: I know, but I just don't believe.
E: What don't you believe?
A: The Jesus is God.
E: Do you believe in Jesus?
A: Of course, that's difficult to deny.
E: Do you believe in the miraculous?
A: No, that's just primitive superstition.
E: Do you think my healing was natural?
A: Not sure.
E: You're evading the issue.
A: Want some more wine?

Damn she's good.

Day 86

I'm not feeling well again today, coughing up some blood despite the pills which have been working very well up to now, so I had to call in sick on my first day of "work" at the charity shop - not a very impressive start and I can see the scowl on Mrs Amazon Jones' face already.

Elsbeth was very worried but I told her not to be. If I've learned anything in life its this: that worrying is a pointless, time wasting endeavour. Interestingly I had just read this today in Joe's Bible when she called: "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? ... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Very sensible words.

Imagine her surprise when I quoted that back at her. Heh-heh.

My last list item is Harry. No I haven't done the dishes, but nobody's perfect. I'll ask Elsbeth or Amy if they would like to take care of the old bag of attitude.

Day 85

Rain aside it was a glorious weekend and Jojo is now Mrs Fairfax. A very posh name for a wonderfully down to earth couple.

The Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall is described by the tourist blurb as a "lush delta of moorland, punctuated by ancient villages with welcoming pubs for the angler and ambler, or twitcher come to see the area's rich bird life." It is all that, a stunning place and the little B&B in which we were housed delightful, all that an English B&B should be: a flowery doily heaven with a dear old motherly type inflicting further helpings of a full English breakfast on one in the morning. I don't recall when last I ate so much food.

The wedding was held in the famous St Just church, rumoured to be the place where Joseph of Arimathaea brought Jesus' body. I asked Jojo later how they had managed to get such a sought after location for their wedding but she just winked and said through a friend of a friend and a cancellation.

So I gave away my little girl, my Jojo, once a feisty tomboy, now a beautiful woman angelic in white lace, to a tall mountain man whom I am certain will take good care of her.

I was glad Elsbeth was there because I felt immensely sad as well as joyous and welled up more than once during the weekend. She, like a good friend, knew when to speak and when to be silent.

The dreaded encounter with Fiona passed without a hitch and I think we even managed to salvage a cordial peace from our torn relationship. I think the occasion helped - it is difficult to be bitter in the face of young love, so full of innocence, hope and promise.

My list is very nearly done.

Day 82

Jojo's wedding tomorrow!

Liesel fetched me early this morning to collect my suit and to get my hair cut. I had no choice in the matter - that was clear at the outset. I felt like a little child, but didn't mind one little bit.

I always hated shopping with Fiona, the endless browsing with no real purpose in mind; this however was different: Liesel had a tight schedule and in no time at all I had a fine dark suit and smart haircut. I looked quite dashing I thought.

Elsbeth and I are soon to be bundled into Liesel and Tony The Accoutant's car and whisked off to Cornwall.

Day 81

Rain, rain, rain. Not a great day for an interview.

Yes, an interview at the charity shop! I was astounded when Elsbeth told me yesterday. She said it would be an informal chat with the manager but even so.

So I groomed myself like never before and looked mighty fine considering. Elsbeth smirked as I walked into the shop before she introduced me to Mrs Annamarie Jones.

After pleasantries, the Mrs Amazon Jones launched straight in.

"So why do you want to work here Aaron? May I call you Aaron?"
(You just did, twice)
"I need something to do..."
(Is that good or bad? Perhaps I should have made something up?)

"What do you feel are your strengths?"
(Staying alive?)
"I was an engineer by trade but can do most things."
(There she does it again!)

"Are you a Christian?"
"Well, er, you see, I'm not sure. I've got a Bible. Er, I suppose I'm Agnostic"
"Agnostic? Hmm"
(Does she think I'll spoil the d├ęcor?)

And so on until I was a blithering wreck. After about 40 gruelling minutes:

"Well, Aaron. Elsbeth speaks very highly of you so we can give a 2 week trial. You do realise its a voluntary position?"
(No really?)
"Yes I do. Thank you so much."
(Stuck up bitch)

I think there is a very real danger I might kill this woman before my trial period is over.

Elsbeth beamed at me as I left the shop and everything was better.

Day 80

Amy, Joe's old neighbour, dropped by today with a few of Joe's things. Joe didn't have anyone else so I suppose she thought I should have them. Is that all that's left of Joe? A few items in a cheap plastic bag?

I dreaded opening the bag, but I had to. In it were a worn Bible, a diary, a picture of Joe with my family, a child's painting, and a locket containing a picture of a woman I didn't know. So Joe had some secrets from me after all... All my suppressed feelings of grief surfaced and overwhelmed me like a flood. I don't cry usually, but today I wept like a baby, bitter, heart rending sobs that left me drained.

I finally put the things away, apart from the Bible which I flipped through idly. Its a book like no other I've read, full of historical narrative, poetry and mysticism. My eyes fell on this striking passage:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

I think I'll read some more. Not much else to do at the moment.

I called Elsbeth today and asked if I could help out more regularly at the charity shop. She was reluctant, concerned for my health, but I insisted. There is no point clinging to a sinking ship when you can have one last decent swim before drowning.

Day 79

Now what?

Most of my must-do-before-I-die list is done, apart from finding a home for Harry and doing the dishes. Jojo's wedding is this weekend, but after that, nothing.

I'm feeling fairly ok, the cough is manageable, so perhaps I should raise my sites a little?

I can't just sit here and wait to die.

Day 78

Rain, rain, rain, and when it wanted a bit of variety it decided not to bother and rained some more.

I forgot my laptop.

The boat motor wouldn't start despite our best efforts.

All in all a bit of a disaster. Life rarely turns out as planned so why should I be surprised? Change is the only certainty.

On the bright side Elsbeth and I had a wonderful time together - this was a good test of our young relationship, being holed up together with very little to occupy ourselves. We chatted, played board games (Andrew is a bit of a collector), and cooked a couple meals together.

The weather eased up a bit yesterday and there was time to visit my parents' grave before returning. Cemeteries are not the cheeriest of places, particularly when the skies are dismal, but I was glad to find that the grave site had been tended to. I left some flowers and stood a while, saying good-bye. It felt a bit odd because in a sense it ought to have been "see you soon".

I had wonderful parents. I've already sung my mother's praises but Dad, when he was able, loved doing things with me, his one and only son. One of my favourite memories is spending a morning with him, making a miniature raft, fully kitted with rudder, sail and family crest. We launched it that evening, as the sun set, his arm around me, strong and quiet. Mum brought her men hot chocolate and a biscuit to celebrate.

I'd love to see them again.

P.S. The couch proved to be very comfy.

Day 75

Packing today for my trip with Elsbeth tomorrow to Stokesby in Norfolk, my home. Andrew has graciously let us use his cottage and boat for a few days.

I'm a little worried about the sleeping arrangements.  There is no question that Elsbeth and I will share a bed so hopefully the couch is comfy.  Its not that I don't want to, but its not time, and anyway Elsbeth would not before marriage.  Marriage?  If only...

I don't have much to pack: some warm clothes and Dave's laptop which goes everywhere with me these days.  We leave early in the morning from Liverpool Street station.

Harry will be alright for a few days - I'll leave him a large bowl of dry cat food.

I have not looked forward to anything like this for many, many years.  I'm like my daughters used to be on Christmas eve.  How we battled to get them to bed, excited little bundles that they were.

I remember one Christmas finding a note in Liesel's stocking: "Santa, are you real?"  I found some gold paint and answered in the affirmative.  These days you could get locked up for child abuse for filling children's heads with such "nonsense".  Very sad.

Day 74

Spent most of today with Elsbeth, sitting in her lounge chatting, reading, staring out the window while she pottered about.

The inevitable subject of death came up and my readiness for it. My feelings change from day to day – after a few positive, resolute days I find myself overcome with feelings of melancholy. Am I ready to go? No, I like being me, and I don't want to expire, be forgotten, cease to exist.

We talked about God and Elsbeth asked me what I believed. I don't know. I have some sense that there might be a God, Joe's “God-shaped hole” that needs filling, and that otherwise there are some difficult questions to answer: where do we come from, why do we care, why do we seem to feel there is an absolute right and wrong? There are also difficult questions to answer if you do believe in God: the problems of evil and hell, why are there so many religions, and so on.

So I don't know.

Christianity is the only religion I've had any real encounter with and quite a lot of it makes sense. It seems difficult to deny that Jesus existed in history, but was he who he claimed to be: God? How could someone so obviously wise be so deluded? And if the whole divinity spiel was a later addition then why? Joe used to tell me that the New Testament documents were written within the life times of those who lived then, so its difficult to imagine that a whole divine mythology could be created without being completely rejected by those who knew Jesus, especially given the persecution that resulted if you claimed to be a Christian. There was very little motivation or opportunity so the case against is weak.

But even with all of this I struggle. I struggle rationally to believe in what feels like make believe, like the Easter Bunny.

Elsbeth listened patiently, didn't push anything. She said that her whole church is praying for me.

Dare I hope?

Day 73

Feeling quite good today - the coughing has eased up – so I thought I'd take a stroll along the canal.

Its been very cold here in London, everything covered with a deep frost, but 3 weeks too late for a white Christmas. The canal was frozen over, forcing smaller boats and floating objects to the top where they lay ungainly and alone on the the ice.

I didn't walk far but passed the park where I first saw Elsbeth. It was too cold for any children but I saw another old timer sitting on a bench so I said hello. He looked at me blankly, muttered something about a bucket he had lost, and then got up and hurried off. A few sandwiches short of a picnic, I guess.

It was good to get back to the warm flat; even Harry hasn't ventured out much its so cold.

I phoned an old family friend in Norfolk who has a cottage and a boat for hire. He's going to let me use them for a couple of days. It was good to catch up, not spoken to him in years. I might see if Elsbeth fancies coming along.

Dear Fiona

Dear Fiona,

I found out this week that I am dying of terminal lung cancer. Death has a way of focusing the mind and I wanted to say some things I should have said a long time ago.

Marriage is complicated and we've had our fair share of troubles, but we've also had some wonderful times – I even still have the photograph of our weekend in Paris.

I just wanted to say how very sorry I am for not being the husband and father I needed to be, and for walking out as I did. I have over the years justified my actions, but they are inexcusable and wanted to make my peace with you.

I hope you will find it in you to forgive this old fool and remember the good and perhaps a little less of the bad.


Day 72

Today was the day for list item No. 1.

I called Elsbeth and invited her to dinner. This was before I thought about what exactly I was going to cook! Spag Bol is a fine dish, don't get me wrong, but unless you're in a Disney film involving cute doggies, its looking for trouble. So I decided to play it safe and make Lasagne and salad; I'm a fairly dab hand in the kitchen.

I headed to the shops full of purpose and the joy of life only to collapse at the checkout in a coughing fit. Everyone was so nice about it, and the paramedics were summoned, but I recovered, and even got a lift home in an ambulance.

I managed to prepare the meal, get a candle lit, and opened a bottle of red to breathe. Elsbeth will take a little of the old nectar now and then so I thought it would be nice. She arrived looking stunning. I know I've described her as Mother Theresa but this apparition at my door was nothing like that. She was wearing a simple black dress and pearl necklace, not dissimilar to Audrey Hepburn I thought.

It was a lovely evening but try as I may I could not find the courage to tell her I loved her, until she was leaving the flat that is, when in a mad manic I grabbed her hand and told her.

She looked at me, smiled gently, pecked me on the cheek and said “I wondered what was up with you this evening. I love you too, Silly.”

That picture is going with me, somehow. Its mine forever.

Day 71

Saw a news article about Patrick Swayze who is seeking all sorts of remedies for his pancreatic cancer, including crystals and eastern mystics. What a waste of time. He didn't look well at all - quite gaunt I thought. I wonder how I will look, whether the end will be sudden or a slow pain-racked slide into oblivion. I hope its quick.

I have decided that I need to make a list of stuff I want to do before I go:

1. Tell Elsbeth I love her
2. Write Fiona a letter saying I'm sorry
3. Visit Norfolk, sail on the Broads and visit my parents' grave
4. Find Harry a home
5. Wash the dishes

Jojo has just called and they have decided to bring the wedding forward! I am thrilled. Its going to be an informal wedding in Cornwall, a little place called Roseland, in 2 weeks. I don't know how they did it, but its all been arranged. I will ask Elsbeth to go with me. I know Fiona will be there but I don't care. At least I'll save on the postage.

I have been resting all day and am bored out of my skull. Tomorrow something will be done.

Day 70

Its good to be home again. Dave brought me home and checked I had everything I needed. I did; my place was transformed, cleaned from top to bottom, fully stocked fridge and horror of horrors: flowers. Now I know I don't own a vase, so I approached this intruder with suspicion until I spotted the doily it sat on: Elsbeth! I decided not to call the police.

Harry seemed glad to see me, something about the way he narrowed his eyes as he looked away. Its funny how we humans like anthropomorphising our animals, when half the time I'm sure they don't give a hoot about us as long as we feed them and don't step on their tails. This is especially true of cats. Dogs however are very different – as a youngster we had a dog called George (named after the king) who was utterly devoted to my father and followed him everywhere he went or slept on his feet by the fire.

I feel fine today and have regained some of my strength. The medication is very good but does make my head feel slightly fuzzy.

Elsbeth visited in the afternoon and gave me a great big hug and a kiss when she saw me. I think I went bright red. It was so good to see her looking so radiant, even though she had a sadness in her eyes I had not seen before.

I am not sad about dying, but I am sad about missing Jojo's wedding, about not having any grand children, about having messed up so much of my life. However I try to focus on the good things. Life is not a bed of roses and if you depart having touched someone's life, that is something. My two girls do me proud.

Elsbeth made me supper and we ate together. I thanked her for the flowers and she kissed me goodnight.

I blushed a little less.

Day 69

I'll be out of hospital tomorrow.  The coughing has subsided a little with the help the new medication and bizarrely there is not much pain, given the extent of the cancer.  Dave and Jojo visited but I was not up to company.  My thoughts are spinning - I am stunned by the suddenness of it all.

So what now?

Will my days be any different now that I know I am going to die soon?  We're all going to die, so why does its proximity matter?

I saw a film once of some woman who thought she was going to die within months, cashed in her life's savings with a view to taking that dream holiday she always wanted, only to discover she missed her normal life. As it happened her terminal diagnosis proved to be incorrect so they all lived happily ever after.

No such luck here.  I have no savings and the diagnosis is fairly conclusive - I've seen the x-rays myself. 

I'm not even sure if I had the money that I would want to go on a trip.

It'll be nice to see Harry tomorrow, and maybe Elsbeth is she's up to visiting.

Day 68

I have been diagnosed with lung cancer, metastasised small cell lung carcinoma to be exact. There is nothing to be done and I have months to live the doctors say.

Well that's a bit crap, isn't it?

I have laughed at death all my life long, and now it laughs at me.

I've asked them to let me out of hospital and give me something for the coughing and pain. They're not keen but I will not die in bed.

Day 67

I am in hospital. Dave has lent me his laptop and internet dongle so I sit here in bed, old timer, all wired up to machines and drips, and to the internet - an incongruous image if ever there was one.

I am not well. They won't tell me how bad. "Running tests" is the phrase I hear alot. Everyone looks grim. Elsbeth phoned to say hello - she's not up to visiting just yet. Dave has spent a good few hours here, along with Jojo and Liesel. Dave said he's taking care of Harry. I am really touched by this goodness of a relative stranger.

Its quiet here in this room. I spend most of my day coughing violently - its sapped all my strength. I stare out the window, the bleak wintry trees covered with frost, or is it snow? The sky is grey. I am so tired.

And afraid.

Day 66

I am coughing up blood. So frightened. I see Joe in my mind's eye, pale, shrivelled, fading husk of a man, dying to TB. I don't want to die.

My life is flashing before me. My childhood in Norfolk, navigating the Broads with my father an brother, my hard working mother, my happy times with Fiona, the girls, my self-destruction, Joe, Elsbeth and even Harry.

It hasn't been great much of the time, but I've also had some precious moments. Is this it - the full stop of my life - here in this council flat?

I don't feel ready to go.

I'll call Jojo and Elsbeth – they'll know what to do.

Day 65

Still feeling very crap today and spent most of it speaking Phlegmish. My lungs hurt like hell.

Elsbeth called today to say hello and was quite concerned when she heard how I sounded, bless her. I told her I was fine and she needn't worry, man that I am. She is mostly recovered and able to walk around and tend to her beloved plants. I do believe she talks to them when I'm not there. I wonder what sort of plant I would be if I weren't a grumpy old sod? Cactus. Definitely!

Then later on there was a knock on the door. Dave!? Elsbeth had rung him, and even though I'm not one of his flock he came around to say hello and see if I needed anything. I told him I was fine, but don't think I was very convincing. He made me some soup since I hadn't eaten all day. Nice chap that.

Its been bitterly cold here in London, some say -10C, which I doubt frankly, but I've been very snug in my new home, with Harry curled up at my feet.

What's that strange sensation, Aaron? I think its gratitude.

Day 64

I'm not well today. Yesterday's lengthy canal walk in the bitter cold has obviously taken its toll.

So in true male fashion I've been feeling very sorry for myself. No one to bring me hot cups of soup and make tut-tutting noises.

I don't feel much like writing.

Day 63

Sunday, and since Elsbeth was going to be surrounded by church folk I decided to stay away and take a lengthy walk along the canal instead.

The skies were clear and the air bitingly cold so the pathway was deserted - perfect weather for a good ponder.

I wondered about my gloom of the other day and the entry "another pointless year".  The gloom passed fairly quickly, being I suppose mostly an emotional response to the anti climax after the turbulent events of recent weeks, but the thought remains: what is the point to 2009 or indeed life in general?

If there is no afterlife, no creator with a big master plan for us, and we indeed are just a chance event, then there is no point to life - life just is. We exist, but equally we could not exist, and it wouldn't matter to anybody. 

But it does matter, to us at least.  So why do we care?  Its a puzzler.

I wonder if Harry thinks about these things?

P.S.  Jojo has just phoned.  Her mountain man friend has just asked her to marry him and she has accepted. She is over the moon, as am I!  Fiona will not approve as I'm sure this chap does not have a 6 figure salary - all the more reason to rejoice!  But I'm being wicked now...  :)

Day 62

I went to see Elsbeth today at the hospital but she had gone home already, so I bought a bunch of flowers for the first time in 20 years and visited her at her flat. It was immensely embarrassing walking around with flowers. I don't understand why that should be. Firstly what do I care what complete strangers think? Secondly what's wrong with men and flowers? I obviously have some work to do with my therapist.

Rev Dave was just leaving Elsbeth's place as I arrived. She was seated in her favourite chair, huddling a cup of tea and surrounded by flowers and cards. She smiled at me when I walked in. If only I could describe that smile and the effect it had on this broken old soul. In that smile were contained the glow of a thousand radiant suns, the warmth of a late spring breeze, fragrant with life and peace. I know, perhaps a bit excessive but you get the idea.

I washed up a few things and was about to go when she gave me a thank you card. I said it was unnecessary but she insisted. Here are the words:

Dear Aaron,

Thank you for your dear friendship. It means the world to me.

The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.

With all my love,

And when I thought the day couldn't get any better, Harry was waiting outside my door when I got home.

Day 61

I am overwhelmed with feelings of glumness today. Its grey outside, Harry has not returned, and its the beginning of another pointless year.

On the bright side Elsbeth will be home tomorrow. I popped in today to see her at the hospital but she was sleeping, so left a message with the nurse.

I hope Harry comes home.

Day 60

2009 and true to form I am grumpy as hell. The idiots upstairs decided to celebrate New Year with a bang and were at it all night. Thump, thump, thump, ooohh.... and so on. I didn't sleep a wink.

I'm sure they are not idiots, but let me have my moment.

Elsbeth is definitely on the mend and should be out in a couple of days. I offered to water her plants but she kindly refused. I don't think she wanted to risk the drowning of her babies.

Her hospital bed was surrounded with huge bouquets of flowers and dozens of cards and like yesterday there was a steady stream of visitors, lots of laughter, hugs and kisses. Fortunately nobody tried to touch me.

When I got home I decided that it was time to let Harry out to explore his new environs. I hope he'll come back. That fat cat has snuggled his arrogant way into my heart and I'd be sorry to lose him.

So, 2009. Any resolutions, Aaron?

Keep on breathing.

That'll do.