Monday, 30 July 2007

Wedding rings

Kathryn phoned. She and Aaron had ordered their wedding rings. They went to the same shop in Hatton Garden where they bought her engagement ring last September. It's not really a shop; it's a workshop where they make everything by hand. She described how they went up the lift six floors into the bustling workshop along with other excited couples. After a chat with the goldsmith, he showed them an array of rings in silver to try on. Kathryn chose hers within five minutes. But Aaron took a little longer. "He's not used to wearing jewellery, so it felt a bit strange for him," Kathryn said. "He tried some big chunky rings but they didn't suit him." A simple slim band was his final choice.
They ordered both rings in platinum and they will be ready in six weeks.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Sunday, 29 July 2007


It’s raining. Surprise! Surprise! And I’ve a case full of dirty washing. To wash or not to wash? I can’t peg it out in the garden, and my dryer is broken. The only solution is to drape the radiators with wet clothes and pray the sun will shine tomorrow. Problems with wet washing are mere condensation compared with the flooding, families in Yorkshire and the Midlands have had to endure. All their life long possessions swept away.

Dan and I got back from our holiday in Wales last night. It was fun, even though it rained quite a lot. If you holiday in the UK what can you expect, especially this year when rainfall has broken all records.

The cottage we stayed in was miles away from the nearest village and we had to drive along narrow overgrown lanes in order to access it. Gripping my seat, at every bend and corner, I prayed no one would be coming the other way. The accommodation was a converted granary, owned by a farmer, our only neighbour. It was a honey coloured, stone built cottage with wooden beams in the ceiling. Geese, chickens, cats, dogs, and a pony we discovered one evening eating grass in the backyard, were our only visitors. The panoramic view from our bedroom widow took in the Berwyn mountains which we spent a whole day climbing. Aranag Fawr which is nearly 3000 ft. kept us occupied on another day. Cool weather is more conducive to climbing. Sunshine makes it twice as hard. Bring on the rain!

The sun did shine on Tuesday and we visited Portmeirion, the village where the sixties series The Prisoner was filmed. It’s so pretty. The brightly coloured Italian style houses nestle into tree-covered hills sloping down to the beach along which Patrick McGoohan was chased by the balloon. Sir Clough Williams-Ellis the Welsh aristocrat and architect who designed the village in 1926, made it a charitable trust upon his death so it has to remain in tact. It can never be turned into a theme park with a Prisoner Roller Coaster or Dodge the Big White Ball game.

Dan and I like Wales. We think it’s under-rated. We’ve thought of selling up and moving there, but I don’t want to move too far away from family and friends. A compromise would be buying a caravan and spending weekends away, and one of the objectives of the holiday was to view caravan sites.

Shelagh, a friend of a friend owns a caravan in the Snowdonia National Park and we’d arranged to visit her and her husband. Although we’d never met before, we have something in common. Their son is also a prisoner, convicted of drugs offences. He’s in a UK prison. For the past year he’s been allowed out at weekends to see his wife and child. For the past six months he’s been allowed out to work during the week. Because of this gradual reintroduction to the outside world his rehabilitation should go smoothly. Unlike Jon who’ll be put on a plane, God knows when, or where. He’s fortunate, he’ll have us picking him up no matter what. Another person might not be so lucky. Although there are some gradual release programmes, Jon told us, most prisoners released from the Arizona prison system, are turfed out with $50.

Shelagh's husband, Paul, had gone fishing. Perhaps to avoid our visit. But she was happy to show us around her van and make us a cup of tea. As the visit was arranged by a friend, we’d only spoken on the phone, and although she sounded friendly, I’d warned Dan not to mention our mutual prisoners unless she did first. When the tea and pleasantries were over, she did. “It’s been our bolt hole, this place. I don’t know how we’d have coped with the past five years if we hadn’t been able to escape to here,” she said, with that sad expression which communicated more to me than her words.
“Yes, I suppose I buried myself in my work. It helped me not to dwell on things.”
“I gave up work straight away,” Shelagh admitted. “I couldn’t face telling anyone where I worked. They still don’t know that Phillip’s in prison.”
“I know the feeling,” I said, “but we found it better when we’d told everyone. But it was six months before I did, and I swore Dan and Kathryn to secrecy. I kept it all festering inside. Then one day I broke down in work, and spilled it all out to my manager. I’d imagined that everyone would turn against me. That I could even lose my job, which was ridiculous. I can’t believe how out of proportion I’d got it all, especially with my knowledge of psychology. I should have known better. I knew the damage that repressing things causes. But it's different when it's yourself you're dealing with. When I did start to tell people, I felt better and everyone was supportive.
“I suppose I was lucky in that respect,” Dan said. “Working for myself, I had no colleagues, so I didn’t need to tell anyone until I was ready to do so. With it happeneing in America it didn't make the papers over here for a long time, so it was easier to keep it secret. But you have to accept what’s happened. Don’t be blaming yourself, Shelagh. It’s not your fault.”
“I’ve not told anyone, even now,” Shelagh said. “I didn’t tell my husband for six months.”
I was shocked. “How could you keep it a secret from your husband? I asked.”
“It was me who opened the summons for Phillip’s arrest. I couldn’t tell Paul. I knew it would break his heart.” My heart ached for her; for them both. How could she carry that burden alone for six months, and not tell her husband. I would never have coped without Dan and Kathryn. We supported each other.
“I had to tell him eventually, of course, and it did break his heart. He’s never got over it. He gave up work too.
“It’s sad you’ve had to carry this burden yourselves. I found that people were surprised; shocked even, but generally sympathetic. Many who are parents themselves empathised with a situation that could happen to anyone.”
“Yes,” she said looking down at the wooden floor, “but, I’m too ashamed. I can’t bring myself to tell anyone. I still can’t accept what’s happened. I keep asking myself, why? I blame myself. My other two children are fine. I brought them all up the same. I don’t understand it.”
“I went through all the blame and shame,” I said. “I really believed I’d have bricks thrown through the windows or have ‘drug dealer’ daubed on the walls of our house. I realise now how irrational my thoughts were. As I told my family and friends it became easier somehow, everyone was kind. But it still doesn’t take away the pain of having your child in prison.”
“I just can’t do it," she said. "Don’t you feel ashamed?”
“No!” Dan said. “He’s our son and we love him. But we’ve committed no crime, even though it seems like we’ve served the sentence along with him. Both our sons were adults and responsible for their own behaviour. You’ve taken too much upon yourself. It’s not your fault.”
“I felt deeply ashamed at one time, but not now," I said. "I’ve came to terms with what’s happened. It’s been a hard slog, but I’ve accepted that it’s happened and nothing can change that. The thing that helped me most was a meditation course I did in the July after Jon’s arrest. The teacher there said to me, “The past is gone, nothing can change it. It’s a waste of energy ruminating about why it happened, blaming yourself and feeling regrets. No one knows what the future holds for any of us, so it’s a waste of energy being anxious about the future. And if you are not regretting the past or worrying about the future, you can live in the now, and you’ll have positive energy to cope with what’s happening now, and you’ll be able to do everything possible to help your son. Negative feelings sap your energy and lead to depression and anxiety.”
“He was right,” I said. “It’s a wonderful philosophy, but difficult to stick to. It has helped me to do what I can for Jon. We’ve both done everything possible to help him,” I said looking at Dan. “I can keep positive for a while, but then I start to slide back.”
“You’ve done well. I’ve read some of Jon’s blog.”
“Yes. I’m not proud of his crime, but I’m very proud of the way he’s coped with prison, and how he’s created something positive, the blog, out of such a negative situation. He has people writing to him from all over the world. And he’s given the other prisoners, some who’ll never be released, a window onto the outside they would never have had. 'He's shone a light into a dark place' someone commented on his blog."
“They’ll both be out soon, our sons.”
“Yes,” I said, I hope … … ...”
We heard the voices of children approaching. It was her granddaughter with her friend.
“Hush!” Shelagh whispered. “No one knows on the site. Jemma knows, but her friend doesn’t.”

“Hi Jemma,” I said. “Can you show us round the site?”

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Phone call with Jon

"You'll be home for Christmas," I told Jon. "That's what your attorney said."
"Good", Jon said. "We've got to keep optimistic."
"You can have as many roast potatoes as you can eat," Dan said.

Home for Christmas - it doesn't seem real - five years have gone by since the agony of finding out - the shame - the blame - the recriminations - the acceptance - the visits - the court appearances - I can hardly believe he'll be home with us in a few months.

Please God let it happen.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Monday, 16 July 2007

Weekend in Bath

With eyes closed I lay back resting my head on the warm tiles of the Jacuzzi, my stress evaporating along with the bubbles. Jets of water massaging the tension from every muscle.

Small groups of women bobbed about in the water chatting - reminiscent of the Romans who used the baths as a meeting place and social activity.

The mineral rich waters (Britain’s only natural thermal waters) have been used as a health remedy for centuries, and the city houses the remains of the original Roman baths. The modern spa building combined the old with the new. Kathryn and I luxuriated in the thermal springs which are kept at a controlled temperature of 35 degrees throughout the Minerva Bath, the Royal Bath, and the Roof Top Bath, where we bathed in the sunshine. Luckily it didn’t rain on Saturday.

I'd met Kathryn at the Station on Friday lunch. We trundled through the beautiful city of Bath pulling our cases to the Hilton Hotel where we dined that evening. This was my sixtieth birthday treat from Kathryn.

We explored the city gasping at the beauty of the magnificent Georgian architecture of the Circus and Royal Crescent, the Cathedral and the Roman Baths

The whole of the following day we spent chilling out in the spa, sinking deeper and deeper into a state of blissful relaxation. I feared the soaking might shrivel my normally dry skin, and envisioned myself emerging after half an hour as wrinkled as a prune. But the longer I stayed in the water, which is infused with forty-one mineral salts, the softer my skin felt.

Still unable to swim, I floated around or doggy paddled with the aid of a rubber semi-circle, down canals, and around the baths and bubbling Jacuzzis. As the water was only 1.35 metres deep throughout, there was no chance of me drowning.

In four circular glass steam rooms, each infused with a different aromatic essential oil – mountain pine, eucalyptus mint, jasmine and lavender - we steamed away the toxins via our open pours, then stood beneath a ‘waterfall’ shower, which changed from a light misting into a tropical downpour that massaged our shoulders with sharp needle like fingers, turning back into a soft mist.

Everyone in the spa looked happy and relaxed. It’s a girly thing. I don't think Dan would like it, and Kathryn agreed. There were a few couples – but most of the bathers were women of different ages, shapes and sizes. As though on some happy drug they all kept continually smiling.

My final treat was an aromatherapy massage and an anti aging facial – sheer luxury.

Before leaving on Sunday, Aaron met us for lunch on his way back to London from Wales. We ate at a cafe overlooking the River Avon. Sitting outside, chatting about the wedding plans, listening to the rushing sound of the weir, I thought how lucky I was.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

More delay?

Jon never rang on Monday. When this happens we know it's either problems with the phones, or an inmate has misbehaved and the yard is on lock down, with all privileges including phone calls, denied. Thoughts that something could have happened to Jon, I push to the furthest corner of my mind.

He rang last night. What relief hearing his voice. We had had an email from his attorney saying that there was some delay he was trying to sort out. We had to give Jon this news. He sounded down hearted. On a more positive note, the ICE agent said it can all be processed a couple of weeks before his deportation. Jon, who is always so upbeat, had more doubts about this. We tried to cheer him up, assuring him that we would do everything possible to make it happen.
"Perhaps they think he's a Mexican, and doesn't want to be deported," I said when we came off the phone.
"Not with a name like Attwood," Dan said.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Visit to GP

“You finished the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy you were getting through occupational Health at work?”
“How did you get on with it?”
“It was very helpful, but six weeks isn't enough.”
“Let me see what we can offer you then.”
She prescribed Beating the Blues, a computer program for the depressed, Recipe for Heath, an exercise programme for the depressed, and another programme for the depressed that I can’t remember the name of.
“They should sort you out,” she said.

When I got home Dan shouted, "There's a box from John Lewis for you." The bridesmaids had sent a bouquet of purple, pink, yellow and white freshia to thank Dan and I for the weekend.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Phone call from Jon

Jon had some bad news. The CO3 who was liasing with Immigration for his deportation has left and not been replaced.
“They will replace him,” Jon said. “But who knows when. He was ringing ICE for me and checking that things were proceeding.”
“And you think this might cause some delay?” I asked.
“I hope not. I should hear from ICE about my interview this week. If I don’t I’ve got no one, as yet, to ring them for me.”
“If you haven’t heard anything by next Monday’s phone call, we’ll get on to your attorney,” Dan said.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Monday, 2 July 2007

Constant Rain

The bridesmaids left yesterday, returning to their London jobs. Hugs - thankyou's - invites - goodbyes - dashing to the car - smiling - waving through rain spattered windows. They're gone.

Kathryn had a job in Staffordshire today so she stayed over last night. After the rush of the last few days, I felt an anti-climax. The darkening sky cast a greyness on everything. I watched the rain drenching the garden. Only the plants looked happy – green and fresh - plump with moisture.
“You can only do so much wedding planning,” Kathryn said as I was trying to get her to write some more evening invitations. “That’s why it’s a good idea to only do it a bit at a time.”
“Yes, but you don’t get up here that often, so I have to make the most of you,” I said asking her to look at the template I’d made for the Order of Service, which I’m going to do myself.

We were both overwrought. Wedding planning is exhausting. The day ended in tears and recriminations, hugs and reconciliations. But the rain stayed constant.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood
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