The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


Well, there are many reasons to regard this as the best of times. I’m lucky enough to be living with Richard, my lifelong partner, in a most gorgeous part of Wales. Every morning there’s something new and lovely to see from our window, changing light on the hills, the network of trees, shadows etched into soft green slopes, red kites circling in the sky, fast moving clouds during the day and a dazzle of stars at night.
I’m lucky to have two daughters who still speak to me, after what – looking back now – seems a somewhat haphazard and muddled, though well –intentioned, sort of mothering. I have two beautiful grandchildren, whose own mum and dad are making a great job of their parenting.
We were lucky to have spent our sixties catching up with our travelling, four visits to India, trips to Egypt, Greece, Sicily, Spain, Pompeii, all the places we meant to go to when we were younger and busier, and never did.
I’m lucky too, in that since all I ever wanted to do in life was be a writer, I can look at a shelf of books, properly published, with my name on them. Some have even won prizes. I’ve written all sorts of books, baby books, adult novels, a biography, I’ve contributed to a book of children’s poetry and some short story collections. My ideal level, though, seems to be stories for girls of about 12-14 – the age when I was a most avid and involved reader. I’ve got plans in this direction, which are some of the things I want to talk about in this blog, and I’ve also made a tentative start on a longer term plan, which is to be the biography of a well-known woman writer, and I shall be talking about that too. I want to write about poetry, too, and how reading it can inform and inspire your life.
So that’s the good stuff. The bad stuff sidles up sneakily alongside now. Two bad things to be precise. Last March, Richard was suddenly taken ill with what might very well have been a fatal heart attack, but was fortunate enough to be rushed to hospital in time, and patched up. He’s doing well now, but his condition is something he has to manage carefully and will always have to do so. Then about two months later I had a diagnosis of cancer – myeloma, a nasty one. Well, what do you say about cancer? This isn’t intended to be one of those Brave and Heartwarming narratives about My Cancer Journey. Cancer’s a bugger. It elbows its way rudely into your life without a by-your-leave, won’t take no for an answer, and doesn’t budge. You all know the dinner guest who refuses to take the hint when everyone has long gone home, and continues to sit there, a complacent grin on his face (it’s usually a him, I’m afraid) telling tedious stories without noticing that you’re not joining in the conversation, your eyelids are drooping, and all you want to do is load up the dishwasher and get to bed. Well, that’s cancer for you. It stops you doing things like going on holidays, walking in the hills, spending precious days with your grandchildren, and instead mucks up your bodily functions and generally screws you up by making you attend to its dreary monologue. I’m lucky so far in that I have a good medical team and a reasonably pleasant centre to go to, but it’s still a hospital, and now Richard and I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing our various conditions, something I vowed when I was younger that I’d never end up doing. I don’t really feel scared, distressed or depressed by my state.  I’m just saddened that I’ve stopped being quite the person I used to be, and annoyed by the Unwelcome Guest.
I don’t intend to write too much about the Unwelcome Guest, and since this is early days for me, I don’t really yet know how our relationship will work out, only I know his plans for me aren’t good. But I intend to ignore him as much as I can and get on with the interesting things that still remain. He can’t stop me looking, or imagining, or thinking, or writing. There are still lots of things I want to be doing – plans I want to complete. And I mean to do so. So I do hope you’ll drop by from time to time and share some of the good stuff with me. You don’t have to commiserate with me about the Unwelcome Guest – if you’re nice people I shall take that for read, (and if you’re not – if you’re going to be abusive – then I shall delete your comments.) So, welcome to my blog. I hope we’ll be friends.

27 thoughts on “The Best of Times, The Worst of Times”

  1. It never stops to amaze me how people face life what ever it is. My God daughter was diagnosed with a terminal illness several years ago and hit it full on doing what she loves, running and playing sport and has now taken to try and do a full Ironman. So you Francis have always written and have so much still to write.

    We never know what someone has suffered over the years, we hear all too often the phrase ‘ it’s all right for you’ or ‘ you’d never understand in your situation’. How many people have any idea what other people have gone through? It is the boring ones who wear their past, their worries, their moans on their sleeves but it is also good to know what makes someone who and what they are. You and Richard are some of the most wonderful people I know in this area and I wish you well and look forward to reading more from you Francis XXX

  2. I probably ought to own up to being one of the daughters mentioned above and before I say anything else I need to challenge a point: my upbringing was lovely and not remotely haphazard. I probably didn’t appreciate how lucky I was at the time but I really do have rather lovely parents and it’s a wonder they still speak to me, frankly.

    I love the way my mum writes – beautifully, honestly and with such warmth and humour. This is such a strange time for us all and she is being so down to earth and so brave and upbeat that I am a bit in awe and massively proud to be related to her.

    She will think I am being mawkish so I will shut up now. I look forward to future posts.

  3. Oh Frances, I have never read a ‘Blog’ in my life, but having read yours I must say that I am glad that I did. I felt sad and angry that such a lovely person as you should have to encounter the dreaded ‘unwanted guest’. It is in times like these that family is so important – love to you and Richard.

  4. I am so glad I scrolled further down FB this morning than I had planned to do! I am delighted you’re dong a blog and I’ll follow you avidly.

  5. We are always here for you both whenever we can be of any help and I will be calling for a cup of coffee when this lambing is over. keep smiling and love to you both Maryx

  6. Frances, an enticing opening chapter. Thank you for offering to share your highs, lows, plans & observations. I’m very much looking forward to hearing more.

  7. Very glad indeed to hear of your good things, and not at all glad to hear of the rest, both so beautifully expressed. xx

  8. I have always admired your writing, Frances, and look forward, not only to the blog but the novel, the poetry and the biography.
    Byddwch lawen, cedwch eich ffydd a’ch cred, a gwnewch y pethau bychain . . .

  9. Swapping ailments and their symptoms has a family history.In their declining years,Elwyn and and sister…your Dad and my Mother would spend hours together doing just that and in so doing would dissolve into bouts of helpless laughter.
    The loveliest of men and the girl who never grew up !
    What a surreally wonderful spring morning. You couldn’t paint
    the sky and the colours of helibores,daffodils and primroses.Even our lawn is freshly minted. At this time last year we were under a white blanket.48 hours continual blizzard and then a freeze for a week.Now the camellias are out!

  10. My dear Frances
    I am going to try and call you that now – at school Debby and I always knew you as Ann, so it is hard to change the habit formed during educative years, but we can make the bloody effort! Your books are wonderful; our grandchildren have enjoyed several of them already. Recently we have heard of several people we are know having to face illness, but as we all realise, life is fragile and very precious. Like Frances, I have been most fortunate thus far, with a husband, three children and six grandchildren. I count my blessings and my current good health every day because round the corner can be waiting the devil incarnate. Go for everything you feel up to doing, my friend, and enjoy it. I have never visited a Blog before, but will look forward to reading this on a regular basis. Chris x

  11. Being able to articulate your relationship with the Unwelcome Guest so eloquently, yet being mindful of all the wonderful things that you can still enjoy is very refreshing. Reading your blog has confirmed how utterly marvellous and enjoyable your writing is. I will definitely be reading the next instalment and sharing the news of the ups and downs of your treatment. By the way, I can confirm that Elwyn and Gwennie definitely DID discuss their ailments in graphic detail and had both Rhian and myself in hysterics! Xxxx

  12. You and Richard have enriched our lives for so many years now, and Jemma and I bless the day when we sat with you at the `top’ table at the Crown, Suffolk, awaiting your talk on Christine Rosetti.
    Now, this morning, the word that came to mind when reading your blog was enrichment. I can’t wait to read number 2 and 3, etc. Love and hugs Barbara

  13. We never know what our reaction will be to illness. Life can be a bugger. I know from experience that we must live each day as fully as possible and that attitude of mind can influence how we cope. I know what it is to have a good carer and partner. Bless you, dear Frances. Love, Judy

  14. Frances your blog is so interesting and a joy to read. I am full of admiration for your decision to keep the ug firmly in his place by having lots of plans for writing. Look forward to seeing you at book club. X

  15. I have never been tempted by the unbridled joys (or should one say the lurking perils) of blogging, twitting or “Facebooking”, so this is an exception. But it is for an honourable cause: my friend and fellow traveller (in India), Frances Thomas. So here I am, Frances, reminding myself of Nora Ephron’s famous line: “Be the heroine of your life, not the victim” as I am thinking of you. You are indeed a heroine – courageous, dignified, humorous and wonderfully creative. Much love. Dominique.

  16. Beautiful post and lovely to hear your voice in it, Frances, although I am sorry about your wretched Guest. Doing something rather than sitting there writing nothing seems like a good choice, so I will be watching out for your next post whne it comes.

  17. Dear Frances,

    I’ve been reading my son in law’s blog ever since he started ten years ago…..the only one I read. So I’m delighted to have two blogs to check out each day, and every two or three checks wll give me some well-written food for thought.
    You and Richard are the only writing friends we have , and you can’t imagine how much we admire you both. Only wish we lived nearer( or even in the same country!), but if there’s anything we can do to help you in any way, you just let us know. Right?
    Keep the prose ,or poetry, flowing.

    Di and Mal

  18. This day is new.
    It did not happen yesterday
    and will not come again.
    It is unique.
    Experience the hurtfulness
    and joy.
    For one without the other
    cannot be.
    The shadow is a child of the light
    and each must make it’s music
    to the ring upon the tree.

  19. Thank you for directing me to your blog, Frances. I’m so sorry to hear about the Guest and hope he takes his leave or at least subsides into a corner and goes to sleep. I’m looking forward to working with you and getting to know you better.

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