(Eleanor Jane Mair, our daughter, died on the 21st April in Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, as result of trauma caused by alcoholism. She was a beloved and loving person, who cared for everyone except herself, bringing joy through what she was but also sorrow through what she was doing to herself. She is with God.)

On a mountain in France with Catalan flag

Perhaps we should talk about the elephant in the room…

Your elephant or mine?

I was thinking of yours, namely your addiction to alcohol, which killed you…

What d’ you want to know?

Where and why it started.

It started with you.

Me! What d’you mean?

I mean that you’re an alcoholic too. Us alkies, you know, we’re good at spotting others. In your case it’s not that you drink huge amounts or get drunk, but you drink very regularly and you find it hard to do without it. True?

Yes, true. In my own mind I’ve known for a long time that alcohol was dangerous to me, so I’ve become very disciplined about it. I only ever drink with a meal, and never on my own.

A very disciplined alcoholic. It may not control you, but you do not completely control it. Anyway, it’s always been part of you; and certainly when I was a girl, a happy part, associated with leisure, celebration, conversation, jokes, good times, so naturally I was attracted to it, as I grew up.

I remember being astounded when your teacher said you’d a drink problem, as I was totally unaware of it.

So was I, or at least, I wanted to be unaware. It was there with me, throughout my time at Aberdeen Uni, and after, when it made me unsuitable as a trainee teacher. It was certainly a factor in my long relationship with M, an escape from his violence. Perhaps after we broke up, it was a substitute for him, something well- loved and destructive.

Certainly you behaved that way… your addiction was obvious…

But in those days I could control it, not by drinking less but by not drinking at all, for months, once almost a year. That re-assured me that I was in control…

Was that why you avoided the AA, because they insisted on members admitting they were not in control of it?

That, and their evangelical attitude, confess your sin and be saved by a higher power. I did meet some lovely people at AA. But I just didn’t believe it. I accepted counselling, a number of times, and benefitted from it, without any real difference to my addiction.

I began to be frightened for you, knowing that you were at risk when drunk, from accident, theft, rape.

They all happened, especially the last. I wanted so much to think of myself as an attractive woman that I took less care than I should, and brutal men took advantage.

Ach dear….

Then I did have a resurrection, when I decided to train as a minister and studied at St Andrew’s. I felt renewed and hopeful. I found my own faith. I went on placement to churches and found that I was good at it. But I didn’t stop drinking, and my addiction returned to torment me, taking control in ways that frightened me, putting my calling at risk….others called it my demons, and I thought it apt. Finally the church authorities decided that my poor health meant my status as a candidate for ministry had to be revoked. That was equivalent to a judgment that my demons could not be exorcised. For them, a diagnosis of chronic illness entailed expulsion. I doubt if it could be called an evangelical decision, but it resolved a bureaucratic problem. For me, it was a sentence of death.

I understood their problem but was appalled at their nullifying of vocation; their readiness to make serious illness a reason for abandoning any commitment to you. At the same time I feared what addiction had done to you, and what it would do now.

Lovely church people got in touch to encourage me. And you and mum never gave up on me, but I gave up on myself. This body is too sick and useless, I thought, I need rid of it. And that’s what happened.

(Eleanor Jane Mair, our daughter, died on the 21st April in Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, as result of trauma caused by alcoholism. She was a beloved and loving person, who cared for everyone except herself, bringing joy through what she was but also sorrow through what she was doing to herself. She is with God.)

The Canigou, France

So, are you there? Maybe we can meet on a hill, seeing we climbed so many together?

Here I am on Ben Cruachan. Do you know why I’ve chosen it?

You’ll tell me.

Because the first time we were on it, we only managed a few hundred feet and it almost put me off hills for a lifetime. Probably I was about 8 years old and mum was with us too and it was pouring rain and cold, but you wanted to climb. It took about an hour of me girning and shivering for you to admit defeat.

Sorry….

And the second time, thirty or more years later, the hill was covered in soft snow, and for the only time I can remember, you couldn’t keep your feet too well, and gave up, although I was managing all right.

I was knackered. Let’s move to a more successful one. Do you remember Ben Avon? You and Mark had been camping and climbing….

And we met at Invercauld estate, and trudged over miles of moor into Glen Slugain, then up a steep corrie, past the Clergyman’s Stone, to a high bealach…

By which time it had got very misty and wet, but you insisted you knew the way from map and compass….

Yes, we were headed north east to the summit, which was called in Gaelic, the Couch of the Yellow Stag, or something like that, and we knew that it ought to be a huge granite tor…

But in fact the broad summit was a series of granite tors, and we couldn’t tell if one was higher than another. We eventually agreed that the stag had selected this one, and declared it the summit. I haven’t been back so I still don’t know if we were right.

It’s almost impossible to tell people who don’t climb what the pleasure is. Sheer remoteness is part of it. In this case you walk ten miles into a wilderness of rock, before you start climbing. And the remoteness is marked in your muscles; you’ve gone that distance. We saw no other people all day.

However well you know your climbing companions, there’s a respectful comradeship towards people whose bodies make the same effort and whose minds develop the same skills. As happens in all sports.

And you’re walking on the crust of the planet. These mountains are the worn stumps of vast peaks thrown up by a collision of continental plates millions of years ago, gradually reduced to their present state by wind, snow, sun and rain, not to mention sculpted by huge glaciers during the ice ages. You can see all this if you know how to look, the shattered lava- flows here, the ice scratches on the corrie there.

Yeah, you used to tell me all kinds of geological stuff and I never knew whether it was fact or bullshit. But it points up the importance of what’s said on a climb. When I climb alone I see for example a twisted ridge; but if you point and say, “see that twisted ridge,” an event happens which binds you, me, and the ridge together in some kind of disclosure.

You may remember, if you paid attention to your theology classes, that Herr Fuchs, a German theologian invented the term Word-Event for this experience, and used it to explain what we get of the historical Jesus: not the bare fact, but a Word-Event by which the Gospel writers say, “Behold! Jesus!”

Do you remember our last real climb, in France?

The Canigou, in the Pyrenees? Yes, for the weather first of all. A day of Mediterranean sunshine. Then the 4×4 journey up half of the mountain to our starting point at a Refuge. It was more terrifying than any climb ever. Then the size of the hill, just about 10,000 feet, of which we climbed I suppose 4,000.

The Canigou, summit ridge

We climbed from an upland meadow where cattle were grazing making their bells tinkle flatly as they moved. With the sun on our backs.

I’d been ill off and on, so this steep climb was painful, breathing hard, back sore, but legs OK. You didn’t speak about it but you didn’t hurry. And the summit was amazing. You could look eastward to Perpignan and the sea, south into Spain, west and north into ranges of huge hills. A younger part of the world than Scotland.

The highest hill you climbed. And you said, it was good.

We had this fantasy called the “Climber’s Pint” , the image of a pint of beer which appeared to the descending climber, luring her towards ground level and the promised reward. Well, in this case we returned to the Refuge (at 6,000 feet) to find it had an open bar where the mythical pint was served. We sat in the sun, and awaited our transport. A good day in my life.

Eleanor Jane Mair, our daughter, died on the 21st April in Ninewells Hospital, as result of trauma caused by alcoholism. She was a beloved and loving person, who cared for everyone except herself, bringing joy through what she was but also sorrow through what she was doing to herself. She is with God.)

What about your job with the housing association? I remember you talking about it….

My job with The Housing Association was crucial to my view of human beings. At that time it had a half-way house for adults with learning difficulties who might ultimately get their own flats. Meantime they enjoyed 24hr care from carers of which I was one. I’d had some experience at Church residential homes, but this was different owing to the severe mental impairment of the residents. In addition to occasionally difficult behaviours, powerful experiences of anger, joy, sorrow or even laughter could trigger incontinence, which we had to be ready to deal with.

The officer-in-charge, Stella, encouraged us not be embarrassed or squeamish about this duty. “If your dog shits itself, you may be annoyed, but you’re not embarrassed, unless it’s on your neighbour’s lawn or carpet! You clear up the mess and you clean up the dog. And if you’re offended by my comparison, realise that I’m asking you why a person should be treated worse than a dog. All of us have systems of control that can break down. All of us have bums that have been wiped.”

Some of the residents had experienced physical and psychological abuse, leaving them scarred and fearful. Their stories could move me to tears of sympathy and rage. Their sly humour could have me rolling about in laughter. From the perspective of people who are “at the bottom of the heap” the heap does not exist, it’s a delusion of those who like to think they’re at the top. In fact there are only decent people and pricks.

It was this experience of caring led me to think of the ministry of the church. Some of my knowledge of church was gained in comfortable settings where the humanity of Jesus’ message was absent. Now I could appreciate the kind of choice he was asking people to make. I had already chosen animals as the point of reference of my living, now I could add, “needy people” conscious that in fact that meant everybody, some of whom, out of wealth, arrogance, selfishness or fear, were either not conscious of their need, or unwilling to admit it.

I began to read theology and stumbled across Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, whose understanding of people with learning difficulties, and whose solidarity with them, became central to his radical teaching of Christian faith. The recent discovery that Vanier had also abused several women sexually, using his saintly reputation to get his leg over, only increased my suspicion of those who don’t admit their own needs.

I thought my faith might be different from yours, but similar enough for you to approve it.

I learned from it.

Eleanor Jane Mair, our daughter, died on the 21st April in Ninewells Hospital, as result of trauma caused by alcoholism. She was a beloved and loving person, who cared for everyone except herself, bringing joy through what she was but also sorrow through what she was doing to herself. She is with God.)

(For back story read Where shall we meet? 1-4)

I’ve been thinking about the way we brought you up, especially as a teenager, recognising that we allowed you the freedom you demanded without considering how skewed in favour of males was the society you entered. I imagine you found yourself pressured by older boys for sex, even while you counted them as mates. We failed to prepare you for that.

At first, everything was wonderful; hormones, music, dance, boys, sexual exploration.Then it wasn’t; innocence, ignorance, rape. Not that I called it rape then; it was what was expected of girls. Eventually I found that I could protect my body with my mind: I could be smarter than them, manage them, while still remaining popular. I was competent because I could think, foresee, plan. I even became a trusted part of the music scene, organising entry at the most popular club in the city.

So I was a success, but wounded and oppressed by relationships in which men dominated.

We should have been wiser on your behalf, although you probably wouldn’t have thanked us then. But tell me about, about M, let’s call him that, seeing he’s still alive in this world. You were committed, you set up house together.

I was in love. He was a farm boy, different from the schoolboys I’d known, wilder, more naive, generous, energetic, animal. But, as I discovered, possessive, jealous, violent. I tried to manage the household, shopped, cooked, cleaned, while he wasted money. We got seriously in debt. He hit me often. I began to drink seriously as a way of managing myself and him.

Why didn’t you tell us?

Because I thought you despised him as uneducated.

I didn’t, you know. At first I was happy because you were walking, climbing and camping with him. Sometimes I joined you and enjoyed his company as a young man; a bit of competition and some mutual respect. I remember you telling us to stop racing one another on the hill so that you could walk comfortably.

Bright days on many hills, in the Cairngorms and Torridon. M strong, delighted, at peace. Most of my first times on Munroes were with him. Wet days too, huddled in damp bothies, with huge backpacks. We discovered our land together.

Yes, I remember meeting you and M on a suddenly mild New Year’s day in Kinlochewe, to climb Liathach, a mighty hill. Plowtering through wet snow to reach the ridge with Tara your dog. A good day on the hill followed by your good cooking and some beers. But then after an argument over a quiz he lost his temper and smashed a pane of glass with his hand. Blood spilt everywhere, he ran off for hours.

I tried so hard to make it work, but he didn’t try, and he continued to hit me. By the time we split I had a huge debt, a drink problem, and a conviction that I wasn’t worth much.

I helped your finances but not your self -respect.

THE CORPSE AWAKENS

When even a Tory chancellor had to admit that Universal Credit was as much use to a poor person as a chocolate fireguard, the writing was on the wall, or rather on the tombstone, for Iain Duncan Smith, the inventor of UC. They didn’t even need to bump him off as he’d been brain dead for sometime, only to tidy him him quickly to his place of honoured repose.

Only months later, the news media carry a report that IDS has been pressing the PM for a speedy relaxation of the current lockdown. Subterranean channels have whispered to IDS that by and large only the poor are dying from this virus, indeed that a gratifying number of them are black or brown, and that therefore the onward march of capitalism could be quickly resumed.

He has been consulting with colleagues, we are told. Imagine this meeting, dear reader! IDS, still looking a bit CRUMBLY from his sojourn underground, welcomes friends who are VERY GREY INDEED, many of them HELD TOGETHER ONLY BY THEIR CLOTHES, all exuding A WHIFF OF THE MAUSOLEUM. Quickly they agree on a guiding principle: that the interests of CAPITAL and its OWNERS are more important than the LIVES OF HUMAN BEINGS. The freedom of the individual (to become rich at the expense of others) is at stake and all barriers to fruitful commerce should be removed immediately! Of course Covid-19 will still be active. But the undead see it as a friendly scourge. If they, the UNDEAD, could find a way of paying the virus to concentrate even more on what is left of the NHS, they would do so.

Sir Richard Branson

The mouldy killers are cheered when they are joined by SIR RICHARD BRANSON, whose HAIRSTYLE has proclaimed his membership of the UNDEAD for many years, and who has proven his commitment to the cause by polluting the earth with his aeroplanes. He has shown admirable impertinence by demanding subsidy from the government to CARRY ON BOILING THE PLANET.

The more thoughtful of the POSTHUMOUS POSERS speak of how the pandemic has revealed some facts about society that their class of person would prefer to keep hidden. People are not ALL IN IT TOGETHER, except in the sense that some are IN CLOVER while others are IN THE SHIT. This truth has been sadly evident as it becomes clear that millions of people were being paid WASHERS to do very unpleasant work, leaving them without savings to carry them through the lockdown. Others have continued to work in Stalinesque warehouses on shifts of up to 12 hours fully monitored, with their urine rerouted through their ears for greater ease of disposal. Much more of this kind of exposure and the cause of capital might be gubbed. They all agree that all the PRIVILEGES OF A FREE BORN ENGLISHMAN SHOULD BE RESTORED FORTHWITH, and the lockdown ended.

Iain Duncan Smith

But who amongst them will represent this platform in public? UNDEAD activists like BORIS and MATT, with their strange jerky movements are accepted by the public, but most of IDS’s friends might leave BITS OF THEMSELVES LYING AROUND. With his customary courage and utter lack of self-awareness IDS agrees once more to enter the public arena at this critical moment. He forgets that when he was investigating poverty in Glasgow Easterhouse, the local criminals asked for him to be removed as a bad advert for community life.

I only hope that readers of this blog communicate the truth about those advocating a speedy return to normality, lest any citizen remain unaware that for them normality means a close ACQUAINTANCE WITH WORMS and CARELESSNESS WITH PERSONAL HYGIENE.

Eleanor Jane Mair, our daughter, died on the 21st April in Ninewells Hospital, as result of trauma caused by alcoholism. She was a beloved and loving person, who cared for everyone except herself, bringing joy through what she was but also sorrow through what she was doing to herself. She is with God.)

Has anything surprised you since you died?

Everything of course. Not least that there’s an I to be surprised! Most, perhaps, that even the I has changed

You don’t want to drink?

I’m learning not to miss it. But I’m no longer just myself.

How do you mean?

Well, remember my dog Tara?

I have a memory of the poor brute with a dozen puppies, all trying to suckle at once.

She was so young when she had them. She’d been stolen while I was in a shop and was gone weeks before she fetched up at the dog refuge and I got her back pregnant. She didn’t really know how to cope with them, but they all survived and were given to good homes. That’s how we bonded.

I remember running with you and her in Aberdeen alongside the river Don. She had a kind of daft playful way of splashing into the water…

She was with me in some bad times, through violent relationships, through weeks of no money, through being left alone because I was pissed, yet she always came to lay that big head in my lap. The love of an animal is unconditional.

She became ill at our house, when you were visiting and we found a good vet who diagnosed kidney failure, and we took her home and made a fuss of her. But then she was so unwell we had to take her back to the vet to be euthanased while you held her.

I had her cremated and got the ashes which we scattered in the surf at Tentsmuir, where she ran into the waves.

So, you were saying you discovered something new about Tara?

Yes. I thought I would have to look for her, or maybe she would find me by smell, but she’s here, part of me, not separate, or I’m part of her, the two of us together, although she still has her life and I have mine. Occasionally I feel I’m smelling something through her nose.

One of my serious criticisms of Christianity is its adoption of a very European way of thinking about the universe as being composed of material bits. Buddhism on the other hand, knows that all things are without substance, changeable and connected. I do not stop at the end of my fingers but continue into the surrounding ecosystem of which I am a part.

Of course Jesus wasn’t a Buddhist, but he saw that God was connected to a dying sparrow, and that he was connected to the homeless, naked, starving, sick humanity in his nation.

So he may have been connected to you in your illness, and still..?

I’ve worked out my new relationship with Tara, it may take a bit longer with Jesus.

(Eleanor bJane Mair, our daughter, died on the 21st April in Ninewells Hospital, as result of trauma caused by alcoholism. She was a beloved and loving person, who cared for everyone except herself, bringing joy through what she was but also sorrow through what she was doing to herself. She is with God.)

To follow the story, read parts 1 and 2

So did you think about your intellectual snobbery?

Yes, and I wondered if all our encounters were going to focus on my faults and failings?

No, we can do mine as well of course

Sounds a bit negative. I don’t want to be intrusive, but I imagined that in ……in…….I imagined that, eh, where you are, things might be more positive…

(She chuckles)

Let’s call it “heaven” seeing that’s familiar to you, as long as you think of a presence rather than a place. And yes, of course, things are “positive” although that suggests they might be otherwise.

I’m not sure if I follow you.

Here, things are as they are, and they are good as they are. The facts are friendly; God is in the facts. So the truth about me or you is never negative, but always joyful, like the truth of the swallows returning every spring.

They are back, yes, I watched them hunting near the beach yesterday…. I don’t suppose you have swallows where you are…

Why not? What would heaven be without animals?

Can I repeat that as a report from the front line, as it were?

The more often the better. But let’s go back to where we can meet, in my defeats and victories, and yours. And seeing you’re still anxious. let’s choose something you would call “positive,” like say, words.

Words! What d’you mean?

One of our earliest meeting places, our love of words…

D’ you remember how you shocked a nice lady from the church by pointing to the “big penis in the sky”?

Because you’d been teaching me basic human anatomy and the names of the planets, and I mixed them up….I suppose I was three or so…

And you loved bedtime books and rhymes and riddles and jokes

And swear words! Appropriate or inappropriate, I loved words and word games, later poems. We used to sit after a meal reading poems to each other, sometimes our favourites, sometimes from a particular anthology….

You always read like a child with emphasis on the rhythm of the poem, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” well not quite as heavy as that.

No point in a tune without its rhythm. As a teenager I found John Donne, and never left him. The mystery of words that seemed to have come from inside one’s skin, words that somehow said me.

I’ve been thinking about him in the past few days, since ……. since you……since….

Since I died, yes, it’s a good word, we can say it…

Since you died I’ve been saying his poem “Death be not proud, though some hath called thee/

Mighty and dreadful for thou art not so/ And soonest our best men” (and women!) “with thee do go,”/

“Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery.” Ach child, is that how it is with you?”

Yes.

Sometimes I long for it.