Iambic Pentameter

Reading Stephen Fry’s ‘The Ode Less Travelled’ I started writing while sitting in the sun…

The birds are singing sweetly in the trees
I wish my love could be here with me now
and sense the stillness of the cloistered glen

There is a time for sitting in the sun
Until the shadows fall and cool the grass
till distant hum of bees and far off planes
Return us to the place we love to be
The house where once we sat and planned our lives
Now just a memory sweet, yet still is mine.
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Starting my memoir

This is it! Start here!

When I started writing these memoirs, I found myself hesitating, as what I wanted to say might seem to come across as a kind of shock to people who had, throughout my childhood’ tried to influence me spiritually. However, as I contemplated this, it occurred to me that it was I who was subsequently shocked by the attitudes that to them seemed normal and even desirable!

So, I’m up in the sky, looking down at my life here on earth. A female first-born child born to an early 20th century Irish/Ulster-Scots couple whose families had both been immersed in a minority cult called ‘The Brethren’, which impacted greatly on their lives, in some ways positively, though in my opinion also negatively. I was loved, as was my brother, but little did my parents realise, that their views did not automatically trickle down through our genes, that we both considered the status quo, then moved away from it, though each in different ways.

70 years later and looking back, I see wonder, curiosity, disappointment, joy, and yes, worship of our creator God. And yet to my parents I had stepped out of line, not automatically following the path they had absorbed, seemingly without question, from their own parents. I was full of wonder, amazed by nature, ballet, foreign countries, and art. Curiosity gave me the nickname ‘Nosey Norah’ and I became fascinated with people from other lands, the whole sex thing, the human body, philosophy, books, and genealogy. But sometimes there was disappointment –  in my relationships – illness, death, and even in my children. But also joy in love, sex, literature, music, my children, relationships, and of course, grandchildren! And always music and worship: praising God through music, and nature.

My parents seemed to have met as sort of arranged marriage! Here is how it apparently came about: my maternal grandmother Norah (my namesake!) had died from pneumonia when my mother was just 12, penicillin not having been discovered and used until after her death, and her father John Wilson met and remarried a lady called Ethel Catherwood. Ethel took a great interest in her new family, but had no children of her own. Both families had previously been Presbyterian, but had become ‘converted’ and joined the ‘Brethren’, a new non-conformist sect which had begun in Dublin in the late 1820s. This meant that my upbringing was somewhat ‘strict’, as the Brethren believed that it was wrong to sing anything but their own hymns, swear, read novels, go to the cinema or dancing, the girls should wear their hair long, and not wear trousers or short skirts. Other restrictions meant I should not play with Roman Catholics, mix as little as possible with anyone other than other Brethren people, and never go on a date with anyone who was not of the Brethren! Yet from an early age I started to question this upbringing, and have continued to do so every day of my life! And so my parents married and settled in Belfast where my father worked with the Ulster Transport Authority, and Northern Ireland has been the place I have both loved and hated over the course of my life.

Looking back, I sometimes think my life is like a river.  And it occurs to me, when God created rivers, he did not make them go straight from the mountain to the sea, like the canals that man creates.  He created them to meander, and sometimes double back in great horse-shoe curves.  And the small trickle that started in the mountains was fed along the way by the influence of the many people who impacted on my life – my friends, relatives, Sunday School and day school teachers, etc.  And so I began to grow into an adult river, usually flowing stronger as it goes, but sometimes held back by obstacles, or changing to a trickle as events around affected its course.  A big influence was my husband Chris. It was like two streams meeting and becoming one river, strong and peaceful.  He died when my three children were small.  He was the biggest single human influence in my life.  When we met it was like two rivers flowing together in parallel until eventually they joined to become one.  When he died, the river narrowed to a smaller stream, but was soon joined by other stronger streams – friends and family.  I felt then the strength of my relationship with God which is like the river banks, providing strength, security, integrity and meaning to my life especially when the water became turbulent, as it often did!  Rivers and streams can run through marshy places, swamps or mud-fields. These represented to me times of illness or sadness. Their course can be altered by obstacles, or they can become polluted and muddied. When healthy they can support life, both vegetable and animal. My river flowed through all of these.

There had been obstacles in my early life – my mother’s nervous illness created a marshy area, but later I found direction in my nursing career. And later, the experience of Chris’s illness and death was like a huge boulder being thrown into the middle of the river, causing it to split in two. The part that was Chris trickled away to nothing, as he was absorbed into God. The remaining stream had difficulty finding the river bank, but when it did, it stayed close to it for many years, and because it was a strong bank, the river grew strong again until the children left home. Other relationships somewhat muddied the waters, until I found one that gave support to the frequent trickles that previously had seemed to just turn to mud. And my relationship with God would become again like the river banks, providing strength, security, integrity and meaning, especially when the water was turbulent, as it often was.


My mother’s family were a strong influence in my young life. Doris, Muriel, Myra and Cecil were the children of a loving couple, Jack and Norah Wilson – but sadly, Norah, my maternal grandmother, died of pneumonia when my mother Muriel was just 12, and Muriel’s father John Wilson then married Ethel Catherwood (how did they meet?). Ethel (also known as ‘Molly’) did not have any children of her own, but took a great interest in her new family. The older children had been born in Dublin, and the family had then moved to Ballina, Co Mayo. Jack had a prosperous timber business in Ballina, and the family lived in a large detached house with an extensive garden on the outskirts of the town. The Wilson family consisted of Doris, the oldest sister, who trained as a nurse at Stoke Mandeville in England, Myra, also a nurse and their younger brother Cecil. On moving to Belfast, Doris married Robert White, a decorator and part-time Brethren preacher. They lived on the Cregagh Road in south Belfast, which was close enough for us to visit on foot every Wednesday afternoon. They had no children of their own, but Doris loved children, especially boys, and we were always happy to visit there. Bobbie had a greenhouse where he grew tomatoes, and I still remember the wonderful flavour of those fresh tomatoes! They also lived near to Muriel and Doris’s aunts: Hannah and her husband James Boyd, who were also childless, and Mollie and Jeannie Bollard, who were both single. Jeannie working for the Civil Service and Mollie looked after the home. They shared a large house which was situated beside a small glen, and Arthur and I loved to play there. It was a strange arrangement: Hannah and James occupied one side of the house, and the 2 unmarried sisters, Mollie and Jeannie, lived in the room on the other side of the hall. I remember having to drink the tea made by Aunt Hannah, which was always very strong. Hannah was not as friendly as her two sisters, and we thought she was very stern! We preferred the company of the other aunts who loved small animals, and had decorated their living room with pictures of kittens and puppies. They also had a pedal organ which we sometimes tried to play! Hannah’s husband James had an old car, [insert photo] which lay rusting in the garage. After his death. Hannah refused to sell it, and would often go and sit in it to remember the good times she had had with him. She eventually allowed my father to take it away and fix it up to working order again.

According to my mother, as small children they spent idyllic holidays at a cottage in nearby Enniscrone, noted for its beautiful beach and sand hills, the largest of which was known as ‘The Valley of Diamonds’ because of the number of beautiful pearlised shells found in its hollow. Jack had been born into and brought up in the Presbyterian tradition, but along the way was influenced by ‘the Brethren’, a new Protestant non-conformist sect originating in Dublin, which was less strict than the ‘Plymouth Brethren’ in Devon. This became their religion, and sadly Jack was disinherited by the family because of his new belief. They attended meetings at a local Gospel hall where the Gospel was preached with great urgency and enthusiasm, but without the trappings of prayer books, formal creed or grand buildings. The area of Mayo where they lived was mainly Catholic, Presbyterians were a minority, but the Brethren were even less well known. However they had a freshness and zeal to present the Gospel and were keen to ‘convert’ Catholics to this new approach to Christianity. After their mother’s death, the family had live-in help or ‘maids’ who helped with the housework and looked after the children until Jack remarried. Later, the family moved to Strabane, and Doris went to boarding school in Sligo. But Muriel did not want to go to boarding school, and she was not happy in Strabane, so it was decided she should go to Belfast for secretarial training at Ashleigh House School. She stayed at ‘digs’ as they then called a stay of temporary accommodation, at Queen Mary’s Hostel for girls, on the Lisburn Road, and it was while living there that she was introduced to Catherwood Anderson, my father, who was the niece of her step-mother Ethel..

Ethel’s sister, Edith, my paternal grandmother, had a family of 5. Their father William had suffered a severe stroke, was incapacitated for many years and died in 1934. The family moved to Belfast so that their children, now teenagers, could attend Methodist College, but Edith their mother was not happy there, and after his death the family moved to a farm in the Aghalee area of Co Armagh. His sons Joseph and Catherwood later worked for the Ulster Transport Authority which had begun through the Catherwood family, Stewart Catherwood, my great uncle having set up the Catherwood buses business, Joseph as company secretary, while Catherwood, my father, studied at Belfast Technical College and became a Chartered Mechanical Engineer with the company. Their daughters Hilda and Doreen were nurses, and the youngest, Arthur, worked on the farm. Ethel introduced her pretty step-daughter Muriel to the handsome Catherwood, and the relationship soon developed. So in a sense, my parents, Muriel and Catherwood, met as a kind of arranged marriage. In September 1943 they were married in the Victoria Memorial Hall, a Brethren assembly in May Street, Belfast, and lived in rented accommodation for a time in the posh Cranmore Park in south Belfast. It was while they lived there that I was born, on 17th March (St Patrick’s Day) 1946, and named Norah Patricia (after my maternal grandmother, and the saint on whose day I was born), at the Massereene Hospital, Antrim, where Cather’s sister, Hilda was Matron. Soon after, they moved to Rosetta Parade also in south Belfast, and three years later, my brother, William Arthur Bell Anderson was born. But my mother Muriel unfortunately suffered from post-natal depression with both children, and remained for a time in the Massereene Hospital under her sister-in-law Hilda’s care. After Arthur’s birth, I went to stay on the farm with our Aunt Doreen for a time, which I enjoyed, as Doreen was a great cook and made delicious cakes! The farm was a joy to be in, and I have memories of collecting Beauty of Bath apples in the orchard, filling pails of amazing fresh well water at the nearby pump, and peeping into Uncle Joe’s library, filled with Just William, Billy Bunter and the St Trinian’s stories ,among the heavier theological tomes which I might later have taken more interest in!

Doris, Muriel, Myra and Cecil, were the children of a loving couple, Jack and Norah. The older children were born in Dublin, and the family then moved to Ballina, Co Mayo. Jack had a prosperous timber business in Ballina, and the family lived in a large detached house with an extensive garden in the environs of the town. They spent idyllic holidays at a cottage in nearby Enniscrone, noted for its beautiful beach and sand hills, the largest of which was known as ‘The Valley of Diamonds’ because of the number of beautiful pearlised shells found in its hollow. Jack had been born into and brought up in the Presbyterian tradition, but along the way was influenced by ‘the brethren’, a new Protestant non-conformist sect originating in Dublin. This became their religion, and they attended meetings at a local Gospel hall where the Gospel was preached with great urgency and enthusiasm, but without the trappings of prayer books or formal creed or grand buildings. The area of Mayo where they lived was mainly Catholic, Presbyterians were a minority, but the Brethren were even less well known.. However they had a freshness and zeal to present the Gospel and to ‘convert’ Catholics to this new approach to Christianity. The family had live-in help or ‘maids’ who helped with the housework and looked after the children. These would most likely have been Catholic.

Doris was a boarder at Sligo High School, then went into nursing in England, before marrying her husband Bobby Whyte, a Brethren preacher, artist and decorator. They were a kind couple, and lived on Cregagh Road, about a mile or so from our home in Belfast, and we visited there every Wednesday on foot. Doris had no children of her own, and as she specially lovd little boys, she cared for Arthur any time my mother was in hospital, which she often was due to her depression. I still remember the smell of the fresh tomatoes from their greenhouse! Myra was the posh younger sister, who was manageress at the Rosapenna Hotel in Donegal, owned then by my great-uncle Stewart

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The Ikea Chair, a short story

At first, she didn’t mention the possibility of a care home, and when it quietly slipped into conversation one day, he was negative. It was only when the social worker brought it up, that it was discussed again in his presence. And at that stage he seemed to accept it as something in the future.

In between, there were times when battle lines were sometimes drawn. They had only been married about 3 years, and she had gone into it suspecting Alzheimers Disease was in the offing. He was ten years older than her, but they were in love, and she felt she could cope, with her nursing experience. For the new house they bought some Ikea furniture, a sofa delivered ready-made, and a recliner chair which had to be assembled. He was keen to do this husbandly job, so she left him to it, though keeping a quiet eye on progress. She noticed that there were parts on the rug, and a million screws, washers and nuts. She could see they were not being counted and checked against the instruction leaflet, so she intervened, offering to perhaps help or take over. He bristled and pushed her away. She offered instead to count the small screws to make sure they were all there, but he was annoyed, as he had always worked with his hands, making bespoke furniture as part of his business.

Now she was beginning to panic, and tried to gently put the screws, washers and nuts into small piles. “No!” he shouted, “I’ll do it!” and physically pushed her away. “But that’s the way you have to do Ikea furniture, it’s not like the things you used to make from scratch”, she argued, and before she realised, she had taken his arm to pull him away. “No!”, he shouted, this time loudly, and pushed her away. “But I’m trying to help you!” she argued. “I don’t need your help! Give me that piece!”. His eyes flashed, but she felt she knew what she was doing, and she had to take over.

The gentle push became a shove, returned by him with more energy, and even anger. Before they knew what was happening, they had physically clashed. She could see how angry he was, and the push had hurt her arm as well as her feelings. She struck back. And then she remembered what they had been talking about at the Alzheimers Café: “Divert, Distract, Deflect.” And, stepping back, she made a quick decision that this was not the way to go!



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Non-subscription and why I settled for that

Having been brought up in a Brethren assembly, I was well familiar with not subscribing to written creeds, yet from a young age I was fascinated by the life of Jesus, and made a real commitment at the age of 7 to follow him. However, as I grew into my teens, I began to question things that I could not hold true: not being allowed to form friendships with children from other denominations, especially Catholics, and even Presbyterians! I didn’t like being one of a minority group, and soon realised that other denominations were using the same Bible, and indeed many hymns that I was familiar with. I knew then that I could never marry someone from the Brethren, and I started to mix with university friends I met, and fell in love with a Presbyterian! Yes, the other sort, but his parents were OMF missionaries, and had friends who knew my parents, so to my mind, he seemed to meet some of the requirements set by them! Sadly it was too much for my mother, who was of a delicate temperament, and broke down over my wedding. We had 3 children, and moved to Holywood where Chris’s family had lived, and Chris became accepted into my family. But sadly, leukaemia raised its ugly head, and Chris died at the age of 36. We were still Presbyterian, and the Presbyterian church we then attended was very good to us as a family. However, my interests there were: good music, Christian Aid, and a desire to help cross the Catholic/ Protestant divide. But when the excellent choir master left after a rock group took over Sunday worship; Christan Aid seemed to have become less of a priority and I was refused the post of Peace Agent, I moved to another local Presbyterian church with a great choir and organ, and an existing link with a Roman Catholic church in Andersonstown . I was made Peace Agent until the existing group became too elderly to take the trips across town, and the youth leader and session refused my request to be involved with the initiative ‘Preparing Youth for Peace’! About this time I met my second husband Paul, and together we decided to look at other churches. I had by then discovered the details of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and realised that even though a committed Christian, I would never have been able to sign it! Along the way, I had been a Mystery Worshipper, giving online reports of churches I visited, and had been impressed with Holywood Non Subscribing Presbyterian. On making another visit, and investigating its beliefs, we decided it was the place for us! And yes, it was a good move. And soon after joining, I was approached by an American regarding our family tree, and together we discovered family graves at Clough NSP Church. I had returned to my roots! We love Holywood, and having been made an elder there, I knew it was the place for me.

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I am fragile

Lying on a hospital bed, aged 70 and 2 months, recovering from a fractured femur, I have gone through various stages as I come to terms with this latest event in my health journey. I have lived with rheumatoid arthritis since before my third pregnancy in 1980-81, and the simple drug that helped me then is still the drug of choice, after several vain attempts with other standard drugs and 3 of the newer biological ones, which may have been a help but caused too many side effects or infections and had to be abandoned. The worst of these was contracting TB, with night sweats and weight loss. Then osteoporosis was diagnosed and treatment started 8 years ago, ending dramatically this year with a sudden unexpected fracture of my right femur, which apparently was caused by the very drug I had been prescribed to strengthen my bones!

At first I googled it, was shocked, and sent links to warn any of my friends who might be taking the drug, then heard that many people in America were refusing to take it because of the statistically small risk of fracture. Anger followed when I realised that as well as having to cancel my New York holiday, I might have difficulty getting insurance in future, as other bones might still be fragile. Talking to the nursing staff while in hospital, I have been advised that I should have been having a yearly medication review. If this had been done, it was without my knowledge, or without any changes being made. I have had a couple of dexascans, and was asked to stop the drug for a short time, but advised to start again after a fractured wrist in 2014.

I am concerned now that other bones may also be fragile due to taking the drug for 8 years overall. We are totally in the hands of doctors who make decisions on our health. And today I ventured out with a lift in a friend’s car, to confront my GP with what had happened. As you may guess, he refused to take responsibility for my ‘accident’, saying that it was my rheumatology hospital specialist who put me on this drug and it was up to them to tell me when to stop! The practice had in fact just been alerted to the risk of fractures with alendronic acid, and had looked at my file as a test case, deciding in their wisdom that as I had had a previous fracture and another fall, I should continue on with the drug! So having acquired from him all the relevent dates of diagnosis (RA and osteoporosis) and surgery and hospital visits, the next step is to tak to the Patient and Client Council, who advise on how to make a complaint!

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My Day Off

My Retirement Officer has assessed me and on mental health grounds has required that I have a day off once a week, which I have chosen to be Thursdays. On that day I may go to the gym, read books, play computer games, eat slowly, and meet with friends who do not stress me out. Starting today.

So – what is a Retirement Officer?

Ha! She’s a figment of my imagination, based on helpful remarks and leaflets from Carers’ organisations and my own social worker, as I don’t trust myself to, or can’t seem to organise my life around these ideas and suggestions they all give me, my alter ego perhaps. She’s very good, and doesn’t listen to my arguments about what I think I should be doing! It also makes it a day to look forward to (which retired people miss as in ‘days off’), and shapes my week a bit better. A large D/O in my diary makes it more likely to happen.

It has been good. The only stressful thing I did that first day was call in with Paul who had refused to leave his room on a sunny day, and managed to get him to a sunny seating area until his dinner time. But that involved a lot of pleasure too.

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Legging it to New York, or not, as it happened!

So the trip was booked, outings planned, excitement rising as the day fast approached. I was leaving via Dublin, stopping with friends there to see a concert at the National Concert Hall before catching the early AA flight to JFK. Previously, just after booking, Paul had a status assessment and it was decided he would need more care than they could give. So a week spent looking around Care Homes, deciding which was best, taking into consideration the frequently high ‘top-up’ cost of some of the better ones. Then correspondence with his own family to see if they could help with top up costs or not. As it happened, not. So the one closest with no top up was chosen, and a date set. And there being no-one in either family able to help with the move, it was really all up to me. Items which had to be bought for The Fold were mostly provided at Clandeboye, and also there were items he had been using which he would not be using again, ie TV, DVD player, set top box, cables and remote controls.

As the day of departure drew near, I was getting pretty tired. My knees were hurting more than usual, especially the right one,and there was a strange feeling right up to my thigh which worried me a bit. I booked a GP appointment, got a new medication which I was told would help my mood as well as the pain. Unfortunately this made me sick so a less potent one was given. Not entirely happy, I booked an acupuncture appointment with my chiropractic. Still concerned about my knee as I was having to use a stick, I booked another GP appointment before leaving on holiday. My usual doc was busy that week and on holiday the next, so I had to see one I didn’t know. Someone came out in tears just before she called me in, which brought my emotional mood to the surface, and 5 minutes with this doctor and I too was in tears. This was partly frustration as she did not examine me, nor offer any advice or help. Next day I went on the train with U3A friends to see Florence Foster Jenkins (set in New York!) and had to take a taxi home as walking was getting too difficult. A warm bath later seemed a good idea, but that was when the fun started!

As I live alone, I always take both my mobile and house phone into the bathroom and keep within easy reach. About to get out, I had one leg out on the floor, when suddenly I fell back into the bath, at the same time hearing a sharp crack! Worried, but quite comfortable in the still warm water, I felt my right leg which seemed a bit wobbly. There was no pain, just an impending sense that something really bad had happened – either a break or a dislocation. Either would require medical help, so I was glad the phone was nearby!

After requesting an ambulance I phoned a local friend, and two arrived just before the ambulance. I had recently installed a ‘key-safe’ box in my porch, containing a front door key, and a pin number to open it. Unfortunately I had left my keys in the lock so they could not get in, and they had to call the locksmith who had fitted the locks to open the front door! I was quite comfortable and was not panicking, though concerned that my holiday to New York might be cancelled!

Getting me out of the bath was a challenge to the ambulance team! But using a large towel they hoisted me up and onto their stretcher. Next problem was getting me through the bathroom door, but the door was removed and I was soon in the ambulance.

At the hospital, an x-ray revealed that it was a spontaneous fracture, apparently caused by the very drug I had been taking for 8 years to improve my bone density! The thigh was operated on, and a thigh-length rod inserted into the broken femur, held at hip and knee by two screws. Waking up I wondered how I would ever be mobilised to use the leg as before, but with appropriate medication, helpful physiotherapists, gentle exercises, a zimmer frame and time, in a week’s time I was walking slowly, and by two weeks ready to go home with a care plan set up. The holiday was of course cancelled, with only a £50 excess to pay, and my New York hosts happy for me to rebook when the time was right!

Next course of action, to query my GP about why I was still taking the offending  drug for 8 years, when it should have been stopped after 5! Beware, those on alendronic acid longterm!

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