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Yes, it has actually come to me earlier than I had Originally intended, but I have now taken early retirement. People ask me how do I feel and I would have to say that I'm not sorry to be saying goodbye to that area of my life. I'm actually trying hard to stop smiling like a Cheshire cat. I started work at 15 and until Tom became sick, I have been employed in all that time. The sad part of retirement is that Tom and I spoke about it almost on a daily basis. When we retire we will go to America on the Mississippi, we will do what we want when we want etc etc. Now I have no Tom to share it with and it’s sad. We did however try to treat his period of illness as a sort of retirement period and acted as if it had actually happened, except we couldn't go away due to his illness and treatment. He always said 'next year when I'm free of cancer' and my heart would ache as I knew there wouldn't be another year and had to keep him positive. Anyway, I now don't have to worry about leaving the animals to go off to work and getting Karron in to see to things I may not have time for. I don't have to worry whether I will manage to cope with programming and the stresses that ensue when a problem has to be fixed ASAP. Now I just have to live without Tom.

It hasn't been a lonely time for me, in fact if anything it is unbelievably busy. I have so many friends I am having a job to accommodate everyone, but I'm managing. It is better to be like that though than lonely. I have started to take an interest in things about me again and I have been spending time with my aviary birds. Yesterday I had them clambering all over me yesterday for attention. My new 6 hens have settled in and there wasn't any fighting between my old girls and the new. One of the new hens follows me everywhere and I have named her TillyMint after my favourite that I got in my very first batch of hens that were originally battery hens. They are laying well and all who have called in the past fortnight have been promised eggs, so they better not let up for a while.

Yesterday I went to the cemetery with Toms mum and we took flowers. It was the anniversary of the death of her first son Kevin, which also means today is the anniversary of Tom and my first walk together. It was 19 years ago that I called at Toms house when he lived with his mum for their TV rental. I knew Tom for years due to this extra job that I had collecting TV rentals on a weekend. Tom was always waiting to say hello and most times he had a problem he wanted me to solve. Sometimes the paper was stuck in his printer, sometimes a ribbon needed changing and I'd even had to try and fix things I hadn't a clue about but always obliged. But on this particular day 19 years ago he was shaking like a leaf. I asked him how he was and he said he'd had too much to drink the night before, ended up at a party, fell asleep and unknowingly woke up and thought he was at his own home such was the extent of his inebriation. He walked outside with his guide dog and took a route he would have taken if he was at home, only as he was in Port St.Mary he ended up on the breakwater in the middle of the night with a guide dog with no harness. At that point he didn't actually know where he was and he walked off the breakwater and was saved from the sea with a bag he had on his back catching on the thing a boat is tied too. He got back up realising that he was in trouble and spent the rest of the night crawling around trying to get off the breakwater, but not daring to walk in case he went over the edge again. He did eventually get off and was found wandering up the street by a lady Tom’s mum cleaned for. She gave him a lift back to Castletown. That was one of the occasions that Tom always referred to as coming to terms with death. As a result of all that, I offered to run Tom to Port St.Mary to find his guide dog harness which I did. On the way home Tom asked me if I would like to go for a walk the next day which was Sunday, with his dog and my 2 dogs. I thought I would do my Christian act and take him out and that is how we first went out.

Tom directed me firstly to the Flying Club and then we walked to Santon Gorge. I felt self conscious holding his hand, but he didn't seem to mind and so I thought no more of it. I thought that is how everyone took him for a walk. After Santon Gorge he directed me to Fort Island and explained everything that was there. He was so knowledgeable and such great company to be in that I felt I would like to become his friend and perhaps take him out again sometime if he wanted. It had been a lovely day and I really couldn't get over how much I enjoyed his company. He had me enthralled as to how he could tell we were walking past objects like large rocks, hedges, trees etc and know they were there without being able to see. He explained that he got an echo back from the object and he could determine the size. The air dispersed around it differently as well and he was very much like the bat, able to hear them. It did not apply to humans as they were not solid enough, but most objects outside could be determined if there wasn't a strong wind blowing which would interfere with his very sensitive hearing. The next day at work I was full of it, telling everyone about how intelligent, fascinating and funny he was. I thought it might be nice to invite him to tea if he'd like to come and so I phoned his home but his mother answered. I didn't have the nerve to ask for Tom, so I just passed the time of day and went. The next day I thought about it again and again I phoned hoping he would answer. Once more his mother answered the phone and this time I asked could I speak to Tom. Tom came to the phone and I asked if he would like to come for tea to which he answered "yes." I asked him when and he answered "whenever." "Tonight" I asked and he said he'd like to and so I arranged to pick him up in Castletown at 6.30 when I finished work in Ramsey. Now all I had to do was work out what to give him as I knew I had nothing in. These days it would be easy to put a smart meal together with all the ready foods on sale, but then it was a little trickier. I had decided it would have to be something quick and with chips and as I look back now, I can't believe what I expected him to chose from and I'm even more amazed he came back for more. I bought a chicken leg and a breast, a tin or corned beef and a tin of salmon. That covered chicken, meat and fish. I picked Tom up and drove him back to St.Johns to the cottage where I lived and then gave him the options for tea. There was a long pause as he considered and then he plumped for salmon and chips. When we got to know each other better I learned that he couldn't stand chicken, only liked salmon on a sandwich and wasn't keen on tinned and as for corned beef and chips! Corned beef hash, but never with chips. We just chatted all evening and all too quickly came time for me to take him back to Castletown. We met often over the next 3 weeks until one Saturday after I had finished my television round; we went for a walk up South Barrule in a howling gale and freezing cold. When we got back to the cottage we decided he should stay the night and I would take him home the next day. This went on for a week and he only returned home to collect his clothes. It was quite a speedy courtship and then living together as neither of us had been married or lived with anyone before. All we knew was that we couldn't bear to be apart and that remained the case until the day Tom died. It was some time after we got together that I learned that all the jobs Tom lined up for me when I visited his house were mostly engineered. He said he used to try and work out how he could keep me there a little longer and all that time I hadn't a clue. All I know is that from the day we got together, my life began.

This is Barbara on the banks of the Silverburn River living with the memory of a lifetime of love.

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Guest AnnaLee


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