Anna Auer, 9.12.1920 – 12.3.2012

A grandmother who thought sugar was good for you.

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Near our home in Switzerland.

Death has an odd way of getting people moving. Maybe it’s a bit morbid to think when one person dies and stops moving, others don’t stop, but if you think about it – it’s exactly what happens. You’re either driving back home from the hospital or old age home to sort through the deceased’s possessions, organising a funeral or trying to just get away. People just move.

I found out this morning that my grandmother died and I am back where I was two hours ago – in bed. I was sat on the edge of the bed, with the phone in my hand, listening to my mum say she had ‘news’. My mother was calling from Washington, I was sitting in Bangladesh, my dad was probably trying to sleep somewhere in Switzerland and my grandmother’s body was in an old age home in Germany. We seem to have a habit of being in different countries on a regular basis, and now is just not a good time for our way of life. Usually yes, it’s very exciting and most certainly a privilege, but it’s not conducive to family life.

I can’t quite run to the airport just yet because I don’t know where to go. My father has yet to arrive in the small village where he grew up and where my grandmother will presumably be buried. So here I am. Not moving, not jumping into action. I would do what I normally do on a work day, wake up late.. stream an episode of New Girl or The Big Bang Theory.. take a shower.. eat lunch and head to work (I’m not just lazy, my work hours start late) but I don’t feel like moving. I’m actually feeling inspired to write, so that’s action in a sense, right? I’m not sure if inspired is the right word, but here goes.

I call myself a writer because when I was a kid I used to avoid doing work by writing stories. You can be a writer and not have a job or be paid for it. It’s more of what kind of person you are than what you do. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. In the empty pages of my school diary, I used to write down a scene between my heroine (obviously I’d want a girl to be the badass hero, (subconscious) feminism and all) and her nemesis or her frustrating father (yes, as a teenager I drew from my own life a lot). I used to take such pride in reading novels and recreating the worlds in my head and then writing my own version, as if I could improve on the greats I was reading.

But my reality is that I rarely write like that anymore. I think I have a chronic condition – I seem to procrastinate anything I’m supposed to do. So when writing wasn’t something I had to do, I’d procrastinate my science project by scribbling down another chapter. But as soon as I decided to study Creative Writing – hey presto, my will to write evaporated. It was like I’d sucked all the fun out of my hobby and – if my arrogance will be forgiven – my ‘talent’.

The one thing I thought I was good at, I gave up on. In the five years since I’ve not willing touched pen (finger) to paper (keyboard), I have found so many other ways to procrastinate what I used to do to procrastinate. It’s ridiculous. It’s stupid. My parents think I’m the writer in the family, that’ll I’ll write down all their stories and give them life for others to enjoy. There’s this expectation in myself, that I’ll write novels once I get my act together. How the hell am I to write my grandmother’s story now that she’s gone? I’m probably not.

So after a long-winded six paragraphs of unstructured self realisation – let me start by writing about my grandmother. A stocky German woman who fed me mars bars under the dining table (which didn’t have a tablecloth to hide me), spoon-fed my dog (much to my frustration), and almost licked her plate clean at every meal time (much to my father’s frustration).

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Staying in bed seems to run in the family.

If I’m honest, I hardly remember the woman the way she was. The last years of her life were spent effectively diminishing. She had broken her hips three times by the age of 70, most of her family had died or fallen out with her, she lived a solitary life in both her own home and in ours, she slowly lost her mental ability to distinguish between the plant pot and the cutlery drawer, and had to move into an old age home because her son and his family’s nomadic existence couldn’t house her anymore.

There was so much more to Anna Auer than the vague memories I have of her. She lived through a world war on the wrong side, saw her husband-to-be become a ‘coward’ in the eyes of the army because he didn’t return after an injury, she worked hard as a cleaning woman to support herself in a bombshell of a country, she suffered as no mother should when she buried a stillborn girl, she smothered her next and last child with love and attention, she and her family were accidentally poisoned by wild mushrooms, she watched her son and husband drift apart as one would leave the room after watching the news while the other entered to watch the sport, she supported her son in his desire to leave the small world she knew for Greece, England, the US and Egypt, she accepted a foreign bride (probably reluctantly), she eventually left her small world to see things for herself, she found her husband dead in his chair, she moved in with her son and followed him to India, Bangladesh, France and the UK. She lived for 91 years.

She wasn’t exactly the easiest woman to get on with, and I don’t want to rose-tint my knowledge or memory of her. I sometimes thought of her as a burden, because at times when she was supposed to be the adult looking after me, I was the one making dinner and helping her up to bed. We spoke in a jumble of German and English, neither of us could speak the other’s language properly. I mixed up ‘his’ and ‘her’ in German and she never corrected me because she knew what I meant. She used to have habits that drove my dad crazy (but then again, he’s very particular, much like her). She didn’t have a close relationship with my mother and they barely saw or spoke to one another (to be fair to my mother, none of us saw much of her because of her work). She lost touch with much of her family and her husband’s family stopped speaking to her after they fell out with my father. No doubt about it, she was a lonely woman. I’m not saying I was the golden grandchild that always spent time with her when no one else would. I wasn’t. There were times when I would sit with her and have banal conversation and answer the same question four times, tell my dad to not shout at her because she was disturbing him while she talked to herself or to the dog, help her move things in her room, make her a snack, sit with her at the hairdresser’s, and hug her and say ‘I love you’.  There were also times when I would tell her to hurry up in the bathroom and sent my dog to keep her company so that I could go out with friends. I wasn’t exactly devastated when she had to move out. I was a selfish teenager.

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Oma with Cuddly, our first dog, at our home in India.

I guess movement is not the only thing that comes with death. There’s also regret and wondering whether what you did was enough to value that person. In the last few years, I used to joke about how senile my grandmother was and how her marbles had rolled off – was that appropriate? Or is it excused because it’s a ‘coping mechanism’? She had dementia – a disease she couldn’t control. It’s not her fault she didn’t like seeing pictures of her husband, because after 20 years, she didn’t recognise him. It’s not her fault she couldn’t function by herself or live with us anymore. It’s not her fault she didn’t know sugar wasn’t good for her and that’s why she eventually lost most of her teeth. Okay, that last one had nothing to do with the dementia so it was probably her fault.

She lived a life. A ‘full’ life, as a few people have told me. Whatever that means, I just hope she didn’t have too many regrets. I regret a few things about our relationship, but that may well be because I just don’t remember clearly what I did or didn’t do for her. I wish I’d learnt her language properly, I wish I’d been able to care for her myself, I wish she could’ve had a better relationship with both my parents.

Regardless, she was a woman who, I like to think, did things in her life she hadn’t expected to – like live in India, see her son happy in a life outside her world, found love and companionship with a dog (which I don’t consider to be a consolatory prize to those things with a person!!) and reconnected with family she thought she lost.

I spent her 90th birthday with her, and despite not recognising me and wondering “why is that girl smiling at me” – she sang a whole Christmas carol and had joy on her face. I can’t fully remember her the way she was when I was a child, so I’ll remember that moment instead. Oh that and the fact that she kept saying “what a handsome young boy!” to the teenage waiter. Whether she was senile or not, she had a sense of humour and a laugh I will never forget.

What I have written here isn’t really for any other purpose than for me to say what I need to say about a woman that was in my life. She did what any grandmother would, love and spoil, but she also gave me a presence I will never forget.

I would say I’d pray for her, but I’m not religious so why should I start now just because death paid a visit to some close to me. I’ll write for her because like I said, I’m a writer, not because that’s what I do, but because it’s who I am. And this is my way of making sure something real of her doesn’t die.

The internet is a beautiful thing, I still haven’t left my bed but at least something of me, even if it is only words, is moving.

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This is was the last time I saw her, getting a smile out of her.

Press Association story: Ex-surgeon relives attack aftermath

By Soraya Auer – published by Press Association

A retired heart surgeon who helped save the life of a police officer after a frenzied knife attack described today the bloody scene he stumbled across.

Samad Tadjkarimi, 65, was returning from Christmas shopping in Ealing, west London, when he found Pc Paul Madden, 23, lying in the street with “horrendous injuries” to his neck.

He said: “As I turned my head round, I noticed an officer lying on the pavement – lots of dark blood on the right side of his neck.

“I turned my attention to him immediately and I compressed his neck, holding it.”

Pc Madden was attacked by John Onyenaychi, 30, near Ealing bus station after the officer recognised Onyenaychi as a suspect for a previous knife attack at a taxi office.

Mr Tadjkarimi, who had retired from Harefield hospital three weeks before, said: “Although he (Pc Madden) looked pale, obviously due to the volume of blood lost, he was calm. I reassured him that he would be fine and the ambulance would be there any second.”

Onyenaychi, of Wise Road, Stratford, east London, was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder, causing grievous bodily harm with intent, robbery and attempting to cause grievous bodily harm.

The Recorder of London, Judge Peter Beaumont said: “Paul Madden would have died within 2-3 minutes – such was the loss of his blood – without the help he received from the passing retired doctor.”

The judge praised Mr Tadjkarimi’s quick-thinking and awarded him £500 for “undoubtedly saving PC Madden’s life.”

The retired surgeon, originally from Iran, was reluctant to be hailed a hero.

He said: “I am very pleased that he (Pc Madden) survived. It’s very humbling that my intervention perhaps contributed to the outcome of possibly saving his life – a very brave young officer.”

He added: “It’s my duty, I guess. I’m sure anyone in my profession would do the same.”

When asked what was going through his mind as he used his bare hands to stem the flow of blood from Pc Madden’s neck, he said he thought of his own family.

He said: “He was the same age, virtually, as my son.”

Before Mr Tadjkarimi dealt with Pc Madden’s injuries, he attended to Police Community Support Officer Piotr Dolata, 27, who had also been stabbed by the knifeman.

“I saw a young officer, blood pouring from his face, with blood also spurting from his scalp.” Mr Tadjkarimi said.

He put pressure on the 6in (15.2cm) cut and bandaged it with the help of members of the public.

Mr Tadjkarimi came to the UK in 1973 after completing his medical training in Istanbul, Turkey.

His 21-year-old son, a medical student, is following in the footsteps of both parents, as his mother is also in the profession.

Mr Tadjkarimi joked: “I’ve tried to dissuade him and it didn’t work. It must be in the genes.”

Askamum story: Enjoy a family-friendly film extravaganza this August

The world’s biggest movie magazine, Empire, is hosting BIG SCREEN, a must-see event for all movie lovers, young and old…

Empire Big Screen

By Soraya Auer

A family-friendly film extravaganza is coming to the O2 in London this August, celebrating more than 30 films…

At BIG SCREEN, from 12th-14th August 2011 adult and children alike will enjoy the biggest and most anticipated films, meeting the stars and exciting live performances.

BIG SCREEN will show 30 films over the course of three days, not including sneak peeks to forth coming blockbusters like James Cameron’s Titantic 3D, Daniel Radcliffe’s The Woman in Black and the creators of Wallace and Gromit‘s Arthur Christmas and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists.

Families have plenty to choose from at the extravaganza, with screenings of the award-winning Up, Wall. E, as well as all the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Cars and Cars 2, the first three films in the Twilight Saga, and much more.

For those interested in behind-the-scenes goings on, go on Saturday to see the live theatrical show ‘The Making of Star Wars: Industrial Light and Magic’, taking you behind the scenes of the well-loved films and reveal new content to be part of the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray.

There is also the London Film Museum Showcase (the only museum of its kind in Great Britain), which will display some of the most iconic costumes and props from films like Indiana Jones and The Bourne Ultimatum and television shows likeThunderbirds and Doctor Who.

Not exclusive to just adults or just children are these fun activities for families:

Animal Movie Stars: See the owls, cats, squirrels and other animals from such great movies as Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and 101 Dalmations.

Disney’s The Muppets: Enjoy a special satellite conversation with The Muppets, who are going to reveal a clip of Disney’s The Muppets, not out in cinemas until February 2012.

Star Wars: A must for would-be Jedi everywhere – Star Wars Padawan Training School, taking place daily.

To Infinity & Beyond: Celebrating 25 Years of Pixar Animation Studios – A celebratory screening of all the Pixar films and shorts, which will include a preview of their next film, Brave.

Buy tickets 
Tickets are £10 for individual sessions, £35 for day and standard tickets and £65 for a one day diamond tickets, which allows access to exclusive studio showcase sessions.

Click here to see this on the askamum website

Askamum story: Talk to Channel 4 about love and relationships as a mum-to-be

For a documentary series, The Garden Productions wants to hear from parents-to-be on your views on love as you prepare for parenthood…

Channel 4 logo

By Soraya Auer

The team that brought you the BAFTA award-winning series One Born Every Minute and 24 Hours in A&E on Channel 4 is looking to speak to expectant parents and step-families.

The Garden Productions is producing a seven part documentary series about love and relationships to be broadcast in 2012 on Channel 4.

“This intelligent and sensitive series will reflect relationships throughout a lifetime – from first kiss to final farewell and everything else in between,” said Emma Tutty of The Garden Productions. “Across the generations, we will explore what it really means to be in love.”

For the episode about bringing home a first baby, the team is particularly interested in speaking to couples expecting their first baby together and are due to give birth between September and December 2011, about their views on love as they prepare for parenthood.

If you’ve been trying for a baby for a while or your pregnancy was a surprise and your lifestyle has suddenly changed because of it, they would like to hear from you.

The documentary series will reflect on the experiences of people from different walks of life and how love has been significant in their lives. To explore the universal joys of love, more than the setbacks, The Garden Productions are looking to talk to couples about their experiences of love.

For another film examining step-families, The Garden Productions would like to speak to families with teenagers who are working through the complications of merging households. This will look at how children are coping with having a new ‘parent’ figure in the home and what parents are doing differently in their relationship the second time around.

If you are a couple expecting a first baby or you are part of a step-family, the production team would love to hear from you.

Please email love@thegardenproductions.tv or call The Garden on 020 3465 9060 to find out more. Calling does not oblige you to take part in the series.

Click here to see the story on the askamum website