Category Archives: General Wittering

Siberian hamsters and other alarums and excursions …

Well that was an interesting day. Or perhaps more accurately, morning. But it explains why there has been no blog post until now … that said, ‘now’ will probably be tomorrow (Sunday) in light of what time it is already, and the gargantuan amount of time that the activities of ‘this morning’ involved.

Originally, McOther and I were heading off to a car boot and from there to the garage to get his car fixed. However, when push came to shove we realised he wouldn’t have time to do the boot and the garage so he went to the garage and I eschewed the boot and went to the market instead. I also have some secret knitting that I wanted to do in his absence. More on that story … later.

McCat came running in and to my complete and utter horror, I realised he had something hanging out of his mouth. Something grey, with a tail.

Remember a few years ago when that McCat brought that vole in? I can’t find the original post but it ran under the fridge in the utility room and then to the units where it disappeared and I never saw it again. I always hoped it had found its way outside again but then the room began to smell and it wasn’t McCat’s earth box or McMini’s socks. Yes, it died and I did find a post I did later about discovering its lifeless body in the washing machine while I was on the phone to my mum, six months after its disappearance. If you need to jog your memory, it’s here.

So there’s McCat running about and there’s another chuffing vole with it’s tale and arse hanging out of his mouth one side and it’s head and front paws the other side. It’s squeaking,

‘You absolute cockwomble! Put me down immediately! Ow! That fucking smarts you smecking furry gobshite!’ etc. Actually I have no clue what it was saying but I think we could safely assume that it’d be something along those lines so that seems about right.

Come here you little bastard! I shout (because I’m classy like that) and rushed after him. I’m speaking to the cat at this pint, obvs. not the rodent in distress.

Luckily, I cornered McCat in the hall and because it was his vole and not mine and he was not dropping it at any cost. I was therefore able to pick him up and carry him to the door, deposit both of them on the mat outside, shut the door and lock the cat flap before he could bring it back in.

There was no rescuing the poor little critter now, so it was best to leave them to it so he killed it quickly. I grabbed my kit and ensuring that I didn’t let him in, I went to the market to do my shopping.

Upon my return, McCat was lying on his back on the door mat chirruping and burbling in his most loving manner. He showed me his tummy and it was clear that the dead vole on the mat beside him was a gift. Yes. This was an effort at reconciliation.

‘I know you are head of the house mummy,’ he was saying, ‘but I just couldn’t give up the vole. My natural instincts wouldn’t let me but you can have it now.’

Likewise, I cannot guarantee that was what he was saying but I know the mentalist tabby git so well now that I suspect that was a pretty good approximation.

Naturally, I thanked him for his gift, because it was only polite. Then I explained that it was a lovely thought, but if he didn’t mind, I’d just pick it up with this trowel here and pop it in the dustbin. I thought of burying it but he’d only dig it up again.

I went inside, put away my purchases and I was just bumbling about the house when I heard McCat scampering about. Uh-oh, that was the kind of scampering he does when he’s playing with Mr Squishy (his favourite toy) or when he’s playing with something else …

‘Squeak!’ said somebody, who was very definitely not McCat!

‘Fucking fuck!’ I yelled and leapt into action. McMini had a second vole cornered behind a box in a corner and of course I arrived, grabbed said box and the vole disappeared underneath the book case. But wait, not quite underneath. He was under the large books on the bottom shelf that stick out, leaving a tiny half inch gap between their bottoms and the floor.

I started removing the books but by this stage McCat had lost interest, the absolute bastard, or maybe he’d decided that I’d claimed the vole. Whatever the cause, he’d wandered off. The room we were in was full of places where a small vole could hide, die and then smell impressively. I was determined to ensure that when I poked it out from its hiding place, there were no other crannies for it to run to. In short, despite trying to rescue it from McCat I could have done with a tabby backstop and I’d definitely have preferred to let him kill it quickly it was that or a second round of let-me-die-under-your-furniture.

I surrounded the vole with a wall of heavy hardback books. Got a piece of cloth and grabbed it. I picked it up and took it outside. It looked as if it had had a nasty bump on the head but I left it to recover near the place where I thought McCat had caught it.

McCat locked in, I went out and had a look.

The vole was not well. It appeared unable to move its hands. It was clearly injured, it was squeaking and it was in distress. I rang the vet and explained that I had this rodent that was probably a vole only now … looking at it … I wasn’t 100% sure and could they help.

Clearly if my furry friend was, as I was beginning to suspect, a young rat, I wasn’t too bothered if McCat murdered its family. If it was a vole, I should probably take it somewhere for treatment and leave McCat locked in. McCat’s vet informed me that they had a pigeon and chicken specialist but nobody who was too good on small feral critters. They recommended I phone a different vet surgery, which I did.

I explained that I thought I might have an injured rat but that I didn’t know and though it seemed a bit nasty of me, I felt that, if it was a rat, I was OK about letting McCat out to murder the rest of its family, because there are millions of rats but that, if it was a vole, I’d keep him in. I also explained that I thought it might be dying, that the kind thing to do would be to kill it but that I wasn’t a farm kid and I doubted I could dispatch it cleanly without subjecting it to more physical and emotional trauma. Our cat used to catch mice when I was a kid and Dad used to have to kill the ones she hadn’t quite killed. He was really good at delivering a swift blow to the head but it always used to upset him … not to mention us.

Bring it in, the vet told me and they would take a look at it.

Going back to the ‘vole’ which very much might not be a vole, I decided I’d wear gloves to handle it. Good thing that, because it was a great deal livelier than it had been when I put it out and it bit me as I tried to catch it. Although the bites didn’t break the skin they did pierce the gloves. McOther was home by this time and helped me put it in a cardboard box. I walked up to the vet’s with it and they took it in to have a look.

Turns out I was right to doubt and it wasn’t a vole after all. Just call me Manuel but it was a bona fide Siberian hamster although it escaped the ratatouille so that’s nice. I do know we have rats in our garden, but … yeh. Probably a good thing if the cat eats them then. The rat did, indeed, have some kind of head injury which was making him unable to move properly and they put him to sleep so he didn’t suffer any more.

And the vole last time? Er hem. Yeh. That was a rat and all. Even with a light bite, the vet warned me about Weil’s disease and said that if I start to develop cold symptoms I must go to the doctor’s and explain what’s happened. Me, I’m just wondering what my half-rat-half-human superpower might be.

Other things

It looks alright on the claret one (right).

What I should have been doing this morning was working on my latest and top secret knitting project while McOther was out, which is his fabulous birthday present. OK, this is me, so you know, by now, that it’s not a fabulous present especially if it involves my knitting prowess, which is more knitting prowless to be honest. On the upside, it is something he’ll use and enjoy … he’ll use and at least there’s thought in it. It’s a wine sock. Yeh. Don’t all fall over with excitement.

People who like wine do blind tastings, which basically means you put the bottle in a sock, except socks are a bit shit because they make the bottom of the bottle uneven and more likely to fall over. Enter the um … wine sleeve? Wine sleeves leave the bottom of the bottle clear so it will stand up, no matter how drunk you are when you place it on the table.

I’ve made the bit for the neck of the bottle too short. The bit of metal over the cork can give tasters in the know a bit clue, so I need to unpick five rows of ribbing, add six rows of plain knitting and then do the ribbing bits again. It looks shit flaccid but when you put it on the bottle … yeh, OK, it still looks a bit shit until you get to a claret bottle … then … Oh yeh. Ish.

Oh alright. It’s a disaster really. I decided to use some wool I had left over from making a pair of socks for McMini and a pair for me. But there wasn’t quite enough to get it to the shoulders of the bottle. I didn’t want to buy another ball of wool to do three stripes of fancy knitting so I bastardised another ball of similar wool and to be honest, it almost looks deliberate. I will have to knit him another less bodged one as well, clearly, but this is a nice start.

Other news …

It’s a long time since I’ve mentioned McMini here. But rest assured he is no less eccentric. He is older, and even more sarcastic, but still a delight (to his parents anyway). He did once tell me that he wanted to do the teen thing and rebel against us but he liked us too much. I’m not sure that’s anything we did, it’s just luck of the draw. Luckily there are some people at his school that he prefers to rebel against more.

Anyway, last week we were we’ve been watching the tennis as a family and supporting one player, the underdog, naturally, because we’re British. The audience on the telly were mostly supporting the other more famous player. Between each point there were shouts from the audience,

‘Come on Oojah!’ or ‘You’ve got this Thingy!’ etc.

Then as it all died away after the ‘quiet please’ one bloke right up in the gods at the back shouted something that sounded like, ‘bollocks!’ into the silence.

‘That sounded like, “bollocks!”’ said McMini. ‘Did he just shout, “bollocks!”?’

Next point, same male voice did it again and again, McMini said,

‘I’m sure he said, “Bollocks!”.’

McOther and I admitted, giggling, that it did sound like it and he might be right.

Next up to serve was the player we were not supporting. She threw the ball up and as she swung to hit it, McMini shouted, ‘Bollocks!’ and she served a fault.

She served again and in spite of McMin’s rousing cry of, ‘Bollocks!’ it was in. The lady we were supporting returned it and as the other swung her racket to hit the ball back, I shouted, ‘Arse!’ and it went into the net.

‘Woah! She can hear us!’ shouted McMini.

It opened the floodgates. They played a tie-breaker with McMini and I continuing to shout bollocks, arse and for some reason, follicles. Our lady won. I made a cheer which reminded McMini of an impression I do of Dad doing an impression of one of his teachers dropping dead in the middle of assembly (he yelled ‘eeeeeruuuuuw!’ and keeled over apparently). So McMini adds the part of the story following that which is the boing, boing diddly boing this teacher’s wooden leg made after he’d measured his length.

Despite this coming out of nowhere, I knew exactly what McMini was referring to and started to guffaw at which point McOther who was actually watching the tennis turned to us briefly, smiled indulgently in an oh-here-they-go-again sort of manner and reverted his attention to the TV.

McMini and I sat there crying with laughter and all was right with the world.

It’s competition time …

OK. Have you ever seen extreme ironing? If you haven’t it’s worth looking it up because it’s mad.  Here’s a potted summary.

Let’s do our own variant Blog peps! Extreme Reading. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Here’s how it works.

1. Get one of my books. It has to be an actual M T McGuire book. No other authors’ books are admissible. You can use a paperback or your e-thing with your e/audio book open and showing really obviously.

2. Go the area you have selected in which to read in an extreme manner, be it upside down, hanging from the ceiling. Tobogganing down the Cresta run, *sitting in the fountains at Trafalgar Square in your swimming cozzie or whatever.

3. Get photographed in your extreme reading position and then submit your photos to me. I think I will probably put them to the public vote.

* don’t do actual this though. You’ll get arrested.

How do I submit my photo MT? I hear you ask.

Well, I don’t to hear you ask but let’s not complicate this. Let’s pretend, for the sake of making this section that tiny bit more interesting, that I did. Here’s what you do.

Attach your photo photo to an email. You’ll need to give me your name and me some brief details saying where and when the photo was taken (date, place/town and country) and any witty commentary you wish to make about it. Then send it to me by email with the header, EXTREME READING TOURNAMENT, like that to list at hamgee.co.uk. You can send a maximum of two entries and it will cost you nothing to enter.

If you want to, you will be able to share the entries you submit on the Hamgee University Press Facebook page. I’ll make a specific post and pin it to the top so you can comment and add a photo but that’s not obligatory because I totally get that not everyone does Facebook. I wouldn’t do much social media if I didn’t have to.

Small Print: Nothing above 3mb please or Google won’t deliver them to me and a maximum of two entries per person. You may have to resize mobile/iThing photos to get them to me.

Obviously, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t do anything dangerous or stupid. This is an extreme reading tournament, it’s not the Darwin Awards or a game of who dares wins. Happy snapping.

And finally …

The Last Word is available in Audio.

If you enjoyed the short story, The Last Word, the audio of that is also available or at least, still available. If you need it, here’s a quick reminder of the blurb.

When Mrs Ormaloo brings the terrible news to the Turnadot Street Businesswomen’s Association that the Grongles are going to burn some more banned books on the night of Arnold, The Prophet’s birthday, Gladys and Ada decide to Take Steps. They even enrol some of the punters from their pub to help out. The books are in a warehouse being kept under guard. Gladys, Ada, Their Trev and the rest of the group embark on a plan of devilish cunning to rescue as many banned books from the flames as they can. But the key player in their plan is Humbert and there is no guarantee that he’ll cooperate.

Corporal Crundy is determined not to mess up his first assignment since his promotion. It should be easy. All he has to do is guard some books. Yeh. It should be a piece of cake but somehow that’s not the way it turns out.

To find it, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

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And his mummy cried …

This week, I was thinking about discussing world events but looking at them … for fuck’s sake. I can’t bring myself to do it. Let’s look at the fact America has passed its first gun legislation since 1994! Bloody well done America, we’ll ignore your apparent descent into the abyss on the women’s rights front because let’s face it, nothing’s more important than life, including a life worth living.

Seriously though, we need to relearn the art of deep thought—or, indeed, any thought. Fast.

illustration

We have to learn that not everyone who is different from us is a monster.

There is a standard branding technique that is supremely effective it’s this: make people feel they are part of a group, part of a tribe. Make them feel they have found their home with us (the brand). It speaks to our most primal instincts. The trouble starts when politicians get hold of it.

First up, the most motivating thing to a primal critter such as a human is fear, so they aim to use that. At the same time, as politicians, they also want a certain amount of control because what they want is your vote. They want you to feel that by joining their cause you are part of a warm fuzzy loving community that is fighting against a dangerous and unseen enemy. They want you to feel the blitz spirit of WW2, except over things that are not nearly as serious a threat. But to get that motivation, that solid Dunkirk spirit, they have to scare you enough for you to feel as if they, you and the people with whom you stand are, literally, holding back the forces of chaos. They use strong NLP trigger words like ‘war’ to validate the importance of your fight and write robust and forthright articles showing you that you need to press your cause, for the public good and those who oppose you must be ignored or walked over, for their own good.

Example: We are at war with litter louts, the war on noise pollution, etc. It’s all bollocks and actually trivialises issues which, while not on a war footing, are still important.

Stupid twats.

Once they’ve got you scared enough to think you’re fighting a ‘war on …’ whatever it is, rape or incest victims I mean sorry, people who asked for it as we’re probably meant to call them from now on, or possibly dissolute women who can’t say no*, whatever it is this week, they want you to feel self congratulatory and smug. How do they do that? By pointing at other tribes and saying stuff like,

‘Look at these folks. They’re not like you. They’re scary. They’re threatening us. They’re taking our jobs. They’re not on the run from extremist states, they’re just here to sponge off our welfare system. We’re not undermining your human rights so we can take over. We are taking difficult but necessary steps because they are planning a bloodless coup. They have control of the mainstream media. We need to stick together and fight them, No is still the best form of contraceptive if they didn’t listen and screwed you anyway it’s your fault.’ etc.

* Yes that was inflammatory but I’m fucking angry.

This is, as one of the historical masters at the art put it, ‘persuading one group of people that another group of people is less than human.’ These days. There’s a lot of it about. Big business owns most things. The richest individuals own everything, including many politicians and the newspapers. Democracy and a fair society is not in their interest. Nothing must stand in the way of them accruing more wealth because the billions they already have aren’t enough.

On a side note though, have you ever wondered why, in the UK, people on the political fringes attempt to undermine the BBC? It’s because for all it’s flaws and Oxbridge elitism, it’s the nearest thing to an impartial press we have … oh, along with Private Eye.

I have friends from a wide range of social and political backgrounds as our common ground is often a hobby, such as detecting, writing, foraging, wine, music … whatever. I know seemingly benign and friendly folk who will turn round and tell me they believe stuff that is pretty fucking appalling. The thing is though, sometimes, not always, but often, they are people I get on with in the context in which I see them. Because we’re not talking about their offensive views, we’re discussing book marketing, or foraging, or some other topic upon which we completely agree. Sometimes I take the piss out of them for being very right wing, or out of myself for being the token bleeding-heart liberal in their life/club/forum whatever.

The way I see it, if I suddenly discover an author friend holds views that puts them close to being Marxist or something equally moronic, they are usually completely brainwashed into thinking that people of a different political persuasion are bad and that they shouldn’t mix with them. If all I can do is show them, by being the official bleeding-heart liberal of the group, that actually nothing is quite that black and white, then maybe I’ve done something good.

Sometimes, I continue to talk to people for the simple reason that, if they see that we agree on many things, there is a chance that they will understand that not everyone to the political left or right of them (depending where they are on the scale compared to me) is a threat to society, since I’m not.

Take away that ability to mix and people are sitting in an echo chamber and see nothing but their own views. Over time they find it increasingly difficult to mix with people who don’t believe the same things as them. After spending a lot of time on the internet, I, myself am finding this. Although I think our right wing, here in the UK, has moved a long, long way to the right of what ‘conservatism’ actually stood for when I was a kid. Either that or its PR has—presumably it’s gloating far right voters they are looking to steal, rather than centrists, like myself.

It’s important to be able to mix; I like to discuss stuff, you know, without evangelising or trying to win anyone over, but just because I’m really interested in what other people think and how they’ve come to their conclusions. I think, as human beings, it’s part of our nature to want to share our views so it’s important to be able to do so without getting too emotional, even if it’s hard. Take away this ability to share views and before you know where you are, you’ve got groups of feckless idiots smashing up synagogues and … the rest is history.

I’m not shitting you here, ceasing to engage, ghettoising ourselves or others … this is how wars start.

When you start to make people feel part of a tribe by playing on their fears of people or things they don’t know, pointing out the ‘threats’ posed by others, or as normal humans would call it, the ‘differences’ you get polarisation. The fact there are churches which will tell their congregations not to speak to, or mix with. non-christians … hmm, where in Christ’s teachings do we see that. Oh wait! I know. NOWHERE! That’s where.

Why are some people so bloody poisonous? But more to the point, why can’t they see? It’s like people are too scared to think. Too scared to face the grey areas between thou shalt and thou shalt not. It’s like a lot of people mull something over once and then decide what they’ll believe about it for the rest of their lives. Then, no matter how circumstances may change or what new facts may come to light they never revisit their opinion. How can people live like that? I mean sure, it’s nice and simple but it must be so empty.

Seriously, I am constantly revising my opinions on things. Is that weird? I think Brexit was a terrible idea but I’m interested as to why other folks disagree and actually, in many cases I totally get why they voted how they did.

Is it about confidence? Could it be? You see, I fuck up a lot, so I am not in any way afraid to admit to getting things wrong. You can only be carpeted by the headmaster so many times before you start to give a bit less of a shit about how other people see you and a bit more of a shite about how you, personally, see yourself and what you are actually like.

Maybe people perceive changing their minds as a sign of weakness which they’re too afraid to show. Certainly I know there are people who mistake my tendency to be accommodating with being a push over. But surely, if someone perceives changing their mind — or compromising — as a sign of weakness and failure, they’ll never be able to revise their opinions about anything. Whereas, if a person is genuinely strong, they will have the confidence to change their mind over things when new facts emerge or their experience alters. Let’s face it, no-one’s ever going to be afraid of people thinking that they’re weak if they know, in their hearts, that they aren’t.

Often, I wonder if a lot of these people who hold very fixed or hard opinions simply do so because they don’t have the strength of character to cope with a world where nothing is certain. It is difficult, I know but sometimes, there is grey. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘Usually, thou shalt not but in this case, if thou art just, thou shalt …’

On other topics …

Yes! I am still reading through what I have of the current book and yes, it’s going OK, indeed, I’m enjoying reading what I’ve written, which is a bit of a turn up! I am also continuing to make accompanying notes to be sure I smooth out the bits I’ve cocked up.

There’s a terrible lull which I need to fix but essentially, it zips along. I just need to figure out the end; simple or complicated, that’s my choice. Simple may still make it very, very long so I might do complicated as that will be two books. Once I have finished I’ll decide where to split it and then I’ll send it out to beta readers, get it edited and do a kickstarter instead of a preorder.

Also the cosplay … I looked for cloaks online and I found this … it’s velvet but it’s very cool and you can stipulate what colours you want. Oh yes.

And on a lighter note …

My audiobook sale is still on and (woot) the odd person has even bought one here and there.

Not nearly enough to pay for the cost of the advertising but hey, you can’t win ’em all. If you want one, grab them while you can. Or if you want to encourage your friends to have a listen feel free to do so by clicking or sharing this link: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/cmot

Last but not least …

I think this song is pertinent today. Personally, I think procreation isn’t the answer without some promise of a life worth living afterwards. Could I have an abortion, no I couldn’t. But if someone else needs to for their mental or medical health, it’s not my business to stop them. The original name for this song was The Vicious Circle. It’s also worth reading this article.

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Spigotry …

Yes, I am still alive, although you could be forgiven for wondering if I’ve quietly shuffled off this mortal coil the amount of time it’s been since I wrote a blog post. I suppose the main reason for this is that the mood to waffle about my life tends to hit at the weekends, therefore, if I happen to be Doing Stuff several weekends in a row, the blog grinds to a halt. Case in point, when I came to write this post I found two others that I’d already begun before going out. On the upside, all this Doing Things does come under the heading of Putting Stuff In which is probably what other people call ‘refilling the well’.

So what’s been happening. Well, Mum stuff although less of it, Mc(Not So)Mini stuff and too much stuff of my own. I suppose you could say I’ve over-peopled but it isn’t really the social that’s hampering my efforts to achieve anything. I just keep on having to do things because I make trouble for myself. Yes, the reason for my absence is that I have been, mostly, trying to put out the fires I’ve inadvertently started in the dry grass of life. Or trying to unfuckup the fuckups, of which there are legion.

This week I went to see my writer friends where I used to live. For years they’ve been coming to me but now that I don’t have to collect McMini from school until 5 on the day we meet – or because, a lot of the time McOther picks him up – we have started going to the house of our eldest member and having lunch in the village pub. On the way I pick up the other lady in our group. She has a great deal of difficulty getting in and out of my car and this week, I discovered that taking the roof off merely made it worse. It was hot and I was wearing my prescription shades so while I was getting ready I took my actual spectacles out of my pocket and put them, in the little bag in which they come, on the back of the car because I didn’t want to bend them. The last thing I remember thinking is, ‘I must remember to put those back in the care before I drive off.’

Can you guess what happened next?

Of course you can! Yes. That’s right, I drove off with the glasses on the back of the car. Obviously, the fates didn’t do anything kind to me, like arrange for them to slide off on the side roads leading from the estate on which my friend lives. Oh no. They fell off as I turned onto the main road. When I reached my destination and went into the house I found I no longer had my specs. It being a social event and there being a table booked for lunch, I couldn’t just say, ‘Guys, I have to nip back and check.’ It would have been rude. The lady I had just picked up rang her husband and he went and looked but found nothing.

Resigned to their fate – I didn’t hold out much hope for my glasses surviving, unsquashed, until I dropped her back – we read each other our work, had lunched and talked writing things. When I dropped the lady back, it turned out her husband had popped out for a bike ride and found the glasses on the main road. They had sustained a small amount of damage, as you can see from this picture.

picture of smashed spectacles

When I break something, I like to do it properly.

Strangely, I had to visit the optician the next day to pick up some contact lenses for a friend’s daughter who’s a border at McMini’s school so I took my glasses with me along with another pair of frames that I’d picked up for a song at TK Maxx about twenty years previously (when I’d bought the smashed pair). I asked if they could fix my specs.

Yes well … at least I gave them all a good laugh.

Naturally, it turned out that they’d have to send the new frames I had away because it involved drilling the actual lense. In addition, it turned out that I was due for an eye test so they recommended I do that first, in case my prescription has changed. On the up side, they did have a slot sooner rather than later, on the downside, ‘sooner’ was next Friday. I found a similar pair on ebay for £24 and sent off for them so I do have those, although when I put them on they exaggerate the fact that I have asymmetrical ears and one is a lot higher than the other. On the up side, they don’t involve drilling the lenses so I can get them sooner and, if I have to go varifocal, maybe I can get the send always done as varifocals and the other as bog-standard prescription.

So now I’m wearing my sunglasses most of the time, Roy Orbison style, although he went on tour and left his prescription specs at home whereas I … yeh. If I ever can find another set of the others I’ll buy them and replace my old ones as they suited me better than any specs I’ve ever had before. In the meantime, I’m wearing a pair from 2008 which are more-or-less OK, although slightly weaker than the originals.

Add taking the cat to the vet, me to the gym and all sorts of other stuff and somehow, I achieve very little. That said the writing is still going. I’ve been going through Misfit 5 editing it and picking out where I’ve added tracers for plot development. I usually know where it’s going at the time and I put the tracers in but if I’m not writing for a long time, I then forget what they are and end up writing off in the wrong direction. This is a Bad Thing.

Other news, McOther has been a bit busy at work recently and McMini has had a gig with his band again. Their singer left, which looked as if it was going to be a bit of a disaster, but they’ve found a new one who is less experienced but I think could be very good so that’s a win.

Picture of a hitler european tour t-shirt

Height of bad punk taste.

We went to a re-enacters’ event today which was excellent and McMini spotted a Hitler European Tour T-shirt to wear on stage (it’s a punk band, after all). I bought it for him.

Lord but this is not Setting A Good Example, but since I had one when I was about his age, I’d be a special kind of hypocrite to point that out. Also it’s actually slightly less offensive than the T-shirt McMini was wearing, which advertises a band called Deicide.

On the up side, it’s black and white, and a lot more understated than the enormous red and black, front and back printed white one I had when I was the same age which also featured a huge swastika.

It’s also a bit easier to wear these days, I think. There were many instances when I simply couldn’t wear mine because it might be taken the wrong way. McMini’s is a great deal more understated than mine was, which is no bad thing, even though, as a whole, it’s still a bad thing and I am still a Bad Person for caving in.

It is difficult with gallows humour. I strongly believe that actually jokes do occasionally need to be offensive. I also believe that comedy is often far harder-hitting than the heaviest of moral-lesson type stories. I also think that one of the reasons Britain is such a horrible place right now is because we have lost our ability to laugh at ourselves in ways that are a bit sick, and we’ve lost the ability to trivialise the things that scare us to a manageable level by making jokes about it. Nonetheless, McMini has promised me this one is on stage only.

On a different note

My audiobooks are on sale again, so you can grab Few Are Chosen for 99c and Small Beginnings for 99c or free.

I’ve also reduced the other books in the K’Barthan series though some stores (a.k.a. where I can). Help yourself while you they’re cheap. They’re on sale until the end of June.

If you’re interested and would like more information about that, just click here.

AAAAAAND! There’s more!

The Last Word, available in Audio.

If you enjoyed the short story, The Last Word, the audio of that is also available, to find that, go here.

 

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Still hanging in there …

Still here … 🙂

There’s been a bit of a long break and I thought I should probably pop in here, if only to reassure you that I’m still alive. There is a reason for my absence. First up, I was away on holiday for two weeks, during which I incredibly cleverly managed to get COVID 19. We all had it, the boys for a couple of days each. Me? Like all colds it went on for chuffing ever. First a week of really bad allergies during which I consulted a pharmacist in the resort and as it only appeared at night she reckoned I was right in thinking it was allergies.

Then, on our last day at the ski resort, I woke up with a temperature and a full blown cold (I get a temperature for the first couple of days with most colds, I’m rubbish at them). The cold turned into a two week sinus infection. After that there was a period where I felt very post viral. Once I’d been clear five days I went to church (I sing in the choir) and at the end of the first hymn I was surprised at how weak and sweaty I felt. I think it’s pretty much gone now but I’m still really tired and I feel terrible about all the people I met and spoke to over the second week on holiday, when I was huffing COVID cooties over everything. I sincerely hope I didn’t give it to any of them.

On the up side, although I didn’t know it was COVID I knew I had a cold and I felt it was only polite, in the current pandemic, to wear my mask for every and any interaction with other people. I also sanitised my hands to the point where they were so sticky I could probably have used them to climb up the sheer sides of glass buildings. Probably.

Hopefully all that protected everyone from me. I think masks probably stop more coming out than they stop going in. I hope so. The fact it was Easter and everything was shut also helped as it meant I didn’t sit in restaurants infecting people the way I might have done if any of them had been open.

While I was feeling drippy and post viral, I ditched anything that I absolutely didn’t have to do. So that meant everything except a bit of writing here and there, my monthly newsletter and Mum stuff, of which there is a craptonne right now. I also included ditching the blog. Although, I’m beginning to think that ditching blogging might not have been such a good idea. Not in the long run.

Overwhelm

I didn’t mean to talk about this today, but I’m going to because, fuck it, this is my blog after all.

The thing is. The Mum stuff has been really hard. There was so much of it that at first I was afraid (I was petrified!) Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side. At first I did just go into fluffy-bunny-in-the-headlights mode but after a few weeks of going, ‘shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!’ I managed to belt up and did what I always do in situations like this. Ignored it and pretended it would go away. No! I stopped looking at how much there was to do and divided it up into little tasks; began at the edges if you like, chipping away at it one small job at a time. Phone this, post that, check these etc. Trying to do one small thing each day.

Net result; I’ve finally broken the back of it. I should be smug and yet, I still feel a bit overwhelmed with it all at the moment. I know why, too. I’m coming up to the anniversary of Dad’s death and I miss him, real him. When Dad was sliding into insanity, I could always ask Mum stuff. But now Dad has gone and Mum is sliding into insanity and there is no-one to talk to. Well no, there is but I’m making these decisions without the ultimate authoritative input of the demented person’s spouse, whereas when we made them about Dad it was simply a case of discussing it with Mum.

This is the hardest and loneliest thing I’ve done. It’s worse because I know my brother doesn’t really agree with what I’m doing. I love my brother dearly and I don’t want to fall out with him but the stress of continually going against what he wants, and what is actually the most sensible course of action, is a bit grim. The trouble is, the sensible thing isn’t what’s best for Mum, and if I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror every morning for the rest of my life, then I have to do what Mum wants. Even if she is as mad as a box of frogs. Even if, were I to ask her aged 50, she’d be horrified. It’s a bit of a shit position to be in.

Also, with the mountain of stuff I had to do, and the fact I was recovering from COVID and couldn’t do much else, I did have to have a bit of a sprint at it eventually. Drop everything and sort it. This approach is OK for a short time but with the COVID it went on longer and … I suppose I’ve looked too hard into the face of Mum’s dementia for too long and that always leads to trouble.

The trick with dragging the millstone up the hill is to know what’s happening but at the same time, not acknowledge it. Like some warped Magic Eye picture, I can see the image but I mustn’t uncross my eyes and let reality creep in or I will be undone, and god knows I can’t be undone.

If I allow myself to think about what is happening in the wrong way—or at all really—there are tears. But not useful, get-it-all-out tears. They’re the pointless crappy ones that achieve nothing and just fill your nose with snot.

Also. I’m so fucking angry. I’m absolutely incandescent that my parents were promised free health care and then, at a point when it was too late for them to do anything about it or plan for alternatives, it was taken away. Oh I could rail against the Government, and NHS’s institutionalised discrimination against certain mental illnesses while it happily treats others but what’s the fucking point? I could write letters, I could write to my MP and get the usual boilerplate reply referring me to the statements she has made about the issues that most concern her  on her website. She doesn’t even pretend to give a shit.

All it will get me is a sore throat or numb fingers. I could keep on asking the powers that be why, if two people have the exact same symptoms, one can be treated on the NHS for free and the other is forced to pay—not just their money but their house, possessions and everything they own, simply because their illness has a specific name. I could ask why people with dementia are taxed to the tune of all they own, unless they’re fortunate enough to die first. I could ask them if that’s just. Or right. Or building back better.

I suppose it might make me feel I’d made myself heard but I doubt it. Trying to do anything about it is like pissing in a wetsuit. Doubtless it will give me a nice warm feeling for a moment or two but it’ll make fuck all difference in the long run.

And I suppose it doesn’t help that we seem to have one of the most morally destitute bunch of stone-hearted cocksuckers ever to darken the doors of Parliament running this country right now. A bunch of feckless, misogynistic lounge lizards who also, unfortunately, appear to be completely teflon.

We have someone at the head of the nation who is an international joke and, possibly, one of the most unsympathetic and bone-headed premiers since Cromwell. Except, stone-hearted, empathy-free bastard that he might have been, at least Cromwell appears to have had some kind of moral compass and seems to have genuinely believed he was acting to help his people rather than just blatantly helping himself.

The present shower appear to pride themselves on having the kind of moral standards that make the Emperor Nero look like an exceedingly uptight nun.

Sorry, where was I?

Mum stuff and it being hard. I guess what makes it hard is that everything takes ages. Twenty minutes on hold, minimum, for a three minute telephone conversation. Then there’s the whole fact that we are mortgaging Mum’s house so we are basically gambling on how long she has to live. And we can only mortgage half so if she lives more than four and a half years, we’ll have to sell the house and move her into a home anyway.

Then

I guess what I’m saying is that it is possible I need to do some serious self care.

If you are looking after someone with dementia, this is probably the point where you’re hoping I’m going to share some amazing coping mechanism with you, right? God in heaven! I wish I could. But to be honest there just isn’t one. I guess the almighty (who I’m also pissed off with about this) has just decided that the camel WILL through the eye of the needle and 50% of people over 70 will get gold plated entry into the Kingdom of God by din’t of a whistle stop visit to hell before they die. Going nuts and spending everything they own on care.

Seriously though, one of the things not writing my blog for a few weeks has taught me is that actually, it’s pretty vital I that write my blog. By venting all the anger and weirdness and tension on here I get to be effortlessly normal in the Real World.

Well. No. That’s not exactly true. Normality is always an effort but you get the picture I’m sure.

For example, having a Basil Fawlty style rant on here and will make people laugh. It might make them think and it might make them sympathetic but by making it funny and airing it here I can cut the sense of overwhelm I feel down to a manageable size. Laugh at it and it loses it’s power and all that.

Conversely, having a Basil Fawlty style rant in real life leads to awkward silences. I’m clearly not funny enough to carry it off face on. Or maybe I’m just too desperate and too angry. Like a young woman I saw on Live at the Apollo a few years ago who did a fabulous stand up routine about nursing her mother through cancer. It was so powerful, but it was also painfully raw and the audience looked like they wanted to hug her, not laugh.

Even worse, by not ranting it all out here, it spills out when I talk to Real People. Yes, I have fallen into a terrible habit. When people ask how I am, I’m fucking well going and telling them.

This is not good. This is so, so not good.

I do not want to turn into the kind of person people hide under parked cars to avoid. I don’t want to be the dear woman my mother used to hide in the coat cupboard from (she was lovely but she was enduring very tough times and she talked soooo much).

Am I there yet? I don’t fucking know! But I fear I’m perilously close. I’m going to meet up with some of my old school friends this week and I am actually quite nervous. I have lost so many friends by meeting them during a crisis after a long time apart and then being too intense, too weird and too chatty to the point where they quietly delete my details from their address books and move house.

A big part of the stress is that I’m appalling at this stuff. Seriously. In my 20s, I had an IQ of 149. One point off genius level. But the side of my brain for maths is … it’s so stupid. Brain 1 is sitting there looking on in complete incredulity as Brain 2 tries to understand compound interest. One side of the house is mercury quick, the other is like wading through semi congealed tar. It’s weird and frustrating and thank God McOther has agreed to attend the mortgage meetings with me so there is someone there to ask pertinent questions and understand it all straight off.

Then there’s a fair bit of guilt. One of the things that cropped up, doing all of this, was how badly I’ve taken my eye off the ball. I confess that while Mum was reasonably well and not deteriorating as much, I kind of let things slide. I wrote stuff and did things with my spare time that normal people might do. IE nothing particularly looking-after-Mum related. She was very frail after Dad died, and although I knew that the Almighty is far too hell bent on crapping on us all from the stratosphere to do us the mercy of having Mum’s money outlast her, there were three years of it and logic said it should.

I really should have known. Again, it might be easier for us to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than to enter the kingdom of God but I’m sure that, with the help of a blender I could— yeh alright. Moving on.

Returning to my derelict duties I discovered that Mum’s payments from Dad’s work pension had stopped and that she is on the lower rate for one of her benefits when she should have been on the higher one since she started to need carers at night (April 2019).

Gulp.

On top of that, I realised that if the council tax definition of severely mentally impaired goes on levels of dementia alone, she should be eligible for a council tax disregard, which means her council tax payments are waived. As these are over three grand a year it seemed quite a good idea to get the forms for those and ask her Doctor if he was prepared to sign them. If he doesn’t, I am now at the point where I can safely say I’m spending over 35 hours a week on Mum and I will claim carer’s allowance with a clear conscience, instead, and bung some of that her way. (You can’t do both).

None of this is quick. Oh my goodness no. But I stayed on hold for the prerequisite 20 minute plus to each of the august bodies I was required to contact and got the forms sent out. In the case of the pension, although Mum had signed a chitty to say they could talk to me, it was too long ago. They gave me an email address to send my power of attorney to and then told me I’d have to wait 10 – 12 working days before it would be ‘on the system’ and I could ring to ask my question again, at which point, they assured me that they’d answer it. I put a note in my diary to ring on the magic day and relaxed knowing the forms would arrive at Mum’s while I was away and I could pick them up a couple of days after getting home.

But then I arrived home and discovered I had bastard COVID and I couldn’t get to Mum’s to pick the forms up before they expired.

Can you guess what happened next kids?

Urgh. Yes. That’s right. I had to phone them all again. I swear the Man has decided that the new way to keep us down will be to give us pointless shit to do, like sitting on hold for a fucking eternity to ask a question that is answered in about ten seconds.

So over the past couple of days I’ve been writing covering letters and filling in forms. In black ink and in capitals. Needless to say, I ballsed up the forms extensively but hey, Tippex is my friend. I sent one form to Mum’s for her to sign with instructions to the carers as to what they needed to add (her list of meds) and bless them, she signed the forms yesterday and they put them in the post. So that’s one job done that I’ve been meaning to get round to for several months.

Meanwhile at the beginning of the week, I sat down with the next round of paperwork the mortgage broker had sent, filled that in, decided how much we needed to borrow and sent it off.

Yesterday, I filled in the council tax form and sent it to Mum’s doctor, with an SAE to send it back if he signs it. Once that comes back to me I can send that on, or apply for carer’s allowance if he can’t sign without a pukka diagnosis. Mum is doing fine thinking her memory is crap. She can maintain the illusion that it isn’t dementia, even though she kind of knows it is. But if she formally hears she has it she’ll be undone. So I can’t get a diagnosis if she has to be told about it too, it’s too unkind.

Good news is, the fucking mountain of administriviatative shite is nearly all in the bag, except for signing up to the actual mortgage, which will require the services of a solicitor. Oh yes and getting rid of the last of Mum’s shares, which are in an old family firm but needs must. They have to go.

This is not the end, or even the beginning of the end but it is the end of the beginning for this particular period of intense Mum-based activity. Once we’ve got this bit done she’s set for another three or four years and it’s like I can see the end of the tunnel on this batch now, after which there will be a calm period.

Sure it will be horrible when the mortgage is spent and we have to sell the house and put her into a home, but there’s no point agonising over that until it happens. I guess what I’m saying is that, I should be able to write some more soon.

Talking about writing …

There is an outside chance I will finish the current W.I.P. this year. There are 102k words of it so far and I have a horrible feeling it’s going to be three books. I might be able to break it up into 50k instalments though. We are only half way through but it’ll need tightened up and when I’ve done that I suspect I’ll have three 50k instalments, two 85k novels or one absolute monster. As the other books are short but the first book featuring Goojan Spiced Sausage is also 85k I’m thinking two at that length would work really well. Otherwise one 50k and one 85k (if I can keep the prose spare enough) would also work with the some books short, some books long nature of the rest of the series.

Lastly, I’m thinking of entering Too Good To Be True for a sci-fi book award. The books have to be over 50k, a stand alone or a first in series. I’d be entering it as a stand alone. Unless it isn’t. Decisions decisions. The competition is adjudicated by sci-fi bloggers. They’ll probably hate it. They usually do. But what do I know?

Right. Until next week, that’s me … although it might be after next week, but it might not because I have to tell you about my pathetic efforts to do a calorie controlled diet and my new electric bike! Woot. I’m also thinking of doing a kickstarter to raise funds for the next book in the Hamgeean Misfit series, Starting at $10 but it gets all the other books too, or something like that. Let me know in the comments if you think that’s a good idea.

If you’re bored …

Why not try the audio box set of the K’Barthan Series from my shop with 30% off. If you’d like to give that a go, click on the link and type ARNOLD at checkout.

K’Barthan Box Set Audio in Reduced Circumstances

Alternatively, if you enjoyed the books and have the inclination, why not write a review of one of them. A list of them, with links to them on the main stores can be found here

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Weird things …

It’s been an interesting week this week. I did a lot of writing and discovered that I’ve spent the last three weeks going in the wrong direction. After that I went back to what I thought was square one and off in another direction, only to discover that was wrong, too. So now it’s back to another point where it went wrong. It feels right this time, though so I think it probably is and of the binned scenes, it’s probably the outcome of second one that’s right with a kind of mash up of the two beforehand.

So now I’ve managed about 800 words in what looks like it’s the right direction. I might have to sit down and do a time line or just work out how many plot threads I have before I go on though because it seems to be getting a bit hectic. And I so want the gunfight in the balloon factory where the helium canisters start leaking. I suspect I’m losing my grip on it because of the Mum thing, in which case, I need to make some kind of timeline/table of what happens when so I can lean on that and write it by numbers. Right now though, I’m just really enjoying writing it. Also, I’ve found a tracer I put in The Last Word that I’d forgotten about. I think I can use that to make it into something a bit longer, just another 12k or so to get it novella length.

I have also made a start on cataloguing my massive collection of sci-fi tat! That’s five items done so far. More on that story … next week … probably.

Other news, I’m going to be putting my author hat on (more on that story, in a moment) and going to two events this year to flog books. The first is St Albans comic-con in July, the second; Norcon (Norwich) in September. Several of us in my local authors’ group have booked a table so we can share the work, cover loo breaks and that kind of stuff. Also it’s much easier waxing lyrical about someone else’s books other than one’s own.

While we were discussing it a few weeks back the topic of cosplay came up.

Cosplay anyone? Er … no.

When people go to conventions, quite a lot of them dress up as their favourite sci-fi character. We discussed who we could be and whether going as characters from our books would be fun. The first question to me was, ‘Are you going as full Lord Vernon?’ Mwahahahargh!

Sadly, though I’m sorely tempted, I felt that the green face paint involved was probably a step too far. And suede gloves in July. A Big Merv-style suit with a light blue pinstripe was an option but it might make me look more like The Doctor.

The face is wrong but the hat’s right. Big Merv isn’t big enough either Mwahahahrg!

That left The Pan of Hamgee. He is my favourite character, except when I prefer one of the others, because they’re like kids. It’s hard to pick one. He also wears a hat, which is nice and distinctive; a cross between a Mel and Kim hat and a Zorro hat. Like Zorro he also wears a cloak, but it’s ankle length—unlike 1960s Zorro … although, did the Antonio Banderas version have a long cloak? Maybe he did. I can’t remember, anyway, onwards. The Pan wears a velvet jacket—I’m thinking the kind of gothic brass buttoned number you might have seen on members of Pink Floyd in the 1960s—and obviously the canvas jeans and elastic-sided boots. How much of this shizz do I have? Oh look! Everything except the hat!

Woot.

Hang on though.Does it fit?

… No. Not even the cloak.

Now what?

Go shopping of course.

First the shirt. Since my enormous, post baby, H-Cup boobs are too big to jemmy into any of my old shirts, I started with that. There are three vintage clothing shops in town, I found it at the second. It’s not quite as virulent as I’d hoped and it’s not silk, because silk paisley shirts are about 200 quid, but it’s dark blue cotton and perfectly good for this. If I find another one somewhere, I’ll buy that. In the meantime, job done I’d say. Next, I have the jeans and I also have some suede, elstic-sided boots. The most comfortable pair for a warm day is pink, which is the best that I can do.

Next … the hat.

Until I was about 40 I used to wear a hat every day. Usually a fedora, a wide brimmed trilby or a straw boater in the summer. I especially liked the hats worn by two stars called Mel and Kim in the 1980s but never bought one when they were ‘in’ and kicked myself for ever after.

However, a few years later at the Spanish/French border, I saw something very similar in the gift shop. I was on a coach trip and it was just a bathroom break so there wasn’t time to buy one—and they were too expensive anyway—but I did now know that Mel and Kim wore Spanish Flamenco Hats. Clearly then, since there is more than a hint that the original Zorro was hispanic, the Spanish Flamenco Hat would be the place to start.

A rigorous search on t’interweb revealed that yes there are such things and you can actually have one made for you for 120 Euros! Or you can buy one for 50 Euros. They were pretty much right but I couldn’t find a company that would ship to the UK … because bloody Brexit. Ugh. On the up side, there is a type of riding display where the horsemen and women wear these hats and there are sites selling them to horse people.

So then I thought what about Portugal … I mean, Britain’s oldest ally at 600 years and there’s the port logo right? The police officers mention that in The Wrong Stuff. So I googled, Portuguese traditional hat, and one of the things that came up was this. Oh my lord! Perfect. Even better it was a shade over 30 Euros from a Portuguese riding shop.

Yep. This, my friends, is a Bolero, one of the traditional hats of Portugal. It is also the hat worn by the geezer on the Sandyman port logo and the hat of choice if you want to look like Lee Van Cleef, or even Clint Eastwood, in The Good The Bad and The Ugly. Those are traditional Portuguese cowboy hats … totally different to the Texan thing, y’all but very much what you see them wear in the films.

Yeh. Well … the hat helps a lot. That’s the shirt.

Interestingly, while I was researching all of this, I discovered why the Sandyman port geezer has a cloak as well as a hat. This is not because he’s a cowboy—though a cloak would be practical to keep you and the horse warm and dry, Drizabone style. Nope. The Sandyman geezer is just a student. Mwahahahrgh! That hat and cloak is what Portuguese students wore when the logo was designed. They still do at some universities. I suspect the public image of port has altered somewhat since then, either that or students weren’t perennially brassic the way they are now.

Plastic loo-seat-shaped hat preserver.

It arrived in a huge box and since I was buying the hat I also bought a thing that looks like a clear plastic loo seat which keeps it flat and in shape … see below.

The correct way to wear it if you’re Portuguese is tilted to the left, if you are a British lady you’re supposed to tilt it to the right. I think I’ll wear mine going left the Portuguese way from now on.

I love that by pure happenstance The Pan’s father, the original owner of his cloak and hat—and lecturer at the University of Hamgee—turns out to have dressed as a Portuguese student. It kind of works too becuase in my mind’s eye, The Pan was always olive skinned until his blood went blue.

Other interesting factoid. Blood in its natural state actually IS blue at some stages in its journey round the body. It’s only when it hits the air and oxygenates that it goes red.

So there we are. Funny what you find out isn’t it?

On a different note …

If you’ve stumbled on this page looking for information about hats and are now wondering who on earth all these imaginary people are well … there are some books about that and they don’t even all cost money. Feel free to read one of the free ones if you’d like to give them a try. You can find a list of them, with links to buy them from the major stores, and mine, at the end of this smashing link here:

MTM’s Books

Or you can sign up to my mailing list and grab Night Swimming for free here:

Night Swimming

 

 

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This week I have mostly been … poisoning myself.

Yep. Straight up. Don’t laugh. It’s serious … well, OK, it’s not. No. Not at all, really. In fact, today, I have a story to share which, I hope, will make you laugh. It is a tale of such gobsmacking stupidity that I’m almost proud. Yes if you had doubts about my bumbling cockwomblery and general, all-round ineptitude then, I think this morning’s events might possibly put it beyond all doubt.

As I write this, it’s Friday, although by the fabulous, time-travelling magic of scheduling, you will be reading this tomorrow, Saturday, just in case you’re wondering.

McOther was away over night so I was taking McMini to school. I woke him up and while I was waiting for him to get dressed I had my breakfast, made some coffee and pottered around the house. This included opening the blinds in the two front rooms.

picture of the flowers described in this blog post

Daphne Odora, outside in it’s natural habitat … well our garden at any rate, its natural habitat is the Himalayas

In the drawing room we have some gorgeous cut flowers from the garden; a plant called Daphne Odora, which does its thing about this time of year. It smells fabulous and comes with its own handy greenery attached, too, so it also looks pretty with minimal arranging effort.

The blooms in the drawing room were getting a bit long in the tooth, I noticed, as I went in there to open the blinds. Indeed, on closer examination, I noticed that some of them were decidedly dead. As McMini hadn’t come down yet and I had a few minutes, I determined to remove them and bung them in the compost before they dropped dead bits everywhere and I had to hoover the sodding carpet. Yes, I would pick some more when I got home, I decided. Quite a lot of the flowers fell off when I picked it up but I took the rest of it out to the kitchen anyway and put it on the side next to the sink.

Checking the time, I realised there were ten minutes until we had to leave. I had finished my breakfast and so I grabbed a couple of vitamin pills, which I take each morning, picked up the glass of water which was also by the sink, next to the dead flowers, and chugged the pills. A whole pint went down and in the last mouthful I noticed there was something else.

Have I washed a bit of toast stuff on my teeth? I thought, except I’d actually had a crumpet but it just takes too long to explain what a crumpet is and anyone who doesn’t know will get a handle on what I’m talking about if I call it toast. Anyway, I picked this thing out of my mouth and was it food? Was it bollocks. It was a particularly dead flower off the Daphne Odora.

Oh.

A quick look in the bottom of the glass revealed some other bits of Daphne Odora. Hmm. I looked at the glass and I couldn’t help wondering if I’d swallowed any other errant blooms, along with the pills, and hadn’t noticed.

Well, no bother, except— I wonder if Daphne Odora is poisonous, I thought and then I did the stupidest thing. Yes people.

I CHECKED ON THE INTERNET.

What was the answer? Yes, obviously because it was the fucking law that if I’d eaten something by mistake it was going to be something that would kill me.

How poisonous? Extremely. The word ‘deadly’ was also used. Jolly dee.

OK Monsieur Google, when you say, extremely do you mean yew/oleander put the-wrong-bits-in-your-mouth-and-you’ll-die-swiftly-and-horribly toxic or do you just mean … you know … might feel a bit grim-level.

Oh. I see. A-very-small-amount-will-kill-you kind of poisonous. Marvellous.

How very small? Will one dried flower do it?

WHAT????? Thanks Google kind of you to NOT FUCKING SAY! YOU UTTER UTTER BAST— calm … breathe … think logically about this.

OK.

Had I swallowed any? I didn’t know. Probably not but at the same time, if I had, and I didn’t do something about it, then from what the internet said, I was going to die. OK so that was probably bollocks but at the least, I was going to be very ill.

Bit of an aside here:

In my defence, there is a family story that did colour my view about a fellow whose name has long since been lost in the annals of time. The name of the unfortunate hero being lost, the story is known simply as The Tale of Paraquat Man. Paraquat was a weedkiller in the mid twentieth century that was well known. Paraquat Man was friend of my grandparents (probably all four because they knew a lot of the same people). He was putting weedkiller on his garden path when he heard the phone ring. He came inside carrying the weedkiller, and put it down by the phone. The weedkiller was in an old wine bottle.

Next to the phone was a very similar wine bottle containing a bit of wine from the previous night’s dinner. The poor bloke picked up the wine bottle and distracted by the phone call and not really thinking what he was doing, he took a swig, only to realise he’d drunk the weedkiller. He made his excuses to the person on the phone, dialled 999 and then, while he was waiting for the ambulance, he ran to the bathroom and made himself sick. He was dead within the week.

This family legend has somewhat coloured my view of ingestion-based accidents …

If I had just eaten something as ‘deadly poisonous’ as the internet said then, even now, Death was probably waiting outside to tell me it was the salmon mousse or to attempt to put a positive spin on my impending demise by telling me to try and ‘THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH’. Yes so it probably wasn’t that poisonous but just in case it was then, if possible, I needed to … er … expel it.  Right then.

Was I really in that much though? Was I really going to stick my fingers down my throat and make myself barf up two glorious cups of coffee, a delicious crumpet a whole pint of water and some vitamin pills? If I was, I was going to have to get the hurling done pretty fucking fast because in ten minutes McMini needed to be taken to school and since McOther wasn’t around and there was on-one else to do it, I had to have finished chundering by then, or decide not to chunder and do it when I got home an hour later.

But hang on! Food only stays in your stomach for 20 minutes doesn’t it? I dunno does it? I can’t remember. A little knowledge is such a very, very bad thing. Should I google that, I wondered and then decided that, going on the results of my search about Daphne Odora, it was probably best not to. I looked at my watch.

7 minutes.

Yes. Um … right then. On we go. Better out than in.

At this point McMini came down and asked, through the closed door of the lavatory, if I knew where his jacket was. I didn’t and he then asked me if I was OK. I explained about my inadvertent blossom eating and told him to go and look again in his room.

A few minutes later, I had managed to throw up quite a lot of everything I’d eaten, but not all of it. And in the broad scheme of things, I suspected that my only achievement was that, as well as being poisoned, I now smelled of sick. It would probably enough to stave off any symptoms until after I’d dropped McMini off though. He, meanwhile, had found his jacket. Except he was worried when I explained why I was hurling and wanted me to go straight to casualty. So …

I had to ring McMini’s school and explain that he wasn’t coming in because his mother thought she might have poisoned herself by mistake a few minutes earlier and had to go to casualty. Could he do e-school?

Yes, they said, without laughing at all, which was pretty impressive.

Then again, I grew up in a school. These people are bullet proof. I’ve listened to Mum answering enough similar calls to know that.

Lovely McMini, as I left for casualty I said I’d keep him updated by text and asked if he’d be OK. He told me he’d be fine. Then he told me, ‘I’m only saying this because you might die but, I love you, Mum.’ [Saturday a.m. edit: He’s back to smearing his earwax on the door handle of my office this morning] Which was definitely the loveliest thing that happened to me all day. I told him I loved him too, we hugged each other tight and off I went.

You couldn’t make this stuff up though, could you?

I made a desultory attempt at an eyebomb while in casualty.

Then I had to explain what I’d done to everyone in triage at A&E, plus the doctor. Although at least it made them laugh. And I got an ECG so I don’t have to wait on tenterhooks for the results of the other one (normal, woot).

Also, I do know how the flowers got into the water, now. I usually put a lid on my water glass because otherwise the bloody cat drinks it. However, I took the lid off to take some of the pills put it on the kitchen counter before putting it back over the glass. I put the lid on the surface underside down. There was condensation on it and some of the drier, deader blossoms — which had fallen onto the counter without my noticing — stuck to it. Then, when I plonked it back on the water, they fell in. And I drank them.

Having now made sure that every single corner of that worktop is wiped down, I’m hoping there will be no further ingestion.

I mean … for bald fuck’s sake!

Fast forward and it’s now the afternoon. As instructed by the doctor at casualty, I’ve been ensuring that I drink lots of water, and carried this over to lunch by having soup. I have done no work and I have failed utterly to take the nice long walk I was going to have after dropping McMini off. I am fine, although I do actually have some very light symptoms. I was feeling sick but felt better for eating a little and drinking the soup. And I sidestepped the stomach pump, which has to be a win.

Hopefully, by later on this evening, I will no longer be living in a piss-poor, badly plotted, second-class imitation of an Alan Ayckbourn play.

I probably shouldn’t bank on it though, should I?

On a different note … here’s news of two bargains which might interest you!

Kobo Box Set Sale until 28th March

Yes, our lovely friends at Kobo are doing it again. If you haven’t grabbed the K’Barthan Box Set in ebook already, now’s your time to get a lovely 25% off. All you have to do is put ‘MARCH25’ in the have promo code box at check out and you’ll get it cheaper. You can also use this code as many times as you like on as many of the other box sets in the promo. Just click the Kobo25 link, below or go here.

Kobo25

Massive collection of free sci-fi and fantasy books (oh yeh).

Patty Jansen, fellow author and all round good egg has set this up. It’s actually finished but as I write (Friday) the page is still there. Over 120 books are listed, most of the ones that aren’t exclusive to Amazon will be free for a few days more. If you’d like to have a look, there they are, anyway. Just click on the SFFBOOKS link below.

SFFBOOKS

 

 

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Oh shit … warning: venting ahead.

Gardening tips from Vladimir Putin

Holy fucking fuck.

Well, this has been an bit of a grim week hasn’t it? If you’d asked me the kind of future I envisaged for my son a few years ago, I’d have said, ‘whatever he wants to make of it.’ I confess that the idea that, in a couple of year’s time, he might be called up to fight in a third world war wasn’t exactly uppermost in my mind. I suppose it depends on a lot of factors but there are uncanny parallels between current events and some of the darker parts of 20th century history.

What worries me, specifically, is that, putting my Lord Vernon hat on for a moment, if I was the average dictator-in-the-street, with one of the largest conventional armies at my disposal, I’d be thinking like this:

Nobody wants to use nuclear weapons. Why? Because a nuclear war would poison the entire planet. We’d all die except for about 0.0001% of the population; the social or political elite who have access to/own a nuclear bunker. Everyone else would either be vaporised in the succession of blasts, or would die of radiation poising in the aftermath.

Obviously as a dictator, I don’t give a shit about killing people but a nuclear conflict does raise problems:

1. If I want to bestride the earth like a colossus with every creature doing my bidding, I need … well … an actual earth to bestride. If I’ve nuked it so that no-one can ever go outside again then, frankly, my chances of doing any seriously satisfying bestriding are a bit shit aren’t they?

2. There’ll be a staff problem. I mean, I’m a dictator. I have an ego. I believe in my own indomitability. There have to be enough people in the underclass to lord it over. There won’t be enough little people to crush under my mighty feet as I do the colossus thing if they’re all dead and there won’t be enough of them to see it. Unfortunately, today’s underclass- no scratch that, pretty much the entire population of the world, today, lacks access to a nuclear shelter. If I nuke my enemies and they nuke back then all the little people will die in the attack. I will be left with a very small group of similarly mighty egos to my own, and the kind of people who’ve never got their hands dirty.

3. If I’m a proper dictator and worth my salt, I like money and a broken and shattered world economy isn’t going to earn me shit. Unless I just want all the stuff. Maybe I just want a palace full of looted art and jewellery all stacked up. The art. All of it from every single museum in the countries I’ve destroyed. I dunno, but I suspect if I’m properly dictator-level greedy I’m going to want an economy to subjugate that’s a bit more than dead on the table.

No sireee! I’m pretty sure that if I was a dictator, a world comprising me and my special few, plus a couple of thousand people from every other country that could afford a shelter system—with a sprinkling of the kind of insanely rich and paranoid bell-ends who have their own nuclear bunkers, Auric Goldfinger, come on down—would not float my boat world-dominance-wise.

Yes, lording it over the survivors of a nuclear war will be child’s play, but as I mentioned, there’ll be only a handful of them. It might be alright, but I’m guessing the average Dictator-in-the-street will consider this to be small-time shite and not the big cock-waving fest they’re after.

Unless Putin’s decided he’ll rise from the ruins with a few thousand privileged survivors and start a master race. I do hope not. I wonder how that would work though. Especially if, for months, no-one can go outside for more than half an hour without getting radiation sickness, and when they do, nothing will work because the EMP in the blast has done for the infrastructure. I’m hoping he’ll decide that poisoning the entire planet is a really bad idea because it will make it much harder to subjugate.

OK so that sounds good so far, but it’s not, because if I’m a properly power crazed nutjob, the inability to nuke isn’t going to stop me wanting a massive fuck off war. If I was the average Dictator-in-the-street and I knew that I had a bigger army than most of my enemies put together, and being a dictator, I didn’t give a rat’s arse about the people I govern because they are there to serve me and add to my wealth, nothing more. I might be tempted to sacrifice a few million of them in a conventional war.

After all, if I start a conflict that wipes out 60 million people like the second world war did, I still have way, way more individuals to screw for cash and lord it over afterwards, if I win, and there’s still the remnants of an infrastructure for me to milk for my own ends. If I’m just another of the rich white men who wants to run the world but am being a bit more obvious about it (by din’t of being a meat-packing dictator) war without nukes will suit me.

Let’s face it, half the western world believes Putin’s the good guy anyway. Yes. Russian sources are painting the Ukraine as the aggressor and because Putin and his ex KGB mates have so successfully undermined our faith in mainstream media there are normal people in the west who actually believe it. There are, educated, sensible people who genuinely think that Biden and Trudeau are part of a communist conspiracy to seize power.

Well, I guess they kind of are, because Putin would probably call himself a ‘communist’ I suppose. If it happens, though, I can’t help thinking that the power seizing is going to go very differently to the way our conspiracy theorist friends expect. The fact is, as I understand it, a lot of the folks who are in charge in Russia are also very rich. I can’t help wondering if a lot of the very rich and very right wing people in the west have looked on and thought, ‘hmm, we want a piece of that.’

Do we think our Dictator-in-the-street has sown enough internal discord in the West’s main players to ensure they stand divided, crumble under pressure or even stay home? Possibly.

All I can hope is that financial necessity and greed will save us. That the parties controlling the propaganda in this will appreciate that any war will destabilise economies and detract from their ability to line their own pockets long-term, and they will put away their guns and lure Mr P back to the negotiating table.

The only thing we can guarantee is that average dictator in the street doesn’t give a shit about, is his people and the death toll. Yep, we know that he won’t be having any thoughts about that.

So rock on greed, I guess. Unless it’s about ideology. In which case, I suspect we’re screwed. Nobody believes their ideology as hard as a your average extremist nutbar.

I sincerely hope we are not standing on the brink of world war three, but looking at our apparent inability to learn from the mistakes of history, I can’t help wondering if we are. I keep seeing the parallels; the undermined press, the persecuted minorities the whole thing, right down to everyone sticking their heads in the sand and going, ‘La, la, la, it’s not happening!’

But what do I know? I’m just a mother with a young son who may end up being the wrong age at the wrong time. One of millions who stands to lose someone they hold very dear over the antics of some vainglorous dickhead with an over-inflated ego.

Just like last time then.

That’s a bit of a pisser.

It’s not often I agree with Sting, but here he is articulating my fervent hope. Yeh. Maybe I should have just ditched the rant and posted this …

On a happier note …

If you want to forget about this shit, you can always download my free ‘winter’ story.

The Last Word, A Christmas K’Barthan Extra

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

Yes! It’s dark, it’s mid winter and in K’Barth that means only one thing. It’s Arnold The Prophet’s Birthday! The biggest holiday in the Nimmist year. As usual, the Grongles have banned any celebrations and worse, this year, to add insult to injury, they’re going to have a book burning on the Sacred Day but that’s not going to stop Gladys and Ada. Oh no. Here’s the blurb:

When Mrs Ormaloo brings the terrible news to the Turnadot Street Businesswomen’s Association that the Grongles are going to burn some more banned books on the night of Arnold, The Prophet’s Birthday Gladys and Ada decide to take steps. They even enrol some of the punters from their pub to help out.

The books are in a warehouse being kept under guard. Gladys, Ada, Their Trev and the rest of the group embark on a plan of devilish cunning to rescue as many banned books from the flames as they can.

Corporal Crundy is determined not to mess up his first assignment since his promotion. It should be easy. All he has to do is guard some books. Yeh. It should be a piece of cake but somehow that’s not the way it turns out.

This story is about the same length as Night Swimming and available in PDF, Mobi and Epub from Bookfunnel. Which reminds me, I must pester Gareth about doing the audio version.

Later on I will probably add a second half to it and release it as a short story with a proper cover and t’ing rather than this slightly dodgy one what I done! Phnark. Aaaaanyhoo …

To download your copy, click here

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Fucks given? Zero. And a book review

Today at church we were celebrating a new C of E service theme, Racial Equality. The service was brilliant, mentions of Martin Luther King Jr’s dream which seems depressingly far from coming true.

It all sounds a bit bland. Some might say it’s a message we’ve all hoisted in and no longer need to hear, others might call it ‘snowflakey’. I, on the other hand, think one of the saddest things about modern life is how desperately the world still needs to hear this stuff.

Seriously though? What happened to the way Britain was in 2012 when we had the olympics and smugly showed people what fair play and openness and an inclusive society looked like. What made people turn from being friendly and open to being so bitter and petty.

Melanin? Skin colour? How is it that anyone still gives a fuck about this shite? What is wrong with us? It’s all such absolute cobblers.

Guess what colour my great to the times of lord knows how many grandfather was? Black. How do we know? Because the boys in my grandfather’s family all had a blood factor that only occurs in North African black people and it only goes from father to son.

Know what colour I am?

Yeh. White. Skin colour means absolutely fuck all. It does mean we have black people to thank for the Crystal Palace though, even if they were white by that time (look it up).

You really would have thought that ‘love thy neighbour’ would have sunk in after all this fucking time wouldn’t you? But no.

The fact is, dickheads come in all shapes, sizes, abilities, colours and backgrounds as do saints. Not all Christians can love their neighbours, some seem to think the point of their religion is to judge people, or change them. That’s not your job if you’re a Christian. It’s God’s. Jesus said so. ‘Judge not, lest you be judged,’ oh and all that bit about ‘when I was poor you clothed me, when I was in gaol you visited me,’ etc etc. Nothing in there about, ‘when I was poor you told me it was my fault and that I was a scrounger.’

We have to start giving zero fucks about all this stupid petty surface shit.

Seriously.

Stop looking at the fucking box. It’s what’s inside that matters. Is this person good? Yes or no? Don’t read the Daily Mail to find out for fuck’s sake! Just talk to them. Often.

Years ago my Mum went to Worthing to collect me from school. She turned up early so she could nip to the shops first. When she got back to her car she had a flat tyre. She got the jack out, positioned it in the right place, ready, and then started loosening the wheel nuts — obviously, you have to loosen the nuts (without taking them right off) before you get the car off the ground while the weight keeps the wheel still otherwise it just spins.

Mum knew what to do, but the wheel nuts had been done up with one of those compressed air nut gun things and she couldn’t get them undone. I needed picking up from school, too far away to walk there and back before the time on the parking meter ran out and she got a ticket. She couldn’t feed the meter because she was supposed to park for two hours or less and then not return for an hour. So, leave the car she’d get a ticket but at the same time, if she didn’t leave the car, she’d have to leave me.

This was before mobile phones. No ringing the school. She had fifteen minutes. All was not lost. She was standing on the wrench, probably swearing a bit, and jumping up and down, when a group of really scary hell’s angels came by on choppers. They were properly frightening; smelly weed on jeans, chapter back patch on the jackets, german helmets with horns on (this was the 1980s so they still could) tattoos (in the 1980s it was still quite rare for normal people to have tattoos) the works. As one, their heads snapped left and they all looked at her as they drove past.

‘Yikes!’ she thought.

A few yards up, where there was a double yellow and parking wasn’t allowed. They stopped. They all got off their bikes and walked back to her.

‘Double yikes!’ she thought. ‘Hello,’ she said.

‘Here Mum. You can’t do that,’ said one. ‘Stand aside, we’ll fix this in a jiffy.*’

*That’s probably not exactly what he said, but it’s what Mum said he said.

The hell’s angels, or possibly just, ‘angels’ in this case proceeded to remove the tyre in record time and popped the spare on. It took them about a minute and a half and they put the spare back in the boot and the jack back in the compartment under the boot floor.

Then, with a cheery, ‘There you go Mum!’ they waved away her effusive thanks and buggered off.

Mum thought it was hilarious, as well as rather lovely. She told me about it when she picked me up in a kind of, ‘you’ll never guess why I’m actually here on time’ kind of way. Neither of my parents would judge anyone on what they wore, but the fact is, twenty hells angels ambling along the road towards you is always going to be a little bit scary. Perhaps less so now that my son is a metal head.

A while ago I was chatting to someone on facebook who had taken enormous umbrage with some blog post I’d done. I’m not sure how they found it, I think one of my more right wing friends had shared it—one who doesn’t self actualise by their political beliefs—and I guess it got seen by someone who did.

I think I’d said that there were some people whose political convictions were to the left of Attila the Hun who weren’t necessarily evil, or mentioned that some of my friends are Muslims or … I dunno … showed tolerance something. I’m not 100% certain but I think it was the Muslim thing that set them off. The basic gist was that this person had met a group of people from the middle east who were the absolute back end of awful and that, as these people were Muslim, it followed that all Muslims were awful. Other news and experiences of friends had bolstered this view.

As a woman, it’s difficult avoid taking a dim view of the way my fellow women are treated in some countries and this is where I have to fess up to the fact that I often do exactly the same thing. Yes, I subconsciously base my judgement of entire nations on their government or the idiots in the population who make world news. Other times, I’ll base my view on the few subjects I’ve personally bumped into. These things are so massive, you deal with them the only way you know how and often, that can only be on your own, inter-personal, small-scale level. Which is OK so long as you’re prepared to be surprised and … you know … wrong in your assumptions.

Because looking at my technique rationally, it’s like someone meeting me and assuming that everyone in Britain is a wishy-washy, liberal melt an Anglican/Episcopalian because I am. Or, it’s like someone thinking that, because I, the only Briton they’ve met, am a lady, there can be no men living in this country. Sounds ridiculous, right? But that’s the logic we are looking at here. The fact is any nation is only as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as the people who lead it. During the 2012 Olympics, people probably thought Britain was lovely. Now they probably think we’re a bunch of absolute knobs. The people living in any nation are going to be the same mixture of saints, sinners, idiots, wankers and non-wankers as we find everywhere else.

But you have to make judgements don’t you? No. I’m beginning to think not. Sure we all go in with preconceptions but the point, surely, is to realise that’s what they are. To be prepared to be surprised by … well … you know … benign Hell’s Angels.

Making a fair judgement about anyone can only be based on actually meeting them in person. It never ceases to amaze me how many seemingly kindly, benign people I know will casually state that the homeless are there through their own fault, that anyone on benefits is a scrounger and that asylum seekers or refugees are just here to take advantage of our welfare system.

OK, so I expect some of them are, because, as I may have mentioned, the law of averages states that there will be wankers among any group of humans. Some. That’s my point. I find it really hard to understand how someone can condemn a brown man who leaves the Congo and comes to Britain with his 14 year old son because he doesn’t want the lad to be conscripted while, at the same time, lauding someone from Belfast who emigrates to America because they want a better, non-sectarian life for their children. Both are doing exactly the same thing. Why is one brave and good and the other a scrounger? I dunno.

If the person from Belfast gets a job in the USA, they’re broadening their horizons and taking a brave step to better themselves. Why is it that the brown man who comes to Britain, works for less than minimum wage and lives in a caravan without electricity, because there wasn’t electricity or running water where he came from, is ‘taking jobs from British people’. How come it’s perfectly fine for the company he works for to pay him a pittance because they won’t pay the minimum wage but he’s wrong to take what, for him, may be the chance of a lifetime? Why is it that we are happy to earn less and less than pay what things actually cost to produce and less stuff?

How is it that some people can look at the Kindertransport and see it as an act of goodness but the very same people are unable to see a modern equivalent, like, say, people rescued from a similar regime in Afghanistan as human? Is it because the Afghans are brown? Are we really that shallow? It fascinates me. Well … yeh, you know it does, I’ve written a 500,000 sci-fi series about this exact anomaly. That only people are good or bad and nations are the sum of the decisions made by their leaders.

Perhaps it actually takes bravery to be a liberal melt. Thinking about it, being open, putting aside your preconceptions and trusting people takes courage. Being generous of spirit takes resolution and effort. You are exposing yourself to looking a right dick if you’re wrong and possibly even potential harm. Maybe that’s it; perhaps with COVID and the fact that the world economy is pretty much down the lav people have a too much to worry about to care about being decent. Or maybe, after all crap they’re dealing with, there isn’t any spare courage left to be open.

Perhaps the only universal rule is that that there will always be wankers … and to give zero fucks … in the right way.

Which brings me on to the book I’ve just read.

Subject 21 by A E Warren.

This book is about a girl called Elise, who, as the blurb states is a Sapiens, ‘a member of the lowest order of humans. Elise and others like her are held responsible for the damages inflicted on the world by previous generations.’

Every aspect of Elise’s life is controlled by the two groups of humans above her, even her name has to reflect her status and can only contain two syllables. The top tier of human, the Potiors, are busy recreating as many extinct species as possible using DNA harvested from fossils, etc. These are then exhibited in a Museum of Evolution.

Some of the exhibits are Neanderthals. Our heroine, Elise, gets a job as the companion of a Neanderthal, number 21, who calls himself Kit.

This book is all about the idea that not all the gits in the top two tiers are gits and not all the supposed gits in the bottom layer are, either. Indeed, this is one of the many areas in which the book excels. It’s also about the inability of some members in each group to see those in the others as human and, of course, the inability of some humans—regardless of the order in which they belong—not to be complete and utter wankers. It’s an absolutely brilliant concept and I loved the way it was so realistic at the same time. The way some of the museum staff have completely de-humanised Kit and his fellow Neanderthals, was also, sadly, extremely human.

Other highlights, the plot, the whole concept is really left field, I loved it as an idea. It was deftly executed and the characters well drawn. I was fully invested very quickly and had trouble putting it aside to do other things. Definitely gets five stars from me. Recommended.

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Deserted landmarks and empty milestones …

Recently, I’ve been feeling slightly muted. Tomorrow would have been my father’s birthday and a few days ago, my phone’s calendar flashed up a reminder warning me that I might want to get prepared.

It hurt.

I still miss Dad, which is illogical, because it’s not as if he died a bad death or his departure was even a bad thing. It was a mercy. He had suffered enough and there was nowhere else for him to go. Death was the next stage for him and I am certain that he was more than ready. Although it hurt to receive it, I couldn’t bring myself to remove that notification from my phone. Maybe next year eh?

Strangely, I find that these empty milestones that were once land mark days often come accompanied by a stream of coincidental, memory-triggering events. I don’t mean the phone notification it’s more stuff like the fact that today, in church, we had a couple of hymns that Dad loved. Immortal Invisible is one where the memory of how he sounded, singing it, was so strong that I could almost hear him beside me. Likewise, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, which we have had at most family funerals on both sides of the house, weddings too — to the point where I feel guilty not having it at Dad’s.

There is a bit in Dear Lord and Father of Mankind which can be construed as rude … if you work at it very hard. Today, I found myself smiling as I remembered Dad leaning over to me after the service, in a conspiratorial manner, and telling me which bit it was and why.

This from the man who was endlessly telling me the latin or greek roots for things … which is not as erudite as it sounds because Dad was a natural rebel and liked to be a little subversive from time-to-time. That’s probably why the only instance I can remember of his efforts to educate me is constipeo (constipere, constipatatum, constipatus sum) — which means ‘I bring pressure upon’ and from which we get the modern word, constipation.

How proud he’d be!

Or not.

Dad

Then again … I do remember him gleefully sharing this information with my brother and I, and Mum’s gentle, ‘No! Darling!’ which was more for show than anything because she was trying not to laugh. Indeed, as a nipper growing up, I remember all four of us as being terrible potty humourists, you only had to shout, ‘bum!’ at my family in the right way and we’d fall about laughing.

Mum was probably the best at pretending to be normal, Dad could do it as well, but he did tend to be a bit forgetful which blew it all apart at the seams sometimes. On the up side, as I told him when he started to get dementia, since he could never find his keys anyway, he’d be quite far gone before anyone noticed. Which turned out to be the case.

In my last year at Lancing, Dad retired as housemaster. Since he and Mum had left the accommodation on site I was boarding. Dad was Head of The Common Room which basically meant he was now housemaster to the teachers. One evening, I was on my way back from supper, or possibly a rehearsal or something at the music school and I encountered Mum and Dad, in their best black tie glad rags, with the parents of one of the lads in Dad’s house.

‘Hello, what are you doing here?’ I asked.

‘We’re here for the Common Room Dinner,’ Dad explained.

I glanced over at the door of the Master’s Dining Room. It was looking a bit closed and I couldn’t hear much in the way of chat going on. Should I say anything I wondered? No.

‘It seems to be a bit late starting,’ said Mum.

‘Right,’ I said. I think I wished them well and skipped off without a thought.

The next day I asked one of the other staff if they’d enjoyed the dinner the previous night. ‘That’s not until next week,’ I was told.

Oh dear … poor Dad, I remember thinking. Poor Mum, too as she had to produce dinner back at home and she had precisely zilch with which to do so. I think she rustled up a quick risotto with tinned ham and frozen mixed veg.

Life was never boring at home indeed, it was years before I reached the point where my parents were remotely shockable. They were more open and accepting than most of my friends … perhaps I should just leave that as, ‘most people’. Mum still is.

I miss Dad a lot. I suppose that’s partly because, as time passes and my memories of the shouty bit that plagued his last few months at home have begun to fade, I’ve begun to remember who he was — which is a bonus. The only slight drawback is that when you’re stressed your brain dumps an enormous amount of intel and unfortunately, I’d say as much as half my childhood memories, and my memories of Dad, have melted away post the stress of dealing with his Alzheimer’s. So it’s kind of wiped my memory, as well as his.

That’s a point of order though, because on the whole yes, I remember who he was more. Who he really was, and that’s a Good Thing. I have a video of him talking on my phone, in his proper, non demented voice. He had Alzheimer’s at the time, advanced Alzheimer’s, but it wasn’t manifesting itself so strongly and it’s so much him, that vid, that I treasure it. I realise that I need to make a video of Mum. I might get her to record one for McMini next week, saying she’s looking forward to seeing him. That will be one for both of us to treasure then. Because that’s the first thing I find, when someone dies, you subtly start to forget their voice. Not totally, but when you hear it properly you realise how much is missing from your remembered version.

Then there’s the fact that, on top of the better memory of who Dad was, I’m finding that, as Mum follows her own dementia journey, I am keenly aware that this time round there’s no ‘sane one’. Through most of Dad’s illness, I could ask Mum for guidance if I wasn’t sure I was getting something right. She would know exactly what Dad would have done or said. It’s probable that, because of that, I know what Mum wants. But there’s no Dad to check with. Because he’s dead. And even if he wasn’t dead, he’d have been nuts.

Shortly after he died, I was out with Mum in the garden walking very slowly beside her as she crept along with her walky frame-on-wheels thing. At that time, we always made a beeline for the bottom of the garden because it was beyond the range of her panic button and she wasn’t allowed, or at least was strictly encouraged not to go there unaccompanied. She did, of course, but we all pretended she didn’t. As we walked I suddenly heard Dad’s voice in my head saying,

‘Oh darling! Just look at the state of your mother, I can’t bear it.’

Pyrimid Orchids at Mum’s

It was so vivid I turned to look but he wasn’t there. I remember thinking ‘back’ that I’d do my utmost to look after her and that while I couldn’t make her better, I would try to keep her happy.

Most of the time, I know those things are my imagination, but every now and then, one pops up from such depths that it feels as if it wasn’t me. Weird.

As well as it being the eve of what would be Dad’s 91st Birthday, had he survived, today was also the 70th anniversary of The Queen’s accession to the throne (in English, since the death of her father).

As a result, the last hymn was I Vow To Thee, My Country — a hymn I would like a lot better if the tune didn’t concentrate itself quite so comprehensively in the crackly twilight zone between my upper and lower range. Then we finished with the National Anthem which goes to a tune I rather like — apologies to Billy Connolley, who, I know, believes we’d be much better off using the theme tune to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Archers’.

Run with me, there is a spot of relevance to this one. I remember reading somewhere, a while back, that The Queen was very upset when her uncle abdicated. To the point where she took herself off somewhere quiet and cried for a long time. Legend has it that the reasons for her grief were twofold; firstly, because her father lacked his brother’s strong constitution and she shared the view of himself and most other members of the Royal Family which was that being King would do for him. Secondly, because she had to face the godawful truth that she would have to be monarch, which is a job that nobody sane with the smallest understanding of what it entails would want.

Few people seem to see beyond the wealth but I’m sure fame, or being monarch, could be pretty grim. I can’t imagine how I’d feel having people like Robert Mugabe round to tea. Sure his name backwards sounds like Yorkshire swearing (eee by gum) but that doesn’t make any of his actions funny. Supping with murderers and meat-packing tyrants might be quite grim but since you’re part of the state machinery, it’s what you do. There’s a point where being monarch might actually be quite dehumanising, I suspect.

Years ago, growing up in the school, everyone knew who I was because they all knew who my dad was. That meant everyone felt they knew me well, even people I’d never met in my life. Every now and again someone would pop up and say hello and I’d have no clue who they were. So I’d ask after their work, and various other things until I could pin down which of the people Mum and Dad had described — but whom I’d never met — I was talking to. I was always aware that my behaviour towards other people reflected on Dad so despite being an absolute menace in many respects I was always as polite as possible to everyone, especially the people at the pointy end, the cleaners and domestic staff.

Sometimes, I felt the pressure. Especially when I hit my teenage years and boys started wolf whistling at me out of windows etc. But I could always go off site where nobody knew who I was. There’s no ‘off site’ if you’re queen. Most people want a piece of you. Anyone else hates you. Everyone thinks you like it. Everyone thinks you can say no, the way they think my brother and I could say no to looking after our parents. But actually I doubt she can say no any more than we can. Being Queen? I think it’d be a bit shit to be honest.

The point is, she’s spent 70 years of her life doing a job that she categorically did NOT want to do. OK, so she might have come to enjoy it by now, who knows. The point is, it was the antithesis of what she wanted at the start. The perfect storm of NO. You can see where this is going now, can’t you?

Yep.

There are times when I do give the Almighty a piece of my mind about putting my Dad, and by proxy the rest of us, through so much. The fact that pretty much everything about the whole care thing requires a portfolio of skills that is the absolute antithesis of any of my fucking skills. Which is, indeed, a perfect storm of all the things in life at which I am spectacularly shite. Yes. Every. Last. Fucking. One. Oh and some extra things that I didn’t even know I was shite at until this kicked off, but now I do. Bonus!

The fact that pretty much all my duties of care are about playing to my failings. OK so I can sort of cope with that, because yes, I am able to understand that many parts of my life — most of them, to be honest — are fucking brilliant. Also I am able to understand that if this is the price of growing up with parents as lovely, open, amusing and out-and-out fun as mine I’m happy to pay up. But … the mental energy required to do stuff you’re absolutely bollocks at day after day is quite substantial.

The endless requirement to enhance my sorry performance from fucking awful to godawful-but-it’ll-scrape-by … probably (that’s a technical term by the way) is not only draining but it cascades down onto the pathetic embers of my creativity like a gushing torrent of rusty bog water, further hampering my efforts to write anything or … I dunno … for my existence to have a point.

Sitting in church today, thinking about how long The Queen has been monarch I actually felt a bit of a lightweight for whinging about 5 years running my parents’ finances. I will try to shut up about it and be less of a whinging twat from now on. Seriously though.

Seventy years.

Seventy fucking years people.

God in heaven! That’s a bastard truckload of CBT. Well done Ma’am. You’re a stronger woman than I.

On the lighter side …

Another quick heads up about freebies and cheapies available from my fabulous portfolio of literature. Er hem.

The Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c from my own store still. To find links to buy, or to download The Christmas One, just click on one of these links:

Few Are Chosen (remember it’s My Store only at the moment. It’s back to £7.99)

Small Beginnings (The ebook of this one is free at all participating retailers and on my store. The audio version is also free on my store, but £1.99/$2.99 everywhere else).

The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously. Gareth has finished performing in Worms, presumably he is now bathed and scrubbed up and ready to do … audio things. Soon. There is an audiobook scheduled for late February/Early March.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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This week I am mostly … wittering

So a quiet one this week. I’ve been trying to finish off some of the admin. I’m getting there but rather slowly. Big pluses this week, I have done my tax return! Woot. It’s always a weight off when I finish that. It was made easier this year by the fact I started getting the information together a while back and so I’d collated the various bits of paper I need.

The hardest thing is that originally, when I did my tax, I would have a four page short form which I’d fill out and send in. I just declared how much I’d earned, how much I’d spent and then any income from bank accounts and shares. Now that I do an online return, I have to fill in the long tax form, which appears to be written in a cross between legalese and accountant speak. Jeepers. Even the simple stuff is complicated. Where it was profits, turnover and loss it’s now turnover and ‘allowed expenses’.

Expenses used to be extra things you could claim, for example if you bought a computer you could spread the cost as a loss over three years and that was a business expense.

Now, I don’t actually know if the ‘expenses’ it’s talking about are business expenses, or the day-to-day costs of running the business. I’m allowed legal fees and accountancy fees but is paying my cover designer an ‘allowed expense’? I dunno. Everything is so much more complicated. Thank you, Gordon Brown, for mushrooming the amount of tax law from one weighty tome to an entire fucking truckload of weighty tomes.

Bastard.

Onwards and upwards.

As a person with discalculia, numbers are extremely difficult for me. We are talking wading miles up to your neck in treacle. Weirdly, I actually have some scientific and mathematical pragmatism and logic but numbers themselves are grey and amorphous. There is nothing to cling onto. I get zero intellectual traction.

Words are like bright sparks, glittering and zipping down my neural pathways at the speed of light. I can feel the tiny nuances in meaning between them. Words are sparkling, and razor sharp and glittery and accurate. Numbers are grey and insubstantial with nothing to hold onto, or they are cloying and impenetrable, like slime; thick grey slime. Words … if I hear a word for the first time in my own language, I know instinctively what it means. Numbers are drab and faceless, the dementors of my intelligence, their meanings unknown to me, their messages scrambled or parsed in a code to which I have no key. They’re like a foreign language but there is no dictionary and I lack the intellectual capacity to discern them without one.

It’s important that I take numbers very slowly, to the point where it might be close to retardation. My mind and thought processes are usually quite quick, so my incapacity it makes me feel very stupid. It would be good to be bright and not … stupid. No wonder so many of us dyslexics are chippy about our intelligence.

Put that next to the knowledge that, if I get this wrong, I’ll go to prison and obviously it’s a recipe for a neurotic hissy fit and stress fest!

Seriously though, I go through these pages and pages of questions just thinking, I have no idea what this means, I’ll leave it blank. Although I reckon if they are questions I can’t begin to comprehend, they’re probably not asking something that applies to me. Gulp.

One particular joy is that we have to declare all our foreign earnings. We have some foreign unit trusts or something and I have to declare the few quid a year I earn which are ploughed back into them. I suspect individuals such as myself are not the type of people for which this section was added. I have also told myself that I will definitely, definitely file the current year’s return as soon after 6th April as I can. Except that was what I vowed last year and here I am, filing it in during January when the do by date is 31st … then again, they’ve extended it to Feb so in theory I’m a month early. Ooo now there’s a result.

Obviously, once I have got used to it, I can fill it in much faster and I’m much more confident. However, they rephrase all the questions and change the entire form EVERY. FUCKING. YEAR. Ugh.

Next up on the admin list is to try and confirm when Mum last did a tax return. I have a vague clue but not a massive one although I think I’m homing in on that gradually. We have to dispose of Mum’s stocks and shares now because there aren’t enough of them for it to be a sound investment strategy. The balance will go into a high interest account and fund her care while we arrange to borrow a yearly sum for care fees against the house. In the UK healthcare is free unless you have dementia, in which case, you have to bankrupt yourself. When you get down to your last £23k, except it’s not really £23k it’s actually £14k, the local authority will step in to help rather than the NHS. If you’re lucky, you may end up in a decent care home. If you live in an area where there are more demented people than care home places then it’s either up to your relatives to look after you, or if they are busy doing things like jobs to pay their rent and feed their families, you get four twenty minute visits a day to serve you meals and help you dress and undress.

Mum’s local authority are very good. They were great with Dad, but even so … I hope the house is worth enough to last her out.

I was thinking about dementia, obviously, with the life I live (Thanks God, you utter, utter git.) I think about dementia quite a lot. Mum’s is different from Dad’s. Well obviously because Mum is different from Dad. That’s the thing of course, every individual is different so each person’s dementia attacks them in a different way. I guess there are general pointers which allow folks who know what they are doing to work out exactly what stage the person with dementia is at. It’s handy to have a handle on that when it comes to planning care and anticipating whether to ease off or step it up.

My grandmother ended up lying in bed for a year. She was totally unresponsive and Mum said that she used to go visit once a week. She’d just sit there holding her mother’s hand and cry. Apparently the sister in the home was lovely and used to tell Mum that it was alright and reassure her that my grandmother was different – in a good way – after her visits.

I could see Mum going that way, herself. If she did, I’m not so sure I’d mind so much. Surely it’d be better than the torment Dad endured on his darker days, wouldn’t it? I’d read to her I think. Whodunnits, or books that I knew she’d enjoyed like the Children of the New Forest, and Ballet Shoes. Or the Romany books.

On a happier note. My cousin came over this week and we took Mum out to lunch at the pub round the corner. She wasn’t in the best of form but the visit went well and my cousin had some prints of the school I grew up in which she offered to my brother and I, but I don’t think he was interested, which was handy as I’m very pleased with them.

Said cousin also kindly gave me a print of a portrait of my … I dunno how many times great grandfather who started a newspaper called Bell’s Weekly messenger. See picture. He looks worryingly like Fraser from Dad’s Army. I believe he’s responsible for initiating the use of the double s—before that they used an f. But that might have been his father. I get muddled because there were two John Bells in a row.

Even though he is wearing the most magnificent Dickensian coat—of which I am extremely jealous—I am fully expecting him to step out of the print and tell me I’m doomed.

Extra bonus content was a book of poetry by my great grandmother which I think might be termed as ‘sentimental’. It’s sort of good and also sort of hilarious, bless her. She clearly travelled to India and Kashmir and found it hauntingly beautiful. I can’t wait to show it to my Aunt, who grew up in India. I think she might appreciate the descriptions and find the sentimentality as amusing as I do, but at the same time, I think I could get away with us having a giggle about it without being disloyal.

I was going out to the theatre yesterday evening so McOther and I decided to have our big meal midday and we went out to lunch to a noodle bar in town.

What is it with people, though? We arrived early and there were only a couple of diners in there, one sitting at a table one side, by the window, the others sitting about ten feet away, at a table that was also by the window but on the other side. We sat further in, near the wall.

While we were there, four more groups came in to eat. One sat on the table right behind me, although that was still a good three feet away from ours. Another sat at the table right behind McOther which was also three or four feet away. Neither was too close but, at the same time, they could have sat a bit further away.

Finally, as we were just finishing our plates of noodles, and enormous Dodge Ram wanker-tanker pulled up outside. It backed up, parking across the drive of the house next door and a family got out. It looked like husband and wife with granny and young daughter. They were all quite big, which, presumably is why the four of them had to arrive a vehicle about the same size as some of the smaller-sized buses operating in the UK — although it probably does fewer miles to the gallon.

The presence of the daughter, who could have been anywhere between about four and seven, was notable, in that she should have been in school unless she’d had special dispensation, or was unwell. She proceeded to demonstrate that she was, indeed, unwell by producing a wracking cough, you know, the sort of thing you usually hear from people who have spent the last 40 years smoking sixty a day.

Clearly the little girl was off school, recovering from a chest infection, or possibly, judging by the sound of her cough, pneumonia.

There’s no way the kid had the Rona, nobody would be that thoughtless, but in these dodgy times, someone who is clearly off school sick, coughing as if they are suffering from TB is always going to be a bit disconcerting. Bearing that in mind, when it’s me, I will always be a bit embarrassed about it and sit a long way from anyone else, I was kind of expecting them to choose one of the empty tables away from other diners.

Maybe they’d had it up to their eyeballs with people looking askance at their coughing kid, I dunno. But they came over as very concerned that they should be allowed to exercise their own freedoms and rights but at the same time, not remotely bothered if exercising their rights and freedoms came at the expense of other people’s — parking across someone’s drive because it wasn’t illegal and nothing said they couldn’t, for example.

The restaurant contained about ten or fifteen empty tables. Including the other half of ours. Our table was the end of a table for six, comprising a four seater and a two seater, and it had been turned into a two seater by being pulled about six inches away from the other one.

Did the new arrivals go for the social distancing option and choose one of the empty tables that were a decent distance away?

No.

Of course they fucking didn’t.

They came and sat next to us. On the four person bit of our six person table. Right hugga-mugga pretty much on top of us. The daughter barking like a sea lion all the while as they took their places. I was fully expecting to see the poor kid’s lungs land in her noodles.

Not that we stayed that long. We made a very, very swift exit. But instead of enjoying the rest of our noodles and then sitting for a bit with our cups of jasmin tea, we shovelled them in as fast as we could, knocked the tea back and legged it for the door.

To be honest, these folks were clearly completely oblivious. The kid probably just had asthma. The hospital’s not far away, maybe she’d just been seeing the specialist, who know. I’m not blaming them. Folks pull this shit all the time.

However, it did get me wondering why we are such herd animals. It’s a bit like that thing when you park in an empty car park and return to your car to find that there are now two cars parked in the car park, and the other is next to yours, and parked so close that you can’t open the fucking door to get in. What is it about we humans that means we have to all huddle together in a crowd? To the point where it’s bloody irritating.

Why, in a restaurant with about seventy covers, did three quarters of the diners decide to huddle in a close knit group round our table? I have no clue. I am always one to find an empty space, if only so we can relax and converse unheard. The rest of them? It’s like they wanted us to listen.

Finally to round off the week, the theatre performance I went to was Jenny Eclair’s new show, Sixty FFS which was hilarious. I bought the last two tickets in the house for a friend and myself, in separate boxes one each side of the theatre. Then the booking office rang us and asked if they could change the tickets so we were in the same box, which was ace.

Jenny was absolutely as funny and as outrageous as I expected. She was particularly funny about post operation constipation – which is a factor of the painkillers (for more on that story, go here). She was also very funny about Nordic walking poles – we all end up using them because we’re arthritic – and she showed off her gilet ‘I bought it in yellow to go with my teeth.’

If it’s on near you and there are any tickets left. Go! It’s hilarious.

Oh and I’ve even done a bit of work on Misfit 5. Woot.

All in all, then, a moderately successful week.

And now for something completely different.

As per last week, another quick reminder about freebies and cheapies available from my fabulous portfolio of literature.

The Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c on Apple, Chirp, Kobo and my own Store. To find an information page, with links to buy, or to download The Christmas One, just click on one of these links:

Few Are Chosen (remember it’s Kobo, My Store, Chirp and Apple the other stores still have it at£7.99)

Small Beginnings (this one is free on my store but 99c/99p on Kobo, Chirp and Apple.

The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously. Gareth is currently performing in Worms (snortle) but there is an audiobook scheduled for late February.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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Filed under General Wittering