Category Archives: General Wittering

Disappearing cats and disappearing money …

So, on the up side, I’ve written a couple of hundred words on a new story and have a good idea what it’s going to be about and who’s in it which feels wonderful. On the down side, THINGS have been fairly hectic, as usual.

First up McCar, the Noisy Cricket, has those stupid LED headlights and they broke. Usually with a car like mine you’re pretty safe on parts; my old one seemed to have a fair amount that could also be found on various Vauxhaulls (Opels if you’re outside the UK) and they were cheap so it ended up with high end Vauxhaull branded brake discs etc. Unfortunately, the headlight for this one is a sealed unit built specifically for this marque of car and they only make about 500 a year – and that’s 500 of the car, not the headlight unit, they probably make about five of those. Naturally, that means that they cost an arm and a leg.

So it was that I dropped the wretched thing off a week ago. To be honest I’ve only just got my finances back on track after the gargantuan bills I had to pay last year. On the up side, despite the massive expense, they did actually have one the mechanic could get hold of – no endless searching on the internet and having to import it from Germany which was what happened last time I had to try and replace the tyres. Indeed it was perfectly possible that the part would not only be out of stock in the UK but out of stock everywhere, rendering my car illegal – and with its MOT running out in two weeks – unusable until such time as Lotus deigned to replace their stock so I considered that a win.

Never mind, after a very pleasant day at the beach on Monday followed by supper in the garden, we sat out in the darkness, revelling in being a comfortable temperature. McCat revelled with us. When it was time to go in, McCat was being a bit coquettish.

‘I’ll just go and get the cheese,’ I said. McCat will comply with pretty much any demand if there’s cheese in the offing.

Then there was a rustle, the sound of an oversized tabby cat galloping very fast and a bang and a scrabble as he went over the fence into next door. The bloody squirrel is back, it seems. Fat, unfeasibly healthy, it’s fat face stuffed to the gunwales by everyone on the street by the looks of it. But, unfortunately, it’s still too fast and agile – both mentally and physically – for McCat. He chased the little bastard into next door and that was the last we saw of him.

We called and called but he didn’t come in. McMini was distraught as was I. McOther who dislikes McCat, was ambivalent. I had a think about the trajectory and reckoned he’d gone over the wall into next door and, possibly, over their wall into the main road beyond. Normally he doesn’t go near that but stays in the three gardens on our triangle of land or goes across the quiet residential street at the back. He is frightened of cars and petrified of lorries, haring in when the dustcart comes past on the quiet residential side. He never crosses the main road therefore, because he’s scared. Ergo, if he’d crossed it that night in the red heat of a chase, he wouldn’t be coming back over until the traffic died down. He’d be too scared.

McCat … butter wouldn’t melt

However, they were resurfacing the roundabout a few hundred yards beyond our house and the main road is never that quiet. Even so, we hoped that, if we left his food out and the cat flap open, he’d come back. But we also knew that McCat is too scared of traffic to return across a busy road that never sleeps (except for a couple of hours between two and four when the drunks walking home yelling the odds at one another take over – and no, he wouldn’t chance running past them either). Then there’s the wall, of course, five or six feet our side but about fourteen the other. A big jump to ask of a cat. Opposite is a wall of houses with doors fronting onto the street and finally, about 100 yards down, there’s a small street running to the allotments. There’s a block of flats opposite us and another street to the allotments about 50 yards up the other way. All we could think was that he’d got across the road, been frightened and run down the street to the one of the side roads, the direction of travel suggested the furthest of the two from us. It’s walled all the way along, so the allotments at the far end of it seemed like a good place to start looking.

The next morning no cat.

McOther left for work and though it was like a furnace out McMini and I popped over to our next door neighbours’ and searched their garden. Then we walked across the main road and started in the allotments behind the houses, calling as we went. After a couple of hours I began to worry about dragging a small boy around in such oven-like heat so we went home, me to make posters and McMini to whinge about how badly he needed a haircut. Although he perked up considerably once I’d given him a meal. Having consulted t’interweb, advice on line suggested talking to other neighbours or folks in nearby houses. It looked as if the best thing we could do was wait until people were coming home from work and then trudge round the nearby streets posting leaflets through their letterboxes and knocking on their doors. So, since the posters were made, McMini and I went to the barbers as it’s only at the end of the street and we handed out posters to all businesses on the way, the barbers put one up too.

I brought a stapler with me to attach posters to any posts or telegraph poles we passed. It is one of my favourite things so, naturally, I lost it, which was a massive pisser but pretty much inevitable what with the week I was having.

McMini’s hair cut complete we returned home and luckily, McOther arrived soon after as I was printing out more posters and also flyers. I’d shared McCat all over social media, which had met with a wonderful response, and was pointed in the direction of some excellent local lost cat groups – it’s definitely worth searching Facebook for lost pets groups in your town if you lose one. One of the lost cats groups had some great advice about what to do if your cat goes missing. They’d said that usually cats will be hiding close by, scared to come home. That figured, I was sure that’s what ours was doing, but opposite was a wall of houses and I reckoned he was behind them. I just needed to get into people’s gardens and to do that, as the advice said, I needed to knock on the doors of the ten nearest houses to ours.

We were all worried, it was now nearly 24 hours since McCat had gone missing, it was boiling hot and unless he was lucky enough to be hiding near some water, McCat would have had nothing to drink in all that time. He’d be very dehydrated as well as hungry. The heat being what it was, I doubted I had too much time to find him before he became really ill.

McOther happily at home and McMini with him, I headed off alone to start door knocking on the quiet side of our plot, mainly because I hadn’t looked there at all yet and wanted to try and cover all the surrounding area as quickly as I could. Then I crossed the main road and started on the other side from us. I posted leaflets in all the houses because nobody was in, or answering. I also put posters up along all the telegraph poles in the road where all the back gates were, which ran parallel to the main road, behind the houses, along the edge of the allotments. At last I came to the neighbours opposite. They live in an old house next door to a Victorian building which has been converted into flats. Their main entrance is at the side, and they and the Victorian flats share parking. The opposite neighbour didn’t answer.

As I wondered what to do next, I wasn’t sure there was much point in disturbing the people in the flats, I noticed the car park went round behind them. I walked past the building to have a look. There was a small brick outhouse built onto the back, about the size of a garden shed, with an open door which revealed it to be full of bicycles. I wondered if I should go look when a voice called out asking what I was doing. It was the opposite neighbour, who hadn’t answered the door, calling from a first floor window. I retraced my steps and explained that I was looking for my cat and she said she’d keep an eye out for him. Then I stuck a leaflet in the door of the first flat and decided that, now she knew that I wasn’t a burglar casing the joint, maybe I could go back and have a better look at the shed. Standing at the corner, I looked at the open door a few yards away, screwing up the courage to trespass and go closer. I took a couple of paces and stopped. I was sure I heard a meow.

‘McCat?’ I called.

The meow got louder. It was definitely a yell-for-help kind of meow.

I moved closer, and called again. Inside the outhouse/porch some sheets of plywood leant against the wall and now, as I moved slowly towards them, a wide-eyed tabby face appeared from the darkness underneath them.

Gently, I approached him, talking to him all the while, because I wasn’t sure if he’d take off. Once I was within a couple of feet of his hiding place I stopped. I didn’t want to crowd him. He crept out, keeping low in case the sky fell on him, shimmied under the pedals of one of the bicycles and inched towards me. I was keenly aware that the road was busy, that I didn’t have a cat box and that he might not let me catch him. He was still meowing loudly, presumably expressing his relief at being found, explaining what a terrible time he’d had, how frightening his night and day in the outhouse had been and telling me he was hungry.

‘Are you going to let me pick you up?’ I asked, I wasn’t sure he would.

But when I reached down, he let me pick him up without demur and possibly with something approaching relief, flopping against me.

Now to get him back across the road. Gulp.

I held onto his back feet with one hand and kept the other arm round him. He leaned against me rather than trying to escape to something more interesting the way he usually does. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait ages by the side of the road for a gap in the traffic. He flinched as the cars passed but didn’t try and run. Talking to him, and nuzzling his head with my cheek to reassure him, I walked briskly across the main road and down a small side road to our back gate. I managed to retrieve my keys from my pocket without dropping him, opened the gate and put him down just inside. He trotted into the garden where he was greeted by a very happy little boy.

Thank heavens for that, as now I could go to visit Mum on Wednesday without the worry of leaving McCat at large up here.

Other news, I’ve started writing again, only a little bit but I see it as a result. I have to write a story by 15th September. I have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen and who is in it, it’s just a case of whether I can write 15k in the time. McMini goes back to school on 4th so it could well happen. It depends on the Dad stuff. I still get waves of sadness and I expect I will for sometime but it seems to be a little less grim now and Mum seems a lot better too, which is brilliant, and it’s great to chat to her about it on Wednesdays. The writers’ group I’m in also met yesterday, which was great fun, as always, and just as they were leaving I got a message that the car was all fixed, which was brilliant. All the more so because the bill, though big, was much lower than I expected. It will be a while before I can get the rest of the new books edited, but perhaps not as long as I thought.

A traumatic week then! But all in all, it turned out pretty well in the end.

 

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It’s cake, Jim, but not as we know it…

It’s been an eventful week. In a move of incredible efficiency, the entire family my side managed to meet at my mum’s and clear out the junk in her barn and garage. There was a lot of junk. Imagine a room that’s hot and stuffy and packed to the gunwales with crap. Imagine four beds that have been left, untouched, for some years. Now imagine this in a building infested with mice, squirrels and other sundry vermin.

Nearly empty ready for sweeping.

The cobwebs alone were epic, like something out of a film. You know, one of those films where you’d go,

‘Those cobwebs are a bit unrealistic, cobwebs never look like that in real life.’

Newsflash: they do.

The beds had been nibbled, pieces of newspaper had been dragged into them, the floor was about two inches thick with the desiccated carapace of wood lice that spiders had eaten. Everything had those little dots on which are, I’m afraid, spider poo – I discussed this on another post somewhere didn’t I, the one about the toboggan. Everything else was covered in mouse droppings. The squirrels had left hazelnuts all over the shop and their … er hem … motions … had left a kind of stodgy stinky pile in the middle of the floor.

And this is the crap that came out.

McOther found a dead mouse and the skeleton of a squirrel. There were also two lots of cat poo which must have been from my parents’ old cat, Abbie, who died in the mid 1990s. They were rock hard, anyway. The beds and mattresses were unbelievably vile. The stuff of nightmares.

After a day of sweeping, scrubbing and heavy lifting we ended up with a massive pile of rubbish and a clear top barn.

We bought hazmat suits but ended up not wearing them. It was too hot. Although I did use a smog mask for sweeping out and wore gloves at all times, three pairs of surgical gloves at once in fact. The dust while sweeping was horrible and I mentioned the cobwebs didn’t I? Shudders.

After a very busy day, we all went home and the lovely chap from the local skip company turned up with a van to take it all away the next morning. Turns out there are two loads so he took the first one and is coming back for the remains of it on Tuesday. We put the few items being kept back in the barn. Highlights included:

Two old bed pans, a baby weighing scale from about 1910, some early 20th century skis, an ice pick that looked about contemporary with Scot’s trip to the Antarctic and an ancient crane, probably from about the same era as the baby weighing scale. When we arrived home they’d shut our street to do resurfacing work. The only way to get to our drive was by going the wrong way down two one way streets. That was interesting.

On Thursday, after we’d arrived home, McMini took delivery of a gun that fires small gel balls, like those things flowers sometimes come in. They arrive tiny and you put them in water and watch them grow. McMini assures me they disappear eventually but for the time being they’re all over the garden. After waiting several hours for the first packet of balls to hydrate I was liberally strafed as I went about my business. Meanwhile, I browsed the net and picked up some more stuff for McOther’s birthday, things he doesn’t realise he’ll be receiving.

Needless to say, I got far too engrossed in this and while scoring a whole bunch of things I think he’ll like I completely forgot about some other stuff like time and McMini’s Boys’ Brigade band practise. I realised twenty minutes before, when it was far too late to give him food. I managed to make a hasty chicken roll and gave him a bowl of olives but we were late. So much for being smug about McOther’s birthday gifts.

McMini dropped off, I came home and discovered my ancient Wilkinson’s ‘greenhouse’ listing at a worrying angle. Further investigation showed it was in trouble and probably about to collapse. While I wondered which of the tomato plants to take out first the ‘shelf’ gave up the ghost, dumping four of them all onto the ground below.

To be honest, I was worried it might not make it through this growing season. It’s little more than a metal frame with a plastic cover over it so the fact it’s lasted five years, at least, is a minor miracle. I got the tomatoes out but then had to go back and collect McMini and leave them to their fate. Needless to say, it took a whole day to sort them out. On the upside, two of the four plants came out reasonably OK, if battered. The others are bollocksed but who knows, they might perk up. Luckily, McOther was cooking that night and McMini did get to eat, he just had to eat with us rather than beforehand.

As you can imagine, rebuilding the ‘greenhouse’ so it wouldn’t fall down again took a sod of along time. Throughout the process I was strafed liberally, a second time, with the rest of the gel balls. McMini had hydrated all of them in a container that was only designed for half, luckily I happened on them as the balls began to expand their way out of the top and moved the frogspawn-like mess to a kilner jar.

Greenhouse fixed and tiny bouncy gel balls cleared up, it was time to dump the car off for … yikes … electrical repairs and then I left McMini at home and legged it up the hill to buy the ingredients for McOther’s birthday cake.

When I arrived home the presents McOther requested had arrived and I had to take an hour out to sit and feel smug about my incredible efficiency. OK so the others won’t arrive until Tuesday but you can’t win ’em all and he doesn’t know he’s getting those.

After a brief discussion with McOther this morning, he chose to have an orange and poppy seed cake. I decided I’d make muffins and then ice them with orange butter icing.

Why do I do these idiotic things? I’m a complete fucking bampot, that’s why.

It was a hot day and I learned a very Important Thing.

It was this.

Butter icing melts at a certain temperature.

Sadly, I don’t know exactly which temperature it is, only that the air temperature in my kitchen was a tiny bit higher this afternoon. So the beautiful piped rosettes on the cakes began to melt, a factor which was probably exacerbated by my own impatience as the cakes were tepid rather than cold when I began. Note to self, put bastard cakes in fridge or let them cool long enough.

It’s cake, Jim, but not as we know it!

Naturally, I chronically underestimated the amount of icing required and as I only had one orange, there wasn’t enough orange juice left to make the second batch of icing orange-flavoured either so I had to use a lemon. I hurriedly reclaimed the squeezed orange rinds from the pot I’d stuffed them into, ready for the compost, and removed the last scrapings of zest – don’t do disgusting things like this at home kids. Two cakes later and I had to make a bastard third batch, not a nod to orange, that one, lemon only.

Cakes done, I realised the Happy Birthday candle I was going to use was broken but I did, at least, manage to glue it back together by melting the wax a little bit over the stove and then holding the two ends together until they stuck. Finally, I stuck it into the tray of cakes, covered the revolting mess with sprinkles and put the tray in the fridge.

Fingers and toes crossed.

Now I’m taking a couple of minutes to read, sitting in the evening sun, while nature pelts me with flying ants. That’s probably what I get for being egocentric enough to be sat here reading my own books. But there’s method in my madness. In order to get the continuity right in my upcoming series I have to re-read the old one so here I am.

Never mind, onwards and upwards, I’m going on my first dig of the autumn tomorrow. Here’s hoping I find something interesting.

How’s your week been? A little more restful than mine I hope.

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Random stuff …

Today, I’m slightly short of inspiration. I wanted to write something smart and pithy but frankly, while I’m habitually too pithy much of the time, I’ve been the antithesis of smart for some months now. Even so, the Dad dust is settling I think, or at least, beginning to die down – I still owe a lot of people letters, though, sorry if you’re one of them.

While we were on holiday I did dip a cautious toe into writing again. OK so it was only a few hundred words and constipation and brain fog week hit immediately afterwards scuppering it at once but it was there and that’s progress. It’s not beyond the realms that I’ll get a submission in for Christmas Lites this year, it depends how the holidays and the first week of term go. Meanwhile Mum seems a lot chirpier and is starting to do things again, pottering in the kitchen and the garden, she’s much chattier and happier and a great deal more alert which is wonderful.

When it comes to me though, I am less than alert. Just before my holiday, I managed to lose my penknife and then proceeded to lose the replacement in less than 24 hours. I had a back up but it wasn’t very sharp so I managed to make a pretty good effort at cutting the top of my finger off  with it while trying to help myself to a slice of cheese while we were away. I inadvertently brought the SD stick I own with a back up of my entire computer hard drive, and all my photos, and then, realising what I had done, instead of hiding it in the deepest, darkest, chasms of my bag so I’d not lose it, I tucked it carefully away on the bedside shelves at the hotel and left it there when we departed.

On the last day of our holiday we were in a hotel with a self service breakfast bar. Like many of them, it had one of those egg boilers, you know the kind of thing a tank of water with a lid and you put a raw egg in a kind of wire mesh spoon/cup with a long hooked handle. Then you put the egg in the water, hooking the end of the spoon/cup over the side, put the lid on and turn it up so it boils.

///roped.luckier.truce
///hubcap.collaboration.regiment

While I was waiting for them to replenish the supply of pancakes, I decided I’d do a hard boiled egg and then keep it for my lunch. When I came to the boiler there’d been some accidents. A half peeled egg and another unpeeled virgin boiled egg lay in the bottom where, presumably, they had irretrievably escaped from their spoon/cup things. Knowing how long eggs can take in these boilers, I toyed with the idea of retrieving the lost eggs of others rather than cooking my own. I have learned, the hard way, that you need to leave the eggs in a fair while even if you are savvy enough to know that you must turn it up because it may take five minutes to come to the boil. Get this wrong and, three hours later, you peel your egg in famished anticipation only to discover the yolk and most of the white are raw. Tempted though I was to remove the eggs from the bottom since the half peeled one, at any rate, was definitely cooked. It occurred to me that they might be a bit too cooked, nobody likes a raw egg, but no-one likes an egg that’s come through cooked and out the other side to bouncy, indestructible rubberiness either. I turned the boiler right up and left the egg in there while I had my pancakes.

Later as we were leaving the hotel, I was convinced that I’d forgotten something. Something important, but I couldn’t remember what – I left the SD stick at a different hotel – so it wasn’t that, anyway, at this point, I thought I still had it. There I was racking my brains as we left the car park when I remembered!

‘On no!’ I said.

McOther stopped the car.

‘What is it?’ he asked, his voice full of concern.

‘I forgot my egg.’

Guffaws from the back!

‘Oh my god Dad! She’s channelling Pops! D’you want to go back? You do don’t you? You’ve got to go back because it’s food!’ said McMini.

I looked at my watch.

‘Alas, it’s after ten, they’ll have cleared it away … Pity, I was really looking forward to that egg.’

This escapade made me feel very at one with my dad (as did losing so many Important Items over the holiday – not to mention inadvertently bringing one with me in order to lose it really thoroughly, the hotel are looking but are not optimistic about finding it). But on the egg front, especially, I was extremely disappointed and I know Dad would have felt similar disappointment and probably expressed it in a very similar way. Never mind, it may chalk us both up as nutters, but if I can be half the human being he was, I’ll be very happy.

Back to writing. I noticed a post on a metal detecting group I follow about an app that’s pure genius. What3Words was invented by a guy who realised that you could break the entire GPS grid up into 3 metre x 3 metre squares and each one has a three word code. There are trillions of squares but only 40,000 words are needed which is amazing. It’s accurate but it’s also genius because by using words it uses less memory and works on nanky old machines where new stuff won’t. It also means the phone doesn’t have to have a signal for it to work.

The thing is, if you’re a metal detectorist you want to know what your GPS coordinates are when you find something good because you need to log it on the national finds database. With this app you can find your three word location, even when your phone has no signal. And of course, when you get home, you can convert those three words to GPS coordinates from inside the app at the touch of a button.

As an example of what the coordinates look like in what three words, the door of number ten Downing Street is ///slurs.this.shark but the spot across the road where the press usually stand is ///stage.pushy.nuns.

Taking another example of coordinates: I grew up in a school and the spot where my old bedroom is located is the intersection between four squares. These squares are: ///blockage.year.rally ///impeached.front.mistress ///mocked.curly.eyelashes and ///digested.starch.gravy. Meanwhile our lavatory was situated at ///spoil.infects.severe which sounds about right to be honest.

Any writers reading will already see where I’m going with this. Somehow, despite these three words being random meaningless phrases, I found that as I looked up places that had been part of my life or just randomly stuck my finger on countries around the globe I began to see these three words as reading like some cryptic story. Mocked curly eyelashes and digested starch gravy are just asking to be turned into flash fiction aren’t they?  And what’s a front mistress and why was she impeached?

The best one I’ve found so far is in Russia somewhere on what looks like a building site from the satellite images ///Mondays.smugly.coping. Clearly someone who starts the week in a better frame of mind than I do.

 

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More thoughts about grief …

Vimy Ridge 100 years on

This week we’ve been visiting a lot of First World War sites. On balance, this was probably less than smart, so soon after my father’s death. But in another way it was cathartic. Grief is a properly odd thing and sometimes it does you good to take a few quiet moments to have a snivel and let it out. You can’t sweep it under the carpet and pretend it’s not happening. That doesn’t help.

However, that said, it does tend to pop up in weird ways when you least expect it. Case in point, Dad. When Dad died it was the culmination of nearly fourteen years worrying about his mental health. He was calm, totally ready and for those few days before he left us, it was as if he’d come back to us. After his total loss of reason, and the psychotic stage he had returned to us a fair bit, in the home. He came out of the small boy stage and was a grown man again, struggling with his affliction in different ways.

In those weeks, he was calmer and seemed happier but looking back on it, perhaps it was because he’d decided this was the end of the road and resigned himself. I worried that he was fighting and losing. Looking back on it, I think it more likely that he was coming to terms with things and I was seeing the light and shade of his various moods as he worked through it. The thing about Dad’s death though, was that it was a really, really good one. People who loved him were with him, reassuring him and he was a man of faith, and while I’m sure he appreciated that reassurance, he probably didn’t need it.

It was a relief, for him and us, because it was the end of his suffering. It may look callous saying that but I remember waking up the morning after Dad had died and feeling sad that he had gone and that there really was no going back now and at the same time, also feeling as if an enormous weight of responsibility had been lifted from me and feeling happy for Dad (although as a Christian who believes there’s some kind of after life that might be easier for me than it is for some folks).

Now, I don’t know what I expected from the grieving process but it seems most sensible to accept it’s there and roll with the punches when it pops up. But I’ve noticed two things which might help other people.

Thing one: No matter how good the death, no matter if death was the only place to go and no matter if the death was a good one, you will feel incredibly sad. Not only that but if my own experience is anything to go by, you will feel way, way, sadder than expected.

‘But it’s your dad! Of course you’re sad!’ I hear you say. Well, yes, but I’ve spent the last eight or nine years, at least losing little pieces of my dad each day, and I’ve spent the last five years grieving for those pieces of his personality, facets of his sense of humour, things that gradually faded until I could no longer resurrect them. There was a horrible point where the jokes we used to have suddenly stopped working.

‘I don’t know why you think that’s so fucking funny,’ I remember him saying about what I’d thought was his absolute favourite joke between us. ‘Stop saying it.’

Various people have told me that, after an illness, you get the person back. I think I’m too brain fogged to get much back, my short term memory is completely shot, just yesterday I was chatting to McMini and he reminded me of something we did together, when he was a child, an event of which I have absolutely no memory. That is quite frightening because such a total and utter memory loss has never happened to me before. No matter that my diagnosis was hormones, I have some pretty deep set misgivings, in my own mind, that I have dementia, myself. That said, a friend (0lder) who suffered depression when her kids were growing up says there are huge tracts of their lives she simply can’t remember. She put it down to the medication, but it must have been stressful, and I’ve been pretty stressed for at least eight of McMini’s eleven years, maybe I it’s just that. Yeh, I’ll cling to that hope. If it isn’t, I just hope I can hold it together until Mum goes, or even better until McMini hits twenty one. That would be another eight years. Mmm … fingers and toes crossed.

What I was trying to say, after that considerable tangent, is that I haven’t got the memories back really, I still can’t remember anything much before the dementia (Dad’s) but I do have a much better conception of what he was like when he was firing on all cylinders; his cheekiness, his sense of fun, the things he loved and the things that made him laugh. I can remember his humanity, his compassion, his kindness – partly because his behaviour was the antithesis of many public figures today, not to mention the current behavioural ethos which seems to be that we should each be as big a cunt as we can be because it’s our right and we ‘shouldn’t take it’ from other people.

Which brings us to Thing Two: I guess the moral of this is simply that even if you are expecting it to be weird and trying to be open, not fret and accept the nature of the beast, grief still pops up when you don’t expect it and surprises you.

But after a death when it’s really a release and the person who died was clearly at peace and happy to do so, I guess I assumed I’d mourn less perhaps, or at least differently. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when you’ve been losing a person for so long while they’re alive and grieving their loss has already been going on for some years I suppose I thought that the grief of the actual death would be … easier?

Or to put it another way, for all my trying to be open minded and take it as it comes, it seems I’d assumed that there’s a finite amount of grief and that I’d used up a good half of it while Dad was still alive.

I was wrong.

That’s probably worth remembering. Meanwhile, for now, for me, it’s head down, give it space whenever I can and wait. I’ll get used to it eventually.

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This week I am mostly …

On holiday! Indeed, that being the case, I was going to have a week off. However, as a writer of comic science fiction fantasy, which is mostly just fantasy with science in, it’s difficult to come here and not be inspired.

Where the Goojan Quarter backs onto the canal.

As you know, those of you who’ve read any of my books, most of the K’Barthan action is set in Ning Dang Po, the nation’s capital city. I imagine it being a bit of a mix up. A few years before the action in my stuff begins the Grongles invaded K’Barth. In doing so they bombed large chunks of K’Barth to bits, including parts of the capital. Many of these areas are still bomb sites, while others have been developed, new shiny stainless steel and glass buildings are going up in the commercial centre.

Ancient streets of the Goojan Quarter

A lot of the old warehouses, which I imagine as either medieval or Victorian stand empty, although some have new Grongle owned or Grongle sponsored businesses moving in – the Grongles have destroyed most K’Barthan trade by systematically taxing it out of existence, or they have simply appropriated K’Barthan businesses into Grongle ownership.

It doesn’t always work like that of course, there’s a point at which anyone is too rich to touch. Then there’s ‘old’ Ning Dang Po, which tends to come in a variety of architectural styles but if you’re trying to imagine it, think eighteenth century Britain back to medieval and Tudor. Imagine the shambles in York, with shades of Bath but mostly run down and then throw some of the new bits of the City of London into it all hugga-mugga.

One of the wider streets maybe?

The new shiny buildings are built by Grongle companies with Grongolian finance and are not available for the use of ‘native’ K’Barthans. Sometimes K’Barthans are full-on barred but mostly it’s just a case of K’Barthans lacking the hard cash, case in point The Planes, where Big Merv lives. Other K’Barthan buildings have been reallocated for Grongolian use only, their original K’Barthan residents evicted to make way for the many Grongle officers and their families moving in.

So now you have this kind of two tier system where the Grongles have nearly all the money the privilege and the power and the K’Barthans are their second-class servants. At the same time, the oldest parts of the city, those still standing, have aroused a strange kind of sentimental streak in the Grongles who have slapped preservation orders on the areas they consider to be ‘pure and true’ architecture, as well as completely assimilating others. One of the things about the Grongles is that they think K’Barth

Nearly The Parrot’s courtyard.

and K’Barthans were once great but have now become decadent or dissolute. They are determined to reform their K’Barthan subjects, although some hard liners think K’Barthans are beyond redemption and wish to destroy them.

A place that crops up a couple of times, especially in the new series I’m writing is the Goojan quarter, where the houses are very close together, the streets narrow and where the land was, originally, far too valuable to waste on things like courtyards and gardens – these are now all on the roofs.

At the moment, I don’t really have any pictures of the kind of new, shiny, steel and glass Ning Dang Po and a lot of the other bits, think Ely in Cambridgeshire or possibly some of the back streets of Cambridge, or for the posher areas bits of Bath and Buxton. But I do have some pictures of the Goojan Quarter, or at least I have some pictures that are about as close as reality gets, now that I’ve spent a week in them! Here’s a little snippet of stuff about the area in question from Too Good to be True which will be out early next year, if I can get the cash together for editing any time before I die of old age (rolls eyes).

Enjoy.

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Excerpt from Too Good To Be True:

The Pan made his way through the twisty streets of the Goojan Quarter, they were narrow, cobbled, and at street level, dark. The ancient houses were close enough together at the bottom, but in times gone by the Goojan Quarter had been prime real estate. Most of the merchants opening businesses there could only afford a small area of such premium land and since it came at couch a premium nobody was going to waste any on wide boulevards. The streets and alleyways were wide enough to let a cart through and that was all. There was also a complicated one way system which all beings followed, even now.

Few of those early merchants could afford a home after stumping up for a plot of land in the Goojan Quarter so many lived above their shops and businesses with their families. In order to maximise the amount of living space they would build the floor above jutting out a few feet over the shop window below. As time went by they built more and more floors, each one jutting further out than the ones underneath, until the streets below became darker and darker and, at the upper levels, it was often possible to reach out of the window and shake hands with the people living in the property opposite. Because of this, the Goojan quarter was one of the few places where The Pan couldn’t really stick to the roofs, or at least not if he wanted to find anything, it was impossible to read the house numbers from above.

Luckily it didn’t matter as much as it should. The Grongles didn’t venture into the quarter often. So, much to The Pan’s relief, he only had to look out for any K’Barthans who might be following him as he moved through the streets at ground level. He wasn’t sure why the Grongles left the Goojan K’Barthans alone. It might possibly be something to do with the height of the first floors jutting out at every street corner. The properties in this part of town had been built hundreds of years previously when all the beings using them were universally smaller and shorter. Even The Pan had to duck sometimes and he was a lot less tall than the average Grongle. He could imagine an unwary might smack his head on every single building.

Yeh, perhaps that was the reason.

On the other hand, The Pan reflected, it might just as easily have been the smell that kept the Grongles away. Goojans used spice, they used spices in ways that even Hamgeeans hadn’t thought of. A visit to the Goojan Quarter was always an aromatic assault. It made The Pan feel hungry, but since many Grongles preferred plain boring food, they probably had a different reaction. Grongles were much like the inhabitants of Ning Dang-Po in that respect.

The mixture of strange and exotic perfumes in the air was particularly strong in the heat; spices, cooking food, aromatic teas and herbs, plus the odd whiff of drains. It was even strong enough to cover the aroma of the spiced sausage in The Pan’s bag. Or at least, if anyone noticed the smell as he passed, they made no sign.

At last he found the place, he checked the address on the card in his hand one more time and knocked on the door.

Silence. Maybe Goldy McSpim was out. No, The Pan had rung the number on the card and asked him for a valuation of goods, hopefully that was vague enough not to bother the Grongles listening in. He checked behind him again, just in case, but he knew, categorically, that he wasn’t being followed. Not at the moment. Then again, The Pan supposed, if he was checking for anyone tracking his movements. Maybe Goldy McSpim was doing the same, for himself. Finally a window opened far above him.

‘Just on my way down!’ called a voice.

‘Right,’ said The Pan. Presumably that was the man, or at least the Spiffle, himself. The Pan slipped the card into his pocket and waited.

At last the sound of bolts being drawn back came from behind the door. Clearly Goldy McSpim was careful about security as there appeared to be about ten bolts. After that The Pan listened to a lot more unlocking sounds and the door finally swung open. It was opened by two ferocious looking Blurpons, creatures related to Spiffles in that they are short and furry but in all other ways about as different as it is possible to be. Blurpons have red fur, as opposed to the orange fur of Spiffles, and are known for their unsurpassed skill at laundering and a tendency to psychotic violence and ease of offence. They have one leg but The Pan knew, from experience, that this wouldn’t present them with a problem if they decided to get antsy. These were Goldy’s bodyguards. They had to be; employed on account of their violent streak rather than their laundering abilities.

‘Ah gentlemen, thank you,’ said a voice from inside. ‘Do let the young man in.’

The Pan was ushered into the coolness of the interior where he listened to the sounds of the many bolts and locks being re-secured behind him. It suddenly occurred to him that if Goldy wanted to steal the sausage and send him on his way with a flea in his ear, it wasn’t going to be difficult. Oh dear had he walked into a trap? Idiot, he should have left half the sausage in the SE2.

Goldy was wearing a beret, which was surprisingly understated for a spiffle, it was only when he smiled that The Pan realised why his hat was so restrained. He supposed the traditional Spiffle love of decoration had to come out somewhere but his teeth? The Pan speculated to himself that Goldy’s nickname was probably something to do with the entirely gold contents of his mouth. Not only were his teeth gold but they were studded with precious gems cut cabochon style; emeralds, rubies and the odd diamond. The Pan realised his own mouth had dropped open and closed it quickly.

‘If I should ever need to leave here in a hurry, the sausage will not travel,’ Goldy explained, ‘this way,’ he flashed The Pan a blinding smile, ‘I will always have some assets with me.’

‘Won’t people notice?’

‘Not if I do not smile,’ said Goldy. ‘Now. Come, come,’ he said and headed off down four stairs at the back of the shop and through a large metal safe door into a back room.

The Pan followed, slightly nervously because if there was any trouble, the only way out was past the Blurpons and he didn’t fancy his chances. Goldy took his place on a tall stool behind a table spread with a crisp white damask cloth. In front of the table was a battered antique dining chair with arms and an open back, the seat upholstered in worn leather.

‘How is Mrs McSpim?’ asked The Pan politely.

‘She is very well, yes, yes.’

‘Please thank her and send her my best wishes.’

‘Ah I think you should wait until I have valued the goods before you thank either of us yes?’

The Pan’s eyes were drawn to the blinding whiteness of the tablecloth. Maybe the two Blurpons did the laundry as well as the bodyguard duties. Yes, of course they did, and come to think of it, there’d be more than two, they would be part of a team and someone would always be on duty, round the clock.

The Pan turned in a circle, examining the rest of his surroundings. Ranged along all four walls of the room were glass fronted shelves. Airtight and climate controlled they were divided into square units like some huge safety deposit area. Well, yes, The Pan supposed, it probably was, he cast another quick glance at the foot thick metal door. He was clearly inside a giant safe.

One of the Blurpons had flicked a light switch and a dim glow illuminated all the boxes. There were a few empty ones, but most contained sausage, some contained two.

‘This is …’ what to call it? ‘Impressive,’ said The Pan. ‘Are these sausages all yours?’

‘Oh no! But as you know a good sausage is expensive! It needs to be kept securely. A bank vault is not good for that purpose, the air is stale. No-no-no, a sausage is a living thing, starve it of the correct temperature or humidity and it will pine away and die, the balance of spices will soon fall off, mould will grow,’ he shuddered, clearly that would be bad. ‘These storage units are state of the art. For a small fee you can keep your family heirlooms here and my assistants will deliver slices of your precious treat to your door, as and when you require.’

‘Heirlooms?’

‘Yes, yes! Some of these sausages have been in the same families for centuries. Our climate controlled storage keeps them at the optimum temperature for years of enjoyment. And we are fully insured, of course, so it is more cost effective, as well as safer, to keep them here than at home.’

‘Yes, I can imagine,’ said The Pan.

‘The service is very competitively priced, if you are interested.’

‘I— well, I suspect I will be selling.’

‘You have debts huh?’

‘Something like that.’

Goldy stared at The Pan, a long hard stare, he had the same look of shewed intelligence as his wife and was clearly missing nothing. He nodded slowly.

‘Please sit.’

The Pan did as he was told, seating himself in the chair and placing the bag with the sausage inside on his lap.

‘Do these all belong to actual beings?’ he asked looking at the shelves around him.

‘You are wondering how there can be so many rich people in the world I would guess. Some are,’ Goldy paused for thought, ‘how would you say it? Unclaimed, they belong to the blacklisted, or the mislaid. They will have family, descendants. One day, I will find them, or they will find me.’

He smiled almost blinding The Pan with another flash of his bejewelled teeth despite the ambient dimness of the lighting.

‘And the others?’

Goldy gave The Pan a long, hard look.

‘The richest few percent of the population have ways of surviving anything. Very little changes for them, no matter who is in charge or what is happeing to the rest of us. It is all a game to them. Now. You have a sausage to show me.’ He held out his paw and wiggled it in the type of beckoning gesture that is the universal sign language for gimme-gimme the world over

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It’s not who you know, it’s what you know …

It’s time to see if I can boost the visitor numbers to my blog a bit and for that purpose, once again, I have procured the services of a celebrity guest. Yes you have a special treat in store today. The ever popular Tallis has returned to my blog – along with a little help from Jim Webster, his publisher and agent. Enjoy.

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It’s not who you know, it’s what you know.

It’s not what you know …

I realise that it might not be a fashionable view. Indeed I know some people who would disagree vehemently with me on this. They will boast of their wide circle of acquaintance, and the fact that should they want a decision making in their favour in high places, they merely have to drop a hint into the ear of the right person. Yet I would suggest that if you don’t know what’s going on, you can drop all the hints you want, you’ll never achieve the result you desire.

It was the interesting affair of Doughty Voile which illustrates this best. Doughty comes from one of the small villages east of here, along the Paraeba river. Doughty’s parents came from the city of Oiphallarian, which is even further east. His parents abandoned city life, (for unexplained reasons) and settled to the life of peasant cultivators. The area was isolated, Doughty grew up speaking with a pronounced Oiphallarian accent, and occasionally people from the city did visit them. They would stay for some time and spend most of it inside. Often they spent it in bed being treated for various injuries. Doughty truly had a nice knack at sewing up knife wounds.  But apart from these occasional highlights, life was quiet. Doughty worked hard, but was a great reader. He seems to have read everything that crossed his path. Apparently he used to sail out in his skiff to meet the steamers. He’d trade fresh vegetables with the purser for books.

His big chance came when a visitor arrived from Oiphallarian. He’d taken a cottage in the village and Doughty got to know him. Apparently the visitor, one Montain Calm, was in the book trade. He worked for a publishing house in the city. Ostensibly he had been sent to reconnoitre Port Naain with a view to exploring the literary possibilities. Not only was he to search out for new writing talent, but there was also the possibility of forming partnerships with local publishers, or having books written in Oiphallarian printed locally by Port Naain printers. To be honest, Montain wasn’t particularly keen on heading further west. His real aim was to linger in the village with his mistress for a month or two. He would then return to Oiphallarian explaining that he’d explored the opportunities and there weren’t any.

Doughty pondered this and a day or so later, casually mentioned, as if in passing, that he had to go to Port Naain anyway, and would Montain like him to check things out for him whilst he was there. It would give his report to his superiors a degree of verisimilitude if he could mention a few contacts by name. Montain thought briefly and agreed it would be an excellent idea, and even gave Doughty a few vintenars to buy himself a drink or two with whilst he was in the city.

Doughty next had to work out how he was going to get to Port Naain. He had virtually no cash, and what he had, he felt he’d need when he got there. So he decided to just sail down river in his skiff and if the worst came to the worst he could always sleep in it as well. So with a change of clothing, and his father’s business suit which Doughty had recently grown into, he set off.

It was entirely fortuitous that he stumbled upon me. He drifted past the wharfs of the city, temporarily unmanned by the sheer size of the place. When he got to Fellmonger’s Wharf he contemplated tying up, but there was no wharf space available. To be fair that is normally the case. Boats and barges are tied up to seven deep on Fellmonger’s Wharf. It’s a residential wharf, and our wharf-rat, Marson, likes it well stacked. It ensures he’s got plenty of tenants and those nearest the wharf will struggle to skip without paying the rent.

Doughty passed onwards and arrived at the Old Esplanade. The tide was in and there were a few loafers waiting for it to turn. So he paddled close to the shore and after some thought he asked if anybody could direct him to, “A literary gentleman.”

It must be confessed that on the Old Esplanade I am well known, even if it is only as Shena’s husband. Hence, it was my name he was given. Not only that but they gave him directions as how to get to our barge.

Thus it was as I was meditating in the sunshine, contemplating my muse, I was rudely awakened as his skiff scraped alongside. I welcomed him aboard and he told me his story. Let us be honest, he was obviously not a senior agent for a major publishing house. He lacked the arrogance. He lacked the belief in his own divine right to succeed that one finds in such people. To be honest, if he was in publishing I would have placed him as a literary agent who made a poor living touting his finds to small independent publishing houses.

After an hour and a glass or two, I got the entire truth out of him and it was then I made my decision. I liked him. He was a decent enough young man and remarkably well read. Thus I spent the rest of the afternoon coaching him. By the time Shena arrived home, Doughty was almost convincing. So she joined me in my work and by the time we retired for the night, he could discuss business with businessmen and literature with writers. All that needed to be done was to arrange a few introductions.

Thus under the name of Montain Calm, Doughty was launched on Port Naain literary society. He was a considerable success. When introduced to writers he was measured. If he hadn’t read their work he’d read similar. He was happy to discuss their current projects and showed a genuine interest in work they had close to completion. If he had a failing, it was that he didn’t have a large budget for entertaining. In all candour that was one area where I couldn’t help him. But we discovered that people were so keen to speak to him that they insisted on paying for his drinks.

Having caused a stir amongst the writers, we moved on to the printers and publishers. They pleaded with him to dine with them. Had he been a person with fewer moral standards he could doubtless have walked away, his pockets jingling from the bribes they wanted to slip him. As it was he amassed crate after crate of samples. I honestly believe he had acquired a copy of every book published in Port Naain in the previous decade!

Once writers saw the publishers wining and dining Doughty they redoubled their own efforts. It was now obvious that he was the man who held their fortunes in the palm of his hand. The poor chap was virtually besieged. He made an unfortunate strategic error. In a desperate effort to calm people down, he let it be known that there was no point in negotiating details. This was because his employers were sending their legal representative out to join him in a couple of weeks and this person would draw up the contracts.

In one way this worked. The writing community could see that there was no point in worrying him with details. Unfortunately each writer also decided that they ought to use this period of grace to win Doughty over to their side, so that when the lawyer appeared, they would be the first in the queue and would be signed up on good terms before the money ran out.

In the next week, eight lady writers of some merit invited him to picnic with them and took the opportunity to propose what might be described as, ‘an informal marital arrangement.’ At the same time, other writers would invite him out, ‘for a convivial evening.’ On several occasions the convivial evening barely finished in time for him to join a lady for the lunchtime picnic.

Finally I had to step in. The social whirl had become manic. As he said to me, it wasn’t waking up and thinking, “Where am I,” that told him it was time to stop. It was when he turned over in bed, looked at the individuals who appeared to be sharing it with him, and asked, “And who the hell are they?”

Apparently on one occasion he was only spared embarrassment because the lady’s maid had the habit of sewing name tapes into her mistress’s clothes so that they were easily identified by the laundry.

At very short notice I got him a passage on a barge heading east. Given his personal effects included eleven crates of books and nearly as many of rather good wine, there was no way he could get them all in the skiff.

“And what,” I hear you mutter under your breath, “did Tallis get out of it?”

Well to be fair both Shena and I ate rather well that week. Also, as Doughty commented, he wasn’t somebody who normally drank wine with every meal. Thus whilst he took a number of crates of wine with him, it must be admitted that he left twice that number with Shena and I. But perhaps more importantly than that, it’s always good for a chap to discover what sort of folk he lives among.

And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.

So here I am again with another blog tour. I’ve released two collections of short stories from Tallis and if you’ve enjoyed the one you just read, you’ll almost certainly enjoy these.

So what have Tallis and I got for you?

Well first there’s:

‘Tallis Steelyard. A guide for writers, and other stories.’

The book that all writers who want to know how to promote and sell their books will have to read. Sit at the feet of the master as Tallis passes on the techniques which he has tried and perfected over the years. As well as this you’ll have music and decorum, lessons in the importance of getting home under your own steam, and brass knuckles for a lady. How can you resist, all this for a mere 99p?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-guide-writers-stories-ebook/dp/B07TRXJH8C/

Then we have

‘Tallis Steelyard. Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories.’

Now is your chance to see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-Gentlemen-behaving-stories-ebook/dp/B07TRYZV6C/

So come on, treat yourself, because you’re worth it.

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Just a final note from me, MTM. This is the last story in this tour, but if you want to read the other stories, not to mention discover some cracking blogs, I can heartily recommend starting from the beginning. You can find the first one on our lovely friend, Chris Graham’s blog here:

A fine residence – Guest Post (and Book Promo) by Tallis Steelyard (Jim Webster)…

If, for some reason it doesn’t work, or you get lost on the way, the first part of each story appears on Tallis’ own blog, starting here:

A fine residence …

 

 

 

 

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Grief

Today, I’m a bit strapped for time. I was hoping I’d find something I’d started in my drafts folder that I could just finish off. Unfortunately I didn’t. It reminds me of a story the priest at our church when I was a nipper once told, about a German colleague called Hans. Hans had endured an extremely busy time so a week came when he was able to kick back and relax, which he did. All he had to do the entire week was write a sermon for a service he was taking on the Sunday.

However, when our mate Hans sat down to write, he found himself completely devoid of inspiration. He looked up the readings for the Sunday but remained uninspired. He tried the whole week’s readings, but they, too, left him cold. He eventually procrastinated, until late on the Saturday night, when he thought about it and still found nothing. Then he remembered the point in the New Testament when someone, is it Paul? talking about the Holy Spirit says something along the lines of, ‘don’t worry what you have to say because the Holy Spirit will speak through you.’

Brilliant! Of course! Hans thought, that’s it, the Holy Spirit will speak through me. Thank God for that! He knew he’d be fine. He put down his pen, closed the notebook and went to bed.

The next morning, still no inspiration. Never mind, the Holy Spirit would speak through him, he thought. As he climbed the steps up to the pulpit finally, something popped into his head. Was this the spirit speaking to him? Yes, surely it was, but unfortunately, what it said was,

‘Hans, you have been very lazy this week.’

Like Hans, I have been very lazy. Or at least, I have not left the time required to write about the things that are inspiring me, so I thought I’d have a quick word about grief because I think it’s a topic to which I can do the most justice in the shortest possible time!

Grieving is a weird thing.

When Dad died, he was totally calm and at peace; absolutely unafraid. I felt almost happy for him because I knew it was the right thing, the only way forward; on to the next adventure.

Yes, he believed there is something in us that goes on, and I do too. This is mainly because the corpses I’ve seen have been so strikingly inanimate, so very much things. Like a car without driver, or a bicycle without anybody to pedal it, a body without … whatever it is that animates us … ain’t going nowhere. And when you see one, it’s very, very clear that there is something else important, something that’s missing.

So he’s gone. And although I wouldn’t have him back the way he was for anything, because he had lost his quality of life and he was losing himself at that point but that doesn’t stop me missing Dad.

A while back, McMini went to two nursery settings. One he was fine, the other thought he had problems and contacted me to explain that he was not able to sit still or pay proper attention to instructions, etc. At the time, I was fully prepared to discover my son was dyspraxic or dyslexic in some form or other, so I wasn’t as fazed as they were. At that point, Dad was forgetful but very much with us in all other respects so I asked his advice.

If your son can’t sit still and listen to instructions it means they’re not engaging him properly. I’d say the problem is with them not McMini. What does the other setting say? Oh, I hadn’t asked. I did. They told me that if they had a three year old boy in their charge who was actually able to sit still for ten minutes THAT is when they’d consider he had a problem. They told me McMini was very advanced in many ways, bright, cheerful, very articulate and able to do things like walk on a balance beam with an ability that was well ahead of his age.

This side of Dad, this being able to ask him advice and chat things over with him and get the same reply he’d have given pre Alzheimer’s; that didn’t disappear until, literally, the last year and a half of his life. It’s one of the things I really missed in the latter stages and despite thinking I’d probably done that bit of grieving somewhere along the line. It turns out, now he’s gone, that I haven’t. I miss that just as keenly now he’s dead. Perhaps, that particular loss is compounded by the fact that Mum has just reached the stage where, while still able to chat things over and give advice, she is no longer able to do it every time I see her.

Oh dear … this is what we’re up against.

McMini, meanwhile has been affected. He’s very scared of death, he’s just reaching that stage in life where you realise things aren’t cut and dried, black and white, and simple the way they are when you’re a kid. The point when your history lessons shift from, X did this, to we haven’t a clue WHY X did this, which is much more interesting, but also much harder, because unless someone can actually talk to X and ask them, we’ll never, ever know the true why.

McMini deals with his fears through the medium of dark humour. Some of it, though dark, is still funny. Some of it has gone beyond dark, to the point where I’ve been questioning whether or not he is actually quite disturbed. Anyone remember dead baby jokes when we were kids? (How do you make a dead baby float? Two scoops of ice cream and one scoop of dead baby.) Start there. Example, he has decided he is an Inca lord in his Minecraft game and every time it’s evening in the game, he sacrifices some villagers to the sun god. I get it, what people do to one another is scary and this trivialises it and makes it less scary, especially in a time where politics is so angry and the right wing has a seemingly relentless grip on power and is about where the Fascists sat back in the 1980s.

As a child, back in the 1980s, I remember being completely shocked by the Second World War and struggling to get my head round the atrocities of the holocaust, of how decent normal people allowed this to happen. I remember making many, many jokes about Hitler, the Third Reich etc because the whole idea of concentration camps was so gargantuan and horrific. Such immense evil was unimaginable, and also fascinating. And furthermore, very real, because I could talk to anyone over the age of about sixty and they would have been involved in it.

Clearly, in the current political landscape, where campaigning is little more than the art of organised bullying; of uniting a group of people against another group of people, convincing one set of people that another is inhuman as Goebbels described it, I’m in the privileged position of watching it happen a second time. These days, I have a much greater understanding of how Nazism came about. But back then, in the 1980s, when racism, rather than main stream, was tantamount to proclaiming yourself a massive shit with no mates, it seemed beyond understanding.

However, while McMini’s father and I reckon that, for the most part, this is just a phase, we have been warning him, for some time, that he is walking a very narrow line and that he should step back from this and rein the really sick stuff in. He hasn’t, since he has friends who share his fears and find the same release in poking fun at murder, evil etc. Bear in mind he has seen an elderly woman being abducted in broad daylight – she was looking into the back of a van. ‘You can get inside and have a closer look if you like,’ said one of the drivers. She got in and he slammed the door then he and his friend drove off laughing. We never got to the bottom of what that was. It didn’t help that I thought it was part of a crime weekend as it was just before the Christmas Fayre and I only realised it wasn’t when said crime weekend took place the following March. We reported it to the police but it was way too late by then. God knows what happened to that old woman or who the blokes in the van were.

It all came to a head at school this week, with an extremely inappropriate text sent by McMini, by mistake, to the wrong person – who was upset and whose parents were extremely upset. Nobody was horrible about it, everyone basically said, ‘your lad is lovely and we know he’s lovely and this was clearly a mistake, but he’s over-stepped the mark.’

The head master rang me, said that McMini was a little tearful about the things that frightened him and explained that he was trivialising them because it helped him feel less scared. He suggested McMini should talk to his father and I about his fears. As I have suggested to McMini many times, myself, to no avail.

It felt like a big parenting fail. Because the first person I’d have talked to about this, as a child, would have been my Mum or Dad. But I was different, and as such I was often bullied, whereas McMini, though he is also different in exactly the same ways I was, is not bullied. Indeed his unique take on the world is celebrated and loved by his friends and teachers alike, which just goes to show how splendid they all are, but also means he follows the normal path; of unity with his friends and rebellion against his parents. A path with which I am completely unfamiliar.

As a result, I can’t help but feel that I have failed him, because I hoped our relationship would be as close as mine with my parents. And while it is in some respects, he was too frightened to talk to me. Which cuts a bit. And of course, throughout his period of obsession with death, killing, murderers etc over this last couple of years, I’ve so needed to talk to someone, myself, someone who can tell me whether or not my son is deeply disturbed or just going through a phase. And that’s where grief gets you, because the person who would have done this, is Dad. And he’s gone. Forever. And the other person is Mum, but that part of her has gone, too. Double jeopardy.

In the end, it seems to have turned out OK. McMini’s humour will always be a little dark and possibly a little edgy and outrageous. That’s fine, I mean, mine is. We both of us love to shock he talks about death and murder, I talk about periods, the menopause and other ‘ladies things’. And I guess I have had that reassurance that he’s not nuts, that it’s just a phase and a way of exorcising his fears. But it came from his headmaster which was a bit chastening.

And the grief … well, the escalation in dark stuff is his and the complete over reaction to it, hell, my complete over reaction to everything that’s mine. My anger at the way people are just giving in to propaganda and allowing themselves to be manipulated into hating others. My frustration that they’re so fucking stupid, they’re letting the kind of rich, power obsessed, bastards who want to keep their faces ground into the mud deflect the blame for all the shit we’re in onto frightened, desperate, vulnerable people (either British people already living here or migrants from overseas) who have nothing left and are asking for help (just look at the fringes on the Brexit debate; both sides and the way the behaviour and views of those fringes has somehow become the main issue) that’s mine.

Or to put it succinctly, grief comes out in all kinds of weird ways, and it often catches you blind side. You won’t always expect it, and it will often knock you off your feet for a moment. I have no answers, no coping strategies. Real Life leaves no space for grief, but somehow, I think those of us who are grieving have to make some. You just have to let it out sometimes, and let it run its course. And I know at the moment, I’m too fucking busy, which is why it’s doing my head in. But I guess, we’re all like that, and if those of us who are grieving accept that it’s there, at least we can be prepared … sort of. Clearly I need to be a bit more like my cat and just chill.

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