Tag Archives: an author with children

The end … probably.

This week, I don’t know where to begin. It was one of the most intense and strange experiences of my life. Let’s start with Monday.

Monday morning I went to the gym and came home with a list of bits and bobs I needed to do for my writing. As I sat down, to write, I realised I’d missed a call from Dad’s home. I rang and was put through to the nurse who was looking after him that day.

‘Your father did not eat or drink anything yesterday and he is refusing all food and drink today,’ he said. ‘I think we are close to the end.’

‘Oh bless him, poor Dad. Do you need me to come now?’ I asked. 

‘You don’t need to come, but if you want to see him, you should come.’

‘I’m coming down to see him on Wednesday.’

‘He may be here on Wednesday. He is going down slowly, but today or tomorrow is better.’

‘D’you mean, Wednesday will be too late?’

‘If he carries on this way, I think so, although it is difficult to say.’

‘Has a priest seen him?’

‘Not yet, there is a number we can call, would you like us to get one?’

‘Yes please, he’s Church of England, an Anglican I’ll try and get the parish priest from his own church to come too.’

‘He won’t be alone, when they reach this stage, we always make sure is someone with them at all times.’

Go softly into the night …

I said thank you and rang off.

So here it was, the moment all of us had been dreading, yet kind of hoping for too. It looked like Dad was on his deathbed, time to scramble the troops. But this is Alzhiemer’s so there was nothing to say Dad wouldn’t start eating and drinking and be fine, indeed, in my own mind, I had this last bit pegged as the lying-in-a-bed-year.

This is where WhatsApp is a godsend. I managed to tell everyone, barring a couple of folks, with one message to our WhatsApp group. The biggie was telling Mum, though, because she was alone until midday and I wanted to be sure there was someone with her when I passed on the news.

That evening, McMini wanted to bring a friend home after school. He pushed, I said no, he told me the friend had to come because his mother had already said it was OK and left the school gates, I told him no, he kept pushing and I explained Pops was ill. Still he wanted the friend to come and I’m afraid I snapped, angry with him for not appearing to give a shit, I told him his grandfather was on his death bed, that his father was on the way home so I could go say goodbye and that I was not in a very fit state to play the part of kindly friend’s Mum, but I let him bring the friend home for a short visit.

I felt terrible for breaking it to him like that. The little lads took a long time to arrive and I discovered that McMini had hung up and then cried his eyes out, at which point he and friend had stopped and sat on a bench so friend could comfort him and friend had cried too. I felt bad but also reassured that he cared more than he’d made out.

I got hold of Mum and Dad’s parish priest and she promised to be at Dad’s bedside that evening. True to her word, she arrived shortly after Mum and gave Dad the last rites, or Extreme Unction which sounds like some kind of dangerous sport. Dad was quiet and not very responsive but incredibly peaceful when it was done.

My brother and I drove down to Sussex on the Monday evening, but it turned out that Dad had taken a little water and eaten some sweets, perhaps he was on the mend? We didn’t know.

We discussed it. What do you do in a death bed situation? Life is not the same as it was, you can’t stop the world and step out of it for a couple of weeks to sit, in vigil, by a slowly fading loved one. It’s a luxury modern life no longer affords us. There’s stuff to do and the bastards who want you to do it consider such a situation no excuse. Commerce can’t afford space for acts of compassion like that.

At five thirty a.m. on Tuesday I woke with a start to find my mother standing over me, complete with walker.

‘We have to ring the home.’

‘What? Now?’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s five am.’

‘They said we could ring any time.’

‘On you go then.’

‘You’re the main point of contact, you have to do it.’

Sometimes I forget that my Mum has dementia too. So I rang the home. He was comfortable and had eaten a couple of sweets and had some water.

We went to see him on Tuesday. The four of us, together as a family, painfully aware that it was probably for the last time. He wasn’t hugely responsive, although I felt maybe that was the way we were dealing with it. Maybe we weren’t engaging him right, because throughout his illness, Dad has made the running, asked the questions which we answer. Always the host, asking us how we are, who our relations are, and asking after them. A polite interrogation, sometimes after those he loves, sometimes, engaging us in conversation as if he’s meeting us for the first time.

Lancing Beach near our lunch venue.

He lay there, looking at his hands, even frailer and thinner than last week, ravaged partly by his illness and partly through force of his own will. His head like a skull with thin skin stretched over it, the lesions … I thought of him as I’d known him, remembered our holidays when I was a nipper, squelching across the mud on Stiffkey salt marsh. Dad was a man who loved the sun on his skin and the squelch of the mud between his toes! I wished for a lot of things that I can’t have.

He was very peaceful. It was like sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, Dad was calm and clearly perfectly content, waiting …

We went out to lunch afterwards. It felt like this was a good and gentle death, even if it’s a slow one, and I didn’t fully hoist in how upset Mum was until she couldn’t eat anything.

Later, we tried to work out a plan of action. What to do? Was this was the first of many deathbed scrambles, or was there was only going to be the one. Eventually, we decided that he probably wasn’t going to die in the next few days. My brother decided to go home and come back at the weekend. I decided to stay until Wednesday morning because I’d agreed to meet a lovely family friend and see Dad with him.

Wednesday came, Dad was still around, said friend turned up. I shan’t name him because I haven’t asked him if I can so I’ll just call him Adba. Anyone who should know will realise exactly who that is and no-one else will be any the wiser. Anyway, Adba turned up and off we went. His mother spent the last year or so of her life in bed, in a similar state to the one Dad was in now, so when we walked in, he knew exactly what to do. He took Dad’s hand, called him by his name, said he was looking well, acted as if Dad was perfectly responsive and of course, the miracle happened. Dad was.

He couldn’t speak, but his face broke into the most delighted smile and he raised his hand and waved a jokey wiggly fingers wave. Adba waved back. I waved. We laughed, Dad smiled.

We reminisced about the Hogworts set I grew up on, Dad’s time there and the other members of staff. Dad smiled and nodded and sometimes shook his head and waved several times. Adba and I recalled funny stories to Dad about his exploits as a housemaster, and shared them with one another.

Forty minutes flew by and it was time to go. I took Dad’s hand and told him I loved him, that he was the best father anyone could ever have had, that McOther, McMini, his other grandchildren, my brother, my mum, (and pretty much Uncle Tom Cobbley and all by the time I’d finished listing everyone who wasn’t there and who’d want me to tell him while he was with it) loved him. He smiled, a wonderful huge smile, and squeezed my hand again and again as I spoke. Both of us were just filled with joy. It was one of those rare moments of connection and love without words, when even if he couldn’t speak, he didn’t need to be able to. At the end I said goodbye. Dad and I both know what kind of goodbye it was – Adba probably knew and all – but I told Dad I’d see him next week anyway, and Adba said he’d be back to see the old boy the week after, we said we’d see Dad together that time, same as this visit.

It was a near perfect farewell for me and I am eternally grateful to Adba, whose presence, and whose wisdom in engaging with Dad made it possible. Those smiles and those squeezes of the hand were wonderful. I just feel bad that we didn’t take Mum with us to share them too.

Adba and I came out of the home, only to immediately get a phone call from Mum’s carer. My uncle on Mum’s side who was coming to lunch that day, had arrived with a gargantuan nosebleed. The carer at home reckoned it would be best if she rang the pub we ate in and got them to do a takeaway, could we pick it up? Of course we could. A few seconds later we were directed to a different pub.

We duly picked up the fish and chips, they took a little while so Adba and I had half a pint of Harveys each in the garden. When we picked up the lunch we left in haste, without paying. Arriving home, it turned out that Uncle’s nose was still bleeding. He was sitting on a stool in the downstairs loo, and it looked as if someone had been murdered in there, but only after a good twenty minutes of stiff resistance.

Oh dear.

Taking in the bloodied surroundings, I began to wonder about blood loss at this point and suggested an ambulance. In the end, carer – who shared my concerns – and gardener – who was ‘mowing the lawn’ but really just checking Mum was OK – leapt into carer’s car and drove Uncle and Aunt to hospital, gardener escorting them in while carer parked. I did manage to get Aunt to eat half her fish so at least she wasn’t going to be sitting there feeling hungry as well as worried.

Off they went, leaving Adba, Mum and I finishing off the fish and chips the others hadn’t eaten. At this point I remembered we hadn’t paid for them, rang the pub and paid by credit card. I announced that I was going to be very British about the murder scene in the downstairs loo and pretend it didn’t exist while we had a chat. Adba left at half three and I went and cleared up. It took until half four. Then I deep cleaned our spare room so Uncle and Aunt could sleep there because I didn’t think either of them was in a fit state to go home. Once I’d done that, I realised I was going to have to stay Wednesday night as well because Mum already has dementia but the state of Dad has really knocked her for six and so she’s even more challenged in the memory department than usual, bless her. I didn’t want her waking up and being surprised to find her brother there and the state she was in, she might have done.

Uncle and Aunt finally got back late, I had a light supper ready. We did breakfast the next morning and then they had a follow up appointment at the hospital at 1.30. They wanted to take a taxi to the hospital rather than drive so I sorted that out for them. Finally at about 12.00 I set off for home. I arrived with half an hour to spare before I needed to be meeting McMini at small church, which he does on a Thursday. I used that half an hour buying some summer clothes that fitted my ever expanding, ever more zeppelin-like body.

It’s Friday as I write this and I’ve just received a call from my Mum to say that Dad has been given a prognosis of hours if it’s bad, a day or two if it’s good. So it’s back to Sussex again, although I need two good night’s sleep in a decent bed before I go back down there, and also, half term plus Bank Holiday Friday traffic tonight? No thanks. Not even with the Jo Whiley show, which was a wonderful tonic as I snivelled my way round the M25 on Monday.

No. The sensible course is to go tomorrow morning. By the time you read this, I will be creeping slowly round Britain’s most congested motorway. Dad may well be gone, and if he isn’t he’ll be very close. So, if you’re on the M25 tomorrow and there’s this fifty year old bag in a knackered Lotus, with the headlights on because the daylight running bulbs are bust, ear plugs in and the music on really loud, looking as if she’s got really bad hay fever, feel free to give me a wave!

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With thee, dear Lord, beside me;
They rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Goodbye Dad. And thank you. It’s been wonderful.

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Can I do this in ten minutes? No? Stuff it then.

Yes, that’s been my motto this week. The Chaos fairies are back and I am clinging on to the hamster wheel of life with my finger tips. Everything that could happen to cause me extra inconvenience and time has happened but on the up side, I’ve been editing, primping and generally adding bits to the books in the new series for ten minutes every morning. And ten minutes is better than sodding nothing. Just.

It’s been one of those weeks when the intervention of unscheduled events has been so bad I’ve been railing and swearing at anything that crosses my path. For example, emptying the bin; while waiting for the plastic liner to slowly eek its way out of the bin in the kitchen so I can take the rubbish out and put a new one in I’ve been shouting.

‘Hurry the fuck up! I’ve got better things to do with my time!’

At a plastic bag.

Yelling at inanimate objects then. Probably not the greatest testament to a stable mind or much in the way of sanity but hey it’s the way I roll.

McCat has caught a bird three mornings running at exactly the same time of day, this morning I was not on the school run and so was monumentally pissed off that I forgot to lock him in for the three quarters of an hour of bird death between eight fifteen and nine am. Although on the upside, at least the last two mornings, while there were feathers to hoover up and blood stains to clean there wasn’t a body. If he has to catch people, I’d rather he ate them. Also, it wasn’t either of our lovely dunnocks (hedge sparrows). Once incredibly common, the dunnock population has declined by 93% since 1970 and they are now on the red endangered list.

McMini has been doing exams, SATS, which seem completely pointless and arbitrary and rather harder work than the o’levels I took aged fifteen/sixteen (the joy of  a June birthday is that it falls right in the middle of your exams). The SATS involve McMini having to be in school for a pre exam breakfast at eight am, which, on the back of two weeks having to be up and dressed and ready for the arrival of the painters at seven thirty in the morning has been hard for me but has clearly been a great help to him so, go school on that one even if it was a bit … bleargh for me.

In addition, I’ve been suffering more knee and heel pain which does knacker me out. I’m sure McOther thinks I’m lazy because I tend to batch getting up to do things. I tried to explain that if he knew he was going to get an electric shock every time he stood up from the chair and went to get something, he would probably wait, until he had several things to go and get before weathering the electric shock. I think he got more of an idea after that. I probably ought to go back to physio because while we think the pain is not necessarily arthritic, I’d like to try and find out what is causing it. Who knows, if we did that, maybe I could make it stop.

SATS involve McMini having even less of an idea of passing time, where he is, what he’s supposed to be doing etc and added to my already disastrously shite levels on this front, we have been well and truly home to Mr Cock up. Lurching from one crisis of our own making to another!

The school, in quite a decent gesture, have done a kind of parable of the talents on the kids. They have been put into groups and given a fiver. They have to use the fiver to buy things so they can make something or sell something and turn it into more. Each group of four is expected to try and aim for £25 minimum. McMini’s group split into two couples, both raised £70 last weekend and the other couple are doing a car boot to raise more this weekend. However, ours went like this.

‘Mum, my friend and I are going to sell lemonade.’

‘When?’

‘Now.’

I look out of the window, it’s five to five on a Friday and it’s pissing down.

‘Don’t you think tomorrow would be better?’

Long and the short, I ring friend’s mum who also agrees tomorrow would be better. I then spend an unscheduled two and a half hours making cakes on the Saturday morning and another unscheduled two and a half hours standing behind a table up the street with McMini’s friend’s mum plus McMini and friend, flogging said cakes to unsuspecting members of the general public. It went well and was fun but after two week’s sleep deprivation – that half an hour between six thirty and seven is important to me it seems – I wasn’t hugely endowed with energy for that kind of thing. And all that standing. I did sit on a wall but a sweet man came out and asked me, in the most tactful, kindly way anyone has ever asked me not to do something, if I would mind not sitting on his mother’s garden wall. My leg hurt for about five days afterwards too.

Spool forward to yesterday when I get a text from the school at four thirty reminding me to send McMini in the next day with £2 to spend at the year six cake sale.

‘Cakey what?’ I cry in horror. ‘Am I supposed to be baking something for this?’

Of course I fucking am. Luckily there’s enough ingredients and cake cases from last week’s impromptu cake sale to cobble something together but it’s all a bit shit.

Where the school falls down is a message in the middle. They’re great at warning you something’s coming up an a month or two, but even two weeks is miles away and you’re head down fighting the crises and fires that are blazing right now. They are also brilliant at reminding you about things that are on tomorrow but, unfortunately, they are singularly piss-poor at reminding you on say … Monday … that there’s a cake sale on Friday. McMini was supposed to do that but a) he’s McMini and b) SATS.

At the end of it all, if the kids have made enough cash, their efforts will fund a trip for all of them somewhere. Sounds good. In case there was any chance of a relaxing weekend, McMini has a football tournament today. Of course he does, poor little blighter, because it’s completely bastard freezing again. And it starts at nine so it’s up at the crack of fucking dawn again. I will have to be very careful to ensure I bring one of our fold up chairs or I’ll be walking like an arthritic John Wayne for the rest of next week. Still it’ll hardly make a difference. I look terrible at the moment.

Heaven knows what’s going on, maybe the stress hormones are high, but I’m getting fatter and fatter. It’s as if someone’s shoved a bicycle pump up my arse and they’re filling me with air, except it’s flab. Jeez, I mean, dressing has been like draping camouflage netting over a zeppelin for some time but today’s trousers, which were perfectly comfortable two weeks ago, are positively groaning at the seams. If the button goes, it’ll fly off with such force that it’ll probably kill someone. I’ll be sent to prison for murdering innocent bystanders with a flab powered projectile. Maybe I’ll squeak by with manslaughter and serve a shorter sentence. Here’s hoping.

At the end of next week it’s half term during which we are flying round the country like blue arsed flies, still, at least we’ll get to have a lie in and after that, it’ll be back to school for a chuffing rest.

Phew!

On the upside, on Friday morning, for the first time in three weeks, I got to set the alarm for seven instead of some varietal of Far Too Fucking Close To Six. I woke up at six thirty, had a wee and retired smugly back to bed for another glorious twenty minutes kip.

Chuffing marvellous.

Do you know, I read somewhere that night owls are more likely to be unhappy or suffer from mental illness than larks. The implication of the article was that if you’re the kind of person who, when left to function naturally, wakes at nine and goes to bed at one am, there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. You’re obviously more likely to end up being mentally ill the article posited because if you struggle to get up early you’ve clearly No Moral Fibre and you don’t fit in with Decent People. At this point, while reading, I was giving the magazine the bird and shouting, ‘Fuck off!’ because it’s bollocks.

If you ask me, it’s blindingly obvious night owls are more likely to struggle. They struggle because the entire fabric of society, of the working day and of completely everything is set up for and favours the kind of smug masochistic bastards who get up at six am, of their own volition, go to bed at eight pm – a few minutes before their children – because they get up too stupidly early to be able to hang out with the Normal Humans for an evening. Not that I mind getting up for the dawn occasionally, it can be very beautiful, but half the joy of it, when I do, is the fact that I don’t have to do it every day.

So yeh, been playing catch up this week even more than usual.

On the up side, the new book came back from the first edit today and in an amazing turn of events, despite bastard Real Life thwarting me at every turn, I managed to go through the edits and make the changes straight away. Those two pictures are the artwork from the covers, the orange and blue one is the cover of the new series, the orange bit will be a different colour on each book. The other one is the cover of a free short I’m going to give away to folks on my mailing list. It’s going to be completely exclusive so no-one else gets a copy, it’s not on sale anywhere else either. Now all I have to do is finish the sequence of hello emails people get on joining.

On the preparing the book front, I’m trying a different editor. She’s more expensive than the ones I’ve used thus far, but she’s local, in fact she goes to my gym and she’s a bit of a word/grammar spud. On the one hand, she charges more, on the other, she charges by the hour so I can ask her to do as much work as I can afford and then stop until I can afford more. Also, she doesn’t have the same kind of waiting list – not for a short story, anyway. Things are looking good so far so I’m quite excited about the work in progress, although I’m sort of frustrated in equal measure because there’s so much homework to do from Real Bastard Life at the same time.

On the Dad front, I had a really good visit this last Wednesday. He was sleepy and didn’t raise his head up but he knew I was there and was pleased to see me because he kept smiling. He smiled and chuckled as I chatted to him. These days, when I see him, I recall things to him that we did as a family when my brother and I were little. He may not remember, I don’t know, but it’s clear that they amuse him. This week it was about being on holiday and finding a field of carrots and how my parents tried to stop my brother and I from pulling up a couple and eating them.

‘It’s stealing!’ Mum told us.

But my brother and I persisted and my parents tried to pretend they were cross but I suspect they were just delighted that we were eating carrots. That memory made him smile. He was alright, and happy within himself, so I wasn’t as worried as I have been. And to be honest, just blogging about it last week helped.

Oh, it’s been half an hour and now it’s time to collect McMini from Boy’s brigade. Apparently he’s going to be painting a pot, I look forward to seeing what colours he’s used by looking at his shirt.

Onwards and upwards! A bientot!

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Red alert at Ice Station Zebra … And the Pile Howitzer

This one comes with a profanity warning. It’s not that profane but I do mention piles quite a lot. There. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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The thing about giving birth is that your dignity tends to be birthed along with your child. Not that I even had to give birth to my lad, having a c-section and all. Except while, after it’s all over, they give the child a rub down and hand it over for a cuddle, it seems that my dignity is still in Addenbrooks hospital somewhere. I’d like to think it’s wandering the corridors looking for me but I suspect it’s more likely to be in a drunken stupor. Then comes the menopause/perimenopause/postmenopause. Ladies, if you haven’t yet you do. Not. Know. What. You are in for. If you have … you’ll be laughing along with this.

Basically, when a lady hits mid-life then, if she has any dignity remaining, trust me, the whole change of life shenanigans will knock it unconscious, drag it away, murder it and bury it in a shallow grave.

Motherhood, menopause and adulting. They’ll be the fucking death of me.

Yeh. I don’t really know where to begin this week. It’s manic. The painters are in. For once this is not a euphemism there really are genuine painters painting the woodwork outside of our house. Yes, I’m sorry folks, it’s all our fault the weather had turned to shite. They’re in for three weeks I’m afraid, an’ all so crack out your waterproofs and thermals. The painters start at half seven, which means I have to set my alarm for half six so that I have some thought collection time between waking up and getting out of bed.

When you have to get up that early, who needs thought collection time, right? Wrong. Why do I need it so badly though? You ask? Well, you may not but for the sake of the point I’m attempting to make here, let’s pretend you did. Er … yeh, why do I need that? Because otherwise a terrible thing beyond our imagination may occur. A rush. Also … brain fog. A rush plus brain fog equals a day comprising one gargantuan balls-up after another, followed by an evening of wailing, gnashing-of-teeth and too much alcohol.

Also it has not helped that since it was constipation and brain fog week last week, it is, naturally, piles, headache and brain fog week this. I confess, the piles bit is, usually, only a mild annoyance but every now and again the little bastards decide it’s time for war.

Naturally, what with it being absolutely the worst week ever for it, this week they decided to declare war. So bad I’ve had to open, ‘that box in the fridge’ and crack out the heavy armour. These things are the mother of all cures, the big hitters and I confess, this is only the second time I’ve had to resort to using them. Privately, in my own warped head, I call them ‘The Pile Howitzers’. Normally their presence, in the box, in the fridge, in the paper bag, is enough to keep the little bastards under control.

Obviously with the painters in, it was inevitable that as well as a hectic week for McMini things would go a bit wrong with Dad, which they’ve done – to the extent that I can’t really look it in the eye enough to talk about it now.

But presumably that’s why this week, of all the bastard weeks I would be forced to do so, I’ve had to deploy the Pile Howitzers. It’s a mis-nomer, too, because it’s more like pile shells. Each one looks like a bullet, made of some candle wax like stuff – I assume there’s more than candle wax in it though. Anyway, these things bear a very passing resemblance to the missiles off one of McMini’s StarWars toys – it’s a Clone trooper transport ship, if you must know – and each one has to be shoved where the sun don’t shine – the medication I mean, not the missiles of scion’s Clone trooper transport ship clearly – after … er … daily motion.

As you can imagine this is not hugely dignified experience at the best of times. But when there’s a strong chance you’ll have to give a painter outside the window, sanding down the woodwork, a cheery wave first, it’s a whole new dimension of ‘interesting’! So as well as needing ‘thought collection’ time, in the morning, I have to have been up long enough for motility to occur before the painters arrive as well, in order that the Pile Howitzers can be deployed safely.

Nice.

As a result of this, we have managed, just about, to make it to the end of the week even if, yesterday, both McMini and I forgot his PE kit. I had to rush back to the school with it. Then, he came home wearing said PE kit having left his clothes at school in the bag. As he’s low on trousers, or at least, as he only has the one pair with knees in, I had to rush back to school with him and get his clothes. When he brought the bag out, I was smart enough to check the contents for once and sent him straight back in to get his shoes. This week has been like that.

Then there’s this morning. Although I’d call this a partially successful session.

Today is Saturday and, like many other small boys up and down the country, McMini has football practise. It starts at half nine so I need to wake up at 8 am or so in order to nag McMini to get ready, constantly, from about then on. If I do that, there’s an outside chance he’ll get himself sorted and ready by about 9.15. Today I was woken at about twenty past eight by a cheery cat who lay on my chest making burrping noises and generally demonstrating how pleased he was to see me. After a brief cuddle he headed off to do Important Cat Things and I went and cleaned my teeth, washed my face, brushed my hair and got back into bed for a moment to warm up. But I was fucking knackered after a week of six hours sleep a night instead of seven. Can you guess what happened next?

Yes. At about ten to nine I woke up. This was not good. Leaping out of bed in my pyjamas I ran down and put the coffee on, whacked a crumpet into the toaster for breakfast – first of two x four minutes – made McMini a cup of tea and grabbed his football kit from the airer, where it has been ‘drying’ since its last wash over a week ago – because I’m not a skanky ho or anything. Mwahahahaahrgh!

Ran up to McMini’s room as fast as the action of arthritically running up stairs while carrying a cup of tea and a football kit would allow and discovered that he was awake. It was he who had released the Kraken cat. Unfortunately, he was on the loo looking at videos on his phone. Fortunately, he was most accommodating about wiping his bum and getting his finger out with the dressing when I told him what the time was (I can only assume he’s all up to date with Dan TDM or that the battery in his phone had died).

In something that must be closely approaching a miracle, McMini got his football kit on in about fifteen minutes; evil, impossible-to-pull-on socks and all. I should imagine the tea helped because I’ve tried the ‘Oh shit we’re late’ approach to getting him up in the morning on many occasions and it’s never worked before. At the same time, I hurled on some clothes, put my face on, dragged a brush through my hair again and ran downstairs. I even remembered to push the toaster down to give the crumpet its second four minutes. McMini requested a tortilla wrap, just the wrap on its own, which I had right to hand. Despite the fact that the morning, so far, was like red-alert at Ice Station Zebra we were rocking this! What was going on?

McOther arrived home just as I was shoving McCat into the box to take him to the vet for his yearly shots. Cat in box, now it was time to find the immunisation card. Could I find it? Of course I fucking couldn’t. Never mind, it was now nine twenty and McCat had an urgent appointment on the vet’s table at half past. McOther was taking McMini to football so I hurriedly kissed the boys good bye and rushed off to the vet’s. Amazingly, I even remembered to take the cat with me.

In the short five minute journey I managed to see sun, rain and hail. Plus there seems to be a permanently gale force wind direct from Siberia or somewhere mind-(not to mention, extremity)-numbingly cold.

Despite a nervous few minutes sitting at the traffic lights which went red just as I got to them, naturally, we made it to the vet’s at nine twenty nine, went straight in, wormed, new card, shots done for another year and that was just the cat (badoom tish). Quick chat, paid … a LOT of money … and went home. I broke the cable for the solar charger I have for my car battery which was a bit of a pisser, but on the upside, I think I can fix it.

Even when McOther rang me at 10.45 to say they were holding the traffic on the main road after an accident, that he thought he might not be able to get from Sainsbury’s to football to collect McMini, and that I might have to, the traffic started to move while he was on the phone. Despite waking up, almost too late, everything had gone according to plan, and rush or not, we had achieved our aim. We were blessed! Yeh.

Mmm … just call me Van Halen.

So here I am now, sitting typing this, breathing a sigh of relief that everything is all done. Then I catch sight of my reflection in the kitchen cupboards.

Now, I may have whinged about my hair before but basically, it’s very affected by what the weather is doing. So when the weather doesn’t know what it’s doing, neither does my hair. So the downside of this? Let me show you.

Yes I’ve been going about all morning looking like the mad bag lady of Ning Dang Po. There’s just no way on God’s green earth that any normal person would look at that and think it wasn’t a wig. Blimey-oh-Reilly. Or perhaps it’s more of a 1980s stadium rockstar. Or is it a cross between Milton whatsisface and Ken Dodd? Ah, if only I was as funny as them! Or am I trying to ameliorate the effects of alopecia with a Brillo pad and some wool? I dunno, I’ll let you decide.

Ho hum, I suppose it could be worse.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and put a thing that looks like a StarWars missile up my arse.

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Knowledge comes when you least expect it …

This month, I have mostly been ill.

That isn’t the entire sum of it, obviously. I mean there weekend at the end with the dig where I found the howling beastie and there was a rather jolly week after that plus a weekend when we had visitors and I danced arthritically on a table, remember. McMini was ill on the Sunday our guests left and off school the entire week. Then it was half term and he gave whatever it was he’d had to me in time for me to be ill over the school break, obviously. McMini threw it off in a week or so, but felt a bit weird from time to time during the half term holiday. McOther binned it in about twenty four hours. I felt as ill as I’ve felt since I was ten, and had the highest temperature I’ve had since I was ten too, a mighty 103.9 but it was only for one day and on the up side, I got rid of it in four days. On the downside it’s kindly left me with a chest and a sinus infection which I foolishly believed would go on its own. Needless to say I’ve managed to get the one that involves experimenting with multiple courses of antibiotics and some steroids. I have two friends who are ahead of me having completed my current regimen of eight pills plus a blue and white capsule every morning.

Upsides? Well, to be honest, anything is better than the way I felt with the flu AND I was well enough to creep out for a half term outing the day my flu subsided, despite feeling very dizzy and post feverish, so we got a quick day trip in before McOther went back to work on the Thursday and Friday of half term. We all ventured out again on the Saturday so at least we did have a half term that felt like it actually was a holiday, sort of. Neither McMini nor I was up to much on the Thursday and Friday anyway. He was much better but still fatigued and post viral, I was, thankfully, back to normal human temperature, albeit feeling a little tight across the chest and laughing like Mutley as the chest infection began to take hold. We chilled and relaxed together which was lovely, he screened (probably too much) and I read a stack of books! I even discovered a Jim Webster short from the Port Naain Intelligencer series that had escaped my notice. Bonus!

The half term trips out were both to air museums. The first, I had discovered quite by chance going to a dig back before Christmas. First I passed a farm selling raw milk from a vending machine outside. It also had what it called a cheese window. It was obligatory that I photographed that for McMini who loathes and detests yet also obsesses, slightly, over cheese. A few hundred yards further on and suddenly, in what looked like a pub car park.

Aeroplanes.

Not just any old aeroplanes either. Jets. I had passed it by the time it registered and stopped the car.

‘Did I just see that?’

I backed up.

‘Bloody hell. Yes I did!’

I took a photo and squirrelled it away for future reference. So it was, that ‘Future Reference’ turned out to be my sickly Wednesday half term day out.

It was a cracking museum. Not only were there some excellent and interesting planes but there was a fascinating collection of pieces of plane that had been hauled up in the nets of the fishing fleet based around Lowestoft, Gorleston on Sea and Great Yarmouth. This stuff was amazingly well preserved, yet a lot of it was crumpled and bent because it got into the sea by being blown apart. There were wonderful planes, helecopters and there were rooms full of artefacts, models and what I tend to call shed finds. All of it was free to look at and staffed by knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers. The loos were lovely too, clean, well stocked with loo roll and soap, the towel dryers worked and they were warm! Ah bliss.

While we were there, I discovered a shed find of my own. First let’s spool back a few years. Er hem, about thirty eight, to be precise. I was a nipper and my brother and I had a rubber dinghy which Dad would inflate, laboriously, with a foot pump when we went to the beach. A rubber dinghy, friends from other nations, is basically an inflatable rowing boat. Nothing to do with sailing. Anyway, back to the story.

The inflation process was pretty lengthy, so the dinghy was only wheeled out on day trips. Days at Stiffkey salt marshes when we were on holiday in Norfolk, or trips to Cuckmere haven; that kind of stuff. But back home, on a Saturday morning, or after school, when we wanted to go to the beach for a quick swim, I still wanted to be able to scull about on the waters. To this end, one holiday in Greece I bought a thing that was a cross between a surf board and boogie board, made of polystyrene. You couldn’t stand on it and surf, it would break in half, but it was ok to lie on it and scull with your arms or you could sit and row with a double ended oar. Except I didn’t have one and the only oars were to be kept with the dinghy on pain of death, after arriving somewhere and discovering we only had one.

Blue oar … the varnish has turned brown, which hasn’t done it any favours, it was a much prettier colour.

So it was, on warm afternoon ferreting about in my grandparents’ shed I discovered some of my grandmother’s toys, which she let me have, and an oar in a pleasing shade of blue. The oar had a brass bit in the middle and had clearly come apart into two halves at one point, before someone had drilled a couple of holes and put a some screws in to keep it together. OK so it wasn’t double-ended but it would be better than nothing for sculling about on my crap, polystyrene neither-boat-nor-surf-nor-boogie-board. Could I have it? I asked Nye, my grandmother, and when she agreed that yes, I could, I was stoked. I bore it triumphantly home.

As my mother made a space for me to put it in the car, she explained that it came from her and my uncle’s rubber dinghy. Said dinghy, like ours, had been used to great effect but, like ours, was also somewhat reliant on the stalwartness of those available to pump it up, and, of course, the time available. At the point in my mother and uncle’s life when it was in use, my grandfather was working in Greece and my mother, uncle and grandmother would take a two day flight out, in a Dakota, to join him for the long summer holidays. This meant that the only people available to pump the thing up each time on beach trips during term time weekends or half term, were my grandmother and Grand Nan, Mum and Uncle’s nanny.

Mum then went on to tell us about a trip the four of them made to Newhaven beach with the rubber dingy. My grandfather was still in Greece at this point, trying, on one hand, to help set up the new Bank of Greece and general economy in the aftermath of the war and on the other hand, making concerted efforts not to be killed in the revolution. He saw a fair few atrocities perpetrated by both sides – quite a lot of lining people up and shooting them down with machine guns – and at one point he had to defend the Bank of Greece from a communist attack. I never got the full story of this one, I should think it took a fair bit of balls from all of them, but he always spun it as less to do with courage and more about an ardent desire to avoid being put up against the wall, alongside his staff, and machine gunned. He and the staff held the bank and he was given an OBE. Needless to say the OBE, itself, has long since been nicked from a relative’s house in Kew, according to the police, by drug addicts burgling small shiny things to sell for the next fix – although we still have the box (there’s always an upside).

Anyway, Grand Nan, as she was called, and Nye (my grandmother) worried about the possibility of their little charges floating out to sea while they were engrossed in their reading or their conversation, had an ingenious idea. They took a long piece of string and tied one end to the dinghy and the other to Grand Nan’s wrist. Grand Nan was wonderful; tiny, twinkly eyed and gentle. She had a great sense of fun, and humour, and she was still around when I arrived on the planet. I’m not sure quite how effective she would have been as anchorage but clearly she felt she would cut the mustard. She is another of the people from my Sussex past who turned out to come from near my Suffolk present. She was from Thetford and her grandfather was head gardener on the Elvendon estate, I believe.

Sorry, gone off on another tangent again, where was I? Ah yes. Grand Nan and Nye sat back to chat, or read books or generally chill on the rug while the joyful chatter of Mum and Uncle told them all was well in the dinghy. They were soon so engrossed in their conversation that they didn’t notice a large ship come out of Newhaven harbour and sail rather close to the shore. Neither did they notice the wash, which presented itself in the form of a couple of very large waves heading for the beach.

Mum, in the dinghy, realised something was amiss but too late. The dinghy breasted the first wave and her and my uncle bobbed happily over it, unscathed. Then the second wave came and washed them onto the shore. Mum said she remembered seeing Nye and Grand Nan looking shocked with the the wave which had broken and reached the fluffy white stage now, sloshing over them, and the rug, as she and my uncle, in the dingy, floated gracefully past them. Mum and Uncle were deposited on dry ground a little further up the beach and left there as the wave retreated. Grand Nan and Nye scrambled about in the undertow rescuing rug, lunch, thermos, shoes, books, towels and their clothes. To their impressive credit, I believe nothing was lost. I suspect Mum and Uncle were less than sympathetic. Mum says that even at 85 years old, having seen a lot of funny things, the sight of her mother and nanny scrambling for their belongings, as she and my uncle were floating gently past, still ranks as one of the funniest things she has ever seen in her life.

This one’s in the museum.

How can you discover something about your mother and uncle’s rubber dinghy at an air museum, I hear you ask? Ah you’d be amazed at the things you can learn in the most unexpected places if you are prepared to explore. While I examined the exhibits in an area devoted to rescues at sea, I found an oar which came apart into two halves. It was painted a pleasing shade of dark blue. It was exactly the same as mine.

That is how, by going to an air museum in Gorleston, I discovered that my mother and uncle’s rubber dingy was the escape raft from a B17 bomber. The rubber ‘dinghy’ that went with is long gone, but even so, it transpires I have the oar from a B17 bomber’s escape raft in my shed.

This bit of plane was used in the film, The Dambusters.

On an end note; if the person who stole a red-ribboned medal from a house in Kew in the late 1980s/early 1990s is still around. OK no they’re probably dead but if they got clean or or if anyone out there bought an OBE that was given to R B T Castle from someone who looked quite high, do get in touch because I’d love to buy it back.

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Farting around …

Today I’m cheating, I have twenty minutes to write tomrrow’s blog post before my lovely bruv, wife and kids arrive for the weekend. It’s going to be short.  I was going to do something quite deep and metaphysical but as it is, it’s going to be an excerpt from one of my works in progress. So here, from Tripwires, is more wittering about my past I bring you …

The Kitchen Fart

One of the things I love about my parents is that while they taught me that it was important to show consideration for others, they also taught me another very important art, that while consideration is key, there are other instances where it is very important not to give a flying fuck.

The love of farts. What a way to start, but even for British people, my family seems to be peculiarly obsessed. Perhaps it’s just that we share a love of the absurd and there is so much of that to be mined from farts. When I was a teenager, one grandmother, Nye and one grandfather, Gin-Gin, were still around. Gin-Gin was in a home but Nye lived on her own for a while and during that time, she would sometimes come to stay. Obviously, our house wasn’t really ideal for an older person who had trouble getting up and down.

Nye often had to be helped out of our arm chairs because they were a bit too low. When this happened the exertion would often result in her letting loose a thunderous fart. Obviously, despite having a bit of a sense of mischief, Nye was clearly of a view that there are some things a Lady doesn’t mention – and farts appeared to be one of them. So of course, everyone would pretend that the incredibly obvious high-decibel report hadn’t happened. Nye would be handed her sticks and with a quieter fart to mark each stride she would shuffle slowly across the room. Luckily, what the good lord was kind enough to give her in volume, he left out in aroma. We would hear making her way through the hall to the downstairs loo, still farting quietly all the way. Once we heard the door close we would explode with giggles and when she came back after her wee, we’d tell her some terrible joke to explain away our red faces, streaming eyes and uncontrollable laughing.

Amusingly, my Mum’s farts sound exactly the same as Nye’s did, less amusingly, so do mine.

However, while Nye pretended, against all odds, that her farts didn’t exist, Mum has never had any qualms about making some remark about it, or just giggling if she accidentally let one go. One of the most used phrases in our family is, ‘where ere you be let your air blow free, I held mine in, twas the death of me’. If think it comes from a Scottish tombstone somewhere (although the original uses the Scottish dialect ‘gang’ rather than blow which has a slightly different meaning – go/wander – but hey, the sentiment is similar).

The other day, I was with Mum in the kitchen and since it was Mum and it would make her giggle, when I felt one bubbling up, I didn’t bother to ease it quietly out but let it go. Several minutes of childish giggling ensued and Mum said, ‘Good heavens! That sounds exactly like one of mine.’

To which I replied, ‘Just imagine it, if one of the carers has heard it, they won’t know which of us it was!’

‘Or they’ll think it was me,’ she said. ‘I’m worse than Nye these days, I fart every time I stand up.’

After we’d finished chuckling about this, Mum reminded me of an occasion when Dad was still a housemaster. We were in the kitchen, me doing my homework at the table, Mum baking. Two of the girls in one of Dad’s sets were having trouble with some of the Greek they were learning so he had offered them an extra lesson, to explain it all again. They were with him in the next room, the study. Mum had offered them a cup of tea of course, which, Mum being Mum, came with flapjack, home made cake and biscuits. The girls had accepted Mum’s offer so now she had put a tray on the table opposite me and was laying out cups and saucers. She and went to the larder at the other end of the room, to get the biscuit tin. As she made her way across the room she let out what might be the loudest fart I’ve ever heard. It sounded like someone dragging a heavy chair twenty yards across a tiled floor in a room above.

‘Ooo that’s better,’ she said once the furniture had stopped shaking enough for me to be able to hear her, and then both of us fell about laughing. Suddenly, I remembered Dad’s lesson in the next room. On the down side, the doors to both the kitchen and the study were open, on the up side, though ‘next door’ the actual entrance to the study was about four metres away down a corridor.

‘Oh no! Mum, what if the girls heard?’ I asked keenly aware that the attitude to farts displayed by myself and my mum was not standard among females.

‘It’ll be alright, they can’t possibly have heard it from there.’

I thought about the number of times I’d heard my mum fart in the kitchen while watching TV in the drawing room which was a lot further away from the kitchen then the dining room, where the girls where.

‘Seriously Mum, I think they will have done, it was impressively loud.’

‘I do hope not,’ said Mum and we began to giggle some more. ‘Never mind,’ she said as she filled the teapot, ‘we’ll soon know. I’m going to take this through now.’

She came back a few minutes later looking a slightly chastened, but only slightly.

‘I think you’re right,’ she said. ‘Your father clearly didn’t hear a thing, but the girls did, because when I went in with the tea they got the giggles.’

Later I attended reunion at school for women in my house and to my delight, I met the two girls in question and after much giggling as I related the story they confirmed that yes, they had heard the fart loud and clear.

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More bad parenting.

Remember my post last week about my epic parenting skills well here is another instalment. I was going to tell you one from many moons ago but I don’t want you to feel you need to be sympathetic, I just want to raise a chuckle, and also, there’s a second instalment of last week’s debacle which you might enjoy. I’m afraid it’s not as funny but it’s the kind of thing that happens on a normal non-eventful day in our lives so it will give you the idea of the kind of life I lead.

This week I finally managed to go to the talk McMini and I enthusiastically tried to attend somewhat prematurely last week. Here’s how it went.

McMini is able to stay at home this time with McOther though, as in a rare moment of normal person working hours, he is home by six. Woot.

However, nothing is that simple and shortly before leaving I am faced with a new challenge. McMini explains that while at school that day, he took his watch off to do some painting and that when he came to put it back on again, ‘it wasn’t there’.

He’s McMini, he’ll have left it somewhere precarious it and it will have fallen onto the floor.

‘My teachers are going to have a really good look for it tonight,’ he tells me.

McMini is McMini. He is not one of the normals – CF this picture (left) – although he’s slightly better at pretending than I am. Also, he has time keeping skills like mine, as in negligible. This inconveniences him when he wants to watch his favourite TV programme, the Simpsons, which he loves, because he keeps losing track of time and missing the start. To combat this singular source of annoyance, he has set an alarm on his watch to go off at the time the Simpsons begins; six pm.

Cue 1950s Technicolor miraculous moment Oooo-aaa-aaah music.

Yes! I realise that if the watch is somewhere non-standard, which it will be because this is McMini, the caretaker or teachers may well have difficulty finding it. But should that happen, all they need to do is stand in the room where he lost it at around six o’clock, wait for it to start beeping and home in. It also goes off five minutes afterwards so even if they don’t quite manage to find it the first time, hang around for five minutes and they’ll get a second shot when it goes off again.

Following this blinding revelation comes another one – I know, two in one night! Steady on – but I realise that I’m about to go up to the school and actually be there at six pm. I reckon I can find McMini’s watch if I can persuade them to let me stand in the classroom for a minute or two. Excellent, the watch may have disappeared but I have a very real shot at finding it.

When I arrive at the school I discover there are two events going on and one of the ladies from the office is doing a meet and greet, pointing people in the right direction for each one. She steps forward the minute I appear and says,

‘Oh Mrs McGuire, about McMini’s watch, his teacher thinks it might be in his drawer. They all put their watches in their drawers before PE.’

‘Ah, I think McMini put his on again and took it off for art,’ I explain and then I tell her about the alarm that’s going to go beep at six and ask if I can go and stand in the classroom.

‘I can go and have a look for it if you like? If you don’t mind waiting here …’

‘Not at all,’ I say, ‘shall I carry on letting people in?’

‘If you could.’

So off she goes. I do what she’s been doing, press the button to let people through the airlock and tell them that the year two meeting is in bumblebee class and that year six parents are to go to the main hall.

Time ticks on. I say hello to various friends going into the hall for the meeting I’m supposed to be attending. Finally, when things are looking a bit worryingly quiet, the lady comes back.

‘You’re right,’ she says, ‘It wasn’t in his drawer but then I heard it beeping like you said, so I followed the noise and found it.’

‘Bonanza!’ I say, ‘Thank you.’

I take the watch and scuttle swiftly in the direction of the hall.

Obviously, I am last in, but to my complete amazement, the meeting hasn’t started yet. McMini’s class teacher rushes up to me to reassure me that all hands are to the pump in the search for the watch and I am delighted to be able to break the good news to her; that we’ve found it and I explain how.

‘That’s genius!’ she says, and appears to really mean it, bless her.

We exchange a few more brief pleasantries and I walk to the front and sit next to a friend.

All goes well until, a few minutes into the talk, there is an insistent beeping from somewhere. The speaker stops. As the beeping gets louder, and faster, people shift uncomfortably and rummage in their bags for their phones to check it isn’t them. That’s when I realise the noise is coming from my arm. The lovely lady who found McMini’s watch heard the alarm and used the sound to locate it, but it seems she didn’t get there in time to switch it off. That means the five minute snooze period is up and it’s going off a second time.

Luckily no-one really minded.

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Feels like Friday!

Shall I let you into a secret? This is my favourite time of the year. Especially Epiphany (next Sunday).

Don’t panic! It’s 2019.

Why? Because I get to look back at what I’ve achieved in a good year, and on to what I might achieve – I might do a bit more looking forward than back if I’ve had a bad year but that’s the loveliness of it. It’s only the beginning of the year so there’s that glorious, clean-page feeling you can only possibly enjoy during the few, early weeks have when you haven’t fucked anything up yet.

Then there’s the fact the days are getting longer, the bulbs are beginning to peep through, the birds are suddenly singing a LOT louder. There is a buzz and energy to everything, as if nature knows that no matter how cold it might yet get and no matter how mid winter it actually still is, we have turned the corner. It’s a kind of school’s out feeling.

The big one, of course, is that Christmas is over, I am no longer writing lists, trying to remember all the things I am supposed to do, or trying to work out if I’ve posted the Christmas cards or remembered to buy more stamps. There’s no travel, no wondering, nervously, if I’ve booked the cat in kennels on the right dates even though I know I’ve checked and re-checked. There’s no packing or making sure that lots of things are clean so I can just put one suitcase down in the hall and pick up the other one as we make a quick 24 hour pit stop at home on the way from Scotland to Sussex, or vice versa.

There’s none of the omnipresent worry, the feeling I’ve forgotten something. Nor, indeed, the very real danger of causing horrific offence though some gifting oversight or greetings-related vaguary. No trying to recall if I’ve sent that calendar to Aunt Ada, and if I have, whether Aunt Doris should have one too, or whether I put a family letter in Cousin Mabel’s card. Or have I sent the right cards to the right halves of the divorcees? I did catch myself in time before I posted a card to the lady half of a divorced couple in the envelope addressed to her ex. That was close.

There’s no fielding all the calls from people who want to know how Mum and Dad are but are too shy to call direct, ‘because we know your father’s ill and we haven’t heard anything’. No more trying to explain to them that they haven’t heard anything because my father is ill, not because my mother doesn’t want to call for another year. No more efforts to try and underline, gently, that Mum would love to hear from them but that she has a dash of dementia too, now, and that they haven’t heard because they need to call her.

Doing Christmas and New Year is like sitting a rather onorous set of exams.  It’s alright if you are prepared but I am not always prepared because … life.

Christmas and New Year require me to be a grown up, be the matriarch and generally do adulting, hard.

Adulting is not something I do well.

Epiphany, on the other hand, is when I come out the other end, exams sat, adulting done, no clue as to the results but nothing more than the thank you letters to worry about, which are usually done by that time because even if they feel like pulling teeth, they’re the last push, the the last bit of grown-up-ness between me and freedom, and it always feels good to get them finished by the first weekend in January so I can relax.

There is the glorious revelling in the knowledge that Next Christmas and New Year are about as far away as it is possible for them to be. That smug feeling you get buying next year’s wrapping paper and Christmas cards for a third of the price in the sales and putting them away. There’s the fabulous relief that all the weird people who love Christmas and bang on about it from about July will actually shut the fuck up about it for a couple of months. No more Christmas jumper pictures on Facebook. Woot. But I suppose, most importantly, after a month or two of frenetic planning and pretending to be a grown up, Epiphany brings a bit of space, some time to reflect on the past year and look at what I have – or haven’t – done. And with that, usually, comes a feeling of great peace.

Next year is going to be tough but we’ll get through somewhow.

This year, I have learned that I need to write to maintain my sanity. More importantly, as well as learning that I needed to do that, I learned how to. I have not been so calm for a long time – don’t get excited it’s all relative, I’m still bouncing about like a kernel in a popcorn maker and I am still exasperated by trivial and mundane things. I still get menopausally, hormonally, mental baggage-ly angry about ridiculously small stuff and end up shouting at strangers but … er hem … in a more relaxed and benign way. Phnark.

So yeh. Very little has changed, except the gargantuan word total, there just seems to have been this weird shift in the way I look at it. It’s not all roses, but it’s not all stingy nettles and jaggy brambles anymore, either!

I am aware that my feeling of peace is probably nothing more than the calm before the storm but I’ll enjoy it while it’s here. As for 2019, I know some things are going to be grim, but I’m still looking forward to it, I’m still hopeful and still intrigued as to what it will bring.

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