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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.

________________________

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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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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My Ann Elk theory on OCD and authordom

It’s probably complete and utter bollocks, this theory, but hey, when have I ever let anything inconvenient like facts get in my way when I have supposition to guide me? Yeh. A while back, a friend told me that I’m a bit OCD. We’ve known each other since we were about fourteen and she said she was surprised that she only noticed it in a weird way when we were in our thirties. Basically, I went round her’s for supper one night and to stay over. We had a lovely meal, me her and her sister.

Afterwards, apparently, I’d been banging on about some transport related subject and wouldn’t let it drop. She and her sister thought I had gone completely mental. She hadn’t ever remembered me as being all OCD like that. As you can imagine, I thought the evening had gone really well, because I’m sensitive like that and always ready to pick up on nuance! Mwahahahaahargh.

But while I was on holiday back in April this year, something happened that made me realise my friend’s evaluation is probably true. I think I am a bit OCD. But this is the thing, surely most authors are. I mean, first of all, you have to have this kind of dissatisfaction with the order of Real Life Things to want to create your own pimped version. Second, you get hung up on the most bizarre, ‘what the fuck is that? Questions of day to day existence, usually concerning stuff other folks haven’t even noticed. That makes sense, to me, because it’s only by noticing all that shit that other people stare at and never see that you can add texture to the worlds you build. Those silly small details that make them real. Here’s an example.

Angry Pam

This is one of my favourite eyebombs which I like to call Angry Pam. But the reason it’s called Pam is because so many of the inspection covers in my home town, despite being all sorts of different shapes and sizes, seem to be labelled PAM. A lot of them have that little logo, too, the one that is making up Angry Pam’s moustache in the picture. I’m afraid I do notice stuff like the names on drain covers, because I’m intrigued to think that there’s this whole niche industry about which I know nothing. To me, understanding what the legs are doing underneath to make it move, is far more important, and interesting, than the swan on the surface. And let’s face it, despite the fact inspection covers are pretty much indestructible, somebody, somewhere, has to make these things, surely. They must have a brand image, marketing departments and presumably, enthusiasts. Because no matter what we are talking about, there will group of enthusiasts somewhere who are interested in it. But apart from noticing the different designs on coal hole covers in London (thanks to my friend and fellow spud, Duncan, drawing my attention to them) I’ve never really registered anything more … other than as a source of eyebombing opportunity, until I went on holiday.

Pont a whatchewmecallit – up top RH by the gum

Then as we wandered round Tournus I discovered that there, too, many of the duct/manhole/drain covers were also labelled PAM. Then I found one labelled Pont a Mousson. Could that be what PAM was? Well, yes, obviously. Could I let it drop there? No. Because I’m a massively sad spud, this really intrigued me. Did it mean all these drain lids, lids, the world over, were made by the same firm, you know, the same way all modern buttons are made in the same factory in China (oven elements too, unless you buy a LaConche).

My burning curiosity was too much so, God bless data roaming, I googled it. I know, I know, welcome to my OCD world. Thanks to a blog I stumbled upon called Manhole miscellany – what did I tell you about enthusiasts people? – I now know that Pont a Mousson is a metallurgy company based in the Saint Gobain area of France and is still operating. It has it’s own website – yep http://www.pamline.com – but Manhole Miscellany’s take on it is far more succinct and readable. Not a lot of people know this, not a lot of people want to. The company was founded in 1896 and Angry Pam’s moustache is actually the old bridge across the river there, which was destroyed in WWII and replaced by supremely unremarkable concrete road bridge. The company started out making water pipes, which, at the time, was a bold and futuristic step. It still aims to keep at the cutting technological edge of the industry in which it operates.

Fascinating right?

Only to me probably but wasn’t it Terry Pratchett who said …

“I read anything that’s going to be interesting. But you don’t know what it is until you’ve read it. Somewhere in a book on the history of false teeth there’ll be the making of a novel.”

He also said,

“Fantasy doesn’t have to be fantastic. American writers in particular find this much harder to grasp. You need to have your feet on the ground as much as your head in the clouds. The cute dragon that sits on your shoulder also craps all down your back, but this makes it more interesting because it gives it an added dimension.”

Maybe that’s it then, in order to build worlds, writers need a little bit of OCD. Perhaps that’s how we achieve the attention to detail required to build a credible world, even if, in the final book, none of those details go in. Perhaps they have to just be there, to give it solidity. Maybe authors are people who can hold more irrelevant shit in their brain before it ceases to function. Perhaps our love of minutiae is simpler because we can hold more of it. Or perhaps I’m just trying to find credible reasons for being weird. I’ll leave you to decide!

 

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Angry

Real Life. Don’t you wish it would just fuck off and leave you alone sometimes?

I wondered about posting this but I am so bloody angry. Really. I am tired of the petty shitty meanness of my fellow countrymen and women. Their inability to use any imagination and appreciate another person’s point of view, their willingness to swallow propaganda without thinking. I’m fed up with fucking Brexit, with the EU behaving like an arse and the idiots in charge of us ignoring the potential of the commonwealth and instead pandering to the US who, I’m afraid, royally shafted the UK after WW2 and the current administration is, quite clearly, rubbing its hands with glee in anticipation of doing it aagain. But our government and influencers don’t seem to have noticed, or maybe they don’t care, more likely they’ve the kind of investments that mean there’s some personal cash in it for them somewhere down the line.

You see, if you want people to pay tax, they have to actually get something for it, all of them, not just the rich, or just the poor, everyone. And while we do get some things, a lot of other stuff has disappeared. What the government’s austerity plans teach us is this: Get up to your neck in debt, live for today, save nothing for tomorrow and have anything you want whenever you want it on HP. It’s best not to have any real money because at the end of your life, when you’re ill, they’ll take it anyway. Get into debt and your healthcare will be free at the point of delivery. Sure it will be on the terms of the NHS or your local authority but you won’t have to pay a bean for it.

Today, I was reading about the Brexit party arriving at the European Parliament. They turned their backs to show their disrespect for Europe when Ode to Joy played. It seemed utterly ungracious and it really pissed me off. These people hate Europe and hate the European Parliament but they’re happy to take a very large wage and a lot of expenses to go there and be rude. I remarked on facebook that it was so Kevin and Perry it was embarrassing and I really wondered how much more petty they could get.

A level-headed friend countered the argument with this.

Which makes sense.

However, while the sentiment on the T shirt is put fairly robustly, it says, ‘I don’t like this.’ The turned backs say, ‘I don’t like you.’

That’s my issue.

The turned backs make it personal.

That’s been my issue with the way the Brexit campaign was conducted all along. Them and us. Hence the polarisation. I think both sides of this debate are as bad as each other now but originally that kind of behaviour was only noticeable to me, as a punter watching it, from the Brexit side. Now that may be my perception but it’s how it looked to me.

And that’s not because the people who voted Brexit are nasty, either.

It’s just unfortunate that the leading, noisiest, pro Brexit leadership are conspicuously unpleasant even for politicians and yet also seem entirely typical for the party currently governing us.

We’ve got that bloke who’s trapped in the eighteenth century and looks as if he lives in a coffin, jeez I don’t even remember his fucking name. He probably thinks all these underprivileged families should be putting their kids down coal mines or up chimneys to earn cash. Obviously those of us who don’t earn or inherit astronomical wealth like his are too stupid to succeed so if they’re living in miserable penury it’s their fault. He doesn’t care if there’s no NHS, he’s fucking loaded and he probably pays for all his medical care anyway so he doesn’t have to go to hospital with the proles. He probably thinks that people who can’t earn enough money to pay for their medical care are failing to do so because they’re too stupid. I expect he thinks that’s their problem and if Brexit and Britain all goes tits up, well, he can just move to another country.

Then there’s Boris who doesn’t give a s*** about anything but Boris, and is such a massive cockwomble that he actually managed to go to Iran to negotiate for leniency for that poor woman who’s been accused of spying and instead blurted out that she was spying by mistake so they’ve put her in prison and thrown away the key. Well done. Great going. And has Boris shown any regret, any humility, or compassion or the tiniest, remotest hint of remorse? No, of course not! He doesn’t care because he’s an entitled fucking cunt.

You can just imagine him behind the scenes saying, ‘she’s only a woman, who gives a shit.’

And lastly, we have Nigel Farage who is a thinly disguised Nazi who has said he will leave if the UK goes tits up after Brexit … and like Hitler with his Jewish grandmother, he has German immigrant antecedents – for all his anti immigration stance – and has ensured that his children have German passports allegedly.

As someone who feels, personally, utterly betrayed by the conservative party and everything it stands for, Farage, Boris and the vampire bloke seem to be the epitome of everything I despise about the right wing in politics. Their sense of entitlement, their bombproof self love, their we’ve-got-money-and-we-can-cope so f*** you attitude really pisses me off.

Likewise the rest of the Conservatives, I am not impressed with their shafting people who have lived good lives and worked hard, or about the destruction of the national health service, which is only going to accelerate once Brexit goes through, about the fact that looking after people who are ill comes down to the name of the disease they have and if a disease has the wrong name, the person suffering from it will be left to fend for themselves or give everything that they have, including the house they live in, to pay for care which, again and again, has been proved in the high court should be delivered free.

To me Brexit is less about leaving Europe and more about handing our country to people like Boris, coffin man and Farage. And that worries me far more than any mere implications of leaving the EU. I suppose what I’m trying to say is it’s not Brexit itself that does my head in, it’s what it has unleashed.

They’re career politicians and politics is all they’ve known. If the rest of us were just too stupid to follow their lead and go into politics too it’s our own fault. That’s the attitude that comes over.

Fuckers.

Brexit, or at least, the shit that goes therewith, is one of the biggest arguments in favour of time travel I’ve seen.

How else have we ended up in a situation where a vacuous, self-serving, charmless, philandering yobbo like Boris Johnson is likely to be Prime Minister? And worse, where people are actually convinced he’s a decent bloke! If you made this shit up nobody would believe you. ‘Nobody’d be so dumb they’d follow that guy, he’s a twat!’ My readers would say. Yet here in Real Life nobody thinks it’s strange … is this a hex?

And what’s the alternative?

A man who admires the American model of healthcare, where the hypocratic oath comes second to payment. Where people willingly put payment for treatment in the hands of the insurance industry, an industry which, essentially, is there to scare you into giving them money and then, if something happens, find reasons not to give it back. I have American relations, I actually know someone who watched a man lying on a gurney left to suffer. He’d drunk bleach by mistake. He had no health insurance because he was poor so the hospital refused him treatment. No-one would touch him. He just lay there, writhing and groaning in agony. That’s zero fucking ethics any way you look at it. My relative did have insurance, so luckily he was wheeled in for treatment before he had to watch the man on the gurney actually die.

How fucked up does a nation have to be before it allows that? And how fucked up does another nation have to be to think it’s a good idea, and dismantle one of the best healthcare systems in the world to change to the insurance model.

Do we, in Britain, really want that? Are we that fucking cold?

Well, yes according to the Tory party – because compassion and empathy are for wimps aren’t they? They’ve been educating us for a while now haven’t they? The NHS is failing because evil people are coming to Britain from abroad and draining its resources. No, but a lot of people coming in from abroad fucking work there. It would fall on its arse without them. Then there’s the retirement age being pushed further and further back so it’s harder and harder for young people to get a job is because old people can’t let go of them. They’re fucking skint, no pension yet and they’ve got care fees to pay for their other half …

Here’s another one they’re peddling; everyone on benefits is milking the system, the disabled are freeloading bastards, they should work like everyone else. Yeh. Good idea, because you know my dad who worked all his life, paid taxes, and saved up so he and Mum would be OK in their old age. He became disabled, so he was a freeloading bastard in the end. Scrounging benefits from the state after a life time paying tax. Disgraceful!

Fancy my Dad expecting the state to honour its promise to care for him when he was ill. Sorry chum, your illness has the wrong name. You should have seen this coming and taken out an insurance plan against care fees. If he’d had a benign frontal lobe brain tumour, which would have produced exactly the same symptoms, my Dad’s treatment would have all been free.

Oh dear, John. You didn’t think you’d get to keep a penny did you? You’re not rich enough to be allowed to keep any. You have to be pushed down and kept there, your children too.

And while we’re at it, my Dad paid tax on his work pension, hang on though, it was taken from his wages, which he paid tax on, so it’s taxed twice. What?

And what happens to all the people who have grown up being promised free healthcare and aren’t insured, or people who’ve been disabled from a young age, so aren’t insured? Damaged your knee as a nipper? Won’t get any insurance on that. What happens to them? Oh hard luck, I’m afraid you’ll have to live with crippling pain because we’ve changed the rules. Yes, I realise you’re going to spend half your fifties in a wheelchair but you can only have two new knees each side so you can’t have one until you are sixty.* What will you do if you’re a fit and healthy seventy year old and you can’t walk?

I’ll be in a wheelchair! But I won’t care half so much if I’m fucking seventy as I do now you stupid Tory winnit! I’ll have bastard Alzheimer’s by then anyway.

* (Subtext, each one lasts for ten years, with any luck after a decade of excruciating pain, you’ll have died of some stress induced illness before we have to fork out for the second one). That’s the basic NHS strategy, only treat them at crisis point, don’t do anything preventative because with any luck they’ll die first.

Sometimes, I am just weary with the endless, grinding awfulness of it all.

The latest one … Mum only has a certain amount of cash to pay for carers. When that runs out -and it will, soon – we only have two ways forward.

  1. Persuade Mum to move somewhere smaller with less overheads and upkeep and pay her care fees with the cash from the house sale.
  2. Get planning permission to build all over Mum and Dad’s garden to up the value of the plot and get an endowment mortgage so she can stay where she is and still pay her care fees.

If she runs out of cash before the end, the local authority will not allow her to stay in the house. They only fund care in an institution and she will be forced to sell her house to pay for the fees. As I understand it, forcing her to move from her house and sell it isn’t legal. Forcing her to pay for care isn’t legal. After all, the NHS still says it’s free at the point of delivery and as I write this there isn’t an ‘if your illness has the right name’ caveat tacked on the end Animal Farm some-are-more-equal-then-others style. Once our new Prime Minister is settled in post, doubtless there will be.

We’re welcome to go to the High Court to prove it. But we won’t because it takes years and we don’t have years, do we? The politicians and NHS managers who decided to withdraw free healthcare for dementia sufferers know this of course, and they also know that watching someone you love slowly losing their mind is one of the most strength-sapping, soul-destroying, utterly cruel experiences available in the gamut of human experience. They know you won’t have the mental energy or capacity to fight them, they know you’re weak from carrying everything. They know that it’s all you can do to keep everyone’s heads above the water. They know that if they try to kick you into submission, you’ll go down.

Seriously? In this day and age. After the fall of the Berlin Wall. When we are supposed to be enlightened. When we are supposed to have learned where Nazism takes us and instead what are we doing? We’re going backwards. We’re trying to convince idiots that the world is round, that evolution is a real thing and that the holocaust actually happened. We’re losing our empathy, our sympathy, our compassion. That’s where it starts. With people glorying in their ignorance, with extremists undermining main stream news and others actually believing the hype. With people so nuts they even believe Australia isn’t real! What can you do in the face of moronism like that!

This shit can only be someone fucking with the time-line, right?

I am also still wading through the admin plus all the sundry admin associated with my dad dying. Jeez. Getting there on that one. It’s a case of writing a list of tasks and setting myself one thing a day.

On the up side, I needed a special number from the land registry to take Dad’s name off the house ownership. I was a bit pissed off at having to pay for information but OK with doing it. However, I didn’t know which bit of information I needed to purchase to get the number so I rang them. I was amazed to find there was a report a death option on the menu so I pressed the button and spoke to a lovely lady. I explained my predicament and she gave me the number without my having to pay. So there are times when it pays to find a phone number.

Likewise the lady I spoke to at the Department for Work and Pensions when I had to cancel Dad’s attendance allowance really couldn’t have been kinder or more helpful. She explained that I may have some outstanding to pay and was genuinely apologetic when she explained that it might take as much as a year to receive a request for this money. In the end, it didn’t. But what was so refreshing was that she understood that a sudden bill for several hundred pounds is enough to put people living on the edge into debt and into serious trouble.

In my journey with Dad, the people who work in these departments, and the social workers whose job it is to implement the shitty rules the Government makes have been lovely without exception.

It occurred to me that maybe, if every MP was forced to spend a month living on benefits, or the minimum wage, or working in the call centre that runs the benefits help lines they might learn some humanity. I guess I’m just raw, because I’ve lost my Dad and I’m beginning to remember who he was and realise that he was a giant compared to most of them and had more wisdom and empathy in his little finger than all of these bastards put together. But even if these hideous people were given a dose of reality it wouldn’t help. They’d just dismiss the experience, or say it was easy. And as for adding money worries, stress and angst to the painful business of watching someone they loved going slowly insane … well … for that to cause a blip they’d have to be capable of loving someone first.

Don’t mind me, I’m just fucking, fucking angry. It’s probably a grief thing.

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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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