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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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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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And now for something completely different!

This week, once again, we are striking out in a different direction, although, clearly it’s a slightly less different direction than it was last time because we’ve done this once before. Today, we will be taking a pleasant and rambling detour to Port Naain in the Land of the Three Seas with our friend and poet from a couple of weeks ago, Tallis. This week, I’m sharing a complete tale. As well as appearing in the Port Naain Intelligencer series, Tallis also appears in his own series and on his own blog, no less. I have no idea how Jim Webster finds the time to write all this stuff but as you know, I always enjoy Jim’s books, so a chance to share this one was too good to miss! It also has an extremely apposite title for the condition of yours truly, pre holiday. Enjoy!

Unfashionably Tired …

There are disasters that can strike even the most well organised entertainment. Some you can plan for and seek to avoid. Some you can watch out for and step in immediately to nip trouble in the bud. Others seem to strike out of the blue.

If I was apportioning blame, the temptation would be to give a generous helping to Mesdames Mudfold and Cockeren. There again Almas Slackwater cannot be held innocent of blame. Finally I would point the finger firmly at Bethan Phloom who was the hostess and failed to keep control.

To be fair, everything started well enough. The hostess was gracious, people were pleased to be invited, and there was a genuinely pleasant atmosphere. Then Madam Mudfold arrived in a nice dress. It was in silk with a rather interesting floral pattern. The hostess commented on it, others passed equally flattering comments, and Madam Mudfold was delighted. To be fair, she was entitled to be; it was a really nice dress and suited her perfectly.

Five minutes later, with Madam Mudfold barely out of the entrance hall, who should arrive but Madam Cockeren. Now I know these two ladies have had their differences in the past. I am willing to admit that the term ‘feud’ adequately described their relationship.

Still, of late they have been genuinely restrained, behaving with reasonable dignity and even some decorum. Personally I suspect husbands ended up getting involved, mainly due to the risk to life and limb that the feud occasioned.

Still the arrival of Madam Cockeren wouldn’t have been a cause for concern, but for the small, but hardly trivial detail, that she was wearing exactly the same dress as Madam Mudfold. The same silk, the same lines, and to all intents and purposes the same dress. Admittedly there was a little more material in Madam Cockeren’s dress, but this is merely because there is a little more material in Madam Cockeren. But still, it was a delightful dress and suited her perfectly.

Now at this point Madam Phloom as hostess should have done something. As it was she merely had a fit of the vapours and left me to deal with it. Still, that is why I was there. As tactfully as possible I explained the problem to the two ladies, separately, and they agreed to remain in separate rooms and to let me know if they needed to move from one room to another. Thus they need not ‘accidentally’ meet each other.
It’s a scheme I’ve used a number of times and with good will on both sides, it works nicely. I personally had no doubt that it would work equally well on this occasion. Madam Mudfold was in the first floor parlour; Madam Cockeren was in the first floor salon.

And then Almas Slackwater arrived. Alas, she too was wearing the same dress. Unfortunately Almas, is almost a full generation younger than the other two ladies. Now I have heard her described as winsome. Personally I would describe her as charming, witty, and fascinating; others have used the terms ‘frenetic’ and ‘maenadic’.

So whilst the other two ladies could feel assured that they looked elegant and attractive, Almas looked stunning. When she walked into the room one elderly gentleman muttered to me it was as if spring had arrived two months early.

Unfortunately, she arrived just as Bethan Phloom had recovered from her fit of the vapours, and had returned to duty welcoming her guests. She took one look at Almas and fainted clean away. We carried her to her room and she plays no more part in the proceedings.

Almas proceeded to blaze a trail through the house like a comet. She swept through every room, leaving the ladies feeling inadequate and the gentlemen feeling overwhelmed. To be fair to her, it’s just something that happens in her presence, she doesn’t need to work at it. Finally I met her on the hallway and asked her about her latest work. She is a very promising young poet. This distracted her and allowed the rest of the guests to get on with enjoying themselves, until the bell rang for supper.

Now supper needs some explanation. Bethan Phloom had inherited a cookery book from her grandmother. Whilst Bethan and her mother had done well in the grocery trade, grandmother had been in service as a cook and was apparently a really good one. The book Bethan had inherited was the old ladies collection of custard recipes and Bethan had decided to have an evening of custard. We would have a chance to taste over fifty-seven different flavours and textures of custard.

It was then, as custard was served, that everybody had to move into the same room and mingle. Mesdames Mudfold and Cockeren were careful to ensure there were always people between them and so they weren’t forced to acknowledge the other. To be fair to them they managed to achieve this without appearing to snub anybody, and frankly I was rather proud of them for achieving this and making my role so much easier.

The Almas arrived in the dining room. Not only did she go and stand right next to Madam Mudfold, she even examined the other lady’s dress to see if the stitching around the neck was the same. Madam Mudfold was mortified. It wasn’t merely that Almas was wearing the same dress, she was wearing it infinitely better. I felt sad for the older lady. The dress suited her. I suspect she had loved it, but I knew that she would never wear it again.

Then as Almas moved away, she seems to have inadvertently bumped into somebody, who in turn stumbled and knocked somebody else. The upshot of this was that strawberry custard was poured down the front of Madam Mudfold’s dress.

Madam Mudfold didn’t hesitate. She put two fingers into her mouth, emitted a piercing whistle which caused everybody, including Almas, to turn round. She then hit Almas full in the face with a carefully hurled bowl of caramel and ginger custard. To be fair, it was an excellent shot. People applauded.

Almas rallied, fell back to another table, and proceeded to send volleys of thick-set summer-fruits custard tarts in the direction of Madam Mudfold. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the custard dripping down her face, Almas’s aim was not perhaps of the best. Whilst all the tarts hit, not all of them hit Madam Mudfold. Others joined in, a number of younger ladies rallied to Almas, whilst Madam Cockeren led a party to rescue the now much beleaguered Madam Mudfold.

The older ladies drove their younger opponents down the stairs, but at the kitchen door Almas rallied her forces. Re-equipped with individual custard pies, they counterattacked. The battle raged up and down the stairs, into the kitchen and out of it, until at least, vanquished, Almas and her legions retired, gloriously custard-besmeared, into the night. The older ladies, realising the damage that had been done to their garments, bid each other an affectionate goodnight, and also decamped. The last to leave were Mesdames Mudfold and Cockeren who were arm in arm as they went to find where their sedan chairs had got to.

This left me with Sina the maid and Cook. Bethan Phloom remained firmly in bed, so it fell to the three of us to clean up. It took us nearly nine hours. I washed custard of the walls and shovelled it into bins whilst the ladies cleaned the floor behind me. Then Cook retired to clean the kitchen whilst Sina worked her way through the other rooms that hadn’t been plastered with custard, whilst I finished off washing carpets and similar.

Finally, long after dawn I went into the maids’ parlour to find Sina had put the finishing touches to the fire there. She was preparing for a new day. I went into the kitchen to discover that Cook had made coffee but had fallen asleep before she could offer us any. So I took two mugs of coffee, added cooking brandy to both and went back to the maids’ parlour to give Sina hers.

As she drank half of it she leaned back in the chair.

“Mr Tallis, yesterday my young man asked me to marry him. I told him I’d think on it.”

I waited whilst she emptied her mug in one long swallow.

“You know what, Mr Tallis. After last night I’m going to tell him, yes.”

I congratulated her, took the empty mug off her and went back to the kitchen with our two mugs. On my way out again I glanced through the door of the parlour. Sina was fast asleep.

¶=========================== ¶

And the hard sell!

Welcome back to Port Naain. This blog tour is to celebrate the genius of Tallis Steelyard, and to promote two novella length collections of his tales.

So meet Tallis Steelyard, the jobbing poet from the city of Port Naain. This great city is situated on the fringes of the Land of the Three Seas. Tallis makes his living as a poet, living with his wife, Shena, on a barge tied to a wharf in the Paraeba estuary. Tallis scrapes a meagre living giving poetry readings, acting as a master of ceremonies, and helping his patrons run their soirees.

These are his stories, the anecdotes of somebody who knows Port Naain and its denizens like nobody else. With Tallis as a guide you’ll meet petty criminals and criminals so wealthy they’ve become respectable. You’ll meet musicians, dark mages, condottieri and street children. All human life is here, and perhaps even a little more.

Firstly:-

Tallis Steelyard, Deep waters, and other stories.

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Discover the damage done by the Bucolic poets, wonder at the commode of Falan Birling, and read the tales better not told. We have squid wrestling, lady writers, and occasions when it probably wasn’t Tallis’s fault. He even asks the great question, who are the innocent anyway?

Click on the picture to find out more or use the link below!

http://getbook.at/DeepWaters

And then there is:-

Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories.

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Marvel at the delicate sensitivities of an assassin, wonder at the unexpected revolt of Callin Dorg. Beware of the dangers of fine dining, and of a Lady in red. Travel with Tallis as his poetical wanderings have him meandering through the pretty villages of the north. Who but Tallis Steelyard could cheat death by changing the rules?

To find out more, click on the picture or the link below.

http://getbook.at/PlayingTheGame

Finally …

If you want to see more of the stories from the Land of the Three Seas, some of them featuring Tallis Steelyard, go to Jim’s Amazon page by clicking on the link below, it should take you to his page on your local Amazon:

author.to/JimWebster

If you want to see more of the stories from the Land of the Three Seas, some of them featuring Tallis Steelyard, go to Jim’s Amazon page at
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/
https://www.amazon.com/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/

 

 

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This will end in tears … the chaos continues

It was Mothering Sunday lunch at McMini’s school yesterday. I know, bit late but who cares. Incidentally, before I go on, folks in the rest of the world, Mothering Sunday is a UK thing and part of the church calendar. It was when people in service were allowed to go home for the day and see their families during Lent before the Easter rush – yes they got one day off each year. Looking forward to labour laws like that post Brexit, still at least Farage, Reese Mogg and Johnson will have left the country so it’s not all bad. Mother’s Day is something different and more to do with legislature than tradition as I understand it, but I’m probably wrong and I digress, as usual.

When I booked a ticket McMini was completely horrified, telling me that I might be the only mother in his group of friends who was coming. Then I discovered that, no, another friend’s mum was also going. Phew! When I revealed this fact to McMini his horror at my impending visit was lessened considerably, indeed, he hid it well but, at the same time, he clearly quite liked the idea of my turning up as long as he wasn’t the only person lunching with Mum. I texted the other mum to make sure she was still on for it and she’d forgotten so that was lucky!

Needless to say, I left a bit late because I managed to drop a whole load of receipts out of my back pocket as I pulled my trousers up after a last minute wee. Obviously there was absolutely nowhere in the entire world that they could land other than in the lavatory and obviously this was just before I flushed so there was a few minute’s hiatus while I fished them out of the wee water and washed my hands. What a joy that was.

Clearly, this is the only picture I could post here!

As I left the house I discovered that someone had left an absolutely hugantic turd in our drive. A couple of the dog owners in our area are terrible, letting their animals crap all over the pavements and seeming to work on the theory that the more chance some poor bugger has of standing in it, the better. But no dog could have laid a cable this large.

It’s human.

I have absolutely no idea why people feel compelled to shit in our drive but every now and again they do. They do drugs there, park there to take ‘legal high’ capsules, leave stolen goods and their used syringes … I even turned up at midday once and discovered two young people having sex against the wall, although I’d pressed the open sesame button for the garage door while still out on the main road so they were, at least, rearranging their clothing by the time I got there – he zipping up, she pulling up her jeans. I always blip the button in the road now, in the same way my Dad used to cough a lot in certain parts of the school when he was a housemaster, to alert anyone in the vicinity breaking the rules of his impending arrival.

Reverting to the enormous Richard in question, it was about as wide as my wrists so as McOther remarked when he came home, it was definitely a copper bolt. Frankly, I hope the trauma of doing that one tore the stupid bastard’s arse in half. I mean fine, sometimes things happen and you are caught short and it’s better to whip your trousers down and poo in the street than in your pants but seriously? How much of a fucktard do you have to be to take a shit in someone’s garden? I like to think that even I, at the height of my self-destructive punk, fuck-you-world phase would have had more style, panache and general humanity than to do that.

We human beings can be truly monumental wankers can’t we? I mean look at the rise of Marxism and Nazism oh I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to call that second one by it’s actual name, am I, even if they are following Hitler’s playbook and their ideology appears to be identical, I have to call them the alt right. The ones who bang on about how we fought a war … yes against a bunch of people like them. Waves at Nigel Farage. Oh the irony.

Sorry where was I? Ah yes, well, on the upside, at least I didn’t do my usual trick of managing to get my rucksack, with its many straps, hooked up on our stupid garage door handle. That handle kind of sums up life really. It moves a full ninety degrees but only the last one and a half degrees of that full, ninety degree swing actually moves the latch. The result is that you tend to find is that you attempt to open the door, only to find you haven’t pressed hard enough for that last millimetre of travel and therefore haven’t opened the stupid fucking thing after all. I hate that door, I hate it with a venom and passion that surpasses even the ill feeling I currently harbour towards the cockwomble who shat in our drive. But the door handle does make quite a good metaphor for adult life; an awful lot of effort seems to be required to do the tiniest thing and most of the time, it seems you are doomed to get absolutely bugger all done.

Here’s an example. Remember how McMini came home with the wrong trousers? Well, we effected a swap and McMini’s trousers arrived back washed from his friend’s mum last week. When I unfolded them, I discovered that at some point during the day, before his PE session, he’d gone through them at the knee. Never mind, there were only four days of term left. He’d get through those with the last pair of trousers wouldn’t he?

Er … no.

He arrived home on Wednesday with a massive hole in one knee. Such things tend to go under McOther’s radar and I arrived home from Sussex after the shops were shut. There was nothing for it but to compare trousers and send him in to school the next day wearing the pair with the smaller hole. Then I had to go and buy another pair for him to wear for the last day of term and his Boy’s Brigade awards evening. I bought the last two pairs in the shop and now I’m thinking that may have been unwise as they’ll probably be just below the knee by next term.

At about the same time this was going on, I also noticed a strange rough patch on my left hand. It took me a while to work out that it was not some rampant skin disease taking hold, or some horrible alien affliction gradually turning me into a scrofulous space zombie but was, in fact, the remains of an act of such incredible rank stupidity that I am feeling rather guilty for my castigation of the phantom turd burgler now. Read and weep …

Oh no M T you total wanker …

Last week we did dinner for some friends and we decided to make creme brûlées (woah! My iPad put all the right accents in there! Magic.) with a blow torch. So far so good, we have a chef’s blow torch and have had it for years. I filled it up with gas the night before but, when I came to use it, I discovered that contrary to expectation there was no gas. Further efforts to fill it revealed that smething in it had broken so as the gas went in one end, it leaked out of the other. By filling it up and then using it for about twenty seconds at a time, I managed to do two of the four creme brûlées but progress was slow. Yes, I checked my watch, I’d been at this for ten minutes already and I still had two more to do.

Hmm. I sure as hell wasn’t going to make seconds.

I turned the grill on, toyed with the idea of using it to make the last two. But putting aside the fact that the average electric grill takes about twenty minutes to reach optimum temperature, even when it does it isn’t hot enough to caramelise sugar. A friend of mine once researched ovens back in the noughties and discovered that, unless you spend three or four thousand on a La Conche oven, every single element in every single electric grill and oven is made in the same factory in china. The upshot of this is that if you have an electric grill and you want to make creme brûlées you will get this weird scrambled egg thing and all the fruit will cook and the juice will rise to the surface and combine with the sugar to make this kind of sticky slurry on top with a kind of curds and whey style thing that used to be soured cream underneath.

Trust me, the real thing is even less attractive than I make it sound.

There was no other option, I had to use the effing blow torch but surely there had to be a quicker way. I had a think and hit on a cunning plan, I would stick the butane refill bottle on the bottom and turn the thing on so that gas was always coming in. Yeh the plan was Baldrick cunning.

Oh yes, cracking idea, I thought, that’ll get it done in no time.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? My cunning combo did, indeed work long enough to complete the other two creme brûlées but it wasn’t real cunning, it was Baldrick cunning. Flushed with my success I went back to the first one, which was looking a bit gritty still, to give it another blast.

Unfortunately, what I hadn’t quite grasped was that the seal around the butane refill nozzle and the intake valve on the blow torch wasn’t as … um … airtight? as I’d anticipated. A large cloud of gas had been building up around the blow torch and my hands and eventually, the inevitable happened and it ignited. There was a noise.

‘Whump!’ it went.

A large pale orange-white fireball engulfed the butane bottle, the blow torch and my hands. In my head there was no time for words, merely a picture of the refill aerosol exploding. Luckily the picture came fast enough for me to cease all pressure on the release valve of the butane refill bottle at the W of whump, actually it was probably at the first V of the W or maybe even the first \. Quickly enough for the fire not to be sucked into the aerosol canister anyway, so no actual explosion occurred. Which was nice.

In the aftermath of this substantial ignition, there was a very strong smell of burning wool and I noticed that the fluff on the jumper I was wearing was considerably shorter in the area closest to the fireball. I was mightily glad I had worn a non-combustible wool jumper that night, rather than a fleece or something made from highly combustible man-made fibres. As I thanked my lucky stars for that, I noticed that the first and second fingers of my left hand were smarting mightily and rather red. I ran them under the cold tap and to my relief the burns stopped at second degree and by the end of the evening I’d forgotten about them, until a few days later when, like all sunburn, they peeled.

So yes, my cockwomblery is confirmed, but it could be worse, it could have ended in tears. My tears. Still, at least I’m not turning into a scrofulous space zombie.

Is there a moral to this story? Possibly. I mean, thinking about it, a lot of us are struggling. A lot of us have lives like the stupid bollocking garage door. Lives where it seems to take the most gargantuan effort so shift the needle while other folks stroll on by making it look simple. We want those things, the adverts tell us we can have them now, and society tells us that if we haven’t earned enough or got X, Y or Z we have failed. But that isn’t real, that’s just advertising and fashion. It’s no more real than my books. But still we persist in applying these unrealistic standards to ourselves. Then when we ‘fail’ we look for someone or something to blame for that failure, brown people, gay people, people of a different religion.

And what’s so stupidly ironic is that it’s all stuff and it isn’t stuff that makes us happy, it’s people and relationships and experiences. Money helps, and it makes things easier, but if there are no true friends to share it with it seems pretty pointless to me. As for the ‘failure’ in question, sometimes it’s down to having a hopelessly unrealistic dream, sometimes it’s us but most of the time, I think it’s random luck.

Whatever the reason, it isn’t easy to give up on a dream when so many folks on line appear to be living it. But I do think being happy takes work. You have to focus on what you have. And taking myself as an example then yes, it’s true, I don’t have the several million I’ll need to pay my care fees when I’m elderly and leave something for McMini, but I do have McMini and McOther. I have a loving family and a cracking bunch of friends and for the most part, I have a good time.

Is that what’s wrong with us all in Britain, too many broken promises, too many broken dreams? We can’t all be rich and famous, and it’s becoming ever more apparent that fame isn’t much fun. Maybe what we need to fix is our attitude. We have a parliament full of MPs who seem to have forgotten what they’re there for. Meanwhile Brexit rumbles on and the government sneaks cuts to essential services through under the radar.

We’ve had another big row on about Brexit this week, lots of outcry and resignations, lots of talk about loyalty to the party and betrayal of party values from all sides of the house. Oh I know there are MPs who care and work hard for their constituents, but what shocked me most about this week’s row was how it was all party politics, throughout all the reportage I heard. The idea of anyone doing anything for the good of the nation didn’t make so much as a blip on the radar.

The cruellest blow is that it’s our fault. We elected these idiots. Heaven knows how we go about engaging normal people in politics again, people with life experience outside the political spectrum, people who will put their nation first and their party second, people who have had careers rather than career politicians, but we have to do it, fast. Making it to cabinet is not the same thing as getting promoted at the investment bank or making partner at the law firm. One is a job promotion, the other is a service to a nation. There’s a subtle difference and it’s one our current career politicians seem to be missing.

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How does this even happen?

This is McMini’s work.

Obviously there are points among the mayhem when I try to write a sensible post about something, but this week the madness continued so I felt I may as well just give in and tell you about it. To be honest, I was worried, a few weeks ago, that I was losing my sense of humour. The good lord has clearly decided to rectify this by making my life as surreal and bizarre as possible. The appreciation of oddity centre of my brain is definitely fully satisfied at the moment, anyway.

First, Dad.

Huge relief this week. After a meeting with Dad’s home, his social worker and the community dementia nurse on Wednesday, they said they were happy with his progress and thought he was settling well. The manager of the home confirmed that they will be able to look after him permanently. Since we were happy with the home, too, this is a huge relief. They addressed most of the doubts or misgivings we had before we got to the asking questions stage which was also a good sign. The home are taking it slowly and letting Dad settle, he flips from charming to very much not charming and has to be placed carefully since he is able to raise his voice to the kinds of levels required to be heard by rowdy teenagers. As the manager pointed out, that kind of volume, like hearing someone play the bagpipes in a small room, can be a bit much for the other residents in a confined space.

At the moment they are working out who Dad gets on with and who he doesn’t. Residents with dementia do irritate each other from time to time, apparently. Like life then. But they’re more like kids so there’s a lot more of the kind of nursery school exchanges. Go away I don’t like you, you’re smelly etc.

A highlight was when the lovely lady who runs the home was trying to get into the computer system to show us Dad’s record. The meeting room was just off the main hall/lounge where everyone sits. She forgot her password. So she opened the door and called for one of the other staff.

‘She’s gone,’ said an elderly voice from a chair nearby. ‘She got into the taxi.’

‘Did she?’

‘Yes, I don’t know where she’s going.’

The staff member appeared from the office next door and came in to join us. In the background I could hear a cheery commentary from the same resident.

‘Look! They’ve both got into the taxi.’

‘Oh,’ said someone else.

‘Yes, I don’t know where they think they’re going,’ said the first voice.

Very Alan Bennett.

At another point I heard a resident shouting and then the familiar voice of Dad bellowing, ‘shut up!’

There was a slight pause in the meeting room.

‘That was Dad,’ said Mum.

‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘still, at least he didn’t say, “fuck off!”’

It sounds a bit grim of me but I’m afraid I actually found it hilarious. Luckily everyone else laughed too.

If you want to survive stuff like this, I sincerely believe there is no other option than to see the funny side. Were he still wholly himself, I’m certain it’s what Dad would have done. There is something gloriously, surreally random about listening to a background of conversation between demented people. Furthermore, Dad is much more settled and much more aware so we are happier because he is and therefore, so is Mum. She is a bit of a worry. We are standing at the top of the hill we were on with Dad three years ago, except with her. I’m hoping the cajoling, the getting extra care and all the other baggage that comes with getting people the care they need, rather than the care they want, will be easier to handle the second time.

Business in casa McGuire is mayhem as usual.

McCat is behaving abominably. As if his complete obsession with my evening primrose oil capsules wasn’t enough, I turned my back on the kitchen work top this morning only to discover he’d leapt up there and was drinking the dregs of McOther’s tea. For the love of the almighty was there ever such a skanky cat? I swear he’s suffering from species dysmorphia because he is clearly a labrador. I have discovered that screaming at him makes him stop and run away, and it also clearly communicates to him that I am displeased and he’s been bad. It doesn’t stop him, though, because not only is he mischievous but he also has a sense of humour and I suspect he thinks it’s funny.

Midweek, a friend from way back rang up out of the blue. She was up here on business and asked if she could stay over. Yes she could, I said. So after a grim journey home from the care home on Wednesday – a lovely 39 minute delay at the Dartford Tunnel and other shenanigans – I got home a few minutes before she arrived.

We had supper and there was lots to talk about, we’re in very similar situations with elderly parents although it’s just mum in her case and we managed to talk the hind legs off every donkey in the vicinity until we realised it was one am.

Nooo I forgot the soldiers in the bog!

I didn’t really think it through, since I had metal detecting club the next night and McOther is hoping to start a wine tasting group we had the first meeting round ours the night after. Long and short, I really can’t do late nights any more I have been recovering from Wednesday’s excesses all week.

When we had the wine group round, I spent the day trying to change my mindset to that of a person who does not live with a ten year old and to notice, and remove, some of the bizarre items that have come to rest around the house. A lot of nerf guns, bits of biro, headless action figures and other detritus later, I thought I had them all, only to discover, while having a nice relaxing wee during the wine evening, that I’d completely forgotten about the row of toy soldiers in the lavatory. Still, I suppose it could have been worse. The scale on our water here is brown and I did, at least, remember to give the lav a good treatment with descaler so it was mostly white.

Meanwhile, McOther had blithely imagined that he’d be home from work in time for us to eat a meal before the wine evening on Friday started. In fact, the first of our guests arrived about two minutes after McOther did. I chatted to him while McOther had a wee and unpacked his work bag before leaving McOther playing host and haring off up the hill in the car with McMini to Boy’s Brigade. Needless to say, because I have a tiny car and McMini is, himself, a microdot, he has elected to play the bass drum in the Boy’s Brigade band. To give him his due, he’s pretty good at it but it means I have to schlepp up the hill with it, or borrow McOther’s car. It’s only a matter of time before he takes up the double bass and the tuba I suspect … or possibly the euphonium or some other hugantic instrument I’ll need a luton van to ferry him about with.

On the recovery from my persistent socialising score, the fact it is the part of my monthly cycle which I privately refer to as Constipation and Brain Fog Week hasn’t helped either, but this time the brain fog and seems to have extended its sponge like caress, not just to my brain, but also to McMini’s.

On Fridays he has PE. Thank heavens he no longer has to go into school dressed in his kit, with his school clothes in a bag, but he tends to come home in his PE kit with his school uniform and school shoes stuffed into his bag. However, he also has Boy’s Brigade on Fridays so he has to put the school trousers and shirt back on again. Bless his heart, I took his uniform out of his PE bag, popped it on the sofa beside him without really looking at it and asked him to put it on. A few minutes later, I heard a shout of dismay.

‘Muuuuuum!’

‘Yes.’

‘These aren’t my trousers! They’re huge.’

He was standing in the middle of the room, sporting what looked like clown trousers. He held the waistband out from his stomach and there was, indeed, about three inches of extra room where, presumably, they usually sit snugly round a very much larger child. Luckily, I’d already washed the other pair of his own trousers and it was hanging over the airier in the utility room so I didn’t have to creep up the stairs on my shonky knees. Even more luckily, it was dry!

The week before last, he managed to get changed back into his school uniform but he came home with another child’s hoody. I didn’t find it for five days. The wee lad’s poor mum was probably wondering where the hell it was. At least I managed to wash it and get it back to her in time for the next PE lesson.

So now we have a pair of mystery trousers and some other child has McMini’s. As far as I recall, McMini’s are named, I’m not sure though, because he went through about six pairs in the first three weeks of term playing something which he called ‘human chess’ and so in the whirl of rapid acquisition and destruction of trousers I may not have named them. Still, I should thank the world for small mercies, I mean, it makes life interesting and at least he still has a pair to go to school in on Monday.

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