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The day-to-day challenges of being a fuckwit and other stuff …

There are times when I enjoy being me and other times when I wish I was one of the normal bastards.

I also loathe and detest the first person who decided that it would be a good idea to nick something that belonged to someone else, resulting in the bane of my fucking life; keys. One of the many things the Romans gave us, I believe, along with underground elder and rabbits, oh no wait, that was the Normans wasn’t it? And organised people. Because organised people are organised the rest of us all have to bloody do it their way. Jeepers, if I could a penny for every minute I’ve pissed away looking for my keys, breaking into my own house or generally footering about on key-related shite I’d be giving Jeff Bezos a run for his money.

Yes, as you can guess, I locked myself out of my house again this week. I also failed to meet and greet McMini’s new headmaster, who is the spit of a TV personality from a popular magazine programme. The curriculum meeting, which I did get to, was rather disconcerting as I felt as if I was in a TV audience and half expected the other presenters on the TV programme to turn up too. Quite weird. Anyway, I set my phone to beep when the headmaster’s new meet and greet session was on because I knew I hadn’t a hope in hell of remembering through my menopausal brain fog. Did the stupid thing go off?

Did it buffalo!

It just showed me a message which, of course, I didn’t chuffing see, the phone being in my pocket while I was riding a bike. I think there’s been an ‘improvement’ to they’ve dicked about with the diary facility on my phone and not mentioned it, as per usual, because clearly google’s users have nothing better to do after the weekly update than spend the rest of the week working out what it’s improved fucked up. I haven’t worked out how to persuade the alarm function to make a noise since it used to do so automatically.

Do you know, I’m beginning to wonder if technology isn’t something The Man has given us all to do so we don’t notice how many companies are screwing us over or what bastards the politicians are.

Anyway, there I was on Tuesday, having discovered that I’d missed the meet and greet, but on the up side at least I was finally remembering to pay in a cheque the Inland Revenue had sent my dad about three weeks earlier. But I decided I’d go to M&S first, and afterwards, as I went to unlock the bike to head for the bank, that’s when I discovered that I didn’t have the keys.

Bollocks.

So I left my bike leaning against the lamp post to which I’d chained it and walked home. The gate to our garden runs across a narrow alley between our garage and next door’s. It’s quite high, about seven ft, so while I could leap up and undo the catch, I would probably end up swinging on the gate, or at least, breaking the gate with my huge weight as it tried to swing.

There is the wall, of course, but unfortunately, my knees are far too fucked to go over the wall these days, so I have to liberate something from a skip to stand on or, skips being a bit thin on the ground at the moment, I have to borrow a ladder from a neighbour. This time the unlucky recipients of my plea for help were the lovely folks at the cobbler’s shop opposite. Offered a choice of three sizes of stepladder, I chose a small compact type and suitably armed I returned to the back gate, set it up in front, climbed up, opened the gate without falling through it – result! – and went and got my keys from the back door of the garage. Then I pulled the gate to, with the keys about my person this time, handed the ladder back in at the shop and plodded back up the hill to town.

This is my life. This is a normal day for me. This is how I waste my precious fucking time. Flippin’ eck.

After liberating the bike, I found the bank just opening. Apparently they do training on Tuesday until 9.30, not that there is any mention of this on their opening hours sign. Sigh. Clearly the Chaos Fairies knew and were just finding me a more interesting way of occupying my time than waiting outside. Little shites.

Cheque paid in I returned home.

Today I discover that I have forgotten to buy my Dad a new set of pyjamas so it’ll be all hands on deck to do that in a moment … when I’ve done this. But I digress.

Telling McOther about my episode with the keys, he said cheerfully, ‘Crikey! I’d really hate to be you. Although if I was, I think I’d have thought about changing something by now.’

I tried to explain that changing this behaviour would be a complete fucking joy but that repeated attempts to do so have ended up in failure and indeed depression. It is abundantly clear to me that the reason I am such a cheerful personality is that were I not, the unnatural degree of fucking uselessness which which I am lumbered would certainly have caused me to top myself. It appears I am no more able to change my bollock-brained ness than an amputee is able to grow back their lost limb. Indeed if my efforts are anything to go on, an amputee trying to regrow a lost leg is marginally more likely to succeed.

On the upside, I suppose my life is never dull.

Speaking of which, the old dears were in good form this week and I saw my Uncle and Aunt too, which is always great fun. Lunch over and as I was leaving, Mum drew my attention to the dolls house our gardener, but more of a family member really, made for me as a kid. It is a replica of our house and had been languishing in the barn at Mum and Dad’s for years until my sis in law and niece had found it, got it out, cleaned it up, got rid of the woodworm and washed everything that could be saved and washed.

Dolls house, from the back.

‘Do get them to take it away, darling, it’s cluttering up the place,’ said Mum.

Turns out Sis in Law and niece aren’t sure they have room for it. And it is manky. It needs fixed.

‘I think we should just bin it,’ said Mum.

‘But we can’t do that!’ I say, ‘think how much thought and love went into making it.’

‘True,’ said Mum, ‘But we really can’t have it lying around here. Why don’t you have it?’

‘Really? Thanks,’ I say, not even thinking how I’m going to get a 4x5ft dolls house into a Lotus, not to mention bringing home another large cluttery thing to clutter up our house. My poor, poor husband. It’s probably not even going to fit into his sensible(ish) alfa but I’ll take it down next week and have a look, anyway.

It’s a wonderful, if knackered thing, though, this doll’s house. The windows are cut carefully with a fret saw and glassed with perspex cut to size from the windows of the sidecar from Arthur’s old motorbike. The lay out and rooms are a replica of our house, except for the downstairs loo but I think we can let that go.

The actual house

Dolls house, from the front.

It opens in all the right places for maximum access to all areas. It’s not quite the right size for standard dolls house furniture so Arthur made tiny chairs and tables to go with it. Mum made tiny duvets and valences to go round the beds and little cushions.

As a child, I ‘decorated’ it, myself using felt for carpets (long since eaten by a variety of rodents and insects in the barn) and the contents of a 1970s wall paper sample book. As a result some of the decor is a tad … lurid.

A full on view of some of the attractive shades of decor 10 year old me chose. Geez I was classy!

So I’m going to paint it up, sort it out and redecorate the inside. I may even try making some furniture, although, it’ll have to be paper mache. But you never know, maybe the chaos fairies will move in, and if they have somewhere to live perhaps the little bastards will piss off and leave me alone!

Here’s hoping.

 

 

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Aaargh! Am I turning into an adult?

Yep it’s a valid question. I never, ever wanted to become a grown up but it’s one of those unfortunate facts that as we age, the changes are so imperceptible that, for the most part, we fail to notice. That might be why, if you asked me or anyone for that matter, if we feel any different inside now, to the way we did as kids, the answer is likely to be a resounding no. Yet apparently there have been changes – in my case, anyway.

On our way back from Spain we stopped in a rather lovely town called Niort in France where we stumbled on a small gallery, in a lovely old building, displaying a series of photographs documenting a short period of time in the life of a graffiti artist. There were some cracking photos and I actually love a bit of graffiti art, myself. France seems to be particularly good for it, or maybe it’s just that its motorways are; less traffic + less CCTV = more multicoloured letters.

Nice.

Graffiti art in Niort, France.

Anyway, as we went round I pointed out the photos I liked to McMini with my usual enthusiasm. McMini was interested too but seemed slightly bemused. Oh dear and I do so want him to enjoy art because he’s quite good at it.

However, when we got outside we got to the bottom of his bemused attitude. The conversation went like this,

‘Mummy, you don’t really like graffiti art do you?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Really?’
He sounds incredulous.
‘Yeh.’
‘But you’re a grown up. Grown ups should disapprove and be saying, “Those terrible kids what are they up to now?”’
‘Your Mother is not a grown up,’ says McOther.
‘Yes she is!’ says McMini.
‘You think?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ says McMini.
McOther is looking very dubious but with a twinkle at the corner of the eyes because he knows how completely horrified I will be to hear this.
‘Flippin‘eck! I’ve convinced my child I’m an adult!’ I say. ‘How did that happen?’

How indeed?

The idea is, frankly, horrifying! When I was a kid, I never thought my parents disapproved of much, well, no they did but not in a pissy small-minded adult way. They disapproved of bad things like punching people, stealing, bullying, being unkind, hurting animals and stuff like that but they couldn’t give a toss if someone was untidy, had illegible handwriting, was late to things or was, say, gay. At one school I went to there were a couple of girls who made life hell for a lot of people – to the point of giving someone a nervous breakdown – but they had neat handwriting, they were on time for everything and always looked tidy so as far as many of the teachers seemed to be concerned they were paragons of virtue, whereas I was ‘slapdash’ and untidy in my work; well no, actually, I had a form of dyslexia. Looking back on it now, those girls were incredibly unhappy at home and dealt with their unhappiness by spreading it. I suspect the teachers who praised them, who I saw as traitorous and unjust, were merely trying to instil them with some sense of self worth.

Sorry, going off on a tangent there, I guess what I’m saying is that as a child and then a young woman, I loved that my parents totally seemed to get that timeliness, tidiness and conformity, though fine traits sometimes, were worthless if the person displaying them behaves like a piece of shit. Likewise, their complete lack of concern over the sexuality of the people I came into contact with. They probably spotted that my gay friends were gay way before I did and back then in the 1980s any difference in sexuality could be a major stigma even among the supposedly liberal youth, let alone folks of my parents’ generation.

As I grew older and started to do rebellion, it became very obvious that my parents were right behind me and, indeed, that they were a great deal more anarchic, liberal, forgiving, free-thinking and generally open than most of my supposedly avant garde acquaintances. They seemed to revel in eccentricity of character and loved anyone who was prepared to think deeply and challenge the establishment. I remember my father desperately trying to get me to say the word, ‘fuck’ in mixed company because he felt that some of the older people there were rather pompous and deserved a good shock. I suppose he simply approached language, and swear words, with the same lack of prejudice as he approached everything else.

Mum dragged up all sorts of gloriously textured words to replace invective, troglodyte, nit-wit and strewth were some of them. Dad, on the other hand, was an occasional but enthusiastic swearer – usually when he was frustrated or angry, I don’t recall him ever swearing at people. When he mowed the orchard, colliding with the low branches of Every. Single. Tree. He used to eff and blind like the most foul-mouthed squaddie. Mowing sessions were rated on a scale of buggeration, ‘how many buggers was that one, Dad?’ we would ask. He would try to be cross for about a nanosecond and then laugh and say something like,

‘Far too many, and there were a few fucks as well!’

No matter how odd I was considered to be at school, I fitted in at home and surely that’s what good parenting is, isn’t it? Giving your kids somewhere they fit, where it’s OK to be who they are while they try and find out what that is.

When I went to university I desperately tried to persuade my friends to visit me at home for the weekend because if only they would, I knew they would be able to make sense of who I am. Few were brave enough. It was very, very hard to make friends my first year, until someone happened upon the fact I was good at art. Then, suddenly, there was a new box to put me in. I was no longer a southerner (and therefore scum) I was ‘the artist’ and all was fine from there on in.

Always, I have hoped that if I had children of my own I would be like my parents, which is why the idea that McMini thinks I’m a grown up is so alarming. Have I officially Lost My Sense of Humour? Have I Become Set In My Ways? Have I started to believe I’m right about everything? I hope not. As a woman of faith, my politics seem to be moving further and further left as the mainstream moves further right so maybe it’s OK. Maybe there’s hope for me.

The fact my friends weren’t as anarchic my actual parents was a terrible disappointment to me as a youngster. If I’ve turned into one of those normal bastards, at least I’ll spare McMini that. It’s awful having to bite your tongue with people your own age because they tell you off for swearing or mentioning periods, admitting to a fart, or whatever, as if they’re anally retentive prudish pensioners (except both sets of my grandparents were similar to my parents). Seriously, though, teenagers trying to be grown up can be so fucking prissy. Actually, anyone who feels they have to try and act like a grown up can be is pretty fucking prissy. That’s why the thought that responsible adulthood might have crept up on me fills me with such despond.

As a kid, I rebelled against the Draco Malfoys of my school life who despised me because, among other things, I wasn’t attempting to get my end away with every male who crossed my path. But to me, boys weren’t the complex mystery they saw. Living with a brother and in close proximity to 500 of the buggers does that to a girl. Looking back, I suspect the real reason they hated me was because I was happy and they weren’t but they couldn’t articulate it, or perhaps the failure of their sporadic efforts to be nice to me so I would invite them home and give them a pop at those 500 boys was part of the problem too. The official reasons they gave for hating me were very faux, things like my being too posh or not posh enough, or ‘so immature’ (ie having a sense of humour). Deep down we all knew that the hatred was irrational and the excuses fake. Nothing like someone giving you shit because they want to and then trying to pretend there’s a logical reason to make you start questioning the status quo.

But McMini isn’t bullied, thank heavens. And I hope he never will be. There are no Dracos for him but that means that when the time comes to rebel he may well rebel against me. I am, kind of, braced for this but I’m still not sure how I’ll go about empathising. Will I be able to? Will I just become entrenched in my position, be Eddie to his Saffie?

Throughout my school and working life, barring a couple of notable exemptions, I have always been lumbered with a someone who decides, upon meeting me for the first time, that their raison d’etre from now on will be to make my life a misery. I seem to have something in me that enrages total and complete bastards to the point of mania and while on occasion, I feel smug at being able to piss off the small and petty minded so comprehensively, it can be hard going. What a relief it was to give up work and step out of all that and, for the first time in my life be bastard free!

But now I wonder, have these recent, glorious years without my own personal nemesis corrupted me? Am I like Lister in Red Dwarf? When he complains that Holly has brought back Rimmer, his arch enemy, and not one of his friends, he is told it’s because Rimmer is the crew member most likely to keep him sane. Do I need a total wanker in my life to keep me on the straight and narrow? Have I gone normal in these glorious tosser-free years? Or is it simply that I lack the strength of character to have that open-minded, easy going confidence of my parents?

I hope I will be the kind of parent to McMini that I had. I hope that when I’m in my 80s, I’ll be as anarchic as my Mum and that McMini, in turn, will be the same in his 80s. I hope I’ll always be able to grow and think and adapt my view. I hope I never lose that curiosity of viewpoint that my parents still have, even now. To give you an example:

My mother was a debutant, she’s had dinner on the Royal Yachet while The Queen was still living there. Twice. But she’s fully convinced socialist. She thinks that ideally we would just pass a law to re-nationalise the railways, power infrastructure, the lot of it, and then have it run by people who knew what they were doing (which is many of the folks there now) and who could tell the government what dividend it was going to have each year so they could invest properly in the infrastructure as needed, rather than having to stand and watch their companies being bled dry.

She thinks that MPs are never going to go after people like Google to collect the proper amount of tax, partly because … lawyers … and partly because unlike the Victorian times the Conservatives so espouse, rich people these days ‘have no proper religion so they don’t know how to behave. They have no compassion, they’re not going to set up the Joseph Rowantree Foundation, or build Port Sunlight. Those days are gone.’ But mostly she believes the Googles of this world will always escape tax because this country is still run by the 200 most intelligent people in each year at Oxford and Cambridge, no matter what the social background from whence they come, and so the UK branches of these companies are run by folks with whom many of our politicians are friends.

‘It’s awfully hard to have dinner with someone one night and send his company a writ the next morning,’ she says.

She’s right, of course, it is, and just as much if you’ve come up from the gutter and want to maintain your status as if you’re a weak-willed trustafarian. And principles only get you into trouble. After all, look what happened to St Thomas A Becket. The politicians will be looking to their post political careers, speaking, being on boards … none of that’s going to happen if they go round clobbering their future employers. Mum agrees this is bad but thinks it’s human nature and that the state needs to accept the humanity of its elected servants and find ways to earn money through something other than the taxes people like Boris and Rhees Mogg will have neither the balls nor the inclination to collect.

‘We should feel sorry for them really, they can’t help it, they haven’t a clue how to behave,’ she says with sweeping disdain.

So if some utilities etc were state run, PROPERLY, I might add, Mum thinks we’d have more money to give to the NHS.

It’s a bit of a cop out, she admits, because like me, she thinks that the government should go after people like Google for the tax they owe. After all, by paying their employees so little that they can’t survive, people like Jeff Bezos are, basically, taxing the rest of us. Buy your goods for less on Amazon but pay an extra £5.00 a week on stuff for the food bank their zero hours, underpaid employees have to use. Oh and some extra tax, because you’d better believe the government will collect yours, the poorer you are, the more heavy handed they will be because they know they’ll get it – you can’t afford to fight back. But they collect the tax so that they have the money to run the state services Jeff’s stressed employees will need to use when their worry and over work have made them ill. And now we’re coming out of Europe, of course, it will be even easier for Jeff and his friends to screw their employees over because our compassionate conservative government will get rid of all that annoying red-tape-shaped employment law.

Will I be as anarchic as that when I’m 85? Will McMini have parents like I did? I really, really hope so.

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Where have I been?

Sorry about the long hiatus. It has been the holidays and I’ve managed to do my statutory 10 minutes a day of writing but in order not to get very grumpy about knee pain I’ve had to use Saturday mornings, when I usually write this, to go to the Gym. It’s still the holidays but having woken up early today (Sunday) I have a few moments to dash off a quick blog post while I’m here. I have two very long ones in the offing so this is going to be my holiday in pictures.

We drove through France at a leisurely pace to Spain. Despite being tempted we didn’t stop at Poo.

So, instead we spent our first night a place called Sees… very pretty it was too. It rained though. Next stop …

Samaur

While there, we visited a tank museum which was rather good. Although the best exhibits were not tanks. They appear to be early attempts at snurds. I rather like the idea of owning a Vespa with an A.P.T. tube but the amphibious beetle has such a cheery face.

Next: Bordeaux – are you beginning to spot a theme here? Yes, more wine was drunk there. Bordeaux as an area is very pretty but the actual town Bordeaux appears to be a giant traffic jam, the roads were mostly traffic master maroon (ie stopped) but a couple of days they were red (incredibly slow). It made the M25 or the M6 round Holmes Chapel look free flowing. On the up side, there is some fantastic graffiti art on the motorways in France. I also saw the Persids for the first time in my life which was lovely. It’s always overcast here and they start too late. The Persids also gave McOther his first sighting of a shooting star.

Bordeaux finished, we moved on to Spain and Haro where Rioja is made where we stayed in an apartment and took in the local sights, had some meals etc.

We visited some mountain top villages outside Haro …

We also had a wine tour and tasting at the producer of one of our favourite wines.

After four days in Haro it was time to return to Blighty … slowly. First stop was Pau, where Henry of Navarre was born.

After Pau we learned never to travel on the middle Saturday in August in France by din’t of taking 7 hours to complete the three and a half hour journey to our next port of call, Niort, which is a lovely town boasting a spectacular castle and a really impressive market.

After Niort we went for a night in Normandy, staying at a friend’s cabin in a Eurocamp. That was a bit of an eye opener. We had fun though. The next day we went to Omaha Beach.

After that, it was one last night in Boulogne.

Originally we planned to do this in three weeks but we were going with friends so the departure of one of McOther’s partners on holiday one end and the end of the potato harvest for our friends the other meant we did it in 13 days. I think, looking back, it would have been more relaxing if we’d managed to take things at a slightly more leisurely pace on the journey back but all, in all, it was great fun. Put it like this. I’ve put on half a stone!

Normal service will be resumed next week.

 

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The days when it drives you crazy! #dementia

Today, I’m going to explain some frustrations about looking after vulnerable elderly family members. Here they are:

  • Masses of frustrating administrivia.
  • The whole thing is a monumental time suck. You’ll find yourself wondering how the fuck they ran their lives before you and the care team came along to do it for them.
  • If you are going to allow the vulnerable person any independence, there will be slip ups. You will not believe how comprehensively they can stuff things up and you will have to do a lot of gatekeeping and/or clearing up.
  • Things will also stuff up randomly with monotonous regularity.
  • You will need to remember a lot of things for them.
  • Keeping them social and independent may involve covert surveillance from the wings, so to speak, so you can fix any bog ups quietly in the background, or at the least, see them coming. That may feel like spying or going behind their back. It isn’t. You’re just supporting them so they can be free for as long as possible. Hold onto that when it gets tough, my lovelies. Because …
  • The gift, or possibly the illusion, that they are running their own affairs (even when they aren’t) is the best thing you can give them. Aim to let the person have as much independence as is humanely possible, for as long as possible because however vulnerable they may be, they are not children, and allowing them to take responsibility for things is great for their confidence if they are supported the right way.
  • You will be amazed how crass people can be when presented with a dementia sufferer.
  • You will be amazed how lovely people can be when presented with a dementia sufferer.
  • There may be times when you feel trapped and cornered by the crushing weight of the responsibility and will wish that you could just run away and never return.
  • Sometimes you’ll wonder if they wouldn’t be better off dead. It doesn’t matter how ableist that is, it’s going to happen especially if one of them has told you, repeatedly, that  they hope they will die, ‘before I lose my marbles. I can handle pain, but I don’t think I could bear that, or knowing how awful it will be for you.’

In short you will have many thoughts that may not be pleasant but try not to beat yourself up because I’d guarantee that most of them are perfectly natural. You have to accept that your negative feelings are as natural as the positive ones. You have to accept yourself and look after yourself as well as them. Because if you go down, everything does!

When it comes to the time, you won’t mind putting the time in, and actually, most days, you’ll feel that it’s an honour. But on other occasions you may be roundly cursing your loved ones, especially if you have to drop everything and sort out whatever mess they’ve got themselves into. It’s nothing to be upset about when that happens so long as you don’t do it in front of them, because you’re human, and there will be times when it and they drive you buggy, no matter how much you love them.

Case in point, this week. It’s has been a bit hectic. Mum has reached the stage when we should really be activating the lasting power of attorney over her finances as well as Dad’s but if we do that, she can’t have a cheque book or bank card and neither can I. Running someone’s day to day finances and shopping needs from over 100 miles away isn’t going to be easy if none of them have access to a cash point and Mum can’t pay for anything by cheque either.

Sure, we can do it, but it will involve transferring hundreds of pounds to my own bank account every week and getting them out, putting them in an envelope and taking them down to my parents’ place. To be honest, I don’t fancy walking about with £500 plus on board, even in my quiet market town. Then, we have to hide the cash at Mum and Dad’s. We can put it in the safe but their having all that cash sloshing about is still not a prospect I relish.

Also even if I did it, what happens when I go away on holiday?

God bless my Mum, she managed to spend nearly £300 on some manure the other day. It’s excellent stuff, but she didn’t really need 36 bags. She used to, because she used to use a lot of it and would pass it on to friends. But not anymore. After that, and other scares, and a brief discussion with the carers we decided we’d hide the cheque book and card in the safe. Needless to say, when I looked in there, I found a bunch of cash I’d put in for emergencies while I was away on holiday a year ago – this was at a point where we were trying to have me bring cash each week and it wasn’t working. Obviously, there were four old tenners, so I had to put the new ones from my wallet in and take the others home where I could go into ‘any bank’ to swap them.

When I got home after three and a half hours of joy round the M25, I rang the fellow who sold her the manure. He wasn’t there so I left a message.

He didn’t call back until the next day and was extremely understanding but couldn’t really do much more than give us a discount and promise not to call again next year. I’ve had at least three bags of his manure, via Mum, so I do know he is legit but it was a pity. He also rang me just as McMini and I were leaving the house and it took us half an hour to sort it out. Half an hour that I didn’t really have.

Having agreed that Mum and Dad would have to keep the manure, but that he’d tear up cheque and I would pay a reduced sum by BACS, the next day, McOther then pointed out that I should wait to pay him until he’d sent the cheque back. Or stop it and then pay him. So then I had to stop the cheque.

However, HSBC’s Indian call centre came up trumps here. They still can’t pronounce the name McGuire but they are now more intuitive. Today I spoke to a lady who stopped the cheque for me and then, when I explained why I was stopping it, she waived the fee. Last time, when I was checking that there wasn’t a standing order pending for an insurance policy on her white goods that Mum had bought and I’d cancelled, the guy put a note on that no standing order should be approved without asking me. A stark contrast to the bastards at NatWest who would only change Mum’s old tenners if I had an account with them. Yes, after the thirty minute delay of the call with the manure man, it took us another fifteen to find a bank in the centre of town who’d swap the stupid tenners. Thank heavens there’s a Santander, where, ironically, I have an account but the teller swapped it all over without even asking if I do.

So the moral of this story appears to be don’t bank with NatWest, they’re a bunch of cAROOOGAHts.

It looks as if the suckers list Mum and Dad are on has just changed hands again and the ‘call blocker’ bastards are phoning every day, along with people ringing to say that the TV/Washing Machine/insert white goods here ‘insurance’ policy is due when there isn’t one. The former are scamming bastards out to rip off the vulnerable. The latter are selling worthless, overpriced services by cold calling people who are on the Telephone Preference Service (which is punishable by a £5k fine) but they are at least legitimate companies with websites and directors registered at Companies House even if their corporate ethics are in a fucking mess.

All of them call themselves something generic which is searched for lots on Google; Home Insurance Services or Call Technology Services, Home Services Limited or the like, things that will ensure any internet search for a record of their existence is buried under pages and pages of results. The other trouble is, if you are kind of person who purchases a suckers list in the first place, you’re not going to worry about selling it on with records that are duff when you’re done. As a result, every three months or so, Mum and Dad get a massive surge of these scam calls and then, as the shit-heads realise there are gatekeepers, the calls fall away until the list is sold on again.

Bastards.

However, I have a plan for the next call blocker selling weasel who phones when I’m at my parents. It’s going to be a gas! I’ll let you know how it goes.

I have a cunning plan … hnur, hnur, hnurrrrr.

 

 

 

 

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Online lobotomy anyone?

There was a nice surprise this week when this blog was named as one of the top ten humour blogs on Feedspot! Have a look https://blog.feedspot.com/uk_humor_blogs/ ! Yeh, I know! Thanks to all the lovely folks at Feedspot for that.

Now, having won this splendid accolade, the smart move would be to post something funny. It’s probably quite unwise for me to veer into satire or, the saints forefend, a humorously presented rant. But I’ve never been one to act wisely so here I am. Yes, heaven help me, I’m going to open myself up to all sorts of horrors by talking obliquely about politics. Well, not politics, as such, but our new and sudden blindness, as a nation, to editorial bias.

A long time ago (yeh, yeh, in a galaxy far away) when I was living in London I worked for a sponsorship agency which specialised in the arts. The arts are an amorphous thing that are difficult to justify – especially dance, which we did a lot of. It’s clear that a thriving arts scene is a sign of a thriving and healthy society but at the same time, I appreciate that not everyone thinks this, as did my bosses at the agency. Therefore a lot of the sponsorship work involved public relations efforts in making sure that The Entire World knew about the events we were staging.

As the office gofor, I used to go through the papers every day, cut out relevant articles mentioning our clients; sponsors or sponsees, so to speak – or news bites of interest – and make a cuttings sheet to be circulated each morning. Cuttings were also sent to clients to prove that we were Letting The Entire World Know about their corporate philanthropy. We also had a cuttings service for this and I would open the daily envelope from them and add their contributions to mine. Obviously, because it was me, I’d add an ‘and finally’ to stick on the end if I could find something silly enough.

After two years or so of doing this, it became very clear to me that different newspapers, radio channels and yes, TV channels would present the same news in wildly different ways.

As an example, I remember one particular article about some poor chap who left the keys to his car in a locked office. He climbed out from the window of the office next door and along a ledge to the open window of the locked room containing his keys with a view to climbing in and retrieving them. Unfortunately a gust of wind caught him and he slipped and fell to his death. He fell 30ft (The Telegraph), 60ft (The Independent) and 90ft (The Times) I may have muddled who said which, it’s a long time ago, but those were the differences. Obviously, though, the key facts in this story were that the guy fell to his death. Incidentally, all three newspapers agreed that the car was a Porsche.

This variance in news presentation did not strike me as wrong, or strange, since each news organ (phnark) reflected its own editorial bias and this did mean variations. In those days, most people living in Britain were smart enough to understand that news events are always going to reflect the bias of the journalist or news outlet relating them to us, even if the staff are trying to present them in a neutral, factual way. The closest to factual thing around at that time was Ceefax – the BBC TV text news service which was amazingly bald about stating the facts and not much else because it needed to be low bandwidth and there simply wasn’t room to extrapolate.

Recently, I was thinking about this in relation to a friend of mine, who gets a lot of his news from Breitbart. To be honest, I can’t read that site easily, partly because the articles tend to be a bit preachy and I don’t appreciate that, but also because the comments on some of them tend to leave me with a little bit of vomit in my mouth. BUT it did occur to me that for the main part, my mate who reads that site, is reading it as I would have read the newspapers in the 1990s, with a strong feel for the editorial bias in a way that, perhaps, I can’t. But it made me think. Where and when did we lose the ability to read editorial bias into what we see?

Thinking about it, I guess it may have sprung from the internationalisation of everything with the internet. Which, basically, if you’re English, means Americanisation. And the Americans are really weird about the way they do news. Most of it’s regional, there doesn’t seem to be the same breadth of national newspapers, for example, and it seems that everything has to be presented as right or wrong, there appears to be little room for grey areas. This seems to result in a very simplified, sound bitey version of events. Some channels also seem to like pointing out which side is right or wrong rather than leaving us to judge for ourselves. It is the antithesis of impartial reporting.

People like this, of course. They like simple. They like not having to think for themselves. Grey is a difficult colour. Right versus wrong is nice and simple. We Brits have taken to this sound bite reference system like ducks to water, and for some reason, in this process of simplification we appear to be losing our understanding of, and tolerance of, editorial bias. These days, that variation in the news story about the fellow looking for his keys would be used by the alt right, far left and religious nutters as a reason why mainstream media is run by liars and, therefore, not to be trusted because, look! They can’t get their facts right.

On top of that, we have marketing being applied to news, because it’s all driven by economics now because our nation’s leaders appear to believe the American way is best for everyone (because they have vested interests mainly).  Nowadays, news services want customers, faithful customers, who source their news from one outlet alone. And people have less time and less cash, so they’re happy to pick one and go with that. They don’t necessarily realise they are missing the full picture.

There’s the internet. If you’re good at the internet, you can go a long way and the nutter fringers are very good at the internet. But the way the internet is constructed means we don’t usually see them. Our internet is our own little bubble of friends, relations and customers who all think like us. We graduate to others like ourselves and the way we believe becomes normal. More loss of balance, perhaps.

Meanwhile, the lunatic fringes gain ground – far left, far right and religious nutters – who are traditionally very good at propaganda and have embraced social media with open arms and a skill and precision that has caught the traditional world napping. Holocaust deniers, creationists, flat Earthers and other complete mentalists are finding like-minded crazies on the internet and creating social media bubbles of their own where everyone thinks like they do. They’re realising they aren’t alone that there are hundreds and thousands of people out there as crazy as them and their views are becoming normalised. They are becoming bolder about expressing them. People are expounding viewpoints that Pol Pot might have baulked at with fearless abandon; views that would have been considered so evil that it was laughable back in the 1990s when I was scanning the newspapers.

These folks are calling for ‘balance’ so that when there is a political debate, along with single issue parties who may well have a valid case for inclusion, we have, not only the main parties present but the Scottish and Welsh bits of the main parties and minorities, too, are given a platform ‘for balance’. This is clearly a two edged weapon, as, while many single issue parties have something valid to bring to the table, others, whose views would have been regarded as evil/laughable (0r both) are suddenly being given air time and with it, credence and credibility, which means people are starting to take them seriously in a way that we probably shouldn’t.

Then there are our laws.

If you are the BBC for example, you have to adhere to the law, which is that there are certain political stances which are regarded as hatespeak and you are not to legally meant to broadcast them. Therefore, no matter how much balance the BBC wants to present, inviting someone from say, the far left or far right or a religious extremist on to a panel programme is going to be dicey if they start talking about how refugees, Asians, coloured people, LGBT+ [insert name of minority here] and moderation in politics are the root of every single problem we have in Britain today. Hint, our problems are caused by our inability to get along with one another, as exacerbated by the far left/right/religious extremists and the intransigence of people with ‘strong views’ when they drift over the dividing line from strongly held belief to bigot (yes, bigotry and intransigence, self actualisation through beliefs so they can’t be rethought at any time, another thing that’s considered more OK nowadays).

And the result seems be twofold. First, we seem to be slightly in the grip of some kind of paranoia that ‘The Man’ is manipulating all our newspapers. I confess I think people like Murdoch do have more power than they are entitled to but at the same time, if you’re able to appreciate the editorial bias of what you’re reading, or choose to read more than one news source you can usually sort out the key issues. Second, idiots who think it’s OK to beat up people because they’re a different colour, sexuality or gender can suddenly pitch themselves as a persecuted minority when they aren’t allowed to propound their views on mainstream TV, thus gaining even more credibility.

Meanwhile our mainline news sources are ‘censoring’ and ‘gagging’ these poor unfortunates, folks like Abul Hamza (hook-handed hate-spewing cleric, I may have spelled his name wrong. I don’t care.) by not allowing them air time when originally, these folks wouldn’t have been allowed air time because it was about the same as inviting the head of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. into your studio, only less sensible.

And we seem to be conflating editorial bias, with something else. Suddenly the Torygraph is lying, yet it has always been the Torygraph and the spin it puts on everything has always been right wing. From where I’m standing, it looks as if it’s doing what it’s always done. Likewise the Mail which speaks out often and forcefully about letting refugees into Britain, just as it did in the 1930s. It was a hateful rag then and it still is now. I’ve always believed in the right to free speech, but for a while I began to believe that if you preach hatred, you forfeit that right. Now I’m beginning to wonder.

Maybe we don’t need to censor the free press, maybe we just need to relearn our ability to take the things we are told by anyone, even those we trust, with a pinch of salt. Maybe it’s time we began to entertain the idea that a trained journalist might be more qualified to bring us news than a bigot who is pissed off about the proliferation of women characters in gaming and has moved from banging on about it on gaming forums to becoming an alt right activist – alt right because they believe the same things as Nazis but they aren’t Nazis, obviously – a pepperment is still a peppermint, darling, even if the brand name on the wrapper is different to last time.

And it’s all just distraction tactics anyway. Because this week, a major, major nation dropped quietly out of the United Nations Human Rights accord and no-one seems to have noticed. And that’s a bit of a worry. If you see pictures of Mussolini, one of the things that is striking is his puffed up pomposity. We have two world leaders like that right now.

Once, I read that the British political party that has been the first to adopt the highest number of policies into its mandate to eventually become law is the Monster Raving Loony Party. That’s because equal opportunities and concepts of that ilk were considered laughable when they did it. Maybe that’s just what I’m seeing here, the laughably evil Dr No types at the extreme right, left and religious fringes of this world becoming credible. But while giving men and women, black and white, gay and straight equal pay is reasonable, decreeing that gay or coloured people or yes, women, should e treated as inferior is clearly not reasonable, surely? (I know, there I go, ‘thinks me’.)

Recently, I heard that, like the Monster Raving Loony party, the place that a lot of real political news starts in the UK is the satirical newspaper Private Eye, where it will run for months or even years before suddenly hitting the mainstream media. What Private Eye does do is cast a splendidly cynical eye over news, politics and any over pomposity among those in power be it in politics, big business, media or sport.

As you can imagine, it gets sued a lot. It’s worth a read.

As for the rest of us. Well, at the moment, it strikes me that the way news is disseminated, consumed and understood by folks is mostly on the internet. And in larger part, as a historian, I keep seeing parallels with the way news spread in medieval times, cf the first 1.5 minutes of this video. And since we do seem to be reverting to the kind of malleable unintentional idiocy of medieval society, I guess we can’t really be surprised if we end up with the political equivalent of the second half this vid!

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Chin up lass!

There is a popular trope that being happy is just a state of mind. It’s a little more complicated than that, I suspect but I think there is something in the idea that trying to cultivate a positivity of outlook can help. For me it’s definitely about noticing things. Noticing the smell of hyacinths from the flower bed beside our back door. Noticing the way the birds start to sing way, way more loudly from January on. Noticing how even in December, the bulbs are starting to break through. If I wasn’t lucky enough to spot these signs of hope and spring, naturally, I suspect I would be a much less happy person. But once you’ve noticed this stuff once, maybe you look harder for it the next time? Who knows.

This week, has been … interesting. Really tough at times. Not helped by a dash of sleep deprivation; they resurfaced a bit of our street … at night and, apparently, with the help of the Mysterons.

They also foolishly parked their rollers etc outside my house where I could eyebomb the living smeck out of them so there’s an upside to everything but …  after a couple of noisy nights mental energy was low by about Tuesday and by Wednesday I was running on fumes – no not my farts, I’m trying to say there wasn’t much fizz in the tank – and there was even less after I had to sort out a bit of a ‘situation’ at Mum and Dad’s. Suffice to say, I should be driving to Hexham right now to celebrate the 50th Birthdays of two lovely friends from school. And I’m not.

In my defence, it’s a five hour trip each way and after my uncle’s death, the night works and a furore (now sorted) that blew up around my parents this week, I decided that if I was being realistic, there were not enough spoons/fuel in the tank – my tank, not the car’s – to do 600 miles in bank holiday traffic. I cancelled. I feel bad about cancelling but sitting here right now, I know I’ve done the right thing.

Meanwhile alongside these it has been a week of small and unusual things. Lovely things that have lifted my spirits. Rare stuff. It’s strange how these things happen sometimes, often when the rest of your world is at its worst. Little mini-boosts that filter through to you, as if the world is trying to tell you, in it’s own small way, that despite feeling that you haven’t measured up, it’s alright.

First, an account from a friend of someone waxing lyrical about my intelligence – as in that she thought I had some – left me with a nice warm feeling. The Scottish man who served me at the market today who asked if I’d be having those strawberries and without thinking I said, ‘Aye.’ The moment in church when a lady visiting, who had the misfortune to sit near me, tapped me on the shoulder at the end of the service and thanked me for my singing. I’ve discussed my singing before, an attribute about which I was teased a great deal at school – so much singing, so little of it in tune. But recently people have been saying how nice my voice is. I’m not sure if something’s happened to my voice, if the people in church are tone deaf or if I’ve always had a decent voice and the girls at school were just jealous. Whatever it is that’s happened there, I suddenly feel I can sing. I’ll take that and be happy!

This last fortnight, after the death of my uncle, I felt very low, about Dad as well as about him. Strangely, I’ve been seeing butterflies and rainbows everywhere. Butterflies, obviously, because it’s spring. Rainbows; I had a memorable journey back from Sussex to Suffolk this week; two and a half hours over waterlogged roads in bright sunlight. Lots of spray, car got a Sussex respray and was covered in white chalky puddle water stains, visibility was terrible, lights on but blue sky above and rainbows dancing around me everywhere pretty much the whole way home. That was a hell of a thing.

This is hardly a phenomenon, either, after all, it’s typical April weather really, showers then sun but it’s not something I’ve witnessed in quite such abundance before and it’s different to the norm so it makes for a change. Some ditzy article I read somewhere, which I can’t find now, of course, talked about about how butterflies are messengers from your guardian angel to let you know s/he’s listening, while rainbows are messages of reassurance from the cosmos. Butterflies are wonderful, they’re always going to cheer me up and as for the rainbows, well, when something is able to make a British motorway look beautiful then, dubious theories on cosmic reassurance aside, it’s still uplifting.

Then after a fair time with no reviews one from ‘An Amazon User’ for Few Are Chosen popped up this week. I always think that makes it sound like some kind of drug.

‘Hello, I’m MTM and I’m a recovering Amazon User.’ [applause] ‘Yeh, it’s tough but I’ve been clean several months now.’

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, the review. Actually, they left it two weeks ago but I only found it this week. It reminded me of something my brother in-law said. He thought there were two interesting, and slightly amazing, phenomena about the reviews of my books. The first thing he pointed out was that if you look at most reviews on Amazon, generally across the site, while some are superb far more are less than articulate. He felt a surprisingly high number of reviews for my books were witty and amusing, as if the reviewers loved the jokes in the books and are joining in. If that’s true, it’s a lovely thing for them to feel and I’m delighted it’s happened. The second thing he thought was intriguing is the fact that even the one-liners are reasonably well spelled and punctuated, suggesting a level of intelligence in the readers reviewing my books that is way above average.

Mwahhahahrgh! So there we have it. Congratulations to anyone who has read my books, then. Clearly you are very smart and arbiters of good taste! Phnark! It is a cheering thought though, because it makes me feel that I am reaching my intended audience; eccentric people like me. And if the people who feel moved to write reviews of my books want to join in with the jokes then maybe there is the possibility that the small beginnings of a community of … I dunno … K’Barthan-heads? Is forming. Maybe, or maybe not but it feels like a little seed of hope.

And I needed all those small things this week. You see, one of the hardest bits about the death of my uncle was the way it made me feel about about Dad. Sometimes, when I think he’s suffering or unhappy, I wish Dad wasn’t around, not because I want him dead but because it’s hard to see him suffer, it’s difficult not to see his disability as Dad going under and dragging Mum down with him. It’s horrible to think either of them is unhappy. Other times, when he seems cheerful, I see, with crystal clarity, that he is a man with a disability and I am being incredibly able-ist and condescending. At least it makes for a new topic to beat myself up over.

In a minor miracle this week, something in me was able to let a lot of that baggage go. Dad is, mostly, happy and enjoying life, as is Mum. That’s really all I can hope for. No doubt the worry will return but for now, I’m OK with the situation again, things are on an even keel. The house I grew up in is still a place of laughter and compassion. The rest is kismet, right?

Perhaps that’s all you need to do to be happy; look for the small gifts, be kind to yourself and be kind to others.

Who knows? I leave you with the review, because it was lovely. Thank you and Godspeed ‘Amazon User’.

Don’t Giggle Out Loud
You know when you are sitting in an airport and the guy next to you starts giggling at the book he is reading? And it’s so annoying because you can’t quite see the title? This is the book. The anti hero, The Pan, is terrific, his search to find the Chosen One before the ultimate baddy Lord Vernon gets his evil hands on her, The Swamp Thing, all go to make a refreshingly funny and well laid out plot. Oh and did I mention the car chase? or the lovely old man, or the drink that hits the spot, especially of the evil one’s soldiers? But that would spoil the story for you. Go read it yourself. It only has five stars as Amazon is tight with them.

 

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Gumbification is the name of the game: the capriciousness of science, things and me.

Yes, I have been on holiday! Woot.

Apologies for my absence last week. Though on holiday I was writing and meant to sort out a blog post while the others were skiing but I got too into what I was doing and dismally failed to leave enough time. Which reminds me the final score for that week’s writing was 7,570. Dead chuffed with this as I had to integrate enough exercise into my day to be able to eat as much as everyone else and there were usually things I had to pop down to town and get as well. Walking was very enjoyable but fuck me it hurts. I was so delighted to get home and tackle the hill up to town on a bike instead of my creaky knees. Pain aside though, walking was lovely as not only was the countryside stunningly beautiful but for some reason, I find there is something intrinsically humorous about snow.

Mmm … cheescake anyone?

Interestingly, when you go up a mountain, science tells you that the air pressure around you will not be as high but apart from seeing a slightly elevated heart rate, perhaps, your imagination doesn’t really furnish you with the full implications of what this might mean. Not until you open a bottle of shampoo. Then a practical demonstration will soon put you right.

The thing is, obviously, it’s logical that something which has the same amount of air per cubic inch inside as outside down in the valley is suddenly something with a far higher amount of air per cubic inch inside, than outside, when you go up to an area where there’s lower air pressure. And that only means one thing. The air inside is going to leave very quickly when you open the lid and if there is something between the air and the lid, that’s going to be pushed out with the air, and it will also be leaving the bottle very fast.

Thus it was that our packet of almond biscuits – newly purchased in the valley – ended up looking like a mini zepplin by the time we’d got it up to our apartment nearer the top of the mountain. I also forget to shake down my half full tube of hand cream, which exploded out of the tube when I popped the lid, depositing a neat white worm on the wall near me, my shampoo, suncream and toothpaste all reinforced this lesson (I’m a slow learner it seems) and yes, I was also foolish enough to open a brand new tube of echzema cream for my son which went off like one of those indoor fireworks that ends up looking like a huge silver poo.

Luckily, there is not photographic evidence of this. You’ll just have to take my word for it that I’m as stupid as I say, but I do have a picture of how the empty water bottle I’d closed up at the top of the mountain looked when we got back into the valley. Just shows you how rarefied the air was up there. Not as much inside as outside, you see.

Mmm … pressure inside and outside no longer equal.

Even the ever-efficient McOther didn’t escape gumbification of his own making. We always play scrabble while we’re on holiday. It’s great fun and we all get the giggles most of the time. Imagine McOther’s consternation when he opened our splendid car boot sale travel scrabble – probably circa about 1967 – only to find that somewhere on its way from his desk to his suitcase the bag with all the tiles in had dropped out. Our first game, then, was called ‘making the tiles’ which we did with paper, snortle. Then there was an added frisson of what would happen if anyone sighed too heavily towards the board or, heaven forfend, sneezed! We did have to remake an R after I laughed too hard, sending the ’tiles’ scattering like confetti, and we were unable to find it afterwards.

Paper travel scrabble. Mmm ritzy.

Our fantastic paper tiles, demonstrated is the characteristically excellent hand I drew in one game although for once this was not the norm.

Having taken the piss out of McOther, now, clearly I have to do so about myself ‘for balance’. Here, then, is something that happened the week before we left.

In my town, everyone’s as skint as the rest of the country, ten years ago, when we moved here, there were lots of houses for sale on our street. Then the economy went down the lavatory and most things over two bedrooms and pretty much everything over three bedrooms went off the market over night. It seemed that everyone who was going to move tightened their belts and decided not to. Instead they started converting lofts, cellars, out door sculleries, they started building on, building sheds … you name it they’re doing it. The net result is that there is never a shortage of skips.

As a keen skip shopper I find this rather splendid. OK so I missed three bicycles the other week – not good bikes but I could still have ‘downloaded them’ checked them over and flogged them for £20. However, they were gone by the time I’d returned from the school run. On the up side, at least I know somebody else took them and is either cycling happily or made a few quid.

Then there’s the useful things like boxes and drawers, c.f. my sad tale the other week about locking myself out and having to use a discarded kitchen drawer to gain the height required to lean over the back gate and open it so I could get in and retrieve my keys from where I’d left them in the garden.

There has been one particularly useful skip near us, literally at the end of our road, 20 metres or less from our house. It’s been useful for the plethora of lovely stuff within – cf the bikes but also some new skirting board for our bathroom – and of course it’s also very handy for putting things in. It is intriguing watching a skip, seeing what appears and what disappears especially a long term one. There is definitely a thriving up and down-cycling economy here.

Anyway, the other day, I saw the skip had been emptied and a new one had arrived. I had a peek in the bottom and there I saw a wine rack. A 25 bottle wine rack no less. McOther has a large cellar and wine racks are always greeted with enthusiasm. So I picked the wine rack out of the skip and took it round to our back gate. When I’d unlocked, I picked up the wine rack and realised there was a lot of dust under it.

Hmmm, I thought.

I checked it more closely and … yes … it had woodworm. Then again, I had some treatment for woodworm so I could treat the wood, I reasoned and then give it to McOther. After all we’d discussed, only a few days previously, how sad it was that one of his racks had woodworm and decided that it wasn’t worth treating. If I fixed up this new one, it might be a nice surprise.

But realistically, could I be arsed to treat it?

No.

Accepting this, I picked it up, took it back to the skip and put it in again.

However, it did prompt me to remove a wickerwork chest of drawers from our utility room which has been sitting in a pile of tell-tale dust for some time and treat that for woodworm.

When McOther came home, the skip was full and I told him about the wine rack.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘you know that one we were talking about the other day?’

‘The one of yours?’

‘Yes. That one. Well, I threw it in the skip.’

‘So … you mean I nearly rescued our wine rack?’

‘Yes dear.’

I was quite glad that I hadn’t brought him his own wine rack back. I’d have looked a bit of a chump. As for the chest of drawers, on reflection we decided that despite being treated it had reached the stage where there was more air than wood and we decided to bin it. I forgot to put it out in the skip at night so whizzed round and dumped it in on the way to school with McMini. By the time I returned from the school run the skip had gone. It hasn’t been back since.

That’s the logic of MTM then, bin something I find in a skip because I can’t be arsed to treat it for wood worm – something which is ours, anyway and which I put back because I can’t be arsed to treat it for woodworm twice – then spend hours treating something else for woodworm only to throw it in a skip.

That is illogical, Captain.

Ho hum.

My best eyebomb ever … probably

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