Tag Archives: author parent

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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Toboggan update, a war story and McMini versus Alexa.

It’s been a busy week this week. McMini is due to go on a school trip which involves two nights away. I have therefore been spending most of the week with a list of required clothing working out which items we have and buying the ones we don’t have. Pretty much all of them.

In order to try and train McCat out of some of his many behavioural problems, I have bought a thing that senses when he goes near the bin to flip the lid off and search for scraps and squirts a jet of air. Unfortunately, though this is working, the people who set it off 99.99999999% of the time are McMini and McOther.

It’s nearly run out already and judging by the cost of the refills it’s actual solid gold in there rather than the air the makers claim, or it’s liquidised diamonds or something. I thought one would do but with my menfolk, no chance, it’ll be hard put to last the week.

I also bought a static electric mat. Unfortunately it comes with no meaningful instructions. I think I switched it on but after an hour it started beeping and the battery died. I haven’t tried it since.

Ho hum … a partial success then.

Sadly, I also jinxed any chance of tobogganing joy this weekend by retrieving the one I had as a kid from Mum and Dad’s, barn, washing the mouse and spider pooh off it, along with the yucky, knackered crispy wood louse carapaces left by the spiders, and bringing it home. Turns out it’s a bit older than I thought as it’s a Flexible Flyer No 1.

It looks as if it may be Great Grandpa’s rather than Granny’s. Luckily, I don’t think that makes it any more valuable, so it’s still worth the same as a modern replacement, which means we can use it. Oh yeh.

Except for that bit about the jinxing. Yes, now that we have a slightly more McMini-friendly toboggan, we have had the usual boring Bury St Edmunds snow: chuffing cold, snows all day but doesn’t sit. Seriously I have no idea how it can be this fucking cold and still melt. It’s a bastard miracle. Climatologists should look into it because frankly, I reckon there’s something going on. Also, I’m getting a bit bored of being cold. I wish it would either snow properly or just piss off. It’ll probably snow properly tomorrow when I’m at my club dig out in the country at the bottom of a hill (note to self, take a tow rope).

Also this week, I went with Mum to the funeral of a lovely lady who used to go to their church. The chap doing the eulogy told a splendid story this lady used to tell about the time a ME109 was brought down on the Downs near Steyning.

The word spread like wild fire and everyone armed themselves with pitchforks, kitchen knives, pickaxe handles etc and went off to capture the pilot. Meanwhile, the gentleman in question unwittingly evaded capture and was discovered wandering local lanes by someone taking an afternoon constitutional, someone who was unaware that a dangerous armed enemy was on the loose. The pilot asked, politely, if they could tell him the way to the local police station. Unaware of the posse the other side of the Downs looking for him, he then calmly followed the directions he’d been given and handed himself in. Stories like these say so much about human nature.

In a bid to keep the screen time to quality time, I have given up doing the social media stuff in the evening in front of the telly in favour of knitting. I now have seven pairs of socks – and I’ve only shrunk two pairs so far – along with a smaller pair for McMini, and a pussy hat – but in red and light pink because militant use of pink is vile and gives me the boke.

Meanwhile McOther has purchased an Alexa. It’s quite good but not able to answer many questions. For example, I asked it how to make pasta the other day … about seventy times.

Try as I might I couldn’t get it to understand that I wanted it to make actual pasta, not a pasta dish. It came up with a whole variety of pasta dishes but not the ration of eggs to flour I required to knock up a few sheets of lasagne. It was like …

‘Alexa, can you give me the recipe for pasta.’
‘I found this recipe for pasta with meatballs on Recepidia.’
‘No, stop Alexa. I meant the actual pasta.’
‘I found this recipe for beef ragu with fusilli.’
‘Stop Alexa, please. OK, Alexa, if I have some flour and an egg and I’m Italian what can I make?’
‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that.’
‘Jeez …’ Recording of dull thudding sound made by MTM’s head beating against the kitchen work surface, ‘I just want to make a lasagne sheet, Alexa.’
‘Lasagne is a dish comprising tomatoes, bechamel sauce and-‘
‘Alexa stop. What are the ratios of egg to flour I need to make pasta.’
‘I found this great recipe on Recipedia for egg and spinach-‘
‘NO! Alexa STOP! Don’t they have the recipe for pasta on Recipedia?’
‘There’s a recipe for salmon and seafood with pasta shells, difficulty level, easy on Recipedia-‘
‘Alexa STOP! For the love of God, or I shall do you an injury.’

And so on ad infinitum. Alexa stores all these exchanges on an app on McOther’s iPad. I think he enjoyed reading that one.

This morning, I overhead McMini talking to it.

‘Alexa can you set a timer for cheese?’
‘I’m sorry I do not understand your question.’
‘Oh. OK. Alexa, set a timer for seven years.’
‘I’m sorry I can only set a timer for a time within the next 24 hours.’
‘Hmm … OK. Alexa, set a timer for seven hours.’

It might be sensible to occasionally say, ‘Alexa, stop timer,’ to it I think. Just in case.

In next week’s post I’ll be talking shop. I’m giving a talk called, ‘Real Life is underrated. Using mundane events to fuel your writing mojo,’ and since it’s 1,200 words long, I thought I’d reproduce it here, for your delectation, as I deliver it. And also because I’ll be actually doing the talk at the time, so I won’t be here to write a blog post … so … until next week!

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Sleigh that again?

It’s been all go this week. Snow has fallen (snow on snow) and it’s been fucking freezing (pardon my French) all week. We’ve had about 8 inches of snow, going by the pile on top of the wheelie bins, but the first four inches melted a bit before the second four arrived so it was only ankle deep here in town. Still looked cool though (see photos). What I like about snow is the way it lets you see the world anew; the same old same old, yet so different. I don’t know about you, but a quick dose of snow always helps me to appreciate my surroundings more. For us, here, there was just enough to be pretty and fun and not so much that things began to get a bit dicey.

That said, I believe there are folks out towards Norwich who have seen some impressively big drifts and now have a good grasp of how the average raspberry feels atop a pavlova. While others have no power. Definitely less fun for them.

On Friday, after school, I took McMini tobogganing. Our sledge is a plastic one, but slightly different to the usual in that it has a raised back and a lowered front. Apart from the fact makes the thing look more like a boat it also makes steering harder and you can’t use it lying down, face first. That didn’t stop fourteen stones of British lard from careening down the hill though – I lay back, skeleton style – but McMini was rather more cautious. I understood his reticence, my first memory of tobogganing is of me, my brother and my dad, all sitting on our toboggan and feeling very frightened.

Judging by the size of our toboggan, I must have been very small, in fact I’m amazed that the three of us fitted on. My misgivings soon disappeared when I discovered I could lie on it and proceed face first. Our toboggan was some ancient thing that had belonged to my mother as a child so it had steering, which helped.

On the down side though manoeuvrable, it was extremely fast – although that was also an up, in many respects. I remember visiting my uncle, aunt and cousins in Kew over New Year – a visit that was famously cut short after I ate an icicle off the bottom of a car and was violently sick about fourteen times but that’s another story. Where was I? Ah yes, tobogganing with my cousins. We took our toboggan to a hill in Richmond Park. It was icy, very steep and rammed with other folks on toboggans, mostly plastic ones or the Blue Peter home build (like the one my cousins had). All were going very slowly.

Our toboggan was not only the one Mum and my uncle had used as kids, it was the one which, in turn, my grandmother had used when she was a child. Antique and battered it may have been but this thing went like shit off a shovel – it still does. It looked rubbish, it also still does, and as you arrived on any packed slope you could almost feel the other kids watching you go past thinking,

‘What the fuck is that?’ and snickering contemptuously at your toboggan POS.

Then you’d take a run down the hill and the impression you got was that they were still thinking,

‘What the fuck is that?’ but with a different inflection entirely.

On this occasion, it was like trying to drive a Grand Prix car at full speed through a shopping centre without hitting anyone. You know the first car chase in the Blues Brothers, when they’re trashing the mall … that’s our toboggan with all the other kids pootling about around it. My cousins’ Blue Peter model seemed faster than everyone else’s as well, so it was kind of a rinse and repeat on theirs only with no steering! Unnerved by a couple of rounds of toboggan frogger we decided to move to another part of the hill which wasn’t being used.

Despite being a bit mad and fast, things were much easier with our toboggan on home ground. I grew up in two places at once, the staff side of the house in the school where Dad was a housemaster and our own actual home, which we lived in during the school holidays. Both places were half way up a down … well … the housemaster’s one was more three quarters of the way up but you get the picture. The point is, you could walk out of either house and pretty much onto a big hill. Five minutes and you’d be away. On the few occasions it snowed in the holidays, we’d spend hours up on the hill. There were thrills, spills and luckily, no injuries.

This is a ‘Down’. As you can see from the photo, the downs could be more appropriately named, ‘ups’.

The other great thing about living on a down was that you are not going to get that many people up there, and if you do, there’ll be plenty of room. The downside is that they look smooth but in reality there are a lot of sheep tracks up there so try the wrong slope and it’s like tobogganing down steps. Also there are fields up there, and the thing about a field is it usually has a fence. Hedges were getting pretty rarified in those days so said fence was usually three strings of barbed wire and some shuggly posts.

My father embraced the joy of tobogganing with even more enthusiasm than his children so we usually went as a family, or depending on school holidays etc it would be me and Dad or Dad and my brother and Mum back at home getting some peace and quiet. One occasion, I remember we had already moved out of the school for the holidays into our actual ‘home’ but needless to say, my school term hadn’t ended. Dad and my brother went for a tobogganing session while Mum collected me from my last day at school. We returned to find the two of them at home, which was not expected. There was a perfect field, just as you come into our village; a nice gentle slope, someone was even skiing on it one year, but it did have hedge at the bottom, in the middle of which was the ubiquitous knackered downland barbed wire fence, and beyond which was a trunk road. This wasn’t troubling the four or five other sledgers who were out the day Dad and my brother went but our mad toboggan was faster than all comers, as usual, so it went further. After a few runs it was clear that my dad and brother could only ride safely from half way up the hill, unless they wanted a close encounter with the hedge.

The field was L shaped and the road turned away taking the hedge away and leaving a lovely big square of unsullied virgin snow. My brother and dad wishing to experience full tobogganing joy trundled along the hill until they were above this. Now they could go from the very top and would have a huge amount of run off ground where the toboggan could come to a safe halt. Unfortunately, they moved along at the top of the hill so they didn’t hoist in that, where the road and the hedge turned the corner, the crappy barbed wire fence from the middle carried on, across what they thought was a wide snowy gap.

Dad went first and as he careened off down the hill, three things occurred to my brother:

  1. He noticed the barbed wire fence for the first time.
  2. He realised that Dad was short sighted and still hadn’t seen the fence.
  3. He realised that, not only had his loving father not noticed the fence but that he was unlikely to do so until he caught it in the neck while riding a toboggan at speed.

My brother set off running in hot pursuit shouting, ‘Dad! Fence.’ My father was sitting on the toboggan and steering with his feet. It had picked up some serious speed and there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of it stopping before it hit the fence. Luckily some other folks further down heard my brother and also ran towards Dad, relaying the message, with a bit more volume. Dad heard them and saw the fence, at a distance of about ten feet. There was no time to think, no time to steer and for whatever reason, it didn’t occur to him to bail out. Instead he lay calmly back, flattening himself against the toboggan – and probably the ground behind it – as if he was doing the Luge for real.

According to my brother, Dad passed under the fence at high speed. He took a slight scratch on the nose and it whipped off his red woolly bobble hat but otherwise, he and the toboggan came out the other side unharmed. My brother said it was one of the coolest things he’d ever seen because Dad had been so calm, but also one of the scariest because he felt he was about to witness his father’s untimely death. That said, I suspect Dad may not have felt as calm as he looked, since he suggested that they’d probably done enough tobogganing for one day and that they head home for a cup of tea, some biscuits and a plaster.

I guess the moral of this story is that few things are as they seem, ever.

On a side note, it turns out that the toboggan, itself, is not as it seems either. Indeed, it is a collector’s item. Which just goes to show that, coming from good Yorkshire stock who are too tight to throw anything away has its benefits (even if it was via five or six generations exiled down south to soften them up).

The toboggan is in Sussex and I’m in Suffolk so I can’t send you a picture. I can, however, show you what it looks like.

Thanks to Sledhill.com for this. Check out John’s Sledhill P1 in the menu for details of ours; it’s either a FFNo2 or an FF2B.

Like the snow on Bury, trying to find a picture of our toboggan has made me see it afresh. I knew it was old but it had never really occurred to me to think how old. Over 100 years. And it’s from the USA. I can imagine Grandpop (my great grandfather) going to Harrods or somewhere – possibly Hamleys – to get it for his son and daughter one Christmas.

That’s a hell of a thing.

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To Infinity and Beyond! Plans for 2018. #Newyearsresolution (sort of).

Heaven knows how many weeks ago it was now, far back in the mists of time, anyway; before Christmas, I posted about my efforts to bludgeon people into reading my stuff over the course of 2017. Basically, I discovered that I had a much higher rate of read-through on my perma free book than I thought and that I should maybe think about making something else permafree this year. Or Doing Something New.

Mostly, this year, I intend to be Doing Something New. Here are my New Year’s … not resolutions exactly, that will only set me up for disappointment in myself. Let’s call them Things I Intend To Do.

Yeh.

That sounds good. On we go then:

Thing 1: sort out my time management.

This one’s kind of done, I just need to put what I’ve learned into practise. The basic gist is to be more rigid about planning the day. There is so much to do that in order to avoid overwhelm the trick is to do a few sprints of several projects in progress to keep everything moving. I have no idea why I didn’t think of this before. I used to do it all the time at work, which was well busy and usually involved starting the day with a couple of hours’ firefighting. It’s the same now, as I usually get a call from Mum or the carers, or some wages come in to pay. This method sounds nuts, especially for someone like myself who prefers to do things one at a time in sequence. However, a bit at a time quells the rising sense of panic that it’s all too much and nothing is getting done.

Time allocation is also good for controlling those things that suck you in and spit you out at the end of the day before you even know it. Need to find a printer? Set a timer for one hour, make notes on what you need it to do and ask for advice in a forum. Then do something else. After someone answers your post set a timer for an hour and armed with the information, have a look a few different models on line. Compare prices if there’s time, if not, when the pinger pings, stop, schedule an hour on the printer search in for tomorrow and do something else.

This is a bit hit and miss, but even a nod to apportioning my time seems to be working in that it gives me the illusion of control. The time slots are flexible. I’m doing a course at the moment so I give myself 90 minutes to watch each new vid and do the homework. Writing is a minimum of a 20 minute sprint; more if I can, and so on. I try to write down what I need to do as well, so I can enjoy the feeling of achievement crossing it off the list afterwards.

Thing 2: write something every day.

Yes, set the timer, write for 20 minutes and hey presto there are 250 – 700 words that weren’t there yesterday. Not doing too well on that so far as I’m still ‘getting rid of Christmas’ as in thank you letters, taking decorations down and all that other malarky. Not long now though and my real, proper 2018 can start.

Thing 3: make it easier to write.

That is simple stuff like doing a plot outline and a scene list. That way, if there’s only twenty minutes to write, you avoid spending nineteen of them working out where everyone’s got to and what happens next. I am a born pantser and I was very sceptical about plotting but I did some free training from Joe Nassis and it is really good. If you get the chance, or find it online somewhere it’s so worth doing. He does a course attached, too, but I don’t have time to do it justice. The principles he sets out are brilliant though because the technique gives space for the characters to do their own thing but without you heading off after plot bunnies.

Other ways to make writing easier to do include:

  • Having more than one project on the go so there is always something I feel like writing.
  • Planning in advance (as mentioned) not hugely but enough to have titles for your scenes and be able to dive in and write one at any point in the book.
  • Doing sprints to focus my attention on what I’m doing.
  • Taking a break from the computer so that the time spent at the keyboard is quality time – ie knitting in front of the telly at night rather than writing mailshots or coding web pages.

Thing 4: set out my wares better.

Phark, alright no giggling at the back you smutty lot. At the moment folks can buy my books in a fair few places. They can also buy bits of my art, and bits of artwork from the books. After using some of my own artwork to illustrate a blog post the other day I linked it to a place where the picture is for sale as a card. I sold three. It occurred to me that I always sell a few cards when I take a stall to sell my books but that none of this is organised. None of it is anywhere easy for people to find if they want it. Then there are my books, currently, there’s is no way people can buy my books from my site.

However, just recently Bookfunnel introduced a system that will make that possible. It looks complicated but I am looking into opening my own online store, so people can buy ebooks direct from me.

Thing 5: diversify.

Leading up from Thing 4 really but … tidying up the other day I found the beginnings of a sketch of General Moteurs, and since Unlucky Dip, with my dodgy homemade cover seems to get way more downloads than my other books in giveaways it makes sense to resurrect plans to make more artwork of the characters like this.

Not General Moteurs

Guess who?

Originally, the plan was to do a spoof of the cover of A Hard Day’s Night but my pictures of The Pan of Hamgee came out really shit. To be honest, I thought they all came out really shit but other folks, people who don’t even know me, seem to disagree. An artist friend tells me this is usual because you’ll always be too close to your own drawings. Perhaps it’s time to try that one again, then see about turning it into postcards. Also on the agenda is making more things like the K’Barthan bling pictured to the right, or possibly below, but nearby anyway.

You can do all this stuff on sites like cafe press and zazzle. They are really expensive but they print, ship and process payment after which they give me a royalty – a pitifully small royalty but one that takes no admin or effort on my part after making the original product.

In other words, keep up the policy of paying more for cover art that can be used for other things.

Then there’s the eyebombing. I’ve really missed a trick there. The other day when sharing some of the year’s eyebombing highlights someone said,

‘You should make these into postcards! I’d buy a set.’

Amazingly, I’ve done nothing arty with my eyebombs short of sharing them on instagram and facebook. I’ve written the book text but left it sitting for lack of cash. Now I’m thinking I should have made a calendar and all sorts. Head desk. So for 2018, now that I am earning for the admin I do for my parents, my plan is to squirrel that cash away and then use it make more of the opportunities that arise, not to mention try and notice what is happening when said opportunities are busy smacking me about the face and still failing to get my attention.

Thing 6: chill.

Yep, that’s Thing 6.

You can never do all the things you ought to, so you just have to content yourself with doing what you can.

There’s been a bit of a journey this year with the situation with my parents and the sadness associated with it. Sadness can be a habit if you’re not careful. On the other hand, if you blank it too effectively you wonder what damage it’s doing inside, and you have to open yourself up to being hurt because that’s the only way you can engage with the people you love who are suffering.

Suffice it to say that this year has been about learning to do what it is possible to do, accepting that it isn’t as much as I’d like, and letting the rest go. It does feel as if I’ve made some strides with this now, not least in that I’ve found ways to shoulder the burden without ceasing to write, although I had to stop writing for about nine months to work that out. I think it was worth it. In other circumstances I imagine I could be a better mother, a better daughter and a better all round better person. But looking at it, I’m probably about as decent as I’m capable of being right now. I haven’t murdered anyone and I’ve only been rude to the gets I’ve encountered occasionally, so that’s OK.

Happy New Year everyone.

Run fast, laugh hard, be kind.

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