Tag Archives: dementia

Sweeping the cat for tinfoil and other adventures …

Still no zombies … every cloud has a sliver lining eh? It’s quite surreal though, which means your world might be a bit more like mine right now … probably.

This week I have been mostly searching my cat’s guts for tin foil. Mostly, but not entirely. We’ll get to it. In the meantime.

Slightly blue this morning, I expect I’ve stuffed up my HRT dose, in fact, I reckon I’ve forgotten to do the evening one for a couple of days, although, needless to say I can’t be sure because I can’t remember. Mwahahaargh!

A big part of it is that, now we are in lockdown, I can’t visit Mum. Sure I ring her every day but that’s not the same. She definitely has some form of dementia and it’s definitely getting worse. At the moment, although she can’t remember which way is up or what day it is most of the time, she’s still able to follow a conversation and still retains her personality as Mum. But … I’ve walked this path before with Dad and I have to accept that it isn’t going to stay like that. I have to accept the fact that maybe, by the time lockdown is over, my Mum – my real Mum, I mean – will be gone. And that makes me feel incredibly sad. Indeed, I’d probably be blubbing a bit as I write this, but McOther is sitting the other end of the table.

It feels as if each week I will lose another few precious hours of time with Mum by missing our lunch. I phone her every day but it’s not the same, and I can see, or at least hear, her deteriorating day by day. I’m not alone. For example, hardly anyone with a loved one in a home is able to visit them right now. Some have family members in hospital who are stuck there, some have loved ones who were in a home for recovery after say, a new knee op, and they are now stuck there apart from the people they care for until this is all over. It’s mightily grim and we just have to live with it, but I guess I was just hoping, against hope, that I could squeak another visit in before lockdown this week. In the event, lockdown came on Monday night. The temptation to drive down there and see her on Wednesday was almost overwhelming and it’s only the first week.

Bugger.

Other news, I’ve finally finished going through the alts of One Man: No Plan on audio. This has taken me way longer than I expected because there are a lot of blips and half breaths in it which weren’t there in the first two – one of the reasons this has taken me so long is because I re-listened to the first two beforehand, really carefully, to check. Gareth has at least three other audiobooks to do, to my certain knowledge – there may well be more – so I have a little while before he’s likely to be able to look at the alts, and plenty of time to get the fourth finished.

I confess I was horrifically nervous sending the alts for the blips/plosives and audible breaths. I am not 100% sure if my noticing these things was gimlet-eyed helpfulness or pedantic twattery. To be honest, even after checking with some narrators I know on t’interweb who reassured me that any comments like that are always welcome, I’m still a little unsure. It’s a fun listen though, so I hope it all works out OK.

This week more excitement in Lockdown Towers. Run with me on this one, it does get to the point. I have a desk in our dining room. Underneath it is a bag of foil-covered chocolate sweets which I give out at book signings. There are three types, chocolate oranges, chocolate eyeballs and chocolate sprouts. They all come in plastic net bags of about forty. They are spherical, marble-sized and individually foil wrapped. I had two bags of orange ones, about half a bag of eyeballs and four bags of chocolate sprouts.

On Monday evening, just after discovering that we were all in official lock down, I decided that I would ameliorate the impact with chocolate. I went into our dining room, intent on liberating a packet of sprouts for consumption over the coming weeks. However, when I got in there, I and found four plastic net bags with holes in spread across the floor.

Uh-oh, I thought.

I checked the bag and discovered a hole had been eaten in it. Yes. There were teeth holes around the … other hole. Not my son then. Checking the other bags I discovered the holes in those looked more … chewed than cut.

Hmm …

Upon further exploration, I discovered that both the eyeballs and the sprouts were all but gone. The orange ones, however, had been left. They were still in their bags although one bag had clearly been chewed, small pieces of foil removed from the chocolates inside and a couple had teeth marks. These ones had been tested and found wanting then, worse tested enough for me to not be able to eat them with confidence. The others … 520 grammes of chocolate, minimum, had gone.

Turning to Dr Google, I typed in, ‘does chocolate kill cats?’

OK, look, I’m not going to blind you with the technicalities of science here but the basic gist of it is, yes it does. Milk chocolate is less poisonous but 520 grammes in one sitting is lethal. About 30 grammes in one sitting is.

Shit. Now what?

I was wearing my pyjamas. The vet was closed, I knew. That morning I’d had a dental appointment which had been cancelled pretty much as I arrived. I’d tried to buy some cat food from the vet’s on the way home and discovered that it was locked and the customers were all standing in the car park, 2 metres away from one another. McCat’s constitution is pretty bomb proof but I felt that a poison overdose of such gargantuan quantities might be a bridge too far, even for him.

OK, calm, breathe. He hadn’t started throwing up yet.

Then I remembered. I’d found one of the chocolate sprouts on the doormat the week before. Could McCat have been quietly eating them over the three month period, since the Christmas Fayre, that the chocolate had been stored there. Were the scattered string bags merely the culmination of several month’s pilfering, a last hurrah now that the lovely edible balls were gone … well except for the orange ones he doesn’t like.

McOther checked under other furniture but there was nothing to be found so it’s clear that all 520 grammes of chocolate sprouts and eyeballs – minus a handful – had been eaten. The one million dollar question was … when?

McCat. Butter wouldn’t melt would it? Not ill and no fucks given, clearly.

I had a think.

McCat clearly wasn’t ill at that precise moment. I began to wonder if a ready cache of chocolate might explain his greatly relaxed approach to food since the beginning of the year. Not to mention the recent resumption of his tendency to be less relaxed and obsessively request each meal a few minutes after eating the last one. But if he had just eaten all the pies chocolate, we needed to get him to a vet, fast. How to find out though, preferably before he started throwing up, at which point, it would have been too late, Dr Google had told us. That’s when I remembered my pinpointer and had An Idea.

The chocolate was covered in foil. He’d peeled some of that off, clearly but it was equally clear that not all of it had been removed. Some had gone down his greedy fat cat gullet with the chocolate. If he’d eaten them all in one sitting, nearly all the foil had been eaten too. This meant that he contained almost as much wrapper as chocolate and, that being the case, if I ran a metal detector over him the signal from all that foil would blow my ears off. The detector, itself was too sensitive, it would pick up nearby stuff as well and I’d never be able to narrow it down reliably. The pinpointer, however … that was a different case entirely.

Yes, ladies, gentlemen and everything beyond and in between, when you go detecting and you’ve heard a signal and dug a hole, should you have any trouble finding the thing giving off that signal, if it’s really small, say, you can narrow down its whereabouts with a pinpointer. This is good for me because I tend to dig in fields that are bristling with coke, which gives off a large and loud signal. As a result I end up ignoring big signals, because there are that many hot rocks in the fields on which I dig that I find very little else. The little signals, are a different matter, but the things you find are also little, and that means you need to pinpoint them, fast, or you’re sifting about in the clod of earth you’ve dug out all day.

That’s how I ended up with a pinpointer, and that’s how I ended up running my Garrett carrot over the pooh in McCat’s earth box – without touching clearly – along with the cat shit bin – not touching that either – and not forgetting his lardy stomach. Despite a hitch, to start with, when I realised it was picking up the nearby washing machine, I did finally manage to get him in a position where I could reliably detect any foil in his innards. There was none, luckily. We stood down. I didn’t need to get dressed, leap into the car and brave lock down to find a vet. What a relief for everyone.

How many detectorists end up searching their pets? Who knows but I’d guess there are more than we might think.

So that was my week, sweeping my cat for tin foil. I am agog to see how next week is going to out-weird this one.

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Why is life so fucking annoying?

Yeh, I know. There’s an eternal question if ever there was one. Not a great week so far. The chaos fairies are afflicting me with a vengeance. I literally cannot remember my own name, or the names of, for example, any of the ladies I go swimming with.

Everything seems to be a bit up and down. Good things happen but the frustration levels of every day existence are at an all time high. Why, I can’t fathom. I’m not sure if I’m feeling it extra specially at the moment. Maybe I am. I got the power of attorney over Mum’s finances back this week. I’ve been managing them for nearly four years, but this does make her vulnerability that bit more official. Maybe I’ve passed through the eye of the storm with the relative calm after Dad’s death, and it’s the prospect of going through something similar with Mum that’s hurting. I suppose that could be it. Or am just going through one of those phases when every single fucking thing that can go wrong does, at a point where I’m not quite as emotionally robust as usual? Hmm … could be that too.

Whatever is causing it, I’m afraid the irritation needs to be exorcised the only way I know how. Yeh, this is going to be a rant, although I’ll try to walk the line between a Basil Fawlty style funniness and poor little me. Apologies in advance if I fail on that one. And of course, as usual, there’s a certain amount of melodrama.

But seriously. Why does life have to be so fucking annoying? And why won’t the Chaos Fairies piss off?

First up, Mum’s electricity. She pays by direct debit but she’s over paid this year so they have told me they’re carrying more than £200 over to her next bill. So I have to ring them and ask for it back. At the time I phoned them, I had to do this with Mum so she could tell them it was OK for me to speak on her behalf. So yesterday, we duly rang and after pressing various buttons to navigate our way through the menu reached a message which said.

‘Our offices are currently closed for staff training. We apologise for any inconvenience this will cause. Goodbye,’ click, dialling tone.

NO, SSE. This is how it’s done,

‘We apologise that our offices are closed for training today but we will reopen on X date at X time.’

And you don’t leave customers navigating through all the bloody menus first either, wasting minutes of their precious chuffing time. Even a government department, like the Office of the Public Guardian, knows to tell you about that sort of stuff up front.

Second, I’ve been referred for a gym membership on the NHS, three months at a reduced rate to try and get my knees a bit better. Unfortunately, I sat on this for a while, I got it in the last week of November, just after Dad’s memorial. Two weeks before Christmas I rang to book an evaluation. I got an out of office reply message explaining that the lady was now away until after Christmas. I tried ringing, anyway. The answerphone message said that we would be contacted about appointments in the order we’d rung.

When the lady returned to work in January, I discovered that no, the appointments were not being allocated the way the message said, it was the usual free-for-all, post-Christmas gannet fest where the Normal Organised people ring and bag the appointments for the next four months within about three minutes of the lines opening and the rest of us are left with their pecked over, spittle-flecked remains. Bastards.

So now they’re taking bookings for February but the lady only works three days a week and of course one of them’s Wednesday. Sigh.

Double foiled then, in my efforts to get the booking in before Christmas and then in believing the message. I found this out when she sent an email saying she’d a few appointments left in January to everyone on the waiting list. I emailed back about the one I could do, which was gone, and she suggested I call and gave me the number.

I called the next day, and was told that they only had January’s appointments, that she’d already gone home and to ring the following day, which was Wednesday, of course. So I rang from Mum’s at two and discovered that she’d already gone home. The staff informed me that they’d lost the appointment sheet so I was best emailing her, I explained I had and she’d told me to ring them. They suggested I try a different email address, which bounced.

So I sent her an email saying, politely, and I hope humorously, ‘throw me a frigging bone here.’ I’ll try again on Monday. Who knows, some time in the next month, I might manage to swing things so that I remember to ring at a point when she’s actually there.

Third … sort of … Wednesday’s visit to Mum’s was good and bad. Mum was on form, but very tired after an extremely windy night – wind blowing round the house and garden banging things about, I mean, not Mum’s bum. I could go off on a tangent here about how much Mum and I laugh about farts, but luckily for you, I’ll leave that for another day.

Anyway, Mum was knackered so not as switched on as sometimes. And she kept falling asleep, which made it hard to have a conversation, but at the same time, instead of just relaxing and having a snooze, she was trying to stay awake, bless her, so she’d just drift off and I’d keep talking until I reckoned she’d gone off, get out my book and bing, she’d wake up again. So the conversation was quite weird because it happened in instalments and I had to keep reminding her what she was saying before she dozed off. At which point, on a couple of occasions, she dozed off again.

We had lunch, and it was pork chops. It was one of those days when the rinds hadn’t caught. I looked at the uncrackled rind on my plate and then at the fire, which Mum laid first thing, and which had lit itself, and was now burning merrily in the grate. It would be nice to have crackled pork skin, but we didn’t want to go obviously into the kitchen and put it in the microwave (brilliant way to crackle crackling is 1.5 minutes on high, however many times it takes). We didn’t want to do it because it might look like an oblique criticism of the lovely lady who’d cooked lunch. (Not overthinking this in a ludicrously British way at all, there, were we?)

We decided we’d try toasting the un-crackled crackling on the fire and after some reminiscences about Dad toasting crumpets that way, when my brother and I were small, I toasted both our rinds. The two of us giggled like naughty children as the rinds bubbled and spat in the flames. If I’m honest, I could have done with another foot on the toasting fork, but never mind, our skins crackled up beautifully and no matter how it might have felt, I was relieved to discover that my knuckles hadn’t.

So it was light and shade, but sad – especially as, of course, Mum still gets 28 out of 30 in the pathetic NHS memory test which seems to be constructed as a method of delaying any meaningful treatment for as long as possible. I’m guessing Alzheimer’s drugs are expensive. But whatever they say, she’s not alright. There is something wrong. And it may be vascular dementia but it may also be Alzheimer’s and if is Alzheimer’s and we knew, we could hold it back for a little while with treatment. The Doctor said he’d put her through, but she’d have to have blood tests first, and that he thought, personally, that she was OK. She’s said she’ll go with what he advises, sigh.

Meanwhile, fourth my car. One of its dipped headlights has been randomly turning on and off for some time. Serendipitously, I discovered, this week, that Kinky Winky, as I’ve been calling it, is probably the same trouble as last time. The £1,120 plus VAT part trouble. How did I discover this? Incidentally actually, during …

Fifth, my car ate my son’s sports bag.

Six, because of five I missed parents’ swim.

Bastard thing. It may look the dog’s – it may be the dog’s, it can proceed, axle deep, across a muddy farm yard and it ploughed through at least six inches of standing water at 60mph without so much as a twitch on Wednesday (driving in the dark with one headlight anyone?) – but aspects of it are ridiculous. And why does Kinky Winky have to afflict dipped beam? I probably used full beam for about five milliseconds last year, in 25,000 miles of driving. And driving with one light, well, when the person in front of you who’s overtaking suddenly slows up and pulls in … because he’s seen a massive puddle that you haven’t … that’s when two working dipped lights are a lot better than one.

Because I hit the massive puddle with McMini on board and two cars next to me. And the bow wave came over the windscreen. Tight lipped I hung grimly onto the wheel and kept accelerating, in the hope that I could keep the pressure of the exhaust coming out of the pipe higher than that of the water wanting to come in, and the balance of the car where it was. The ABS light came on to tell me that it was giving up on this one, but the car stayed straight and true. Which was good because with the two cars next to me on McMini’s side, any fishtailing would have ended badly.

We did get steam in the ventilation system though and the entire car fugged up, instantly. I had no meaningful clue as to the location of the traffic round me, although I knew it was clear ahead and that I was approaching a roundabout. Once there I was supposed to be turning left. Rather than try and pull in where I knew there were two cars … somewhere … I wiped a quick hole in the fugged up windscreen, opened my window so I could see, indicated right and turned left by going all the way round.

That was when I thought maybe I should get the Kinky Winky syndrome investigated. I should have known. I mean this is Britain, and if there’s one thing we do know about Britain, it’s that it’s fucking heaving with people. And they all drive. You know when you lift up a stone and there are loads of ants under there, rushing around with white eggs? Yeh, that’s Britain’s roads, except there aren’t enough bastard ants for this analogy to ring totally true. Our roads are a lot busier than that.

The only thing you can guarantee about driving in the dark here in Britain is that no matter how obscure or empty the road appears to be THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SOMETHING COMING THE OTHER WAY. If you are living in an obscure part of the Outher Hebrides and there’s only one other car on the entire fucking island, IT WILL BE COMING THE OTHER WAY should you decide to drive anywhere at night.

Yes. You’d better get used to driving with dipped headlights people, because if you think you’re going to be able to use full beam for more than a fucking millisecond per nine billion hours of night driving, you’ve another think coming. So yeh, completely missed the existence of a massive eff off puddle. Won’t be doing that again.

Where was I?

Oh yes. Thing five.

My car ate my son’s sports bag.

No shit. It has a ridiculous boot which opens by pulling a string in the cab. Every now and again the string breaks, or becomes detached. When it does that, the boot can sometimes be opened with a bit of jiggling the lid but mostly it’s only going to be opened by experts. The latch on the boot is adjustable, so it can be aligned, precisely, to go through the hole in the bodywork where the rest of the lock is.

Mmm sports bag. Om-nom-nom. Look at its smug fucking face. The git. 😡

Trouble is, roads are bumpy and so this beautifully aligned latch, which is held in place with a bolt, can move if the bolt loosens. And it does.

Muggins here, with her arthritic thumbs, was aware this was happening and tried to put it back. This worked but only sporadically as the Stupid Hands won’t do it tight enough, even on the rare occasions when I can find The Right Sized Spanner. So it was that on Thursday morning, I put McMini’s bag in the boot, plus the clubs he takes to after school golf lessons, and closed the lid. Then I remembered I’d forgotten his sports shoes. That was OK, I would just open the boot and … add … them …

Could I open the boot? Could I bollocks?

No of course I could. I tried all the usual things that work.

Nothing.

Shit! Shit! Shit!

I stalked back to the kitchen, because if I stayed in the garage with that bloody car I was going to take a hatchet to it. And then … which is the slightly worrying bit here … I had a full on melt down. At my husband. Well, not at him, but to him, about … everything. I cried and railed and told him that he and McMini were the only good things in my life (which is not entirely true but they are the only consistently wonderful things, everything else does tend to be a bit off and on … rather like the Noisy Cricket’s stupid bloody headlight).

And McOther listened in silence. And then he said.

‘I’ll take McMini to school, you get onto the mechanic and get this sorted.’

And he did.

And I hot footed it to Newmarket to get the lovely and extremely competent mechanic who works on my car to open the fucking thing. He has constructed a special tool out of wire to do this.

It turned out the latch was so loosely attached to the lid it had, basically, enmeshed itself in the lock and got stuck. While I was there I asked him about the headlight, which is how I know. As he was pretty sure it’s the same deal. So we’re starting to look into that, because it’s only the dipped light at the moment and it’s not off all the time so if I can limp through to summer, it should be OK until next October.

So … I’ve a car that ate my son’s bag and doesn’t work properly in the dark.

Footnote, or possibly seven and eight, my metal detector turned itself off the other day and wouldn’t turn on again for five seconds. I’ve a dig on Saturday, and I bet I’m going to discover that’s not a one-off anomaly. Nine, I’ve just put the washing out and some Important Piece of Metal pinged off the washing line. It pinged off easily enough but would it go back? Would it fuck? I had to go and slip it over the side of a saucepan and pull the long end about so it’d widen and go back on. Now it’s too wide and it’ll ping off every time. Grrr. And having phaffed about with all that and put the washing out in bright sunlight, here we are ten minutes later and it’s sodding raining. Biblically. So that was another twenty minutes of my precious fucking time pissed up the wall to nowhere!

See that? That’s the road of life … cold, dark, uphill the whole fucking way and all the shops are shut!* It’s doing my head in.

I also finally reached the stage where, instead of laughing at the fact every single fucking thing I do goes tits up, or odd, or according to someone else’s bastard plan, I lost it. Totally. When I am looking at one to five years of walking beside Mum and with the very real prospect that we will be following the same journey as Dad I know it’s going to cost me. Keeping my shit together is quite important. So that’s not a great sign. Protective measures will be taken. I’ll let you know what they are when I do.

Oh yeh, ten, The Stupid Hands … knees, shoulders back and ankles. And eleven. I still have my tax return to do. I suspect I’ll feel a lot better when I’ve done that.

Ho hum. I swear this would be a lot funnier if I wasn’t fucking living it.

* Yes. I do completely, and utterly know that’s not true. I’m actually ludicrously blessed and I understand that. I’m just having a rough time right now so it’s harder to appreciate.

Never mind, on the upside, thanks to the HRT, my hair’s looking quite good at the moment. Suddenly it has body again. It’s all long and curly and everywhere. There aren’t many people who could rock a periwig without one! Mwahahahargh! And it’s keeping my head nice and warm.

Eeee look at my chuffing periwig! Phnark.

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Birth of The Prophet Greetings to one and All … and a mini whinge.

Yes, of course K’Barth has it’s own equivalent of Christmas. They celebrate the Birth of The Prophet, or The Prophet’s Birthday as the feast is also known. The Prophet was born on the darkest, dimmest night of the year – aren’t they all? In memory of His birth, K’Barthans prepare an enormous meal, with numerous courses and specific – mostly alcoholic – beverages, none of which particularly goes with the other. Does this sound familiar?

However, they don’t exchange presents, oh no, instead they present each other with pastry effigies of Arnold The Prophet, stuffed full of confectioner’s custard. Anyone who stumped up for a copy of Christmas Lites last year will have read about this in the short story I had in there. It was a truncated short though, I had to hack mercilessly at it to make the 10k word count and you know me, I believe in never throwing anything away, so I decided I would polish up the longer original version and add it to my current series and publish it at Christmas time.

Unfortunately, what with Dad dying and all that malarkey, I didn’t get it finished as quickly as I expected so it’s coming out in February, 8th February, 2020, put that date in your diary peps. If you’re interested, it will be up for preorder soon but, unfortunately, not yet as … Christmas … which is so much more complicated and a significantly greater pain in the arse than exchanging pastries, mwahahahargh! But fret not! If you do want me to tip you off when Nothing To See Here, is released/available for preorder you can sign up for a special email bulletin. If you haven’t joined my mailing list, you will receive no other emails. Yep. Unless I cock it up mightily, I will only tell you those two things. Nothing else. To sign up for that, just follow the link, below or click on the picture of the cover:

Tell me when Nothing to See Here is released.

And here’s the blurb, in case you wanted it!

It’s midwinter and preparations for the biggest religious festival in the K’Barthan year are in full swing. Yes, even though, officially, religious activity has been banned, no-one’s going to ignore Arnold, The Prophet’s Birthday, especially not Big Merv. He orders The Pan of Hamgee to deliver the traditional Birth of The Prophet gift to his accountants and lawyers.

As usual, The Pan has managed to elicit the unwanted attention of the security forces. Can he make the delivery and get back to the The Parrot and Screwdriver pub in time for an unofficial Prophet’s Birthday celebration with his friends?

Other news …

There are lots of things I wanted to say this week. I wanted to talk about racism and how stupid it is, I wanted to fact check all the U-turns the Conservatives have been accused of making so far and see if it really is that dire, I wanted to do a lot of things. But … Christmas.

OK, so this is where the upbeat stuff stops, so if you want to feel upbeat, this is probably where you should stop too. The next bit is honest, and a bit of a downer.

The thing is, I’m missing Dad quite badly, it’s not quite as grim as it was, I haven’t felt weepy for over a week now, which is grand, and splendid progress. I just feel down. The grief counselling has come through for the New Year, so I know that will help and I’m looking forward to it.

In the meantime, life. It’s like we are sliding into anarchy and extremism and I’m the only person in the world who can see. I’m so weary of it all. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t go on politely pulling people up every time they say something shitty about immigrants, asylum seekers, LGBT etc folks, disabled people, brown people or anyone different from them. I know what goes around comes around. If kindness and tolerance was trendy for a while then, clearly, we’re going to go through another phase where it’s cool to be a bigoted fucktard. Cool for twaaaats (sing it to Squeeze).

At the moment it feels as if the world is being run by the stupid jocks out of seventies movies. You know, the popular bully in the class in seventies films. The one who make our geeky hero or heroine’s life a misery until said geek saves the world using knowledge and science while the jocks who think they rock stand by with their mouths open. That’s right, the people in charge right now, the people being heard and calling the shots are the equivalent of Biff from Back to the Future.

Joy.

Once someone you love has become, ‘other’ be it disabled, mentally ill, whatever, it changes you for life. I met a couple yesterday, a man and his disabled wife. He was pushing her in a wheelchair and she was incredibly apologetic about getting in the way in a very small and pokey shop. They were both sweet, but he, especially, had the kindest, wisest face I have seen on another human in a long time. Here was someone who had clearly been the recipient of unending twattery from morons and doggedly continued to treat other people with kindness and dignity. Someone truly, truly good in a way that was impossible to hide.

Apparently people frequently have a go at this couple for taking up too much space and getting in the way. I had a bit of an oh Lordy moment, myself, trapped in a very narrow aisle between them and a pram and trying to get out of the way! Only last week, at the supermarket, the lady told me, they saw that one aisle where they had to get some stuff was really full. He parked her next to some things she wanted to look at and went to get the bits they needed from the packed aisle alone. While he was gone someone came along and wanted to get to something from the shelves by the lady. She was in the way, so instead of speaking to her, or even asking her if she could pass it to them, they just moved her. Without a word. As if she was a piece of furniture. Moved her out into the middle of the aisle and left her there.

How fucking rude is that?

This is Brexit Britain. It’s not Brexit, itself that’s the problem, it’s the fact that it’s given the handful of people who voted leave because they’re racist and bigoted the courage to think their Neanderthal, shitty viewpoint is OK. The courage to commit hate crimes against disabled people, to air views that are, frankly, pretty evil, and it’s made them feel entitled to do so. I’m not even talking people who think we need to look at immigration, here. We do need to manage immigration properly, you know, with thought, compassion and empathy. Not only for those who are wishing to move here (what on earth are they doing coming to our crappy little island) but for those among whom they will be placed. No, I mean people who are out-and-out vile and seem to rejoice in it. The kind of people who would call me a snowflake, simply because I have an imagination and, occasionally, use it to try and appreciate what it might be like for other people who are different from me.

Incidentally, lots of people call me a snowflake in jest and that’s fine. Let’s be clear, I don’t mean my right wing friends taking the piss out of me here, I mean the really scary people.

The fact we are standing at the top of the same hill, with Mum, as we were with Dad four years ago is probably not helping me to feel jolly either. I did have a brief respite, but I know what’s coming and it’s coming much faster with Mum. A few months ago, when Gareth the Voice first contacted me I played Mum the demo he sent. She read and loved the K’Barthan Series years ago, and we discussed how exciting the whole audiobooks thing was. By the time Gareth and I were speccing the voices, a month later I had one voice I wasn’t sure about and I thought I’d play it to Mum. Gareth had definitely delivered what I specced but … had I specced it right?

Mum has a very good marketing brain – she was director of a PR firm in the 1960s and that is some going in an era when it was considered perfectly OK for a client to refuse to work with a copywriter on the grounds of them being female. As a result, Mum and I have chatted about my writing in depth from time to time. I did branding, which was pretty similar to PR and she’s one of the few people in Real Life I can talk to about both my writing, and my efforts to market it.

When I mentioned the voice conundrum to Mum she said,

‘Oh yes, darling, I meant to remind you about that. I haven’t read any of your books and I haven’t a clue what they’re about, it’s awful. I’m your mother. I really ought to read them. Could you lend them to me?’

I was a bit thrown.

‘Uh … I can’t remember now, but I think you read them,’ I lied. ‘But it was a very long time ago, so you’re well within your rights to have forgotten them. I pretty much have. I needed to re-read them thoroughly to get up to speed for doing the audio,’ I told her, continuing to lie comprehensively, through my teeth. ‘Does anything come back if I remind you? D’you remember Ruth, or The Pan of Hamgee? Big Merv? Lord Vernon?’

She remembered the ones in my latest story, which is short enough for her to be able to follow it. But otherwise, that’s it. She’s completely forgotten about all of it. She’s completely forgotten so much stuff.

Already.

All of it’s gone forever.

Which is grim.

I was hoping, so hoping, that it was just the strain of looking after Dad but it isn’t.

One of the toughest bits about Dad is that even though he is out of pain, and, even though, as a Christian, I believe he’s gone on to somewhere happier, I still find it hard to look his suffering in the eye. I need to if I’m going to move on, but it hurts, it hurts a lot and I suspect it always will. And now I have to walk the same journey with Mum. A costly, painful journey. One that’s going to make my heart ache for the rest of my life.

Pain on pain, hurt on hurt.

Another three years of this. Minimum. Where, in God’s name, will I find the strength to do it all over again?

Um … yeh. Merry Christmas.

Never mind, I’m going to church now. With any luck, when I come back, I’ll feel better.

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Let’s talk about things …

Wow, I have a whole gamut of stuff washing around to talk about this week. I’m not sure if I’ll get through it all or do it justice but off we go.

First of all, last week, you’ll have noticed there was a break in transmission. Yep. No blog post. I meant to do one but then it was time for the Christmas Fayre I was getting all my shizz ready and … er hem … I forgot.

In my defence, my father’s memorial service took it out of me. It was wonderful but blimey I was knackered afterwards. Lots of emotional stamina required. Which reminds me, I should write and thank a lot of people. Yet more stuff to add to the gargantuan, War And Peace-length list of Shit MTM Hasn’t Done. Gulp.

The fayre was kind of a mix. It was the first time in a new venue and it took a while for people to realise we were there. Friday was quiet, Saturday reasonably busy, and Sunday a lot busier. The books sold well, although differently, a lot of people bought two; a copy of Escape From B-Movie Hell and a copy of Small Beginnings. The EyebombThereforeIAm calendars, which I thought would sell like hot cakes and bankroll everything, they didn’t sell at all. So that was bizarre.

The ill fated eyebombing calendar

The consensus among friends and family is still, ‘oooh I’d buy one of those,’ and some even have, but they clearly left the general public cold. I am selling some for charity, which might help. I had to sell 30 at £9.99 to pay for costs, I sold five at £9 and I have sold three to a lovely friend for £9.99. I picked £9.99 after researching them in local shops and discovering they were mostly £9.99 – £15.99 so I went for the lowest price. However, McOther tells me a pop up calendar shop has opened in the new shopping centre with prices from about £7.00 to £9.99 so perhaps I’m now at the high end.

Never mind, onwards and upwards. If you think you’d like one you can find out more here.

Dad’s memorial went well. It’s always interesting going back to Lancing because for the first sixteen years of my life it was my home. I also had another home, kind of a two sheds Johnson, that was me, because we lived off site in the holidays. But Lancing means as much to me, in a different way, as the other place I grew up, which Mum still lives in now. Going back is like having a little squiffy in your old house, seeing how the new owners have changed the decor! Although I haven’t been in our actual old house.

It was a glorious celebration. Really lovely. I cried my eyes out at the end in a way I hadn’t at the funeral, which was a bit embarrassing but also kind of cathartic and easy enough to hide because I was wearing a big hat. Just look down and hey presto! Nothing to see here. I suppose I felt it more because this was the last goodbye and the last thing we can do for Dad … well … except inter his ashes but we are going to … er hem … batch him and Mum. The eulogies were great, really funny, the way Dad would have wanted. Lots of stories about his antics. Some good shouty hymns. Really well chosen readings and the readers and speakers did a grand job. I even managed not to cock mine up! Woot! Although I was last up so I was shitting gargantuan bricks for most of the service. Listening to audiobook proofs all week helped in that respect as I just followed the little voice in my head that said ‘read it the same way’ and did. Minus the funny voices, of course.

Highlight of the readings they chose an excerpt from 1 John Chapter 20, which included verse 4:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

A perfect summation of Dad’s attitude, since he was the embodiment of love thy neighbour in a way that many of the loudest Christians on the internet – especially the mentalist, old-testament-thumping, gun-loving ones in the US – are not. Yes, if you think anyone is Satan’s own spawn because they think differently from you and say you love Jesus, you’re a liar! Love that.

Desmond Tutu stood here and so did I.

Huge amusement afterwards when we discovered a plaque bearing the legend, ‘Desmond Tutu stood here to dedicate this window to his friend Trevor Huddleston.’ Much incredibly mature ‘standing here’ where Desmond Tutu had stood ensued, from me, Bruv and Eldest Nephew, Good-King-Wenceslas-‘heat-was-in-the-very-sod’ stylee. Mwahahahrgh! Phnark.

With the election on, I think I am feeling Dad’s absence a lot more, mainly because of the race the bottom that is the election campaign. I’m one of these weird, old fashioned people who thinks that lies, soundbites and dirty tricks, just make a party look like a bunch of twats. I think fake news is a danger, not something to be embraced. I’m one of these old fashioned people who thinks dishonourable and shoddy behaviour, unkindness, opponent smearing, hypocrisy and bare faced lies, you know three year old caught with a hand in the biscuit tin and denying it, Scottish Spaceport is nearly built, let’s change our twitter name so we look like an impartial not for profit organisation disseminating facts rather than one of the contenders, kind of lies, and a general complete lack of integrity, are actually bad things. I still believe elections should be fought on issues although I’m not 100% sure if the labour site I’ve found is their real site or a conservative spoof. Sigh.

When it came to the day to day discipline of running his house, Dad had zero tolerance for three things, drinking hard spirits (he’d Not Catch boys drinking beer, wine or cider, so long as it wasn’t too out of hand but he would catch the spirit drinkers) drugs and bullying. Even so, nearly every boy my Dad expelled was expelled for bullying. One, who was expelled for doing something particularly stupid but which wasn’t bullying, was finally reinstated after three days, at my Dad’s behest. He didn’t stand by and let something go if he believed it to be an in justice.

Maybe that’s the trouble with this election; the glaring lack of statesmanlike behaviour in pretty much every one of the high profile politicians. The trouble is, there are decent people beavering away on the back benches for all parties. They just never seem to make it to the front.

To me and many others, the NHS is a good thing, and the death of a thousand tiny cuts to which the current and previous governments (of all colours) have subjected it is a bad thing. Successive governments have been breaking it so they can say, ‘look this doesn’t work’ and contract it out.

Take dementia care. My father paid tax all his life but until he was down to his last £14k he was not eligible for free health care, and even when he was, because he had a work pension, he actually paid for it, they just charged a lower rate. If he’d had a frontal lobe tumour it would have presented the same symptoms, but he would have been half a million quid richer when he died. Half a million quid of life savings which he’d earned and already paid tax on. You know tax don’t you, the stuff you pay so you get things like free healthcare from the NHS? At the point where he was weakest, most vulnerable and most in need of help, Dad was betrayed.

The thing is, hanging out with my Dad, as he became more and more mentally disabled, has turned something round in me. My Dad said and did some pretty grim things during various phases of his disease. Partly because there were no filters, partly because his world was warped and distorted by his disability, and I guess partly because his disability also warped his efforts at self expression. Sometimes he was horrible and that hurt because he was always my dad. And I knew that somewhere inside that inappropriate, screaming exterior was the gentle, kindly soul I knew. He just couldn’t reach us. A lot of the time, all he needed was the right word, the right help, to bring him back. We couldn’t always find it but we tried and I think he was aware of that.

But now when the conservatives talk about scroungers and tell disabled people to get jobs, when they foster the zero tolerance, claw-it-all-back attitude to social care and disability benefits I begin to wonder if I’ve jumped timelines or something, I’m so out of kilter with the way other people think. When they shame and vilify disabled or chronically ill people as scroungers, I feel sick. When Social Services ask my friend’s daughter, with achondroplasia, when she expects to get better I am unimpressed. This, a bright, very bright, intelligent human being, someone with a great deal to contribute to society, who was also in with a chance of becoming a future Olympic athlete. So not a scrounger or a free loader then. I’m beginning to understand what Sir Terry meant when he talked about holding onto the anger. It’s not angry ranting, well not always, it’s just righteous ire that burns the whole time. That’s why I have to write it out, it’s doing my head in.

The anguish of Dad’s last half year or so still haunts me and it probably always will, but it has also profoundly changed the way I see my fellow humans. I now realise, more than anything, that imagination is the most important gift we possess. It’s imagination that makes us able to see the other person’s side. It’s imagination that enables us to find a way through. It’s imagination that helps us understand that, if our enemies saw people’s heads off with a kitchen knife and post it on YouTube, the thing that raises us above them is that we don’t. It’s imagination that allows us to understand that torturing suspected torturers, ‘because they do it to us’ merely makes us one of them, possibly worse, because while they’re brainwashed and uneducated, we have the tools to know better and have made a conscious choice. It’s because we have imagination what we can realise that an eye for an eye merely debases all the arguments that our way is better than theirs at a stroke.

It’s imagination that makes us think before we wade in. It’s imagination that tells us when taking sides is necessary or merely petty. It’s imagination that allows us to step outside the bubble, accept and enjoy friendships with people who have different political viewpoints to us or are friends with people we don’t get on with. Politics is about issues and problem solving, it’s not a competition to see who can tell the most lies or paint their opponent as the biggest shit, although anyone looking at it now could be forgiven for thinking it is.

Another thing I have learned from the experience with my Dad is that everyone has a value, everyone is of some importance, everyone has something to contribute. I’m even beginning to see how Corrie Ten Boom’s sister, in Auschwitz, was able to feel sorry for the guards because they were so cruel. She thought their lives must be so empty, so without empathy, love, compassion and all the other things that make living so wonderful. I thought she was nuts at the time, now … I dunno. I am beginning to think it must be truly terrible to be as pompous as vainglorious as desperately in constant need of ego affirmation as Trump or Bojo. And yet I’m also beginning to see the humanity in the psychopaths, the killers, the mentally ill; those who I would have dismissed without a second thought as evil before I watched my father go insane. Perhaps I’m beginning to understand that many of them are just unwell. Mental illness is horrifically complicated but I seem to be able to extend them a courtesy I am finding it very difficult to give Boris, Trump and their ilk.

Dad always held the view that to get anywhere or do anything, you had to be a decent human being. He believed that being decent and honourable gets you quietly, unobtrusively, where you want to go. Because if you are straight with people and stand by them they will love you, and people who love you will move mountains for you. Not necessarily at the times, places or in a manner you expect but they will.

More and more, now he’s gone, I find myself sticking my head above the parapet, not because I care that much even, but because Dad’s not here to do it. Even if it’s just to joke about being the token bleeding heart liberal in some of my friendship groups and put a different point of view. But the thing is, despite half my friends having voted Brexit, which is a bit of a downer, we still all have so much common ground and we are still friends. Maybe this country will heal, if the politicians and the loud mouths will stop using the divisions to score points and entrenching them further; ie, shut the fuck up and give it time.

I can’t wait until this bloody election is over.

 

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A snapshot of blue …

It isn’t always like this, but I’m feeling a bit blue today. Then again, it’s probably only to be expected because I have, as we might euphemistically say, the painters in. But I’m going to take a few moments out to bang on about grief again because I suspect the way I’m feeling is pretty universal, so it might help someone to read it and see they aren’t alone.

As a human, I’ve always approached my life, and my future, with an attitude of mild interest, a kind of, ‘I wonder how this is going to turn out.’ That doesn’t mean I don’t try and mould my destiny at all, but I am aware how many other riders there are affecting the outcome of anything I plan. I hope my actions make a difference. Fervently. But I also think I’d be a fool to think I can realign the stars and guarantee anything about my destiny through my own efforts … well … you know … beyond how I react to what happens.

So my dad died. It happens to lots of people. And I’m OK with that and, more to the point, he was. It was his time, he led a full and wonderful life, he was loved … it was, dare I say it, beautiful.

The thing I am having trouble with is what happened first.

Losing someone to Alzheimer’s is really hard. There’s a strange mixture of emotion at the end where you’re glad their suffering is over but really want them back. There’s always hope, until they draw their last breath, that a miracle will happen and they’ll come back to you, that the gradual extinguishing of the light can somehow be reversed, the damage undone, your loved one returned. That you’ll find them again.

It can’t, although you might find enough of them. Dad definitely came back to us a bit at the end, I am in no doubt whatsoever about that.

They say that you don’t get over some things but that you do get used to living with them. That makes perfect sense to me. I try to give myself gaps to grieve, and in between, I tell myself it’s hormones, and yes, I am looking forward to reaching the stage when I no longer have a cycle, when Psycho Week, Misery Week (which is probably where I am now) Extra Special IBS Week and of course, not forgetting Brain Fog and Constipation Week all come to an end and every week becomes Mary Week. I do have a Mary Week once in every five and it is literally like being someone else, someone I really like.

Anyway, I try to convince myself that I’m busy or tired or hormonal but the truth of it is, I’m just sad. And I guess I’m learning that I have the strength to carry that sadness, which is nice, but at the same time, unfortunately, I’m not quite as strong as I hoped I was. Which is a bit of a shitter.

One of the things you can notice about people, if you look hard enough, is that those who are suffering or damaged are marked. They have an intensity, a brittleness about the edges, a burning brightness to their eyes that acts like a huge neon beacon over their heads saying, ‘Damaged Goods.’

Sometimes, I have to tell people that my dad died recently. It’s cringingly embarrassing because usually it’s part of an explanation as to why I’ve forgotten to pay a bill that arrived around that time, or pay in a cheque etc. I find it difficult to keep my voice flat. The emotion always creeps in and evinces an outpouring of kindness from strangers that is only reserved for folks they are very, very sorry for. Which is lovely but quite mortifying. I also find it really, and I mean really hard, to keep it together in the face of sympathy. No matter how hard I try to be dispassionate, they hear the emotion. I am always hugely grateful for their concern. But at the same time, it’s also difficult and embarrassing because there’s only a finite amount of time about which I can talk about it before I cry. I wouldn’t want people to stop showing sympathy though, or stop being kind. Because for all the awkwardness I feel, it’s also a wonderful and uplifting thing.

There’s very little time for sadness in modern life and even less in mine. Mum has dementia, someone has to run her financial affairs, pay the care team, make sure she’s OK. In some respects my weekly visits are a lifeline for both of us. It is wonderful to be able to talk to her about Dad. We discuss how we feel, how there was nowhere else for him to go, how illogical our sadness is when it was such a good death and when it was clearly a death he embraced. I think it helps both of us. Mum is definitely better than she was but she’s had a bit of a blip recently, which, I suppose, is  another reason why I feel the responsibility a bit more keenly than I usually do, and feel sadder.

Typically, now he’s gone, it seems that my life is full of events and problems that I would have discussed with Dad. Things he would have been able to advise me about so I could have made sense of it all and it would have been OK. Interpersonal stuff. It’s a loss I would have felt badly any time in the last one and a half, possibly two, years but it seems a great deal worse now. I think it would be melodramatic and downright wrong to say I’m sinking but it’s definitely a struggle. And I’m so raw. Oh blimey I’m ridiculously raw and so easily hurt about other things. Everything makes me cry, I reckon if I was walking round with a thistle stuck up my arse I’d cry less.

Politics hasn’t helped. It’s like the loss of Dad’s goodness and humanity, the compassion and empathy in him has taken it out of the entire fucking world. This week Britain has stepped up it’s efforts to make a monumental tit of itself on the international stage. The jury who found Boris Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament illegal have been warned to wear stab vests for fear of nutters who are also pro Brexit.

And the two sides bang on at one another, the left getting all drama llama about Jo Cox so they can tell the right that they are heartless twats who don’t give a shit in a way that makes the whole thing reek of faux. The right are totally unmoved, of course, since the majority of them are heartless twats who don’t give a shit and I really don’t understand why the left felt that point had to be made, since we are all already aware.

In the middle of all this, I’m still waiting to hear someone mention the good of the people. Not ‘the will of the people,’ as decided by a ridiculous sham of a vote to decide which side’s lies were less plausible (but sadly, a vote, nonetheless) not who should be in power, not how much better we would be if x or y was in power. Likewise, I don’t want to hear politicians spouting off in the media for the benefit of sending a message to other politicians via the press, rather than because they have anything meaningful to say to us.

Wouldn’t it be great to see someone in Parliament who genuinely seems to be there to try and make life better for the British people rather than to feather their own nest? Someone who isn’t a plutocrat foisting left wing sentiments they can afford to hold onto people who can’t, or conversely, someone who isn’t a hedge fund manager, wholeheartedly buying into the vileness of the party opposing them; a party which continues to demonise the vulnerable, the disabled, the chronically sick as scroungers and weaklings, quietly passing laws to punish people for their disabilities, or chronic illness, or having dementia like my parents, as if these people are to blame for their own suffering. A party pedalling the view that anyone who is vulnerable is weak and that those who are sick somehow deserve to suffer and are not worthy of our compassion. A party that puts the view that, contrary to the tenets of the Welfare State, those less fortunate, or who have fallen on hard times are somehow stealing for us when they are given help. A party which is punishing the elderly for having savings and being careful, stamping on the fingers of everyone working or lower middle class who has dared to put a foot on the ladder. A party which is quietly dismantling the welfare state and the NHS while everyone is too distracted to notice by the circus of shite that is Brexit and all that goes therewith.

We need normal people in politics. Now. Because at the moment, for the most part, it’s just a bunch of rich, entitled pricks doing what they like. On all sides. Their wages alone put them into the top 6%, the expenses some of them charge probably put them into Fortune 500*. Only 8% of Labour MPs are working class. We need a proper mix and we need to hold them accountable, the trouble is, voting doesn’t seem to work so I really don’t know how we do that.

* That was a joke even if it does ring true.

All I know is that watching the different parties competing to out do each other over the lowest depths to which they can sink I feel like something inside me is dying. It’s like grief has taken my reality filter out and I can see every crack and fissure and smell the foetid pus below.

But then something will happen that snaps me back.

For example, today I had to explain to the lady in the building society that I’d failed in some duty of admin because the summons arrived while my dad was sick and dying, or possibly while I was on holiday just before, or maybe in the six weeks previously while I was sick as a dog with a massive temperature and road testing different varieties of antibiotics to get rid of a persistent chest infection. The minute I fess up to her, I know she’s seen the rawness. My orange neon ‘damaged goods’ sign is flashing. She nips out back and comes back with a leaflet.

What to do in a bereavement, it’s called.

‘There are numbers in the back,’ she says. ‘And your doctor can help you too.’

My doctor? Shit.

Is it that bad?

Is it that obvious?

Am I more damaged than I think?

OK so watching my father go mad was pretty horrible, but I genuinely believed that once it was over I’d bounce back. It’s happening but it’s not a bounce and I’m aware enough now that in many ways I will never be the same. I thought it would be a lot faster than this and I thought I would get over it all. I’m not and it’s going to be slow. I guess the hard thing is having to keep going, having to carry on paying the carers and doing the pathetic amount I do to keep things running – the care and gardening team do literally ALL of it but I still find my few duties tough. I probably need to look what happened to Dad squarely in the eye but if I do that right now I’m undone and I can’t be undone, because … Mum.

Or maybe I’m just humiliated that another person has seen the extent of the damage, noticed my brittle cheerfulness and angular edges. I am worried and grateful in equal measure. As I try not to well up at her compassion and kindness I remember what Dad always said,

‘And this too shall pass.’

Maybe that’s the thing that’s so hard. Grief is amorphous. It oozes about inside you like a liquid and leeches out where and when you least expect. There’s no stopping it and no answer. You just have to ride the storm and wait until you are used to it, or it goes. It’s not as if I’m the first person who’s lost a parent, or the last … It’s just … hard.

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

‘Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood:
‘Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone:
Today the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.

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This week, I am mostly, cheating!

Greetings, late as ever. I appreciate that this is a late post. I knew things were going to get a bit hectic and sure enough they have. I had to set up McMini’s computer for school and it took approximately one thousand years. OK not quite one thousand but it felt like that, especially when I had bloody microsoft asking me to sign in and then saying ‘oops there seems to be a problem.’

After searching for what felt like fucking aeons, I realised that the problem was simply that McMini is under age and therefore I had to sign in as me to move windows from some crappy version, where you can’t download anything off the Microsoft app store, to normal windows that everyone else uses. As a result I have nothing to witty to blog this week and had to resort to Things I Have In Reserve, in this case, my Dad’s Eulogy.

It might seem like a strange thing to share, but it was written for laughs and it even got some! Next week, I have some absolutely chuffing amazing news for you! In the meantime … enjoy …

________________________________

Dad post retirement but pre dementia.

The difficulty talking about Dad is that I have so much material, so it’s tricky to know where to begin and when to stop. The fact his nick name, at the school, was ‘Johnny the Legend’ probably says it all.

I’ve made some notes.

Obviously, as his daughter, I’m biased and see him as a shining example of what it means to be human, and a Christian, and to do Christianity and humaning really well. There are certain words that crop up again and again in the letters and cards we received; Gentleman, kind, warm, radiant, humour/joie de vivre, fun, funny, witty, generous, non-judgemental, wise, humanity and a word he used about others but which also very much applied to Dad, himself, effervescent! Dad lived his whole life with an aura of intelligent enquiry and seemed, to me, to have a genuine interest in everything and everyone around him. He also had a sense of fun and mischief but coupled with a sense of social justice and a kindly disposition which meant the mischief was never cruel. He was genial and good humoured and would often tell stories against himself if he believed his antics were funny enough. Probably one of the most indicative things about Dad, and Mum, is the friends they made and the people they have around them. They seem to be pied pipers of lovely people.

Dad delighted in sharing the Latin and Greek roots of words, especially if they were slightly dodgy or a little bit lavatorial. I can still decline the latin verb from which we get the word, ‘constipation’. Despite being a committed Christian, Dad would sometimes take me aside after church and we would both giggle as he pointed out the double entendres which Victorian poets, in a more innocent age, had unwittingly put into that Sunday’s hymns. ‘Oh Lamb of God, I come,’ was a particular favourite, and the fact it was written by an ancestor on my Mum’s side just made it even funnier.

He loved to prick the bubble of the self-important and was proud of any signs of rebellion in my brother and I. He once hauled a colleague to the window of the master’s common room and, glowing with proprietorial, that’s-my-boy pride pointed out a scene in the quad below, where a member of staff who ran like the original Minister for Silly Walks was sprinting across the grass followed by my brother doing a near perfect impression of the man’s ridiculous run a few yards behind. Another time, I remember Dad carrying a copy of the unofficial school newspaper round one speech day and, when he met the right parent or colleague, he would whip it out of his inside jacket pocket, like some war time black-marketeer selling stockings, to show them a slightly scurrilous cartoon I’d drawn of the Bursar.

Life with Dad was never dull. He was always cheerful and sociable. He enjoyed entertaining friends and relations during the holidays and would wear his bedroom slippers ‘to make it more relaxing’ often prank phone calls would be made to other, absent, members of staff, or those who’d moved on to better things at other schools. Sometimes he would invite people round and forget so Mum would be surprised and delighted to see them arrive but have to pretend that she knew they were coming. She, and we, usually pulled this off, except for the time my uncle and aunt turned up and found the four of us sitting down to a grilled trout each.

Dad was, as he would have put it, ‘a good trencherman’. On holiday France Dad demonstrated that, were he ever to go on Mastermind, his special subject would be not classics but instead, Guide Michelin, Normandy edition. As we drove through some village he’d suddenly stop the car and announce that it was lunch time because the auberge had a red underlining. No-one I’ve ever met before or since could sniff out a good restaurant as surely as Dad.

He also enjoyed wine, although, in that respect he was quite a long suffering father, luckily he had a very forgiving nature. I remember I inadvertently drank one of his best bottles while he was away on holiday. ‘What? You drank my Gevrey?’ he cried, his expression a mix of horror and disbelief at my iniquity in drinking his wine and pride that I’d made such a quality choice. Luckily pride won out although I did replace the bottle as soon as I could. I also remember spilling mayonnaise all over him at a restaurant in Durham when we were having a meal to celebrate Giles’ graduation. There was complete silence and, again, Dad’s face was a mixture – of anger and humour, this time. For a few seconds we watched the two emotions battle for control. God bless Lil, who guffawed before she could stop herself, Dad’s habitual good humour reasserted itself immediately and all was well.

I’ve already alluded to Dad’s selective memory. Any timely attendance at social events was due to Mum’s insistence that he put them on the kitchen calendar … also, most friends were wise enough to ensure she knew about them. The odd one or two slipped through the net though. I remember in my last year at school, Dad had just left the house and was commuting in daily from home. One evening, I found him, Mum and two friends wandering disconsolately through the cloisters in their dinner suits having arrived at the common room guest night a week early. This was a particularly spectacular achievement since Dad was chairman of the common room at the time and, therefore, the person responsible for organising it.

A familiar refrain in our house when I was growing up was the phrase, ‘have you seen my biro?’ Dad had two Papermate biros: there was a red one, which with Dad’s characteristic fuzzy logic, contained black ink, and a turquoise one which contained red ink. The hunt was on for one or other of them (and his keys) most of the time. Finally, he lost the red one, apparently forever, so I bought him a new one for his birthday, a top of the range black and gold Papermate. Yes, from now on the ‘black’ biro was going to BE black. I was incredibly proud when he hung onto it for years, although it turned out it was several biros. He couldn’t bear to upset me by admitting he’d lost my gift, so he kept buying replacements. It was only after he tried to buy replacement number five and he discovered Papermate had discontinued that model that he was forced to come clean. It was typical of Dad’s kindness. He was a soft old thing. He used to hug the cat goodbye before work in the mornings. She always smelled of aftershave at the start of the day.

For all Dad’s legendary forgetfulness, though, the headmaster’s secretary once told Mum that he was the one housemaster she could always rely on for an instant answer to any question asked about any of his charges. There was no filing system, no having to look things up. He always remembered the things that mattered.

One more instance of fuzzy logic. One summer night we left our pet rabbit in his outside run which had shade but very little shelter. Mum was the first to realise when she was awoken by a rumble of thunder.

‘Darling! There’s a storm coming and the rabbit’s still out!’ she cried and Dad went out to rescue him.

Mum heard the door go just as it began to chuck it down with rain. She ran to the window to see Dad rush into the orchard, completely starkers, barring a pair of wellies, grab the rabbit and take him, through the pouring rain to his more permanent home in the garage.

‘I didn’t want to get my pyjamas wet,’ he explained when Mum asked what on earth he was doing.

Dad was a committed Christian with a deep and enduring faith. Interestingly, his efforts to be Christ-like in every aspect of his behaviour could make him come up as a bit of a maverick – which suggests he may have been doing it properly.

Dad had a very firm idea of right and wrong and, as it was governed by his faith, it didn’t necessarily involve proceeding as convention, or the rules, dictated. Luckily most of the people he encountered appreciated this, even if his tendency to take the same approach at work, coupled with a propensity to forget housemaster’s meetings frustrated some of his bosses. Neither tendency let up after he retired.

One evening he and Mum got talking to a homeless man in the churchyard and brought him home to spend the night. Mum, rang me and explained that if I hadn’t heard from them by half nine the following morning I must call the police as they would probably have been murdered. She put the phone down with the parting shot, ‘Don’t tell your brother darling, he’ll go into orbit.’ Mum and Dad were a team and as you can tell from this story, it was definitely a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other.

One of Dad’s maxims was,

‘Never let anyone see you’re shocked by anything, most of the time, it’s what they want.’

Dad was pretty good at not being shocked especially by some of my more punk friends not to mention us, his own kids. I remember his reaction after I attended my first party. Unfortunately I mistook the fruit punch for a non alcoholic beverage. By the time I realised my mistake I’d downed gallons of the stuff and I was terribly ill. The next day, I felt truly awful and spent the time very quietly in my bedroom. When supper time arrived, I came downstairs and Dad said,

‘I thought we could have a treat tonight, I’ve made some wine cup.’

I have no idea how he did it but Dad had managed to replicate the exact same punch that I’d drunk to such horrific excess the night before. I sunk two glasses with a heaving stomach and a thin pretence of enjoyment. It was a much more salutary lesson than any lecture on the evils of drink. Fizzy logic, perhaps, in that case, but no less effective.

Dad was also great at understanding the way other people thought. A naughty friend of mine told how, when about to be cautioned by the police for some argy-bargy at the Goldstone, Dad stopped him just before he went in and said,

‘Now listen, Duncan, there’s one thing you have to remember and it’s very important.’

‘Yes Mr Bell?’

‘Yes, whatever you do, DON’T laugh! It’s yes sir, no sir, thank you sir and out again. No backchat, and NO arguing the toss. Right?’

My friend confessed that, the moment he was confronted with the police officer cautioning him, he was indeed, seized with an urge to guffaw or make sarcastic comment, but he managed to contain himself because of what Dad had said.

Dad wasn’t afraid to be human if, by venting occasionally over something small, he could be better at something bigger and more important. I remember him mowing the orchard at home. The lowest branches of the trees were all about four feet off the ground. As Dad mowed he was watching the grass in front of him so he bashed his head on pretty much every single tree. Each bump was greeted with an ever lengthier flow of invective, mostly comprising the word, ‘bugger!’ It lead to a new family measurement scale of vexation, ‘how manyb’uggers was that, Dad?’ we’d ask after a particularly vexatious escapade doing something or other.

Dad told me that he’d wanted to be a teacher for as long as he could remember. To be honest, if you grew up around him while he was going about his job it was fairly obvious. He was extremely dedicated, but even when he had retired, even when he had Alzheimer’s, children still flocked to him to chat.

His pet advice on housemastering was, ‘It’s not about catching the boys it’s about knowing when NOT to catch them.’ I only found that out recently, which is probably why it was many years before I realised that, when he came home to regale us with something funny he’d caught the boys doing, they didn’t actually KNOW. The famous Johnny Bell warning cough made sure of this, unless they were seriously up to no good, in which case Dad would omit the cough and attempt to catch them. He allowed some slack but had a zero tolerance policy for bullying. I remember him agonising when he had to send boys to the headmaster for drinking, smoking, going awol or the like, but if they’d been bullying people he never had a qualm about having them expelled, which was entirely in keeping with his sense of right and wrong and social justice.

One of the greatest gifts Dad taught me was that, if you want to be happy in life, it’s essential to be able to laugh at yourself. He had a way of being self depreciating and using humour to keep things light without losing the message. His humour also helped him keep things in proportion, in a way that not everyone can. Perhaps that accounted for some of his courage when facing the grimness of Alzheimer’s. Wherever he is now there will be light and laughter.

In the classroom, too, Dad liked to allow space among the learning to enjoy a bit of levity. His pupils soon realised that you could have a far more interesting Greek lesson if you got Dad onto some off the wall topic after about five minutes. He got decent enough results, so it seems to have worked. Even after he’d retired, Dad’s one-to-one students knew to ask about his most recent holiday if they wanted a break. At school, the lateral and inventive nature of Dad’s red herrings was so famed that they were featured in an article in the school magazine, which amused Dad greatly. I have a photocopy of that article which I’ve included, below.

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More thoughts about grief …

Vimy Ridge 100 years on

This week we’ve been visiting a lot of First World War sites. On balance, this was probably less than smart, so soon after my father’s death. But in another way it was cathartic. Grief is a properly odd thing and sometimes it does you good to take a few quiet moments to have a snivel and let it out. You can’t sweep it under the carpet and pretend it’s not happening. That doesn’t help.

However, that said, it does tend to pop up in weird ways when you least expect it. Case in point, Dad. When Dad died it was the culmination of nearly fourteen years worrying about his mental health. He was calm, totally ready and for those few days before he left us, it was as if he’d come back to us. After his total loss of reason, and the psychotic stage he had returned to us a fair bit, in the home. He came out of the small boy stage and was a grown man again, struggling with his affliction in different ways.

In those weeks, he was calmer and seemed happier but looking back on it, perhaps it was because he’d decided this was the end of the road and resigned himself. I worried that he was fighting and losing. Looking back on it, I think it more likely that he was coming to terms with things and I was seeing the light and shade of his various moods as he worked through it. The thing about Dad’s death though, was that it was a really, really good one. People who loved him were with him, reassuring him and he was a man of faith, and while I’m sure he appreciated that reassurance, he probably didn’t need it.

It was a relief, for him and us, because it was the end of his suffering. It may look callous saying that but I remember waking up the morning after Dad had died and feeling sad that he had gone and that there really was no going back now and at the same time, also feeling as if an enormous weight of responsibility had been lifted from me and feeling happy for Dad (although as a Christian who believes there’s some kind of after life that might be easier for me than it is for some folks).

Now, I don’t know what I expected from the grieving process but it seems most sensible to accept it’s there and roll with the punches when it pops up. But I’ve noticed two things which might help other people.

Thing one: No matter how good the death, no matter if death was the only place to go and no matter if the death was a good one, you will feel incredibly sad. Not only that but if my own experience is anything to go by, you will feel way, way, sadder than expected.

‘But it’s your dad! Of course you’re sad!’ I hear you say. Well, yes, but I’ve spent the last eight or nine years, at least losing little pieces of my dad each day, and I’ve spent the last five years grieving for those pieces of his personality, facets of his sense of humour, things that gradually faded until I could no longer resurrect them. There was a horrible point where the jokes we used to have suddenly stopped working.

‘I don’t know why you think that’s so fucking funny,’ I remember him saying about what I’d thought was his absolute favourite joke between us. ‘Stop saying it.’

Various people have told me that, after an illness, you get the person back. I think I’m too brain fogged to get much back, my short term memory is completely shot, just yesterday I was chatting to McMini and he reminded me of something we did together, when he was a child, an event of which I have absolutely no memory. That is quite frightening because such a total and utter memory loss has never happened to me before. No matter that my diagnosis was hormones, I have some pretty deep set misgivings, in my own mind, that I have dementia, myself. That said, a friend (0lder) who suffered depression when her kids were growing up says there are huge tracts of their lives she simply can’t remember. She put it down to the medication, but it must have been stressful, and I’ve been pretty stressed for at least eight of McMini’s eleven years, maybe I it’s just that. Yeh, I’ll cling to that hope. If it isn’t, I just hope I can hold it together until Mum goes, or even better until McMini hits twenty one. That would be another eight years. Mmm … fingers and toes crossed.

What I was trying to say, after that considerable tangent, is that I haven’t got the memories back really, I still can’t remember anything much before the dementia (Dad’s) but I do have a much better conception of what he was like when he was firing on all cylinders; his cheekiness, his sense of fun, the things he loved and the things that made him laugh. I can remember his humanity, his compassion, his kindness – partly because his behaviour was the antithesis of many public figures today, not to mention the current behavioural ethos which seems to be that we should each be as big a cunt as we can be because it’s our right and we ‘shouldn’t take it’ from other people.

Which brings us to Thing Two: I guess the moral of this is simply that even if you are expecting it to be weird and trying to be open, not fret and accept the nature of the beast, grief still pops up when you don’t expect it and surprises you.

But after a death when it’s really a release and the person who died was clearly at peace and happy to do so, I guess I assumed I’d mourn less perhaps, or at least differently. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when you’ve been losing a person for so long while they’re alive and grieving their loss has already been going on for some years I suppose I thought that the grief of the actual death would be … easier?

Or to put it another way, for all my trying to be open minded and take it as it comes, it seems I’d assumed that there’s a finite amount of grief and that I’d used up a good half of it while Dad was still alive.

I was wrong.

That’s probably worth remembering. Meanwhile, for now, for me, it’s head down, give it space whenever I can and wait. I’ll get used to it eventually.

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