Tag Archives: full time mum writing

My lord! I bring news!

This week has been quite a contrast to last week.

First of all a brief word about superstition and its place in society. Now there are some folks who say that butterflies are a sign that angels/dead loved ones are watching you, and ditto about white feathers. I have no idea if any of this is true, but if I can see a white feather bobbing down from the sky and use it to make myself feel less sad, I will.

Obviously, it would be lovely if it was a message of support from Dad. There have definitely been a few white feathers over the past few years, something I’ve noticed because John Lennon always told his son that he’d send a white feather drifting across the room as a message after he died. Julian Lennon said once, ‘I’ve always been looking for that white feather.’  So when I saw my first one, during a pretty grim time in Dad’s illness, it left an impression.

No, I didn’t think it was John Lennon, but I’d never noticed a white feather drifting down from the sky before and I thought that pushing fifty was quite late to notice my first one, so it did make me wonder, slightly, if some dead relly somewhere was sending me a message of support – look I’m a writer, OK? I imagine all sorts of weird shit, it’s my job after all.

The instances have increased dramatically recently, and they have definitely coincided with good days, not just because I can use them to pep myself up but because genuinely good things have happened on the days when I’ve seen them. Coincidence? Probably. They are white, so they’re coming from the gulls rather than our local pigeons, who are all grey. Perhaps there is a particularly scrofulous gull flying over our house every day, one with a dash of the gift,

‘Ah yes, I must drop a feather on MTM today, good things will happen to her.’

Mwahahahrgh! Or perhaps he’s just the gull equivalent of Humbert. Hmm… could be. I don’t really mind, I’ll even put up with them shitting on the conservatory roof if I can use this phase of vigorous moulting on their part to help me be positive.

It’s like the bit in Terry Pratchett where he talks about telling people stories, or at least, Granny Weatherwax does. Tiffany Aching is trying to use facts and truth and Granny Weatherwax contests that people don’t respond to facts and truth and that you must tell them stories.  Tiffany is at her wits end because a family in the village have dug their outdoor lavvy too close to the well and they keep getting ill. Despite her most earnest entreaties to move it, and despite her repeatedly explaining to them that the crap is seeping into the drinking water and making them ill Tiffany can’t galvanise them into moving their out door kharzi. They can’t be arsed. She seeks Granny Weatherwax’s advice. A few days later, Granny Weatherwax tells Tiffany she persuaded them and the two witches visit. Sure enough, the bog has been moved.

‘How did you do that?’ asks Tiffany.

‘I told them there’s goblins down it,’ says Granny Weatherwax matter of factly.

So another brief lesson about grief then, don’t be afraid to use headology on yourself! If seeing a white feather floating in the air makes me feel something good will happen, my attitude is going to be such that it probably will, even if it’s just something that mightn’t have registered on another day or in different circumstances.

But, that said, quite a lot of smashing things are happening! Here are some.

Big news this week.

Small Beginnings is now available for pre-order in some but not all places, I’ll post a proper link next week when it’s live everywhere. In the meantime, click on the picture for more information, or if you want to to, you can sign up to receive three email reminders around launch time. To do that, click the link below.

Receive a reminder when Small Beginnings comes out.

Ultimate launch date is 19th November. Feel free to tell your friends.

Eyebombing news

I have to fess up to being piss poor at posting my eyebombing recently, but I’m also hoping to organise the eyebombThereforeIAm calendar a bit more formally this year. It depends if I can get a stall at the Christmas Fayre though, and I won’t hear about THAT until Monday or Tuesday. More on that story next week.

And some even bigger news this week. Um … yeh.

So a while back a chap contacted me explaining that he was an actor and that while it was a grand and jolly life, he would quite like to do a project of his own.

[MTM waves] hello Gareth!

This being the case, he’d decided he would learn to read and produce audio books. He wanted to use something as a guinea pig while he got to grips with production skills, sound booth construction, etc, and for this purpose, he chose the K’Barthan Series.

However, he hadn’t just said he’d like to do it, he’d already recorded a rough outline of Unlucky Dip. Since then he’s recorded another one. So yesterday we had a chat on the phone about well … basically about the recordings he’d sent me, and the characters. It’s a pretty great project to be involved in when two people can spend over an hour on the phone doing silly voices at one another, and giggling, and then tell people, solemnly, that it was work. Mwahahahaahrgh! Yes he’s as nuts as I am but then, what would you expect? He likes my books!

If anyone wants a listen, you can do that by clicking the link below. It is a draft, so it isn’t nearly finished, and he’s reading it off his kindle, rather than a marked up script so he sometimes puts the emPHAsis on the wrong syllAble, but as an outline sketch I reckon it’s chuffing marvellous! He’s got Big Merv and The Pan of Hamgee, absolutely how I imagine them and he also knows how to put in the right kind of energy to bring it all to life … through the magic of acting he tells me with tongue firmly in cheek. Feel free to have a listen and let me know what you think.

Unlucky Dip Sketch Number Two

So yeh. All in all, a good week.

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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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Disappearing cats and disappearing money …

So, on the up side, I’ve written a couple of hundred words on a new story and have a good idea what it’s going to be about and who’s in it which feels wonderful. On the down side, THINGS have been fairly hectic, as usual.

First up McCar, the Noisy Cricket, has those stupid LED headlights and they broke. Usually with a car like mine you’re pretty safe on parts; my old one seemed to have a fair amount that could also be found on various Vauxhaulls (Opels if you’re outside the UK) and they were cheap so it ended up with high end Vauxhaull branded brake discs etc. Unfortunately, the headlight for this one is a sealed unit built specifically for this marque of car and they only make about 500 a year – and that’s 500 of the car, not the headlight unit, they probably make about five of those. Naturally, that means that they cost an arm and a leg.

So it was that I dropped the wretched thing off a week ago. To be honest I’ve only just got my finances back on track after the gargantuan bills I had to pay last year. On the up side, despite the massive expense, they did actually have one the mechanic could get hold of – no endless searching on the internet and having to import it from Germany which was what happened last time I had to try and replace the tyres. Indeed it was perfectly possible that the part would not only be out of stock in the UK but out of stock everywhere, rendering my car illegal – and with its MOT running out in two weeks – unusable until such time as Lotus deigned to replace their stock so I considered that a win.

Never mind, after a very pleasant day at the beach on Monday followed by supper in the garden, we sat out in the darkness, revelling in being a comfortable temperature. McCat revelled with us. When it was time to go in, McCat was being a bit coquettish.

‘I’ll just go and get the cheese,’ I said. McCat will comply with pretty much any demand if there’s cheese in the offing.

Then there was a rustle, the sound of an oversized tabby cat galloping very fast and a bang and a scrabble as he went over the fence into next door. The bloody squirrel is back, it seems. Fat, unfeasibly healthy, it’s fat face stuffed to the gunwales by everyone on the street by the looks of it. But, unfortunately, it’s still too fast and agile – both mentally and physically – for McCat. He chased the little bastard into next door and that was the last we saw of him.

We called and called but he didn’t come in. McMini was distraught as was I. McOther who dislikes McCat, was ambivalent. I had a think about the trajectory and reckoned he’d gone over the wall into next door and, possibly, over their wall into the main road beyond. Normally he doesn’t go near that but stays in the three gardens on our triangle of land or goes across the quiet residential street at the back. He is frightened of cars and petrified of lorries, haring in when the dustcart comes past on the quiet residential side. He never crosses the main road therefore, because he’s scared. Ergo, if he’d crossed it that night in the red heat of a chase, he wouldn’t be coming back over until the traffic died down. He’d be too scared.

McCat … butter wouldn’t melt

However, they were resurfacing the roundabout a few hundred yards beyond our house and the main road is never that quiet. Even so, we hoped that, if we left his food out and the cat flap open, he’d come back. But we also knew that McCat is too scared of traffic to return across a busy road that never sleeps (except for a couple of hours between two and four when the drunks walking home yelling the odds at one another take over – and no, he wouldn’t chance running past them either). Then there’s the wall, of course, five or six feet our side but about fourteen the other. A big jump to ask of a cat. Opposite is a wall of houses with doors fronting onto the street and finally, about 100 yards down, there’s a small street running to the allotments. There’s a block of flats opposite us and another street to the allotments about 50 yards up the other way. All we could think was that he’d got across the road, been frightened and run down the street to the one of the side roads, the direction of travel suggested the furthest of the two from us. It’s walled all the way along, so the allotments at the far end of it seemed like a good place to start looking.

The next morning no cat.

McOther left for work and though it was like a furnace out McMini and I popped over to our next door neighbours’ and searched their garden. Then we walked across the main road and started in the allotments behind the houses, calling as we went. After a couple of hours I began to worry about dragging a small boy around in such oven-like heat so we went home, me to make posters and McMini to whinge about how badly he needed a haircut. Although he perked up considerably once I’d given him a meal. Having consulted t’interweb, advice on line suggested talking to other neighbours or folks in nearby houses. It looked as if the best thing we could do was wait until people were coming home from work and then trudge round the nearby streets posting leaflets through their letterboxes and knocking on their doors. So, since the posters were made, McMini and I went to the barbers as it’s only at the end of the street and we handed out posters to all businesses on the way, the barbers put one up too.

I brought a stapler with me to attach posters to any posts or telegraph poles we passed. It is one of my favourite things so, naturally, I lost it, which was a massive pisser but pretty much inevitable what with the week I was having.

McMini’s hair cut complete we returned home and luckily, McOther arrived soon after as I was printing out more posters and also flyers. I’d shared McCat all over social media, which had met with a wonderful response, and was pointed in the direction of some excellent local lost cat groups – it’s definitely worth searching Facebook for lost pets groups in your town if you lose one. One of the lost cats groups had some great advice about what to do if your cat goes missing. They’d said that usually cats will be hiding close by, scared to come home. That figured, I was sure that’s what ours was doing, but opposite was a wall of houses and I reckoned he was behind them. I just needed to get into people’s gardens and to do that, as the advice said, I needed to knock on the doors of the ten nearest houses to ours.

We were all worried, it was now nearly 24 hours since McCat had gone missing, it was boiling hot and unless he was lucky enough to be hiding near some water, McCat would have had nothing to drink in all that time. He’d be very dehydrated as well as hungry. The heat being what it was, I doubted I had too much time to find him before he became really ill.

McOther happily at home and McMini with him, I headed off alone to start door knocking on the quiet side of our plot, mainly because I hadn’t looked there at all yet and wanted to try and cover all the surrounding area as quickly as I could. Then I crossed the main road and started on the other side from us. I posted leaflets in all the houses because nobody was in, or answering. I also put posters up along all the telegraph poles in the road where all the back gates were, which ran parallel to the main road, behind the houses, along the edge of the allotments. At last I came to the neighbours opposite. They live in an old house next door to a Victorian building which has been converted into flats. Their main entrance is at the side, and they and the Victorian flats share parking. The opposite neighbour didn’t answer.

As I wondered what to do next, I wasn’t sure there was much point in disturbing the people in the flats, I noticed the car park went round behind them. I walked past the building to have a look. There was a small brick outhouse built onto the back, about the size of a garden shed, with an open door which revealed it to be full of bicycles. I wondered if I should go look when a voice called out asking what I was doing. It was the opposite neighbour, who hadn’t answered the door, calling from a first floor window. I retraced my steps and explained that I was looking for my cat and she said she’d keep an eye out for him. Then I stuck a leaflet in the door of the first flat and decided that, now she knew that I wasn’t a burglar casing the joint, maybe I could go back and have a better look at the shed. Standing at the corner, I looked at the open door a few yards away, screwing up the courage to trespass and go closer. I took a couple of paces and stopped. I was sure I heard a meow.

‘McCat?’ I called.

The meow got louder. It was definitely a yell-for-help kind of meow.

I moved closer, and called again. Inside the outhouse/porch some sheets of plywood leant against the wall and now, as I moved slowly towards them, a wide-eyed tabby face appeared from the darkness underneath them.

Gently, I approached him, talking to him all the while, because I wasn’t sure if he’d take off. Once I was within a couple of feet of his hiding place I stopped. I didn’t want to crowd him. He crept out, keeping low in case the sky fell on him, shimmied under the pedals of one of the bicycles and inched towards me. I was keenly aware that the road was busy, that I didn’t have a cat box and that he might not let me catch him. He was still meowing loudly, presumably expressing his relief at being found, explaining what a terrible time he’d had, how frightening his night and day in the outhouse had been and telling me he was hungry.

‘Are you going to let me pick you up?’ I asked, I wasn’t sure he would.

But when I reached down, he let me pick him up without demur and possibly with something approaching relief, flopping against me.

Now to get him back across the road. Gulp.

I held onto his back feet with one hand and kept the other arm round him. He leaned against me rather than trying to escape to something more interesting the way he usually does. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait ages by the side of the road for a gap in the traffic. He flinched as the cars passed but didn’t try and run. Talking to him, and nuzzling his head with my cheek to reassure him, I walked briskly across the main road and down a small side road to our back gate. I managed to retrieve my keys from my pocket without dropping him, opened the gate and put him down just inside. He trotted into the garden where he was greeted by a very happy little boy.

Thank heavens for that, as now I could go to visit Mum on Wednesday without the worry of leaving McCat at large up here.

Other news, I’ve started writing again, only a little bit but I see it as a result. I have to write a story by 15th September. I have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen and who is in it, it’s just a case of whether I can write 15k in the time. McMini goes back to school on 4th so it could well happen. It depends on the Dad stuff. I still get waves of sadness and I expect I will for sometime but it seems to be a little less grim now and Mum seems a lot better too, which is brilliant, and it’s great to chat to her about it on Wednesdays. The writers’ group I’m in also met yesterday, which was great fun, as always, and just as they were leaving I got a message that the car was all fixed, which was brilliant. All the more so because the bill, though big, was much lower than I expected. It will be a while before I can get the rest of the new books edited, but perhaps not as long as I thought.

A traumatic week then! But all in all, it turned out pretty well in the end.

 

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Random stuff …

Today, I’m slightly short of inspiration. I wanted to write something smart and pithy but frankly, while I’m habitually too pithy much of the time, I’ve been the antithesis of smart for some months now. Even so, the Dad dust is settling I think, or at least, beginning to die down – I still owe a lot of people letters, though, sorry if you’re one of them.

While we were on holiday I did dip a cautious toe into writing again. OK so it was only a few hundred words and constipation and brain fog week hit immediately afterwards scuppering it at once but it was there and that’s progress. It’s not beyond the realms that I’ll get a submission in for Christmas Lites this year, it depends how the holidays and the first week of term go. Meanwhile Mum seems a lot chirpier and is starting to do things again, pottering in the kitchen and the garden, she’s much chattier and happier and a great deal more alert which is wonderful.

When it comes to me though, I am less than alert. Just before my holiday, I managed to lose my penknife and then proceeded to lose the replacement in less than 24 hours. I had a back up but it wasn’t very sharp so I managed to make a pretty good effort at cutting the top of my finger off  with it while trying to help myself to a slice of cheese while we were away. I inadvertently brought the SD stick I own with a back up of my entire computer hard drive, and all my photos, and then, realising what I had done, instead of hiding it in the deepest, darkest, chasms of my bag so I’d not lose it, I tucked it carefully away on the bedside shelves at the hotel and left it there when we departed.

On the last day of our holiday we were in a hotel with a self service breakfast bar. Like many of them, it had one of those egg boilers, you know the kind of thing a tank of water with a lid and you put a raw egg in a kind of wire mesh spoon/cup with a long hooked handle. Then you put the egg in the water, hooking the end of the spoon/cup over the side, put the lid on and turn it up so it boils.

///roped.luckier.truce
///hubcap.collaboration.regiment

While I was waiting for them to replenish the supply of pancakes, I decided I’d do a hard boiled egg and then keep it for my lunch. When I came to the boiler there’d been some accidents. A half peeled egg and another unpeeled virgin boiled egg lay in the bottom where, presumably, they had irretrievably escaped from their spoon/cup things. Knowing how long eggs can take in these boilers, I toyed with the idea of retrieving the lost eggs of others rather than cooking my own. I have learned, the hard way, that you need to leave the eggs in a fair while even if you are savvy enough to know that you must turn it up because it may take five minutes to come to the boil. Get this wrong and, three hours later, you peel your egg in famished anticipation only to discover the yolk and most of the white are raw. Tempted though I was to remove the eggs from the bottom since the half peeled one, at any rate, was definitely cooked. It occurred to me that they might be a bit too cooked, nobody likes a raw egg, but no-one likes an egg that’s come through cooked and out the other side to bouncy, indestructible rubberiness either. I turned the boiler right up and left the egg in there while I had my pancakes.

Later as we were leaving the hotel, I was convinced that I’d forgotten something. Something important, but I couldn’t remember what – I left the SD stick at a different hotel – so it wasn’t that, anyway, at this point, I thought I still had it. There I was racking my brains as we left the car park when I remembered!

‘On no!’ I said.

McOther stopped the car.

‘What is it?’ he asked, his voice full of concern.

‘I forgot my egg.’

Guffaws from the back!

‘Oh my god Dad! She’s channelling Pops! D’you want to go back? You do don’t you? You’ve got to go back because it’s food!’ said McMini.

I looked at my watch.

‘Alas, it’s after ten, they’ll have cleared it away … Pity, I was really looking forward to that egg.’

This escapade made me feel very at one with my dad (as did losing so many Important Items over the holiday – not to mention inadvertently bringing one with me in order to lose it really thoroughly, the hotel are looking but are not optimistic about finding it). But on the egg front, especially, I was extremely disappointed and I know Dad would have felt similar disappointment and probably expressed it in a very similar way. Never mind, it may chalk us both up as nutters, but if I can be half the human being he was, I’ll be very happy.

Back to writing. I noticed a post on a metal detecting group I follow about an app that’s pure genius. What3Words was invented by a guy who realised that you could break the entire GPS grid up into 3 metre x 3 metre squares and each one has a three word code. There are trillions of squares but only 40,000 words are needed which is amazing. It’s accurate but it’s also genius because by using words it uses less memory and works on nanky old machines where new stuff won’t. It also means the phone doesn’t have to have a signal for it to work.

The thing is, if you’re a metal detectorist you want to know what your GPS coordinates are when you find something good because you need to log it on the national finds database. With this app you can find your three word location, even when your phone has no signal. And of course, when you get home, you can convert those three words to GPS coordinates from inside the app at the touch of a button.

As an example of what the coordinates look like in what three words, the door of number ten Downing Street is ///slurs.this.shark but the spot across the road where the press usually stand is ///stage.pushy.nuns.

Taking another example of coordinates: I grew up in a school and the spot where my old bedroom is located is the intersection between four squares. These squares are: ///blockage.year.rally ///impeached.front.mistress ///mocked.curly.eyelashes and ///digested.starch.gravy. Meanwhile our lavatory was situated at ///spoil.infects.severe which sounds about right to be honest.

Any writers reading will already see where I’m going with this. Somehow, despite these three words being random meaningless phrases, I found that as I looked up places that had been part of my life or just randomly stuck my finger on countries around the globe I began to see these three words as reading like some cryptic story. Mocked curly eyelashes and digested starch gravy are just asking to be turned into flash fiction aren’t they?  And what’s a front mistress and why was she impeached?

The best one I’ve found so far is in Russia somewhere on what looks like a building site from the satellite images ///Mondays.smugly.coping. Clearly someone who starts the week in a better frame of mind than I do.

 

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My Ann Elk theory on OCD and authordom

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

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

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

Angry Pam

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

Pont a whatchewmecallit – up top RH by the gum

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

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

Fascinating right?

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

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

He also said,

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

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

 

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There may be trouble ahead … #dementia

This week I was going to give you the results of the title poll and show you the new covers and blurbs for my series. But now I have to make chocolate cakes for McMini to sell to unsuspecting victims passers by to try and raise cash for a class outing after their SATS exams are over, so this has to be a brain dump rather than the kind of post I think about.

It’s a bit of a living parable of the talents this. McMini and three friends have been given five pounds to buy stuff to sell, but there are only two in action today and the one with the five pounds isn’t coming so it appears that I must buy the plastic cups and local friend’s mum must stump up for the drinks. There is no publicity material, none of the little darlings has thought to do posters or even price tags … or even about what they are selling. Never mind. We shall see what we can do. The weather is perking up a bit so it may work out quite well. Especially if I end up taking a tray of cakes to the market and haranguing passers buy until they buy one, like some ancient disabled Apprentice contestant. Here’s hoping.

Anyway, when it comes to brain barf the topic at the forefront of my mind is, as usual, Dad.

Dad’s been a bit low the last couple of weeks and it’s been tough. I may have hinted at that.

The thing is, when I went on holiday, I left Dad cheerfully demented, living in the home and convinced, successfully, that his station there was temporary. Unfortunately, he’s become very scared of falling – this may be due to the fact that he kind of collapsed, back in February. That was how he ended up in hospital. So he may have some kind of memory of that. As a result he can’t walk at all and we can’t lift him, which means it’s difficult to take him out, although I guess if they put him into the car, we could take him for a drive. I’ll have to have a think about that. But even if they do, if something happens, it’s very hard for us to get him out so it still makes going for a drive tricky.

It’s strange how people with dementia do remember some things, or hold on to echoes. Case in point my mum. Mum only has a light dose but where it gets her is she will have a bad – or good – experience doing something she regularly does and from then on, conflate doing that thing with it being bad (or good). More on that story … later. Back to Dad.

When I left to go on holiday, early April, Dad was chirpy. He called my name as I walked into the home and as I was having a meeting with the home manager, social worker and some others, I had to go into the office but I popped over and told him that I just had to go to the loo and would be back. He accepted that happily. Meeting completed, he had been waiting for me to come back and still remembered that I was going to come back from the loo even though we’d been an hour. We had a very good visit with Dad. I had decided to visit Dad every other week, so the next week I went to visit just Mum and went on holiday  heartened that they both seemed to be doing well.

Apart from a small blip during the holiday when I thought I’d have to fly home – Mum had a fall and was taken into hospital with a suspected stroke but she was just stiff and cold from lying on the floor against a radiator for two hours. She has an amazing bruise and is in pain but basically a lot better. My dear brother whisked her off to his house for Easter where everyone had a lovely time.

Long and the short of it was, I didn’t see Dad for a month. Sometime in that month, Dad has just kind of … stopped. You see, up until now, visiting Dad has always been like seeing a healthy person, if demented. He’s been full of beans. Yes he dozes but he chats and although he’s completely demented he still makes the running. Dad always knows I’m Mary and understands that he loves me, even if he’s not quite sure where I fit in. Usually, I just let him work it out because it only takes him a few seconds and if he forgets for any longer than that it’s because he’s panicking about it. The only time he has forgotten was a few months ago, when he was still living at home and from the point of view of switched on-ness (is that even a word) was rather worse than now, he asked me who the hell I was and why I was calling him ‘Dad’.

I was a bit stumped, but I reckoned that suddenly discovering he had a daughter might come as a shock at his age so I thought it best to just let him remember in his own time. I didn’t answer the who are you question but just said,

‘Would you rather I called you John?’

‘Yes please,’ he said.

So I did. Within about thirty seconds he had worked out exactly who I was, I made some joke or other and he laughed and said, ‘that’s no way to speak to your father’ and I was able to go back to calling him Dad again. That’s the only time he’s forgotten.

Three weeks ago, just after I’d got back from holiday, when I talked to Mum about going to see him, she told me it wouldn’t be much fun. She explained that he was refusing all food and that it would be lucky if he opened his eyes. I thought it would be Mum confusing one bad visit with all visits. I rang the home to check. It wasn’t.

Yes, they confirmed, Dad is refusing food a lot of the time. They had proscribed a brief course of steroids to try and make him a bit hungrier but his fluid and food intake was very low and he’d lost 15kg in a very short time. I felt very sad and asked what we could do. The manager said that both she and the doctor felt that Dad has probably had enough but to bring things he liked to eat to see if we could tempt him.

When I arrived, I found him sitting in a chair, asleep with his head on his chest. His refusal to eat has caused such a rapid weight loss that he looks like a concentration camp victim. I took his hand and he said, very quietly, go away. I positioned myself so he could look at my face and told him,

‘You know you’ve got a daughter, Mary.’

‘Yes,’ he whispered.

‘Well that’s me, I’ve come to see you.’

‘Oh,’ he said, brightening slightly, and then he closed his eyes and went back to sleep but didn’t take his hand away when I held it.

I offered him Turkish delight, which he loves, and some jelly babies, also a firm favourite. He refused both with a grunt of dismissal. There wasn’t much to do after that so I sat for ten minutes holding his hand. Then I remarked that our hands were getting a bit sweaty and that I was going to let go. He didn’t react.

If I’d thought, I’d have brought some writing and just sat with him for half an hour because I’m sure he’d have appreciated someone just hanging out with him, even if he didn’t have the energy to interact. But I hadn’t.

Unsure as to what to do next, I got out my phone, looked up Gutenberg and read him a Beatrix Potter book that he and Mum had always read to my brother and I as children; the Fierce Bad Rabbit. He made no acknowledgement but Maurice, sitting next to him clearly enjoyed it immensely so at least it wasn’t wasted.

There was music playing, toe-curlingly awful, over produced love songs. Neither songs nor artists were recognisable, it was more of a kind of, ‘your favourite Kareoke artistes sing songs that sound a bit like hits but never were because they’re really shit…’ all with horrible 1980s style electric piano. Pop composed and produced by numbers. Dad hates pop music so I felt very sorry for him but on the flip side not everyone likes every kind of music and there are lots of folks in there, some of whom may loathe the kind of classical music he loves. Even so, it was so awful that half an hour with Dad was going to be a tall order for me. I thought how grim it must have been for him. No wonder he didn’t want to open his eyes.

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.

Poor Dad.

On the upside, everyone was up and dressed and sitting in the light airy sun lounge. The staff are kind and attentive, they always chat to the residents and treat them with dignity. They interact with the residents, and one another with good humour and kindness. The staff to resident ratio is good because they are all together. Some stare into space, some sleep like Dad, some are a little agitated, some chat to one another. The atmosphere is happy and if Dad has to listen to a bit of music he doesn’t like sometimes, then, in the grand scheme of things, I’d say it’s probably worth it for the other benefits of living there.

After twenty minutes I gave him a kiss, said goodbye and left. He made no acknowledgement. I cried a lot of the way home.

The next week visibility was at 100 yards max the whole drive down. It was a horrific and slow drive, the A23 was three into one, the A272 was blocked by an accident just as I turned onto it and when I finally got to the tiny lane that leads to the home Dad is in the fucking gas board were digging it up and it, too was closed. Bollocks, I thought, I’ll go have a look and if it’s near the top I’ll park and walk the rest of the way. I was, I’m afraid, a bit sweary with the workmen who leapt out and stopped me as I turned in.

‘How closed is it?’ I asked them. ‘I’m going to the windmill. Can’t I just park half way up and walk the rest of the way?’

They explained that I couldn’t.

‘Then please tell me how the fuck I get up there?’ I ranted.

‘Listen, there’s no need to use that kind of language,’ said one.

I apologised and told them I’d been on the road for three and a half hours instead of two and a quarter, that every chuffing road I’d come to had been closed and that I had to visit my father who was rather grimly unwell. They were actually very sweet after that, probably because it was becoming abundantly clear that I was on the brink of crying copious tears of frustration and that the sweary anger was merely an avoidance tactic. They explained there were diversion signs. There weren’t, or at least, only in the opposite direction, but luckily my phone had a decent signal and Mrs Google knew the way.

On the upside, the visit was better. Dad hailed me when I arrived, we had a lovely chat, I persuaded him to drink some water. He’s still very quiet though and this time they were playing some teeth-gratingly cheerful rock n roll music (again, not by the original artists). He was just being transferred to a chair and I asked if they could put him in another room away from the music. I explained that playing him pop music was a special kind of torture for him. They put some classical on bless ’em. He has been eating ice cream and drinking a bit more apparently. He asked me questions, the way he usually does, and dozed fitfully in between. He was delighted to hear that his grandchildren, on both sides, are involved in plays – Dad was a great actor, really good. He could have done it professionally had he not wanted to be a teacher, instead, pretty much from the point he was old enough to know what a career was.

Anyway, he was delighted as my brother and I are funny but our minis are like Dad and can act properly, which is rather splendid especially for him. He was very aware who they were, delighted they were acting in things and his face lit up when I mentioned them all. So that was grand.

I didn’t tell him that McMini had a nightmare about the Dolmio couple smashing down the door with axes and telling him he was the special ingredient of their bolognaise sauce. Or about McMini’s solution in the dream, which was to beat the Dolmios to death, with our cat’s help. I also demurred from explaining how ‘Dolmio Couple’ has now become a playground game at McMini’s school! I’m telling you though, because I think it’s hilarious and it these McMini-isms and McOther’s wry humour, have probably kept my sanity in tact over these past few years of dementia grimness. But back to Dad.

One of the questions he asked was why he was there, I told him there’d been a leak at home and a flood and that he couldn’t return until it was fixed so he had to stay in this hotel.

‘Fucking stupid!’ he said but he accepted it.

‘Indeed,’ I agreed.

Lunch arrived, which he refused but I told him ice cream was on its way, gave him a hug and left.

I walked out backwards (rather carefully as I didn’t want to trip over any of the other residents) while waving at him. He waved back at me, both hands, big cheery grin. Suddenly he was Dad again, he waved, I waved and we laughed at one another. We carried on until I was too far away for him to see clearly and assuming I’d gone, he put his head on his chest and closed his eyes but this time, he gave off an aura of quiet contentment.

That was better, and after really not having the energy after her fall, Mum finally made it to see him the next day and had a decent visit, herself. He told her he wanted to go home too. But ‘home’ to Dad is actually a house in Eastbourne that he lived in for a couple of years while he was 8 and 9. He can never go there. It doesn’t belong to us. He understands that Mum lives at ‘home’ but doesn’t always recognise the name of the house when we say it. In short he is stuck in some kind of horrific limbo. Mum said she’d happily bring Dad back to live with her again if she thought it would work but we know it wouldn’t. He would be miserable and confused, the way he was before. That’s the epic cruelty of it, because even if the loved ones were familiar to him, the house would be strange and he wouldn’t understand. He’d go completely psychotic again.

Most dementia patients seem to reach this stage. Partly the not eating is about control, yes or no to food and drink are the only decisions Dad has any power over. But also, there seems to come a time when many dementia patients give up and decide enough is enough.

It looks like Dad has reached the ‘enough’ stage. Both the lovely lady who runs the home and his doctor think he has. In some ways, that’s a positive if he is reconciled to his decision. From what I understand, this stage usually lasts anything from a few months to a couple of years. Even so, while I thought it would be a relief to reach it, now we’re here, it isn’t. Instead it’s heart rendingly sad. And I think that is probably because, for the first time, visiting Dad is like visiting someone who’s ill. Not a healthy demented man but a man who is sick, and hasn’t the energy to engage the way he wants. Except maybe Dad doesn’t want to engage much.

A friend of mine whose mother has Alzheimer’s told me how her mum said that sometimes she was exhausted trying to make sense of it all. And I suspect that’s what happens. It just gets too exhausting and they can’t be arsed anymore. To be honest, I hope that’s where Dad is. That he’s all square with the world, ready to leave it and calmly making his own quiet exit.

The trouble is, it doesn’t always feel as if he’s given up. Sometimes it feels as if he’s still fighting but has lost the battle. It feels different. It feels as if he’s broken. Acquiescence is one thing, but defeat is altogether different. All I can hope is that it’s a case, not so much of defeat, as having reached skirmishing stage. Dad rises to the fight of … being … some days, and wins, but maybe, in order to have the energy to do so, he has to let the disease hold the territory on others. Perhaps he’s pacing himself? Or perhaps it’s just that when he can’t be arsed he seems discontent because he’s pissed off with the whole business, which is fair enough, and logical, and not quite the same as discontent. I hope so.

There’s no answer now and few positives to be made of it. I can only pray for gentleness from the world for Dad, or do I mean a state of grace? If he is experiencing any inner turmoil I pray that it will swiftly cease and that he will live the rest of his days, be they months or years, in a state of peaceful, contented calm.

We’re arranging for his parish priest to come and see him. He’ll probably tell her to fuck off, but even if that’s all he does, I am certain it will help.

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Feels like Friday!

Shall I let you into a secret? This is my favourite time of the year. Especially Epiphany (next Sunday).

Don’t panic! It’s 2019.

Why? Because I get to look back at what I’ve achieved in a good year, and on to what I might achieve – I might do a bit more looking forward than back if I’ve had a bad year but that’s the loveliness of it. It’s only the beginning of the year so there’s that glorious, clean-page feeling you can only possibly enjoy during the few, early weeks have when you haven’t fucked anything up yet.

Then there’s the fact the days are getting longer, the bulbs are beginning to peep through, the birds are suddenly singing a LOT louder. There is a buzz and energy to everything, as if nature knows that no matter how cold it might yet get and no matter how mid winter it actually still is, we have turned the corner. It’s a kind of school’s out feeling.

The big one, of course, is that Christmas is over, I am no longer writing lists, trying to remember all the things I am supposed to do, or trying to work out if I’ve posted the Christmas cards or remembered to buy more stamps. There’s no travel, no wondering, nervously, if I’ve booked the cat in kennels on the right dates even though I know I’ve checked and re-checked. There’s no packing or making sure that lots of things are clean so I can just put one suitcase down in the hall and pick up the other one as we make a quick 24 hour pit stop at home on the way from Scotland to Sussex, or vice versa.

There’s none of the omnipresent worry, the feeling I’ve forgotten something. Nor, indeed, the very real danger of causing horrific offence though some gifting oversight or greetings-related vaguary. No trying to recall if I’ve sent that calendar to Aunt Ada, and if I have, whether Aunt Doris should have one too, or whether I put a family letter in Cousin Mabel’s card. Or have I sent the right cards to the right halves of the divorcees? I did catch myself in time before I posted a card to the lady half of a divorced couple in the envelope addressed to her ex. That was close.

There’s no fielding all the calls from people who want to know how Mum and Dad are but are too shy to call direct, ‘because we know your father’s ill and we haven’t heard anything’. No more trying to explain to them that they haven’t heard anything because my father is ill, not because my mother doesn’t want to call for another year. No more efforts to try and underline, gently, that Mum would love to hear from them but that she has a dash of dementia too, now, and that they haven’t heard because they need to call her.

Doing Christmas and New Year is like sitting a rather onorous set of exams.  It’s alright if you are prepared but I am not always prepared because … life.

Christmas and New Year require me to be a grown up, be the matriarch and generally do adulting, hard.

Adulting is not something I do well.

Epiphany, on the other hand, is when I come out the other end, exams sat, adulting done, no clue as to the results but nothing more than the thank you letters to worry about, which are usually done by that time because even if they feel like pulling teeth, they’re the last push, the the last bit of grown-up-ness between me and freedom, and it always feels good to get them finished by the first weekend in January so I can relax.

There is the glorious revelling in the knowledge that Next Christmas and New Year are about as far away as it is possible for them to be. That smug feeling you get buying next year’s wrapping paper and Christmas cards for a third of the price in the sales and putting them away. There’s the fabulous relief that all the weird people who love Christmas and bang on about it from about July will actually shut the fuck up about it for a couple of months. No more Christmas jumper pictures on Facebook. Woot. But I suppose, most importantly, after a month or two of frenetic planning and pretending to be a grown up, Epiphany brings a bit of space, some time to reflect on the past year and look at what I have – or haven’t – done. And with that, usually, comes a feeling of great peace.

Next year is going to be tough but we’ll get through somewhow.

This year, I have learned that I need to write to maintain my sanity. More importantly, as well as learning that I needed to do that, I learned how to. I have not been so calm for a long time – don’t get excited it’s all relative, I’m still bouncing about like a kernel in a popcorn maker and I am still exasperated by trivial and mundane things. I still get menopausally, hormonally, mental baggage-ly angry about ridiculously small stuff and end up shouting at strangers but … er hem … in a more relaxed and benign way. Phnark.

So yeh. Very little has changed, except the gargantuan word total, there just seems to have been this weird shift in the way I look at it. It’s not all roses, but it’s not all stingy nettles and jaggy brambles anymore, either!

I am aware that my feeling of peace is probably nothing more than the calm before the storm but I’ll enjoy it while it’s here. As for 2019, I know some things are going to be grim, but I’m still looking forward to it, I’m still hopeful and still intrigued as to what it will bring.

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