Tag Archives: I fucked this up so you don’t have to

Still hanging in there …

Still here … 🙂

There’s been a bit of a long break and I thought I should probably pop in here, if only to reassure you that I’m still alive. There is a reason for my absence. First up, I was away on holiday for two weeks, during which I incredibly cleverly managed to get COVID 19. We all had it, the boys for a couple of days each. Me? Like all colds it went on for chuffing ever. First a week of really bad allergies during which I consulted a pharmacist in the resort and as it only appeared at night she reckoned I was right in thinking it was allergies.

Then, on our last day at the ski resort, I woke up with a temperature and a full blown cold (I get a temperature for the first couple of days with most colds, I’m rubbish at them). The cold turned into a two week sinus infection. After that there was a period where I felt very post viral. Once I’d been clear five days I went to church (I sing in the choir) and at the end of the first hymn I was surprised at how weak and sweaty I felt. I think it’s pretty much gone now but I’m still really tired and I feel terrible about all the people I met and spoke to over the second week on holiday, when I was huffing COVID cooties over everything. I sincerely hope I didn’t give it to any of them.

On the up side, although I didn’t know it was COVID I knew I had a cold and I felt it was only polite, in the current pandemic, to wear my mask for every and any interaction with other people. I also sanitised my hands to the point where they were so sticky I could probably have used them to climb up the sheer sides of glass buildings. Probably.

Hopefully all that protected everyone from me. I think masks probably stop more coming out than they stop going in. I hope so. The fact it was Easter and everything was shut also helped as it meant I didn’t sit in restaurants infecting people the way I might have done if any of them had been open.

While I was feeling drippy and post viral, I ditched anything that I absolutely didn’t have to do. So that meant everything except a bit of writing here and there, my monthly newsletter and Mum stuff, of which there is a craptonne right now. I also included ditching the blog. Although, I’m beginning to think that ditching blogging might not have been such a good idea. Not in the long run.

Overwhelm

I didn’t mean to talk about this today, but I’m going to because, fuck it, this is my blog after all.

The thing is. The Mum stuff has been really hard. There was so much of it that at first I was afraid (I was petrified!) Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side. At first I did just go into fluffy-bunny-in-the-headlights mode but after a few weeks of going, ‘shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!’ I managed to belt up and did what I always do in situations like this. Ignored it and pretended it would go away. No! I stopped looking at how much there was to do and divided it up into little tasks; began at the edges if you like, chipping away at it one small job at a time. Phone this, post that, check these etc. Trying to do one small thing each day.

Net result; I’ve finally broken the back of it. I should be smug and yet, I still feel a bit overwhelmed with it all at the moment. I know why, too. I’m coming up to the anniversary of Dad’s death and I miss him, real him. When Dad was sliding into insanity, I could always ask Mum stuff. But now Dad has gone and Mum is sliding into insanity and there is no-one to talk to. Well no, there is but I’m making these decisions without the ultimate authoritative input of the demented person’s spouse, whereas when we made them about Dad it was simply a case of discussing it with Mum.

This is the hardest and loneliest thing I’ve done. It’s worse because I know my brother doesn’t really agree with what I’m doing. I love my brother dearly and I don’t want to fall out with him but the stress of continually going against what he wants, and what is actually the most sensible course of action, is a bit grim. The trouble is, the sensible thing isn’t what’s best for Mum, and if I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror every morning for the rest of my life, then I have to do what Mum wants. Even if she is as mad as a box of frogs. Even if, were I to ask her aged 50, she’d be horrified. It’s a bit of a shit position to be in.

Also, with the mountain of stuff I had to do, and the fact I was recovering from COVID and couldn’t do much else, I did have to have a bit of a sprint at it eventually. Drop everything and sort it. This approach is OK for a short time but with the COVID it went on longer and … I suppose I’ve looked too hard into the face of Mum’s dementia for too long and that always leads to trouble.

The trick with dragging the millstone up the hill is to know what’s happening but at the same time, not acknowledge it. Like some warped Magic Eye picture, I can see the image but I mustn’t uncross my eyes and let reality creep in or I will be undone, and god knows I can’t be undone.

If I allow myself to think about what is happening in the wrong way—or at all really—there are tears. But not useful, get-it-all-out tears. They’re the pointless crappy ones that achieve nothing and just fill your nose with snot.

Also. I’m so fucking angry. I’m absolutely incandescent that my parents were promised free health care and then, at a point when it was too late for them to do anything about it or plan for alternatives, it was taken away. Oh I could rail against the Government, and NHS’s institutionalised discrimination against certain mental illnesses while it happily treats others but what’s the fucking point? I could write letters, I could write to my MP and get the usual boilerplate reply referring me to the statements she has made about the issues that most concern her  on her website. She doesn’t even pretend to give a shit.

All it will get me is a sore throat or numb fingers. I could keep on asking the powers that be why, if two people have the exact same symptoms, one can be treated on the NHS for free and the other is forced to pay—not just their money but their house, possessions and everything they own, simply because their illness has a specific name. I could ask why people with dementia are taxed to the tune of all they own, unless they’re fortunate enough to die first. I could ask them if that’s just. Or right. Or building back better.

I suppose it might make me feel I’d made myself heard but I doubt it. Trying to do anything about it is like pissing in a wetsuit. Doubtless it will give me a nice warm feeling for a moment or two but it’ll make fuck all difference in the long run.

And I suppose it doesn’t help that we seem to have one of the most morally destitute bunch of stone-hearted cocksuckers ever to darken the doors of Parliament running this country right now. A bunch of feckless, misogynistic lounge lizards who also, unfortunately, appear to be completely teflon.

We have someone at the head of the nation who is an international joke and, possibly, one of the most unsympathetic and bone-headed premiers since Cromwell. Except, stone-hearted, empathy-free bastard that he might have been, at least Cromwell appears to have had some kind of moral compass and seems to have genuinely believed he was acting to help his people rather than just blatantly helping himself.

The present shower appear to pride themselves on having the kind of moral standards that make the Emperor Nero look like an exceedingly uptight nun.

Sorry, where was I?

Mum stuff and it being hard. I guess what makes it hard is that everything takes ages. Twenty minutes on hold, minimum, for a three minute telephone conversation. Then there’s the whole fact that we are mortgaging Mum’s house so we are basically gambling on how long she has to live. And we can only mortgage half so if she lives more than four and a half years, we’ll have to sell the house and move her into a home anyway.

Then

I guess what I’m saying is that it is possible I need to do some serious self care.

If you are looking after someone with dementia, this is probably the point where you’re hoping I’m going to share some amazing coping mechanism with you, right? God in heaven! I wish I could. But to be honest there just isn’t one. I guess the almighty (who I’m also pissed off with about this) has just decided that the camel WILL through the eye of the needle and 50% of people over 70 will get gold plated entry into the Kingdom of God by din’t of a whistle stop visit to hell before they die. Going nuts and spending everything they own on care.

Seriously though, one of the things not writing my blog for a few weeks has taught me is that actually, it’s pretty vital I that write my blog. By venting all the anger and weirdness and tension on here I get to be effortlessly normal in the Real World.

Well. No. That’s not exactly true. Normality is always an effort but you get the picture I’m sure.

For example, having a Basil Fawlty style rant on here and will make people laugh. It might make them think and it might make them sympathetic but by making it funny and airing it here I can cut the sense of overwhelm I feel down to a manageable size. Laugh at it and it loses it’s power and all that.

Conversely, having a Basil Fawlty style rant in real life leads to awkward silences. I’m clearly not funny enough to carry it off face on. Or maybe I’m just too desperate and too angry. Like a young woman I saw on Live at the Apollo a few years ago who did a fabulous stand up routine about nursing her mother through cancer. It was so powerful, but it was also painfully raw and the audience looked like they wanted to hug her, not laugh.

Even worse, by not ranting it all out here, it spills out when I talk to Real People. Yes, I have fallen into a terrible habit. When people ask how I am, I’m fucking well going and telling them.

This is not good. This is so, so not good.

I do not want to turn into the kind of person people hide under parked cars to avoid. I don’t want to be the dear woman my mother used to hide in the coat cupboard from (she was lovely but she was enduring very tough times and she talked soooo much).

Am I there yet? I don’t fucking know! But I fear I’m perilously close. I’m going to meet up with some of my old school friends this week and I am actually quite nervous. I have lost so many friends by meeting them during a crisis after a long time apart and then being too intense, too weird and too chatty to the point where they quietly delete my details from their address books and move house.

A big part of the stress is that I’m appalling at this stuff. Seriously. In my 20s, I had an IQ of 149. One point off genius level. But the side of my brain for maths is … it’s so stupid. Brain 1 is sitting there looking on in complete incredulity as Brain 2 tries to understand compound interest. One side of the house is mercury quick, the other is like wading through semi congealed tar. It’s weird and frustrating and thank God McOther has agreed to attend the mortgage meetings with me so there is someone there to ask pertinent questions and understand it all straight off.

Then there’s a fair bit of guilt. One of the things that cropped up, doing all of this, was how badly I’ve taken my eye off the ball. I confess that while Mum was reasonably well and not deteriorating as much, I kind of let things slide. I wrote stuff and did things with my spare time that normal people might do. IE nothing particularly looking-after-Mum related. She was very frail after Dad died, and although I knew that the Almighty is far too hell bent on crapping on us all from the stratosphere to do us the mercy of having Mum’s money outlast her, there were three years of it and logic said it should.

I really should have known. Again, it might be easier for us to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than to enter the kingdom of God but I’m sure that, with the help of a blender I could— yeh alright. Moving on.

Returning to my derelict duties I discovered that Mum’s payments from Dad’s work pension had stopped and that she is on the lower rate for one of her benefits when she should have been on the higher one since she started to need carers at night (April 2019).

Gulp.

On top of that, I realised that if the council tax definition of severely mentally impaired goes on levels of dementia alone, she should be eligible for a council tax disregard, which means her council tax payments are waived. As these are over three grand a year it seemed quite a good idea to get the forms for those and ask her Doctor if he was prepared to sign them. If he doesn’t, I am now at the point where I can safely say I’m spending over 35 hours a week on Mum and I will claim carer’s allowance with a clear conscience, instead, and bung some of that her way. (You can’t do both).

None of this is quick. Oh my goodness no. But I stayed on hold for the prerequisite 20 minute plus to each of the august bodies I was required to contact and got the forms sent out. In the case of the pension, although Mum had signed a chitty to say they could talk to me, it was too long ago. They gave me an email address to send my power of attorney to and then told me I’d have to wait 10 – 12 working days before it would be ‘on the system’ and I could ring to ask my question again, at which point, they assured me that they’d answer it. I put a note in my diary to ring on the magic day and relaxed knowing the forms would arrive at Mum’s while I was away and I could pick them up a couple of days after getting home.

But then I arrived home and discovered I had bastard COVID and I couldn’t get to Mum’s to pick the forms up before they expired.

Can you guess what happened next kids?

Urgh. Yes. That’s right. I had to phone them all again. I swear the Man has decided that the new way to keep us down will be to give us pointless shit to do, like sitting on hold for a fucking eternity to ask a question that is answered in about ten seconds.

So over the past couple of days I’ve been writing covering letters and filling in forms. In black ink and in capitals. Needless to say, I ballsed up the forms extensively but hey, Tippex is my friend. I sent one form to Mum’s for her to sign with instructions to the carers as to what they needed to add (her list of meds) and bless them, she signed the forms yesterday and they put them in the post. So that’s one job done that I’ve been meaning to get round to for several months.

Meanwhile at the beginning of the week, I sat down with the next round of paperwork the mortgage broker had sent, filled that in, decided how much we needed to borrow and sent it off.

Yesterday, I filled in the council tax form and sent it to Mum’s doctor, with an SAE to send it back if he signs it. Once that comes back to me I can send that on, or apply for carer’s allowance if he can’t sign without a pukka diagnosis. Mum is doing fine thinking her memory is crap. She can maintain the illusion that it isn’t dementia, even though she kind of knows it is. But if she formally hears she has it she’ll be undone. So I can’t get a diagnosis if she has to be told about it too, it’s too unkind.

Good news is, the fucking mountain of administriviatative shite is nearly all in the bag, except for signing up to the actual mortgage, which will require the services of a solicitor. Oh yes and getting rid of the last of Mum’s shares, which are in an old family firm but needs must. They have to go.

This is not the end, or even the beginning of the end but it is the end of the beginning for this particular period of intense Mum-based activity. Once we’ve got this bit done she’s set for another three or four years and it’s like I can see the end of the tunnel on this batch now, after which there will be a calm period.

Sure it will be horrible when the mortgage is spent and we have to sell the house and put her into a home, but there’s no point agonising over that until it happens. I guess what I’m saying is that, I should be able to write some more soon.

Talking about writing …

There is an outside chance I will finish the current W.I.P. this year. There are 102k words of it so far and I have a horrible feeling it’s going to be three books. I might be able to break it up into 50k instalments though. We are only half way through but it’ll need tightened up and when I’ve done that I suspect I’ll have three 50k instalments, two 85k novels or one absolute monster. As the other books are short but the first book featuring Goojan Spiced Sausage is also 85k I’m thinking two at that length would work really well. Otherwise one 50k and one 85k (if I can keep the prose spare enough) would also work with the some books short, some books long nature of the rest of the series.

Lastly, I’m thinking of entering Too Good To Be True for a sci-fi book award. The books have to be over 50k, a stand alone or a first in series. I’d be entering it as a stand alone. Unless it isn’t. Decisions decisions. The competition is adjudicated by sci-fi bloggers. They’ll probably hate it. They usually do. But what do I know?

Right. Until next week, that’s me … although it might be after next week, but it might not because I have to tell you about my pathetic efforts to do a calorie controlled diet and my new electric bike! Woot. I’m also thinking of doing a kickstarter to raise funds for the next book in the Hamgeean Misfit series, Starting at $10 but it gets all the other books too, or something like that. Let me know in the comments if you think that’s a good idea.

If you’re bored …

Why not try the audio box set of the K’Barthan Series from my shop with 30% off. If you’d like to give that a go, click on the link and type ARNOLD at checkout.

K’Barthan Box Set Audio in Reduced Circumstances

Alternatively, if you enjoyed the books and have the inclination, why not write a review of one of them. A list of them, with links to them on the main stores can be found here

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This week I have mostly been … poisoning myself.

Yep. Straight up. Don’t laugh. It’s serious … well, OK, it’s not. No. Not at all, really. In fact, today, I have a story to share which, I hope, will make you laugh. It is a tale of such gobsmacking stupidity that I’m almost proud. Yes if you had doubts about my bumbling cockwomblery and general, all-round ineptitude then, I think this morning’s events might possibly put it beyond all doubt.

As I write this, it’s Friday, although by the fabulous, time-travelling magic of scheduling, you will be reading this tomorrow, Saturday, just in case you’re wondering.

McOther was away over night so I was taking McMini to school. I woke him up and while I was waiting for him to get dressed I had my breakfast, made some coffee and pottered around the house. This included opening the blinds in the two front rooms.

picture of the flowers described in this blog post

Daphne Odora, outside in it’s natural habitat … well our garden at any rate, its natural habitat is the Himalayas

In the drawing room we have some gorgeous cut flowers from the garden; a plant called Daphne Odora, which does its thing about this time of year. It smells fabulous and comes with its own handy greenery attached, too, so it also looks pretty with minimal arranging effort.

The blooms in the drawing room were getting a bit long in the tooth, I noticed, as I went in there to open the blinds. Indeed, on closer examination, I noticed that some of them were decidedly dead. As McMini hadn’t come down yet and I had a few minutes, I determined to remove them and bung them in the compost before they dropped dead bits everywhere and I had to hoover the sodding carpet. Yes, I would pick some more when I got home, I decided. Quite a lot of the flowers fell off when I picked it up but I took the rest of it out to the kitchen anyway and put it on the side next to the sink.

Checking the time, I realised there were ten minutes until we had to leave. I had finished my breakfast and so I grabbed a couple of vitamin pills, which I take each morning, picked up the glass of water which was also by the sink, next to the dead flowers, and chugged the pills. A whole pint went down and in the last mouthful I noticed there was something else.

Have I washed a bit of toast stuff on my teeth? I thought, except I’d actually had a crumpet but it just takes too long to explain what a crumpet is and anyone who doesn’t know will get a handle on what I’m talking about if I call it toast. Anyway, I picked this thing out of my mouth and was it food? Was it bollocks. It was a particularly dead flower off the Daphne Odora.

Oh.

A quick look in the bottom of the glass revealed some other bits of Daphne Odora. Hmm. I looked at the glass and I couldn’t help wondering if I’d swallowed any other errant blooms, along with the pills, and hadn’t noticed.

Well, no bother, except— I wonder if Daphne Odora is poisonous, I thought and then I did the stupidest thing. Yes people.

I CHECKED ON THE INTERNET.

What was the answer? Yes, obviously because it was the fucking law that if I’d eaten something by mistake it was going to be something that would kill me.

How poisonous? Extremely. The word ‘deadly’ was also used. Jolly dee.

OK Monsieur Google, when you say, extremely do you mean yew/oleander put the-wrong-bits-in-your-mouth-and-you’ll-die-swiftly-and-horribly toxic or do you just mean … you know … might feel a bit grim-level.

Oh. I see. A-very-small-amount-will-kill-you kind of poisonous. Marvellous.

How very small? Will one dried flower do it?

WHAT????? Thanks Google kind of you to NOT FUCKING SAY! YOU UTTER UTTER BAST— calm … breathe … think logically about this.

OK.

Had I swallowed any? I didn’t know. Probably not but at the same time, if I had, and I didn’t do something about it, then from what the internet said, I was going to die. OK so that was probably bollocks but at the least, I was going to be very ill.

Bit of an aside here:

In my defence, there is a family story that did colour my view about a fellow whose name has long since been lost in the annals of time. The name of the unfortunate hero being lost, the story is known simply as The Tale of Paraquat Man. Paraquat was a weedkiller in the mid twentieth century that was well known. Paraquat Man was friend of my grandparents (probably all four because they knew a lot of the same people). He was putting weedkiller on his garden path when he heard the phone ring. He came inside carrying the weedkiller, and put it down by the phone. The weedkiller was in an old wine bottle.

Next to the phone was a very similar wine bottle containing a bit of wine from the previous night’s dinner. The poor bloke picked up the wine bottle and distracted by the phone call and not really thinking what he was doing, he took a swig, only to realise he’d drunk the weedkiller. He made his excuses to the person on the phone, dialled 999 and then, while he was waiting for the ambulance, he ran to the bathroom and made himself sick. He was dead within the week.

This family legend has somewhat coloured my view of ingestion-based accidents …

If I had just eaten something as ‘deadly poisonous’ as the internet said then, even now, Death was probably waiting outside to tell me it was the salmon mousse or to attempt to put a positive spin on my impending demise by telling me to try and ‘THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH’. Yes so it probably wasn’t that poisonous but just in case it was then, if possible, I needed to … er … expel it.  Right then.

Was I really in that much though? Was I really going to stick my fingers down my throat and make myself barf up two glorious cups of coffee, a delicious crumpet a whole pint of water and some vitamin pills? If I was, I was going to have to get the hurling done pretty fucking fast because in ten minutes McMini needed to be taken to school and since McOther wasn’t around and there was on-one else to do it, I had to have finished chundering by then, or decide not to chunder and do it when I got home an hour later.

But hang on! Food only stays in your stomach for 20 minutes doesn’t it? I dunno does it? I can’t remember. A little knowledge is such a very, very bad thing. Should I google that, I wondered and then decided that, going on the results of my search about Daphne Odora, it was probably best not to. I looked at my watch.

7 minutes.

Yes. Um … right then. On we go. Better out than in.

At this point McMini came down and asked, through the closed door of the lavatory, if I knew where his jacket was. I didn’t and he then asked me if I was OK. I explained about my inadvertent blossom eating and told him to go and look again in his room.

A few minutes later, I had managed to throw up quite a lot of everything I’d eaten, but not all of it. And in the broad scheme of things, I suspected that my only achievement was that, as well as being poisoned, I now smelled of sick. It would probably enough to stave off any symptoms until after I’d dropped McMini off though. He, meanwhile, had found his jacket. Except he was worried when I explained why I was hurling and wanted me to go straight to casualty. So …

I had to ring McMini’s school and explain that he wasn’t coming in because his mother thought she might have poisoned herself by mistake a few minutes earlier and had to go to casualty. Could he do e-school?

Yes, they said, without laughing at all, which was pretty impressive.

Then again, I grew up in a school. These people are bullet proof. I’ve listened to Mum answering enough similar calls to know that.

Lovely McMini, as I left for casualty I said I’d keep him updated by text and asked if he’d be OK. He told me he’d be fine. Then he told me, ‘I’m only saying this because you might die but, I love you, Mum.’ [Saturday a.m. edit: He’s back to smearing his earwax on the door handle of my office this morning] Which was definitely the loveliest thing that happened to me all day. I told him I loved him too, we hugged each other tight and off I went.

You couldn’t make this stuff up though, could you?

I made a desultory attempt at an eyebomb while in casualty.

Then I had to explain what I’d done to everyone in triage at A&E, plus the doctor. Although at least it made them laugh. And I got an ECG so I don’t have to wait on tenterhooks for the results of the other one (normal, woot).

Also, I do know how the flowers got into the water, now. I usually put a lid on my water glass because otherwise the bloody cat drinks it. However, I took the lid off to take some of the pills put it on the kitchen counter before putting it back over the glass. I put the lid on the surface underside down. There was condensation on it and some of the drier, deader blossoms — which had fallen onto the counter without my noticing — stuck to it. Then, when I plonked it back on the water, they fell in. And I drank them.

Having now made sure that every single corner of that worktop is wiped down, I’m hoping there will be no further ingestion.

I mean … for bald fuck’s sake!

Fast forward and it’s now the afternoon. As instructed by the doctor at casualty, I’ve been ensuring that I drink lots of water, and carried this over to lunch by having soup. I have done no work and I have failed utterly to take the nice long walk I was going to have after dropping McMini off. I am fine, although I do actually have some very light symptoms. I was feeling sick but felt better for eating a little and drinking the soup. And I sidestepped the stomach pump, which has to be a win.

Hopefully, by later on this evening, I will no longer be living in a piss-poor, badly plotted, second-class imitation of an Alan Ayckbourn play.

I probably shouldn’t bank on it though, should I?

On a different note … here’s news of two bargains which might interest you!

Kobo Box Set Sale until 28th March

Yes, our lovely friends at Kobo are doing it again. If you haven’t grabbed the K’Barthan Box Set in ebook already, now’s your time to get a lovely 25% off. All you have to do is put ‘MARCH25’ in the have promo code box at check out and you’ll get it cheaper. You can also use this code as many times as you like on as many of the other box sets in the promo. Just click the Kobo25 link, below or go here.

Kobo25

Massive collection of free sci-fi and fantasy books (oh yeh).

Patty Jansen, fellow author and all round good egg has set this up. It’s actually finished but as I write (Friday) the page is still there. Over 120 books are listed, most of the ones that aren’t exclusive to Amazon will be free for a few days more. If you’d like to have a look, there they are, anyway. Just click on the SFFBOOKS link below.

SFFBOOKS

 

 

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Filed under General Wittering

Fucks given? Zero. And a book review

Today at church we were celebrating a new C of E service theme, Racial Equality. The service was brilliant, mentions of Martin Luther King Jr’s dream which seems depressingly far from coming true.

It all sounds a bit bland. Some might say it’s a message we’ve all hoisted in and no longer need to hear, others might call it ‘snowflakey’. I, on the other hand, think one of the saddest things about modern life is how desperately the world still needs to hear this stuff.

Seriously though? What happened to the way Britain was in 2012 when we had the olympics and smugly showed people what fair play and openness and an inclusive society looked like. What made people turn from being friendly and open to being so bitter and petty.

Melanin? Skin colour? How is it that anyone still gives a fuck about this shite? What is wrong with us? It’s all such absolute cobblers.

Guess what colour my great to the times of lord knows how many grandfather was? Black. How do we know? Because the boys in my grandfather’s family all had a blood factor that only occurs in North African black people and it only goes from father to son.

Know what colour I am?

Yeh. White. Skin colour means absolutely fuck all. It does mean we have black people to thank for the Crystal Palace though, even if they were white by that time (look it up).

You really would have thought that ‘love thy neighbour’ would have sunk in after all this fucking time wouldn’t you? But no.

The fact is, dickheads come in all shapes, sizes, abilities, colours and backgrounds as do saints. Not all Christians can love their neighbours, some seem to think the point of their religion is to judge people, or change them. That’s not your job if you’re a Christian. It’s God’s. Jesus said so. ‘Judge not, lest you be judged,’ oh and all that bit about ‘when I was poor you clothed me, when I was in gaol you visited me,’ etc etc. Nothing in there about, ‘when I was poor you told me it was my fault and that I was a scrounger.’

We have to start giving zero fucks about all this stupid petty surface shit.

Seriously.

Stop looking at the fucking box. It’s what’s inside that matters. Is this person good? Yes or no? Don’t read the Daily Mail to find out for fuck’s sake! Just talk to them. Often.

Years ago my Mum went to Worthing to collect me from school. She turned up early so she could nip to the shops first. When she got back to her car she had a flat tyre. She got the jack out, positioned it in the right place, ready, and then started loosening the wheel nuts — obviously, you have to loosen the nuts (without taking them right off) before you get the car off the ground while the weight keeps the wheel still otherwise it just spins.

Mum knew what to do, but the wheel nuts had been done up with one of those compressed air nut gun things and she couldn’t get them undone. I needed picking up from school, too far away to walk there and back before the time on the parking meter ran out and she got a ticket. She couldn’t feed the meter because she was supposed to park for two hours or less and then not return for an hour. So, leave the car she’d get a ticket but at the same time, if she didn’t leave the car, she’d have to leave me.

This was before mobile phones. No ringing the school. She had fifteen minutes. All was not lost. She was standing on the wrench, probably swearing a bit, and jumping up and down, when a group of really scary hell’s angels came by on choppers. They were properly frightening; smelly weed on jeans, chapter back patch on the jackets, german helmets with horns on (this was the 1980s so they still could) tattoos (in the 1980s it was still quite rare for normal people to have tattoos) the works. As one, their heads snapped left and they all looked at her as they drove past.

‘Yikes!’ she thought.

A few yards up, where there was a double yellow and parking wasn’t allowed. They stopped. They all got off their bikes and walked back to her.

‘Double yikes!’ she thought. ‘Hello,’ she said.

‘Here Mum. You can’t do that,’ said one. ‘Stand aside, we’ll fix this in a jiffy.*’

*That’s probably not exactly what he said, but it’s what Mum said he said.

The hell’s angels, or possibly just, ‘angels’ in this case proceeded to remove the tyre in record time and popped the spare on. It took them about a minute and a half and they put the spare back in the boot and the jack back in the compartment under the boot floor.

Then, with a cheery, ‘There you go Mum!’ they waved away her effusive thanks and buggered off.

Mum thought it was hilarious, as well as rather lovely. She told me about it when she picked me up in a kind of, ‘you’ll never guess why I’m actually here on time’ kind of way. Neither of my parents would judge anyone on what they wore, but the fact is, twenty hells angels ambling along the road towards you is always going to be a little bit scary. Perhaps less so now that my son is a metal head.

A while ago I was chatting to someone on facebook who had taken enormous umbrage with some blog post I’d done. I’m not sure how they found it, I think one of my more right wing friends had shared it—one who doesn’t self actualise by their political beliefs—and I guess it got seen by someone who did.

I think I’d said that there were some people whose political convictions were to the left of Attila the Hun who weren’t necessarily evil, or mentioned that some of my friends are Muslims or … I dunno … showed tolerance something. I’m not 100% certain but I think it was the Muslim thing that set them off. The basic gist was that this person had met a group of people from the middle east who were the absolute back end of awful and that, as these people were Muslim, it followed that all Muslims were awful. Other news and experiences of friends had bolstered this view.

As a woman, it’s difficult avoid taking a dim view of the way my fellow women are treated in some countries and this is where I have to fess up to the fact that I often do exactly the same thing. Yes, I subconsciously base my judgement of entire nations on their government or the idiots in the population who make world news. Other times, I’ll base my view on the few subjects I’ve personally bumped into. These things are so massive, you deal with them the only way you know how and often, that can only be on your own, inter-personal, small-scale level. Which is OK so long as you’re prepared to be surprised and … you know … wrong in your assumptions.

Because looking at my technique rationally, it’s like someone meeting me and assuming that everyone in Britain is a wishy-washy, liberal melt an Anglican/Episcopalian because I am. Or, it’s like someone thinking that, because I, the only Briton they’ve met, am a lady, there can be no men living in this country. Sounds ridiculous, right? But that’s the logic we are looking at here. The fact is any nation is only as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as the people who lead it. During the 2012 Olympics, people probably thought Britain was lovely. Now they probably think we’re a bunch of absolute knobs. The people living in any nation are going to be the same mixture of saints, sinners, idiots, wankers and non-wankers as we find everywhere else.

But you have to make judgements don’t you? No. I’m beginning to think not. Sure we all go in with preconceptions but the point, surely, is to realise that’s what they are. To be prepared to be surprised by … well … you know … benign Hell’s Angels.

Making a fair judgement about anyone can only be based on actually meeting them in person. It never ceases to amaze me how many seemingly kindly, benign people I know will casually state that the homeless are there through their own fault, that anyone on benefits is a scrounger and that asylum seekers or refugees are just here to take advantage of our welfare system.

OK, so I expect some of them are, because, as I may have mentioned, the law of averages states that there will be wankers among any group of humans. Some. That’s my point. I find it really hard to understand how someone can condemn a brown man who leaves the Congo and comes to Britain with his 14 year old son because he doesn’t want the lad to be conscripted while, at the same time, lauding someone from Belfast who emigrates to America because they want a better, non-sectarian life for their children. Both are doing exactly the same thing. Why is one brave and good and the other a scrounger? I dunno.

If the person from Belfast gets a job in the USA, they’re broadening their horizons and taking a brave step to better themselves. Why is it that the brown man who comes to Britain, works for less than minimum wage and lives in a caravan without electricity, because there wasn’t electricity or running water where he came from, is ‘taking jobs from British people’. How come it’s perfectly fine for the company he works for to pay him a pittance because they won’t pay the minimum wage but he’s wrong to take what, for him, may be the chance of a lifetime? Why is it that we are happy to earn less and less than pay what things actually cost to produce and less stuff?

How is it that some people can look at the Kindertransport and see it as an act of goodness but the very same people are unable to see a modern equivalent, like, say, people rescued from a similar regime in Afghanistan as human? Is it because the Afghans are brown? Are we really that shallow? It fascinates me. Well … yeh, you know it does, I’ve written a 500,000 sci-fi series about this exact anomaly. That only people are good or bad and nations are the sum of the decisions made by their leaders.

Perhaps it actually takes bravery to be a liberal melt. Thinking about it, being open, putting aside your preconceptions and trusting people takes courage. Being generous of spirit takes resolution and effort. You are exposing yourself to looking a right dick if you’re wrong and possibly even potential harm. Maybe that’s it; perhaps with COVID and the fact that the world economy is pretty much down the lav people have a too much to worry about to care about being decent. Or maybe, after all crap they’re dealing with, there isn’t any spare courage left to be open.

Perhaps the only universal rule is that that there will always be wankers … and to give zero fucks … in the right way.

Which brings me on to the book I’ve just read.

Subject 21 by A E Warren.

This book is about a girl called Elise, who, as the blurb states is a Sapiens, ‘a member of the lowest order of humans. Elise and others like her are held responsible for the damages inflicted on the world by previous generations.’

Every aspect of Elise’s life is controlled by the two groups of humans above her, even her name has to reflect her status and can only contain two syllables. The top tier of human, the Potiors, are busy recreating as many extinct species as possible using DNA harvested from fossils, etc. These are then exhibited in a Museum of Evolution.

Some of the exhibits are Neanderthals. Our heroine, Elise, gets a job as the companion of a Neanderthal, number 21, who calls himself Kit.

This book is all about the idea that not all the gits in the top two tiers are gits and not all the supposed gits in the bottom layer are, either. Indeed, this is one of the many areas in which the book excels. It’s also about the inability of some members in each group to see those in the others as human and, of course, the inability of some humans—regardless of the order in which they belong—not to be complete and utter wankers. It’s an absolutely brilliant concept and I loved the way it was so realistic at the same time. The way some of the museum staff have completely de-humanised Kit and his fellow Neanderthals, was also, sadly, extremely human.

Other highlights, the plot, the whole concept is really left field, I loved it as an idea. It was deftly executed and the characters well drawn. I was fully invested very quickly and had trouble putting it aside to do other things. Definitely gets five stars from me. Recommended.

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The Chaos Fairies are back … the little bastards.

This week, as promised, how I was banned from Facebook. Many years ago Amazon had product discussion forums and I used to hang out on the one in the UK, for books mostly. It was typical Amazon, moderated only by AI. If your name was Richard, or William, you couldn’t be Dick or Willy even if you … you know … were. It would tell you you’d typed a profanity and refuse to let you post. Meanwhile on the dot com site, there was a really unpleasant bunch of people who used to descend on threads en masse and bully people they didn’t like. Even Anne Rice. Yes. Anne fucking Rice used to post on there. She was lovely. But they used to hunt down each thread she started and filibuster or ‘call her out’ as they called it, until they killed the conversation stone dead. 

Weird.

If ever there was comprehensive proof that AI is not going to take over the world any time soon, the AI Amazon used—and still uses on other parts of its site—is it.

Facebook appears to use the same lame AI, except it doesn’t say there’s a problem. It just lets you post and then the AI bans you.

Unfortunately much of what is banned appears to be harmless banter. I’m on one particular group there which is fans of a fellow comedy author. There are folks from all over the world and we take the piss out of one another about our nationalities, among other things.

In case you can’t read it, I said something along the lines of, ‘I love you all and everything but you Americans are crazy!’ on a post with some crazy guy doing mad stuff. I actually messaged one of the mods in that group, because I do post there quite a lot, and she posted a screen shot of what I said, at which point about 50 people commented variants of ‘but we ARE crazy!’ etc.  I was banned for seven days. I was also banned for three days for a humorous reply to someone commenting on a post about my son’s lost socks, saying ‘Yep, boys are gross!’

Since then I’ve read up and discovered that Facebook is particularly hot on taking down posts that diss Americans or males. Now I know. But because most of this stuff is just British humour, it means I am going to lose my account soon, for just … you know … being myself. Which is a bit of a worry. The last ban was five days in the end, I think and four days banned from groups which went up to seven on my profile but I was allowed to post in groups after 4 days as per the original smack down.

This afternoon, I notice that once again, my account has a red flag. I have no idea why but I’m guessing it’s a comment I liked somewhere. I think I dimly remember commenting on a post that someone had said might not be right but was still funny. Ho hum.

‘I’m sorry Madam, we at the CIA Facebook do not have a sense of humour of which we are aware.’

So that’s a joy. I admit that this one thing is hardly a proper Chaos Fairies attack but no, it’s not the only thing on its own. There was more.

What else happened then, Mary?

There was a death in the family. In this case, an electronic death rather than a human or pet one and an absolutely royal pain in the arse.

So. Why is it that if you save up for something really expensive, in this case, an electric enhancement for my bicycle, you will immediately incur a huge bill, out of the blue, the day after you’ve bought it?

Yes, last Monday night, I finally ordered a swytchbike kit for my trusty fluorescent orange bicycle. I haven’t used my bike much recently, mainly because it is always windy. Not me, obviously, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t emit the odd tone poem but I actually mean the weather. Hence, thinking that if I got some electronic assist I would a) ride at a pace that is faster than walking and b) passers by would not be treated to my tourette’s like swearing at the fucking annoying wind blowing in my face making it like riding up a mountain in the stiffest gear. You know, one of the ones I’d use to pedal it faster while going down a hill at 20mph.

Yes. I get pissed off and then I mutter, ‘Fuck off! Wind! Fuck off! Wind.’ as I pedal.

I never pretended I was a model human did I? Although even I understand that’s probably not a good look.

The following day, I went for a walk with a friend for our weekly grumble in the jungle, whinge in the woods, etc and I dropped my phone. When I picked it up a strange line of light had appeared at one side of the screen. Not a big line but it was there. As you know, my phone had survived being dropped out of a car window at 35mph so I did realise that it might be quite … sensitive … to any future drops. I think the killer for this one was that it landed at the edge of a puddle, perhaps the water got in and … I dunno.

While we had a cup of coffee I got out a USB a-c stick I always carry with me and I downloaded all my photos. Suffice to say, by the time I got home, not only did the phone have the strange light bit but it also had a little blue smudge. It was 4.30pm. I looked at the blue smudge and wondered if it was going to get bigger.

If it was the fluid leaking out of the display I knew the thing was, essentially, haemorrhaging its life blood. The only question. How long did I have? Hours? Days? I didn’t know.

Naturally, it was Tuesday and the following day was drive-to-Mum’s-day so there’d be no getting near a shop. If it wasn’t going to last until the end of the next day or Thursday morning, I had to get a phone. NOW. On the other hand, while the blue splodge was getting bigger, it wasn’t growing that fast and so long as I made sure I’d backed up my pictures, music and audio books, which were the most important things, I might be able to limp on for a day or two. I didn’t want to buy a new phone if I could avoid it, having just stumped up six hundred and something quid for the electric bicycle kit thing. But if I had to then, even if I could string it out a few days, just to give myself time to identify some phones, track down a bargain and move some of my savings into my account, it would help.

The next problem would be backing up the settings, apps and stuff. My phone’s hard drive was double the size of my computer’s and over three quarters full so I didn’t think I should use my computer for this.  I therefore downloaded the important stuff I mentioned earlier onto two SD memory things. I had to keep recharging the phone because it only had one port and if I had the SD memory thing plugged into the USBc port, I couldn’t charge the ruddy thing. By the time I’d done that, the blue splurge was big enough for me to know that I’d be lucky if the phone lasted the night. It was also six p.m.

There were two things on my phone which couldn’t be transferred to a new one unless the old one was still working. The first was the card reader I use selling books at events and the second was my mother’s banking app.

Shit. The banking app. Fuckity-fuck! Yes. That put a rocket up my arse.

I was going to have to get a new phone.

With phones, I tend to go for as close to the top of the range as I can, and then I hang onto it for about five years. Unless I break it after three. That means I usually have to get one on contract and pay monthly because it works out cheaper than paying for a sim free. This was not a luxury I open to me right now though.

A quick google and we discovered Curries was upon until 8. I arrived at ten to seven and they were locking up. They actually close at 7.00. I tend to prioritise camera quality as ‘The Thing’ choosing a phone and with a sim-free now costing stupid money, I’d decided to go for the latest model but one, so it was a bit less expensive. I’d a list of three I’d been looking at (since I originally dropped the current one, you know, just in case this happened). The first choice, a Samsung S21 was out of stock. They might be able to get it the next day though.

Having showed him my phone, the screen of which was getting steadily bluer, he agreed that it might be risky to wait until then.

They didn’t stock the modern version of the phone that was dying, which was the second phone on my list. Indeed they had few high end phones to speak of because … COVID, Brexit and chip shortages …

I looked at the cheaper ones but none was so cheap I could justify buying it to tide myself over the next few months until I could afford something ritzy for long term use. I was also concerned that any new phone at the low end would be less backwards compatible with my 4G sim card, as well, which I could replace but not that night when I NEEDED the phone to work to move Mum’s banking app over. There were none by any brands I knew much about and none I’d researched, and as we were still looking at £300 or so I wasn’t keen.

As I turned to go, I noticed they had some Google phones. Their cameras are supposed to be great but I didn’t know much else about them. There were two, for £500 and something and £700 and something. I asked about the difference. Not much, it seemed and the £500 one was the same level as the Samsung I’d asked about. Ooo.

‘Do you have any of those?’ I asked him pointing at it the top of the range one.

‘No. But we have one of these left,’ he pointed to the £500 one.

‘Is that an older one then?’

‘No, it’s their flagship phone. It just has a slightly older chip and the camera doesn’t zoom as well. We have one left in this colour.’ He pointed to one with an orange stripe across the top and a doll’s-flesh-coloured body.

‘Right …’ I said slowly. Crikey!

‘You might get the Samsung you wanted from a supermarket,’ he said.

‘Hmm … but if I take ten minutes to nip down the road to Sainsbury’s and they don’t have it, will you still be open when I come back?’

‘No.’

And the Samsung one they had for £700 and something was nearer £900 in the supermarkets. I’d looked it up. OK, I’d found one I was happy to use for three years. I could get it NOW and I needed it NOW. There was nothing for it. I told him to hit me up with the grimly-coloured Pixel. It would be OK. I’d have to get a wallet case for it anyway.

When I got it home, I was able to connect it to my old phone to copy everything over. That done, it started downloading updates. Except the old phone had been charging off it and without my knowing, it had gone below 50% charged so although it showed apps updating they just hung like that. Nothing actually updated.

Luckily, I realised.

Even more luckily, I’d bought a wireless charger so I stuck it on that, although it still hadn’t finished updating until midnight. It had copied the files and google apps from the new phone but none of the others apps like WhatsApp, Signal, etc … or Mum’s banking app, for example.

I started with that. It needed either a second password—which I didn’t have—or a QR code, but by that time, the screen was too blue for the new phone to read the QR code off the old phone and it wasn’t doing auto rotate so I couldn’t rotate it so the QR code was in the white bit rather than the blue bit.

At last, I managed to get into the banking app on my laptop and use the (by now totally blue) screen to get a number to change the password.

It was now 2.30 am and I was doing a 300 mile round trip to Sussex and back the following day. Mmm. Probably time to go to bed. I’d started sending myself emails of the notes on my phone because I had assumed that when the new one said it was ‘copying over my files’ that it would have copied them and discovered it didn’t. I managed to get four or five really important ones but I lost the how-to for Mum’s call blocking on her phone and two or three others I could really have done with keeping. On the other hand, I did manage to save all my music and audio files and my photos … all six thousand of them. Gulp. For that, I am very grateful.

Even better, we are now sorted for Mum’s op. She’s going to have a bog-standard surgical procedure. It’ll last 30 minutes and her carer can go in with her. The surgeon wanted to do something called Mohs but you have to wait for results for a couple of hours, and with a chance that she’d be there all day, the carer was COVID barred from that one.

On a final note, a brief bit of politics. Last year, The Queen buried her husband. There as a poignant picture of her masked, in black, sitting alone in the stalls of Windsor Castle chapel. The day before, the Prime Minister attended a bring a bottle ‘business meeting’ in his garden. The contrast is striking. The Queen, leading by example as a leader should. The Prime Minister apparently assuming that he was too important for his own fucking rules to apply to him. Then he lies like an 8 year old caught with their hand in the biscuit tin. Idiot.

On a more cheerful note …

Just a quick reminder, the Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c on Apple, Chirp, Kobo and my own Store. To find an information page, with links to buy, or to download The Christmas One, just click on one of these links:

Few Are Chosen (remember it’s Kobo, My Store, Chirp and Apple the other stores still have it at£7.99)

Small Beginnings (this one is free on my store but 99c/99p on Kobo, Chirp and Apple.

The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously. Gareth is currently performing in Worms (shortle) but there is an audiobook scheduled for late February.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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It is accomplished

To be honest, there’s not much more to say. This is going to come over as a monstrously self-indulgent and whinge to most of you and it probably is (although it’s supposed to be funny as well). But caring is a horrible conflict of emotions. It’s hard and difficult and you are very responsible for the safety of a vulnerable person, a vulnerable person who you love very much but who, at the same time, can be utterly exasperating. Especially during the night!

However, if there is anyone reading this to whom the business of caring and the endless enduring tension feels almost unbearably heavy. This is for you. You’re not alone.  Also, I’m also going to tell you about a narrow escape from a multiple bollocking and explain how being British is probably going to get my Facebook account terminated.

On the up side, most of the Christmas period was pretty relaxing but I have to confess that, on the downside the stay with Mum wasn’t. I was hoping for the best but fearing the worst and I had got myself in a bit of a dither – the exact same way she does, incidentally – and it was everything I feared.

The last two or three weeks have basically been one long panic attack. To the point where I have been referred for an ECG. It’s not fun and I’ve had to do far to much sensible, no-you-are-not-dying CBT for any of it to have been enjoyable.

On balance, I think it cost too much. I’m not great at caring. I find it really, really demanding, I do not relax and I have hit a point in life, and an age, when I’m not actually capable of three days of high stress with no let up and very little sleep. By day three I was a hot, sleep-deprived, tearful mess.

There’s also more going on with Mum than usual. The money has run out so we are mortgaging Mum’s house to pay for care. We have, pretty much agreed on how a skin cancer on her nose is treated subject to my pinning down exactly what happens during the procedure we’ve chosen so we can be sure we made the decision in an informed manner. I also have to find out if she’s been using her capital gains tax allowance but she hasn’t done a tax return for years so I’m not sure I’ll be able to uncover much.

First night, Mum was up at 1 am to wee and change her sleep pants and then again at 3 am getting showered and ready for Christmas Day because she didn’t want to be late for Church. I’d been expecting her to get up early for church so I was ready for that one. She did listen to reason so I managed to cut her off at the pass, before she started her shower and persuade her to go back to bed. She woke at six thirty but I was expecting that and I let her do her own thing for a while and then went in and got her sorted. We got to church on time so all was well.

Getting up at 3.00 am is not a usual occurrence. It does happen when she’s excited about something or worried about getting somewhere but not usually. Mum likes to do her own thing so I’d intended to leave her to shower, dress and get ready on her own – just popping in if she needed help with buttons etc.

When it came to it, though, she was very tired and wobbly and having trouble finding words. Sometimes I could tell from the rhythm of her speech what she was trying to say but most of the time I couldn’t. Hence, instead of leaving her to do her own thing, I hovered. None of the anticipated letting her get into the shower and going back to sleep because if she is too tired to string a coherent sentence together, the danger of a fall goes up quite a lot and it was just me. There was no-one else.

I got her to church but obviously, throughout the day when she wanted a wee, someone had to help her pull up her pants. I was that someone. I found it unbelievably hard and because she was a bit more distracted than usual, most times we found that she’d filled her pants so I had to put on a clean set, which involved removing the trousers and shoes putting a clean one on, putting the old one in a nappy sack and doing them all up again. That is so much less simple than it sounds if you don’t do this stuff regularly and the person you are helping is bent and twisted and arthritic and you are aware that every time her toes catch on those bloody trousers it hurts her.

Late that afternoon the event I’d been dreading happened – I really need some dan dan daaaaaah music for this moment but I haven’t any so you’ll have to imagine that in. Where was I? Ah yes.

The event I’d been dreading happened. Mum had a poo. She didn’t really know if she had finished or not (she only gets that distray once in a blue moon, lucky, lucky me!). I didn’t know either because I hadn’t done this. Turns out, I should have reminded her to wait for the splash (oh god). Since I didn’t she started to wipe while things were very much still in motion. On the up side, that did precipitate said splash though, I have to give her that. She got it on her hands, but luckily I managed to wipe it all off before she got it over everything else.

Learning note. Wiping someone’s arse when they’re standing up straight is really difficult.

Christmas night was wonderful, she was up at 1.00am to wee and that was it. I managed to relax the palpitations away enough to sleep and got 8 hours in! Woot. Obviously she was up at crack of sparrow’s fart because she always is. On the downside, when I went in to say hello, she was still all wobbly and couldn’t find her words, so once again, I didn’t dare stray too far away from her because I wanted to be on hand to catch her if anything happened.

Boxing day was alright but despite her fabulous sleep on Christmas night, Mum still seemed to be very tired. I left her to her own devices for an hour or two while I did some metal detecting in the garden and yes, the minute I got outside she did another poo and McMini came to find me. McMini, bless his heart, stayed up listening out for Mum, in case I didn’t hear and then came to tell me if he’d heard her moving about. It meant he was knackered, too, but I am so proud of him. Anyway, back to the poo …

Things went better this time. She tried to wipe early but I was able to remind her to listen out for the splash (oh god, sorry god). Oh you haven’t lived until you’ve donned single use rubber gloves and wiped a much loved parent’s bum after a crap. Yep some people are fine with it and if you are, well bully for you, you lucky, lucky fucker! On the one hand it’s a duty of love and I am happy to do it, on another it’s so unbelievably sad and upsetting.

I think one of the things that is difficult about caring for vulnerable loved ones is that by din’t of being vulnerable they can be downright exasperating. The word finding made things difficult. I was aware that I hadn’t stayed over for two years, that I’d kept the night care on when I did so and that a lot had changed. Even so, I’d kind of expected to be guided by Mum over the new bits or the parts with which I was unfamiliar. But that didn’t work because she wasn’t always able to make sense. The most exasperating aspect of it all, by far though, was that every night when I put her to bed, she’d say,

‘Now darling, I don’t want to be a pain and get up to early tomorrow so what time would you like me to wake up?’

‘If you can relax and watch telly until half seven that would be wonderful,’ I would say.

‘Right oh, darling, half seven.’

And the next morning, or the middle of the next night, there she’d be insisting on getting up, bless her. It just made it worse.

We got her to bed early most nights and Boxing Day we managed to get her happily into bed by about seven. I was a bit worried things were going tits up when she woke at 10.00pm for a wee. I was right. I was lying awake having palpitations until she woke at midnight and I carried on having them until she woke again at 1.00pm when I helped her change her pants. I did manage to got to sleep after that one but she woke again at three and then again at half past four when I went in to discover her preparing to get into the shower.

This time, there was no stopping her.

‘NO! I NEED to get up! NOW!’ she told me. She was quite agitated.

‘Mum, it’s four in the morning, everyone else is asleep.’

‘I don’t care. I must get up and get on.’

‘Why?’

‘Because otherwise we’ll be LATE!’ she said in some exasperation.

‘But why? What what for? We’re not going anywhere!’

‘Yes we will!’ She turned and looked at me very seriously and said, ‘The mice are rising.’

‘Er …’

This is where I should have laughed, made a joke and she’d have laughed too. Then I could have said she’d be saying more batty things like that if she didn’t get back to bed and sleep some more and she’d probably have gone back to sleep until 7.30 but I was so tired I just couldn’t think and act with that sort of coherence. Instead I asked,

‘Do you mean, the others are up already?’

She said something slurred and unintelligible which I thought was probably along the lines of, ‘Of course they bloody are! Everyone is.’

‘They’re honestly not Mum. It’s four thirty am, they’ll be asleep until nine at the earliest. If you get up and go downstairs now it’ll just be you and me, on our own, with nothing on telly sitting looking out at the dark for FIVE hours.’

‘I don’t care! I MUST get up NOW! It’s important!’ she demanded.

At which point, I just burst into tears and begged. I’m not proud of this but I’ll bet I’m not the only person who’s done it while looking after a vulnerable elderly loved one when they are all in, not to mention when the loved one is also knackered and therefore at their nadir, as well, as far as their easiness-to-look-after goes.

‘Please, Mum,’ I sobbed. ‘Please. I’ve only had four hours sleep, if you can give me another one hour and we make it five I’ll be OK please, I’m so tired, I can’t look after you today without one more hour. I can’t do it. Please, help me. Please go back to bed. You can get up at six, it’s only an hour. Please.’

‘No,’ she said angrily.

Right.

She was wearing no nappy at this point and she headed off to her bed and sat down.

‘OK,’ I said, taking some deep breaths and trying to sound calm. Wait. It looked as if … surely I couldn’t be that lucky. Had she forgotten what she was doing? Please, please God let her have forgotten. ‘What are you doing now?’ I asked, meaning to ask how can I help.

‘What do you think? I’m going back to bed!’ she said she still sounded nettled.

‘D’you want a hand with your pull ups?’

She softened a little, ‘Yes, please.’

So I helped her put them on, took her slippers off, got everything ship shaped and put her back to bed.

I suspect she was just aware that we were leaving and wanting to make the most of us before we departed. Or possibly she got 7.30 lodged in her head and started getting up three hours ahead because she wanted to be ready.

Aiming to get a visit in where she was relaxed, I took McMini down to Mum’s on Wednesday and managed to disgrace myself with an impressive driving disaster. Mum has a garage near her and I always fill up with petrol there, on arrival, before going to Mum’s. There is a tiny road leading from the forecourt to the street Mum lives on. It’s single track and if you meet someone coming the other way you usually have to back up. I don’t like backing up onto the forecourt because not everyone knows there’s a road there and as I kid we were rammed several times by people running off the forecourt and into us as we motored along the road.

Obviously, in these situations, what usually happens is that the driver with the least far to back, or the easiest manoeuvre open to them backs up. That meant the gentleman in the Prius should have backed up but now, it was abundantly clear that the entitled old bedge wasn’t going to. That left three alternatives.

  1. The old git in the Prius facing me could back up to the corner – a nice straight run of about three metres.
  2. I could back round a very sharp corner into the loading bay behind the garage. Doable in about fifty turns with my stupid low profile tyres, big brakes and 84ft turning circle (OK it’s not that bad but it’s not great either).
  3. I could pull up onto the sloped drive of a nearby house.

This is the point where actually, I should have just got out a newspaper and waited, pointedly, for him to back his short straight line to the corner where I could pass.

After a bit of futtering and flustered efforts to get round the corner into the back end of the garage I gave up and had a go at the the drive.

‘Mind the bin,’ said McMini.

‘Yes, yes,’ I said. What did he say? I thought.

There was a god almighty bang.

Arnold’s fucking socks I’ve knocked their bastard wall down! I thought. But managed to get away with saying, ‘Shit McMini! Have I just knocked down their wall?’

Images of what happens when you try to take out bricks and concrete with a few hundred quid’s worth of shiny fibreglass flashed into my head, along with projections as to the size of the repair bill. Because just as there’s food and then there’s M&S food so there is fibreglass and there is fibreglass that is part of a Lotus.

‘God mum! I told you to look out for the bin!’ McMini’s eyes almost audibly rolled in their sockets as he said this.

‘Wait, it was the bin?’

‘Of course it was.’

Oh lord be praised!

… or not.

Still from the comic relief Dragon’s Den video with Harry Enfield as Deborah Meaden

Someone had just appeared at the window. A woman, who was wearing an expression of gurning disdain, like Harry Enfield doing Deborah Meaden in the Dragon’s Den rip off on his TV show – see picture; this is from the Victorian Dragon’s Den as done for Comic Relief.

Shit.

Oh and thinking about it. We still hadn’t got out of the way of the miserable old bastard in his Prius and he was glaring at us and all. With an expectant expression. I ignored him. He could fuck off. You could have backed up instead you Knut and we’d have been on our way by now. I thought.

I drove up into the drive a few feet, avoiding the prone bin and scattered bin bags to let the miserable git in his Prius drive past. He glared at me, obviously saying thank you or anything was beneath him. So I did a thumbs up at him and said, ‘thank you, thank you for being so considerate and kind you’ve been really helpful!’ all the while nodding my head but doubtless with an expression that said ‘rot in hell you rancid fuck!’ because that was really what I meant.

Next I backed into the road, got out of the car and did a very hammy, ‘oh my goodness!’ kind of open-mouthed arms spread gesture of pantomime horror. I rushed to the bin, made sure I was handling it incredibly carefully and respectfully as I put it upright. I reloaded the five billion nappy sacks that were lying about on these people’s drive, along with their bin bags and then I lobbed in very carefully placed a plastic glove that had obviously blown round from the petrol forecourt on top of the bags, for good measure. All done, I closed the lid.

Finally, I put the bin back, really carefully, taking time to park it properly in the small square bit at the gate they’d put there specially, and make sure it was straight, and check if it had damaged my car without them noticing (it hadn’t result!). Deborah Meaden was no longer looking on but I feared that merely meant she was busy unlocking the door ready to come out and have a go at me. So bin replaced, I leapt into the car and drove away.

Doubtless a video of it all will appear on idiots in cars before long. Or bad women drivers abroad or … I dunno, something demeaning. For the meantime, though, I feel I did well. The old git in the Prius didn’t have a go and neither did Deborah – although McMini is as certain that ‘Deborah’ was a bloke as I am that she was a lady.

And there’s not a scratch on the car … And the bin was completely unscathed! And Mum was in cracking form and she and McMini watched Father Brown together and both loved it. I’m so glad I made him come with me.

Win-win, I’d say.

Facebook? I hear you ask. Yeh. I think I’m going to have to carry that one over until next week! Sorry about that but I want to ham that one with the prerequisite amount of sarcasm and generally give the whole sorry tale the column space it deserves! Mwahahargh!

Just a quick reminder, the Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, starting on 13th January, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c on Apple, Chirp, Kobo and my own Store. To find an information page, with links to buy, or to download the Christmas One, just click on one of these links:

Few Are Chosen (remember it’s Kobo, My Store, Chirp and Apple the other stores still have it at£7.99)

Small Beginnings (this one is free on my store but 99c/99p on Kobo, Chirp and Apple.

The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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I ai’tn’t dead … honest.

Although I can forgive you for thinking I might have been because, I concede, it’s been ages since I’ve had time to write the blog. I’ve had to keep dropping it in favour of writing for Nano – which I ‘won’ – or doing other things. I even had two posts ready to go but ran out of time to upload photos and then didn’t post them. They’re a bit out of date now although I might post the one about NanoWriMo  midweek just coz … you know … I can.

Truth be told, it was my own fault. I stymied myself completely by ensuring that I’ve not a single clear day in the three weeks running up to Christmas. That wasn’t a good idea. My recent writing deadline of 15k words in three weeks has fallen by the wayside at 5k. Then again that is 5k I wouldn’t have written otherwise and I achieved it in 5 of the 15 days so I’ll take that.

Thursday: I should have realised things might not go the way I planned when I discovered, while having a mid-morning wee, that I was wearing my knickers inside out. No time to change them so inside out they remained. All day. Nice. I’d arranged to go round to a friend’s house for lunch and I discovered, to my complete and utter horror, that I needed to bring some food. This, at a point when the only cooking slot available was just before I set off. So no writing that morning either!

On the up side, once I’d finally got my head round the idea that everyone had volunteered to bring things, I was left with the something sweet brief. Easy, I would make chocolate log, except I’d make the ‘log’ into buns and ice them with a lovely piped rosette of chocolate icing. Mmmmm.

Luckily, it was McMini’s last day of term so we were all up early and the mixer was droning away in the conservatory, with the door shut because it’s a bit noisy sometimes, before McMini even departed for school at 8.10 or at least 8.25 because McMini’s interpretation of time is somewhat elastic. He is a teenager after all.

Talking of McMini, he is still hilarious. I sent him off to get a tea light the other day to go in the lamp on the table which we light at supper. We have three bags of the damn things, but two have been put away by McOther who has no idea where they are and, since they’ve been put away by him in a ‘logical’ place, the likelihood of my ever finding them is, frankly, remote. Luckily I’d bought a big bag a few days previously and kept hold of them in my office so I told McMini where to find them; on the floor by my desk.

The next time we needed one, I said, ‘Remember that you’ve already torn one side of the bag to shreds and turned it over to make it look as if it wasn’t you, so please don’t rip the other side open as well.’

He looked at me with a certain amount of horror the more than a hint of admiration and shock, as if I’d just seen into his very soul.

‘Blimey Mum, I swear you are telepathic or something. How on earth do you know I did that?’

I glanced over at McOther who had a huge grin on his face because he knew the answer, and then back to McMini who was still wearing an expression of complete disbelief.

‘It’s because the genes are very strong, and it’s the sort of thing I would have done,’ I told him.

The discussion then went on to how he was doomed because there was so much of my side of the house in him. Although luckily he doesn’t suffer from discalculia and has a science brain so he won’t have to go through his entire life trying to do arts with a science brain that he can’t use because he can’t speak maths, and being told how thick he is.

Result.

Back to the cakes. I put them into cup cake cases and didn’t bother neatening them up much because the mixture normally kind of … settles in the oven so they look normal. Needless to say, this one time, when I came to get them out of the oven, I discovered that they hadn’t settled and were still as lumpy and strange as they had been when I put them in.

Arse.

Never mind, I can do piping quite well so I reckoned I could squeesh a rosette of icing onto the top of each one, throw on a few chocolate stars, dust it with icing sugar and the irregularity of the buns underneath would be well hidden.

Next stop, while the buns were cooling, make the icing. This was butter, cocoa powder, icing sugar and a little milk. That done, I spooned it all into the piping bag. Buns now cool, I approached the first one, held the bag over it and squeezed. Nothing came out of the nozzle but big brown poo-like gushes of icing oozed out of the seam in a kind of star shape, landing randomly everywhere.

picture of untidy kitchenAh.

That wasn’t how I expected it to go.

The oozing was somehow extremely comic to watch, so of course now I was laughing.

On my own.

In the kitchen.

With a piping bag that appeared to have many extra orifices, all of which were producing something brown and very poo-like in consistency, apart from the one in the nozzle, as if they were the arse end of one of those poodles that shivers a lot.

For a moment I wondered if I should be asking myself some serious questions about my sanity but then I realised that if I was going to get to lunch with my mates at 12.30, I really didn’t have the time.

Onwards and upwards.

Nothing for it then. I turned out the lump of icing, scraped off the bit so f the icing bag that had dissolved and stuck to the outside. Oh dear, that left a lot less icing. Never mind, I washed the bag and threw it in the bin. Why did I wash it first? No clue. There you go.

Taking the pallet knife I smeared icing onto the cakes, but they wouldn’t stay still so the first problem was that my fingers got covered in icing and because of that, the lovely white pristine cup cake cases got covered in icing too.

That done I stood back to have a look. Oh dear. Something about the marks the pallet knife had left didn’t work for brown icing. In fact it made the cakes look like licked turds. Oops. Not the vibe I was going for.

Time for plan … heaven knows, I was probably onto about Plan F by this time, A, B, C, D and E having failed comprehensively. I got a fork and distressed the tops of the cakes so they looked sort of spiky. That was a bit better. Next I got a sieve and some icing sugar and sieved it over the top of them. That was a lot better until I dropped the sieve on the cakes, followed by the palette knife, and then had to do it again.

cakes in a plastic box that looks like abs

Some of the Cakes, this box is called ‘the abs’ although it’s more … the sumo.

Next I put some stars on them and some chocolate popping candy which neither popped nor tasted of chocolate before putting them into various tupperware boxes. Needless to say, we lack the right sized box to put all the cakes in one so they were added to several different lunch boxes in groups of anything from two to seven. Standing back to admire my handiwork I dropped one of the boxes, resulting in my having to return to square one with the fork fluffing and icing sugar sprinkling.

Head desk, or to be accurate; head counter-top.

On the upside, I did manage to get to my friend’s house with some of the cakes and arrived just as she was sorting out an electrical problem with her toaster. Too many crumbs in the bottom coupled with the fact a stray blini that she was toasting had somehow got across the divide so it was completing the circuit between some of the wires in a way that was not conducive to the happiness of either the toaster or the electrical system of the house. They’re buggers like that, blinis.

We had a wonderful lunch. I ate too much and the three of us consumed two bottles of wine. It was a few minutes before I left for home that I ran one hand across my face and a large lump of chocolate icing appeared on one finger. Turned out it had been hanging from one eyebrow like some giant clagg. Nice.

Thinking about it, I suspect it did me good to walk home in the fresh air. I finished the day feeling very tired, although the fact I went to bed at ridiculous o’clock the previous night and, indeed, had done all week probably contributed to that as much as the wine.

As it was McMini’s last day at school there was that magic moment at the end of the day which I always treasure, when I switch the 7.00 am alarm off on my phone. Sure I get two hours less in the day but lordy me I need the sleep! I’m at the horrible time in the month when I sleep really badly but mainly because I sleep too lightly rather than because I don’t sleep at all. As a result, a couple of extra hours in bed is a tonic.

The next blog post will be Christmas Day and I will be releasing a Christmas story for you all to read. Although clearly, since it’s K’Barth, it won’t be a Christmas Day story exactly, it’ll be about The Prophet’s Birthday, but that’s kind of the same thing.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

It’s called The Last Word … I think, although I’m also tempted by Trouble Afoot: Parrot Abroad, then again, I could use that as the subtitle quite happily. And I’ve sort of done a cover … just. In the end, after three years of not having a clue, I decided to learn to use my iPad and iPencil to draw something. Woah. So that was fun and although it’s still a bit half cock – a lot cock really – it will do until I can get my lovely friends at A Trouble Halved to design one properly … for now.

This is the short 10k version which I wrote for an anthology in the same manner as Nothing To See Here – same anthology too. In this case though, the anthology was never produced so I have it knocking about. As I did with the anthology version of Nothing To See Here, I have expansion plans for this one so it will become another novella – it’s 12k already. I might also, possibly use it as a mailing list exclusive for the series I’m writing now about how Betsy Coed’s guest house ended up becoming a brothel. Alternatively, if it takes ages to finish Misfit Five I’ll switch to this one, finish it and release it in February or March 2022 so that something comes out next year.

The Betsy story will take me ages because that’s a massive sweeping epic but I’m really enjoying writing it. Lots of new characters or at least bit people out of the other books. Doing the Pratchett take-a-sub-character-and-focus-in technique. Oh alright, attempting it, not doing it per se. Big Merv’s in it though and Trev is so lovely. I hadn’t realised until I started to write this one what an absolute sweetie he is. We find out a lot about him because he’s one of the main characters.

Talking about Misfit Five, or at least, I was a couple of paragraphs back, it’s coming on nicely. I have just shy of 65k of it at the moment although I’m thrashing with the wobbly middle before I can get the end done.

To my unfettered joy, I think it’s going involve a fight in a balloon warehouse full of helium canisters. I have warned Gareth because it seemed only fair.  Someone’s going to see the gas canisters and smack the end off one or shoot it thinking that it’s H rather than He and that it’ll blow everyone up, but instead it won’t and they’ll all end up speaking in very high voices like the Chipmunks or Pinky and Perky (depending on your age and country of origin). Obviously I’m looking forward to writing that bit immensely. There will be one cannister of hydrogen – or oxyacetylene, or something else flammable – because the warehouse must blow up. After all, you can’t go wrong with a good fireball and also I have this mental picture of The Pan and two other characters he’s working with walking out of the flames with a bag of Goojan spiced sausages. Thank you diddly guitar bit at the beginning of Coldplay’s ‘Slow It Down’ for that image!

The Hamgeean Misfit series is also turning into a bit more of an epic than I intended as The Pan gets inexorably drawn into Big Merv’s organisation and gets more and more trapped, while the net tightens around him from the other direction as it were, as Lord Vernon increases in power and influence.

There are only going to be six books in it too, because the way the relationship between Big Merv and The Pan is developing is not something I can string out much longer than that. Not if his fear of The Big Thing in Few Are Chosen is going to make any sense. What is fun about that though, is giving the low down on what Big Merv thinks. The Pan is so scared of Big Merv that somehow the idea that he really likes The Pan but is stern and bluff and that because of this, The Pan, mister zero confidence, doesn’t realise, actually works.

It’s weird. One of the things I really enjoy about writing is not really knowing where it’s going to go and the interesting journey involved in finding out. Somehow, I’ve managed to relax with that over the last eighteen months or so. I’m just taking my time and enjoying what I’m working on. Although I’ve resolved that I must finish the 5th Misfit before I work on anything else. The way my year tends to pan out, the release window is May at the latest, after that, it becomes summer holidays, there are trips abroad and then in September every single piece of admin I have to take care of comes up all at once. So basically, if I miss getting it to the editor before April, it doesn’t get released until the next year.

Also, while it’s nice having lots in progress it’s a shame if there’s nothing actually finished. And I want to release something each year which means Misfit 5 for 2022. But the fact I took a little longer over Too Good To Be True and let it rest before I published left me with a way, way better book.  Therefore, Misfit 5 has got to be done by the end of February if I stand a realistic chance.

If push comes to shove, next year, I’ll finish off The Last Word, publish that in March and do Misfit 5 later on in May or June. After that it’s summer holidays and I can’t write or work until October/November and then only if I completely ignore Christmas like I have this year! Mwahahahrgh! That suits me but probably isn’t quite so great every year.

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Adventures … many of them.

Trigger warning: This is a very long post and there is swearing!

What can I say about this week, it’s been action-packed and I can’t see anything slowing down as we begin the headlong rush towards the organisational nightmare that is Christmas. Christmas isn’t bad but there are definitely times when I wish all the admin would just fuck off and leave me alone. This is one of them but mostly that’s because of other admin.

Highlights this week?

Well, I’ve just spent the last ten days in Portugal. That’s a stonking highlight, I can tell you. The weather was gorgeous, I doubt we’ve ever had it that good. The food was wonderful, as ever, one of our favourite restaurants, which we were worried about, because it’s small and family run, has expanded into the shop next door and is doing well. It was brilliant to see that and to discover that the food is still ace but they’ve now added a pizza oven. Our other fave restaurants had also survived the pandemic and appeared to be doing well, I got to eat a Don Rodrigues … think baclava made with this kind of extruded egg. Holy smokes it’s yummy. I even managed to get a slice of Algarvian Almond Swiss Roll but it was a supermarket one so it wasn’t quite as good as it should have been.

The hotel had stopped providing Portuguese egg custard tarts for breakfast or at least, it only produced them on Sunday. This was sad but doubtless my waistline is relieved. On the up side we did find some to buy and troughed those.

Lowlight? Or at least, narrow squeak …

Sunset photo of coast

Was this photo worth smashing the phone for? Dunno …

On the first night, as we drove down the hill into town the sun was setting, bathing the sea and the cliffs in a gorgeous pink light. I wound down the window and put my phone out to take a picture. In an unprecedented event, the wind caught the case and whipped it out of my hand. Erk. I watched the case land on one corner and then the phone fell out and flipped over and over along the road, on its corners. McOther did an emergency stop, I leapt out and ran towards where the stricken case lay. The phone, sliding gently down the asphalt on its face, came to rest against my foot.

Ah.

The back was absolutely fine, including the Leica camera lenses. Phew.

The front … well … the glass screen at two opposing corners is powdered and there’s a big crack across it but it still appears to work so I borrowed some sellotape from the hotel. I have a plastic iPad protector in my desk drawer which I can hack down to the right size with scissors and I’ll use that as a screen protector for now. Everything about the phone still seems to work, although I’m not quite sure whether or not it had a Micro SD card in it at some point. If it did, that’s gone now. Gulp.

Onwards and upwards.

Pissy Pandemic Admin

Do not bollock me for complaining about this. Sure it has to be done, we have to try and keep the show on the road and do the hoops. However, I still reserve the right to whinge vociferously – not to mention endlessly – about the total unintuitive way the hoops are thought out. OK they are improving, which is good, but they are still an absolutely stonking pain in the arse.

While we were out there we had to fill in our Passenger Locator Forms. Lord above! What a phaff. How many times can they ask me to type the same number in a different box? Ugh.

Because it’s always a pain in the arse, I had this great idea, I would set up an account. First they needed my email address and they helpfully gave me guidance in the box name@host.com how simple is that? Brilliant. Then comes the phone number box and what do they put? This: +12125551234

I’m sorry? Say what? Throw me a smecking bone here for Arnold’s sake! I’m an idiot. I need more help than that. What does this mean? Is that +44 code number? Or is it just my phone number? What the fuck are they asking for there?

Note, it’s hot and I’m doing this on a phone screen because nothing in the entire fucking world will function with a touch screen iThing running either Chrome or Safari and I don’t have my computer with me. This means I’m even more of a thickie with numbers in this particular situation than I usually am. To be honest, I think if they’d put the +44 there it would probably have been enough to clue me in.

In the end, I put in my phone number with the 01480 style area code. That didn’t work and it said no so I did the area code with no zero and a + This is the point where, were it like the name@host box or the one for the password, it would say, ‘there aren’t enough numbers here mate, have you checked that?’ Did it?

Did it balls?

It looked like it had worked, except then the activation text message didn’t come through, and now I realised it had the wrong phone number and it never would. Never mind I’d go back and—Oh. I couldn’t go back to alter the number so I tried starting again. ‘That email is already in use by another account,’ it told me. Yeh well. It smecking would, wouldn’t it. I knew, by this time, that I would never receive the activation code or set up an account with that particular email address. It would be sitting in limbo forever. I had a go anyway and screwed it totally. Thank heavens for extra email addresses.

I set up a second email address. A second look at the number part and I counted the digits with my fat, stupid, dyslexic moron’s fingers and then wrote out my phone number with the country code, the + and no zero on the area code and yes there were the same number of …  you know … numbers.

+12125551234 does not tell me that. In no place did it say, type in your country code, area code and phone number as it would be dialled from abroad. That’s all they had to do, have a little question mark and put it in plain English for fuckwits such as myself, which are many and legion.

Urgh.

This time, the code comes through. Hoorah! Now to do a password. I type one. Computer says no. Not surprising, but they’ve given me list; upper case letter, yes, lower case letter, yes a, b, and c unarrupted, some numbers, yes, ‘special character?’ yeees … wait they want it to be FOURTEEN FUCKING CHARACTERS LONG!

FOURTEEN!

What bloody planet are they living on?

Not this one, surely. Who are these people? Jeez! I mean, clearly this stuff was made up by someone who’s good at figures and doesn’t use words much, someone who has one hundred different passwords, all a random mixture of letters, symbols and numbers and who—get this—remembers each and every last one of them and knows exactly which site each is for, a robot in other words. Yes, I understand that, but blimey. I typed two easily memorable passwords back to back. Then we got to the point where we were landing in the UK at 18:45 and the time was 17:55 two days before so it wouldn’t actually let us submit the stupid effing form because it wasn’t yet ‘within 48 hours of our arrival time’ by about 40 pissy little minutes.

The absolute bastard wankers.

No, you can’t do it now. Computer says, ‘no.’ You must wait 40 minutes. This, in the voice Gareth does for Denarghi.

But we’ll miss our supper booking and won’t be able to try again until tomorrow when it’s our last day and we want to be outside in the sun.

[Sound of snickering] Exactly.

That’s not my problem you pathetic little pleb you must jump through all the hoops and we will make them as difficult and varied as possible. We will give no quarter, and we certainly won’t be  letting  you off two and a half hours of pissy administrivia on your last day. Anyway, REAL people go by private jet, or they don’t go at all, you worthless middle-class cockwomble with your thinking and trying to be inclusive, and trying to care for the planet, and trying be nice.

Now piss off and revel in your misery you fucking, too-good-to-be-true fuck!

So it was that the next day, at lunch time, when the sun was a bit hot, we went back to the room for a cup of tea and decided to finish the forms.

So far so good, we entered all the stuff, mine had even remembered some of the information I’d put in previously, which was a turn up. Next we needed to either add a screen shot of our vaccination certificate or get the QR code upon our phones and use the iPad to take a photo. Did it work? Did it jacksey!

After a bit the form just threw up it’s hands and said, ‘you can’t fucking do this’ and automatically answered the question as NO.

Right. Onwards then. Now we needed the order number of the tests we’d ordered from Boots to take when we arrived home. Except it wasn’t a bastard order number they wanted, they wanted the serial number for each test which is a completely different chuffing thing. McOther was on the phone for ages to someone who appeared not to have a clue what he was talking about. It’s a big website, and it’s a complicated website and these people are so far in that they have no idea how totally incomprehensible parts of it can become to the uninitiated. Likewise they have no clue how many tiny, simple-yet-desperately-important pieces of guidance information that have become blindingly obvious to them are not at all clear to those of us using the thing are they have a tendency to leave crucial bits out.

Without any help from the person at the Gov website help centre, McOther finally clocked that there’d been two emails from boots, one saying, ‘here’s your order number’ and another with ‘here’s your order number and Oh! Look! here are some different details with the specific number of each one of your tests.’

By the time he was done, we’d been indoors for two ours on our last day, his face was beetroot red, there was a vain pulsing visibly in his temple and all he could say was ‘gnnnnnnrrrgh’ for some time. Actually, this isn’t true, he was remarkably chilled, but it’s an apt description of how we both felt and it makes good blog comedy so I’ll leave it in.

Having finally finished the bloody passenger locator form, we went out to play.

The Big Question.

Here it is. Why are the five hours at airports either side of the two hour flight so fucking awful? Yes, the journey home.

Saints preserve us! OK Easyjet are alright. I like them, they’re quite good and a friend of mine, whose son is a friend of McMini’s even worked for them as crew for a few months between acting jobs – as I understand it, part of the interview involved singing some bits of Les Miserables. I also have worked for National Express so I know exactly how the general public treats the people with which it interfaces while travelling. Here’s a clue. It’s warn, brown and sticky but it’s not a stick. That said, air travel is so grim that I can see why people are pretty much apoplectic with rage by the time they reach the actual bastard aeroplane.

So we arrived at the airport and while waiting for our flight to be called, we ate a packed lunch of cheese and ham with rolls and in my case, a hard boiled egg nicked from the buffet from breakfast in the hotel.

Finally, our flight was called and we went straight round to the desk and got into the queue. We waited. We waited and waited and they processed those passengers from ‘speedy boarding’ first at an extremely leisurely pace of ten minutes per group, or if it was just one on their own, ten minutes per person. People around us started doing sums about how many people fit on the model of Airbus Easyjet use and working out how long we would be waiting at ten minutes per person. Check-in opened at two o’clock and closed at four twenty. We queued until nine minutes past four, with eleven minutes to spare before they officially closed the flight.

There were two desks open and three staff; two on desks and one to flounce up and down the queue telling us to ensure we’d done our Passenger Locator Forms (why can’t they just call it a virtual landing card, for fuck’s sake! That’s what it is) and ushering the people with kids (smaller kids than our lad, obviously, to the ‘speedy’ boarding queue). Call me old fashioned but I think, possibly, if she’d just got onto another desk and processed some passengers it might have been more useful.

It was very hot and I’m still not great at standing for hours on end. I can walk or sit but stand? Nah, not really. I’ve always had a bit of a tendency to passing out when standing for great lengths of time. This was no exception. We were wearing masks which is OK but can get a bit stuffy. By the time we reached the desk, everything felt a bit weird and I had to keep bending over and putting my head down to ward off the black blobs at the corner of my vision. By the time we’d walked the short distance to the bit where they frisk you, everything was getting a bit dim and at one point when I decided to lean on a nearby bollard it all got a bit tricky to hang onto because my brain thought it had started moving.

More queuing and again, I fulfilled the eternal law that no matter how empty your pockets and beltless your ruddy trousers you will still have forgotten to take off something that makes the stupid bastard beepy, beep-every-fucking-time  thing go … you know … beep. Well, apart from my leg which will set the ruddy thing off from here on in. Clearly I can’t put that in the tray though.

In this case, it was the eyelets on my shoes so I had to wait while they were taken away and put through the x ray machine again. Needless to say they saw me coming. I, the one who is always going to be frisked, was sent to stand behind some bloke who decided he would see if hell would actually freeze over before he filled his fucking tray with his stupid chuffing electronics, belt, shoes etc and pissed off out of my face through the portal of doom to pick it up the other side so I could follow suit.

As a result, both the McOthers were already through the portal of doom without being frisked and picking up their things while I was still waiting for Slow Motion Man to take off his bastard watch. Then, at last, I got to put my jacket and jumper in the tray, remove my watch, fitbit and hat (because it has a metal clip). I emptied my pockets – note to self, maybe cargo pants with loads of pockets aren’t such a good idea after all – got the ipad, kindle, phone and electronic writing tablet out of my bag, laid my bag flat, took sanitising gel and lipsalve in their special pathetic ziplock bag and put them in and then forgot to take off my stupid bloody shoes with their stupid eyelets that go beep.

Then they ran the detector over my leg and it beeped.

‘What’s in your pocket?’ demanded the lady, pulling at the pocket in my combats at the side of my leg, at which point I just rolled up my trouser leg, showed the ten inch scar and said,

‘My knee is metal.’

Ugh.

We got on the plane with about ten minutes to spare and they held it for a few minutes more so everyone else could get on. Faro is always a bit slow and steady but this time it was absolutely fucking glacial … except in temperature. Blimey.

Was it worth the hassle to go away somewhere?

Boy looking at rough see on sunny day

The sea, with human for scale.

Oh yeh. The sun shone the entire time, I wrote about 7k words which isn’t bad seeing as I was on holiday and therefore mainly interacting with the McOthers, and we all relaxed.

The beds at the hotel are unbelievably comfortable and we slept like logs all night, every night. It was epic. Even better, despite the fact I’ve got into the habit of waking up at 8.00 am, the clocks go back at the weekend so it’ll be seven by Monday. Bonus!

Homecoming …

I always arrange to pick up McCat the day after we get back. He wasn’t as demonstrative as sometimes but since returning home he has spent the day wandering round after me. He also yells when he comes in at which point either McMini or I will call him and he will rush to join us. It’s very endearing. There are still some pears in the garden and a friend has kept things watered – where required.

One slight fly in the ointment. We arrived to discover that the little access lane to our house is going to be dug up. I spent most of Thursday morning on the phone to various people until I tracked down a lovely woman who is managing the works and said that it would be fine and that yes, there would be trenches across the road but they would have boards and would put them over the trenches so we could get in and out. So they’re not totally closing the road.

It is a bit of a pain that our address is one street, but we live on the corner of the other one, and are one of only two  houses that are accessed from the other one by car, three others have front doors there. As a result, people tend not to warn us about this stuff because they see us as the address street rather than the access street. The engineer who rang gave me her mobile number so hopefully, I can ring her if there is any trouble.

Any other disasters?

Um … yes. There’s a story but bear with me. You see, I used to get terrible acid reflux and discovered that I can reduce it hugely by drinking keffir. I therefore have a kefir plant at home which is lovingly, and not so lovingly, known as Bob, The Blob.

Bob can last two weeks if I give him lots of milk and leave him in the fridge, so this is what I had done. On Friday, realising that he’d be ravening hungry, I decided I’d better sort him out, so I got the jam jar he lives in and put it on top of the fridge freezer. Then, I got half a pint of milk—which I’d frozen specifically to feed Bob upon my return—from the freezer section. Looking at the milk, I decided I’d better put it in the fridge. I opened the fridge door and realised that a bit of Bob’s jam jar was clearly on the actual door rather than the top of the fridge.

You can tell what’s coming next, can’t you? I don’t really need to tell you.

Correct. Bob is in a glass container and in order that he doesn’t suffocate, you have to leave the lid off. In three years I have never dropped Bob … until now.  Bob’s container being glass, I didn’t want to have him fall from above my head and smash on the floor. I had the fridge door handle in one hand, and I had some frozen milk in a plastic container in the other. How did I stop Bob falling? I slammed the fridge door, batting him into it. I heard the glass jar land on the glass shelf with a bang, but it was a clunk rather than the sound of a half pint jar of vile-smelling milky sludge and a glass shelf smashing into a thousand pieces.

Okaaay.

A brief aside to describe Bob. Imagine something that looks and smells like raw milk with bits of translucent tripe-like stuff (the culture) sloshing about in it. Sometimes it separates into cheesy stuff and juice. It varies in taste, usually, if you get it right, it tastes like mild feta cheese as a drink. It’s much nicer brewed in the fridge over a few days than over night in the cupboard but I do put it in the cupboard from time to time because I don’t want to stress Bob by making him too cold.

Anyway, I took a deep breath and looked into the fridge. Bob was lying on his side. Quite a lot of him was lying on the shelf, up the walls of the fridge and dripping gloopily down on the the shelves below. Upside, he hadn’t leaked into any of the drawers, and there are three. Now that’s what I call a result, even if the initial spillage was … less than successful. So I scooped most of Bob back into the jar screwed the lid on, washed it and unscrewed it.

Then I cleaned the other bits of Bob off the fridge, which took about an hour.

Downside. I had to clean the fridge, and the floor and I’ll have to rinse bob and return him to the jar without actually being able to drink any of this batch.

Upside, McOther was out and really chuffed I’d cleaned the fridge. Also the fridge needed cleaning extremely badly, and now I’ve done it.

It should be said, here, that I have NOT admitted to McOther why I’ve cleaned the fridge. This probably makes me a Bad Person. But he’s so delighted that I’ve noticed cleaning issues and fixed them (it was pretty bogging) that I haven’t the heart—or, perhaps, the courage. If you are one of my friends from the Real World, please can you keep the Real Reason for my sudden act of domesticated Proper Woman-ness under your hat. Thank you, that would be peachy.

What have we learned this week?

That I can’t half bang on, that you can throw a phone out of a moving vehicle at 30mph and it will still work and also from a straw poll of me looking at other people with their phones, that hardly anyone has a phone with an intact screen.

Mmm. It’s been a long three days since I got home. Which reminds me, Bob is still in the cupboard, in the dark, recovering from his ordeal of being splattered. I’d better give him some new milk and put him into the Fridge.

Free books …

If you like this post and want to see what my books are like you can try two of them for free. Unlucky Dip and Small Beginnings are both free to download from most of the major sites, although Amazon do have a tendency to dick with the price a bit. Anyway if you’re interested Unlucky Dip is 4,000 words and is the second glimpse we have of The Pan of Hamgee’s life as he meets Big Merv, Boss of Ning Dang Po and inadvertently steals his wallet, after which, Big Merv offers him a choice; work, on an ad hoc basis, or death. The Pan, ever an intelligent young man, chooses work. Next we move onto Small Beginnings, which describes the first ‘job’ Big Merv gives The Pan to do. That is also free from most places. If you’re interested in those, you can find links to your favourite store (or my payhip store) to download them here:

Unlucky Dip


Small Beginnings

Night Swimming

If you like, you can also find out a little about The Pan’s life when he first comes to Ning Dang Po from Hamgee.

Remember the bit in The Wrong Stuff, when The Pan tells Ruth he jumped off a bridge? Well, Night Swimming is the book to read if you want to discover what happened. Here’s the blurb:

After stealing one of the best meat pies he’s ever eaten, and returning a small lost boy home, The Pan of Hamgee should feel smug. But somehow all these things do is make him miss his own family more. In a moment of very poor judgement, he decides to end it all. But The Pan should know by now that few things he plans ever turn out the way he expects.

This story is only available when people sign up to my mailing list which entails an extra set of wittering like this once a month and stories, competitions and other jolly japes. You can sign up for that, and grab your story, here:

 Audio version of Night Swimming or

Ebook version of Night Swimming

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Urgh! Just kill me now …

This week I have been making a very credible attempt to disappear up my own bum. Jeepers, if this is what it takes to visit another country I am never ever smecking going abroad again. And I’m not even the poor bastard trying to organise it. That’s McOther.

Suffice it to say that we had been looking at the prospect of escaping to France at some point, but I suspect the gargantuan mound of admin we have to attend to, were we to do so, would compare unfavourably with the amount of forward planning Scot did for that fatal trip to the Antarctic.

Other news this week, my website – not this blog but the actual http://www.hamgee.co.uk one – fell over. OK it didn’t really fall over exactly, I pushed it … a little bit. But NOT on purpose.

For some time now my web interface over there has been pestering me to upgrade  to WordPress 5.8. However every time I do I get a server error. This was something which had always happened at first release but there was usually the option to upgrade to the US version. I’d do that and then the GB version would work fine. This time there was no US version.

This was not a good idea.

Looking up on t’interweb, I discovered that it might be down to lack of server space, possibly, or I might need to do a manual install. I deleted a lot of posts from my blog, except for the two years when it was there rather than here. Then I attempted the manual install. I followed the instructions carefully and … when I loaded the site, I got a little message telling me something was missing. And a white screen. But nothing more.

Shit.

I backed up the copy I had on my own computer and then cracked open the original copy I’d downloaded in 2014. Then I wiped everything on the server and uploaded that. Maybe that would work?

Nope.

Maybe if I uploaded the backed up recent version on my computer then?

Nope.

Shit.

The galling thing was that this was obviously a really simple fix, I was just having trouble understanding what things it was telling me it needed.

Long and the short of it was I contacted the fellow who designed the site and does my web hosting. After a fraught 24 hours waiting for him to come back to me. He was away bless him, he reassured me that there was a back up on the server and reinstalled one from Friday. It’s still a bit borked so he’s going to have a look at it and see if he can straighten things out. Fingers crossed.

Other news this week, I suddenly got two promo slots for Hello Books, which is rather good and as a result I added a couple of other promo sites and yesterday Escape From B-Movie Hell received a massive 40 downloads. I am very chuffed about this as they came from other sites as well as Amazon, including Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Woot. Happy with that then. Yes it cost more than I’m going to earn but at the moment it’s a case of collecting new readers any way I can and hoping that as they join in with the whole K’Barthan Jolly Japes community, they will stick around and read my other stuff too.

Yesterday, I managed to step on a dead chick which I think may be the most revolting thing I’ve ever done. It was very windy here and I think it must have blown out of a tree or been dropped by one of the squirrels/magpies. It still had a yellow egg sack and it was primrose yellow and fluffy and definitely hadn’t been caught by the cat as there were no bite/puncture marks. Ugh. Just thinking about it gives me the boake.

Over the next four weeks I have many, many things to do. Just the thought of it is giving me hives, also characteristically, many things I wanted to do are, of course, happening at the same time, or when I’m not around; church friend’s funeral, the first metal detecting rally I’ve had access to in two years … all fall on days I can’t get to them. I guess that’s the same old same old.

During the next month, I suspect there will be no blog posts because there will not be time. I’m really sorry about that. There is so much admin that it’s all I’ll have time to do. If you feel denuded of all things K’Barthan, and are on Facebook, do feel free to hop over there and join the K’Barthan Jolly Japery Group. It’s a scream and I should be able to check in there a couple of times a day.

Right then. That’s it, I think. A bientot! Waves.

In the meantime, if you are hankering after some K’Barthan nuttery …

You can get some of my books reduced at the moment. Woot.

There may be a security error on some of these links but last Friday, I installed something that fixed that, but clearly after the time the site was backed up to. I have just installed it again. Oh yes I have. Hopefully it will work and nothing will break.

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Interesting times

This week, I single-handedly caused a gargantuan traffic jam and discovered that I am strong enough to brake a centimetre thick bar of steel. Move over Hulk, here I come. There’s a story in that and we’ll get to it in a minute. Meanwhile, writing news.

Yes, the writing is creeping along, McMini is off for his last day of school as I begin this, although it’ll probably be Saturday by the time I’m finishing it! It will also have to be today’s word count total as I’m off out with a friend. While working on the space dustmen book I’ve done a little bit of research as well as writing and discovered some information about micro bacterial fuel cells. Really interesting stuff. If you’re interested you can read more here.

As a result, I now have a space station which gains much of its power from the ‘waste products’ produced. Yes. It runs on wee. The stuff that isn’t useable is ‘processed’ by cockroaches who were already planned in as the rubbish processing facility in the plant. They had developed sentience and become minor characters. They still are but now, they run the recycling centre, eating cleaning the kack off the things that have had food or other stuff in them, sorting the rubbish and processing it.

Yesterday, I visited Mum. She wasn’t as switched on as sometimes. Mind you, by the time I got to her, I wasn’t either. The M11 was borked – there was a 2 hour delay – so I had to cut across country a little way and go down the A1 to the M25 instead.

Naturally, by the time I got to the M25, a lorry had caught fire between the A1 junction and the M11 junction. It wasn’t on my side but I made a mental note that it would be, when I returned, and despite being the other carriageway, the road was closed my way too. Joy. I ended up and taking the other, 80 miles longer, route round the M25 via Heathrow. I arrived about an hour and a quarter after I would usually have done but still a good 40 minutes before I’d have got there via the borked M11 route. Despite not being very with it, Mum was in reasonable form.

It was annoying being late as I’d suspected that the raspberries in Mum’s garden might be ready and I’d wanted to get there in time to pick them. I went down to the fruit cage anyway. The kitchen garden there is lying fallow this year. The weeds are up to my waist. I got soaked and it wasn’t helped by the fact there’s a power line over the fruit cage and the birds sit on it and shit onto the waist high weeds in the fruit cage below. Not just water smearing all over my trousers as I moved among the weeds then, but also shit. Copious clods of the kinds of massive turds pigeons do.

Bastards.

The raspberries were way more ready than I thought and some of them had rotted in the seemingly endless rain, which has never fucking stopped. All in all it was a bit of a disaster really. I was pissed off with myself for not checking them last week as I’d have been able to pick them as they ripened rather than letting a load rot on the canes by mistake. Then again, I got some and we had them for lunch. A partial success then. However, by the time I was done I was covered in fruit juice from the mouldy squishy ones along with bird shit.

Nature, one: MTM’s salmon pink combat trousers, nil.

Burrs … many, many burrs

In addition to the lovely fruit juice and turd smears on my trousers, I also had burrs all over my shoes. After lunch, as Mum and I chatted and watched the tennis, I picked them all off. Here they are with a pen in the photo for reference. See? That’s a lot of burrs.

As usual, I left at half two but bearing in mind the lorry fire, I had a quick look at google maps before departure because I reckoned they’d be resurfacing the road after that one. Sure enough the M25 was closed for resurfacing and everyone was using the M11 as the route round it so that was at a standstill. Alternative routes are available for this so I nipped up the A12 and decided that I’d cut across from Chelmsford, via Ongar and Toots Hill (mwahahahahrgh!) on the A 414, cleverly joining the M11 at the junction where everyone else who was trying to avoid the lorry fire was turning off. Away I went with a podcast I particularly enjoy playing on my phone and the plastic lady from Google shouting directions imperiously at intermediate intervals.

All was well until I ended up at the back of a slow moving convoy of vehicles stuck behind a breakdown truck with a lorry on the back. Poor bugger. I felt for him but it wasn’t exactly well met. Top speed? Oh I dunno … 40mph? But it was mostly 30mph. As we crept up a hill the speed dropped and I changed down a gear. At which point, something happened and the gearstick suddenly went limp, between the gears, with my foot on the clutch. I took my foot off the clutch but discovered the car was stuck in neutral. No drive. Just momentum.

As you can imagine, at 20mph, on a hill there’s not much momentum or coasting potential. I managed to creep slowly to the side of the road, but to be frank, not as ‘at the side of the road’ as I’d have liked and there wasn’t enough umph to get it up the curb onto the verge which is where I’d have preferred to have ended up. Once I had stopped, I realised that there wasn’t going to be enough of a let up in the traffic whizzing past for me to get out and push it onto the verge either. Indeed, the cars and lorries overtaking me were probably taking the same detour as I. The road was narrow and they were not leaving any room or taking any prisoners as they passed. Open the door and something would smack it – or me – at high speed. Nope. Nothing doing there. I had to exit, with very little dignity, through the passenger side.

It was looking ominous but not actually raining at this point so I spread my anorak on the grass verge and took stock. There was a lot of traffic because it was a busy trunk road; that is one lane going in one direction and one in the other. And I’d blocked the one going my way. As a result, everyone had to wait behind my car until there was a gap in the almost never ending stream of oncoming traffic or until someone in the huge queue of oncoming cars was kind enough to stop and flash a handful through. On the up side, at least it was a straight bit and there was reasonable visibility both ways so folks could see where the gaps were to try and overtake.

Traffic … as far as the eye can see. Zoom in for the full horror!

Er hem. Yeh.

From my vantage point, the statutory ‘as far as possible’ away from the car, I looked along the road in the direction from which I had come, and which I was now blocking. The queue of cars stuck behind mine filled the whole straight and snaked away into the distance out of sight. About three quarters of a mile of it by the looks of things.

Shizz.

But also, in a very selfish and unpleasant, wow!-I-did-this! kind of way a bit rewarding. It made me understand how satisfying it must be to drive a caravan and cause this kind of mayhem wherever you go. Look at all those gits stuck behind me, they’ll have to learn some patience etc, etc. Except I did have the good grace to be mortified in majority, rather than smug.

Yes, well … that’s enough of that.

OK, better get the breakdown truck. I had never rung my breakdown company, had no clue what they’d be like, and wasn’t confident at all. My spirits sank further as I got the usual recorded announcement about COVID19 decimating their routine, although luckily it was just to apologise that some folks would be answering calls from home and that there might be some background noise. Not half as much as there was my end, I thought. The phone was answered quickly by a gentleman who asked where I was, at which point, I looked at google maps and discovered that I was half way between Chelmsford and Ongar, quite near to the highly amusingly named, Toots Hill. Then I realised that there was an enormous red bit on this road which started right about … ah yes … where I was standing.

When I mentioned this the gentleman on the other end asked if I was in danger. Judging by the number of people hooting and shaking their fists at me, I suspected there might be a small chance that someone who had been stuck in the queue behind me might stop to smack me in the mouth but otherwise, no, not especially. It’s all relative. I said that I was OK and that the car was in the middle of a straight, which was good, but that it wasn’t parked quite as I’d have liked. He suggested that I might be wise to ring off, call the police to warn them that I had single-handedly brought the traffic to a standstill. The call was logged, he explained so there’d be a truck on the way to the Ongar area I could just ring them back in ten minutes or so and fill in the details of my destination. There was much giggling from both of us because I told him that it appeared I’d done some kind of Hulk move and ripped the gearstick off, that it needed a viagra, etc. So I hung up and dialled 101.

It took a while but I finally got through to a dispatch officer with Essex police. She was lovely. The road was a bit loud and her what three words weren’t working so it was difficult for me to give her my exact location. We were on the phone for longer than we might have been, I suspect. I explained roughly where I was and she patched it all through. We then had a conversation that went something like this:

‘The traffic sounds like it’s going quite fast,’ she said.
No,’ I replied. ‘That’s the stuff coming the other way. The traffic my side is mostly stationary.’
Just at that moment a bunch of them got past and someone vented their anger by beeping their hooter long and hard.
‘Are they hooting at you?’ she asked incredulously.
‘Yes, they’re not happy.’ I replied. ‘They’re probably all avoiding the M25 like I am.’
‘Seriously, what do they think you’re doing?’ she said.
‘It looks like they think I’ve decided that this would be a really good place to stop and make a phone call,’ I said with my best sarcastic, idiot-spotting tone in place.
She laughed at that. ’Some people!’ she said.
‘Yeh. They’re not all bad, though. Some are looking sympathetic,’ I said, at which point a girl in a Fiat 500 stopped and asked if I needed any help and I said that I was fine and that the police were on their way.
‘That was a nice woman in a fiat asking if I needed any help,’ I duly reported to the officer who was still trying to get her version of what three words to link up with their mapping stuff.
‘Of course, the only person who offers to help would be a woman,’ she said drily and I liked her even more.
‘Right, there’s a car on its way, they’ll be with you in nine minutes.’
‘Brilliant,’
I replied at which point we said our goodbyes.

Oops …

Before I rang the breakdown people again, I rang the mechanic who fixes my car to ask if I could have it delivered to his workshop. He was fine with that so I then rang the breakdown people and told them where I was. Luckily their what three words was working so that was pretty quick.

Just as I was thinking of writing ‘sorry’ in big letters on a piece of paper and holding it up, I heard sirens in the distance. Yep there was a police car doing the full blues and twos piling towards me down the wrong side of the road past the huge queue of traffic. Shizz, was this for me?

Yes it was. Ooo. That was a bit of a thrill.

And also completely mortifying.

Yes.

They did, at least hold up the traffic and agree to help me push the car off the road but they had a ‘danger to life’ to go to next so instead of being able to enlist their help to push the car to the gateway of a field further up, they pushed it into a sort of half lay-by on the other side of the road. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing and at least now I was safe enough from the traffic.

Now that I was safely parked, I got into the car and rang the breakdown people explaining that I wanted to be taken to the address of my garage. They warned me there might not be room for me in the truck and I might have to be dropped ‘in a safe place’ where McOther could pick me up. Was that alright?

Shit.

‘Yes,’ I said, because, what else could I say?

Then I rang McOther and he was happy to pick me up from the mechanic’s garage. Lastly I rang Mum and pretended that I was in the driveway and that the traffic was the cars on Northgate Street. That done I realised I only had 20% charge on my phone so I got my charger out, fixed it, because it had come apart, and plugged the phone in to charge. By the time I’d finished that lot and discovered the text from my break down people saying the truck would be there at 5.57 I just had a few minutes to nip behind the hedge for a wee and my rescuer would probably have arrived.

The lay-by was part of the original road, which had been moved over. The metalled remains was left, hidden from the new road by a row of scrubby elms and blocked off at the beginning and end with piles of paving stones. There was a path but there were also a lot of brambles. I put on the sheepskin gloves I wear to fill up with petrol, picked my way gingerly over the pile of bricks and slabs and had a very, very much needed wee. Great. Now I was comfortable I could face anything.

Probably.

Even on a tow truck I still think my car looks cool.

The guy arrived exactly when he had said and when I told him my destination, thought he might well have been there before, with other stricken Lotuses, or would that be Loti? He had to pretty much stand in the hedge to get to the winch controls but he clearly knew what he was doing and it was on the back very quickly with the minimum of fuss or bother. Had he been doing this all his life? I asked. It turned out that yes he had. His father had been a mechanic before him and had also done recovery work. He remembered ‘cabbing’ with his dad to help at breakdown jobs from as young as three. He told he was a grumpy old git which made me warm to him immediately.

We didn’t go through the amusingly named, ‘Toots Hill’, much to my disappointment instead the road took us through Ongar and as we approached the junction with the M11 we hit a queue. It wasn’t long before we got chatting. His mother had died of Alzheimer’s. We talked about the first warning signs. In his case, his father had taken his mum away on holiday. She had a light smoking habit, about ten a day, which she started fairly late on in life. While they were away on this particular trip, his father popped out from the hotel to get some bits and bobs from the shops and bought her a packet of cigarettes. When he handed them over, she seemed nonplussed and explained that she didn’t smoke. She’d forgotten that she did, completely. Such a weird thing.

Everything went smoothly. We chatted happily over the course of the journey and arrived back at the mechanic’s workshop a bit after seven pm. Not bad really. He deposited my car exactly where the mechanic had asked me to park it, once more, with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of quiet competence, then off he went with a cheery wave. McOther was already there to collect me and we got home just before 8 o’clock.

What was wrong with it? I hear you ask. Well, to be honest, I was expecting it to be the little pin that holds the gearstick onto the … thing. It wasn’t. It turns out that it had broken off. Yes I’d actually managed to rip a piece of steel half an inch thick in half. For fuck’s sake. OK so I get a bit panicky sometimes and miss gears and kind of flap at it in a kind of go-in-go-in headless-chicken panic but I have come away with a rather sobering reassessment of my own strength.

The mechanic, who is called Gerald, but I promise the one in my book was called Gerald/Gerry before this one appeared in my actual Real Life, told me that the gear stick used to be available separately but that even though Lotus only stopped making the 1.6 Elise three years ago, in 2018, they have ceased manufacture of all its bespoke parts. So there was one set of gear stuff that comprised the whole linkage, which I don’t need, but which included the stick, for £650 plus 20% VAT. Otherwise, I could wait until a gear stick appeared on the second hand market. That would render a perfectly serviceable car un-drivable for weeks … months … years? … Until somebody broke one up somewhere.

Yikes.

The supplier had given him three minutes to say yes or no because they knew this was the last one in Britain. Jeez, I know the noisy cricket is inanimate and not sentient and that but seriously? It’s like it knows I spent all that money on art last week.

In case you’d forgotten what the noisy cricket (after which my car is named) actually is, here’s a refresher. 🙂

Yeh. Bollocks.

What to do?

Say yes to the last replacement part in existence, obviously.

Even if I end up paying about £500 over the odds for a whole lot of extra stuff on it that I don’t need, I’d prefer that to having a perfectly useable car standing idle for want of of an 18 inch piece of metal. The part will arrive next Wednesday and be fitted soon after with any luck. But now I have to think about what I do from here on in. Because if finding parts for my ten year old car is going to be like trying to source bits for a 1920s Lagonda or something, it’s going to be impractical and expensive. If I’m having to have a new gear stick bespoke machined from the plans from here on in, I’m in trouble.

If I sell it right now, there aren’t any new models of Lotus to buy and the Elises are all being retired. I doubt I’d get one and certainly not in my go to favourite shade of gunmetal grey. Anyway, two years down the line, my three year old car would be in the same situation as the current ten year old one.

Furthermore, I don’t think I can quite afford another Lotus, not new. Although, with the part exchange, if I start saving up I might be able to in a few years’ time. I also have to think in terms of my knee, which doesn’t straighten quite enough for the effortless exits and entries I used to be able to make. I do now look like an ancient old bag heaving herself in and out of it, and whatever the repercussions of walking wrong for so long have been on my hip are causing problems now that I’m walking properly again. The easy twist of the leg to slide under the steering wheel now hurts me. A lot. That said, I was going to wait a year or two and see if I could get physio and sort the hip out because it’s probably something some physiotherapy exercises could fix – shortened flexor muscles or similar.

Perhaps it would be smart to start thinking about what I drive next. Gulp. When the time comes, do I buy another Lotus? Where can they go after the current range of heart-wrenchingly pretty cars? Surely the only way is down. Or is it time to bite the bullet and buy … shudders … a normal car? I’ve driven a Lotus for 21 years and I had a spitfire for 11 years before that. 32 years of two-seaters that are like getting in and out of a sleeping bag. I like it like that. I feel safe looking up at the hub caps of taxis. And whatever car I buy, it needs to be absorbing enough to hold my attention for a 300 mile round trip every week or my mind will wander at the wheel and I’ll die. And when I say absorbing, I mean absorbing in a good way, in a way that makes schlepping up and down to Sussex as enjoyable as possible. And … pointy steering. I need pointy steering. Most normal cars are like driving a water bed on castors.

Also while Lotus might stand for Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious, this one has 81,000 miles on the clock and this is only the third major expense I’ve had … and one of those was the headlight which was a major expense but not quite as life threatening as say, the suspension, which went just after lock down but only cost £600. Most of the things I have done cost about £600 to be honest.

Modern cars are also a bit toss. They’re over engineered where it doesn’t matter, and under engineered where it does. I don’t want a million crappy gizmos. I don’t want caps on my tyres that cost £120 because there’s a pressure sensor in each one, it’s pointless shit. I’m not a complete moron. I can check my tyre pressure. I don’t need an electronic voice to tell me my washer fluid is low, I don’t need a stupid ‘console’ with a smart speaker and all manner of other shizz programmed in that’s connected to the internet and that I have to pay a monthly subscription for (yes another chuffing £7 a month). I have a phone for that. And if there is going to be a nut job at the wheel, I’d prefer it to be me and not some radicalised teenage whack job hacker in a bedroom somewhere who has got into my car’s smart software and is now controlling it.

All I want from a car is headlights, a heater, indicators, windscreen wipers and a radio/cd player that I can plug a flash memory stick into. Hell, even electric windows are a bit of an extravagance in my book. I mean, I have arms don’t I? Likewise, air-con would have been nice last summer but this year I wouldn’t have needed to use it at all so it’s not 100% necessary.

Nope. What I want is the kind of engineering that gets 0-60 in 6 seconds out of a 1.6 Toyota Yaris engine. The kind of engineering that gets me 0-60 in 6 seconds but delivers 40mpg on the motorway. That kind of elegant, logical, common sense, smart engineering that is spectacularly fucking absent from pretty much any other marque of car. The only alternative, really, is a Tesla, but the range is 250 miles and I need 300 to get to Sussex and back.

Or possibly a fiat 500 Abarth because … 0-60 in 6 seconds is enough to give me a thrill but 4 seconds would be even more fun.

Hmm … decisions, decisions …

Talking about vehicles with a mind of their own …

If you want to read about the fictional version of the Noisy Cricket, it features in Too Good To Be True, my latest release in both ebook and audio format. Here’s a bit more about it.

Too Good To Be True

Too Good To Be True (Audiobook cover)

When trouble comes knocking, meet the one man dumb enough to answer the door …

When The Pan of Hamgee encounters some mudlarkers trying to land a box on the banks of the River Dang he is happy to help. Having accepted a share of the contents as a reward he cannot believe his luck. It contains one of the most expensive delicacies available in K’Barth, Goojan spiced sausage. If he can sell it, the sausage might spell the end of his troubles. On the other hand, knowing his luck, it could bring a whole load more.

Written in British English with a dash of light swearing. Suitable for any reader of any age from 10 up – younger readers who have read all the Harry Potter books without any worries will be fine with the Hamgeean Misfit stories.

Suggested cinema rating, PG. Ebook: 247 pages, Paperback: 295 pages, Audiobook running time, 9hrs 57 mins.

You and find out more (or listen to the audio sample) using these links:

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MTM Fails at modern life …

Yeh, I know, again. Here’s the whole sorry tale.

This week, I went to the first art exhibition I’d attended in a long time. It was this one, at Moyses’ Hall in Bury St Edmunds. NB it’s a temporary exhibition so that link might die after September 2021. Basically, it was an exhibition of modern stuff by artists like Banksey, Tracy Enim, My Dog Sighs, Pure Evil etc …

As far as contemporary art goes, I like it, but I guess I’m quite choosey. I love Banksey’s stuff because I think it’s incredibly thought provoking and I enjoy a lot of street art for the same reason. Some contemporary art strikes me as a bit too much about the idea and I find it hard to engage, this exhibition wasn’t like that. Stuff, like Banksey, is subversive, clever and often funny which, of course, I love. Other things, like a Belgian artist, whose name, to my chagrin, I can’t remember does stencils of street cleaners and other municipal workers interacting with a crack in the pavement, the white bar across a no-entry sign, etc. They are fabulous and very subtle, like the army of real municipal workers, street cleaners and dustmen who are pretty much invisible but without whom everything would go pretty pear-shaped pretty fast.

When it comes to street art, I think most folks think of those gorgeous multi-coloured letters – I think they’re just tags aren’t they? Obviously, we all know how hip and down with modern trends I am so I haven’t a fucking clue. Some folks think they are shit, I absolutely love them. I take pictures of French motorway stanchions out of the car window because I’m amazed by the art. Take one grey shitty wall. Add vibrancy and colour. What’s not to like?

The other thing that appeals, I guess is how much someone can say in one line. There’s very little space or time, so it’s a deceptively skilful art parsing that quick quip well enough to count. There were several works in this exhibition with the kinds of massively sarcastic, throw-away comments we British (oh alright, and the French) do so well. It made me think of my friend Duncan. Sat at lunch one day, one of Dad’s colleagues came out with some throw away line which was a bit close to the knuckle and Duncan just said quietly, ‘Well, you’re not a xenophobic old bigot then are you?’ which made everyone laugh, but also made the point.

Some of this stuff has that similar wry directness. I was amazed at how much thought a short, snappy comment can provoke, and also hugely impressed at how well the artists made that short space count. There was a gorgeous one of Captain Tom, usual stencil style, all black and white except for his footprints which were rainbow coloured. It sounds rather cheesy when I describe it, but the actual art work wasn’t. I guess what I really mean is that street art is totally accessible. The other part of the impact is the fact that edgy out-there people who, if you met them, might be slightly intimidatingly trendy, are doing stuff that makes them very normal. Street artists, above all others, seem to be so utterly human, fellows rather than art gods. They’re unafraid to display their humanity in what they say and paint, and I love that, too.

Pure Evil print … Yes.

It was only a small exhibition really, but it took us well over an hour to go round. At the end there were art works for sale and yes … you guessed it. I decided I’d buy one. Except when I looked through, a lot of the prints in my price range just kind of didn’t speak to me … except one. I decided to think about it. By the time I got home I knew I was going to go and buy it, so I turned straight round and went back up the hill. Picture, or at least print, procured (12 of 100) I then went straight to the art shop in Bury to get it framed. That would take 6 – 8 weeks. Ah. Bit too long that. I paid for them to cut a mount in black card for a 50 x 70 frame and took it home where I thought I had a similar sized frame of my own.

Turned out I didn’t.

Oh.

On the upside, I found one exactly the same as the one in the shop in the internet for a great deal less so I ordered it. Looking at it the picture again, I decided that a painted frame would be pretty cool so I ordered a can each of fluorescent pink and green paint. Wednesday I was off to Mum’s so it was Thursday that I picked up the mount – sorry this is beginning to sound a bit like ‘The Gas Man Cometh’ by Flanders and Swan. When I arrived home I received a text to say my proscription sunglasses were ready so back out I went to get those, they are well cool, not that I’m likely to get to wear them again this year. The minute I left the house, the most enormous box arrived with the frame I’d ordered. Woot for me, slight pain in the arse for McOther. While I was picking up the specs, fearing that my fluorescent paint mightn’t arrive before the weekend, I went to Halfords and bought a can each of pink, green, yellow and red.

On the way back I popped into Waterstones to buy a friend’s book. It isn’t in yet so I ordered it from the lady behind the counter who happened to be the mother of one of McMini’s school friends. There are two Waterstones in town and she’d just been moved to this one from the other where she had ensured they stocked the K’Barthan Series (yay for her!). I said it was all still there and she told me to go in and offer to sign it. That way it would get a signed by the author sticker on it. So in I went. By this time it was throwing it down with rain and I looked like a bedraggled rat. I took off my specs, because I can’t see to read or write with them on. As I walked away, delighted that I’d done an authory thing, I couldn’t help noticing how fabulously my glasses were coping with my mask. Not steaming up one bit.

Hang on.

Ah. Yes. They were not steaming up because they were not on. Not on me at any rate. Yep they were on the counter in Waterstones but not on me. Knobs. Back I went and with a brief apologetic explanation I grabbed the specs. I’d walked about five miles by this time so I was a bit knackered on the walk home. This is menopausal me. On the upside, without the HRT I’d probably only be realising that I can’t actually see round about now. That’s the difference; both HRT me and pre HRT me leave the specs behind. Nothing can be done to fix that. But HRT me actually remembers to go back for them.

Back at home, unpacking my booty, I felt that things were getting exciting. I wanted to frame the picture right then but it was supper time. Also, I needed to spray the frame in ‘a well ventilated area’ – or ‘outside’ as it is often known among those of us who do not own a spray booth – and it was pissing with rain so I had to leave it.

Saturday dawned and it was not raining, so I decided to strike while the iron was hot. I took the back off the frame and removed the glass. First to mount the print. We’d measured it in the shop and they’d cut it beautifully but it was too narrow. You couldn’t see all of the signature, and since Pure Evil’s signature has a distinctive bunny shape/motif I wanted it to be shown. Now what? Take it back?

Noooo! That would take too long.

I rummaged in the cupboard and dug out my mount cutting set. Yes. I have one. I used to paint illustrated names and I started cutting my own mounts because it was cheaper.

That said, I was never great at this sort of thing. First side, I took off a couple of mil and it looked awesome. Yeh, still got it after all these years. Second side, total and utter abortion. I ended up taking about 4 mm off until I had something passable. Passable but nothing like as good as the lovely cutting the art shop had done.

For fuck’s sake.

Should I take it back, I wondered. No. Because … time. I was far too excited about this to wait any longer than I had to. I cut another 2 mil off the side I’d already done and of course I fucked it up, not as badly as the other side but enough. Ugh. I fixed the damage as best I could and then tried it over the print.

Mounted print and colour swatches.

Was the signature visible? Yes.

Was the hole in the middle still smaller than the print? Yes. Booyacka!

Did I need to tidy it up? Yes because I— No! Quit while you’re ahead … or at least not as far behind as you were.

Cutting done, I put everything away and mounted the print. That sentence makes the process sound so much simpler than it was but I did eventually get the picture mounted with reasonably equal gaps each side and as much of the signature showing as was ever going to be. Yeh, looking good, despite the fact I’d done such a shite job of the cutting and had been compelled to fix a couple of bits with black pen (shhhh!). I put it on the table and admired it. Yeh. Lush.

Next I popped outside and spray painted three envelopes, red, green and pink. Back indoors to size up which colour would work best. Once again, pink was the colour. Even McOther agreed that, though he hates pink with a vengeance, it was the best match in this case.

Right. Colour chosen. Now to paint it. To protect the patio table, I put a huge sheet of cardboard over it, yes that huge box the frame came in was good for something, after all. I put the frame on top, donned my trusty face mask and began to spray. It took a fair bit and having finally reached the point where I believed I had finished a bug landed on the bottom right hand corner and got stuck in the wet paint.

The bastard.

Knackered bug bit scraped off

When I removed the bug, or at least its corpse, I think the paint fumes killed it off pretty quickly, it left a mark and what looked like some legs … oh dear … sorry bug. At least it was already dead. Never mind, it wouldn’t show if I just scraped that bit of paint off and painted over it again. Offending blemish removed using a hankie and my penknife, I sprayed it with a new coat of paint and of course, after not enough paint had gone on, the paint ran out.

Bum.

Never mind. I’d just nip up to Halfords for more. I was knackered now and my knee was a bit swollen. Too swollen to get into my car so I decided I’d cycle up there, which I did and grabbed a second can of pink paint. Back home I began to apply paint to the disaster area. I didn’t think it was going to work but it matched better and better as each coat dried until finally, three quarters into the second can, I was left with a uniform expanse of fluorescent pink. Yes. After leaving it half an hour to dry it was time to put the glass back in.

First, I laid the frame out on the table, then I picked up the back and the glass. It was going to need a bit of snuggling to fit. I lifted it too high and at the wrong angle, resulting in a situation where I was, basically, holding the bottom half of a 50×60 cm bit of glass. Ooo, better slide one hand up and hold it at opposite corners, I thought, or it’ll – ohmygawd!

It shattered.

Well, bollocks!

Baby Yoda. He likes this too.

How could I be such an absolute wanker? Seriously though, what a complete fucking arse! Does my cockwomblery know no bounds? Mwahahaahrgh! Jeez, clearly not. Once I’d finished mashing my forehead against an empty part of the table I set about clearing up the broken glass, with the help of a very sympathetic McOther. Since there was no glass to put into the frame, I put everything else in. I was happy to leave it without glass for the time being. I was happy with no glass in it full-stop, to be honest, but … dust, thunder bugs, air full of brown smeal from the road and countless other shit so, no. Sure, it looked good, but glass-free was almost certainly bad from a preservation point of view.

Now what though? Put it together and hang it up for now. So I did and hung the picture on my wall. That done I turned to Monsieur Google for advice. Replacement picture glass. Hoorah, there was a firm that would cut me a sheet for £11.50 but wait, no, I had to go there to collect it. They could only post me perspex and they were north of Manchester.

Mmm. Might be a bit of a schlepp. Yeh. Probably not then.

Now there is ‘glass’. It was the wrong light to take this photo … dark basically so the window reflections are horrendous but … you get the gist, I’m sure.

Maybe I should buy a clip frame? Yes. That’s what I’d do. Buy a clip frame and use the glass from that. Once again I turned to my friend, Monsieur Google. Nearest one £8.99 from Dunelm. Right then. I leapt into McOther’s car because 50×70 plus protective packaging isn’t going to fit into my boot, and headed off. Twenty minutes later I was the proud owner of a clip frame with a very and I meant very thin piece of perspex over it. Never mind it would have to do. I disassembled my recently assembled print and put the perspex into the frame where the glass should have been. It was a bit flimsy but at least it fitted. So far so good.

Now I would have to add a bit of packing because the frame was designed to have a 2mm thick piece of glass and the perspex replacement was probably only a few microns. I picked up the piece of cardboard that came in the frame originally, masquerading as a picture. Yeh, that should do it. But wait! No! It was full of acid. Back to my office where I grabbed some sheets of acid free tissue paper to put over the back of the picture. There. Then I stuck in the cardboard and put on the back and although I say it myself, the result isn’t half bad. Except that there is so much shit reflected in the perspex that you can hardly see the picture … although the glass was like that too.

How was your Saturday?

Talking about cool things …

Yes because I’m ridiculously excited about this, too! Too Good To Be True is now available in audio format. As I may have mentioned, I am super-stoked about this because not only is it one of the more decent books I’ve written, and not only is it, to be honest, a bit funnier than some of the others, but Gareth has done a ridiculously good job on it.

Here’s the blurb:

Too Good To Be True

Too Good To Be True

When trouble comes knocking, meet the one man dumb enough to answer the door …

When The Pan of Hamgee encounters some mudlarkers trying to land a box on the banks of the River Dang he is happy to help. Having accepted a share of the contents as a reward he cannot believe his luck. It contains one of the most expensive delicacies available in K’Barth, Goojan spiced sausage. If he can sell it, the sausage might spell the end of his troubles. On the other hand, knowing his luck, it could bring a whole load more.

Written in British English with a dash of light swearing. Suitable for any reader of any age from 10 up – younger readers who have read all the Harry Potter books without any worries will be fine with the Hamgeean Misfit stories.

Suggested cinema rating, PG. Running time, 10 hrs approx (9 hrs 57 mins)

Here’s the sample. And if you like it and want to know more there are links to the main retailers here.

Last of all, so it chooses the right image, I managed to take a lovely just-about-to-spring picture of McCat.

Ready for action

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