Tag Archives: M T M Makes a complete tit of herself

The downside of making progress

Just a quick one today. I’m sitting in a cafe, drinking an enormous bucket of hot chocolate while I while away an hour before McMini’s harvest service. Very important I go to this one as Scion has a speaking part! Woot. There will also be a Hymn I Know, apparently, so I must make sure I am in a position to sing loudly without causing undue distress to people around me, ie I must stand at the back, alone at least twenty yards from anyone who can hear.

On the up side … I have my keys, although I didn’t yesterday. I was late meeting McMini after school – he walks half way home on his own and I meet him in town – because I managed to lock myself out of the house. On the upside, I did, at least, realise I had no keys before I locked myself out of the garden as well. The garden is a nightmare because my disability makes it impossible to just climb over the wall and unlock the gate. I have to borrow a ladder or a chair and lean over.

On the other hand, the house is easy, I’m usually back inside in about twenty seconds. It did make me late though, because I had to find the ruddy keys before I could come out again and I had wet knees from kneeling on the doormat. There are times when I wish my life wasn’t quite so remeniscent of a badly written situation comedy. Obviously any character as ditsy as I would be totally unrealistic when written into fiction. I can’t believe I’ve reached the stage where I’m so bad that, as a fictional character, I’d be untenable. Nobody is actually that crap in reality … er hem … well … no-one except me.

Obviously, even for me, locking yourself out of the garden or house three times in about five days is pretty impressive going. Now it could be menopausal brain fog – yes ladies I can tell you, for nothing, that really is a Thing – but I think it may be the knock on effects of my efforts to do a little bit of something. It sounds mad but thanks to the lovely Joseph Michael’s course on Writer’s Block, I have been following his advice to merely aim for ten minutes’ writing a day. The results have been so splendid that I’ve been doing it for other things. The results are a very much calmer, less tense MT because doing secret me stuff that I enjoy makes me happy and fulfilled.

However, by making this time for me stuff, I fear I may have inadvertently overstretched the mental capacity available. The way my memory for administriatitive shite works is that it has a finite amount of space and when that fills up, as I put stuff in one end other things start leaking out of the back. My old headmistress used to use the analogy of a sponge. As in; it can fill up with a certain amount of water but after that, when you put more water in, stuff that’s in there starts running out. This appears to be what is happening.

By doing things I enjoy alongside all the stuff I have to, I have discovered that the things I like are starting to take up a portion of that memory and as a result, shite, like remembering to pick up my keys as I leave the house is falling out. I am lurching from one, ‘shit McMini! We’re supposed to be at …’ insert name of specially organised Year Six event here. And just getting to things on time; school open days, upper school head master’s talks, providing packed lunches on the days McMini requires them, going to school in his PE kit with a bag full of his normal school uniform, or, like today, remembering that it’s harvest festival at ten am and that I have to be there.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to do about it. I am so much happier and more fulfilled if I do a few things I want to do alongside things I have to do that I’m loathe to go back to tense frustrated MTM. But at the same time, I don’t want to reach the stage where I fail to function as a human being in normal society! A stage upon the brink of which I am teetering, right now.

It’s a fine balance to strike and Mum is particularly muddled at the moment so I have to remember a bit more than usual for her and way, way more than usual for McMini. The quiet oceans of peace when McOther takes him to football on a Monday evening are gone because McOther is no longer home in time. I think the thought collection time is definitely lacking and perhaps this is part of the problem. I’m not sure.

Whatever it is, Real Life is rather too busy for my taste, McOther is buried under work and so I’m doing the cooking. By doing every dish from scratch and eschewing everything ready made I am hoping to lose some weight. It isn’t actually that much more work than using cook in sauces and I am cautiously optimistic that it may be working. Might need to hold back on the spuds a bit though. The cooking isn’t a problem but I do have to be a bit more organised, there are lots of lists although I seldom remember to take them with me when I go shopping etc.

Back to the drawing board then. I don’t want to drop the things that make me happy but I definitely have to find a way to remember more crap.

I leave you with a McMini-ism. Last night at about 3 am he called out. I went and found him on the stairs having had a bad dream. I sat down a few steps below him and told him he had far worse things to worry about, like that his mum might wee on the stairs because I really needed to go to the loo. He laughed and then told me he’d dreamed we were fixing my car, that his dad had given him a coke to drink and that he’d inadvertently drunk from a bottle of rat poison we were using instead and died. I said that sounded like a bummer but that if he was dreaming of dying it was a sure sign that he was enjoying life! I asked him he’d like a hug. Yes, he would, he told me. So I hugged him tight. Too tight. He farted loudly and then guffawing with laughter told me,

“I’ll be alright now Mummy!” and we both went, giggling, to bed.

Incidentally, as I prepare this for posting, it’s later in the day. I’ve managed to leave the house to collect my son with my keys, I locked the garden gate without shutting the keys the wrong side … trouble was, when I got home again, I realised I’d forgotten to lock the door. Hmm. Let’s call this a work in progress.

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That’s Alzheimer’s not Dad.

The post is a bit grim but at least this picture is pretty!

A couple of weeks ago, someone shared one of my posts of dementia-related whinging on Facebook – this post if anyone’s interested – and it got an interesting comment.

There is ample opportunity for me to have misconstrued here but, as I interpreted the comment, I think it basically said something along the lines of that we don’t really know why some folks get to die suddenly or well and others get something a bit more operatic; by which I mean they get the real world equivalent of twenty minutes of singing and an encore after a wound that should have killed them instantly. The gist was that ours is not to reason why.

The poster went on to say, if I’ve understood correctly, that if it was God’s will that they linger who are we to argue, and to just have faith that it’s all happening for a reason, that it is not our place to judge or begrudge them their time in the twilight zone, and we can give them that time. That this process of slowly withdrawing from one world and preparing to step into the other is clearly of spiritual importance in some way and we should accept our part in it with grace. Thinking about it, I should probably post what was said. This is the comment in question.

It’s a kindly, wise comment and clearly meant to give comfort but instead, reading it, I feel as if I am being chided for my lack of faith, and for my selfishness in feeling that fourteen years of this is a tad fucking long. I found myself wondering how much of the poster’s own care/worry marathon they had completed, two years? five years? seven? ten? I’ve reached the stage, now, where I worry that the pressure of worrying about my folks may do me in; that I may not out live my parents. I mean, I can’t die! It would kill them. Then there’s the whole cancer thing. Have you noticed how many people who have been through a tough patch like this one end up going down with cancer just as they get right again? I dearly hope I avoid joining them.

Clearly the commenter has a great deal more grace and faith than I, but I confess, the thing about the comment that really threw me was that I had no idea that anyone could so completely and utterly miss the point of why I post all this stuff.

Bearing that in mind, I thought I’d better explain to clear things up! Because I accept my father’s fate is clearly not a swift and merciful death, trust me, there is no mercy in dementia. Indeed, if this is the greatest mercy they can wish for I shudder to think on the horror of any alternatives my parents have missed. Likewise, if they have to suffer this now I hope they have manifold blessings in store. My father has been losing his memory the whole of my son’s life. Even when my lad was born in 2008, Dad couldn’t really be left alone. It began before that, in 2004. Fourteen years is a fuck of a long time in anybody’s book. It’s probably my fault and I’m the one being punished. I expect I snogged too many boys or wanked too much as a teenager or something, but I digress.

It’s no good my railing against fate, it merely wastes energy. I just have to bite the bullet and get on with it. I will endeavour to give my parents as much quality of life and freedom of choice as possible, and I am trying to make this twilight time for them a time of gentleness, peace and compassion. That my brother and I aim to do that, however painful it may be for all of us, is moot.

But you know what? Just because my brother and I are doing what we hope is the right thing, it doesn’t make it any more fun. And I doubt the feelings I have experienced as I’ve watched my father lose his mind over fourteen long years are any different to those of other people in my position. And that’s why I write about this.

When I write about Dad’s sickness on my blog, it isn’t about my brother and I doing the right thing by our parents, it’s not even about our efforts at trying to. That’s a given.

No.

This is about what tenderness and mercy to one member of a family costs the others.

Similarly, I doubt the dismay I felt as I realised, three years ago, that my mother also had dementia, is unique. If there is anything merciful in this perhaps it’s Mum’s dementia. Because I do not know how she finds the strength to endure some of the stuff Dad says to her and at least if she forgets, she won’t know what she’s lost.

The posts I write about my father’s Alzheimer’s and my mother’s dementia are not here to give you answers, they’re here to show you my reactions. Because I think I’m very average and I suspect most of us feel the way I do but may not admit it, not even to ourselves. Well if that’s you, I’m writing this so you can see that your reactions are normal. The things you think about the situation that are so dodgy and shameful that they almost hurt? You aren’t alone.

That’s the only gift I can give to people suffering through this. Thousands of people have come before us, doubtless many thousands will come after. You’re not alone, I’m not alone, we are united in this trouble.

When the dementia patent in your life does something that completely shocks and repulses you, it’s OK to recoil, to feel sad, hurt, horrified and angry. It’s OK to feel those things because it’s natural, and yes, it’s OK to feel trapped by their neediness. The key is not how you feel but how you act when you are with the person affected, the key is not whether you are disgusted but whether you show it. They no longer understand or even realise that their actions are unacceptable. Much of what they are doing is caused by them feeling frightened and alone, you can reduce the number of melt downs, if you can get alongside them and have them working with you not at you, but if you fail, well that’s OK, because there’s always next time, when you can try something else.

Showers, but also sunny intervals.

Also, attitudes to dementia are changing and I write about things that happen to us which reflect that change because I want people to see it and know about it. I want people to realise that if they want to take a dementia sufferer out somewhere they should go right ahead. It’s just a disability. You don’t have to hide them like a shameful thing but at the same time, you need to have an idea of what you are all facing. I describe our journey to help you understand what is coming as you embark on yours.

When I was a kid, if someone got Dementia it usually went something like this. Person gets dementia. No-one is allowed to know it’s all kept secret because it’s a Bad Thing. Person does something a bit strange in public which a handful of folks hear about but which is not ever passed on but is just mentioned as, ‘that time at …’ or something similar. Person disappears from all social life. Five years later, you attend their funeral. I used to wonder what happened in between. Now I know. And I want other people to know and understand. That, yes, it is horrible, but it can also be uplifting. I want people to know that they needn’t feel afraid, that it is unbelievably harsh but they will cope.

While Dad can still enjoy the company of others – and he can most days – I want my dad to be active and social. To be able to go out and Mum with him. I want him to be able to go have lunch at the pub or whatever. Amazingly, they attend a huge number of social events but it is getting more and more difficult now. Bless them, a decent number of his friends now come to him, or if they’re no longer mobile, ring him.

As I said, attitudes are changing, although it takes a certain brazenness to be a carer. For example, back in 2011 when we were on the ferry to the Isle of Wight. Dad went to the loo and got a bit disorientated while he was in there. He came out with his zip open and his cock out. A lady sitting nearby rushed over to him, just as I noticed and ran over to him, too.
‘Oh thank you, I’m so sorry,’ I told her when I got there.
‘Is he yours?’ she said.
‘Yes,’ I said as I turned to Dad. ‘Dad, we need to pop back in there for a moment.’
‘Oh dear, do we?’
‘Yes,’ I leaned over and whispered, ‘You’ve forgotten to do your flies up.’
He guffawed and we thanked the lady and went back into the loo.
‘What am I coming to? I left my cock out,’ he said when we got inside. We giggled some more and he made some joke about Winston Churchill’s reaction when someone pointed out his flies were undone, ‘The dead bird does not leave the nest!’ my Dad said in his best Churchill voice. Giggling, we sorted it all out and we started back to our seats. We passed the helpful Lady so I thanked her again. She gave me a big smile and said,
‘Not to worry, we have one of our own at home!’
It was all done with a wink and a smile at Dad, too, to include him. Naturally he joined in. People are kind these days, when you rock up somewhere with a dementia sufferer.

Likewise, when your father clears his throat, leans over the side of the chair and gobs a massive steaming greenie onto the kitchen floor in front of company, as if that is the most normal thing in the world, a certain brazenness is required. I reckon it’s fine to use graveyard humour to make light of it, or any other form of tasteless joke that will get you through the surreal horror you’ve just witnessed. We avoid jokes at Dad’s expense in his presence and we avoid them where we can if we are not in his presence. However, if treating your father with the decency and compassion his humanity affords him to his face means laughing at his child like antics, and calling him Spoilt Bastard after the well known Viz character behind his back, I say knock yourself out. Because if you can’t do both then do what it takes behind the scenes to achieve compassion and kindness where it matters, when you’re with the person.

Recently, a couple of visits have gone badly and my father has been unremittingly vile to me, not to mention Mum. Some days, he doesn’t know who we are any more. He doesn’t remember that he loves us. Except that he is always pleased to see me initially. However, my gentle, good-humoured, loving father – with the wicked sense of humour – is now, quite often, just wicked. He refers to me as a trollop, or a fucking stupid woman, or sometimes, for variety, a stupid fucking woman. I take no offence since he refers to nearly all the females around him like this.

But I miss my dad. I miss my mum. There is much more of Mum there but we have still lost enough to miss. Dad, is still there too, but we have to dig hard for those precious shiny glimpses of treasure. And I’m raw about it at the moment because at my Uncle’s funeral last week we prayed for the sick and when we did that we prayed for Dad and Mum. And it was the sweetest, kindest thought, a truly lovely act on their part, and so touching, and I nearly lost it, and I realised how much grief there is; an enormous, bottomless black pit of the stuff at the centre of me. Too much to look at head on. Too much to acknowledge. I can see it all the time out of the corner of my eye. Look it in the face and I am undone. And as the male lead says in one of my books, ‘I can’t be undone.’ For the sake of my parents and also the rest of my family, I have to hold it together.

And the weird thing is that even with this huge bottomless grief, this mourning that will end in death, but which, without a death, cannot end, even though it’s fourteen years old and huge and dwarfs me somehow, I do hold it together. If I have any kind of faith, I suspect that’s where it counts. Because I’m no saint. I have no grace. I’ve never been one to cope well with a long drawn out process. I do not know how I keep my grief about my parents in its box, but it happens, and I doubt the strength required is all coming from me.

In the face of this, I’ve come to believe that there are really only two things that matter when dealing with dementia:

Number one. Trying to hang onto who the patient was and what it was in him we loved. We look out old photos, read letters, memories from the boys and girls he taught. We do whatever it takes to keep in touch with the real person who is living under that disability. We do it because it’s the only thing we can do to hold onto him.

Two. On the days when Dad is vile to me; like the time when he grabbed the wee bottle from my hand on Sunday and tried to throw his warm piss in my face, shouting, ‘Get that thing off me you bloody trollop! I’ve finished, you stupid fucking woman!’ Or yesterday when he did the same thing to the carer in the loo, all the while continuing to wee copiously down his trousers and onto her foot, proving conclusively that he was NOT finished, not by a long chalk, it’s important to keep a sense of humour; to laugh about it – and we did laugh because what else can you do? I mean, it could be worse, it’s not as if I had to hide behind the sofa while he searched for me with a knife (genuine dementia story, luckily, not mine). It’s also important I keep a firm enough grasp of who he is. I will always try to treat him as the man he was. Dad is in there, somewhere. I refuse to believe he is wholly the man he’s become. Because that is not my father. That is Alzheimer’s.

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Confessions of shonky housewifery, bad cat mothers and wicked pets. #domesticdisasters

What I am about to confess paints me in a pretty poor light, so if you’re squeamish about people with low hygiene standards it’s probably best you don’t read this. Likewise, if you have the well-trained, well-behaved pets, or the smallest iota of pride in yourself, look away now.

These are photos of my cat, Harrison.

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Butter wouldn’t melt, would it?

Harrison is very bright and very inquisitive.

20141205_104902 20150716_092951 Don't ask me how he got under there.

Unfortunately, Harrison is also a thief.

He’s not a small time thief either. He has utterly failed to grasp the concept of the word, ‘No’. He is a delinquent. For example, of all the places available to him to go, he chooses to visit the garden of the next door neighbour who is allergic to cats. I have tried to stop him but he climbs a 15ft trellis like a ladder and strolls over. Short of electrifying it I can see no way to stop him. Yet I feel I should be able to make him understand, because I could have done with the other cats I’ve owned. But this one, no. I am a bad cat mother.

McOther is under the cosh at work and yesterday I decided it would be kind to sort out dinner – usually he likes to cook. As I did so, I noticed that a spare steak (barbecued) had been in our Fridge for four days. I couldn’t help thinking that, while I was sorting out left overs lamb spag bol, I could make a steak one too and freeze it for us to eat next week. So I got the plate out. But then McMini wanted something and I went to help him.

Then I realised I’d left a fillet steak, unattended, in the vicinity of our cat. I swiftly returned to the kitchen and …

The steak was still there.

Wow, I thought. Yes, McCat could only be in one place, pestering the poor woman with the allergy next door. Because if he was round ours, the steak would have gone. Either that or he was down the road in Tesco’s trying to get out of the cold meats section with a whole roast chicken. Anyway, I cooked, undisturbed. Then, lulled into a false sense of security by the continued (apparent) absence of our cat, I went and put some onion skins in the compost. When I came back I went to get the steak to mince it up.

It had gone.

‘Bollocks!’ I shouted (quietly because I didn’t want McMini to hear).

‘Have you seen Harrison?’ I asked McMini.

‘No. Did you just say “bollocks” Mummy?’

‘No. Why would I say that? Must go, I think Harrison’s got the steak.’

Hmm, it had been there a moment ago, I knew the little blighter couldn’t have gone far. I ran outside. No sign, then I looked round the side of the porch and there, fillet steak hanging from his mouth, was McCat. He greeted me with a delighted look-how-clever-I-am brrrp.

‘BAD BOY!’ I shouted and smacked him, to what was, quite obviously, his total bemusement.

I seized the steak and went inside. Immediately I was gripped by remorse. He doesn’t understand that hunting on the kitchen side is verboten. I have always been able to make other cats understand very easily but this one has no clue. I examined the steak. It was a little damp one end, with four obvious canine tooth holes but otherwise, apart from two blades of grass on the bottom, it appeared to be undamaged. I had a think and then I cut the dodgy bit off. I felt like an abusive husband trying to make up as I put it in the cat bowl and left it at the perpetrator’s food station. Because bad cat or not, I detest waste.

As for the rest of the steak. I wiped the blades of grass off it, ran it under the tap, patted it dry and, yes, I’m afraid I minced it and bunged it in the sauce!!!!!

Then I boiled the sauce.

Extensively.

For half an hour.

When I say boiled, I mean boiled. So hard that some of it spattered onto the ceiling, which was fun to wipe up.

Then I tasted it.

And it was good. But I had a conundrum. I had made a lovely sauce, but I certainly wouldn’t want a cat mauled steak served up to me at someone else’s house. OK, so one of my Mum’s mates served a pheasant her cat caught but it was not mauled and clearly brought to her as a gift: laid out on the kitchen step, bite-mark free, with nothing more than a wrung neck. That was different.

So I fessed up to McOther. Who refused to eat it. So it really is my lunch for today and next week.

I should throw it away, but it’s tasty. And it is most definitely pasteurised. On the downside, I might get worms because although our cat is wormed regularly he has vile habits, and if he does have worms I’m not sure how boiled worm eggs have to be to die. On the upside, at least if I do get worms, I’ll lose some weight.

So I’ve eaten some.

And it was still good …

But I’ll be checking my stools.

Please don’t tell me I’m about to die.

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#girlsnightout Thank you to all my sponsors. Here’s how it went.

So after I banged on about it so much how did the walk go?

Well … I’m swollen, sore and I can hardly walk but … it was a gas! Indeed I’m already plotting ways to do the full 11 miles next year.

Take the first long drag, Northgate Street. It’s straight and about half a mile long. As we crested the hill at the top with a sea of flashing bunny ears behind us the view in front was the same. Flashing bunny ears to the horizon … well … alright then, to the roundabout half a mile away. But definitely as far as the eye could see. 2,370 ladies did the walk and I have to say the atmosphere never really dipped, although it got a bit quieter in the last mile because I had to do the 6 mile course and most of the other ladies seemed to have done the 11 mile so we 6 milers were much thinner on the ground as we came to the end. However what amazed me was how many people on the route came out of their houses to cheer us on. It was pretty epic.

Could my phone do it justice? No but here’s a few pictures anyway.

First up, Team Gymophobics ready for action! Yay!

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memoryboard

A quick post on the memory board … I have lost many friends but only know a couple of acquaintances who left via St Nicks. Even so, I felt it was important to say something hospices are, often wonderful places staffed by amazing people.

Then some pictures from registration … first up selfies good reason, right there, why I seldom appear in photographs.

Two very good reasons why I appear in so few photographs.

A rare occasion with M T the right side of the law. I have no problems admitting that I’m fat but I know I’m not as fat as I look there.

selfie3

Selfie while waiting for the off.

The lovely waterboys!

The lovely water boys. I’d learned from my experience doing the selfie with the policemen and kept out of the photo.

rain

Waiting for the off … unwiped lense 6.30 – 7.45 it pissed it down.

angelhill

OK try again, slightly less blurry.

angelhill3

angelhill2

And we’re off … blurry through hand shake and lack of light this time but at least you will get the idea.

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My phone isn’t cut out for this, but that’s a solid half a mile of bunny eared ladies.

theroadahead1

And again …

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And at the 2 mile mark … how cool is that! Thank you to all the lovely folks who cheered us on.

Sadly I have no photos of the end, mainly because I lost the 6 mile group I was with so after saying goodbye to the 11 milers I was on my own and that meant any photos of the end would be of strangers, who might think me odd, or me which would be … well … not good – cf policmen pic.

So was it epic?

Yes. A big thank you everyone who sponsored me and to the various random folks who I did high fives with over garden gates, walls, through windows and in one memorable instance, from a car cruising past the other way – I confess I was slightly worried we might break each other’s arms on that one but it came off fine in the end. Nice crack as the hands connected too! Thanks to everyone everywhere who cheered us on, the whole way round even at the end.

Am I going to do it again?

You bet your sweet arse I will!

Points to take away?

There’s a lot of waiting around and after standing about in the rain for an hour and a half my arthritic knees and pulled hip muscle were pretty much knackered before we began. So next year we’ll meet at the gym, register and get our t-shirts and ears and then go back to mine for a cup of tea for an hour and back up for the warm up at 7.45. By the time we started I was soaked. I also should have worn walking boots. My shoes were comfortable but the soles were not thick enough for walking on pavements and they were soaked to the point of making comedy squelching sounds as I walked – one rather more than the other, thump-squelch, thump-squelch, stylee as I walked down the road.

Classy, as ever.

Despite the pulled hip muscle, wet feet and shonky arthritic knees I was doing pretty well until about 3 miles in when we hit a place called Flemming road where the pavement is basically lots of roots and rocks smoothed to apparent invisibility with asphalt. In the dark it looks skateboard heaven, sleek and smooth but it’s actually proper lumpy: pure pavement moguls. There was a lot of lot of staggering over funny high bits and stumbling into big dips and despite my incredible athletic prowess it took me from no worries to trouble in about 100 yards. This morning when I mentioned it a friend with an artificial leg who lives round there she confirmed that it is, indeed, pavement mogul hell. So Flemming Road needs to be negotiated using the cycle lane on the actual street. Much smoother.

Not pulling a muscle a few days before the walk is also a smart move. And also I strongly recommend avoiding spending the night before any athletic event sleeping on the bathroom floor in a flop sweat, only relieving the tedium by throwing up at intervals.

So that’s it. Minimise the pre off standing, walk on the smooth bits up Flemming Road, sleep rather than hurl the night before and try not to be nursing an injury.

I’m hoping if I do that, next year, I might make it round the 11 mile course … as for this year, I’m really chuffed I made the 6 mile. Thanks to everyone who sponsored me, I made a princely £160. If anyone wants to make a last minute donation, my just giving page is still open:  https://www.justgiving.com/Fundraising/M-T-McGuire

 

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Meet Bugly: #Whovian #JollyJapes

This is a before and after shot of the new friend McMini and I have created because … I dunno idle thumbs? We have too much time on our hands? Probably a bit of both. We’ve named him Bugly because he’s blummin ugly bless him. Anyway, Bugly is about to go on a road trip, and he’s going to be sending us selfies from all the lovely places he goes to which I will post on here, unless it’s just not funny any more. In which case I won’t.

apologies to everyone who has already seen this, I got my media muddled!

So here we are.

image

Before .. An ordinary Ood.

After!

After!

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Careful with that axe Eugine! Drama at the garage: how MTM learns there are two sides to every argument.

Yesterday, I went to see the Old Dears. As you know Mum has had a stroke and Dad has a kind of dementia. These last few weeks he has had very limited mobility and been close to incontinent. We have newly brought in 24 hour live in care.

It’s hard.

As you can imagine my parents’ situation takes a lot of my mental air time right now … it seems I’m a long way into innerspace. What is interesting is how that has changed my perception of the world around me or perhaps, my ability to read it.

Check this, this is my Fitbit readout from yesterday.

FitbitBollocks

As you can see, my Fitbit is ADAMANT that I went up 157 floors. What I actually did was walk the usual 5 miles or thereabouts, probably, go up the stairs maybe 10 or 12 times? And do a 280 mile round trip in my car. For some reason, the way the steering feeds back to my hands convinces my Fitbit that I am walking. On the way home I put it on the seat beside me, at least then it only thought I’d walked half a mile (rather than the 3 miles it thought I’d done on the way down).

While I think I was a bit lardy yesterday, sitting around in a bucket seat listening to music for most of the time. My Fitbit thinks I was a physical dynamo doing 107 minutes of elevated heart rate activity. That figure was more like er hem … zero.

So, it just goes to show that two separate views of the same series of events can throw up completely different results depending on the presence, or absence, of one or two vital pieces of knowledge. You know I wasn’t an exercise dynamo yesterday because I’ve told you my Fitbit measures the bumps in the road as steps. Someone else without this critical piece of information might look at those stats and wonder, from all the stairs, whether I climbed the Empire State Building, or if I’m a triathlete.

Yesterday, this lesson was highlighted to me through the familiar medium of my making a complete tit of myself: I failed to understand the differences between the way someone else was seeing my actions and the spirit in which I knew they were made. In all things, it seems, communication and sensible clarity of thought are key. Pity I’m so crap at them, as this massive, completely unnecessary row I’m about to relate will demonstrate …

It’s a bright sunny Wednesday morning and after dropping McMini at school I walk back home via the market, pick up the car and set out for Sussex. I have about a quarter of a tank of petrol so I need to fill up.

Because it’s on the way and one of the three cheapest, I go to Tesco’s.  Now, Sainsburys, you have to pay at the Kiosk, Asda, you can only pay at the pump and Tesco’s you have a choice of both. Tesco’s has 3 or four rows of two pumps just far enough apart for you to get through and park if the two first ones are in use but one of the far ones is free. Unsurprisingly, with petrol prices rising by approximately one pence every day, it’s rammed. I pick my side and wait. Next to me are two builders’ lorries with a white Honda civic at the first pump and very quickly there is nothing at the second. The other side of me was a big lorry, blocking the way through. No-one was queuing there and a woman parked at the pump in front of the lorry was filling her car.

As you know, my Mum has had a stroke, so I am kind of feeling that I want to get to her and Dad quickly. I am therefore delighted when the woman parked at the pump in front of the lorry holsters the petrol nozzle.

Brilliant. I’ll nip through and reverse into her spot when she’s gone.

Except, Unfortunately, like most Tesco’s customers, she clearly finds it more convenient to fill up her car and queue for 5 minutes to pay in the kiosk rather than using the very much swifter pay at the pump option. I, on the other hand, prefer to wait 10 seconds for my credit card to be authorised at the pump, spend two minutes filling up my tank and then go. So I watch her go in to pay, note the queue is 7 or 8 deep so she’ll be some time, and wait.

We all sit there and I listen to the song, ‘Help’ by the Beatles in its entirety. Neither builder’s lorry drives through to the empty pump at the front of their line. Neither of the cars in front of me move – they are still filling up – and the lady whose car is still parked in front of the lorry is still queuing in the kiosk. Some time during the next song on my stereo, Mr White Honda finishes filling his car and sticks the nozzle back in the holster.

I feel pity for the builders when, like the lady in front of the lorry, Mr White Honda turns out to be a true Tesco’s petrol customer who, like the lady, spurns the faster, easier pay at pump option. Into the kiosk he goes to queue.

As I sit looking at the empty pump, with nobody using it, it occurs to me that I could have filled my car to the brim and departed a couple of times over. Tine is ticking on and I’m getting twitchy. I wonder, if I go to the empty pump, swipe my credit card, fill up and go before the driver of the white Honda returns to his vehicle, would that be queue barging? Surely if I am not holding anyone up or inconveniencing anyone it isn’t? I’m not pushing in, or holding anyone up, I’m just using something no-one is using while it’s free. Even better the folks behind me don’t have to wait for me. Yes, win-win. My brain, filled with, 24 hour care requirements, sick parents, etc agrees. The builders are clearly waiting for the white car so if I’m quick it’ll be fine. So I drive through and park up. As I get out of my car a man runs up to me shouting,

‘Excuse me! Excuse me!’ he yells, managing to imbue words ‘excuse me’ with an aggression and menace I never knew they held (I doubt he did either) ‘Can’t you see there’s a queue?’
His shouty vehemence puts my back up at once.
‘Yes I can but it’s not moving.’
He gets up to me a bit and raises his voice louder.
‘You’re jumping the queue.’
‘No I’m not, nobody’s using this pump.’
Two can do shouty, my friend. I am surprised at the volume of my voice as I bellow my answer back at him.
‘That’s because he’s bigger than I am,’ he makes a sweeping gesture at one of the lorries, ‘and he can’t get through, we’re waiting until this car goes and then we can both drive up together.’
This, delivered as if I’m a complete idiot for not knowing the bleedin’ obvious.
Ah note to self, there’s a hidden builder’s lorry etiquette to the art of buying petrol which must not be interfered with by mere mortals at any cost. I didn’t know that.
‘So? I’ll be gone before that happens.’
He looks more annoyed, indeed, as he reiterates that I’m jumping the queue and … yada … the blue touch paper catches and off he goes into space. I’m fully expecting him to start poking me in the chest with one finger such are his levels of vehemence. I feel bullied and at that mere thought, something in me unravels, the red mist descends. I tell him my mother is ill and I am in a hurry. He tells me that he’s sorry about my mother but that’s not his problem.
Obviously the precious 90 seconds I will delay him are far more important than the well-being of a vulnerable, ill old lady
(yes, I actually think this madness as he rants at me)  and so it is, that I, too, completely blow my top, for only the fifth time in my entire life, and join him in orbit.

More arguing ensues. I would write it down if I could, but to be honest I haven’t a fucking clue what I said, although I’m pretty sure I managed not to swear, which was a minor personal victory and probably the only positive I have to take away from this experience.

All the while as we harangue one another I am aware of three things:

  1. He doesn’t seem to be understanding anything I’m telling him.
  2. But this is unsurprising because my arguments are getting less and less cogent.
  3. There is something important I have missed that would defuse this.

I know that this whole situation is based on false impressions and wrong information. I know that I can stop his aggression in its tracks, stop him shouting at me and make him leave me alone. His angry bullying is totally unreasonable and inexplicable and this simple thing will allow him to understand that, but I am too angry and hurt to remember what the thing I need to remember is. I can’t speak or think coherently, I can only shout back at him. I want to step away from him. I want to ignore him. I want to take the fuel cap off, stick my credit card into the slot in the pump and fill up. I want to prove that I’ll be gone well before Mr White Honda gets back, well beyond the point when either lorry can can move, anyway. But I am afraid he will snatch the fuel cap from me and throw it into the hedge or try to physically restrain me. And then the police will be called, and I will never get to my parents.

Then I see that the woman who was filling her car at the far pump, in the row the other side of me, the one which is blocked by the lorry, has gone. The driver of the lorry is still filling it up, still blocking her pump from anyone else. ‘Alright, I’ll go over there, and I’ll still be gone before you get to fill up.’ I shout storming into my car and making a massive hash of parking it over by said pump.

And I would have been, of course, had I not been so apoplectic with rage by that time that I had to go and have another go. First I accosted the wrong bloke by mistake,

‘Oh bless you, sorry love,’ I tell him with a pat on the arm and then go to deliver a bitterly sarcastic apology to Mr Shouty for his totally unreasonable anger at me for not understanding builder’s etiquette, which, obviously, was very criminal of a non-builder and obviously I should have understood. But it’s his friend filling up the tank – who is clearly a decent bloke and gives me a genuine smile. Except I am too angry at being subjected to such a stream of unreasonable ire that I am unable to say the word etiquette and we both laugh as I stutteringly explain the cause. Obviously Mr Shouty has to come back then and protect his friend from what he probably sees as Angry Entiled Woman and has another go at me. I am still fully lit and so, channelling my inner fishwife I give just as good as I get. Telling him that I hope he’ll be treated with equal sympathy one day if his mother gets ill and he is trying to get to her – which is true but totally pointless,not a reasoned or rational argument and therefore pretty much redundant.

And all the while, Sensible M T is standing beside me, in a slightly out-of-body-tastic kind of way, watching in horror as I Basil Fawlty my way around the forecourt saying,

‘What are you doing?’

At last I listen to it. I have to, because I am, literally, spluttering with rage. Can’t get any coherent words out. Not at all. I go back to my car. Angry with myself for giving in to what I interpret as bullying from an aggressive male playing dog in a manger.

It takes approximately 90 seconds to authorise my card and top up the tank with 24 litres of petrol – oooooh and another 4 or 5 seconds to get a receipt. One of the cars I’d been queuing behind slows down, opens his window and calls out to me,

‘He was wrong and you were in the right,’ he said. I thank him. Perhaps he’d paid at the pump too.

It was only about 10 hours later that I realised what went wrong. I never told Mr Shouty I was paying at the pump. He and the other builder in front of him were in commercials. They probably use fuel cards or cash or some other means which entails dooming them to pay at the Kiosk forever, whether they want to or not. Pay at the pump was probably as dead a concept to Mr Shouty as it is to nearly every other Tesco’s petrol customer. It would never have crossed his mind that I was going to pay at the pump, bypass the kiosk completely, and be gone in under three minutes any more than it crossed my mind that I was not. He must have thought I was going to cut in and then stand in the kiosk waiting to pay for ages after Mr White Honda had gone. So then he’d have to wait for the other builder bloke to fill up and stand in the kiosk for ages, too, before he could get near a pump. And a commercial takes a lot longer to fill – he was probably putting a hundred odd litres in, not 24. In addition, we judge things by the parameters we’re used to, so he may well be thinking of my fill up would take about the same amount of time: ie much longer than it does.

Yeh, Mr Shouty probably believed he was looking at a delay of at least 20 minutes. No wonder he got in a strop. I think I might have been just as shouty, myself, if I was in his position and and I was reading what I saw that way.

So what can I learn from this? Apart from the fact that I get even more like Basil Fawlty when I get angry than I thought and must, therefore, keep my cool at absolutely all costs.

If I wasn’t already aware that stress and worry switch some important parts of my brain off, then, after trying to have that argument, I am now. Presumably that’s also why I drove up to the school in a thunder stom just now to collect my boy, only to remember that a friend’s mum is picking him up from school tonight, taking him round theirs for tea and dropping him off here! Bonus points there M T.

Communication and calmness are essential. Perhaps, this is the most important lesson; that communication is the name of the game, that calmness, even calm rage, is a better bet if you need to have a reasoned discussion but most of all that two different people can read polar opposites from the same information.

If I’d managed to stay calm and explained what I was doing properly, I doubt the slanging match would have happened. But if he hadn’t come up to me all shouty aggression, I might have managed that.

Assumptions … in any situation we and the other people round us make snap judgements and assumptions based on what we see. Sometimes they’re shite.

Would Mr Shouty have listened to my explanation? I don’t know. I do know that if it happens again, I’ll bet the angry person a tenner that I can fill my tank and be gone – without the kiosk and without any inconvenience to them – in under 3 minutes. I won’t collect though, because the odds are stacked against them to the point where it’s almost a scam.

Sigh. I’m such a plank. Never mind. At least I can laugh at myself.

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