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

Why is life so fucking annoying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO, SSE. This is how it’s done,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six, because of five I missed parents’ swim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where was I?

Oh yes. Thing five.

My car ate my son’s sports bag.

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

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

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

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

Could I open the boot? Could I bollocks?

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

Nothing.

Shit! Shit! Shit!

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

And McOther listened in silence. And then he said.

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

And he did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eeee look at my chuffing periwig! Phnark.

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Shenannagins …

OK, so, I’m not even going to talk about the election result. The choice was a bumbling, everything-that-is-awful-about-posh, bloaty-faced, straw-haired sack of farts, or a man with a rather dodgy looking past who was slightly preferable but wants to do my brother and thousands like him out of a job. What do you want, Mary? Root canal without an anaesthetic or a ghost chilli enema. Choose. I chose, because women died to give me that right. The side I like least won but that’s not saying much. I consoled myself with some guerilla marketing, stealthily inserting cards about my free reader magnet into all the Terry Pratchett books in Waterstone’s. More on those stories, next time … now, it’s back to the matter in hand.

A mish mash of other stuff this week, then. Along with some of the most obscure comedy references available. I thank you. Today, as usual, I am writing to you from the past (Thursday). Well … apart from that first bit but let’s keep this as simple as we can shall we? It was McMini’s last day of term so I forewent parents’ swim, came straight back home after drop off and went into town to vote and do some Christmas shopping. After an hour and a half, I’d been moderately successful, and I couldn’t remember anything else I needed until I arrived home. Once here, realised that I’d forgotten to get the propelling pencil McMini wanted, although I can get that tomorrow.

While I was trailing round Waitrose, I had a quick chat to a friend, and found a small cured meats platter reduced from just shy of £7 to £2 and a rather garlicky curried bean salad which was also reduced. Smugly congratulating myself for sorting myself with a very pleasant lunch, I went home, where I immediately realised I had failed to get the one thing we really needed: milk.

The hat …

Never mind. I’d go up later I thought. And of course immediately I had that thought it began to rain and continued to piss down until the moment I had to leave to collect McMini from school.

Meanwhile, McOther is off on some work thing until late tonight in Oxford so collecting McMini involved going to the final school event of the term, McMini’s carol service. Alone.

The carol service takes place in the cathedral, which is a few hundred yards down the road from our house so I decided to walk. Seeing as it was still pissing with rain, and I had therefore failed to get the milk, I thought I’d take advantage of the time I had to walk into town to leave fifteen minutes early, swing by M&S on the way and pick up a plastic two pint bottle.

The communication from the school warned us that she service would start at two o’clock prompt and that there was stuff on in the cathedral so would parents not take their seats until after one fifteen. Shit were people sitting there for forty minutes? Fuck a duck! How full was it going to be? OK so I’d aim to get there by quarter to, that way I could stand at the back and sing really loudly without disturbing anyone. If I was really lucky, I’d be so far from other people that I’d be able to do the descents without anyone noticing.

There was a queue in M&S and so I strolled in at five to two. The cathedral was packed and, somewhat blinded by the miasma of pathetic rain all over my glasses I set off where I was ushed, if that’s a word, down the aisle.

Half way down, I was shown into a seat next to a pleasant couple who were on the aisle. It being rather bad form to take the outside and obscure their view, I squeezed past them and sat third person in. Shortly afterwards, a family arrived from the other side and took the remaining seats wedging me firmly in place. We were definitely packed in and when Once in Royal started up and we all stood, I turned sideways, which did make things easier. The people round me were pleasant enough but rather serious and staring straight ahead, clearly worried that I might engage them in conversation.

Waynetta Slob … and Wayne.

Then again, that was probably understandable, as they probably thought I was a weirdo. I was wearing a stripy knitted hat, so McMini would see me easily, a manky waterproof coat (think Ted’s out of Ralph and Ted in the Fast Show) a pair of wedgewood blue moleskin trousers that, in the wrong light, can be mistaken for the same kind of velour jogging pants favoured by Waynetta Slob and I was carrying a pint of milk. This, is probably not how the average Christian expects their fellows to turn up at church (well unless it’s mine and the person is doing coffee). I did demur from smiling at them and saying, ‘milky milky’ but I wonder if that might have broken the ice. Possibly, but I suspect it would merely have made people nervous, as a comedy reference goes, it’s too old and too obscure and would merely become the embodiment of the original parody.

The cathedral, itself, looked stunning and as a building expanded by the same firm of architects who designed the one where we had Dad’s memorial, there was a pleasant feeling of familiarity about it. The picture doesn’t really do it justice but they asked us not to take photos (after I’d taken that one) so I had to pixelate the teacher and crop off the parents in front of me.

Now, normally, when I go to carol services, I’m there with someone I know. So we are able to giggle when I sing the wrong verses to the carols incredibly loudly, or when I try to whisper the responses and end up barking, ‘AMEN!’ At the top of my voice when everyone else is saying, ‘and also with you’ because my voice has done something funny etc. The details of these things always amuse me and I come from a family of people who fuck it up in similar style. As a result, my memories of Christmas services, as a child, are of giggling at stuff ups, or because my brother was singing the carols falsetto, or I was singing them in a really high squeaky voice, an octave above everyone, that I can no longer do. Or Dad was complaining about how ‘fucking high’ the carols were this year (yes, there was plenty of effing, even pre Alzheimer’s) as his voice cracked, yet again, while, with a facial expression like someone sucking a lemon, he attempted the high bits in Hark the Herald.

There was also a propensity to do a kind of irreverent running commentary, among ourselves. In short, in my family, there was, still is, normally a lot of giggling. And if it isn’t family, I’m normally with other parents I know, so there is also giggling.

But when you are on your own you can’t giggle. Especially if you have a) turned up with a bottle of milk, b) eaten an injudiciously garlicky lunch which you are now sharing, through the medium of your incredibly scary breath as you do the singing and c) have already drawn a great deal of attention to yourself with your incredibly loud singing voice and the fact you are dressed like a rubby. On the up side, as a friend later remarked, at least it was only milk I turned up with and not a can of Stella.

Mwahahahahrgh! It’s never too early for a fusilier!

Of course, the absence of other like-minded nutters, or at least, in the event of my failing to out any that were near me, the commentary went on inside my head only.

There was a couple in front of me, sharing their service sheet in a very sit com style and a little old dear with them who I had down as grandma. Grandma (for want of a better name) suddenly upped sticks and with a nod, a smile and a wave at them disappeared off down the aisle to the back.

My brother’s suit! Nearly as loud as my voice, but not quite. 🤣

A few minutes later, after looking nervously round, the lady also disappeared up the aisle. She was gone for the whole of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem and then reappeared in the last verse but still sans old dear.  Had she gone to the Cathedral Centre lavatories to enquire after the old dear’s health? Was there a family crisis being played out here? I’ll never know, even though, as a professional nosey bastard (I’m an author after all) I’d like to.

There I was jammed in next to all these very nice but incredibly serious people. Their horror was almost palpable as I yelled my way through what felt like a million carols at the kind of volume that comes close to competing with a set of bagpipes. Maybe that’s why the old dear left. But the alternative is not to sing, which I will not countenance at a carol service, or to sing a bit less loudly, which is still deafening, but risks being really rather out of tune with it.

At the end of the service, the headmaster read the last lesson. They’d gone for a different response to the usual and he reverted to the traditional one. Except instead of giving the feed line he gave the response. Everyone tried to say something but nobody knew what to do so we all just went kind of, ‘mana-manah.’ And quick as a flash, a little voice in my head went, ‘do dooo do do do!’ And I started thinking about the Muppets song.

It wasn’t funny exactly, but it was accumulative funny, the sort of thing which would get a laugh if you added it to other stuff in a comedy. And if you have the kind of mind that’s already seeing a rich comedy of the absurd in yourself and everything around you, and has been attempting to do a Terry Wogan at seventies Eurovision-style voice over throughout the service. Or if you’re from the kind of family who’d start giggling. It’s really hard not to nudge the people either side of you and laugh. I resisted the temptation to nudge, but a small chuckle escaped.

Nobody else made a sound. Oops

Then Hark the Herald began.

Fuckity fucking fuck! (Sorry.) But seriously, Dad wasn’t wrong, I swear it goes up a key every year. For me things get a bit dicey over top f, I can do top g but only on days when I can’t get down to bottom g. Otherwise I have to do the special high note gurn. It’s a facial contortion that throws Dad’s sucking a lemon high-note reaching expression into the shade. And you just can’t go about doing that kind of thing in decent lighting, in front of people you don’t know. Most cathedrals are chuffing dark so hardly anyone can see. Not this one. Today was low voiced Mary, I’d managed to produce a crystal clear, non crackly Little Town of Bethlehem. I knew that fucking high note was going to be a bit of a stretch. And we were definitely up there.

So there I was wearing my manky old waterproof coat and my ridiculous pussy hat, screeching the carols like some peri-menopausal banshee. With a bottle of milk. And garlic breath. Trying not to show any outward signs of amusement or … well … any outward signs. While in my head I could hear my father guffawing his head off and saying something like, ‘Well Mary, you really have excelled yourself this year.’

 

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What on God’s green earth am I doing?

This week I have mostly been, well … to be honest, I’ve been on a bit of a downer. It’s probably just the Christmas blues getting to me, as you know, I loathe it all with a passion and this year, it’s my first one as a demi-orphan, which makes it worse.

On top of that, I think the combination of a moment of extremely bad judgement coming home to haunt me, plus a bit of reality check threw me rather. Also, there’s nothing like a general election campaign to show us humanity at its ugliest. And of course, that makes me miss my dad. Not sick Dad, but the man he was. Who I’m grieving for even more now, it seems.

Eventually, I got so low, I reached the point were I had to open my mental baggage and have a good old rummage about to see if I could work out what the fuck was going on. It culminated with a long chat with my Mum on Wednesday. She’s feeling a bit down, too. I’m going to share the results with you, because as a creative bod, I found them quite illuminating, and quite helpful. Even better, said rummaging complete, I feel several orders of magnitude better about life, the universe and everything this morning. So there we are, I’ve done the thinking so you don’t have to. Fellow creative types will get this, I think, the rest of you may not. It’s difficult to articulate it well, so apologies if I come over as a pretentious prick. Unfortunately, I am. I just hide it well.

Doing any kind of arts, while often a very public act, can also be an intensely personal one for the artist involved. On a more general note, it’s also why artists of all types need self-belief and strength of character in spade loads to keep doing their art, year in, year out. It might even be why some of them suffer from depression. That said, even the successful ones suffer from that. When it comes, validation in the form of popularity, may not necessarily make the artist feel any more fulfilled.

The lovely Dan Holloway wrote a brilliant book about writing and being happy without selling your soul called ‘Self Publish with Integrity: Define Success in your Own Terms and then Achieve It. If you haven’t read it, I can thoroughly recommend it. It is the most lovely book.

In it Dan talks about working out what you mean by success and what your goals are. Know these things, he argues, and you will not be quite so gutted if ‘success’ is more about producing art you are proud of and which speaks of your soul, than art which sells. He talks about the need to get down to the nitty gritty of why you really write so you know, and so your whole business sits on this solid foundation of goals and expectation.

For many years, my rationale has been that I write because I have to. Confidence isn’t a problem. I’m good at something, really not bad, and I want to do that thing. I am a bona fide Authorholic. If I don’t get my fix of writing or writing-related action each day I get pretty crabby, like an addict on the brink of cold turkey. But it’s only recently I realised that, ‘I write because I have to’ isn’t really the answer, because what I need to know is why do I have to write?

Amazingly, it appears that the main reasons are because I have THINGS to say. Sure, I only ever set out to tell a good story and make it funny. I never set out to put the THINGS in, but whatever I write, they are always in there; love, kindness, people being decent to one another, burying their differences to work together, the cost of unkindness, greed, selfishness and the pursuit of money and wealth at the expense of all else. About the danger of treating people as things. I have something to say about the difference between physical and moral courage. About how doing the right thing is really hard the first time but how, no matter how difficult the actual mechanics of acting with integrity are, the more you do, the easier it becomes. I have stuff to say about tolerance, and the nature of true strength of character – which is rather more complicated than just being bolshy or shouting down the opposition with a loud voice. I have things to say about imagination, and how important imagination is to maintain a civilised society where people treat each other the way they’d like to be treated. And of course, I want to make people laugh, because nobody’s going to hoist in that sort of bleeding-heart, love-thy-neighbour, Christian clap-trap unless it’s funny. And anyway, I can’t do serious.

Those things are all quite personal to me. They go deeper than I realised. I think watching my dad ravaged by Alzheimer’s, dealing with the way others behaved towards him, has completely changed me. Perhaps I underestimated the importance of imagination, and using it to put yourself in the place of others. Dad’s suffering also changed the way I view people or social groups with whom I share little common ground. Maybe I can see a bit more clearly where ‘them and us’ tribalism takes us now that I’ve spent a lot of time with one of them. Some people were utterly lovely with Dad and some were utter cunts. Always, their ability to use their imagination, to empathise, was the only difference between the two.

Obviously, all of us creative nutters care about what we do, we wouldn’t do it otherwise. I’d guess, we all have those days when we look at our work and think it’s crap., and other days when we feel we’re on top of the world – and so is our stuff. Then there’s that horrible bit when you send it out into the world for the first time. That moment when you think, ‘Lordy, what have I done? Is it shit?’ That’s a natural part of the creative process. I’d bet my life anyone who does anything creative, ever, will have felt that. But I suppose what I was trying to get to the bottom of with all this introspection, really, is, when I make something I’m happy with, when I think it’s about the best I can do, why am I sad when the world disagrees? Why do I give a toss what the world thinks? And if I do give a toss, what on earth is it that’s driving me to keep spending money I don’t have putting out books only a tiny handful of people want.

And what this has shown me, I think, is that I care a lot more about my writing than I thought. It means that what I do is not just an addiction, but a vocation. I need to write this stuff. All of it; this blog, the books, the non fiction stuff I’m working on. I need to connect with people. I need to try and spread the light and I need to do it especially badly now Dad has gone, because before his illness, he did all that, effortlessly. And maybe, what this also means is that, when I write a book and it doesn’t sell, it’s the complete indifference of the world to my efforts that hurts. Because I need to make these people understand. Then again, there’s always a flip side; if no-one gives a shit, it’s unbelievably liberating because you can write anything you like, right?

With that better understanding of the unconscious emotional investment I make in each of my endeavours, I think I finally get why that rejection is painful. Why it’s hard to shrug off the heartache when, on another level I’m genuinely not bothered. And maybe understanding this simple fact is, sort of, the essence of producing art. Whatever it is; be it drawings, writing, music, dance, acting … you name it. Because that’s what people do isn’t it? They get good at something. And sometimes, they get noticed. But for every one who does, there are thousands of completely invisible people churning out art because something drives them on, or because they believe in what they’re doing and enjoy doing it, and that’s all they need. A lot of it is fabulous stuff. A lot of these people are amazingly talented yet they receive little or no recognition. But it doesn’t stop them. They don’t care if no-one else gets it. After all, they do. So they keep putting themselves out there, for nothing, because they want to, or have to. Weird isn’t it?

Strangely, a big reason I want to earn cash for my creations is my wish to create faster, and to diversify; large print, hardbacks, it’s all missing because it costs money. Money I don’t have. I save up, when I’ve enough cash, I spend it releasing a book. It takes ages because there’s no time in my life for a real job. It would be amazing if I could earn enough from each release to pay for the next one. It’s a modest ambition and my consistent failure to achieve that is galling.

Now, I have to point out that everything I’ve said about creating stuff is pretty much moot on the eyebombing front. Eyebombing actually is something I do, solely, to make people laugh. It’s light and fluffy. I get to pretend that I’m edgy and street by calling myself a street artist. In truth, I’m just a fifty something mum who likes to prick the bubble of the pompous and has failed, spectacularly, to grow up. It’s taking the gentle piss out of the world and myself. I don’t take it seriously. I’m not putting my soul out there or anything.

However, on the back of the positive reaction to the pictures I post, and to the handful of calendars I had printed for family and friends last year, I genuinely believed the calendar would sell. That it would bankroll my next release, or some of it, and raise some money for charity as well. If the calendar sold well, it meant an eyebombing book would sell. It meant that my publishing efforts might become self-financing.

In the event, I have made half the cost back, and managed to raise a few pence for the things I’m supporting. I can chalk this one up to experience, but my pride is definitely dented. And, of course, I’ve made a piss poor judgement call, not to mention a complete fucking idiot of myself, which is always a bit of a bummer.

It was a bit of a blow to discover the truth a time of year when I’m a little more maudlin than usual anyway. Add in the whole demi-orphan aspect and it certainly explains why I was so utterly down for the first part of this week.

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, though. By making an absolute tit of myself and pissing my ill-gotten winnings up the wall I have, at least, learned that a book on eyebombing will not sell. I’ve also learned it for a LOT less than the cost of a book on eyebombing. Sure a book would have a longer shelf life than a calendar, and longer to earn out but I fear the shelf life in this instance would be about the same as that of nuclear waste.

If I had enough eyebombing books printed to sell to shops with a decent discount for them and profit for me, apart from bankrupting myself, I should think my descendants would probably be trying to flog the last few in a couple of thousand years’ time. So yeh, calendars-wise, I made an expensive mistake, but it was made with cash I wouldn’t otherwise have had and it could have been so, so much worse. So while I am gutted that my judgement is absolutely fucking miles out, it’s probably just a case of how you look at these things. It was an experiment after all, and it didn’t work out. Dust the sand from your feet and move onwards and upwards.

With the books … well … it’s weird. When I released Small Beginnings it was four years, to the day, since I’d released the previous book. K’Barth is a slow seller (except to a select few loyal fans) so I’d been trying to write other things, but the Real World was doing my head in and it just wasn’t possible. In the end, writing something was better than writing nothing. If that meant more stuff about K’Barth until Real Life calmed down a bit so be it. Anyway, a series of shorter, cheaper books for the haverers to try for less cash made sense, you know, to ease them in. I expected very little from Small Beginnings. I was hoping against hope that I might shift a few more of them over the release period than I had of the previous release but that’s about all.

So did I? Er, no.

Do I care though?

Yes, a bit, but not nearly as much as I did about the calendars. It’s not been a success. But it’s K’Barthan so I haven’t expected it to be. Yes, I feel a bit disheartened in some ways, but people bought it, lovely people who read it, liked it and some even reviewed it. It didn’t completely die on its arse, unlike the calendars.

Furthermore, though I’d planned the launch, it wasn’t the smooth affair I envisaged. For starters, it was suddenly in the middle of an election campaign which is never helpful when you use social media in your marketing. Since the election was announced, most of the on-line groups I frequent have been post-apocalyptically quiet. The cost of advertising has also risen sharply – out of my range – so nothing doing there. Finally, several other authors I know released books at the same time and I missed an opportunity to organise something with them. Teaming up and pooling resources on this kind of stuff always works well.

On the up side, I’ve discovered I can sell books reasonably successfully face-to-face. Conventions and events are clearly the way to go. As my lad gets older it’ll be easier to follow that path. I’ve met a lovely bunch of local authors now as well so who knows, maybe we can work together on that – the cost of a table split between four is much easier to absorb than one on your own.

There’s also been a bit of a change, this last few months, in the way I do my social media interaction, email marketing and Facebook advertising. There’s a K’Barthan Jolly Japery facebook group now, which is a gas. It might be this up-close, personal contact with my lovely readers that fooled me into thinking I was turning the corner. Because though it’s a small group they are hugely supportive. Perhaps I won’t really know if anything’s happening until the group gets bigger. I mean, my books are only ever going to be cult, but if these lovely nutters found me, I can kid myself that others will. Who knows. I’m just glad they’re there.

Perhaps, that’s the secret of happy creativity then; keeping your expectations realistic. Believing in what you do, yet being pragmatic enough to prepare for the worst – even if you are idealistic enough to hope. I’m think I’m, sort of, almost at peace with myself on this. Almost … it’s just that … sometimes … earning the production costs back would be good.

There is a choice, I think. I can try and be an outlier, do something different, or I can write to market. Writing to market will earn me cash, being an outlier won’t. Not unless I’m up there with Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams or JK Rowling. But the thought of trying to find a way to make shape shifters and vampires interesting. Or writing a new slant on manly men fighting other manly men in space – or thin women in leather jumpsuits who are basically, manly men fighting other manly men in space, but with boobs and a high voice … I know it’s what the market wants, and what I should be doing, but the thought of following standard tropes makes something inside me want to curl up and die. I can’t even bring myself to take the piss out of them. I tried with Deirdre Arbuthnot, but I got too interested in her back story and it all went to pot.

I always knew that, if I wrote the books I like, it’d be a niche. I mean, I can’t remember what the actual letters in my Myers Brigg profile are, but it’s 8% of the population. That’s a small niche. Sure 8% of the world’s readers has to be a big enough chunk, but in marketing terms, it’s still like looking for a needle in a haystack. It is going to take ages to find them.

What all that means, is, I have to get real or get over myself. I must decide if the joy of creating these lunatic worlds is more important than earning a living at it. And when I look at it, deep down, I know I have. Well … for starters, it makes my tax returns a lot less complicated to do.

As for the calendars. Well, I’ll just chalk them up to experience and keep on publishing books. Books I like, for the handful of fellow nutters who enjoy them. It really shouldn’t bother me if hardly anyone else gets them. After all, I do and the nutters do. Our own secret in-joke.

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A snapshot of blue …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then something will happen that snaps me back.

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

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

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

My doctor? Shit.

Is it that bad?

Is it that obvious?

Am I more damaged than I think?

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

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

‘And this too shall pass.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fockers and other things …

This week, I’m afraid my piss-poor organisational skills have bitten me on the bottom as usual and I only have half an hour to write this post – possibly a little less – so it’s going to be ill conceived, badly written and will, no doubt, contain a plethora of dodgy spelling.

Things are a bit hectic at the moment, plans are afoot for Dad’s memorial service so there’s that and McMini has started a new school which he seems to be enjoying enormously. However, it’s a school where he is expected to be vaguely organised, which is interesting. He has a gum guard, because they play rugby there, and this has caused him a great deal of excitement. He spent most of the first weekend he got it wearing it about the house and occasionally whipping it out and shoving it towards my face saying,

‘Smell my gumshield, Mum.’

I wore braces as a kid. I know what things smell like after they’ve been in your mouth for a long time so my answer was always a resounding, ‘NO!’ This week I thought he’d lost it.

‘It’s in my school bag,’ he told me.

‘With the text books and that?’

‘Yes.’

I picked up the box it is supposed to live in. ‘And not in its box,’ I said, just to check.

‘Um … no.’

Gak!

Looking at it, I saw that it has been pretty much eaten. I can only assume that he’s been wearing it in lessons, trust me, that would not be beyond him.

One of the things he has to do at school is be ready for any eventuality in phys ed. So he has indoor non-marking soled trainers, outdoor trainers, rugby boots, football boots, a rugby kit, a tennis/pe kit, a hockey kit and a tracksuit. In two and a half weeks he has lost one pair of rugby shorts – but luckily he has a spare – and one of the other pairs of shorts … the hockey ones, I think, but I’m not sure.

This is OK so long as he isn’t asked to wear them as if he is asked to put them on, and can’t, it will result in slightly draconian measures and trouble. He told me, cheerfully, that if he has the wrong shorts, except the rugby ones, he’ll just wear his tracky bottoms. I do hope he gets away with it. But being organised is not his strong suit. He managed to lose a drum stick between the car and his class room last week, so that’s in a car park basically. No sign of it. It’s bizarre. He is also perfectly capable of ‘losing’ things that he actually has with him, by not looking very carefully in his bag.

Last night at pick-up he hit me with a real purler.

‘I’ve lost one of my astro turf boots,’ he said. ‘But don’t worry, I never wear them. Everyone else wears trainers so I do.’

Strangely keen to conform, McMini.

Gads! I shook my head in disbelief. Completely stumped. I looked in the shoe section of bag and sure enough there was only one astroturf boot and, worse, only one football boot.

‘How have you done this?’ I asked him. Yes, I the woman who took him to nursery in one scarlet trainer and one beige trainer and didn’t notice until I got into the car to drive home, asked him that.

‘I don’t know, but I think the football boot is in with my kit.’

We looked and sure enough it was, which was a bit of a relief but no obvious sign of the astroturf boot.

‘We’re going to have to check lost property before we go home,’ I told him.

‘OK, but if we don’t find it, please don’t tell Dad about the shoe for a bit. Give me time to have another look as I’m sure it’ll turn up.’

I heave a sigh. McOther is organised and doesn’t really understand about clueless airheads, even though he’s married one and spawned another. Neither of us likes to feel his wrath over the weekend so I agreed.

‘OK,’ I said, and the search began.

We looked in the Prep School lost property and there was nothing there so we widened the search to the sports centre, but they’d just sent a box of lost property back up to the prep school.

No shoe and no shorts either.

Bollocks.

So we drove home. The speed limit on the school site is 15 mph so I tend to grip the steering wheel lean right forward with an intense expression and do it in first gear. The car is definitely better off doing it in first but I like it too because I pretend that I think I’m driving really fast and the G forces are getting a bit much for me. You know, like that bit in Minions 2 when the professor discovers yer man Gru has been kidnapped says, ‘we must help him’ and leaps onto his invalid trike and drives off incredibly slowly, with the determined expression of someone who thinks he’s going a lot faster.

We arrived home and I emptied said kit bag of stinky kit ready to wash and was disappointed not to find the shorts but, on the upside, I did discover the other astroturf boot. In with the kit. Where we both looked.

So Hoorah! but at the same time, kind of, oops. Nice to know I’m setting a great example to my son, pity it’s how not to be though! Mwahahahargh!

Finally I’ll leave you with a completely hilarious story I saw this week about Sir Douglas Bader. I’ve no idea if it’s true but I so hope it is because it’s bloody funny. In fact, I know it would have made my Dad guffaw with laughter. I do hope I didn’t post this last week. Apologies if I did. The brain fog is still strong …

Now to prepare for languages week. McMini has to go to school dressed as a European country. He has the entire outfit to go as Scotland but does he want to do that, and offer Gaelic? Of course not, he wants to go as Germany.

Give me strength.

A bientot!

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My Ann Elk theory on OCD and authordom

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

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

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

Angry Pam

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

Pont a whatchewmecallit – up top RH by the gum

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

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

Fascinating right?

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

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

He also said,

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

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

 

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This will end in tears … the chaos continues

It was Mothering Sunday lunch at McMini’s school yesterday. I know, bit late but who cares. Incidentally, before I go on, folks in the rest of the world, Mothering Sunday is a UK thing and part of the church calendar. It was when people in service were allowed to go home for the day and see their families during Lent before the Easter rush – yes they got one day off each year. Looking forward to labour laws like that post Brexit, still at least Farage, Reese Mogg and Johnson will have left the country so it’s not all bad. Mother’s Day is something different and more to do with legislature than tradition as I understand it, but I’m probably wrong and I digress, as usual.

When I booked a ticket McMini was completely horrified, telling me that I might be the only mother in his group of friends who was coming. Then I discovered that, no, another friend’s mum was also going. Phew! When I revealed this fact to McMini his horror at my impending visit was lessened considerably, indeed, he hid it well but, at the same time, he clearly quite liked the idea of my turning up as long as he wasn’t the only person lunching with Mum. I texted the other mum to make sure she was still on for it and she’d forgotten so that was lucky!

Needless to say, I left a bit late because I managed to drop a whole load of receipts out of my back pocket as I pulled my trousers up after a last minute wee. Obviously there was absolutely nowhere in the entire world that they could land other than in the lavatory and obviously this was just before I flushed so there was a few minute’s hiatus while I fished them out of the wee water and washed my hands. What a joy that was.

Clearly, this is the only picture I could post here!

As I left the house I discovered that someone had left an absolutely hugantic turd in our drive. A couple of the dog owners in our area are terrible, letting their animals crap all over the pavements and seeming to work on the theory that the more chance some poor bugger has of standing in it, the better. But no dog could have laid a cable this large.

It’s human.

I have absolutely no idea why people feel compelled to shit in our drive but every now and again they do. They do drugs there, park there to take ‘legal high’ capsules, leave stolen goods and their used syringes … I even turned up at midday once and discovered two young people having sex against the wall, although I’d pressed the open sesame button for the garage door while still out on the main road so they were, at least, rearranging their clothing by the time I got there – he zipping up, she pulling up her jeans. I always blip the button in the road now, in the same way my Dad used to cough a lot in certain parts of the school when he was a housemaster, to alert anyone in the vicinity breaking the rules of his impending arrival.

Reverting to the enormous Richard in question, it was about as wide as my wrists so as McOther remarked when he came home, it was definitely a copper bolt. Frankly, I hope the trauma of doing that one tore the stupid bastard’s arse in half. I mean fine, sometimes things happen and you are caught short and it’s better to whip your trousers down and poo in the street than in your pants but seriously? How much of a fucktard do you have to be to take a shit in someone’s garden? I like to think that even I, at the height of my self-destructive punk, fuck-you-world phase would have had more style, panache and general humanity than to do that.

We human beings can be truly monumental wankers can’t we? I mean look at the rise of Marxism and Nazism oh I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to call that second one by it’s actual name, am I, even if they are following Hitler’s playbook and their ideology appears to be identical, I have to call them the alt right. The ones who bang on about how we fought a war … yes against a bunch of people like them. Waves at Nigel Farage. Oh the irony.

Sorry where was I? Ah yes, well, on the upside, at least I didn’t do my usual trick of managing to get my rucksack, with its many straps, hooked up on our stupid garage door handle. That handle kind of sums up life really. It moves a full ninety degrees but only the last one and a half degrees of that full, ninety degree swing actually moves the latch. The result is that you tend to find is that you attempt to open the door, only to find you haven’t pressed hard enough for that last millimetre of travel and therefore haven’t opened the stupid fucking thing after all. I hate that door, I hate it with a venom and passion that surpasses even the ill feeling I currently harbour towards the cockwomble who shat in our drive. But the door handle does make quite a good metaphor for adult life; an awful lot of effort seems to be required to do the tiniest thing and most of the time, it seems you are doomed to get absolutely bugger all done.

Here’s an example. Remember how McMini came home with the wrong trousers? Well, we effected a swap and McMini’s trousers arrived back washed from his friend’s mum last week. When I unfolded them, I discovered that at some point during the day, before his PE session, he’d gone through them at the knee. Never mind, there were only four days of term left. He’d get through those with the last pair of trousers wouldn’t he?

Er … no.

He arrived home on Wednesday with a massive hole in one knee. Such things tend to go under McOther’s radar and I arrived home from Sussex after the shops were shut. There was nothing for it but to compare trousers and send him in to school the next day wearing the pair with the smaller hole. Then I had to go and buy another pair for him to wear for the last day of term and his Boy’s Brigade awards evening. I bought the last two pairs in the shop and now I’m thinking that may have been unwise as they’ll probably be just below the knee by next term.

At about the same time this was going on, I also noticed a strange rough patch on my left hand. It took me a while to work out that it was not some rampant skin disease taking hold, or some horrible alien affliction gradually turning me into a scrofulous space zombie but was, in fact, the remains of an act of such incredible rank stupidity that I am feeling rather guilty for my castigation of the phantom turd burgler now. Read and weep …

Oh no M T you total wanker …

Last week we did dinner for some friends and we decided to make creme brûlées (woah! My iPad put all the right accents in there! Magic.) with a blow torch. So far so good, we have a chef’s blow torch and have had it for years. I filled it up with gas the night before but, when I came to use it, I discovered that contrary to expectation there was no gas. Further efforts to fill it revealed that smething in it had broken so as the gas went in one end, it leaked out of the other. By filling it up and then using it for about twenty seconds at a time, I managed to do two of the four creme brûlées but progress was slow. Yes, I checked my watch, I’d been at this for ten minutes already and I still had two more to do.

Hmm. I sure as hell wasn’t going to make seconds.

I turned the grill on, toyed with the idea of using it to make the last two. But putting aside the fact that the average electric grill takes about twenty minutes to reach optimum temperature, even when it does it isn’t hot enough to caramelise sugar. A friend of mine once researched ovens back in the noughties and discovered that, unless you spend three or four thousand on a La Conche oven, every single element in every single electric grill and oven is made in the same factory in china. The upshot of this is that if you have an electric grill and you want to make creme brûlées you will get this weird scrambled egg thing and all the fruit will cook and the juice will rise to the surface and combine with the sugar to make this kind of sticky slurry on top with a kind of curds and whey style thing that used to be soured cream underneath.

Trust me, the real thing is even less attractive than I make it sound.

There was no other option, I had to use the effing blow torch but surely there had to be a quicker way. I had a think and hit on a cunning plan, I would stick the butane refill bottle on the bottom and turn the thing on so that gas was always coming in. Yeh the plan was Baldrick cunning.

Oh yes, cracking idea, I thought, that’ll get it done in no time.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? My cunning combo did, indeed work long enough to complete the other two creme brûlées but it wasn’t real cunning, it was Baldrick cunning. Flushed with my success I went back to the first one, which was looking a bit gritty still, to give it another blast.

Unfortunately, what I hadn’t quite grasped was that the seal around the butane refill nozzle and the intake valve on the blow torch wasn’t as … um … airtight? as I’d anticipated. A large cloud of gas had been building up around the blow torch and my hands and eventually, the inevitable happened and it ignited. There was a noise.

‘Whump!’ it went.

A large pale orange-white fireball engulfed the butane bottle, the blow torch and my hands. In my head there was no time for words, merely a picture of the refill aerosol exploding. Luckily the picture came fast enough for me to cease all pressure on the release valve of the butane refill bottle at the W of whump, actually it was probably at the first V of the W or maybe even the first \. Quickly enough for the fire not to be sucked into the aerosol canister anyway, so no actual explosion occurred. Which was nice.

In the aftermath of this substantial ignition, there was a very strong smell of burning wool and I noticed that the fluff on the jumper I was wearing was considerably shorter in the area closest to the fireball. I was mightily glad I had worn a non-combustible wool jumper that night, rather than a fleece or something made from highly combustible man-made fibres. As I thanked my lucky stars for that, I noticed that the first and second fingers of my left hand were smarting mightily and rather red. I ran them under the cold tap and to my relief the burns stopped at second degree and by the end of the evening I’d forgotten about them, until a few days later when, like all sunburn, they peeled.

So yes, my cockwomblery is confirmed, but it could be worse, it could have ended in tears. My tears. Still, at least I’m not turning into a scrofulous space zombie.

Is there a moral to this story? Possibly. I mean, thinking about it, a lot of us are struggling. A lot of us have lives like the stupid bollocking garage door. Lives where it seems to take the most gargantuan effort so shift the needle while other folks stroll on by making it look simple. We want those things, the adverts tell us we can have them now, and society tells us that if we haven’t earned enough or got X, Y or Z we have failed. But that isn’t real, that’s just advertising and fashion. It’s no more real than my books. But still we persist in applying these unrealistic standards to ourselves. Then when we ‘fail’ we look for someone or something to blame for that failure, brown people, gay people, people of a different religion.

And what’s so stupidly ironic is that it’s all stuff and it isn’t stuff that makes us happy, it’s people and relationships and experiences. Money helps, and it makes things easier, but if there are no true friends to share it with it seems pretty pointless to me. As for the ‘failure’ in question, sometimes it’s down to having a hopelessly unrealistic dream, sometimes it’s us but most of the time, I think it’s random luck.

Whatever the reason, it isn’t easy to give up on a dream when so many folks on line appear to be living it. But I do think being happy takes work. You have to focus on what you have. And taking myself as an example then yes, it’s true, I don’t have the several million I’ll need to pay my care fees when I’m elderly and leave something for McMini, but I do have McMini and McOther. I have a loving family and a cracking bunch of friends and for the most part, I have a good time.

Is that what’s wrong with us all in Britain, too many broken promises, too many broken dreams? We can’t all be rich and famous, and it’s becoming ever more apparent that fame isn’t much fun. Maybe what we need to fix is our attitude. We have a parliament full of MPs who seem to have forgotten what they’re there for. Meanwhile Brexit rumbles on and the government sneaks cuts to essential services through under the radar.

We’ve had another big row on about Brexit this week, lots of outcry and resignations, lots of talk about loyalty to the party and betrayal of party values from all sides of the house. Oh I know there are MPs who care and work hard for their constituents, but what shocked me most about this week’s row was how it was all party politics, throughout all the reportage I heard. The idea of anyone doing anything for the good of the nation didn’t make so much as a blip on the radar.

The cruellest blow is that it’s our fault. We elected these idiots. Heaven knows how we go about engaging normal people in politics again, people with life experience outside the political spectrum, people who will put their nation first and their party second, people who have had careers rather than career politicians, but we have to do it, fast. Making it to cabinet is not the same thing as getting promoted at the investment bank or making partner at the law firm. One is a job promotion, the other is a service to a nation. There’s a subtle difference and it’s one our current career politicians seem to be missing.

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Adventures and alarums!

What the fuck is going on?

This last week has been rather fun but it has been a bit like some badly written situation comedy. Then again, most of my life is like a badly written situation comedy. McOther often tells me that if my life were written up as a screen play, it’s so barkingly strange that no-one would believe any of the true life events depicted were … well … true.

In a strange coincidence, two old friends who I haven’t seen in ages have rung up to say they’ll be in the area and could we meet up. To my delight they were around when I am, as well so I met one friend yesterday and another is coming to see me on Wednesday! Woot all round.

On top of that, it’s been an adventurous couple of days. The night before last McOther was due to come home late. He rung and told me he’d be even later than he thought as he was swamped with emails. I could hear the tension in his voice. That was fine though, I would make sure everything was spic and span and try to ameliorate the mess so it was not as bad as sometimes, or at least, so enough of it had disappeared for him to register that we’d made an effort to be tidy and feel loved accordingly. I began by starting McMini’s supper early and also putting McOther and my supper together ready for when he came home.

Meanwhile, McMini was convinced that he had to have a drink and it had to be ‘a potion’. I haven’t a blind clue why but we looked out a jam jar and he made himself a rock shandy (two thirds ginger ale to one third soda with a dash of bitters, ice and a slice of lemon).

Rock shandy made, although he never does the ice and slice, he explained that it needed to be a lurid colour.

‘What sort of lurid colour?’ I asked him.

‘Do you have blue?’

The food colouring is on the top shelf of the larder ever since I discovered McMini, as a three year old, taking a good pull out of the bottle of yellow. Accordingly, I went into the larder and climbed onto the fold away stool thing I use to reach the top shelves. Frankly, I’m too fat and heavy for this thing, so having already broken one, I have learned to stand on it very carefully. It can take my weight but only if I place my feet in a certain way – you know like always stepping on the joists rather than the bit between when you’re up in a roofspace.

The stool creaked and groaned ominously but held up as I had a shufty on the top shelf of the larder. Eventually I discovered the blue food colouring and passed it down to McMini. I was still stepping off the stool with a slowness that only glaciers, or the arthritic, can achieve, when McMini had whipped off the lid and upended the bottle.

Oops.

Luckily only about half of it came out before he realised what he was doing and stopped.

‘Sorry Mum, I thought it would have a dropper like the bitters.’

‘Nae bother sunshine.’

The result was a tall thin jam jar full of the most bizarre blue liquid. We both knew it was rock shandy but it did look like something fresh from hell, or an antifreeze tank, in rat-poison blue. Mmm-Mmm!

‘Please, please, please keep the lid on that at all times and don’t drop it,’ I told him. I handed him the lid which he placed carefully on the jam jar and tightened under my supervision before he went off happily, potion in hand. It really was very blue – I’m thinking Regalian Brandy, StarTrek fans, or certain brands of lavatory bleach, everyone else.

McMini disappeared with his strange concoction, to have a poo, he informed me.

Lovely.

I carried on with whatever it was I was doing, faffing about in the kitchen doing something or other and then I heard a noise.

‘Flabado-do-do-doom!’ It went.

I listened.

Nothing. Then …

‘Mum.’

‘Yes.’

‘Can you come upstairs a minute?’

‘Why?’

‘Something’s happened. Please don’t be angry.’

He’s fucking spilled it, I thought. There’s blue bastardy jizz all over my fucking stairs.

‘What’s up?’ I said.

‘I’ve fallen down the stairs and banged my head.’

Oh, or maybe not on the blue jizz front, I thought hopefully.

‘Oh dear. That sounds a bit grim. Are you alright?’ I was pretty sure he was, it sounded like a small boy version of a terrible injury rather than an actual … you know … terrible injury.

‘Yes I am but … listen Mum, please, please don’t be angry.’

Oh fucking bollocks! He knobbing has spilled it! We have a blue chuffing carpet, I thought

‘Have you’ve spilled rat poison blue liquid all over the stair carpet?’ I asked, just to check.

Long silence.

‘I’m really, really sorry Mum. How did you know?’

Because the klutz gene is dominant and Sod and his bloody law made it fairly inevitable, I thought.

‘Skill,’ I said. ‘I’ll just get some kit together and then I’ll come up to join you and we can clean it up. Where is it?’

‘Outside Dad’s office.’

Oh fuckity fuck.

Dad also known as McOther. The same McOther who rang twenty minutes earlier, his voice full of tension. OK, no matter how disastrous this was, it had to be gone before he got home or he was going to lose his fucking biscuits. McOther is a neat bot and although he tries not to let living with the two messiest and most disorganised people on earth get to him, things like a sudden stain on his beige carpets can drive the poor man buggy. Especially if he’s stressed and he’s had a tough day. Code blue had to be neutralised before McOther got home or the three of us would all have a horrible evening.

As you may have gathered from accounts of my activities on this blog, I’m a total and utter klutz. Or the spill-o-tronic, 3,000 series as I am known. This means I have a library of stain removal products that is second to none. I am also pretty good at removing stains because otherwise, I would have nothing to wear and a house that looked like an ongoing Jackson Pollock project.

I grabbed a bucket and put every bottle of propiatory cleaning product I could find into it, and trust me there were a lot of bottles in there; vanish soap, OzKleen carpet cleaner, white vinegar, washing up liquid, you name it, I equipped myself with it. And sponges. Then I took some old ‘real’ nappies that we now use for just this type of emergency and clanked my way upstairs with it all.

McMini was standing beside a football-sized carpet stain of a lurid torquise colour. To give him his due, the lid was on the potion, so only about a quarter had spilled. As he fell, he’d dropped it and it had tumbled from his hand and landed on its side, the impact loosening the lid and allowing leakage. He’d then tried to wipe it up with his hands, bless him, merely smearing a small concentrated spillage into a much wider area. A bit like the time he used his goal keeping gloves to pick up a poo he’d done in the hall by mistake after he’d waited too long to go to the loo because he had to stand his Lego General Grevious up first and it kept falling over. He’d seen me put on rubber gloves to clear up sick so grabbed the nearest gloves to hand. In other words, he’d got it so right and yet … so wrong.

There was a nerf gun on the floor beside the stain so it was clear he’d been taking too much stuff down the stairs at once and probably missed a step because he couldn’t see or he may not have fallen and have just lost his hold on one bit and ende up dropping the chuffing lot.

We started by putting nappies on the stain and standing on them to wick it away.

‘So were you taking all this gubbins down stairs at once?’ I asked him as I marked time on a nappy that was rapidly turning blue.

‘No,’ he told me. ‘I took the gun down and then I went back for the liquid and got that and then when I was walking down with it I fell.’

I looked at the gun, half way down rather than at the bottom.

‘I see,’ I said.

So that’s a, ‘yes I was trying to carry everything and dropped the lot,’ I thought, but I’m not going to say anything. How could I when he was supremely contrite and nearly in tears.

We put half a bottle of OzKleen carpet cleaner on the stain and scrubbed it, then, when that had almost run out, I chucked half a bottle of white vinegar in with the rest of the OzKleen in an approximation of a recipe McMini had just found on the internet using his phone. We put that on. Then I filled the bucket with water and ‘rinsed’ it out at which point McMini, feeling that he wasn’t helping, left me to it.

After standing on more nappies to ‘dry’ it out a bit, it was better, but still blue. Blue like the touch paper on the firework McOther would turn into when he saw it and went into orbit.

Arse.

Then I remembered the condescendingly helpful lady in the advert for the Vanish in-wash stain removal stuff. She got it in a small pot and added some water. Then you were supposed to be able to make a paste and spread it onto stubborn stains, scrubbing it with the stippled bottom of the pink scoop that came with it. Leave over night and rinse the next morning. That’s what it said. Yeh. So I did that. Making a vile pot of claggy slime with bits in that wouldn’t dissolve. But fuck it, what did I have to lose? I went ahead and scrubbed it into the carpet. Along with those little white bits like polystyrene balls that they put in to take up space, stay loader as Mr Bol* wash used to call them, which resolutely refused to blend into the rest of the mixture at any cost. Then I left it to work and emptied the water out in the bathroom and left the bucket up there, along with the sponges and the two nappies I hadn’t used which I set aside for ‘wicking’ the slimy gloop back up again (complete with blue hopefully).

McOther rang to say he was leaving the office. He sounded a lot less stressed but I realised that in order to ameliorate the impact on his wellbeing of the blue carpet outside his study door, I now had to break it to him gently so he was prepared for the sight of the blue stain and ready for the shock.

Hmm, how to do this?

Then like lightning, inspiration struck! Of course, I’d just say what McMini did. So I said that McMini had fallen down the stairs and bumped his head but was OK. McOther was all concern, at which point I broke the news that it was only a little bump and that McMini had also spilled blue juice everywhere in the fall. Bless him, McOther was just happy that the head bump was minor as I had been.

Even better, by the time I’d finished cooking dinner and went back upstairs to see how the claggy gloop was doing, the stain had … yes … vanished. OK we have a weird clean bit of carpet that looks like a pale stain but I expect I can fix by rubbing some dirt into it or something.

Meanwhile, McCat has been such a thieving bastard these last few weeks that I feared he may be ill. Like The Blob, he has been eating everything in his path. But he hasn’t been putting on weight, adding to my fears about his health. Some very expensive tests later it turns out that no, he is not ill, he is just a scrounging shite. This morning he capped it all by opening a plastic bag of this week’s vitimin pills. I take several different ones each day and I can’t be arsed to faff around with all the child proof lids that nobody in the house apart from my ten year old son can open. So I decant them all into a plastic bag each week. Only one thing to open. Except this week, McCat opened it. Twice.

McCat likes cod liver oil and evening primrose oil. It appears he’s also quite partial to vitimin A and cranberry cystitis pills.

I cleared up the mess and counted up a second bag. He ate a lot of the actual bag this time, as well as the cod liver oil and evening primrose capsules. He left the rest though. So now I will be putting the pills in a small pot with a very tight lid. Presumably McCat will have a blindingly luxuriant coat for a day or two. I just hope it doesn’t make him ill. Rock on summer when he will have insects to chase and will, almost certainly, become a well behaved cat. In the meantime, as well as vitimin pills he eats sugar snap peas, peas, broccoli, cheese, bread, olive oil, yogurt, pasta and anything else that is not nailed down.

Another eventful week then.

* Spelled the way the bloke in the ad used to say it, rather than the proper way.

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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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