Tag Archives: M T McGuire

There may be trouble ahead … #dementia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Would you rather I called you John?’

‘Yes please,’ he said.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Yes,’ he whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poor Dad.

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

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

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

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

They explained that I couldn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Indeed,’ I agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Red alert at Ice Station Zebra … And the Pile Howitzer

This one comes with a profanity warning. It’s not that profane but I do mention piles quite a lot. There. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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The thing about giving birth is that your dignity tends to be birthed along with your child. Not that I even had to give birth to my lad, having a c-section and all. Except while, after it’s all over, they give the child a rub down and hand it over for a cuddle, it seems that my dignity is still in Addenbrooks hospital somewhere. I’d like to think it’s wandering the corridors looking for me but I suspect it’s more likely to be in a drunken stupor. Then comes the menopause/perimenopause/postmenopause. Ladies, if you haven’t yet you do. Not. Know. What. You are in for. If you have … you’ll be laughing along with this.

Basically, when a lady hits mid-life then, if she has any dignity remaining, trust me, the whole change of life shenanigans will knock it unconscious, drag it away, murder it and bury it in a shallow grave.

Motherhood, menopause and adulting. They’ll be the fucking death of me.

Yeh. I don’t really know where to begin this week. It’s manic. The painters are in. For once this is not a euphemism there really are genuine painters painting the woodwork outside of our house. Yes, I’m sorry folks, it’s all our fault the weather had turned to shite. They’re in for three weeks I’m afraid, an’ all so crack out your waterproofs and thermals. The painters start at half seven, which means I have to set my alarm for half six so that I have some thought collection time between waking up and getting out of bed.

When you have to get up that early, who needs thought collection time, right? Wrong. Why do I need it so badly though? You ask? Well, you may not but for the sake of the point I’m attempting to make here, let’s pretend you did. Er … yeh, why do I need that? Because otherwise a terrible thing beyond our imagination may occur. A rush. Also … brain fog. A rush plus brain fog equals a day comprising one gargantuan balls-up after another, followed by an evening of wailing, gnashing-of-teeth and too much alcohol.

Also it has not helped that since it was constipation and brain fog week last week, it is, naturally, piles, headache and brain fog week this. I confess, the piles bit is, usually, only a mild annoyance but every now and again the little bastards decide it’s time for war.

Naturally, what with it being absolutely the worst week ever for it, this week they decided to declare war. So bad I’ve had to open, ‘that box in the fridge’ and crack out the heavy armour. These things are the mother of all cures, the big hitters and I confess, this is only the second time I’ve had to resort to using them. Privately, in my own warped head, I call them ‘The Pile Howitzers’. Normally their presence, in the box, in the fridge, in the paper bag, is enough to keep the little bastards under control.

Obviously with the painters in, it was inevitable that as well as a hectic week for McMini things would go a bit wrong with Dad, which they’ve done – to the extent that I can’t really look it in the eye enough to talk about it now.

But presumably that’s why this week, of all the bastard weeks I would be forced to do so, I’ve had to deploy the Pile Howitzers. It’s a mis-nomer, too, because it’s more like pile shells. Each one looks like a bullet, made of some candle wax like stuff – I assume there’s more than candle wax in it though. Anyway, these things bear a very passing resemblance to the missiles off one of McMini’s StarWars toys – it’s a Clone trooper transport ship, if you must know – and each one has to be shoved where the sun don’t shine – the medication I mean, not the missiles of scion’s Clone trooper transport ship clearly – after … er … daily motion.

As you can imagine this is not hugely dignified experience at the best of times. But when there’s a strong chance you’ll have to give a painter outside the window, sanding down the woodwork, a cheery wave first, it’s a whole new dimension of ‘interesting’! So as well as needing ‘thought collection’ time, in the morning, I have to have been up long enough for motility to occur before the painters arrive as well, in order that the Pile Howitzers can be deployed safely.

Nice.

As a result of this, we have managed, just about, to make it to the end of the week even if, yesterday, both McMini and I forgot his PE kit. I had to rush back to the school with it. Then, he came home wearing said PE kit having left his clothes at school in the bag. As he’s low on trousers, or at least, as he only has the one pair with knees in, I had to rush back to school with him and get his clothes. When he brought the bag out, I was smart enough to check the contents for once and sent him straight back in to get his shoes. This week has been like that.

Then there’s this morning. Although I’d call this a partially successful session.

Today is Saturday and, like many other small boys up and down the country, McMini has football practise. It starts at half nine so I need to wake up at 8 am or so in order to nag McMini to get ready, constantly, from about then on. If I do that, there’s an outside chance he’ll get himself sorted and ready by about 9.15. Today I was woken at about twenty past eight by a cheery cat who lay on my chest making burrping noises and generally demonstrating how pleased he was to see me. After a brief cuddle he headed off to do Important Cat Things and I went and cleaned my teeth, washed my face, brushed my hair and got back into bed for a moment to warm up. But I was fucking knackered after a week of six hours sleep a night instead of seven. Can you guess what happened next?

Yes. At about ten to nine I woke up. This was not good. Leaping out of bed in my pyjamas I ran down and put the coffee on, whacked a crumpet into the toaster for breakfast – first of two x four minutes – made McMini a cup of tea and grabbed his football kit from the airer, where it has been ‘drying’ since its last wash over a week ago – because I’m not a skanky ho or anything. Mwahahahaahrgh!

Ran up to McMini’s room as fast as the action of arthritically running up stairs while carrying a cup of tea and a football kit would allow and discovered that he was awake. It was he who had released the Kraken cat. Unfortunately, he was on the loo looking at videos on his phone. Fortunately, he was most accommodating about wiping his bum and getting his finger out with the dressing when I told him what the time was (I can only assume he’s all up to date with Dan TDM or that the battery in his phone had died).

In something that must be closely approaching a miracle, McMini got his football kit on in about fifteen minutes; evil, impossible-to-pull-on socks and all. I should imagine the tea helped because I’ve tried the ‘Oh shit we’re late’ approach to getting him up in the morning on many occasions and it’s never worked before. At the same time, I hurled on some clothes, put my face on, dragged a brush through my hair again and ran downstairs. I even remembered to push the toaster down to give the crumpet its second four minutes. McMini requested a tortilla wrap, just the wrap on its own, which I had right to hand. Despite the fact that the morning, so far, was like red-alert at Ice Station Zebra we were rocking this! What was going on?

McOther arrived home just as I was shoving McCat into the box to take him to the vet for his yearly shots. Cat in box, now it was time to find the immunisation card. Could I find it? Of course I fucking couldn’t. Never mind, it was now nine twenty and McCat had an urgent appointment on the vet’s table at half past. McOther was taking McMini to football so I hurriedly kissed the boys good bye and rushed off to the vet’s. Amazingly, I even remembered to take the cat with me.

In the short five minute journey I managed to see sun, rain and hail. Plus there seems to be a permanently gale force wind direct from Siberia or somewhere mind-(not to mention, extremity)-numbingly cold.

Despite a nervous few minutes sitting at the traffic lights which went red just as I got to them, naturally, we made it to the vet’s at nine twenty nine, went straight in, wormed, new card, shots done for another year and that was just the cat (badoom tish). Quick chat, paid … a LOT of money … and went home. I broke the cable for the solar charger I have for my car battery which was a bit of a pisser, but on the upside, I think I can fix it.

Even when McOther rang me at 10.45 to say they were holding the traffic on the main road after an accident, that he thought he might not be able to get from Sainsbury’s to football to collect McMini, and that I might have to, the traffic started to move while he was on the phone. Despite waking up, almost too late, everything had gone according to plan, and rush or not, we had achieved our aim. We were blessed! Yeh.

Mmm … just call me Van Halen.

So here I am now, sitting typing this, breathing a sigh of relief that everything is all done. Then I catch sight of my reflection in the kitchen cupboards.

Now, I may have whinged about my hair before but basically, it’s very affected by what the weather is doing. So when the weather doesn’t know what it’s doing, neither does my hair. So the downside of this? Let me show you.

Yes I’ve been going about all morning looking like the mad bag lady of Ning Dang Po. There’s just no way on God’s green earth that any normal person would look at that and think it wasn’t a wig. Blimey-oh-Reilly. Or perhaps it’s more of a 1980s stadium rockstar. Or is it a cross between Milton whatsisface and Ken Dodd? Ah, if only I was as funny as them! Or am I trying to ameliorate the effects of alopecia with a Brillo pad and some wool? I dunno, I’ll let you decide.

Ho hum, I suppose it could be worse.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and put a thing that looks like a StarWars missile up my arse.

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What the fuck do I call my new series and other quandaries …

Easter! What an adventure that was. We had a lovely holiday trundling round France. There was a tense few hours, on our first day at the ski resort when Mum ended up in hospital after a fall with a suspected stroke and I thought I was going to have to fly home. Luckily she was fine, just very stiff and cold because she’d been lying on the floor for two hours. I’m also feeling a little guilty because I just didn’t have the stamina to visit Dad and Mum this week, but on the up side, Mum was in great form. I have just had the new cover designs through for my short story series and for the one I’m going to give away so I showed her those, because she is actually really interested in all things K’Barthan, genuinely too rather than just because she’s my Mum. So I told he all about the batch of short stories I’ve written, and we had a giggle about the plots. Then she and the carer and I discussed titles. And having done that with Mum and Katie (waves at them) now it’s your turn.

Yes, this week, I am going to be talking about my books. That’ll put half of you straight to sleep while the others makes their excuses and leave!

The thing is, despite the picture you may get from my release schedule, and my blog – which is normally about pretty much anything other than my books – I am actually an author – you’ll notice about 99.9% of my posts are labelled, ‘off topic’ if you’re new here, now you know why. I write stuff. And amazingly, after three years in the wilderness, I finally have some work ready for publication. Woot. I’m trying to release it properly this time. I mean, I’m supposed to build a buzz, although, while I’m stoked, I doubt anyone else is particularly excited but I do, at least, have a big enough email list and enough webtastic contacts now to be able to involve my audience in the process. This, again, is hugely exciting for me – probably rather more exciting for me than for them. So at the moment, I’m bouncing around like a rubber ball in a jam jar. We are nearly there. I have the mailing list freebie ready to go, the covers are shaping up beautifully, one story is edited and two more are ready to be sent to the editor. In the meantime, there are conundrums facing me. Three to be precise.

1. The covers.

This is the least conundrumy of the three. When I speced them, it seemed smart to stick with the incredibly cunning plan that I would use the same image and then have different colours – pretty similar to the K’Barthan Series, then, which did that, except book two was set in London so the city was London. Mind you, the city on the other books is London too, although a different bit, but I digress. Also, since drawing is expansive, I want to get the titles, series name and art work finalised first. This stuff costs less if you batch it. I sent the designer various photos and sketches and an outline of what I wanted. This is what he came up with.

New M T McGuire cover; paperback version

New Series, Ebook cover

Naturally, I am completely stoked with these.

OK, so ignore the words on the front, they’re just to give a feel for text type and where it’ll go.

Having read that book covers and adverts with people in them are way, way more effective – if you look at indy book covers you will notice I am not the only person who has read that research – I wanted a figure in the cover, but at the same time, not too much drawing. Since the stories I’ve written are about The Pan of Hamgee’s adventures after he arrives in Ning Dang Po but before the events of the main series begin, it seemed smart to put him on there, complete with trademark hat and cloak, seen from behind because … less drawing and also more scope for ritzy view and a glimpse of the SE2 because … flying cars! The colours will vary so the final item may well be brighter than this. More like the prequel shown below, for example – although this one is still in progress so I’ll probably ask the designer to remove the white outline round the figure.

There’ll be four short stories in this batch, three at around 20k, one at 10k but I’m working on making that one longer so it ties in. There is also a starter at about 12k which I will give away exclusively to people who join my mailing list, or as a free paperback at any events I do. That is one that works equally well as a prequel to both series; the main, K’Barthan Series of of full length books or this one.

So far, feedback on the covers is good but a couple of folks think that although it ties in with the overall M T McGuire brand, these are bordering on a different genre to comedy. There are two ways to fix that. One, change the font or brighten the colours or two make sure the titles are properly comedic. More about this in a minute.

Second thing about the series … I suspect there will be more stories, both about The Pan of Hamgee and possibly about other characters. So this is where the second conundrum comes in.

2. Series Name

To make sure nobody muddles stuff up and that everyone reads everything in the right order, I’ve called the short stories, ‘K’Barthan Shorts’. Clearly, though, since these ones are all about The Pan of Hamgee and others may be about different characters or settings, with different covers, I need to qualify it a bit. I do have ideas for a series of short stories about events at The Parrot and Screwdriver and I’d quite like to write one about that assassination mission Deirdre Arbuthnot goes on when she ends up getting ambushed but manages to escape by blowing up the Grongolian first minister with a lorry full of custard.

So, I was thinking that K’Barthan Shorts would be the umbrella name and then I’d qualify it with a secondary name so it would look like this: K’Barthan Shorts, Misfit Hamgeean: Part 1.

3. Book Names

Bearing in mind the comments on the covers so far, I thought funny titles were probably expedient. Normally, when I name my books I take my cues from Sir Terry since he’s probably the nearest thing to my demographic. He tends to do three things:

  1. Snappy phrases that are already in use – or sound as if they are – such as, The Light Fantastic, Lords and Ladies, or Feet of Clay.
  2. Two words, for example, Wyrd Sisters, some of which are also short snappy phrases, for example, Interesting Times or Soul Music.
  3. One word titles, such as Thud, Nation or Snuff.

With the original K’Barthan Series I went for titles which fell into the first group. Since the stories in this series are shorts I thought I’d also try pithier one or two word titles. They tie in both with the main series and with the free short, Unlucky Dip. In fact they pretty much come between the two. But after some of the comments about the cover, I wonder if I should go the phrases route again, to make the genre clearer. So what we have are the following:

In the one word corner: Jump, Drop, Pastries, Switch/Punched and Flight/Spiced (but spice is a drug here in the UK so I’m a bit ambivalent about using it).

In the two word corner: Night Swimmers, Small Beginnings, Special Delivery, Close Enough, Spice of Life/Blind Flight.

In the three/four word corner: Night Swimming, A Poor Start, Nothing to See Here, A Spot of Bother and Too Good to be True.

What do you think? Your thoughts are hugely appreciated since you are my readers, after all, and what is comfortable, to you, will be fitting to other new, untamed readers who are encountering my books out there in the wild for the first time. To make it easier for anyone who wants to give feedback, I’ve made a quick survey. Which should be embedded, below. If it isn’t, follow this link:

https://poll.fm/10305095

Enjoy!

 

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Filed under About My Writing, Author Updates, General Wittering, Humorous Fantasy Author

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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How does this even happen?

This is McMini’s work.

Obviously there are points among the mayhem when I try to write a sensible post about something, but this week the madness continued so I felt I may as well just give in and tell you about it. To be honest, I was worried, a few weeks ago, that I was losing my sense of humour. The good lord has clearly decided to rectify this by making my life as surreal and bizarre as possible. The appreciation of oddity centre of my brain is definitely fully satisfied at the moment, anyway.

First, Dad.

Huge relief this week. After a meeting with Dad’s home, his social worker and the community dementia nurse on Wednesday, they said they were happy with his progress and thought he was settling well. The manager of the home confirmed that they will be able to look after him permanently. Since we were happy with the home, too, this is a huge relief. They addressed most of the doubts or misgivings we had before we got to the asking questions stage which was also a good sign. The home are taking it slowly and letting Dad settle, he flips from charming to very much not charming and has to be placed carefully since he is able to raise his voice to the kinds of levels required to be heard by rowdy teenagers. As the manager pointed out, that kind of volume, like hearing someone play the bagpipes in a small room, can be a bit much for the other residents in a confined space.

At the moment they are working out who Dad gets on with and who he doesn’t. Residents with dementia do irritate each other from time to time, apparently. Like life then. But they’re more like kids so there’s a lot more of the kind of nursery school exchanges. Go away I don’t like you, you’re smelly etc.

A highlight was when the lovely lady who runs the home was trying to get into the computer system to show us Dad’s record. The meeting room was just off the main hall/lounge where everyone sits. She forgot her password. So she opened the door and called for one of the other staff.

‘She’s gone,’ said an elderly voice from a chair nearby. ‘She got into the taxi.’

‘Did she?’

‘Yes, I don’t know where she’s going.’

The staff member appeared from the office next door and came in to join us. In the background I could hear a cheery commentary from the same resident.

‘Look! They’ve both got into the taxi.’

‘Oh,’ said someone else.

‘Yes, I don’t know where they think they’re going,’ said the first voice.

Very Alan Bennett.

At another point I heard a resident shouting and then the familiar voice of Dad bellowing, ‘shut up!’

There was a slight pause in the meeting room.

‘That was Dad,’ said Mum.

‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘still, at least he didn’t say, “fuck off!”’

It sounds a bit grim of me but I’m afraid I actually found it hilarious. Luckily everyone else laughed too.

If you want to survive stuff like this, I sincerely believe there is no other option than to see the funny side. Were he still wholly himself, I’m certain it’s what Dad would have done. There is something gloriously, surreally random about listening to a background of conversation between demented people. Furthermore, Dad is much more settled and much more aware so we are happier because he is and therefore, so is Mum. She is a bit of a worry. We are standing at the top of the hill we were on with Dad three years ago, except with her. I’m hoping the cajoling, the getting extra care and all the other baggage that comes with getting people the care they need, rather than the care they want, will be easier to handle the second time.

Business in casa McGuire is mayhem as usual.

McCat is behaving abominably. As if his complete obsession with my evening primrose oil capsules wasn’t enough, I turned my back on the kitchen work top this morning only to discover he’d leapt up there and was drinking the dregs of McOther’s tea. For the love of the almighty was there ever such a skanky cat? I swear he’s suffering from species dysmorphia because he is clearly a labrador. I have discovered that screaming at him makes him stop and run away, and it also clearly communicates to him that I am displeased and he’s been bad. It doesn’t stop him, though, because not only is he mischievous but he also has a sense of humour and I suspect he thinks it’s funny.

Midweek, a friend from way back rang up out of the blue. She was up here on business and asked if she could stay over. Yes she could, I said. So after a grim journey home from the care home on Wednesday – a lovely 39 minute delay at the Dartford Tunnel and other shenanigans – I got home a few minutes before she arrived.

We had supper and there was lots to talk about, we’re in very similar situations with elderly parents although it’s just mum in her case and we managed to talk the hind legs off every donkey in the vicinity until we realised it was one am.

Nooo I forgot the soldiers in the bog!

I didn’t really think it through, since I had metal detecting club the next night and McOther is hoping to start a wine tasting group we had the first meeting round ours the night after. Long and short, I really can’t do late nights any more I have been recovering from Wednesday’s excesses all week.

When we had the wine group round, I spent the day trying to change my mindset to that of a person who does not live with a ten year old and to notice, and remove, some of the bizarre items that have come to rest around the house. A lot of nerf guns, bits of biro, headless action figures and other detritus later, I thought I had them all, only to discover, while having a nice relaxing wee during the wine evening, that I’d completely forgotten about the row of toy soldiers in the lavatory. Still, I suppose it could have been worse. The scale on our water here is brown and I did, at least, remember to give the lav a good treatment with descaler so it was mostly white.

Meanwhile, McOther had blithely imagined that he’d be home from work in time for us to eat a meal before the wine evening on Friday started. In fact, the first of our guests arrived about two minutes after McOther did. I chatted to him while McOther had a wee and unpacked his work bag before leaving McOther playing host and haring off up the hill in the car with McMini to Boy’s Brigade. Needless to say, because I have a tiny car and McMini is, himself, a microdot, he has elected to play the bass drum in the Boy’s Brigade band. To give him his due, he’s pretty good at it but it means I have to schlepp up the hill with it, or borrow McOther’s car. It’s only a matter of time before he takes up the double bass and the tuba I suspect … or possibly the euphonium or some other hugantic instrument I’ll need a luton van to ferry him about with.

On the recovery from my persistent socialising score, the fact it is the part of my monthly cycle which I privately refer to as Constipation and Brain Fog Week hasn’t helped either, but this time the brain fog and seems to have extended its sponge like caress, not just to my brain, but also to McMini’s.

On Fridays he has PE. Thank heavens he no longer has to go into school dressed in his kit, with his school clothes in a bag, but he tends to come home in his PE kit with his school uniform and school shoes stuffed into his bag. However, he also has Boy’s Brigade on Fridays so he has to put the school trousers and shirt back on again. Bless his heart, I took his uniform out of his PE bag, popped it on the sofa beside him without really looking at it and asked him to put it on. A few minutes later, I heard a shout of dismay.

‘Muuuuuum!’

‘Yes.’

‘These aren’t my trousers! They’re huge.’

He was standing in the middle of the room, sporting what looked like clown trousers. He held the waistband out from his stomach and there was, indeed, about three inches of extra room where, presumably, they usually sit snugly round a very much larger child. Luckily, I’d already washed the other pair of his own trousers and it was hanging over the airier in the utility room so I didn’t have to creep up the stairs on my shonky knees. Even more luckily, it was dry!

The week before last, he managed to get changed back into his school uniform but he came home with another child’s hoody. I didn’t find it for five days. The wee lad’s poor mum was probably wondering where the hell it was. At least I managed to wash it and get it back to her in time for the next PE lesson.

So now we have a pair of mystery trousers and some other child has McMini’s. As far as I recall, McMini’s are named, I’m not sure though, because he went through about six pairs in the first three weeks of term playing something which he called ‘human chess’ and so in the whirl of rapid acquisition and destruction of trousers I may not have named them. Still, I should thank the world for small mercies, I mean, it makes life interesting and at least he still has a pair to go to school in on Monday.

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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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This last three months I’ve been mostly …

Putting my dad in a home.

As I may have hinted, things have been extremely tough since Christmas. Dad doesn’t respond to Christmas so well at the best of times – I suspect he is as ambivalent about it as I am – but he excelled himself this year. Mum flipped from being happy to have him at home to admitting that things were too much to deal with in about three weeks. Fair play to my brother for getting us to pick out a home for him because booyacka, we had it lined up. However, Mum needs care too and this home cost the same, per week, as care for the two of them did, at home.

Then, I realised Dad had run out of money. Dad and Mum kept their stocks and shares separate, which is unusual for married couples. As I’d understood it, when Dad’s cash ran out we were supposed to blat through Mum’s. Then when they got down to their last £24,250 each, they’d be eligible for whatever the state sees fit to give. Except it’s a sliding scale so it’s actually their last £18,250 that counts.

However, after an exploration on the Alzheimer’s Society forum I discovered that each person is taken separately. So I got the process in train for Dad. That was OK but the grist of government grinds slow and we knew it would take time.

Time was not really a commodity we had.

Dad reached the point where he was screaming and bellowing in rage all day every day. He didn’t recognise the house he’d lived in for 40 years but thought he lived in Eastbourne somewhere. He was anxious and angry. I am guessing he thought we’d all kidnapped him. He wasn’t even sure who we were. One visit, he was reasonably with it and asked me,

‘Why do you keep calling me Dad?’
‘Would you rather I didn’t?’ I asked.
‘Yes, please.’

After that, I called him by his name; John, until he suddenly recognised me – the trick is not to make them think about recognising you too hard – and called me by my name. Then I knew we were OK and when I called him Dad again, after that, he knew who I was, and more to the point, who he was.

That was the one decent trip. The rest were terrible. Especially the one following it. As well as shouting and railing at people Dad threw things at them, spat at them and cleared his throat and spat on the floor. His entire record collection was torn from the shelves next to his chair and frisbeed, Odd-Job-style at others. Mum had to sit in the kitchen because it just wasn’t safe for her to be with him in the drawing room. At points, even the carers had to leave him alone. He would be shouting commanding them to come to see him and yelling about what horrible people they were to leave him alone. Then, when they did, he’d tell them he didn’t know who they were to fuck off. He didn’t sleep at night for two months and thus it was that we learned how lack of sleep makes a person totally, utterly psychotic.

And so it went on.

Then, the Community Dementia Nurse came to see him for a scheduled visit. She is a star. I explained we were waiting for the slow machinations of the state and was worried about Mum’s well being in the interim. Mum couldn’t bear to see Dad suffer, and felt that if he was miserable at home, he may as well be miserable in a nursing home where he wouldn’t be keeping everyone else up in quite the same way if he started shouting at night. And also, she couldn’t cope with seeing the man she loved and had been married to for 53 years in this kind of mental state 24/7. The community dementia nurse agreed and promptly got the emergency dementia team to come and look at him.

We discussed sectioning, but Mum decided against it on compassionate grounds, because it would involve too much moving him around. They could also take him away for 3 days for respite but we decided that, too, would be unkind because it would just disorientate him more. However, they did get him off the waiting list for a social worker when the duty social worker stepped up and agreed to take him on straight away, in light of the urgency of his case. They also did what is called a cognition test, which he failed, which meant that the lasting power of attorney over his health was activated. I confess, I’ve never been so fucking glad I did anything as I am that we got that power of attorney.

In November 2017, we had a family get together and when we did, we got Dad and Mum to sign the forms for lasting power of attorney over their health. They’d done financial in 2004 when Dad realised he was going nuts. Discussing the health form with Dad, the week before, was one of to the last times I saw him able to grapple with abstract concepts. I am so glad that we sorted it out in time and more to the point, that I got a firm idea what he would want. Also I have to totally commend the government office that does this. I have dyscalculia, filling in forms correctly is my nemesis but they have a helpline and they were brilliant and endlessly patient with my dumb enquiries.

One of the areas where my brother and I are very lucky is that my parents both have a strong faith. Neither of them is afraid of death, or afraid to use the word, ‘death’. No pussy footing around calling it ‘passing away’ because the word ‘death’ is too scary for their ickle wickle sensibilities, they can look it full in the face. Neither of them has ever been afraid to discuss death, their funeral and what they would like to happen to them if they were ill and unable to outline treatment preferences for themselves. Indeed, they have always been keen to ensure my brother and I knew. They are DNR (do not resuscitate) but if you are elderly and wish this carried over into, for example, not being treated if you have Alzheimer’s and contract cancer or the like, you may need someone to have power of attorney over your health if you know they might have to overrule medical professionals, especially if. you want them to carry out your wishes not to be kept alive.

You see, back in the day, the doctors made the decisions. If someone was suffering and weary of life and they got pneumonia, rather than prescribing antibiotics, the doctors might ‘make them comfortable’. They’re not allowed to do this any more. The patient, or the patient’s family, have to make the decision, with their guidance. BUT relatives and family also have to be authorised to make decisions with the relevant Lasting Power of Attorney.

During their visit, the emergency dementia team suggested we check Dad for a urinary tract infection. This we did. He had one, but unfortunately, the only difference it made was that Dad was now more aware when he needed a wee. At the end of that week (and the end of January) I remember dropping McMini off to school one Friday and on the way home, I popped into church, lit four candles; one each for me, my brother, my father and my mother. Then I sat in a quiet corner and cried. I’m not very good at praying and I don’t know exactly what God is, whether it’s an actual entity or just quantum mechanics explained badly to simplistic people a few thousand years ago. But I believe that Jesus was ace and that there is something out there that’s really hard to explain.

Anyway, I just sat there with the situation laid out and asked whatever it is for help. That done, I went home, rang my Mum for a chat and half way through, Dad had a funny turn in the bathroom and the carer called Mum through. I cleared off the line and left them to call the emergency services. A while later I got a call from the paramedic who explained that Dad would be going into hospital for the afternoon as his heart rate was high but that he’d probably be home by the evening.

When Dad got there, it transpired he had a chest infection. He was kept in and given intra-venus antibiotics.

Mum and I had two big questions to discuss.

First, should they treat him? If they’d told us it was pneumonia, we agreed that we’d have asked them to ‘make him comfortable’ but a chest infection is different, he might feel really shit for three weeks and then recover, so he had antibiotics.

We felt that Dad was miserable and not enjoying life any more. While he was behaving like a six year old but clearly enjoying life it was different but now, definitely, he was giving off the vibe that he’d had enough. The biggest one was that he was refusing his medication. If the carers asked him, please, just for me, he’d take it but if they said it was to keep him well he’d refuse. We agreed, with my brother, that there’d be no more heroic medicine for Dad (great phrase isn’t it? This is what things like, giving someone antibiotics to cure pneumonia are called).

All meds that will increase Dad’s quality of life stay but he now takes nothing to prolong it. The doctors at the hospital commended us on this as the most practical, sensible and compassionate path. He is still taking meds to help with his gout, his Alzheimer’s, his sleep etc, things that make him comfortable or make his life easier. Nothing to keep him alive.

The second big question we had to work out while Dad was in hospital was, were we going to have him back home, or were we going to press to get him straight into a decent nursing home from there? In hospital Dad slept lots and while he was still swearing and flailing his arms around when people tried to wash him or put a clean pull up on him, with rest and proper sleep Dad, real Dad, came back to us. He recognised me on sight, knew where he lived and wanted to go home. But if he did return home, then we’d be bouncing him out again to a nursing home. Because he’d soon stop sleeping on home turf, and with the lack of sleep, become completely psychotic again.

After discussing it all with Mum and my brother, we realised we had the opportunity to speed up the system if he went to a home from hospital and it genuinely seemed the kindest course. I told the hospital we could no longer cope with him at home.

He stayed in hospital just under a month while we got his condition assessed, his finances assessed and got everything sorted. Dad is fully funded but as he has a teacher’s pension, he gets little or no actual reduction on his care home fees BUT he does pay the fully funded price, which is about 40% of what he’d pay otherwise. So the horrific prospect of the money running out for Mum’s care within the next six months has been averted temporarily. I reckon we can do a year, possibly two and a lot can happen over that time. Another year and Mum may be happy to move somewhere smaller.

Dad was assessed by a local home, which we wanted him to go into, but was considered too difficult for them to deal with. We had been warned this might happen and so the Social worker explained she’d look for homes with harder-core care facilities.

Mid February, while dealing with all this, I got flu and after five days in bed, while I was creeping about with a chest and sinus infection, we got the call that there was a place for Dad. We were offered two homes, and funded or part-funded places. Something about the way the social worker spoke about one of the homes attracted my attention at once.  I looked at the information about both but the moment I saw the website for that first home, I knew it was a good fit. It was also in the right place, at the back of the local market town, reachable in 20 minutes for Mum. I rang them and they were lovely, which seemed a good sign, but I knew we had to move fast. As it was half term, my brother happened to be staying at the time so he and his little ones and Mum went and looked round. They confirmed that it was every bit as lovely as it looked on the website and the staff every bit as pleasant as they’d seemed on the phone. Also, Dad’s best friend, who died last year, was in there for recuperation after an operation some years ago. His son spoke highly of it.

So we took their fully funded place and Mum and her/Dad’s carer took him down there two weeks ago. It was a while before I threw off the infection and could visit but when I did, it felt like a happy school. There are forty inmates and I’d say all of them were up and about, spread between three rooms. The decor was a little tatty but clearly well looked after. There was a burble of contented conversation and Dad was sitting at a table on his own, quite happy and contented, looking at a tank of fish.

A lady came and cut his hair, apologising that she only had one cape for him to wear because another resident didn’t want to take the other one off! Dad and I chatted to her and that kept him from getting impatient until the very end. I left him about to have lunch. He didn’t bat an eyelid when I went, just waved me a cheery goodbye.

So far, so good. Fingers crossed.

What impressed me most about the home was that they are completely unfazed by Dad’s inappropriate behaviour. When the carer and Mum arrived all the residents were up and about even though many of them are as free of any behavioural filters as Dad. He is so much more relaxed and happy and because of that, he’s so much more with it. And it’s such a weight off knowing he’s there and OK. I hadn’t realised how wound up I was about it all until we got Dad into this place, and I began to relax a bit.

Everyone in there shouts or does odd stuff from time to time because they have Alzheimer’s. When it attacks the frontal lobes of the brain, especially, it can cause the person to become aggressive. And at Dad’s home, this behaviour happens from time to time, but they are really good at dealing with it and settling everyone down again and the attitude is so good. They stop the trouble but they deal with it as if it’s nothing more significant than spilling a glass of water. And that’s the point isn’t it? Because as they’re dementia patients, for them that’s all it is.

Seeing the other residents has been strangely cathartic for us, too. We always tell ourselves that Dad is the same as any other Alzheimer’s sufferer, we are aware that he can’t help it, but sometimes, out there in the world, we still feel responsible. Unacceptable behaviour is still unacceptable, even if the person doing it is not responsible for their own actions. And when it’s your father or your husband, it’s also hurtful sometimes, being told to fuck off. And no matter how strong and calm you try to be, you’re human and this is someone who loves you, it’s still going to hurt.

Likewise, we understand that Dad just has a disability but we still feel the pressure to manage him ‘right’ because to us, these outbursts look like distress. But in the home, with other people all around him who are the same, we realise we are not alone, Dad is not alone and that in many instances, neither he nor they are distressed much either.

Because Alzheimer’s breaks down all the filters, and that’s why many of these outbursts are a lot less dreadful than they might appear, more of a ‘pfft that’s irritating!’ than the cry of existential angst they look like to the rest of us. Anyway, we’ve seen the existential angst: days of shouting from morning to night! Nothing in the home is like that.

I think Dad’s arrival sums it up. Mum and the carer brought him in and a little old dear sitting near the door looked up and smiled at them.

‘Hello,’ said Mum’s carer.
‘Fuck off!’ said the little old dear.

Yeh, Dad fits right in.

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