Tag Archives: Mary Fails at Modern Life

Still hanging in there …

Still here … 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

Overwhelm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, where was I?

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

Then

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gulp.

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

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

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

Can you guess what happened next kids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking about writing …

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

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

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

If you’re bored …

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

K’Barthan Box Set Audio in Reduced Circumstances

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

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This week I have mostly been … poisoning myself.

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

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

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

picture of the flowers described in this blog post

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

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

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

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

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

Oh.

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

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

I CHECKED ON THE INTERNET.

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

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

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

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

How very small? Will one dried flower do it?

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

OK.

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

Bit of an aside here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean … for bald fuck’s sake!

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

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

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

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

Kobo Box Set Sale until 28th March

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

Kobo25

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

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

SFFBOOKS

 

 

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Filed under General Wittering

Fucks given? Zero. And a book review

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

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

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

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

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

Know what colour I am?

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

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

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

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

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

‘Yikes!’ she thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subject 21 by A E Warren.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Chaos Fairies are back … the little bastards.

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

Weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else happened then, Mary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was going to have to get a new phone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Is that an older one then?’

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

‘Right …’ I said slowly. Crikey!

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

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

‘No.’

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

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

Luckily, I realised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

On a more cheerful note …

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

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

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

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

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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It is accomplished

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Right oh, darling, half seven.’

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

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

This time, there was no stopping her.

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

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

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

‘Why?’

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

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

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

‘Er …’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No,’ she said angrily.

Right.

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

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

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

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

She softened a little, ‘Yes, please.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Mind the bin,’ said McMini.

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

There was a god almighty bang.

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

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

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

‘Wait, it was the bin?’

‘Of course it was.’

Oh lord be praised!

… or not.

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

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

Shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Win-win, I’d say.

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

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

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

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

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

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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Yikes …

An eventful one this week. It’s the summer holidays so pretty much anything except admin and Mum stuff has gone out of the window because all three of us are off. Instead we are Doing Things. Well … a bit.

This week McMini gamely came to Mum’s with me and we had a lovely lunch. Duck confit salad (om-nom-nom) and she was in great form. The lovely gardener was there too, one of his first days back after a long illness and a really tough time. He joined us and ate his packed lunch while we ate ours.

However, on the journey down we saw something that shook us a bit. A few miles out from the Dartford Bridge there’s a junction to Southend, I think it’s number 30, I’m not sure. The penultimate one in the stack, anyway – the other side of the Bridge they start at one. There was quite a bit of traffic and I was in the outside/fast lane, in a long, long queue of cars going at a steady 70 past a bunch of other cars and lorries going slower.

As we passed the Southend junction, a purple Mazda 2 came flying across three lanes of traffic and tucked into the fast lane in front of a grey Jaguar. There are four lanes there. The Jag was about to overtake a car that was going quite slowly in lane three and it looked as if there were about fifteen feet between the Jag and the car it was overtaking when the Mazda barged through this very small gap at speed.

What the actual f***?

The Jag driver was irritated, and as soon as both of them were past the car in lane 3 he undertook the Mazda and pulled a similar stunt, cutting in a few feet in front of the other driver in a there!-see-how-you-like-it gesture. The young man in the Mazda (I’m afraid it’s always a young man) then completely lost his biscuits. He tried to return the compliment but didn’t have enough grunt to undertake in the room available. He pulled in behind the Jag and drove up close on to the Jaguar’s back bumper, hanging out a bit, as if that was going to help him get past.

Just to go off on a tangent slightly, you do this because a) if they get past they may suddenly swerve in front of you and stop dead, causing you to run into them b) they might do the same thing but with a view to boxing you in, giving themselves time to either reverse their car into yours and smash it, or to get out of their car and smash you before you have time to reverse and escape. Or c) when they get alongside you they might try to side-swipe you or run you off the road. Amazing as it may seem, I have seen all of these things attempted on the UK road network. There are some very angry young men out there and sometimes, just noticing that a woman is driving a car they consider unsuitable for females – or simply being overtaken by a female (even as part of a long stream of other traffic) – is enough to set them off.

After a quarter of a mile or so, the Mazda driver suddenly broke left, swerved through three lanes of traffic, gunned it up lane one, the slow lane, in a few empty yards between lorries and then piled across three more lanes, but he still failed to pull in ahead of the guy in the Jag. By this point I had started to leave a gap so that if they hit each other or stopped in the fast lane to have a pagga, I had time to stop. They continued with the argy bargy but a giant flabby Range Rover drifted into my lane so I couldn’t see much of their antics, only that the Mazda had swerved back across the other three lanes into lane one again, presumably having another go at getting past. Meanwhile the Jag was doing what any self respecting motorist does when presented with an insane nutter, you keep them behind you.

An Arnold's Produce van.
Some traffic yesterday. Not on the M25 clearly, coz I couldn’t stop.

Since the Jag driver was now fleeing for their life, both cars were doing well above the speed limit and the knob in the Mazda was repeatedly weaving through three lanes of traffic, using gaps that were not a great deal longer than his car, then gunning it up lane one and trying to get back across to the fast lane in front of the Jag. I wondered if I should dial 101 (or is it 111?) to call the officially-less-urgent-than-999 police contact line and report them. They kept this up until we got to the speed limited section before the bridge. Once again, I saw the Mazda pile over from lane three to lane one, narrowly missing the back bumpers and front noses of other cars as he went. I slowed down to 50mph along with everyone else, and watched as he used lane one to undertook a lorry in lane two. Lane three had a lorry in it as well and the jag, in the fast lane, passed that. They were about 600 yards ahead of me at this point because by now I was firmly convinced they were going to have (or cause) an accident and I wanted time to stop. Once they disappeared behind their respective lorries they were masked from view.

However, a moment after the Mazda 2 disappeared, the traffic stopped. Dead. I didn’t get time to look much. I was concentrating, first on slowing, then on letting some of the traffic merge in front of me but not so much that I stopped completely and pissed off everyone behind me. We had ended up with three lorries at a standstill in lanes one, two and three and the only lane still open was fast lane; the one I was in.

It took about 30 seconds to file through. There, in lane three, was a metallic silver-green people mover. I’m not sure what it was, cause I was driving so I couldn’t really look that hard. I think it might have been an old Renault Espace, or the model below because, though it was a people mover, it was one of the smaller ones. It was facing in completely the wrong direction and its left front wing had collided with something resulting in a big crumple and the presence of a lot of other bits of metallic silver-green people mover all over the road.

The A14 in lockdown, because that’s all I have! Mwahahahrgh.

Total kudos to the drivers of those three lorries. They had stopped, in a line, to temporarily block the three lanes so the poor woman driving the green thing could walk across to the safety of the hard shoulder. A lorry was parked on the hard shoulder a couple of hundred yards further on, although I wasn’t sure if that had been involved or was just there, and another woman in a bright blue Suzuki Jeep (or at least a 4×4) had stopped and was giving the poor woman a hug. She was probably late fifties or early sixties, and clearly shaken. I couldn’t help wondering if the Mazda 2 had clipped her, spinning her car round 180 degrees, or if his sudden appearance, overtaking her on the wrong side, or cutting across her path had given her a start, shocking her into an instinctive swerve before she had time to check the space around her. The good thing is that the whole area of road is on CCTV and the dart charge cameras photograph the numberplate of every car that goes over there, so if the idiots in the Jag and the Mazda are required for questioning, I suspect the police will have no trouble finding them.

What is it about men in their twenties or thirties who drive hot hatches that makes them such utter and complete wankmuppets? I have not seen a lady driving like this, indeed, I have never seen anyone but young males, either alone or in a very small, hot hatch full of enormously tall men, driving like this.

After a quick debate with McMini I rang 999 and was relieved to discover that I was the first person who had called and was not, therefore, wasting their time. It’s really difficult to know whether to phone the police in situations like this or to just assume someone else will. I explained about the Mazda and the Jag, and I explained that while I hadn’t witnessed them cause an accident I was not surprised that there had been one. I explained where the lady was and that her car would need recovered and possibly someone would have to come and pick the debris off the road.

As the old adage says, I guess if idiots could fly, this place would be an airport.

Triffid!

On the up side, a cause for smugness. McBicycle was not happy and needed fixed. Yesterday, I fixed it. I realised after lockdown and my knee op, that it had got salt water on it at some point and a lot of the gubbins to move the big cogs at the front gears had seized net result, 9 gears rather than 28. Indeed, it wouldn’t change gear at all. I put WD40 on it, which is not what you’re supposed to do, but I decided I should un-seize it before I washed it, and since I was going to wash the WD40 off, I hoped it would be OK. So having squirted the offending bit with WD40 on Thursday afternoon, I spent yesterday removing the chain and cleaning it with bicycle de-greaser, plus the deralier (I think that’s how it’s spelt) cogs which were all totally filthy, and cleaning the gear mechanisms too, before putting it all back together and putting bicycle lubricant all over it. Yes, there is such a thing. Mine is called ‘Wet Ride’. Snortle, yeh, don’t even go there.

The result is a bicycle which will change through all it’s gears, and a lot more smoothly than before, to boot. I love fixing things so it was a very enjoyable afternoon all round.

Last but not least, my triffid flowered again.

On a completely different note …

In case no-one knew – and we’re talking my organisational skills here, so that is a very real possibility – I have reduced the cost of Small Beginnings, the first K’Barthan Extra, to zero. That’s right, you can pick up a copy for NO PEE. Mwahahahrgh. You can also pick up a copy of the audiobook for free from my store as well, if you’re into that kind of thing. This is the one I’m talking about:

Small Beginnings, K’Barthan Extras, Hamgeean Misfit: No 1

Small Beginnings …

Destiny called and everyone else was out.

When your very existence is treason, employment opportunities are thin on the ground. But when one of the biggest crime lords in the city makes The Pan of Hamgee a job offer he can’t refuse, it’s hard to tell what the dumbest move is; accepting the offer or saying, no to Big Merv. Neither will do much for The Pan’s life expectancy.

This is free to download from all the major ebook retailers for August and also in audio from my store – but I can’t make it free from the book vendors in audio so if you’re after that one, it has to be just from my store.

If you’re interested in the ebook, click here.
If you’d like to give the audiobook a go, click here.

If you aren’t interested but you want to help, feel free to copy and paste either of these links into the social media thingy of your choice and share away:

Audiobook: https://payhip.com/b/ubYs
Ebook – free from all the main vendors: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infosb.html

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Best foot forward …

Well another action-packed week this week so it’s all a bit random. Hold onto your hats and off we go.

First of all the Noisy Cricket is back from the mechanic’s and I am considerably lighter financially. On the up side, the entire job – and there was a lot of labour involved – cost the same amount as the part on pretty much all the other Lotuses. Ouch. There have been a few big bills in the last year which suggest, as I mentioned last week, that I should probably start thinking about a new car. But we’re sort of in flux between internal combustion and electrical and possibly between electrical and whatever comes next.

However, the whole electric car thing … hmm. OK so on the one hand it’s clean on the other, I’m not 100% convinced that if I buy an electric car it will be more ecologically friendly than my current internal combustion-driven motor. On the one hand, air pollution, noise pollution, global warming etc. On the other air pollution and global warming from a different source and safe and ecologically friendly disposal of batteries. The only difference really appears to be noise pollution – lots less in an electric car. Between you, me and the gate post, I think the thing that will win out is … not what am I even thinking about. The type of car we’ll all end up driving will be about whatever science it is that the most powerful multi-millionaire has the biggest vested interest in. Let’s hope it’s something sensible. At least I feel I can trust Elon Musk to look for ways to improve batteries and power cells. Maybe we’ll be filling up future Teslas with wee.

And of course, if there’s less of a demand for bio diesel, there’ll be less of a demand for palm oil in theory. But it’s a bit like those things where people go vegetarian for ecological reasons … is it just the same ecological load distributed in a different way?

Nature: red in tooth and claw

This morning, after doing lots of metal detecting yesterday (more on that story … later) I was feeling a bit stiff. A bit stiff doesn’t quite cover that, it was more a case of feeling as if I was made out of various bricks held together with string. That lovely feeling that the composite parts of each joint are grating against one another. It’s better now, I’ve been for a gentle walk. McOther is a lark and I’m an owl so he was already up when I woke and kindly brought me a coffee in bed before he popped out. He let out the cat and sorted out a few other bits and bobs downstairs and then headed off.

A few minutes after McOther’s departure I had a phone call from him. He explained that McCat had caught something because there was blood all over the door but that it seemed he hadn’t been able to get it through the cat flap and had gone off with it. McOther was unsure as to where McCat had gone but advised me that he had locked the cat flap.

Was McCat in the house I asked McOther? And if there was a body, was that in the house?

McOther couldn’t 100% guarantee his answer for sure about either, but he reckoned that no, McCat was not in the house. He also deduced that the body was not in the house since it wasn’t on the landing outside the spare room, which is where McCat has a tendency to take his prizes, on the few occasions he does catch something. I thanked McOther for the warning and off he went. He was going to an auction to bid on some stuff so he couldn’t really stay and help.

Picture of a cat sprawling on a bed
Butter wouldn’t melt …

Unwillingly, I climbed out of bed and got dressed. It was time to find the body and clean up the mess. I’m not sure what McCat’s kill technique is but it appears to involve severing some major artery. There were spatters of bright red blood all over the door and doorstep as McOther had warned me as well as drips going along the path. Clearly the best way to find the body – and probably McCat – was to follow the trail. About half way along with a burrp of greeting, McCat appeared. He had a feather stuck on his lip which was flapping up and down as he meowed.

Culprit identified? Check.

More meowing ensued, I think the basic gist of the conversation was something along the lines of, ‘Look at me, I’m fucking clever, oh and can you get this annoying thing off my chin? Thanks.’ I congratulated him on being clever but explained that I’d really rather he didn’t kill people, and I removed the feather from his chin, because he kept sneezing and shaking his head. Since I had now performed my required function he sauntered off – I presumed it was to lie in the undergrowth somewhere until I saw him squeezing himself into a tiny hole at the bottom of the zipper in McMini’s tent. Lords I hoped the body wasn’t in there.

Picture of cat flap and doorstep with drips of blood
Um …

Interruption over, I continued to follow the trail, at the end of which was a pile of feathers. No, on further investigation, that was where the poor unfortunate bird had met its end. I followed the blood trail back to the back door and then turned round and started up the path, looking for drips where McBeast might have deviated in one direction or the other.

Bear in mind, I’m not much good at this kind of thing. If I was Tonto, I’d put my ear to the train track for a minute or two, straighten up and say, ‘Hmm, steel horse not come any time soon,’ at which precise moment the San Francisco to Ferndale Express would clart me in the back at high speed.

At last after a fair bit of hapless searching, I finally found McCat’s departure point from the path. Spots of blood on the leaves of the plants in the beds to one side and yes there were more spatters, leading away under the apple tree and then … ah yes; under the hedge. I went and got a shovel gently put the pigeon onto it. Then I took it round the back where, with an apologetic prayer and a direct apology, to the pigeon itself, I put it in the bin. Next I ‘pressure washed’ the path … and the back door. Since we don’t actually own a pressure washer, this involved improvisation in the form of putting the hose nozzle thing to maximum squirt and putting it very close to the surface to be cleaned. Unfortunately, that meant splash back in copious quantities. It also involved soaking my shoes and the bottom of my trousers. While assessing the amount of mud included in the spatterage, I also discovered that despite my reverence handling the body and his very, very, ex-ness of being, the pigeon had still managed to bleed on my socks and trousers.

Oh bloody marvellous. ‘Bloody’ being the operative word here.

Never mind everything was cleared up, at which point I went indoors, bunged the bloodied trousers and socks in the wash, noticed I’d got it on my shirt as well and bunged that in before re-dressing in new, clean clothes.

Wrong footed

That bit back there, where I mentioned detector finds. It’s later so here’s the rest of that story. Four of us went out to some land where we regularly detect. It’s a really interesting area with an ancient farm house and some pasture. We have never found any Roman artefacts there but the partifact bit of Saxon brooch I found a while back came from there and every now and again someone digs up something really lovely. Last time out, I had a bumper day; two big old silver milled coins from the early and middle 1800s and a couple of hammered coins, one I’m not sure about but I thought the other might be from the reign of King John.

After a bumper day like that, I wasn’t expecting much this time and sure enough, to start with, I didn’t get much. There was a tonne of lead in the field we picked, tiny molten blobs that my pinpointer couldn’t find but my detector could. However, I had an alternative new ritzy spade which was a bit less heavy, but I could still extend the shaft to give long leverage. Some of the others found nice stuff though, a buckle with a little bit of gilt on it, some old pennies, a lead farm token and a lovely great chunky Roman coin. That was a belter as we hadn’t found anything Roman there, ever.

left to right, a bit of strap … something, a harness mount in partifact, a leg made from pure green and a bull head florin.
Strap end, harness mount partifact, leg key and Florin

After lunch we went to what they were jokingly calling ‘my field’ the one where I found four silver coins last time out. After detecting for a while with not much to show – lots of lead there, too – I found what I think is a florin from 1819. It’s really worn but I was still chuffed. Then at half three, the others said they were going to head home but the person whose permission it is said the farmer was fine if I stayed until later. I stayed until half four and went carefully and methodically up and down in the area where I’d found the hammered coins last time. I’d found a seventeenth century silver thimble in the field just next door so I reckoned that maybe there’d been a stile between two fields in that area, or perhaps a big tree where people sat and had their lunch.

After finding a whole bunch of shotgun cartridges, and yet more infinitesimally tiny pieces of lead I got a fairly loud bing and dug up … a green thing. As you know, when I talk about my detecting experiences, there are few things I love more than a WTF is this find. At first sight, I thought was that it was a Roman brooch because it was long and thin and it was the Official Green Patina of all things Roman – or at least anything Roman with a green patina is pretty much the same colour and this green is it; other colours of Roman relic are available.

In order to have a better look I took off my specs. I’ve almost, but not quite, reached the bifocal stage. Up close examination revealed that it was a leg with a left foot on it. My spirits sank a little. There was me thinking it was Roman and now I realised that it was just the leg off a toy; one of those things with flappy arms and legs and a string sticking out of its arse which you pull to make the legs and arms flip upwards.

Gnurrrgh …

Thinking about it, I don’t know why I didn’t put two and two together at the time, I guess the fact it was a leg, and very definitely a left leg, wrong footed me …

[That was in aid of Crap Jokes R-Us Week. This is just a little pause to let the tumbleweed blow through. Right, that’s enough, I think it’s gone now. On we go then.]

When I got home I shared the best of my finds with the others. A tiny piece of medieval harness pendant, complete with green and yellow enamel, the 1819 Florin, a bit of a medieval strap end/mount/thingy – although I guess that could have been the end of a different type of key called a latchlifter (wrong patina though this was more medieval in colour and the guy who identified them for me on-line is very, very seldom wrong).

Everyone, including the bloke who always gets it right, was convinced that my leg was Roman and was a key. I have always wanted to find a Roman key because they hadn’t quite got the gist of locks so they are made to look complicated and important but basically … aren’t. I suppose keys were relatively new back then so they were mostly uncomplicated affairs and meant to look the part. Same kind of thing as those massive medieval strong boxes that look impregnable but have locks that even I could could pick in three minutes. It’s mostly about image and effect rather than actual pregnability or impregnability.

People wore keys as rings to keep them safe. These were for the smaller boxes where they kept the precious stuff. The foot thing, well, the Romans did like a something that looked like something else. I suspect it was that shape by necessity and they made it look like a leg and foot for the fun of it. I guess it’s unlikely burglars breaking in would think, ‘nah this is the leg of an old toy,’ the way I did. Then again, I suppose it’s not beyond the realms … No, it is beyond the realms. Nobody is that thick. Mwahahahrgh! Except me on an off day. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.

Never mind eh? Let’s forget about that and try this.

I have no books officially reduced at the moment but if you want to dip your toe into the world of The Pan of Hamgee before the K’Barthan Series takes place there is a whole series of books and the first one is free. Woot. So if you have any friends you think might enjoy the world of K’Barth, feel free to point them at:

The cover of the book Small Seginnings.
Small Beginnings

Small Beginnings, K’Barthan Extras, Hamgeean Misfit: Part 1

The world needs a hero but they’re all busy … 

When your very existence is treason, employment opportunities are thin on the ground. But when one of the biggest crime lords in the city makes The Pan of Hamgee a job offer he can’t refuse, it’s hard to tell what the dumbest move is; accepting the offer or saying, no to Big Merv. Neither will do much for The Pan’s life expectancy.

If you like the sound of that, there are information pages with links to download the book in audio and in ebook format. You can find those here:

Audiobook they should use my shop and enter the catchy code at checkout: FREE81E remember to cut and paste this exactly or it may not work.
Ebook this should be free everywhere but if your Amazon has it as a paid book then you, too, can find the ebook in my shop, enter the same code and it’s free from there too.

If you’ve read it, or it’s not your bag, feel free to pass this information along to any friends who you think might enjoy it.

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Interesting times

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bastards.

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

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

Burrs … many, many burrs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Er hem. Yeh.

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

Shizz.

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

Yes, well … that’s enough of that.

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

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

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

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

Oops …

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

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

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

And also completely mortifying.

Yes.

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

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

Shit.

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

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

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

Probably.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes.

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

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

Yeh. Bollocks.

What to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmm … decisions, decisions …

Talking about vehicles with a mind of their own …

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

Too Good To Be True

Too Good To Be True (Audiobook cover)

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

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

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

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

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

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MTM Fails at modern life …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pure Evil print … Yes.

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

Turned out I didn’t.

Oh.

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

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

Hang on.

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

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

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

Noooo! That would take too long.

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

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

For fuck’s sake.

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

Mounted print and colour swatches.

Was the signature visible? Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

The bastard.

Knackered bug bit scraped off

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

Bum.

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

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

It shattered.

Well, bollocks!

Baby Yoda. He likes this too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was your Saturday?

Talking about cool things …

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

Here’s the blurb:

Too Good To Be True

Too Good To Be True

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready for action

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Birthdays and some inane wittering

Do you ever wonder what you’re going to be when you grow up? I was 53 yesterday so I suspect I should hvae grown out of the habit by now. However, I still look to the future and wonder what I will ‘be’. Well no, I don’t wonder that, being an author is definitely what I’m here to do but I do wonder if I will ever ‘make it’. Making it, here, is earning £20k a year. Even minimum wage would be nice. I was going to do a long post today, trying to put my jumbled thoughts about selling audio books in order. It’s a bit rambly though, so I’m going to leave it to rest in the faint hope that if I come back to it fresh next week I’ll be able to make it more articulate. Also,it’s my birthday weekend and I decided that, instead, I’d just describe some MTM-ness … so long as I can make it funny enough.

It was a hot day yesterday but I did some gardening so I am still bathing in that warm sense of fitness smugglers I get when I’ve taken enough exercise to get my fitbit in a dither. I was expecting to wake up with vertigo or at the least hayfever. It was hayfever only, which was grand, although not so grand when I had to sing a solo in church. My voice went all crackly on the low notes which was a bit of a bummer so I had to sing very quietly to stop the low notes coming out as more of a yodel. Plus points, well, it was mostly in tune.

Other domestic news and general goings on. It was McMini’s birthday on Saturday as well as mine. This being the case, yesterday, I set about making a cake. McMini being not the biggest fan of chocolate and me loving it, I have resigned myself to the fact I will never have a chocolate birthday cake again. On the other hand … there’s always stealth chocolate. The white stuff. Among my family and friends, I am renowned for my horrible looking, but quite tasty cakes. Thinking about it, there are probably photos deep in the archives of this blog of my cakewrecks from previous occasions. If there are, I will try and find them and dot them about this post when I’ve finished.

There wasn’t much time, when is there ever? But I reckoned I could bash out a fatless sponge (swiss roll cake to the uninitiated) and I had some white chocolate which I could melt across the top of it (Bury St Edmunds market, £1 per catering sized bag). Excellent. I made the fatless sponge and it being a hot day the eggs and sugar took about five seconds to get to the right consistency. Believe it or not, it can take as long as 15 minutes on a cold day, I suppose that’s why they used to recommend you did this in a bowl perched over the top of a saucepan of hot water. That was in the olden days of beating it by hand, of course. Obviously, neither I, nor Mum, who handed this recipe down to me, can be arsed with that sort of malarkey. Also, two words. Kenwood and Chef. Yep. I have two of these babies but McOther has put one away in the pantry under the stairs where I can’t remove it without kneeling down so that one is temporarily out of action. Instead I had to use the, supposedly mothballed, back up machine, purchased some years ago for £5 from a car boot sale. Note to self, remember to mention to McOther that he has mothballed the wrong one.

When I’d finished the mixture I discovered I’d made a bit too much so there were seven bonus buns as well. Jolly dee. I rustled up some icing for the middle; butter, sieved icing sugar, a couple of drops of vanilla essence to taste and then just mix it about and add sugar or butter as desired until it tastes like butter icing. It was one of those days when it all comes together straight away and tastes as if a real chef made it. I was very pleased with the results and even more pleased that I remembered to let the cake get cold before I slathered it all across the middle. Cake pretty much constructed, next it was time to do the white chocolate icing for the top. The trouble with purchasing catering sized bags of stuff is that they are big and this can led you to believe you have an inexhaustible supply.

Over the past few weeks, since I purchased the bag, I have been grazing lightly, on the white chocolate. Just the odd couple of buttons here and there, but when I came to examine it, I realised I might have been grazing a bit more heavily than I’d anticipated. There wasn’t quite enough of the stuff to just melt it and pour it over the top of the cake, indeed, there wasn’t nearly enough.

Mmm … cake!

Bollocks.

Never mind I would add icing sugar and butter, warm them all up in a saucepan and it would set hard with any luck. The result of my efforts was a ball of great-tasting stuff which, unfortunately, was not unlike pastry in consistency.

Right.

After a brief internal debate as to whether or not to ‘loosen’ it with milk, I decided not to because I didn’t have any ingredients left to start again if I fucked it up. Nope. I just spread it on anyway. It looked a bit flakey. In fact it looked like giant lumps of dandruff. And because fatless sponge has a sort of crumbly crunchy outside it didn’t stick.

Ah well, never mind. Nobody would notice if I decorated it with enough crap. I sprayed it with edible gold paint to give it a nice sheen, looked out the Happy Birthday candle that we light every year, and threw some white chocolate stars on it.

Then I discovered some Halloween icing decorations; pumpkin faces, Frankenstein’s monster faces, an eyeball and two severed fingers. Perfect for McMini then. On they want and hoorah, we were done. After a bit of trouble, I managed to remove the airtight box I keep cakes in from the under the stairs bit of the pantry by using a strange grippy handle thing which has been in the family for years. My mother remembers her grandfather using it to reach for high up blackberries when she was a kid. From an early age I spotted it at my grandparents’ house and have been fascinated with it all my life. When my grandmother died, I inherited this strange thing and I am still fascinated by it.

Sorry, digression there. ‘Cake’ made I put it in the airtight box to have on ‘the day’. Birthdaygeddon dawned and McMini went off to town with a friend and disappeared. On the downside, he did not return at teatime and I was agog to try the cake. On the upside, he has grown out of wanting a party. Eventually texted said friend’s mother at five, and asked her to tell him to come home because I wanted to eat the chuffing cake. He arrived at half past five. On the upside, the cake was delicious and the dandruffy icing turned out to be lumps of crumbly fudge (tablet, basically). The most important thing was that it tasted wonderful. Yeh. Job done I’d say.

Having stuffed ourselves with cake at a point in the day which was, if we were honest with ourselves, a bit close to dinner, McOther got the bar-b-queue on and handed me a bottle of beer and some nuts to enjoy while I was upstairs having a shower and getting into my pyjamas. Yes, I put my pyjamas on at about seven pm because I have come to rather dislike going out in the evening. Well, I am fifty three after all. And I already have arthritis and one replaced knee so I may be even older on paper, so to speak. Not that I was going to have time to enjoy the beer and nuts either, since he told me, cheerfully, that I had five minutes. As I mounted the stairs I took a swig of beer from the bottle.

Big mistake.

You know how the first sip of beer from a bottle causes this foam eruption that just goes on and on and looks as if it’s never going to stop. Yeh, well the bastard thing did that. By the time it had finished bubbling it’s guts onto the stair carpet there was only about half the bottle left. Well fuck. Since I’d been gardening all afternoon I needed that shower. I was stinky and dirty and appeared to have a bad case of greenfly … almost as bad as some of my plants. Three and a half minutes of mopping them with a hanky later the beer stains had disappeared. I belted upstairs and hurled myself into the shower. Sod it, I was going to be late for supper which the cook does not appreciate. Never mind better late than stinky, washed the earth off my legs, feet and hands but didn’t have time to rinse the greenfly infestation out of my hair. Oh well.

McMini’s Donald Trump bun … obviously having a plate like that to put it on helps.

Luckily supper was a bit late so I wasn’t and the McOther was not upset that we’d failed to enjoy his smashing cooking. McMini peeled all the coating off his burger bun and it ended up looking a bit like Donald Trump which amused me. An evening vegetating in front of Montalbano and McMini went off to bed. McOther disappeared upstairs to put his light out and after about twenty minutes I realised he’d done that weird thing blokes do when they just disappear up to bed without telling you and you sit there watching telly for half an hour and then suddenly realise that the rest of the house is dark and you can hear snoring coming from the bedroom.

Realising that it was bed time I set about going to bed when McMini arrived for our evening chat. McMini likes a chat before bed. He arrived with a balloon pump and set about trying to puff me to death, at which point I want and got my balloon pump and before long we were puffing things at one another, or he was trying to puff the birthday cards off the mantelpiece while I puffed at them from the other direction, trying to keep them upright. Standard procedure for us then. McMini doesn’t have a sibling but as McOther pointed out, because I am merely another child, he sort of does. Having finally persuaded McMini that bed and sleep would be a good idea, I got to bed at about midnight.

First thing this morning, McOther headed off to car boots. I woke up and discovered that I could hear strange thumping sounds. I couldn’t work out if it was the cat in his ‘bedroom’ which is the room below our en suite, or McMini who is a demi-floor up from us. Our house is the same height all round but there are two rooms on top of each other at the front and three rooms on top of each other at the back, which is weird but just the way it is. Seeing as McOther was not there I indulged my Chaucerian side and ‘lette flye a fart’. Unfortunately, even when I am alone the sound of farts makes me giggle and McMini heard and appeared with a build-your-own hydraulic hand model that he’d been given for his birthday, the previous day. Yes, it seems he had built it over night.

‘Have you slept?’ I asked him blearily.

‘Oh yes, but I woke up at 4 am and was bored so and built this.’

Gads. Four am. Urrgh. Clearly McMini is like his father in that he has never really got the hang of going to sleep, or at least, both seem to be pathologically unable to go back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. Me, I grew up in a boy’s school so I have no trouble with this. Mind you, not being able to sleep again after being woken up would have resulted in something like the Russian Sleep Experiment for anyone living there. As it was, I learned to sleep through the sound of fireworks – but not bombs, it seems I can differentiate between the two – drunken shouting, loud music and the fire alarm – I will be burned in my sleep if ever a building I’m in catches fire and there’s no one else with me to hear the alarm and drag me out of bed.

McMini was very much awake and ‘tested’ the robot hand by throwing a ball at me with it, stroking my face with it and generally being an evil troll. And now we are just on the brink of going out for a walk, except by the time I’ve found the pictures and phaffed with the stupid keywords, it will probably be evening and we’ll probably have been for the walk before you see this.

In other news …

HUP Swishy new logo.

The results of the K’Barthan invective quiz are in. Mwahahahrgh! Boy oh boy this was close. There were two run-away winners but the rest of the vote was comprehensively split between about six of them. Here are the results:

  1. Smeck: Out-and-out winner this one with a huge 40% of the votes. Smeck is a word I made up that would sound a bit like fuck but not be as rude. I suspect I now need to think of something along the lines of Red Dwarf’s, ‘Better dead than smeg!’ Only in K’Barthan, using smeck.
  2. Arnold’s Y-fronts! Not a huge surprise this one because lots of characters use it. It received 35% of the votes.
  3. There are two in third position: Arnold’s conkers! and Arnold’s underpants! Hmm … do I detect a theme here? These two picked up 30% of the votes.
  4. Fourth equal – because my list making thing can’t cope with jumping to five the way I’m meant to after a tie – with 25% of the votes, we have: Arnold’s bum! Smecking Arnold! Arnold’s smecking sweaty … and a suddenly clean, Arnold’s eyeballs! and Arnold’s Armpits!
  5. Close behind these we have: Arnold’s earwax, Arnold’s toe jam! and Arnold’s plums.

There seems to be a theme here, which is that anything to do with bottoms and undergarments or the word ‘Smeck’ is a goer, along with dodgy effluvia such as toe jam and ear wax. I did write my books for people like me. Maybe there are more of them than I thought.

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Filed under General Wittering, Mary Fails at Modern Life