Tag Archives: McMini

A family take on remembrance

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to post about our sneaky weekend away to look at the battlefields of the Somme. What better time to do it than today, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War?

It’s complicated, but basically, McOther had two grandfathers on his dad’s side, one who gave him his name and one who is his blood relative. Both are held in love and revered. Name grandfather was injured at the Somme so we went to have a look at where he was. McMini is very keen on flying and aviation, mainly from the Second World War but also from the First World War, especially Baron Von Richoften. So as well as going to see the spot where McOther’s namesake grandfather was shot we thought we’d see if we could find the area where the Red Baron was shot down, too.

McOther’s grandfather was found in no-man’s land by the Germans, with a sizeable head wound, taken to the first aid station and patched up. He had lost almost a third of his brain and was repatriated in a prisoners swap. The Germans, I think it was the Germans, had given him a metal plate in his head. Subsequently, he was paid £200 each year to go up to his nearest teaching hospital – Glasgow, I think – where the metal plate would be removed and eager medial students would crane in to see what a live brain looked like. He made his living on this – it’s the equivalent of … I dunno, about £8.5 – £10k today? As much as some people earned, anyway, and definitely close to a living.

Naturally McOther’s family were very pleased to get their son home with a Blighty wound that would ensure he didn’t have to go back to the front. However, there were hidden aspects of his injury that only became apparent as he grew older. Part of the problem was that the large part of his brain that was lost was to do with maturity and its departure meant that his personal, emotional and mental development stalled; frozen, forever at eighteen, the age he was when he was shot. This wasn’t so noticeable, at first, but as he aged he still behaved like an eighteen year old. As his wife grew older, and her outlook matured, his stood still. He began to find it difficult being married to someone so much older than him. He felt eighteen, he expected his wife to be the same age as him, and, more to the point, look eighteen. This woman was more like his mum. Likewise, McOther’s grandmother began to find the maturity levels of an eighteen year old husband a serious challenge when it came to the responsibilities of being a father and raising children.

I remember one of McOther’s uncles telling me that his father still expected to be as fit as an eighteen year old aged sixty. He would come out cycling with said uncle and his friends and couldn’t comprehend why he wasn’t able to attain the same fitness, stamina and speed levels at the young lads around him. It wasn’t an affectation, he literally, didn’t know or even comprehend that he was older. Unfortunately this caused a bit of tension at home, which is why, eventually, he and McOther’s grandmother divorced and she married again. The children all kept the original family name, including the two sons she had with her second husband. This just goes to show how, on top of the death rate, the mental scars the survivors carried may often have been as significant, if not more so, than any physical injuries they endured.

Thus it was that, a few weekends ago, we went off to France and went to the Somme.  Over the weekend, we looked at Beaumont Hamil which is where McGrandfather’s regiment went over the top and where he was injured, the site of the Red Baron’s death and we visited the Australian Memoral. We also visited one of the best air museums I have ever been to which I’ll have to leave for another post.

Site of Baron Von Richthofen’s death.

The weather was lovely on the first day so first we visited the area where the Red Baron died. There’s not much there. Just a plaque by the side of the road, a bit like Agincourt.

Apparently, shot and mortally wounded as he was, Baron Von Richthofen managed to crashland his plane, clipping a chimney with the wheels as he flew over and landing roughly in a field. This photo shows the chimney on the left hand side. Allied soldiers rushed to the plane and he whispered the word, ‘Kaput,’ slumped over the controls and died.

McMini, who has devoured every piece of literature he can find about the Red Baron, explained that Baron Von Richthofen was one of the true knights of the air, in the tradition of chilvalry, because he was always at pains to stress that his pilots should try to break the opponent’s plane rather than kill the person flying it. I’ve no idea if it’s true, but it sounds plausible. He was buried with full military honours by the allies, anyway and it’s the reason McMini admires him so much.

Afterwards, we stopped in a couple of cemeteries and walked through the graves reading the inscriptions. The thing that always strikes me about these places is the atmosphere of calm and peace. It feels as if these people are, well … if not at rest then, at least, reconciled to their deaths. There is an almost healing intensity to that calm which I can’t really explain but it is special. Some of the families of the fallen had inscriptions put on the headstones. There was a limit to this. Sixty characters, including the spaces. A world of love and grief to express. A life to sum up. Sixty characters to do it in. That’s pared to the bone, raw, sometimes powerful and often moving.

Every war-mongering idiot in charge of a nation should be made to read these before taking office and then one or two every day. Sixty characters may be all they had but, done with feeling, sixty characters is all it takes, trust me.

Perhaps it’s because I’m peri-menopausal, perhaps it’s because, as a mother, I know how much effort and energy it takes to make a life and raise one child, let alone more. Whatever it is, I only need to read a few of these and I’m distinctly moist about the eyes. Linger too long and I’m in danger of bursting into tears and blubbing like a four-star nut-bar. There’s one grave at Beaumont Hamil with an inscription from a wife to her husband which reads something like, ‘Husband, best friend, I loved you in life and I love you still’. I think the guy was about 40 when he was killed. Thinking about it, perhaps I’m not menopausal, because I found that 10 years ago and I cried then. I didn’t find it this time, so I couldn’t check the exact inscription but as we walked about the other cemeteries, I found more. And as it’s the 100 year anniversary of the end of hostilities in the First World War tomorrow, I thought I’d share some of the inscriptions with you.

One of the first things that strikes you, coming to these places, is that people have come from the four corners of the earth to honour their fallen just as those family members travelled thousands of miles to fight, before. Not just in the main memorial areas but in any cemetery you cared to stop at along the road, there were knitted poppies, and even, in one instance, a little knitted flower and Australian flag on one unknown Australian soldier’s grave, which was almost more poignant than if the occupant’s name had been known.

Some inscriptions were religious, ‘he was a good catholic’ one French Canadian grave reads.  Another Australian grave, ‘Christ will clasp the broken chain closed when we meet again.’ Others while grieving, are kind of upbeat, ‘A noble son, a brother kind, a beautiful memory left behind.’ Or on the date of a sargant in the medical corps, who died so tragically late in the conflict; on 1st November, 1918, aged 28, ‘With Christ, which is far better.’ And the strength and raw power of feeling behind the beauty of this one; ‘Still living, still loving, still ours.’

Then there are the stiff upper-lip ones, ‘As a soldier and a man, one of Australia’s best.’ Laid at the grave are two crocheted poppies and a little Australian flag. On the grave of a 20 year old sapper, ‘In memory of our dearly loved son and brother.’ Or on another, ‘Far away but not forgotten, Mother’. Or the one that still makes me cry, ‘In loving memory of my darling son, sleep on in peace dear’. Jeepers. ‘Not dead in hearts left behind.’ Or on the grave of a member of the Gordon Highlanders, ‘One of the best, Drumoak’. And another, a member of the Black Watch, which was McGrandfather’s regiment, ‘Time makes his memory still more dear,’ or on a member of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire regiment, ‘Sleep on, dear son, and take rest.’ On another sapper, a British one this time, the achingly poignant, ‘Only good night beloved, not farewell.’

Then there is the out-and-out anguished, ‘Oh how I miss him, no tongue can tell, the happy face I loved so well,’ or there is, ‘His war is over, his sun is set, but we who loved him can’t forget.’ Or ‘Sleep on dear son in a far off grave. A grave we never see.’ I wonder if they were going to say ‘we’ll never see’ but were left, two characters short. The message comes over well enough without.

Lastly there is the occasional political one, ‘Who lives if Britain dies, who dies if Britain lives.’

Even now, 100 years on, it is incredibly poignant to visit the cemeteries and read the graves. There is a world of grief and love in sixty characters.

Drawing by an Australian solider

 

 

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Updates, ramblings and witterings

Well, it’s prettier than a blue-arsed fly.

Wow! Time seems to have bitten me on the arse this week, my goodness but there’s been a lot for schools to use to torment me by giving me too many things to remember each day get McMini’s teeth into this term. First harvest: collect tinned and dry goods for the local shelter. It’s for people fleeing domestic violence too so toiletries like flannels, bath caps, toothbrushes and toothpaste are appreciated, as well as tampons and lady requisites. McMini, upon discovering a packet of tampons in our bag of stuff, refuses, point blank, to hand it in. Eventually, to spare his blushes, I have to.

Then it’s Halloween, a bit too quickly after our holiday for organisational comfort. I’m still catching up on the post holiday washing and do not have the capacity for pumpkin carving. Although this year it wasn’t me tramping the nearby streets with McMini as he shook down the neighbours for sweets, he went with a friend and the friend’s brave mum!

Having whinged, I quite like carving pumpkins. I was hoping to have a go at edgy political satire and make a Donald Trumpkin this year but alas, my cartoon drawing/cutting skills are not quite up there enough to make a suitably recognisable effort, indeed, the only similarity is the colour which doesn’t show in this photo. This year’s pumpkin crop seems to be particularly dense fleshed and thick skinned. Maybe it’s the heat. Good for cooking I may even make it all into pumpkin soup. But tough to carve. Indeed it took so long that I ran out of time to do the hair. As McMini said, I should have done it with a cheese grater, or a blonde wig. Meanwhile several of the people who saw it thought it was a set of ovaries.

Halloween Trumpkin.

Ooookay … mwahahahahrgh! Moving on then.

When it comes to the stress of life, clearly I’m not the only one affected. McMini’s school meals are all lovely winter warmers this quarter which means many come with sauces or gravy or other things he refuses to eat. As a result it was three packed lunches this week which stretches our supply of suitable receptacles. That meant he had to be sternly warned to bring his lunch bag home with him – otherwise every tupperware box I possess will end up at his school. Bless his little heart, he has managed to remember to bring the lunch stuff home so fair play to him.

However, it appears that, like his mother he is only able to remember a finite number of things to be done before extraneous others start falling off the list.

On Tuesday we cycled to school. McMini is walking some of the way home from school on his own now so as I waited for him at our designated half way point, I saw he was approaching on foot. For a split second I thought that maybe something terrible had happened to his bike. Then I remembered that this is my son, and relaxed.

‘Mum! I’ve remembered my lunch box,’ he said proudly holding out the lunch bag as soon as he was within earshot.
‘Well done mate,’ we high fived. ‘Um just out of interest … where’s your bike?’
‘I forgot it. I was walking down the street and I looked up here and I could see you and I thought, “Why on earth has Mummy come to meet me on her bike?” Then I remembered, I’d left mine at school. I’ll bring it home tomorrow.’
‘Well, Daddy is collecting you tomorrow so-‘
‘Oh yes, he doesn’t have a bike. I’ll bring it home on Thursday then.’

He forgot that, but he did remember the bike albeit on the wrong day. Apparently McOther had to run a bit to keep up but I expect it did him good. McMini is definitely making a concerted effort to remember more stuff though. It’s a bit hit and miss but I know how difficult it is for me so I have to give him kudos for trying.

There’s been another development this week, which is that McMini has discovered the joyous feeling of clean teeth, which is brilliant as instead of my having to force him at gunpoint he now happily cleans them morning and evening. As a child who normally eschews any attempts on my part to instil any sense of cleanliness, whatsoever, this is good news.

However, it has also led to what may well be one of the grossest conversations I have ever had. Yes, last night we had this conversation.

‘Have you cleaned your teeth.’
‘Yes I have. My mouth is lovely. My teeth are all smooth with no bobbly bits.’
‘Yeh, no horrible stuff under your fingernail when you do this,’ MT scrapes fingernail down front tooth.
‘Plaque you mean?’
‘Yes.’
Oh no Mum, plaque is AWESOME!’
‘It is?’ I ask weakly.
‘Yes it tastes just like sweetcorn.’
‘Bleurgh, ugh.’
‘Whereas scabs are like crunchy chicken, unless it’s other people’s scabs. Those are vile, like raw beef or something horrible.’

On the writing side, I have just discovered the gobsmacking truth that I’ve written 131,000 words this year. Clearly there are many people who write that many words a month but I reckon it’s not bad on an average of 10 minutes a day. I’m just tinkering with ideas for another two shorts and the new K’Barthan shorts series will be ready for editing and covers. Hopefully, they should be done for release next year. I’m a bit too concentrating on one thing at the moment, the short that’s turned into a long is taking far too much time, but I am too interested to find out what happens and the scenes that are popping into my head at the moment seem to be mostly related to it. I’m a great believe in doing what comes naturally so that’s where I’ve been concentrating my efforts for the moment. It’s creeping slowly forward but I definitely want to finish something soon so I need to get another short going too. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on progress. In the meantime, for the word nerds among you, I’ve discovered a cracking website.

Have you ever wondered how to pronounce the word ‘gif’? Or what TASER stands for, or why the word ‘laser’ can never be spelled with a Z even in America? If you want to know the answer to these and many other splendidly obscure and trivial word related questions head on over to Emma Wilkin’s Wordy Rambles. It’s funny, too so I promise you will not regret it.

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The downside of making progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aaargh! Am I turning into an adult?

Yep it’s a valid question. I never, ever wanted to become a grown up but it’s one of those unfortunate facts that as we age, the changes are so imperceptible that, for the most part, we fail to notice. That might be why, if you asked me or anyone for that matter, if we feel any different inside now, to the way we did as kids, the answer is likely to be a resounding no. Yet apparently there have been changes – in my case, anyway.

On our way back from Spain we stopped in a rather lovely town called Niort in France where we stumbled on a small gallery, in a lovely old building, displaying a series of photographs documenting a short period of time in the life of a graffiti artist. There were some cracking photos and I actually love a bit of graffiti art, myself. France seems to be particularly good for it, or maybe it’s just that its motorways are; less traffic + less CCTV = more multicoloured letters.

Nice.

Graffiti art in Niort, France.

Anyway, as we went round I pointed out the photos I liked to McMini with my usual enthusiasm. McMini was interested too but seemed slightly bemused. Oh dear and I do so want him to enjoy art because he’s quite good at it.

However, when we got outside we got to the bottom of his bemused attitude. The conversation went like this,

‘Mummy, you don’t really like graffiti art do you?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Really?’
He sounds incredulous.
‘Yeh.’
‘But you’re a grown up. Grown ups should disapprove and be saying, “Those terrible kids what are they up to now?”’
‘Your Mother is not a grown up,’ says McOther.
‘Yes she is!’ says McMini.
‘You think?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ says McMini.
McOther is looking very dubious but with a twinkle at the corner of the eyes because he knows how completely horrified I will be to hear this.
‘Flippin‘eck! I’ve convinced my child I’m an adult!’ I say. ‘How did that happen?’

How indeed?

The idea is, frankly, horrifying! When I was a kid, I never thought my parents disapproved of much, well, no they did but not in a pissy small-minded adult way. They disapproved of bad things like punching people, stealing, bullying, being unkind, hurting animals and stuff like that but they couldn’t give a toss if someone was untidy, had illegible handwriting, was late to things or was, say, gay. At one school I went to there were a couple of girls who made life hell for a lot of people – to the point of giving someone a nervous breakdown – but they had neat handwriting, they were on time for everything and always looked tidy so as far as many of the teachers seemed to be concerned they were paragons of virtue, whereas I was ‘slapdash’ and untidy in my work; well no, actually, I had a form of dyslexia. Looking back on it now, those girls were incredibly unhappy at home and dealt with their unhappiness by spreading it. I suspect the teachers who praised them, who I saw as traitorous and unjust, were merely trying to instil them with some sense of self worth.

Sorry, going off on a tangent there, I guess what I’m saying is that as a child and then a young woman, I loved that my parents totally seemed to get that timeliness, tidiness and conformity, though fine traits sometimes, were worthless if the person displaying them behaves like a piece of shit. Likewise, their complete lack of concern over the sexuality of the people I came into contact with. They probably spotted that my gay friends were gay way before I did and back then in the 1980s any difference in sexuality could be a major stigma even among the supposedly liberal youth, let alone folks of my parents’ generation.

As I grew older and started to do rebellion, it became very obvious that my parents were right behind me and, indeed, that they were a great deal more anarchic, liberal, forgiving, free-thinking and generally open than most of my supposedly avant garde acquaintances. They seemed to revel in eccentricity of character and loved anyone who was prepared to think deeply and challenge the establishment. I remember my father desperately trying to get me to say the word, ‘fuck’ in mixed company because he felt that some of the older people there were rather pompous and deserved a good shock. I suppose he simply approached language, and swear words, with the same lack of prejudice as he approached everything else.

Mum dragged up all sorts of gloriously textured words to replace invective, troglodyte, nit-wit and strewth were some of them. Dad, on the other hand, was an occasional but enthusiastic swearer – usually when he was frustrated or angry, I don’t recall him ever swearing at people. When he mowed the orchard, colliding with the low branches of Every. Single. Tree. He used to eff and blind like the most foul-mouthed squaddie. Mowing sessions were rated on a scale of buggeration, ‘how many buggers was that one, Dad?’ we would ask. He would try to be cross for about a nanosecond and then laugh and say something like,

‘Far too many, and there were a few fucks as well!’

No matter how odd I was considered to be at school, I fitted in at home and surely that’s what good parenting is, isn’t it? Giving your kids somewhere they fit, where it’s OK to be who they are while they try and find out what that is.

When I went to university I desperately tried to persuade my friends to visit me at home for the weekend because if only they would, I knew they would be able to make sense of who I am. Few were brave enough. It was very, very hard to make friends my first year, until someone happened upon the fact I was good at art. Then, suddenly, there was a new box to put me in. I was no longer a southerner (and therefore scum) I was ‘the artist’ and all was fine from there on in.

Always, I have hoped that if I had children of my own I would be like my parents, which is why the idea that McMini thinks I’m a grown up is so alarming. Have I officially Lost My Sense of Humour? Have I Become Set In My Ways? Have I started to believe I’m right about everything? I hope not. As a woman of faith, my politics seem to be moving further and further left as the mainstream moves further right so maybe it’s OK. Maybe there’s hope for me.

The fact my friends weren’t as anarchic my actual parents was a terrible disappointment to me as a youngster. If I’ve turned into one of those normal bastards, at least I’ll spare McMini that. It’s awful having to bite your tongue with people your own age because they tell you off for swearing or mentioning periods, admitting to a fart, or whatever, as if they’re anally retentive prudish pensioners (except both sets of my grandparents were similar to my parents). Seriously, though, teenagers trying to be grown up can be so fucking prissy. Actually, anyone who feels they have to try and act like a grown up can be is pretty fucking prissy. That’s why the thought that responsible adulthood might have crept up on me fills me with such despond.

As a kid, I rebelled against the Draco Malfoys of my school life who despised me because, among other things, I wasn’t attempting to get my end away with every male who crossed my path. But to me, boys weren’t the complex mystery they saw. Living with a brother and in close proximity to 500 of the buggers does that to a girl. Looking back, I suspect the real reason they hated me was because I was happy and they weren’t but they couldn’t articulate it, or perhaps the failure of their sporadic efforts to be nice to me so I would invite them home and give them a pop at those 500 boys was part of the problem too. The official reasons they gave for hating me were very faux, things like my being too posh or not posh enough, or ‘so immature’ (ie having a sense of humour). Deep down we all knew that the hatred was irrational and the excuses fake. Nothing like someone giving you shit because they want to and then trying to pretend there’s a logical reason to make you start questioning the status quo.

But McMini isn’t bullied, thank heavens. And I hope he never will be. There are no Dracos for him but that means that when the time comes to rebel he may well rebel against me. I am, kind of, braced for this but I’m still not sure how I’ll go about empathising. Will I be able to? Will I just become entrenched in my position, be Eddie to his Saffie?

Throughout my school and working life, barring a couple of notable exemptions, I have always been lumbered with a someone who decides, upon meeting me for the first time, that their raison d’etre from now on will be to make my life a misery. I seem to have something in me that enrages total and complete bastards to the point of mania and while on occasion, I feel smug at being able to piss off the small and petty minded so comprehensively, it can be hard going. What a relief it was to give up work and step out of all that and, for the first time in my life be bastard free!

But now I wonder, have these recent, glorious years without my own personal nemesis corrupted me? Am I like Lister in Red Dwarf? When he complains that Holly has brought back Rimmer, his arch enemy, and not one of his friends, he is told it’s because Rimmer is the crew member most likely to keep him sane. Do I need a total wanker in my life to keep me on the straight and narrow? Have I gone normal in these glorious tosser-free years? Or is it simply that I lack the strength of character to have that open-minded, easy going confidence of my parents?

I hope I will be the kind of parent to McMini that I had. I hope that when I’m in my 80s, I’ll be as anarchic as my Mum and that McMini, in turn, will be the same in his 80s. I hope I’ll always be able to grow and think and adapt my view. I hope I never lose that curiosity of viewpoint that my parents still have, even now. To give you an example:

My mother was a debutant, she’s had dinner on the Royal Yachet while The Queen was still living there. Twice. But she’s fully convinced socialist. She thinks that ideally we would just pass a law to re-nationalise the railways, power infrastructure, the lot of it, and then have it run by people who knew what they were doing (which is many of the folks there now) and who could tell the government what dividend it was going to have each year so they could invest properly in the infrastructure as needed, rather than having to stand and watch their companies being bled dry.

She thinks that MPs are never going to go after people like Google to collect the proper amount of tax, partly because … lawyers … and partly because unlike the Victorian times the Conservatives so espouse, rich people these days ‘have no proper religion so they don’t know how to behave. They have no compassion, they’re not going to set up the Joseph Rowantree Foundation, or build Port Sunlight. Those days are gone.’ But mostly she believes the Googles of this world will always escape tax because this country is still run by the 200 most intelligent people in each year at Oxford and Cambridge, no matter what the social background from whence they come, and so the UK branches of these companies are run by folks with whom many of our politicians are friends.

‘It’s awfully hard to have dinner with someone one night and send his company a writ the next morning,’ she says.

She’s right, of course, it is, and just as much if you’ve come up from the gutter and want to maintain your status as if you’re a weak-willed trustafarian. And principles only get you into trouble. After all, look what happened to St Thomas A Becket. The politicians will be looking to their post political careers, speaking, being on boards … none of that’s going to happen if they go round clobbering their future employers. Mum agrees this is bad but thinks it’s human nature and that the state needs to accept the humanity of its elected servants and find ways to earn money through something other than the taxes people like Boris and Rhees Mogg will have neither the balls nor the inclination to collect.

‘We should feel sorry for them really, they can’t help it, they haven’t a clue how to behave,’ she says with sweeping disdain.

So if some utilities etc were state run, PROPERLY, I might add, Mum thinks we’d have more money to give to the NHS.

It’s a bit of a cop out, she admits, because like me, she thinks that the government should go after people like Google for the tax they owe. After all, by paying their employees so little that they can’t survive, people like Jeff Bezos are, basically, taxing the rest of us. Buy your goods for less on Amazon but pay an extra £5.00 a week on stuff for the food bank their zero hours, underpaid employees have to use. Oh and some extra tax, because you’d better believe the government will collect yours, the poorer you are, the more heavy handed they will be because they know they’ll get it – you can’t afford to fight back. But they collect the tax so that they have the money to run the state services Jeff’s stressed employees will need to use when their worry and over work have made them ill. And now we’re coming out of Europe, of course, it will be even easier for Jeff and his friends to screw their employees over because our compassionate conservative government will get rid of all that annoying red-tape-shaped employment law.

Will I be as anarchic as that when I’m 85? Will McMini have parents like I did? I really, really hope so.

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Jumbled thoughts on metal detecting, dementia and happiness.

Yep, that’s a hell of a mixture and it isn’t as philosophical as it sounds, this one.

As you know, I go metal detecting, or to put it the correct way, I’m a detectorist. After a very, very long break, I got to go detecting the other day and I found … THINGS.

The ground has been too hard and the crops too high or digs just not … on for a long time. I have wanted to upgrade from my trusty Garrett Ace 250 to a new detector for a year or two. But I wanted one with a display so I could check my ears, so to speak – the ritzy ones give you a numerical scale and if you know your onions you can tell what the metal below you is from the read out. The ones that give you a reliable read out like this, though, tend to be north of a grand. The read out on the Garrett Ace 250 has not, to my knowledge, predicted more than a handful of the metal I’ve dug up with it correctly. So I’ve persevered with the Garrett, because I’d got to know it’s foibles by now, and started saving up for a high end machine.

Meanwhile many of my friends at the clubs I go to suggested I should forget about the display and go on my ears alone because that way, I could buy a high end machine for £800 or thereabouts rather than £1k plus. I wasn’t sure and I waited … until I was at a dig in autumn 17 and I realised that because the display on my Garrett is so random I hadn’t actually looked at it for the whole afternoon I’d been out and hadn’t been using it, while detecting, for some time.

The detector I’d finally decided on was chosen because it’s light and would sell for a good price if I didn’t get on with it. However, that’s the rub. It’s very expensive, even second hand. Bemoaning this, at one of the clubs I go to, one fellow popped up and suggested I forget about the really ritzy one, and the ritzy one’s smaller £800 brother and go for the baby of the brand which is about £600 new, but which you can get second-hand for much less. Then someone else at the club knew someone who had one for £220 and I bit his hand off.

Bearing in mind how incredibly bad I was at getting the hang of the old detector, I wasn’t expecting much so when I first went out with it and found some nice things I was well chuffed! And then I stopped finding … well … anything except old iron and crap. Some of the crap was just luck – when you dig up a bit of copper you might find it’s just a tractor part, or it might be a Roman coin – the only way to tell is to get it out of the ground and have a look. It just so happened that it was tractor parts. It was also getting tiny, tiny fragments of things which were taking ages to find in the freshly dug soil because my pinpointer is a bit dodgy. They could have been beads or medieval fasteners but they weren’t. They were tiny bits of lead.

Bollocks.

Dig after dig went by and I was well aware that most of my failure to find interesting stuff was less about the detector and more down to the plonker waving it about. You know when you’re doing something wrong and you just can’t work out what to do to make it right. I could tell the machine was giving me a lot of information, I just couldn’t work out what the chuff it was  saying. So eventually after going to about 8 digs and failing to find a blummin’ thing, I discovered that one of the detectorist’s suppliers I use had a sheet of hints for setting the thing up. I rang them and the lovely fellow there spoke to me for about thirty minutes and sent the instructions over. That conversation was a bit of a scales from the eyes moment.

The principle of the new (to me) detector – or at least, the technique that works for me – is the exact reverse of the other one. Most machines have three tones, high, low and iron. This one is no different, although sometimes it feels like there are four. The iron on this one is a pulse more than a note, then there appears to be a very occasional low tone a mid tone and a high one on top, but the low tone may just be the way my ears hear one of the high ones mixed in with the iron pulse. So then you trundle round, listening, and it’s like hearing a chord. When it bings, you listen for the tick of the iron tone. If there’s lots it means you’ve got a really big piece of iron, deep down, unless you can turn sideways and swing the detector a different way and it becomes a bing on it’s own with no tick. Then it’s not iron. It might be canslaw, a blob of lead or a brass tractor part, or, worse, a cartridge cap – which gives the exact same signal as a Bronze Age axe head, I’m told – but it is, at least, the kind of metal you’re looking for.

So on the one hand, I was doing it all wrong because I wasn’t listening for the ticking iron tone, so I was only getting half the information. On the other hand, I was doing the right thing digging the signals I was getting because if you leave the distinctive tone of an old shotgun cartridge, you may actually be leaving something … better. So while it’s a pain in the arse as, ever the optimist, I dig them up, I’m actually doing the right thing.

Then came spring, the crops seeded at lightning speed and I didn’t get to test my new detecting theories until the first weekend in August. Then, to my joy, I got to go digging for an afternoon. It was thirty three degrees centrigrade that day (about ninety Fahrenheit) so I was actually quite glad it was only an afternoon.

I arrived just as everyone else was eating their lunch making an ignominious entrance across a stubble field, the freshly cut stalks just that little bit higher than the flat panel underneath my car making a loud screeching sound, like someone running their fingernails down a blackboard, the whole way. I parked, approached the nearest detectorists and apologised profusely. Turned out they were all fed up, the ground wasn’t too hard but the going was hot and the finds and signals few and far between.

Armed with my new machine, and new information, I headed off to detect in the furthest field under a big tree. Surely there had been trees there for many years and I would find something someone had dropped while sitting under it. On the way, I found a bit of the cap of an old bottle, probably from the 1940s or thereabouts. Junk, maybe, but it was a start. I detected around the tree for a while. I could hear the iron buzz most of the time but finally got a proper bing tone on top. Turned sideways and sure enough, managed to reach a point where the bing was on it’s own. Up came half a 14th century thimble with a lovely green patina. This is on my bucket list so even half of one was me set up for the day. With ridiculous optimism, I set about trying to find the other half. I got a shot gun cartridge. Well, you can’t win ‘em all. Next a thing that looked like some kind of silver stud but it was too muddy to tell. Then two signals which I thought were iron and dug to check. They were.

I moved to another field and dug up a piece of old wire and then a THING. The THING looked a bit like a Georgian drawer handle, or possibly a Roman brooch, only not. My fellow detectorists hadn’t been so lucky, many complaining, and one remarking, as we packed up to go, that the only thing he’d found worth keeping were some blackberries! I was dead chuffed with my stuff, but the best thing of all was that I came away realising that I have finally begun to understand the equipment I am using.

As I drove home, delighted with my finds, I wondered if I had really been the only person to find anything good or whether it was more about my standards. The thimble was only half a thimble after all and the Roman brooch-like-probably-drawer-handle-object, which probably wasn’t either, looked ancient but could just have easily have dropped off a Victorian cart or something. The folks out detecting with me were far more experienced. Had finds like mine become junk to them? Possibly.

This got me thinking about life, generally. It seems to me that a lot of the time, happiness is less about what you actually experience and more about how you look at it. I read somewhere that if you get one group of people to sit in a chair and think about exercising – without actually doing any and another group of people to do the same without thinking about running around, the people who think about exercising a lot are 25% fitter than those who don’t. Without actually doing anything. This is the power of the mind and this is why I am always interested in the use of mental techniques in pain management for my knees.

And that got me thinking about happiness. Is the illusive search for happiness nothing more than an exercise in lateral thought? In my own personal experience, I’m beginning to think that maybe it is. There are probably people who, given my life to live, would be a lot more appreciative and happy than I am. Likewise there are probably people who’d be a lot sadder. It’s all about how you look at it. As humans we tend to hear criticism more loudly than praise, the criticism is the stuff that sticks. Likewise, sometimes, I think our preconceptions are that things are a lot worse than they really are. Good things aren’t always newsworthy.

I like to think that I am positive in outlook. I’d say I usually prepare for the worst but I like to think that I also hope for the best. I’ve had to skew my view occasionally, mostly over what I should be able to do versus what is actually possible for someone with my knees, pain management and stuff like that. Has that helped me deal with the situation with my parents? I don’t really know? I’m in my fifties now and I’m starting to see my friends going though horrific shit, their children dying, marriages failing, getting sick … I have no idea how they get through it. I feel a combination of luck, that I have McOther and McMini beside me and rank fear that something will happen to them. But mostly, I’m grateful for them, and nutbag cat and the lunatics I call my family and friends. I’d definitely say I’m happy, overall, even if things that happen do make me sad. And for me I guess the secret is just being interested in what’s going on around me. Is that it? Curiosity? Am I happy because I’m curious? Yeh, yeh, as in enquiring of mind people, the fact I am odd is a given. Is being happy just about looking at everything through rose tinted spectacles?

Or is it that, sometimes, good things seem to appear at the exact moment you need them? Is it a bit of all that, rose tinted but without the delusional aspect? Maybe.

But on good things … this weeks’ visit to the old dears was a gift. On the motorway, stuck in a ‘slow down’ as they call it, a chap in a van next to us beeped at us. I was a bit nonplussed, being, as I am, wizened and ancient and he being a rather glamorous dark haired gentleman in his 20s or so. He waved at me and did a thumbs up, pointing to my car. Then he held up his phone. The screen was black.

‘Uh?’ We said.

He beeped the hooter again, ah yes, the phone was live now and on the tiny screen was a picture of a bright blue car. I’m far too much of a blind old bag to be able to say what it was but I reckon, from the colour, that it was a similar Lotus to mine. Even McMini couldn’t tell and he was on the same side of the car. Mind you, we were all laughing our heads off by this point. We waved and did a thumbs up. People can be real dickheads when you drive a silly car, but sometimes they do mad things like that! It’s all part of the fun and the trick, of course, is to realise that there are probably as many positive things like this as there are negatives. That lateral thought thing again.

On arrival in Sussex. Dad was snoozing and McMini went and sat with him, iPad in hand, to play games and keep him company if he woke up. The lovely Carer cooked lunch and Mum and I went down to the bottom of the garden to pick beans. Then we came back and prepared them. Mum was, mentally, at the top of her game and we had the kind of deep and heartfelt conversation that we haven’t had since the end of 2015. It was fucking magic. I went down there feeling so lonely and came back feeling that I had got Mum back for 40 pure, joyous minutes. We had reconnected, but also it was fantastic to be able to discuss Mum’s life with her and what she wants for her and Dad and confide in her about my own.

And it was brilliant.

After thought …

The Roman brooch-like-probably-drawer-handle-object turned out to be a Roman brooch, just not one from around here. European form, not the Colchester one which, being just near Colchester, I would have been expecting. The stud thing turned out not to be silver at all and was, in fact, a button. Just goes to show that you can never really tell until you clean it all up. The thimble is still a thimble, or at least half of one.

‘Silver stud’ that wasn’t and thimble that was.

 

Roman brooch-like-probably-drawer-handle-object that turned out to be a Roman brooch after all.

 

 

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A chip off the old block …

Thanks to everyone who did the survey last week. It was very helpful and much appreciated. This week, I have mostly been running around like a headless chicken. To my complete and utter delight I have managed to do at least 10 minutes of writing every day, which is equating to 400 words plus. Happy joy.

Sausages are being worn high this year.

Meanwhile, McMini has been given time at school to do creative writing. As a ten year old boy he is obsessed with Killy-Killy-Death-Death. Basically the more wanton destruction and violence in something, the better. Or humour. He loves the funny. The picture (to your left if I can get the formatting to work, below if I can’t) is of a model in a museum. The life jacket caused us endless mirth because of its uncanny resemblance to sausages. The blusher is a little unsubtle too.

But back to McMini, his latest ‘work’ is about a ‘dear fluffy little bunny who is hit by dust from a meteor and turns in to a killer’.

The story is then simply a litany of places where humans frolic and gambol under the illusion they are safe and happy only to discover Killer Bunny though the medium of being graphically torn apart, disembowelled, eaten from the head down etc.

I swear he has never seen Monty Python well, he has now that he’s told me about killer bunny. But you wouldn’t know, would you?

There are now six instalments of Killer Bunny and this morning, in the car, we had this conversation.

‘Hey Mum, guess what? I wrote some more Killer Bunny yesterday and the teacher asked me to read it out.’

‘She did?’ I asked, I can only think that she hadn’t actually seen any of it. ‘What was it about?’

‘It was about this man wandering in the desert and Killer Bunny attacks him, rips out his spine and eats it and throws him into the distance.’

‘I see,’ I said after he had explained this. ‘What did the teacher say?’

‘I did tell her I didn’t think I should read it out loud.’

‘That’s very thoughtful of you. What did she say when she heard it?’

‘Yeeeees.’

‘That’s all.’

‘Yep.’

‘Did the other kids like it?’

‘Oh yes, although my fried Mae said that it was not age appropriate.’

I’m never sure how to take McMini’s horror obsession. It’s not something I remember going through and on the whole he is a chip off the old block. As you know, I grew up in a school. One of the features of said school is that it has a very large ‘chapel’ which is about 100ft high and more like a gothic cathedral. I used to have to go there with Mum sometimes while she was arranging the flowers and I remember as a wee nipper, Mr Kendel, the verger, giving me one of the unconsecrated wafers to try. I thought it was delicious and got confirmed as soon as possible. I’m not sure, ‘because the host tastes like a flying saucer sweet without the sherbet’ is quite the right reason to do that, but there we go. At least I never admitted it to anyone.

Meanwhile, McMini’s reaction was extremely similar and he is delighted to be able to take communion now too. He is worse than me though, undeterred by numerous bollockings, he smacks his lips and says, ‘yum, yum’ to wind me up if I am not careful and that is a way dodgy.

Going back to his wayward mother, when I was older, old enough to wander around the school unaccompanied with my friend Lottie, we used to go and write pretend messages in the visitors book in the chapel. You know, Comment: blank, Name: Miss E Likes. Address, The Cock Inn, Tillet, Herts. An other really mature stuff like that. McMini has invented his own form of this.

A few weeks ago at small church, the vicar was giggling in front of the prayer board at the back.

‘Come and look at this!’ he said to me.

I looked at the board, it’s a pin board with ‘Prayers’ written at the top and the cards all say, ‘we pray for …’ on them. You then write what or whom you pray for.  He pointed to one of the cards.

‘Oh bugger, I’m so sorry, that’s my son,’ I told him but unfortunately, my attempts to sound respectful were ruined by the involuntary guffaw of laughter that came out when I saw it. Thank heavens he has a sense of humour, himself, and pointed it out because he thought it was funny.

So yes, on the whole, the parallels between my behaviour and my son’s are usually similar, but with the added frisson of his death and violence obsession. I suspect I am in for an interesting time when he becomes a teenager.

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Uh oh. The Chaos Fairies are back …

Blimey, it’s been all go this week. Last night McCat caught sight of another cat in the garden and went nuts, I was alerted by the sound of a plant being knocked from a windowsill. Things  went downhill from there, with McCat moving to the cat flap. He smashed it two weeks ago trying to get at this cat – then it was the extraordinary growling and yelling noises he was making that alerted me to the problem. Last night he ran from the conservatory when I arrived, and the cat outside fled, too. McCat tore after him through the kitchen, with Strange Cat taking the parallel path outside. McCat had already started on the cat flap by the time I got there. In a few short seconds, he bent and broke my fabulous framer’s tape mend and got half the casing off the front.

Mended cat flap. Note my blood all over the surround on the right hand side. Mmm nice.

When I grabbed him and hauled him away, I caught a claw up the side of one finger and began to bleed profusely all over everywhere.

McCat kept going back, all the while howling in impotent fury, and I kept dragging him away and trying to lock him in the utility room, where he sleeps. But I couldn’t get out of the door quickly enough and he was getting back out with me every time. It was like some comedy parody of a night club punch up with the fighters, shouting,

‘I’ll kill you, you bastard! I’ll kill you!’ While the girls scream and their drunken friends try to drag them apart shouting,

‘Leave it mate, leave it. He ain’t worth it.’

And all that malarky.

Eventually I managed to persuade McCat to stay in the utility room long enough for me to shut the door by the time honoured method of bribing him with food. Then I sellotaped a magazine over the cat flap and let him out into the kitchen for a quick cuddle before both of us, and McOther, went to bed for the night. This morning I bought a new cat flap just in case but I think I have managed to get away with fixing up the old one again. Still, the new one will come in handy if we want to do something like say, sell the house, for example.

Then I came to use a voucher some kind friends had bought me last year, to have a go in a flotation tank. It was fab, however, while I was drying my hair afterwards, there was a kind of thump and I found the lady in charge of the tanks, so to speak, in a bad way on the floor. She was feeling sick and dizzy, which I recognised as shock. Nurse MTM (phnark) proscribed deep breaths and that she should take her time before getting up. She said she heard something click and I suspect she’d either cracked her collarbone or knackered some shoulder ligaments. She thought she was fine. I didn’t. Her shock symptoms were very similar to those displayed by my sister in-law when she fell down my parents’ stairs and broke her ankle. So I suspect there was a fair bit of pain.

It was a while before I felt she was OK to leave but when I could I went and got someone to come and help her. Then when she, and they assured me she would be alright if she just sat outside in the garden on a bench, I left, which involved going through several security doors to reception, where I realised I’d left my coat. So then I had to get someone to come and let me back in through all the security doors to pick it up again. I never found out how much it would be to float again, but it was a very pleasant experience so I think I will at some point, when I have the time.

On a different note …

Slugs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails …

Yes, I can confirm this actually is be what little boys are made of. It’s high time you heard some more instalments of McMini. Just because I haven’t had time to put them up here, it doesn’t mean his eccentricity has abated in any way, nor his ability to negotiate, at length, over everything, or that he has become any less disgusting.

Despite being the prime male in the house McOther is the least gross of all of us, while McMini, at the top of the vile-o-metre, way outstrips anything I can even imagine for grossness if only for his approach to personal hygiene (and that approach goes like this: Why?’) while I come in a very creditable second for grossness, but nowhere near his epic yukkiness on the personal hygiene front, I’m pleased to say. Even the cat comes ahead of McOther as he proved the other night, as he sat on my lap, by actually lifting himself a little and then releasing the most abominable fart on earth. But I digress we were talking about, McMini. First, here’s what we are up against negotiation-wise.

Let the negotiations commence …

Points for lateral thought.

The other day, McOther found McMini reading in bed at stupid o’clock at night. He laid down a firm diktat that McMini must not read in bed. The next night, at about half past ten, McOther and I came to bed only to discover McMini on the lavatory, reading.

‘What are you doing? It’s way past your bed time!’ wailed McOther in despair.

‘You said I couldn’t read in bed, but you said nothing about reading in the loo,’ said McMini.

Unbounded vileness; gross factor nine million.

Then there’s this … conversation late at night when we had said good night and were just about to turn his light out and go downstairs for an hour or two of crap TV.

‘Dad, can I go downstairs and get my penknife?’
‘Why?’
‘Because I want to cut my toenails and eat them.’
Mummy shudders, ‘Ug. I thought you bit them off and ate them.’
‘I did but I can’t do that anymore. I’m not so bendy as I was.’
‘Well, you can have it tomorrow morning. You can cut your nails and eat all the toenails you like,’ Arnold’s bottom! Am I really saying this? ‘before I drag you to church.’
‘Yes,’ McOther chips in, ‘You can have a whole bunch of crispy toenails.’
‘I can’t eat toenails in the morning. I will need something much more substantial! Toenails are an evening snack.’
McMini then proceeds to bite his own big toe nail by way of demonstration.
‘Look mummy! I can do it after all.’
‘Ug,’ says McOther and wisely, he leaves.
‘Mmm yummy!’ says McMini.
‘Surely it’s cheesy if it’s off your feet.’ I say. McMini doesn’t like cheese.
‘Not really. The nails are crunchy, the toe jam can be a bit cheesy sometimes.’
‘You eat toe jam!?’
‘Of course.’
‘And when you say “toe jam,” you really mean toe jam? You know those little cheesy bits under the corner of your toenails.’
‘Yes it’s delicious,’ picks a bit off and eats it. ‘Mmm lemony. Hey Mum, do you remember when you used to cut your toe nails and I grabbed them and ate them*.’
‘I am really, really trying to forget that.’

* I’m afraid this is true he really did grab my toenail clippings and eat it. It’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen anyone do.

The bonus …

So on one level, my boy probably needs Special Help. On the other, we were playing Monopoly last night which involves sitting on the floor. I am not at home on the floor anymore, pretty much any position I can think of hurts my knees. McMini looked at me thoughtfully for a moment.

‘Mummy, you’re not comfortable there, are you?’
‘No, not really but it’s not too bad.’
‘Hang on.’

He ran upstairs to his bedroom and came back with a pillow.

‘Here you are Mummy,’ he handed me the pillow. ‘That should be more comfy.’ I thanked him and he went and sat down.

I cling to the fact that McMini may be quite eccentric, he may have difficulty remembering what day of the week it is, when his home work is due, about that thing he was supposed to bring into school for science, etc and he may be pathologically unable to tidy his room. Ever. He may keep wiping his nose on his shirt even though he’s been told it’s not OK and he may have some weird idea – like James Hunt – that smelling rank is a good thing. But he is thoughtful and he is kind and I guess if he takes care of those two, the rest is gravy.

_____________________________________________

And finally … something completely different.

Yep, if things are a bit chaotic down your way, never fear. I can thoroughly recommend the use of a humorous book to take your mind off it, or cheer yourself up.

Mission Improbable, by my cyber author buddy J J Green is still on sale for a hugely cost effective 99c. If you think it sounds interesting you can find links to grab it from most major retailers here.

Meanwhile, my first in series, Few Are Chosen, is also 99c at the moment so if you want to give some of my stuff a whirl you can find out about that on a similar page, with links to the major retailers (and an offer) here.  You can also discover more about each book by clicking the cover pictures.

 

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