Tag Archives: off topic

How a battery charger saved my bacon …

…And the danger of over confidence when coupled with good intentions.

This week, I was going to talk a little more about happiness being a state of mind, but I only have a few minutes to do this in so it’s more of a dump it and leg it!

It’s been a busy week with a bank holiday at the beginning, a weekend away and a trip to my Uncle’s funeral today. It began with a bit of a dodgy start. Up at 5.30 expecting to leave by 6.00 but cocked it up and was late, finally leaping into the car at 6.15, I was not a happy bunny when pressed the starter and it turned over once and died. Tried again and it went ‘click’. I pulled the lever to open the boot and the cable snapped – for the second time in a year, I’ll have to book it in to be fixed. Luckily, it wasn’t all bad. Before snapping, the cable had actually unlatched the boot lid so I was able to get it open easily enough and access the battery to put it on charge. I was already fifteen minutes late departing, fifteen minutes too late to be able to take McOther’s car – it doesn’t go fast enough when there is quarter of an hour to recoup. As you can imagine, there followed a very tense ten minutes while I waited for the booster to charge the battery enough for the car to start. Yes. There was swearing.

On the upside, it did work, the car started and I was there just after nine because I missed the worst of the traffic on the dicky bits, i.e. the entire M25 which was uncharacteristically clear. Sure it was an hour early but that wasn’t a problem; there were cousins to chat to by ten past! I am so glad I got there. It was a lovely service, planned by my Uncle, himself, and it spoke eloquently of what I gather was a very peaceful and ‘good’ death. The priest was a lovely chap and spoke well about him, too. I did cry, and the bit that got me was the point where we said prayers for the sick and the list comprised Mum and Dad, while the prayers for the dead, apart from my uncle, were for my aunt, his wife. It was very moving, and a positive and uplifting, if sad, experience. It was wonderful to see my other uncle and aunt, and my cousins and my brother and all my cousin’s children who have grown into splendid young people, one with a microdot in tow. Well worth braving the roads.

However, there’s not much to say after that, at least, not in thirty minutes, so instead I’m going to share a story from Setting Tripwires for Granny and Other Tall Family Tales.

Learning to throw and missing …

This is a story about the disastrous consequences of having a sport obsessed older brother and the dangers of learning to throw, over arm. When my brother and I were little and lived in the school we used to run with the other housemasters’ kids. The amazing thing about it was that we probably had the kind of upbringing our parents, or grandparents, had rather than our contemporaries. We walked around the school, which was the size of a small village, and the adults kept an eye on us. If Mum wanted us home for tea she’d just ring round the other housemasters, starting with the most likely, to see if we were playing with their kinds and then the housemaster’s wife would come and tell us it was time for tea. This was standard procedure for all of them so we got to play alone much more than we might have done.

During this time, most of the kids I hung out with were my brother’s age so they were boys. As a result, their first priority was to teach me the most important things in life, how to kick a ball properly and how to not throw like a girl.

Actually, I used to be able to throw reasonably well but I’ve never managed to get a chuffing ball to go that far overarm, maybe it’s the bingo wings interfering with it or something, there seems to be a bit too much flexion in my arms and not enough … um … hurl. Yeh, whatever it is, they failed. My nine year old can throw as far as me. Anyway, on with the story.

My brother decided, when I was four, that he must teach me to throw over arm. After weeks of intensive coaching, I did finally crack it and could do a very passable overarm throw for a four year old girl. The day came when one of the lads had his birthday party. There we were, a massive group of kids running riot on the lawn and I was anxious to show my throwing prowess. Anxious but nervous. Some of the boys were throwing a lump of wood about, the foot rest from one of those turned wood chairs (check name). The point came when it landed at my feet.

‘Hey, I can do this!’ I thought and I picked it up. Flung my arm back over my head to get a really good overarm lob on it and … oh dear … let go. The wood flew up into the air, hit a window, which broke and landed back at my feet in a shower of glass.

The others stared at me in silence.

I had no idea if they were horrified at my pathetic attempts at throwing properly, or just thought the way the glass had showered down on me was really cool. All I could think of was how surprised I was that the throwing had gone so badly.
Never mind, I’d remembered how it felt to throw, muscle memory and all that, I would be able to throw over arm.
The window belonged to the house next door and the housemaster of said house came striding across the lawn looking a bit stern.

You did what???

‘Oi! You’ve just broken a window.’
‘I’m very sorry, I said.’
He looked up at the window and down at me and the piece of wood.
‘What on earth were you doing?’ he asked.
With complete confidence in my newly acquired throwing prowess I replied,
‘I was just trying to do this!’

I picked up the piece of chair and threw it, over arm, towards the assembled crowd.
Except I didn’t.
I did exactly the same thing again. And guess what?
Yep, you’d better believe it.
I broke another window.

Which just goes to show that even when you are absolutely sure of yourself, and have the most well-meaning intentions, it’s sometimes best to be cautious, engage your head as well as your heart and think before you act, otherwise, it can all backfire horribly.

In light of the storm rocking the independent publishing world this week, it seems that’s still an important lesson.

 

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Chin up lass!

There is a popular trope that being happy is just a state of mind. It’s a little more complicated than that, I suspect but I think there is something in the idea that trying to cultivate a positivity of outlook can help. For me it’s definitely about noticing things. Noticing the smell of hyacinths from the flower bed beside our back door. Noticing the way the birds start to sing way, way more loudly from January on. Noticing how even in December, the bulbs are starting to break through. If I wasn’t lucky enough to spot these signs of hope and spring, naturally, I suspect I would be a much less happy person. But once you’ve noticed this stuff once, maybe you look harder for it the next time? Who knows.

This week, has been … interesting. Really tough at times. Not helped by a dash of sleep deprivation; they resurfaced a bit of our street … at night and, apparently, with the help of the Mysterons.

They also foolishly parked their rollers etc outside my house where I could eyebomb the living smeck out of them so there’s an upside to everything but …  after a couple of noisy nights mental energy was low by about Tuesday and by Wednesday I was running on fumes – no not my farts, I’m trying to say there wasn’t much fizz in the tank – and there was even less after I had to sort out a bit of a ‘situation’ at Mum and Dad’s. Suffice to say, I should be driving to Hexham right now to celebrate the 50th Birthdays of two lovely friends from school. And I’m not.

In my defence, it’s a five hour trip each way and after my uncle’s death, the night works and a furore (now sorted) that blew up around my parents this week, I decided that if I was being realistic, there were not enough spoons/fuel in the tank – my tank, not the car’s – to do 600 miles in bank holiday traffic. I cancelled. I feel bad about cancelling but sitting here right now, I know I’ve done the right thing.

Meanwhile alongside these it has been a week of small and unusual things. Lovely things that have lifted my spirits. Rare stuff. It’s strange how these things happen sometimes, often when the rest of your world is at its worst. Little mini-boosts that filter through to you, as if the world is trying to tell you, in it’s own small way, that despite feeling that you haven’t measured up, it’s alright.

First, an account from a friend of someone waxing lyrical about my intelligence – as in that she thought I had some – left me with a nice warm feeling. The Scottish man who served me at the market today who asked if I’d be having those strawberries and without thinking I said, ‘Aye.’ The moment in church when a lady visiting, who had the misfortune to sit near me, tapped me on the shoulder at the end of the service and thanked me for my singing. I’ve discussed my singing before, an attribute about which I was teased a great deal at school – so much singing, so little of it in tune. But recently people have been saying how nice my voice is. I’m not sure if something’s happened to my voice, if the people in church are tone deaf or if I’ve always had a decent voice and the girls at school were just jealous. Whatever it is that’s happened there, I suddenly feel I can sing. I’ll take that and be happy!

This last fortnight, after the death of my uncle, I felt very low, about Dad as well as about him. Strangely, I’ve been seeing butterflies and rainbows everywhere. Butterflies, obviously, because it’s spring. Rainbows; I had a memorable journey back from Sussex to Suffolk this week; two and a half hours over waterlogged roads in bright sunlight. Lots of spray, car got a Sussex respray and was covered in white chalky puddle water stains, visibility was terrible, lights on but blue sky above and rainbows dancing around me everywhere pretty much the whole way home. That was a hell of a thing.

This is hardly a phenomenon, either, after all, it’s typical April weather really, showers then sun but it’s not something I’ve witnessed in quite such abundance before and it’s different to the norm so it makes for a change. Some ditzy article I read somewhere, which I can’t find now, of course, talked about about how butterflies are messengers from your guardian angel to let you know s/he’s listening, while rainbows are messages of reassurance from the cosmos. Butterflies are wonderful, they’re always going to cheer me up and as for the rainbows, well, when something is able to make a British motorway look beautiful then, dubious theories on cosmic reassurance aside, it’s still uplifting.

Then after a fair time with no reviews one from ‘An Amazon User’ for Few Are Chosen popped up this week. I always think that makes it sound like some kind of drug.

‘Hello, I’m MTM and I’m a recovering Amazon User.’ [applause] ‘Yeh, it’s tough but I’ve been clean several months now.’

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, the review. Actually, they left it two weeks ago but I only found it this week. It reminded me of something my brother in-law said. He thought there were two interesting, and slightly amazing, phenomena about the reviews of my books. The first thing he pointed out was that if you look at most reviews on Amazon, generally across the site, while some are superb far more are less than articulate. He felt a surprisingly high number of reviews for my books were witty and amusing, as if the reviewers loved the jokes in the books and are joining in. If that’s true, it’s a lovely thing for them to feel and I’m delighted it’s happened. The second thing he thought was intriguing is the fact that even the one-liners are reasonably well spelled and punctuated, suggesting a level of intelligence in the readers reviewing my books that is way above average.

Mwahhahahrgh! So there we have it. Congratulations to anyone who has read my books, then. Clearly you are very smart and arbiters of good taste! Phnark! It is a cheering thought though, because it makes me feel that I am reaching my intended audience; eccentric people like me. And if the people who feel moved to write reviews of my books want to join in with the jokes then maybe there is the possibility that the small beginnings of a community of … I dunno … K’Barthan-heads? Is forming. Maybe, or maybe not but it feels like a little seed of hope.

And I needed all those small things this week. You see, one of the hardest bits about the death of my uncle was the way it made me feel about about Dad. Sometimes, when I think he’s suffering or unhappy, I wish Dad wasn’t around, not because I want him dead but because it’s hard to see him suffer, it’s difficult not to see his disability as Dad going under and dragging Mum down with him. It’s horrible to think either of them is unhappy. Other times, when he seems cheerful, I see, with crystal clarity, that he is a man with a disability and I am being incredibly able-ist and condescending. At least it makes for a new topic to beat myself up over.

In a minor miracle this week, something in me was able to let a lot of that baggage go. Dad is, mostly, happy and enjoying life, as is Mum. That’s really all I can hope for. No doubt the worry will return but for now, I’m OK with the situation again, things are on an even keel. The house I grew up in is still a place of laughter and compassion. The rest is kismet, right?

Perhaps that’s all you need to do to be happy; look for the small gifts, be kind to yourself and be kind to others.

Who knows? I leave you with the review, because it was lovely. Thank you and Godspeed ‘Amazon User’.

Don’t Giggle Out Loud
You know when you are sitting in an airport and the guy next to you starts giggling at the book he is reading? And it’s so annoying because you can’t quite see the title? This is the book. The anti hero, The Pan, is terrific, his search to find the Chosen One before the ultimate baddy Lord Vernon gets his evil hands on her, The Swamp Thing, all go to make a refreshingly funny and well laid out plot. Oh and did I mention the car chase? or the lovely old man, or the drink that hits the spot, especially of the evil one’s soldiers? But that would spoil the story for you. Go read it yourself. It only has five stars as Amazon is tight with them.

 

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It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to … #dementia #ranting

I’ve sort of been debating whether or not I should post this. I wrote it just too late to publish last weekend and things have been so much better this week that, in some ways, it’s no longer relevant.

Except that, from the point of view of the people who read this, I’m now thinking that actually, it might be helpful. Everyone has bad days, everyone feels swamped sometimes and if that’s you then at least when you read this, you’ll know you’re not alone, that it happens to everyone, that there are people out there who can sympathise with how you feel. No-one’s life is roses the entire time and I think being honest about that is allowed!

Basically, I’m feeling a bit ‘meh’ today. Like this.

Some days I feel a bit like this.

Ten years ago, heavily pregnant, I went to a lot of fortieth birthday parties. I thought, blithely, that I’d organise one of my own but then I spent the actual day doing a lot of drugs and having a c-section.

Never mind, I thought, I’ll have a ‘Not my 4oth Birthday Party’ when I reach the magic age of 42.

But then Dad began to get really ill and I got in a tizzy and I had a two year old, for fuck’s sake, and my in-laws sold their house with no-where to go so they had to come and live with us and my head imploded. My in-laws are ace and I’d never have done anything else than put them up, but I found having them here really difficult, and I was cross with them for coming here, which threw me completely. I hadn’t seen it coming and I was utterly disappointed in myself not to mention, completely perplexed. I mean, I couldn’t understand it at all. Why was I so angry? Why was I finding it all so hard? Even after they had sorted themselves out and left I was asking myself what on earth had got into me.

Finally, a couple of months after they’d gone, I worked out that my irrational anger stemmed from the fact that with them in the guest room, my parents couldn’t come to stay and worse, they just happened to be in the guest room over the last summer that my parents would have been able to visit us here. It was all bound up with the subconscious realisation that I would never be able have my folks here again and my subconscious was blaming my in laws for being homeless at the wrong time! Obviously it couldn’t do anything constructive like give my conscious mind the heads up but at least I worked it out eventually. As I said last week, I’m a bit slow. Once I’d finally cottoned on I cried most of the day but it was such a huge relief to work it out, and the next morning I woke with shingles, which I still believe I had instead of a nervous breakdown.

Looking back on it, not a great year for trying to plan a party then, that one. Indeed, I completely forgot about it and I guess I should consider organising a thought as an achievement at that point! Yes. Party planning was definitely right out. So I thought I’d wait until I was 45 but neither McMini nor I had a party that year because we got hit by a car and then I was going to be fifty so soon that there wasn’t much point.

Thus, it was that celebrating hitting 40 never worked out and here I am, looking down the barrel at another Important Birthday with an equally huge lack of enthusiasm to do anything about it. Although at least I’ve remembered, I suppose that’s a step up.

Originally, I was in the clear. McOther told me he would organise something and not to worry but a month ago, he fessed up that with his work the way it is, and no prospect of his work-life balance moving towards the ‘life’ end of the see-saw any time before he retires (0r, more likely, dies of some stress-related illness) he wasn’t going to be able to organise anything.

This has left me with a conundrum. I feel that having failed miserably to organise a party-like ‘event’ for my 40th Birthday, even if McMini’s arrival was pretty cool. It behoves me to do it now. So far, you’ll be impressed to know that I’ve done a really good job of ignoring it and hoping it goes away.

The thing is, when I think of a party, I think of a bar-b-queue or a marquee on the lawn, and caterers and everyone I know; family and friends, turning up to eat food and get pissed and have a good time. And I’m thinking of, possibly, a couple of speeches. You know, kind of like a wedding only more relaxed. Except that I realised that one of the main reasons I don’t really want to have a party is because at all the events like this I’ve had so far, my parents would be there. And in this case it wouldn’t be an issue if they were dead, we could raise a toast to them and remember them fondly, but they’re not dead. They’re alive. But they can’t stay here; no chairlift, no 24 hour care etc. Putting aside the fact that my dad … well … when you hug your father goodbye and he sometimes gropes your arse you know it’s getting to the stage when public appearances have to be handled carefully and only attempted on the right kind of day.

So that’s the nub of it. If I have a party. I have to plan it all as if my parents are dead while they’re alive. And few things bring home the fact they are both losing their minds – and that my brother and I get the special joy of watching that happen – more forcefully than planning an event they would have attended, but can’t, as if they are dead, when they’re alive. Which also highlights that they are … kind of … undead.

And it drags up all that other stuff about how part of me almost wishes they were dead because it might be the most merciful thing and because watching them fade away is so painful. And the fact that some days I rejoice that they’re around but others their predicament is like some enormous millstone around my physical and emotional neck that just gets heavier and heavier and heavier and cannot be put aside. Ever. And it brings home how hard it is to live a normal life with this crippling sadness and makes every other load I have to carry so much heavier. And I try to see the joy in life, I really do, and normally I’m quite good at it. But sometimes it’s extremely difficult especially when the physical pain of my knees over the last year has been at about the same level as a newly twisted ankle every. fucking. day.

Thinking about it, I guess I just want to be more than someone other people need; a dead leaf blown about on the winds of other peoples’ neediness, but it’s hard to find the time to be anything other than mother or carer and when I do, that has to be spent looking after my stupid bastard knees, or creeping round the house taking about ten hours to do the amount of cleaning able people do in two minutes. Perhaps I’m getting carer fatigue. Is that a thing? Dad has been losing his mind since 2004 and Mum since 2015. It’s a long time to keep CBT-ing yourself and to drag that shit around and it takes more and more time so then of course, you end up with less and less time to yourself; pretty much none once you’ve taken care of the physio/gym/exercising/pain management routine.

This last two weeks we were away and in the first week of our holiday, while the others skied, I wrote. I only managed an hour or two each day but it was so unbelievably wonderful to get my life back. Once I’d done enough walking or swimming to feel I could eat as much as everyone else, I sat down at the table. There was no washing or cleaning to be done. There was no meaningful internet so none of the things I was supposed to be organising – the Parish magazine, for example – could be attended to.  No stupid shitey little ‘can you book so and so’ or ‘can you find a weekend when thingwat and oojah can visit’ or jobs that should take ten minutes but end up taking for fucking ever.

There was no replying to emails, no organising anything, no futile attempts to get folks round for play dates with McMini which end in failure because other people work or are more organised than me and sorted their free days months before the holidays began. That week of writing was a tonic but it has made it all the harder to go back to the, ‘treat yourself to 20 minutes a day two days a week if you’re lucky’ regime under which I usually live. I think I’m feeling this now because it’s the summer term, which means that, in the first half, at any rate, it’s pretty much all three day weeks for me so I’ll get bugger all done. So as we do the inevitable PD day – heaven forfend that the number of full weeks this half of term should outnumber the short ones – I’m just looking down the barrel of disappearing up my own arse as I try to do the stuff I usually do, organise myself enough to be able to attend and plan social events and steel myself for the fact I have to plan a party and probably won’t write anything until July now.

So, many apologies, but sometimes, I think it’s OK to have a bit of a rant about things, like this. When it feels as if life has punched you to the floor, it’s alright to kick your legs about and scream like a toddler having a tantrum every now and again. You know, just for a moment or two, before you pick yourself up and carry on. I have therefore added this post to the ‘rant’ category but not the ‘massive rant’ category on this blog. (Yes those categories really do exist.)

On the up side … there’s my boys and McMini. On Monday, McMini and I spent the day together. It was hugely entertaining. For example, I sat with him while he was doing his homework. It took about three hours because his concentration levels came in three millisecond bursts but he got it done and we had a very entertaining conversation along the way. How’s this for an opener?

‘Mum, it’s interesting isn’t it but you would think phlegm was spelled f-l-e-m wouldn’t you?’

At no point did the word phlegm crop up in the pursuance of his studies, it’s just a random thought that occurred to him. Or there’s this one, from our holiday, in a restaurant.

‘Hey Mum! Those curtains are just like the ones in Jabba the Hutt’s palace.’

This one was followed by a lengthy discussion as to whether frogs use fart and if so, whether it will help add lift when they jump – complete with demonstrations by McMini, naturally. All conducted as he demolished a bowl of frog’s legs and compared himself to Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi, you know, when he was eating those little squeaky things.

Then there are the Horrible Choices questions.

‘Mum, which would you rather? Be killed by a giant sword or run over by a steam roller?’
‘Neither.’
‘No Mum, you HAVE to choose.’

Or the use of a glue gun to make a sniper’s rifle. Amount of time from McMini seeing the glue exit the front of the gun to our making ‘fake’ drool: too short to be measured by current instrumentation.

And there’s his continued torturing of Alexa. Yesterday’s questions include:

Alexa, how do you make chocolate ice cream from poo?
Alexa, what does urinate mean?
Alexa, what is urine?
Alexa, where does poo come from; the willy or the mouth? (He’s so desperate to make her say ‘bum’.)
Alexa, what is poo?
Alexa, can you eat poo?

So purile but so funny. Because I’m really mature. By next year McMini will probably be rather more mature than I am but at the moment, hanging out with him usually involves us giggling until we cry at some point.

Meanwhile McOther and I are watching TV and I ask, in exasperation with a character, why she is sleeping with someone she knows is a baddie on the other side,

‘Ah, keep your friends close but your enemies closer,’ says McOther.
‘So that’s why you married me!’ I say. McOther laughs and I get a little fizzy buzz from amusing him.

I would be so lost without them.

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Toboggan update, a war story and McMini versus Alexa.

It’s been a busy week this week. McMini is due to go on a school trip which involves two nights away. I have therefore been spending most of the week with a list of required clothing working out which items we have and buying the ones we don’t have. Pretty much all of them.

In order to try and train McCat out of some of his many behavioural problems, I have bought a thing that senses when he goes near the bin to flip the lid off and search for scraps and squirts a jet of air. Unfortunately, though this is working, the people who set it off 99.99999999% of the time are McMini and McOther.

It’s nearly run out already and judging by the cost of the refills it’s actual solid gold in there rather than the air the makers claim, or it’s liquidised diamonds or something. I thought one would do but with my menfolk, no chance, it’ll be hard put to last the week.

I also bought a static electric mat. Unfortunately it comes with no meaningful instructions. I think I switched it on but after an hour it started beeping and the battery died. I haven’t tried it since.

Ho hum … a partial success then.

Sadly, I also jinxed any chance of tobogganing joy this weekend by retrieving the one I had as a kid from Mum and Dad’s, barn, washing the mouse and spider pooh off it, along with the yucky, knackered crispy wood louse carapaces left by the spiders, and bringing it home. Turns out it’s a bit older than I thought as it’s a Flexible Flyer No 1.

It looks as if it may be Great Grandpa’s rather than Granny’s. Luckily, I don’t think that makes it any more valuable, so it’s still worth the same as a modern replacement, which means we can use it. Oh yeh.

Except for that bit about the jinxing. Yes, now that we have a slightly more McMini-friendly toboggan, we have had the usual boring Bury St Edmunds snow: chuffing cold, snows all day but doesn’t sit. Seriously I have no idea how it can be this fucking cold and still melt. It’s a bastard miracle. Climatologists should look into it because frankly, I reckon there’s something going on. Also, I’m getting a bit bored of being cold. I wish it would either snow properly or just piss off. It’ll probably snow properly tomorrow when I’m at my club dig out in the country at the bottom of a hill (note to self, take a tow rope).

Also this week, I went with Mum to the funeral of a lovely lady who used to go to their church. The chap doing the eulogy told a splendid story this lady used to tell about the time a ME109 was brought down on the Downs near Steyning.

The word spread like wild fire and everyone armed themselves with pitchforks, kitchen knives, pickaxe handles etc and went off to capture the pilot. Meanwhile, the gentleman in question unwittingly evaded capture and was discovered wandering local lanes by someone taking an afternoon constitutional, someone who was unaware that a dangerous armed enemy was on the loose. The pilot asked, politely, if they could tell him the way to the local police station. Unaware of the posse the other side of the Downs looking for him, he then calmly followed the directions he’d been given and handed himself in. Stories like these say so much about human nature.

In a bid to keep the screen time to quality time, I have given up doing the social media stuff in the evening in front of the telly in favour of knitting. I now have seven pairs of socks – and I’ve only shrunk two pairs so far – along with a smaller pair for McMini, and a pussy hat – but in red and light pink because militant use of pink is vile and gives me the boke.

Meanwhile McOther has purchased an Alexa. It’s quite good but not able to answer many questions. For example, I asked it how to make pasta the other day … about seventy times.

Try as I might I couldn’t get it to understand that I wanted it to make actual pasta, not a pasta dish. It came up with a whole variety of pasta dishes but not the ration of eggs to flour I required to knock up a few sheets of lasagne. It was like …

‘Alexa, can you give me the recipe for pasta.’
‘I found this recipe for pasta with meatballs on Recepidia.’
‘No, stop Alexa. I meant the actual pasta.’
‘I found this recipe for beef ragu with fusilli.’
‘Stop Alexa, please. OK, Alexa, if I have some flour and an egg and I’m Italian what can I make?’
‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that.’
‘Jeez …’ Recording of dull thudding sound made by MTM’s head beating against the kitchen work surface, ‘I just want to make a lasagne sheet, Alexa.’
‘Lasagne is a dish comprising tomatoes, bechamel sauce and-‘
‘Alexa stop. What are the ratios of egg to flour I need to make pasta.’
‘I found this great recipe on Recipedia for egg and spinach-‘
‘NO! Alexa STOP! Don’t they have the recipe for pasta on Recipedia?’
‘There’s a recipe for salmon and seafood with pasta shells, difficulty level, easy on Recipedia-‘
‘Alexa STOP! For the love of God, or I shall do you an injury.’

And so on ad infinitum. Alexa stores all these exchanges on an app on McOther’s iPad. I think he enjoyed reading that one.

This morning, I overhead McMini talking to it.

‘Alexa can you set a timer for cheese?’
‘I’m sorry I do not understand your question.’
‘Oh. OK. Alexa, set a timer for seven years.’
‘I’m sorry I can only set a timer for a time within the next 24 hours.’
‘Hmm … OK. Alexa, set a timer for seven hours.’

It might be sensible to occasionally say, ‘Alexa, stop timer,’ to it I think. Just in case.

In next week’s post I’ll be talking shop. I’m giving a talk called, ‘Real Life is underrated. Using mundane events to fuel your writing mojo,’ and since it’s 1,200 words long, I thought I’d reproduce it here, for your delectation, as I deliver it. And also because I’ll be actually doing the talk at the time, so I won’t be here to write a blog post … so … until next week!

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Sleigh that again?

It’s been all go this week. Snow has fallen (snow on snow) and it’s been fucking freezing (pardon my French) all week. We’ve had about 8 inches of snow, going by the pile on top of the wheelie bins, but the first four inches melted a bit before the second four arrived so it was only ankle deep here in town. Still looked cool though (see photos). What I like about snow is the way it lets you see the world anew; the same old same old, yet so different. I don’t know about you, but a quick dose of snow always helps me to appreciate my surroundings more. For us, here, there was just enough to be pretty and fun and not so much that things began to get a bit dicey.

That said, I believe there are folks out towards Norwich who have seen some impressively big drifts and now have a good grasp of how the average raspberry feels atop a pavlova. While others have no power. Definitely less fun for them.

On Friday, after school, I took McMini tobogganing. Our sledge is a plastic one, but slightly different to the usual in that it has a raised back and a lowered front. Apart from the fact makes the thing look more like a boat it also makes steering harder and you can’t use it lying down, face first. That didn’t stop fourteen stones of British lard from careening down the hill though – I lay back, skeleton style – but McMini was rather more cautious. I understood his reticence, my first memory of tobogganing is of me, my brother and my dad, all sitting on our toboggan and feeling very frightened.

Judging by the size of our toboggan, I must have been very small, in fact I’m amazed that the three of us fitted on. My misgivings soon disappeared when I discovered I could lie on it and proceed face first. Our toboggan was some ancient thing that had belonged to my mother as a child so it had steering, which helped.

On the down side though manoeuvrable, it was extremely fast – although that was also an up, in many respects. I remember visiting my uncle, aunt and cousins in Kew over New Year – a visit that was famously cut short after I ate an icicle off the bottom of a car and was violently sick about fourteen times but that’s another story. Where was I? Ah yes, tobogganing with my cousins. We took our toboggan to a hill in Richmond Park. It was icy, very steep and rammed with other folks on toboggans, mostly plastic ones or the Blue Peter home build (like the one my cousins had). All were going very slowly.

Our toboggan was not only the one Mum and my uncle had used as kids, it was the one which, in turn, my grandmother had used when she was a child. Antique and battered it may have been but this thing went like shit off a shovel – it still does. It looked rubbish, it also still does, and as you arrived on any packed slope you could almost feel the other kids watching you go past thinking,

‘What the fuck is that?’ and snickering contemptuously at your toboggan POS.

Then you’d take a run down the hill and the impression you got was that they were still thinking,

‘What the fuck is that?’ but with a different inflection entirely.

On this occasion, it was like trying to drive a Grand Prix car at full speed through a shopping centre without hitting anyone. You know the first car chase in the Blues Brothers, when they’re trashing the mall … that’s our toboggan with all the other kids pootling about around it. My cousins’ Blue Peter model seemed faster than everyone else’s as well, so it was kind of a rinse and repeat on theirs only with no steering! Unnerved by a couple of rounds of toboggan frogger we decided to move to another part of the hill which wasn’t being used.

Despite being a bit mad and fast, things were much easier with our toboggan on home ground. I grew up in two places at once, the staff side of the house in the school where Dad was a housemaster and our own actual home, which we lived in during the school holidays. Both places were half way up a down … well … the housemaster’s one was more three quarters of the way up but you get the picture. The point is, you could walk out of either house and pretty much onto a big hill. Five minutes and you’d be away. On the few occasions it snowed in the holidays, we’d spend hours up on the hill. There were thrills, spills and luckily, no injuries.

This is a ‘Down’. As you can see from the photo, the downs could be more appropriately named, ‘ups’.

The other great thing about living on a down was that you are not going to get that many people up there, and if you do, there’ll be plenty of room. The downside is that they look smooth but in reality there are a lot of sheep tracks up there so try the wrong slope and it’s like tobogganing down steps. Also there are fields up there, and the thing about a field is it usually has a fence. Hedges were getting pretty rarified in those days so said fence was usually three strings of barbed wire and some shuggly posts.

My father embraced the joy of tobogganing with even more enthusiasm than his children so we usually went as a family, or depending on school holidays etc it would be me and Dad or Dad and my brother and Mum back at home getting some peace and quiet. One occasion, I remember we had already moved out of the school for the holidays into our actual ‘home’ but needless to say, my school term hadn’t ended. Dad and my brother went for a tobogganing session while Mum collected me from my last day at school. We returned to find the two of them at home, which was not expected. There was a perfect field, just as you come into our village; a nice gentle slope, someone was even skiing on it one year, but it did have hedge at the bottom, in the middle of which was the ubiquitous knackered downland barbed wire fence, and beyond which was a trunk road. This wasn’t troubling the four or five other sledgers who were out the day Dad and my brother went but our mad toboggan was faster than all comers, as usual, so it went further. After a few runs it was clear that my dad and brother could only ride safely from half way up the hill, unless they wanted a close encounter with the hedge.

The field was L shaped and the road turned away taking the hedge away and leaving a lovely big square of unsullied virgin snow. My brother and dad wishing to experience full tobogganing joy trundled along the hill until they were above this. Now they could go from the very top and would have a huge amount of run off ground where the toboggan could come to a safe halt. Unfortunately, they moved along at the top of the hill so they didn’t hoist in that, where the road and the hedge turned the corner, the crappy barbed wire fence from the middle carried on, across what they thought was a wide snowy gap.

Dad went first and as he careened off down the hill, three things occurred to my brother:

  1. He noticed the barbed wire fence for the first time.
  2. He realised that Dad was short sighted and still hadn’t seen the fence.
  3. He realised that, not only had his loving father not noticed the fence but that he was unlikely to do so until he caught it in the neck while riding a toboggan at speed.

My brother set off running in hot pursuit shouting, ‘Dad! Fence.’ My father was sitting on the toboggan and steering with his feet. It had picked up some serious speed and there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of it stopping before it hit the fence. Luckily some other folks further down heard my brother and also ran towards Dad, relaying the message, with a bit more volume. Dad heard them and saw the fence, at a distance of about ten feet. There was no time to think, no time to steer and for whatever reason, it didn’t occur to him to bail out. Instead he lay calmly back, flattening himself against the toboggan – and probably the ground behind it – as if he was doing the Luge for real.

According to my brother, Dad passed under the fence at high speed. He took a slight scratch on the nose and it whipped off his red woolly bobble hat but otherwise, he and the toboggan came out the other side unharmed. My brother said it was one of the coolest things he’d ever seen because Dad had been so calm, but also one of the scariest because he felt he was about to witness his father’s untimely death. That said, I suspect Dad may not have felt as calm as he looked, since he suggested that they’d probably done enough tobogganing for one day and that they head home for a cup of tea, some biscuits and a plaster.

I guess the moral of this story is that few things are as they seem, ever.

On a side note, it turns out that the toboggan, itself, is not as it seems either. Indeed, it is a collector’s item. Which just goes to show that, coming from good Yorkshire stock who are too tight to throw anything away has its benefits (even if it was via five or six generations exiled down south to soften them up).

The toboggan is in Sussex and I’m in Suffolk so I can’t send you a picture. I can, however, show you what it looks like.

Thanks to Sledhill.com for this. Check out John’s Sledhill P1 in the menu for details of ours; it’s either a FFNo2 or an FF2B.

Like the snow on Bury, trying to find a picture of our toboggan has made me see it afresh. I knew it was old but it had never really occurred to me to think how old. Over 100 years. And it’s from the USA. I can imagine Grandpop (my great grandfather) going to Harrods or somewhere – possibly Hamleys – to get it for his son and daughter one Christmas.

That’s a hell of a thing.

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How not to live number 12: Drains, mailings and finance #IFuckedThisUpSoYouDontHaveTo

Yep there’s a match made in heaven and here’s another how-not-to post from the queen of fuck ups at Spigot Towers.

Today’s topics are Drain Rodding, financial prudence and how to alienate just under five thousand potential new members of your mailing list in one fell swoop.

Mmmm… bet you can’t wait. OK on we go.

I think this captures the mood …

Tuesday morning and if you’re local to Bury St Edmunds (if you’re not you’ll just have to use your imagination) you may remember it was a bit of a crap day; the wind howled and the rain fell. Worse nature had plainly forgotten to switch the lights on because despite being officially ‘daylight’ the world outside was submerged in a kind of sub aqueous gloom. Obviously, my reactorlights went black the minute we went outside (fucking things) but their behaviour has no obvious baring on the amount of bright light in the environment requiring blocking which is why I look like one of those twats who wears sunglasses at all times because, basically, the fucking things turn black the minute I go outside. Yes, even in twilight.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. Tuesday. The clock is ticking, it’s time to get ready for the rainy walk to school and after two cups of coffee it’s also motility time for Mummy. Yes. I know. A liiiitle too much personal information there but it is relevant to the story. When I rose from the lavatory, refreshed, happy and several kilogrammes lighter, I flushed and the water level in the bowl rose alarmingly and stopped. Then there was a glubbing sound, a bubble rose to the surface and slowly, it disappeared down to normal levels. I almost expected it to burp but it didn’t.

‘Hmmm,’ I thought.

I flushed a second time and the same thing happened.

‘Hmmm,’ I thought a little more slowly and emphatically this time.

I ran upstairs to the third floor and flushed the loo up there. No problem, everything disappeared the way it should. Middle floor ditto. Last time this happened, that hadn’t; the upstairs loos had filled and glurped too.

‘Okaaaaay,’ I thought. ‘The downstairs loo is blocked, but clearly somewhere between the bowl and the drain because this upstairs loo is working perfectly. If it’s just a lump twixt cistern and drain I can probably unblock it myself, thus saving my bank account a £70 spanking if I can find some cheap drain rods. Joy.’ This was especially pertinent as I’d paid another £100 into my bike fund so there wasn’t £70 spare for said account spanking!

There wasn’t much more I could do then, so while McMini was getting his shoes and coats on I surfed the internet with my phone by googling, ‘drain rods for sale in Bury St Edmunds’. I found a set of at Argos for £13.99 and decided that even if I didn’t use them on the drain, they would come in handy for use when our drain pipes and guttering get blocked – which they do with monotonous regularity. So, I purchased them using the handy ‘collect from store’ option. To my delight they were ready for collection at once. Brilliant. I could pick them up after I’d dropped McMini at school. Woot!

Needless to say, unbeknown to me, the bottom of bag the rods came in was split. Yes. That’s right. The first thing I did as I came out of the store was drop them all over the pavement.

Thanking heavens that I don’t give a shit about my street cred (because if I did I’d have died of shame many years ago) I put them back, strapped them on my bike and went home.

So there I am at home, I get the rods and … they’re not bendy enough to go down the loo.

Arse.

I take them out, dry them, put them outside to really dry and go back inside. I look at the loo, half full of wee water.

‘Hmmm,’ I say.

I have an idea. I rush down to the cellar and get some bendy plastic that looks as if it’s part of some kind of contraption to hang half window net curtains, then I get some rubber gloves. I stuff the bendy plastic down the loo, it isn’t really bendy enough to go down so I put my gloved hands right in to coerce it round the U-bend. It finally goes and as it does, I push my hand in just a little bit too far and my right glove fills with wee water. I retract my hand, fast, because, wee aside, my not waterproof Fitbit is on that wrist, in that glove. I take the glove off, and the Fitbit which I then wash with antibac soap – very quickly because it’s not waterproof – and then dry it using some of the copious sheets of paper towel with which I have equipped myself, ‘just in case.’

Obviously, I throw the glove in the bin but keep the other because it’s not full of wee water, is still protecting my hand and I need it. I’ll just have to clean out the cat litter box one-handed until I remember to buy another pair.

Then I put my bare hand down the bog and rod it with the piece of plastic. I get too enthusiastic and wee water splashes onto my favourite jumper.

Joy.

Nothing happens to the water level.

‘Ah,’ I think.

Maybe I will have to go and open the drain outside and rod it with the rods from there. Yeh. Good plan. Then I will put my wee water spattered jumper in a boil wash which will probably kill it.

Out I go. I remove the big stump that is sitting on the drain lid – by the way, it’s not there for any sinister reason, just because it looks cool and hides the drain lid. There are little holes each side of the lid so you can insert a special tool and lift it up but even I can see that the drain is rusted shut. I try with a rake but it’s not budging. Then, looking through the hole, I notice a little white dot of light, the reflection of the sky, through the hole, on standing water. There shouldn’t be standing water in there, which means the loo to drain bit is fine, it’s the whole chuffing thing is blocked.

Nob ends.

There’s nothing for it, I will have to call the nice man I always call when this happens. The drains blocked the week we moved in. McOther was away on business (one of the few times) and me and 3 month old McMini were in the house alone. I called Drain Repair Man then and since he was a lovely chap and clearly knowledgeable, I kept his card. He has since had to unblock the drains the other side as well. We have two drains which does, at least, mean that if the loo in the en-suite blocks you can still have a poo in the others and vice versa. Drain Repair Man is a lovely chap with something close to a photographic memory. He makes the problem go away very quickly but making the problem go away is going to be expensive, especially now VAT is 20%.

But … I can’t get the lid off and there’s water in there.

Further along the pipe to the road there’s another drain. I go and haul the plant pot that sits on top of that onto the patio. It’s pretty overgrown round the edges. There will be smelly gunk and slugs, there’s only one glove and I don’t have time to go back into town and buy another pair before school pick up time. Can I be arsed to open it and utilise my rods? I think about trying to rod drains with McMini’s help, and about the alternative; more attrition to my jumper and the joy of passing brown goo covered rods through one not-gloved hand.

No.

Luckily Drain Repair Man is with me in minutes. Except there’s a dodgy moment when we think he might not get in because the bolt on our gate has rusted in position. However, luckily he is able to lend me a 2lb twatting hammer to hammer the bolt open and it works. Finally we are in. I make him and his sidekick (Drain Repair Robin?) a cup of tea and he makes the drains work again. It costs me £72 including VAT, plus £13.99 for the rods I didn’t use. Not bad for a good job’s jobby shifting but at a bad time for my bank account.

Sure enough. All is good until later on in the week when I get out some cash and see that I only have £88 in my account.

Shit. That’s not going to cover the £72 cheque I’ve given Saved My Butt Drain Repair Man and the £100 I’d paid to the bike shop, the day before, towards my new bike.

So I rush round transferring cash, I pay myself the petrol money for next week’s visit to my parents early, remove the last spare pennies from my business account and I am ready for the onslaught. Then I look at my bank account to check it’s all gone in. It has but of course, that’s when I discover that the £172 has also already gone out. I held onto the cash from my parents, it’s only 5 days early after all, but I put the pennies from my business account back.

It occurs to me that I could have saved myself a lot of phaffage and worry if I’d checked the actual drain, before I took any action and also if I’d checked my bank account before farting about transferring cash in from here there and everywhere.

I decide to chalk it up to experience.

The third instance of idiocy this week was with a mailing. I’ve just taken part in a prize draw and I have just shy of 5,000 people to write to. In theory, they should know they are signing up to the mailing lists of all the authors taking part when they enter the giveaway but no matter how often they are warned about that by the organisers there will nearly always be some who fail to take it in. Because of this I’m always very careful when I email them and in addition, since my work is pretty niche, I usually offer them Few Are Chosen free in return for signing up to my mailing list. I offer the book three times and then anyone who downloads it is transferred automatically to the list. Anyone who clicks unsubscribe is deleted from my files and at the end of it, anyone who’s not opened the emails or done nothing gets deleted as well.

This was a big giveaway so we were all allocated days upon which we were to contact the folks on the list. My day was yesterday. It involved moving to a higher price band on my mailing programme and to make it simpler, I did the three emails as a set-and-forget automatic series. Except that yesterday dawned, the send time came and went and they didn’t go. I spent the day, on and off, talking to my mailing provider’s customer service. They were great and eventually I made a new automation and a new list and copied the folks over to the new list. Half of them went and then it stopped. Half an hour later and the mailing had still only gone to half of them. It was getting on for six pm. Soon my access to the computer would be over for the day and if the automation didn’t go I’d have missed my slot. I panicked. Switched the automation off, set the three emails up as one ready to go draft and two separate emails on timed release, so to speak, made a list of people who hadn’t yet received the first letter in the automation series and sent them the first email manually.

Upshot of this? Yes, that’s right. Everyone got two.

Who replied first? Well obviously the first email I received was a massive bollocking from some irate woman who hadn’t read the giveaway blurb (it was there in BIG letters) and didn’t understand why all these authors were suddenly emailing her.

Bollocks. Way to win them round M T.

Then, this morning, I realised I’d had twenty 404 hits on my website because I’d managed to post a dud link. Which one? Why, the unsubscribe link of course. Let’s make the pissed off people really annoyed.

Head. Desk.

So what can we learn from this catalogue of stupidity? Is there a moral?

Yes: Look before you leap.

… Oh, and don’t rod drains in your favourite jumper.

On the up side, while I do still only have one cat litter tray cleaning glove, Favourite Jumper did survive the boil wash.

Ho hum. You can’t win ’em all.

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What do you see when you look at me?

You see a bad mother.

Church, if you want to do it, can be a bit of a conundrum with small people. McMini being a bit older now and more susceptible to boredom, it is not so easy to persuade him to come to the Sunday service. Furthermore, when he does, it’s probably no longer appropriate for a young gentleman his age to sit there with a huge stack of Beanos and a flask of tea, however quietly it is done. That’s why I jumped at the chance when the powers that be decided to introduce a more informal service during the week. Small church. It is called.

McMini is one of four to six small parishoners; the two youngest are girls, one of about eighteen months, one of three, then there is another little lad of five and McMini at nine. He enjoys the stories, the drawing and occasionally, when the vicar is around, and brave enough, to have a ‘mini mass’ he gets to serve. As he has expressed an interest in being the thurifer, we now have incense at this and take our lives in our hands as McMini enthusiastically wields a steaming hot thurible in our faces.

However, formal this sounds it isn’t. Last mini mass the adults tried to contain their laughter as the small parishoners wandered around, apparently oblivious to what was going on. One withdrew to the table to draw, McMini was sitting next to the radiator upon which he’d perched a cup of tea (next to the bread and wine) and was calmly drinking sips in between the responses. The two girls had a bit of a contretemps and we had ‘pencils at dawn’ until a smart adult realised they both wanted a pink and purple one and found a second pink and purple pencil so they could have one each. A few seconds later and the small plaintive voice of the three year old said, ‘down there’ and pointed to the grating. Her crayons had disappeared. Doubtless they are somewhere beneath the hot pipes but none of us dim-eyed adults could see them and so far, they have not been found.

Meanwhile, McMini had miscounted the amount of wafers – or sherbet free flying saucers as we blasphemously call them at home. This meant that, communion done, there were extras left. Quick as a flash, McMini chimes in.

‘Oooh look! There are some left over! Can I have another one?’
‘I’m not sure that’s quite-‘ I begin weakly, poker face in place, toes to curling silently.
‘Actually, as we have to eat them all up now, it’s quite acceptable for you to have another if I ask you to help me so, McMini, would you help me by eating another one?’ says our vicar as, completely unfazed, he proffers the platen towards my son.
‘Thank you, and the wine was delicious today,’ says McMini hopefully but luckily there’s no extra wine to finish.

I remember the day when McMini, after his first communion, stuck out his tongue and wiped it on his sleeve with a loud, ‘Yuck!’ to try and remove the taste of the wine from his mouth. Yes, well, at least he’s got used to it. Maybe I should thank myself for small mercies … possibly.

Usually, small church, is less eventful, indeed it’s rather like a normal Sunday school, a bible story, a discussion and some prayers, during which we all light a candle each and put it on the um … candle holder thingummy.

Two weeks ago, we were talking about thinking before we act. When prayer time arrives, my darling child comes up with the following gem.

‘Please guide Mummy to listen more and think before she acts so that she will be a good mother.’ He then places his candle in the holder with a very serious expression, to the sound of stifled sniggering from the grown ups.

‘Am I a bad mother?’ I ask afterwards, thinking that this might stem from my harrying him to clean his teeth that morning before school.
‘I’m afraid so, Mummy.’
‘Was it the teeth cleaning incident this morning?’
‘No Mummy it’s because you swear all the time and some of the language you use in front of me is very inappropriate, which is a pity, because you could be a very good mother otherwise.’

Damned with faint praise. What the right hand giveth the left hand taketh away so to speak, or at least, the other way round in this case, and also furnishing me with a very interesting insight into how his teacher talks when she is telling him off. I remember how much trouble I got into at school when I was a few years younger than him, for saying, ‘bloody hell is a very bad word, isn’t it?’ to my best friend and then, how mortified my mother was upon discovering that, when asked where I’d got such filthy language from, I’d told my teacher, ‘Daddy.’ And yes McMini has also done this to me with a similar situation centring around his use of the word, bollocks.

This last week, the theme was giving thanks for people who make the world a better place through their actions; folks who let their light shine in the world is roughly how the story put it. As we sat discussing this and deciding who we will pray for as folks who shine the light of kindly goodness in our lives, the small people all say ‘Mummy and Daddy.’ Except for McMini. I should be so lucky. Unfortunately, the fact that he got a laugh last week from chastising me hasn’t escaped his attention.

‘What about your Mummy McMini?’ says someone. ‘Aren’t you going to thank God for her?’
‘Regretfully, no,’ he says.
‘No?’ I say with mock affront. ‘Is that because ‘of the-‘
‘Swearing?’ He fixes me with a very serious look while the other adults snort with laughter behind their hands. ‘Yes.’
‘Have I not been better this week?’
‘No Mummy. Well, you have. You haven’t been doing it in front of me as much but it’s really not appropriate behaviour,’ there’s that word again, ‘in the presence of a nine year old.’
‘I don’t do it in your presence do I?’ I ask him omitting the ‘much’ that would make that statement a lot more honest.
‘True, Mummy, but you do it a lot in the other room when you think I can’t hear you.’
‘Then don’t listen,’ I tell him.
He shakes his head sadly. ‘You have a very loud voice Mummy. It’s difficult not to and you see, it will influence me.’

The lady who makes the tea and serves the biscuits, and who is trying so hard not to laugh she may, possibly, be in danger of rupturing herself moves away out of earshot.

When we eventually make it to prayer time, the other kids all thank the Lord for their mummies and daddies. Finally it is McMini’s turn. He says thank you for the ambulance staff, police and fire brigade who make the world a better place by protecting us and looking after us, and then says thank you for everyone and anyone working in the church. There’s a bit of a pause. He gives me a look and I start to giggle.

‘What about Mummy?’ asks one of the grown ups.
McMini heaves a sigh and then he finally adds, grudgingly,
‘Oh alright then, and thank you God for Mummy, too, because although she is a Bad Mother she is funny.’

The worst thing is, I know he’s doing it to take the piss out of me, no the worst thing is that I know it and I’m proud of him. But if he’s that sophisticated about taking the mickey out of me now, heaven help me when he’s older. I probably shouldn’t have played this in the car so much when he was tiny. I really don’t have a fucking clue about this parenting lark but it is fun.

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