Tag Archives: off topic

I am a luddite. It’s official.

Gah! Excuse me if everything is a little off today but … ugh something weird has happened.

For those of you who don’t know, this site is hosted by WordPress. A while ago, WordPress updated their main user interface from this …

Nice isn’t it? Everything’s there at a glance.

To this:

Although, if you increase the screen resolution you do get this:

which is slightly better.

For a while now, I’ve had the control panel rolled back from the new one to the original because it’s just so much easier on the eye and all the data is right there where you want it.

Recently, going along similar lines, WordPress decided to ‘simplify’ their editor – this is marketing speak for ‘make it impossible to find anything at a glance’. Everything is now buried under layers of menus, like the phone app only, in my case, on a pc. They’ve been banging on about something called the ‘block editor’ for months but I’ve just ignored it and hoped it would go away. Basically, as far as I can see, this is just a way of making your posts take longer to write.

You see, the way I do stuff is I barf the words onto the page and then when I’m done, I format them. Blocks mean you have to keep choosing your formatting before you write which is a gargantuan ball ache because it really interrupts the flow.

WordPress says that,

‘Retiring an entire editor — the place where you publish posts and pages on WordPress.com — is not something we would ever do on a whim. What inspired us to take this decision is the positive experience site owners have had with the newer WordPress editor.’

Which, of course, is marketingese for, ‘we can’t explain to you why we did it because it would take too long.’ I’ve worked in customer service and marketing a long time and like, seriously are they for real? ‘I love the new interface!’ said no software customer, EVER. They have changed the interface from this:

So simple, so straightforward, so why can’t they leave it alone!

To this:

Here’s the new editor where are all the widgets? I have no clue, the editing tool bar is part of the ‘classic’ block. The actual tool bar is those four icons at the top I think. I dunno.

They’ve made it ‘simpler’ ie they’ve designed it so there are fewer things on your screen; just acres of glary white and big writing with the features you need all jumbled up in sub menus and moved around. Because heaven forfend that any of us poor bastards using the thing should have the remotest fucking clue where they are.

They’ve added ‘new features’ ie a ton of pointless bells and whistles that slow down your creative flow. No more ctrl+A to select the entire post. Oh no. Now, if you want to copy and paste your post you have to do it from the front end or you have to copy it paragraph by paragraph – one of the most notable features of block editors which has been useful since never in the entire fucking history of human existence.

I don’t have time to learn that it’s x button, third down, I just look and see, ah yes, I need to click there. This new interface is as Lou might say to Andy … a bit of a kerfuffle.

Blocks are so crap. Why can’t I just type shit and do the formatting afterwards? Why this complete fucking obsession with formatting it all first, with presentation over content, with extra ‘features’ over and above the ones we require ie, things to stretch out the length of the task so we feel busy.

Newsflash! I am busy. I’m so busy I’m disappearing up my own smecking arse! I don’t need to feel it. I don’t. have. fucking. time. And when stuff is pointlessly added to my busyness it’s not going to make me feel important, it’s going to make me fucking irritated.

And if they have to do blocks can they not, at the least, do drag and drop blocks so I can just pick the bastard things out of  side bar and bung them in? I spent ages ferreting about to find the ‘classic editor’ block and even longer trying to work out how make it stick so that I was writing my blog post in it. Thank heavens they seem to have given me the option to switch back to the usual interface to edit this. So I’m now typing this in the understated, elegant peace of the wp-admin and classic editor setting, instead of the shouty in-yer-face, giant-writing, glary, retinal burn-inducing horror that is the new one. So much white … it burns … it burns!

OK so this isn’t the end of the world or anything, I am joke ranting here. The poor buggers at WordPress can’t be expected to keep three editing interfaces going and I know I’m completely at odds with the zeitgeist on this. My blog is about what I write, the content, the words, and I am beginning to understand that priorities for the myriad of other users outside my small circle are different. Everything else is about photos and videos so I guess blogs are no different these days. The salient thing is; text is yesterday. You have a photo and if you want to say something you post a video. Me? Frankly, if I can type at about the same speed I speak and I can edit my writing so it reads more fluently, why would I bumble and stutter at a camera instead?

How many people can touch type though? Not many. I mean, there’s text to speech now. I am pretty much a dinosaur. Touch typing is not a skill developers for places like WordPress are going to be factoring in is it? Not really. Which makes me wonder if a big part of the shift towards video and images is because typing in a phone is such hard work.

A while back, I remember downloading the WordPress app onto my phone. The interface wasn’t as intuitive because it’s a phone. It’s a small screen and there’s less room to work. However, any vague understanding I have of the new interface and where to find stuff is based on my use of WordPress on my phone. Basically, what they’ve done is shut down the desktop site and made the phone app the interface. Why? Well, I suspect what it comes down to is this one word.

Change.

I’ve been writing some sort of blog or other, week in, week out since 2006. All here, on WordPress. The first was called Babychaos and then, from about 2009, I switched to this one. The ‘classic’ editor – the one that is going away, because it’s already only used by a few legacy customers such as myself – that classic editor, is the one I’ve used since then. It’s straightforward, powerful and everything you need to use is easy to see as you look at the screen.

That’s how I work in real life. I lay stuff out on the desk in front of me and I pick the things I need as I work. I don’t work with a completely clear desk and run to the cupboard and get out each tool I need, using it and putting it back back only to have to run back to the cupboard a few minutes later, get the same thing out, use it and put it back again. But that’s how the interface on your phone works. And because that’s what they are used to, I believe this is how a lot of people now do work.

In 2006 phones didn’t do much. The main, online interface of pretty much anything was the web page designed for a desktop computer. The phone versions of web portals were very limited. Then smartphones began to take off. Gradually programmes and interactive web portals became apps, and phones and tablets became as powerful as some computers. The idea of a desktop site has become redundant in many respects.

Add to this that there were parts of the world where computers were never used in earnest, instead people skipped straight past all that and paid one lump sum for one thing that did everything – even if it wasn’t always that easy to do it with – a smartphone. Because if you are living in an developing nation you can’t necessarily afford a separate computer, phone, music player, camera and tablet. Furthermore, you may possibly live in a place where you don’t have electric power to your home, or where, if you do, it’s sporadic. You are going to buy the thing that runs longest off a battery, that does the most stuff, that’s with you all the time, and which will be the easiest to carry. That’s going to be your phone and you’re going to use it for everything. And people did. They started using their phone to play music, watch telly, talk to people, and yes, build their websites, write books, configure online shops. The whole shebang. And because the phone’s memory wasn’t big enough in those early years, they started using streaming services for many of these things and the (shudder) subscription model was born.

Software production shifted from emulating the way human beings naturally work to the way phones work – or at least to the closest version of how a human being works that a phone is able to deliver.

I know people who write books on their phones. I cannot imagine why anyone would voluntarily put themselves though such a profoundly horrific experience as trying to type text, in volume, on a phone but there you go. Folks do it. Perhaps they have less arthritic thumbs than I do. More likely they don’t touch type at 90 words a minute plus, so typing on their phone doesn’t feel like they are working at about the same speed as continental drift. Or they use speech to text and they have an American accent so it actually understands what they say and produces something vaguely similar to the original. Or their slidey keyboard works rather than guessing just about any word in existence if it can avoid using the one they’ve typed. Or maybe their spelling and autocorrect tailors itself to them personally, rather than using an algorithm that condenses information from all users, rendering three quarters of  the vocabulary the person uses unknown to it. I dunno. But I digress …

The thing is, even with all this capability behind it, the screen on a phone is still tiny, so you still couldn’t have the same kind of information packed interface in the app as you would on a larger screen. It has to be built around the phone. Me, I like the larger screen and detailed interface you get on the desk top version of a site. But that’s because I read information best when it’s laid out. Some people – most people it seems – stack their info. They file stuff in drawers, they see their information in towers. Me, if I were to file things my ideal way, everything would be spread out around me on a huge long table. Seeing stuff is an important part of the way I interact and process information. I think I may be unusual in this respect, but I doubt I’m unique.

That’s why I always use the desktop site if there is one, either on my lap top or, if I’m on the road, on my iPad. I can easily see how the phone interface of anything can only function with about five items, maximum, on each menu. And that is specifically why I avoid using my phone, except when I need to or I want to comment or in an emergency but … not for the day-to-day important stuff. To me, having experienced the joy of desktop sites where everything is laid out clearly, the phone-friendly versions are hugely counter intuitive. Things are hidden at the top of lengthy menu trees and going off down a rabbit hole to find each function is a pain in the arse. I get distracted, I get lost. I lose my way back. But that’s because I’ve grown up with the pre-smartphone technological experience. On my phone the text on desk top sites is tiny, I have to zoom in to read it or format it. I totally get why things have to be simplified even if, yes, I still find it easier to browse the miniscule desk top sites on my phone than the stark phone-friendly versions.

I can do all this stuff on my phone, but it’s like viewing the world through a tiny crack in a wall while a bigger screen allows me to out there in the open and gaze at my surroundings.

The nub of the problem for people like Microsoft and WordPress is that two different versions of a thing are expensive to run. So what do they do? They, build their interface to suit the majority of their users. And these days, if you are a world-wide operation, the majority of your users are phone users. That’s why Windows 10 feels like it’s, basically, the Windows Phone interface. There aren’t as many options, it’s hard to get underneath things unless you use legacy stuff like the control panel. It’s probably why you can’t choose what up-dates you download. With the pursuit of ‘simplicity’ comes less and less flexibility and it’s … weird. The richness of the desktop experience is going to disappear because the majority of modern internet users have never experienced it. The only exception to this is the Apple interface, which has always been a bit more like that, as far as I can tell, which might be why it’s never come as naturally to me. Maybe these transitions are easier to make for Apple aficionados.

But … that’s why I find the new WordPress interface hard work. Because it’s the same as the phone app. It looks weird and huge on a large screen and the stuff they’ve prioritised: the stuff that other people use, is not the stuff I use. Because hardly anyone values the large screen experience anymore, just a few luddites and writers like me. Hopefully, one day, they’ll get the folding or holographic phone screen down pat. And when they do, maybe, when screens are bigger, some of the richness and complexity of the desktop interface will return to the software and websites we use. Maybe … I can hope.

Right, I’d better go and write something. I have two old ladies, a bunch of n’er do wells and a parrot stuck in a warehouse … they need my help to get out.

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Talking of luddites … does anyone fancy a 12 hour audiobook?

Yes, word up. Right now I am looking into ways I can deliver audiobooks direct to users: they buy from me and they can listen to the book in an app or on their computer. If you’d like to give it a go, you’ll need to download the bookfunnel app or join bookfunnel. If you’re happy doing that feel free to help yourself – the link is below.

It’s in beta, yes you are testing. That’s why you get a 13 hour audiobook for free read by one of the most distinguished actors you’ve never heard of: Gareth Davies. The man who made Roy Hudd laugh … and laugh enough to be asked back to do it again.

Once you click on the link, below, you’ll end up on a download page for the book. When you click listen/play it will ask you to download the bookfunnel app and enter this code … which is some letters on mine. Write down the code then when you’ve done all the installing malarkey and you click to play and it asks you for the code, you have it right there to put in. I don’t know if the code is case sensitive but I’d presume it is!

This is a brand new app and brand new audio player, and Bookfunnel appreciate any and all feedback. If you get into trouble, or can’t get anything to work, contact their help address – which is given on their site, I’m not 100% sure I should give it here – with a header: ATTN: Julie.

Here’s the link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/fxd6bnoy7k

If you decide to listen to the book. I hope you enjoy it.

This is to stop all my bog posts being illustrated by the picture of the book at the bottom! Mwahahahrgh!

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Well … that was weird …

Lancing Beach. Just to throw you when I’m talking about Suffolk beaches later. Some guy found a gold coin here.

A strange week all round. I was going to share some of the questions and answers I’ve been doing with Gareth, because they are hilarious but a couple of bits happened that I thought I’d share instead.

First up Mum. As you know, Mum has dementia. She passed the NHS memory test with flying colours but then, everyone does. My Dad did, even after his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s in 2012 As far as I know, they were still giving him this stupid memory test until 2017 – because nobody told us or the Doctor about his diagnosis until then so we still didn’t know what he had – and he was still passing the bloody thing with flying colours. It’s not just the patient who is in denial for ages when dementia rears its head, it seems. The NHS also.

As well as dementia Mum has arthritic knees. A while back, in 2015, she had them looked at. The surgeon thought a new knee would be too complicated and that the requirements of the recovery process too taxing but they did give her a new hip, which she also needed. To be honest, I think the knee was more the problem but half was better than none and it did remove a fair chunk of pain so that was good.

Off I go wandering from the topic again … back to the point … the result of not having had her knee done is that Mum has one particularly dodgy knee which tends to give way on her. The other day it did and she ended up on the floor and hit her head – I blogged all about it here. Quick recap: because she’s on blood thinners, she had to go to hospital and have a brain scan. She had to go in alone because … Covid … which for someone with dementia who has banged their head, is not ideal. They were great with her, though, and she did well too. They took her in at three pm and was ready for collection by six. But she explained that her knee had given way and she’d grabbed the nearest thing for support which was, unfortunately, a door handle, so the door opened and she slid gently to the floor where she ended up wedged in a small space and so she couldn’t get up.

Having had this mishap, I thought that maybe it was time to get her something a bit more stable than a walking stick to use in the house. A Zimmer frame wasn’t much good as she’s quite frail and couldn’t lift it. She uses a fold up thing with wheels and a seat when she is outside which, I believe, rejoices in the name of a ‘rollator’. These are great because the wheels make them easy to push, the seat provides welcome respite from standing too long and they have breaks to help you control them. This one is ideal for outside but she needs one that’s smaller for use in the house. I had a look … God bless the internet … and found some that I thought might do.

Three Wednesdays ago, I sat down with Mum and the Carer and we looked at three wheeled light weight rollators. There wasn’t one with a seat, well there was but it was about £200 but I found one with a bag that she could use to get from one part of the house to the other. She can still put the secateurs in it lay flowers across the top of the bag etc. Having found it, I showed it to her and we had a chat and she decided it might be a good thing to have so I ordered it, there and then.

A week later and one of Mum’s carers found one that another lady wasn’t using. It wasn’t light weight but she thought it might be useful. I agreed it might be and suggested she bring it round and I’d cancel the other, except of course that the other then proceeded to arrive. Usually when you buy these things you get an email saying it’s been despatched. In this case, we didn’t. So it turned up without warning.

The Carer looking after Mum that day opened it, set it up and Mum … went into orbit.

I kid you not. She rang me, incandescent with rage, asking what the blazes I thought I was doing buying stuff without even consulting her. It was rubbish anyway, she fumed, because it doesn’t have a seat. How could she sit and talk to her friends if it didn’t have a seat?

I tried to explain that it was to use in the house, to replace her stick because it was more stable but a bit more compact than the one with a seat which she uses outside. There was no point in having it then she needed to do various things with it and without a seat she couldn’t.

‘But your stick doesn’t have a seat …’ I said.

‘No and so I can only sit in the kitchen or the drawing room because I can’t get in and out of the chairs anywhere else.’

Fair point but she doesn’t go anywhere else and she uses a shower stool I bought her (God bless you second hand shops in Galashiels). Sometimes though, Mum’s now is not the same as ours. I think she was at some point where she needed a walking aid but was still quite spry and doing stuff about the house. Things like cooking, and sending and replying to emails on her computer. She hasn’t done any of that for ages. I hadn’t properly clocked that her perception of when she is is changing, or how extensive her dementia is because she’s still so normal to talk to … usually.

I asked her if it might not come in handy?

Anyway, She told me in no uncertain terms that it bloody well wouldn’t, that it must be packed up forthwith and sent back.

After gently explaining to Mum that we had ordered it together and that she’d had a very hectic week and must have forgotten, she finally simmered down but wasn’t keeping it, oh no,  she wanted it sent back and replaced with the version that had a seat. Now.

This is where I cocked up. The way you do this with a demented person is not to set them right on the facts, you just say, ‘oh dear, they’ve sent me the wrong one,’ or ‘oh dear, how did I manage to order the wrong one,’ and leave it at that. It would have saved a lot of angst filled explaining.

Never mind, let’s get on with it shall we. I’d bought the thing online with her debit card, because I have power of attorney, except the bank don’t know that or they won’t give us a card so I did it pretending to be her. Easy then, I’d ring them up and sort it out but … they were not answering the phone unless it’s really urgent because … covid. Ugh. So I emailed them. Yes they would take it back. No they would not be able to replace it with another one with a seat, have me pay the difference and swap one for another. Oh and the cost of return would be £16.

Sixteen quid! The fucking thing only cost £48.

Bollocks.

The Carer who’d found a similar one hadn’t brought it round yet and seeing the chat about this on the … well … chat, she asked if she should.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but hide it, she may come round to using it. We’ll have to see.’

In the meantime, since the company that had sold me the new one didn’t have the one with the seat in stock I just thought it best to hang fire for a bit. The carer packed the new walker away and hid the box away where Mum wouldn’t see it.

Two weeks on, and during this week’s visit, the Carer told me that she’d managed to get Mum to use the second hand one for a bit on Monday but she’d suddenly refused on Tuesday. I thought I may as well give it a go, so I wheeled it in to the drawing room and asked her if she’d like to try it. She quite liked it but wasn’t sure because … well because she uses her stick to pull things closer, pick things up, press buttons and light switches she can’t reach, point at stuff etc. That said, after a short test run during which she really quite liked it, I left her with it by her chair.

Thursday morning and she told the Carer how wonderful it was and that maybe we should get it cleaned up.

‘We could but d’you know Mary ordered you a new one, I think it arrived the other day.’

‘Did it?’ Mum asked.

The Carer said that yes, it had and asked if Mum wanted it set up for her.

‘Oh yes please.’

Apparently it is now a hit. So much of a hit that, nine days on from ringing me in a fit of something approaching rage at its arrival, she rang me to say thank you and tell me how wonderful it was.

That, people, is dementia. Light and shade, rain and sun, on and off: random.

The obligatory seal pup picture taken on the beach I was actually at this weekend. 🙂

On a personal note, remember I did an entire day’s metal detecting without sitting down for lunch the other day? Yeh. Well that was a bad idea, I did my back in. It recovered after two days so, happy that all was well again I did more metal detecting on the beach (only for an hour and a half) went for a walk etc. We saw a seal pup and I took the obligatory Norfolk (well … Suffolk) coast seal cub picture. Awww or what. Then we went and had supper at friends. At which point, back fully recovered, I was able to remove the pain relief pad while I was there and felt oh so much better. What a relief.

Or not.

The next day, the back pain was back a little and starting to get a bit worse, but nothing major. Thursday morning. Arnold’s dingleberries! It was hideous! Friday; also hideous, and even today it is still evil. Needless to say the first day anyone who might be able to fix it can see me is Wednesday next week. Of course. And needless to say the first day I can see anyone is Friday. It could be worse … I had a club dig scheduled for tomorrow, which I don’t think I’d have been able to go to, and now I have a week to get better, or at least, well enough to do an afternoon of metal detecting without three days of scream ab-dabs afterwards.

The pain levels have been pretty grim. Up there with breaking my collar bone in the constant nature of the pain and, when it has subsided a little, the ease with which the slightest of movements will set it off. Also, at the risk of being a bit personal here … weeing. Or more to the point wiping. Fucking hell that hurts. How, in the name of the almighty do women with chronic back pain wipe their arses every day? Is there a lot of screaming? Is there a … surgical device? Jeepers. It’s alright for you blokes, all you have to do is wave it about a bit and shove it back in your trousers. We ladies have to get our hand a great deal further round and fuck me that smarts. I never thought I’d envy the ancient Romans their communal loos with the sponge on a chuffing stick, but frankly, even the prospect of wiping my personal bits with device of dubious provenance that had been used by multiple others – and probably not washed particularly well – would be preferable to the pain of doing it my bastard self. I have, at least, reached the point where I don’t dread going to the loo but it’s still about as much fun as sticking cocktail sticks into my own eyeballs and possibly slightly more painful.

Yeh so … maybe little bit too much information there. Yeh. On that note … I’ll leave you. Don’t have nightmares kids.

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If you need to take your mind off that last paragraph …

You could always pop over to Kobo or WH Smith and download my latest audiobook from the Kobo Sale. It starts officially on 9th September but it has been reduced from £5.99/$6.99 to £2.99 and $3.99 the kobo link, among others, is on this page … here.

Small Beginnings is not quite out at all retailers but getting there … slowly. More on that story … here.

Read by Gareth (The Voice of K’Barth) Davies to the usual extremely high standards. If you want to see what it sounds like, you can catch a listen to Chapter 1 from my soundcloud page here. Or click on the picture.

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Treasure

Yeh, I know it’s about five hours after the usual time but things got out of hand.

Two different types of treasure this week. First the lovely one that is McOther. Ah bless him. This week he was sixty, a thing that I find almost incomprehensible. He looks about 45 if that. Anyway, in order to mark the occasion I decided I needed to do something. After a bit of discussion with a friend, and McMini, I hit on a series of days out at air museums. I’ve offered him four and he can pick one although there are a couple that I might buy for all three of us at Christmas so long as enough people (or anyone) buys some of my books.

Meanwhile our ‘bubble’ decided we would meet and sort out a birthday evening along the themes of Not France. But clearly the ‘not’ was the same as the ‘nothing’ in Nothing To See Here. We had tarte flambé and wine, obviously. Quite a lot of wine. And then we had Scottish salmon, as a nod to his country of origin. Then to acknowledge where he grew up, we did a Canadian delicacy. Tortine which was, basically, meat pies. I got the recipe from my Canadian sis in law.

As you can imagine, not much of the organising here was done by me. It was very much a group effort because my inability to arrange … well … anything much is known and understood by all our friends. However, I was tasked with the pies and some salmon bites for the champagne. In order to ensure I got this right, I bought everything I needed at the market on Saturday, and from M&S on Sunday. The salmon things were easy to assemble, the pies looked like they were going to take a bit more cooking. For starters the ingredients was all in cups. That’s fine because I have purchased some cups or at least, North American cups because I believe Australian cups are different and New Zealand cups different again.

As a metric raised child with imperial parents I can do lbs and ozs and I can do kg and grammes. Cups are weird but so long as they stick to cups and teaspoons and don’t start suddenly throwing in 200 grammes of something I’m usually OK.

The recipe called for shortening, which I have never heard of until recently, but now I know this one! It’s lard. So I went up to town and M&S had something called baking block, which looked more like margarine when I got it home and, more worryingly, seemed to comprise mostly palm oil. Fucking Nora, I’m killing the planet. Never mind. Press on.

Casting an extremely blind eye to the rain forest murdering ‘lardgerine’ I was using I consulted the recipe and hit a snag. It comprised two cups of flour and one cup of shortening. I looked at the green plastic scoop and at the thing that was not butter but looked like a pat of butter on the counter. A thing that was, undoubtedly, very solid. How did I cupify that? Did I just squelch it into the plastic measure or what? Maybe I was supposed to melt it. Except that I didn’t really know what I was making, but the recipe was echoing somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain. Yeh. If this turned out to be bog standard pastry I was making here, melting it would be a bad idea.

In the end I decided that if it was two cups flour and one cup shortening it must be, basically, two to one. So I tipped the flour into the scales, worked out there was roughly 8oz and so I put 4oz of shortening in. Though I say it myself, the result was a reasonably decent bash at what did, indeed, transpire to be shortcrust pastry. It may be that if I’d found some actual lard it would have been proper meat pie pastry, you know, pork pie style. Not sure. It was alright though. Sure, I could have got some JusRoll but sometimes it’s nice to make this stuff and have it without all the extra additives and shit.

The mince bit of the recipe was much easier; mostly in lbs and ozs and standard tablespoons etc with the odd ‘cup’ of chopped onion or whatever thrown in. Having successfully combined the ingredients for the pie stuffing and made what I have to confess was a really quite decent filling, I got to the bit where it said I should put two tablespoons of corn flour.

We had cornflour. I knew we did. McOther had bought it to thicken something or other a few weeks previously but he’d also tidied the larder so I couldn’t find it. There was none. Now, I only have a certain number of ‘spoons’ on the energy front and it’s not many. I’d used most of my energy quotient for that day going up to town to get the ingredients. Any left I was using for cooking. Furthermore, I was at a point in that cooking when I couldn’t easily leave it. I was going to have to improvise. OK so we didn’t have cornflour but we did have custard powder. If you look on the side of a tin of custard powder, the ‘ingredients’ are corn flour, salt and yellow dye. So I put two tablespoons of custard powder into the pie mix. That was great, except I’d already salted it so now it was way too salty.

Oops.

Only one thing for it then, more water and wine in the mix. Luckily it didn’t do it any harm and – bonus – meant I didn’t have to produce the traditional gravy to go with!

The pies came out looking a lot tidier than the kitchen.

Eventually I managed to bake a couple of experimental pies and hit on which dishes I’d use. All my round biscuit cutters, the ones I was going to use for the pie crusts, they’d moved to somewhere else during the great larder tidy and of course, when pressed, McOther had long since forgotten where. Luckily we had one of those rings they press your veg into when you go to a posh restaurant and have potatoes dauphinois or something in a perfect circle. So I used that for the lids. For the Scottish pie style hole in the middle, I found a thing to put in the top of olive oil bottles which had a little plastic stopper that went on top. The stopper was the perfect size for cutting a small hole in the middle.

Eight decent pies and a dodgy experimental one at the front.

Come Wednesday morning, when the chips were down, I managed to produce some reasonably decent looking pies to heat up that evening. I glazed them with an egg and ate the rest of it, scrambled, for lunch afterwards. I’d already tasted one of the experimental pies and enjoyed it but that doesn’t always mean much when serving them up to Michelin star husband and friends. When I cooked them that night, because they were a bit of an unknown quantity and we’d already eaten a lot of other stuff, I cooked four between the six adults. They made me go and cook two more. So all in all, I think they were a success. So much of a success that I might even cook them again.

Next lot of treasure … some stuff I found. I have upgraded my metal detector. Or at least I have a new one on sort of HP from a friend. It’s like my old one only lighter and even easier to understand.

Yesterday I went metal detecting. I learned many things, principally that my new rain mac is not waterproof, that my waterproof trousers are also no longer waterproof and that detecting all day is probably too many spoons. But after searching some areas where the farmer wanted us to search for lumps of iron, during which I also happened upon a rather lovely watch winder, we went and had a quick hour and a half looking on a field where there was less iron to remove and some other, rather more interesting non-ferrous items as well.

Here’s a picture of the watch winder, which looked rather straightforward but turned out to be rather pretty when I cleaned it up.

For the non initiated, iron usually equals junk. Not always, but a lot of the time. To my delight, the new detector gave me a very accurate picture of what was what. I also found the fifth best find of all time for me, a silver thimble from the 1650s. We’d just been discussing our favourite eras as we walked to the field and I’d said I thought it was the 1600s for me because it was such a turbulent century.

Because the thimble is over 30o years old and more than 10% precious metal it’s actually classed as ‘treasure’ officially.

That means I have to hand it in to the representative from the portable antiquities scheme. I may get it back or it may be purchased by a museum for about £10 because it’s worth seven tenths of bugger all. But it’s interesting because it’s rare. Many of these were handed to the commonwealth and melted down to make money so there aren’t so many left. It’s an interesting thing. I was chuffed because I worked the date out from the type of writing and the fact it reads, ‘Fere God Truly’ which, I felt, pointed to turbulent times. I also found a James 1 penny, too, which was interesting.

This is my second find that is officially ‘treasure’ the other was a bit of a silver Saxon strap end. I think it takes two to three years for the process to go through.

Well … it is the civil service and government after all. The little thing next to it is a James 1 penny. It’s a pity a bit’s broken off because the detail is lovely.

The new detector is called an ORX and bears more than a passing resemblance to the SSS Enterprise, which amuses me. ORX is usually pronounced as the letters in turn, an O-R-X but actually, if you say them, as if they’re a word, you get orcs.

The orcs found me treasure. Bless ’em. That’s a first for us all. Even so.

Woot.

I have done very little new writing this week but I am editing Too Good To Be True like a demon. I am struggling with a canal boat chase though. Canal boats and barges here in Britain have a top speed of about 4 knots. A knot is about 1.2 something miles per hour.

As you can imagine, I loved the idea of making K’Barthan barges and canal boats the same, and then having two parties in boats that go at walking pace in a grim-faced, slow-motion chase to the death. I want people to run along the tow path throwing bottle bombs and our hero to smack them back with an oar, I also think he should probably give them a tow with his snurd, except I don’t think I can quite jemmy those bits in. I have to have the folks on the barge handing him something, in full view of the pursuing hoards. Naturally, that’s thing the ones chasing are after, so our hero can then fly away to draw off any airborne pursuit. Which he does. And they then disappear into the … fog … night … trees … tunnel? Sheesh. I dunno.

The folks in the boat live on it. It’s their home so they can’t give it up. However, they can give it a make over so it looks completely different in about thirty minutes. They can’t get caught at that point because I’ve written a show down that I really like – mainly because it involves Big Merv. I really like the whole book. No-one else will, but I do. Which makes it tricky.

Also, the canal boat chase is something I have to write straight, because otherwise it won’t come out funny. And I love the idea that some people will see it in their heads, see the incongruity of it and laugh their heads off while others will completely miss that. But if it still works it won’t matter and either path will be fine.

It’s tricky though. I might have to rest it again for another couple of months.

__________________________

If you’re impatient for the next book in the Hamgeean Misfit Series why not try listening to some of my books on audio.

Read by the distinguished and extremely talented Mr Gareth Davies, who has turned the K’Barthan series into a bit of a gem. You can find out more about them here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio.html

Also, Small Beginnings is on its way to market in audio format. Once again, read by Gareth who is a bit of a dab hand at comedy. It’s available on Kobo already and should land at the other retailers soon.

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Arnold’s pants!

Blimey but it’s windy here. Must be all the fruit I’m eating. Oh ho ho. The weather is pretty blowy too. Storm Ellen, I thought we’d had Ellen after Dennis but thinking about it I think that was some Spanish one with an exotic name from far further down the alphabet that muscled in.

This week I’m feeling a bit bleargh. I dunno why really because, as things go, I’ve actually achieved a bit of a score.

McOther is 60 next week and I wanted to do something to mark the occasion. Except with covid that’s hard and also McOther, himself, while he likes to be made a fuss of, also, does not like to be made a fuss of. So if you’re going to plan some jolly birthday japes for him you do rather have to go about it the right way. This involves tact, intelligence and subtlety so as you can imagine, I’m pretty much bollocksed from the get-go on that one. I toyed with the idea of buying him a trip in a Spitfire. They do those just down the road at Duxford. Trouble is, while I could, just, run to it, it would wipe out my entire savings … and I have another £1,500 headlight pending for next month. Thinking further, I hummed and haaad about casting the net wider. I reckoned that a fair few friends and colleagues would have chipped in five or ten quid reducing it to a more manageable dent.

However, I am piss poor at fundraising so I’d have probably raised about thirty quid and McOther would have been unimpressed if I’d blown my savings. While I’m scratching my head over this conundrum. Up pops a friend who knows someone who works at Duxford and she suggested some other tours and experiences which this lady is involved in. After a bit of a search, Bob’s your uncle! I think I have found several things I can offer him which he would love. Two or three options at Duxford, one at Biggin Hill, all look completely brilliant.

Next, with a short list, came the oh-Lordy-which-one moment. I’ve narrowed it down to three … possibly four … although unfortunately under 15s aren’t allowed on one, and with the covid malarkey, Duxford aren’t answering their phone so I couldn’t ring and ask them for details (ie does it apply to all their tours or just that one and is it an insurance exclusion, or is there scope for accommodating an extremely sensible twelve year old). I will offer him all three, some as a family day out and some as just him and he can pick the one he wants. And there we are. Some things he might like! Woot.

Then there is the party. Boozy Wine dinner and staying over at some friends who we ‘bubble’ with. Yes I have to cook some things I have never cooked and they will probably taste like shit but luckily someone else is making the cake and I’m not doing all the food. Much of it will be produced by People Who Can Cook! Phew! So Real Life wise … mood nervous but at the same time, cautiously optimistic.

Oh no …

On the books front. Things are a bit crap to be honest. Nothing is selling very well at the moment and I’m trying to organise a free first in series box set for comedic science fiction fantasy. I am extremely nervous. I’m shit at placing stuff like this in the marketplace because I suck royally at keywords. Also, I need to get some covers done and I can’t really afford to ask my usual lovely people to do that so it’s going to be downloaded Creative Commons NASA images with big hand drawn letters … and a unicorn in a space helmet, or possibly Pegasus sans space helmet saying ‘Yes! I achieved escape velocity. That’s magic.’ Or ‘I bet you’re wondering how I can breathe up here, right kids?’ With an astronaut in a space suit going, ‘that’s magic.’ Or hopefully something else that’s actually funny. Anyway, it looks as if there are six of us … hopefully … unless one pulls out. I might do one more appeal for entrants! Ideally we need to be seven or eight, I think.

Writing isn’t going very well either. I haven’t. Not for ages, because Real Life. The only time I’ve had to write this week is now and instead I have to do this. And it’s not going well anyway. The K’Barthan short that’s turned into a novel is a bit of a nightmare and I shouldn’t have called them shorts because if they were called ‘K’Barthan Extras’ I could have put in for a bookbub on them but because they’re ‘shorts’ I can’t. Arnold’s pants! Head desk. I am a total moron. But I’ve reached that point in the process when you are doing the first edit and you look at it and think, crikey this is awful. But of course when you’re mid edit that’s usually because it is. I have a canal boat chase. I so want to keep it in because frankly, few things seem funnier to me than the idea of two vehicles, each with a top speed of 4mph, locked in a grim pursuit to the death. It’s just that … how do I get rid of the people running along the towpath and won’t the bad guys have airborne snurds and just … yeh, heavy on the suspension of disbelief unless I can think of a bloody good reason for it to be just the boats … you get the picture.

Also I’ve been redoing some of my auto responders. The audio ones. So they are now in alignment with the ebook ones in that they start with the mailing list exclusive free book, Night Swimming and then give people Unlucky Dip and then go on with various other bits and bobs.

Revamping these involved looking at my ebook auto responder set up because that seems to engage people quite well. At the end of it, quietly gaining entrants, I have a survey. The idea is that I can find out what readers love and … you know … give it to them. One of the questions asked is how many of my books they’ve read. The people who answer this thing have all been on my mailing list at least a year so by the time they are invited to fill it in so, in theory, they should have read some of my books, right? I mean, otherwise, what the fuck are they doing there? When I examined the answer to that question it turns out the bulk of them have read one or two books – ie the two free short stories I’ve given them – and most of the rest haven’t read anything. Weirdly, I have people on my mailing list who send me chatty, supportive emails who have never read one of my books. I just … dunno what to do.

Worse, one total bastard has joined my list, downloaded the mailing list exclusive and posted it for sale on a pirate site, which is a bit of a shitter, especially as I can’t even sling the fucker off because I don’t know who it was.

Conclusion, over half of the people on my mailing list are other authors who have joined to see what I do. Solution, shut the fuck up about your mailing list on author marketing chat groups. Send them more excerpts and deleted scenes and keep pointing the people who pathologically refuse to pay for a book to their local library or local library’s ebook app.

I can’t do excerpts with the audio, sadly, although I can do interviews with Gareth. But I can with the ebook people. And I have the perfect book to experiment with because it achieves precisely zero sales and it was doing quite well before, when there were three excerpts from it on my auto responder. Then I can look at the survey in a year’s time and see if the number of people actually reading any of my books has risen.

Oh look. I’ve just solved my own problem. That’s jolly spiffing.

Onwards and upwards. I think the pressing thing, now is to write more books. And not books about bloody K’Barth because I need a break and if I want one of those I need to write something the normals will read. K’Barth is too complicated, too rich, too much effort for most readers, I think. It has to be simple, straightforward funny-in-space. Or something. But I have to find a way to write something that people will pick up and read, you know, on a whim rather than because it’s the last thing on their kindle and they are desperate, or being forced at gunpoint.

______________________

Well there we are. If you are bored and at a loose end you could always try reading one of my books. They are a bit weird but I promise they are more interesting than reading a telephone directory … just.

Or alternatively, there’s this lovely box set of first in series which includes Few Are Chosen and a lot of very much better, more interesting books by other people. The stealth approach has worked really well for me. People have read and enjoyed my book from this. In fact most of the people who go on to read my other books do so because they’ve read the first in series that I included in this one.

You can find that here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infofa.html

That’s all for this week. Next week will be hectic and I will be on the road so there may not be a post. Just giving you the heads up! Until then, hope you have a relaxing week.

 

 

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Dementia too, because obviously dementia once wasn’t shit enough

Yeh, I selected that heading from Whiny Titles R-Us but it does sum up the way I felt at the start of this week and the feeling I’m trying to describe.

The slough of despond; rain and yellow lines …

Bits of this week have been tough. I’ve had a couple of down days, mainly because I suspect I have had a mild UTI but also it’s the time of the month when I can’t remember my own name without cue cards. Worse, I’d forgotten to put the morning HRT gel on for two days running and that does make a difference. The traffic is back to normal so there has been the usual 40 minute delay along the bottom of the M25 on the way to Mum’s. This last two weeks, the journey time is back to three hours down and two and a half back, so long as I am on the road at half two sharp.

Worse, I’ve been finding it really hard engage with Real Life. To care about the little things that other people need me to care about. Silly stuff. McMini’s bedroom curtains need hemming but it’s difficult to do that while he’s in there with them attending his virtual lessons. It’s the last day today, so that’s fine, I can do it tomorrow, but it’s been a long time and both he and McOther have been eyeing them impatiently. Meanwhile, McOther has a favourite beanbag. The material is completely rotten and sewing it up is a thankless task that I have to repeat every three weeks or so, unless he does it. It’s bust again and so the choice of thankless tasks was twofold: try to get him to understand that the material is rotten, which, itself is a hiding to nothing. Or I fix it again when I know it will break in a few weeks. But fixing it is a duty of love, so perhaps it’s a bit less pointless than it seems. Quietly, without saying so, I know McOther feels unloved if I say I’ll fix it and then take ages to deliver. It’s not good to feel so meh I can’t do anything. More on that story later.

This Wednesday, then, I was not in the right place to drive 288 miles, not even in a Lotus. I felt unbelievably meh. I was teary about the state of Mum, teary about the state of myself and feeling miserable. Then the radio proceeded to play some of my favourite songs. Things which are in my record collection but which I haven’t heard for ages because most of my music equipment assumes that anything I’ve ripped from my own CDs or vinyl is a pirate copy and refuses to play it.

Hearing all these songs again, it seemed that something out there in the ether was trying to tell me to cheer up. Finally one of my very favourite songs as a teenager; Big In Japan, by Alphaville came on. Despite being in very slow moving traffic jam, the gauntlet was thrown down. I was going to sing. I rolled up the windows so, in theory, nobody would hear me, jacked up the volume and joined in. This involved full on pop star style gurning and a selection of ridiculous hand actions, I kept going, even when everything started moving. There’s nothing like giving zero fucks to cheer yourself up, and it did, at least for long enough to realise what was wrong.

You see, lockdown was quite easy, it was like a little six week holiday from the administriviative  shit. I worried about Mum but I rang her every day and I didn’t have to go anywhere or organise anything except my books! I just hung out with the McOthers and sat around in the sun writing. Woot.

Pseudo lockdown is insanely difficult. All the admin has returned with a vengeance, except because of Covid19 it’s about six times harder to do all the things you should be able to do by making a phone call. It’s the hard bits out of Real Life plus extra duties of lockdown, like the calls. All the hassle but none of the convenience. I did manage to get the scan I was due at the hospital but now I need to try and get the cat some shots. As usual, every piece of admin which should involve nothing more than a phone call involves several, and a protracted, drawn out effort, posting things, sending things. Case in point, I’ve just stuffed up my chances of opening a Barnes and Noble vendor account by transposing two numbers in my bank account number. It’s gone into ‘pending’. Probably forever. I can’t change it and I know their help desk is offline until after covid. I think they’re the only site where I have to have a W8EN still too. Everyone else you can just add your tax number and it works. I don’t know much about it but I suspect I have to get another W8EN as mine’s probably expired. Sadly, I do know that this is a great deal more complicated than it was because Americans don’t really understand what a sole trader is.

Meanwhile Mum is still shielding so she can have a few people round but not everyone. The lady who cuts her toenails has started coming again. Yes, when you’re old and arthritic you can’t do that anymore and you have to have someone come and do it for you. The lovely lady who cuts her hair came and gave her an appropriately socially distanced ‘do’ this Wednesday as well.

However, a lot of her friends are shielding, too, or can’t come to see her because she is, so she’s still bored stupid. Hopefully, as the small things that structure her life return, like the hairdresser visiting and the foot lady, she’ll gradually be more grounded again. Just as Dad did, she thrives on social interaction. My fingers and toes are, therefore, crossed. Although I have to accept that there is no guarantee of this. Because I think the main source of my malaise this week was realising that Mum is going to take the same path as Dad. Her own version, but the same horrific journey into oblivion. And I’m going to have to walk beside her; because I love her, and because, if I want to be a decent human being, that’s what I must do.

Please do not feed the animals

As we take these first steps, I guess what struck me down, temporarily, was the renewal of that familiar pain. It still hurts. Even though I’ve done it before and I am aware of the cost. I should know by now. I should be strong. But I’m not. I really wonder if I have the courage to do this a second time. I don’t want her to die, I don’t want to lose her but I pray that she will enjoy a kindly easy passing before it gets too bad. Yet, at the same time, I know she won’t because that might actually be kind to all of us and God forbid that my family should be shown a scrap of mercy over this. Instead, it seems life brings whatever will cause the maximum amount of misery and pain to all of us. Sorry Mum.

I have wondered about consulting my doctor and seeing if some medication might be in order. The trouble is, I’m pretty certain that any kind of medication for depression will merely make me even more forgetful than I already am. And since three quarters of my insane frustration is with my inability to remember a single fucking thing for more than about two and a half seconds, I suspect it would be a bad idea. And anyway. I’m not depressed. I’m sad. There’s a huge difference. When Dad died, there was grief but the sadness went away. It was a liberation.

Now that Mum is showing more acute signs of dementia, it’s back. If you wanted to present me with the perfect storm of things I am shit at dealing with, there are parts of my life over the last eight years that would be an excellent fit. I can do level-headed, clear thought in a crisis. Yeh, I can do that. But long, slow, sustained suffering. No. Not very good at it to be honest.

As I sat there, singing in the car, I realised that I’d started to withdraw completely into inner space. I lost myself in K’Barth, where my characters were suffering but where, I knew, eventually, they would be OK. I made them suffer in the faint hope their pain would somehow alleviate my own. I gave them a happy ever after in the hope that maybe if I did that, I could have one. This is an approach which works really well for me, but, unfortunately, not for those around me. That was another cause of the misery, the misery I was inflicting on my very much loved McOthers. Withdrawing helps me but it hurts everyone else. Small doses then.

As I drove, something happened. I don’t know how, but something in me fixed it. The blinkers came up again and I saw what I needed to see. I saw what was there in Mum rather than what wasn’t there. I stopped seeing drudgery and saw small acts of love. And I remembered that I have done this before. And suddenly, I slipped into the coping strategy. Short bursts of activity. An hour at the computer and then half an hour doing something else around the house. Tiny steps. 10 minutes a day. Pigeon steps, inching forward one tiny step at a time. Lists. Lots of lists. Each project broken down into manageable tiny items which are ticked off as they are done.

Don’t be a … or maybe do be one … or work smarter not harder … or something.

Lockdown was a luxury. Lockdown afforded me big chunks of time in which to write. My work came on in leaps and bounds. But lockdown is over. I need to see the me time as brief moments of something else among the admin. I need to see life as peppered with acts of love, which is what the housework side of stuff really is. Except it’s a horrible phrase … very ‘putting out love and keeping it there’ but until I can think of something better it’ll have to do. And anyway, because it sounds like fake Oprah, it’s sort of funny and that helps. As for the worry about Mum and the trying to sort things out for her. I need to call all that something different too. Same thing? Ah why not?

Duty is a crushing, heavy suffocating word, calling it an act of love makes it feel a lot lighter.

It’s amazing how, always, always, always, holding onto your sanity is about how you look at what’s happening, how you frame it to yourself. That simple switch and I’m cheerful again, and reasonably happy. I feel the weight, for sure, but it’s lessened. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is a chuffing marvel. If you are struggling with anything heavy and millstone-like in your life, I urge you to look it up. I never cease to be amazed how I can actually do a PR/Propaganda job on myself. I know what I’m doing, I know I’m just putting a different slant on it, yet it works.

You may consign the coping strategies to the past when you don’t need them, but it’s slightly miraculous how quickly they came back when you do. I feel better, a lot better. To be honest, I still don’t really don’t know if I can do this a second time. But there’s no point in wondering. I swam through the dark waters with Dad and came out the other side. I’ll just have to take each stage as it comes, strike out into the void and give it my best shot.

_______________________

If you are feeling a bit meh, yourself, you could always pick up a good book! Indeed, if you’re feeling really lazy you don’t even have to read it. Choose one of the audiobooks and Gareth will do that for you. Indeed anyone who signs up for my audio mailing list gets two books free; Unlucky Dip and Night Swimming. That’s two hours of glorious K’Barthan lunacy for zero pence. Yep! Night Swimming comes later on, although I may switch it so it’s the story people get first. It’s just that suddenly I have very little time so for now it’s Unlucky Dip first, then a week or two and Night Swimming.

Anyway, Gareth played a blinder on both but the really lovely thing about it is that Unlucky was the first one he did and Night Swimming is his most recent. You get to see what he’s learned in the interim. So there you are, if do want a listen, just go here, sign up and they should both arrive in your inbox over the course of about three weeks: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio1fb.html

Unlucky Dip Audio Book


If you do join in, and it’s not obligatory or anything, but if you do, or if you have and there’s any stuff you want me to ask Gareth about how he did the recordings, let me know and I’ll ask him.

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Dementia redux; rinse and repeat …

It’s a bit of a mixed bag this week. On the one hand, life is getting slowly back to normal, people are allowed out to visit other people and I have been visiting my significant family member: my mum, for two weeks now. On the other, I’m gutted. It probably says a lot about me that I am actually sad that lock down is ending. I’ve enjoyed the absence of traffic noise, the friendly waves at people, and the laughter as we try to make crossing the road to avoid each other look a bit less pointed! I’ve enjoyed the walk every day and I absolutely loved the bike ride I had round town along smooth deserted roads rather than squeezed against the kerb, buffeted by endless streams of resentful traffic.

OK so the lappers/boy racers in their souped up 500cc insurance punishment vehicles were still driving round, and round, and round, and round, and the blokes on the big bikes that corner like a waterbed and have an engine note that sounds exactly how I imagine a whale fart does, but everyone else had stayed at home.

There was a day, a week and a half ago, where the traffic picked up again and I noticed this horrible petrol smell in the air. After wondering what it was, all morning, I realised it was traffic fumes. It smells of traffic fumes where I live, the entire time, and I never even noticed that until it went away for a while and came back.

The pace of life in lockdown has been slower. I’ve enjoyed the company of my husband and son and having time to write. There is much admin I need to do but I can’t because it’s lockdown. Hoorah. Next week I’ll have to find some bloke to come and look at a wall at my mum’s, sort out a donation to the place where Dad’s memorial service was held and re-arrange shots for my cat, my and my son’s dental appointments and a whole host of other jizz which will suck in my time. On the up side, hopefully my writer’s circle will be able to meet for our next get together. That will be wonderful as we are, all three, vulnerable, so it will be great to get together again. It was also lovely to have a socially distanced encounter with friends last night.

That said, I think part of the slight feeling of malaise that rested on the beginning of this week was about Dad. You see, after a year, when someone dies, you have a year’s mind. Which just means you think of them in church. Dad’s was last Sunday. I wasn’t in church and that was a bit sad. So sad that it caught me completely off guard. As I sat in the garden live streaming a service from somewhere, I burst into tears. After a while it wore off but I never shrugged off the sadness throughout that day. I should be remembering Dad, like properly, with prayers and things. In a church. But that was probably as much about how important a weekly bout of quiet time interspersed with the singing of hymns at an anti social volume is to my mental equilibrium.

Later that day, we had a zoom chat with friends which, strangely, left me feeling even more isolated. I’m not sure why, and then when I hit the shower, I started blubbing like the giant girl I am and couldn’t stop. I’m a firm believer in letting these things ride their course so I let it all hang out for a while and finally when the flow appeared to have slowed up enough, I put my jammies on and sat on the bed.

Vimy Ridge 100 years on

There’s usually a reason for outbursts like this so I like to try and work out a plausible explanation. Understanding it helps. It’s not going to stop weird stuff like that from happening, but if I can put my finger on a bona fine reason, it’s less scary. Partly it was a simple case of missing Dad. The further away I am from the well-meaning but cantankerous, Father Jack-like gentleman suffering from Alzheimer’s the closer I become to Original Dad. I shouldn’t say that both Dads were real, but one was the original and the other was like bad archeology. A wild guesstimate of the man constructed from the things that were left.

But the other thing I was missing was my mum. I realised that I was mourning for her as much as for dad. Lively, smart funny Mum, who read all my books, who knew all the family history, who could cook better than most of the restaurants I’ve visited. Mum who had a garden full of people, ‘you can’t cut the head off that, it’s Betty Leigh-Pollet’ she used to say when Dad demanded that a bush in front of the window be cut down so he could see more from his seat in the drawing room.

Now, on bad days, Mum has reached a similar stage of anchoring herself to the TV, as if it will keep her alignment with space and time. She now sits and gazes out of the window. She has issued orders and Betty Leigh-Pollet’s head has been cut off without a second thought, and ‘Betty’ looks none the worse for her experience. Mum’s forgotten who all the plants are. Sometimes she remembers, other times, only that she got them from somewhere, sometimes she’ll say that she got them from … ‘that nice woman, you know the one, lives up the road, had a husband called Roger who dropped dead in the garden.’ Sometimes I’ll be able to tell her, on the back of that, who she got them from, other times, I won’t.

She’s forgotten the things she couldn’t do. She’s back to fretting about earthing up the potatoes but at the same time, understands she can’t do it. Not because she’s remembered that she isn’t supposed to be digging like that, but because she still remembers that the potatoes are in a part of the garden that’s out of the range of her emergency help button.

‘How old am I?’ she asked me the other day.

‘Eighty seven,’ I said.

‘Good heavens! Am I really, I can’t be can I? What year is it?’

‘It’s 2020, Mum.’

‘Goodness! I thought we were in the 1990s.’

Mum hasn’t gone at all, she’s still very much as she was, but the changes are beginning to take place. Last week she told me she’s voted conservative all her life, she has no recollection of the fact she’s voted green in every election since about 1996. It’s weird. And it makes conversation interesting because I never quite know which Mum I’m going to get, the sharp as a whip, switched on Mum or the one who is convinced she and Dad bought their house for £40 in 1986 (they bought it for a lot more than that in 1972) and thinks I lived with her and my uncle during the war.

Sometimes, she’s more than much-muddled, as she calls herself – or very much-muddled on a bad day. She’s started having strange ideas, bizarre theories. Suddenly, after telling us, for years, that she’d like to stay in her house until she dies but that, after she’s gone, though it’ll make her sad, she appreciates we may have to sell it, she’s started talking about changing her will so the house is left to her oldest grandson because, ‘it must stay in the family, it must be protected.’ The point is moot, since selling it isn’t an issue and anyway, she ordered me to activate the power of attorney over her finances some time ago, which I did, because no way is she in control of enough faculties to change her will. But it’s kind of strange.

She’s been telling me she wants to take on an extra gardener because the lovely couple who are doing the garden for her at the moment, ‘can’t cope.’ One minute she is telling me the garden looks better than it ever has, the next she’s telling me that the drive must be tarmaced because it has grass growing up the middle. I did finally get to the bottom of this. She is worried she’ll die before her current gardening project is complete. It’s been delayed by lockdown and although she understands about lockdown and what it is, she’s kind of forgotten why the delay has happened and how to apply it to the garden.

Interestingly, she has been a bit more imperious with her team, too. Apparently there’s a lot more, ‘I want’ and a lot less, ‘could you please …’ I don’t know what to make of that. What I have ascertained is that she’s nervous, in some ways, but not afraid to die, and not afraid of dying alone. She’s worried about dying before the garden is ‘finished’. Although it looks pretty fabulous to me.

We’ve had the conversation about coronavirus. If she gets it she’d like to stay at home but she appreciates that she a) can’t look after herself and b) can’t expect others to put themselves at risk to do so … not even my brother and I, because we have small children who need their parents to stay alive. So she’d have to go to hospital and die alone. She’s totally alright with that. ‘I have a faith and John’ (Dad) ‘is waiting for me.’ It’s still a grim conversation to have but the point here is, that she can think stuff through, a lot of stuff, but not all of it.

She’s OK really, so what was I crying about? Well, it’s like this.

When your loved one gets dementia there’s a horrible dichotomy. On one hand you don’t want them to die because a lot of them is still there and you love them dearly and you want to spend as much time as possible with them while you can. On the other, you want their suffering to end (and yours, watching them suffer) and the only way that can happen is if they snuff it. I don’t want Mum to die. We still have wonderful conversations. I want that to continue. But at the same time, I’m exhausted, so exhausted with looking after Dad, her and Dad and now her. I’ve driven to Sussex every week for five years now. It’s nothing compared to what other people do, living alone with a profoundly demented person, being their sole carer for years with no let up, no break. It’s no surprise that, in couples where one is ill and needs cared for, the ‘well’ one nearly always dies first. But the fact is, for all the knowledge that I have it easy compared to most people in this position, I, me, find it hard. What’s more, my struggle is no less valid for being easier or harder than that of others, just as theirs is no less valid for being different to mine.

Another thing that may have hit me broadside is my position along the arc so to speak. You see, there are certain stages of the dementia journey.

Stage one is the place where your loved one is a bit forgetful, but functioning pretty much as they always have mentally. Stage one is the one where they suddenly forget the recipe for something they’ve made every week since you’ve known them. Or you get a all in church and rush out to find Mum calling in a panic on someone else’s mobile phone to say that she can’t remember the burglar alarm code. This is the stage when you can tell yourself it isn’t anything odd, it’s just ageing, a slight aberration.

When they are in stage one, you bury your head in the sand. It will be OK. It will be a long time before it gets really bad. They will die before they hit stage two. But deep down, even though you are hoping and denying your arse off, you know it’s more than a bit of vagueness.

Stage two is the place where your loved one starts to be a so forgetful it might be dangerous. In Mum’s case it was Christmas 2015, when one of the people who used to come and sit with dad arrived to find both my parents sound asleep in the drawing room and the turkey giblets, in a pan, in the kitchen, on fire. Mum had put them on to make stock and forgotten about them.

The worst part of that, as far as she was concerned, was that she really liked that saucepan. The lovely man who looks after their garden managed to clean it so it could still be used but something had happened to its bottom and it was never the same again.

This is the worst stage, in some ways, the one where you know they need outside help but they refuse to accept it. When you can see the storm clouds gathering but don’t know when or where the rain is going to fall, only that it’s coming. They want to remain independent and you want to let them for as long as possible but there is the very real chance that if you don’t get someone in to check up on them several times a day they will die in a gas explosion, a roaring inferno of their own making … etc … In Mum’s case we were unsure if it was a kind of senior baby brain from dealing with Dad, or a problem she had. Either way she was going to die from exhaustion looking after Dad or they were both going to die from her own hand from left on gas or something similar.

Stage two is the hardest part, where you have to convince the person with dementia to get someone in to help before the shit hits the fan. I failed, the shit did, indeed, hit the fan. I had to drive to Sussex at four am (the second of three midnight mercy dashes). I had one hour’s sleep and then I had to look after both parents, who could do little more than sleep and ask for food at various intervals (like two baby birds). My parents ate a lot of meals too, breakfast at nine, lunch at one, tea at four – usually approximately thirty minutes after the last of lunch had been cleared away – and supper at seven. Then, I had to spend two nights sleeping with my Dad while Mum was in hospital, which meant waking up ever 40 minutes to make sure he got to the loo and back without falling. We had some lovely chats and he was so sweet, but I was dead on my feet by the time I handed over to my brother!

We got someone in after a week to live with them. That’s when the extent of Mum’s dementia became apparent. She had enormous trouble adjusting to a situation she’d have breezed through even six months before, because she was already suffering from memory problems of her own. One of the things I particularly remember was her absolute adamance that it was the Carer who had burned the saucepan rather than her. She berated them for putting things away in the wrong place and not ‘where they’d always lived’ but ‘where they’d always lived’ was a fluid concept depending on whether she was in the 1980s, 1990s 2000s or 2010s in her head.

Stage two though, you can still convince yourself that they’ll die before you lose them.

Stage three is when you realise that the person you love, who has dementia, is leaving you. It’s when you begin to understand that they are not going to die before you lose them. Because since you’ve already watched it happen to your father, sparing your mother would be far too merciful.

Stage three is when you realise that yes, you are going to have to walk beside them. Every. Horrific. Step. Because there’s nothing else you can do for them. And it’s the point when you realise how much, exactly, that is going to hurt you.

It’s the, ‘father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,’ moment.

That’s what I was having on Sunday.

Stage three is when the person starts to become a bit different, they suddenly like different things or their version of events is suddenly wildly at variance with the real one they remembered. I hate pistachio nuts. But I thought you liked them. No, I’ve always hated them. This after them receiving a bag with pure delight two week’s previously and then opening the bag so you can eat them together like naughty children raiding the larder before lunch (although that’s Dad rather than Mum). They may cling to a couple of stories they remember and repeat them again and again. I have a couple of similar ones that I always add to the ones Mum tells. Do you remember when we did …? Oh yes that was hilarious and thingwot says you did it on x occasion too. Dear thingwot. Yeh, thingwot is lovely, cue long succession of stories about thingwot. That kind of stuff. It works a treat and always gets us laughing, which is brilliant. I thoroughly recommend it as a technique!

This is the place where you discover disconnects of which you weren’t aware: that your loved one thinks you grew up together, for example. That’s lovely because it means they see you as part of the things that make up their entire being. But tricky when you’re trying to pretend you remember what your great grandfather, who died well before you were born, was actually like. This is the stage when you have to face up to the fact that they are not going to die before it gets any worse, that you need to grasp the nettle, get care for them, sort out a lasting power of attorney for their health and finances and generally prepare for the total loss of marbles that lies ahead. This, with Mum, has been so much easier because we were able to keep on a lot of the care Dad had. And while Dad was a wanderer, Mum seems to be more of a sitter. She likes to go out into the garden and potter in the greenhouse, but she doesn’t get agitated and wander off, not yet anyway (hopefully never).

Mum is in completely denial. The doctor is too. He is prepared to get her evaluated but would like to start any investigation with blood tests. She refuses to have them. I’d like to know what type of dementia she has, but if giving it a name scares her, I’ll leave it. I think she’s a bit sort of … well it’s all dementia, who cares which type I have.

Stage three, and usually, you will still be in denial at this point, still thinking that life will be kind and the person suffering will carry on like this for years without any further deterioration and then die a good and happy death, before it gets any worse.

You will be wrong.

This is where Mum is now, I think.

What does it feel like? A bit less scary but still fairly horrible. I know I can do it because I’ve done it before. I know what the stages are but actually, I don’t know how this is going to take Mum. Everyone is different and she is definitely different from Dad. On the up side, she seems much happier and much more ready to accept that she has a terrible memory or sometimes, if required, that it’s us who are all mad, not her. Dad, on the other hand, never swallowed that lie. It would have been a lot easier if he had.

But even though it’s a little kinder, a little easier, it’s so hard. I’m tired now. So, so, tired. For a while there, I’ve had a window on what it’s like not to worry much and an excuse not to take any action (thank you covid for that small mercy). Certainly this time, I seem to have switched off and retreated under a big layer of scar tissue. That’s probably not very good for my mental health but shucks, whatever gets you through right? And it seems to be moving faster with Mum than it is with Dad and I guess that’s … kind of … a mercy.

Stage four. This is where there is now something unequivocally, definitely, bizarre about your loved one. This is where most dementia patients disappear from social life. Usually it’s because they start doing something embarrassing. But this is where socialising them can really help them and keep them enjoying life. Because they will be enduring every last minute of this horrific end. It’s your job to make it as pleasant as possible for everyone involved; them and you. It’s amazing what other people will put up with for the sake of the person they knew before. Try not to be afraid. Many people will understand, many bar maids will laugh along as your father asks them to marry him, and will join in the joke when you explain that he can’t because he’s not a Mormon and already engaged to all of his carers.

This is where you start getting some places used to the dementia sufferer and working out who can’t cope and who doesn’t mind. In our case, the local pub, the local shop and the local church were all brilliant with Dad as was his brother. Doubtless they will be with Mum, too. It’s really important that the dementia sufferer can still socialise as far as is possible, even when the disease finally claims their faculties. Far more people will be kind and gentle than will be shitty. Also, this is the stage where you need to try and evaluate what is and isn’t possible with their particular methods of dealing with life.

They may not sleep well, or at all and that will make their symptoms way, way worse. They may wander at night. Dad did both, although he wasn’t mobile enough to wander so he just used to have a jolly good go.

You might see some of the unacceptable shouty stuff coming out at this point. Not much, just enough to be hurtful. I remember Dad shouting at me to hurry up when I changed his nappy and also getting massively angry at having to wait for a crepe flambé. Cardinal sin committed there, no non-stick pan which meant I should have cooked all the pancakes first and then done the sauce and flambéing. I remember being so upset because he was still quite normal so this sudden total melt down over waiting a few minutes for a pudding was inexplicable – not to mention painful.

If you see any behaviour like this, it means you’ve reached the point where you need decide how much of that sort of stuff you can cope with. If you know you can’t take that, 24/7 now’s the time to scout out a good home and get the dementia sufferer used to the idea of going there. It is wise to choose a home ahead of time, wise but incredibly hard. But if they turn shouty then, once the anger kicks in you will NOT be able to look after them at home.

Brighton’s over there somewhere

This is the stage where they may go from being absolutely OK with the idea of dying to looking at death the way a small child would. This is also the stage where you need to accept that they will not be mercifully taken before the disease takes every last vestige of their dignity because that only happens to other lucky bastards. But it’s also a stage where, at the start, you may not yet be certain where the disease will go. Not everyone gets shouty or starts telling nine year old girls they’d like to fuck them. But now is the time you have to accept and plan for the fact it may happen.

Stage five is the one where it ends. They end up in bed with people coming to turn them once in a while and spoon food into their mouths or in a home. This is the stage where Dad came back to us because suddenly, he got some sleep. By the end of his spell in hospital he genuinely could have come home to us. Except he couldn’t, because he’d have stopped sleeping again and it would have all been rinse and repeat. So he want to a really lovely home, but a home nonetheless. He knew where he was and more to the point, where he wasn’t.

The hardest thing is that, throughout all the stages, you will find vestiges of the person’s pre dementia personality. You will never lose your ability to love and value them as a person. You will never ‘get used to it’. It will never stop hurting. Even though there will be times when they say really horrible, hurtful things you will keep loving them.

I’m not looking forward to stages four and five with Mum, but at least I have more of an idea what to expect. Who knows, maybe the disease will be kinder to her than it was to Dad. I can hope, can’t I?

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Woah …

How is everyone? I hope you are well. It’s been a bit of an up and down week for me. No change there, then.

First up, writing. With the McOthers at home, in theory it should be difficult. In practise, while it sort of is, it’s not so bad, it’s more of a question of shaking down into a different routine and identifying when the best times to write are. Unfortunately, the best hour in the morning is the one I spend on the phone to Mum. Lock down is difficult when you have Important People to look after. And I do.

On the up side, thank goodness Dad didn’t have to live through this. He would not have enjoyed it. On the downside, by the time I see Mum again, she may be a very different person. In one respect, I feel I’m being robbed of her last months of sanity, in another, I phone her every day so it probably evens out. I just wish I could see her and give her a hug. I try not to think about that too much though, because that way sadness lies …

Bury St Edmunds … not as apocryphal as this picture makes it look …

Despite comments on the apocalyptic nature of my home town it strikes me as surprisingly busy for somewhere with only a few shops open. One of them is Poundland, much to my amusement, but also relief because there’s nowhere else open where we can buy batteries.

Also despite being supposedly quiet, there’s still enough traffic about for there to be a car coming if you want to cross a road. Yes people. Every. Single. Fucking. Time. Today there was a MX5 in town driving round, and round, and round. Possibly in incredulity at the wealth of parking spaces – bloody hell! That’s amazing, I’ve never seen that before, I’ll have to go round again – I don’t know.

Maybe he was just enjoying an empty road. I have seen more policemen in town than ever before, too.

Managed to remember to cheer the NHS this week too. Yes, McMini and I stood outside cheering at the empty street, with a lighted light sabre each. Yeh. I was the fat one in the pyjamas. On the up side our presence brought the others out. Many houses on our street are rented and I think most of the renters are youngsters who have gone home to their parents. There are a lot of drawn curtains. Even so, people were out clapping and waving. Which was good, if only because it made me feel a bit less of a dick.

Fuck me but I’ve had some strange dreams this week. Unfortunately, they are continuing in my monotonous habit of dreaming about the lavatory. Not surprising I suppose, since it feels like the apocalypse. But I was hoping that I might, at some point, get away with a dream about something, anything other than having a dump. But no. I dreamt I was back at school. It was the first senior school I attended, for two years, when I was eleven/twelve and twelve/thirteen. I had ventured up onto the top floor where the third fourth and fifth form classrooms were situated, where the big, older scary girls were when I actually went there. I saw again the polished linoleum tiles, the pastel shades of the walls, the glass windows into the corridor from the classrooms. Yet despite feeling that familiar attack of butterflies as I entered the scary senior domain, I was also an adult. I was there about my son and I had to see his teacher. While we were chatting I suddenly realised I needed a wee. It was all going rather well so I asked and was directed to the staff loos.

But the staff loos were one loo, with a bath and basin too, like someone’s bathroom. The bath, loo and basin were a very unpleasant shade of 1970s pink. Yikes. But at least it wasn’t that horrible brown, or avocado. Also, there was washing hanging up to dry on the towel rails, hanging from clothes airers above my head, on the radiator, the side of the basin … literally everywhere. I remember thinking that the teachers must live in.

So there I was dreaming a dream and, Lo! Just for a change, I’ve ended up in the fucking bog. As I sat down on the pan part of me was fully engaged in the dream, but another part of me was aware that I was dreaming. Was I going to get away with an unembarrassing wee? Of course I bloody wasn’t. This was my warped dream. So naturally I did an absolutely enormous poo. When I stood up, I banged my head on one of the clothes airers hanging above me and knocked the contents into the pan. With my crap. So then I had to run some water in the bath, fizz it up with liquid soap, and scoop the once clean clothes out of the excrement infested bog and into the bath. I kept flushing the loo but there were more and more clothes falling in there from somewhere. God knows what I’d unleashed. Probably a hole in space time where other people’s washing was falling through a worm hole from alternative universes into a bog full of my crap. But it was chuffing weird.

What the fuck is going on?

I remember being conscious that I was dreaming, and wondering why the sod I can’t just dream about falling or flying or something a bit more fucking normal. I had, near enough, sorted it out, got the clothes into the bath to rewash and hang up again, although there were more and more in the loo, falling through the worm hole or wherever they were coming from. But I’d flushed it, so at least the poo was gone and for all it being bog water, it was clean bog water – yeh I know but this was dream thinking right, not real world how MTM thinks. I woke up before the dream ended. Which was, frankly, a bit of a chuffing relief.

So there we go. More dreams about shit. I suppose it’s not surprising, I mean, we are living it. Which reminds me. How’s your apocalypse going? Still no zombies here in Blighty. As I’ve said before, every cloud has a silver lining.

Seems a little crazy

In COVID:19 madness this week the prize goes to my dentist’s surgery. Normally a highly efficient outfit, I arrived at my appointment for a check up, the Monday before lockdown, to discover that they had cancelled everything. To give them their due, my phone had gone weird that morning so I didn’t receive a call. But after a brief chat, during which they explained that they couldn’t book a new appointment because … COVID. I returned home, teeth unchecked with all appointments cancelled until further notice. Goodness knows who sends out their mail for them, but they’re being ripped off. A few days later, I received letters warning me that I was now due for a check up and must ring them at once. Interestingly, as well as the check up there was one about the hygienist’s appointment, which they’d cancelled the preceding Friday. I hope the mailing service isn’t going to bill them for this!

On the writing front, I’ve things to work on and edit, which are going OK, except I’ve reached that bit where you know it isn’t ready yet. And seeing how much there is to do, you sort of lose the will to live and put it away for a couple of weeks. While I’m a bit meh over existing stuff, I thought I’d like to start a new K’Barthan short because I only have two in hand. It should be easy enough, it usually is but can I?

Can I bollocks?

Everything I try to write is about the bloody apocalypse. I’ve just watched an evening of BBC comedy delivered direct from people’s homes. Have I Got News For You by webcam for heaven’s sake. Impressive, and strangely intimate, coming from the panelists actual homes, but also at stratospherically lord-in-heaven-what-is-happening levels of weird. I really think living this apocalyptic shite is enough, without writing about it as well. Only one thing to do then, I’ve let my efforts to feed back on the fourth audio book bleed into the writing time. Although the huge door stop length novel which might be another series is also getting my attention, even though I’m sure it’s wrong and I don’t really know how to fix it.

On the subject of audiobooks … I had a bit of a crisis of confidence last week. I’ve two uploaded to a bunch of the main sites and they are gradually going live, plus the short  … but the other two are still in editing. I could hear a lot more breathing, but not normal breathing, kind of chopped off half breaths. I was a bit worried that, maybe I was just suffering the effects of syringing your ears half way through proofing four audiobooks. I asked but Gareth says no. Turns out they might be different and it’s something to do with the way you dampen the breathing and plosives when you’re recording. Something called sound gate – sounds like a press scandal, only it isn’t. Too much in one direction and you lose the ends of words and it sounds a bit weird. Too much the other and you get oddly chopped off half breaths. This has happened much more in three and four than in one and two. So I’m going through flagging them up. I’ve done three, but it’s taking ages and it felt a bit pissy. Like repeatedly kicking someone who has actually been very kind to me. Worse, I wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t just a side effect of having my ears syringed. But Gareth assures me that flagging them all isn’t pissy; that it will help him work out the right settings and that he’ll learn stuff. I heartily hope so.

There are lots to mark up so it’s taking some time. On the other hand, I am really enjoying listening. Some of the voices … there’s a character called Psycho Dave. Gareth’s voice for this guy is genius and it makes me guffaw like a supervillain each time I hear it. Indeed, every time Dave appears, I get the giggles and have to stop. So I’m hopeful that other folks will find it funny. To go with, I need to sort out some email sequences; one for people who sign up after seeing a facebook ad, who don’t know about my stuff at all, one for people who are already familiar with the entire gamut of K’Barthan nuttery who just want to know when the audio books are out and one for the folks, between those two, who know about the books and K’Barth but would be intrigued to know more about the whole audio process and about Gareth. It’s going to take me a while. I’m getting there.

In the meantime, I’m on chapter 32 of book four, so moving, but not quickly. Yeh, patience my young paduan. My aim is to do as many chapters as possible a day, mostly from 10.30 until midnight after McOther has gone to bed. My efforts in this are being hampered a little by McMini who came down to seem me a few nights ago because his bed warmers had got cold. I nuked them to warm them up, which takes four minutes, and while they cooked, so to speak, we had a chat. It was a good one, so good that he now comes down every night at about eleven pm, ostensively to have the wheaties heated up but really, just to have a chat. It isn’t helping with my productivity, but he’s such a sweetheart and such good company. How can I refuse? Ho hum, onwards and upwards.

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Sweeping the cat for tinfoil and other adventures …

Still no zombies … every cloud has a sliver lining eh? It’s quite surreal though, which means your world might be a bit more like mine right now … probably.

This week I have been mostly searching my cat’s guts for tin foil. Mostly, but not entirely. We’ll get to it. In the meantime.

Slightly blue this morning, I expect I’ve stuffed up my HRT dose, in fact, I reckon I’ve forgotten to do the evening one for a couple of days, although, needless to say I can’t be sure because I can’t remember. Mwahahaargh!

A big part of it is that, now we are in lockdown, I can’t visit Mum. Sure I ring her every day but that’s not the same. She definitely has some form of dementia and it’s definitely getting worse. At the moment, although she can’t remember which way is up or what day it is most of the time, she’s still able to follow a conversation and still retains her personality as Mum. But … I’ve walked this path before with Dad and I have to accept that it isn’t going to stay like that. I have to accept the fact that maybe, by the time lockdown is over, my Mum – my real Mum, I mean – will be gone. And that makes me feel incredibly sad. Indeed, I’d probably be blubbing a bit as I write this, but McOther is sitting the other end of the table.

It feels as if each week I will lose another few precious hours of time with Mum by missing our lunch. I phone her every day but it’s not the same, and I can see, or at least hear, her deteriorating day by day. I’m not alone. For example, hardly anyone with a loved one in a home is able to visit them right now. Some have family members in hospital who are stuck there, some have loved ones who were in a home for recovery after say, a new knee op, and they are now stuck there apart from the people they care for until this is all over. It’s mightily grim and we just have to live with it, but I guess I was just hoping, against hope, that I could squeak another visit in before lockdown this week. In the event, lockdown came on Monday night. The temptation to drive down there and see her on Wednesday was almost overwhelming and it’s only the first week.

Bugger.

Other news, I’ve finally finished going through the alts of One Man: No Plan on audio. This has taken me way longer than I expected because there are a lot of blips and half breaths in it which weren’t there in the first two – one of the reasons this has taken me so long is because I re-listened to the first two beforehand, really carefully, to check. Gareth has at least three other audiobooks to do, to my certain knowledge – there may well be more – so I have a little while before he’s likely to be able to look at the alts, and plenty of time to get the fourth finished.

I confess I was horrifically nervous sending the alts for the blips/plosives and audible breaths. I am not 100% sure if my noticing these things was gimlet-eyed helpfulness or pedantic twattery. To be honest, even after checking with some narrators I know on t’interweb who reassured me that any comments like that are always welcome, I’m still a little unsure. It’s a fun listen though, so I hope it all works out OK.

This week more excitement in Lockdown Towers. Run with me on this one, it does get to the point. I have a desk in our dining room. Underneath it is a bag of foil-covered chocolate sweets which I give out at book signings. There are three types, chocolate oranges, chocolate eyeballs and chocolate sprouts. They all come in plastic net bags of about forty. They are spherical, marble-sized and individually foil wrapped. I had two bags of orange ones, about half a bag of eyeballs and four bags of chocolate sprouts.

On Monday evening, just after discovering that we were all in official lock down, I decided that I would ameliorate the impact with chocolate. I went into our dining room, intent on liberating a packet of sprouts for consumption over the coming weeks. However, when I got in there, I and found four plastic net bags with holes in spread across the floor.

Uh-oh, I thought.

I checked the bag and discovered a hole had been eaten in it. Yes. There were teeth holes around the … other hole. Not my son then. Checking the other bags I discovered the holes in those looked more … chewed than cut.

Hmm …

Upon further exploration, I discovered that both the eyeballs and the sprouts were all but gone. The orange ones, however, had been left. They were still in their bags although one bag had clearly been chewed, small pieces of foil removed from the chocolates inside and a couple had teeth marks. These ones had been tested and found wanting then, worse tested enough for me to not be able to eat them with confidence. The others … 520 grammes of chocolate, minimum, had gone.

Turning to Dr Google, I typed in, ‘does chocolate kill cats?’

OK, look, I’m not going to blind you with the technicalities of science here but the basic gist of it is, yes it does. Milk chocolate is less poisonous but 520 grammes in one sitting is lethal. About 30 grammes in one sitting is.

Shit. Now what?

I was wearing my pyjamas. The vet was closed, I knew. That morning I’d had a dental appointment which had been cancelled pretty much as I arrived. I’d tried to buy some cat food from the vet’s on the way home and discovered that it was locked and the customers were all standing in the car park, 2 metres away from one another. McCat’s constitution is pretty bomb proof but I felt that a poison overdose of such gargantuan quantities might be a bridge too far, even for him.

OK, calm, breathe. He hadn’t started throwing up yet.

Then I remembered. I’d found one of the chocolate sprouts on the doormat the week before. Could McCat have been quietly eating them over the three month period, since the Christmas Fayre, that the chocolate had been stored there. Were the scattered string bags merely the culmination of several month’s pilfering, a last hurrah now that the lovely edible balls were gone … well except for the orange ones he doesn’t like.

McOther checked under other furniture but there was nothing to be found so it’s clear that all 520 grammes of chocolate sprouts and eyeballs – minus a handful – had been eaten. The one million dollar question was … when?

McCat. Butter wouldn’t melt would it? Not ill and no fucks given, clearly.

I had a think.

McCat clearly wasn’t ill at that precise moment. I began to wonder if a ready cache of chocolate might explain his greatly relaxed approach to food since the beginning of the year. Not to mention the recent resumption of his tendency to be less relaxed and obsessively request each meal a few minutes after eating the last one. But if he had just eaten all the pies chocolate, we needed to get him to a vet, fast. How to find out though, preferably before he started throwing up, at which point, it would have been too late, Dr Google had told us. That’s when I remembered my pinpointer and had An Idea.

The chocolate was covered in foil. He’d peeled some of that off, clearly but it was equally clear that not all of it had been removed. Some had gone down his greedy fat cat gullet with the chocolate. If he’d eaten them all in one sitting, nearly all the foil had been eaten too. This meant that he contained almost as much wrapper as chocolate and, that being the case, if I ran a metal detector over him the signal from all that foil would blow my ears off. The detector, itself was too sensitive, it would pick up nearby stuff as well and I’d never be able to narrow it down reliably. The pinpointer, however … that was a different case entirely.

Yes, ladies, gentlemen and everything beyond and in between, when you go detecting and you’ve heard a signal and dug a hole, should you have any trouble finding the thing giving off that signal, if it’s really small, say, you can narrow down its whereabouts with a pinpointer. This is good for me because I tend to dig in fields that are bristling with coke, which gives off a large and loud signal. As a result I end up ignoring big signals, because there are that many hot rocks in the fields on which I dig that I find very little else. The little signals, are a different matter, but the things you find are also little, and that means you need to pinpoint them, fast, or you’re sifting about in the clod of earth you’ve dug out all day.

That’s how I ended up with a pinpointer, and that’s how I ended up running my Garrett carrot over the pooh in McCat’s earth box – without touching clearly – along with the cat shit bin – not touching that either – and not forgetting his lardy stomach. Despite a hitch, to start with, when I realised it was picking up the nearby washing machine, I did finally manage to get him in a position where I could reliably detect any foil in his innards. There was none, luckily. We stood down. I didn’t need to get dressed, leap into the car and brave lock down to find a vet. What a relief for everyone.

How many detectorists end up searching their pets? Who knows but I’d guess there are more than we might think.

So that was my week, sweeping my cat for tin foil. I am agog to see how next week is going to out-weird this one.

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Still living the dream …

A while ago I wrote a book called, Escape from B-Movie Hell (it’s free right now on Kobo if anyone’s interested). It was a story about an impending meteor strike, meddling aliens and our hero, telepathic, gay art student Andi Turbot, is all that stands between the human race and total annihilation … Yeh, OK look, it’s not as wank as it sounds. When you read it, it makes sense, alright?

The point I’m trying to make is this. I don’t expect my books to come true in any way shape or form. I don’t expect anything remotely similar to the bizarre ideas in my head to actually well … you know … happen. Yes, it’s one thing writing a piece of jokey apocalyptic fiction,  ]=[ – sorry that’s a message from my cat – it’s quite another to be … how can I put this tactfully? Living the dream? Yes. Living the fucking dream. OK it’s not the same dream, but it feels like a similar one.

We are in almost lock down. For my international readers – folks here will know – all pubs, bars, restaurants, theatres and gyms have been ordered to close as soon as they can. At least now they will get some insurance and hopefully, the ones that were soldiering on will be able to pay some compensation to all those folks working for them who are now facing the not zombie apocalypse unemployed.

In theory, Mum should be isolated. She is eighty six, after all. Except she has carers, and she needs them, so we can’t isolate her. They have to be out and about collecting supplies and looking after a pool of people. People, who are handicapped, or vulnerable and who will, to put it rather baldly, die in a pool of their own excrement if they isolate themselves the way they have been instructed. Mum’s carers go in every day to help cook her meals, so after a brief discussion with the Wednesday lady, and Mum, we’ve decided that the benefits of my visiting probably outweigh the drawbacks. What’s one more, to be honest, so long as I’m sensible, like them. And because Mum is pretty unfazed by the whole thing.

That said, we had ‘the talk’ the other night on the phone. Mum said,

‘Darling, you know I may well die in this thing don’t you?’

‘I hope you won’t,’ I told her.

‘Well, I’ve got to die sometime and I’m eighty six, it’s going to be sooner rather than later.’

‘I know Mum, but I’d prefer it not to be now if at all possible. I want it to be gentle and I don’t want you to be on your own in some hospital, with nobody you love near you.’

She laughed, ‘We have to be realistic though, darling and we all die alone.’

‘Yeh, I know. Everyone dies alone, even if there are people with them, but … I would like to be there with you, you know, dropping you off at the gate so to speak. Holding your hand the way you held Dad’s.’

‘You are a dear,’ said Mum.

Then we ended up having ‘the talk’. I told Mum the things I would tell her if she was on her death bed, that I love her, that she has been the most wonderful mother to me that anyone could have had, that she and Dad were fabulous parents. That she was ace because … well … how many people can say their mother dragged them into a cupboard to hide from a particularly talkative member of staff so they wouldn’t be late? How many parents are genuinely more open, and unshockable than their children’s friends, pretty much until they hit their seventies? So I thanked her for that, too. And she told me she loved me and that she was very blessed to have kids like my brother and I. And it was all rather poignant. And a little sad. And then we had a giggle about how melodramatic we were both being.

And thinking about all that, I know I have to write more, not the shorts, which are lovely to write but leave less room for complexity. No, I need to write another sweeping epic, with a cast of hundreds, a plot with more twists and turns than a DNA profile. Another massive tome about belief and truth and the grey between the black and white.

The whole situation is a bit unreal though. It also feels as if life as we know it is a bit fragile. I learned, a long time ago, that the only thing we control in life is how we react to what happens. In fact I learned that in about 2012 or possibly before because The Pan of Hamgee says it to Ruth in K’Barthan two so I must have cottoned by then. Sometime, when Dad was beginning to be ill I guess – still well enough to refuse my help, but at the same time, ill enough to have carers to come and sit with him in the afternoons so Mum could go and garden.

I’m pretty firmly convinced that we have no control, but maintaining the illusion that we have, that something we do will change things, and proceeding on the understanding that we do, is helpful, if only so we can control ourselves. On the other hand, I do believe that we can change our thinking and spread a bit of kindness. Also if Mum does get Corona, I want to be sure that a) I did everything I could and b) we all agree on our courses of action first so there’s no looking back and regretting that I’d not done x, y or z. And yet, despite the surreal nature of existence right now, the nitty gritty of life, the minutiae, is as pleasantly barking as ever.

First up, a week ago on Thursday, after swimming, my ear hurt a bit. I had been wearing my new underwater MP3 player so I suspected I might have pushed the headphones in too far and pushed a lump of wax against the ear drum. As I had some olive oil drops, I started to put them in to soften it. I also had a doctor’s appointment booked for the Monday so I was confident that if I stuck olive oil in morning and night, the doctor could have a look and I’d know if I needed to book in to have it syringed. But then my doctor’s appointment was changed to a call. After speaking to him, he was pretty confident it was just wax and told me to keep up with the olive oil. He said it would come out on its own.

A brief whinge on Facebook and my niece – hellooo Jamie – told me that she has the same trouble and that she does the olive oil and then syringes her own ears.

‘You can do that at home?’ I type incredulously.

‘Sure,’ she replies.

Hmm … I googled home syringe kits and sure enough, I discovered I can. I decided to nip to boots to buy one on Thursday.

By the Thursday morning I was as deaf as a post. Worse I had sinus and a twitchy face. Oh no, hang on, that might be hayfever. I took a piraton, which helped but didn’t totally fix things sinus wise and I was still deaf, of course. Hmm … Was I infected or was the earwax just pressing on something? Not sure. Only one thing to do. I had to go buy a home syringe kit and before I used it – because that’s not advisable on an infected ear – I had to find someone who would look into my ear and tell me.

The doctor’s was not open to that sort of thing and I was certainly NOT going to casualty about it. Then I remembered hearing aid stores. Genius! I knew Boots had one, I’d start there. Off I went to town. Unfortunately, I drew a blank, their person was away that day and they recommended I ask at spec savers. But I splashed out the princely sum of £6.99 on a home syringe kit on my way back out through the store.

On to Specsavers. The lovely man there was available and he looked in both ears, without charging me, confirmed that they were both full of wax and recommended I use bicarb drops to clear it. He warned me to wait until one was done before starting the other. He recommended bicarb because he explained, it would dissolve the ear wax whereas olive oil merely softens it, ideal for syringing but I’d be lucky to get my ears syringed before hell froze over, although hell probably will freeze over sometime next week. I mentioned I’d bought a home syringing kit, ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,’ he said.

The kit contained a rubber bulb … mmm … and yes I have the rubber face to go with it.

That afternoon it was clear that I was going to have to do something about the deaf ear so taking my courage in both hands I got out the kit. It contained a rubber bulb and its own bottle of drops, which I decided to put aside, unopened for future emergencies. I didn’t know how long this was going to go on for. I boiled water, for hygiene purposes, and then let it cool until it was warm. Finally it was ready and I plunged the bulb into the tepid water, filled it and with my head over the sink, I squirted it into my ear. It felt warm and rather nice and a lump of wax fell out.

Oooo.

I put it carefully onto a piece of kitchen roll to have a better look. Because I’m gross like that.

It was about the size of a small pea, maybe half a pea. Excellent. That was the wax gone, or was it though? Because I was still deaf. I had another go. Another lump of wax fell out. I could hear a lot better! Hurrah! Nearly there. One final effort and … oh my gawd! Something fell out of my ear. It was just over a centimetre long, about seven millimetres wide and dark brown.

Holy fuck! What is that thing? I thought. More to the point, how did it ever fit in my ear?

McOther and McMini asked the same question when I proudly showed them my er … excretions. They were also completely, utterly and comprehensively repulsed. I may have traumatised both of them! Although they still brought me a Mothering Sunday breakfast in bed, bless ’em.

Buoyed by my experience I set about my left ear with the bicarbonate drops. The guy had explained that earwax is acid and bicarbonate is alkaline. Yes, I know this. I sprinkle it over rhubarb and pour boiling water on it to make it a bit less acid. It’s rather cool because it fizzes, but it also takes the acidic extreme off the rhubarb. I did not expect the bicarb drops to fizz when they hit the ear wax but … they did. Gulp.

Two days in and things were getting ridiculous. Not only was I completely deaf in my left ear but there was gloop dripping out of it at night: vile factor ten and definitely a bridge too far. Sure, the bicarbonate drops were dissolving the earwax, and I can confirm it is more effective than olive oil, but this was completely disgusting. Saturday morning, with friends coming for a final pre-lock down supper, I decided it couldn’t face my friends with orange goo dripping out of my ear and I syringed it. No beef jerky this time, thank heavens but a lot of really, really weird debris, including many things that looked like the little tiny bones you get in a herring.

Then I walked around wondering what that strange whooshing noise was, and realised it was my clothes rubbing against my body. It was the bizarrest thing, to suddenly hear in glorious Sensurround again. It’s made proofing the audiobook a lot easier too, I can tell you. But having done this, myself, I have that same smug feeling I had the first time I changed an alternator in my car, something my uncle, who I was living with at the time, had just paid £500 for. Then again, he had a merc and I had a Triumph so for me it was undo three bolts, bung on the £20 replacement I’d found at the scrap yard, do up three bolts. That slightly smug feeling of self sufficiency. Always a good thing to feel in times like these.

Other news, it was McMini’s last day of school on Friday, ‘until further notice’. Unfortunately, he threw up in the night so he missed it. He has been slightly under par for a week, feeling sick in the mornings etc and I wasn’t sure if it was just apocalypse nerves or if he was genuinely feeling bad. Genuinely feeling bad, it seems.

Since I am sleeping like the dead right now I didn’t hear. I’m not sure McOther heard either and McMini told us that, once he’d been sick, he retired to bed feeling much better and went to sleep. In the morning, his father flushed the loo. As the strong stomached parent, I cleaned up and disinfected the loo, picked up the bucket, which had been rinsed but had remnants of sick in the bottom, and took it downstairs to wash.

Since I limp like Herr Flick, and it takes me for fucking ever to descend our stairs unless I have an arm free to lean heavily on the bannister, I will carry absolutely everything I can downstairs in one hit. On this occasion, I decided I would take the bucket, McMini’s hot water bottle, my iPad, tablet, phone and empty coffee cup downstairs at once. Thereby negating the need to make a second painfully slow and irritating trip. Stuck in a little sleeve, on the side of my iPad case, is an iPencil. It’s an old style one, with a lid on the end. How many times do you think the lid has fallen off this iPencil, ever, in my entire life?

That’s right. Never. Until this morning. Half way down the stairs there was a watery splat as something fell into the sick in the bottom of the bucket. Joy oh fucking joy! So when McOther came down, I was washing the bucket and the iPencil lid was sitting in a small jam jar full of spray bleach.

‘What’s this?’ he asked.

I told him and then of course, the git laughed, and I laughed and McMini came along to see what the fuss was about and he laughed. Well … at least we’re happy.

 

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Living on the edge …

You know how I lead a fast and dangerous life? Mwahahahargh! Yeh. You will remember my banging on about brain fog every now and again. In truth, my post McMini baby brain seagued smoothly into menopausal brain fog without my even noticing. It is only since the HRT kicked in that I have discovered just how completely bollocksed coddled my brains have been since 2008. It’s like I have suddenly found myself. I still lack energy – chronic pain does that – but I definitely have more than before. Whether anyone will notice my refreshed and revitalised brain is moot though, as I still appear to be the vaguest and most disorganised person on earth. To whit …

This last Monday it was the SPF Show Live. SPF is an online community I joined in 2015 after buying a course on Facebook Advertising run by Mark Dawson. It was, as the title suggests a live workshop, down in London at the South Bank Centre. I booked many moons ago, before the virus named after a fizzy drink reared its ugly head. Registration started at 8.30 am.

Obviously 8.30 am is quite early to be in London from here. I hummed and haad about how I should get there. Train, clearly, but which station to go from? In the end I decided I’d get the 5.49 train from Bury St Edmunds as this did not involve a thirty minute drive home in the dark, in the inevitable pissing rain, with shit visibility and with one headlight going on and off (yes, the other one, not the one with the part I mortgaged my house to pay for). Departure time decided, I set my alarm for unspeakable o’clock and packed everything I thought I’d need the night before.

In the event, I headed off for the station in good time but I’d forgotten something. That thing is this … when I imagine walking somewhere, I imagine it taking about as long as it would take when I could … well … walk. Thing is, I can’t walk anymore. Not like that. I don’t have the same number of knee ligaments as other people and one knee hurts like a bastard at the front, and the other knee hurts like a bastard at the back. That kind of stuff slows a person down.

So, yeh, I left ten minutes and I suddenly realised, as I was still 100 yards from the station, that I only had three minutes to get to my train. It would take me three minutes to get up the ruddy stairs, although that’s still quicker than using the sodding lift.

Maybe it would be a few seconds late.

Yeh. As if.

Upping my walk to the kind of shuffling Igor-style lurch which is as close as I get to a run these days, I ‘ran’ for the train. As I reached the bottom of the stairs I realised the train was in, and its contents were coming down them. Dodging past two blokes carrying bikes sideways, and a whole bunch of semi-somnambulant others, I reached the platform just as the door alarm started to go. Not normally a problem, but as the train is only four carriages long, and the platform is for … more than four … it was parked about thirty feet away. Well … I gave it my best shot. More Igor-esque shuffling and I was nearly there, indeed I touched the train, but the beeping had started, the doors were closing and I was too far away to hurl myself on.

It might as well have been on fucking Mars for all I was going to catch it.

The doors closed. Mourning the demise of the old slam-door type where you could just open the bloody door again and get on as it started to move. I turned with an expression of hapless desperation to the mirror at the front of the station, hoping the driver would see me as s/he looked, before leaving the station.

Hands together in a please, please, take pity on me kind sir, stance, I begged the driver to open them again. No joy. The beeping stopped and after a couple of seconds, the motors engaged, and the train fucked off into the darkness, leaving me on the platform, alone.

‘Bollocks!’ I said.

Ho hum.

I turned and made my way down the stairs.

‘You missed it then,’ said the station master, not unsympathetically.

‘Yeh, touched the ruddy thing, but didn’t get close enough to get in, I keep forgetting I have a limp these days and that I don’t walk as fast as I used to.’

It was a beautiful clear dawn, marred, slightly, by the fact the train was filthy.

We discussed options and he agreed that my Plan B – if it’s me hoping to be somewhere by 5.49am there is sure as hell going to be a Plan B – of going to Whittlesford was probably the best idea. Let’s face it, it wasn’t so bad. It was a beautiful clear dawn, the moon was out and the sky lightening in the east. Yeh, it wasn’t as if I’d be driving home with zero visibility in the pissing rain today.

Back home, grabbed the car keys and headed off. Time was pressing and after driving down the M 11 at an injudiciously high speed … an invigoratingly brisk drive down the M11, I arrived at Whittlesford. Nobody was there yet, so I bagged the closest parking spot to the station, on the end, although some bastard still managed to scratch my car parking the other side of me. I entered my number plate into the ticket machine and paid, although it didn’t give me anything to put in the window, which somewhat unnerved me. As I walked onto the platform I discovered the train I’d hoped to catch was due in one minute.

Nice.

Around me was a surfeit of stern warnings that I must travel with a valid ticket. Hmm … was my ticket valid? I hadn’t a chuffing clue. Better buy another and get a refund on the one I didn’t use. I turned my attention to coercing one from the machine on the platform. I got to the end but it didn’t seem to want to let me pay.

The train arrived while I was still scratching my head.

Yes well, let’s not miss another one. The existing ticket would have to do.

The journey passed more or less without incident, except that I’d have dearly liked a wee and couldn’t find a loo. I made a pithy post about my fuckwittery on the forum for the event, and posted a picture of the rather lovely sunrise I over Cambridgeshire I could see from the window. I hopped off at Totteham hale, thought about walking from Green Park and then remembered what had happened walking to the station a couple of hours previously and changed to the Northern Line at Warren Street instead. A quick five minute walk from Waterloo and there I was.

The glass front of the Festival Hall. No snurd holes …

Needless to say, the first thing I did was take a picture of the glass windows The Pan of Hamgee drove the SE2 through at the beginning of K’Barthan 2. It would have been churlish not to, right?

Course was fab. I homed in on a lady wearing a fabulous crocheted dragon on her shoulder and it turned out she was one of the people who’d commented on my post about missing the train. She was with another lovely lady writing the same and they introduced me to a group of Paranormal Romance writers at lunch who were great company and several orders of magnitude more successful than I am! Also managed to meet lovely author friend J A Clement who was one of the helpers.

Back in for the afternoon’s talks, came out afterwards and … yes, it was pissing down. Never mind, I had a brolly. Quick trot over the railway bridge to Embankment and back on the 5.08 train.

Thirty five minute drive home in zero visibility and pissing rain with one headlight. Oh well, you can’t win em all.

Spool forward to Thursday. McMini plays in ‘Rock Band’ at school. He plays drums and I confess I did know he had a concert coming up. McMini’s school is at once rigorous and laid back. They are extremely careful about keeping tabs on where each of their tiny charges has got to, but they do tend to tell you about something once and leave it at that. So … I’d had the news sheet the week before last telling me that there was a concert. We had all hoisted in that McMini would be playing. But, I kind of expected something nearer the time saying … I dunno … your kid is in the concert, they will be having tea in school, it starts at X time, collect them from Y … that kind of thing.

However, the school is like, yeh, we’ve told them once. They know.

Thursday came, and there I was wandering around McMini’s school at pick up time. I had gathered up his golf bats and sports bag and put them in the car but was there any sign of him? Nah.

As I mooched about hopefully peering into windows and peeping round doors, a couple of members of staff said hello and then another popped out and asked me if I was looking for McMini (impressed he knew I was McMini’s Mum, then again, I’m the only one who turns up at collection time in a silly car so it’s probably that). We had a look in the dining hall but McMini wasn’t there, he was still rehearsing. He had emailed me to explain that he had the concert, in case I forgot, but only at ten past five, after I’d already left. McMini’s school is in the deadest dead spot known to man – probably by design – so naturally, I didn’t receive it until I arrived home.

I met one of his friends, though and told him to let McMini know that I knew he had a concert and that I would be coming and see him later. Then it was into the car, hot foot it home to see if McOther could come, but he had a board call, so then it was hot foot it back, because it started in about ten minutes. It was a very impressive concert. It hadn’t started when I arrived but I was late and there was no parking, except for a space marked as ‘visitors only’ which everyone else had avoided.

McMini’s new school is in an old stately home so parts of it are ritzy

Stuff that! I’m visiting, I thought, wedged the Noisy Cricket into it, between two huge Chelsea tractors and ran in. There were still programmes to be had but no seats so I crept in and sat on the windowsill at the back with all the little boys who were playing on their game consoles while big brothers or sisters performed. I remember thinking, as I sat watching the first item, that this wasn’t quite where I expected to be that evening. Yeh, so while there’s less brain fog, it’s clear that my abject fuckwittery still knows no bounds.

But I made it, and that’s what counts. AND I even remembered to videoMcMini doing his thing so McOther could watch it, too.

It’s probably quite an achievement to be able to organise your life, yourself, and still have absolutely zero clue what you’re meant to be doing when, or what’s going to happen next. Talking of which, the fizzy drink virus … as an ‘at risk’ (rather susceptible to chest infections and still wheezy after a hideous flu bout last year) I’m rather hoping not to catch it as I suspect it will be quite grim, and last year’s bout of flu was bad enough. It’s all getting a bit serious.

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