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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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Chip off the old block …

This week has been busy. Much going on anyway and then The Wrong Stuff arrived for audio proofing. Woot. More on that and the audio project generally in a week or two.

What I should be writing about, this week, is my new release, Nothing To See Here, which is out a week today on 8th Feb. But 8th Feb is also Dad’s birthday, I’m sort of releasing it then, in his honour, so I’ve kind of been thinking about that this week, too.

This last Sunday, I went to church and because McOther had Stuff To Do, elsewhere, I took McMini. McMini is pretty good on his own for a few minutes while I whizz up to the post box or nip to Tesco’s but I don’t like to leave him on his own for long periods of time – one and a half hours while I do church and then stuff my face with biscuits and bend everyone’s ear at coffee afterwards – for example.

As you know, McMini is a bit of a live wire and also has the same sense of the ridiculous as I do. When they do all the high church stuff with the cope and the incense round the altar on high days and holidays, and the acolytes follow and hold the arm of the cope out of the way as the celebrant does their thing, I immediately think of James Brown. James Brown used to do many encores and he’d pretend to be overcome with exhaustion and his acolytes would help him onto the stage, where he’d perform again … all part of the theatre. And he wore a cloak sometimes, which sort of helps make it feel similar. This is probably Blasphemy but then again, since Christ was not above sarcasm, in spades, and clearly had a sense of humour, I am hoping that, when I head pearly gates-wards he’ll intervene on my behalf about this one if things are looking a bit dicey for me. Not that it’ll do me much good, there’s an awful lot of other stuff – But I’m wandering off topic again.

Taking McMini to church I am aware that it’s a long service, and he doesn’t always enjoy the hymns (I like a good shouty hymn but I’m a half trained classical musician). McMini is beginning to enjoy classical music, and he will, because as a musician, he will end up listening to everything because if you are musical, that’s what you do. But I feel it’s important not to force it. The trick is for him to know it’s there and he’ll learn to enjoy it in time. He’s beginning to rather like opera … just as I reach the point in my life where it’s pretty certain I’ll never go to Glyndebourne again. Sigh.

Anyway, there we are in church. And for the first bit he was a little bored, then, in the prayers, he took it quite seriously doing all the responses etc.

The jumper tribble … octopus? starfish?

Then as we got to the sermon his attention began to wander again. It was actually rather a good one but I’d seen this coming and my theory is that, it’s better to behave a bit badly in church, for us to have a laugh together and for him to enjoy the experience, than to make him be ‘good’ and put him off going for the rest of his life. Because even if he’s a bit bored, if he spends most of the time giggling, it’s going to be a memory of happy bored when he looks back on it later. So it was that I picked the larger fluff tribbles off my jumper and made them into a little creature. This was the jumping off point for a lot of mirth.

McMini kept on waiting until I wasn’t looking and then knocking it onto the floor. Then the longer I took to notice the more giggly he got, especially if I trod on it a couple of times. This is definitely one of those events where you had to be there so you’re just going to have to believe me when I tell you it was funny. McMini is a naturally gifted clown, keenly vigilant for any opportunity to get a laugh and not one to let a single one slip by. Hence the wee joke at Dad’s funeral. Eventually the blue furry critter lost both its eyes and looked very sorry for itself. Obviously, there was also banter. I can’t remember much of it but … it was there, and there was a lot of giggling about that, too. Or at least a lot of shaking, going red and crying while we tried not to make any noise. It wasn’t stealth giggling, but we gave laughing in silence our best shot. It was only after the service that I appreciated that it wasn’t just us who’d been giggling. There’s a lovely lady who usually sits behind me with her Mum and they had also been enjoying the … er hem … show.

The mum flashed us a beaming, twinkly smile said, ‘It is rather a long service for a young boy isn’t it?’

And I smiled back and said, ‘Um… yes,’ and left it at that.

Then the daughter said she wished she could have heard what we were saying so she could be in on the joke but we were too far away. Well … at least we weren’t making too much noise, then.

What was rather lovely about it all, apart from the fact that the other parishoners, were clearly far more happy to see that I’d brought McMini than they were worried about any behavioural deficiencies, was that it reminded me so much of Church with my parents. Dad giggling about the awful Victorian poetry again, or pointing out the dirty bits. I had no idea what detumescence was until my father pointed out a line that reminded him of it in a hymn. Although once again, St John’s excelled itself with rather good poetry, and a couple of tunes taken from the Scottish Psalter and an Orlando Gibbons thrown in … all the kind of elegant, symmetrical, mathematical music that I love.

This morning, McMini had arranged to meet some friends in town. I wasn’t sure when but I felt that, possibly, meet up time was pending when there was a sudden sense of urgent activity and then I could hear McMini saying on the phone, ‘I’m running a bit late … I’ll be with you soon … It won’t take that long to walk up there will it? Where would I meet you then? OK.’

It occurred to me that if he was going to the other end of town, he might appreciate a lift. So I popped my head round the door and asked if all was well. He admitted that he’d agreed to meet his friends at ten fifteen but that he’d suddenly realised at about ten thirteen that he was still in his pyjamas.

‘Ah,’ I said. ‘So … did you make this arrangement at about half past nine think you’d just do a couple of things first and lose track of time?’ I asked him.

He no longer throws me an ‘are you telepathic?’ look when I do this sort of thing because he is old enough to understand about inherited traits and that he’s just a chip off the old block. Instead he gave me a sort of small, knowing smile and said, ‘Yes.’

Immediately I remembered the number of times my father had forgotten he was supposed to be somewhere, or that he’d invited someone to lunch. Mum became a consummate expert at Not Looking Surprised, when people turned up to lunch unannounced and stretching meals for larger numbers of people than anticipated.  I suspect there was also a reason we seldom ate before one or quarter past. Plenty of time to make extra arrangements if surprise guests suddenly turned up.

One particular time, I remember my uncle ringing and asking where Dad was. I asked where he was supposed to be. At the Rotary Club lunch, my uncle explained. Ah. Dad was, at this point, in Worthing, and when they set off, he and Mum had said they might stay and have lunch there. Obviously I didn’t tell my uncle this, instead I said,

‘Oh yes, he did say he was going to lunch, where was it again?’

My uncle named a hotel in Haywards Heath. I explained that Mum and Dad had popped into worthing.

‘He’s probably lost track of time, but I’m sure he’ll be with you shortly,’ I said, praying that this was true.

I managed to pump my uncle reasonably subtly for information as to where Dad had to go, whether Mum was invited too (no) and if he needed change for parking. I say I was subtle. I probably wasn’t but my uncle was good enough to play along with the pretence.

Luckily, Dad and Mum returned a few seconds after I’d finished talking to my uncle. I tipped Dad off but I’d forgotten the dress code. None of us were very up on the Rotary so we hummed and haad about what he should wear and decided that jacket and tie would probably be OK. So he quickly put a tie on, grabbed a decent jacket, leapt into the car and sped off to join his long suffering brother. I think he arrived half an hour late, in the end, which wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, everyone else was wearing suits.

On the up side apparently the feedback was very good and one fellow Rotarian told my uncle,

‘Your brother is a very cool customer. Not only did he give a wonderful speech, but I was sitting near him, and I saw him write it during the pudding course.’

So there was McMini, late already because, like his mother and grandfather before him he had, ‘lost track of time’. Naturally, I offered him a lift.

We grabbed his phone and keys and I gave him a fiver. Then I went to open the garage and left him putting on his shoes and getting his bag.

‘Don’t forget to shut the door,’ I said. Obviously, it’s one of those ones that, if you shut it, locks itself.

We got into the car and I managed to get him to his meeting point by twenty past, so he was only five minutes late. When I arrived home, I discovered he’d left the back door wide open. Blimey he’s a chip off the old block.

As I watch my son following in his grandfather’s footsteps, and mine, I think a small penny dropped somewhere. I am brain fogged, for sure, but it’s a lot better since I started the HRT and while I may feel like I’m demented, perhaps it’s more of a case of being like my dad. Maybe it’s not that the numbers of instances when I’ve ‘lost track of time’ or just forgotten something that are increasing. Maybe I just feel like they are because, as an adult, doing this kind of stuff correctly is more important.

Maybe.

Which reminds me. I’ve a new book out next week and it’s available for pre-order. If you’re interested here’s the info click on the title or the picture to visit the links page:

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Nothing To See Here, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit: No 2

It’s midwinter and preparations for the biggest religious festival in the K’Barthan year are in full swing. Yes, even though, officially, religious activity has been banned, no-one’s going to ignore Arnold, The Prophet’s Birthday, especially not Big Merv. He orders The Pan of Hamgee to deliver the traditional Prophet’s Birthday gift to his accountants and lawyers. As usual, The Pan has managed to elicit the unwanted attention of the security forces. Can he make the delivery and get back to the Parrot and Screwdriver pub in time for an unofficial Prophet’s Birthday celebration with his friends?

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Quality can’t be rushed …

This week my son invented something called the White Wee Crew. Mwahahahrgh!

NO! You filthy ones at the back. This is about drinking vast quantities of water!

Yep. If you drink enough you end up doing what he used to call a ‘silver wee’ or one that the normals would call ‘clear’. He then changed it to the White Wee Club but has decided that the White Wee Crew is better. He’s read somewhere that being hydrated keeps your brain switched on. I believe that is A THING. So, he’s been proudly coming home and telling me he’s still a member of the White Wee Crew. I love the way his entire view of life is so completely non standard. And aimed to amuse; himself and others, but he seems unfazed if it’s just himself.

Weird square eye thing … eeeek!

Scary!

One of the delights about having a kid is what a complete giggle we have. Normally we’re talking bottom gags here but sometimes other stuff. The comedy of tiny noises, odd squeaks, floorboards that can be reliably walked on to sound like a fart, well yes, more bottom gags there, I suppose. But if anything makes a strange or surreal noise, no matter how quiet or insignificant, I’ll hear it and one look at McMini and I know he will have heard and think it’s funny too. From a squeaky hinge to McCat going mad for cheese. Any sound is fair game. McOther is able to be equally arcane but seems to derive more enjoyment out of watching us do it than indulging in arcanity (is that even a word) arcaneness, himself. Then there was the night at McOther’s parents house where McMini and I spent about half an hour in their en-suite positioning ourselves so we could take a selfie with the reflections from the bright strip light surrounding the mirror reflected in our eyes. We thought we looked like robots, or perhaps, I thought, that thing that happens to your eyes in Dune when you ride the worms. He hasn’t seen or read Dune yet and my memory is very sketchy but I tried to explain.

It does look weird. CF photos.

McMini is naturally funny, one of those people who is going to be funny whatever he tries to do  so has decided to ham it up. I’ve always felt that the trick was to make it look deliberate but I suspect I ham it up, myself. He’s definitely a chip off the old block. Or perhaps he’s just watched my coping mechanism and decided it’ll do for now. The other evening having implored him, with increasing desperation, to remove his socks I finally succeeded.

‘If you throw those at me, I warn you, I’ll get really cross,’ I told him, anticipating his thoughts, mainly because it was exactly what my brother or I’d have done at his age.

Needless to say, the little so and so threw them at my face. So having told him I’d go into orbit, I did. Except that I was doing it because I needed him to Learn A Lesson rather than because I was actually that cross – although it is completely fucking vile and I wish he wouldn’t do it. McMini looked momentarily crushed and protested at my turning into Ogre Mummy without due warning. I told him he’d jolly well had due warning and that he should have taken heed. But then he picked up on the faux nature of my rage and smiled. I desperately tried to maintain a Stern Exterior but failed and found myself laughing.

It took me straight back to being a kid and doing the exact same thing to diffuse my father’s rage. There were incidences, when he’d gone beyond a certain point, when you didn’t do this, but it did work most of the time. If he can see what we’re up to my Dad must be laughing his head off. I hear him in so many of the things I say to McMini. It’s not that I mean to copy his parenting style, although I reckon he was a pretty good Dad so I probably wouldn’t go far wrong if I did. It’s just because I’m like him. And as I tell McMini, of an evening, with increasing frustration, ‘Will you go to BED!’ As he cavorts about the place like a lunatic clown and I desperately try not to laugh so he stops and does as I ask, I hear my father saying the exact same thing to my brother and I, all those years ago. And I can’t help but smile.

Though I have always thought of myself as a bit of a Daddy’s girl, I’ve always felt that I was very much more like Mum, I have Dad’s soft heart, I think, but I am definitely able to override it more easily than him, or at least I was. One of the things about his illness and death is that, coming out the other side of them, I no longer can.

Then again, as far as taking after one or another parent goes, I guess the point is moot. They were both as maverick and non-standard as each other. My father revelled in the eccentric and in pricking the bubble of the pompous, but it was my mother who dragged me into a cupboard to hide from the over-chatty house matron, who popped in as we were about to go out. Yeh … there probably isn’t much in it, between the two of them.

Trying to parent my wayward, but good natured son, I guess I’m beginning to understand what my poor parents, especially, were up against. What makes me laugh is that there is so much of my father in McMini, too, that it’s hilarious. He has a great deal of McOther in him too, jeez you don’t discipline McMini, you open negotiations. It’s really terrible, but I would bet his father was exactly the same. He always drives a hard bargain, too. It’s interesting, he’s kind of cheeky but at the same time, he’s treating me as his equal, which is really rather lovely.

He’s also a kind little lad. The other day I took him metal detecting. McOther was away on business and there was a dig and I really wanted to go. I was aware he might not want to come so we agreed he could bring along his lap top and sit in the car playing games if he wanted to. We had a great morning out. He enjoyed it and he found some things. Worked out the exact spot and got them out. At the end, he told me that he’d had a lovely day and that even if we’d remembered the lap top, he didn’t think he’d have used it. He told me it was all the better because he’d been dreading it.

‘Oh dear, not totally dreading it were you?’ I asked.

‘Yes Mum, completely, but I couldn’t not come. I knew you hadn’t been for ages and you so wanted to go. I couldn’t stand in your way. How mean would that be?’

I thought that was pretty impressive for an eleven year old. So much like his father, and also so much like his grandfather.

Another area I feel a lot of the Dad influence is in cheesy stuff. Dad derived a great deal of hilarity from bad poetry, especially hymns. There were times in church when I could just lean forward and look along the row at Dad with a bit of a twinkle and he’d turn to me with a pained expression and we’d start giggling. We both tended to be a bit vague and sing the wrong verses in the wrong order, if they have them lined up so you go across you can guarantee we’d end up reading down, and vice versa. But McMini gets my hilarity at some of the terribly bad, sentimental Victorian poetry you find in hymns as well. He doesn’t come to church so often now, I don’t want to force it because he has a faith and nothing is more likely to switch that off than forcing him. And the church I go to is pretty good at picking the fabulous poetry rather than the crap stuff, anyway, but McMini, he does, sort of, get it; good and bad. I have come to poetry rather late in life, partly from school, but also, greatly, from my Dad pointing out the rousing stuff, in hymns and … well … anywhere. And then from noticing it in hymns, myself.

McMini can act, too. Really act, unlike my brother and I who are merely funny – not the same thing at all. He doesn’t, of course, he regards learning lines and attending rehearsals is far too much like hard work. Then again, as far as I can gather, so did Dad. Indeed, the old man’s louche approach to knowing lines or giving cues was legendary. Apparently you would often cover the plot points you were meant to in a scene with Dad but not necessarily in the order in which they were written or the time allocated. Sometimes he’d guess. If you were lucky, you might get enough indication, from the general gist of what he’d said, which line you were supposed to deliver in reply. There was also a lovely story a friend told about how he and Dad on stage. They were both very short sighted, but each was trying to help the other across the stage without falling off the edge, into the orchestra pit. The whole exercise was fraught with difficulty and an extra frisson of danger, because neither of them was very sure where it was.

Strangely, later in life, when Dad had Alzheimer’s, he could recite vast tracts of Shakespeare, apparently word perfectly. I’m thinking that he was probably in plays at school as a kid.

If McMini wanted to act in things, I suspect he’d be extremely good … if he could be arsed. Yes, he is so like his parents, but I see so much of my father in him, too. Dad may have died, but whether or not you believe in life after death, he lives on in us. Mwahahahaargh!

Talking about fine acting skills, the audio project is trundling along. Gareth is still coughing a bit and suffering a sore throat but he seems to be happily getting stuck into the second book. He has been surprised to discover the books are much longer than he thought, ‘another learning moment’ as he put it wryly. It sounds as if he’s been thinking, ‘bloody hell! What the fuck is going on! I should have finished this by now!’ Except I think Gareth is a bit less foul mouthed than me so he probably thought it more politely … possibly. I’ll have to get his address and send him some signed books. I suspect we may not get the whole thing done before he’s off on tour but I’m OK with that if he is. After all, quality can’t be rushed.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested, Nothing to See Here is available for preorder. If you want to know more, click here, or click on the picture.

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Shenannagins …

OK, so, I’m not even going to talk about the election result. The choice was a bumbling, everything-that-is-awful-about-posh, bloaty-faced, straw-haired sack of farts, or a man with a rather dodgy looking past who was slightly preferable but wants to do my brother and thousands like him out of a job. What do you want, Mary? Root canal without an anaesthetic or a ghost chilli enema. Choose. I chose, because women died to give me that right. The side I like least won but that’s not saying much. I consoled myself with some guerilla marketing, stealthily inserting cards about my free reader magnet into all the Terry Pratchett books in Waterstone’s. More on those stories, next time … now, it’s back to the matter in hand.

A mish mash of other stuff this week, then. Along with some of the most obscure comedy references available. I thank you. Today, as usual, I am writing to you from the past (Thursday). Well … apart from that first bit but let’s keep this as simple as we can shall we? It was McMini’s last day of term so I forewent parents’ swim, came straight back home after drop off and went into town to vote and do some Christmas shopping. After an hour and a half, I’d been moderately successful, and I couldn’t remember anything else I needed until I arrived home. Once here, realised that I’d forgotten to get the propelling pencil McMini wanted, although I can get that tomorrow.

While I was trailing round Waitrose, I had a quick chat to a friend, and found a small cured meats platter reduced from just shy of £7 to £2 and a rather garlicky curried bean salad which was also reduced. Smugly congratulating myself for sorting myself with a very pleasant lunch, I went home, where I immediately realised I had failed to get the one thing we really needed: milk.

The hat …

Never mind. I’d go up later I thought. And of course immediately I had that thought it began to rain and continued to piss down until the moment I had to leave to collect McMini from school.

Meanwhile, McOther is off on some work thing until late tonight in Oxford so collecting McMini involved going to the final school event of the term, McMini’s carol service. Alone.

The carol service takes place in the cathedral, which is a few hundred yards down the road from our house so I decided to walk. Seeing as it was still pissing with rain, and I had therefore failed to get the milk, I thought I’d take advantage of the time I had to walk into town to leave fifteen minutes early, swing by M&S on the way and pick up a plastic two pint bottle.

The communication from the school warned us that she service would start at two o’clock prompt and that there was stuff on in the cathedral so would parents not take their seats until after one fifteen. Shit were people sitting there for forty minutes? Fuck a duck! How full was it going to be? OK so I’d aim to get there by quarter to, that way I could stand at the back and sing really loudly without disturbing anyone. If I was really lucky, I’d be so far from other people that I’d be able to do the descents without anyone noticing.

There was a queue in M&S and so I strolled in at five to two. The cathedral was packed and, somewhat blinded by the miasma of pathetic rain all over my glasses I set off where I was ushed, if that’s a word, down the aisle.

Half way down, I was shown into a seat next to a pleasant couple who were on the aisle. It being rather bad form to take the outside and obscure their view, I squeezed past them and sat third person in. Shortly afterwards, a family arrived from the other side and took the remaining seats wedging me firmly in place. We were definitely packed in and when Once in Royal started up and we all stood, I turned sideways, which did make things easier. The people round me were pleasant enough but rather serious and staring straight ahead, clearly worried that I might engage them in conversation.

Waynetta Slob … and Wayne.

Then again, that was probably understandable, as they probably thought I was a weirdo. I was wearing a stripy knitted hat, so McMini would see me easily, a manky waterproof coat (think Ted’s out of Ralph and Ted in the Fast Show) a pair of wedgewood blue moleskin trousers that, in the wrong light, can be mistaken for the same kind of velour jogging pants favoured by Waynetta Slob and I was carrying a pint of milk. This, is probably not how the average Christian expects their fellows to turn up at church (well unless it’s mine and the person is doing coffee). I did demur from smiling at them and saying, ‘milky milky’ but I wonder if that might have broken the ice. Possibly, but I suspect it would merely have made people nervous, as a comedy reference goes, it’s too old and too obscure and would merely become the embodiment of the original parody.

The cathedral, itself, looked stunning and as a building expanded by the same firm of architects who designed the one where we had Dad’s memorial, there was a pleasant feeling of familiarity about it. The picture doesn’t really do it justice but they asked us not to take photos (after I’d taken that one) so I had to pixelate the teacher and crop off the parents in front of me.

Now, normally, when I go to carol services, I’m there with someone I know. So we are able to giggle when I sing the wrong verses to the carols incredibly loudly, or when I try to whisper the responses and end up barking, ‘AMEN!’ At the top of my voice when everyone else is saying, ‘and also with you’ because my voice has done something funny etc. The details of these things always amuse me and I come from a family of people who fuck it up in similar style. As a result, my memories of Christmas services, as a child, are of giggling at stuff ups, or because my brother was singing the carols falsetto, or I was singing them in a really high squeaky voice, an octave above everyone, that I can no longer do. Or Dad was complaining about how ‘fucking high’ the carols were this year (yes, there was plenty of effing, even pre Alzheimer’s) as his voice cracked, yet again, while, with a facial expression like someone sucking a lemon, he attempted the high bits in Hark the Herald.

There was also a propensity to do a kind of irreverent running commentary, among ourselves. In short, in my family, there was, still is, normally a lot of giggling. And if it isn’t family, I’m normally with other parents I know, so there is also giggling.

But when you are on your own you can’t giggle. Especially if you have a) turned up with a bottle of milk, b) eaten an injudiciously garlicky lunch which you are now sharing, through the medium of your incredibly scary breath as you do the singing and c) have already drawn a great deal of attention to yourself with your incredibly loud singing voice and the fact you are dressed like a rubby. On the up side, as a friend later remarked, at least it was only milk I turned up with and not a can of Stella.

Mwahahahahrgh! It’s never too early for a fusilier!

Of course, the absence of other like-minded nutters, or at least, in the event of my failing to out any that were near me, the commentary went on inside my head only.

There was a couple in front of me, sharing their service sheet in a very sit com style and a little old dear with them who I had down as grandma. Grandma (for want of a better name) suddenly upped sticks and with a nod, a smile and a wave at them disappeared off down the aisle to the back.

My brother’s suit! Nearly as loud as my voice, but not quite. 🤣

A few minutes later, after looking nervously round, the lady also disappeared up the aisle. She was gone for the whole of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem and then reappeared in the last verse but still sans old dear.  Had she gone to the Cathedral Centre lavatories to enquire after the old dear’s health? Was there a family crisis being played out here? I’ll never know, even though, as a professional nosey bastard (I’m an author after all) I’d like to.

There I was jammed in next to all these very nice but incredibly serious people. Their horror was almost palpable as I yelled my way through what felt like a million carols at the kind of volume that comes close to competing with a set of bagpipes. Maybe that’s why the old dear left. But the alternative is not to sing, which I will not countenance at a carol service, or to sing a bit less loudly, which is still deafening, but risks being really rather out of tune with it.

At the end of the service, the headmaster read the last lesson. They’d gone for a different response to the usual and he reverted to the traditional one. Except instead of giving the feed line he gave the response. Everyone tried to say something but nobody knew what to do so we all just went kind of, ‘mana-manah.’ And quick as a flash, a little voice in my head went, ‘do dooo do do do!’ And I started thinking about the Muppets song.

It wasn’t funny exactly, but it was accumulative funny, the sort of thing which would get a laugh if you added it to other stuff in a comedy. And if you have the kind of mind that’s already seeing a rich comedy of the absurd in yourself and everything around you, and has been attempting to do a Terry Wogan at seventies Eurovision-style voice over throughout the service. Or if you’re from the kind of family who’d start giggling. It’s really hard not to nudge the people either side of you and laugh. I resisted the temptation to nudge, but a small chuckle escaped.

Nobody else made a sound. Oops

Then Hark the Herald began.

Fuckity fucking fuck! (Sorry.) But seriously, Dad wasn’t wrong, I swear it goes up a key every year. For me things get a bit dicey over top f, I can do top g but only on days when I can’t get down to bottom g. Otherwise I have to do the special high note gurn. It’s a facial contortion that throws Dad’s sucking a lemon high-note reaching expression into the shade. And you just can’t go about doing that kind of thing in decent lighting, in front of people you don’t know. Most cathedrals are chuffing dark so hardly anyone can see. Not this one. Today was low voiced Mary, I’d managed to produce a crystal clear, non crackly Little Town of Bethlehem. I knew that fucking high note was going to be a bit of a stretch. And we were definitely up there.

So there I was wearing my manky old waterproof coat and my ridiculous pussy hat, screeching the carols like some peri-menopausal banshee. With a bottle of milk. And garlic breath. Trying not to show any outward signs of amusement or … well … any outward signs. While in my head I could hear my father guffawing his head off and saying something like, ‘Well Mary, you really have excelled yourself this year.’

 

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Let’s talk about things …

Wow, I have a whole gamut of stuff washing around to talk about this week. I’m not sure if I’ll get through it all or do it justice but off we go.

First of all, last week, you’ll have noticed there was a break in transmission. Yep. No blog post. I meant to do one but then it was time for the Christmas Fayre I was getting all my shizz ready and … er hem … I forgot.

In my defence, my father’s memorial service took it out of me. It was wonderful but blimey I was knackered afterwards. Lots of emotional stamina required. Which reminds me, I should write and thank a lot of people. Yet more stuff to add to the gargantuan, War And Peace-length list of Shit MTM Hasn’t Done. Gulp.

The fayre was kind of a mix. It was the first time in a new venue and it took a while for people to realise we were there. Friday was quiet, Saturday reasonably busy, and Sunday a lot busier. The books sold well, although differently, a lot of people bought two; a copy of Escape From B-Movie Hell and a copy of Small Beginnings. The EyebombThereforeIAm calendars, which I thought would sell like hot cakes and bankroll everything, they didn’t sell at all. So that was bizarre.

The ill fated eyebombing calendar

The consensus among friends and family is still, ‘oooh I’d buy one of those,’ and some even have, but they clearly left the general public cold. I am selling some for charity, which might help. I had to sell 30 at £9.99 to pay for costs, I sold five at £9 and I have sold three to a lovely friend for £9.99. I picked £9.99 after researching them in local shops and discovering they were mostly £9.99 – £15.99 so I went for the lowest price. However, McOther tells me a pop up calendar shop has opened in the new shopping centre with prices from about £7.00 to £9.99 so perhaps I’m now at the high end.

Never mind, onwards and upwards. If you think you’d like one you can find out more here.

Dad’s memorial went well. It’s always interesting going back to Lancing because for the first sixteen years of my life it was my home. I also had another home, kind of a two sheds Johnson, that was me, because we lived off site in the holidays. But Lancing means as much to me, in a different way, as the other place I grew up, which Mum still lives in now. Going back is like having a little squiffy in your old house, seeing how the new owners have changed the decor! Although I haven’t been in our actual old house.

It was a glorious celebration. Really lovely. I cried my eyes out at the end in a way I hadn’t at the funeral, which was a bit embarrassing but also kind of cathartic and easy enough to hide because I was wearing a big hat. Just look down and hey presto! Nothing to see here. I suppose I felt it more because this was the last goodbye and the last thing we can do for Dad … well … except inter his ashes but we are going to … er hem … batch him and Mum. The eulogies were great, really funny, the way Dad would have wanted. Lots of stories about his antics. Some good shouty hymns. Really well chosen readings and the readers and speakers did a grand job. I even managed not to cock mine up! Woot! Although I was last up so I was shitting gargantuan bricks for most of the service. Listening to audiobook proofs all week helped in that respect as I just followed the little voice in my head that said ‘read it the same way’ and did. Minus the funny voices, of course.

Highlight of the readings they chose an excerpt from 1 John Chapter 20, which included verse 4:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

A perfect summation of Dad’s attitude, since he was the embodiment of love thy neighbour in a way that many of the loudest Christians on the internet – especially the mentalist, old-testament-thumping, gun-loving ones in the US – are not. Yes, if you think anyone is Satan’s own spawn because they think differently from you and say you love Jesus, you’re a liar! Love that.

Desmond Tutu stood here and so did I.

Huge amusement afterwards when we discovered a plaque bearing the legend, ‘Desmond Tutu stood here to dedicate this window to his friend Trevor Huddleston.’ Much incredibly mature ‘standing here’ where Desmond Tutu had stood ensued, from me, Bruv and Eldest Nephew, Good-King-Wenceslas-‘heat-was-in-the-very-sod’ stylee. Mwahahahrgh! Phnark.

With the election on, I think I am feeling Dad’s absence a lot more, mainly because of the race the bottom that is the election campaign. I’m one of these weird, old fashioned people who thinks that lies, soundbites and dirty tricks, just make a party look like a bunch of twats. I think fake news is a danger, not something to be embraced. I’m one of these old fashioned people who thinks dishonourable and shoddy behaviour, unkindness, opponent smearing, hypocrisy and bare faced lies, you know three year old caught with a hand in the biscuit tin and denying it, Scottish Spaceport is nearly built, let’s change our twitter name so we look like an impartial not for profit organisation disseminating facts rather than one of the contenders, kind of lies, and a general complete lack of integrity, are actually bad things. I still believe elections should be fought on issues although I’m not 100% sure if the labour site I’ve found is their real site or a conservative spoof. Sigh.

When it came to the day to day discipline of running his house, Dad had zero tolerance for three things, drinking hard spirits (he’d Not Catch boys drinking beer, wine or cider, so long as it wasn’t too out of hand but he would catch the spirit drinkers) drugs and bullying. Even so, nearly every boy my Dad expelled was expelled for bullying. One, who was expelled for doing something particularly stupid but which wasn’t bullying, was finally reinstated after three days, at my Dad’s behest. He didn’t stand by and let something go if he believed it to be an in justice.

Maybe that’s the trouble with this election; the glaring lack of statesmanlike behaviour in pretty much every one of the high profile politicians. The trouble is, there are decent people beavering away on the back benches for all parties. They just never seem to make it to the front.

To me and many others, the NHS is a good thing, and the death of a thousand tiny cuts to which the current and previous governments (of all colours) have subjected it is a bad thing. Successive governments have been breaking it so they can say, ‘look this doesn’t work’ and contract it out.

Take dementia care. My father paid tax all his life but until he was down to his last £14k he was not eligible for free health care, and even when he was, because he had a work pension, he actually paid for it, they just charged a lower rate. If he’d had a frontal lobe tumour it would have presented the same symptoms, but he would have been half a million quid richer when he died. Half a million quid of life savings which he’d earned and already paid tax on. You know tax don’t you, the stuff you pay so you get things like free healthcare from the NHS? At the point where he was weakest, most vulnerable and most in need of help, Dad was betrayed.

The thing is, hanging out with my Dad, as he became more and more mentally disabled, has turned something round in me. My Dad said and did some pretty grim things during various phases of his disease. Partly because there were no filters, partly because his world was warped and distorted by his disability, and I guess partly because his disability also warped his efforts at self expression. Sometimes he was horrible and that hurt because he was always my dad. And I knew that somewhere inside that inappropriate, screaming exterior was the gentle, kindly soul I knew. He just couldn’t reach us. A lot of the time, all he needed was the right word, the right help, to bring him back. We couldn’t always find it but we tried and I think he was aware of that.

But now when the conservatives talk about scroungers and tell disabled people to get jobs, when they foster the zero tolerance, claw-it-all-back attitude to social care and disability benefits I begin to wonder if I’ve jumped timelines or something, I’m so out of kilter with the way other people think. When they shame and vilify disabled or chronically ill people as scroungers, I feel sick. When Social Services ask my friend’s daughter, with achondroplasia, when she expects to get better I am unimpressed. This, a bright, very bright, intelligent human being, someone with a great deal to contribute to society, who was also in with a chance of becoming a future Olympic athlete. So not a scrounger or a free loader then. I’m beginning to understand what Sir Terry meant when he talked about holding onto the anger. It’s not angry ranting, well not always, it’s just righteous ire that burns the whole time. That’s why I have to write it out, it’s doing my head in.

The anguish of Dad’s last half year or so still haunts me and it probably always will, but it has also profoundly changed the way I see my fellow humans. I now realise, more than anything, that imagination is the most important gift we possess. It’s imagination that makes us able to see the other person’s side. It’s imagination that enables us to find a way through. It’s imagination that helps us understand that, if our enemies saw people’s heads off with a kitchen knife and post it on YouTube, the thing that raises us above them is that we don’t. It’s imagination that allows us to understand that torturing suspected torturers, ‘because they do it to us’ merely makes us one of them, possibly worse, because while they’re brainwashed and uneducated, we have the tools to know better and have made a conscious choice. It’s because we have imagination what we can realise that an eye for an eye merely debases all the arguments that our way is better than theirs at a stroke.

It’s imagination that makes us think before we wade in. It’s imagination that tells us when taking sides is necessary or merely petty. It’s imagination that allows us to step outside the bubble, accept and enjoy friendships with people who have different political viewpoints to us or are friends with people we don’t get on with. Politics is about issues and problem solving, it’s not a competition to see who can tell the most lies or paint their opponent as the biggest shit, although anyone looking at it now could be forgiven for thinking it is.

Another thing I have learned from the experience with my Dad is that everyone has a value, everyone is of some importance, everyone has something to contribute. I’m even beginning to see how Corrie Ten Boom’s sister, in Auschwitz, was able to feel sorry for the guards because they were so cruel. She thought their lives must be so empty, so without empathy, love, compassion and all the other things that make living so wonderful. I thought she was nuts at the time, now … I dunno. I am beginning to think it must be truly terrible to be as pompous as vainglorious as desperately in constant need of ego affirmation as Trump or Bojo. And yet I’m also beginning to see the humanity in the psychopaths, the killers, the mentally ill; those who I would have dismissed without a second thought as evil before I watched my father go insane. Perhaps I’m beginning to understand that many of them are just unwell. Mental illness is horrifically complicated but I seem to be able to extend them a courtesy I am finding it very difficult to give Boris, Trump and their ilk.

Dad always held the view that to get anywhere or do anything, you had to be a decent human being. He believed that being decent and honourable gets you quietly, unobtrusively, where you want to go. Because if you are straight with people and stand by them they will love you, and people who love you will move mountains for you. Not necessarily at the times, places or in a manner you expect but they will.

More and more, now he’s gone, I find myself sticking my head above the parapet, not because I care that much even, but because Dad’s not here to do it. Even if it’s just to joke about being the token bleeding heart liberal in some of my friendship groups and put a different point of view. But the thing is, despite half my friends having voted Brexit, which is a bit of a downer, we still all have so much common ground and we are still friends. Maybe this country will heal, if the politicians and the loud mouths will stop using the divisions to score points and entrenching them further; ie, shut the fuck up and give it time.

I can’t wait until this bloody election is over.

 

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