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

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

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

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

I think this captures the mood …

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

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

‘Hmmm,’ I thought.

I flushed a second time and the same thing happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arse.

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

‘Hmmm,’ I say.

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

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

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

Joy.

Nothing happens to the water level.

‘Ah,’ I think.

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

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

Nob ends.

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

I decide to chalk it up to experience.

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

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

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

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

Bollocks. Way to win them round M T.

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

Head. Desk.

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

Yes: Look before you leap.

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

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

Ho hum. You can’t win ’em all.

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What do you see when you look at me?

You see a bad mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Calm in a crisis; elementary burglary for dunderheads …

One of the strange things people tell me often is that I am calm in a crisis. Positively the ice woman, apparently, in my capacity for quick thinking action.

Want to know a secret about that?

It’s bollocks.

Well not wholly bollocks but mostly. Amazingly, I am actually extremely cool-headed in a crisis, I can make calm decisions in the heat of the action and the blink of an eye. They are not always the best decisions, but they are decisions that are, usually, a great step on from the nothing at all that others are doing. Sometimes, my decisions even precipitate a solution of sorts. Let’s make it clear, we are not talking about the kind of person who is likely to confront an armed robber, but if someone else is in trouble, I’m usually reasonably handy for doing the thinking, or taking action, if they can’t. But that isn’t because I’m the kind of clear-thinking, lion-hearted, V.C. winning material that the phrase, ‘cool headed in a crisis’ conjures up.

No.

It’s because I’m a complete and utter twat.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Yesterday is an excellent example of why monumental twattery makes for good crisis management.

It’s three o’clock; time to walk up to the school to collect McMini. I grab the keys as I leave the house but when I shut the door and the yale lock clicks I can’t find the keys to do the chubb. I know what’s happened, I’ve grabbed them, and as I put them and the bag of post school snacks for McMini in my pocket, I’ve missed and dropped them. I look inside but can see no keys lying on the floor.

Aaaaaargh! No keys! What shall I do? Dan-dan-daaaaaargh! Thinks Mary … NOT.

It’s three o’clock and while I can break in and search for my keys it will take time. McMini is to be collected at three fifteen and if I’m late, he thinks I’m dead and gets worried. I will have to go. I mean, the door is locked.

‘Yeh laters,’ I think, since, in theory, I don’t need to try and get into the house for another forty minutes. The locked-in keys are not an immediate problem.

Except they are.

Having put the absence of keys aside to deal with later, the next, more immediate, thorny issue pops up; how to make the gate look locked, yet leave it secretly unlocked, so McMini and I can get in, but no-one else will try to.

Casting around I see the large chunk of a fallen tree trunk which we are using to edge a flowerbed. Thanking the good Lord for the gym, I heave it down the path and lean it against the back gate. Carefully, mind, I don’t want it to get jammed against the wooden reinforcing planks across the middle and jam it closed. That done to my satisfaction, I slip carefully through the gate so it continues to lean on the right place and head for the school.

When we return, the gate is still closed, yet we are able to open it because the wedge has worked correctly. Excellent. I shut the gate, flip the latch down so it locks and put the tree trunk back where it was. Now to open the yale lock.

Taking off my anorak I spread it on the doorstep because it’s damp and I don’t want to be soaked as well as irritated. Then I rummage about in the potting shed and select a long bamboo cane. I tie some wire round one end in a D-shaped loop, lie on the anorak and feed the pole, and my arm, through the cat flap. McMini holds the door handle down while I loop the D round the catch for the yale lock on the inside of the door. That done, I check he is still holding the handle as I require and pull the stick downwards, so it pushes against the straight side of the lock handle and turns it. You need the wire because the weight of the bamboo pole and the force of me are not strong enough on their own. The door opens and we are in. My keys are still on the peg, so basically, it seems I just bashed them with my hand in the way past. Yes, I created a crisis because I reached for my keys and actually, genuinely forgot to grip.

Give me strength.

Never mind. All is well. Total time to break in about thirty seconds; or roughly five minutes from the start of our search for a suitable stick.

How come I can break into my own house so fast?

Practise.

Practise? How do I get to practise?

Weeeeelllll. Being such a total fucktard, I manage to lock myself out of my house several times a month. See how it is that an event which would be a disaster for anyone normal is rendered routine and mundane by my awesome twattery. Yeh! Go me. Lock-out is a blip, a minor inconvenience to Mrs Shit-for-brains and son. Notice, too, how this crisis is of my own making.

So there you have it. I suspect, there are two vital components to managing a sudden crisis; the first is to be able to act at once, without being British about it and pausing to wonder if you ought to interfere. If you’re a prize pillock then clearly, you will have got over any feelings of self consciousness – or at least buried them – by din’t of the fact that you cannot afford to countenance what others think of you or you would never leave the house.

The second component of successful crisis management, I suspect, is to be able to suspend your disbelief. What I mean is that you just need to find a way of not noticing how gargantuan the pile of shit you are in actually is, but just approach it as a problem to be solved. In short, it’s down to conditioning. And if you’re the kind of spanner who regularly locks yourself out of the house, strands yourself in the middle of nowhere with a flat battery and jump leads that don’t work, misses planes, boats, hovercrafts and trains, loses your passport, takes a plane a day early etc, then you probably tackle a crisis of some sorts most days to the point where, for you, even a major crisis feels like a normal part of your day.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you,
You are, most like, a porridge-brained idiot
Who can’t remember their own name or find their own arse,
In the dark, with both hands. But when shit goes down, you stand up.

I’m really sorry Mr K.

If you want a calm head in a crisis you need practise, and being an utter tool in your day-to-day life will give you that practise. Yes, in every disorganised bollock-head lives the ice woman or man. Probably.


If you are despair of ever bing a big enough twat to crisis manage successfully never fear, why not pep yourself up with an uplifting, noblebright, humorous, science fiction fantasy box set for 40% off.

Yes, there are still a couple of days to get the K’Barthan Series Box Set at a drastically reduced price on Kobo.

To find out more – just click here.

On the other hand, if you are already becoming adept at creating small crises for yourself, failing to procure a calendar for 2018 for example, you can always grab an eyebombing calendar from my recently re-vamped and re-tidied Zazzle shop here.

Postcards of my best eyebombs are available there, too, along with K’Barthan bling and some other stuff.

Last of all a glimpse at my new marketing technique: I’ve decided to try threatening people*. So here we are. Buy my stuff or Lord Vernon will visit you.

Buy my stuff! Or I’ll send him round.

* That’s a joke, obviously. It’s a bit crap though, really, isn’t it? oh well, never mind.

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(Brandy)Butter balls; a bit of Christmas wittering.

It occurred to me that I should be doing a Christmas round up soon or at least a what’s on next year. However, I have spectacularly failed to get my shit together in time for it this week – ooooo there’s a surprise – so instead I’m going to give you a recipe … eventually.

As you know, I am the original Grinch, only slightly more bad tempered; think of me as the Voldemort of Christmas cheer – or possibly the Lord Vernon.

BUT there are bits of the whole sorry mess that even I enjoy. I do a number of Christmas parties including two corporate wife events which are a gas. Last night was at a Cambridge college which is, basically, supper at Hogwarts so what’s not to like?

Dinner at Hogwarts. A typical Cambridge dining hall (last year’s) … very like my school’s dining hall but without the mashed potato on the ceiling, although I think they’ve taken that off the ceiling at my school now, too. Young people are much better behaved these days.

However,  unlike Hogwarts these places are properly cold. I went resplendent in a thick velvet jacket and trousers, a big warm shawl and thermal underwear. The meal was pretty good, especially the turkey and trimmings and, bonus, the waiter dropped a sausage on the table between me and the lady opposite and then served her another one ‘for hygiene reasons’ which meant me and the lady were able to cut it in half and enjoy a soupcon extra. Snortle.

On the way home we did the interesting road closed manoeuvre again – and we’ll be doing it tonight, too – but we went the right way this time so no single track roads, just country lanes.

This morning, through the hangover fug, it did occur to me that at all these events there is one aspect that lets them down; the brandy butter, or at least lack thereof.

Have you noticed how restaurants tend to serve brandy cream with the Christmas pud? Last week’s was good but many’s the time when it’s had an unfortunate tendency to taste like a mixture of methylated spirits and petroleum jelly – usually at school where they were afraid to serve brandy to the under-aged and were using ‘brandy flavour’ instead. Another favourite is a kind of custard. That sounds good on paper, but because it lacks the usual yellow dye it is white and a bit viscous and I’m afraid it comes up looking very like sperm. This is slightly unnerving when someone’s slathered it all over your food. You wonder what they’ve been doing out there in the kitchen. That said, it always tastes a lot better and since custard is always nice, no matter how jizz-like the colour, I’m game for as much as they’ll give me, which is never enough and … well … it’s not brandy butter is it?

When I was a kid growing up, my mum regularly made several hundred mince pies each year for church, the house (when we lived in the school) and any number of other events. She also made the pud, the cake, the stuffing for the turkey, grew the sprouts and the spuds and everything else from scratch. But then Mum is a kind of cordon-bleu-hunter-gatherer-Beth-Chatto*. The pud would be served in flames and the mince pies would be heated in the oven, all were served with brandy butter, and because it was so good, nobody was allowed it unless they had some pud or mince pies – or ‘little bleeders’ as we call them because when asked if he liked them at his first Christmas with us, McOther voiced all our thoughts by saying,

‘No, I hate the little bleeders.’

But I digress. Back to the brandy butter. OMG, as I believe young people say, that brandy butter was a slice of heaven. We’d have one mince pie and a dessert spoonful of brandy butter to go with, ie a lump of comparable size to the pie. Then you held the butter back when you ate the mince pie and would go in for seconds of pudding but this time, you’d done your duty and had some Christmas fayre so you were allowed to choose something you liked: a meringue. That there people is combo made in heaven – even if, most likely, it’s one that will swiftly see you in heaven, in a more literal sense, by blocking your arteries and giving you a heart attack.

These days, when I talk about brandy butter, hardly anyone seems to know what it is. That’s a crying shame and is a situation I wish to redress. However, Mum’s recipe for brandy butter is a bit generalist it goes like this:

‘Well darling, what I do is take some unsalted butter and some icing sugar, beat them in the mixer and add brandy to taste.’

You can try that if you like, it’s pretty much what I do, but I have managed to convert this, sort of, to a normal weights and measures type of thing.  I’ve stuck to weights and measures because everyone can weigh things out, but ‘cup’ size varies all over the world and doesn’t exist in the UK, so if I do cups no-one will have a fucking clue how much to put in. Mwahahahargh; not least of all, me!

I don’t have a picture of brandy butter so here’s a little fellow about to give you a warm hug. Yes, last night’s college was a target rich environment.

* famous gardener

Brandy Butter

75g/3oz butter left out first so it’s reasonably soft.
175g/6oz icing sugar
1 table spoon of Brandy – to start with, anyway but keep the bottle handy.
1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed orange juice – preferably from an actual orange.
A smattering of orange zest from the same orange.

The trick with this one is you have to taste it. A lot. Here’s the method.

1. Put the butter in a mixing bowl and sieve the icing sugar over the top.
2. Beat it – either by hand or with a mixer is fine. I use a Kenwood Chef mixer which I bought at a jumble sale (rummage sale) about 25 years ago for £5 and I use the beater attachment rather than the whisk.
3. Eventually it will go quite smooth, like butter icing (butter frosting?). This is where you add your brandy – slowly so it doesn’t curdle.
4. Have a taste. Add more brandy if you need to but remember putting liquids in this is tricky so keep it to small amounts at a time. Add some orange zest.
5. Have another taste. Add the orange juice and a bit more orange zest if you want to. I like it with orange because it makes it a bit less sweet but avoid over doing it. You just want a background hint, it’s not orange butter, after all. That said, Mum’s never tasted over sweet and she didn’t use orange but I suspect it had absolutely gargantuan amounts of brandy in it.
6. Once you’ve got it how you like it, put it in a dish and keep it in the fridge. If you put enough brandy in, I’m telling you, this stuff will keep for a sod of a long time. Like a year at least.

The basic gist is two parts sugar to one butter so it’s reasonably easy to scale up, or down, but the more you make, the easier it is to mix.

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When dyslexic people try to fill in forms … #dementia

This week, a cry for sympathy rather than help, hopefully, in a way that is amusing or useful to you.

Last night, McOther and I were invited to a Christmas party. We went. He from London, me from here. I met him there. I was late because our babysitter couldn’t get here before 7.00pm – although I had only just hopped out of the shower when she arrived. This year, the babysitter had not had a car accident, McOther was not in the middle of some stupid deal and it all went off without a hitch. Until we drove home at which point we found a sign announcing that the road would be closed at the next junction. So we ended up having an interesting adventure driving around the Suffolk countryside on muddy single track roads, in the middle of the night, at temperatures of about four below so the mud was mostly ice.

This is the story of my life right now.

Nothing is quite going to plan.

It’s not that things are going badly, or over complicated even, just that they are consistently arse-about-face. The simple things complicated and the complicated things … nope they’re still complicated. It’s not all hand of God like that one though. A lot of the cock ups are my fault.

Obviously with Christmas looming I’d expect things to be going slightly wrong, but this year, even November, which is usually a nice quiet month, got complicated. It all started about ten days in, as I was cresting a very creditable 25k in the first ten days of NanoWriMo. My brother phoned in a panic because the accountant who does Mum’s tax return had been onto him telling him that he must do this that and the other, and suggesting we remove all Mum and Dad’s remaining estate from stocks and shares and into a high interest account. It sounded barking to me but what do I know? Luckily after a few phone calls to check the situation, and a consultation with McOther who understands banking and shizz in a way I don’t, it was all sorted out but it took several days.

At the same time, my brother raised a second thing; that we need to have a properly legal power of attorney over Mum and Dad’s health – yes my lovely peps a Do Not Resuscitate form is not enough, why, I do not know but it seems they have to express this intention formally, using a living will or a special government form. The form is massive and it has to be witnessed, counter witnessed, another independent person has to sign to say Mum and Dad are not being coerced and they all have to do this in front of one another. The form has to be signed in a certain order, or it’s void and when it’s done it costs £110 to file each form, which you don’t get back if you fuck it up and you have to pay again to resubmit, although they will let you resubmit it a second time for half the fee.

To complicate things Mum and Dad’s DNR was signed three or four years ago and the legal stuff must be organised while Mum and Dad are still capable of stating their intentions about this or we would have to make them wards of court or something horrifically complicated. Mum is fine but I wasn’t sure about Dad. I knew I’d have to get the forms filled in and ready to discuss by Wednesday so I could go through them with him when I visited.

Having taken this all in, it occurred to me that I had pissed several days of Nano to the four winds but I had written the middle week of Nano off anyway, because Mum’s birthday is on 18th November and she isn’t really able to organise things like a cake, day out etc for herself so some of that, notably the cake for 15 people, would fall to me. We were all going to have lunch with her at the pub on the Saturday. Likelihood of both attorneys, both deputy attorneys, Mum and Dad in a compos state and enough hangers on about to witness the thing being in the same room in the same place again within another year, low. And, as I said, the middle week of November was already shot writing-wise so I decided I may as well lob the form filling into the mix. Along with the cake.

Finding the forms online was reasonably straightforward and I printed them out and set about filling in the obvious bits. After cock ups galore, I ran out and when I came to print some more I discovered that the latest Windows update had some issue with older printers so I couldn’t print them. So I rang and got them to send me two copies. Thanks Microsoft, I have a computer that won’t save anything to the remote hard drive I bought for it after the last upgrade and which can’t print anything in less than half an hour after this one. Way to go. Yes if I had world enough and time, I am sure I could browse our help fora, as you very reasonably point out, because I’ve nothing better to do with my available time than spend a couple of weeks of it fixing my computer so the drive is useable and its 64bit operating system is, once again, able to talk to a 34 bit printer. I could. But unfortunately, you total and utter bastards, I have a life.

After the helpful intervention from Microsoft I sent the forms to my parents’ email address and on the next Wednesday, I visited Mum and Dad, printed out several copies and set about filling them in. I must state, at this point, that while the forms, themselves, are a nightmare, the government helpline to assist you is staffed by wonderful people who answered my numerous questions about the bleedin’ obvious with politeness and endless patience.

Filled in forms 1 and 2 on the left, instructions and stuffed up pages on the right. Pen, for size reference.

Naturally, since it’s a government form, and you have to have about ten people in the room at once to sign it, two of whom have dementia, plus three children ranging in age from seven to nine who are a bit bored. Distractions are everywhere and opportunities to fuck it up are legion. Add in that the person ‘organising’ it all, the ‘sensible one’ in my family is pathologically unable to fill in any form without fucking it up at least three times and you have a recipe for disaster. I had seven copies of each page. I used every. single. one.

Indeed I had to print an extra one to redo when I discovered that if I so much as scratched out a letter Mum and Dad, the two attorneys and the two deputy attorneys all had to initial them.

Mwahhahahahargh! Another MTM cake wreck.

Meanwhile, a family tragedy overtook two of the carers on the morning, which meant the cake for fifteen which I had made and McMini had helped me ice was somewhat redundant. It also meant that I was going to have to arrange lifts to the legion of appointments with the nurse, hospital, dentist etc that Mum had over the following two weeks while they were on compassionate leave. Obviously, dear Mum did just enough to make it really complicated, organising lifts, then forgetting, or asking me to and forgetting and then organising them so we found two doughty folks had stepped up to help. But we got it sorted. Just! And it could have been so much worse, because the other two carers stepped into the breech and were wonderful while the other ladies were on compassionate leave. We still had a good day on the birthday, Mum called it her ‘best birthday ever’ even if a cake for fifteen was a little more than was required … and I got the forms signed …

… Except I didn’t.

Oh no.

Dick brain here managed to miss the page where the attorneys have to sign and so I had buy two hard backed envelopes so I could send those to my brother to sign – with the second envelope stamped and self addressed inside (he lives further from a post office than I do). I left them to ‘rest’ for a week while he was doing that, on the pretence this would make me more efficient when I checked them but really, just to see if I could jemmy in the last few days of Nano.

This week, there was a panic about Christmas, who would make the cake? Not me!  Yippeee! Who would order the turkey, Mum hadn’t, I did, just in time. Phew.

And then yesterday, back to the forms. One round of final checks as I was getting them ready to post and I realised one of the other pages my brother signed had managed to slip through without a witness signature.

Head desk.

Another joy of having a form of dyslexia, you only seem to see these things one at a time, so you check and find a mistake, rectify it, check, find another and so on. I just hope I cease to find mistakes eventually, except, when I cease to find them, it won’t necessarily mean that there are none.

Anyhooo … The lady who had signed as a witness isn’t one I routinely see on a Wednesday. Would I have to arrange a special meet? I rang the government helpline and was told no it could be someone different. So now, on Wednesday, the lovely carer on duty is going to sign as witness.

At the same time, I was working on the other form my brother mentioned, the thing where Dad gets a community charge reduction. Turns out I’d filled that in and sent it to the Doctor to certify at some stage AND COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN! Help me God! How? I found out when he popped round to see us on Wednesday with it and while it was a lovely surprise to discover I’d been so efficient it was a bit of a shock to have completely erased such a land mark event from my memory.

Form for Dad was signed, I’d done one for Mum on the off chance but Mum has no diagnosis for her memory gaps and isn’t really mentally prepared for the news, if we are to get her one, so I can’t get a reduction for her but I can get one for Dad. So yesterday, having discovered I’d bollocksed the Lasting Power of Attorney for Health forms I turned to the Community Charge Disregard for Dad, called a ‘disregard’ because they disregard that person when totting up the bill, except they only disregard 25% of him but I’m not complaining because it’s a sod of a lot better than refusing to disregard him at all, sorry where was I? Oh yeh.

There are two parts to the form, a bit the doctor filled in and another bit which I fill in. Needless to say, I ballsed it up. Manfully I print one. After twenty minutes of printing enough of it has come out for me to discover it’s auto set for landscape.

The form is portrait.

Swearing colourfully, I cancel the print job and after waiting ten minutes for the printer and computer to sort that out with one another, I check the ‘portrait’ box and set it to print again. I leave it and sort the washing into darks and lights, change the sheets on the beds and come back to find it’s printed a quarter of a page. I go and make a spag bol for half an hour and discover it’s now half done. Then it occurs to me I have no address to send it to so I ring the council to ask, they ask me for my account reference, I say I don’t know it and ask for the address which the lady thinks is on the form but she’s kind enough to give it to me anyway. As I write it down, I hear the sound of the printer spitting out the completed sheet. I look at the form. It is set out as a table with shaded headers for each bit. At the top, above the table is a tiny bit of type which I only notice now that the woman has asked me for it. ‘Account Ref’ it says.

Fucking shit.

Do I have the account reference number? Do I bollocks?

But wait! I can look at the bank statement, it will be on there won’t it? I spend five minutes getting into the account with the special secret code that you get by putting a different password into to your phone and have to type in before it expires and it’s numbers and you have discalculia so you have to do it twice and it forgets all the other answers you’ve typed on the page because you got the one wrong so you have to type them all back in and then the new passcode has expired so you have to go back to your phone and do the other password again and so on.

I get in. Is the ref number there?

No.

Arse.

Second job for Wednesday, find the knobwanking reference number.

Here’s hoping that when I check these bastard forms next time, they will all be in order.

At the end of it all, Mum, my brother and my sister in-law sat me down and told me I must pay myself for the stuff I do for Mum and Dad. So now I’m earning one day’s ‘consultancy’ a week from them, which is what I’d be doing if I was efficient.

On top of that upside, what of Nano? Well, I did 35,000 words in less than half of November. OK so that isn’t a ‘win’ but in the number of days in which I was actually doing writing, that is a gargantuan result. And, it shows that:

  1. The Joe Nassis method of planning a bit, even if you don’t normally plan, on line seminar I went to and took copious notes about does actually work for me.
  2. That if I can make time to write, any time at all, and structure it properly, I’m fucking productive!
  3. There will be a novel out next year.

Woot.

Finally, a note on powers of attorney or planning generally. My parents sorted out enduring power of attorney forms in 2004 so that if anything happened we could take care of their finances smoothly. At that time health was usually implied, certainly in the way the homes and hospitals my grandparents ended up in consulted my parents over their wishes in regard to treatment. As I said last week, I remember talking to my Mum after the home where my Grandmother was had asked her whether they should aim to cure my grandmother of pneumonia or make her comfortable. These days she would need to be officially and legally entitled to make that decision for my Grandmother and likewise, I need to be, to make decisions like that for her and Dad. Best laid plans of mice and Mum and Dad etc. You can plan but even when you do, you have to accept that laws change, the landscape alters and things move on.

Also, if you’re doing these forms for finances it is worth consulting the bank. Despite having power of attorney over my Dad’s affairs, I am not allowed a bank card for him, so it’s worse than useless when it comes to the day to day matter of trying to buy things or get cash out for my parents, etc, etc. Luckily, they have a joint account and it is a key reason why we haven’t activated Mum’s; because she needs cash, and she’s two to three hours away by car, so the ability for her, or her carers, to get to a cashpoint themselves, or pay for things by card in a shop is very important. I am certified by the bank to do telephone and internet banking now, which helps a lot. So I keep an eye on her bank account, pay the wages and liaise with their stock broker when they need more cash. It works very well, and I consult Mum each week about what she’s paying and to whom, but it’s definitely a compromise and I’m not 100% sure if our method is exactly by the book.

After all this, the other day, McMini with his somewhat gappy smile, grinned at me and then, pointing to the large empty space where his new front tooth will grow said, ‘Look Mummy! My gums are bald.’

And so it continues …

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Beeper and Bingy, and free books … #randomwittering #metaldetecting #mcmini

Scroogeability factors.

Better late than never today. The build up to Christmas is well and truly under way and I am gradually disappearing up my own bottom. As usual I am slightly dreading the holiday period but mainly because of all the travel, the being away from home and the general pain-in-the-arseness of that, the people I visit are lovely I just wish I didn’t have to do it all at once. Short school holidays are a bit of a bind in that respect because we have to use the time to visit when we can because in term time we’d have to take McMini out of school and neither set of parents can travel. I couldn’t do it any other way and like myself as a person so it’s head down, get it done and then I can feel enormously smug that I’ve been a decent human being when it’s over.

The bit I do like is the looking for presents for everyone, that’s where I can forget the bits I don’t like; travel, admin, remembering to pack everything, and focus on the bits I do; the people involved. Now that is a gas although this month, I have been rather remiss. I got my Christmas money from Mum and Dad early and I have spent it on a present for myself.

Meet Beeper … or is it Bingy?

Yep, a couple of weeks ago, I bit the bullet and upgraded my metal detector. I managed to spend about £40 more than McOther spent when he bought my original entry-level detector new but for that I got second hand detector that would be about £700 when new. An XP Goldmaxx V4. I also bought some of the XP wireless headphones for it because I was fed up with getting the headphone cable tied around my ankles, burying it in the hole by mistake etc etc.

So this new detector, is it good? You bet your arse!

Although, of course, it means I have to go back to the beginning and start the learning curve again because each detector’s beeps and whistles and peeps are different and the only way you can truly know which beeps represent something you should be digging up, and which don’t, are by digging every single signal until you’ve learned them by heart. I think I’ve just about worked out what hot rocks (coke) sound like and I suspect I’m nearly there with aluminium and deep iron but I’ve only taken it out twice, so I’m still digging every signal I hear.

Last week, I took McMini along to a club dig; me with the new detector, he with my old detector which is now ‘his’. It didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, the detector was too heavy for him and it was the day after a very late night so he whinged constantly. Ideally he needed to stop to eat, and I mean properly eat, at half hourly intervals which was a pity as I only brought along lunch and I needed an almost bottomless supply of snacks. We wasted the first two hours footering around, other than deciding that our detectors were called Beeper and Bingy. I think his is Beeper but sometimes mine’s Beeper and his is Bingy, depending on which name he thinks is the funniest at the time.

However, after lunch, he stayed at the car, and while that did doom me to only detect on one field (because I don’t like it if I can’t see him) I did get a couple of hours of proper detecting in. The new machine was good. Sure, I dug a couple of chunks of iron but I have gone past the ‘I wonder what it is,’ zone and reached the stage of thinking, ‘that’s iron, but I’d better dig it to check.’ So that is progress. Getting past that will be tricky as I am an eternal optimist and will probably be digging everything, ‘just in case’ in several years’ time but that isn’t so bad.

Hand made wingnut and old metal … thing.

Despite having no display screen, everything about the new detector is easier, and as the information on the screen the old one had was wonderfully and wildly inaccurate, losing the visuals doesn’t really make that much difference. But my faster pinpoint and dig rates mean I can find more targets, meaning that if something is a lump of old shite, it doesn’t take up nearly as much of my time as it did before. The last two outings, it’s been a case of right metals, but that medieval lead seal matrix I think I’ve found turns out to be a tiny blob of shapeless lead, and that Roman broach-style coppery bing brings up a hand made wingnut. OK so it’s hand made and probably over two hundred years old but sadly, though almost everything has someone somewhere who is interested, a wingnut of any age is regarded as crap in all quarters.

Ho hum. You can’t win ’em all.

That said, one of the fragments of green metal I dug up turned out to have the hint of a embossing on one edge when I got home. So I had a good old scrub at it with a wooden cocktail stick and brought up a lovely pattern. Then I dropped it and trod on it, breaking the bent corner, which was really smart of me, and when I put it out on the finds table at the club one of my hawk-eyed colleagues said.

‘Look, there’s a bit of guilding on that.’

A clog fastener, Regency era? Going on the pattern.

I examined it under the lights and sure enough, he was right. My mind wandered to the industrious scrubbing with a wooden cocktail stick that I had done to bring up the pattern. ‘Hmm. Yes,’ I had to admit as I clocked the hints of gold in the cracks. ‘Sadly, I think there’s probably a lot less than there was.’

Then to compound my embarrassment, the FLO said he thought it might be Saxon. I think the metal’s too thin for Saxon but it’s definitely 12th or 13th Century. He’s taken it away to check it out so I’ll let you know which it actually is when I collect it in January. It’s a bit like the thing that looked like the end of a metal bag tie that I dug up on one of my first digs. It was green so I reckoned it was old, and I thought I’d kept it but now I suspect, I threw away – at least I can’t find it. I found another one a month ago but kept it this time because I noticed it had a pattern on it. It’s a clog fastener.

What I like most about it is the way it’s designed so that the precious metal bit can be removed and reused when the clogs/leather bits on the clogs wear out. It’s like another thing I found a few months ago that resembled part of a suspender belt, that was a stud chape fastener which was used to do up a 1660-1720 shoe. I love the way that even basic, mundane things were treasured in past times and how the resources were valued and reclaimed. Things that we would throw away without a moment’s thought are regarded as reusable and precious. Can you imagine removing and reusing the metal cleats on a pair of dead hiking boots? That said, they still managed to discard a truckload of stuff for people like me to dig up and puzzle over. That’s another thing I absolutely love about this detecting lark; the whole, what the fuck is this? Aspect to three quarters of the stuff I find. I love that I discover things I didn’t know.

Sometimes, in life, it seems that the most boring and innocuous-looking things turn out to be a lot more interesting than we thought. Especially if, like me, you’re a bit of a spud.

Back to the dig and those bits of iron. When I made to throw the iron in the hedge, McMini stopped me.

‘No Mum, I need that to make my iron man suit,’ he told me, in all seriousness.

Who was I to argue? We now have a finds bag full of iron in the garage. I’ll give him a week or two to forget about it and then creep in there and stick it in the recycling.

Meanwhile, during my couple of hours’ hard core graft, McMini explored the area round the car. This involved standing in about the only sticky mud to be found until his boots stuck and he had to get out of them and stand in the mud in his socks to retrieve said stuck boots. Then he got back into my car and as he did so, found some stones he’d picked up on a beach a few months ago in his pocket. So he made a rock sculpture with the mud, which he then put on the dashboard to dry. By the time he’d finished, the inside of my car looked like this:

Our kitchen sink approximately 3 minutes after the cleaners had left. Thanks Harrison.

Mud sculpture.

More wonderful McMini-isms this week include Hide and Worry; a game he and a friend have invented. ‘It’s like hide and seek but when they find you they stab you,’ he explained. Yes, well, I could see why that might be alarming. He and the same friend have also developed a habit of putting their back packs on the wrong way round and then they pretend to sumo wrestle. They call this new form of Sumo ‘Flab Fight’ which I find unaccountably hilarious.

And now to books for a moment …

Well, this is supposed to be an author blog so on a completely different but probably more on-message note, I’m doing a giveaway at the moment with a bunch of other lovely authors and I thought I’d share it with you because it has a manageable number of entrants and the books – all sff – look interesting. So if you’re looking for some new reads for no pence, or if you are like me and want to give yourself a sneaky present without the guilt of spending cash you’re supposed to be spending on others, on yourself, check this one out. I’m pretty sure you don’t have to join Bookfunnel to take part. Here’s the link (or click on the picture): https://dl.bookfunnel.com/b8dr8lj6w1

 

 

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Coming to terms with #dementia

For some time now, I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a blog, or a website, specifically dedicated to my experience of dementia; with my dad, mainly, but also, these days, with my mum since she, too, is getting very forgetful.

However, it seems far more sensible to do it all on here. The subject matter on here is so random anyway that I doubt many of you will take exception to the more detailed post about my dementia-related experiences every now and again. If you look at the menu, there’s now a dementia section and all the posts which mention Dad’s Alzheimer’s are tagged Dementia and should appear there. Obviously, in true M T McGuire form, it would be pointless talking about my situation if I didn’t occasionally share a list of things that have either worked to keep me sane or that I’ve fucked up royally so that you don’t have to. This isn’t exactly that list but below are some of my less than ordered thoughts on the subject.

Here are the golden highlights of coping with dementia, in yourself or in others.

Be not proud! And be absolutely up front with people.

Yes, you read that correctly. All will become clear.

The first sign that something was amiss with my dad was when my parents refused to come and stay. Our spare room was on the top floor and the loo was in the middle. Dad always needed a wee in the night and he began to wake up in a very disorientated state.  Mum didn’t always wake up too and she was afraid he’d fall down our stairs. So for three years, from about 2004, they refused point blank to come and see us. Mum never told me what was wrong, she just made up excuses. She’s bollocks at making up excuses so I assumed I’d upset her but she said I hadn’t. I got very down. I didn’t know what to do.

Luckily, I have a brother so I rang him and asked him what the fuck my parents were up to. He didn’t know either but said he’d ask them. When he broached the topic with Mum she told him at once. So it was he who explained about the stairs, about Dad going weird in the night and Mum’s concerns. The last eighteen months we were in that house Mum and Dad started coming to see us again. We were in a small market town with a perfectly decent hotel and a lot of equally decent guest houses. We put them up in one, within walking distance of our house. The moral of this story then, be honest, because when trouble crops up, there’s usually a work around.

Mum could have saved herself and us heartache if she’d just admitted that Dad had a tendency to get dizzy when he got up in the middle of the night. She wouldn’t have even had to mention the dooh-lally part. Likewise, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache if I’d read the signs and worked out that something was wrong earlier or just asked my brother sooner. But hey ho, it all worked out in the end.

Act early.

These things are like the flight path of a landing aeroplane. You sink, level out, sink, level out and so on to the bottom of the chasm. If you can manage to think ahead a bit, to what the next level of deterioration might be, you can save yourself a lot of grief. It’s hard to look at the next stage of the illness when you,are losing your mind or when a loved one is losing theirs. Naturally you don’t want to think about it, but trust me, for the sake of everyone concerned it helps. For a long time, Mum and Dad seemed to be in denial. Mum kept a very close eye on Dad and I watched her sinking. Imagine if you are eighty and you are looking after someone who is, essentially, a giant two year old. As a mum with a two year old of my own, I knew how hard I found it to keep my eye on him all the time. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to cope when you are elderly.

Talk about it.

Mum and Dad are actually very good at this, they have talked to me, extensively, about being mortal, I know what kinds of funerals they want, what kinds of hymns, what kind of goodbye. I suspect they’ve willed money for a piss up wake. They also talked to me about what might happen if they went nuts well in advance of any dementia appearing. In Mum’s case we have talked about how she felt when she was in a similar position to that which I’m in now, looking after my granny. My grandmother had lots of small strokes, micro bleeds at the back of her head and as Mum puts it, ‘she just faded away’. For her last year my granny was lying on a bed in a home. In those days there were no living wills or powers of attorney for healthcare. Even so, when my granny got pneumonia, they asked my Mum what kind of treatment she would want, Mum said to make her comfortable. They did, she got better without the life prolonging drugs and died peacefully a few months later.

In her last year, as well as being bed-bound, my granny couldn’t speak and made no signs of recognising Mum’s presence. Mum used to go and see her and sit there crying quietly for forty minutes. The staff in that home were wonderful, and were wonderful to Mum, too. They assured her that my granny was different, more peaceful, even calmer, after a visit. They took the time to see that Mum was OK too. Mum and I still talk about this, and I really wish I’d been able to have the same kinds of conversations with Dad about his dad, who also ended up in a home. It’s hard to talk about these things, but if you can open up to someone you trust it will help and it will also give your carers a feel for what your wishes will be, and how you will want to be treated, when you are no longer able to tell them.

If you are the carer, it’s worth making sure you have someone to talk to and if the main carer is not you it’s worth finding someone for them. There is a lovely lady who comes to see Mum who is the deacon at her church. I saw the lady talking to Mum one time when she was in hospital and couldn’t speak. I asked Mum, afterwards, if it would help to see this lady often. She said it would. She never rang the deacon herself, so I did and now she comes to visit Mum regularly. I know it helps.

People want to help you. Let them and if you can’t let them down kindly.

There are a lot of people around my mum and dad who love them almost as much as I do. They are sad to see people they love and respect struggling. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that the people who love you may be even more upset about your illness than you are. So if you or a loved one are in similar poop, and people offer to help you, let them. Mum and Dad have a big group of folks who give them lifts, pop in to visit, pick up shopping sometimes or generally help out. I think they had a hard time accepting help from these folks at the start but now they revel in it. They get continuity in that these are people they’ve known for some years, yet they also have variety in that it’s not the same old faces. Likewise for the helpers, there are enough of them to avoid fatigue setting in. Despite his dementia, my father is a very social animal, and this has helped him stay with us for far longer. Likewise, Mum and Dad have a four carer team but they also employ a cleaning lady for a couple of hours a week and a family who work in the garden. These folks all give support that goes well beyond their job descriptions. They do this because when Mum and Dad were fitter and younger they were good to these folks. I’m a great believer in karma now that I’ve seen it in action on my folks. So if people offer help, and it’s useful help, let them. Pride has no place in this.

But at the same time, set parameters for your helpers.

If anyone helping you, or your loved one, gets too clingy or too overbearing, tell them. When you are ill and losing your capacity to process everything but your emotions, you don’t have time to put up with anything that will make it worse. So if someone who wants to help is … well … not helping, you have to tell them. Or if you can’t, you have to find someone who can and ask them to do it for you.

My mum loves her garden. She sees it as a living thing, an entity which must be treated with kindness and sympathy. However, she is very arthritic and once Dad had started to get really forgetful, it was too much for her to do on her own. There was a point where the chap who was coming to do the garden kept cutting down the wrong things, pruning stuff wrong, planting vegetables in the wrong places, forgetting to water them etc and you could see that something inside Mum was curling up and dying along with her plants, but she couldn’t let him go. She couldn’t face the hassle of finding a new gardener while she was trying to look after Dad, or, indeed, the hard task of telling the current one she no longer needed his services. Her heart was so full from the pain of seeing her soul mate, my father, her husband, in such distress.

In the end, after a family holiday, my Mum became very ill with pleurisy. At this point, Dad had reached the point where he was so forgetful that he couldn’t cook or look after her the way he would have done. My brother and sister in-law went to stay and they gave the gardener notice and employed the people who do it now. My mum almost cried with relief and the ‘new’ gardeners are wonderful and love Mum and Dad dearly.

Moral, don’t wait for the crash. Take action first.

Avoid being too proud.

Mum is of the old school where she believes that if Dad is ill she should look after him herself and that nobody should know about his disability for as long as possible. But actually, when you’re in your eighties, you can’t look after someone who weighs about eighteen stones, can’t wash himself and has to be talked through the process of going to the bathroom every two hours hours, every night. You need help.

When Mum finally agreed to let someone come and sit with Dad for an hour, three afternoons a week, so she could get out into the garden, she blossomed. And the lady who came round did the ironing and all sorts of other stuff that Mum was struggling with fitting in around caring for Dad. So it helped in all sorts of other ways she hadn’t anticipated. It also meant there was no longer the danger of Dad coming out into the garden looking for Mum and falling down. The carer would bring him out, with his walker, and sit with him.

Even if your loved one seems gone, keep searching.

Dad is very different to how he was. He’s the same person, but he’s a different incarnation of that person, the raw genetic make up. He has lost his filters, his ability to moderate what he says and he has become very much more self centred. Just as a child learns to think about others, so as he regresses to a more simplified state of self, Dad has lost that skill. It’s not his fault. It’s just the way it is.

He can no longer read, his ability to read a novel was one of the first things to go but he is unable to read even short stuff now. It’s interesting that Mum writes herself notes, but even at the start, if she wrote a note for Dad and put it by the clock saying, ‘went out to garden at ten to three back in for tea at four’ he would not think to read it or look at the clock. This was so early on, when he was just my dad with no short term memory. These days he can be a little boorish, which is incredibly sad because Old Dad would be horrified if he could see himself like that. But a lot of the times, the boorishness is asking for help. ‘I can’t get a word in edgeways,’ means, ‘your sentences are too long for me to follow, can you slow down.’ The answer is to speak in short sentences, starting with a shared memory and then as the conversation gets going, you can bring it forward to the now. Lo and behold! Before you know it, back comes Dad. Reaching Dad is all about trying new things. When the landscape of his mind changes, you just experiment until you get him back again.

It’s OK to grieve for someone before they go.

Although I’d recommend keeping it to short bursts. But sometimes you need to cry. Or just drive up to the top of a hill and shout your anger into the wind – my parents live near the South Downs so that’s quite easy for me. But yes, while my dad is still himself in some ways, I still pine for the refined non-raw version. But I also hear him, I hear him in the way I talk to my son, in the anarchic conversations we share, I hear him as I tell my son to get into bed! And that if he could manage to clean his teeth sometime before I die of old age it would be wonderful. I hear my dad speaking through me as I comfort my son after a bad dream. I remember who Dad can be, over and above the raw genetic version I have now, and it’s extremely important to me that I do, that I keep sight of the man who is in there still, but who the present Dad can’t be. And I cry. But that’s OK. Sometimes you need to cry. Ration yourself, though. Indulge your grief too much and it’ll take you under but bottling it up is also unhelpful.

Sometimes your loved one’s disease will speak more loudly than they do.

My dad says some seriously inappropriate things but it’s just his illness talking. It’s hard to accept that sometimes, especially when the person says something that upsets you, but you have to let it go. If you can, it will allow the relationship between you on good days to be much more similar to the old one before the dementia came.

Make the most of the good days.

Need I say more? Enjoy them. Do stuff. Go out on a whim. My parents are the most social dementia sufferers I’ve ever met. They still go out, visit friends, have lunch with people … It says a lot for their friends, too, that they are so accepting.

Pace yourself.

Being a carer is hard. It can fill up your life, suck up your emotional energy, sap your physical energy, your strength of spirit and your creative mojo. Alzheimer’s is a long, slow death of a thousand tiny cuts. To put it in perspective, Terry Pratchett was diagnosed four years after Dad began to deteriorate. Dad’s still around. It’s been about fourteen years, the last nine or ten that we’ve really known something was wrong, but … fourteen for Mum, definitely. Not a barrel of laughs.

The truth is, no matter how much you may love the person in your life who is ill, you cannot give your all for that amount of time. You have to ration how much you give. You have to look after yourself, leave time for yourself, or you will go under and then you’ll be no use to anyone. And if you aren’t the main carer and they are neglecting their own sanity and health, you have to make them understand this as well. As it’s often said, this is a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t run twenty four miles at the same speed as Usain Bolt.

Do what’s right for them: it usually works out.

There was a point when I would worry that Mum and Dad were so far away. It was difficult to get them into a home because Mum was far too well to go into a home and she refused to send Dad into one alone. My brother and I discussed moving them nearer one of us but if we did that, which one of us would it be? We live on different sides of the country. So they stayed put in their own home and I worried that if something happened, and I couldn’t drop everything and be with them, I would have to let them fall. Indeed, eventually, I did.

Mum had a stroke and went into hospital in March 2016. At least by this time we had the afternoon carer and an agency helping Mum and Dad get up in the mornings. I had to ring the lovely lady who would look after my dad in the afternoons and ask her to sleep with my dad so I could drive down to Sussex and be with my Mum. I remember sitting with Mum in hospital at three am. They asked her where she was, she said she was at home, they said she was confused, I told them no, she was having trouble speaking and that what she meant was, she was with me. They finally got her onto a ward at five and at six they told me I should go because the car park was free until six am. I slept two hours that night. Mum came home at three in the afternoon. I had to try and look after both of them. It was horrific. I slept two nights with Dad while Mum slept in another room. Then my boy needed to go to school and my husband to work. I had to go home. I hired a care agency for the following week and my brother came down for the next three nights.

There was a week of special hell while we got a care team sorted. Mum refused to accept she needed live in care, but she kept falling asleep with things on the stove and burning saucepans, and she was getting very forgetful. My brother and I wanted to move them near one of us but they both refused. Now that we have their lovely care team in place I realise they are so much better off where they are, where they have friends and where they have lived for over 40 years.  Once they had twenty four hour care, keeping them in their own home was a no-brainer. Thanks to their fantastic care team, they now enjoy a social life far and above anything I could deliver if they came to live here. They are in the right place for them even if there were points when my brother and I felt like it was the wrong place for us.

Make time for yourself.

When you have children, people say you must keep something that you do just for you; continue your career, a part-time job, a hobby, whatever; something that validates your humanity as something other than your little one’s mum. Something that is not about motherhood. Something that is about YOU. It is very hard to squeeze that in when you are trying to care for elderly parents and a small person at the same time.

That is why, even though I have to fight for the time to write and struggle to find ways of putting my head anywhere close to a place where it’s possible, I can’t give up on it. Because I have to hang onto something that makes me who I am; something that defines me as someone other than Mum and Dad’s daughter, or McMini’s Mum, but ME; Mary.

You cannot self actualise though the job you do, but likewise, you are more than the visits, the form filling, the planning, the admin. Give yourself you time. Allow yourself to be human. You are a person in your own right, you are important as well. Allow time to be you.

Conclusion

Well … that was a bit of a monster, wasn’t it? But in a short snappy sentence, I guess the nub of it is this: when a loved one is long-term ill then, if you want to look after them, you have to look after you.

Chilling is important.

 

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