Tag Archives: off topic

Learning the hard way, or at least, the cold squelchy way…

Not that I’m melodramatic or anything … mwahahahahargh!

This holidays, McOther, McMini and I joined another family of friends skiing. I have never been skiing before, for the simple reason that from the age of about twelve I’ve been under doctor’s orders not to.

Some of you will know this, some won’t, but basically,  my knees have taken a bit of a pasting over the years; bone disease as a kid, torn ACL after jumping over a wall aged 25, and then twenty years later, a ‘possible’ tear in the other ACL (MRI ‘inconclusive’) after I rode my bicycle blithely across what I thought was an empty street and was surprised to catch a slow moving Ford Fiesta in the back. Not their fault I genuinely hadn’t seen them. I’m just lucky they saw me.

The net result of all this – apart from the fact the knees now match – is arthritis. First knee was knackered pre ligament reconstruction and arthritis is the natural result of soggy knee ligaments. The second knee is so arthritic after 25 years of taking the extra weight that even with an unequivocal MRI result, it’s probably reached a stage when reconstruction would make the arthritis worse. Which is why they can’t do the original, of course. The ACL damage doesn’t hurt but the arthritis in the knees does. Eight years ago they told me that were I sixty, they’d fast track me for a left knee replacement because it was so bad. Alas bionic knees only last 10 years, and you can only have two so no can do until I’m sixty. Oh well. Only another 12 years to wait.

So here I am. Aged 48, with knees that are, frankly, a bit fucked. A lot more fucked than they were when the first doctor ordered me to stay off the ski slopes. But, for the first time, I was in a position to try skiing somewhere that it wouldn’t matter were I unable to go piling up and down the slopes all day, because there’d be other stuff to do. And McOther is an excellent skier and McMini wanted to try it.

So, ever the adventurous one, I bought some huge knee braces like scaffolding, packed a HUGE box of aspirin and off I went. Here are some of the things I learned:

Spring in the mountains is hot.

No shit, Sherlock? I hear you say. But yes. I was thinking snow=cold, mountains=cold.

Schoolboy error.

It is is not true.

Here in Blighty we bought ourselves lovely thick warm coats to keep out all that cold mountain air. It does get cold but only at night. Also, as a novice to skiing I was tense, partly because it all happens a bit fast and partly because the feedback through my knees is less than sharp and I had an uncomfortable feeling, after waiting for 30 years and through a great deal of deterioration to flaunt doctor’s orders, that I was about to die at every turn. Rank fear aside, this is the kind of exercise that pushes your beats per minute up to one seventy something until you learn to do it properly, stop fighting and relax. Now even if it’s minus forty out there, beats per minute of one seventy plus is only going to mean one thing: a flop sweat.

But it wasn’t minus forty. Spring in the mountains is gorgeous; clear blue skies, lovely sunny days and temperatures of eighty degrees Fahrenheit (twenty something centigrade). Now if you’re going to do high intensity aerobic exercise in those kind of temperatures, take it from me, you’re going to get hot in a t-shirt and running tights. Thick gloves, huge woolly socks and clothing that is, essentially, a duvet, waterproofed and crafted into Michelin Man style duds is … less than comfortable in beachwear temperatures. To be frank after about ten minutes, it was not so much a coat I was wearing as a portable, always-on sauna. I didn’t know it was possible for a human being to sweat that much or for a t-shirt to become sweat sodden enough to wring out in ten minutes. So here’s an interesting discovery. It is and it can.

Nice.

You will discover new things.

Let’s talk about gloves. At these temperatures, your ski gloves will become very hot inside. So hot that you will discover the new and unnerving phenomenon of hand odour. Yes, put your hands in warm gloves and let them sweat profusely for three days straight and your gloves will come off soaking wet at the end of each day – sod days, in my case it was an hour and a half, tops. Even so, after 3 days they will smell like the rankest socks imaginable … until you smell your ski socks after a day in those hired boots and realise your imagination hadn’t even scratched the surface of the concept that is, ‘rank’.

These boots are made for walking.

I have many pairs of in line and roller skates and the boots are similar to ski boots. The rationale is that if you fall awkwardly you will break your legs, mid shin, rather than doing potentially crippling Potts fracture style damage to your ankles. The same rationale is behind ski boots. Only not. Ski boots were invented by the Spanish Inquisition in the eleventh century but shelved after they were deemed too inhuman a torture to inflict on mere heretics. A few hundred years later and here we are resurrecting them to protect ourselves from breaking our ankles. They are very good for this. And for skiing. But when the snow is melting, you also have to do a lot of actual walking in them. They are less good for that.

Walking in ski boots is clearly an acquired art. As far as my efforts went … hmm … well … let’s be generous and call them, ‘a work in progress’. People who have mastered the art have a kind of slowed down gait that’s a cross between a 1970’s disco swagger and someone walking on the moon. It involves putting all the weight on the most painfully arthritic bits of my knees and every walk was unspeakable.

There are many different types of snow.

Yes. This is so. And ALL are scary. I confess on the first day we thought we’d ski down the small looking hill to where our lessons were. So off we went. I snow ploughed as I’d been taught to do, a sure way to slow me to a stop and … ah … hang on … not stopping … at all. So I bailed and yes then I walked down the slope in those infernal boots. I was sweat soaked and knackered before I even got to the ski school. Because it was ice. And very slippery.

Skiing is fun … sort of.

Like that Scandinavian thing, is it Stockhausen syndrome? No, I don’t think so? Stockholm Syndrome? Possibly, that thing where you grow to love your kidnapper/abuser. Yeh, well, it was a bit like that. I didn’t like it to start with because, to use a technical term, I was shitting bricks. I was in a complete funk, most of the time, and when I say funk, I mean in the fear sense of the word as well as the smell. Then on the third day, suddenly, I relaxed. Not much, but enough to realise how people did it all day. They were not super-fit, just super-relaxed. My fear levels reduced a tiny bit as I began to feel more in control, beats per minute dropped to about one fifty and recovery time shortened to the point where I could do a run without stopping. Suddenly I got what the fuss was about and why people do it, which, I confess, I expected to do much earlier.

The great thing about it was that the actual skiing bit doesn’t hurt. Not at all. The time it hurts is when you stop. So that Wednesday, I even tried to go skiing with the others but realised, as soon as I got to the top of the mountain and put my skis on again, that the dicky knees were not up to more than an hour yet. So we had lunch up there and I crept home to the chalet and made full use of the spa, oh yes I did.

Will I be going again?

Amazingly, yes. Although I will try to manage my knees better this time.

What did I learn?

I learned that I am disabled. Genuinely, physically handicapped in a way I hadn’t actually grasped until I tried to do this. I have not been able to run for some years. There’s a reason for that. Days one and two I cried a lot. I cried because I was stiff and I cried because I knew, from the pain in my knees, that they were far, far more comprehensively fucked than I have ever given them credit for. The pain levels were about commensurate with the second week after I cracked my collar bone. So I had to take a long hard look at myself and accept some very unpleasant truths, one being that I may well end up in a wheelchair for a year or two before I reach the magic age of sixty and access to a NHS knee replacement comes. Because they seem intent on my having quality of life while I’m old, rather than now, while my boy is small. Me, I’d rather do the wheelchair later on but the NHS demurs. Another thing I learned then. If I carry on the way I am, I will be even more disabled. Soon. I will never play football with my boy, or any of the other things I still hope to do.

That was sobering and pretty grim.

IF I carry on the way I am. But there might be a get out.

So, before I ski a second time, several things have to give. I read somewhere about a thing called spoons. Run with me, I’m not talking sub duvet snuggling. It’s a way of explaining a disability. So the idea is that you have say, ten spoons each day and they represent your physical capabilities. Every time you do something that takes you over a certain level of pain/exertion/your disability you count it as using up a spoon. So you can do, pretty well what you like, but you have to ration your spoons so you can get through the day. If I have ten spoons in a day, an hour’s skiing is about seven. So I need to do two things. I need to balance it against the other things I do in a day and I need to find a way to extend the range of each spoon.

Next time I go I will be a better more confident skiier so a skiing lesson will use up less of my energy. That will help. However, because of the pain that comes after I’ve been skiing, I will have less spoons free each day, as the consequences of skiing build. I will also have to keep my eye on what happens afterwards, which I didn’t this time, which is how I ended up with a fair amount of pain and walking difficulties, which aren’t going to go away anytime soon – about three weeks, I reckon. In short, I need to make everything last longer, so I can ski more with less pain.

Back to the get out.

Over the past three years, I have been doing physio and going to the gym to try and keep myself physically fit and able and to prop up my knees. That’s good and it’s worked but, of course, I am also menopausal, which makes for a hard time losing weight. I’m also busy, which makes for a hard time losing weight – nothing causes a person to eat crap more effectively than their not planning their meals. And I have IBS, and nothing causes an IBS attack more effectively than changing your diet … except the 5:2 which is OK but gives me a mega headache.

Never mind. I’ve put on a stone of muscle under the same amount of flab as I had before. It should raise my metabolic rate but pre-menopause that’s less likely and I have to accept that it isn’t happening to the extent I’d like, or possibly at all.

So what I realised, through the medium of skiing, was that this extra stone could well be what has tipped my knees over the edge this last year.

Menopause, schmenopause, IBS, IB bollocks, this is not a drill. My back is against the wall. I have to lose weight or lose my ability to walk. I know this sounds melodramatic but that, in a nutshell, is it.

Not just a bit of weight either, a lot.

A whole effing stone. And to be honest, a second wouldn’t go amiss.

That’s going to be hard but the alternative: registering disabled, enduring a genuine physical disability, some impressive levels of physical pain and gradually losing my ability to walk without a rollator or sticks and while there is hope that I can avoid that before I hit 70, by any means possible, I’ll do whatever it takes.

So hurling myself down a mountain was a bit freaky but it wasn’t the daunting bit, not really. The daunting bit was the cold hard truths I have learned about myself.

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Do you believe in socialism or the labour party? And other questions. #rantmodeon

I’ve just been reading an excellent post on Jim Webster’s blog about education. If you haven’t tried Jim’s blog you really should, all his posts are thought provoking, interesting and grounded common sense. Jim is smart.

He talks about education: what we should teach our children, what he’d like to see them taught, how we should teach our children and whether, actually, everyone needs to go to university. He makes the good point that because so many of our political leaders have been university educated, they tend to think that what worked for them will work for everyone – ergo that everyone should be able to go to university. And Jim makes the point that we’ve sort of dropped the ‘be able’ from that sentence, so now it’s considered essential that you go to uni if you want to make anything of yourself. But it doesn’t always work like that.

And it got me thinking about Education, and politics and also thinking, ‘Yep.’ And before I knew where I was, up popped a parallel rant. My American friends will not like this, because I do imply, at one point, that America doesn’t always look like an idyll to me and I have learned this doesn’t always go down well.

OK so, first up, I should fess up that I am university educated. I went to university because I hadn’t a smecking clue what I was going to do with my life and uni meant three more years to think. You didn’t have pay nearly as much for it in those days, of course, so you could do that – they introduced crippling fee loans the year after I left.

To me education is a tool, and it’s a tool for life. So, to me children need to come out of it with life skills. They need to be able to run a budget, fix stuff and also be furnished with the knowledge to be able to think independently. The more facts you have at your fingertips, the more information you are exposed to, the greater your capacity for understanding, and rationalising, what goes on around you. But you do have to be taught how to use them. Once you are, the better you are at that rationalisation process, the less likely you will be to follow a political party, or extreme religion, blindly, like a brainwashed sheep, without any thought to the veracity, ethics or long term effects – let alone truth – of what they tell you you ought to believe.

What university did for me was show me that there is never any cut and dried, there are always shades of grey. And I wonder if maybe one of the problems the US is facing, now, is the culmination of years and years of every single issue being pitched to them as binary: Right or Wrong, black or white, a cartoon of life as it never has been nor ever will be; simplified into extremes without middle ground. I suppose if you bludgeon people into believing like that then, after enough time, they become polarised – look at any republican and democrat ‘debating’ something on Facebook and you will see what I mean. Each side sees the other as Morally Wrong, possibly even evil and there’s a trend to suggest that the tactic on both sides is ‘he who shouts loudest and acts nastiest wins’. In many instances, it’s a simple slanging match and no actual debate is ever entered into. If it is there tends to be a suggestion that whatever each protagonist’s party says is right because the party said it. Like the party leaders did the thinking so no-one else has to.

So the first thing I’d teach kids is the difference between old-fashioned, proper right and wrong – you know as in not being a complete and utter bastard to everyone you meet or behaving like a shit – as opposed to the pseudo spun political party ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ that some folks put into the void in their soul where the original sentiment should be. And then I would teach them to judge everything against that knowledge of good and bad.

These days, I find it impossible to look at anything without seeing the grey. Lots and lots of grey. Which is how I find myself in the odd position of having voted for all the major political parties here in the UK despite being, pretty much, a socialist – yes I genuinely believe we should re-nationalise our assets. BUT in a radically different way than was done before. I suppose that’s the point, I believe in socialism, but not necessarily in the Labour Party.

Then, perhaps our Government could do something radical too – it could set an example. At every level it fails to do this. From letting Google off masses of tax because it’s too busy chasing the 0.08% or whatever it is who are supposed to be defrauding social services. The logic of that is like turning your back on a suitcase full of easy money and, instead, concentrating on chiselling off a 50 pence piece that someone’s glued to the pavement for a laugh. Here’s another one, stating that you’re not going to condemn torture, because you want to strike a deal with the saviour of the American Way – or alternatively the Nylon-haired hate-carrot – from across the water who thinks torture is a Good Idea.

Here’s another example at grass roots level. My granny was a school governor. She said that the school she was a governor of needed new portacabin classrooms for the cost of their budget for the whole year. They asked for funding from Government/Council and were refused. So then they worked out that if they were really thrifty they could save enough money out of their budget for the classrooms over five years. They put this to local government and were told that any unspent cash at the end of the year is evidence of over-provision and it would be cut from the next year’s budget. If that’s how bureaucracy rewards long term planning how is anyone going to learn about saving up versus instant gratification? How will it help people whose ambition is ‘to be famous’ accept that unfortunately, their entire class cannot all be the next Katie Price.

So somehow I think we also need to find a way to educate kids that there is more to life than digital options: more than black or white, success or failure. There is the middle ground of contentment. At the least we ought to define ‘success’ slightly differently – as happiness, perhaps? It seems to me that we have a nation of people who aspire to degrees and business and money. Yet again and again, the successful people I meet who are happy are the artisans, engineers … people who MADE stuff. Then again, I suspect, that because the successful people I meet are inventors, the underlying trait in them all is actual brain power rather than education level. Interestingly, most cite things like family, or job satisfaction as s source of happiness, rather than what they earn doing it.

Also, while the world is never fair, I wonder if it would be good, at school, to ask kids this:

Imagine you live in a country where there is a civil war. Imagine what it would be like trying to earn a living, buy food, get an education for your kids, get health care, dental care. As well as that, imagine that in this war torn place, you live in the equivalent of a garden shed, with no heat, no electricity, no running water and you cook on a fire. You walk everywhere because you can’t even afford to buy a bicycle. There’s not much food so you have to grow most of what you eat. You don’t eat meat. A constant supply of eggs is far more valuable than chicken stew for a night. Yet, imagine that among all this, you still have a mobile phone, that you can see the internet, and you see pictures of people in a country where there is no war and even the poorest people earn more in a year than you can imagine earning in a lifetime. They have heat, light, bicycles, cars and free healthcare. They have public transport and free education. And they are complaining that they have nothing and saying they will not work for this unimaginably huge salary they are earning.

What are you going to do when you see that? Well, I don’t know but I imagine you look at that and you think that yes, you could go there, because you have never had a lot of the stuff they take for granted, and you wouldn’t need it. You could live as you are now, but there, saving yourself the cost of the luxuries they assume as their right and happily do those jobs they won’t or can’t do for a profit. I’d guess you’d think, ‘I’ll be minting it!’ Your children would be educated – something you could only dream of where you are. They will learn English, maths and science. They will be able to become something instead of dying in this hut or being drafted into the army and shot in battle before they are twelve.

Now I know life is never fair, but McOther grew up in North America: the US first, for a couple of years, and then Canada. Originally he came from Scotland. In Scotland, McOther’s dad played in a band every night, worked a day job and repaired other people’s washing machines at the weekend while McOther’s mum looked after the kids. Even so, money was still tight. Then, when McOther was ten, someone in a park asked him if he was Catholic or Protestant. He gave the wrong answer and the person smashed a bottle over his head. His parents decided they would move to a place where their kids would get a good education, everyone could afford a car, the standard of living was higher and no-one did that moronic, brainwashed, dickwad sectarian shit.

Does that make them bad people? Wanting a better, safer future for their kids?

I’d say not. They left their home, their family and everything they knew and made a new start. For their kids.

These immigrants aren’t ‘taking our jobs’. They’re doing stuff we refused to do or just weren’t doing – for whatever reason. Maybe, the reason all those Polish plumbers came to Britain was because, after years of Blair, our young people had been taught that they were above going into a trade, so there weren’t enough plumbers in the UK. Back in the late 90s, I lived in East Anglia and if you wanted anything more than small job done, every plumber had a waiting list months long.

People from third world countries can live a lot more frugally than we do, even here, because the stuff we see as our basic right is untold luxury to many of them. Should we blame them that they are able and prepared to work for less, or should we be blaming the businesses who were happy to employ them for those wages? Or should we be blaming ourselves, for insisting on rock bottom prices, for shopping in supermarkets who pay their suppliers less for the goods than they cost to produce. Or a system which thinks that leaving over 70,000 perfectly edible cauliflowers that are too bumpy, too small, or the wrong colour for the supermarkets in a field to rot is a ‘good’ result because a few extra thousand were sold in the ‘knobbly’ range. Perhaps those 70,000 cauliflowers in that one field, multiplied to the power of however many fields of cauliflowers there are, is the difference between the farmer using cheap imported labour and being able to source labour locally, or employ casual labourers. A friend’s son has autism, he finds it very hard to hold down a conventional job but he loved doing casual farm work. He was good at it too. But now there are no jobs for him, the work is contracted out to gangers who provide itinerant labourers from abroad.

So yes, by all means put some limits on immigration but show our kids the value of the freedoms we have, that we take for granted, that these people can only dream of.

Edited to add: Also, right now, there are refugees. We are talking about a situation we haven’t seen since the 1930s. At the moment, if you read up on how we treated Jews, fleeing Nazi persecution and how we are currently treating refugees, our forefathers look a lot more generous of spirit and kindly than we do.

Lastly, shouldn’t be be teaching kids what the world is actually like, and how much stuff actually costs rather than that it’s their oyster?

Should we be teaching our kids that they can’t have it all now? Should we be teaching kids to save up, and ourselves to pay what things actually cost so British workers in the few industries we have left can earn a living wage? And shouldn’t our government be going after the big money: making companies like Google actually pay their tax? And telling people who endorse torture that the British nation does not.

I guess what I’m saying is that maybe education should be a bit less about the facts kids know, and more about what they learn, which, over and above the facts and figures, should be, basically, how to be this bloke.

bethisguy

Picture scrounged from Oldroadapples

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MTM’s Epiphany epiphany – or the Wenlock Edge Moment

I love the New Year. Christmas is over and I am home free. You know how, if you let a bee out of the window it flies miles up into the air as if it’s delighted to have escaped.* Well, yeh, I feel like that.

* Obviously, it isn’t delighted to have escaped. It’s a bee. It’s actually going up there to orientate itself and find its way back to its hive but there’s no harm in a little Victorian-style anthropomorphising of animals every now and again if it’s sensibly done. Phnark.

Anyway, where was I? Yeh. Today, it being Sunday, and the feast of Epiphany (when the 3 kings arrive) I went to Church. I confess, I like church. Maybe it’s because, as a classically trained musician, few things appeal to me more than singing loud shouty songs in a situation where nobody can be rude about my horribly loud corn craik like voice (because that would be unchristian! Snortle.). It’s also quite mantra like, doing the same thing again and again. And it’s calm. Church is where I get time to reset my head.

sunlightinchurch1

This week, I was mulling over my life this last year. I think I can safely say that 2016 has been pretty grim for me personally. Famous people dying didn’t even hit my radar, even the racism and bigotry round Trump and the Brexit campaign was eclipsed by personal events; my Mum beginning to lose her memory, discovering that Dad has alzheimer’s and that he was diagnosed FIVE YEARS AGO! But they didn’t see fit to tell us until September, thereby denying us so many options, things that might have made it easier, or given us a year or two extra with him, the whole of him.

Then there was having to do three mercy dashes when Mum went into hospital. Organising 24 hour care, sorting out enduring power of attorney over my Dad’s side of their joint account so I can help her with the finances, making the 280 mile round trip every Wednesday. Having to let go a succession of very lovely 24 hour carers for no other reason than Mum didn’t like having them there and I needed to show her she could trust me, that I was listening to her concerns. Helping her to gradually adjust and accept them … watching her deteriorate and then rally. That one glorious visit when she was better than I’d seen her for two years a few days before she got really sick. Watching her lose the power of speech, twice. Sitting in hospital with her the second time, wondering if she was going to die, knowing she wouldn’t want to without regaining enough speech to actually say goodbye. Visiting her and finding the hospital deacon there and Mum, still unable to talk, silently crying. Knowing that every bit of sadness I feel about her and Dad is felt to the power of hundreds more by her, because he’s her husband and she thinks that if she dies before he does she has failed him.

Watching Dad deteriorate. Trying to be a jolly, kindly mother to my boy and wife to McOther. Trying to see the good stuff in my life – which is there in abundance, by the way – on the days when the parents thing is just too much and I want to crawl away and cry.

If I’m honest, it’s been fucking awful. And it’s not going to get any better but I think that, maybe, I will.

Today, in church, I had a bit of a … well … epiphany – very apposite on the feast of Epiphany – what I would personally call, a Wenlock Edge moment.

Wenlock Edge is a poem by A E Houseman. It’s a belter if you’re down. Basically, he’s watching a gale blow across the trees on the side of a hill but that’s just the surface. There’s also some kind of upheaval going on in his life and he feels torn and battered like the trees. And he looks at them and realises that people will have been able to stand where he is standing and see pretty much the same view for thousands of years. He speculates that some of them must have been in the same, or similar, doo-doo to him but they, and their troubles, are long gone and he will be over his troubles one day, too. It’s very much an, ‘and this, too, shall pass,’ kind of vibe and very good.

So there we were in church, singing a carol called, A great and mighty wonder which I love because it’s early music and I love the way they mess about with syncopation and speech-like rhythms. And as I said, I love music and I love to sing. I noticed that the tune was arranged by someone who lived from 1572 until 16 something. This is another thing I love about early music, of course. When you’re standing (or sitting) singing a tune that’s over 500 years old, or, as in the case of another one this morning, a new tune with words that are over 1,500 years old it’s kind of cool. And there are so many. The oldest I know of, of the top of my head, is Of The Father’s Heart Begotten. Words: 4th century, music: 11th (rearranged obviously). Now that is fucking old.

Anyway, back to the carol. I’m singing it and it makes me think how many millions of people, all over the world, have sung this tune before me during the last 500 years. I wonder who they all were, and if any of them were sad about the things I’m sad about, and then I realise that of course some were, because with that many people, it’s a given.

And that’s the Wenlock Edge moment. Or at least, that’s the way I do it. And that’s the realisation where everything changes.

That’s the moment when the lense through which I view my life suddenly pans out.

That’s the moment when you are hovering at ceiling height in the office block of your being, looking down on the cube farm of your existence and seeing more than just the bubble of emotion you are sat in.

That’s the second when you see all the other colours in your life and how they shimmer and glow and interconnect. And that, for me, is usually the moment when I suddenly realise that everything is OK. Or in this case, that I’ve achieved a lot more than I thought. That I’m stronger than I realised. I’ve done alright.

And it feels affirming, uplifting.

Actually, it feels marvellous!

Because this time last year, I was worried sick. I’d spent Christmas with my parents, my Mum was getting forgetful and was not very well, her friends and the lovely peps who help her garden, help her clean the house, and who come in and look after Dad. All of them were worried. I was worried. Mum and Dad weren’t safe on their own. The long process of persuading them they needed live in care began.

And I remembered that and I contrasted it with the way I feel now.

And it was surprisingly better!

OK, so watching people you love die the death of a thousand tiny mental cuts … over a period of 8 years and counting … is not a process I recommend for the maintenance of a 24 hour joyous disposition. Yes, there is still the sadness and there is still the pressure. So much to do, not much time to do it in, the requirement to make weekly visits and be a nice mother and wife and funny and good company when I’m actually rather sad a lot of the time. Then there’s the making sure that there is room for grief but that it doesn’t become a habit.

Amazingly, what I realise is that I’m coping. I love and am loved. And there are still good times too. And for all my banging on about looking back on things regularly in my writing, about making sure I realise how much progress I’ve made, about how we should all do that, in this crucial personal thing, I haven’t. I haven’t done it in my writing either.

Doh. Channelling Homer.

Achievements for 2016 then. My parents are in their own home where they want to be. They are warm, cared for and looked after by a bunch of folks who love them almost as much as my brother and I do. They are as happy as their circumstances will allow. They are supported and safe. And me, I’m as happy as I can be that I’ve done right by them, done for them what I’d want people to do for me, made it possible for them to live the way they want, where they want, for as long as they are able.

I’ve done what I can. And suddenly, in today’s Epiphany epiphany, my Wenlock Edge moment, I realised that I’ve done enough: enough to ensure I can live with, and like, myself as a person. I’ve done OK by them. And I’ve done OK by me because even through all the chaos I’m still writing. I’ve been Mummy and Dutiful Daughter but I’ve also, just, clung onto Mary.

And I hadn’t realised that until this morning.

And it feels good.

Happy New Year peps.

______________________________________________

Book stuff supplemental:

There’s a humorous science fiction fantasy authors giveaway running until Tuesday, I think it is. You can win $42 cash equivalent or gift voucher, a box set of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide and paperback books from five humorous sci-fi fantasy authors. One of them is me. You can find that, and enter if you like here.

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Fartyville welcomes careful drivers: join me in my world.

Last night, I had a slightly surreal evening out. It was one of those ones where I spent most of the evening thinking, If I wrote this series of events into a novel, people would say it was unrealistic. I suppose you could say the Chaos Fairies struck again, although luckily, it was more like, gentle tinkering than a full-on strike.

It was one of those rare occasions during the year when McOther and I go out. In this case, it was a Christmas party for a very nice bunch he works for. I was being corporate wife, except luckily they know me quite well. The first time I met the MD was before he started his own business. It was also a Christmas party, this time for the company he worked for. McOther said,

‘Come and meet thingwot,’ obviously that’s not his real name. I’m calling him thingwot to protect his identity.

Thingwot took one look at me and said,

‘Do you own a grey Lotus?’ and rather cautiously, because you can never be too sure what this kind of opener is going to lead to, I said,

‘Yes.’

And he said, ‘No way! You’re Lotus Woman!’ and I said,

‘I am?’

And then he beckoned a friend over and said. ‘Look! Look! You’ll never guess what! This is Lotus Woman from the A10.’

I think I told this story elsewhere. But basically, the A10 was boring so I used to overtake stuff in the mornings to stay awake. This was noticed by a number of folks, and it seems that while following my morning wakefulness stratagem, I unwittingly gained some notoriety for driving like a guffawing jehu. Anyway sorry, where was I.

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Not Christmasy, I know but it IS pukka bubbly, in situ, in Epernay.

Yesterday morning, I bought a new corporate wife outfit because I only have draughty 12th century collage smarts and, this being a nice warm restaurant, I needed super-heated room smarts because I didn’t want to have to sit there with a flop sweat on all night. Strangely I managed this with a surprising lack of hassle.

Lunch time, got a call from McOther. ‘I’m doing a completion,’ he said.

Bollocks! I thought (that’s a technical term). ‘Are you going to need me to pick you up from work on the way?’ I asked, anticipating what he might be about to say.

‘I hope not.’

Yes, clearly. I thought.

He rang at five, five thirty and six, still hoping to get home in time to turn round and go straight back the way he had come, plus a couple of miles past his office, to the restaurant, with me, in my car.

He rang at six ten to say I’d have to pick him up.

The baby sitter arrived, in a considerable state of agitation, having just been involved in a road accident. She and her car were OK but she was feeling a bit rough. Praying that she was suffering from shock rather than whiplash, I gave her an aspirin and a cup of tea and told her that if she felt at all ill she should call me at once and I’d come back. I felt bad leaving her and set off to collect McOther with some misgivings as to whether she’d last the night.

When I got to McOther’s work he was still there (not an unexpected turn of events, I confess) and still waiting to sign the document that would finish the deal (also a pretty standard state of affairs for this kind of thing). They were doing it on Japanese time. It doesn’t seem to matter which end of these deals he is, selling or acquisition, he always does it on the other person’s time. Seems potty to me but there we are.

Anyway, he sent me to be corporate wife on my own which was no biggie, because, like I said, they’re a lovely bunch. So I drove to the restaurant. Said hello to everyone, luckily there was a seating plan and I was with some people I knew (oooh, I just combined the words ‘with’ and ‘some’ and typed ‘sith’ there). So I had a very amusing time. We speculated as to the potential outcomes of the evening’s events and which one would be most comic. McOther never turns up, or babysitter calls and McOther and I do high fives as he drops in for pudding and I rush home etc. I was able to swear a little with McOther elsewhere as well, which is always liberating.

McOther finally arrived for the main course, with a possible summons back to the office to sign stuff, pending.

At 10.30, when the meal was done, and McOther and I both headed off, me to relieve the babysitter, he to the office to check there was nothing left to sign. Completion time was set at 1.30 Sat am (I kid you not, and get this. At no point did anyone say anything sensible like, ‘this is over running a bit isn’t it? Let’s finish it on Monday.’ Go figure).

McOther didn’t have to change out of heels into driving shoes so he left the restaurant car park before me. It was only a few minutes later that I remembered that the junction for the restaurant on the A14 only had an off ramp and I wasn’t 100% certain I could remember the way back to the main road from there. So I had an interesting few minutes heading in what I hoped was the right direction, sort of on a wing and a prayer, but did eventually manage to hit Cambridge and the A14, roughly where I expected to.

When I arrived home, Fate had been kind enough to plumb for giving us a smooth life rather than the most comedic outcome; all was well and the babysitter was feeling a lot better.

McOther also ended up getting back a short time after I did. They didn’t need any more signatures, and these days, he’s got far enough up the pile to be able to leave some other poor bastard to sit up until 1.30 to finish the deal, so he came home.

The amazing thing is that this two cars caper is actually a regular thing. We’ve done it to these guys twice in the last five years. So, I have come to the conclusion that solicitors do business like this because they like it. Because there is absolutely no. other. logical. fucking. reason.

It was also a pleasing novelty that things turned out well, rather than amusingly. I have to say, if this is what it’s like, I’m very happy to be officially, Not Funny Anymore.

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Oh no! The world’s been tangoed!

The US President is going to be a man who has painted himself, with apparent pride, as a racist, homophobic, misogynist. Here’s hoping that was just campaigning.

What I don’t understand is why anyone is shocked he got elected? It’s been the absolute inevitable result of that election since Brexit. And now the world has to live with it. You can draw many inferences from this about American blue collar workers, some of which are quite worrying. But actually, a different and intriguing idea did occur to me from all of this.

In one of the Scandinavian countries, can’t remember which one Denmark, I think? The, political parties have capped advertising budgets. This means that instead of seeing bullshit advertising, folks see debates on TV about the real issues. They investigate the pros and cons they talk about stuff, it’s a cerebral thing not a media circus and it’s about this issues involved, not the personalities. Their election turn outs are very high, over 80%.

In the US political advertising is a multi million dollar business. The turn out for elections there is around 48%.

So, my theory is this.

Most people are smart enough to know that advertising is complete bullshit. If it’s not funny, it tends to be pretentious shite. Therefore, if we see advertising for politics, the message we receive, could be that adverts = bullshit, therefore if political parties advertise, eventually, what people feel, far from informed, is lied to, fobbed off, manipulated and advertised to. They conclude that politics = bullshit.

The more the parties advertise to try and win us round, the more we, the intelligent ones, equate politics with advertising aka bullshit.

It may well be that I’m not the only person of reasonable intelligence and/or principles who is repelled by most of politics and politicians right now. Whatever it is that’s turning off the reasonable moderate members of the electorate, the end result appears to be that many stop voting. Me, I’m a woman, people died so I could vote so I will always vote even if I just spoil my paper. But I think that there are many moderate thinkers who are a bit naive, for example, some young people who have not yet learned that if you want the equivalent of clean washing you have to put your hands in the dirty water to grab it. There is a point to voting, it being that had they bothered the result might be different.

Could it be that when politics is advertised, we distrust it and stop voting? It does seem that a big proportion of the folks too disgusted to vote are those of us who believe in moderation and basic human decency. The sort of folks who really, really don’t want to feel they’ve been suckered by advertisers. And that leaves two groups. The extremists, who are playing a numbers game so will always vote, and the kinds of folks who will do whatever the vile racist rags like the Daily Mail, the Sun or its US equivalent tells them to.

Never mind, at least we have four years of cracking political satire ahead of us.

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Confessions of shonky housewifery, bad cat mothers and wicked pets. #domesticdisasters

What I am about to confess paints me in a pretty poor light, so if you’re squeamish about people with low hygiene standards it’s probably best you don’t read this. Likewise, if you have the well-trained, well-behaved pets, or the smallest iota of pride in yourself, look away now.

These are photos of my cat, Harrison.

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Butter wouldn’t melt, would it?

Harrison is very bright and very inquisitive.

20141205_104902 20150716_092951 Don't ask me how he got under there.

Unfortunately, Harrison is also a thief.

He’s not a small time thief either. He has utterly failed to grasp the concept of the word, ‘No’. He is a delinquent. For example, of all the places available to him to go, he chooses to visit the garden of the next door neighbour who is allergic to cats. I have tried to stop him but he climbs a 15ft trellis like a ladder and strolls over. Short of electrifying it I can see no way to stop him. Yet I feel I should be able to make him understand, because I could have done with the other cats I’ve owned. But this one, no. I am a bad cat mother.

McOther is under the cosh at work and yesterday I decided it would be kind to sort out dinner – usually he likes to cook. As I did so, I noticed that a spare steak (barbecued) had been in our Fridge for four days. I couldn’t help thinking that, while I was sorting out left overs lamb spag bol, I could make a steak one too and freeze it for us to eat next week. So I got the plate out. But then McMini wanted something and I went to help him.

Then I realised I’d left a fillet steak, unattended, in the vicinity of our cat. I swiftly returned to the kitchen and …

The steak was still there.

Wow, I thought. Yes, McCat could only be in one place, pestering the poor woman with the allergy next door. Because if he was round ours, the steak would have gone. Either that or he was down the road in Tesco’s trying to get out of the cold meats section with a whole roast chicken. Anyway, I cooked, undisturbed. Then, lulled into a false sense of security by the continued (apparent) absence of our cat, I went and put some onion skins in the compost. When I came back I went to get the steak to mince it up.

It had gone.

‘Bollocks!’ I shouted (quietly because I didn’t want McMini to hear).

‘Have you seen Harrison?’ I asked McMini.

‘No. Did you just say “bollocks” Mummy?’

‘No. Why would I say that? Must go, I think Harrison’s got the steak.’

Hmm, it had been there a moment ago, I knew the little blighter couldn’t have gone far. I ran outside. No sign, then I looked round the side of the porch and there, fillet steak hanging from his mouth, was McCat. He greeted me with a delighted look-how-clever-I-am brrrp.

‘BAD BOY!’ I shouted and smacked him, to what was, quite obviously, his total bemusement.

I seized the steak and went inside. Immediately I was gripped by remorse. He doesn’t understand that hunting on the kitchen side is verboten. I have always been able to make other cats understand very easily but this one has no clue. I examined the steak. It was a little damp one end, with four obvious canine tooth holes but otherwise, apart from two blades of grass on the bottom, it appeared to be undamaged. I had a think and then I cut the dodgy bit off. I felt like an abusive husband trying to make up as I put it in the cat bowl and left it at the perpetrator’s food station. Because bad cat or not, I detest waste.

As for the rest of the steak. I wiped the blades of grass off it, ran it under the tap, patted it dry and, yes, I’m afraid I minced it and bunged it in the sauce!!!!!

Then I boiled the sauce.

Extensively.

For half an hour.

When I say boiled, I mean boiled. So hard that some of it spattered onto the ceiling, which was fun to wipe up.

Then I tasted it.

And it was good. But I had a conundrum. I had made a lovely sauce, but I certainly wouldn’t want a cat mauled steak served up to me at someone else’s house. OK, so one of my Mum’s mates served a pheasant her cat caught but it was not mauled and clearly brought to her as a gift: laid out on the kitchen step, bite-mark free, with nothing more than a wrung neck. That was different.

So I fessed up to McOther. Who refused to eat it. So it really is my lunch for today and next week.

I should throw it away, but it’s tasty. And it is most definitely pasteurised. On the downside, I might get worms because although our cat is wormed regularly he has vile habits, and if he does have worms I’m not sure how boiled worm eggs have to be to die. On the upside, at least if I do get worms, I’ll lose some weight.

So I’ve eaten some.

And it was still good …

But I’ll be checking my stools.

Please don’t tell me I’m about to die.

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A little light relief #jollyjapes #sillypictures

Things have been tough recently at home. Just trying to help my parents who are elderly and suffering from a fair bit of memory loss, sorting the care, trying to keep someone between them and the horrible folks who keep ringing them and duping them out of money. We are winning but it’s tough. So I have neglected my blog somewhat. My heart is too full to say much so I’ve not said anything.

Although on the upside I have been making quiet progress on my books, the Box Set of the K’Barthan Series is in final, final, edit and review copies have gone out to my fabulous Reading Ninja team. So until I have more information for you here are some pictures. A kind of trade test transmission*, if you like, only funnier.

It's Sean the sheep, it's Sean the sheep ... he even hangs around with those who ... actually I'm not sure who he hangs out with to look like this. He was Meditarranean chicken.

It’s Sean the sheep, it’s Sean the sheep … he even hangs around with those who do not … throw food away … ever. He was Meditarranean chicken. Two months ago. Gulp. It wasn’t my fridge.

McMini and I had haircuts last week, I swept up the cuttings and put them in the compost bin. Later when I opened it I found something that … well, check this out. Donald Trump’s ‘hair’ has escaped and is hiding out in our kitchen bin.

hairtoday2

 

I don't think he approves ...

I don’t think this guy approves of my jokes …

* only a tiny fraction of you will be old enough and British enough to know what this is, by my theory is that even if only one person will get the joke, it should be made!

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