Tag Archives: off topic

Siberian hamsters and other alarums and excursions …

Well that was an interesting day. Or perhaps more accurately, morning. But it explains why there has been no blog post until now … that said, ‘now’ will probably be tomorrow (Sunday) in light of what time it is already, and the gargantuan amount of time that the activities of ‘this morning’ involved.

Originally, McOther and I were heading off to a car boot and from there to the garage to get his car fixed. However, when push came to shove we realised he wouldn’t have time to do the boot and the garage so he went to the garage and I eschewed the boot and went to the market instead. I also have some secret knitting that I wanted to do in his absence. More on that story … later.

McCat came running in and to my complete and utter horror, I realised he had something hanging out of his mouth. Something grey, with a tail.

Remember a few years ago when that McCat brought that vole in? I can’t find the original post but it ran under the fridge in the utility room and then to the units where it disappeared and I never saw it again. I always hoped it had found its way outside again but then the room began to smell and it wasn’t McCat’s earth box or McMini’s socks. Yes, it died and I did find a post I did later about discovering its lifeless body in the washing machine while I was on the phone to my mum, six months after its disappearance. If you need to jog your memory, it’s here.

So there’s McCat running about and there’s another chuffing vole with it’s tale and arse hanging out of his mouth one side and it’s head and front paws the other side. It’s squeaking,

‘You absolute cockwomble! Put me down immediately! Ow! That fucking smarts you smecking furry gobshite!’ etc. Actually I have no clue what it was saying but I think we could safely assume that it’d be something along those lines so that seems about right.

Come here you little bastard! I shout (because I’m classy like that) and rushed after him. I’m speaking to the cat at this pint, obvs. not the rodent in distress.

Luckily, I cornered McCat in the hall and because it was his vole and not mine and he was not dropping it at any cost. I was therefore able to pick him up and carry him to the door, deposit both of them on the mat outside, shut the door and lock the cat flap before he could bring it back in.

There was no rescuing the poor little critter now, so it was best to leave them to it so he killed it quickly. I grabbed my kit and ensuring that I didn’t let him in, I went to the market to do my shopping.

Upon my return, McCat was lying on his back on the door mat chirruping and burbling in his most loving manner. He showed me his tummy and it was clear that the dead vole on the mat beside him was a gift. Yes. This was an effort at reconciliation.

‘I know you are head of the house mummy,’ he was saying, ‘but I just couldn’t give up the vole. My natural instincts wouldn’t let me but you can have it now.’

Likewise, I cannot guarantee that was what he was saying but I know the mentalist tabby git so well now that I suspect that was a pretty good approximation.

Naturally, I thanked him for his gift, because it was only polite. Then I explained that it was a lovely thought, but if he didn’t mind, I’d just pick it up with this trowel here and pop it in the dustbin. I thought of burying it but he’d only dig it up again.

I went inside, put away my purchases and I was just bumbling about the house when I heard McCat scampering about. Uh-oh, that was the kind of scampering he does when he’s playing with Mr Squishy (his favourite toy) or when he’s playing with something else …

‘Squeak!’ said somebody, who was very definitely not McCat!

‘Fucking fuck!’ I yelled and leapt into action. McMini had a second vole cornered behind a box in a corner and of course I arrived, grabbed said box and the vole disappeared underneath the book case. But wait, not quite underneath. He was under the large books on the bottom shelf that stick out, leaving a tiny half inch gap between their bottoms and the floor.

I started removing the books but by this stage McCat had lost interest, the absolute bastard, or maybe he’d decided that I’d claimed the vole. Whatever the cause, he’d wandered off. The room we were in was full of places where a small vole could hide, die and then smell impressively. I was determined to ensure that when I poked it out from its hiding place, there were no other crannies for it to run to. In short, despite trying to rescue it from McCat I could have done with a tabby backstop and I’d definitely have preferred to let him kill it quickly it was that or a second round of let-me-die-under-your-furniture.

I surrounded the vole with a wall of heavy hardback books. Got a piece of cloth and grabbed it. I picked it up and took it outside. It looked as if it had had a nasty bump on the head but I left it to recover near the place where I thought McCat had caught it.

McCat locked in, I went out and had a look.

The vole was not well. It appeared unable to move its hands. It was clearly injured, it was squeaking and it was in distress. I rang the vet and explained that I had this rodent that was probably a vole only now … looking at it … I wasn’t 100% sure and could they help.

Clearly if my furry friend was, as I was beginning to suspect, a young rat, I wasn’t too bothered if McCat murdered its family. If it was a vole, I should probably take it somewhere for treatment and leave McCat locked in. McCat’s vet informed me that they had a pigeon and chicken specialist but nobody who was too good on small feral critters. They recommended I phone a different vet surgery, which I did.

I explained that I thought I might have an injured rat but that I didn’t know and though it seemed a bit nasty of me, I felt that, if it was a rat, I was OK about letting McCat out to murder the rest of its family, because there are millions of rats but that, if it was a vole, I’d keep him in. I also explained that I thought it might be dying, that the kind thing to do would be to kill it but that I wasn’t a farm kid and I doubted I could dispatch it cleanly without subjecting it to more physical and emotional trauma. Our cat used to catch mice when I was a kid and Dad used to have to kill the ones she hadn’t quite killed. He was really good at delivering a swift blow to the head but it always used to upset him … not to mention us.

Bring it in, the vet told me and they would take a look at it.

Going back to the ‘vole’ which very much might not be a vole, I decided I’d wear gloves to handle it. Good thing that, because it was a great deal livelier than it had been when I put it out and it bit me as I tried to catch it. Although the bites didn’t break the skin they did pierce the gloves. McOther was home by this time and helped me put it in a cardboard box. I walked up to the vet’s with it and they took it in to have a look.

Turns out I was right to doubt and it wasn’t a vole after all. Just call me Manuel but it was a bona fide Siberian hamster although it escaped the ratatouille so that’s nice. I do know we have rats in our garden, but … yeh. Probably a good thing if the cat eats them then. The rat did, indeed, have some kind of head injury which was making him unable to move properly and they put him to sleep so he didn’t suffer any more.

And the vole last time? Er hem. Yeh. That was a rat and all. Even with a light bite, the vet warned me about Weil’s disease and said that if I start to develop cold symptoms I must go to the doctor’s and explain what’s happened. Me, I’m just wondering what my half-rat-half-human superpower might be.

Other things

It looks alright on the claret one (right).

What I should have been doing this morning was working on my latest and top secret knitting project while McOther was out, which is his fabulous birthday present. OK, this is me, so you know, by now, that it’s not a fabulous present especially if it involves my knitting prowess, which is more knitting prowless to be honest. On the upside, it is something he’ll use and enjoy … he’ll use and at least there’s thought in it. It’s a wine sock. Yeh. Don’t all fall over with excitement.

People who like wine do blind tastings, which basically means you put the bottle in a sock, except socks are a bit shit because they make the bottom of the bottle uneven and more likely to fall over. Enter the um … wine sleeve? Wine sleeves leave the bottom of the bottle clear so it will stand up, no matter how drunk you are when you place it on the table.

I’ve made the bit for the neck of the bottle too short. The bit of metal over the cork can give tasters in the know a bit clue, so I need to unpick five rows of ribbing, add six rows of plain knitting and then do the ribbing bits again. It looks shit flaccid but when you put it on the bottle … yeh, OK, it still looks a bit shit until you get to a claret bottle … then … Oh yeh. Ish.

Oh alright. It’s a disaster really. I decided to use some wool I had left over from making a pair of socks for McMini and a pair for me. But there wasn’t quite enough to get it to the shoulders of the bottle. I didn’t want to buy another ball of wool to do three stripes of fancy knitting so I bastardised another ball of similar wool and to be honest, it almost looks deliberate. I will have to knit him another less bodged one as well, clearly, but this is a nice start.

Other news …

It’s a long time since I’ve mentioned McMini here. But rest assured he is no less eccentric. He is older, and even more sarcastic, but still a delight (to his parents anyway). He did once tell me that he wanted to do the teen thing and rebel against us but he liked us too much. I’m not sure that’s anything we did, it’s just luck of the draw. Luckily there are some people at his school that he prefers to rebel against more.

Anyway, last week we were we’ve been watching the tennis as a family and supporting one player, the underdog, naturally, because we’re British. The audience on the telly were mostly supporting the other more famous player. Between each point there were shouts from the audience,

‘Come on Oojah!’ or ‘You’ve got this Thingy!’ etc.

Then as it all died away after the ‘quiet please’ one bloke right up in the gods at the back shouted something that sounded like, ‘bollocks!’ into the silence.

‘That sounded like, “bollocks!”’ said McMini. ‘Did he just shout, “bollocks!”?’

Next point, same male voice did it again and again, McMini said,

‘I’m sure he said, “Bollocks!”.’

McOther and I admitted, giggling, that it did sound like it and he might be right.

Next up to serve was the player we were not supporting. She threw the ball up and as she swung to hit it, McMini shouted, ‘Bollocks!’ and she served a fault.

She served again and in spite of McMin’s rousing cry of, ‘Bollocks!’ it was in. The lady we were supporting returned it and as the other swung her racket to hit the ball back, I shouted, ‘Arse!’ and it went into the net.

‘Woah! She can hear us!’ shouted McMini.

It opened the floodgates. They played a tie-breaker with McMini and I continuing to shout bollocks, arse and for some reason, follicles. Our lady won. I made a cheer which reminded McMini of an impression I do of Dad doing an impression of one of his teachers dropping dead in the middle of assembly (he yelled ‘eeeeeruuuuuw!’ and keeled over apparently). So McMini adds the part of the story following that which is the boing, boing diddly boing this teacher’s wooden leg made after he’d measured his length.

Despite this coming out of nowhere, I knew exactly what McMini was referring to and started to guffaw at which point McOther who was actually watching the tennis turned to us briefly, smiled indulgently in an oh-here-they-go-again sort of manner and reverted his attention to the TV.

McMini and I sat there crying with laughter and all was right with the world.

It’s competition time …

OK. Have you ever seen extreme ironing? If you haven’t it’s worth looking it up because it’s mad.  Here’s a potted summary.

Let’s do our own variant Blog peps! Extreme Reading. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Here’s how it works.

1. Get one of my books. It has to be an actual M T McGuire book. No other authors’ books are admissible. You can use a paperback or your e-thing with your e/audio book open and showing really obviously.

2. Go the area you have selected in which to read in an extreme manner, be it upside down, hanging from the ceiling. Tobogganing down the Cresta run, *sitting in the fountains at Trafalgar Square in your swimming cozzie or whatever.

3. Get photographed in your extreme reading position and then submit your photos to me. I think I will probably put them to the public vote.

* don’t do actual this though. You’ll get arrested.

How do I submit my photo MT? I hear you ask.

Well, I don’t to hear you ask but let’s not complicate this. Let’s pretend, for the sake of making this section that tiny bit more interesting, that I did. Here’s what you do.

Attach your photo photo to an email. You’ll need to give me your name and me some brief details saying where and when the photo was taken (date, place/town and country) and any witty commentary you wish to make about it. Then send it to me by email with the header, EXTREME READING TOURNAMENT, like that to list at hamgee.co.uk. You can send a maximum of two entries and it will cost you nothing to enter.

If you want to, you will be able to share the entries you submit on the Hamgee University Press Facebook page. I’ll make a specific post and pin it to the top so you can comment and add a photo but that’s not obligatory because I totally get that not everyone does Facebook. I wouldn’t do much social media if I didn’t have to.

Small Print: Nothing above 3mb please or Google won’t deliver them to me and a maximum of two entries per person. You may have to resize mobile/iThing photos to get them to me.

Obviously, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t do anything dangerous or stupid. This is an extreme reading tournament, it’s not the Darwin Awards or a game of who dares wins. Happy snapping.

And finally …

The Last Word is available in Audio.

If you enjoyed the short story, The Last Word, the audio of that is also available or at least, still available. If you need it, here’s a quick reminder of the blurb.

When Mrs Ormaloo brings the terrible news to the Turnadot Street Businesswomen’s Association that the Grongles are going to burn some more banned books on the night of Arnold, The Prophet’s birthday, Gladys and Ada decide to Take Steps. They even enrol some of the punters from their pub to help out. The books are in a warehouse being kept under guard. Gladys, Ada, Their Trev and the rest of the group embark on a plan of devilish cunning to rescue as many banned books from the flames as they can. But the key player in their plan is Humbert and there is no guarantee that he’ll cooperate.

Corporal Crundy is determined not to mess up his first assignment since his promotion. It should be easy. All he has to do is guard some books. Yeh. It should be a piece of cake but somehow that’s not the way it turns out.

To find it, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

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And his mummy cried …

This week, I was thinking about discussing world events but looking at them … for fuck’s sake. I can’t bring myself to do it. Let’s look at the fact America has passed its first gun legislation since 1994! Bloody well done America, we’ll ignore your apparent descent into the abyss on the women’s rights front because let’s face it, nothing’s more important than life, including a life worth living.

Seriously though, we need to relearn the art of deep thought—or, indeed, any thought. Fast.

illustration

We have to learn that not everyone who is different from us is a monster.

There is a standard branding technique that is supremely effective it’s this: make people feel they are part of a group, part of a tribe. Make them feel they have found their home with us (the brand). It speaks to our most primal instincts. The trouble starts when politicians get hold of it.

First up, the most motivating thing to a primal critter such as a human is fear, so they aim to use that. At the same time, as politicians, they also want a certain amount of control because what they want is your vote. They want you to feel that by joining their cause you are part of a warm fuzzy loving community that is fighting against a dangerous and unseen enemy. They want you to feel the blitz spirit of WW2, except over things that are not nearly as serious a threat. But to get that motivation, that solid Dunkirk spirit, they have to scare you enough for you to feel as if they, you and the people with whom you stand are, literally, holding back the forces of chaos. They use strong NLP trigger words like ‘war’ to validate the importance of your fight and write robust and forthright articles showing you that you need to press your cause, for the public good and those who oppose you must be ignored or walked over, for their own good.

Example: We are at war with litter louts, the war on noise pollution, etc. It’s all bollocks and actually trivialises issues which, while not on a war footing, are still important.

Stupid twats.

Once they’ve got you scared enough to think you’re fighting a ‘war on …’ whatever it is, rape or incest victims I mean sorry, people who asked for it as we’re probably meant to call them from now on, or possibly dissolute women who can’t say no*, whatever it is this week, they want you to feel self congratulatory and smug. How do they do that? By pointing at other tribes and saying stuff like,

‘Look at these folks. They’re not like you. They’re scary. They’re threatening us. They’re taking our jobs. They’re not on the run from extremist states, they’re just here to sponge off our welfare system. We’re not undermining your human rights so we can take over. We are taking difficult but necessary steps because they are planning a bloodless coup. They have control of the mainstream media. We need to stick together and fight them, No is still the best form of contraceptive if they didn’t listen and screwed you anyway it’s your fault.’ etc.

* Yes that was inflammatory but I’m fucking angry.

This is, as one of the historical masters at the art put it, ‘persuading one group of people that another group of people is less than human.’ These days. There’s a lot of it about. Big business owns most things. The richest individuals own everything, including many politicians and the newspapers. Democracy and a fair society is not in their interest. Nothing must stand in the way of them accruing more wealth because the billions they already have aren’t enough.

On a side note though, have you ever wondered why, in the UK, people on the political fringes attempt to undermine the BBC? It’s because for all it’s flaws and Oxbridge elitism, it’s the nearest thing to an impartial press we have … oh, along with Private Eye.

I have friends from a wide range of social and political backgrounds as our common ground is often a hobby, such as detecting, writing, foraging, wine, music … whatever. I know seemingly benign and friendly folk who will turn round and tell me they believe stuff that is pretty fucking appalling. The thing is though, sometimes, not always, but often, they are people I get on with in the context in which I see them. Because we’re not talking about their offensive views, we’re discussing book marketing, or foraging, or some other topic upon which we completely agree. Sometimes I take the piss out of them for being very right wing, or out of myself for being the token bleeding-heart liberal in their life/club/forum whatever.

The way I see it, if I suddenly discover an author friend holds views that puts them close to being Marxist or something equally moronic, they are usually completely brainwashed into thinking that people of a different political persuasion are bad and that they shouldn’t mix with them. If all I can do is show them, by being the official bleeding-heart liberal of the group, that actually nothing is quite that black and white, then maybe I’ve done something good.

Sometimes, I continue to talk to people for the simple reason that, if they see that we agree on many things, there is a chance that they will understand that not everyone to the political left or right of them (depending where they are on the scale compared to me) is a threat to society, since I’m not.

Take away that ability to mix and people are sitting in an echo chamber and see nothing but their own views. Over time they find it increasingly difficult to mix with people who don’t believe the same things as them. After spending a lot of time on the internet, I, myself am finding this. Although I think our right wing, here in the UK, has moved a long, long way to the right of what ‘conservatism’ actually stood for when I was a kid. Either that or its PR has—presumably it’s gloating far right voters they are looking to steal, rather than centrists, like myself.

It’s important to be able to mix; I like to discuss stuff, you know, without evangelising or trying to win anyone over, but just because I’m really interested in what other people think and how they’ve come to their conclusions. I think, as human beings, it’s part of our nature to want to share our views so it’s important to be able to do so without getting too emotional, even if it’s hard. Take away this ability to share views and before you know where you are, you’ve got groups of feckless idiots smashing up synagogues and … the rest is history.

I’m not shitting you here, ceasing to engage, ghettoising ourselves or others … this is how wars start.

When you start to make people feel part of a tribe by playing on their fears of people or things they don’t know, pointing out the ‘threats’ posed by others, or as normal humans would call it, the ‘differences’ you get polarisation. The fact there are churches which will tell their congregations not to speak to, or mix with. non-christians … hmm, where in Christ’s teachings do we see that. Oh wait! I know. NOWHERE! That’s where.

Why are some people so bloody poisonous? But more to the point, why can’t they see? It’s like people are too scared to think. Too scared to face the grey areas between thou shalt and thou shalt not. It’s like a lot of people mull something over once and then decide what they’ll believe about it for the rest of their lives. Then, no matter how circumstances may change or what new facts may come to light they never revisit their opinion. How can people live like that? I mean sure, it’s nice and simple but it must be so empty.

Seriously, I am constantly revising my opinions on things. Is that weird? I think Brexit was a terrible idea but I’m interested as to why other folks disagree and actually, in many cases I totally get why they voted how they did.

Is it about confidence? Could it be? You see, I fuck up a lot, so I am not in any way afraid to admit to getting things wrong. You can only be carpeted by the headmaster so many times before you start to give a bit less of a shit about how other people see you and a bit more of a shite about how you, personally, see yourself and what you are actually like.

Maybe people perceive changing their minds as a sign of weakness which they’re too afraid to show. Certainly I know there are people who mistake my tendency to be accommodating with being a push over. But surely, if someone perceives changing their mind — or compromising — as a sign of weakness and failure, they’ll never be able to revise their opinions about anything. Whereas, if a person is genuinely strong, they will have the confidence to change their mind over things when new facts emerge or their experience alters. Let’s face it, no-one’s ever going to be afraid of people thinking that they’re weak if they know, in their hearts, that they aren’t.

Often, I wonder if a lot of these people who hold very fixed or hard opinions simply do so because they don’t have the strength of character to cope with a world where nothing is certain. It is difficult, I know but sometimes, there is grey. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘Usually, thou shalt not but in this case, if thou art just, thou shalt …’

On other topics …

Yes! I am still reading through what I have of the current book and yes, it’s going OK, indeed, I’m enjoying reading what I’ve written, which is a bit of a turn up! I am also continuing to make accompanying notes to be sure I smooth out the bits I’ve cocked up.

There’s a terrible lull which I need to fix but essentially, it zips along. I just need to figure out the end; simple or complicated, that’s my choice. Simple may still make it very, very long so I might do complicated as that will be two books. Once I have finished I’ll decide where to split it and then I’ll send it out to beta readers, get it edited and do a kickstarter instead of a preorder.

Also the cosplay … I looked for cloaks online and I found this … it’s velvet but it’s very cool and you can stipulate what colours you want. Oh yes.

And on a lighter note …

My audiobook sale is still on and (woot) the odd person has even bought one here and there.

Not nearly enough to pay for the cost of the advertising but hey, you can’t win ’em all. If you want one, grab them while you can. Or if you want to encourage your friends to have a listen feel free to do so by clicking or sharing this link: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/cmot

Last but not least …

I think this song is pertinent today. Personally, I think procreation isn’t the answer without some promise of a life worth living afterwards. Could I have an abortion, no I couldn’t. But if someone else needs to for their mental or medical health, it’s not my business to stop them. The original name for this song was The Vicious Circle. It’s also worth reading this article.

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Spigotry …

Yes, I am still alive, although you could be forgiven for wondering if I’ve quietly shuffled off this mortal coil the amount of time it’s been since I wrote a blog post. I suppose the main reason for this is that the mood to waffle about my life tends to hit at the weekends, therefore, if I happen to be Doing Stuff several weekends in a row, the blog grinds to a halt. Case in point, when I came to write this post I found two others that I’d already begun before going out. On the upside, all this Doing Things does come under the heading of Putting Stuff In which is probably what other people call ‘refilling the well’.

So what’s been happening. Well, Mum stuff although less of it, Mc(Not So)Mini stuff and too much stuff of my own. I suppose you could say I’ve over-peopled but it isn’t really the social that’s hampering my efforts to achieve anything. I just keep on having to do things because I make trouble for myself. Yes, the reason for my absence is that I have been, mostly, trying to put out the fires I’ve inadvertently started in the dry grass of life. Or trying to unfuckup the fuckups, of which there are legion.

This week I went to see my writer friends where I used to live. For years they’ve been coming to me but now that I don’t have to collect McMini from school until 5 on the day we meet – or because, a lot of the time McOther picks him up – we have started going to the house of our eldest member and having lunch in the village pub. On the way I pick up the other lady in our group. She has a great deal of difficulty getting in and out of my car and this week, I discovered that taking the roof off merely made it worse. It was hot and I was wearing my prescription shades so while I was getting ready I took my actual spectacles out of my pocket and put them, in the little bag in which they come, on the back of the car because I didn’t want to bend them. The last thing I remember thinking is, ‘I must remember to put those back in the care before I drive off.’

Can you guess what happened next?

Of course you can! Yes. That’s right, I drove off with the glasses on the back of the car. Obviously, the fates didn’t do anything kind to me, like arrange for them to slide off on the side roads leading from the estate on which my friend lives. Oh no. They fell off as I turned onto the main road. When I reached my destination and went into the house I found I no longer had my specs. It being a social event and there being a table booked for lunch, I couldn’t just say, ‘Guys, I have to nip back and check.’ It would have been rude. The lady I had just picked up rang her husband and he went and looked but found nothing.

Resigned to their fate – I didn’t hold out much hope for my glasses surviving, unsquashed, until I dropped her back – we read each other our work, had lunched and talked writing things. When I dropped the lady back, it turned out her husband had popped out for a bike ride and found the glasses on the main road. They had sustained a small amount of damage, as you can see from this picture.

picture of smashed spectacles

When I break something, I like to do it properly.

Strangely, I had to visit the optician the next day to pick up some contact lenses for a friend’s daughter who’s a border at McMini’s school so I took my glasses with me along with another pair of frames that I’d picked up for a song at TK Maxx about twenty years previously (when I’d bought the smashed pair). I asked if they could fix my specs.

Yes well … at least I gave them all a good laugh.

Naturally, it turned out that they’d have to send the new frames I had away because it involved drilling the actual lense. In addition, it turned out that I was due for an eye test so they recommended I do that first, in case my prescription has changed. On the up side, they did have a slot sooner rather than later, on the downside, ‘sooner’ was next Friday. I found a similar pair on ebay for £24 and sent off for them so I do have those, although when I put them on they exaggerate the fact that I have asymmetrical ears and one is a lot higher than the other. On the up side, they don’t involve drilling the lenses so I can get them sooner and, if I have to go varifocal, maybe I can get the send always done as varifocals and the other as bog-standard prescription.

So now I’m wearing my sunglasses most of the time, Roy Orbison style, although he went on tour and left his prescription specs at home whereas I … yeh. If I ever can find another set of the others I’ll buy them and replace my old ones as they suited me better than any specs I’ve ever had before. In the meantime, I’m wearing a pair from 2008 which are more-or-less OK, although slightly weaker than the originals.

Add taking the cat to the vet, me to the gym and all sorts of other stuff and somehow, I achieve very little. That said the writing is still going. I’ve been going through Misfit 5 editing it and picking out where I’ve added tracers for plot development. I usually know where it’s going at the time and I put the tracers in but if I’m not writing for a long time, I then forget what they are and end up writing off in the wrong direction. This is a Bad Thing.

Other news, McOther has been a bit busy at work recently and McMini has had a gig with his band again. Their singer left, which looked as if it was going to be a bit of a disaster, but they’ve found a new one who is less experienced but I think could be very good so that’s a win.

Picture of a hitler european tour t-shirt

Height of bad punk taste.

We went to a re-enacters’ event today which was excellent and McMini spotted a Hitler European Tour T-shirt to wear on stage (it’s a punk band, after all). I bought it for him.

Lord but this is not Setting A Good Example, but since I had one when I was about his age, I’d be a special kind of hypocrite to point that out. Also it’s actually slightly less offensive than the T-shirt McMini was wearing, which advertises a band called Deicide.

On the up side, it’s black and white, and a lot more understated than the enormous red and black, front and back printed white one I had when I was the same age which also featured a huge swastika.

It’s also a bit easier to wear these days, I think. There were many instances when I simply couldn’t wear mine because it might be taken the wrong way. McMini’s is a great deal more understated than mine was, which is no bad thing, even though, as a whole, it’s still a bad thing and I am still a Bad Person for caving in.

It is difficult with gallows humour. I strongly believe that actually jokes do occasionally need to be offensive. I also believe that comedy is often far harder-hitting than the heaviest of moral-lesson type stories. I also think that one of the reasons Britain is such a horrible place right now is because we have lost our ability to laugh at ourselves in ways that are a bit sick, and we’ve lost the ability to trivialise the things that scare us to a manageable level by making jokes about it. Nonetheless, McMini has promised me this one is on stage only.

On a different note

My audiobooks are on sale again, so you can grab Few Are Chosen for 99c and Small Beginnings for 99c or free.

I’ve also reduced the other books in the K’Barthan series though some stores (a.k.a. where I can). Help yourself while you they’re cheap. They’re on sale until the end of June.

If you’re interested and would like more information about that, just click here.

AAAAAAND! There’s more!

The Last Word, available in Audio.

If you enjoyed the short story, The Last Word, the audio of that is also available, to find that, go here.

 

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Still hanging in there …

Still here … 🙂

There’s been a bit of a long break and I thought I should probably pop in here, if only to reassure you that I’m still alive. There is a reason for my absence. First up, I was away on holiday for two weeks, during which I incredibly cleverly managed to get COVID 19. We all had it, the boys for a couple of days each. Me? Like all colds it went on for chuffing ever. First a week of really bad allergies during which I consulted a pharmacist in the resort and as it only appeared at night she reckoned I was right in thinking it was allergies.

Then, on our last day at the ski resort, I woke up with a temperature and a full blown cold (I get a temperature for the first couple of days with most colds, I’m rubbish at them). The cold turned into a two week sinus infection. After that there was a period where I felt very post viral. Once I’d been clear five days I went to church (I sing in the choir) and at the end of the first hymn I was surprised at how weak and sweaty I felt. I think it’s pretty much gone now but I’m still really tired and I feel terrible about all the people I met and spoke to over the second week on holiday, when I was huffing COVID cooties over everything. I sincerely hope I didn’t give it to any of them.

On the up side, although I didn’t know it was COVID I knew I had a cold and I felt it was only polite, in the current pandemic, to wear my mask for every and any interaction with other people. I also sanitised my hands to the point where they were so sticky I could probably have used them to climb up the sheer sides of glass buildings. Probably.

Hopefully all that protected everyone from me. I think masks probably stop more coming out than they stop going in. I hope so. The fact it was Easter and everything was shut also helped as it meant I didn’t sit in restaurants infecting people the way I might have done if any of them had been open.

While I was feeling drippy and post viral, I ditched anything that I absolutely didn’t have to do. So that meant everything except a bit of writing here and there, my monthly newsletter and Mum stuff, of which there is a craptonne right now. I also included ditching the blog. Although, I’m beginning to think that ditching blogging might not have been such a good idea. Not in the long run.

Overwhelm

I didn’t mean to talk about this today, but I’m going to because, fuck it, this is my blog after all.

The thing is. The Mum stuff has been really hard. There was so much of it that at first I was afraid (I was petrified!) Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side. At first I did just go into fluffy-bunny-in-the-headlights mode but after a few weeks of going, ‘shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!’ I managed to belt up and did what I always do in situations like this. Ignored it and pretended it would go away. No! I stopped looking at how much there was to do and divided it up into little tasks; began at the edges if you like, chipping away at it one small job at a time. Phone this, post that, check these etc. Trying to do one small thing each day.

Net result; I’ve finally broken the back of it. I should be smug and yet, I still feel a bit overwhelmed with it all at the moment. I know why, too. I’m coming up to the anniversary of Dad’s death and I miss him, real him. When Dad was sliding into insanity, I could always ask Mum stuff. But now Dad has gone and Mum is sliding into insanity and there is no-one to talk to. Well no, there is but I’m making these decisions without the ultimate authoritative input of the demented person’s spouse, whereas when we made them about Dad it was simply a case of discussing it with Mum.

This is the hardest and loneliest thing I’ve done. It’s worse because I know my brother doesn’t really agree with what I’m doing. I love my brother dearly and I don’t want to fall out with him but the stress of continually going against what he wants, and what is actually the most sensible course of action, is a bit grim. The trouble is, the sensible thing isn’t what’s best for Mum, and if I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror every morning for the rest of my life, then I have to do what Mum wants. Even if she is as mad as a box of frogs. Even if, were I to ask her aged 50, she’d be horrified. It’s a bit of a shit position to be in.

Also, with the mountain of stuff I had to do, and the fact I was recovering from COVID and couldn’t do much else, I did have to have a bit of a sprint at it eventually. Drop everything and sort it. This approach is OK for a short time but with the COVID it went on longer and … I suppose I’ve looked too hard into the face of Mum’s dementia for too long and that always leads to trouble.

The trick with dragging the millstone up the hill is to know what’s happening but at the same time, not acknowledge it. Like some warped Magic Eye picture, I can see the image but I mustn’t uncross my eyes and let reality creep in or I will be undone, and god knows I can’t be undone.

If I allow myself to think about what is happening in the wrong way—or at all really—there are tears. But not useful, get-it-all-out tears. They’re the pointless crappy ones that achieve nothing and just fill your nose with snot.

Also. I’m so fucking angry. I’m absolutely incandescent that my parents were promised free health care and then, at a point when it was too late for them to do anything about it or plan for alternatives, it was taken away. Oh I could rail against the Government, and NHS’s institutionalised discrimination against certain mental illnesses while it happily treats others but what’s the fucking point? I could write letters, I could write to my MP and get the usual boilerplate reply referring me to the statements she has made about the issues that most concern her  on her website. She doesn’t even pretend to give a shit.

All it will get me is a sore throat or numb fingers. I could keep on asking the powers that be why, if two people have the exact same symptoms, one can be treated on the NHS for free and the other is forced to pay—not just their money but their house, possessions and everything they own, simply because their illness has a specific name. I could ask why people with dementia are taxed to the tune of all they own, unless they’re fortunate enough to die first. I could ask them if that’s just. Or right. Or building back better.

I suppose it might make me feel I’d made myself heard but I doubt it. Trying to do anything about it is like pissing in a wetsuit. Doubtless it will give me a nice warm feeling for a moment or two but it’ll make fuck all difference in the long run.

And I suppose it doesn’t help that we seem to have one of the most morally destitute bunch of stone-hearted cocksuckers ever to darken the doors of Parliament running this country right now. A bunch of feckless, misogynistic lounge lizards who also, unfortunately, appear to be completely teflon.

We have someone at the head of the nation who is an international joke and, possibly, one of the most unsympathetic and bone-headed premiers since Cromwell. Except, stone-hearted, empathy-free bastard that he might have been, at least Cromwell appears to have had some kind of moral compass and seems to have genuinely believed he was acting to help his people rather than just blatantly helping himself.

The present shower appear to pride themselves on having the kind of moral standards that make the Emperor Nero look like an exceedingly uptight nun.

Sorry, where was I?

Mum stuff and it being hard. I guess what makes it hard is that everything takes ages. Twenty minutes on hold, minimum, for a three minute telephone conversation. Then there’s the whole fact that we are mortgaging Mum’s house so we are basically gambling on how long she has to live. And we can only mortgage half so if she lives more than four and a half years, we’ll have to sell the house and move her into a home anyway.

Then

I guess what I’m saying is that it is possible I need to do some serious self care.

If you are looking after someone with dementia, this is probably the point where you’re hoping I’m going to share some amazing coping mechanism with you, right? God in heaven! I wish I could. But to be honest there just isn’t one. I guess the almighty (who I’m also pissed off with about this) has just decided that the camel WILL through the eye of the needle and 50% of people over 70 will get gold plated entry into the Kingdom of God by din’t of a whistle stop visit to hell before they die. Going nuts and spending everything they own on care.

Seriously though, one of the things not writing my blog for a few weeks has taught me is that actually, it’s pretty vital I that write my blog. By venting all the anger and weirdness and tension on here I get to be effortlessly normal in the Real World.

Well. No. That’s not exactly true. Normality is always an effort but you get the picture I’m sure.

For example, having a Basil Fawlty style rant on here and will make people laugh. It might make them think and it might make them sympathetic but by making it funny and airing it here I can cut the sense of overwhelm I feel down to a manageable size. Laugh at it and it loses it’s power and all that.

Conversely, having a Basil Fawlty style rant in real life leads to awkward silences. I’m clearly not funny enough to carry it off face on. Or maybe I’m just too desperate and too angry. Like a young woman I saw on Live at the Apollo a few years ago who did a fabulous stand up routine about nursing her mother through cancer. It was so powerful, but it was also painfully raw and the audience looked like they wanted to hug her, not laugh.

Even worse, by not ranting it all out here, it spills out when I talk to Real People. Yes, I have fallen into a terrible habit. When people ask how I am, I’m fucking well going and telling them.

This is not good. This is so, so not good.

I do not want to turn into the kind of person people hide under parked cars to avoid. I don’t want to be the dear woman my mother used to hide in the coat cupboard from (she was lovely but she was enduring very tough times and she talked soooo much).

Am I there yet? I don’t fucking know! But I fear I’m perilously close. I’m going to meet up with some of my old school friends this week and I am actually quite nervous. I have lost so many friends by meeting them during a crisis after a long time apart and then being too intense, too weird and too chatty to the point where they quietly delete my details from their address books and move house.

A big part of the stress is that I’m appalling at this stuff. Seriously. In my 20s, I had an IQ of 149. One point off genius level. But the side of my brain for maths is … it’s so stupid. Brain 1 is sitting there looking on in complete incredulity as Brain 2 tries to understand compound interest. One side of the house is mercury quick, the other is like wading through semi congealed tar. It’s weird and frustrating and thank God McOther has agreed to attend the mortgage meetings with me so there is someone there to ask pertinent questions and understand it all straight off.

Then there’s a fair bit of guilt. One of the things that cropped up, doing all of this, was how badly I’ve taken my eye off the ball. I confess that while Mum was reasonably well and not deteriorating as much, I kind of let things slide. I wrote stuff and did things with my spare time that normal people might do. IE nothing particularly looking-after-Mum related. She was very frail after Dad died, and although I knew that the Almighty is far too hell bent on crapping on us all from the stratosphere to do us the mercy of having Mum’s money outlast her, there were three years of it and logic said it should.

I really should have known. Again, it might be easier for us to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than to enter the kingdom of God but I’m sure that, with the help of a blender I could— yeh alright. Moving on.

Returning to my derelict duties I discovered that Mum’s payments from Dad’s work pension had stopped and that she is on the lower rate for one of her benefits when she should have been on the higher one since she started to need carers at night (April 2019).

Gulp.

On top of that, I realised that if the council tax definition of severely mentally impaired goes on levels of dementia alone, she should be eligible for a council tax disregard, which means her council tax payments are waived. As these are over three grand a year it seemed quite a good idea to get the forms for those and ask her Doctor if he was prepared to sign them. If he doesn’t, I am now at the point where I can safely say I’m spending over 35 hours a week on Mum and I will claim carer’s allowance with a clear conscience, instead, and bung some of that her way. (You can’t do both).

None of this is quick. Oh my goodness no. But I stayed on hold for the prerequisite 20 minute plus to each of the august bodies I was required to contact and got the forms sent out. In the case of the pension, although Mum had signed a chitty to say they could talk to me, it was too long ago. They gave me an email address to send my power of attorney to and then told me I’d have to wait 10 – 12 working days before it would be ‘on the system’ and I could ring to ask my question again, at which point, they assured me that they’d answer it. I put a note in my diary to ring on the magic day and relaxed knowing the forms would arrive at Mum’s while I was away and I could pick them up a couple of days after getting home.

But then I arrived home and discovered I had bastard COVID and I couldn’t get to Mum’s to pick the forms up before they expired.

Can you guess what happened next kids?

Urgh. Yes. That’s right. I had to phone them all again. I swear the Man has decided that the new way to keep us down will be to give us pointless shit to do, like sitting on hold for a fucking eternity to ask a question that is answered in about ten seconds.

So over the past couple of days I’ve been writing covering letters and filling in forms. In black ink and in capitals. Needless to say, I ballsed up the forms extensively but hey, Tippex is my friend. I sent one form to Mum’s for her to sign with instructions to the carers as to what they needed to add (her list of meds) and bless them, she signed the forms yesterday and they put them in the post. So that’s one job done that I’ve been meaning to get round to for several months.

Meanwhile at the beginning of the week, I sat down with the next round of paperwork the mortgage broker had sent, filled that in, decided how much we needed to borrow and sent it off.

Yesterday, I filled in the council tax form and sent it to Mum’s doctor, with an SAE to send it back if he signs it. Once that comes back to me I can send that on, or apply for carer’s allowance if he can’t sign without a pukka diagnosis. Mum is doing fine thinking her memory is crap. She can maintain the illusion that it isn’t dementia, even though she kind of knows it is. But if she formally hears she has it she’ll be undone. So I can’t get a diagnosis if she has to be told about it too, it’s too unkind.

Good news is, the fucking mountain of administriviatative shite is nearly all in the bag, except for signing up to the actual mortgage, which will require the services of a solicitor. Oh yes and getting rid of the last of Mum’s shares, which are in an old family firm but needs must. They have to go.

This is not the end, or even the beginning of the end but it is the end of the beginning for this particular period of intense Mum-based activity. Once we’ve got this bit done she’s set for another three or four years and it’s like I can see the end of the tunnel on this batch now, after which there will be a calm period.

Sure it will be horrible when the mortgage is spent and we have to sell the house and put her into a home, but there’s no point agonising over that until it happens. I guess what I’m saying is that, I should be able to write some more soon.

Talking about writing …

There is an outside chance I will finish the current W.I.P. this year. There are 102k words of it so far and I have a horrible feeling it’s going to be three books. I might be able to break it up into 50k instalments though. We are only half way through but it’ll need tightened up and when I’ve done that I suspect I’ll have three 50k instalments, two 85k novels or one absolute monster. As the other books are short but the first book featuring Goojan Spiced Sausage is also 85k I’m thinking two at that length would work really well. Otherwise one 50k and one 85k (if I can keep the prose spare enough) would also work with the some books short, some books long nature of the rest of the series.

Lastly, I’m thinking of entering Too Good To Be True for a sci-fi book award. The books have to be over 50k, a stand alone or a first in series. I’d be entering it as a stand alone. Unless it isn’t. Decisions decisions. The competition is adjudicated by sci-fi bloggers. They’ll probably hate it. They usually do. But what do I know?

Right. Until next week, that’s me … although it might be after next week, but it might not because I have to tell you about my pathetic efforts to do a calorie controlled diet and my new electric bike! Woot. I’m also thinking of doing a kickstarter to raise funds for the next book in the Hamgeean Misfit series, Starting at $10 but it gets all the other books too, or something like that. Let me know in the comments if you think that’s a good idea.

If you’re bored …

Why not try the audio box set of the K’Barthan Series from my shop with 30% off. If you’d like to give that a go, click on the link and type ARNOLD at checkout.

K’Barthan Box Set Audio in Reduced Circumstances

Alternatively, if you enjoyed the books and have the inclination, why not write a review of one of them. A list of them, with links to them on the main stores can be found here

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This week I have mostly been … poisoning myself.

Yep. Straight up. Don’t laugh. It’s serious … well, OK, it’s not. No. Not at all, really. In fact, today, I have a story to share which, I hope, will make you laugh. It is a tale of such gobsmacking stupidity that I’m almost proud. Yes if you had doubts about my bumbling cockwomblery and general, all-round ineptitude then, I think this morning’s events might possibly put it beyond all doubt.

As I write this, it’s Friday, although by the fabulous, time-travelling magic of scheduling, you will be reading this tomorrow, Saturday, just in case you’re wondering.

McOther was away over night so I was taking McMini to school. I woke him up and while I was waiting for him to get dressed I had my breakfast, made some coffee and pottered around the house. This included opening the blinds in the two front rooms.

picture of the flowers described in this blog post

Daphne Odora, outside in it’s natural habitat … well our garden at any rate, its natural habitat is the Himalayas

In the drawing room we have some gorgeous cut flowers from the garden; a plant called Daphne Odora, which does its thing about this time of year. It smells fabulous and comes with its own handy greenery attached, too, so it also looks pretty with minimal arranging effort.

The blooms in the drawing room were getting a bit long in the tooth, I noticed, as I went in there to open the blinds. Indeed, on closer examination, I noticed that some of them were decidedly dead. As McMini hadn’t come down yet and I had a few minutes, I determined to remove them and bung them in the compost before they dropped dead bits everywhere and I had to hoover the sodding carpet. Yes, I would pick some more when I got home, I decided. Quite a lot of the flowers fell off when I picked it up but I took the rest of it out to the kitchen anyway and put it on the side next to the sink.

Checking the time, I realised there were ten minutes until we had to leave. I had finished my breakfast and so I grabbed a couple of vitamin pills, which I take each morning, picked up the glass of water which was also by the sink, next to the dead flowers, and chugged the pills. A whole pint went down and in the last mouthful I noticed there was something else.

Have I washed a bit of toast stuff on my teeth? I thought, except I’d actually had a crumpet but it just takes too long to explain what a crumpet is and anyone who doesn’t know will get a handle on what I’m talking about if I call it toast. Anyway, I picked this thing out of my mouth and was it food? Was it bollocks. It was a particularly dead flower off the Daphne Odora.

Oh.

A quick look in the bottom of the glass revealed some other bits of Daphne Odora. Hmm. I looked at the glass and I couldn’t help wondering if I’d swallowed any other errant blooms, along with the pills, and hadn’t noticed.

Well, no bother, except— I wonder if Daphne Odora is poisonous, I thought and then I did the stupidest thing. Yes people.

I CHECKED ON THE INTERNET.

What was the answer? Yes, obviously because it was the fucking law that if I’d eaten something by mistake it was going to be something that would kill me.

How poisonous? Extremely. The word ‘deadly’ was also used. Jolly dee.

OK Monsieur Google, when you say, extremely do you mean yew/oleander put the-wrong-bits-in-your-mouth-and-you’ll-die-swiftly-and-horribly toxic or do you just mean … you know … might feel a bit grim-level.

Oh. I see. A-very-small-amount-will-kill-you kind of poisonous. Marvellous.

How very small? Will one dried flower do it?

WHAT????? Thanks Google kind of you to NOT FUCKING SAY! YOU UTTER UTTER BAST— calm … breathe … think logically about this.

OK.

Had I swallowed any? I didn’t know. Probably not but at the same time, if I had, and I didn’t do something about it, then from what the internet said, I was going to die. OK so that was probably bollocks but at the least, I was going to be very ill.

Bit of an aside here:

In my defence, there is a family story that did colour my view about a fellow whose name has long since been lost in the annals of time. The name of the unfortunate hero being lost, the story is known simply as The Tale of Paraquat Man. Paraquat was a weedkiller in the mid twentieth century that was well known. Paraquat Man was friend of my grandparents (probably all four because they knew a lot of the same people). He was putting weedkiller on his garden path when he heard the phone ring. He came inside carrying the weedkiller, and put it down by the phone. The weedkiller was in an old wine bottle.

Next to the phone was a very similar wine bottle containing a bit of wine from the previous night’s dinner. The poor bloke picked up the wine bottle and distracted by the phone call and not really thinking what he was doing, he took a swig, only to realise he’d drunk the weedkiller. He made his excuses to the person on the phone, dialled 999 and then, while he was waiting for the ambulance, he ran to the bathroom and made himself sick. He was dead within the week.

This family legend has somewhat coloured my view of ingestion-based accidents …

If I had just eaten something as ‘deadly poisonous’ as the internet said then, even now, Death was probably waiting outside to tell me it was the salmon mousse or to attempt to put a positive spin on my impending demise by telling me to try and ‘THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH’. Yes so it probably wasn’t that poisonous but just in case it was then, if possible, I needed to … er … expel it.  Right then.

Was I really in that much though? Was I really going to stick my fingers down my throat and make myself barf up two glorious cups of coffee, a delicious crumpet a whole pint of water and some vitamin pills? If I was, I was going to have to get the hurling done pretty fucking fast because in ten minutes McMini needed to be taken to school and since McOther wasn’t around and there was on-one else to do it, I had to have finished chundering by then, or decide not to chunder and do it when I got home an hour later.

But hang on! Food only stays in your stomach for 20 minutes doesn’t it? I dunno does it? I can’t remember. A little knowledge is such a very, very bad thing. Should I google that, I wondered and then decided that, going on the results of my search about Daphne Odora, it was probably best not to. I looked at my watch.

7 minutes.

Yes. Um … right then. On we go. Better out than in.

At this point McMini came down and asked, through the closed door of the lavatory, if I knew where his jacket was. I didn’t and he then asked me if I was OK. I explained about my inadvertent blossom eating and told him to go and look again in his room.

A few minutes later, I had managed to throw up quite a lot of everything I’d eaten, but not all of it. And in the broad scheme of things, I suspected that my only achievement was that, as well as being poisoned, I now smelled of sick. It would probably enough to stave off any symptoms until after I’d dropped McMini off though. He, meanwhile, had found his jacket. Except he was worried when I explained why I was hurling and wanted me to go straight to casualty. So …

I had to ring McMini’s school and explain that he wasn’t coming in because his mother thought she might have poisoned herself by mistake a few minutes earlier and had to go to casualty. Could he do e-school?

Yes, they said, without laughing at all, which was pretty impressive.

Then again, I grew up in a school. These people are bullet proof. I’ve listened to Mum answering enough similar calls to know that.

Lovely McMini, as I left for casualty I said I’d keep him updated by text and asked if he’d be OK. He told me he’d be fine. Then he told me, ‘I’m only saying this because you might die but, I love you, Mum.’ [Saturday a.m. edit: He’s back to smearing his earwax on the door handle of my office this morning] Which was definitely the loveliest thing that happened to me all day. I told him I loved him too, we hugged each other tight and off I went.

You couldn’t make this stuff up though, could you?

I made a desultory attempt at an eyebomb while in casualty.

Then I had to explain what I’d done to everyone in triage at A&E, plus the doctor. Although at least it made them laugh. And I got an ECG so I don’t have to wait on tenterhooks for the results of the other one (normal, woot).

Also, I do know how the flowers got into the water, now. I usually put a lid on my water glass because otherwise the bloody cat drinks it. However, I took the lid off to take some of the pills put it on the kitchen counter before putting it back over the glass. I put the lid on the surface underside down. There was condensation on it and some of the drier, deader blossoms — which had fallen onto the counter without my noticing — stuck to it. Then, when I plonked it back on the water, they fell in. And I drank them.

Having now made sure that every single corner of that worktop is wiped down, I’m hoping there will be no further ingestion.

I mean … for bald fuck’s sake!

Fast forward and it’s now the afternoon. As instructed by the doctor at casualty, I’ve been ensuring that I drink lots of water, and carried this over to lunch by having soup. I have done no work and I have failed utterly to take the nice long walk I was going to have after dropping McMini off. I am fine, although I do actually have some very light symptoms. I was feeling sick but felt better for eating a little and drinking the soup. And I sidestepped the stomach pump, which has to be a win.

Hopefully, by later on this evening, I will no longer be living in a piss-poor, badly plotted, second-class imitation of an Alan Ayckbourn play.

I probably shouldn’t bank on it though, should I?

On a different note … here’s news of two bargains which might interest you!

Kobo Box Set Sale until 28th March

Yes, our lovely friends at Kobo are doing it again. If you haven’t grabbed the K’Barthan Box Set in ebook already, now’s your time to get a lovely 25% off. All you have to do is put ‘MARCH25’ in the have promo code box at check out and you’ll get it cheaper. You can also use this code as many times as you like on as many of the other box sets in the promo. Just click the Kobo25 link, below or go here.

Kobo25

Massive collection of free sci-fi and fantasy books (oh yeh).

Patty Jansen, fellow author and all round good egg has set this up. It’s actually finished but as I write (Friday) the page is still there. Over 120 books are listed, most of the ones that aren’t exclusive to Amazon will be free for a few days more. If you’d like to have a look, there they are, anyway. Just click on the SFFBOOKS link below.

SFFBOOKS

 

 

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Oh shit … warning: venting ahead.

Gardening tips from Vladimir Putin

Holy fucking fuck.

Well, this has been an bit of a grim week hasn’t it? If you’d asked me the kind of future I envisaged for my son a few years ago, I’d have said, ‘whatever he wants to make of it.’ I confess that the idea that, in a couple of year’s time, he might be called up to fight in a third world war wasn’t exactly uppermost in my mind. I suppose it depends on a lot of factors but there are uncanny parallels between current events and some of the darker parts of 20th century history.

What worries me, specifically, is that, putting my Lord Vernon hat on for a moment, if I was the average dictator-in-the-street, with one of the largest conventional armies at my disposal, I’d be thinking like this:

Nobody wants to use nuclear weapons. Why? Because a nuclear war would poison the entire planet. We’d all die except for about 0.0001% of the population; the social or political elite who have access to/own a nuclear bunker. Everyone else would either be vaporised in the succession of blasts, or would die of radiation poising in the aftermath.

Obviously as a dictator, I don’t give a shit about killing people but a nuclear conflict does raise problems:

1. If I want to bestride the earth like a colossus with every creature doing my bidding, I need … well … an actual earth to bestride. If I’ve nuked it so that no-one can ever go outside again then, frankly, my chances of doing any seriously satisfying bestriding are a bit shit aren’t they?

2. There’ll be a staff problem. I mean, I’m a dictator. I have an ego. I believe in my own indomitability. There have to be enough people in the underclass to lord it over. There won’t be enough little people to crush under my mighty feet as I do the colossus thing if they’re all dead and there won’t be enough of them to see it. Unfortunately, today’s underclass- no scratch that, pretty much the entire population of the world, today, lacks access to a nuclear shelter. If I nuke my enemies and they nuke back then all the little people will die in the attack. I will be left with a very small group of similarly mighty egos to my own, and the kind of people who’ve never got their hands dirty.

3. If I’m a proper dictator and worth my salt, I like money and a broken and shattered world economy isn’t going to earn me shit. Unless I just want all the stuff. Maybe I just want a palace full of looted art and jewellery all stacked up. The art. All of it from every single museum in the countries I’ve destroyed. I dunno, but I suspect if I’m properly dictator-level greedy I’m going to want an economy to subjugate that’s a bit more than dead on the table.

No sireee! I’m pretty sure that if I was a dictator, a world comprising me and my special few, plus a couple of thousand people from every other country that could afford a shelter system—with a sprinkling of the kind of insanely rich and paranoid bell-ends who have their own nuclear bunkers, Auric Goldfinger, come on down—would not float my boat world-dominance-wise.

Yes, lording it over the survivors of a nuclear war will be child’s play, but as I mentioned, there’ll be only a handful of them. It might be alright, but I’m guessing the average Dictator-in-the-street will consider this to be small-time shite and not the big cock-waving fest they’re after.

Unless Putin’s decided he’ll rise from the ruins with a few thousand privileged survivors and start a master race. I do hope not. I wonder how that would work though. Especially if, for months, no-one can go outside for more than half an hour without getting radiation sickness, and when they do, nothing will work because the EMP in the blast has done for the infrastructure. I’m hoping he’ll decide that poisoning the entire planet is a really bad idea because it will make it much harder to subjugate.

OK so that sounds good so far, but it’s not, because if I’m a properly power crazed nutjob, the inability to nuke isn’t going to stop me wanting a massive fuck off war. If I was the average Dictator-in-the-street and I knew that I had a bigger army than most of my enemies put together, and being a dictator, I didn’t give a rat’s arse about the people I govern because they are there to serve me and add to my wealth, nothing more. I might be tempted to sacrifice a few million of them in a conventional war.

After all, if I start a conflict that wipes out 60 million people like the second world war did, I still have way, way more individuals to screw for cash and lord it over afterwards, if I win, and there’s still the remnants of an infrastructure for me to milk for my own ends. If I’m just another of the rich white men who wants to run the world but am being a bit more obvious about it (by din’t of being a meat-packing dictator) war without nukes will suit me.

Let’s face it, half the western world believes Putin’s the good guy anyway. Yes. Russian sources are painting the Ukraine as the aggressor and because Putin and his ex KGB mates have so successfully undermined our faith in mainstream media there are normal people in the west who actually believe it. There are, educated, sensible people who genuinely think that Biden and Trudeau are part of a communist conspiracy to seize power.

Well, I guess they kind of are, because Putin would probably call himself a ‘communist’ I suppose. If it happens, though, I can’t help thinking that the power seizing is going to go very differently to the way our conspiracy theorist friends expect. The fact is, as I understand it, a lot of the folks who are in charge in Russia are also very rich. I can’t help wondering if a lot of the very rich and very right wing people in the west have looked on and thought, ‘hmm, we want a piece of that.’

Do we think our Dictator-in-the-street has sown enough internal discord in the West’s main players to ensure they stand divided, crumble under pressure or even stay home? Possibly.

All I can hope is that financial necessity and greed will save us. That the parties controlling the propaganda in this will appreciate that any war will destabilise economies and detract from their ability to line their own pockets long-term, and they will put away their guns and lure Mr P back to the negotiating table.

The only thing we can guarantee is that average dictator in the street doesn’t give a shit about, is his people and the death toll. Yep, we know that he won’t be having any thoughts about that.

So rock on greed, I guess. Unless it’s about ideology. In which case, I suspect we’re screwed. Nobody believes their ideology as hard as a your average extremist nutbar.

I sincerely hope we are not standing on the brink of world war three, but looking at our apparent inability to learn from the mistakes of history, I can’t help wondering if we are. I keep seeing the parallels; the undermined press, the persecuted minorities the whole thing, right down to everyone sticking their heads in the sand and going, ‘La, la, la, it’s not happening!’

But what do I know? I’m just a mother with a young son who may end up being the wrong age at the wrong time. One of millions who stands to lose someone they hold very dear over the antics of some vainglorous dickhead with an over-inflated ego.

Just like last time then.

That’s a bit of a pisser.

It’s not often I agree with Sting, but here he is articulating my fervent hope. Yeh. Maybe I should have just ditched the rant and posted this …

On a happier note …

If you want to forget about this shit, you can always download my free ‘winter’ story.

The Last Word, A Christmas K’Barthan Extra

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

Yes! It’s dark, it’s mid winter and in K’Barth that means only one thing. It’s Arnold The Prophet’s Birthday! The biggest holiday in the Nimmist year. As usual, the Grongles have banned any celebrations and worse, this year, to add insult to injury, they’re going to have a book burning on the Sacred Day but that’s not going to stop Gladys and Ada. Oh no. Here’s the blurb:

When Mrs Ormaloo brings the terrible news to the Turnadot Street Businesswomen’s Association that the Grongles are going to burn some more banned books on the night of Arnold, The Prophet’s Birthday Gladys and Ada decide to take steps. They even enrol some of the punters from their pub to help out.

The books are in a warehouse being kept under guard. Gladys, Ada, Their Trev and the rest of the group embark on a plan of devilish cunning to rescue as many banned books from the flames as they can.

Corporal Crundy is determined not to mess up his first assignment since his promotion. It should be easy. All he has to do is guard some books. Yeh. It should be a piece of cake but somehow that’s not the way it turns out.

This story is about the same length as Night Swimming and available in PDF, Mobi and Epub from Bookfunnel. Which reminds me, I must pester Gareth about doing the audio version.

Later on I will probably add a second half to it and release it as a short story with a proper cover and t’ing rather than this slightly dodgy one what I done! Phnark. Aaaaanyhoo …

To download your copy, click here

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Fucks given? Zero. And a book review

Today at church we were celebrating a new C of E service theme, Racial Equality. The service was brilliant, mentions of Martin Luther King Jr’s dream which seems depressingly far from coming true.

It all sounds a bit bland. Some might say it’s a message we’ve all hoisted in and no longer need to hear, others might call it ‘snowflakey’. I, on the other hand, think one of the saddest things about modern life is how desperately the world still needs to hear this stuff.

Seriously though? What happened to the way Britain was in 2012 when we had the olympics and smugly showed people what fair play and openness and an inclusive society looked like. What made people turn from being friendly and open to being so bitter and petty.

Melanin? Skin colour? How is it that anyone still gives a fuck about this shite? What is wrong with us? It’s all such absolute cobblers.

Guess what colour my great to the times of lord knows how many grandfather was? Black. How do we know? Because the boys in my grandfather’s family all had a blood factor that only occurs in North African black people and it only goes from father to son.

Know what colour I am?

Yeh. White. Skin colour means absolutely fuck all. It does mean we have black people to thank for the Crystal Palace though, even if they were white by that time (look it up).

You really would have thought that ‘love thy neighbour’ would have sunk in after all this fucking time wouldn’t you? But no.

The fact is, dickheads come in all shapes, sizes, abilities, colours and backgrounds as do saints. Not all Christians can love their neighbours, some seem to think the point of their religion is to judge people, or change them. That’s not your job if you’re a Christian. It’s God’s. Jesus said so. ‘Judge not, lest you be judged,’ oh and all that bit about ‘when I was poor you clothed me, when I was in gaol you visited me,’ etc etc. Nothing in there about, ‘when I was poor you told me it was my fault and that I was a scrounger.’

We have to start giving zero fucks about all this stupid petty surface shit.

Seriously.

Stop looking at the fucking box. It’s what’s inside that matters. Is this person good? Yes or no? Don’t read the Daily Mail to find out for fuck’s sake! Just talk to them. Often.

Years ago my Mum went to Worthing to collect me from school. She turned up early so she could nip to the shops first. When she got back to her car she had a flat tyre. She got the jack out, positioned it in the right place, ready, and then started loosening the wheel nuts — obviously, you have to loosen the nuts (without taking them right off) before you get the car off the ground while the weight keeps the wheel still otherwise it just spins.

Mum knew what to do, but the wheel nuts had been done up with one of those compressed air nut gun things and she couldn’t get them undone. I needed picking up from school, too far away to walk there and back before the time on the parking meter ran out and she got a ticket. She couldn’t feed the meter because she was supposed to park for two hours or less and then not return for an hour. So, leave the car she’d get a ticket but at the same time, if she didn’t leave the car, she’d have to leave me.

This was before mobile phones. No ringing the school. She had fifteen minutes. All was not lost. She was standing on the wrench, probably swearing a bit, and jumping up and down, when a group of really scary hell’s angels came by on choppers. They were properly frightening; smelly weed on jeans, chapter back patch on the jackets, german helmets with horns on (this was the 1980s so they still could) tattoos (in the 1980s it was still quite rare for normal people to have tattoos) the works. As one, their heads snapped left and they all looked at her as they drove past.

‘Yikes!’ she thought.

A few yards up, where there was a double yellow and parking wasn’t allowed. They stopped. They all got off their bikes and walked back to her.

‘Double yikes!’ she thought. ‘Hello,’ she said.

‘Here Mum. You can’t do that,’ said one. ‘Stand aside, we’ll fix this in a jiffy.*’

*That’s probably not exactly what he said, but it’s what Mum said he said.

The hell’s angels, or possibly just, ‘angels’ in this case proceeded to remove the tyre in record time and popped the spare on. It took them about a minute and a half and they put the spare back in the boot and the jack back in the compartment under the boot floor.

Then, with a cheery, ‘There you go Mum!’ they waved away her effusive thanks and buggered off.

Mum thought it was hilarious, as well as rather lovely. She told me about it when she picked me up in a kind of, ‘you’ll never guess why I’m actually here on time’ kind of way. Neither of my parents would judge anyone on what they wore, but the fact is, twenty hells angels ambling along the road towards you is always going to be a little bit scary. Perhaps less so now that my son is a metal head.

A while ago I was chatting to someone on facebook who had taken enormous umbrage with some blog post I’d done. I’m not sure how they found it, I think one of my more right wing friends had shared it—one who doesn’t self actualise by their political beliefs—and I guess it got seen by someone who did.

I think I’d said that there were some people whose political convictions were to the left of Attila the Hun who weren’t necessarily evil, or mentioned that some of my friends are Muslims or … I dunno … showed tolerance something. I’m not 100% certain but I think it was the Muslim thing that set them off. The basic gist was that this person had met a group of people from the middle east who were the absolute back end of awful and that, as these people were Muslim, it followed that all Muslims were awful. Other news and experiences of friends had bolstered this view.

As a woman, it’s difficult avoid taking a dim view of the way my fellow women are treated in some countries and this is where I have to fess up to the fact that I often do exactly the same thing. Yes, I subconsciously base my judgement of entire nations on their government or the idiots in the population who make world news. Other times, I’ll base my view on the few subjects I’ve personally bumped into. These things are so massive, you deal with them the only way you know how and often, that can only be on your own, inter-personal, small-scale level. Which is OK so long as you’re prepared to be surprised and … you know … wrong in your assumptions.

Because looking at my technique rationally, it’s like someone meeting me and assuming that everyone in Britain is a wishy-washy, liberal melt an Anglican/Episcopalian because I am. Or, it’s like someone thinking that, because I, the only Briton they’ve met, am a lady, there can be no men living in this country. Sounds ridiculous, right? But that’s the logic we are looking at here. The fact is any nation is only as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as the people who lead it. During the 2012 Olympics, people probably thought Britain was lovely. Now they probably think we’re a bunch of absolute knobs. The people living in any nation are going to be the same mixture of saints, sinners, idiots, wankers and non-wankers as we find everywhere else.

But you have to make judgements don’t you? No. I’m beginning to think not. Sure we all go in with preconceptions but the point, surely, is to realise that’s what they are. To be prepared to be surprised by … well … you know … benign Hell’s Angels.

Making a fair judgement about anyone can only be based on actually meeting them in person. It never ceases to amaze me how many seemingly kindly, benign people I know will casually state that the homeless are there through their own fault, that anyone on benefits is a scrounger and that asylum seekers or refugees are just here to take advantage of our welfare system.

OK, so I expect some of them are, because, as I may have mentioned, the law of averages states that there will be wankers among any group of humans. Some. That’s my point. I find it really hard to understand how someone can condemn a brown man who leaves the Congo and comes to Britain with his 14 year old son because he doesn’t want the lad to be conscripted while, at the same time, lauding someone from Belfast who emigrates to America because they want a better, non-sectarian life for their children. Both are doing exactly the same thing. Why is one brave and good and the other a scrounger? I dunno.

If the person from Belfast gets a job in the USA, they’re broadening their horizons and taking a brave step to better themselves. Why is it that the brown man who comes to Britain, works for less than minimum wage and lives in a caravan without electricity, because there wasn’t electricity or running water where he came from, is ‘taking jobs from British people’. How come it’s perfectly fine for the company he works for to pay him a pittance because they won’t pay the minimum wage but he’s wrong to take what, for him, may be the chance of a lifetime? Why is it that we are happy to earn less and less than pay what things actually cost to produce and less stuff?

How is it that some people can look at the Kindertransport and see it as an act of goodness but the very same people are unable to see a modern equivalent, like, say, people rescued from a similar regime in Afghanistan as human? Is it because the Afghans are brown? Are we really that shallow? It fascinates me. Well … yeh, you know it does, I’ve written a 500,000 sci-fi series about this exact anomaly. That only people are good or bad and nations are the sum of the decisions made by their leaders.

Perhaps it actually takes bravery to be a liberal melt. Thinking about it, being open, putting aside your preconceptions and trusting people takes courage. Being generous of spirit takes resolution and effort. You are exposing yourself to looking a right dick if you’re wrong and possibly even potential harm. Maybe that’s it; perhaps with COVID and the fact that the world economy is pretty much down the lav people have a too much to worry about to care about being decent. Or maybe, after all crap they’re dealing with, there isn’t any spare courage left to be open.

Perhaps the only universal rule is that that there will always be wankers … and to give zero fucks … in the right way.

Which brings me on to the book I’ve just read.

Subject 21 by A E Warren.

This book is about a girl called Elise, who, as the blurb states is a Sapiens, ‘a member of the lowest order of humans. Elise and others like her are held responsible for the damages inflicted on the world by previous generations.’

Every aspect of Elise’s life is controlled by the two groups of humans above her, even her name has to reflect her status and can only contain two syllables. The top tier of human, the Potiors, are busy recreating as many extinct species as possible using DNA harvested from fossils, etc. These are then exhibited in a Museum of Evolution.

Some of the exhibits are Neanderthals. Our heroine, Elise, gets a job as the companion of a Neanderthal, number 21, who calls himself Kit.

This book is all about the idea that not all the gits in the top two tiers are gits and not all the supposed gits in the bottom layer are, either. Indeed, this is one of the many areas in which the book excels. It’s also about the inability of some members in each group to see those in the others as human and, of course, the inability of some humans—regardless of the order in which they belong—not to be complete and utter wankers. It’s an absolutely brilliant concept and I loved the way it was so realistic at the same time. The way some of the museum staff have completely de-humanised Kit and his fellow Neanderthals, was also, sadly, extremely human.

Other highlights, the plot, the whole concept is really left field, I loved it as an idea. It was deftly executed and the characters well drawn. I was fully invested very quickly and had trouble putting it aside to do other things. Definitely gets five stars from me. Recommended.

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Deserted landmarks and empty milestones …

Recently, I’ve been feeling slightly muted. Tomorrow would have been my father’s birthday and a few days ago, my phone’s calendar flashed up a reminder warning me that I might want to get prepared.

It hurt.

I still miss Dad, which is illogical, because it’s not as if he died a bad death or his departure was even a bad thing. It was a mercy. He had suffered enough and there was nowhere else for him to go. Death was the next stage for him and I am certain that he was more than ready. Although it hurt to receive it, I couldn’t bring myself to remove that notification from my phone. Maybe next year eh?

Strangely, I find that these empty milestones that were once land mark days often come accompanied by a stream of coincidental, memory-triggering events. I don’t mean the phone notification it’s more stuff like the fact that today, in church, we had a couple of hymns that Dad loved. Immortal Invisible is one where the memory of how he sounded, singing it, was so strong that I could almost hear him beside me. Likewise, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, which we have had at most family funerals on both sides of the house, weddings too — to the point where I feel guilty not having it at Dad’s.

There is a bit in Dear Lord and Father of Mankind which can be construed as rude … if you work at it very hard. Today, I found myself smiling as I remembered Dad leaning over to me after the service, in a conspiratorial manner, and telling me which bit it was and why.

This from the man who was endlessly telling me the latin or greek roots for things … which is not as erudite as it sounds because Dad was a natural rebel and liked to be a little subversive from time-to-time. That’s probably why the only instance I can remember of his efforts to educate me is constipeo (constipere, constipatatum, constipatus sum) — which means ‘I bring pressure upon’ and from which we get the modern word, constipation.

How proud he’d be!

Or not.

Dad

Then again … I do remember him gleefully sharing this information with my brother and I, and Mum’s gentle, ‘No! Darling!’ which was more for show than anything because she was trying not to laugh. Indeed, as a nipper growing up, I remember all four of us as being terrible potty humourists, you only had to shout, ‘bum!’ at my family in the right way and we’d fall about laughing.

Mum was probably the best at pretending to be normal, Dad could do it as well, but he did tend to be a bit forgetful which blew it all apart at the seams sometimes. On the up side, as I told him when he started to get dementia, since he could never find his keys anyway, he’d be quite far gone before anyone noticed. Which turned out to be the case.

In my last year at Lancing, Dad retired as housemaster. Since he and Mum had left the accommodation on site I was boarding. Dad was Head of The Common Room which basically meant he was now housemaster to the teachers. One evening, I was on my way back from supper, or possibly a rehearsal or something at the music school and I encountered Mum and Dad, in their best black tie glad rags, with the parents of one of the lads in Dad’s house.

‘Hello, what are you doing here?’ I asked.

‘We’re here for the Common Room Dinner,’ Dad explained.

I glanced over at the door of the Master’s Dining Room. It was looking a bit closed and I couldn’t hear much in the way of chat going on. Should I say anything I wondered? No.

‘It seems to be a bit late starting,’ said Mum.

‘Right,’ I said. I think I wished them well and skipped off without a thought.

The next day I asked one of the other staff if they’d enjoyed the dinner the previous night. ‘That’s not until next week,’ I was told.

Oh dear … poor Dad, I remember thinking. Poor Mum, too as she had to produce dinner back at home and she had precisely zilch with which to do so. I think she rustled up a quick risotto with tinned ham and frozen mixed veg.

Life was never boring at home indeed, it was years before I reached the point where my parents were remotely shockable. They were more open and accepting than most of my friends … perhaps I should just leave that as, ‘most people’. Mum still is.

I miss Dad a lot. I suppose that’s partly because, as time passes and my memories of the shouty bit that plagued his last few months at home have begun to fade, I’ve begun to remember who he was — which is a bonus. The only slight drawback is that when you’re stressed your brain dumps an enormous amount of intel and unfortunately, I’d say as much as half my childhood memories, and my memories of Dad, have melted away post the stress of dealing with his Alzheimer’s. So it’s kind of wiped my memory, as well as his.

That’s a point of order though, because on the whole yes, I remember who he was more. Who he really was, and that’s a Good Thing. I have a video of him talking on my phone, in his proper, non demented voice. He had Alzheimer’s at the time, advanced Alzheimer’s, but it wasn’t manifesting itself so strongly and it’s so much him, that vid, that I treasure it. I realise that I need to make a video of Mum. I might get her to record one for McMini next week, saying she’s looking forward to seeing him. That will be one for both of us to treasure then. Because that’s the first thing I find, when someone dies, you subtly start to forget their voice. Not totally, but when you hear it properly you realise how much is missing from your remembered version.

Then there’s the fact that, on top of the better memory of who Dad was, I’m finding that, as Mum follows her own dementia journey, I am keenly aware that this time round there’s no ‘sane one’. Through most of Dad’s illness, I could ask Mum for guidance if I wasn’t sure I was getting something right. She would know exactly what Dad would have done or said. It’s probable that, because of that, I know what Mum wants. But there’s no Dad to check with. Because he’s dead. And even if he wasn’t dead, he’d have been nuts.

Shortly after he died, I was out with Mum in the garden walking very slowly beside her as she crept along with her walky frame-on-wheels thing. At that time, we always made a beeline for the bottom of the garden because it was beyond the range of her panic button and she wasn’t allowed, or at least was strictly encouraged not to go there unaccompanied. She did, of course, but we all pretended she didn’t. As we walked I suddenly heard Dad’s voice in my head saying,

‘Oh darling! Just look at the state of your mother, I can’t bear it.’

Pyrimid Orchids at Mum’s

It was so vivid I turned to look but he wasn’t there. I remember thinking ‘back’ that I’d do my utmost to look after her and that while I couldn’t make her better, I would try to keep her happy.

Most of the time, I know those things are my imagination, but every now and then, one pops up from such depths that it feels as if it wasn’t me. Weird.

As well as it being the eve of what would be Dad’s 91st Birthday, had he survived, today was also the 70th anniversary of The Queen’s accession to the throne (in English, since the death of her father).

As a result, the last hymn was I Vow To Thee, My Country — a hymn I would like a lot better if the tune didn’t concentrate itself quite so comprehensively in the crackly twilight zone between my upper and lower range. Then we finished with the National Anthem which goes to a tune I rather like — apologies to Billy Connolley, who, I know, believes we’d be much better off using the theme tune to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Archers’.

Run with me, there is a spot of relevance to this one. I remember reading somewhere, a while back, that The Queen was very upset when her uncle abdicated. To the point where she took herself off somewhere quiet and cried for a long time. Legend has it that the reasons for her grief were twofold; firstly, because her father lacked his brother’s strong constitution and she shared the view of himself and most other members of the Royal Family which was that being King would do for him. Secondly, because she had to face the godawful truth that she would have to be monarch, which is a job that nobody sane with the smallest understanding of what it entails would want.

Few people seem to see beyond the wealth but I’m sure fame, or being monarch, could be pretty grim. I can’t imagine how I’d feel having people like Robert Mugabe round to tea. Sure his name backwards sounds like Yorkshire swearing (eee by gum) but that doesn’t make any of his actions funny. Supping with murderers and meat-packing tyrants might be quite grim but since you’re part of the state machinery, it’s what you do. There’s a point where being monarch might actually be quite dehumanising, I suspect.

Years ago, growing up in the school, everyone knew who I was because they all knew who my dad was. That meant everyone felt they knew me well, even people I’d never met in my life. Every now and again someone would pop up and say hello and I’d have no clue who they were. So I’d ask after their work, and various other things until I could pin down which of the people Mum and Dad had described — but whom I’d never met — I was talking to. I was always aware that my behaviour towards other people reflected on Dad so despite being an absolute menace in many respects I was always as polite as possible to everyone, especially the people at the pointy end, the cleaners and domestic staff.

Sometimes, I felt the pressure. Especially when I hit my teenage years and boys started wolf whistling at me out of windows etc. But I could always go off site where nobody knew who I was. There’s no ‘off site’ if you’re queen. Most people want a piece of you. Anyone else hates you. Everyone thinks you like it. Everyone thinks you can say no, the way they think my brother and I could say no to looking after our parents. But actually I doubt she can say no any more than we can. Being Queen? I think it’d be a bit shit to be honest.

The point is, she’s spent 70 years of her life doing a job that she categorically did NOT want to do. OK, so she might have come to enjoy it by now, who knows. The point is, it was the antithesis of what she wanted at the start. The perfect storm of NO. You can see where this is going now, can’t you?

Yep.

There are times when I do give the Almighty a piece of my mind about putting my Dad, and by proxy the rest of us, through so much. The fact that pretty much everything about the whole care thing requires a portfolio of skills that is the absolute antithesis of any of my fucking skills. Which is, indeed, a perfect storm of all the things in life at which I am spectacularly shite. Yes. Every. Last. Fucking. One. Oh and some extra things that I didn’t even know I was shite at until this kicked off, but now I do. Bonus!

The fact that pretty much all my duties of care are about playing to my failings. OK so I can sort of cope with that, because yes, I am able to understand that many parts of my life — most of them, to be honest — are fucking brilliant. Also I am able to understand that if this is the price of growing up with parents as lovely, open, amusing and out-and-out fun as mine I’m happy to pay up. But … the mental energy required to do stuff you’re absolutely bollocks at day after day is quite substantial.

The endless requirement to enhance my sorry performance from fucking awful to godawful-but-it’ll-scrape-by … probably (that’s a technical term by the way) is not only draining but it cascades down onto the pathetic embers of my creativity like a gushing torrent of rusty bog water, further hampering my efforts to write anything or … I dunno … for my existence to have a point.

Sitting in church today, thinking about how long The Queen has been monarch I actually felt a bit of a lightweight for whinging about 5 years running my parents’ finances. I will try to shut up about it and be less of a whinging twat from now on. Seriously though.

Seventy years.

Seventy fucking years people.

God in heaven! That’s a bastard truckload of CBT. Well done Ma’am. You’re a stronger woman than I.

On the lighter side …

Another quick heads up about freebies and cheapies available from my fabulous portfolio of literature. Er hem.

The Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c from my own store still. To find links to buy, or to download The Christmas One, just click on one of these links:

Few Are Chosen (remember it’s My Store only at the moment. It’s back to £7.99)

Small Beginnings (The ebook of this one is free at all participating retailers and on my store. The audio version is also free on my store, but £1.99/$2.99 everywhere else).

The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously. Gareth has finished performing in Worms, presumably he is now bathed and scrubbed up and ready to do … audio things. Soon. There is an audiobook scheduled for late February/Early March.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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It is accomplished

To be honest, there’s not much more to say. This is going to come over as a monstrously self-indulgent and whinge to most of you and it probably is (although it’s supposed to be funny as well). But caring is a horrible conflict of emotions. It’s hard and difficult and you are very responsible for the safety of a vulnerable person, a vulnerable person who you love very much but who, at the same time, can be utterly exasperating. Especially during the night!

However, if there is anyone reading this to whom the business of caring and the endless enduring tension feels almost unbearably heavy. This is for you. You’re not alone.  Also, I’m also going to tell you about a narrow escape from a multiple bollocking and explain how being British is probably going to get my Facebook account terminated.

On the up side, most of the Christmas period was pretty relaxing but I have to confess that, on the downside the stay with Mum wasn’t. I was hoping for the best but fearing the worst and I had got myself in a bit of a dither – the exact same way she does, incidentally – and it was everything I feared.

The last two or three weeks have basically been one long panic attack. To the point where I have been referred for an ECG. It’s not fun and I’ve had to do far to much sensible, no-you-are-not-dying CBT for any of it to have been enjoyable.

On balance, I think it cost too much. I’m not great at caring. I find it really, really demanding, I do not relax and I have hit a point in life, and an age, when I’m not actually capable of three days of high stress with no let up and very little sleep. By day three I was a hot, sleep-deprived, tearful mess.

There’s also more going on with Mum than usual. The money has run out so we are mortgaging Mum’s house to pay for care. We have, pretty much agreed on how a skin cancer on her nose is treated subject to my pinning down exactly what happens during the procedure we’ve chosen so we can be sure we made the decision in an informed manner. I also have to find out if she’s been using her capital gains tax allowance but she hasn’t done a tax return for years so I’m not sure I’ll be able to uncover much.

First night, Mum was up at 1 am to wee and change her sleep pants and then again at 3 am getting showered and ready for Christmas Day because she didn’t want to be late for Church. I’d been expecting her to get up early for church so I was ready for that one. She did listen to reason so I managed to cut her off at the pass, before she started her shower and persuade her to go back to bed. She woke at six thirty but I was expecting that and I let her do her own thing for a while and then went in and got her sorted. We got to church on time so all was well.

Getting up at 3.00 am is not a usual occurrence. It does happen when she’s excited about something or worried about getting somewhere but not usually. Mum likes to do her own thing so I’d intended to leave her to shower, dress and get ready on her own – just popping in if she needed help with buttons etc.

When it came to it, though, she was very tired and wobbly and having trouble finding words. Sometimes I could tell from the rhythm of her speech what she was trying to say but most of the time I couldn’t. Hence, instead of leaving her to do her own thing, I hovered. None of the anticipated letting her get into the shower and going back to sleep because if she is too tired to string a coherent sentence together, the danger of a fall goes up quite a lot and it was just me. There was no-one else.

I got her to church but obviously, throughout the day when she wanted a wee, someone had to help her pull up her pants. I was that someone. I found it unbelievably hard and because she was a bit more distracted than usual, most times we found that she’d filled her pants so I had to put on a clean set, which involved removing the trousers and shoes putting a clean one on, putting the old one in a nappy sack and doing them all up again. That is so much less simple than it sounds if you don’t do this stuff regularly and the person you are helping is bent and twisted and arthritic and you are aware that every time her toes catch on those bloody trousers it hurts her.

Late that afternoon the event I’d been dreading happened – I really need some dan dan daaaaaah music for this moment but I haven’t any so you’ll have to imagine that in. Where was I? Ah yes.

The event I’d been dreading happened. Mum had a poo. She didn’t really know if she had finished or not (she only gets that distray once in a blue moon, lucky, lucky me!). I didn’t know either because I hadn’t done this. Turns out, I should have reminded her to wait for the splash (oh god). Since I didn’t she started to wipe while things were very much still in motion. On the up side, that did precipitate said splash though, I have to give her that. She got it on her hands, but luckily I managed to wipe it all off before she got it over everything else.

Learning note. Wiping someone’s arse when they’re standing up straight is really difficult.

Christmas night was wonderful, she was up at 1.00am to wee and that was it. I managed to relax the palpitations away enough to sleep and got 8 hours in! Woot. Obviously she was up at crack of sparrow’s fart because she always is. On the downside, when I went in to say hello, she was still all wobbly and couldn’t find her words, so once again, I didn’t dare stray too far away from her because I wanted to be on hand to catch her if anything happened.

Boxing day was alright but despite her fabulous sleep on Christmas night, Mum still seemed to be very tired. I left her to her own devices for an hour or two while I did some metal detecting in the garden and yes, the minute I got outside she did another poo and McMini came to find me. McMini, bless his heart, stayed up listening out for Mum, in case I didn’t hear and then came to tell me if he’d heard her moving about. It meant he was knackered, too, but I am so proud of him. Anyway, back to the poo …

Things went better this time. She tried to wipe early but I was able to remind her to listen out for the splash (oh god, sorry god). Oh you haven’t lived until you’ve donned single use rubber gloves and wiped a much loved parent’s bum after a crap. Yep some people are fine with it and if you are, well bully for you, you lucky, lucky fucker! On the one hand it’s a duty of love and I am happy to do it, on another it’s so unbelievably sad and upsetting.

I think one of the things that is difficult about caring for vulnerable loved ones is that by din’t of being vulnerable they can be downright exasperating. The word finding made things difficult. I was aware that I hadn’t stayed over for two years, that I’d kept the night care on when I did so and that a lot had changed. Even so, I’d kind of expected to be guided by Mum over the new bits or the parts with which I was unfamiliar. But that didn’t work because she wasn’t always able to make sense. The most exasperating aspect of it all, by far though, was that every night when I put her to bed, she’d say,

‘Now darling, I don’t want to be a pain and get up to early tomorrow so what time would you like me to wake up?’

‘If you can relax and watch telly until half seven that would be wonderful,’ I would say.

‘Right oh, darling, half seven.’

And the next morning, or the middle of the next night, there she’d be insisting on getting up, bless her. It just made it worse.

We got her to bed early most nights and Boxing Day we managed to get her happily into bed by about seven. I was a bit worried things were going tits up when she woke at 10.00pm for a wee. I was right. I was lying awake having palpitations until she woke at midnight and I carried on having them until she woke again at 1.00pm when I helped her change her pants. I did manage to got to sleep after that one but she woke again at three and then again at half past four when I went in to discover her preparing to get into the shower.

This time, there was no stopping her.

‘NO! I NEED to get up! NOW!’ she told me. She was quite agitated.

‘Mum, it’s four in the morning, everyone else is asleep.’

‘I don’t care. I must get up and get on.’

‘Why?’

‘Because otherwise we’ll be LATE!’ she said in some exasperation.

‘But why? What what for? We’re not going anywhere!’

‘Yes we will!’ She turned and looked at me very seriously and said, ‘The mice are rising.’

‘Er …’

This is where I should have laughed, made a joke and she’d have laughed too. Then I could have said she’d be saying more batty things like that if she didn’t get back to bed and sleep some more and she’d probably have gone back to sleep until 7.30 but I was so tired I just couldn’t think and act with that sort of coherence. Instead I asked,

‘Do you mean, the others are up already?’

She said something slurred and unintelligible which I thought was probably along the lines of, ‘Of course they bloody are! Everyone is.’

‘They’re honestly not Mum. It’s four thirty am, they’ll be asleep until nine at the earliest. If you get up and go downstairs now it’ll just be you and me, on our own, with nothing on telly sitting looking out at the dark for FIVE hours.’

‘I don’t care! I MUST get up NOW! It’s important!’ she demanded.

At which point, I just burst into tears and begged. I’m not proud of this but I’ll bet I’m not the only person who’s done it while looking after a vulnerable elderly loved one when they are all in, not to mention when the loved one is also knackered and therefore at their nadir, as well, as far as their easiness-to-look-after goes.

‘Please, Mum,’ I sobbed. ‘Please. I’ve only had four hours sleep, if you can give me another one hour and we make it five I’ll be OK please, I’m so tired, I can’t look after you today without one more hour. I can’t do it. Please, help me. Please go back to bed. You can get up at six, it’s only an hour. Please.’

‘No,’ she said angrily.

Right.

She was wearing no nappy at this point and she headed off to her bed and sat down.

‘OK,’ I said, taking some deep breaths and trying to sound calm. Wait. It looked as if … surely I couldn’t be that lucky. Had she forgotten what she was doing? Please, please God let her have forgotten. ‘What are you doing now?’ I asked, meaning to ask how can I help.

‘What do you think? I’m going back to bed!’ she said she still sounded nettled.

‘D’you want a hand with your pull ups?’

She softened a little, ‘Yes, please.’

So I helped her put them on, took her slippers off, got everything ship shaped and put her back to bed.

I suspect she was just aware that we were leaving and wanting to make the most of us before we departed. Or possibly she got 7.30 lodged in her head and started getting up three hours ahead because she wanted to be ready.

Aiming to get a visit in where she was relaxed, I took McMini down to Mum’s on Wednesday and managed to disgrace myself with an impressive driving disaster. Mum has a garage near her and I always fill up with petrol there, on arrival, before going to Mum’s. There is a tiny road leading from the forecourt to the street Mum lives on. It’s single track and if you meet someone coming the other way you usually have to back up. I don’t like backing up onto the forecourt because not everyone knows there’s a road there and as I kid we were rammed several times by people running off the forecourt and into us as we motored along the road.

Obviously, in these situations, what usually happens is that the driver with the least far to back, or the easiest manoeuvre open to them backs up. That meant the gentleman in the Prius should have backed up but now, it was abundantly clear that the entitled old bedge wasn’t going to. That left three alternatives.

  1. The old git in the Prius facing me could back up to the corner – a nice straight run of about three metres.
  2. I could back round a very sharp corner into the loading bay behind the garage. Doable in about fifty turns with my stupid low profile tyres, big brakes and 84ft turning circle (OK it’s not that bad but it’s not great either).
  3. I could pull up onto the sloped drive of a nearby house.

This is the point where actually, I should have just got out a newspaper and waited, pointedly, for him to back his short straight line to the corner where I could pass.

After a bit of futtering and flustered efforts to get round the corner into the back end of the garage I gave up and had a go at the the drive.

‘Mind the bin,’ said McMini.

‘Yes, yes,’ I said. What did he say? I thought.

There was a god almighty bang.

Arnold’s fucking socks I’ve knocked their bastard wall down! I thought. But managed to get away with saying, ‘Shit McMini! Have I just knocked down their wall?’

Images of what happens when you try to take out bricks and concrete with a few hundred quid’s worth of shiny fibreglass flashed into my head, along with projections as to the size of the repair bill. Because just as there’s food and then there’s M&S food so there is fibreglass and there is fibreglass that is part of a Lotus.

‘God mum! I told you to look out for the bin!’ McMini’s eyes almost audibly rolled in their sockets as he said this.

‘Wait, it was the bin?’

‘Of course it was.’

Oh lord be praised!

… or not.

Still from the comic relief Dragon’s Den video with Harry Enfield as Deborah Meaden

Someone had just appeared at the window. A woman, who was wearing an expression of gurning disdain, like Harry Enfield doing Deborah Meaden in the Dragon’s Den rip off on his TV show – see picture; this is from the Victorian Dragon’s Den as done for Comic Relief.

Shit.

Oh and thinking about it. We still hadn’t got out of the way of the miserable old bastard in his Prius and he was glaring at us and all. With an expectant expression. I ignored him. He could fuck off. You could have backed up instead you Knut and we’d have been on our way by now. I thought.

I drove up into the drive a few feet, avoiding the prone bin and scattered bin bags to let the miserable git in his Prius drive past. He glared at me, obviously saying thank you or anything was beneath him. So I did a thumbs up at him and said, ‘thank you, thank you for being so considerate and kind you’ve been really helpful!’ all the while nodding my head but doubtless with an expression that said ‘rot in hell you rancid fuck!’ because that was really what I meant.

Next I backed into the road, got out of the car and did a very hammy, ‘oh my goodness!’ kind of open-mouthed arms spread gesture of pantomime horror. I rushed to the bin, made sure I was handling it incredibly carefully and respectfully as I put it upright. I reloaded the five billion nappy sacks that were lying about on these people’s drive, along with their bin bags and then I lobbed in very carefully placed a plastic glove that had obviously blown round from the petrol forecourt on top of the bags, for good measure. All done, I closed the lid.

Finally, I put the bin back, really carefully, taking time to park it properly in the small square bit at the gate they’d put there specially, and make sure it was straight, and check if it had damaged my car without them noticing (it hadn’t result!). Deborah Meaden was no longer looking on but I feared that merely meant she was busy unlocking the door ready to come out and have a go at me. So bin replaced, I leapt into the car and drove away.

Doubtless a video of it all will appear on idiots in cars before long. Or bad women drivers abroad or … I dunno, something demeaning. For the meantime, though, I feel I did well. The old git in the Prius didn’t have a go and neither did Deborah – although McMini is as certain that ‘Deborah’ was a bloke as I am that she was a lady.

And there’s not a scratch on the car … And the bin was completely unscathed! And Mum was in cracking form and she and McMini watched Father Brown together and both loved it. I’m so glad I made him come with me.

Win-win, I’d say.

Facebook? I hear you ask. Yeh. I think I’m going to have to carry that one over until next week! Sorry about that but I want to ham that one with the prerequisite amount of sarcasm and generally give the whole sorry tale the column space it deserves! Mwahahargh!

Just a quick reminder, the Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, starting on 13th January, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c on Apple, Chirp, Kobo and my own Store. To find an information page, with links to buy, or to download the Christmas One, just click on one of these links:

Few Are Chosen (remember it’s Kobo, My Store, Chirp and Apple the other stores still have it at£7.99)

Small Beginnings (this one is free on my store but 99c/99p on Kobo, Chirp and Apple.

The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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Filed under General Wittering

Adventures … many of them.

Trigger warning: This is a very long post and there is swearing!

What can I say about this week, it’s been action-packed and I can’t see anything slowing down as we begin the headlong rush towards the organisational nightmare that is Christmas. Christmas isn’t bad but there are definitely times when I wish all the admin would just fuck off and leave me alone. This is one of them but mostly that’s because of other admin.

Highlights this week?

Well, I’ve just spent the last ten days in Portugal. That’s a stonking highlight, I can tell you. The weather was gorgeous, I doubt we’ve ever had it that good. The food was wonderful, as ever, one of our favourite restaurants, which we were worried about, because it’s small and family run, has expanded into the shop next door and is doing well. It was brilliant to see that and to discover that the food is still ace but they’ve now added a pizza oven. Our other fave restaurants had also survived the pandemic and appeared to be doing well, I got to eat a Don Rodrigues … think baclava made with this kind of extruded egg. Holy smokes it’s yummy. I even managed to get a slice of Algarvian Almond Swiss Roll but it was a supermarket one so it wasn’t quite as good as it should have been.

The hotel had stopped providing Portuguese egg custard tarts for breakfast or at least, it only produced them on Sunday. This was sad but doubtless my waistline is relieved. On the up side we did find some to buy and troughed those.

Lowlight? Or at least, narrow squeak …

Sunset photo of coast

Was this photo worth smashing the phone for? Dunno …

On the first night, as we drove down the hill into town the sun was setting, bathing the sea and the cliffs in a gorgeous pink light. I wound down the window and put my phone out to take a picture. In an unprecedented event, the wind caught the case and whipped it out of my hand. Erk. I watched the case land on one corner and then the phone fell out and flipped over and over along the road, on its corners. McOther did an emergency stop, I leapt out and ran towards where the stricken case lay. The phone, sliding gently down the asphalt on its face, came to rest against my foot.

Ah.

The back was absolutely fine, including the Leica camera lenses. Phew.

The front … well … the glass screen at two opposing corners is powdered and there’s a big crack across it but it still appears to work so I borrowed some sellotape from the hotel. I have a plastic iPad protector in my desk drawer which I can hack down to the right size with scissors and I’ll use that as a screen protector for now. Everything about the phone still seems to work, although I’m not quite sure whether or not it had a Micro SD card in it at some point. If it did, that’s gone now. Gulp.

Onwards and upwards.

Pissy Pandemic Admin

Do not bollock me for complaining about this. Sure it has to be done, we have to try and keep the show on the road and do the hoops. However, I still reserve the right to whinge vociferously – not to mention endlessly – about the total unintuitive way the hoops are thought out. OK they are improving, which is good, but they are still an absolutely stonking pain in the arse.

While we were out there we had to fill in our Passenger Locator Forms. Lord above! What a phaff. How many times can they ask me to type the same number in a different box? Ugh.

Because it’s always a pain in the arse, I had this great idea, I would set up an account. First they needed my email address and they helpfully gave me guidance in the box name@host.com how simple is that? Brilliant. Then comes the phone number box and what do they put? This: +12125551234

I’m sorry? Say what? Throw me a smecking bone here for Arnold’s sake! I’m an idiot. I need more help than that. What does this mean? Is that +44 code number? Or is it just my phone number? What the fuck are they asking for there?

Note, it’s hot and I’m doing this on a phone screen because nothing in the entire fucking world will function with a touch screen iThing running either Chrome or Safari and I don’t have my computer with me. This means I’m even more of a thickie with numbers in this particular situation than I usually am. To be honest, I think if they’d put the +44 there it would probably have been enough to clue me in.

In the end, I put in my phone number with the 01480 style area code. That didn’t work and it said no so I did the area code with no zero and a + This is the point where, were it like the name@host box or the one for the password, it would say, ‘there aren’t enough numbers here mate, have you checked that?’ Did it?

Did it balls?

It looked like it had worked, except then the activation text message didn’t come through, and now I realised it had the wrong phone number and it never would. Never mind I’d go back and—Oh. I couldn’t go back to alter the number so I tried starting again. ‘That email is already in use by another account,’ it told me. Yeh well. It smecking would, wouldn’t it. I knew, by this time, that I would never receive the activation code or set up an account with that particular email address. It would be sitting in limbo forever. I had a go anyway and screwed it totally. Thank heavens for extra email addresses.

I set up a second email address. A second look at the number part and I counted the digits with my fat, stupid, dyslexic moron’s fingers and then wrote out my phone number with the country code, the + and no zero on the area code and yes there were the same number of …  you know … numbers.

+12125551234 does not tell me that. In no place did it say, type in your country code, area code and phone number as it would be dialled from abroad. That’s all they had to do, have a little question mark and put it in plain English for fuckwits such as myself, which are many and legion.

Urgh.

This time, the code comes through. Hoorah! Now to do a password. I type one. Computer says no. Not surprising, but they’ve given me list; upper case letter, yes, lower case letter, yes a, b, and c unarrupted, some numbers, yes, ‘special character?’ yeees … wait they want it to be FOURTEEN FUCKING CHARACTERS LONG!

FOURTEEN!

What bloody planet are they living on?

Not this one, surely. Who are these people? Jeez! I mean, clearly this stuff was made up by someone who’s good at figures and doesn’t use words much, someone who has one hundred different passwords, all a random mixture of letters, symbols and numbers and who—get this—remembers each and every last one of them and knows exactly which site each is for, a robot in other words. Yes, I understand that, but blimey. I typed two easily memorable passwords back to back. Then we got to the point where we were landing in the UK at 18:45 and the time was 17:55 two days before so it wouldn’t actually let us submit the stupid effing form because it wasn’t yet ‘within 48 hours of our arrival time’ by about 40 pissy little minutes.

The absolute bastard wankers.

No, you can’t do it now. Computer says, ‘no.’ You must wait 40 minutes. This, in the voice Gareth does for Denarghi.

But we’ll miss our supper booking and won’t be able to try again until tomorrow when it’s our last day and we want to be outside in the sun.

[Sound of snickering] Exactly.

That’s not my problem you pathetic little pleb you must jump through all the hoops and we will make them as difficult and varied as possible. We will give no quarter, and we certainly won’t be  letting  you off two and a half hours of pissy administrivia on your last day. Anyway, REAL people go by private jet, or they don’t go at all, you worthless middle-class cockwomble with your thinking and trying to be inclusive, and trying to care for the planet, and trying be nice.

Now piss off and revel in your misery you fucking, too-good-to-be-true fuck!

So it was that the next day, at lunch time, when the sun was a bit hot, we went back to the room for a cup of tea and decided to finish the forms.

So far so good, we entered all the stuff, mine had even remembered some of the information I’d put in previously, which was a turn up. Next we needed to either add a screen shot of our vaccination certificate or get the QR code upon our phones and use the iPad to take a photo. Did it work? Did it jacksey!

After a bit the form just threw up it’s hands and said, ‘you can’t fucking do this’ and automatically answered the question as NO.

Right. Onwards then. Now we needed the order number of the tests we’d ordered from Boots to take when we arrived home. Except it wasn’t a bastard order number they wanted, they wanted the serial number for each test which is a completely different chuffing thing. McOther was on the phone for ages to someone who appeared not to have a clue what he was talking about. It’s a big website, and it’s a complicated website and these people are so far in that they have no idea how totally incomprehensible parts of it can become to the uninitiated. Likewise they have no clue how many tiny, simple-yet-desperately-important pieces of guidance information that have become blindingly obvious to them are not at all clear to those of us using the thing are they have a tendency to leave crucial bits out.

Without any help from the person at the Gov website help centre, McOther finally clocked that there’d been two emails from boots, one saying, ‘here’s your order number’ and another with ‘here’s your order number and Oh! Look! here are some different details with the specific number of each one of your tests.’

By the time he was done, we’d been indoors for two ours on our last day, his face was beetroot red, there was a vain pulsing visibly in his temple and all he could say was ‘gnnnnnnrrrgh’ for some time. Actually, this isn’t true, he was remarkably chilled, but it’s an apt description of how we both felt and it makes good blog comedy so I’ll leave it in.

Having finally finished the bloody passenger locator form, we went out to play.

The Big Question.

Here it is. Why are the five hours at airports either side of the two hour flight so fucking awful? Yes, the journey home.

Saints preserve us! OK Easyjet are alright. I like them, they’re quite good and a friend of mine, whose son is a friend of McMini’s even worked for them as crew for a few months between acting jobs – as I understand it, part of the interview involved singing some bits of Les Miserables. I also have worked for National Express so I know exactly how the general public treats the people with which it interfaces while travelling. Here’s a clue. It’s warn, brown and sticky but it’s not a stick. That said, air travel is so grim that I can see why people are pretty much apoplectic with rage by the time they reach the actual bastard aeroplane.

So we arrived at the airport and while waiting for our flight to be called, we ate a packed lunch of cheese and ham with rolls and in my case, a hard boiled egg nicked from the buffet from breakfast in the hotel.

Finally, our flight was called and we went straight round to the desk and got into the queue. We waited. We waited and waited and they processed those passengers from ‘speedy boarding’ first at an extremely leisurely pace of ten minutes per group, or if it was just one on their own, ten minutes per person. People around us started doing sums about how many people fit on the model of Airbus Easyjet use and working out how long we would be waiting at ten minutes per person. Check-in opened at two o’clock and closed at four twenty. We queued until nine minutes past four, with eleven minutes to spare before they officially closed the flight.

There were two desks open and three staff; two on desks and one to flounce up and down the queue telling us to ensure we’d done our Passenger Locator Forms (why can’t they just call it a virtual landing card, for fuck’s sake! That’s what it is) and ushering the people with kids (smaller kids than our lad, obviously, to the ‘speedy’ boarding queue). Call me old fashioned but I think, possibly, if she’d just got onto another desk and processed some passengers it might have been more useful.

It was very hot and I’m still not great at standing for hours on end. I can walk or sit but stand? Nah, not really. I’ve always had a bit of a tendency to passing out when standing for great lengths of time. This was no exception. We were wearing masks which is OK but can get a bit stuffy. By the time we reached the desk, everything felt a bit weird and I had to keep bending over and putting my head down to ward off the black blobs at the corner of my vision. By the time we’d walked the short distance to the bit where they frisk you, everything was getting a bit dim and at one point when I decided to lean on a nearby bollard it all got a bit tricky to hang onto because my brain thought it had started moving.

More queuing and again, I fulfilled the eternal law that no matter how empty your pockets and beltless your ruddy trousers you will still have forgotten to take off something that makes the stupid bastard beepy, beep-every-fucking-time  thing go … you know … beep. Well, apart from my leg which will set the ruddy thing off from here on in. Clearly I can’t put that in the tray though.

In this case, it was the eyelets on my shoes so I had to wait while they were taken away and put through the x ray machine again. Needless to say they saw me coming. I, the one who is always going to be frisked, was sent to stand behind some bloke who decided he would see if hell would actually freeze over before he filled his fucking tray with his stupid chuffing electronics, belt, shoes etc and pissed off out of my face through the portal of doom to pick it up the other side so I could follow suit.

As a result, both the McOthers were already through the portal of doom without being frisked and picking up their things while I was still waiting for Slow Motion Man to take off his bastard watch. Then, at last, I got to put my jacket and jumper in the tray, remove my watch, fitbit and hat (because it has a metal clip). I emptied my pockets – note to self, maybe cargo pants with loads of pockets aren’t such a good idea after all – got the ipad, kindle, phone and electronic writing tablet out of my bag, laid my bag flat, took sanitising gel and lipsalve in their special pathetic ziplock bag and put them in and then forgot to take off my stupid bloody shoes with their stupid eyelets that go beep.

Then they ran the detector over my leg and it beeped.

‘What’s in your pocket?’ demanded the lady, pulling at the pocket in my combats at the side of my leg, at which point I just rolled up my trouser leg, showed the ten inch scar and said,

‘My knee is metal.’

Ugh.

We got on the plane with about ten minutes to spare and they held it for a few minutes more so everyone else could get on. Faro is always a bit slow and steady but this time it was absolutely fucking glacial … except in temperature. Blimey.

Was it worth the hassle to go away somewhere?

Boy looking at rough see on sunny day

The sea, with human for scale.

Oh yeh. The sun shone the entire time, I wrote about 7k words which isn’t bad seeing as I was on holiday and therefore mainly interacting with the McOthers, and we all relaxed.

The beds at the hotel are unbelievably comfortable and we slept like logs all night, every night. It was epic. Even better, despite the fact I’ve got into the habit of waking up at 8.00 am, the clocks go back at the weekend so it’ll be seven by Monday. Bonus!

Homecoming …

I always arrange to pick up McCat the day after we get back. He wasn’t as demonstrative as sometimes but since returning home he has spent the day wandering round after me. He also yells when he comes in at which point either McMini or I will call him and he will rush to join us. It’s very endearing. There are still some pears in the garden and a friend has kept things watered – where required.

One slight fly in the ointment. We arrived to discover that the little access lane to our house is going to be dug up. I spent most of Thursday morning on the phone to various people until I tracked down a lovely woman who is managing the works and said that it would be fine and that yes, there would be trenches across the road but they would have boards and would put them over the trenches so we could get in and out. So they’re not totally closing the road.

It is a bit of a pain that our address is one street, but we live on the corner of the other one, and are one of only two  houses that are accessed from the other one by car, three others have front doors there. As a result, people tend not to warn us about this stuff because they see us as the address street rather than the access street. The engineer who rang gave me her mobile number so hopefully, I can ring her if there is any trouble.

Any other disasters?

Um … yes. There’s a story but bear with me. You see, I used to get terrible acid reflux and discovered that I can reduce it hugely by drinking keffir. I therefore have a kefir plant at home which is lovingly, and not so lovingly, known as Bob, The Blob.

Bob can last two weeks if I give him lots of milk and leave him in the fridge, so this is what I had done. On Friday, realising that he’d be ravening hungry, I decided I’d better sort him out, so I got the jam jar he lives in and put it on top of the fridge freezer. Then, I got half a pint of milk—which I’d frozen specifically to feed Bob upon my return—from the freezer section. Looking at the milk, I decided I’d better put it in the fridge. I opened the fridge door and realised that a bit of Bob’s jam jar was clearly on the actual door rather than the top of the fridge.

You can tell what’s coming next, can’t you? I don’t really need to tell you.

Correct. Bob is in a glass container and in order that he doesn’t suffocate, you have to leave the lid off. In three years I have never dropped Bob … until now.  Bob’s container being glass, I didn’t want to have him fall from above my head and smash on the floor. I had the fridge door handle in one hand, and I had some frozen milk in a plastic container in the other. How did I stop Bob falling? I slammed the fridge door, batting him into it. I heard the glass jar land on the glass shelf with a bang, but it was a clunk rather than the sound of a half pint jar of vile-smelling milky sludge and a glass shelf smashing into a thousand pieces.

Okaaay.

A brief aside to describe Bob. Imagine something that looks and smells like raw milk with bits of translucent tripe-like stuff (the culture) sloshing about in it. Sometimes it separates into cheesy stuff and juice. It varies in taste, usually, if you get it right, it tastes like mild feta cheese as a drink. It’s much nicer brewed in the fridge over a few days than over night in the cupboard but I do put it in the cupboard from time to time because I don’t want to stress Bob by making him too cold.

Anyway, I took a deep breath and looked into the fridge. Bob was lying on his side. Quite a lot of him was lying on the shelf, up the walls of the fridge and dripping gloopily down on the the shelves below. Upside, he hadn’t leaked into any of the drawers, and there are three. Now that’s what I call a result, even if the initial spillage was … less than successful. So I scooped most of Bob back into the jar screwed the lid on, washed it and unscrewed it.

Then I cleaned the other bits of Bob off the fridge, which took about an hour.

Downside. I had to clean the fridge, and the floor and I’ll have to rinse bob and return him to the jar without actually being able to drink any of this batch.

Upside, McOther was out and really chuffed I’d cleaned the fridge. Also the fridge needed cleaning extremely badly, and now I’ve done it.

It should be said, here, that I have NOT admitted to McOther why I’ve cleaned the fridge. This probably makes me a Bad Person. But he’s so delighted that I’ve noticed cleaning issues and fixed them (it was pretty bogging) that I haven’t the heart—or, perhaps, the courage. If you are one of my friends from the Real World, please can you keep the Real Reason for my sudden act of domesticated Proper Woman-ness under your hat. Thank you, that would be peachy.

What have we learned this week?

That I can’t half bang on, that you can throw a phone out of a moving vehicle at 30mph and it will still work and also from a straw poll of me looking at other people with their phones, that hardly anyone has a phone with an intact screen.

Mmm. It’s been a long three days since I got home. Which reminds me, Bob is still in the cupboard, in the dark, recovering from his ordeal of being splattered. I’d better give him some new milk and put him into the Fridge.

Free books …

If you like this post and want to see what my books are like you can try two of them for free. Unlucky Dip and Small Beginnings are both free to download from most of the major sites, although Amazon do have a tendency to dick with the price a bit. Anyway if you’re interested Unlucky Dip is 4,000 words and is the second glimpse we have of The Pan of Hamgee’s life as he meets Big Merv, Boss of Ning Dang Po and inadvertently steals his wallet, after which, Big Merv offers him a choice; work, on an ad hoc basis, or death. The Pan, ever an intelligent young man, chooses work. Next we move onto Small Beginnings, which describes the first ‘job’ Big Merv gives The Pan to do. That is also free from most places. If you’re interested in those, you can find links to your favourite store (or my payhip store) to download them here:

Unlucky Dip


Small Beginnings

Night Swimming

If you like, you can also find out a little about The Pan’s life when he first comes to Ning Dang Po from Hamgee.

Remember the bit in The Wrong Stuff, when The Pan tells Ruth he jumped off a bridge? Well, Night Swimming is the book to read if you want to discover what happened. Here’s the blurb:

After stealing one of the best meat pies he’s ever eaten, and returning a small lost boy home, The Pan of Hamgee should feel smug. But somehow all these things do is make him miss his own family more. In a moment of very poor judgement, he decides to end it all. But The Pan should know by now that few things he plans ever turn out the way he expects.

This story is only available when people sign up to my mailing list which entails an extra set of wittering like this once a month and stories, competitions and other jolly japes. You can sign up for that, and grab your story, here:

 Audio version of Night Swimming or

Ebook version of Night Swimming

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