Tag Archives: off topic

Sweeping the cat for tinfoil and other adventures …

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

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

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

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

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

Bugger.

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

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

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

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

Uh-oh, I thought.

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

Hmm …

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

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

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

Shit. Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

I had a think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Still living the dream …

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I hope you won’t,’ I told her.

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

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

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

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

‘You are a dear,’ said Mum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Sure,’ she replies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oooo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What’s this?’ he asked.

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

 

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Living on the edge …

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it would be a few seconds late.

Yeh. As if.

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

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

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

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

‘Bollocks!’ I said.

Ho hum.

I turned and made my way down the stairs.

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

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

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

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

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

Nice.

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

The train arrived while I was still scratching my head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chip off the old block …

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

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

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

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

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

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

The jumper tribble … octopus? starfish?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe.

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

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

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

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Quality can’t be rushed …

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

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

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

Weird square eye thing … eeeek!

Scary!

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

It does look weird. CF photos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shenannagins …

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

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

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

The hat …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waynetta Slob … and Wayne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody else made a sound. Oops

Then Hark the Herald began.

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

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

 

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Let’s talk about things …

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

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

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

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

The ill fated eyebombing calendar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desmond Tutu stood here and so did I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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