Tag Archives: Tall Family Tales

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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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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Alarums, excursions and jolly japes

This week, I am speaking to you from the past by the wonders of scheduling, as I do from time to time. When this post goes live, I will be at Dad’s memorial service, which, incidentally, takes place in a building that, with a few tweaks, became the High Temple in the K’Barthan Series. Here it is. It looks a bit frillier in this picture than it really is. I think I wrote in prettier chandeliers though.

This is where I went to church every other Sunday in term time, from eight weeks old to when I was a teenager. We sat in a stall; one of those raised seats at the sides, the second one on the left in this picture. As a small child, I remember playing in the Chapel (that’s its name) while Mum did the flowers. Running up and down the aisle under the kind auspices of Mr Kendall, the verger who would warn me not to run past the altar rail for fear of setting off the burglar alarm.

Once he gave me one of the hosts to eat. It was delicious! Just like a flying saucer only without the sherbet. I also remember playing with the hassocks, but they were blue leather, like cushions rather than the traditional home-embroidered, sorbet-rubber brick, so they couldn’t be stacked into walls or towers, and weren’t nearly as much fun as they should have been. It was a school, so they were probably designed like that deliberately. Therefore, I usually eschewed hassock-related japes in favour of running around. Sometimes I went down the stairs into the crypt, although, not so often after I fell down them and cracked my head open (3 stitches).

Later it wasn’t as much fun. If you will, imagine sitting raised up on high like that as a shy gawky teenager, looking out over around 500 or so boys who were sitting in the seats below. I was a shade of puce throughout the whole hour and it felt as if every single one of them was staring at me. I liked the music, I sang in the choir of the other church we went to and I enjoyed listening to most types of music (still do). The hymns helped, in that they were usually tub-thumpers and it was fun to listen to the boys and try and work out what their alternative words were; Glory, glory Brighton Hove Albion, with a small contingent trying to shout Glory, glory Man United more loudly, etc. But apart from that, mostly it was a pretty cringeworthy experience.

If you do that every other term Sunday, and get as many regular bollockings at your own school as I did (a different institution to the one attached to the chapel in the picture) you come out the other end almost unembarrassable … if that’s a word. I was so glad when I finally went to the school I actually lived in (girls were only allowed in the sixth form in those days) and I was able to leave the stall and disappear into the anonymous mass of pupils below. Actually I sat in about the position this picture was taken from.

Anway I’m wandering off topic terribly here, what I was really going to say was that I’m actually writing this from a few days in the past. It’s been a busy week but all in all, things seem to be going reasonably well.

First up, Mum. After discussing it with her financial advisor, we have decided it’s time to get Mum’s enduring power of attorney for her finances activated. I looked out all the paperwork we’d done on Dad’s and dropped the solicitor a line, by email, explaining what we were going to do and asking if she could send me the original document of Mum’s enduring power of attorney. I did it first thing but got one of those weird, ‘your message couldn’t be delivered so we’ll try again’ type things. Not an out-and-out bounce but a kind of, might have, maybe bounced.

After a bit of thought, I decided that the best thing to do would be to ring the solicitor, explaining what had happened and apologise for pestering her by phone as well if it had got through. The lady who answers the telephone there is great, we had a chat, I explained what had happened and I gave her as much info as I could. She asked the date Mum and Dad signed their powers of attorney and I reckoned it was 2004 but I had all the paperwork in front of me.

‘Give me a sec, I have Dad’s here, I’ll look it up,’ I said. I grabbed the document in front of me. ‘Oh … hang on,’ I said as I read the name on the front, ‘Um … this is Mum’s. Oh … I must have got you folks to send it through when I did Dad’s. That was … surprisingly organised of me.’

‘I bet it’s a nice surprise,’ she said.

‘It is but I still managed to forget, phone you lot and make a monumental twat of myself,’ I said.

She laughed, which was lucky. I doubt she gets many people telling her they’re twats. She told me she’d tell the lawyer I’d emailed that I didn’t need her to do anything and I thanked her and hung up. Then I made some toast by holding a piece of bread against my red face. No. I didn’t make toast actually even though I was quite embarrassed and my cheeks were burning. NO! The ones on my face you dirty bastards!

And there we have it. Three years ago, while sorting Dad’s enduring power of attorney I had been prescient, not to mention organised, enough to get them to send me Mum’s as well. It was heartening to know that I am capable of such giddy heights of organisational prowess, but it would have been more heartening if I’d remembered, or at least discovered my uncharacteristic attack of forward planning before I’d made a tit of myself.

Ruthless efficiency, and yet also, gargantuan twattery. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

Meanwhile McMini is enjoying his new school and is as nuts as ever. Lately, he has introduced me to the joy of ttsreader.com This is a site which allows you to type text into a box and it will then read it in an electronic voice. For some strange reason best known to ourselves, McMini and I find this unaccountably funny. Obviously, we don’t use it as it is intended. Although we do happily conduct whole conversations using it in about six times the time it should take were we speaking; laboriously typing what we want to say into the reader, highlighting it all and clicking play. Clearly we try to do more than talk with this thing, I think McMini has come closer than I to getting it to produce a realistic raspberry but that’s not for want of extensive effort on both our parts. All the while, as we pursue this ridiculous game, tears of laughter stream down our faces – because we’re really mature. Well, OK to give him his due, McMini is only eleven, after all, and probably is quite mature for an eleven year old. He already displays a great deal more maturity than I but then, I guess that’s not difficult.

Even McOther started giggling the other day, though, when McMini finally scored a realistic sounding raspberry.

On the books front. They’ve managed to squeeze me in at the Christmas Fayre so I am busy ordering books etc, which reminds me … Even better, the date of the new release creeps ever closer. Anyone who has pre-ordered it should get the ebook on Monday 29th. Woot. The paperback is coming later. I have also been doing lots of research into audio books. It’s kind of doing my head in because there have been a lot of changes to the audiobook scene just recently, with evidence that Findaway Voices might be edging ahead of ACX as a provider. I might post more about that as I discover it, or at least, some pros and cons if I can. But my own experience is going to be atypical because Gareth The Voice and I have done pretty much the opposite of what you’re supposed to! Mwahahahargh!

Anyway, that’s enough of that, here is a quick reminder about my two new releases … on about to come out and one out already. Pipple toot!

Small Beginnings, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit: No 1

Available for preorder. If you are interested there is a page which gives you link to the main book vendors. Just click on the picture or follow this link here …

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infosb.html

There will be print links, to follow. The print version is out on 23rd November.

Here’s the blurb:

Terry Pratchett meets Dr Who … sort of. When your very existence is treason, employment opportunities are thin on the ground. But when one of the biggest crime lords in the city makes The Pan of Hamgee a job offer he can’t refuse, it’s hard to tell what the dumbest move is; accepting the offer or saying, no to Big Merv. Neither will do much for The Pan’s life expectancy.

Future Adventures Box Set … Gorge yourself on free sci-fi!

This features full length novels from eight science fiction authors. I can vouch for the quality of the books in here, even more so now that I’ve read some of them!

But, if any of you haven’t read my first full length novel, Few Are Chosen, and would like to, it’s in this book, which is free, but more importantly it comes with all these other brilliant stories by seriously accomplished wordsmiths who really know what they are doing. So, you can grab a copy of Few Are Chosen with seven other books by authors who are seriously gifted and of whom I am, frankly, a bit in awe. And all for zero pence. If you want to pick up a copy, just click on the picture to visit a page of links to find it on all the major stores … or click on the link below:

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infofa.html

 

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Random news and an appeal … sort of …

Here we are at the end of McMini’s first week and, as usual, I haven’t really got my arse into gear and written an proper post. This is becoming a habit isn’t it? But actually it’s not such a bad thing as I have a couple of updates.  First I’m going to share a good cause with you, then I’ll share some news about my upcoming new release and then I’m going to share a bad parenting story.

Aimee and Kyle’s big adventure!

You may have seen me talking on my facebook feed about one of Mum’s carers and her chap who are walking from Skye to Sussex. Here they are with the other members of their trusty crew, Milo and Mabel:

You wouldn’t know it if you were where I am (blue sky, crisp sunlight … you get the picture) but the weather in Scotland right now is biblical rain and floods. The first day, it was so bad they couldn’t camp so they did their walking and were then picked up, taken back to the starting point for a night in the dry and dropped back where they’d got to the next day.

Mountain streams look like this …

They have now walked in the rain since 1st September, oh no wait one day it didn’t rain. But only one. They reached a guest house just outside Glasgow on Friday and are having a weekend off to dry out the tent. Even Milo and Mabel, who are always up for running about, were completely flaked out by that time.

The four of them have been moved on when trying to camp because it was dangerous – apparently the river running beside the campsite they’d chosen has a tendency to rise very fast and recently some folks, and their tent, have been swept away.

Rivers look like this

They had to take a detour over a mountain so steep that they did it, literally, on all fours because the valley through which they should have been walking was full of water and had to cross mountain streams that have turned into raging torrents of scarily cream-coloured rapids and the paths upon which they’re supposed to walk are two inches deep in ice cold running water.

Sounds nice …

On the upside, I imagine that midge bites have caused them zero stress. So there we are. Every cloud has a silver lining.

They are not walking alone, as I mentioned their two mad jack russells, Milo and Mabel are coming too. Mostly they are enjoying themselves, except when they have to be carried across a river, at which point, as you can see from the picture, below, they are, understandably, lacking in enthusiasm. The picture of Milo and Mabel, or at least Mabel and Milo, in the ruck sack was taken on a day when they had a friend walking with them.

Why I’m telling you about this is because they are walking in memory of both their dads, who died early and suddenly of heart problems. So they’re raising money for the British Heart Foundation. I wouldn’t normally do this, but since they’ve had such hard going of it, I feel I should help out by sharing their escapades.

You don’t have to do anything but applaud their efforts but if you are able to share either of the links below, or donate a few quid, it would be fabulous. I’m sure they’d welcome shares just as much as a donation.

Here are the pages about their trip to share or donate to:

Give to the British Heart Foundation via Aimee and Kyle’s Just Giving Page … or just share it: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/aimeeleazell

Likewise, they have a Gofundme which is to raise funds for the odd night in a B&B. Looking at the weather they’re enduring, they might need a few more of those, if only to dry the tent out once a week. You can share or donate a few quid to that one down this link here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/aimee-amp-kyles-isle-of-skye-to-steyning-hike?

Cheers.

MTM Book news

This week I received news that the group I exhibit with at the Christmas Fayre is starting up at another venue. I’ve sorely missed the income from this the last couple of years so I’m looking forward to having another go. Hoping the new venue will be as good as the old one. It’s certainly a lovely building.

With fair wind and a bit of luck I should have the first book in the new series ready in ebook and paperback by then, which will be good. I sent the first short in the series off for its last round of editing (hopefully) this week, although the actual slot is 23rd Sep or thereabouts so it won’t come back until just before Half Term. When that’s done, I just have to format it properly, make it into an ebook and a slim paperback and um … launch it (yikes! But good yikes!). I’m also still fighting to get a short ready for next year’s Christmas Lites by Monday. I think it’s going to be too long for me to finish in time but I’m still going to give it my best shot. Fingers and toes crossed. If I can keep it down to about 8k I may be in with a chance. Otherwise, I’ll just have to put it away and will have a story to submit next year!

On other projects, I’m working on an  Eyebomb Bury St Edmunds calendar which, I hope, will be ready for the Christmas Fayre. I suspect I am going to have to dip into my slush fund to pay for stock but here’s hoping I make some cash back! More details when the time comes.

Next week, I may even be able to link to the page where you can buy Small Beginnings on pre order. Yeh, I know. I wondered if it would ever happen, myself.

An embarrassing parenthood story.

A few years ago, when McMini was about two and a half or three, we decided to have our spare room bathroom redone. It needed it. The pink scallop shell sink was … grim. Off we went to the bath store. I managed to keep an eye on McMini but at one point McOther and I got a bit too engrossed in measuring a basin and he disappeared. I nipped off to find him and met him searching for me. He looked worried.

‘Mummy, there is a problem,’ he said.
‘Is there? What’s happened small fry?’
‘Come with me please, Mummy.’

I followed and he led me round one of the displays to a loo.

‘I have had a wee, but it will not flush,’ he said solemnly.

I looked into the display loo and discovered that he had, indeed, had a wee. Stifling an almighty guffaw I said,

‘Ah. This is a display loo, it’s just so we can see what it looks like. It’s not attached to any pipes so we can’t flush it.’
‘Have I done a bad thing?’
‘No, although, I have because I should have thought to tell you.’
He giggled and said, ‘Naughty Mummy!’
‘Yes. Naughty me. We must both remember not to do it again, alright.’

Then I did a very foolish thing. Instead of fessing up to the staff right then, I put the lid down and tip toed quietly back to my husband, who was negotiating the purchase of a basin and loo. I’d wait until we’d sorted out the business transaction and then explain. Except that it took longer than 20 seconds to make the transaction and with demented dad/mummy brain it completely slipped my mind …

It was only a couple of weeks later that I realised I’d completely forgotten to tell them what had happened. If anyone reading this worked for the Cambridge bathroom store a long time ago, and found a wee in one of their loos, I’m really, really sorry.

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Knowledge comes when you least expect it …

This month, I have mostly been ill.

That isn’t the entire sum of it, obviously. I mean there weekend at the end with the dig where I found the howling beastie and there was a rather jolly week after that plus a weekend when we had visitors and I danced arthritically on a table, remember. McMini was ill on the Sunday our guests left and off school the entire week. Then it was half term and he gave whatever it was he’d had to me in time for me to be ill over the school break, obviously. McMini threw it off in a week or so, but felt a bit weird from time to time during the half term holiday. McOther binned it in about twenty four hours. I felt as ill as I’ve felt since I was ten, and had the highest temperature I’ve had since I was ten too, a mighty 103.9 but it was only for one day and on the up side, I got rid of it in four days. On the downside it’s kindly left me with a chest and a sinus infection which I foolishly believed would go on its own. Needless to say I’ve managed to get the one that involves experimenting with multiple courses of antibiotics and some steroids. I have two friends who are ahead of me having completed my current regimen of eight pills plus a blue and white capsule every morning.

Upsides? Well, to be honest, anything is better than the way I felt with the flu AND I was well enough to creep out for a half term outing the day my flu subsided, despite feeling very dizzy and post feverish, so we got a quick day trip in before McOther went back to work on the Thursday and Friday of half term. We all ventured out again on the Saturday so at least we did have a half term that felt like it actually was a holiday, sort of. Neither McMini nor I was up to much on the Thursday and Friday anyway. He was much better but still fatigued and post viral, I was, thankfully, back to normal human temperature, albeit feeling a little tight across the chest and laughing like Mutley as the chest infection began to take hold. We chilled and relaxed together which was lovely, he screened (probably too much) and I read a stack of books! I even discovered a Jim Webster short from the Port Naain Intelligencer series that had escaped my notice. Bonus!

The half term trips out were both to air museums. The first, I had discovered quite by chance going to a dig back before Christmas. First I passed a farm selling raw milk from a vending machine outside. It also had what it called a cheese window. It was obligatory that I photographed that for McMini who loathes and detests yet also obsesses, slightly, over cheese. A few hundred yards further on and suddenly, in what looked like a pub car park.

Aeroplanes.

Not just any old aeroplanes either. Jets. I had passed it by the time it registered and stopped the car.

‘Did I just see that?’

I backed up.

‘Bloody hell. Yes I did!’

I took a photo and squirrelled it away for future reference. So it was, that ‘Future Reference’ turned out to be my sickly Wednesday half term day out.

It was a cracking museum. Not only were there some excellent and interesting planes but there was a fascinating collection of pieces of plane that had been hauled up in the nets of the fishing fleet based around Lowestoft, Gorleston on Sea and Great Yarmouth. This stuff was amazingly well preserved, yet a lot of it was crumpled and bent because it got into the sea by being blown apart. There were wonderful planes, helecopters and there were rooms full of artefacts, models and what I tend to call shed finds. All of it was free to look at and staffed by knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers. The loos were lovely too, clean, well stocked with loo roll and soap, the towel dryers worked and they were warm! Ah bliss.

While we were there, I discovered a shed find of my own. First let’s spool back a few years. Er hem, about thirty eight, to be precise. I was a nipper and my brother and I had a rubber dinghy which Dad would inflate, laboriously, with a foot pump when we went to the beach. A rubber dinghy, friends from other nations, is basically an inflatable rowing boat. Nothing to do with sailing. Anyway, back to the story.

The inflation process was pretty lengthy, so the dinghy was only wheeled out on day trips. Days at Stiffkey salt marshes when we were on holiday in Norfolk, or trips to Cuckmere haven; that kind of stuff. But back home, on a Saturday morning, or after school, when we wanted to go to the beach for a quick swim, I still wanted to be able to scull about on the waters. To this end, one holiday in Greece I bought a thing that was a cross between a surf board and boogie board, made of polystyrene. You couldn’t stand on it and surf, it would break in half, but it was ok to lie on it and scull with your arms or you could sit and row with a double ended oar. Except I didn’t have one and the only oars were to be kept with the dinghy on pain of death, after arriving somewhere and discovering we only had one.

Blue oar … the varnish has turned brown, which hasn’t done it any favours, it was a much prettier colour.

So it was, on warm afternoon ferreting about in my grandparents’ shed I discovered some of my grandmother’s toys, which she let me have, and an oar in a pleasing shade of blue. The oar had a brass bit in the middle and had clearly come apart into two halves at one point, before someone had drilled a couple of holes and put a some screws in to keep it together. OK so it wasn’t double-ended but it would be better than nothing for sculling about on my crap, polystyrene neither-boat-nor-surf-nor-boogie-board. Could I have it? I asked Nye, my grandmother, and when she agreed that yes, I could, I was stoked. I bore it triumphantly home.

As my mother made a space for me to put it in the car, she explained that it came from her and my uncle’s rubber dinghy. Said dinghy, like ours, had been used to great effect but, like ours, was also somewhat reliant on the stalwartness of those available to pump it up, and, of course, the time available. At the point in my mother and uncle’s life when it was in use, my grandfather was working in Greece and my mother, uncle and grandmother would take a two day flight out, in a Dakota, to join him for the long summer holidays. This meant that the only people available to pump the thing up each time on beach trips during term time weekends or half term, were my grandmother and Grand Nan, Mum and Uncle’s nanny.

Mum then went on to tell us about a trip the four of them made to Newhaven beach with the rubber dingy. My grandfather was still in Greece at this point, trying, on one hand, to help set up the new Bank of Greece and general economy in the aftermath of the war and on the other hand, making concerted efforts not to be killed in the revolution. He saw a fair few atrocities perpetrated by both sides – quite a lot of lining people up and shooting them down with machine guns – and at one point he had to defend the Bank of Greece from a communist attack. I never got the full story of this one, I should think it took a fair bit of balls from all of them, but he always spun it as less to do with courage and more about an ardent desire to avoid being put up against the wall, alongside his staff, and machine gunned. He and the staff held the bank and he was given an OBE. Needless to say the OBE, itself, has long since been nicked from a relative’s house in Kew, according to the police, by drug addicts burgling small shiny things to sell for the next fix – although we still have the box (there’s always an upside).

Anyway, Grand Nan, as she was called, and Nye (my grandmother) worried about the possibility of their little charges floating out to sea while they were engrossed in their reading or their conversation, had an ingenious idea. They took a long piece of string and tied one end to the dinghy and the other to Grand Nan’s wrist. Grand Nan was wonderful; tiny, twinkly eyed and gentle. She had a great sense of fun, and humour, and she was still around when I arrived on the planet. I’m not sure quite how effective she would have been as anchorage but clearly she felt she would cut the mustard. She is another of the people from my Sussex past who turned out to come from near my Suffolk present. She was from Thetford and her grandfather was head gardener on the Elvendon estate, I believe.

Sorry, gone off on another tangent again, where was I? Ah yes. Grand Nan and Nye sat back to chat, or read books or generally chill on the rug while the joyful chatter of Mum and Uncle told them all was well in the dinghy. They were soon so engrossed in their conversation that they didn’t notice a large ship come out of Newhaven harbour and sail rather close to the shore. Neither did they notice the wash, which presented itself in the form of a couple of very large waves heading for the beach.

Mum, in the dinghy, realised something was amiss but too late. The dinghy breasted the first wave and her and my uncle bobbed happily over it, unscathed. Then the second wave came and washed them onto the shore. Mum said she remembered seeing Nye and Grand Nan looking shocked with the the wave which had broken and reached the fluffy white stage now, sloshing over them, and the rug, as she and my uncle, in the dingy, floated gracefully past them. Mum and Uncle were deposited on dry ground a little further up the beach and left there as the wave retreated. Grand Nan and Nye scrambled about in the undertow rescuing rug, lunch, thermos, shoes, books, towels and their clothes. To their impressive credit, I believe nothing was lost. I suspect Mum and Uncle were less than sympathetic. Mum says that even at 85 years old, having seen a lot of funny things, the sight of her mother and nanny scrambling for their belongings, as she and my uncle were floating gently past, still ranks as one of the funniest things she has ever seen in her life.

This one’s in the museum.

How can you discover something about your mother and uncle’s rubber dinghy at an air museum, I hear you ask? Ah you’d be amazed at the things you can learn in the most unexpected places if you are prepared to explore. While I examined the exhibits in an area devoted to rescues at sea, I found an oar which came apart into two halves. It was painted a pleasing shade of dark blue. It was exactly the same as mine.

That is how, by going to an air museum in Gorleston, I discovered that my mother and uncle’s rubber dingy was the escape raft from a B17 bomber. The rubber ‘dinghy’ that went with is long gone, but even so, it transpires I have the oar from a B17 bomber’s escape raft in my shed.

This bit of plane was used in the film, The Dambusters.

On an end note; if the person who stole a red-ribboned medal from a house in Kew in the late 1980s/early 1990s is still around. OK no they’re probably dead but if they got clean or or if anyone out there bought an OBE that was given to R B T Castle from someone who looked quite high, do get in touch because I’d love to buy it back.

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Farting around …

Today I’m cheating, I have twenty minutes to write tomrrow’s blog post before my lovely bruv, wife and kids arrive for the weekend. It’s going to be short.  I was going to do something quite deep and metaphysical but as it is, it’s going to be an excerpt from one of my works in progress. So here, from Tripwires, is more wittering about my past I bring you …

The Kitchen Fart

One of the things I love about my parents is that while they taught me that it was important to show consideration for others, they also taught me another very important art, that while consideration is key, there are other instances where it is very important not to give a flying fuck.

The love of farts. What a way to start, but even for British people, my family seems to be peculiarly obsessed. Perhaps it’s just that we share a love of the absurd and there is so much of that to be mined from farts. When I was a teenager, one grandmother, Nye and one grandfather, Gin-Gin, were still around. Gin-Gin was in a home but Nye lived on her own for a while and during that time, she would sometimes come to stay. Obviously, our house wasn’t really ideal for an older person who had trouble getting up and down.

Nye often had to be helped out of our arm chairs because they were a bit too low. When this happened the exertion would often result in her letting loose a thunderous fart. Obviously, despite having a bit of a sense of mischief, Nye was clearly of a view that there are some things a Lady doesn’t mention – and farts appeared to be one of them. So of course, everyone would pretend that the incredibly obvious high-decibel report hadn’t happened. Nye would be handed her sticks and with a quieter fart to mark each stride she would shuffle slowly across the room. Luckily, what the good lord was kind enough to give her in volume, he left out in aroma. We would hear making her way through the hall to the downstairs loo, still farting quietly all the way. Once we heard the door close we would explode with giggles and when she came back after her wee, we’d tell her some terrible joke to explain away our red faces, streaming eyes and uncontrollable laughing.

Amusingly, my Mum’s farts sound exactly the same as Nye’s did, less amusingly, so do mine.

However, while Nye pretended, against all odds, that her farts didn’t exist, Mum has never had any qualms about making some remark about it, or just giggling if she accidentally let one go. One of the most used phrases in our family is, ‘where ere you be let your air blow free, I held mine in, twas the death of me’. If think it comes from a Scottish tombstone somewhere (although the original uses the Scottish dialect ‘gang’ rather than blow which has a slightly different meaning – go/wander – but hey, the sentiment is similar).

The other day, I was with Mum in the kitchen and since it was Mum and it would make her giggle, when I felt one bubbling up, I didn’t bother to ease it quietly out but let it go. Several minutes of childish giggling ensued and Mum said, ‘Good heavens! That sounds exactly like one of mine.’

To which I replied, ‘Just imagine it, if one of the carers has heard it, they won’t know which of us it was!’

‘Or they’ll think it was me,’ she said. ‘I’m worse than Nye these days, I fart every time I stand up.’

After we’d finished chuckling about this, Mum reminded me of an occasion when Dad was still a housemaster. We were in the kitchen, me doing my homework at the table, Mum baking. Two of the girls in one of Dad’s sets were having trouble with some of the Greek they were learning so he had offered them an extra lesson, to explain it all again. They were with him in the next room, the study. Mum had offered them a cup of tea of course, which, Mum being Mum, came with flapjack, home made cake and biscuits. The girls had accepted Mum’s offer so now she had put a tray on the table opposite me and was laying out cups and saucers. She and went to the larder at the other end of the room, to get the biscuit tin. As she made her way across the room she let out what might be the loudest fart I’ve ever heard. It sounded like someone dragging a heavy chair twenty yards across a tiled floor in a room above.

‘Ooo that’s better,’ she said once the furniture had stopped shaking enough for me to be able to hear her, and then both of us fell about laughing. Suddenly, I remembered Dad’s lesson in the next room. On the down side, the doors to both the kitchen and the study were open, on the up side, though ‘next door’ the actual entrance to the study was about four metres away down a corridor.

‘Oh no! Mum, what if the girls heard?’ I asked keenly aware that the attitude to farts displayed by myself and my mum was not standard among females.

‘It’ll be alright, they can’t possibly have heard it from there.’

I thought about the number of times I’d heard my mum fart in the kitchen while watching TV in the drawing room which was a lot further away from the kitchen then the dining room, where the girls where.

‘Seriously Mum, I think they will have done, it was impressively loud.’

‘I do hope not,’ said Mum and we began to giggle some more. ‘Never mind,’ she said as she filled the teapot, ‘we’ll soon know. I’m going to take this through now.’

She came back a few minutes later looking a slightly chastened, but only slightly.

‘I think you’re right,’ she said. ‘Your father clearly didn’t hear a thing, but the girls did, because when I went in with the tea they got the giggles.’

Later I attended reunion at school for women in my house and to my delight, I met the two girls in question and after much giggling as I related the story they confirmed that yes, they had heard the fart loud and clear.

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Out of the mouths of babes and … budgies.

I’m posting by special request this week, I mentioned my grandfather, my father’s father, in a post on a forum and was asked if I’d say a bit more about him so, fresh from Setting Tripwires for Granny, here is a little bit about him …

Gin-Gin was my father’s father, StJohn Bell (Gin-Gin is pronounced exactly like it’s written, as if someone’s saying the name of the drink, twice. Much like his name, StJohn—which is actually pronounced sin-gin—and indeed, that’s probably where Gin-Gin came from). He was a larger than life character, I think he worked for the Sun Alliance, was chairman of the district council and was full of life. He was always laughing and he had a gold tooth which could catch the light when he smiled. He was known for his draconianly right wing views. That said, despite views which, in those days, put him firmly on the right with Norman Tebbit and company towards the lunatic fringe of the Conservative Party, he would probably be standing a little to the left of centre in the modern version such is the gargantuan crazy-quotient in both that party and politics these days. 

Gin-Gin had white hair which, like my father’s and my oldest uncle’s receded very slowly from the age of about thirty – it never totally disappeared. He had a hooked patrician nose, very bushy eyebrows, underneath which sat a pair of green/blue (I think) twinkly eyes, a ready (and extremely loud) laugh and as I mentioned one gold tooth, his eye tooth. Yeh, if you’re read my books you’ll know exactly which character is based upon his looks. He had a marked and somewhat subversive sense of humour. Indeed, humour was how he communicated with the world. He was not keen on political correctness, citing it as simply reverse prejudice but I never saw him talk down to anyone, ever. He was a strong character, with a great deal of charm and he communicated with the world through humour. He probably should have been a stand up comedian. If it had been more of a gentleman’s profession, perhaps he would have been. Despite having polar opposite political views to me on many things, I found him very easy to get on with because at his heart, what drove him was a genuine desire to be decent to people and to make the world better for everyone. 

He was sometimes, as he told me once, ‘a very bad man’ (although possibly not as bad as he thought he was) in that he had a sense of the absurd and a very satirical bent to his humour that meant anything he said about other people tended to be a little bit close to the bone. Often it would be because he came uncomfortably close to the truth – albeit a little exaggerated – in his summations of people. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and if he thought you were a fool, or didn’t like you, you’d know. Although you could often change his mind by standing up to him, especially if you used humour.

However, having painted him as a bit of a draconian scary dude, the side of him I saw was jovial, always smiling, quick witted, mercurial, constantly joking and brimming with joi de vivre. I liked him enormously because at the bottom of it all, he was simply a natural rebel, like my dad, and so am I.  

As a child he used to tell me stories about his misspent youth which my mother and father, and possibly Gran-Gran, my grandmother, may well have worried I’d try and replicate. In fact I really didn’t need any encouragement from Gin-Gin to get up to mischief although there are a number of stories which had me in awe as a youngster including one occasion when he talked about his time at Lancing College. Strangely, I had completely forgotten about this one until I read tale of something similar perpetrated at a WW2 RAF base.

The loos at Lancing in my grandfather’s day were somewhat primitive, they were fairly primitive in my day in parts of the school, but we’re talking properly primitive here. In Gin-Gin’s time the school was for boys only so most of the loos were constructed along the same model, urinals one side and then a series of stalls. The stalls were, essentially, one long bench seat with partitions and doors. Underneath the bench seat was a channel in which water was continuously running washing away any bombs as they were dropped, so to speak. This channel was boxed in, so you sat on a box, essentially, with water running beneath you. Gin-Gin went into the upstream cubicle, closest to the wall and locked the door. From his pocket he removed a paper boat then he waited until an opportune time when enough of the other cubicles were full. He gave everyone time to sit down, open their books, newspapers etc and then he set fire to the paper boat, dropped it through the hole in his cubicle and swiftly and silently exited. He listened to the irritated shouts and screams as the boat passed under each bottom in each cubicle on the way down. Then he ran away laughing.

Personally, I’ve always thought that public school is an excellent preparation should you be unfortunate enough to end up in prison at any point, be incarcerated in a lunatic asylum or be compelled to spend your twilight years in an old people’s home. I suspect that when, in later life, Gin-Gin did end up in an old people’s home, his behaviour may have been reminiscent of his behaviour at school.

In his twilight years, Gin-Gin was in a home for quite some time, a place called Pax Hill, just outside Lindfield. He didn’t enjoy it but I’m not sure he’d have enjoyed anywhere, to be honest. It was actually a lovely place, the care workers were intelligent, capable people and they were very good to him. Furthermore, some were blokes, which was important for Gin-Gin as he liked and needed male company. Gin-Gin was partially sighted and had a colostomy which he couldn’t sort out without being able to see. Otherwise, he was pretty much on the ball, whereas, unfortunately the other residents were mostly suffering from forms of dementia.

The home was in a house that had once belonged to a friend of Gin-Gin’s. He told me how it had been filled with very smart sculptures and how the house had been commandeered by the Canadian army during the war. They’d used the sculptures for target practice until a friend who knew some big wig in the British Army got a general to talk to their general and explain that the statues were all quite old, some from the Renaissance, and some genuinely ancient. Canadians were considered a bit rum by the locals throughout the area for some time afterwards! Anyway, there was a sitting room downstairs where we used to sit with Gin-Gin and in said sitting room was a budgrigar in a cage. The more mobile of the daft old ladies used to come and coo over it so it was clearly a source of great comfort. Some of them were rather syrupy about their interactions with said bugie and Gin-Gin found it all a bit toe curling. So he decided to do something about it. 

One day I was visiting him and as we sat there one of the little old dears came to talk to the bird. I’ve no idea what her name was but her husband was called Ambrose and had been a priest and she talked about him a lot, lauding his many holy, kindly and generally wonderful attributes. Gin-Gin found her a bit Holier Than Thou. Perhaps she was just high-minded in that way that believes laughter and humour are somewhat disrespectful, not to mention a bit of a waste of time; time that could be used in more weighty and serious pursuits. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that one comes across people like this occasionally, folks with no time for levity. I confess, I try to avoid them as much as possible and I advise you to do the same, but I’m digressing.

As well as not being blessed with much of a sense of humour the lady who had been married to Ambrose was the kind of person who would faint rather than laugh at a knob gag. Gin-Gin was the kind of person who would roar with laughter at a knob gag, Gin Gin liked to laugh full stop and by the time he got into the home his sense of humour was about all he had left. So I suspect the lady disliked his jokes and I suspect that Gin-Gin, knowing she disliked his jokes, was at pains to make more of them whenever she was around. Chalk and cheese, basically.

Some of the lady’s stories about the great goodness of her husband were, Gin-Gin felt, aimed squarely at him in a ‘you’re-a-bad-man-and-my-wonderful-Ambrose-wasn’t’ kind of way maybe he even felt there was a dash of ‘why-are-you-here-when-he’s-gone?’ It may well have been like that but, most likely, she just missed Ambrose and eased her sadness by talking about him. She might even have felt that Gin-Gin and Ambrose would have got on and wished they could have met one another. Who knew. But before long, Gin-Gin had nicknamed her, ‘Relic of the Sainted Ambrose’ Ambrose being her husband about whom she used to wax lyrical.  

One day, she came into the drawing room at the home and started to talk to the budgie while Gin-Gin and I were chatting. There was silence for a moment and then he whispered,

‘Listen to what the bird says.’

So we stopped talking, which, looking back on it, must have made Sainted Ambrose’s Mrs wonder if we were discussing her and must have only fuelled her distrust of my grandfather. She began to chat to the budgie in what, I have to hand it to Gin-Gin, was a pretty nauseating way.

‘Whose a sweet iddy-diddy ickle birdie then.’

That kind of thing.

Gin-Gin rolled his eyes at me. 

‘Gugger,’ said the Budgie. Gin-Gin’s face split into a huge grin and the gold tooth appeared.

‘What was that sweetie?’ asked the old dear.

‘Gugger,’ said the bird.

‘Awww, what are you trying to say sweetie?’ she asked.

‘Gugger,’ said the bird and then it whistled.

After a little more cooing and fussing, and with a daggers look at Gin-Gin, Ambrose’s wife and Relic left.

‘Come on,’ said Gin-Gin and he led me over to the budgie’s cage.

He didn’t have great sight so he felt around for the bars a bit and then gave them a gentle tap and whistled. The bird put his head on one side and whistled back.

‘Who’s a silly little bugger then?’ said Gin-Gin

‘Who’s a silly little gugger then?’ said the bird.

An enormous, mischievous smile spread across Gin-Gin’s face.

‘Bugger!’ he said.

‘Gugger,’ said the bird.

‘That’s right, you’ve nearly got it!’ He turned to me, ‘I’ve taught their bloody budgie to say bugger.’

Guffawing evilly, we returned to our seats.

Later I told Mum and Dad and they started giggling and told me a similar story.

Miss Watson, another lady in the home, the only one Gin-Gin got on well with, happened upon him in the drawing room, standing in front of the cage going, 

‘Bugger! Bugger! Come on! You, can say it! Bugger!’

Stifling her laughter, Miss Watson crept away before he’d noticed her and got the matron, because Miss Watson knew that matron would find the whole thing as funny as she did. Which was true. The matron then passed this on to Mum and Dad remarking that she was very glad the bird couldn’t handle the B sound and the other old ladies seemed to be too innocent to appreciate what it was actually saying. 

My parents and my brother and I reckoned it was a lucky choice of word since if he’d gone for fuck or sod it would probably have managed to repeat him verbatim – even ‘gollocks’ would have been less subtle. 

However, his efforts with the budgie did come back to haunt him eventually. He had also taught it to wolf whistle, something it did very well, and one day, as he sat in one of the comfy chairs, minding his own business, one of the prissier inmates came into the room and the budgie wolf whistled. To Gin-Gin’s horror she rounded on him and accused him of harassing her! Matron was called to intervene and in the end ruffled feathers were smoothed down but only when the budgie wolf whistled again, at a point when it couldn’t possibly have been Gin-Gin. But, poor old boy, his name was mud with the ladies after that, except Miss Watson, with whom he got on well. That said, he probably didn’t care that the ladies didn’t like him. From what I gathered they were a bit stuck up and I got the impression Miss Watson wasn’t that keen on them either. Certainly, she only seemed to chat to Gin-Gin and did her own thing a lot of the time, going for walks or arranging trips out with friends.

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