Tag Archives: writer mom

Trust me, I’m an expert … mwahahahaahrgh!

As you are all aware, because heaven knows I bang on about it enough, I lead a very busy life and because the tolerances for error are quite small, I sometimes make a comprehensive fuck up of things. Quite a lot of the time, to be honest. One of my specialities on this front is turning up at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s the latest instance of this which I’d like to share with you now. It happened like this …

McMini and I are sitting at home relaxing after he’s come home from school when I open an email from the school. It is a new layout, and it starts like this.

Thursday 8th January,

SATS evening for parents.

Dear Parents/Carers

On Thursday 17th January at 6pm, we will be holding an information event …

PFC – pretty fucking clear – right? Er, no. Not to muggins here. I have seen the date at the top, Thursday which is tonight, and the title, SATS evening for parents, and so I ignore the body of the letter, because I’m far too fucking busy to read that, and merely scan for the start time, ah yes, 6.00pm.

I look at my watch.

‘Shit it’s five o’clock!’

‘What’s up Mum?’ says a cheery voice from the other room.

‘The school is doing a thing about your SATS and it’s tonight, at six pm.’

‘Oh what? Do we have to go?’

‘Afraid so, it’s really important.’

McMini appears in the hall all rolling eyes and sighs, ‘Won’t Dad be back in time for me to stay here?’

‘Not at six, no, sorry.’

‘Oh well, I have some charge on my iPad, can I bring that?’

‘Yes, and your reading homework, you can write your book report while your’re there.’

He’s leaning over my arm, reading the email on my phone.

‘Hang on Mum, it says kids aren’t allowed.’

‘No it says it’s not for you, I can still bring you along if I’ve nowhere else to put you, they just mean that I don’t have to bring you if there’s someone you can stay with at home.’

So we get ready but we take too long so we have to go in the car because there isn’t time to walk. When I get up there, we are, parking, and of course it’s one of those ones where it goes wrong. You know how, when you’re in a hurry, you always get the angle wrong and have to come back out and start again. Off we go, second time, reverse, turn, turn, turn, ‘MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!’

‘Shit.’

The arrow is actually pointing to the place where I’d put the firing button for the machine guns I will be placing behind the lights at some stage. Except now I’m thinking that if I’ll be inadvertently spraying the streets with fire every time I parallel park it might not be such a good idea. You can see the little trumpet where the hooter button is to the right of the arrow. There’s one of those each side so I have double the opportunities to beep in error like a fucktard.

I used to have a car with a hooter in the centre of the steering wheel and I beeped it with my elbow every time I reversed. This car has two hooter switches, one each side. Someone does something stupid on the motorway, nearly killing us all and can I find the hooter? Can I buffalo? But I still manage to beep the fucking thing by mistake every. Sodding. Time. I. Park! Maybe when I’m next in a dangerous situation, I should try not to hoot, then I might chuffing manage it.

McMini puts on an expression of mock shock at me for swearing and in his best Walter from Dennis the Menace voice he says,

‘Mother I’ve told you about swearing in front of me, you’re setting a very bad example.’

‘I know, I’m a terrible mother,’ I reply, giggling because I know he’s only taking the piss.

‘There’s an old man in that house staring out of the window at us, he’s looking very disapproving.’

‘I expect he is. I’m making a right pig’s ear of this parking.’

‘It’s not the parking, I don’t think he liked you hooting.’

‘I don’t blame him. I didn’t either. Right,’ I haul the handbrake on. ‘Come on, let’s go.’

Immediately a stream of cars comes up the street so we have to wait for them to pass before McMini can get out.

‘It’s the Truman Show!’ he says cheerfully. ‘They’ve been waiting ages to drive up here at the moment it would be most annoying for you.’

I heartily agree. My whole life’s the fucking Truman Show in that respect,

We arrive at the school as the clock on the church two streets over strikes six. Woot. Not exactly timely but we won’t have to do the walk of shame to the only seats left (at the front). Well, no, that’s not true. We will have to do the walk of shame but at least we won’t be doing it after the talk has started. I push the button to open the door but there’s no-one to buzz us through the air-lock or whatever they call the next bit.

‘Strange.’

Just then, two teachers appear and they come out and ask us if they can help. We say why we are there and they buzz us in.

‘Are you sure it’s tonight?’ asks one.

I’m not as it happens. I meant to check the email before leaving. ‘I thought it was,’ I say weakly.

‘The light’s aren’t on and there’s no-one else in the hall,’ says the other.

‘Uh … right,’ I say.

‘I’ll go and ask Mr Hammond,’ (the headmaster) ‘he’s still in his office,’ says the first one and she runs off up the stairs.

I have an Ely. That is, according to The Meaning of Liff, the first tiniest inkling that something has gone horribly wrong.

‘Hmm … I’m a bit of a spanner with dates, I may have stuffed up,’ I tell the other teacher as we wait. ‘Hang on, I’ll check the email.’

I get the email open and see that I have, indeed, misread it.

‘Shit,’ I say before I can stop myself. ‘Sorry,’ I start laughing, because cheery apology seems the best way to play it, ‘Will you look at that? I’m such a bell-end, I’ve got the wrong day.’ I remember that the other teacher has gone to get the headmaster. ‘Oh no I’m so sorry, and now I’ve woken the Kraken and everything!’ I say as I turn and realise Mr Hammond and the other teacher have just arrived and heard everything, including the bit where I refer to the act of fetching him from his office as ‘waking the Kraken’.

He looks knackered and I apologise for dragging him away from his work. The three of them are all extremely good natured and up beat about it, I’d have told me to fuck off! and we laugh and apologise cheerily and McMini and I go away marvelling, in a slightly giggly way, at my complete ineptitude. As I get into the car. McMini says,

‘Mother you swore in front of the teachers, you said ‘shit’ and you called yourself a bell-end in front of Mr Hammond.’

‘Oh dear, did I?’

‘Yes you did! You know in early years, when I said bollocks and I got told off and they asked me where I got it from and I said ‘my mum’ and they didn’t’ believe me?’ he says, reminding me of yet another example of exemplary parenting from my past.

‘Yes I do,’ I reply.

‘Well they know I wasn’t lying now! Because they’ve heard you swearing, so they know it was you and they know you’re a foul-mouthed shrek-lady. They’ve got … what is it when you have loads of evidence?’

‘Hard evidence?’

‘No.’

‘Cast iron proof?’

‘No.’

‘They’ve got me bang to rights?’

‘That’s the one! They now have you bang to rights because they have concrete evidence that you swear in front of me and not just in front of me but in front of the headmaster! They know you are a very bad mother.’

We start laughing about this but I do manage to leave the parking space without beeping the chuffing hooter again and the Disapproving Man has gone from the window so I thank the lord for small mercies.

‘I am a bad mother, but, at the same time, I must be doing something right if I have such a good, well mannered little boy.’ Obviously, I say this in a really syrupy voice, like the Walter the Softee one he does when he calls me ‘mother’.

‘True mother, despite your somewhat idiosyncratic parenting you really have produced a most charming and well behaved child.’

‘Exactly, you hear and see me behaving extremely badly but you don’t, that has to count for something,’ I say. ‘Although, they’ll be wondering back there, won’t they?’

‘Yes, they’ll be saying to each other, “how could such an evil crone produce such a perfect little boy?”’

‘Indeed. Why is he not affected by that potty-mouthed harridan he calls his mother? Mr Hammond has probably had to go and have a lie down.’

‘I bet he does an assembly about it tomorrow, he’ll say McMini is a lovely charming little boy despite the fact his mother is a horrific, sweary, shrek-like crone!’

‘That’s right, he’ll say I’m dirty! A dirty, filthy, vile, morally-dissolute, harridan!’

‘And a shrek!’

‘And a shrek.’

We spend the journey home coming up with more and more colourful adjectives for fictional Mr Hammond to use in assembly while describing my dreadfulness, and shouting them at a higher and higher volume, as if his fictional disapproval is moving from strongly-voiced, through angry to apoplectic.  The incongruity of this, when placed against the actual, real Mr Hammond, who is is the most calm, measured and even-tempered person you could care to meet, is a source of childish amusement to both of us.

We continue randomly shouting pejorative adjectives at one another for several days.

I really should be setting an example.

Yeh but …

Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

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New stuff, has landed! Woot!

So, I have a new release.

Yep. That caught you by surprise didn’t it? It’s a 10k short and it’s in an anthology of other excellent stories for yes, now, once again, ’tis the time of year for Christmas Lites. In this case, Christmas Lites VIII.

You may or may not remember the story behind this because I shared it last year. Splitter, an author friend from way back, found himself in a women’s refuge, dressed as Father Christmas with a bunch of candy canes in a sack. He was supposed to be arriving at the office party but instead, ended up doing the whole Santa malarky where he was and giving the candy canes to the people staying there.

You may also remember how his boss asked him where he’d been and how she then called him into work the next day where he found she had loaded her car with presents and how the two of them went back to the refuge with them the next day.

It’s a brilliant story, it’s human nature at its absolute best, and now every year, a group of authors join together and release a new Christmas Lites anthology to raise money for a charity which helps domestic violence victims, and which, I believe, was the the charity behind that shelter, the NCADV. It’s all the more poignant to the authors involved, now, since Splitter died of cancer a few years back so as well as the charity element there’s a dimension of doing a kindness in memory of a lovely guy. I am incredibly proud to be involved.

I’ve made a page of links to places where you can buy it. Unfortunately, because of the logistics of getting the money made to the charity, the book is only available on Amazon at the moment.  Hopefully that won’t be too much of a pain in the arse for users of other platforms – I can recommend the Kindle app if you have an Amazon account.

Grab your copy of Christmas Lites VIII here.

On other news, I also have stumbled upon a rather excellent give away.

It’s a Strange World Science Fiction

This giveaway is running from 22nd December through to 22nd January. These are authors who’ve written sci-fi books that are planet-based, you know, either future Earth, parallel Earth or different planets in other universes. If you enjoyed my stuff about K’Barth I think you may find some things you like among these too. At the least it has to be a release from Christmas telly and turkey farts!

You can find the books and have a look at what’s on offer by clicking on the picture or clicking on this lovely link here.

That’s about it from me, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas or, if you don’t do Christmas, I hope you had a wonderful whatever it is you do. Incidentally, did you know that the whole thing in America where they can’t say ‘Christmas’ is actually just something that occurred because Happy Holidays catches it all and shops didn’t have to have loads of labels, cards etc printed to mention all the other celebrations around at the same time. Then, in order to disguise their laziness, they pretended it was altruism and said they were doing it not to offend anyone. So now everyone’s up in arms at the liberals when the origin may well be down to Hallmark trying to save printing costs! Mwahahahrgh a little Christmas-tastic trivia for you. Sadly, I have not been able to fact check it, but I am very much enjoying the idea.

Anyway, happy it, whatever it is you do and all the best for a fabulous 2019. Whatever the New Year brings, here’s hoping it’s good.

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Accepting the way dementia transforms someone you love.

It’s been a rough two weeks on the old dears front and now things have settled again, I feel I can talk about it. There is a maze of guilt and awfulness to experience when someone you love gets dementia. It is really hard to watch the pieces of their personality gradually disappearing. I know that Sir Terry saw it as little pieces of himself disappearing forever every day. The trouble is, if you are close to a dementia sufferer then for the sake of the sanity of both of you, you cannot allow yourself to see it like that.

Mum and Dad’s wedding photo. Check out the hands. Hanging onto one another like they never want to let go.

There was a time when I felt that Dad was dead to me. That the person I knew had gone. That made me feel like shit on oh so many levels. Actually, it isn’t true. The person I knew is still there, but parts of his brain have gone. I reasoned it out like this:

If he’d had an accident and become paralysed from the waist down, I wouldn’t write him off because his legs didn’t work. So his brain is stuffed, it’s just a different part of the body, so what was the problem?

Even so, there was a period when I felt that I could never learn to cope with this new stranger in a familiar guise. My dad who wasn’t my dad. There were times when I almost wished he would die, not because I wanted him to but to end his suffering, and ours. I still envy people whose parents die suddenly or after a short illness, but that’s because treating Dad with the dignity and humanity I should takes an exhausting amount of moral fibre, mental stamina and strength of character not to mention time, a commodity of which I have absolutely fuck all! And emotional energy, another commodity of which I have jack shit. I guess there is always going to be the odd day when I wonder what it would be like if I could stop being quite so badly needed and get my life back.

Then I remember what my Dad’s friend Ken said. Ken looked after his wife, Biddie, when she had dementia. He was just lovely with her and she’d wander off, get confused, be unable to work out where she was. Ask where the children were and he’d say, ‘They’re at home, now come along Biddie, it’s quite alright.’ I once told him I thought he was doing a wonderful job and that I thought he was amazing, the way he looked after her, the way he coped with it and that I was in awe of how he did it because I didn’t think I could.

‘It’s an honour. An honour and a privilege,’ he said.

He got emphysema and his son and daughter came to live in, turn and turn about. At one point, before his wife died, he was very sick and was given the last rites. The next morning he felt better and rang the priest to say thank you! Like Mum is doing for Dad, he held on. He survived Biddie, but not for long.

So that’s my motto for when things get difficult. Be like Ken. And it was Ken’s attitude to Biddie that I aim for, that ability to see her as she had always been when, to the rest of us, she seemed have become someone else.

Mental disabilities are hard. People who have cognitive problems, or who say and do inappropriate things can be hard to love. The parameters in which they operate are not the same as ours, so it’s awkward. Connecting is hard. Sometimes, it’s even dangerous. I confess, it’s not great when you consider it a success if you get away with hugging your father without him groping your arse. But the important thing with dementia is not to give up on the person. They’re still in there, they’ve just lost their ability to process the world through memory and all that is left is emotion, so the trick is to keep them feeling emotionally comfortable – yeh, I know, easier said than done.

Dad is not always very nice to people anymore (understatement of the century) when he panics he gets defensive and sweary. He’s particularly bad in the mornings. He’s never been a morning person and actually, I thoroughly sympathise there, because neither have I. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is get up, wash my face and clean my teeth because, even with an electric toothbrush, cleaning my teeth is one of the most boring things in the world and I like to get it over and done with. And this is the thing with Dad. To look after him, we all have to make the links between the extremes in his behaviour to the norms in our own; to understand, to give it a lot of thought.

Despite being a very social animal, Dad also struggles with a busy house first thing, so he’s not great at having visitors to stay. Indeed, the vilest and most horrible I’ve ever seen him was last Chirstmas, when McOther, McMini and I went to stay with Mum and Dad. There’s a hotel just up the road and I think staying in that might be worth a try in future. But at Christmas most hotels have been booked years in advance, or are closed. At Christmas, it will always have to be round theirs.

Some days, Dad is completely switched on. He knows who I am, he remembers how to have a conversation, more to the point, he can follow one. He pauses and listens when others are speaking and chips in with his own comments. Other days, he shouts that no-one’s paying him any attention. That just means that, today, he can’t follow the thread and is feeling a bit frightened and disorientated, or just a bit left out. His reactions are more childlike as new parts of his brain succumb. It can be hard to find Dad in there, beyond all that effing and blinding, throwing things around. Strangely, while in some respects, there is an element of a two year old throwing a tantrum, with much of it, the main gist is seeking reassurance or trying to hurry things up. So he empties out his cup or clears his plate, but he doesn’t realise that scraping the leavings off it onto the drawing room floor is the wrong way to do that. It gets a reaction and gets everyone’s plates cleared so that’s fine by him, he fails to grasp the gap in his logic.

When Dad is like this, it’s really hard to engage. You don’t want to. You withdraw. You cut off contact. You don’t talk to him because it hurts you. Except that makes it worse. I guess the biggest trick is to remember that while he’s behaving badly to get attention, the reason he is vying for that attention is because he needs reassurance. You have to constantly remind yourself of the dementia sufferer’s humanity, even when they seem to be inhuman. If I chat to Dad and give him lots of attention when I arrive, he is happier and I also end up having far more time to talk to Mum.

A couple of years ago, Mum finally got too exhausted to look after Dad and her health broke down. Waking up and talking him to the loo whenever he needed a wee in the night, every night, for fifteen years had finally taken it’s toll. Lack of sleep and the rigours of living with someone who, essentially, needed the kind of vigilance required to look after a two year old is hard enough when you’re young. When you’re 82 it’s a pretty tall order. I remember talking to my brother, and we felt that Dad was dead and all that was left was this weird shouty stranger who was dragging Mum down, sucking out her life, her energy, the joy in her life. My brother wanted to put Dad in a home but Mum said she’d promised she’d never do that and refused. I stood by her because I wanted her to be OK with herself.

Luckily, I don’t feel that way about Dad anymore, but I’d lay bets that feeling is a natural stage in coming to terms with any brain-damaged loved one. So to anyone reading this who feels that way, chill. It’s normal. Likewise, feeling shit about yourself for feeling that way is, undoubtedly, normal as well. And if you work at the way you are thinking about this, analyse why you feel that way and do your best to work out ways to engage with dementia sufferer on their own terms, it will pass.

Dad can’t understand why Mum no longer looks like this.

While putting Dad in a home would, undeniably, be better for Mum’s physical health, it would be disastrous for her mental health and, at the moment, it would be terrible for Dad, too. Maybe further on, when he doesn’t really realise it’s a home he’s in but not now when he is very aware and wants to stay where he is, with Mum. For all that he is ‘engaged’ to one of the carers and two of the young women who work in the pub, there is still a weird habit of love for Mum. He doesn’t realise he’s old, so he can’t quite understand how they are married, but he does understand that he loves her, even if he has difficulty placing how or why. My brother is probably right. Looking after Dad may well be killing Mum, but it’s what she wants to do and it’s her choice. If she stops living life on her terms, or doing whatever she needs to do to be able to look herself in eye in front of the mirror in the morning, that really will kill her.

However, recently, Dad has been doing some very silly things, like throwing himself on the floor and refusing to get up. I worry that he may hurt himself and then Mum’s whole argument – My friend X put her husband in a home and he didn’t last three weeks – goes by the board. Because if he ends up in hospital and then has to just go somewhere where they have a bed, it would be disastrous. So we need to establish a relationship with a home. One where I think he would be happy if he lobbed himself onto the floor and broke his hip, or if something happened to one of the live in carers and he had to go there for respite. So this last couple of weeks, I picked out a home, a really, really lovely place nearby, took Mum and Dad to visit it and put his name down. It will be a while before his name comes up but at least he’s been there now. I was hoping to look at social days there but he realised it was a rest home, so I think we will have to wait and try that again in a month or two. The idea is, that he gets to know a home then, should he need to go into one, it will be a place with which he is familiar.

Going to see Dad and Mum every week does help me to see the dappled light and shade of Dad’s moods. Sometimes he is on amazingly good form and is unmistakeably my father as I knew him, others, not so much. The thing is, as the disease takes more and more of his brain, you have to work harder to engage. I guess I have come to see him as some kind of Dad-shaped enigma, a puzzle that has to be solved. Sometimes he says,

‘I don’t like you Mary.’

When he does this, I rush over to him, fling my arms round him and say,

‘Nooo! You can’t say that Dad! Because I love you!’

He will then hug me back with all his might, laughing with relief, well, we both laugh with relief at that point. It used to hurt me a lot when he did this to start with, until I learned the hug trick. But now I understand that when he says he doesn’t like me, what he’s really saying is that he’s worried that I don’t like him. He has enough emotional intelligence left to know that while bad behaviour gets him the attention, and therefore the reassurance, he craves, it also upsets people. He’s asking for a different kind of reassurance, but in a defensive, spiky way, and when I give it to him, he relaxes and his bad temper fades. But it’s hard and it takes mental energy. And I watch the carers, because they learn these techniques more quickly than I do, so I can see what they’re going that works best and copy. That side of it must be much harder for my brother because all the carers are women, so he has to work out his own path. I don’t envy him.

Sometimes, when you’re caught up in the admin, the things you need to get and do, it’s easy to forget that Mum and Dad are people; to forget the human element of the logistical problem. It’s not always easy to give them the freedom to make decisions for themselves and I often feel caught in the middle, because I think, being further away, my brother takes it harder than me and is more keen to just sort it out, by putting Dad, or both of them, in a home. The gaps between his visits are longer, therefore, the deterioration in Dad is more obvious, Dad’s behaviour is always at its worst, and techniques that my brother has learned, which are successful one visit, may no longer work on the next. Because I’m lucky enough to live nearer, and visit every week, most of the coping strategies will last longer before new ones need to be found.

Despite spitting on the floor, throwing stuff about, making inappropriate comments and loving the F word above all else, there are times when we do get Dad back, even on the bad days. Just pop on a dvd of Dad’s Army and suddenly we are all laughing together, on the same level. Or sometimes, listening to music, looking at something outside, taking him for a walk, talking about my grandparents, he will suddenly light up and tell a funny story and we will all be laughing as if he was fine.

But that’s the thing I need to get my head round, of course. He is fine. I’m the one with the problem. He’s just disabled.

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A family take on remembrance

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to post about our sneaky weekend away to look at the battlefields of the Somme. What better time to do it than today, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War?

It’s complicated, but basically, McOther had two grandfathers on his dad’s side, one who gave him his name and one who is his blood relative. Both are held in love and revered. Name grandfather was injured at the Somme so we went to have a look at where he was. McMini is very keen on flying and aviation, mainly from the Second World War but also from the First World War, especially Baron Von Richoften. So as well as going to see the spot where McOther’s namesake grandfather was shot we thought we’d see if we could find the area where the Red Baron was shot down, too.

McOther’s grandfather was found in no-man’s land by the Germans, with a sizeable head wound, taken to the first aid station and patched up. He had lost almost a third of his brain and was repatriated in a prisoners swap. The Germans, I think it was the Germans, had given him a metal plate in his head. Subsequently, he was paid £200 each year to go up to his nearest teaching hospital – Glasgow, I think – where the metal plate would be removed and eager medial students would crane in to see what a live brain looked like. He made his living on this – it’s the equivalent of … I dunno, about £8.5 – £10k today? As much as some people earned, anyway, and definitely close to a living.

Naturally McOther’s family were very pleased to get their son home with a Blighty wound that would ensure he didn’t have to go back to the front. However, there were hidden aspects of his injury that only became apparent as he grew older. Part of the problem was that the large part of his brain that was lost was to do with maturity and its departure meant that his personal, emotional and mental development stalled; frozen, forever at eighteen, the age he was when he was shot. This wasn’t so noticeable, at first, but as he aged he still behaved like an eighteen year old. As his wife grew older, and her outlook matured, his stood still. He began to find it difficult being married to someone so much older than him. He felt eighteen, he expected his wife to be the same age as him, and, more to the point, look eighteen. This woman was more like his mum. Likewise, McOther’s grandmother began to find the maturity levels of an eighteen year old husband a serious challenge when it came to the responsibilities of being a father and raising children.

I remember one of McOther’s uncles telling me that his father still expected to be as fit as an eighteen year old aged sixty. He would come out cycling with said uncle and his friends and couldn’t comprehend why he wasn’t able to attain the same fitness, stamina and speed levels at the young lads around him. It wasn’t an affectation, he literally, didn’t know or even comprehend that he was older. Unfortunately this caused a bit of tension at home, which is why, eventually, he and McOther’s grandmother divorced and she married again. The children all kept the original family name, including the two sons she had with her second husband. This just goes to show how, on top of the death rate, the mental scars the survivors carried may often have been as significant, if not more so, than any physical injuries they endured.

Thus it was that, a few weekends ago, we went off to France and went to the Somme.  Over the weekend, we looked at Beaumont Hamil which is where McGrandfather’s regiment went over the top and where he was injured, the site of the Red Baron’s death and we visited the Australian Memoral. We also visited one of the best air museums I have ever been to which I’ll have to leave for another post.

Site of Baron Von Richthofen’s death.

The weather was lovely on the first day so first we visited the area where the Red Baron died. There’s not much there. Just a plaque by the side of the road, a bit like Agincourt.

Apparently, shot and mortally wounded as he was, Baron Von Richthofen managed to crashland his plane, clipping a chimney with the wheels as he flew over and landing roughly in a field. This photo shows the chimney on the left hand side. Allied soldiers rushed to the plane and he whispered the word, ‘Kaput,’ slumped over the controls and died.

McMini, who has devoured every piece of literature he can find about the Red Baron, explained that Baron Von Richthofen was one of the true knights of the air, in the tradition of chilvalry, because he was always at pains to stress that his pilots should try to break the opponent’s plane rather than kill the person flying it. I’ve no idea if it’s true, but it sounds plausible. He was buried with full military honours by the allies, anyway and it’s the reason McMini admires him so much.

Afterwards, we stopped in a couple of cemeteries and walked through the graves reading the inscriptions. The thing that always strikes me about these places is the atmosphere of calm and peace. It feels as if these people are, well … if not at rest then, at least, reconciled to their deaths. There is an almost healing intensity to that calm which I can’t really explain but it is special. Some of the families of the fallen had inscriptions put on the headstones. There was a limit to this. Sixty characters, including the spaces. A world of love and grief to express. A life to sum up. Sixty characters to do it in. That’s pared to the bone, raw, sometimes powerful and often moving.

Every war-mongering idiot in charge of a nation should be made to read these before taking office and then one or two every day. Sixty characters may be all they had but, done with feeling, sixty characters is all it takes, trust me.

Perhaps it’s because I’m peri-menopausal, perhaps it’s because, as a mother, I know how much effort and energy it takes to make a life and raise one child, let alone more. Whatever it is, I only need to read a few of these and I’m distinctly moist about the eyes. Linger too long and I’m in danger of bursting into tears and blubbing like a four-star nut-bar. There’s one grave at Beaumont Hamil with an inscription from a wife to her husband which reads something like, ‘Husband, best friend, I loved you in life and I love you still’. I think the guy was about 40 when he was killed. Thinking about it, perhaps I’m not menopausal, because I found that 10 years ago and I cried then. I didn’t find it this time, so I couldn’t check the exact inscription but as we walked about the other cemeteries, I found more. And as it’s the 100 year anniversary of the end of hostilities in the First World War tomorrow, I thought I’d share some of the inscriptions with you.

One of the first things that strikes you, coming to these places, is that people have come from the four corners of the earth to honour their fallen just as those family members travelled thousands of miles to fight, before. Not just in the main memorial areas but in any cemetery you cared to stop at along the road, there were knitted poppies, and even, in one instance, a little knitted flower and Australian flag on one unknown Australian soldier’s grave, which was almost more poignant than if the occupant’s name had been known.

Some inscriptions were religious, ‘he was a good catholic’ one French Canadian grave reads.  Another Australian grave, ‘Christ will clasp the broken chain closed when we meet again.’ Others while grieving, are kind of upbeat, ‘A noble son, a brother kind, a beautiful memory left behind.’ Or on the date of a sargant in the medical corps, who died so tragically late in the conflict; on 1st November, 1918, aged 28, ‘With Christ, which is far better.’ And the strength and raw power of feeling behind the beauty of this one; ‘Still living, still loving, still ours.’

Then there are the stiff upper-lip ones, ‘As a soldier and a man, one of Australia’s best.’ Laid at the grave are two crocheted poppies and a little Australian flag. On the grave of a 20 year old sapper, ‘In memory of our dearly loved son and brother.’ Or on another, ‘Far away but not forgotten, Mother’. Or the one that still makes me cry, ‘In loving memory of my darling son, sleep on in peace dear’. Jeepers. ‘Not dead in hearts left behind.’ Or on the grave of a member of the Gordon Highlanders, ‘One of the best, Drumoak’. And another, a member of the Black Watch, which was McGrandfather’s regiment, ‘Time makes his memory still more dear,’ or on a member of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire regiment, ‘Sleep on, dear son, and take rest.’ On another sapper, a British one this time, the achingly poignant, ‘Only good night beloved, not farewell.’

Then there is the out-and-out anguished, ‘Oh how I miss him, no tongue can tell, the happy face I loved so well,’ or there is, ‘His war is over, his sun is set, but we who loved him can’t forget.’ Or ‘Sleep on dear son in a far off grave. A grave we never see.’ I wonder if they were going to say ‘we’ll never see’ but were left, two characters short. The message comes over well enough without.

Lastly there is the occasional political one, ‘Who lives if Britain dies, who dies if Britain lives.’

Even now, 100 years on, it is incredibly poignant to visit the cemeteries and read the graves. There is a world of grief and love in sixty characters.

Drawing by an Australian solider

 

 

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Updates, ramblings and witterings

Well, it’s prettier than a blue-arsed fly.

Wow! Time seems to have bitten me on the arse this week, my goodness but there’s been a lot for schools to use to torment me by giving me too many things to remember each day get McMini’s teeth into this term. First harvest: collect tinned and dry goods for the local shelter. It’s for people fleeing domestic violence too so toiletries like flannels, bath caps, toothbrushes and toothpaste are appreciated, as well as tampons and lady requisites. McMini, upon discovering a packet of tampons in our bag of stuff, refuses, point blank, to hand it in. Eventually, to spare his blushes, I have to.

Then it’s Halloween, a bit too quickly after our holiday for organisational comfort. I’m still catching up on the post holiday washing and do not have the capacity for pumpkin carving. Although this year it wasn’t me tramping the nearby streets with McMini as he shook down the neighbours for sweets, he went with a friend and the friend’s brave mum!

Having whinged, I quite like carving pumpkins. I was hoping to have a go at edgy political satire and make a Donald Trumpkin this year but alas, my cartoon drawing/cutting skills are not quite up there enough to make a suitably recognisable effort, indeed, the only similarity is the colour which doesn’t show in this photo. This year’s pumpkin crop seems to be particularly dense fleshed and thick skinned. Maybe it’s the heat. Good for cooking I may even make it all into pumpkin soup. But tough to carve. Indeed it took so long that I ran out of time to do the hair. As McMini said, I should have done it with a cheese grater, or a blonde wig. Meanwhile several of the people who saw it thought it was a set of ovaries.

Halloween Trumpkin.

Ooookay … mwahahahahrgh! Moving on then.

When it comes to the stress of life, clearly I’m not the only one affected. McMini’s school meals are all lovely winter warmers this quarter which means many come with sauces or gravy or other things he refuses to eat. As a result it was three packed lunches this week which stretches our supply of suitable receptacles. That meant he had to be sternly warned to bring his lunch bag home with him – otherwise every tupperware box I possess will end up at his school. Bless his little heart, he has managed to remember to bring the lunch stuff home so fair play to him.

However, it appears that, like his mother he is only able to remember a finite number of things to be done before extraneous others start falling off the list.

On Tuesday we cycled to school. McMini is walking some of the way home from school on his own now so as I waited for him at our designated half way point, I saw he was approaching on foot. For a split second I thought that maybe something terrible had happened to his bike. Then I remembered that this is my son, and relaxed.

‘Mum! I’ve remembered my lunch box,’ he said proudly holding out the lunch bag as soon as he was within earshot.
‘Well done mate,’ we high fived. ‘Um just out of interest … where’s your bike?’
‘I forgot it. I was walking down the street and I looked up here and I could see you and I thought, “Why on earth has Mummy come to meet me on her bike?” Then I remembered, I’d left mine at school. I’ll bring it home tomorrow.’
‘Well, Daddy is collecting you tomorrow so-‘
‘Oh yes, he doesn’t have a bike. I’ll bring it home on Thursday then.’

He forgot that, but he did remember the bike albeit on the wrong day. Apparently McOther had to run a bit to keep up but I expect it did him good. McMini is definitely making a concerted effort to remember more stuff though. It’s a bit hit and miss but I know how difficult it is for me so I have to give him kudos for trying.

There’s been another development this week, which is that McMini has discovered the joyous feeling of clean teeth, which is brilliant as instead of my having to force him at gunpoint he now happily cleans them morning and evening. As a child who normally eschews any attempts on my part to instil any sense of cleanliness, whatsoever, this is good news.

However, it has also led to what may well be one of the grossest conversations I have ever had. Yes, last night we had this conversation.

‘Have you cleaned your teeth.’
‘Yes I have. My mouth is lovely. My teeth are all smooth with no bobbly bits.’
‘Yeh, no horrible stuff under your fingernail when you do this,’ MT scrapes fingernail down front tooth.
‘Plaque you mean?’
‘Yes.’
Oh no Mum, plaque is AWESOME!’
‘It is?’ I ask weakly.
‘Yes it tastes just like sweetcorn.’
‘Bleurgh, ugh.’
‘Whereas scabs are like crunchy chicken, unless it’s other people’s scabs. Those are vile, like raw beef or something horrible.’

On the writing side, I have just discovered the gobsmacking truth that I’ve written 131,000 words this year. Clearly there are many people who write that many words a month but I reckon it’s not bad on an average of 10 minutes a day. I’m just tinkering with ideas for another two shorts and the new K’Barthan shorts series will be ready for editing and covers. Hopefully, they should be done for release next year. I’m a bit too concentrating on one thing at the moment, the short that’s turned into a long is taking far too much time, but I am too interested to find out what happens and the scenes that are popping into my head at the moment seem to be mostly related to it. I’m a great believe in doing what comes naturally so that’s where I’ve been concentrating my efforts for the moment. It’s creeping slowly forward but I definitely want to finish something soon so I need to get another short going too. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on progress. In the meantime, for the word nerds among you, I’ve discovered a cracking website.

Have you ever wondered how to pronounce the word ‘gif’? Or what TASER stands for, or why the word ‘laser’ can never be spelled with a Z even in America? If you want to know the answer to these and many other splendidly obscure and trivial word related questions head on over to Emma Wilkin’s Wordy Rambles. It’s funny, too so I promise you will not regret it.

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Aaargh! Am I turning into an adult?

Yep it’s a valid question. I never, ever wanted to become a grown up but it’s one of those unfortunate facts that as we age, the changes are so imperceptible that, for the most part, we fail to notice. That might be why, if you asked me or anyone for that matter, if we feel any different inside now, to the way we did as kids, the answer is likely to be a resounding no. Yet apparently there have been changes – in my case, anyway.

On our way back from Spain we stopped in a rather lovely town called Niort in France where we stumbled on a small gallery, in a lovely old building, displaying a series of photographs documenting a short period of time in the life of a graffiti artist. There were some cracking photos and I actually love a bit of graffiti art, myself. France seems to be particularly good for it, or maybe it’s just that its motorways are; less traffic + less CCTV = more multicoloured letters.

Nice.

Graffiti art in Niort, France.

Anyway, as we went round I pointed out the photos I liked to McMini with my usual enthusiasm. McMini was interested too but seemed slightly bemused. Oh dear and I do so want him to enjoy art because he’s quite good at it.

However, when we got outside we got to the bottom of his bemused attitude. The conversation went like this,

‘Mummy, you don’t really like graffiti art do you?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Really?’
He sounds incredulous.
‘Yeh.’
‘But you’re a grown up. Grown ups should disapprove and be saying, “Those terrible kids what are they up to now?”’
‘Your Mother is not a grown up,’ says McOther.
‘Yes she is!’ says McMini.
‘You think?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ says McMini.
McOther is looking very dubious but with a twinkle at the corner of the eyes because he knows how completely horrified I will be to hear this.
‘Flippin‘eck! I’ve convinced my child I’m an adult!’ I say. ‘How did that happen?’

How indeed?

The idea is, frankly, horrifying! When I was a kid, I never thought my parents disapproved of much, well, no they did but not in a pissy small-minded adult way. They disapproved of bad things like punching people, stealing, bullying, being unkind, hurting animals and stuff like that but they couldn’t give a toss if someone was untidy, had illegible handwriting, was late to things or was, say, gay. At one school I went to there were a couple of girls who made life hell for a lot of people – to the point of giving someone a nervous breakdown – but they had neat handwriting, they were on time for everything and always looked tidy so as far as many of the teachers seemed to be concerned they were paragons of virtue, whereas I was ‘slapdash’ and untidy in my work; well no, actually, I had a form of dyslexia. Looking back on it now, those girls were incredibly unhappy at home and dealt with their unhappiness by spreading it. I suspect the teachers who praised them, who I saw as traitorous and unjust, were merely trying to instil them with some sense of self worth.

Sorry, going off on a tangent there, I guess what I’m saying is that as a child and then a young woman, I loved that my parents totally seemed to get that timeliness, tidiness and conformity, though fine traits sometimes, were worthless if the person displaying them behaves like a piece of shit. Likewise, their complete lack of concern over the sexuality of the people I came into contact with. They probably spotted that my gay friends were gay way before I did and back then in the 1980s any difference in sexuality could be a major stigma even among the supposedly liberal youth, let alone folks of my parents’ generation.

As I grew older and started to do rebellion, it became very obvious that my parents were right behind me and, indeed, that they were a great deal more anarchic, liberal, forgiving, free-thinking and generally open than most of my supposedly avant garde acquaintances. They seemed to revel in eccentricity of character and loved anyone who was prepared to think deeply and challenge the establishment. I remember my father desperately trying to get me to say the word, ‘fuck’ in mixed company because he felt that some of the older people there were rather pompous and deserved a good shock. I suppose he simply approached language, and swear words, with the same lack of prejudice as he approached everything else.

Mum dragged up all sorts of gloriously textured words to replace invective, troglodyte, nit-wit and strewth were some of them. Dad, on the other hand, was an occasional but enthusiastic swearer – usually when he was frustrated or angry, I don’t recall him ever swearing at people. When he mowed the orchard, colliding with the low branches of Every. Single. Tree. He used to eff and blind like the most foul-mouthed squaddie. Mowing sessions were rated on a scale of buggeration, ‘how many buggers was that one, Dad?’ we would ask. He would try to be cross for about a nanosecond and then laugh and say something like,

‘Far too many, and there were a few fucks as well!’

No matter how odd I was considered to be at school, I fitted in at home and surely that’s what good parenting is, isn’t it? Giving your kids somewhere they fit, where it’s OK to be who they are while they try and find out what that is.

When I went to university I desperately tried to persuade my friends to visit me at home for the weekend because if only they would, I knew they would be able to make sense of who I am. Few were brave enough. It was very, very hard to make friends my first year, until someone happened upon the fact I was good at art. Then, suddenly, there was a new box to put me in. I was no longer a southerner (and therefore scum) I was ‘the artist’ and all was fine from there on in.

Always, I have hoped that if I had children of my own I would be like my parents, which is why the idea that McMini thinks I’m a grown up is so alarming. Have I officially Lost My Sense of Humour? Have I Become Set In My Ways? Have I started to believe I’m right about everything? I hope not. As a woman of faith, my politics seem to be moving further and further left as the mainstream moves further right so maybe it’s OK. Maybe there’s hope for me.

The fact my friends weren’t as anarchic my actual parents was a terrible disappointment to me as a youngster. If I’ve turned into one of those normal bastards, at least I’ll spare McMini that. It’s awful having to bite your tongue with people your own age because they tell you off for swearing or mentioning periods, admitting to a fart, or whatever, as if they’re anally retentive prudish pensioners (except both sets of my grandparents were similar to my parents). Seriously, though, teenagers trying to be grown up can be so fucking prissy. Actually, anyone who feels they have to try and act like a grown up can be is pretty fucking prissy. That’s why the thought that responsible adulthood might have crept up on me fills me with such despond.

As a kid, I rebelled against the Draco Malfoys of my school life who despised me because, among other things, I wasn’t attempting to get my end away with every male who crossed my path. But to me, boys weren’t the complex mystery they saw. Living with a brother and in close proximity to 500 of the buggers does that to a girl. Looking back, I suspect the real reason they hated me was because I was happy and they weren’t but they couldn’t articulate it, or perhaps the failure of their sporadic efforts to be nice to me so I would invite them home and give them a pop at those 500 boys was part of the problem too. The official reasons they gave for hating me were very faux, things like my being too posh or not posh enough, or ‘so immature’ (ie having a sense of humour). Deep down we all knew that the hatred was irrational and the excuses fake. Nothing like someone giving you shit because they want to and then trying to pretend there’s a logical reason to make you start questioning the status quo.

But McMini isn’t bullied, thank heavens. And I hope he never will be. There are no Dracos for him but that means that when the time comes to rebel he may well rebel against me. I am, kind of, braced for this but I’m still not sure how I’ll go about empathising. Will I be able to? Will I just become entrenched in my position, be Eddie to his Saffie?

Throughout my school and working life, barring a couple of notable exemptions, I have always been lumbered with a someone who decides, upon meeting me for the first time, that their raison d’etre from now on will be to make my life a misery. I seem to have something in me that enrages total and complete bastards to the point of mania and while on occasion, I feel smug at being able to piss off the small and petty minded so comprehensively, it can be hard going. What a relief it was to give up work and step out of all that and, for the first time in my life be bastard free!

But now I wonder, have these recent, glorious years without my own personal nemesis corrupted me? Am I like Lister in Red Dwarf? When he complains that Holly has brought back Rimmer, his arch enemy, and not one of his friends, he is told it’s because Rimmer is the crew member most likely to keep him sane. Do I need a total wanker in my life to keep me on the straight and narrow? Have I gone normal in these glorious tosser-free years? Or is it simply that I lack the strength of character to have that open-minded, easy going confidence of my parents?

I hope I will be the kind of parent to McMini that I had. I hope that when I’m in my 80s, I’ll be as anarchic as my Mum and that McMini, in turn, will be the same in his 80s. I hope I’ll always be able to grow and think and adapt my view. I hope I never lose that curiosity of viewpoint that my parents still have, even now. To give you an example:

My mother was a debutant, she’s had dinner on the Royal Yachet while The Queen was still living there. Twice. But she’s fully convinced socialist. She thinks that ideally we would just pass a law to re-nationalise the railways, power infrastructure, the lot of it, and then have it run by people who knew what they were doing (which is many of the folks there now) and who could tell the government what dividend it was going to have each year so they could invest properly in the infrastructure as needed, rather than having to stand and watch their companies being bled dry.

She thinks that MPs are never going to go after people like Google to collect the proper amount of tax, partly because … lawyers … and partly because unlike the Victorian times the Conservatives so espouse, rich people these days ‘have no proper religion so they don’t know how to behave. They have no compassion, they’re not going to set up the Joseph Rowantree Foundation, or build Port Sunlight. Those days are gone.’ But mostly she believes the Googles of this world will always escape tax because this country is still run by the 200 most intelligent people in each year at Oxford and Cambridge, no matter what the social background from whence they come, and so the UK branches of these companies are run by folks with whom many of our politicians are friends.

‘It’s awfully hard to have dinner with someone one night and send his company a writ the next morning,’ she says.

She’s right, of course, it is, and just as much if you’ve come up from the gutter and want to maintain your status as if you’re a weak-willed trustafarian. And principles only get you into trouble. After all, look what happened to St Thomas A Becket. The politicians will be looking to their post political careers, speaking, being on boards … none of that’s going to happen if they go round clobbering their future employers. Mum agrees this is bad but thinks it’s human nature and that the state needs to accept the humanity of its elected servants and find ways to earn money through something other than the taxes people like Boris and Rhees Mogg will have neither the balls nor the inclination to collect.

‘We should feel sorry for them really, they can’t help it, they haven’t a clue how to behave,’ she says with sweeping disdain.

So if some utilities etc were state run, PROPERLY, I might add, Mum thinks we’d have more money to give to the NHS.

It’s a bit of a cop out, she admits, because like me, she thinks that the government should go after people like Google for the tax they owe. After all, by paying their employees so little that they can’t survive, people like Jeff Bezos are, basically, taxing the rest of us. Buy your goods for less on Amazon but pay an extra £5.00 a week on stuff for the food bank their zero hours, underpaid employees have to use. Oh and some extra tax, because you’d better believe the government will collect yours, the poorer you are, the more heavy handed they will be because they know they’ll get it – you can’t afford to fight back. But they collect the tax so that they have the money to run the state services Jeff’s stressed employees will need to use when their worry and over work have made them ill. And now we’re coming out of Europe, of course, it will be even easier for Jeff and his friends to screw their employees over because our compassionate conservative government will get rid of all that annoying red-tape-shaped employment law.

Will I be as anarchic as that when I’m 85? Will McMini have parents like I did? I really, really hope so.

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This week, I have been mostly … writing.

Wow MTM has finished another short! Shock horror!

A while ago you may remember I talked about an anthology I was involved in called Christmas Lites. The deadline for the next one is looming for August and I want to write something bespoke for this year’s. I sat down to try and do something on 27th June and this last Thursday, I finished the result. Except the maximum is ten thousand words, which I aimed for, like a fool, so it’s now too long dammit; about thirteen thousand. That is exactly what happened last time I tried to write a ten thousand word short. Actually thinking about it I’m pretty sure that one ended up at about seventeen thousand words. You’d have thought I’d have worked it out by now wouldn’t you? but no. Doh.

Anyway, I started on a different short for Christmas Lites yesterday and this time I’m aiming for seven thousand words on the premise that I should end up with about nine if I do that.

The shorts are just one of the many things I’m working on in my new, always have something to write that suits your mood, technique. I sweated blood over the K’Barthan Series and I can’t bring myself to sell those books for $2.99 a pop – not in the volume they sell at because I reckon if you’re going to sell one book a month, you need to crank up the price and make more cash on each sale.

The shorts, on the other hand, are meant to be a bit cheaper so it’s not quite such a gamble to try the longer books, the K’Barthan ones at any rate. So far, the ones that actually are short are all about the male lead in the K’Barthan Series and they are episodes from his life on the run before the events in the series start, although I have one in mind about after the series, but it’s a massive spoiler for anyone who reads it by mistake first so I may just write it and make it into exclusive fan content or something. Obviously, the short series involve some of the other characters who appear in the books as well, like Big Merv, Gladys, Ada and Their Trev and so on. Although sadly, as Ruth’s in London being a normal human being at this point, I can’t really do any about her.

My cunning plan was to write five or six of them and then sell them at $1.25 a pop to introduce the characters to readers. This has, sort of, worked, except that the one I started on at the request of the late, great Kate Jackson – who some of you will know – is now at 60k and promising to turn into the usual MTM 140k behemoth. So that’s something I’m working on, along with Space Dustmen and Tripwires (the non fiction thing).

But the point of the shorts was that they are, by their very definition, less complicated, so they take less mental capacity at a period in my life when my grey matter is sub par a lot of the time. They’re also good because if I only have an hour to write in, it’s not going to take me that entire time catching up, and they tie in with my new writing regimen, which is to attempt to write for ten minutes every day (it often turns into more but on days when I’m struggling, I can usually manage to squeeze ten minutes in somewhere and that makes it easier to keep track on where things are going and it makes it easier for me to feel good about myself because I’ve ‘done writing’ and kept things moving).

All in all, this month, things are looking good. My social media presence is dropping, I haven’t run an ad for a sod of a long time and my mailings are all going out late but I have something to show for it; another complete work of fiction, which means I now have two in the bag, and with the Christmas Lites one, it’ll be three. Woot.

Batching editing, covers etc of all five or six will help me to keep production prices down, especially on the cover art work, which I’m hoping to sort in a way that makes it useable for ads and publicity and stuff like that. However, I appreciate it is a pain in the arse from my readers’ point of view. Sure they’ve been waiting three years for me to release a new book and they’re probably used to it by now but even so. It’s a long time. Which is why I’m a bit nervous and sweaty today as I’ve decided to do something unusual and share some.

CAVEAT: This is extremely raw unedited shizz.

Here’s the link: http://www.hamgee.co.uk/shortexcerpt.html

Enjoy.

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