Tag Archives: writer mum

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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Uh oh. The Chaos Fairies are back …

Blimey, it’s been all go this week. Last night McCat caught sight of another cat in the garden and went nuts, I was alerted by the sound of a plant being knocked from a windowsill. Things  went downhill from there, with McCat moving to the cat flap. He smashed it two weeks ago trying to get at this cat – then it was the extraordinary growling and yelling noises he was making that alerted me to the problem. Last night he ran from the conservatory when I arrived, and the cat outside fled, too. McCat tore after him through the kitchen, with Strange Cat taking the parallel path outside. McCat had already started on the cat flap by the time I got there. In a few short seconds, he bent and broke my fabulous framer’s tape mend and got half the casing off the front.

Mended cat flap. Note my blood all over the surround on the right hand side. Mmm nice.

When I grabbed him and hauled him away, I caught a claw up the side of one finger and began to bleed profusely all over everywhere.

McCat kept going back, all the while howling in impotent fury, and I kept dragging him away and trying to lock him in the utility room, where he sleeps. But I couldn’t get out of the door quickly enough and he was getting back out with me every time. It was like some comedy parody of a night club punch up with the fighters, shouting,

‘I’ll kill you, you bastard! I’ll kill you!’ While the girls scream and their drunken friends try to drag them apart shouting,

‘Leave it mate, leave it. He ain’t worth it.’

And all that malarky.

Eventually I managed to persuade McCat to stay in the utility room long enough for me to shut the door by the time honoured method of bribing him with food. Then I sellotaped a magazine over the cat flap and let him out into the kitchen for a quick cuddle before both of us, and McOther, went to bed for the night. This morning I bought a new cat flap just in case but I think I have managed to get away with fixing up the old one again. Still, the new one will come in handy if we want to do something like say, sell the house, for example.

Then I came to use a voucher some kind friends had bought me last year, to have a go in a flotation tank. It was fab, however, while I was drying my hair afterwards, there was a kind of thump and I found the lady in charge of the tanks, so to speak, in a bad way on the floor. She was feeling sick and dizzy, which I recognised as shock. Nurse MTM (phnark) proscribed deep breaths and that she should take her time before getting up. She said she heard something click and I suspect she’d either cracked her collarbone or knackered some shoulder ligaments. She thought she was fine. I didn’t. Her shock symptoms were very similar to those displayed by my sister in-law when she fell down my parents’ stairs and broke her ankle. So I suspect there was a fair bit of pain.

It was a while before I felt she was OK to leave but when I could I went and got someone to come and help her. Then when she, and they assured me she would be alright if she just sat outside in the garden on a bench, I left, which involved going through several security doors to reception, where I realised I’d left my coat. So then I had to get someone to come and let me back in through all the security doors to pick it up again. I never found out how much it would be to float again, but it was a very pleasant experience so I think I will at some point, when I have the time.

On a different note …

Slugs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails …

Yes, I can confirm this actually is be what little boys are made of. It’s high time you heard some more instalments of McMini. Just because I haven’t had time to put them up here, it doesn’t mean his eccentricity has abated in any way, nor his ability to negotiate, at length, over everything, or that he has become any less disgusting.

Despite being the prime male in the house McOther is the least gross of all of us, while McMini, at the top of the vile-o-metre, way outstrips anything I can even imagine for grossness if only for his approach to personal hygiene (and that approach goes like this: Why?’) while I come in a very creditable second for grossness, but nowhere near his epic yukkiness on the personal hygiene front, I’m pleased to say. Even the cat comes ahead of McOther as he proved the other night, as he sat on my lap, by actually lifting himself a little and then releasing the most abominable fart on earth. But I digress we were talking about, McMini. First, here’s what we are up against negotiation-wise.

Let the negotiations commence …

Points for lateral thought.

The other day, McOther found McMini reading in bed at stupid o’clock at night. He laid down a firm diktat that McMini must not read in bed. The next night, at about half past ten, McOther and I came to bed only to discover McMini on the lavatory, reading.

‘What are you doing? It’s way past your bed time!’ wailed McOther in despair.

‘You said I couldn’t read in bed, but you said nothing about reading in the loo,’ said McMini.

Unbounded vileness; gross factor nine million.

Then there’s this … conversation late at night when we had said good night and were just about to turn his light out and go downstairs for an hour or two of crap TV.

‘Dad, can I go downstairs and get my penknife?’
‘Why?’
‘Because I want to cut my toenails and eat them.’
Mummy shudders, ‘Ug. I thought you bit them off and ate them.’
‘I did but I can’t do that anymore. I’m not so bendy as I was.’
‘Well, you can have it tomorrow morning. You can cut your nails and eat all the toenails you like,’ Arnold’s bottom! Am I really saying this? ‘before I drag you to church.’
‘Yes,’ McOther chips in, ‘You can have a whole bunch of crispy toenails.’
‘I can’t eat toenails in the morning. I will need something much more substantial! Toenails are an evening snack.’
McMini then proceeds to bite his own big toe nail by way of demonstration.
‘Look mummy! I can do it after all.’
‘Ug,’ says McOther and wisely, he leaves.
‘Mmm yummy!’ says McMini.
‘Surely it’s cheesy if it’s off your feet.’ I say. McMini doesn’t like cheese.
‘Not really. The nails are crunchy, the toe jam can be a bit cheesy sometimes.’
‘You eat toe jam!?’
‘Of course.’
‘And when you say “toe jam,” you really mean toe jam? You know those little cheesy bits under the corner of your toenails.’
‘Yes it’s delicious,’ picks a bit off and eats it. ‘Mmm lemony. Hey Mum, do you remember when you used to cut your toe nails and I grabbed them and ate them*.’
‘I am really, really trying to forget that.’

* I’m afraid this is true he really did grab my toenail clippings and eat it. It’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen anyone do.

The bonus …

So on one level, my boy probably needs Special Help. On the other, we were playing Monopoly last night which involves sitting on the floor. I am not at home on the floor anymore, pretty much any position I can think of hurts my knees. McMini looked at me thoughtfully for a moment.

‘Mummy, you’re not comfortable there, are you?’
‘No, not really but it’s not too bad.’
‘Hang on.’

He ran upstairs to his bedroom and came back with a pillow.

‘Here you are Mummy,’ he handed me the pillow. ‘That should be more comfy.’ I thanked him and he went and sat down.

I cling to the fact that McMini may be quite eccentric, he may have difficulty remembering what day of the week it is, when his home work is due, about that thing he was supposed to bring into school for science, etc and he may be pathologically unable to tidy his room. Ever. He may keep wiping his nose on his shirt even though he’s been told it’s not OK and he may have some weird idea – like James Hunt – that smelling rank is a good thing. But he is thoughtful and he is kind and I guess if he takes care of those two, the rest is gravy.

_____________________________________________

And finally … something completely different.

Yep, if things are a bit chaotic down your way, never fear. I can thoroughly recommend the use of a humorous book to take your mind off it, or cheer yourself up.

Mission Improbable, by my cyber author buddy J J Green is still on sale for a hugely cost effective 99c. If you think it sounds interesting you can find links to grab it from most major retailers here.

Meanwhile, my first in series, Few Are Chosen, is also 99c at the moment so if you want to give some of my stuff a whirl you can find out about that on a similar page, with links to the major retailers (and an offer) here.  You can also discover more about each book by clicking the cover pictures.

 

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Gumbification is the name of the game: the capriciousness of science, things and me.

Yes, I have been on holiday! Woot.

Apologies for my absence last week. Though on holiday I was writing and meant to sort out a blog post while the others were skiing but I got too into what I was doing and dismally failed to leave enough time. Which reminds me the final score for that week’s writing was 7,570. Dead chuffed with this as I had to integrate enough exercise into my day to be able to eat as much as everyone else and there were usually things I had to pop down to town and get as well. Walking was very enjoyable but fuck me it hurts. I was so delighted to get home and tackle the hill up to town on a bike instead of my creaky knees. Pain aside though, walking was lovely as not only was the countryside stunningly beautiful but for some reason, I find there is something intrinsically humorous about snow.

Mmm … cheescake anyone?

Interestingly, when you go up a mountain, science tells you that the air pressure around you will not be as high but apart from seeing a slightly elevated heart rate, perhaps, your imagination doesn’t really furnish you with the full implications of what this might mean. Not until you open a bottle of shampoo. Then a practical demonstration will soon put you right.

The thing is, obviously, it’s logical that something which has the same amount of air per cubic inch inside as outside down in the valley is suddenly something with a far higher amount of air per cubic inch inside, than outside, when you go up to an area where there’s lower air pressure. And that only means one thing. The air inside is going to leave very quickly when you open the lid and if there is something between the air and the lid, that’s going to be pushed out with the air, and it will also be leaving the bottle very fast.

Thus it was that our packet of almond biscuits – newly purchased in the valley – ended up looking like a mini zepplin by the time we’d got it up to our apartment nearer the top of the mountain. I also forget to shake down my half full tube of hand cream, which exploded out of the tube when I popped the lid, depositing a neat white worm on the wall near me, my shampoo, suncream and toothpaste all reinforced this lesson (I’m a slow learner it seems) and yes, I was also foolish enough to open a brand new tube of echzema cream for my son which went off like one of those indoor fireworks that ends up looking like a huge silver poo.

Luckily, there is not photographic evidence of this. You’ll just have to take my word for it that I’m as stupid as I say, but I do have a picture of how the empty water bottle I’d closed up at the top of the mountain looked when we got back into the valley. Just shows you how rarefied the air was up there. Not as much inside as outside, you see.

Mmm … pressure inside and outside no longer equal.

Even the ever-efficient McOther didn’t escape gumbification of his own making. We always play scrabble while we’re on holiday. It’s great fun and we all get the giggles most of the time. Imagine McOther’s consternation when he opened our splendid car boot sale travel scrabble – probably circa about 1967 – only to find that somewhere on its way from his desk to his suitcase the bag with all the tiles in had dropped out. Our first game, then, was called ‘making the tiles’ which we did with paper, snortle. Then there was an added frisson of what would happen if anyone sighed too heavily towards the board or, heaven forfend, sneezed! We did have to remake an R after I laughed too hard, sending the ’tiles’ scattering like confetti, and we were unable to find it afterwards.

Paper travel scrabble. Mmm ritzy.

Our fantastic paper tiles, demonstrated is the characteristically excellent hand I drew in one game although for once this was not the norm.

Having taken the piss out of McOther, now, clearly I have to do so about myself ‘for balance’. Here, then, is something that happened the week before we left.

In my town, everyone’s as skint as the rest of the country, ten years ago, when we moved here, there were lots of houses for sale on our street. Then the economy went down the lavatory and most things over two bedrooms and pretty much everything over three bedrooms went off the market over night. It seemed that everyone who was going to move tightened their belts and decided not to. Instead they started converting lofts, cellars, out door sculleries, they started building on, building sheds … you name it they’re doing it. The net result is that there is never a shortage of skips.

As a keen skip shopper I find this rather splendid. OK so I missed three bicycles the other week – not good bikes but I could still have ‘downloaded them’ checked them over and flogged them for £20. However, they were gone by the time I’d returned from the school run. On the up side, at least I know somebody else took them and is either cycling happily or made a few quid.

Then there’s the useful things like boxes and drawers, c.f. my sad tale the other week about locking myself out and having to use a discarded kitchen drawer to gain the height required to lean over the back gate and open it so I could get in and retrieve my keys from where I’d left them in the garden.

There has been one particularly useful skip near us, literally at the end of our road, 20 metres or less from our house. It’s been useful for the plethora of lovely stuff within – cf the bikes but also some new skirting board for our bathroom – and of course it’s also very handy for putting things in. It is intriguing watching a skip, seeing what appears and what disappears especially a long term one. There is definitely a thriving up and down-cycling economy here.

Anyway, the other day, I saw the skip had been emptied and a new one had arrived. I had a peek in the bottom and there I saw a wine rack. A 25 bottle wine rack no less. McOther has a large cellar and wine racks are always greeted with enthusiasm. So I picked the wine rack out of the skip and took it round to our back gate. When I’d unlocked, I picked up the wine rack and realised there was a lot of dust under it.

Hmmm, I thought.

I checked it more closely and … yes … it had woodworm. Then again, I had some treatment for woodworm so I could treat the wood, I reasoned and then give it to McOther. After all we’d discussed, only a few days previously, how sad it was that one of his racks had woodworm and decided that it wasn’t worth treating. If I fixed up this new one, it might be a nice surprise.

But realistically, could I be arsed to treat it?

No.

Accepting this, I picked it up, took it back to the skip and put it in again.

However, it did prompt me to remove a wickerwork chest of drawers from our utility room which has been sitting in a pile of tell-tale dust for some time and treat that for woodworm.

When McOther came home, the skip was full and I told him about the wine rack.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘you know that one we were talking about the other day?’

‘The one of yours?’

‘Yes. That one. Well, I threw it in the skip.’

‘So … you mean I nearly rescued our wine rack?’

‘Yes dear.’

I was quite glad that I hadn’t brought him his own wine rack back. I’d have looked a bit of a chump. As for the chest of drawers, on reflection we decided that despite being treated it had reached the stage where there was more air than wood and we decided to bin it. I forgot to put it out in the skip at night so whizzed round and dumped it in on the way to school with McMini. By the time I returned from the school run the skip had gone. It hasn’t been back since.

That’s the logic of MTM then, bin something I find in a skip because I can’t be arsed to treat it for wood worm – something which is ours, anyway and which I put back because I can’t be arsed to treat it for woodworm twice – then spend hours treating something else for woodworm only to throw it in a skip.

That is illogical, Captain.

Ho hum.

My best eyebomb ever … probably

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Toboggan update, a war story and McMini versus Alexa.

It’s been a busy week this week. McMini is due to go on a school trip which involves two nights away. I have therefore been spending most of the week with a list of required clothing working out which items we have and buying the ones we don’t have. Pretty much all of them.

In order to try and train McCat out of some of his many behavioural problems, I have bought a thing that senses when he goes near the bin to flip the lid off and search for scraps and squirts a jet of air. Unfortunately, though this is working, the people who set it off 99.99999999% of the time are McMini and McOther.

It’s nearly run out already and judging by the cost of the refills it’s actual solid gold in there rather than the air the makers claim, or it’s liquidised diamonds or something. I thought one would do but with my menfolk, no chance, it’ll be hard put to last the week.

I also bought a static electric mat. Unfortunately it comes with no meaningful instructions. I think I switched it on but after an hour it started beeping and the battery died. I haven’t tried it since.

Ho hum … a partial success then.

Sadly, I also jinxed any chance of tobogganing joy this weekend by retrieving the one I had as a kid from Mum and Dad’s, barn, washing the mouse and spider pooh off it, along with the yucky, knackered crispy wood louse carapaces left by the spiders, and bringing it home. Turns out it’s a bit older than I thought as it’s a Flexible Flyer No 1.

It looks as if it may be Great Grandpa’s rather than Granny’s. Luckily, I don’t think that makes it any more valuable, so it’s still worth the same as a modern replacement, which means we can use it. Oh yeh.

Except for that bit about the jinxing. Yes, now that we have a slightly more McMini-friendly toboggan, we have had the usual boring Bury St Edmunds snow: chuffing cold, snows all day but doesn’t sit. Seriously I have no idea how it can be this fucking cold and still melt. It’s a bastard miracle. Climatologists should look into it because frankly, I reckon there’s something going on. Also, I’m getting a bit bored of being cold. I wish it would either snow properly or just piss off. It’ll probably snow properly tomorrow when I’m at my club dig out in the country at the bottom of a hill (note to self, take a tow rope).

Also this week, I went with Mum to the funeral of a lovely lady who used to go to their church. The chap doing the eulogy told a splendid story this lady used to tell about the time a ME109 was brought down on the Downs near Steyning.

The word spread like wild fire and everyone armed themselves with pitchforks, kitchen knives, pickaxe handles etc and went off to capture the pilot. Meanwhile, the gentleman in question unwittingly evaded capture and was discovered wandering local lanes by someone taking an afternoon constitutional, someone who was unaware that a dangerous armed enemy was on the loose. The pilot asked, politely, if they could tell him the way to the local police station. Unaware of the posse the other side of the Downs looking for him, he then calmly followed the directions he’d been given and handed himself in. Stories like these say so much about human nature.

In a bid to keep the screen time to quality time, I have given up doing the social media stuff in the evening in front of the telly in favour of knitting. I now have seven pairs of socks – and I’ve only shrunk two pairs so far – along with a smaller pair for McMini, and a pussy hat – but in red and light pink because militant use of pink is vile and gives me the boke.

Meanwhile McOther has purchased an Alexa. It’s quite good but not able to answer many questions. For example, I asked it how to make pasta the other day … about seventy times.

Try as I might I couldn’t get it to understand that I wanted it to make actual pasta, not a pasta dish. It came up with a whole variety of pasta dishes but not the ration of eggs to flour I required to knock up a few sheets of lasagne. It was like …

‘Alexa, can you give me the recipe for pasta.’
‘I found this recipe for pasta with meatballs on Recepidia.’
‘No, stop Alexa. I meant the actual pasta.’
‘I found this recipe for beef ragu with fusilli.’
‘Stop Alexa, please. OK, Alexa, if I have some flour and an egg and I’m Italian what can I make?’
‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that.’
‘Jeez …’ Recording of dull thudding sound made by MTM’s head beating against the kitchen work surface, ‘I just want to make a lasagne sheet, Alexa.’
‘Lasagne is a dish comprising tomatoes, bechamel sauce and-‘
‘Alexa stop. What are the ratios of egg to flour I need to make pasta.’
‘I found this great recipe on Recipedia for egg and spinach-‘
‘NO! Alexa STOP! Don’t they have the recipe for pasta on Recipedia?’
‘There’s a recipe for salmon and seafood with pasta shells, difficulty level, easy on Recipedia-‘
‘Alexa STOP! For the love of God, or I shall do you an injury.’

And so on ad infinitum. Alexa stores all these exchanges on an app on McOther’s iPad. I think he enjoyed reading that one.

This morning, I overhead McMini talking to it.

‘Alexa can you set a timer for cheese?’
‘I’m sorry I do not understand your question.’
‘Oh. OK. Alexa, set a timer for seven years.’
‘I’m sorry I can only set a timer for a time within the next 24 hours.’
‘Hmm … OK. Alexa, set a timer for seven hours.’

It might be sensible to occasionally say, ‘Alexa, stop timer,’ to it I think. Just in case.

In next week’s post I’ll be talking shop. I’m giving a talk called, ‘Real Life is underrated. Using mundane events to fuel your writing mojo,’ and since it’s 1,200 words long, I thought I’d reproduce it here, for your delectation, as I deliver it. And also because I’ll be actually doing the talk at the time, so I won’t be here to write a blog post … so … until next week!

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