Tag Archives: writer parent

Evaluation is the name of the game … or is it just spin? Some career decisions

Have you ever had one of those days when the cold hard truth hits you right between the eyes? Yeh, well, I’ve been having a bit of a wake up for some time now but last week the shit hit the fan. Then, a comment from one of you lovely peps made me think, a lot. More on that story … later.

There is a nagging worry, in the back of my mind, that I’ve come over as a bit maudlin recently. It’s not my intention and I am basically happy but I have realised something about what I thought was my current, temporary, state of affairs. It’s not temporary. In fact, while there may well be different people involved, I’m probably looking down the barrel of the rest of my life.

This raises an issue.

Some days I feel a bit like this.

Some days I feel a bit like this.

Like everyone, I want to be a good mother and wife and a kind and dutiful daughter. However, if I’m going to be those things to any effect, I must ensure that I also have an identity and a life beyond them – even if there’s only time for it in a low key way, it has to be there. My problem is that with the way things are now, I can’t do all those things at the same time. Not to the levels I have set myself. I have to lower my sights. And I have to accept some home truths.

  1. If I am unhappy and unfulfilled I am crap company.
  2. To be happy and fulfilled I have to like myself.
  3. In order to like myself, there are certain commitments and duties to others that I am required to perform.
  4. It is essential that I am a sane, level-headed and likeable human being.
  5. There is a certain amount of me time, and sense of having my own life that is required for me to be a sane and likeable human being. There has to be space for things that aren’t my duty: interests hobbies and yes, my job.
  6. My duty is taking too much space for the career plan I have followed up to now and that is making me frustrated and irritable.
  7. The duty can’t be shirked although it can be streamlined a bit if I can get myself to relax and reduce tension levels enough to increase my efficiency … or just achieve anything approaching efficiency, full stop.
  8. The career plan therefore has to give, or at least be altered to one that’s achievable.

In short, I have to re-establish the illusion that I am in control of anything beyond my reaction to events (even if it’s not true).

The fact is, sitting in hospital with my mum on Sunday was one of the most harrowing things I’ve done. She clearly felt terrible, she was unable to speak – or at least unable to say the words she was thinking after the first few minutes awake. And I didn’t want her to suffer, but I didn’t want her to leave me. I knew she would, most likely, be fine in a few days but even so, bringing in the DNR notice for them to see was difficult.

She’s a lot better, and though she’s still in hospital it is mainly because the Social Worker can’t see her to evaluate her until Monday and I haven’t the stamina to get her home and then try and organise that on my own right now. And I think she needs evaluated.

So all this stuff, all the administrivia that surrounds looking after Mum and Dad; dealing with the NHS, the social, their finance people, their carers, their bank, their utility companies, the folks who deliver their milk … all of it takes time. On top of that, watching my parents suffer takes emotional stamina and energy. My concentration span is drastically reduced, and my frustration at the way every tiny task seems to mushroom into a Herculean labour, normally through my own stupidity or forgetfulness, means my default state is one of intense frustration. My anger-o-meter is always at the red end of the dial, even though I am, essentially, happy.

Other days I feel more like this.

Other days I feel more like this.

On top of that, I’m a mum. For those of you who haven’t had kids, having a child is like having your brain stirred, constantly, with a huge wooden spoon – especially if your kid is as adept at mental par cour as McMini. It’s wonderful but it coddles your thoughts. And while I can express the frustration I feel about my life to him, through the medium of humour usually, I must be careful I don’t unwittingly take it out on him in other ways. And sometimes I know the anger is in my voice, anger that has nothing to do with him, and I have to reassure him that if I sound angry, it’s just frustration with other things, and not his fault.

The net result for me, is that I feel as if I am clinging onto my own identity by my fingertips. That I am little more than a kite buffeted back and forth in the air currents of other people’s neediness. This is not a good place for anyone long term. I have to look after my parents. I can’t not. I have to look after my son. I can’t not. But I also have to find some way, among that, of looking after me. Because if I go down, they all do. And that won’t help anyone.

So, apart from running away from my life and never coming back (not an option) how do I sort this out?

Well, the writer bit of my brain that is bored stupid with Real Life and wandering off is still well and truly with me, but as careers go, my authorly efforts are not going that well.

Basically, I thought that with each book I wrote I’d make roughly the same amount of cash. However, I seem to have plateaued at the K’Barthan Series. After I’d finished the four K’Barthan novels I really needed something straightforward so I wrote a stand alone, Escape From B-Movie Hell. It bombed. I naively thought that everyone who read and enjoyed my four other novels would automatically think, ‘Yeh, I’ll buy this one.’ They didn’t. To be honest, I think I’ve sold less copies of Escape this year than I sold of K’Barthan 3 or 4 in my worst month. Therefore, since 2015 I’ve been kind of stuck in a rut going nowhere, a four book wonder, because in real terms, for all it’s done, I might as well have sat on my arse from July 2014 through to December 2015 and not have written the fifth book. It’s a pity as I had a gas writing Escape and I love the results. I just re-read it, it’s far and away my best book yet but the market begs to differ.

Thus, I have learned that new stuff is not working, and that I can’t afford to take 18 months writing a book which doesn’t work. And THAT means … well, it means I have to make a plan. Also because my periods of writing time are shorter and less frequent, I take a greater proportion of the hours available getting back into the plot of a big complicated book, slowing it all up even more. So, here’s what I’m thinking …

Though my brain is desperate for the regular escapes from Real Life that only writing can deliver, it is in a state of permanent mental exhaustion.  That makes the risk of burnout omnipresent. Full length novels are tricky and another series like the K’Barthan Series will be extremely difficult.  Scratch 6 years for a four book series, in MTM’s new reality we’re looking at a minimum of 15. That’s a long time to wait before I have another two or three books that my readers – or possibly a new group of readers who like that series – want.

However, I need to achieve stuff outside the care zone. My brain needs to write, for sure, and it needs to see projects start and evolve and finish so I can earn enough to pay for my mailing list and the production of new books. For that to happen, with the hampered state of my mental capacities right now, I need to write is something simpler or shorter. So that’s what I will do; write shorter, less complicated books, which I will sell for a cheaper price. And they’ll be about K’Barth. The stories will tie in with the big books and when there are enough, I will have one of the 20k books permanently free, give one or two of the others to folks who’ve signed up to my mailing list and charge real money for the 100k plus behemoths.

Two cyber buddies in writing in my genre started producing short stories as well as novels last year and I have been watching their results with interest. One’s publisher had a minimum ebook price for a novel that was quite high, so he decided to write some shorter things that he could price lower, one just wanted uncomplicated as well as complicated. Both have found that folks are reading their low priced short stories and then moving on to the longer more expensive stuff. They are also getting less complaints about the more expensive stuff being … well … expensive.

So that’s Plan A sorted. MTM’s planned releases for next year: three short books about K’Barth – if I do well – or two if hospital time is at a maximum. They’ll retail at 99p/99c and Gladys, Ada and the punters at the Parrot and Screwdriver will definitely feature in one or two of them. If you have any favourite characters you’d like to know more about, let me know in the comments and I’ll do something about them. So far I have a lot of votes for Gladys and Ada, several for Big Merv and one for General Moteurs. I’ll try to keep the shorts coming reasonably regularly, although if either parent dies I probably won’t write anything for ages afterwards, but I digress.

As my brain can’t do complicated right now – even if it does want to do writing – this looks like a neat solution. Even starting the first short, last week, took the pressure off. Suddenly the full length novel I’m writing, which I’d got a bit stuck on, has started moving again. It’s not about K’Barth so even when it’s done, only a handful of people will read it, but I’ll like it and that’s what matters, so that’s plan B, write a big novel at the same time as the small ones.

Which brings me back to the comment. Someone pointed out that my blog is quite informative and is kind of a book on its own … and that got me thinking. The thing about the blog is, it’s all planned out, well, it isn’t but I know what I am going to say before I start. So it did occur to me that I could write a generalist series of pamphlets about publishing books yourself. It would be a series called, ‘I fucked this up so you don’t have to’. OK no that’s the only-in-my-dreams working title. It would have to be called something a bit more anodyne and sensible like ‘Mistakes I made so you don’t have to’.

The point is, I wouldn’t have to think much to do those, it would just be a case of crafting them. The knowledge, and the trains of thought, are already in my head. I wouldn’t have to imagine or research much. I’d just explain what I have learned. It might be fun. So that’s plan C.

And there, finally, you have it. MTM cares too much. MTM is an authorholic. MTM will switch the pressure from completing long books to completing some short ones that are fictional and non fictional and then the long books can go quietly on in the background at the same time.

The strangest thing is that’s not a huge change in plan. I’ve just shifted the emphasis to shorts in the foreground and behemoth novel in the background. However, somehow, put that way, it feels like it might be achievable.

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Wait! I’m not ready! #GirlsNightOut, 26 days and counting!

You may, or may not, remember various posts I’ve done on here about my lovely bruv who runs marathons despite being ‘middle-aged, unfit and fat’ – his words and it’s a lie because he’s definitely NOT unfit – or that fat. Anyway, having seen his fine and shining example, watched him routinely raise over a grand, and given him a tenner each time, I thought maybe I should have a go.

I mean, how hard can it be?

Yeh. No. Actually I did know the right answer to that one.

As you may be aware, and if you aren’t, I may as well tell you, I am also middle-aged, comfortably upholstered fat, unfit and I have arthritic knees which contain one less sound ligament in each than normal people’s knees. This made me think, some years ago, that maybe I should eschew the idea of marathons or any other kind of run. Because I can’t run, because my knees don’t do that kind of thing any more, I can only walk, so I’d never qualify for a marathon. I wondered if I could find a cause I care about, with an event that has slightly less rigorous entry criteria, and try er hem … walking. Possibly even briskly (if I took enough chocolate along with me to power the effort) but never tracked one down.

I kind of gave up on the idea, I had a baby anyway, and we moved house and did child rearing and stuff. And it was all lost by the wayside for a bit. Except that in recent years, one night a year, hoards of ladies have walked past my house in flashing bunny ears. I wondered:

  1. what on earth they were doing and
  2. whether I should join in.

Two years ago I plucked up courage to open the door and ask one of them what was going on.

‘Girls’ Night Out,’ she said.

None the wiser I went and looked up Girls Night Out on the internet. It’s a sponsored actual walk! For a fantastic place, our local hospice.

Last year I nearly joined in.

This year … I’ve signed up.

It’s gentle 6k ramble round Bury St Edmunds, at night, wearing the aforementioned flashing bunny ears, yes, in the dark, in pyjamas. (Note to self: there are pyjamas and pyjamas, buy a set of pyjamas you can wear in public.) The local Hospice – St Nicholas’ Hospice – were wonderful with a friend’s relly when he was dying and since the question of hospices and hospice care is in my mind at the moment, for my parents, it is something that resonates with me. They ask each walker to try and raise £100 for them.

‘Booyacka!’ I thought when I read that. ‘£100 is easy money! I only need to persuade 20 people to give me a fiver. Surely that can’t be too hard? And 6k? No problem.’

Except that while it might have been easy when I signed up, that was the end of the summer term. After 3 terms of going to the gym 3 times a week with only the shortest of breaks in between I was at the apogee of my yearly fitness levels and the lowest yearly knee pain level. Anyway the walk was ages away, I had time.

However, the date of this walk is now coming up fast. And it’s in the first week of September, at my yearly fitness nadir, after I’ve spent 6 weeks drinking and eating more than usual, going on holiday, doing larks with McMini, ignoring my physiotherapy exercises or doing no exercise at all. Some of my shorts no longer fit and dressing myself each morning is more and more like draping camouflage netting over a Zeppelin.

Ah.

Indeed, now I’ve looked at the map and my thoughts are more like this:

‘Fuckorama! What have I done? Can I even drag my fat bottom 3k, let alone 6?’

Yes, I’m facing Blimpageddon!

And on top of that, I see far fewer folk in the holidays than term so I have failed, epically, in my mission to persuade 20 people to give me a fiver – although one kind soul did give me £10 via Facebook. Thank you, you know who you are.

In short, it looks, very much, as if my effort at charity fundraising is going to die on its arse. But it could be worse! I am sure it will be great fun, we’re going to the pub afterwards and I could have signed up for the 14k route.

So, the walk is on 10th September. I have about 3 weeks to try and get fit. Two of them are summer holiday blimp time so I will have to take moments out of eating, play and high octane resting to kick some donkey and get into shape.

On the up side, according to my Fitbit, I do walk about 5 miles every day, although I’m not 100% certain I can trust it. I mean, it thinks two hours sitting in my car driving to Sussex is a 5 mile run which either means it’s hopelessly inaccurate or it’s picked up on my mood and is lying to me to keep up my morale.

I am going to be updating my progress sporadically on the justgiving page they’ve … well … given me which is here. So if you want to read a bit more about my efforts I’ll be mostly talking about it there or using the #GirlsNightOut hastag on twitter – although, depending on the quality and availability of wi-fi on our upcoming road trip, there may be a two week gap and one week’s intense solid build up as I hone my athletic prowess.

If you want to take a look feel free, you can even sponsor me if you like. That said, sponsorship, though welcome, is certainly not required.

So here we are on Day 1 of my get fit drive. I have achieved 40 squats while cleaning my teeth and taken down a tent. Oh yeh. Go me.

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Just another day in paradise!

Come the winter we are hoping we might be able to go skiing so in order to prepare, it occurred to us that it would be smart if McMini and I actually had a go at skiing first. So today, it was McMini’s turn. There’s a dry slope not far from us so off we went. He took to it well and it looked ace. I am very much going to try it when term starts.

After we were done, we decided to make a day of it and we went on to Aldeburgh for lunch which was lovely. After we’d eaten we took a stroll, bought an ice cream and sat on a bench to eat it, overlooking the sea. Even though I checked it for turds before sitting down I still failed to notice that one of the ‘special Aldeburgh seagulls’ had laid a length of cable that a Doberman would have been proud of, and of course, I sat on it.

Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh: taken while sitting in seagull pooh

As the resulting cack smearage made me look as if I’d extensively soiled myself I tried to clean it off. Half a bottle of water poured over the affected area merely made it look as if I’d lost control of both orifices. And now I also had pooh smeared on my hands! Lovely! Once I’d rinsed my hands with the rest of the water and rubbed liberal amounts of hand sanitiser over them we took stock. There was only one thing for it. I deemed it imperative that I changed into some pooh-free trousers or shorts at the first opportunity. But I had no spares so I was going to have to go into a shop looking as if I’d shat my pants, explain what had happened, and hope they’d let me buy some.

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The seagulls in Worthing are much more genteel

Aldeburgh has many clothes shops and right now they all have sales on but, even with 70% off, a pair of shorts was coming up at £35. Hats off to the folks running them, though, who were perfectly prepared to let me try and buy despite my effluvia-covered togs and accompanying smell.

However, I began to despair of replacing my rancid shorts until I noticed the Sue Ryder charity shop. I popped in there and got a very nice pair of chino beige pedal pushers for £4.50. Phew.

I had planned how I could zip my anorak up round my waist and remove my trousers in the high street but although I’d worked out how it could be done without flashing my arse to the entire neighbourhood, I can’t say I was looking forward to it very much. Many, many things could have gone wrong.

But all’s well that ends well.

So that’s a relief.

A quiet day here, then. Same old, same old. How was your Saturday?

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Welcome to my world…

Just a quick post before I go into low internet access mode for three weeks… not that you’ll be able to tell the difference between that and me in full internet access mode, seeing as I’ve failed spectacularly to do anything internetty for a long time. Life has just got a bit busy and when that happens, I use computer time to write and my socialising and promoting tends to be put aside for a while.

It all began with a hurriedly organised birthday party for McMini complete with cake. Mmm… Making the cake was interesting. McCat likes cake so the reason that bit in the middle of the neck is a different colour is because that’s the bit McCat excised while I was answering the door.When I came back he ran off with it. It was OK though. The rest hadn’t been touched so I cut out a good margin either side and put in new cake and new icing. Couldn’t get the icing out of the gaps though.

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Bakugan cake…. it’s supposed to be the little fellah at the top.

The next cake,  one for McParents’ – on my side – golden wedding. This time it was the raw mixture that got eaten while I was answering the door. I knew I shouldn’t have turned the mixer off. Came back and McCat had his head in the bowl snarfing.

All the cake making gave me a bit of an IBS attack. Trying cake mixture. I think eating some rather old smoked salmon with scrambled eggs for breakfast followed by courgettes fried with some decidedly elderly pancetta for lunch may have contributed too. Still cake made McMini and I iced it without a serious hitch, except that I couldn’t get the dates to fit and I’d planned it most carefully so I couldn’t work out why. Oh and McCat stole a sausage from my lunch plate but at least he left the beautifully (erk it’s all relative) iced cake unmolested this time.

All ready for the day, I woke up on the morning and I discovered that I had vertigo (this is how I do hayfever). Serious, 18 pints on board style spins, so I spent the first hour shouting, ‘Europe’ into the big white telephone without much coming out and waiting for the hayfever pills to kick in. Amazingly they did, the vertigo stopped and off we went. Even more amazingly, we made it in time for the lunch, with some to spare.

All went well, the cake was much admired, McMini had fun with his cousins, the grown ups had fun too and hoorah! All went swimmingly. Even better I got a big rest on the Saturday as McOther and McBrother took McMini to the fair – the vertigo was better but I still questioned the wisdom of watching a lot of stuff going round, and round and round: or worse, sitting on it while it did.

That night while looking for a shoe, I only had one pair and I could only find one – because I’d washed the other one and forgotten that I’d put it behind the curtains where it would get a nice 2 hours of sun on it to dry it before I got up. This simple fact obscured temporarily, I was searching the house. Heard Sis In Law call for my brother. Great, she would almost certainly have clocked and seen the shoe. I looked over the bannisters and there was my sister in law, lying on the ground at the bottom of the stairs wrapped in a duvet.

“Er that’s quite an unusual place to stop… are you alright down there?”
Not really, I’ve broken my ankle.”
“Ah,” gulp. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’ve done it before.”
“Right. I’m guessing you heard it crack?”
“Yep.”
“Ah, that’s enough to convince me. Tricky, hang on…” I trundle down the stairs to join her.
“I think I’m going to throw up.”
“OK… let’s get you a bowl.” I run and get bowl. “Did you hit your head?”
“No, I held onto the curtains.”
I look at the curtains in front of the door, clearly she has grabbed them, the hooks have broken one by one and they’ve fallen down, lowering her gently to earth as they do so.
“Lucky! OK, I’ll go and get McBro.”

McBrother appears and suggests going straight to A&E but I persuade him to call 999 so we get a paramedic to evaluate her first before moving her. Sis in law agrees she’d like us to do that. McBrother calls ambulance.

“Ooooo!” calls my Mum from upstairs, “Can I press our red panic button?”
“No,” says McBrother.
“He’s ringing an ambulance,” I tell her.
“OK.” She sounds disappointed.

I am sent to stand in the road waiting for the ambulance. They have verbal directions from McBrother but they will not find our house if they use sat nav. This is because Google Maps is convinced that our house is not where we live, but somewhere a few miles away. Every now and again I contact Google and explain where it really is. And they usually write back to tell me that an adjudicator has looked at my request but that I am wrong. Growing up there, is clearly not enough.

There is a problem with this though, I only have one shoe, but luckily Sis In Law’s shoe has broken in Worthing at the fair and she’s had a bit of a spree while buying a new pair and bought some crocs, too. I slip my vile feet into them and then, weird of weird, put on my panama hat despite the fact it’s 10:30pm and dark  (what in the name of heaven is that about) and trot dutifully out into the road. The ambulance is lost and I run, or at least, I do ‘the gait’ because I can’t run, down the road to it. It arrives and it’s a car. There is no room for me in there with them so I tell them where to go. I run along after them. They drive past. I wave my feeble torch. They stop. I show them.

When I get to the house a few minutes after they do, they are evaluating Sis In Law.

So, the long and the short after this examination was that we discovered she had broken her ankle, on Brighton Gay Pride night, when a lot of other people in the locale, after injudicious amounts of dancing and alcohol, had broken their ankles – and other bits of themselves – too. There was a one and a half hour wait for an ambulance – but that was OK because the Paramedic car had come in about 10 minutes and we had the all clear to take her in ourselves. But the 2 hour wait in casualty (even in Worthing) was a bit more of a bummer. Fair play to her and McBrother that they made the lunch the next day, successfully consumed a heavy meal on a couple of hours sleep and were rather more awake than I was.

“How was your weekend?” a friend asked when I got back.
Was that out of the ordinary for a trip to my folks? No, not really.
“Same old same old,” I said.

On a side note, they’re going to give my Mum a new hip. She finally has a date: slap bang in the middle of our holiday. It’s a worry but less of a worry than when she was in limbo without one. Perhaps that’s why for  have been even more numerically challenged than usual this week: worry. It does make me a bit more ditzy. Let’s forget about that, though and look at some photos. First: the Golden Wedding Cake. Remember I couldn’t work out why the numbers didn’t fit?

Cake: Before...

Cake: Before light dawns, can you spot the deliberate mistake?

Yeh, well, as I was about to serve it up, my uncle noticed it had the wrong date. Yes, I’d put 2005 instead of 2015. A bit of an, ‘ah now I get it,’ moment. Of course the numbers didn’t sodding fit. They were the wrong ones. It’s not even as if I got the date of the marriage wrong, as in 1965, it the bleeding date NOW. Oh well. Luckily it was easy to scrape one side of the O off and turn it back into a 1.

Cake: After, with the RIGHT date.

Cake: After, with the RIGHT date.

Then, two nights ago we had some folks for dinner and when I asked how many McOther said, “eight with McMini.” I translated this as 9, which means I managed to lay an extra place… for a person who didn’t exist… and even worse to not actually notice until I was serving pudding.

So there you have it. My family is still a group of people that THINGS HAPPEN TO, my cat is a mentalist who probably has some kind of feline eating disorder and I’m completely fucking bats.

Never mind… At least there was lots of cake.

My brain and my life.

My brain and my life.

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Still Eating Snail and Tortoise Dust but Learning to Like the Taste

It has occurred to me that it’s time to post something before you all think I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil or something. The truth is, life is just busy. Duncan’s funeral, a week blitzed afterwards, half term and my in laws down for the week next week, along with the deadline for the parish magazine (yes, I’m the editor) means that for the last three weeks, internet presence has been sporadic at best and the next 10 days will be the same.

So yeh, I’ve done the last thing I could do for my friend, I’ve waved until he’s out of sight round the bend in the road and turned to face the future. The world is moving inexorably on and apart from the residual sadness, which will be with me for some time, I am looking ahead and life is good. That said, after a day spent queuing to get into the Natural History Museum, queuing to see the dinosaur section, queuing to go to the lavatory afterwards etc I’m a bit all in. So inspiration is thin on the ground. Which is why we’re heading for light fluff.

Obviously, the in laws coming, and Mum in law being a household goddess – her house is an immaculate, smoothly oiled machine and I am in serious awe – I have tried to tidy up. I employ bi-weekly cleaners but it being the bi week and us being out on the wrong days to un-bi, McMini and I spent a happy Wednesday this week doing the cobwebs, the beds, dusting, hoovering through etc. The result is a very presentable house. I also got the Dyson Dustbuster and had a go at the huge mountain of cat hair on the chaise long in our hall. When I came to empty it I found something a little bit weird. And amazing. Yes, it had made this perfectly spherical, cat hair and dust ball:

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Yep, I know,pure cat felt.

I expect you can all see what’s coming next. Suffice it to say that since photographs were taken the next thing we knew everything had gone down hill and turned into… er hem… this.

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And, of course, then it was only a matter of time before it turned into this…

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Alright treacle? Wanna come out on the taaaan?

The worst bit is probably the fact that I’ve kept it. Mr D Bunny or is it Terence De Tumblepube is currently residing in a plant pot with some cape primroses. Because it seems like a little miracle of hoovery strangeness.

Meanwhile, the vague ideas for K’Barthan 5 are definitely crystallising into something and the Book With No Name, which I’m working on at present: the trying to write a comfortable, normal, genre specific, correct length novel – that’s coming on nicely too. Although it’s not quite … comfortable or normal, or even genre specific, even if it is correct length. Oh well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad as Mr Meatloaf says.

I am also rejigging my mailing list expect something interesting soon – or at least ‘soon’ within the parameters with which I use the word so … before next year.

I leave you with one form McMini who joined ‘construction club’ at school (ie lego in lunchbreak).

Me – Was it good?
McMini – Oh yes! It was brilliant.
Me – what did you build?
McMini – a fish and chip shop, but it was closed.
Me – Closed? Why?
McMini – There weren’t enough lego men to go round so I didn’t have enough to make any customers, just the man behind the counter, so I decided all the customers had gone and he was closing up.

So there we are. I think that just about wraps it up for this week.

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It seems I’m #KBarthan even though I live here.

I thought I’d share my morning with you. No real reason. Just for a laugh.

It was McMini’s first day back at school so we had to be up and out of the house at about the time we woke up yesterday. McMini, however, was ace. He got up and got dressed.

“Car or bike?” I ask him.

“Car,” he says

Breakfast eaten, clothes on, teeth brushed and coats on we duly go to the garage. The Noisy Cricket is still in bed. McMini climbs in. I put the key in and press the starter button.

“Click,” it goes. That’s how cars that are made in Norfolk tell you to fuck off.

“Ha, never fear, I have the battery boost starter um… thingamy,” I cry and so I plug it in and connect it all up.

“Click,” says the car.

“And fuck off to you too,” I think but manage not to say it out loud in front of McMini. Ka-Ching! M T McGuire awards non swearing points to self and allows a nano second of smugness.

It’s OK. We have seven minutes. There is still time to get there on the bike. I get my bike out and attach the Incredibly Heavy Trailer Bike. I have to do about 110 turns to get the nut off and the towing bar out and about another 109 turns to do it up after I’ve attached the trailer. It takes approximately fifteen years (Oh alright, a couple of minutes). Never mind, it’s on.

Also – major achievement – we’ve managed to do all this without letting the cat get into the garage AND I’ve remembered to lock the garage door.

Ah yes. Cycle hats. I run back to the house. Actually I do the ‘Special Gait’. You know, like the Monty Python folks do when they’re pretending to ride horses in the Holy Grail? The one which makes you look effing stupid. People with less than the pre-requisite number of functioning knee ligaments do tend to default to the Special Gait in place of actual running.

Cycle hat for McMini retrieved I rush back. Ga dump, ga dump, ga dump, I ‘run’. We get onto the bike to discover some random bloke has parked in my drive. Why I have no idea, there’s another 20 minutes, at least, before the permits and scariness kick in.

“Excuse me! Who are you?” I ask, probably a bit more aggressively than I intend to due to my current state of panic.

“Er… I’m looking for number 2.”

Grrr. He could stop on the single line outside the house.

“Well this is the drive for number 3. If you want to park here, you have to ask.”

“I’m very sorry.”

“Good, it’s not a good time, how long will you be here?”

“Not long.”

“Good. Cause it looks like I have a breakdown truck coming.”

“Oh when?”

“Five minutes,” no you daft cow, that’s how long you have to get to school, “No wait sorry not 5 minutes, as soon as I’ve dropped McMini off at school.” Yeh, look like a twat while you’re bollocking him why don’t you? Anyway why are you bollocking him? How did you get into this? What are you doing?

“That’s OK I’ll be gone by then.”

McMini and I pile about 300 yards up the enormous hill – thank you Bury town planners, you bastards, for configuring the one way system so that I have two massive ups and one down not only on the way to school but on the way back too… cluddy bunts – then I remember his school bag is in the car.

“Nobs alive.”

Back we go.

We make it to school, I pedal like the blazes but it’s like dragging a gothic cathedral on wheels through treacle. Wheezing like an asthmatic sea lion I manage to go slightly faster than walking pace while McMini pedals with all his might behind.

We arrive at school and the door is still open! Huzzah! No late entry and paperwork to be filed. Except that as I wait to wave at him from the window I remember I’ve left his drinking water on the sodding draining board. Nobbing sodding sod.

I go home, two hills up one down, via the bank to pay in a cheque. It’s not open yet. Arse.

When I return home the random Saab has gone from our drive. I put the trailer in the garage and get the water, get back on the bike and cycle another mile and a half through treacle to get back to school. Deliver the water. Discover that McMini’s guitar lessons start TONIGHT and I don’t even know if he’s been scheduled in. Ride home via the bank, which is open this time, to ring the guitar man.

Get home to discover I’ve forgotten to buy a birthday card and that McMini has quietly chomped his way through all the carrots I was going to serve up with our dinner tonight.

Ring guitar man.

Sort lessons.

Tell school.

Realise I’ve given Guitar Man a duff e-mail address. I look out of the window at what I think is a nice hedge hog on our patio and realise it’s a sodding great rat. Now I’ll have to organise some kind of rat catching thing. It’s very cute but I don’t want it nesting in my cellar.

And so it goes on.

Then there’s the ‘help’ I receive in all my endeavours about the house from my omnipresent cat-shaped assistant.

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No wonder I never get anything done…

 

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All I need is Little Nellie! Learning to love #Christmas (and myself).#scrooge

Christmas. The traditional time of unfulfilled expectations and almost unfailingly the death of a friend or relative. I have to admit that the best bit about Christmas, for me, is the day we get back from whoever we’ve been staying with that year, and I can relax in the knowledge that it’s all over for another 12 months.

It pains me to confess it but I am the original Scrooge, although this year I think I am finally beginning to understand why. If it’s OK, I’d like to share my breakthrough with you (phnark). So let’s have a rummage through my season-specific navel lint.

Warning: this one’s outrageous and fairly lavatorial.

Right then.

Here goes…

When I was a kid, I thought that Christmas would always be a time of fun and light and laughter. Strangely, when I look back over the actual Christmas Days I can remember then 99.9% of the time it is exactly that – even the years people died or got sick.

Yet it hangs leadenly on my spirits and I dread it more with each passing year.

Looking at it, the big thing, for me, has always been that I’d like to ‘do’ Christmas, myself. My Mum always told me that once you have kids you can put your foot down with the grandparents and tell them that from now on, you’ll be having Christmas at home. My Mum did this successfully. However, she was younger when she had my brother and I. Furthermore, both sets of grandparents were hale and hearty and perfectly able to hop in the car and drive to us if they wanted to. They were only about 45 minutes away, anyway.

Our world is different.

Nonetheless, the dream persists of waking up in my own home on Christmas morning. In 20 years. we’ve managed two home Christmases, yes I’ve managed to cook two turkeys (and a goose but that’s another story). Both those Christmases were lordy-never-again style jobs. One because McOther and I were going through a rough patch, I didn’t even know if we’d be together in a few weeks’ time and we had to present a united front to the visiting grandparents for 8 days when I had no idea if, in 20 days, we’d still be an item. McOther was at work the whole time anyway, to the point of spending two hours in a conference call on Christmas day. The next year, the other set of grandparents stayed for less than 24 hours and gave us flu. I spent the turn of the millennium in bed with it. Later, my father’s condition, coupled with the cold temperature of our house, meant that if he visited us in winter he went completely loolah (too cold = not enough blood to the head) so that was out.

In other words; we know Christmas at home doesn’t work. Now that neither set of rellies can actually stay here, we also know that, were we to tell them, “We were having Christmas at home this year,” we would have the most awful time, sitting at home feeling guilty. We’re talking a level of guilt that eating our free range, local butcher’s, locally sourced turkey with actual red meat; that having our boy get his stocking in one hit, because we haven’t had to leave the 3/4 of it that doesn’t fit into the car on his bed at home and pretend Father Christmas delivered here too; that being around to help with the Church flowers etc and even finding a lonely local to invite, would not do anything to assuage.

Why then? Why this endless longing to make Christmas my own instead of bolting onto other people’s? It’s a completely insoluble problem. And yet once I actually get to whichever set of parents house it is, then, even with its strange or too-distant bathroom, the strength sapping levels of vigilance required to take a lively small boy and incredibly clumsy mother somewhere else for a week without their accidentally breaking something precious or spilling something dreadful or eating something they shouldn’t, it’s actually fun.

Yes.

I do enjoy myself. We all do. And it distresses me deeply that I feel this utter misery and curmudgeonliness about going to see people who I actually want to see and love dearly.

Why the dread?

Well I think I’ve finally sussed it out.

It’s the travel. I loathe and detest using the British motorway network. However, at Christmas when there are high winds so the QE Bridge is closed and we have to queue for hours to get through one side of the tunnel. Or when we are driving through six inches of freshly fallen snow for two hours, with an ice covered road beneath and a sheer drop into the River Tweed a few feet from us pretty much all the way and meeting something coming the other way on. Every. Single. Blummin’. Corner. It’s really grim.

In a nutshell, Christmas is an absolutely rubbish time to attempt to travel. It’s not just because every other git in the UK has climbed into his car to clutter up the roads. It’s because the weather can be unremittingly awful and we all get stuck in it.

Borne out of the travel comes the second downer: organising stuff. I am incapable of organising a piss up in a brewery. Lord knows I try but even when McOther organises everything – because he is a control freak who runs like a smoothly oiled machine – I still manage to balls up the few things I’m supposed to be doing. There is always the Eureka moment, as I unpack the stuff in the kitchen at whichever of our victims we’re descending on that year, and I remember about the very important thing I’ve left on the kitchen table at home. Something without which the other five bags of gubbins I’ve brought are completely pointles… you know… something like… the turkey or the pump for McMini’s blow up bed.

Naturally, the reason my organisational skills are so poor is because I actually dislike organising things.

After travel and my piss poor organisational skills we come to the third factor: my social lumpiness. The minefield of staying with other people and trying to adjust your routine to fit in with theirs when what is natural and instinctive to them is less so for you.You know deep eternal questions like these, which are all real:

  • Is there enough hot water/time to wash my hair this morning or do too many other people need the shower for us to a) all shower before we go out or b) for me to spend the prerequisite 10 minutes rinsing my hair?
  • If I don’t have a shower, will I smell (I usually have a cold so can’t tell).
  • Will I manage to get through the whole week without having an IBS attack?
  • Talking about IBS. When’s the time the other members of the household are statistically least likely to follow me into the loo for at least an hour – or to put it another way, can I have a poo now, or will I be asphyxiating a whole succession of subsequent lavatory and/or shower users?
  • How many times can I ask for seconds before it becomes rude?
  • What are those odd noises in the night?
  • Are those really bits of wasp coming out of the cold water tap and is that why the loo cistern won’t fill up? Because the outlet on the header tank is clogged with dead wasps?
  • Will next door invite us all round to drinks and poison us with dodgy pate?
  • Can I make my way to the loo without falling down the stairs?
  • If my knee clicks on the stairs in the dark can I manage to yell quietly?
  • Can I get past the stair lift to go down to the drawing room and retrieve my iPad/Phone/Book without falling and waking the rest of the house?
  • Will I successfully fill up the cistern using the bath tap and the bucket provided, or will I spill a whole load, sending a flood of water through the ceiling onto the lap top at the desk in the room below?
  • Have I remembered my torch?
  • Have I remembered my cough lozenges?
  • Do they have a dog? How much of it’s attention will it give my crotch? A: all of it’s attention. If dogs are the rule of thumb I have the smelliest girl parts in Christendom.
  • Where are McMini’s pyjamas? A: on the kitchen table at home.
  • Should I put this utensil away where I think it’s kept and risk unwittingly hiding it from my hostess forever, or should I ask her for the umpteenth time? Is the least irritating course of action to leave it on the table?
  • If both the taps in the guest bathroom basin bear the letter H, which one is actually the ‘real’ hot?
    It’s the left hand tap*, by the way, if you ever visit my parents.
  • Will I leave my horrible gacky ear plugs under the guest bed?
  • Will I snore loudly enough to keep people in other rooms awake? I am more than capable of this.

This is not a side of me I like. It feels disloyal and mean to dread going to see the grandparents – especially when I love both sets so dearly. They would be horrified to read this!

But at least I’ve spotted the difference between Christmas when I was a child and now; why it was different when we did pretty much the same things. Amazingly, I think I’ve hit on the answer and it is all down to journey time. My family was local. It was 45 minutes to each set of grandparents so even if we weren’t at home on Christmas Day, itself, it wasn’t a big deal because we woke up there and we went to bed that night in our own beds. If we had to be on our best behaviour and not eat too much, not spill anything and help out in a succession of relations’ strange kitchens day after day over the Christmas period it was OK because at supper and breakfast we were in our own.

WE NEVER STAYED THE NIGHT.

And that’s it in a nutshell. None of the worries I have about my social lumpiness are ever going to impact on a day trip, hence it was a breeze as a kid. But on a week long stay, when I’m also responsible for the behaviour of my own child it’s very different. They become monstrous spectres in the days and weeks beforehand. I even have dreams about stuffing it up and letting down smoothly oiled, robotically organised McOther. There’s nothing I can do about it but at least, now that I know what it is, I should be able to deal with it better next year.

Furthermore, if I could find a way to do the two journeys in say, 35 minutes… or maybe an hour… I could pop home to poo, or wash my hair on a morning when everyone else wants to use the shower, or relax about cutting myself shaving without noticing and bleed happily over my own scabby (rather than someone else’s nice guest) towel. Hmm… Flying’s no good, sure it’s 35 minutes in the air, if that, but it’s still two hours each end phaffing about in an airport and an hour in a taxi at the other end.

Snurds may be imaginary right now and a magic thimble is right out. But I think I have the answer.

Yeh. So. If you’re listening, Father Christmas, I’d like a gyrocopter, please.

See that? That’s me that is, nipping home for a poo.

What I want to know is, am I the only person who gets all worried like this? Tell me about your experiences peeps!

* That’s a faucet, if you’re French or American.

 

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