Tag Archives: writers

I am a luddite. It’s official.

Gah! Excuse me if everything is a little off today but … ugh something weird has happened.

For those of you who don’t know, this site is hosted by WordPress. A while ago, WordPress updated their main user interface from this …

Nice isn’t it? Everything’s there at a glance.

To this:

Although, if you increase the screen resolution you do get this:

which is slightly better.

For a while now, I’ve had the control panel rolled back from the new one to the original because it’s just so much easier on the eye and all the data is right there where you want it.

Recently, going along similar lines, WordPress decided to ‘simplify’ their editor – this is marketing speak for ‘make it impossible to find anything at a glance’. Everything is now buried under layers of menus, like the phone app only, in my case, on a pc. They’ve been banging on about something called the ‘block editor’ for months but I’ve just ignored it and hoped it would go away. Basically, as far as I can see, this is just a way of making your posts take longer to write.

You see, the way I do stuff is I barf the words onto the page and then when I’m done, I format them. Blocks mean you have to keep choosing your formatting before you write which is a gargantuan ball ache because it really interrupts the flow.

WordPress says that,

‘Retiring an entire editor — the place where you publish posts and pages on WordPress.com — is not something we would ever do on a whim. What inspired us to take this decision is the positive experience site owners have had with the newer WordPress editor.’

Which, of course, is marketingese for, ‘we can’t explain to you why we did it because it would take too long.’ I’ve worked in customer service and marketing a long time and like, seriously are they for real? ‘I love the new interface!’ said no software customer, EVER. They have changed the interface from this:

So simple, so straightforward, so why can’t they leave it alone!

To this:

Here’s the new editor where are all the widgets? I have no clue, the editing tool bar is part of the ‘classic’ block. The actual tool bar is those four icons at the top I think. I dunno.

They’ve made it ‘simpler’ ie they’ve designed it so there are fewer things on your screen; just acres of glary white and big writing with the features you need all jumbled up in sub menus and moved around. Because heaven forfend that any of us poor bastards using the thing should have the remotest fucking clue where they are.

They’ve added ‘new features’ ie a ton of pointless bells and whistles that slow down your creative flow. No more ctrl+A to select the entire post. Oh no. Now, if you want to copy and paste your post you have to do it from the front end or you have to copy it paragraph by paragraph – one of the most notable features of block editors which has been useful since never in the entire fucking history of human existence.

I don’t have time to learn that it’s x button, third down, I just look and see, ah yes, I need to click there. This new interface is as Lou might say to Andy … a bit of a kerfuffle.

Blocks are so crap. Why can’t I just type shit and do the formatting afterwards? Why this complete fucking obsession with formatting it all first, with presentation over content, with extra ‘features’ over and above the ones we require ie, things to stretch out the length of the task so we feel busy.

Newsflash! I am busy. I’m so busy I’m disappearing up my own smecking arse! I don’t need to feel it. I don’t. have. fucking. time. And when stuff is pointlessly added to my busyness it’s not going to make me feel important, it’s going to make me fucking irritated.

And if they have to do blocks can they not, at the least, do drag and drop blocks so I can just pick the bastard things out of  side bar and bung them in? I spent ages ferreting about to find the ‘classic editor’ block and even longer trying to work out how make it stick so that I was writing my blog post in it. Thank heavens they seem to have given me the option to switch back to the usual interface to edit this. So I’m now typing this in the understated, elegant peace of the wp-admin and classic editor setting, instead of the shouty in-yer-face, giant-writing, glary, retinal burn-inducing horror that is the new one. So much white … it burns … it burns!

OK so this isn’t the end of the world or anything, I am joke ranting here. The poor buggers at WordPress can’t be expected to keep three editing interfaces going and I know I’m completely at odds with the zeitgeist on this. My blog is about what I write, the content, the words, and I am beginning to understand that priorities for the myriad of other users outside my small circle are different. Everything else is about photos and videos so I guess blogs are no different these days. The salient thing is; text is yesterday. You have a photo and if you want to say something you post a video. Me? Frankly, if I can type at about the same speed I speak and I can edit my writing so it reads more fluently, why would I bumble and stutter at a camera instead?

How many people can touch type though? Not many. I mean, there’s text to speech now. I am pretty much a dinosaur. Touch typing is not a skill developers for places like WordPress are going to be factoring in is it? Not really. Which makes me wonder if a big part of the shift towards video and images is because typing in a phone is such hard work.

A while back, I remember downloading the WordPress app onto my phone. The interface wasn’t as intuitive because it’s a phone. It’s a small screen and there’s less room to work. However, any vague understanding I have of the new interface and where to find stuff is based on my use of WordPress on my phone. Basically, what they’ve done is shut down the desktop site and made the phone app the interface. Why? Well, I suspect what it comes down to is this one word.

Change.

I’ve been writing some sort of blog or other, week in, week out since 2006. All here, on WordPress. The first was called Babychaos and then, from about 2009, I switched to this one. The ‘classic’ editor – the one that is going away, because it’s already only used by a few legacy customers such as myself – that classic editor, is the one I’ve used since then. It’s straightforward, powerful and everything you need to use is easy to see as you look at the screen.

That’s how I work in real life. I lay stuff out on the desk in front of me and I pick the things I need as I work. I don’t work with a completely clear desk and run to the cupboard and get out each tool I need, using it and putting it back back only to have to run back to the cupboard a few minutes later, get the same thing out, use it and put it back again. But that’s how the interface on your phone works. And because that’s what they are used to, I believe this is how a lot of people now do work.

In 2006 phones didn’t do much. The main, online interface of pretty much anything was the web page designed for a desktop computer. The phone versions of web portals were very limited. Then smartphones began to take off. Gradually programmes and interactive web portals became apps, and phones and tablets became as powerful as some computers. The idea of a desktop site has become redundant in many respects.

Add to this that there were parts of the world where computers were never used in earnest, instead people skipped straight past all that and paid one lump sum for one thing that did everything – even if it wasn’t always that easy to do it with – a smartphone. Because if you are living in an developing nation you can’t necessarily afford a separate computer, phone, music player, camera and tablet. Furthermore, you may possibly live in a place where you don’t have electric power to your home, or where, if you do, it’s sporadic. You are going to buy the thing that runs longest off a battery, that does the most stuff, that’s with you all the time, and which will be the easiest to carry. That’s going to be your phone and you’re going to use it for everything. And people did. They started using their phone to play music, watch telly, talk to people, and yes, build their websites, write books, configure online shops. The whole shebang. And because the phone’s memory wasn’t big enough in those early years, they started using streaming services for many of these things and the (shudder) subscription model was born.

Software production shifted from emulating the way human beings naturally work to the way phones work – or at least to the closest version of how a human being works that a phone is able to deliver.

I know people who write books on their phones. I cannot imagine why anyone would voluntarily put themselves though such a profoundly horrific experience as trying to type text, in volume, on a phone but there you go. Folks do it. Perhaps they have less arthritic thumbs than I do. More likely they don’t touch type at 90 words a minute plus, so typing on their phone doesn’t feel like they are working at about the same speed as continental drift. Or they use speech to text and they have an American accent so it actually understands what they say and produces something vaguely similar to the original. Or their slidey keyboard works rather than guessing just about any word in existence if it can avoid using the one they’ve typed. Or maybe their spelling and autocorrect tailors itself to them personally, rather than using an algorithm that condenses information from all users, rendering three quarters of  the vocabulary the person uses unknown to it. I dunno. But I digress …

The thing is, even with all this capability behind it, the screen on a phone is still tiny, so you still couldn’t have the same kind of information packed interface in the app as you would on a larger screen. It has to be built around the phone. Me, I like the larger screen and detailed interface you get on the desk top version of a site. But that’s because I read information best when it’s laid out. Some people – most people it seems – stack their info. They file stuff in drawers, they see their information in towers. Me, if I were to file things my ideal way, everything would be spread out around me on a huge long table. Seeing stuff is an important part of the way I interact and process information. I think I may be unusual in this respect, but I doubt I’m unique.

That’s why I always use the desktop site if there is one, either on my lap top or, if I’m on the road, on my iPad. I can easily see how the phone interface of anything can only function with about five items, maximum, on each menu. And that is specifically why I avoid using my phone, except when I need to or I want to comment or in an emergency but … not for the day-to-day important stuff. To me, having experienced the joy of desktop sites where everything is laid out clearly, the phone-friendly versions are hugely counter intuitive. Things are hidden at the top of lengthy menu trees and going off down a rabbit hole to find each function is a pain in the arse. I get distracted, I get lost. I lose my way back. But that’s because I’ve grown up with the pre-smartphone technological experience. On my phone the text on desk top sites is tiny, I have to zoom in to read it or format it. I totally get why things have to be simplified even if, yes, I still find it easier to browse the miniscule desk top sites on my phone than the stark phone-friendly versions.

I can do all this stuff on my phone, but it’s like viewing the world through a tiny crack in a wall while a bigger screen allows me to out there in the open and gaze at my surroundings.

The nub of the problem for people like Microsoft and WordPress is that two different versions of a thing are expensive to run. So what do they do? They, build their interface to suit the majority of their users. And these days, if you are a world-wide operation, the majority of your users are phone users. That’s why Windows 10 feels like it’s, basically, the Windows Phone interface. There aren’t as many options, it’s hard to get underneath things unless you use legacy stuff like the control panel. It’s probably why you can’t choose what up-dates you download. With the pursuit of ‘simplicity’ comes less and less flexibility and it’s … weird. The richness of the desktop experience is going to disappear because the majority of modern internet users have never experienced it. The only exception to this is the Apple interface, which has always been a bit more like that, as far as I can tell, which might be why it’s never come as naturally to me. Maybe these transitions are easier to make for Apple aficionados.

But … that’s why I find the new WordPress interface hard work. Because it’s the same as the phone app. It looks weird and huge on a large screen and the stuff they’ve prioritised: the stuff that other people use, is not the stuff I use. Because hardly anyone values the large screen experience anymore, just a few luddites and writers like me. Hopefully, one day, they’ll get the folding or holographic phone screen down pat. And when they do, maybe, when screens are bigger, some of the richness and complexity of the desktop interface will return to the software and websites we use. Maybe … I can hope.

Right, I’d better go and write something. I have two old ladies, a bunch of n’er do wells and a parrot stuck in a warehouse … they need my help to get out.

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Talking of luddites … does anyone fancy a 12 hour audiobook?

Yes, word up. Right now I am looking into ways I can deliver audiobooks direct to users: they buy from me and they can listen to the book in an app or on their computer. If you’d like to give it a go, you’ll need to download the bookfunnel app or join bookfunnel. If you’re happy doing that feel free to help yourself – the link is below.

It’s in beta, yes you are testing. That’s why you get a 13 hour audiobook for free read by one of the most distinguished actors you’ve never heard of: Gareth Davies. The man who made Roy Hudd laugh … and laugh enough to be asked back to do it again.

Once you click on the link, below, you’ll end up on a download page for the book. When you click listen/play it will ask you to download the bookfunnel app and enter this code … which is some letters on mine. Write down the code then when you’ve done all the installing malarkey and you click to play and it asks you for the code, you have it right there to put in. I don’t know if the code is case sensitive but I’d presume it is!

This is a brand new app and brand new audio player, and Bookfunnel appreciate any and all feedback. If you get into trouble, or can’t get anything to work, contact their help address – which is given on their site, I’m not 100% sure I should give it here – with a header: ATTN: Julie.

Here’s the link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/fxd6bnoy7k

If you decide to listen to the book. I hope you enjoy it.

This is to stop all my bog posts being illustrated by the picture of the book at the bottom! Mwahahahrgh!

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Well … that was weird …

Lancing Beach. Just to throw you when I’m talking about Suffolk beaches later. Some guy found a gold coin here.

A strange week all round. I was going to share some of the questions and answers I’ve been doing with Gareth, because they are hilarious but a couple of bits happened that I thought I’d share instead.

First up Mum. As you know, Mum has dementia. She passed the NHS memory test with flying colours but then, everyone does. My Dad did, even after his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s in 2012 As far as I know, they were still giving him this stupid memory test until 2017 – because nobody told us or the Doctor about his diagnosis until then so we still didn’t know what he had – and he was still passing the bloody thing with flying colours. It’s not just the patient who is in denial for ages when dementia rears its head, it seems. The NHS also.

As well as dementia Mum has arthritic knees. A while back, in 2015, she had them looked at. The surgeon thought a new knee would be too complicated and that the requirements of the recovery process too taxing but they did give her a new hip, which she also needed. To be honest, I think the knee was more the problem but half was better than none and it did remove a fair chunk of pain so that was good.

Off I go wandering from the topic again … back to the point … the result of not having had her knee done is that Mum has one particularly dodgy knee which tends to give way on her. The other day it did and she ended up on the floor and hit her head – I blogged all about it here. Quick recap: because she’s on blood thinners, she had to go to hospital and have a brain scan. She had to go in alone because … Covid … which for someone with dementia who has banged their head, is not ideal. They were great with her, though, and she did well too. They took her in at three pm and was ready for collection by six. But she explained that her knee had given way and she’d grabbed the nearest thing for support which was, unfortunately, a door handle, so the door opened and she slid gently to the floor where she ended up wedged in a small space and so she couldn’t get up.

Having had this mishap, I thought that maybe it was time to get her something a bit more stable than a walking stick to use in the house. A Zimmer frame wasn’t much good as she’s quite frail and couldn’t lift it. She uses a fold up thing with wheels and a seat when she is outside which, I believe, rejoices in the name of a ‘rollator’. These are great because the wheels make them easy to push, the seat provides welcome respite from standing too long and they have breaks to help you control them. This one is ideal for outside but she needs one that’s smaller for use in the house. I had a look … God bless the internet … and found some that I thought might do.

Three Wednesdays ago, I sat down with Mum and the Carer and we looked at three wheeled light weight rollators. There wasn’t one with a seat, well there was but it was about £200 but I found one with a bag that she could use to get from one part of the house to the other. She can still put the secateurs in it lay flowers across the top of the bag etc. Having found it, I showed it to her and we had a chat and she decided it might be a good thing to have so I ordered it, there and then.

A week later and one of Mum’s carers found one that another lady wasn’t using. It wasn’t light weight but she thought it might be useful. I agreed it might be and suggested she bring it round and I’d cancel the other, except of course that the other then proceeded to arrive. Usually when you buy these things you get an email saying it’s been despatched. In this case, we didn’t. So it turned up without warning.

The Carer looking after Mum that day opened it, set it up and Mum … went into orbit.

I kid you not. She rang me, incandescent with rage, asking what the blazes I thought I was doing buying stuff without even consulting her. It was rubbish anyway, she fumed, because it doesn’t have a seat. How could she sit and talk to her friends if it didn’t have a seat?

I tried to explain that it was to use in the house, to replace her stick because it was more stable but a bit more compact than the one with a seat which she uses outside. There was no point in having it then she needed to do various things with it and without a seat she couldn’t.

‘But your stick doesn’t have a seat …’ I said.

‘No and so I can only sit in the kitchen or the drawing room because I can’t get in and out of the chairs anywhere else.’

Fair point but she doesn’t go anywhere else and she uses a shower stool I bought her (God bless you second hand shops in Galashiels). Sometimes though, Mum’s now is not the same as ours. I think she was at some point where she needed a walking aid but was still quite spry and doing stuff about the house. Things like cooking, and sending and replying to emails on her computer. She hasn’t done any of that for ages. I hadn’t properly clocked that her perception of when she is is changing, or how extensive her dementia is because she’s still so normal to talk to … usually.

I asked her if it might not come in handy?

Anyway, She told me in no uncertain terms that it bloody well wouldn’t, that it must be packed up forthwith and sent back.

After gently explaining to Mum that we had ordered it together and that she’d had a very hectic week and must have forgotten, she finally simmered down but wasn’t keeping it, oh no,  she wanted it sent back and replaced with the version that had a seat. Now.

This is where I cocked up. The way you do this with a demented person is not to set them right on the facts, you just say, ‘oh dear, they’ve sent me the wrong one,’ or ‘oh dear, how did I manage to order the wrong one,’ and leave it at that. It would have saved a lot of angst filled explaining.

Never mind, let’s get on with it shall we. I’d bought the thing online with her debit card, because I have power of attorney, except the bank don’t know that or they won’t give us a card so I did it pretending to be her. Easy then, I’d ring them up and sort it out but … they were not answering the phone unless it’s really urgent because … covid. Ugh. So I emailed them. Yes they would take it back. No they would not be able to replace it with another one with a seat, have me pay the difference and swap one for another. Oh and the cost of return would be £16.

Sixteen quid! The fucking thing only cost £48.

Bollocks.

The Carer who’d found a similar one hadn’t brought it round yet and seeing the chat about this on the … well … chat, she asked if she should.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but hide it, she may come round to using it. We’ll have to see.’

In the meantime, since the company that had sold me the new one didn’t have the one with the seat in stock I just thought it best to hang fire for a bit. The carer packed the new walker away and hid the box away where Mum wouldn’t see it.

Two weeks on, and during this week’s visit, the Carer told me that she’d managed to get Mum to use the second hand one for a bit on Monday but she’d suddenly refused on Tuesday. I thought I may as well give it a go, so I wheeled it in to the drawing room and asked her if she’d like to try it. She quite liked it but wasn’t sure because … well because she uses her stick to pull things closer, pick things up, press buttons and light switches she can’t reach, point at stuff etc. That said, after a short test run during which she really quite liked it, I left her with it by her chair.

Thursday morning and she told the Carer how wonderful it was and that maybe we should get it cleaned up.

‘We could but d’you know Mary ordered you a new one, I think it arrived the other day.’

‘Did it?’ Mum asked.

The Carer said that yes, it had and asked if Mum wanted it set up for her.

‘Oh yes please.’

Apparently it is now a hit. So much of a hit that, nine days on from ringing me in a fit of something approaching rage at its arrival, she rang me to say thank you and tell me how wonderful it was.

That, people, is dementia. Light and shade, rain and sun, on and off: random.

The obligatory seal pup picture taken on the beach I was actually at this weekend. 🙂

On a personal note, remember I did an entire day’s metal detecting without sitting down for lunch the other day? Yeh. Well that was a bad idea, I did my back in. It recovered after two days so, happy that all was well again I did more metal detecting on the beach (only for an hour and a half) went for a walk etc. We saw a seal pup and I took the obligatory Norfolk (well … Suffolk) coast seal cub picture. Awww or what. Then we went and had supper at friends. At which point, back fully recovered, I was able to remove the pain relief pad while I was there and felt oh so much better. What a relief.

Or not.

The next day, the back pain was back a little and starting to get a bit worse, but nothing major. Thursday morning. Arnold’s dingleberries! It was hideous! Friday; also hideous, and even today it is still evil. Needless to say the first day anyone who might be able to fix it can see me is Wednesday next week. Of course. And needless to say the first day I can see anyone is Friday. It could be worse … I had a club dig scheduled for tomorrow, which I don’t think I’d have been able to go to, and now I have a week to get better, or at least, well enough to do an afternoon of metal detecting without three days of scream ab-dabs afterwards.

The pain levels have been pretty grim. Up there with breaking my collar bone in the constant nature of the pain and, when it has subsided a little, the ease with which the slightest of movements will set it off. Also, at the risk of being a bit personal here … weeing. Or more to the point wiping. Fucking hell that hurts. How, in the name of the almighty do women with chronic back pain wipe their arses every day? Is there a lot of screaming? Is there a … surgical device? Jeepers. It’s alright for you blokes, all you have to do is wave it about a bit and shove it back in your trousers. We ladies have to get our hand a great deal further round and fuck me that smarts. I never thought I’d envy the ancient Romans their communal loos with the sponge on a chuffing stick, but frankly, even the prospect of wiping my personal bits with device of dubious provenance that had been used by multiple others – and probably not washed particularly well – would be preferable to the pain of doing it my bastard self. I have, at least, reached the point where I don’t dread going to the loo but it’s still about as much fun as sticking cocktail sticks into my own eyeballs and possibly slightly more painful.

Yeh so … maybe little bit too much information there. Yeh. On that note … I’ll leave you. Don’t have nightmares kids.

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If you need to take your mind off that last paragraph …

You could always pop over to Kobo or WH Smith and download my latest audiobook from the Kobo Sale. It starts officially on 9th September but it has been reduced from £5.99/$6.99 to £2.99 and $3.99 the kobo link, among others, is on this page … here.

Small Beginnings is not quite out at all retailers but getting there … slowly. More on that story … here.

Read by Gareth (The Voice of K’Barth) Davies to the usual extremely high standards. If you want to see what it sounds like, you can catch a listen to Chapter 1 from my soundcloud page here. Or click on the picture.

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Treasure

Yeh, I know it’s about five hours after the usual time but things got out of hand.

Two different types of treasure this week. First the lovely one that is McOther. Ah bless him. This week he was sixty, a thing that I find almost incomprehensible. He looks about 45 if that. Anyway, in order to mark the occasion I decided I needed to do something. After a bit of discussion with a friend, and McMini, I hit on a series of days out at air museums. I’ve offered him four and he can pick one although there are a couple that I might buy for all three of us at Christmas so long as enough people (or anyone) buys some of my books.

Meanwhile our ‘bubble’ decided we would meet and sort out a birthday evening along the themes of Not France. But clearly the ‘not’ was the same as the ‘nothing’ in Nothing To See Here. We had tarte flambé and wine, obviously. Quite a lot of wine. And then we had Scottish salmon, as a nod to his country of origin. Then to acknowledge where he grew up, we did a Canadian delicacy. Tortine which was, basically, meat pies. I got the recipe from my Canadian sis in law.

As you can imagine, not much of the organising here was done by me. It was very much a group effort because my inability to arrange … well … anything much is known and understood by all our friends. However, I was tasked with the pies and some salmon bites for the champagne. In order to ensure I got this right, I bought everything I needed at the market on Saturday, and from M&S on Sunday. The salmon things were easy to assemble, the pies looked like they were going to take a bit more cooking. For starters the ingredients was all in cups. That’s fine because I have purchased some cups or at least, North American cups because I believe Australian cups are different and New Zealand cups different again.

As a metric raised child with imperial parents I can do lbs and ozs and I can do kg and grammes. Cups are weird but so long as they stick to cups and teaspoons and don’t start suddenly throwing in 200 grammes of something I’m usually OK.

The recipe called for shortening, which I have never heard of until recently, but now I know this one! It’s lard. So I went up to town and M&S had something called baking block, which looked more like margarine when I got it home and, more worryingly, seemed to comprise mostly palm oil. Fucking Nora, I’m killing the planet. Never mind. Press on.

Casting an extremely blind eye to the rain forest murdering ‘lardgerine’ I was using I consulted the recipe and hit a snag. It comprised two cups of flour and one cup of shortening. I looked at the green plastic scoop and at the thing that was not butter but looked like a pat of butter on the counter. A thing that was, undoubtedly, very solid. How did I cupify that? Did I just squelch it into the plastic measure or what? Maybe I was supposed to melt it. Except that I didn’t really know what I was making, but the recipe was echoing somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain. Yeh. If this turned out to be bog standard pastry I was making here, melting it would be a bad idea.

In the end I decided that if it was two cups flour and one cup shortening it must be, basically, two to one. So I tipped the flour into the scales, worked out there was roughly 8oz and so I put 4oz of shortening in. Though I say it myself, the result was a reasonably decent bash at what did, indeed, transpire to be shortcrust pastry. It may be that if I’d found some actual lard it would have been proper meat pie pastry, you know, pork pie style. Not sure. It was alright though. Sure, I could have got some JusRoll but sometimes it’s nice to make this stuff and have it without all the extra additives and shit.

The mince bit of the recipe was much easier; mostly in lbs and ozs and standard tablespoons etc with the odd ‘cup’ of chopped onion or whatever thrown in. Having successfully combined the ingredients for the pie stuffing and made what I have to confess was a really quite decent filling, I got to the bit where it said I should put two tablespoons of corn flour.

We had cornflour. I knew we did. McOther had bought it to thicken something or other a few weeks previously but he’d also tidied the larder so I couldn’t find it. There was none. Now, I only have a certain number of ‘spoons’ on the energy front and it’s not many. I’d used most of my energy quotient for that day going up to town to get the ingredients. Any left I was using for cooking. Furthermore, I was at a point in that cooking when I couldn’t easily leave it. I was going to have to improvise. OK so we didn’t have cornflour but we did have custard powder. If you look on the side of a tin of custard powder, the ‘ingredients’ are corn flour, salt and yellow dye. So I put two tablespoons of custard powder into the pie mix. That was great, except I’d already salted it so now it was way too salty.

Oops.

Only one thing for it then, more water and wine in the mix. Luckily it didn’t do it any harm and – bonus – meant I didn’t have to produce the traditional gravy to go with!

The pies came out looking a lot tidier than the kitchen.

Eventually I managed to bake a couple of experimental pies and hit on which dishes I’d use. All my round biscuit cutters, the ones I was going to use for the pie crusts, they’d moved to somewhere else during the great larder tidy and of course, when pressed, McOther had long since forgotten where. Luckily we had one of those rings they press your veg into when you go to a posh restaurant and have potatoes dauphinois or something in a perfect circle. So I used that for the lids. For the Scottish pie style hole in the middle, I found a thing to put in the top of olive oil bottles which had a little plastic stopper that went on top. The stopper was the perfect size for cutting a small hole in the middle.

Eight decent pies and a dodgy experimental one at the front.

Come Wednesday morning, when the chips were down, I managed to produce some reasonably decent looking pies to heat up that evening. I glazed them with an egg and ate the rest of it, scrambled, for lunch afterwards. I’d already tasted one of the experimental pies and enjoyed it but that doesn’t always mean much when serving them up to Michelin star husband and friends. When I cooked them that night, because they were a bit of an unknown quantity and we’d already eaten a lot of other stuff, I cooked four between the six adults. They made me go and cook two more. So all in all, I think they were a success. So much of a success that I might even cook them again.

Next lot of treasure … some stuff I found. I have upgraded my metal detector. Or at least I have a new one on sort of HP from a friend. It’s like my old one only lighter and even easier to understand.

Yesterday I went metal detecting. I learned many things, principally that my new rain mac is not waterproof, that my waterproof trousers are also no longer waterproof and that detecting all day is probably too many spoons. But after searching some areas where the farmer wanted us to search for lumps of iron, during which I also happened upon a rather lovely watch winder, we went and had a quick hour and a half looking on a field where there was less iron to remove and some other, rather more interesting non-ferrous items as well.

Here’s a picture of the watch winder, which looked rather straightforward but turned out to be rather pretty when I cleaned it up.

For the non initiated, iron usually equals junk. Not always, but a lot of the time. To my delight, the new detector gave me a very accurate picture of what was what. I also found the fifth best find of all time for me, a silver thimble from the 1650s. We’d just been discussing our favourite eras as we walked to the field and I’d said I thought it was the 1600s for me because it was such a turbulent century.

Because the thimble is over 30o years old and more than 10% precious metal it’s actually classed as ‘treasure’ officially.

That means I have to hand it in to the representative from the portable antiquities scheme. I may get it back or it may be purchased by a museum for about £10 because it’s worth seven tenths of bugger all. But it’s interesting because it’s rare. Many of these were handed to the commonwealth and melted down to make money so there aren’t so many left. It’s an interesting thing. I was chuffed because I worked the date out from the type of writing and the fact it reads, ‘Fere God Truly’ which, I felt, pointed to turbulent times. I also found a James 1 penny, too, which was interesting.

This is my second find that is officially ‘treasure’ the other was a bit of a silver Saxon strap end. I think it takes two to three years for the process to go through.

Well … it is the civil service and government after all. The little thing next to it is a James 1 penny. It’s a pity a bit’s broken off because the detail is lovely.

The new detector is called an ORX and bears more than a passing resemblance to the SSS Enterprise, which amuses me. ORX is usually pronounced as the letters in turn, an O-R-X but actually, if you say them, as if they’re a word, you get orcs.

The orcs found me treasure. Bless ’em. That’s a first for us all. Even so.

Woot.

I have done very little new writing this week but I am editing Too Good To Be True like a demon. I am struggling with a canal boat chase though. Canal boats and barges here in Britain have a top speed of about 4 knots. A knot is about 1.2 something miles per hour.

As you can imagine, I loved the idea of making K’Barthan barges and canal boats the same, and then having two parties in boats that go at walking pace in a grim-faced, slow-motion chase to the death. I want people to run along the tow path throwing bottle bombs and our hero to smack them back with an oar, I also think he should probably give them a tow with his snurd, except I don’t think I can quite jemmy those bits in. I have to have the folks on the barge handing him something, in full view of the pursuing hoards. Naturally, that’s thing the ones chasing are after, so our hero can then fly away to draw off any airborne pursuit. Which he does. And they then disappear into the … fog … night … trees … tunnel? Sheesh. I dunno.

The folks in the boat live on it. It’s their home so they can’t give it up. However, they can give it a make over so it looks completely different in about thirty minutes. They can’t get caught at that point because I’ve written a show down that I really like – mainly because it involves Big Merv. I really like the whole book. No-one else will, but I do. Which makes it tricky.

Also, the canal boat chase is something I have to write straight, because otherwise it won’t come out funny. And I love the idea that some people will see it in their heads, see the incongruity of it and laugh their heads off while others will completely miss that. But if it still works it won’t matter and either path will be fine.

It’s tricky though. I might have to rest it again for another couple of months.

__________________________

If you’re impatient for the next book in the Hamgeean Misfit Series why not try listening to some of my books on audio.

Read by the distinguished and extremely talented Mr Gareth Davies, who has turned the K’Barthan series into a bit of a gem. You can find out more about them here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio.html

Also, Small Beginnings is on its way to market in audio format. Once again, read by Gareth who is a bit of a dab hand at comedy. It’s available on Kobo already and should land at the other retailers soon.

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Arnold’s pants!

Blimey but it’s windy here. Must be all the fruit I’m eating. Oh ho ho. The weather is pretty blowy too. Storm Ellen, I thought we’d had Ellen after Dennis but thinking about it I think that was some Spanish one with an exotic name from far further down the alphabet that muscled in.

This week I’m feeling a bit bleargh. I dunno why really because, as things go, I’ve actually achieved a bit of a score.

McOther is 60 next week and I wanted to do something to mark the occasion. Except with covid that’s hard and also McOther, himself, while he likes to be made a fuss of, also, does not like to be made a fuss of. So if you’re going to plan some jolly birthday japes for him you do rather have to go about it the right way. This involves tact, intelligence and subtlety so as you can imagine, I’m pretty much bollocksed from the get-go on that one. I toyed with the idea of buying him a trip in a Spitfire. They do those just down the road at Duxford. Trouble is, while I could, just, run to it, it would wipe out my entire savings … and I have another £1,500 headlight pending for next month. Thinking further, I hummed and haaad about casting the net wider. I reckoned that a fair few friends and colleagues would have chipped in five or ten quid reducing it to a more manageable dent.

However, I am piss poor at fundraising so I’d have probably raised about thirty quid and McOther would have been unimpressed if I’d blown my savings. While I’m scratching my head over this conundrum. Up pops a friend who knows someone who works at Duxford and she suggested some other tours and experiences which this lady is involved in. After a bit of a search, Bob’s your uncle! I think I have found several things I can offer him which he would love. Two or three options at Duxford, one at Biggin Hill, all look completely brilliant.

Next, with a short list, came the oh-Lordy-which-one moment. I’ve narrowed it down to three … possibly four … although unfortunately under 15s aren’t allowed on one, and with the covid malarkey, Duxford aren’t answering their phone so I couldn’t ring and ask them for details (ie does it apply to all their tours or just that one and is it an insurance exclusion, or is there scope for accommodating an extremely sensible twelve year old). I will offer him all three, some as a family day out and some as just him and he can pick the one he wants. And there we are. Some things he might like! Woot.

Then there is the party. Boozy Wine dinner and staying over at some friends who we ‘bubble’ with. Yes I have to cook some things I have never cooked and they will probably taste like shit but luckily someone else is making the cake and I’m not doing all the food. Much of it will be produced by People Who Can Cook! Phew! So Real Life wise … mood nervous but at the same time, cautiously optimistic.

Oh no …

On the books front. Things are a bit crap to be honest. Nothing is selling very well at the moment and I’m trying to organise a free first in series box set for comedic science fiction fantasy. I am extremely nervous. I’m shit at placing stuff like this in the marketplace because I suck royally at keywords. Also, I need to get some covers done and I can’t really afford to ask my usual lovely people to do that so it’s going to be downloaded Creative Commons NASA images with big hand drawn letters … and a unicorn in a space helmet, or possibly Pegasus sans space helmet saying ‘Yes! I achieved escape velocity. That’s magic.’ Or ‘I bet you’re wondering how I can breathe up here, right kids?’ With an astronaut in a space suit going, ‘that’s magic.’ Or hopefully something else that’s actually funny. Anyway, it looks as if there are six of us … hopefully … unless one pulls out. I might do one more appeal for entrants! Ideally we need to be seven or eight, I think.

Writing isn’t going very well either. I haven’t. Not for ages, because Real Life. The only time I’ve had to write this week is now and instead I have to do this. And it’s not going well anyway. The K’Barthan short that’s turned into a novel is a bit of a nightmare and I shouldn’t have called them shorts because if they were called ‘K’Barthan Extras’ I could have put in for a bookbub on them but because they’re ‘shorts’ I can’t. Arnold’s pants! Head desk. I am a total moron. But I’ve reached that point in the process when you are doing the first edit and you look at it and think, crikey this is awful. But of course when you’re mid edit that’s usually because it is. I have a canal boat chase. I so want to keep it in because frankly, few things seem funnier to me than the idea of two vehicles, each with a top speed of 4mph, locked in a grim pursuit to the death. It’s just that … how do I get rid of the people running along the towpath and won’t the bad guys have airborne snurds and just … yeh, heavy on the suspension of disbelief unless I can think of a bloody good reason for it to be just the boats … you get the picture.

Also I’ve been redoing some of my auto responders. The audio ones. So they are now in alignment with the ebook ones in that they start with the mailing list exclusive free book, Night Swimming and then give people Unlucky Dip and then go on with various other bits and bobs.

Revamping these involved looking at my ebook auto responder set up because that seems to engage people quite well. At the end of it, quietly gaining entrants, I have a survey. The idea is that I can find out what readers love and … you know … give it to them. One of the questions asked is how many of my books they’ve read. The people who answer this thing have all been on my mailing list at least a year so by the time they are invited to fill it in so, in theory, they should have read some of my books, right? I mean, otherwise, what the fuck are they doing there? When I examined the answer to that question it turns out the bulk of them have read one or two books – ie the two free short stories I’ve given them – and most of the rest haven’t read anything. Weirdly, I have people on my mailing list who send me chatty, supportive emails who have never read one of my books. I just … dunno what to do.

Worse, one total bastard has joined my list, downloaded the mailing list exclusive and posted it for sale on a pirate site, which is a bit of a shitter, especially as I can’t even sling the fucker off because I don’t know who it was.

Conclusion, over half of the people on my mailing list are other authors who have joined to see what I do. Solution, shut the fuck up about your mailing list on author marketing chat groups. Send them more excerpts and deleted scenes and keep pointing the people who pathologically refuse to pay for a book to their local library or local library’s ebook app.

I can’t do excerpts with the audio, sadly, although I can do interviews with Gareth. But I can with the ebook people. And I have the perfect book to experiment with because it achieves precisely zero sales and it was doing quite well before, when there were three excerpts from it on my auto responder. Then I can look at the survey in a year’s time and see if the number of people actually reading any of my books has risen.

Oh look. I’ve just solved my own problem. That’s jolly spiffing.

Onwards and upwards. I think the pressing thing, now is to write more books. And not books about bloody K’Barth because I need a break and if I want one of those I need to write something the normals will read. K’Barth is too complicated, too rich, too much effort for most readers, I think. It has to be simple, straightforward funny-in-space. Or something. But I have to find a way to write something that people will pick up and read, you know, on a whim rather than because it’s the last thing on their kindle and they are desperate, or being forced at gunpoint.

______________________

Well there we are. If you are bored and at a loose end you could always try reading one of my books. They are a bit weird but I promise they are more interesting than reading a telephone directory … just.

Or alternatively, there’s this lovely box set of first in series which includes Few Are Chosen and a lot of very much better, more interesting books by other people. The stealth approach has worked really well for me. People have read and enjoyed my book from this. In fact most of the people who go on to read my other books do so because they’ve read the first in series that I included in this one.

You can find that here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infofa.html

That’s all for this week. Next week will be hectic and I will be on the road so there may not be a post. Just giving you the heads up! Until then, hope you have a relaxing week.

 

 

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Dementia too, because obviously dementia once wasn’t shit enough

Yeh, I selected that heading from Whiny Titles R-Us but it does sum up the way I felt at the start of this week and the feeling I’m trying to describe.

The slough of despond; rain and yellow lines …

Bits of this week have been tough. I’ve had a couple of down days, mainly because I suspect I have had a mild UTI but also it’s the time of the month when I can’t remember my own name without cue cards. Worse, I’d forgotten to put the morning HRT gel on for two days running and that does make a difference. The traffic is back to normal so there has been the usual 40 minute delay along the bottom of the M25 on the way to Mum’s. This last two weeks, the journey time is back to three hours down and two and a half back, so long as I am on the road at half two sharp.

Worse, I’ve been finding it really hard engage with Real Life. To care about the little things that other people need me to care about. Silly stuff. McMini’s bedroom curtains need hemming but it’s difficult to do that while he’s in there with them attending his virtual lessons. It’s the last day today, so that’s fine, I can do it tomorrow, but it’s been a long time and both he and McOther have been eyeing them impatiently. Meanwhile, McOther has a favourite beanbag. The material is completely rotten and sewing it up is a thankless task that I have to repeat every three weeks or so, unless he does it. It’s bust again and so the choice of thankless tasks was twofold: try to get him to understand that the material is rotten, which, itself is a hiding to nothing. Or I fix it again when I know it will break in a few weeks. But fixing it is a duty of love, so perhaps it’s a bit less pointless than it seems. Quietly, without saying so, I know McOther feels unloved if I say I’ll fix it and then take ages to deliver. It’s not good to feel so meh I can’t do anything. More on that story later.

This Wednesday, then, I was not in the right place to drive 288 miles, not even in a Lotus. I felt unbelievably meh. I was teary about the state of Mum, teary about the state of myself and feeling miserable. Then the radio proceeded to play some of my favourite songs. Things which are in my record collection but which I haven’t heard for ages because most of my music equipment assumes that anything I’ve ripped from my own CDs or vinyl is a pirate copy and refuses to play it.

Hearing all these songs again, it seemed that something out there in the ether was trying to tell me to cheer up. Finally one of my very favourite songs as a teenager; Big In Japan, by Alphaville came on. Despite being in very slow moving traffic jam, the gauntlet was thrown down. I was going to sing. I rolled up the windows so, in theory, nobody would hear me, jacked up the volume and joined in. This involved full on pop star style gurning and a selection of ridiculous hand actions, I kept going, even when everything started moving. There’s nothing like giving zero fucks to cheer yourself up, and it did, at least for long enough to realise what was wrong.

You see, lockdown was quite easy, it was like a little six week holiday from the administriviative  shit. I worried about Mum but I rang her every day and I didn’t have to go anywhere or organise anything except my books! I just hung out with the McOthers and sat around in the sun writing. Woot.

Pseudo lockdown is insanely difficult. All the admin has returned with a vengeance, except because of Covid19 it’s about six times harder to do all the things you should be able to do by making a phone call. It’s the hard bits out of Real Life plus extra duties of lockdown, like the calls. All the hassle but none of the convenience. I did manage to get the scan I was due at the hospital but now I need to try and get the cat some shots. As usual, every piece of admin which should involve nothing more than a phone call involves several, and a protracted, drawn out effort, posting things, sending things. Case in point, I’ve just stuffed up my chances of opening a Barnes and Noble vendor account by transposing two numbers in my bank account number. It’s gone into ‘pending’. Probably forever. I can’t change it and I know their help desk is offline until after covid. I think they’re the only site where I have to have a W8EN still too. Everyone else you can just add your tax number and it works. I don’t know much about it but I suspect I have to get another W8EN as mine’s probably expired. Sadly, I do know that this is a great deal more complicated than it was because Americans don’t really understand what a sole trader is.

Meanwhile Mum is still shielding so she can have a few people round but not everyone. The lady who cuts her toenails has started coming again. Yes, when you’re old and arthritic you can’t do that anymore and you have to have someone come and do it for you. The lovely lady who cuts her hair came and gave her an appropriately socially distanced ‘do’ this Wednesday as well.

However, a lot of her friends are shielding, too, or can’t come to see her because she is, so she’s still bored stupid. Hopefully, as the small things that structure her life return, like the hairdresser visiting and the foot lady, she’ll gradually be more grounded again. Just as Dad did, she thrives on social interaction. My fingers and toes are, therefore, crossed. Although I have to accept that there is no guarantee of this. Because I think the main source of my malaise this week was realising that Mum is going to take the same path as Dad. Her own version, but the same horrific journey into oblivion. And I’m going to have to walk beside her; because I love her, and because, if I want to be a decent human being, that’s what I must do.

Please do not feed the animals

As we take these first steps, I guess what struck me down, temporarily, was the renewal of that familiar pain. It still hurts. Even though I’ve done it before and I am aware of the cost. I should know by now. I should be strong. But I’m not. I really wonder if I have the courage to do this a second time. I don’t want her to die, I don’t want to lose her but I pray that she will enjoy a kindly easy passing before it gets too bad. Yet, at the same time, I know she won’t because that might actually be kind to all of us and God forbid that my family should be shown a scrap of mercy over this. Instead, it seems life brings whatever will cause the maximum amount of misery and pain to all of us. Sorry Mum.

I have wondered about consulting my doctor and seeing if some medication might be in order. The trouble is, I’m pretty certain that any kind of medication for depression will merely make me even more forgetful than I already am. And since three quarters of my insane frustration is with my inability to remember a single fucking thing for more than about two and a half seconds, I suspect it would be a bad idea. And anyway. I’m not depressed. I’m sad. There’s a huge difference. When Dad died, there was grief but the sadness went away. It was a liberation.

Now that Mum is showing more acute signs of dementia, it’s back. If you wanted to present me with the perfect storm of things I am shit at dealing with, there are parts of my life over the last eight years that would be an excellent fit. I can do level-headed, clear thought in a crisis. Yeh, I can do that. But long, slow, sustained suffering. No. Not very good at it to be honest.

As I sat there, singing in the car, I realised that I’d started to withdraw completely into inner space. I lost myself in K’Barth, where my characters were suffering but where, I knew, eventually, they would be OK. I made them suffer in the faint hope their pain would somehow alleviate my own. I gave them a happy ever after in the hope that maybe if I did that, I could have one. This is an approach which works really well for me, but, unfortunately, not for those around me. That was another cause of the misery, the misery I was inflicting on my very much loved McOthers. Withdrawing helps me but it hurts everyone else. Small doses then.

As I drove, something happened. I don’t know how, but something in me fixed it. The blinkers came up again and I saw what I needed to see. I saw what was there in Mum rather than what wasn’t there. I stopped seeing drudgery and saw small acts of love. And I remembered that I have done this before. And suddenly, I slipped into the coping strategy. Short bursts of activity. An hour at the computer and then half an hour doing something else around the house. Tiny steps. 10 minutes a day. Pigeon steps, inching forward one tiny step at a time. Lists. Lots of lists. Each project broken down into manageable tiny items which are ticked off as they are done.

Don’t be a … or maybe do be one … or work smarter not harder … or something.

Lockdown was a luxury. Lockdown afforded me big chunks of time in which to write. My work came on in leaps and bounds. But lockdown is over. I need to see the me time as brief moments of something else among the admin. I need to see life as peppered with acts of love, which is what the housework side of stuff really is. Except it’s a horrible phrase … very ‘putting out love and keeping it there’ but until I can think of something better it’ll have to do. And anyway, because it sounds like fake Oprah, it’s sort of funny and that helps. As for the worry about Mum and the trying to sort things out for her. I need to call all that something different too. Same thing? Ah why not?

Duty is a crushing, heavy suffocating word, calling it an act of love makes it feel a lot lighter.

It’s amazing how, always, always, always, holding onto your sanity is about how you look at what’s happening, how you frame it to yourself. That simple switch and I’m cheerful again, and reasonably happy. I feel the weight, for sure, but it’s lessened. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is a chuffing marvel. If you are struggling with anything heavy and millstone-like in your life, I urge you to look it up. I never cease to be amazed how I can actually do a PR/Propaganda job on myself. I know what I’m doing, I know I’m just putting a different slant on it, yet it works.

You may consign the coping strategies to the past when you don’t need them, but it’s slightly miraculous how quickly they came back when you do. I feel better, a lot better. To be honest, I still don’t really don’t know if I can do this a second time. But there’s no point in wondering. I swam through the dark waters with Dad and came out the other side. I’ll just have to take each stage as it comes, strike out into the void and give it my best shot.

_______________________

If you are feeling a bit meh, yourself, you could always pick up a good book! Indeed, if you’re feeling really lazy you don’t even have to read it. Choose one of the audiobooks and Gareth will do that for you. Indeed anyone who signs up for my audio mailing list gets two books free; Unlucky Dip and Night Swimming. That’s two hours of glorious K’Barthan lunacy for zero pence. Yep! Night Swimming comes later on, although I may switch it so it’s the story people get first. It’s just that suddenly I have very little time so for now it’s Unlucky Dip first, then a week or two and Night Swimming.

Anyway, Gareth played a blinder on both but the really lovely thing about it is that Unlucky was the first one he did and Night Swimming is his most recent. You get to see what he’s learned in the interim. So there you are, if do want a listen, just go here, sign up and they should both arrive in your inbox over the course of about three weeks: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio1fb.html

Unlucky Dip Audio Book


If you do join in, and it’s not obligatory or anything, but if you do, or if you have and there’s any stuff you want me to ask Gareth about how he did the recordings, let me know and I’ll ask him.

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Handcart locked and loaded. Destination: Hell … mind the doors please.

This morning it is pissing down and rather cold. Bit of a bummer after it’s been so lovely, although the plants need the rain and I bet the blackbird is pleased not to have to be eternally dive bombing my cat. Politics has rather dominated this week despite my best efforts not to let it. There are a lot of things I could say but I’ll only go off on … OK all of them. Sorry.

(RANT MODE ON).

The trouble with having a nation where everyone is armed to the teeth is that, in an altercation, things seem to move from shouting and pointy sticks to bullets very quickly. Since Trump has followed Hitler’s playbook from the get go, I’m not going to be hugely surprised if he suddenly stands up and actually, you know, says that he’s a full on white supremacist.

After all, he is a man who would prefer to appear in public looking like an orange panda with a Brillo pad on his head than admit to being pale and bald. That’s impressive. Someone like that is always going to be full of interesting surprises. Although, I think I may possibly be starting to understand why he chose orange foundation over a more natural shade like say … brown.

Then again, he may be President but he’s also an American businessman and foremost, he’s going to act as such. If Henry Ford can have his workers shot for going on strike, I guess Donald Trump can send anonymous armed guards to shoot demonstrators. I was amused by the way that the actual city administration of Washington DC appears to have trolled him by painting Black Lives Matter on the streets near the Whitehouse. I probably shouldn’t be. I’m sure it makes me a bad person. But I can’t help thinking that DT going down to the bunker and the wire fences being put up around the Whitehouse might say as much about his private view of some Americans as it does about their intentions towards him.

Or to spell it out a bit. Is he getting worried the people he derides feel the way about him that he does about them? Or maybe it’s just precedent. I mean Americans do have a bit of a thing about shooting their presidents. No but hang on, aren’t the nutters with guns are mostly in his fan base? You can never be too careful I guess.

What does strike me is all the posts where young black lads in the USA are talking about the things they have to remember. Don’t go out after dark, avoid wearing certain clothes … I can empathise with them hugely since, while theirs go further, these kinds of dos and don’ts are still integral to any woman’s life, no matter what her age or colour. Fist bump. Welcome to my world darling.

Except times about one trillion.

This is something that upsets me. I totally get why people over there are angry and rioting.

My great to the power of … many … grandfather was black. This is something we’ve learned accidentally from blood analysis rather than tracing the family tree, we think he must have been Roman. The thing is, I look at this and think, there but for the quirks of genetics, go I. I once encountered someone on facebook who was banging on about how the BBC was crap because there should be only white people on it and that coloured people weren’t representative of ‘Britain’ – that they shouldn’t live in this country and should all be ‘sent home’. I told him coloured people had been settling in Britain for at least a thousand years and that I was living proof, explaining about my Great (however many it is) grandfather. Would I have to leave your utopian only Britain? I asked him. He told me that I didn’t count, because, ‘your skin is white.’ I’m not making this shit up. Racism is that arbitrary and pathetic.

As my 87 year old mother said the other day, ‘ it’s disgusting.’

‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do to me.’

I wonder which bit of that the conservative ‘Christians’ in the USA fail to get.

Moving on.

Here in Britain, we’ve had the Dominic Cummings thing. Jeepers. So my first thought, on that one, was that if I was worried one of us had the Rona, and that McOther and I might end up in hospital with McMini here alone, I’d have been up the M6 to my brother’s with him like a rat up a drainpipe. But then Mr Cummings tried to explain his trip to Barnard Castle the following day.

What the actual fuck did he think he was doing? Seriously? Who advised him to come out with that utter tosh? There are so many explanations that are reasonable. ‘I was an idiot, I didn’t think, it’s a lovely place and I just took a run out there without thinking it through. I was foolish and I’m sorry.’ That would have done it.

But no. That would involve him admitting to a mistake. Can’t have that. For he is perfect. As I understand it, the explanation is that, worried the Rona might have left him a bit blind, despite having driven 200 miles up the A1 from London the day before without a second thought, he decided to test his eyesight. Rather than go outside and see if he could read a number plate from 30 yards away, like you do at the beginning of a driving test, he decided he’d do this by going for a thirty mile drive.

How did that work?

If I don’t crash the car and kill anyone. I’m not blind.

Yeh good call.

Seriously though.

What?

This is the kind of logic behind the ducking stool. I know our current batch of Conservatives is quite a lot further to the right than some of their predecessors have been but … really?

Surely you need to get your reasoning skills a bit further than that to advise the Prime Minister these days. Or maybe not. Hmm… strange that there’s a big Glaxo facility in Barney. Is that where he was going? Is Not Wanting To Talk About Glaxo why he was prepared to come out with the kind of excuse a three year old caught nicking biscuits would be ashamed of?

The point is, he went from having a reasonably valid excuse, or at least a reason for transgressing that any parent could understand, to looking like the biggest lying bastard ever.  The Barnard Castle (northern euphemism for cobblers) he was talking about his visit to Barney immediately makes any sensible person wonder what the actual reason for going north in the first place might have been.

Seriously, McMini, bearded in the larder with a half eaten biscuit in one hand and the opened packet in the other could argue more cogently that he had not been pilfering biscuits than Mr Cummings argued a valid reason for his trip to Barnard Castle.

From feeling a certain amount of empathy with Cummings I now wonder about the veracity of all of it. He only stayed up there two days. Why? Sounds like he was just visiting the parents. Or was it something more sinister than that? Were he or his wife even ill?

Mr Cummings, if you’re reading this, do get in touch with me. I can put you in contact with my young son. I’m sure he’ll help you to come up with something a bit more plausible next time you’re caught being a naughty boy. Or thinking about it, your own lad’s four so doubtless you can sort your next excuse in house. Yeh, cut out your advisors and talk to the four year old next time you want to think of an excuse because I assure you, he’ll come up with quality compared to this last effort.

Then there’s Boris’ knee jerk reaction. Nothing sensible like,

‘OK, I can’t make any constructive comment on this until I’ve spoken to my colleague and found out what’s going on, I will do so and make a statement as soon as I am able.’

Nope it’s  ‘He was here all the time, honest guv!’ So now he just looks like an almighty liar who will put his loyalty to his friends ahead of both his loyalty to the nation and his integrity. A kind of reverse Thomas a Becket. And as Prime Minister, his loyaltay to his nation is important. This is not what you do when you work for governments. If you work for MI6 and you are tasked with spying on your best friend, you do it. That’s why working for MI6 is not a pleasant job. Likewise politics. Not an easy job. Not really. That’s why it now comes with a good wage. Because if you do it properly and you make it about helping others, rather than stepping over them and helping yourself, it’s actually a very tough gig. And like Thomas a Becket, if you do it properly, you’re going to make a lot of enemies out of folks who might, once, have been your friends.

It’s as much a non-story as that thing about Gordon Brown was when he called that woman a racist. To be honest, while I got what she was saying, it did come over as a bit, ‘send the brown people home,’ so I could see his point.

But all these non-stories are about smearing others. Groups of people or political parties who don’t like someone looking for a reason to destroy them. They haven’t the wit to wait for something really good. They use the first piece of dubious shit they can find, with no substance to back it up. They undermine their own integrity, not to mention the credibility of any genuinely pertinent information they might discover at a later date. Which is one of the reasons why the far right’s supporters don’t believe anyone except their own mouth pieces anymore (sure the other is brainwashing but that’s one).

On that ‘outrage’, I sympathised with Gordon Brown. I felt that no journalist of integrity should have printed/released a throw away remark made in private. And however much of a get Mr Brown may or may not have been, the place where he should be tried and tested for his actions was not the newspapers. It was within government, parliament, the law – possibly – and his own party? Through whatever the official channels were, anyway, not on telly.

Likewise, I actually sympathised with Dominic Cummings – until his laughable attempts to explain himself. But I do still have some sympathy, in that the whole thing does come over as another nothing whipped up into something by his political enemies. There are a lot of very unpleasant people in politics but some are reasonably proficient at the things they are there to do. I guess it’s balancing that. If someone is unctuous, condescending and rude but a brilliant chancellor, maybe that’s OK.

Yes, politicians need to be held accountable and, yes, that’s what the press is there to do. But it needs to be done with integrity. If the press prints something to hold people in power accountable, they need to do it because making their actions public is the right thing to do. Not to make news. The nub is that the news making is a by product. The story has to serve some other purpose. There has to be some vague nod at a quest for truth or a point to it all. It’s very subtle but there’s a difference in there and I wonder if we are losing sight of it.

It’s like there’s nothing interesting happening so politicians and press alike have to whip some piece of mundane crap up into this gargantuan pseudo scandal. And then when, in the 1980s, there was some very compelling evidence that a cabinet minister was abusing children. Politicians and press, alike, hushed it up.

The notable thing that struck me was the lack of statesmanlike behaviour on all sides. Clearly a lot of people in Whitehall and Parliament have got where they are today by going round in big groups, overwhelming and shouting down the opposition rather than winning debates. Perhaps that’s why Mr Cummings was incapable of mustering any humility or making a genuine apology and a reasonable explanation. Perhaps he’s never had to acknowledge a mistake before and doesn’t understand how to. Perhaps he lacks the humility to acknowledge his failings. Perhaps that’s why Boris just blustered defensively instead of admitting that he didn’t know the facts and would look into them and report back. Or could it be that the truth of that trip really is something so deeply insidious that it must be buried. It probably isn’t, but after their behaviour, I suspect a lot of people are going to think it is, whether or not that’s true.

(/RANT MODE)

____________________________

If current politics is doing your head in, world wide or at home, why not lose yourself in a good book, or alternatively, one of mine. There are several options.

1. Few Are Chosen, K’Barthan Series: Part 1 on AUDIO wooooot

This should be reduced to £5.99 or $5.99 AU/CA/US/NZ and €5.99 on Kobo, from now until 28th June.

In addition, it’ll be available for the same price on Chirp and iBooks from 13th – 28th June.

Links to those sites can be found here:

In other audio news, hopefully the new shorts will be available over the coming year. After a bit of thought, I’ve decided it will also including the free mailing list exclusive, Night Swimming. One of the joys of this is that, with any luck, these will be a bit shorter so I will be able to sell them direct from my site.

2. Close Enough, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit: No 3

Close Enough cover

This is out on 18th June.

It’s also available for preorder in most places, except possibly Apple because it’s the first time I’ve uploaded there direct and it’s taking me a fair while to understand how their store works.

If you’re interested, here’s the blurb.

As recently appointed delivery man for Big Merv, one of Ning Dang Po’s most powerful crime bosses, The Pan of Hamgee is ordered to deliver a gift to Big Merv’s current girlfriend. With a pair of bespoke-made, sapphire and diamond earrings on board, and a trip across the city in the offing, what could possibly go wrong? Everything.

If you like the sound of that, click here

If you’ve got all the way down here, congratulations and thanks for reading. A bientot!

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Filed under General Wittering

Dementia redux; rinse and repeat …

It’s a bit of a mixed bag this week. On the one hand, life is getting slowly back to normal, people are allowed out to visit other people and I have been visiting my significant family member: my mum, for two weeks now. On the other, I’m gutted. It probably says a lot about me that I am actually sad that lock down is ending. I’ve enjoyed the absence of traffic noise, the friendly waves at people, and the laughter as we try to make crossing the road to avoid each other look a bit less pointed! I’ve enjoyed the walk every day and I absolutely loved the bike ride I had round town along smooth deserted roads rather than squeezed against the kerb, buffeted by endless streams of resentful traffic.

OK so the lappers/boy racers in their souped up 500cc insurance punishment vehicles were still driving round, and round, and round, and round, and the blokes on the big bikes that corner like a waterbed and have an engine note that sounds exactly how I imagine a whale fart does, but everyone else had stayed at home.

There was a day, a week and a half ago, where the traffic picked up again and I noticed this horrible petrol smell in the air. After wondering what it was, all morning, I realised it was traffic fumes. It smells of traffic fumes where I live, the entire time, and I never even noticed that until it went away for a while and came back.

The pace of life in lockdown has been slower. I’ve enjoyed the company of my husband and son and having time to write. There is much admin I need to do but I can’t because it’s lockdown. Hoorah. Next week I’ll have to find some bloke to come and look at a wall at my mum’s, sort out a donation to the place where Dad’s memorial service was held and re-arrange shots for my cat, my and my son’s dental appointments and a whole host of other jizz which will suck in my time. On the up side, hopefully my writer’s circle will be able to meet for our next get together. That will be wonderful as we are, all three, vulnerable, so it will be great to get together again. It was also lovely to have a socially distanced encounter with friends last night.

That said, I think part of the slight feeling of malaise that rested on the beginning of this week was about Dad. You see, after a year, when someone dies, you have a year’s mind. Which just means you think of them in church. Dad’s was last Sunday. I wasn’t in church and that was a bit sad. So sad that it caught me completely off guard. As I sat in the garden live streaming a service from somewhere, I burst into tears. After a while it wore off but I never shrugged off the sadness throughout that day. I should be remembering Dad, like properly, with prayers and things. In a church. But that was probably as much about how important a weekly bout of quiet time interspersed with the singing of hymns at an anti social volume is to my mental equilibrium.

Later that day, we had a zoom chat with friends which, strangely, left me feeling even more isolated. I’m not sure why, and then when I hit the shower, I started blubbing like the giant girl I am and couldn’t stop. I’m a firm believer in letting these things ride their course so I let it all hang out for a while and finally when the flow appeared to have slowed up enough, I put my jammies on and sat on the bed.

Vimy Ridge 100 years on

There’s usually a reason for outbursts like this so I like to try and work out a plausible explanation. Understanding it helps. It’s not going to stop weird stuff like that from happening, but if I can put my finger on a bona fine reason, it’s less scary. Partly it was a simple case of missing Dad. The further away I am from the well-meaning but cantankerous, Father Jack-like gentleman suffering from Alzheimer’s the closer I become to Original Dad. I shouldn’t say that both Dads were real, but one was the original and the other was like bad archeology. A wild guesstimate of the man constructed from the things that were left.

But the other thing I was missing was my mum. I realised that I was mourning for her as much as for dad. Lively, smart funny Mum, who read all my books, who knew all the family history, who could cook better than most of the restaurants I’ve visited. Mum who had a garden full of people, ‘you can’t cut the head off that, it’s Betty Leigh-Pollet’ she used to say when Dad demanded that a bush in front of the window be cut down so he could see more from his seat in the drawing room.

Now, on bad days, Mum has reached a similar stage of anchoring herself to the TV, as if it will keep her alignment with space and time. She now sits and gazes out of the window. She has issued orders and Betty Leigh-Pollet’s head has been cut off without a second thought, and ‘Betty’ looks none the worse for her experience. Mum’s forgotten who all the plants are. Sometimes she remembers, other times, only that she got them from somewhere, sometimes she’ll say that she got them from … ‘that nice woman, you know the one, lives up the road, had a husband called Roger who dropped dead in the garden.’ Sometimes I’ll be able to tell her, on the back of that, who she got them from, other times, I won’t.

She’s forgotten the things she couldn’t do. She’s back to fretting about earthing up the potatoes but at the same time, understands she can’t do it. Not because she’s remembered that she isn’t supposed to be digging like that, but because she still remembers that the potatoes are in a part of the garden that’s out of the range of her emergency help button.

‘How old am I?’ she asked me the other day.

‘Eighty seven,’ I said.

‘Good heavens! Am I really, I can’t be can I? What year is it?’

‘It’s 2020, Mum.’

‘Goodness! I thought we were in the 1990s.’

Mum hasn’t gone at all, she’s still very much as she was, but the changes are beginning to take place. Last week she told me she’s voted conservative all her life, she has no recollection of the fact she’s voted green in every election since about 1996. It’s weird. And it makes conversation interesting because I never quite know which Mum I’m going to get, the sharp as a whip, switched on Mum or the one who is convinced she and Dad bought their house for £40 in 1986 (they bought it for a lot more than that in 1972) and thinks I lived with her and my uncle during the war.

Sometimes, she’s more than much-muddled, as she calls herself – or very much-muddled on a bad day. She’s started having strange ideas, bizarre theories. Suddenly, after telling us, for years, that she’d like to stay in her house until she dies but that, after she’s gone, though it’ll make her sad, she appreciates we may have to sell it, she’s started talking about changing her will so the house is left to her oldest grandson because, ‘it must stay in the family, it must be protected.’ The point is moot, since selling it isn’t an issue and anyway, she ordered me to activate the power of attorney over her finances some time ago, which I did, because no way is she in control of enough faculties to change her will. But it’s kind of strange.

She’s been telling me she wants to take on an extra gardener because the lovely couple who are doing the garden for her at the moment, ‘can’t cope.’ One minute she is telling me the garden looks better than it ever has, the next she’s telling me that the drive must be tarmaced because it has grass growing up the middle. I did finally get to the bottom of this. She is worried she’ll die before her current gardening project is complete. It’s been delayed by lockdown and although she understands about lockdown and what it is, she’s kind of forgotten why the delay has happened and how to apply it to the garden.

Interestingly, she has been a bit more imperious with her team, too. Apparently there’s a lot more, ‘I want’ and a lot less, ‘could you please …’ I don’t know what to make of that. What I have ascertained is that she’s nervous, in some ways, but not afraid to die, and not afraid of dying alone. She’s worried about dying before the garden is ‘finished’. Although it looks pretty fabulous to me.

We’ve had the conversation about coronavirus. If she gets it she’d like to stay at home but she appreciates that she a) can’t look after herself and b) can’t expect others to put themselves at risk to do so … not even my brother and I, because we have small children who need their parents to stay alive. So she’d have to go to hospital and die alone. She’s totally alright with that. ‘I have a faith and John’ (Dad) ‘is waiting for me.’ It’s still a grim conversation to have but the point here is, that she can think stuff through, a lot of stuff, but not all of it.

She’s OK really, so what was I crying about? Well, it’s like this.

When your loved one gets dementia there’s a horrible dichotomy. On one hand you don’t want them to die because a lot of them is still there and you love them dearly and you want to spend as much time as possible with them while you can. On the other, you want their suffering to end (and yours, watching them suffer) and the only way that can happen is if they snuff it. I don’t want Mum to die. We still have wonderful conversations. I want that to continue. But at the same time, I’m exhausted, so exhausted with looking after Dad, her and Dad and now her. I’ve driven to Sussex every week for five years now. It’s nothing compared to what other people do, living alone with a profoundly demented person, being their sole carer for years with no let up, no break. It’s no surprise that, in couples where one is ill and needs cared for, the ‘well’ one nearly always dies first. But the fact is, for all the knowledge that I have it easy compared to most people in this position, I, me, find it hard. What’s more, my struggle is no less valid for being easier or harder than that of others, just as theirs is no less valid for being different to mine.

Another thing that may have hit me broadside is my position along the arc so to speak. You see, there are certain stages of the dementia journey.

Stage one is the place where your loved one is a bit forgetful, but functioning pretty much as they always have mentally. Stage one is the one where they suddenly forget the recipe for something they’ve made every week since you’ve known them. Or you get a all in church and rush out to find Mum calling in a panic on someone else’s mobile phone to say that she can’t remember the burglar alarm code. This is the stage when you can tell yourself it isn’t anything odd, it’s just ageing, a slight aberration.

When they are in stage one, you bury your head in the sand. It will be OK. It will be a long time before it gets really bad. They will die before they hit stage two. But deep down, even though you are hoping and denying your arse off, you know it’s more than a bit of vagueness.

Stage two is the place where your loved one starts to be a so forgetful it might be dangerous. In Mum’s case it was Christmas 2015, when one of the people who used to come and sit with dad arrived to find both my parents sound asleep in the drawing room and the turkey giblets, in a pan, in the kitchen, on fire. Mum had put them on to make stock and forgotten about them.

The worst part of that, as far as she was concerned, was that she really liked that saucepan. The lovely man who looks after their garden managed to clean it so it could still be used but something had happened to its bottom and it was never the same again.

This is the worst stage, in some ways, the one where you know they need outside help but they refuse to accept it. When you can see the storm clouds gathering but don’t know when or where the rain is going to fall, only that it’s coming. They want to remain independent and you want to let them for as long as possible but there is the very real chance that if you don’t get someone in to check up on them several times a day they will die in a gas explosion, a roaring inferno of their own making … etc … In Mum’s case we were unsure if it was a kind of senior baby brain from dealing with Dad, or a problem she had. Either way she was going to die from exhaustion looking after Dad or they were both going to die from her own hand from left on gas or something similar.

Stage two is the hardest part, where you have to convince the person with dementia to get someone in to help before the shit hits the fan. I failed, the shit did, indeed, hit the fan. I had to drive to Sussex at four am (the second of three midnight mercy dashes). I had one hour’s sleep and then I had to look after both parents, who could do little more than sleep and ask for food at various intervals (like two baby birds). My parents ate a lot of meals too, breakfast at nine, lunch at one, tea at four – usually approximately thirty minutes after the last of lunch had been cleared away – and supper at seven. Then, I had to spend two nights sleeping with my Dad while Mum was in hospital, which meant waking up ever 40 minutes to make sure he got to the loo and back without falling. We had some lovely chats and he was so sweet, but I was dead on my feet by the time I handed over to my brother!

We got someone in after a week to live with them. That’s when the extent of Mum’s dementia became apparent. She had enormous trouble adjusting to a situation she’d have breezed through even six months before, because she was already suffering from memory problems of her own. One of the things I particularly remember was her absolute adamance that it was the Carer who had burned the saucepan rather than her. She berated them for putting things away in the wrong place and not ‘where they’d always lived’ but ‘where they’d always lived’ was a fluid concept depending on whether she was in the 1980s, 1990s 2000s or 2010s in her head.

Stage two though, you can still convince yourself that they’ll die before you lose them.

Stage three is when you realise that the person you love, who has dementia, is leaving you. It’s when you begin to understand that they are not going to die before you lose them. Because since you’ve already watched it happen to your father, sparing your mother would be far too merciful.

Stage three is when you realise that yes, you are going to have to walk beside them. Every. Horrific. Step. Because there’s nothing else you can do for them. And it’s the point when you realise how much, exactly, that is going to hurt you.

It’s the, ‘father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,’ moment.

That’s what I was having on Sunday.

Stage three is when the person starts to become a bit different, they suddenly like different things or their version of events is suddenly wildly at variance with the real one they remembered. I hate pistachio nuts. But I thought you liked them. No, I’ve always hated them. This after them receiving a bag with pure delight two week’s previously and then opening the bag so you can eat them together like naughty children raiding the larder before lunch (although that’s Dad rather than Mum). They may cling to a couple of stories they remember and repeat them again and again. I have a couple of similar ones that I always add to the ones Mum tells. Do you remember when we did …? Oh yes that was hilarious and thingwot says you did it on x occasion too. Dear thingwot. Yeh, thingwot is lovely, cue long succession of stories about thingwot. That kind of stuff. It works a treat and always gets us laughing, which is brilliant. I thoroughly recommend it as a technique!

This is the place where you discover disconnects of which you weren’t aware: that your loved one thinks you grew up together, for example. That’s lovely because it means they see you as part of the things that make up their entire being. But tricky when you’re trying to pretend you remember what your great grandfather, who died well before you were born, was actually like. This is the stage when you have to face up to the fact that they are not going to die before it gets any worse, that you need to grasp the nettle, get care for them, sort out a lasting power of attorney for their health and finances and generally prepare for the total loss of marbles that lies ahead. This, with Mum, has been so much easier because we were able to keep on a lot of the care Dad had. And while Dad was a wanderer, Mum seems to be more of a sitter. She likes to go out into the garden and potter in the greenhouse, but she doesn’t get agitated and wander off, not yet anyway (hopefully never).

Mum is in completely denial. The doctor is too. He is prepared to get her evaluated but would like to start any investigation with blood tests. She refuses to have them. I’d like to know what type of dementia she has, but if giving it a name scares her, I’ll leave it. I think she’s a bit sort of … well it’s all dementia, who cares which type I have.

Stage three, and usually, you will still be in denial at this point, still thinking that life will be kind and the person suffering will carry on like this for years without any further deterioration and then die a good and happy death, before it gets any worse.

You will be wrong.

This is where Mum is now, I think.

What does it feel like? A bit less scary but still fairly horrible. I know I can do it because I’ve done it before. I know what the stages are but actually, I don’t know how this is going to take Mum. Everyone is different and she is definitely different from Dad. On the up side, she seems much happier and much more ready to accept that she has a terrible memory or sometimes, if required, that it’s us who are all mad, not her. Dad, on the other hand, never swallowed that lie. It would have been a lot easier if he had.

But even though it’s a little kinder, a little easier, it’s so hard. I’m tired now. So, so, tired. For a while there, I’ve had a window on what it’s like not to worry much and an excuse not to take any action (thank you covid for that small mercy). Certainly this time, I seem to have switched off and retreated under a big layer of scar tissue. That’s probably not very good for my mental health but shucks, whatever gets you through right? And it seems to be moving faster with Mum than it is with Dad and I guess that’s … kind of … a mercy.

Stage four. This is where there is now something unequivocally, definitely, bizarre about your loved one. This is where most dementia patients disappear from social life. Usually it’s because they start doing something embarrassing. But this is where socialising them can really help them and keep them enjoying life. Because they will be enduring every last minute of this horrific end. It’s your job to make it as pleasant as possible for everyone involved; them and you. It’s amazing what other people will put up with for the sake of the person they knew before. Try not to be afraid. Many people will understand, many bar maids will laugh along as your father asks them to marry him, and will join in the joke when you explain that he can’t because he’s not a Mormon and already engaged to all of his carers.

This is where you start getting some places used to the dementia sufferer and working out who can’t cope and who doesn’t mind. In our case, the local pub, the local shop and the local church were all brilliant with Dad as was his brother. Doubtless they will be with Mum, too. It’s really important that the dementia sufferer can still socialise as far as is possible, even when the disease finally claims their faculties. Far more people will be kind and gentle than will be shitty. Also, this is the stage where you need to try and evaluate what is and isn’t possible with their particular methods of dealing with life.

They may not sleep well, or at all and that will make their symptoms way, way worse. They may wander at night. Dad did both, although he wasn’t mobile enough to wander so he just used to have a jolly good go.

You might see some of the unacceptable shouty stuff coming out at this point. Not much, just enough to be hurtful. I remember Dad shouting at me to hurry up when I changed his nappy and also getting massively angry at having to wait for a crepe flambé. Cardinal sin committed there, no non-stick pan which meant I should have cooked all the pancakes first and then done the sauce and flambéing. I remember being so upset because he was still quite normal so this sudden total melt down over waiting a few minutes for a pudding was inexplicable – not to mention painful.

If you see any behaviour like this, it means you’ve reached the point where you need decide how much of that sort of stuff you can cope with. If you know you can’t take that, 24/7 now’s the time to scout out a good home and get the dementia sufferer used to the idea of going there. It is wise to choose a home ahead of time, wise but incredibly hard. But if they turn shouty then, once the anger kicks in you will NOT be able to look after them at home.

Brighton’s over there somewhere

This is the stage where they may go from being absolutely OK with the idea of dying to looking at death the way a small child would. This is also the stage where you need to accept that they will not be mercifully taken before the disease takes every last vestige of their dignity because that only happens to other lucky bastards. But it’s also a stage where, at the start, you may not yet be certain where the disease will go. Not everyone gets shouty or starts telling nine year old girls they’d like to fuck them. But now is the time you have to accept and plan for the fact it may happen.

Stage five is the one where it ends. They end up in bed with people coming to turn them once in a while and spoon food into their mouths or in a home. This is the stage where Dad came back to us because suddenly, he got some sleep. By the end of his spell in hospital he genuinely could have come home to us. Except he couldn’t, because he’d have stopped sleeping again and it would have all been rinse and repeat. So he want to a really lovely home, but a home nonetheless. He knew where he was and more to the point, where he wasn’t.

The hardest thing is that, throughout all the stages, you will find vestiges of the person’s pre dementia personality. You will never lose your ability to love and value them as a person. You will never ‘get used to it’. It will never stop hurting. Even though there will be times when they say really horrible, hurtful things you will keep loving them.

I’m not looking forward to stages four and five with Mum, but at least I have more of an idea what to expect. Who knows, maybe the disease will be kinder to her than it was to Dad. I can hope, can’t I?

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Filed under General Wittering

Today, a bunny thing happened …

This week, I had intended to write a deep and poignant post about stages along the dementia path. But then stuff happened. So, instead I’m going to share another slice of my completely bat shit crazy life. Something connected with my oh-ho-ho so clever pun in the title there (phnark).

First up, I invented a joke. Who do mice worship? Cheesus. This is, possibly, the only funny joke I’ve ever thought of, and probably ever will so enjoy it while you can.

Next, ACX, which publishes audiobooks on Audible. Jeez but seriously? What a chuffing shower. Talk about arse doesn’t know what the elbow’s doing. Seriously, total, epic big-company style fuckwittery. They used to approve audiobooks by listening to them, which is commendable, but takes ages. I think they still do but they have an autovetter as well, now, that saves them a lot of time. There was a big surge in audio submissions at the end of last year apparently, and basically, they were swamped.

Friends submitting books early December were only having them put on sale in late February/early March. One of the biggest reasons I published non-exclusively with them is because I looked at them and I just thought … do I really want to rely on these insane nutters for all my audiobook income? And the immediate answer was no. Lucky because they removed the key benefit of going all-in just after I uploaded my first book with them – on a non-exclusive deal. Phew.

Anyway, the issue is that I submitted four audiobooks which are in a series. The audiobooks were submitted in order one, two, three, four in the hope that they would appear on the market in that same order. Did they? Of course not. Book two appeared first and then, worse, some poor bugger bought one – they’re going to be well confused, unless it’s Gareth’s mum (my mum wouldn’t be up to that kind of thing) but Gareth doesn’t think so.

Anyway, I wrote to ACX help, you can’t reach that from the UK by the way, the help links just pipe you through to sign up to audible, but some friends in the US and Australia shared the web address. I wrote and explained that the books need to be read in order and asked if there was any chance they could hurry up book one. I received a boilerplate reply saying that they’d look into it but that book one would probably go live before they came back with an answer. The best way of saying ‘we’ll investigate this when hell freezes over’ I’ve come across.

Well done ACX! Mwahahahargh!

OK so maybe I’m being harsh, the (possibly) person or (probably) bot replying might have made some sort of effort. Who knows, but the result of my enquiry after the status of book one was the rapid release of book four. Mwahahahahrgh!

What cockwomblery is this? I thought, but give them some time. Maybe the first book will appear next.

Sure enough ACX did put another of the books on sale that very same day, can you guess which one? Yes! That’s right. Book three! Mwahahahahrgh! Book one, which was submitted before all of them, remains stolidly ‘in review’ at the moment. Gareth’s reaction, ‘that is mad in so many ways’ pretty much sums it up.

Writing has been a bit on the back burner this week, although I have written about 6,000 words because I know exactly what’s happening so I can dash off a thousand in a few ten minute stints here and there. Also did the first Sussex trip for nine weeks, which was lovely in most ways and a little difficult in others. I will be taking McMini next week, which we are all looking forward to. McMini lost a bit of focus on his school work recently. Got a sucked into his gaming. The school raised concerns so we’ve been liaising with them since. He’s been really good about catching up. It’s half term this week and I think he has a couple of assignments left to do but otherwise, he’s nearly back on track, which is brilliant. But it does mean we’ve been spending a lot more time checking his work over with him and ensuring it’s all done. He responds much better to hearing and seeing someone explain a concept rather than reading it … like me bless him. We’ve also been distracting him from his screen so it’s been good to spend more time with him.

On Thursday, after he’d finished his lessons, he came through to the kitchen and after a bit of chatting we decided we’d go for a walk. Off we went and half way round our usual circuit McMini asked if we could take a different path and explore, so we did, ending up on a really lovely cycle/foot path through the countryside – even if it was a bit close to the A14. It came out on a road I know well and I worked out we could do a loop back home. Having decided to do this we set off, onwards, when I noticed a black rabbit calmly munching grass in broad daylight on the verge.

‘Uh-oh, looks like someone’s rabbit has got out,’ I said, making to walk on.

‘Mum! We can’t leave it. Remember when we lost our cat, remember how horrible it was, there will be people looking for him.’

‘Well … we can’t catch him,’ I said, dubiously. ‘Tell you what then, let’s ring the vet.’

Our vet was on another call and anyway, I knew they were only taking emergency calls and that they were well busy – we’d walked past the surgery and seen that the car park was hooching with folks and pets, all emergencies, waiting to be seen. So I rang another vet. They said to ring the RSPCA. I found a local rep but the number went to voicemail so I rang the hotline.

‘Your call will be answered in … thirty … minutes,’ said the electronic voice. I relayed this, pretty horrific news to McMini.

‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ I asked McMini.

‘Yes Mum.’

‘Right oh then.’

Bunny!

So we held … for forty minutes. During which time we stayed with the rabbit so we didn’t lose it. It was very friendly, sniffling at my feet and sniffing my fingers. Definitely tame but a bit shy as well and seemingly very short sighted. At one point it was attacked by another wild rabbit. Did you know that when one rabbit jumps another rabbit from behind, the surprised one can jump at least four feet high? No, neither did I but it did. It was chased around until it ran back to us and the wild rabbit stopped. There was stare down for a moment or two and then I clicked my fingers at the wild rabbit and it scarpered whereas our chap, being tame, was not alarmed.

Finally, the RSPCA answered and told us – you guessed it – to call the vet. They gave us the number of our own vet, the one which was engaged in the first instance and extremely busy. I rang them and told them that I hoped to be bringing in a rabbit. However, while waiting, I had texted the RSPCA local rep to explain what was happening. I texted McOther as well. He came to collect us with the car, some carrots and lettuce, and a cat box. There was a lay by just near us so he parked there. By six fifteen, we reckoned we weren’t going to get the rabbit, it came close, a couple of times but we decided we’d have to leave it and we came home. Rabbits do get out and usually, they do go home on their own.

More bunny!

Later, while exchanging messages with Gareth about the curious antics of ACX I mentioned the rabbit. He said he’d owned two pairs of rabbits and that yes, he did indeed pull them … well … not out of a hat but out of a house apparently. Mwahahaargh. He gave them to his nephew and nice when he quit being a children’s entertainer and got a job with a touring theatre company. He had two pairs and told me his would get out frequently, to the point where he stopped trying to catch them because it was a pain in the arse and pointless, anyway, when they’d always come home.

This was reassuring but our bunny seemed to have very poor vision, and while he probably wanted to go home, I wondered if he’d be able to find his way. More to the point, surely he’d have left the area when the other rabbit attacked him if he knew how to get home. Worse, there was the possibility that he might have been abandoned, in a moment of desperation, by skint, locked-down, parents who’d told the kids he ran away. Maybe that was why he was staying where he was, because that was where he had been let out of someone’s car. Or maybe he was just lost. Perhaps the increased traffic on the A14 was drowning out the noises he would have used to navigate his way home. Or, he may simply have stayed in that spot because, as a tame, domesticated bunny, albeit a lost one, he liked human company. Maybe munching pine cones and relaxing on the grass near a busy footpath was as close to human interaction as he dared get. I thought way too much about this, as you can see, but I decided that in order to come out of this liking myself, I’d have to go back and have one last go at catching him the next day.

Action bunny!

During our NHS clapping session, the local RSPCA lady who I’d texted got back to me. She’d called a local vet, would I mind if the vet called me? I said not at all and sure enough within a couple of minutes a lovely lady from a completely different vet’s practice called me. Yep, there is a third practice in Bury of which I knew nothing and this lady was from there. She went and found the bunny, but she couldn’t catch him either. I said I’d try again the following day and she told me to pop by and she’d give me some food and a box. That morning, McOther had planned to go to a supermarket near the spot where we’d seen the rabbit. He said he’d go check and see if it was still there. However, when he reached the spot, the lay-by had eight or nine cars in it and there were loads of blokes in yellow tabards wielding noisy gardening machinery. No sign of the rabbit. Unsurprisingly. Maybe it had moved on. If it hadn’t, it would now.

Later, at about two fifteen, I reckoned the council gardeners would probably have gone and wondered, that being likely, whether I should go and have one last go at finding the rabbit anyway. It had probably run away to somewhere else, but it was more than just a lost bunny. It was someone’s loved pet. And it was so very clearly a particularly docile, kindly and sweet natured one. The more nights it was out, the higher the chances it’d be eaten by a fox. I dashed off a thousand words of the W.I.P. but by about quarter to three, I knew I would feel terrible leaving the poor little chap out there for another night without trying to catch him first. Cursing my soft centre, because I had other things to do, off I went.

I packed two bowls and a bottle of water into a rucksack and stopped at the vet’s surgery, which was on the way, where they donated a box and some rabbit pellets to help me catch him. The rabbit took about ten minutes to find and was roughly where McMini, McOther and I had given up on it the previous day. It hopped into a patch of grass so I sat down with it, put some rabbit mix in one bowl and some water in the other, opened the box and waited. I noticed there were several big balls of fluff about which had clearly come off something during a fight, one was damp with dew so might have been there a day or two, the other was much fresher. I hoped they weren’t off the rabbit I was trying to catch.

Gradually, as I sat still, reading, my rabbit-shaped friend came nearer, probably more by happenstance than design. I rattled the bowl of grass pellets and almost got it to follow them into the box. Almost but not quite.

For a few minutes I let it get on with eating grass and just sat there with it. It sniffled my feet again at one point and then wandered off to wherever its nose for tasty forget-me-nots led next. It looked like I wasn’t going to tempt it into the box this time. I’d report back to the vet and try again tomorrow. I was a bit worried it might be thirsty, so I thought that before I left I should, at least, try to get it to drink some water. I flipped my finger in the bowl to make … what the hell do you call them … watery noises and it perked up and listened. More splishing and … yes, it was definitely interested. I leaned down and put the bowl right in front of its face. It sniffled it a bit and then had a long drink. Excellent.

After that I put the food bowl down and it nibbled a few grass pellets, I tried stroking it, and it moved on a foot or two. Gently, followed and tried again, stroking its head. I could almost hear it go, ‘Aaaaaaaa.’ It was clear it loved this, had missed it and was craving affection. So I kept stroking it and talking gently to it and then I put my hands round it to pick it up. It still didn’t tense or get scared, not until the point where I lifted it into the air. I didn’t dare support it’s back legs in case it sprang out of my grasp so I did get a couple of scratches from it’s paddling back feet but managed to put it into the box and close the door.

In the process of kicking, one flailing leg caught its own fur and ripped a lump off its tum. It was the same as the lumps of fur strewn around on the grass. The poor little thing had clearly had a horrid night, presumably being attacked by the other rabbit.

On the way back to the vet surgery the box nearly came open. Luckily someone stopped me to ask what I was carrying, noticed and told me. When I told her the box contained a rabbit she melted a bit – clearly a rabbit fan – and asked if she could say hello. I told her of course and as she put her finger through the grill and stroked its head I explained where I’d found it. She’d seen it too, it transpired. I said I thought it might be a bit blind and that, when I’d told a vet this, she had said rabbits get glaucoma. Yes, the lady said, they do, it’s quite common. She told me she still had a hutch and that she’d kept rabbits but didn’t have any right now. She had been with friends when she’d seen this bunny the previous day and intended to see if it was still there. She, too, was wondering whether she should try to catch him. Why wasn’t I just taking him home and keeping him, she asked. I said that he was so trusting and loving that I thought he must belong to someone who’d be sorely missing him. I told her where I was taking him and that if the owners didn’t come forward they’d have to re-home him, encouraging her to ring and say she was interested if she thought she’d like to keep him. She said she’d pop in and ask.

Second owner lined up then … although I am very, very tempted. McOther says that he already has three dumb animals to look after though (McMini, McCat and myself) and felt a fourth might tip him over into insanity. Mwahahaargh. Still …

As I walked on, I felt the rabbit shift and relax and all the weight in the box moved to one corner. Tufts of black fur stuck out of the air holes where he was reclining against the side. A good sign, I thought. Clearly a relaxed bunny. So there we are. The rabbit is safe, with kindly humans who will treat him well and look after him. He’ll spend a week at the vet – which is a legal requirement – during which they’ll try and trace his owner. Then, if they can’t find the family who lost him, he will be re-homed. Who knows, perhaps, with the lovely lady I met on the footpath.

Mood this week. Smug.

_____________________

If, like our friendly bunny, you wish to escape for a while, why not get yourself lost in a good book? And if you can’t find one of those, there’s always one of mine. Close Enough, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit No 3 will be available from many public libraries (check your app or contact your librarian) and is available for preorder from most of the major retailers, as well as from me. For more information click here:

Close Enough … available 18th June 2020

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Filed under General Wittering

Sod’s law and other constants …

This morning, I woke from a dream in which McMini and I were trapped in a version of my parents’ bedroom in our house in the school in which I grew up. We were about to be mauled to death by a very well-meaning and playful – but nonetheless large, powerful and dangerous – semi-adult tiger cub. It was early but even so, I was uncharacteristically pleased to be waking up at such an hour, the alternative being a certain mauling. Groggily I looked at the clock and I realised it was Sunday.

On Sundays, I attend church via t’interweb. This one was no exception. As a somewhat stolid anglican, I tend to go for the Church of England website. Also it’s at 9 am and if I have to set myself apart from the McOthers to do it, as opposed to going somewhere, it’s easier if it happens earlier than later. Something said by the lady preaching struck me. She was talking about trust, trusting in the future, in a future and it got me thinking about routine.

Routine is something I’ve written about before. When things get a bit overwhelming – in my case, in the situation with Dad – hanging onto the small bits of routine can keep your feet on the ground and get you through. This Corona thing … this feels like the opposite. I don’t know about you but my routine had been severely disrupted. I don’t go out or to the same places, the morning routine is different. We are all here together every day, which we are lucky enough to enjoy. But is it the same? No. Not at all. And that’s the thing.

If you think about it. We humans are often creatures of habit. We like routine. Without routine, everything feels a bit impermanent. I’m guessing this is a part of our self-preservation genes. Doubtless, to our cave dwelling ancestors, impermanence and change were synonymous with danger. Life on the move, looking for food and water which might not always have been abundant. Moving from one source of water to where we hoped there was another … everything was a risk. No wonder we stopped and put down roots. No wonder we grew our food, which gave us a much higher guarantee of eating then wandering around trying to forage for it. We could store it, too, rather than carrying a little with us. Maybe it was being settled with part of the day’s chores done – like finding a place to sleep and maybe building a shelter for the night – that gave them that little bit more time to think and have ideas.

Coming back to us, with routine, there are bits of the day you can conduct pretty much on autopilot, freeing up important mental resources for other things. My grandmother always used to say that innovation and technological thinking in the ancient world was bound to be centred round the Mediterranean because it was warm. She felt that those of us unlucky enough to live in Northern Europe at that time had far too much surviving to do. She reckoned that after we’d kept warm through the winter and then spent the summer months gathering and growing enough food, and finding enough wood, to get through the next winter without starving, time was scarce for for thinking, discussion and sitting about having ideas. I’m not sure it quite holds water – after all, look at the way dire times like war always seem to put a bomb under science, which there is never quite enough money for in peacetime (yes, that’s what happened to scram jets and Australia to London in 3hrs, no war, no money, no-one bothered) – but I reckon she might have been onto something.

Personally, I have this theory that on an instinctive, animal level, freeing up brain power and thinking time is what the whole routine thing is about. You don’t think about cleaning your teeth every morning, you just do it. If you did have to plan it and think about it every day it would take longer and it would take more brain capacity. So we’ve learned to do some small tasks, unthinkingly by rote. Once we’d evolved that big brain, it makes sense that changes in our behaviour might have evolved to give ourselves the time and space to use it. Could it be that we are evolutionarily hot-wired to thrive on stability and routine? Maybe it could. Especially as the first of our ancestors who settled were probably safer from predators – although I should imagine they were a bit of a sitting duck in the face of surprise attack from other hostile humans. Hence the practise among our ancient forebears of putting walls around towns.

The thing about Covid:19 is it’s completely buggered this routine. I reckon that’s going to leave certain humans feeling very vulnerable straight off, even if they have no idea why. There is no certainty. What lies ahead? A lot of money troubles for starters. Barring a handful of billionaires, every single person in the world is going to take a hit financially. A lot of people are going to be completely and utterly screwed. Except that may not be the case. We don’t know for certain, because we don’t know what the future holds. The solid ground on which we stand has shifted, but it’s difficult to do anything more than try to stay upright for the moment, until it stops moving.

Then there’s the uncertainty. Each day I set out in hope; hoping the virus will become a bit less virulent and SARS like. Hoping that, if I catch it, I’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets sick without dying. I imagine a lot of the people who died in the Blitz felt the same way as I do at the start of the Second World War. Their hopes and dreams were just as valid as the ones who made it to the other side but … they didn’t. Even so, everyone must have felt like this, survivors and casualties; unsure of the future, wondering whether they would come out the other side. Whether they’d be one of the lucky ones. It’s hard not to keep wondering, which one am I?

Life with Covid: 19 is the human race stepping off the precipice. Nothing above us, around us, below us. Out into the blackness of the unknown. I think that, without the Dad thing, that would have disturbed me a lot more than it does. I like my routine and my life. It being my life, though and my routine, I’m aware that there’s nothing more guaranteed to provoke Sod than getting comfortable, or content in my existence. Doubtless everything is about to go completely tits up, accordingly. That’s how my life goes. But even so, this is the first time I’ve felt that my weird, mixed up manner of existence has put me at an advantage. Because that side of it, at least, holds no fear for me now. I’ve done it and come through the other side.

It’s true that I dislike change, I dislike the feeling that I’m not in control but I know the only thing I control is my reaction. I learned that lesson years ago.

What I’m trying to say is that although it’s a pain in the arse and can also be very sad and painful – depending on how, exactly, Sod and his law choose to fuck up your life, good things can come of it too. Case in point. Writing.

Writing is the best thing ever. I love writing. One of the reasons I loved the jobs I had in marketing was down to the amount of writing required and the fact I didn’t have to look for it or think about it. It was just always there, as part of the job. Explaining concepts and ideas, instructions, press releases. I liked the geeky stats, the parsing spread sheets because I can’t add up and all that, but I enjoyed the writing bit above all else. It’s why I ended up specialising in branding, because they liked my ‘voice’.

Loads of people who want to write a book never do.  The existence of the K’Barthan series is down to many things but there are two specific events that were mostly responsible. Two events which, on the face of it, could each be classed as a bit of a fucking disaster. Since I’ve nothing better to do this week, I’m going to share them with you now.

Event one; I was in an extremely unsuitable job which was not working out, at all. It was a two and a half year contract for a great deal less per annum than the previous job I’d been in (but it was in Cambridge where you pretty much need a maths degree to get on a work experience scheme, and as I have no maths qualifications it was kind of needs must). It was also in a university museum so, for an art history graduate, it should have been ideal. It wasn’t. They did their best but I never really learned how to get on with my boss.

When I arrived, a month after accepting the job, I had no work station. I fished an old desk out of a nearby skip along with a chair. That was my work station the first few months until my actual desk arrived. They tried so hard to be a decent employer but they were struggling with a university politics nightmare that made it tricky. I believe they did crack it eventually but only some years after I’d left. For the first six weeks I did nothing because I had no computer. Even after it arrived, neither of my bosses would give me anything beyond the most mundane secretarial tasks to do, although one was slightly ahead of the other in that respect, and significantly so as she began to trust me to write her correspondence. It was still very much PA stuff though rather than the assistant’s role I was supposed to be in. She left soon after I arrived. With the other one … I guess I just completely failed to gain her trust.

I should add that the Museum, itself, was a great place to work and the people, including my boss, were lovely. But though the boss meant well she was pathologically unable to delegate. Most of the time I would invent spurious tasks to do for the Friends organisation that involved going into the Museum so I could twiddle my thumbs looking at the exhibits rather than sitting at a desk. If that job was a crisp flavour this would be it … a combination of things that are fine separately but which, put together, are stonkingly awful.

It was well into year two of this job and I was looking for an out before my contract expired. It really wasn’t going well and an extension looked unlikely. Another department in the Museum was advertising a very much better paid and more senior job and the department head contacted me one day, while my boss was at a meeting, and invited me in for a chat about it. I left his office with what sounded like it might be a job offer … possibly … at the least, I’d just been invited to apply if the job was advertised. It looked very hopeful.

Back in the office, my boss had returned from her meeting. She knew the job was coming up and seemed to know I’d been to see the department head about it. She expressed what appeared to be a genuine interest. I was delighted, as usually any conversation I had with her was like the Handsome Dan scene in Wayne’s World. She’d ask me a question and then about half way through the first sentence of my answer I’d realise she wasn’t listening. Then I’d be in a quandary as to whether I should just stop talking with my reply half said – which felt a bit odd – or soldier on as if she was actually listening. But no, on this occasion, she was friendly, open, encouraging and all years. I admitted to chatting, informally, with the head of department. She was very enthusiastic and interested and asked all about it, including how much they were offering. Moron that I am, I told her the salary range he’d mentioned.

The next morning, arriving at work, there was a lot of shouting coming from somewhere. One of the voices was my boss and she was having a stand up row with someone in another part of the building. She appeared in the office an hour later, and, when asked if she was ok replied with a rather tart, ‘yes’ and nothing more. Then she got down to work. Shortly after she had left for the day I was called over to see the head of the department who’d discussed the job with me.

Turned out he hadn’t told my boss, she’d guessed. Turned out I wasn’t supposed to say but he hadn’t told me that, and I was a very naive 28 year old, and too dim to clock it on my own. And because my boss said she knew and gave me the impression she and he had talked about it, I thought it was OK. Clearly I had got completely the wrong end of the stick from him about what salary range he was offering because he told me he’d never mentioned the figures I’d remembered. He said he couldn’t possibly offer me the job, now, because the internal politics of it would be too complicated. They advertised it a week or two later. I was told I needn’t apply.

Wow. Invited to apply for the ruddy job, at the very least and I’d still managed to blow it. That took some going. I had completely fucked the dog, as the Americans say. OK. So maybe the world was trying to tell me something. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the world of work. Maybe I should write that book. So I did. I wrote three books. OK so reading them now, I kind of wish someone else had written them but I got them done. And I learned things. And eventually, before my contract expired I got a much, much more interesting job as a marketing manager for a transport group.

Four years later, working for a company who’d acquired the transport group, I was in a High Powered Job that also paid reasonably well. For the first time in my life I was a Successful Human Being in that respect. OK so my salary was still nowhere near what McOther was earning, but it was getting close to my secondary ambition, to earn what he paid in tax. I was masquerading as a Normal. Succeeding on their terms without compromising on who I was. I was valued, so valued that I’d survived four rounds of redundancies. I was flying.

One Monday morning a very excited colleague greeted me on arrival. He told me he’d been to a company meeting the previous Friday and that the MD had gathered the entire junior management together and told them, among other things, that if they wanted to know who his ideal employee was they should come to the marketing department and seek me out. ‘That’s what I’m looking for in a manager,’ the MD had told them. What he didn’t know, when he held me up as a shining example to his junior managers, of course, was that my salary was paid by a different part of the organisation and their MD didn’t value my input quite so highly. Despite hearing this shining accolade upon my arrival, the HR Director arrived a couple of hours later to tell me about the special fifth round of redundancies they were making for one employee: me.

See? Sod. I remember thinking at the time, ‘This would be quite funny if I wasn’t living it.’

If I put either of those events in a book, people would say, ‘well that would never happen.’ But both did. You couldn’t make this shit up. I remember driving back to Cambridgeshire from Birmingham after my redundancy in a state of complete disbelief. It felt as if another version of me from a different reality had somehow swapped our timelines. Weirdly, I felt the exact same thing, in reverse, when Gareth appeared out of nowhere and wanted to narrate the K’Barthan Series. To the point where there were several occasions where I caught myself muttering, ‘Ha! Take that you cow!’ at her.

Again, the bombshell stopped me in my tracks and the world fell away. It was back to hunting for a job in Cambridge, land of maths and science geeks, looking for someone, anyone, willing to give an arts graduate a job. Opportunities were extremely thin on the ground. It didn’t help that I wasn’t actually qualified to apply for jobs at the level on which I’d been operating. And of course after working in Birmingham, where salaries are exponentially higher than Cambridge it was a tough call applying for jobs which paid what the people working for the people who worked for the people at my level earned. After a couple of months sharing my pain with McOther, he said, ‘I think we can survive if you don’t work in a full time job.’ So I went freelance. And one day, when things were a bit slow, dusted off the appalling books I’d written and thought, ‘hmm I wonder if I could write a real one …’

It’s always been about communication, I guess; about the writing. Writing corporate puff was the lazy way to write for a living. No plotting required, just clear, concise and (hopefully) charming prose and a really big learning curve. I thought I was happy with that. And if sod hadn’t shat on me I expect I would have been. That’s the thing isn’t it? We get comfortable in life. We think we’re OK.

But brand manager wasn’t a vocation.

And I’m an authorholic.

As well as communicating, I need to tell stories – to escape Real Life into a world of my own creating. Sitting down at the desk and writing is completely fulfilling. It doesn’t matter that hardly any fucker reads the lunacy produced, so long as writing it is fun and it means something, anything, to the handful who do read it, that’s enough. Writing books is what I’m for. But it took two major setbacks to realise it.

In conclusion, I guess what I’m saying is this: the whole corona virus thing feels like a kick in the teeth to the human race from Sod doesn’t it? Each one of us everywhere is being shat on by Sod right now – to a greater or lesser degree. Trust me though. No matter how difficult it feels. You will come out the other side of this stronger, more confident, smarter and with any luck wiser and kinder. Because when Sod kicks someone in the soft and squelchy bits it’s amazing how often it ends up doing that person a favour. Not then, but somewhere else, later down the timeline. One of the most interesting reactions to my redundancy was that of one of my oldest and dearest friends who said, ‘It was a great job and I know you had a wonderful time, but it had to end. It wasn’t real. None of it was real. It wasn’t you.’

Take my hand, walk into the darkness with me and we will step into the void without fear. After all, God knows we’re not alone, the entire chuffing planet is in the same shit.

Are you happy now, Sod?

_____________________

If reality is feeling a bit dystopian for your taste right now you can always escape into a good book. Close Enough, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit No 3 will be available from many public libraries (check your app or contact your librarian) and is available for preorder from most of the major retailers. For more information click here:

Close Enough … available 18th June 2020

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Filed under General Wittering

Nobody told me there’d be days like these …

Strange days indeed.

Most peculiar mumma … woah. Yep. Times, they are … definitely weird.

Anyone get the obscure pop reference? Btw?

Yeh, OK. Probably not. Either that or there’ll be a deluge of comments saying I’ve got the words wrong, which I probably have because I didn’t bother to look it up. But it popped into my head this morning and I sat there thinking,

‘John, mate, if you thought life was weird back then in the late 70s/early 80s, you really hadn’t thought things through.’

Undomesticated footballs in a recreation of their natural habitat at the Abbey Gardens Zoo

Incidentally, did you know that because of our habit here in Britain of naming the eldest son after his father, 35% of all men in Britain were called John for most of history? It only changed in the first half of the twentieth century.

Arnold’s pants, babbling. Stop.

Have I gone a little bit mad? Probably. Or maybe it’s just even harder to pretend to be normal than usual. Then again, look at world events! Who’s going to notice? Maybe I’m just going a little bit stir crazy, like these footballs, perhaps, trapped in one of the open roofed parts of the ruins in my local park. Doomed to live on the dregs from plastic water bottles for the rest of their natural lives. No frisbees or kites as yet but I particularly like the look of that green one, I’d like to go back with a  massive stick and see if I could find some way to roll it close enough to the bars to chuck it back out … it’s a good 40ft up though and once I touched it, I’d probably discover it was covered in rat shit. Yeh. OK, let’s call that, Lockdown Amusements Plan A.

Things are well odd now aren’t they? Lots of references to the Spanish Flu epidemic which is not helping. I have reached the point where I am largely ignoring the news. I’ve done a couple of walks though and enjoyed the sun until … blimey oh Riley? Hay fever.

Some blossom on Wednesday …

Jeepers! Usually at this time of year I am away. Yes, I get hay fever but it’s the pine pollen version, up in the Alps. This year I have been trapped in our garden with the birch trees and the very, lovely and heavily scented but also mightily pollen producing Lilac tree opposite.

Oh my fucking aunt Ada.

Any fellow hay fever sufferers out there? Anyone get the vertigo version?

For three days I have had the fucking spins – except yesterday I drank my own body weight in water and got rid of it. So much so that last night I had two glasses of wine and a very small calvados (plus a pint and a half of water) and it went. I even went to the loo at five am this morning without the tiniest whiff of the dizzy. But then it was raining, of course, so it was only to be expected. By seven thirty, when I sat up, the room was spinning like some kind of crap special effect from 1960s StarTrek. I was running from one side of the room to the other as I staggered to the loo for my morning wee and everything was going up and down. Luckily I have pills for this, so as well as popping piraton like it’s going out of fashion, I have some stuff the doctor prescribed for me a while ago which I use to hammer the dizzy on just these occasions. It’s not so bad, just a bit grim while I wait for it to kick in.

Some years back I got a sinus infection that went on for absolutely ever. It happens occasionally and usually it takes about two weeks to go on its own but this one didn’t. Eventually I had several rounds of antibiotics. The doc explained that I would always be prone to vertigo because the insides of my … inner ear? Sinuses? Spinny bits, anyway, were scarred and it would take very little to a) re-infect or b) set the buggers off again.

On the up side it’ll go as soon as the lilac and birch flowers are over. And it goes now, literally about three minutes after it starts to rain, except it never bloody rains. Presumably it’s waiting for summer to do that. On the upside, it seems that every single thing that blossoms is doing it at once so maybe it’s just volume of traffic, so to speak.

Moving on …

On our walk on Wednesday, McMini and I invented a new word. We noticed one of the seagulls flying above us – I’ve no idea why we have so many gulls in Bury, we’re miles from the sea but I assume it’s something to do with the nearby rubbish dump. Anyway. This gull flew over and dropped a massive poo which splutted onto the roof of a nearby house. We both saw it and giggled about what a narrow escape we had. Then we got talking about what if it had landed on the road near us, the sound it would make, and then of course, it was only a tiny hop from that to, would there be any spatterage? If it plopped from 40ft up, how far away would you have to be for your ankles to stay safe from … what would you call it? And then we came up with the word.

Crapnel: pronounced like Shrapnel but with a Cr. The splash back from landing excrement which is not a direct hit, in itself, but results in droplets peppering the unfortunate victim’s body or clothing, or in a particularly virulent post curry situation, bottom.

Yeh, I know, not that funny, unless you are eleven or a mother with a comparable mental age. Then, of course, it’s an absolute belter. I laughed til I stopped.

Live appearance, I hope, on Wednesday 22nd April.

This week I am trying something new. I have signed up to a virtual book fair … on Twitter. Gads I know nothing about twitter. I will, hopefully, be streaming a reading from Escape From B-Movie Hell live from … well … probably from my car because … acoustics. This glorious event will take place at 2.30 pm, BST, which is British Standard Time, which is, I think, British Summer Time. For the purposes of the broadcast, I’m going to assume it is, anyway. If you’re in the US this is 9.30 am, EDT.

I have a half hour slot; a ten minute reading followed by a space for people to ask questions … although my books are as verbose as these blog posts so, in order to read a bit where something actually happens it’s a 15 minute reading and 15 minutes of questions. I have tested the video link and it does work, although I may have to do it sound only because McMini will be back at  e-school by then and the bandwidth may be taking too much of a hammering to accommodate both of us.

The slot before me, the first of the whole fair, is my lovely local author friend Rachel Churcher, so it might be worth tuning in early to watch hers. You pick out the authors you are interested, go to their twitter feed at the appropriate time and there should be a live video playing … I hope …

For the event schedule go here: https://ourownwrite.squarespace.com/schedule

To follow me on Twitter go here: https://twitter.com/MTMcGuireAuthor

The reading and the Q&A will be about Escape From B-Movie Hell and I will reduce the price of that book to £1.99 $2.99, or the equivalent in whatever else you work in across the main retailers this week.

Cutting my own throat …

What with the fact these are strange days I’ve been wondering how I can sort out some other reader treats and yet, at the same time … you know … not starve. Here’s my cunning plan.

As well as reducing Escape by several quid, the K’Barthan Box Set is in one of those lovely 40% off box set sales at Kobo starting next Saturday, I think. Always good, those and I will remind you again next week. I’ve also managed to give away a lot of copies of Escape From B-Movie Hell and of Few Are Chosen on Kobo this month – and in the case of Few, Amazon US price matched so lots of folks downloaded it there, which was nice. A couple have even read it and bought the other books, too which was absolutely splendid.

Quite a few people seem to be downloading the free ebook novella that I give away with my mailing list right now too. Hurrah! I do hope they’re enjoying it.

If you’re interested in doing that, yourself, you can do so here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/freens.html

I really don’t mind if you unsubscribe from the list when you’re done.

Also, I’m going to be giving away a 30 minute audiobook to anyone who signs up for my audiobooks mailing list.

If you’re interested in the audiobooks sign up here:
https://www.hamgee.co.uk/freens.html

Same caveat goes about unsubscribing afterwards.

What I am trying to persuade people to do is use their local libraries to listen to or read my digital books. That way nobody has to pay to read anything, although, in most instances, the library pays for the book once and I am compensated a small amount under the various book lending schemes.

One Man: No Plan is coming to audio

On Man: No Plan audio cover

Woot! Yep. Last but not least, I got the third of the four audiobooks back yesterday. I tell you the glee wave emanating from this part of Britain was probably strong enough to effect the orbits of nearby planets. I was so ludicrously excited about it all. Still am. So I’ll be loading that up to the retailers today. Should be live everywhere except audible within the next month/month and a half possibly? Audible will take 3 months unfortunately, because they just do right now; about 60 days plus for QA to listen and pass it and then anything from a week to over a month’s pause while it’s ‘heading to retail’. That’s the main reason why I went wide rather than all in, but also because I think the current situation has rendered a lot of people time rich but cash poor. For that reason, it seems like a great opportunity to introduce my books to bored library users! It’ll help the libraries and it’ll help me. Win win.

Other bookish news …

Close Enough cover

Yep, in other news, Close Enough, the third Hamgeean Misfit K’Barthan Short has been beta read and I’m just going through the beta reader’s comments now. Next, it’s on to editing. After that, so long as the designers are still able to do the paperback cover, the book should be out late June as an ebook and a paperback. If all goes well, it will be coming to audio later along with the other shorts. I’m hoping sales of the series will fund production, though, so don’t hold your breath.

If you’d like to know more about that you can find more information here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infoce.html

And finally …

Nothing like a bit of blood, fish and bone on the roses eh?

All this being locked down has made for a very well maintained garden. Well … a bit. I still haven’t weeded the boarder but that’s mainly because I’m waiting for a massive cut on my hand to heal. I’m a bit leery of this kind of thing after having cellulitis. I do NOT want that again. But I hope to fix the border next week.

In the meantime,  we are mostly growing tomatillos, tomatoes, climbing purple-podded French beans and ONE onion.

Alongside these we have some fruit trees because the folks before us were well into their fruit. There are two apple trees, a pear tree, gooseberry and current bushes, grapes … a LOT of grapes, a mulberry tree and a plum. We also have a peach with leaf curl, I must sort that out. Naturally, since McMini is a kid, it’s obligatory for him to grow sunflowers. And of course, there’s the garlic, which is wild and a bit of a thug but very food in cooking, and the raspberries, which are supposed to grow in pots but seem to prefer the entire vegetable garden. Yes if anyone in Bury wants a raspberry plant, just let me know and I can leave it out the back for you to collect.

If possible, we might be growing some courgettes, and a couple of curly kale plants would be good to see us through the winter. It depends if I can get the seed. I grew some kale last year and it was fab. Needs to be caged in though or you get caterpillars on it. Which reminds me, our butterfly count is good this year; some tortoishells, a red admiral (little one), an orange tip, a couple of brimstone blue and a bright yellow one. Plus lots of those weird furry things that are a cross between a bumble bee, a hummingbird hawk moth and a hover fly, with a long proboscis. They sip nectar as far as I can tell.

So that’s it from Suffolk this week. Hope it’s all going well up your way and you’re feeling like the blossom rather than the footballs!

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