Tag Archives: writers

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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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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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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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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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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On reflection …

This week lockdown continues. There’s no going back. All our lives have changed, although it seems that the basics of existence in my home town haven’t. I may have to stand two metres away from every one I meet but I still meet people I know on most occasions I leave the house. Accordingly, I still end up wittering on at the poor buggers for hours. So far, I have had one appropriately socially distanced walk with a friend who was going the same way with me and numerous chats.

It made me wonder … for the first time ever in my life, it feels as if I am living through a piece of serious History. Maybe I’m beginning to understand what it was like in the War … great for those who lived but probably a bit of a pisser for the 60 million who died. As a kid I remember asking my father,

‘What was it like in the war, Dad? We’re you scared? Did you know we were going to win?’

To which Dad’s answers were, basically;  exciting, yes but not as much as one might expect looking back on it and yes.

Meanwhile, there’s the lovely story about Mum in the garden at her grandparents house seeing an aeroplane and rushing out to wave at it, little realising that it was an ME109, presumably hedge hopping home. Her grandfather tried to persuade her to come and hide under a tree. She told me,  yesterday, that the plane came back for a second pass during which, as he skimmed the lawn, the pilot waved. I know the pilot skimming the lawn and waving bit was true but it’s the first time she told me he did a second pass. He was low enough, and close enough, for her to see that his breathing mask was hanging off his face, that he had blonde curly hair and that he was smiling. She thought he must have a little girl like her at home. Perhaps, but more likely, he was just … human.

Talking to a friend in Australia the other day she said that, over there, they appear to be winning and the numbers of cases are stabilising. However, if they eradicate it from Australia that means the entire country will have to close its borders until there is an effective vaccine or treatment; two years, minimum. That’s … a hell of a thing.

Are we going to revert to a time when hardly anyone travelled, but, isolated as we are, everyone has a lot more time to think?

Until the big nationalist backlash recently, the world seemed headed to become an increasingly international place. Most youngsters seemed more likely to see themselves as citizens of the world or, where I am, certainly of Europe. They’d watched StarTrek, they assumed that at some point the world would be governed centrally. And of course, we have the internet. The fact I’m discussing the vagaries of lockdown with a friend in Australia says a fair bit. These days, there are many folks I would consider to be my friends who are all over the world. I have never met them, may never do so. It seems weird that, on the one hand we have this internet based, global identity as human, and on the other … nationalism is booming. What’s that all about?

The thought of Australia closing its borders and, potentially, other countries, reminded me of something that happened to McOther and I when we moved into our first house. It was in a small village in the deepest, darkest fens in Cambridgeshire. Our first evening in the village we decided to go to the pub, but it was shut, so we went for a walk. As we stood admiring a lone and slightly incongruous mandarin duck on the village pond an old man joined us and we got chatting.

‘You work in Cambridge?’ he asked us, at one point.

‘Yes …’

‘Hmm, I went to Cambridge … twice.’

Turned out he went there once for a shopping trip, thoroughly disapproved and hadn’t been since. The first time was at the start of a trip to Africa to fight Rommel.

Is that where we’re headed? Less travel, more time to stay at home and think? While time to think is good, open minds are one of the benefits of travel, and heaven knows, it would be a pity if the average English-speaking internet user’s mind narrowed any further. But is that narrowing of minds a reaction to the internet? A clinging onto the stable in the face of a rather rapidly changing environment? Maybe. I dunno.

At the moment it strikes me we are at a tipping point in history, but I don’t know how or why or what for. The political rhetoric over the pandemic sounds increasingly empty and pointless to me. It’s really time we all said bollocks to parties, formed a coalition and worked together. As another friend was saying on t’interweb the other night, we have a chance to make a new start, a different world. The old ways need to change, but what we change them to … ? Neither of us knew.

Czechoslovakian-made black glass button – try saying that with your mouth full.

Despite being locked down life continues to be surprisingly busy. Trying to keep my statutory two metre distance on a rather narrow footpath the other day, I wandered over the verge into the field next to it. It’s currently fallow, nothing but maize stalks. I immediately found a black button. I thought it was plastic and I was going to throw it away until, turning it over in my hand, it had that rainbow iridescence which only glass gets when it’s been buried a good long time. Thinking there was an outside chance it was made of glass, I put it in my pocket just in case.

It looked quite gothic, or Victorian. Turns out that from about 1850 black glass buttons were all the vogue – Victorian then. I suspect this is what I have, although I can’t be 100% sure. I did discover that many of them were made in Czechoslovakia by highly skilled button makers. Mine is not exactly the apogee of craftsmanship but still a nice find. As I walked beside the footpath, eyes down, I found some shards of clay pipe, the obligatory one pence piece that is always found on any trip out that involves looking for stuff, and a piece of Bellamarine jug – a kind of wine vessel used in the fifteen and sixteen hundreds. I was really chuffed as I recognised this and it was confirmed when I posted it on line and it was seen by an expert.

Occasional Bury St Edmunds skywriting

Also I came home and stumbled on the answer to another riddle. For some time now, I have noticed the occasional sky writing over Bury St Edmunds. I remember a few years ago seeing someone draw a smiley face with the help of an aeroplane. Yesterday it was this one. Shortly after seeing it, there was a knock at the door and the lovely peeps who run McMini’s boy’s brigade group had delivered an Easter egg. They were just stepping back out of range as I opened the door so I thanked them and pointed out the sky writing, which was still there. Saying how great I thought it was and that I’d seen others. Oh yes, it was the C3 church’s turn this year, they told me. So know I know it’s my fellow Christians. And that also explains why I haven’t seen it the last couple of years – because it’s a Good Friday thing and we’ve been away for Easter. Anyway, I’ve always loved it. There’s a joyous generosity in doing something fun, or funny, when you may never see the reaction. It’s one of the things I love about eyebombing, the secret, quiet, just-for-myself, in-jokiness of it. I think it’s a lovely idea.

Meanwhile, McMini having spent much time playing computer games with his friends is now doing video calls during which they all bust light sabre moves. Yes he has set up a group and they have light sabre combat sessions. It’s chuffing marvellous. He gets plenty of exercise and needless to say he is horrifically geeky about it – ‘this is fourth position, drop stance,’ he tells me cheerfully as he kneels on the floor with a pair of light sabres extended towards me. He’s also learned the special word for fighting with two, which I forget. I am frequently called to the darkest part of the house to fight duels with him. Me using the Darth Vader red one versus his Luke and Anakin. It’s a bit like Power Rangers. There’s a lot of posturing and poncing about during which, usually, you can just stick yours in his stomach and tell him you’ve cut him in half. That said, he keeps cutting my hand off. Obviously as the parent my job is to lose as spectacularly as possible in a manner that causes me the least physical injury. We’re doing OK so far.

This should be my desk right now.

On the work front, I’ve been having some time off, well … when everyone else is, you have to, right? But it was our holiday so now is a time for pretending I am abroad and drinking a bit more than usual. But also, I had a bit of a crisis of confidence.

Short stuff is not my metier. I like it but it’s not going down too well, lacking world building, too many hints, clumsily dropped abut stuff going on which our hero doesn’t know but we do.

It’s probably safe to say that I do better at long and rambling. But I don’t have the mental capacity for that right now. The long and rambling I’ve chosen to write has a fiendishly complicated plot which needs to mesh seamlessly with the permutations of the even more nightmarishly complex plot of the original K’Barthan Series.

This is where my desk actually is …

What in Arnold’s name am I doing? NEVER write a full length prequel, people it’s the most gargantuan nightmare ever. But this one is looking as if it could easily hit three books. I want it to be good though, I want it to be Rogue One good. Not … bodged like the Phantom Menace. It’s so complicated that I had to put it aside for a while because my brain is too mushy to cope these days. Sigh.

On the up side, I think I’m close to nailing a decent marketing strategy for the audio books. Also, I’m beginning to have that twitchy feeling in my fingertips I get when I want to write something new, so after resting the complicated nightmare, I reckon I’ll have to get on and finish that. Also, I finally got the alts off to Gareth this week. Woot! Jeez I was dying inside doing those, really not sure that I was doing the right thing. Luckily I had to ring him about some other stuff so I was able to check, properly speaking check rather than filtered through WhatsApp messages and my phone’s auto gag, that I wasn’t being a gargantuan bell end. Amazingly, it seems I really was being helpful and not the most god-awful nightmare client. Phew.

So now I have a bit of marketing work to do … a lot, which is a bummer as it involves using my actual, real computer which is rubbish outside. So I’ll have to write it all first, I think and then go in and do an hour a day. Mailerlite is fab but it does take a terribly long time to open and close the interface when I want to edit the hello protocol or send an email. Which reminds me, I do need to send something to the lovely peps on my mailing list, flagging up the impending arrival, I hope of audio. Although it’s a case of seeing if the books go live first … the first two are live in many places but Audible will take another three months or so.

Also in production is the K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit: No 3. Not my best work, the shorts, but people seem to be enjoying them a reasonable amount. Next one is due out in May or June, along with the first two K’Barthan Series audio books, probably (officially) June or July but as I said, it’s a bit of a mix and some are already live.

The week after next, for some ridiculous reason unknown even to me, I’ve signed up to do an online book festival. All well and good, except I’ve now realised it’s on Twitter yegads. I had completely given up on Twitter. I couldn’t work out how to follow a feed I was interested in and could find nothing of worth in the wall of noise. I am appearing on 22nd April at 2.00pm BST, which is NOT British Summer Time as you’d expect. Apparently for their own bizarre reasons, the Americans call Greenwich Mean Time, British Standard Time. I’ve no clue what they call British Summer Time … I should probably try and find out. But I’ve been caught by this one before, when everyone was on line waiting and I didn’t turn up until an hour later because … we were on British Summer Time at the … well … time, and I’d foolishly assumed that’s what BST was.

Anyway, long and the short is, I hope to be there at 1.00 on 22nd April, although I won’t really know when to start because I’m guessing that’ll be dependent on my actually finding my cue; a twitter post from the festival organisers introducing me … Gulp. It’s highly unlikely that I will find it but I’ll have a go anyway. Then I have to work out how to stream live on twitter – I might try that over the course of the coming week – and do an 8 – 10 minute reading from a book and answer questions  … if anyone at all is able to find me. I’ve chosen Escape From B-Movie Hell and I’m pretty sure which bit I’ll read, but I’m wobbling about this and not quite sure whether to persevere with learning to make something meaningful of Twitter or bow out gracefully, before disaster occurs. There’s an author friend who is also doing this so I will seek twitter guidance from her and if it looks too complicated I’ll withdraw as soon as I can so as not to mess them about. I’ll let you know more, or less if I quiche, next week.

So yeh, life goes on. Weirdly but at the same time, surprisingly normally, considering the bizarre times in which we live.

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Woah …

How is everyone? I hope you are well. It’s been a bit of an up and down week for me. No change there, then.

First up, writing. With the McOthers at home, in theory it should be difficult. In practise, while it sort of is, it’s not so bad, it’s more of a question of shaking down into a different routine and identifying when the best times to write are. Unfortunately, the best hour in the morning is the one I spend on the phone to Mum. Lock down is difficult when you have Important People to look after. And I do.

On the up side, thank goodness Dad didn’t have to live through this. He would not have enjoyed it. On the downside, by the time I see Mum again, she may be a very different person. In one respect, I feel I’m being robbed of her last months of sanity, in another, I phone her every day so it probably evens out. I just wish I could see her and give her a hug. I try not to think about that too much though, because that way sadness lies …

Bury St Edmunds … not as apocryphal as this picture makes it look …

Despite comments on the apocalyptic nature of my home town it strikes me as surprisingly busy for somewhere with only a few shops open. One of them is Poundland, much to my amusement, but also relief because there’s nowhere else open where we can buy batteries.

Also despite being supposedly quiet, there’s still enough traffic about for there to be a car coming if you want to cross a road. Yes people. Every. Single. Fucking. Time. Today there was a MX5 in town driving round, and round, and round. Possibly in incredulity at the wealth of parking spaces – bloody hell! That’s amazing, I’ve never seen that before, I’ll have to go round again – I don’t know.

Maybe he was just enjoying an empty road. I have seen more policemen in town than ever before, too.

Managed to remember to cheer the NHS this week too. Yes, McMini and I stood outside cheering at the empty street, with a lighted light sabre each. Yeh. I was the fat one in the pyjamas. On the up side our presence brought the others out. Many houses on our street are rented and I think most of the renters are youngsters who have gone home to their parents. There are a lot of drawn curtains. Even so, people were out clapping and waving. Which was good, if only because it made me feel a bit less of a dick.

Fuck me but I’ve had some strange dreams this week. Unfortunately, they are continuing in my monotonous habit of dreaming about the lavatory. Not surprising I suppose, since it feels like the apocalypse. But I was hoping that I might, at some point, get away with a dream about something, anything other than having a dump. But no. I dreamt I was back at school. It was the first senior school I attended, for two years, when I was eleven/twelve and twelve/thirteen. I had ventured up onto the top floor where the third fourth and fifth form classrooms were situated, where the big, older scary girls were when I actually went there. I saw again the polished linoleum tiles, the pastel shades of the walls, the glass windows into the corridor from the classrooms. Yet despite feeling that familiar attack of butterflies as I entered the scary senior domain, I was also an adult. I was there about my son and I had to see his teacher. While we were chatting I suddenly realised I needed a wee. It was all going rather well so I asked and was directed to the staff loos.

But the staff loos were one loo, with a bath and basin too, like someone’s bathroom. The bath, loo and basin were a very unpleasant shade of 1970s pink. Yikes. But at least it wasn’t that horrible brown, or avocado. Also, there was washing hanging up to dry on the towel rails, hanging from clothes airers above my head, on the radiator, the side of the basin … literally everywhere. I remember thinking that the teachers must live in.

So there I was dreaming a dream and, Lo! Just for a change, I’ve ended up in the fucking bog. As I sat down on the pan part of me was fully engaged in the dream, but another part of me was aware that I was dreaming. Was I going to get away with an unembarrassing wee? Of course I bloody wasn’t. This was my warped dream. So naturally I did an absolutely enormous poo. When I stood up, I banged my head on one of the clothes airers hanging above me and knocked the contents into the pan. With my crap. So then I had to run some water in the bath, fizz it up with liquid soap, and scoop the once clean clothes out of the excrement infested bog and into the bath. I kept flushing the loo but there were more and more clothes falling in there from somewhere. God knows what I’d unleashed. Probably a hole in space time where other people’s washing was falling through a worm hole from alternative universes into a bog full of my crap. But it was chuffing weird.

What the fuck is going on?

I remember being conscious that I was dreaming, and wondering why the sod I can’t just dream about falling or flying or something a bit more fucking normal. I had, near enough, sorted it out, got the clothes into the bath to rewash and hang up again, although there were more and more in the loo, falling through the worm hole or wherever they were coming from. But I’d flushed it, so at least the poo was gone and for all it being bog water, it was clean bog water – yeh I know but this was dream thinking right, not real world how MTM thinks. I woke up before the dream ended. Which was, frankly, a bit of a chuffing relief.

So there we go. More dreams about shit. I suppose it’s not surprising, I mean, we are living it. Which reminds me. How’s your apocalypse going? Still no zombies here in Blighty. As I’ve said before, every cloud has a silver lining.

Seems a little crazy

In COVID:19 madness this week the prize goes to my dentist’s surgery. Normally a highly efficient outfit, I arrived at my appointment for a check up, the Monday before lockdown, to discover that they had cancelled everything. To give them their due, my phone had gone weird that morning so I didn’t receive a call. But after a brief chat, during which they explained that they couldn’t book a new appointment because … COVID. I returned home, teeth unchecked with all appointments cancelled until further notice. Goodness knows who sends out their mail for them, but they’re being ripped off. A few days later, I received letters warning me that I was now due for a check up and must ring them at once. Interestingly, as well as the check up there was one about the hygienist’s appointment, which they’d cancelled the preceding Friday. I hope the mailing service isn’t going to bill them for this!

On the writing front, I’ve things to work on and edit, which are going OK, except I’ve reached that bit where you know it isn’t ready yet. And seeing how much there is to do, you sort of lose the will to live and put it away for a couple of weeks. While I’m a bit meh over existing stuff, I thought I’d like to start a new K’Barthan short because I only have two in hand. It should be easy enough, it usually is but can I?

Can I bollocks?

Everything I try to write is about the bloody apocalypse. I’ve just watched an evening of BBC comedy delivered direct from people’s homes. Have I Got News For You by webcam for heaven’s sake. Impressive, and strangely intimate, coming from the panelists actual homes, but also at stratospherically lord-in-heaven-what-is-happening levels of weird. I really think living this apocalyptic shite is enough, without writing about it as well. Only one thing to do then, I’ve let my efforts to feed back on the fourth audio book bleed into the writing time. Although the huge door stop length novel which might be another series is also getting my attention, even though I’m sure it’s wrong and I don’t really know how to fix it.

On the subject of audiobooks … I had a bit of a crisis of confidence last week. I’ve two uploaded to a bunch of the main sites and they are gradually going live, plus the short  … but the other two are still in editing. I could hear a lot more breathing, but not normal breathing, kind of chopped off half breaths. I was a bit worried that, maybe I was just suffering the effects of syringing your ears half way through proofing four audiobooks. I asked but Gareth says no. Turns out they might be different and it’s something to do with the way you dampen the breathing and plosives when you’re recording. Something called sound gate – sounds like a press scandal, only it isn’t. Too much in one direction and you lose the ends of words and it sounds a bit weird. Too much the other and you get oddly chopped off half breaths. This has happened much more in three and four than in one and two. So I’m going through flagging them up. I’ve done three, but it’s taking ages and it felt a bit pissy. Like repeatedly kicking someone who has actually been very kind to me. Worse, I wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t just a side effect of having my ears syringed. But Gareth assures me that flagging them all isn’t pissy; that it will help him work out the right settings and that he’ll learn stuff. I heartily hope so.

There are lots to mark up so it’s taking some time. On the other hand, I am really enjoying listening. Some of the voices … there’s a character called Psycho Dave. Gareth’s voice for this guy is genius and it makes me guffaw like a supervillain each time I hear it. Indeed, every time Dave appears, I get the giggles and have to stop. So I’m hopeful that other folks will find it funny. To go with, I need to sort out some email sequences; one for people who sign up after seeing a facebook ad, who don’t know about my stuff at all, one for people who are already familiar with the entire gamut of K’Barthan nuttery who just want to know when the audio books are out and one for the folks, between those two, who know about the books and K’Barth but would be intrigued to know more about the whole audio process and about Gareth. It’s going to take me a while. I’m getting there.

In the meantime, I’m on chapter 32 of book four, so moving, but not quickly. Yeh, patience my young paduan. My aim is to do as many chapters as possible a day, mostly from 10.30 until midnight after McOther has gone to bed. My efforts in this are being hampered a little by McMini who came down to seem me a few nights ago because his bed warmers had got cold. I nuked them to warm them up, which takes four minutes, and while they cooked, so to speak, we had a chat. It was a good one, so good that he now comes down every night at about eleven pm, ostensively to have the wheaties heated up but really, just to have a chat. It isn’t helping with my productivity, but he’s such a sweetheart and such good company. How can I refuse? Ho hum, onwards and upwards.

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Sweeping the cat for tinfoil and other adventures …

Still no zombies … every cloud has a sliver lining eh? It’s quite surreal though, which means your world might be a bit more like mine right now … probably.

This week I have been mostly searching my cat’s guts for tin foil. Mostly, but not entirely. We’ll get to it. In the meantime.

Slightly blue this morning, I expect I’ve stuffed up my HRT dose, in fact, I reckon I’ve forgotten to do the evening one for a couple of days, although, needless to say I can’t be sure because I can’t remember. Mwahahaargh!

A big part of it is that, now we are in lockdown, I can’t visit Mum. Sure I ring her every day but that’s not the same. She definitely has some form of dementia and it’s definitely getting worse. At the moment, although she can’t remember which way is up or what day it is most of the time, she’s still able to follow a conversation and still retains her personality as Mum. But … I’ve walked this path before with Dad and I have to accept that it isn’t going to stay like that. I have to accept the fact that maybe, by the time lockdown is over, my Mum – my real Mum, I mean – will be gone. And that makes me feel incredibly sad. Indeed, I’d probably be blubbing a bit as I write this, but McOther is sitting the other end of the table.

It feels as if each week I will lose another few precious hours of time with Mum by missing our lunch. I phone her every day but it’s not the same, and I can see, or at least hear, her deteriorating day by day. I’m not alone. For example, hardly anyone with a loved one in a home is able to visit them right now. Some have family members in hospital who are stuck there, some have loved ones who were in a home for recovery after say, a new knee op, and they are now stuck there apart from the people they care for until this is all over. It’s mightily grim and we just have to live with it, but I guess I was just hoping, against hope, that I could squeak another visit in before lockdown this week. In the event, lockdown came on Monday night. The temptation to drive down there and see her on Wednesday was almost overwhelming and it’s only the first week.

Bugger.

Other news, I’ve finally finished going through the alts of One Man: No Plan on audio. This has taken me way longer than I expected because there are a lot of blips and half breaths in it which weren’t there in the first two – one of the reasons this has taken me so long is because I re-listened to the first two beforehand, really carefully, to check. Gareth has at least three other audiobooks to do, to my certain knowledge – there may well be more – so I have a little while before he’s likely to be able to look at the alts, and plenty of time to get the fourth finished.

I confess I was horrifically nervous sending the alts for the blips/plosives and audible breaths. I am not 100% sure if my noticing these things was gimlet-eyed helpfulness or pedantic twattery. To be honest, even after checking with some narrators I know on t’interweb who reassured me that any comments like that are always welcome, I’m still a little unsure. It’s a fun listen though, so I hope it all works out OK.

This week more excitement in Lockdown Towers. Run with me on this one, it does get to the point. I have a desk in our dining room. Underneath it is a bag of foil-covered chocolate sweets which I give out at book signings. There are three types, chocolate oranges, chocolate eyeballs and chocolate sprouts. They all come in plastic net bags of about forty. They are spherical, marble-sized and individually foil wrapped. I had two bags of orange ones, about half a bag of eyeballs and four bags of chocolate sprouts.

On Monday evening, just after discovering that we were all in official lock down, I decided that I would ameliorate the impact with chocolate. I went into our dining room, intent on liberating a packet of sprouts for consumption over the coming weeks. However, when I got in there, I and found four plastic net bags with holes in spread across the floor.

Uh-oh, I thought.

I checked the bag and discovered a hole had been eaten in it. Yes. There were teeth holes around the … other hole. Not my son then. Checking the other bags I discovered the holes in those looked more … chewed than cut.

Hmm …

Upon further exploration, I discovered that both the eyeballs and the sprouts were all but gone. The orange ones, however, had been left. They were still in their bags although one bag had clearly been chewed, small pieces of foil removed from the chocolates inside and a couple had teeth marks. These ones had been tested and found wanting then, worse tested enough for me to not be able to eat them with confidence. The others … 520 grammes of chocolate, minimum, had gone.

Turning to Dr Google, I typed in, ‘does chocolate kill cats?’

OK, look, I’m not going to blind you with the technicalities of science here but the basic gist of it is, yes it does. Milk chocolate is less poisonous but 520 grammes in one sitting is lethal. About 30 grammes in one sitting is.

Shit. Now what?

I was wearing my pyjamas. The vet was closed, I knew. That morning I’d had a dental appointment which had been cancelled pretty much as I arrived. I’d tried to buy some cat food from the vet’s on the way home and discovered that it was locked and the customers were all standing in the car park, 2 metres away from one another. McCat’s constitution is pretty bomb proof but I felt that a poison overdose of such gargantuan quantities might be a bridge too far, even for him.

OK, calm, breathe. He hadn’t started throwing up yet.

Then I remembered. I’d found one of the chocolate sprouts on the doormat the week before. Could McCat have been quietly eating them over the three month period, since the Christmas Fayre, that the chocolate had been stored there. Were the scattered string bags merely the culmination of several month’s pilfering, a last hurrah now that the lovely edible balls were gone … well except for the orange ones he doesn’t like.

McOther checked under other furniture but there was nothing to be found so it’s clear that all 520 grammes of chocolate sprouts and eyeballs – minus a handful – had been eaten. The one million dollar question was … when?

McCat. Butter wouldn’t melt would it? Not ill and no fucks given, clearly.

I had a think.

McCat clearly wasn’t ill at that precise moment. I began to wonder if a ready cache of chocolate might explain his greatly relaxed approach to food since the beginning of the year. Not to mention the recent resumption of his tendency to be less relaxed and obsessively request each meal a few minutes after eating the last one. But if he had just eaten all the pies chocolate, we needed to get him to a vet, fast. How to find out though, preferably before he started throwing up, at which point, it would have been too late, Dr Google had told us. That’s when I remembered my pinpointer and had An Idea.

The chocolate was covered in foil. He’d peeled some of that off, clearly but it was equally clear that not all of it had been removed. Some had gone down his greedy fat cat gullet with the chocolate. If he’d eaten them all in one sitting, nearly all the foil had been eaten too. This meant that he contained almost as much wrapper as chocolate and, that being the case, if I ran a metal detector over him the signal from all that foil would blow my ears off. The detector, itself was too sensitive, it would pick up nearby stuff as well and I’d never be able to narrow it down reliably. The pinpointer, however … that was a different case entirely.

Yes, ladies, gentlemen and everything beyond and in between, when you go detecting and you’ve heard a signal and dug a hole, should you have any trouble finding the thing giving off that signal, if it’s really small, say, you can narrow down its whereabouts with a pinpointer. This is good for me because I tend to dig in fields that are bristling with coke, which gives off a large and loud signal. As a result I end up ignoring big signals, because there are that many hot rocks in the fields on which I dig that I find very little else. The little signals, are a different matter, but the things you find are also little, and that means you need to pinpoint them, fast, or you’re sifting about in the clod of earth you’ve dug out all day.

That’s how I ended up with a pinpointer, and that’s how I ended up running my Garrett carrot over the pooh in McCat’s earth box – without touching clearly – along with the cat shit bin – not touching that either – and not forgetting his lardy stomach. Despite a hitch, to start with, when I realised it was picking up the nearby washing machine, I did finally manage to get him in a position where I could reliably detect any foil in his innards. There was none, luckily. We stood down. I didn’t need to get dressed, leap into the car and brave lock down to find a vet. What a relief for everyone.

How many detectorists end up searching their pets? Who knows but I’d guess there are more than we might think.

So that was my week, sweeping my cat for tin foil. I am agog to see how next week is going to out-weird this one.

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Living on the edge …

You know how I lead a fast and dangerous life? Mwahahahargh! Yeh. You will remember my banging on about brain fog every now and again. In truth, my post McMini baby brain seagued smoothly into menopausal brain fog without my even noticing. It is only since the HRT kicked in that I have discovered just how completely bollocksed coddled my brains have been since 2008. It’s like I have suddenly found myself. I still lack energy – chronic pain does that – but I definitely have more than before. Whether anyone will notice my refreshed and revitalised brain is moot though, as I still appear to be the vaguest and most disorganised person on earth. To whit …

This last Monday it was the SPF Show Live. SPF is an online community I joined in 2015 after buying a course on Facebook Advertising run by Mark Dawson. It was, as the title suggests a live workshop, down in London at the South Bank Centre. I booked many moons ago, before the virus named after a fizzy drink reared its ugly head. Registration started at 8.30 am.

Obviously 8.30 am is quite early to be in London from here. I hummed and haad about how I should get there. Train, clearly, but which station to go from? In the end I decided I’d get the 5.49 train from Bury St Edmunds as this did not involve a thirty minute drive home in the dark, in the inevitable pissing rain, with shit visibility and with one headlight going on and off (yes, the other one, not the one with the part I mortgaged my house to pay for). Departure time decided, I set my alarm for unspeakable o’clock and packed everything I thought I’d need the night before.

In the event, I headed off for the station in good time but I’d forgotten something. That thing is this … when I imagine walking somewhere, I imagine it taking about as long as it would take when I could … well … walk. Thing is, I can’t walk anymore. Not like that. I don’t have the same number of knee ligaments as other people and one knee hurts like a bastard at the front, and the other knee hurts like a bastard at the back. That kind of stuff slows a person down.

So, yeh, I left ten minutes and I suddenly realised, as I was still 100 yards from the station, that I only had three minutes to get to my train. It would take me three minutes to get up the ruddy stairs, although that’s still quicker than using the sodding lift.

Maybe it would be a few seconds late.

Yeh. As if.

Upping my walk to the kind of shuffling Igor-style lurch which is as close as I get to a run these days, I ‘ran’ for the train. As I reached the bottom of the stairs I realised the train was in, and its contents were coming down them. Dodging past two blokes carrying bikes sideways, and a whole bunch of semi-somnambulant others, I reached the platform just as the door alarm started to go. Not normally a problem, but as the train is only four carriages long, and the platform is for … more than four … it was parked about thirty feet away. Well … I gave it my best shot. More Igor-esque shuffling and I was nearly there, indeed I touched the train, but the beeping had started, the doors were closing and I was too far away to hurl myself on.

It might as well have been on fucking Mars for all I was going to catch it.

The doors closed. Mourning the demise of the old slam-door type where you could just open the bloody door again and get on as it started to move. I turned with an expression of hapless desperation to the mirror at the front of the station, hoping the driver would see me as s/he looked, before leaving the station.

Hands together in a please, please, take pity on me kind sir, stance, I begged the driver to open them again. No joy. The beeping stopped and after a couple of seconds, the motors engaged, and the train fucked off into the darkness, leaving me on the platform, alone.

‘Bollocks!’ I said.

Ho hum.

I turned and made my way down the stairs.

‘You missed it then,’ said the station master, not unsympathetically.

‘Yeh, touched the ruddy thing, but didn’t get close enough to get in, I keep forgetting I have a limp these days and that I don’t walk as fast as I used to.’

It was a beautiful clear dawn, marred, slightly, by the fact the train was filthy.

We discussed options and he agreed that my Plan B – if it’s me hoping to be somewhere by 5.49am there is sure as hell going to be a Plan B – of going to Whittlesford was probably the best idea. Let’s face it, it wasn’t so bad. It was a beautiful clear dawn, the moon was out and the sky lightening in the east. Yeh, it wasn’t as if I’d be driving home with zero visibility in the pissing rain today.

Back home, grabbed the car keys and headed off. Time was pressing and after driving down the M 11 at an injudiciously high speed … an invigoratingly brisk drive down the M11, I arrived at Whittlesford. Nobody was there yet, so I bagged the closest parking spot to the station, on the end, although some bastard still managed to scratch my car parking the other side of me. I entered my number plate into the ticket machine and paid, although it didn’t give me anything to put in the window, which somewhat unnerved me. As I walked onto the platform I discovered the train I’d hoped to catch was due in one minute.

Nice.

Around me was a surfeit of stern warnings that I must travel with a valid ticket. Hmm … was my ticket valid? I hadn’t a chuffing clue. Better buy another and get a refund on the one I didn’t use. I turned my attention to coercing one from the machine on the platform. I got to the end but it didn’t seem to want to let me pay.

The train arrived while I was still scratching my head.

Yes well, let’s not miss another one. The existing ticket would have to do.

The journey passed more or less without incident, except that I’d have dearly liked a wee and couldn’t find a loo. I made a pithy post about my fuckwittery on the forum for the event, and posted a picture of the rather lovely sunrise I over Cambridgeshire I could see from the window. I hopped off at Totteham hale, thought about walking from Green Park and then remembered what had happened walking to the station a couple of hours previously and changed to the Northern Line at Warren Street instead. A quick five minute walk from Waterloo and there I was.

The glass front of the Festival Hall. No snurd holes …

Needless to say, the first thing I did was take a picture of the glass windows The Pan of Hamgee drove the SE2 through at the beginning of K’Barthan 2. It would have been churlish not to, right?

Course was fab. I homed in on a lady wearing a fabulous crocheted dragon on her shoulder and it turned out she was one of the people who’d commented on my post about missing the train. She was with another lovely lady writing the same and they introduced me to a group of Paranormal Romance writers at lunch who were great company and several orders of magnitude more successful than I am! Also managed to meet lovely author friend J A Clement who was one of the helpers.

Back in for the afternoon’s talks, came out afterwards and … yes, it was pissing down. Never mind, I had a brolly. Quick trot over the railway bridge to Embankment and back on the 5.08 train.

Thirty five minute drive home in zero visibility and pissing rain with one headlight. Oh well, you can’t win em all.

Spool forward to Thursday. McMini plays in ‘Rock Band’ at school. He plays drums and I confess I did know he had a concert coming up. McMini’s school is at once rigorous and laid back. They are extremely careful about keeping tabs on where each of their tiny charges has got to, but they do tend to tell you about something once and leave it at that. So … I’d had the news sheet the week before last telling me that there was a concert. We had all hoisted in that McMini would be playing. But, I kind of expected something nearer the time saying … I dunno … your kid is in the concert, they will be having tea in school, it starts at X time, collect them from Y … that kind of thing.

However, the school is like, yeh, we’ve told them once. They know.

Thursday came, and there I was wandering around McMini’s school at pick up time. I had gathered up his golf bats and sports bag and put them in the car but was there any sign of him? Nah.

As I mooched about hopefully peering into windows and peeping round doors, a couple of members of staff said hello and then another popped out and asked me if I was looking for McMini (impressed he knew I was McMini’s Mum, then again, I’m the only one who turns up at collection time in a silly car so it’s probably that). We had a look in the dining hall but McMini wasn’t there, he was still rehearsing. He had emailed me to explain that he had the concert, in case I forgot, but only at ten past five, after I’d already left. McMini’s school is in the deadest dead spot known to man – probably by design – so naturally, I didn’t receive it until I arrived home.

I met one of his friends, though and told him to let McMini know that I knew he had a concert and that I would be coming and see him later. Then it was into the car, hot foot it home to see if McOther could come, but he had a board call, so then it was hot foot it back, because it started in about ten minutes. It was a very impressive concert. It hadn’t started when I arrived but I was late and there was no parking, except for a space marked as ‘visitors only’ which everyone else had avoided.

McMini’s new school is in an old stately home so parts of it are ritzy

Stuff that! I’m visiting, I thought, wedged the Noisy Cricket into it, between two huge Chelsea tractors and ran in. There were still programmes to be had but no seats so I crept in and sat on the windowsill at the back with all the little boys who were playing on their game consoles while big brothers or sisters performed. I remember thinking, as I sat watching the first item, that this wasn’t quite where I expected to be that evening. Yeh, so while there’s less brain fog, it’s clear that my abject fuckwittery still knows no bounds.

But I made it, and that’s what counts. AND I even remembered to videoMcMini doing his thing so McOther could watch it, too.

It’s probably quite an achievement to be able to organise your life, yourself, and still have absolutely zero clue what you’re meant to be doing when, or what’s going to happen next. Talking of which, the fizzy drink virus … as an ‘at risk’ (rather susceptible to chest infections and still wheezy after a hideous flu bout last year) I’m rather hoping not to catch it as I suspect it will be quite grim, and last year’s bout of flu was bad enough. It’s all getting a bit serious.

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