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Feels like Friday!

Shall I let you into a secret? This is my favourite time of the year. Especially Epiphany (next Sunday).

Don’t panic! It’s 2019.

Why? Because I get to look back at what I’ve achieved in a good year, and on to what I might achieve – I might do a bit more looking forward than back if I’ve had a bad year but that’s the loveliness of it. It’s only the beginning of the year so there’s that glorious, clean-page feeling you can only possibly enjoy during the few, early weeks have when you haven’t fucked anything up yet.

Then there’s the fact the days are getting longer, the bulbs are beginning to peep through, the birds are suddenly singing a LOT louder. There is a buzz and energy to everything, as if nature knows that no matter how cold it might yet get and no matter how mid winter it actually still is, we have turned the corner. It’s a kind of school’s out feeling.

The big one, of course, is that Christmas is over, I am no longer writing lists, trying to remember all the things I am supposed to do, or trying to work out if I’ve posted the Christmas cards or remembered to buy more stamps. There’s no travel, no wondering, nervously, if I’ve booked the cat in kennels on the right dates even though I know I’ve checked and re-checked. There’s no packing or making sure that lots of things are clean so I can just put one suitcase down in the hall and pick up the other one as we make a quick 24 hour pit stop at home on the way from Scotland to Sussex, or vice versa.

There’s none of the omnipresent worry, the feeling I’ve forgotten something. Nor, indeed, the very real danger of causing horrific offence though some gifting oversight or greetings-related vaguary. No trying to recall if I’ve sent that calendar to Aunt Ada, and if I have, whether Aunt Doris should have one too, or whether I put a family letter in Cousin Mabel’s card. Or have I sent the right cards to the right halves of the divorcees? I did catch myself in time before I posted a card to the lady half of a divorced couple in the envelope addressed to her ex. That was close.

There’s no fielding all the calls from people who want to know how Mum and Dad are but are too shy to call direct, ‘because we know your father’s ill and we haven’t heard anything’. No more trying to explain to them that they haven’t heard anything because my father is ill, not because my mother doesn’t want to call for another year. No more efforts to try and underline, gently, that Mum would love to hear from them but that she has a dash of dementia too, now, and that they haven’t heard because they need to call her.

Doing Christmas and New Year is like sitting a rather onorous set of exams.  It’s alright if you are prepared but I am not always prepared because … life.

Christmas and New Year require me to be a grown up, be the matriarch and generally do adulting, hard.

Adulting is not something I do well.

Epiphany, on the other hand, is when I come out the other end, exams sat, adulting done, no clue as to the results but nothing more than the thank you letters to worry about, which are usually done by that time because even if they feel like pulling teeth, they’re the last push, the the last bit of grown-up-ness between me and freedom, and it always feels good to get them finished by the first weekend in January so I can relax.

There is the glorious revelling in the knowledge that Next Christmas and New Year are about as far away as it is possible for them to be. That smug feeling you get buying next year’s wrapping paper and Christmas cards for a third of the price in the sales and putting them away. There’s the fabulous relief that all the weird people who love Christmas and bang on about it from about July will actually shut the fuck up about it for a couple of months. No more Christmas jumper pictures on Facebook. Woot. But I suppose, most importantly, after a month or two of frenetic planning and pretending to be a grown up, Epiphany brings a bit of space, some time to reflect on the past year and look at what I have – or haven’t – done. And with that, usually, comes a feeling of great peace.

Next year is going to be tough but we’ll get through somewhow.

This year, I have learned that I need to write to maintain my sanity. More importantly, as well as learning that I needed to do that, I learned how to. I have not been so calm for a long time – don’t get excited it’s all relative, I’m still bouncing about like a kernel in a popcorn maker and I am still exasperated by trivial and mundane things. I still get menopausally, hormonally, mental baggage-ly angry about ridiculously small stuff and end up shouting at strangers but … er hem … in a more relaxed and benign way. Phnark.

So yeh. Very little has changed, except the gargantuan word total, there just seems to have been this weird shift in the way I look at it. It’s not all roses, but it’s not all stingy nettles and jaggy brambles anymore, either!

I am aware that my feeling of peace is probably nothing more than the calm before the storm but I’ll enjoy it while it’s here. As for 2019, I know some things are going to be grim, but I’m still looking forward to it, I’m still hopeful and still intrigued as to what it will bring.

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New stuff, has landed! Woot!

So, I have a new release.

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

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

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

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

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

Grab your copy of Christmas Lites VIII here.

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

It’s a Strange World Science Fiction

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

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

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

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

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Filed under About My Writing, Author Updates, Blimey!, General Wittering

New Stuff? Yeh, excerpt, new release and old stuff for 40% off!

As you know, I’ve been writing new stuff this year and because of the state of my brain/demands on my time and general, inconvenient insistence of Real Life to get in my way, this new stuff is mostly novellas/short stories. I am now close to finishing my fifth short this year! Woot. Desparately trying to get it sort of done by the end of the year but it probably won’t quite happen now, although I will be, literally, about 1000 words short! Grrr!

Apologies that I don’t have a cover to show you. I did hope I would have by this time but, unfortunately, my car appears to be determined to bankrupt me, so I didn’t have any cash left over to stump up for a cover after new tyres, a new radiator and other extensive repairs. But I digress … After banging on about them so long, I thought you might like to read an excerpt anyway, even without the cover to look at. Barring one, the short stories start pretty much were Unlucky Dip leaves off. The one exception … remember that scene in The Wrong Stuff when The Pan of Hamgee, hero of the K’Barthan Series, tells Ruth he tried to kill himself? This story tells you how and why he failed.

If you’ve read Unlucky Dip, you’ll know that The Pan, gets employed as a go-fer by Big Merv, the local gang lord after making and ill-judged and pathetically cack-handed effort to steal his wallet.

Between that point and the start of the actual series there’s about a year when The Pan runs errands for his scary orange boss. A couple of people asked me what happened during that time so I wrote it down. It being The Pan, most of the errands he runs go wrong somehow and he has to put things right to avoid being incorporated into a motorway stanchion or sent to swim with the fishes in concrete overshoes.

When I’m writing, I tend to end up writing way more stuff than I use so this may not all make it into the final edit, but I thought you might like it anyway. It describes The Pan of Hamgee’s first visit to The Parrot and Screwdriver, shortly after he is ’employed’ not that he has much choice in the matter, by Big Merv. It also describes his first encounter with Humbert, the foul-mouthed parrot. I am hoping that my cat fans, in particular, will appreciate this one.

Enjoy.

K’Barthan Short Preview

Sort of on the same subject …

Christmas Lites VIII

You may remember me talking about Christmas Lites last year. It’s an annual anthology published in aid of victims of domestic abuse. This year I successfully got my shit together and actually wrote a 10k story for Christmas Lights Eight. Woot! If you’re interested in finding out how The Pan of Hamgee got the pink plastic ring which features in Looking For Trouble, the answer is in the story, Secret Festive Celebration – yes, naming my work is not my strong point but it’s probably better than ‘the pink spangly ring one’*. Marginally.

* the genuine working title.

As I write, I lack a cover photo for this one too – doing well aren’t I? I also lack any meaningful details of a release date but I have made the bold assumption that it will go live soon because I know that’s the intention, and the lady who runs it has just had a baby, which means it’s not going to happen in a standard manner. She has a small person in her life now and all planning disappears when that happens. However, I wanted to alert you all anyway, because I know it’ll be coming soon. I’ll do a post specially when it does.

K’Barthan Box Set on sale now! Woot!

If Kobo is your thing, or you buy your ebooks from pretty much any store and read them with the respective app, Kobo is having a box set sale until 17th December. The discount won’t show at first but if you click to purchase and then enter the coupon code DECSALE at check out it will knock 40% off the price for you. You can use this code again and again, so basically, if you like Kobo, this is a good time to mop up as many reduced books as you can!

To find out more, click on the picture or follow this lovely link here which should take you to your local Kobo … er hem, famous last words:

https://www.kobo.com/ebook/k-barthan-box-set

While I’m writing about that, I know it’s a little bit cheeky but if you’ve read the series and enjoyed it already, could you do me a huge favour? If you have time, would you be able to help new people find it by spreading the word about this promo, or sharing my Facebook post about it with your friends? I know dead cheeky, right? But if you think you can help, you will surely gain your right to fully-certified Christmas Awesomeness! You can find the Facebook post to share here.

That’s it from me for this week … next week I may tell you about my adventures when out metal detecting and I discovered the battery in my car key had gone, rendering the car impregnable. Perhaps I’ll describe how I fell to my knees in the mud and cried, ‘why me?’ as I realised my lunch was locked inside. Tune in next week and if I’ve got round to typing it up, you’ll find out what happens next and also the answer to the question, when you put a Lotus on a ramp, can you open the door and get in?

These and more adventures next week!

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Filed under About My Writing, Humorous Fantasy Author

Accepting the way dementia transforms someone you love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I don’t like you Mary.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A family take on remembrance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Site of Baron Von Richthofen’s death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drawing by an Australian solider

 

 

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The day-to-day challenges of being a fuckwit and other stuff …

There are times when I enjoy being me and other times when I wish I was one of the normal bastards.

I also loathe and detest the first person who decided that it would be a good idea to nick something that belonged to someone else, resulting in the bane of my fucking life; keys. One of the many things the Romans gave us, I believe, along with underground elder and rabbits, oh no wait, that was the Normans wasn’t it? And organised people. Because organised people are organised the rest of us all have to bloody do it their way. Jeepers, if I could a penny for every minute I’ve pissed away looking for my keys, breaking into my own house or generally footering about on key-related shite I’d be giving Jeff Bezos a run for his money.

Yes, as you can guess, I locked myself out of my house again this week. I also failed to meet and greet McMini’s new headmaster, who is the spit of a TV personality from a popular magazine programme. The curriculum meeting, which I did get to, was rather disconcerting as I felt as if I was in a TV audience and half expected the other presenters on the TV programme to turn up too. Quite weird. Anyway, I set my phone to beep when the headmaster’s new meet and greet session was on because I knew I hadn’t a hope in hell of remembering through my menopausal brain fog. Did the stupid thing go off?

Did it buffalo!

It just showed me a message which, of course, I didn’t chuffing see, the phone being in my pocket while I was riding a bike. I think there’s been an ‘improvement’ to they’ve dicked about with the diary facility on my phone and not mentioned it, as per usual, because clearly google’s users have nothing better to do after the weekly update than spend the rest of the week working out what it’s improved fucked up. I haven’t worked out how to persuade the alarm function to make a noise since it used to do so automatically.

Do you know, I’m beginning to wonder if technology isn’t something The Man has given us all to do so we don’t notice how many companies are screwing us over or what bastards the politicians are.

Anyway, there I was on Tuesday, having discovered that I’d missed the meet and greet, but on the up side at least I was finally remembering to pay in a cheque the Inland Revenue had sent my dad about three weeks earlier. But I decided I’d go to M&S first, and afterwards, as I went to unlock the bike to head for the bank, that’s when I discovered that I didn’t have the keys.

Bollocks.

So I left my bike leaning against the lamp post to which I’d chained it and walked home. The gate to our garden runs across a narrow alley between our garage and next door’s. It’s quite high, about seven ft, so while I could leap up and undo the catch, I would probably end up swinging on the gate, or at least, breaking the gate with my huge weight as it tried to swing.

There is the wall, of course, but unfortunately, my knees are far too fucked to go over the wall these days, so I have to liberate something from a skip to stand on or, skips being a bit thin on the ground at the moment, I have to borrow a ladder from a neighbour. This time the unlucky recipients of my plea for help were the lovely folks at the cobbler’s shop opposite. Offered a choice of three sizes of stepladder, I chose a small compact type and suitably armed I returned to the back gate, set it up in front, climbed up, opened the gate without falling through it – result! – and went and got my keys from the back door of the garage. Then I pulled the gate to, with the keys about my person this time, handed the ladder back in at the shop and plodded back up the hill to town.

This is my life. This is a normal day for me. This is how I waste my precious fucking time. Flippin’ eck.

After liberating the bike, I found the bank just opening. Apparently they do training on Tuesday until 9.30, not that there is any mention of this on their opening hours sign. Sigh. Clearly the Chaos Fairies knew and were just finding me a more interesting way of occupying my time than waiting outside. Little shites.

Cheque paid in I returned home.

Today I discover that I have forgotten to buy my Dad a new set of pyjamas so it’ll be all hands on deck to do that in a moment … when I’ve done this. But I digress.

Telling McOther about my episode with the keys, he said cheerfully, ‘Crikey! I’d really hate to be you. Although if I was, I think I’d have thought about changing something by now.’

I tried to explain that changing this behaviour would be a complete fucking joy but that repeated attempts to do so have ended up in failure and indeed depression. It is abundantly clear to me that the reason I am such a cheerful personality is that were I not, the unnatural degree of fucking uselessness which which I am lumbered would certainly have caused me to top myself. It appears I am no more able to change my bollock-brained ness than an amputee is able to grow back their lost limb. Indeed if my efforts are anything to go on, an amputee trying to regrow a lost leg is marginally more likely to succeed.

On the upside, I suppose my life is never dull.

Speaking of which, the old dears were in good form this week and I saw my Uncle and Aunt too, which is always great fun. Lunch over and as I was leaving, Mum drew my attention to the dolls house our gardener, but more of a family member really, made for me as a kid. It is a replica of our house and had been languishing in the barn at Mum and Dad’s for years until my sis in law and niece had found it, got it out, cleaned it up, got rid of the woodworm and washed everything that could be saved and washed.

Dolls house, from the back.

‘Do get them to take it away, darling, it’s cluttering up the place,’ said Mum.

Turns out Sis in Law and niece aren’t sure they have room for it. And it is manky. It needs fixed.

‘I think we should just bin it,’ said Mum.

‘But we can’t do that!’ I say, ‘think how much thought and love went into making it.’

‘True,’ said Mum, ‘But we really can’t have it lying around here. Why don’t you have it?’

‘Really? Thanks,’ I say, not even thinking how I’m going to get a 4x5ft dolls house into a Lotus, not to mention bringing home another large cluttery thing to clutter up our house. My poor, poor husband. It’s probably not even going to fit into his sensible(ish) alfa but I’ll take it down next week and have a look, anyway.

It’s a wonderful, if knackered thing, though, this doll’s house. The windows are cut carefully with a fret saw and glassed with perspex cut to size from the windows of the sidecar from Arthur’s old motorbike. The lay out and rooms are a replica of our house, except for the downstairs loo but I think we can let that go.

The actual house

Dolls house, from the front.

It opens in all the right places for maximum access to all areas. It’s not quite the right size for standard dolls house furniture so Arthur made tiny chairs and tables to go with it. Mum made tiny duvets and valences to go round the beds and little cushions.

As a child, I ‘decorated’ it, myself using felt for carpets (long since eaten by a variety of rodents and insects in the barn) and the contents of a 1970s wall paper sample book. As a result some of the decor is a tad … lurid.

A full on view of some of the attractive shades of decor 10 year old me chose. Geez I was classy!

So I’m going to paint it up, sort it out and redecorate the inside. I may even try making some furniture, although, it’ll have to be paper mache. But you never know, maybe the chaos fairies will move in, and if they have somewhere to live perhaps the little bastards will piss off and leave me alone!

Here’s hoping.

 

 

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Jumbled thoughts on metal detecting, dementia and happiness.

Yep, that’s a hell of a mixture and it isn’t as philosophical as it sounds, this one.

As you know, I go metal detecting, or to put it the correct way, I’m a detectorist. After a very, very long break, I got to go detecting the other day and I found … THINGS.

The ground has been too hard and the crops too high or digs just not … on for a long time. I have wanted to upgrade from my trusty Garrett Ace 250 to a new detector for a year or two. But I wanted one with a display so I could check my ears, so to speak – the ritzy ones give you a numerical scale and if you know your onions you can tell what the metal below you is from the read out. The ones that give you a reliable read out like this, though, tend to be north of a grand. The read out on the Garrett Ace 250 has not, to my knowledge, predicted more than a handful of the metal I’ve dug up with it correctly. So I’ve persevered with the Garrett, because I’d got to know it’s foibles by now, and started saving up for a high end machine.

Meanwhile many of my friends at the clubs I go to suggested I should forget about the display and go on my ears alone because that way, I could buy a high end machine for £800 or thereabouts rather than £1k plus. I wasn’t sure and I waited … until I was at a dig in autumn 17 and I realised that because the display on my Garrett is so random I hadn’t actually looked at it for the whole afternoon I’d been out and hadn’t been using it, while detecting, for some time.

The detector I’d finally decided on was chosen because it’s light and would sell for a good price if I didn’t get on with it. However, that’s the rub. It’s very expensive, even second hand. Bemoaning this, at one of the clubs I go to, one fellow popped up and suggested I forget about the really ritzy one, and the ritzy one’s smaller £800 brother and go for the baby of the brand which is about £600 new, but which you can get second-hand for much less. Then someone else at the club knew someone who had one for £220 and I bit his hand off.

Bearing in mind how incredibly bad I was at getting the hang of the old detector, I wasn’t expecting much so when I first went out with it and found some nice things I was well chuffed! And then I stopped finding … well … anything except old iron and crap. Some of the crap was just luck – when you dig up a bit of copper you might find it’s just a tractor part, or it might be a Roman coin – the only way to tell is to get it out of the ground and have a look. It just so happened that it was tractor parts. It was also getting tiny, tiny fragments of things which were taking ages to find in the freshly dug soil because my pinpointer is a bit dodgy. They could have been beads or medieval fasteners but they weren’t. They were tiny bits of lead.

Bollocks.

Dig after dig went by and I was well aware that most of my failure to find interesting stuff was less about the detector and more down to the plonker waving it about. You know when you’re doing something wrong and you just can’t work out what to do to make it right. I could tell the machine was giving me a lot of information, I just couldn’t work out what the chuff it was  saying. So eventually after going to about 8 digs and failing to find a blummin’ thing, I discovered that one of the detectorist’s suppliers I use had a sheet of hints for setting the thing up. I rang them and the lovely fellow there spoke to me for about thirty minutes and sent the instructions over. That conversation was a bit of a scales from the eyes moment.

The principle of the new (to me) detector – or at least, the technique that works for me – is the exact reverse of the other one. Most machines have three tones, high, low and iron. This one is no different, although sometimes it feels like there are four. The iron on this one is a pulse more than a note, then there appears to be a very occasional low tone a mid tone and a high one on top, but the low tone may just be the way my ears hear one of the high ones mixed in with the iron pulse. So then you trundle round, listening, and it’s like hearing a chord. When it bings, you listen for the tick of the iron tone. If there’s lots it means you’ve got a really big piece of iron, deep down, unless you can turn sideways and swing the detector a different way and it becomes a bing on it’s own with no tick. Then it’s not iron. It might be canslaw, a blob of lead or a brass tractor part, or, worse, a cartridge cap – which gives the exact same signal as a Bronze Age axe head, I’m told – but it is, at least, the kind of metal you’re looking for.

So on the one hand, I was doing it all wrong because I wasn’t listening for the ticking iron tone, so I was only getting half the information. On the other hand, I was doing the right thing digging the signals I was getting because if you leave the distinctive tone of an old shotgun cartridge, you may actually be leaving something … better. So while it’s a pain in the arse as, ever the optimist, I dig them up, I’m actually doing the right thing.

Then came spring, the crops seeded at lightning speed and I didn’t get to test my new detecting theories until the first weekend in August. Then, to my joy, I got to go digging for an afternoon. It was thirty three degrees centrigrade that day (about ninety Fahrenheit) so I was actually quite glad it was only an afternoon.

I arrived just as everyone else was eating their lunch making an ignominious entrance across a stubble field, the freshly cut stalks just that little bit higher than the flat panel underneath my car making a loud screeching sound, like someone running their fingernails down a blackboard, the whole way. I parked, approached the nearest detectorists and apologised profusely. Turned out they were all fed up, the ground wasn’t too hard but the going was hot and the finds and signals few and far between.

Armed with my new machine, and new information, I headed off to detect in the furthest field under a big tree. Surely there had been trees there for many years and I would find something someone had dropped while sitting under it. On the way, I found a bit of the cap of an old bottle, probably from the 1940s or thereabouts. Junk, maybe, but it was a start. I detected around the tree for a while. I could hear the iron buzz most of the time but finally got a proper bing tone on top. Turned sideways and sure enough, managed to reach a point where the bing was on it’s own. Up came half a 14th century thimble with a lovely green patina. This is on my bucket list so even half of one was me set up for the day. With ridiculous optimism, I set about trying to find the other half. I got a shot gun cartridge. Well, you can’t win ‘em all. Next a thing that looked like some kind of silver stud but it was too muddy to tell. Then two signals which I thought were iron and dug to check. They were.

I moved to another field and dug up a piece of old wire and then a THING. The THING looked a bit like a Georgian drawer handle, or possibly a Roman brooch, only not. My fellow detectorists hadn’t been so lucky, many complaining, and one remarking, as we packed up to go, that the only thing he’d found worth keeping were some blackberries! I was dead chuffed with my stuff, but the best thing of all was that I came away realising that I have finally begun to understand the equipment I am using.

As I drove home, delighted with my finds, I wondered if I had really been the only person to find anything good or whether it was more about my standards. The thimble was only half a thimble after all and the Roman brooch-like-probably-drawer-handle-object, which probably wasn’t either, looked ancient but could just have easily have dropped off a Victorian cart or something. The folks out detecting with me were far more experienced. Had finds like mine become junk to them? Possibly.

This got me thinking about life, generally. It seems to me that a lot of the time, happiness is less about what you actually experience and more about how you look at it. I read somewhere that if you get one group of people to sit in a chair and think about exercising – without actually doing any and another group of people to do the same without thinking about running around, the people who think about exercising a lot are 25% fitter than those who don’t. Without actually doing anything. This is the power of the mind and this is why I am always interested in the use of mental techniques in pain management for my knees.

And that got me thinking about happiness. Is the illusive search for happiness nothing more than an exercise in lateral thought? In my own personal experience, I’m beginning to think that maybe it is. There are probably people who, given my life to live, would be a lot more appreciative and happy than I am. Likewise there are probably people who’d be a lot sadder. It’s all about how you look at it. As humans we tend to hear criticism more loudly than praise, the criticism is the stuff that sticks. Likewise, sometimes, I think our preconceptions are that things are a lot worse than they really are. Good things aren’t always newsworthy.

I like to think that I am positive in outlook. I’d say I usually prepare for the worst but I like to think that I also hope for the best. I’ve had to skew my view occasionally, mostly over what I should be able to do versus what is actually possible for someone with my knees, pain management and stuff like that. Has that helped me deal with the situation with my parents? I don’t really know? I’m in my fifties now and I’m starting to see my friends going though horrific shit, their children dying, marriages failing, getting sick … I have no idea how they get through it. I feel a combination of luck, that I have McOther and McMini beside me and rank fear that something will happen to them. But mostly, I’m grateful for them, and nutbag cat and the lunatics I call my family and friends. I’d definitely say I’m happy, overall, even if things that happen do make me sad. And for me I guess the secret is just being interested in what’s going on around me. Is that it? Curiosity? Am I happy because I’m curious? Yeh, yeh, as in enquiring of mind people, the fact I am odd is a given. Is being happy just about looking at everything through rose tinted spectacles?

Or is it that, sometimes, good things seem to appear at the exact moment you need them? Is it a bit of all that, rose tinted but without the delusional aspect? Maybe.

But on good things … this weeks’ visit to the old dears was a gift. On the motorway, stuck in a ‘slow down’ as they call it, a chap in a van next to us beeped at us. I was a bit nonplussed, being, as I am, wizened and ancient and he being a rather glamorous dark haired gentleman in his 20s or so. He waved at me and did a thumbs up, pointing to my car. Then he held up his phone. The screen was black.

‘Uh?’ We said.

He beeped the hooter again, ah yes, the phone was live now and on the tiny screen was a picture of a bright blue car. I’m far too much of a blind old bag to be able to say what it was but I reckon, from the colour, that it was a similar Lotus to mine. Even McMini couldn’t tell and he was on the same side of the car. Mind you, we were all laughing our heads off by this point. We waved and did a thumbs up. People can be real dickheads when you drive a silly car, but sometimes they do mad things like that! It’s all part of the fun and the trick, of course, is to realise that there are probably as many positive things like this as there are negatives. That lateral thought thing again.

On arrival in Sussex. Dad was snoozing and McMini went and sat with him, iPad in hand, to play games and keep him company if he woke up. The lovely Carer cooked lunch and Mum and I went down to the bottom of the garden to pick beans. Then we came back and prepared them. Mum was, mentally, at the top of her game and we had the kind of deep and heartfelt conversation that we haven’t had since the end of 2015. It was fucking magic. I went down there feeling so lonely and came back feeling that I had got Mum back for 40 pure, joyous minutes. We had reconnected, but also it was fantastic to be able to discuss Mum’s life with her and what she wants for her and Dad and confide in her about my own.

And it was brilliant.

After thought …

The Roman brooch-like-probably-drawer-handle-object turned out to be a Roman brooch, just not one from around here. European form, not the Colchester one which, being just near Colchester, I would have been expecting. The stud thing turned out not to be silver at all and was, in fact, a button. Just goes to show that you can never really tell until you clean it all up. The thimble is still a thimble, or at least half of one.

‘Silver stud’ that wasn’t and thimble that was.

 

Roman brooch-like-probably-drawer-handle-object that turned out to be a Roman brooch after all.

 

 

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