Tag Archives: writing

Red alert at Ice Station Zebra … And the Pile Howitzer

This one comes with a profanity warning. It’s not that profane but I do mention piles quite a lot. There. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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The thing about giving birth is that your dignity tends to be birthed along with your child. Not that I even had to give birth to my lad, having a c-section and all. Except while, after it’s all over, they give the child a rub down and hand it over for a cuddle, it seems that my dignity is still in Addenbrooks hospital somewhere. I’d like to think it’s wandering the corridors looking for me but I suspect it’s more likely to be in a drunken stupor. Then comes the menopause/perimenopause/postmenopause. Ladies, if you haven’t yet you do. Not. Know. What. You are in for. If you have … you’ll be laughing along with this.

Basically, when a lady hits mid-life then, if she has any dignity remaining, trust me, the whole change of life shenanigans will knock it unconscious, drag it away, murder it and bury it in a shallow grave.

Motherhood, menopause and adulting. They’ll be the fucking death of me.

Yeh. I don’t really know where to begin this week. It’s manic. The painters are in. For once this is not a euphemism there really are genuine painters painting the woodwork outside of our house. Yes, I’m sorry folks, it’s all our fault the weather had turned to shite. They’re in for three weeks I’m afraid, an’ all so crack out your waterproofs and thermals. The painters start at half seven, which means I have to set my alarm for half six so that I have some thought collection time between waking up and getting out of bed.

When you have to get up that early, who needs thought collection time, right? Wrong. Why do I need it so badly though? You ask? Well, you may not but for the sake of the point I’m attempting to make here, let’s pretend you did. Er … yeh, why do I need that? Because otherwise a terrible thing beyond our imagination may occur. A rush. Also … brain fog. A rush plus brain fog equals a day comprising one gargantuan balls-up after another, followed by an evening of wailing, gnashing-of-teeth and too much alcohol.

Also it has not helped that since it was constipation and brain fog week last week, it is, naturally, piles, headache and brain fog week this. I confess, the piles bit is, usually, only a mild annoyance but every now and again the little bastards decide it’s time for war.

Naturally, what with it being absolutely the worst week ever for it, this week they decided to declare war. So bad I’ve had to open, ‘that box in the fridge’ and crack out the heavy armour. These things are the mother of all cures, the big hitters and I confess, this is only the second time I’ve had to resort to using them. Privately, in my own warped head, I call them ‘The Pile Howitzers’. Normally their presence, in the box, in the fridge, in the paper bag, is enough to keep the little bastards under control.

Obviously with the painters in, it was inevitable that as well as a hectic week for McMini things would go a bit wrong with Dad, which they’ve done – to the extent that I can’t really look it in the eye enough to talk about it now.

But presumably that’s why this week, of all the bastard weeks I would be forced to do so, I’ve had to deploy the Pile Howitzers. It’s a mis-nomer, too, because it’s more like pile shells. Each one looks like a bullet, made of some candle wax like stuff – I assume there’s more than candle wax in it though. Anyway, these things bear a very passing resemblance to the missiles off one of McMini’s StarWars toys – it’s a Clone trooper transport ship, if you must know – and each one has to be shoved where the sun don’t shine – the medication I mean, not the missiles of scion’s Clone trooper transport ship clearly – after … er … daily motion.

As you can imagine this is not hugely dignified experience at the best of times. But when there’s a strong chance you’ll have to give a painter outside the window, sanding down the woodwork, a cheery wave first, it’s a whole new dimension of ‘interesting’! So as well as needing ‘thought collection’ time, in the morning, I have to have been up long enough for motility to occur before the painters arrive as well, in order that the Pile Howitzers can be deployed safely.

Nice.

As a result of this, we have managed, just about, to make it to the end of the week even if, yesterday, both McMini and I forgot his PE kit. I had to rush back to the school with it. Then, he came home wearing said PE kit having left his clothes at school in the bag. As he’s low on trousers, or at least, as he only has the one pair with knees in, I had to rush back to school with him and get his clothes. When he brought the bag out, I was smart enough to check the contents for once and sent him straight back in to get his shoes. This week has been like that.

Then there’s this morning. Although I’d call this a partially successful session.

Today is Saturday and, like many other small boys up and down the country, McMini has football practise. It starts at half nine so I need to wake up at 8 am or so in order to nag McMini to get ready, constantly, from about then on. If I do that, there’s an outside chance he’ll get himself sorted and ready by about 9.15. Today I was woken at about twenty past eight by a cheery cat who lay on my chest making burrping noises and generally demonstrating how pleased he was to see me. After a brief cuddle he headed off to do Important Cat Things and I went and cleaned my teeth, washed my face, brushed my hair and got back into bed for a moment to warm up. But I was fucking knackered after a week of six hours sleep a night instead of seven. Can you guess what happened next?

Yes. At about ten to nine I woke up. This was not good. Leaping out of bed in my pyjamas I ran down and put the coffee on, whacked a crumpet into the toaster for breakfast – first of two x four minutes – made McMini a cup of tea and grabbed his football kit from the airer, where it has been ‘drying’ since its last wash over a week ago – because I’m not a skanky ho or anything. Mwahahahaahrgh!

Ran up to McMini’s room as fast as the action of arthritically running up stairs while carrying a cup of tea and a football kit would allow and discovered that he was awake. It was he who had released the Kraken cat. Unfortunately, he was on the loo looking at videos on his phone. Fortunately, he was most accommodating about wiping his bum and getting his finger out with the dressing when I told him what the time was (I can only assume he’s all up to date with Dan TDM or that the battery in his phone had died).

In something that must be closely approaching a miracle, McMini got his football kit on in about fifteen minutes; evil, impossible-to-pull-on socks and all. I should imagine the tea helped because I’ve tried the ‘Oh shit we’re late’ approach to getting him up in the morning on many occasions and it’s never worked before. At the same time, I hurled on some clothes, put my face on, dragged a brush through my hair again and ran downstairs. I even remembered to push the toaster down to give the crumpet its second four minutes. McMini requested a tortilla wrap, just the wrap on its own, which I had right to hand. Despite the fact that the morning, so far, was like red-alert at Ice Station Zebra we were rocking this! What was going on?

McOther arrived home just as I was shoving McCat into the box to take him to the vet for his yearly shots. Cat in box, now it was time to find the immunisation card. Could I find it? Of course I fucking couldn’t. Never mind, it was now nine twenty and McCat had an urgent appointment on the vet’s table at half past. McOther was taking McMini to football so I hurriedly kissed the boys good bye and rushed off to the vet’s. Amazingly, I even remembered to take the cat with me.

In the short five minute journey I managed to see sun, rain and hail. Plus there seems to be a permanently gale force wind direct from Siberia or somewhere mind-(not to mention, extremity)-numbingly cold.

Despite a nervous few minutes sitting at the traffic lights which went red just as I got to them, naturally, we made it to the vet’s at nine twenty nine, went straight in, wormed, new card, shots done for another year and that was just the cat (badoom tish). Quick chat, paid … a LOT of money … and went home. I broke the cable for the solar charger I have for my car battery which was a bit of a pisser, but on the upside, I think I can fix it.

Even when McOther rang me at 10.45 to say they were holding the traffic on the main road after an accident, that he thought he might not be able to get from Sainsbury’s to football to collect McMini, and that I might have to, the traffic started to move while he was on the phone. Despite waking up, almost too late, everything had gone according to plan, and rush or not, we had achieved our aim. We were blessed! Yeh.

Mmm … just call me Van Halen.

So here I am now, sitting typing this, breathing a sigh of relief that everything is all done. Then I catch sight of my reflection in the kitchen cupboards.

Now, I may have whinged about my hair before but basically, it’s very affected by what the weather is doing. So when the weather doesn’t know what it’s doing, neither does my hair. So the downside of this? Let me show you.

Yes I’ve been going about all morning looking like the mad bag lady of Ning Dang Po. There’s just no way on God’s green earth that any normal person would look at that and think it wasn’t a wig. Blimey-oh-Reilly. Or perhaps it’s more of a 1980s stadium rockstar. Or is it a cross between Milton whatsisface and Ken Dodd? Ah, if only I was as funny as them! Or am I trying to ameliorate the effects of alopecia with a Brillo pad and some wool? I dunno, I’ll let you decide.

Ho hum, I suppose it could be worse.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and put a thing that looks like a StarWars missile up my arse.

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How does this even happen?

This is McMini’s work.

Obviously there are points among the mayhem when I try to write a sensible post about something, but this week the madness continued so I felt I may as well just give in and tell you about it. To be honest, I was worried, a few weeks ago, that I was losing my sense of humour. The good lord has clearly decided to rectify this by making my life as surreal and bizarre as possible. The appreciation of oddity centre of my brain is definitely fully satisfied at the moment, anyway.

First, Dad.

Huge relief this week. After a meeting with Dad’s home, his social worker and the community dementia nurse on Wednesday, they said they were happy with his progress and thought he was settling well. The manager of the home confirmed that they will be able to look after him permanently. Since we were happy with the home, too, this is a huge relief. They addressed most of the doubts or misgivings we had before we got to the asking questions stage which was also a good sign. The home are taking it slowly and letting Dad settle, he flips from charming to very much not charming and has to be placed carefully since he is able to raise his voice to the kinds of levels required to be heard by rowdy teenagers. As the manager pointed out, that kind of volume, like hearing someone play the bagpipes in a small room, can be a bit much for the other residents in a confined space.

At the moment they are working out who Dad gets on with and who he doesn’t. Residents with dementia do irritate each other from time to time, apparently. Like life then. But they’re more like kids so there’s a lot more of the kind of nursery school exchanges. Go away I don’t like you, you’re smelly etc.

A highlight was when the lovely lady who runs the home was trying to get into the computer system to show us Dad’s record. The meeting room was just off the main hall/lounge where everyone sits. She forgot her password. So she opened the door and called for one of the other staff.

‘She’s gone,’ said an elderly voice from a chair nearby. ‘She got into the taxi.’

‘Did she?’

‘Yes, I don’t know where she’s going.’

The staff member appeared from the office next door and came in to join us. In the background I could hear a cheery commentary from the same resident.

‘Look! They’ve both got into the taxi.’

‘Oh,’ said someone else.

‘Yes, I don’t know where they think they’re going,’ said the first voice.

Very Alan Bennett.

At another point I heard a resident shouting and then the familiar voice of Dad bellowing, ‘shut up!’

There was a slight pause in the meeting room.

‘That was Dad,’ said Mum.

‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘still, at least he didn’t say, “fuck off!”’

It sounds a bit grim of me but I’m afraid I actually found it hilarious. Luckily everyone else laughed too.

If you want to survive stuff like this, I sincerely believe there is no other option than to see the funny side. Were he still wholly himself, I’m certain it’s what Dad would have done. There is something gloriously, surreally random about listening to a background of conversation between demented people. Furthermore, Dad is much more settled and much more aware so we are happier because he is and therefore, so is Mum. She is a bit of a worry. We are standing at the top of the hill we were on with Dad three years ago, except with her. I’m hoping the cajoling, the getting extra care and all the other baggage that comes with getting people the care they need, rather than the care they want, will be easier to handle the second time.

Business in casa McGuire is mayhem as usual.

McCat is behaving abominably. As if his complete obsession with my evening primrose oil capsules wasn’t enough, I turned my back on the kitchen work top this morning only to discover he’d leapt up there and was drinking the dregs of McOther’s tea. For the love of the almighty was there ever such a skanky cat? I swear he’s suffering from species dysmorphia because he is clearly a labrador. I have discovered that screaming at him makes him stop and run away, and it also clearly communicates to him that I am displeased and he’s been bad. It doesn’t stop him, though, because not only is he mischievous but he also has a sense of humour and I suspect he thinks it’s funny.

Midweek, a friend from way back rang up out of the blue. She was up here on business and asked if she could stay over. Yes she could, I said. So after a grim journey home from the care home on Wednesday – a lovely 39 minute delay at the Dartford Tunnel and other shenanigans – I got home a few minutes before she arrived.

We had supper and there was lots to talk about, we’re in very similar situations with elderly parents although it’s just mum in her case and we managed to talk the hind legs off every donkey in the vicinity until we realised it was one am.

Nooo I forgot the soldiers in the bog!

I didn’t really think it through, since I had metal detecting club the next night and McOther is hoping to start a wine tasting group we had the first meeting round ours the night after. Long and short, I really can’t do late nights any more I have been recovering from Wednesday’s excesses all week.

When we had the wine group round, I spent the day trying to change my mindset to that of a person who does not live with a ten year old and to notice, and remove, some of the bizarre items that have come to rest around the house. A lot of nerf guns, bits of biro, headless action figures and other detritus later, I thought I had them all, only to discover, while having a nice relaxing wee during the wine evening, that I’d completely forgotten about the row of toy soldiers in the lavatory. Still, I suppose it could have been worse. The scale on our water here is brown and I did, at least, remember to give the lav a good treatment with descaler so it was mostly white.

Meanwhile, McOther had blithely imagined that he’d be home from work in time for us to eat a meal before the wine evening on Friday started. In fact, the first of our guests arrived about two minutes after McOther did. I chatted to him while McOther had a wee and unpacked his work bag before leaving McOther playing host and haring off up the hill in the car with McMini to Boy’s Brigade. Needless to say, because I have a tiny car and McMini is, himself, a microdot, he has elected to play the bass drum in the Boy’s Brigade band. To give him his due, he’s pretty good at it but it means I have to schlepp up the hill with it, or borrow McOther’s car. It’s only a matter of time before he takes up the double bass and the tuba I suspect … or possibly the euphonium or some other hugantic instrument I’ll need a luton van to ferry him about with.

On the recovery from my persistent socialising score, the fact it is the part of my monthly cycle which I privately refer to as Constipation and Brain Fog Week hasn’t helped either, but this time the brain fog and seems to have extended its sponge like caress, not just to my brain, but also to McMini’s.

On Fridays he has PE. Thank heavens he no longer has to go into school dressed in his kit, with his school clothes in a bag, but he tends to come home in his PE kit with his school uniform and school shoes stuffed into his bag. However, he also has Boy’s Brigade on Fridays so he has to put the school trousers and shirt back on again. Bless his heart, I took his uniform out of his PE bag, popped it on the sofa beside him without really looking at it and asked him to put it on. A few minutes later, I heard a shout of dismay.

‘Muuuuuum!’

‘Yes.’

‘These aren’t my trousers! They’re huge.’

He was standing in the middle of the room, sporting what looked like clown trousers. He held the waistband out from his stomach and there was, indeed, about three inches of extra room where, presumably, they usually sit snugly round a very much larger child. Luckily, I’d already washed the other pair of his own trousers and it was hanging over the airier in the utility room so I didn’t have to creep up the stairs on my shonky knees. Even more luckily, it was dry!

The week before last, he managed to get changed back into his school uniform but he came home with another child’s hoody. I didn’t find it for five days. The wee lad’s poor mum was probably wondering where the hell it was. At least I managed to wash it and get it back to her in time for the next PE lesson.

So now we have a pair of mystery trousers and some other child has McMini’s. As far as I recall, McMini’s are named, I’m not sure though, because he went through about six pairs in the first three weeks of term playing something which he called ‘human chess’ and so in the whirl of rapid acquisition and destruction of trousers I may not have named them. Still, I should thank the world for small mercies, I mean, it makes life interesting and at least he still has a pair to go to school in on Monday.

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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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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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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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