Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Work - the early years

I thought I would break up the health posts and write about that classic four letter word - WORK. It may sound surprising but I came from a very emancipated Yorkshire family when it came to women working. Women cooking, keeping the house, bringing up children and going out to work. Give up when you get married? Whatever for? There were no restrictions placed on my grandmothers and my mother in terms of work contribution to the household. One of my great-aunts got it pegged though. She worked as a seamstress, then got married, gave up work, didn't have any children, and cooked rather well. Now there was a woman who prioritised important things in her life. And avoided the unimportant ones. My parents followed the emancipated route for me however, and let me 'help' them on the market at age something-under-the-legal working age which is clearly why I was only 'helping'. In fact delivering orders was hardly what I would call work, but it started me on that wonderful working experiential ladder. I wonder how many children of my generation didn't work under age? Anyway, come somewhere near legal working age, I was permitted to do a full day behind the stall. The first day was pretty terrifying I have to say. My mother, in a rather cute PR move, gave away the first piece of cheese I cut, (it was only a small piece, obviously). I was the cheese girl. The Saturday boy/girl did the cheese. I got used to it, and gained confidence. Although every time someone said they had given me a one pound note and I had short-changed them for ten shillings, I was mortified. Apparently some of those customers did that regularly with the new Saturday boys/girls. It was an outdoor market, so it was cold in winter and warm in summer. In winter I wore thick tights, two or three pairs of socks, jeans, walking boots and a million jumpers. In summer, on a hot day, I wore nothing underneath my white smock. I carried 55lb cheeses around and opened them in the traditional fashion with a cheese steel so that it crumbled on opening. I carried middles of bacon and sides, although struggled with those somewhat because they were unwieldy. I worked every Saturday throughout senior school, with the exception of one geography field trip. I couldn't join in any Saturday sports although the most I would probably have achieved would have been ballgirl at tennis. Not much lost. Unlike my father who wasn't allowed to play cricket on Sats because he was - guess what? - working on the market. At university I came home every Friday afternoon and worked Saturdays. I have no concept of what my friends did on Friday nights or Saturdays at university because I was never there. To compensate, my mother did my washing, and I went back each weekend with a pound of bacon and half a pound of cheese. My rail fare was paid by my father, and I received a payment for the day's work. Clearly the family firm could not survive without me checking in every weekend.... After I had left university, it seemed that trade had suddenly fallen off and they didn't need me on Saturdays any longer now I was home. Hmmmm. Anyway, I wanted to get a 'proper' job even though I was disappointed my super duper skills were no longer needed on the market. When I finally landed a nearby job, my parents advised me to keep my nose clean and work hard and I would always get on. Well, as surely everyone knows - that is actually not the most helpful advice in the world. How about - 'Watch out for your back, because someone will always be trying to stab you there. Watch out for your front too. You will have no friends or allies. Especially if you are intelligent, well-educated, reasonable looking, slim, blah blah blah oh, and far too sarcastic. Do not believe what people tell you. Don't worry about what you do, it's all about what you say you do and how much you can talk.' But sadly, they didn't tell me that, and it took me a long time to learn that one. The first job wasn't bad. It was one of those temporary programmes set up to help unemployed graduates with a useless degree so they can add 'WORK' to their cv. About the only toes I trod on there were sexual ones. I was in the pub one Friday with the office group and one of the guys spilled beer on my skirt. 'I hope you're going to pay my dry-cleaning bill,' I said bossily. 'No, but I'll take you out to dinner.' I demanded somewhere decent. No fish and chip meal. Off we went to posh town to a class restaurant. I was impressed. The boss's secretary wasn't. Not only was she shagging the boss she also had a relationship with my dinner date, who natch was married. So? I couldn't see anything wrong with him taking me to dinner in lieu of a dry cleaning bill. Good company, nice night out. What was the problem? Sexual politics was another one my parents forgot to tell me about. In the next job, I was beautifully upstaged in the promotion stakes. The general concensus in the office was that I was in line for it and we all waited for it to happen. It didn't. No, mum and dad, keeping your head down and working hard doesn't get you anywhere at all. Going in and telling the boss you want that promotion does. Someone else got that promotion by using that rather obvious and blatant strategy. Not hard-working good little me keeping my head down and my nose clean. I still hadn't worked out the failings of my parents' advice though, despite it being so clearly shoved in my face. I thought the boss was clearly a rarity in the world of work where deserving industrious people 'got on' and his failure to promote me was a strange anomaly - and a signal to clear off because he didn't value me. So I did. Little girls should be seen and not heard. People who work hard and keep their heads down get on. What's the difference? There isn't any. Both statements are a subjective and biased opinion and a very ill-informed and damaging one at that. If this sounds like the 'I blame my parents for everything' blog, it isn't. I think some of their advice was well-intentioned and totally unworldly. In the case of work, they had worked together in their own business for some 30 years at this point. They were hardly going to be in touch with office politics. I learned the hard way. And usually only in retrospect.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Health issues (2)

So there I am, happily putting all those childhood illnesses and accidents behind me and looking forward to a healthy adult life. I was going to fast forward 20+ years - but suddenly remembered - chicken pox!! While I may have had measles two or three times, tonsilitis similarly, the two things I managed to avoid in my early years were chicken pox and mumps. I don't know how I avoided them. Whenever one of those school notes came around telling parents they may wish to keep their little girl at home because little someone else had got a nasty infectious disease, my mother tossed it aside and kicked me out of the door and off to school. I had to take my chances. And I never did get mumps or chicken pox. Until the day I was working on a newspaper and noticed a nasty rash on my chest. I sat opposite the chief reporter. She was lovely. One of the few people in my life who I really can't find a bad word to say about. We discussed my spotty chest. I went to the doc. I was off work for three weeks. I scratched of course. As you are told not to do. And there were a couple of scars on my face but I can't see them now. Poor eyesight or just faded away? So the moral behind that one is - don't go to the pantomime with your pals in your early 20s if you haven't had chicken pox. The pantomime, incidentally was very good. Russ Abbott, with some very adult jokes. Almost worth the chicken pox and three weeks off work. Now, and I have been putting this one off - there is the teeth thing. I hate the teeth stories. When I was little I went to see Uncle John (who naturally wasn't an uncle at all but a masonic friend of my dads who happened to be a dentist) and he never did anything to my teeth just gave me those tiny tubes of toothpaste. I loved those. A bit like mini Hovis loaves. Sadly he died young, as dentists often do. My father found us another one in the local town and I was the guinea pig. I came out moaning and crying and was told not to be such a baby. My father went some time later, came out black and blue and badly bruised and we didn't go back. After that we found an ok one. One Friday evening I had a pain in my mouth. Went to the dentist and he suggested we buy some very strong alcohol and swill it around my mouth. I think it was an infection of some type. It may well be totally unethical and unsound and incorrect advice these days - but I continue to pass it on. Smirnoff Blue is my vodka of choice. Apart from anything else if you use it as a mouthwash in the morning it doesn't smell. Moving swiftly on, to Nepal, 1985. Pokhara to be precise and we were in a cheap and nice hostel-type place. Someone offered us toffees. Big mistake. Out came a huge filling. Naturally I was petrified as you are when a filling comes out and you are in the middle of Asia. We hot-footed it back to New Delhi which I thought may have a better calibre of dentist (yes, I know ....). In New Delhi, the sad tooth was refilled. Once in safe white English-speaking land again aka Sydney, I found me another dentist to get it checked out. I told the dentist the story. He nodded sympathetically. I lay back. He put on some music. Indian music!!! The last thing I wanted to hear. It seemed I needed to have the new filling out. A temporary bandage or some such crap applied. Another new filling in later. A lot of Aussie bucks later. Have I mentioned wisdom teeth? No. When I was in sixth form, one of my good friends had hers out, and was off school for weeks and in pain and agony. I survived the ordeal of Nepal, New Delhi and Sydney and returned home, and - went to the dentist. The old dentist, who used to stink of tobacco and do hypnotism, had a bright new assistant. BNA told me my wisdom teeth needed to come out and he was surprised I wasn't already in pain. At which point, I became suspicious of dentists. And refused point blank for anyone to touch my wisdom teeth. There may have been more work on the toffee filling carried out. Why not? It would have been money. I don't remember what happened about that now when it was so many years ago. Cervical screening can rear its head at this point. Naturally I believed that it was A Good Thing to go for smears. I didn't understand a thing about it, but I knew it was A Good Thing. I went to my local doctor for a smear, and when there was a mobile women's health group came around our offices I visited that. I said I had recently been screened, but no matter, we'll just do it all over again. With hindsight - what a total waste of time and space. And money. Because more frequent screening of women in a low-risk group achieves nothing. Eyesight? Gosh I forgot that one. It can wait for a later post too .... Total in the decade of my twenties: Chicken pox One large filling falls out, gets refilled, gets taken out and temporarily refilled, gets filled, and gets taken out and refilled again. What's the betting I still have a filling in that tooth???? Well, you'll have to wait a few posts.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Health issues (1)

Another in the doom and gloom series. It should probably be titled ill-health or sickness or something. Like every other kid I went through the gamut of childrens' illnesses. I also had a mother who would NEVER, by which I mean, absolutely NEVER give me a note to stay away from school. 'Nicky was away with a cold and a note, I want one,' said little me. 'NO,' came the reply. It got a bit more serious though. I got tonsilitis. More than once. Twice? probably three times. At which it was deemed I should have my adenoids and tonsils taken out. At the time, in the 60s, it was all the rage. Do you know anyone who survived that era with their tonsils intact? All duly ripped out, I went home. I wasn't feeling too good so I was allowed to sleep in my mum's bed. Comfort zone I guess. I felt sick so she brought me a bowl. As you do, when you are feeling sick, you try and vomit whatever is making you ill. So I started vomiting blood. Lots of it. I was pleased with myself, as the bowl filled up. I thought I was doing the right thing. This was a washing up bowl by the way. A very large one. The ambulance came and I was rushed back in for an emergency blood transfusion. My parents stayed all night, thinking that I wouldn't wake in the morning. That's what they told me anyway. All I knew was that I woke up with a needle in my arm connected to a large red bottle with blood slowly dripping back into me. That was the second year of school, say around age five. Having recovered from that, the next year I had a bad tummy ache. Whoosh! Into the ambulance again, this time with appendicitis. True to form, this one had after-effects too. The surgeon was proud of his work. He had made a very slight incision leaving the tiniest of scars. But then he had to re-open it when I got gangrene. My poor dolls were subjected to being painted yellow on their abdomen from then ever afterwards. Like all young people in their teens I had sprained limbs. The first was when I was playing England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Japan, Touch. Remember it? Maybe not. The seven steps that we jumped from were rather impressive. There were only a couple of us who could jump from the top. Elizabeth and I. But one day I jumped and fell awkwardly. Maybe I fell badly. Maybe my eyesight had already started to go and I couldn't see where I was jumping. Someone rushed me off to sick-bay, ie carried me. Parents were rung. And it was off to hospital again. My parents told me it was a tip fracture, I guess they meant one of those greenstick things. Off school for weeks yet again. After that, jumping from the steps was banned at my school. Ha! This was 40 years ago, probably not allowed to jump two steps these days let alone seven rather high ones. When we went ice-skating from school, I sprained a wrist. Simple in the scheme of things. A trip to a play somewhere, a fall in my rather nice black suede boots. Bad lighting? Or bad eyesight? Again? But another sprained ankle and another plaster cast. And then - playing squash in sixth form. Crashed against the wall, (never could do that manoeuvre where you get the ball close to the wall and return it), struggled up, off the court, got a lift to the bus station and back home. This time it was a ripped ligament with 17 (I think) stitches. Third time for a leg in a plaster cast, a wooden rocker, a knitting needle to poke down the cast for the inevitable itching, and even more time off school. At least I missed mock 'A' levels. Total: One adenoidectomy and tonsillectomy + blood transfusion One appendectomy + gangrene + re-opening of original incision - six stitches, scar, very visible even now 40+ years later One tip fracture (?) - right ankle - with plaster cast One sprained ankle - left - with plaster cast One sprained wrist - right - with crepe bandage (I can do a great job with crepe bandage even now) One ripped ligament - right ankle - with stitches and plaster cast That's probably not much for 18 or so years. Old person's aches and pains next up ......

Monday, 18 April 2011

Sometimes .....

Sometimes I just want to reach out and touch you.

 But you aren't there any more. Not for me anyway. Maybe you never really were there for me.

I thought you were though, and that's what matters. I've no place in your life any more. I don't know what you are doing, or where you are, or what you are thinking. I wish I did.

We should never have got so close of course. Easy to say after the event. You don't even realise you have let someone become close until - suddenly, without warning - they are there, in your life, and they mean something to you.

Maybe we did because opposites attract. Or maybe because we aren't opposite at all, we're very similar. Who knows?

I should focus on the good times and think about how I got something nice out of it. But all that does is make me wish the good times were still here.

And I remember those warm hugs when I was feeling fed-up. Few and far-between but maybe that's why they were so nice. When they arrived, they were lovely.

Now there is just a bleak emptiness stretching out in front of me. For ever. All I can do is write to myself, because I can't write to you.

And look for the email that will never arrive.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Family planning

To me means just that. Planning a family means planning when to have children, presumably preferably when you are solvent and can provide a happy and loving home. Family planning means using contraception, which, shock horror, rumour reliably informs me that even Catholics indulge in. Or family planning means not having sex at all. Family planning also means making sure you do not have children when you don't plan to. For whatever reason. Money. Health. Personal and family relationships not working out. Being born into a dysfunctional family is no fun. Or being born into one where you are not wanted. My aunt always proclaimed that my cousin had been a mistake. I may have been born into a dysfunctional family but at least I was very much wanted. When I went to university the thought of getting pregnant absolutely horrified me. It would have destroyed my degree, my career, my future life. Or maybe not. But without a doubt if I had become pregnant I would have had an abortion. Without a second thought. I don't consider an inseminated seed to be a person. I don't consider a foetus to be a person. And, my life comes first. My body is mine, and no-one else's to determine. Every other woman in the world should have the right to do what they want with their body. They don't. Who tells men what to do with theirs? Well? Does anyone? So, abortion is also a part of family planning. The part that we all hope to avoid, but that needs to be there for a stop gap. Whatever the reason for that stop gap is. And instead of criticising that service, maybe people should consider how to help the people who sadly need that service in the first place and work out how to help them instead of bleating on about unborn foetuses. Because I don't seek to impose my view on anyone else. I would very much like the world to be vegetarian, feminist, environmentalist, anti-capitalist/globalist, etc etc but it ain't. And I don't tell you what to do. So please, leave women to decide what they want to do with their own bodies. Thank you. And why the USA government proposed a shutdown over family planning is beyond me. Or is it? With which, I expect to lose, even more internet friends :)

Saturday, 16 April 2011


Time, they say (whoever they may be), heals.

Not being the sort of person who accepts what other people say, I tend to disagree. All time does, is blunt the immediate sensation and push things in the past a bit. Until they come back.

However, to start at a sort of beginning. On a study tour to New Zealand with the NHS I came away with what felt like half the publications of the NZ health service. So much so, that they got packed separately and mailed home.

One of the books I was given when I was visiting a general practice, was on guidelines for depression for GPs. Mental health wasn't one of my responsibility areas - I only ever touched it when we ended up with inquiries into the suicide of a patient. Or worse, when previous patients committed murder.

So I started to read this book, which as usual, seemed to include all possible symptoms under the sun to diagnose depression. A bit like when I was looking up tick disease regarding the dog. Is he off colour, not eating all his food, apathetic? Yup, he could have tick disease. Similarly, are you not motivated to do really exciting things like cleaning, paperwork, or going to work? Yes you too could have depression.

I'm not trying to trivialise depression by any stretch of the imagination but it did strike me that half the world has depression (quite possibly), or the medical profession didn't understand that sometimes people actually didn't want to do boring shite. Does that really mean I have depression because I put off the dusting? Or the ironing? And choose the garden in preference? Or go to the beach or the national park with the dogs?

But the one thing that really griped me was the section on coping with grief. Anyone who was still grieving three months after a bereavement was depressed. I can't remember how long it took me to get over my father's death. It was more than three months. As for my mother's? We're talking years not months.

And quite honestly, I do not think I am on my own because when I discuss the deaths of parents with friends, they too still carry grief. Then there are my dogs. And the family dogs that I grew up with. Three months to get over their deaths too? Gotta be joking. Note to self: next time someone or some dog dies, make a note in the calendar for three months time to suddenly bound around with happiness.

Seems the only thing time brings to me is nostalgia, and old age. I can quite easily sit fretting about every single dog we have homed, and wish they were still with us. Doesn't matter that isn't reality or how things work, it's how I think. And I wish my parents hadn't been so frail when they died. I am so sad that my father was poorly and my mother was frightened. Time doesn't help with any of that. At all.

The things I hoped were in the past - childhood, school, first job, third and fourth jobs (second one doesn't usually come into it oddly) - all come back with a vengeance at night to haunt me. I can really do without confused nightmares from my past. Time, it seems has neither erased nor helped. The fears, the bad experiences, the failed expectations and the disappointments in life just return time and time again. Most nights.

If only I could dream about the nice things that have happened. Or even the nice things that haven't happened.

Time isn't helping me very much. It moves too fast, and doesn't heal.

Time quickly passes by
If only we could talk again
(Mike Pinder)

Meals in (laws)

Before I resume the doom and gloom series of posts, which clearly, I am not too good at posting regularly, here is one inspired by a couple of friends.

They wrote about visiting the MIL and being fed. Or not being fed very much in the way of a home-cooked welcoming meal.

My mother was a superb cook, as was her mother before her. Once the Cordon Bleu series of weekly magazines came out in the 1970s, there was no stopping my mum. Bit of a mistake on her part as my father lost total interest in eating out because the meals out were never as good as the ones at home. She was ever after destined to be chained to the cooker and the kitchen sink.

When we became part-time vegetarians, we lapsed when we went to my parents. It just wasn't worth the grief to tell them. But finally we bit the bullet and came out. Needless to state this was not a good thing. It seemed as though my mother felt I was rejecting 30+ years of wonderful cooking, and how they had earned their living (selling bacon, ham and cheese).

We had got to the point where we just did not eat meat or fish any more, and it was futile pretending we did. So after that we were never offered any food when we visited. They had an interesting perspective on hospitality. It was that we should appreciate and eat whatever they, ie she, dished up for us (regardless of what we wanted to eat, or not eat), and when we entertained them, we should cook what they wanted. And it wasn't stuffed peppers with tomato sauce. I didn't cook for them again. In fact they didn't visit again.

For the couple of years that we lived relatively near to them ie one and a half hours drive away, they condescended to make one or two trips. Otherwise for the whole of our married life in the UK, it was our duty to visit them. I smile when I read about people's parents travelling from one end of the country to the other in their seventies and eighties, sometimes driving, sometimes taking the train or the 'plane. Mine wouldn't drive for an hour and a half to visit us in their mid sixties. Contrast this with the enthusiasm of the MiL to invite herself to see us.

For the most part, traipsing up and down to see my parents was a drive of approx two and a half hours. Plus a couple of hours there chattering about nothing - invariably about the neighbours' lovely child. Feel the 'we should have been grandparents' digs coming on there? Then another two and a half hours back. The best part of the day gone - and all without food apart from breakfast before we left. Quite honestly, after a week at work, that was not the way I wanted to spend half of my precious weekend.

One sunny week, Partner said he would go down and decorate their house, (gratis of course). My mother was panic-stricken. What on earth would she feed him? Anyone would think he had landed from Mars. I patiently went through a list of loads of obvious things. The wonderful onion quiche she used to make. Mushrooms and onions in white wine and parsley. Salad of any and every type. Omelettes. Pasta in tomato sauce. Potatoes Dauphinoise. Cauliflower/broccoli in cheese sauce. Chips!! None of those were hardly difficult for the woman who used to dish up sole georgette, steak soubise, scampi provencale, lamb chops stuffed with kidneys and herbs, pot roast pheasant etc etc etc. And he would cook his own breakfast.

But she didn't cook for him at all. He went to the supermarket, bought in some food, and fended for himself. A couple of evenings, he went to the pub or the take-away and ate out.

One year, he even re-decorated his mother's latest new council flat (also gratis). I descended too. Later. See previous post somewhere, prob the MiL one. The MiL post states that she was not the world's best cook. However, she had gone one better than my mother, she had actually bought a few things in from the supermarket, veggie burgers or nut cutlets or something like that. The sort of thing people buy when they don't know what to cook for you. There wasn't enough to last for however long we were staying and we had to cook for ourselves and buy more later, but I guess it was a gesture. Of sorts.

So I claim the prize. Not just for ready-made or take-away meals provided by in-laws, but no meals at all from either in-laws or parents.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


I have a friend with a birthday this month, so I thought I would muse on birthdays today. We have exchanged birthday greetings and cards with each other ever since university. One year I was on holiday in Portugal and sent a card late, which apparently never got there. Another year her house was being revamped and neither my card nor her mother's arrived. She blamed the builders. I was annoyed as I chose a very nice card with a resplendent peacock. A year or two ago she sent me an email on the day and said there was a wonderful card in the post. Might as well have been a wonderful cheque in the post as it never arrived. Since then, we have tailed off to an email greeting. I email her on hers and don't get a response. A couple of months later, she emails me 'happy birthday darling,' and I reply. I don't get a response until I receive a Christmas card. Actually I don't get a response at all, I just get the Christmas card and a scribbled note on the card. Still old habits die hard, and every year, until she stops, I guess I'll still mail her. No more cards though. As people know, I'm not really a card person. I think they are a bit of a waste of space - although - it is lovely to receive them sometimes. Conflicting views there. For my 50th I received one card, from a neighbour. But it was unexpected so it was nice. Oh, I might have received one from a UK couple, can't remember. When I was working, we used to take holidays around my birthday as we have them on consecutive days. It made a far better way to celebrate a birthday in some exotic, warm and sunny location. Now as I live in an exotic, warm and sunny location, it gets even harder to decide what to do to make it into a special day. It was easy when I was young. My parents managed a class bit of family planning with my birthday incidentally. As December babes, they were subject to the Christmas and birthday present-in-one routine. They claimed their child would not be subject to that. It was probably total fluke to be honest but they managed the date furthest away from Christmas in the whole year for my birthday. There were kiddies parties when I was young with magicians and stuff like that. There were family parties before I was school age. When I became a teenager it became (boring) celebratory meals out with my parents. Presents were very traditional, clothes, jewellery, a silver watch at 18 because they didn't consider I had come of age then. At 21 I was allowed a gold watch. I chose a very nice low-key Longines. Some years later, I was dashing to Euston for the train home. I looked at the time and the watch wasn't there. I was horrified. I retraced my steps to the tube station - but not surprisingly, there was nothing. I reported it to Lost Property at BR. Yeah, someone is just going to hand in a gold Longines aren't they? Too busy to replace the worn-out strap - and - lose a precious watch. I never dared confess. But at the time I wore my watch all the time and my parents would have noticed. I bought another. It looked the same but it wasn't as good. It had a battery and the other had been manual. It's sitting in a box somewhere with a load of other watches that don't work. My other presents as a kid were the standard ten shilling note, upped to a pound at one point, and premium bonds, from my two grandmothers. The one always gave me more than the other, I suspect there was a little competition going on there. Anyway it all got safely put in my piggy bank. Suddenly, though, there were no more presents. A card from my mother parents, and no presents. I think a couple of times she slipped a note in the card, but no presents. Why didn't anyone send me flowers? I like flowers, and it isn't exactly difficult to organise. I think the only time my parents sent me flowers was for my wedding. So what is it about birthdays as we get older? Do we want or need presents, cards, a celebration? Or just an acknowledgement that someone thinks enough about you to remember that it is your day?

Monday, 11 April 2011

'I keep my mouth shut these days'

It was one of those mornings.

After my failed attempt yesterday to sneak off to the outdoor gym and get back before Partner's hunter gathering run I was ordered to stay at home today. I decided to spend my time usefully so harvested a couple of farms and wrote the odd pm.

When he returned, I dutifully went downstairs to help with the shopping and the bike. Once all was safely gathered in, the rant started.

Apparently he had been cycling through the housing estate on a one-way street on his way home, which is his normal route. I need to say two things here.

1) He is NOT a slow cyclist, even when loaded up with shopping
2) he IS an assertive cyclist.

That means for the non-cycling community, that he takes his place in the road, not the gutter, and if there is no space for cars to get past, they have to wait. I really must finish my cycling rant post which is half written.

'Parp! Parp!' went Toad. Partner thought it was probably someone he knew having a laugh - it frequently happens. Builders that he knows around Gib recognise him on the bike and toot. "PARP!! PARP!!" went Toad again.

Partner realised it wasn't a mate. He stopped the bike in the middle of the road.

'I'm in a hurry, I need to get by,' Toad stated.
'You're not going to,' was the (smug) reply. 'It's a single lane road, and you're not getting past me.'

Fat Toad was not impressed. Neither was Fat Toad's Fat Daughter. She had to go to school. (Should have got up earlier IMO).

Partner suggested a) that Fat Toad got out to discuss it, and b) that Partner would call the police if FT was unhappy. FT said bicycles should not be on the road. They were dangerous. FT began to speak in Spanish. Partner said he was happy to abuse FT in Spanish as well as English. FT's FD told everyone to calm down.

By now Partner was well into his stride, or cycle revolution.

'You should be walking to school instead of sitting in the car. You might not be so fat.'

Ouch!! It should be said the school is not five minutes walk from the estate, so his comment was valid even if the observation was unnecessary. A bloke in a van behind FT's car said 'Way to go son!' as Partner got back on his bike. And rode very, very, slowly through the rest of the estate, sitting in the middle of the road all the way through and at the exit to the main road. Don't mess with Partner on a bike.

So, now he's calmed down a bit and decides to take the edge off the door which has swollen with the damp and humidity and is sticking slightly. Note - we are well after 9am here. There is traffic noise in the street, and drilling somewhere. ZZZZZZZZZZZZ!! goes the sander. I'm still doing really useful things on Facebook.

'Are you asleep?' he called out. Uh? I've just helped you in with the shopping, listened to the tale of the cycling encounter, and you think I'm asleep. He finished sanding and came back into the flat. His mouth was wide open. I realised he hadn't been talking to me at all. Someone had said something about the sanding. Probably one of our immediate two neighbours, although given that one goes to work at 7.30am and the other at 6am, that was unlikely.

'Unbelievable,' he muttered.
'Guess who that was?' The penny dropped but even I couldn't believe it.
'The Vamps?' I suggested, incredulously.

The Vamps, for anyone who is not familiar with them, moved in nearly two years ago. For the whole of the summer we were subject to endless drilliing, banging, you name it from 8.30am-5.30pm while the flat was being revamped. (Ha, that was funny huh?) But people want to change stuff, so noise is noise, have to ignore it basically. When they moved in, we discovered they were vampires. On Friday and sometimes Saturday nights, they host Gibraltar's gathering of vamps from around 11pm until 6 or 7am. Then, they carefully drag their coffins into place and fall into them to sleep the day away, while the rest of us get up. Our two immediate neighbours have both complained about the noise to them. Once, there was serious screaming and yelling up there and someone called the police. Apparently it was just a row between two sisters. But we have never complained to them. Live and let live. So far, they don't play loud unbearable music, even if they do seem to talk and laugh a lot. Hey, if they are having a good time, nice one.

We see one Vamp more than the other one. It was the one with the smiley face who had turned up in the hallway. (ie 2ft square bit of space outside the three flats on our floor). She stood there in her jim-jams, wringing her hands and looking fuzzy.

'Are you asleep?' had been addressed to smiley Vamp. She had nodded her head.
'I'll only be two minutes,' said Partner, who really didn't need a second confrontation in less than an hour.
'OK,' said smiley Vamp sleepily, and sleepwalked back upstairs.

You gotta laugh. He was only two minutes and there was really no point having the conversation about their noise at night, the endless noise during the flat refurb when they weren't living there, or the fact that most people don't sleep during the day - and no the Vamps don't work nights. Well only as vampires. Hey, other residents in the block, we'll just leave all noisy work until 1am when the Vamps have woken up and are feeling perky, because that suits them. He wouldn't have stopped sanding today however long it was going to take but that's not relevant. Vamp got away lightly. This time.

Oh and the title? Partner promises every day that he keeps his mouth shut now and doesn't argue with people, or make smart comments. At least it was a 50% success rate today.

Notes: For anyone who doesn't know, Toad, refers to Toad of Toad Hall of Wind in the Willows. He considers himself to be King of the Road. I apologise to anyone who is offended at the description of the fat antagonist and his fat daughter. I repeat the story as it was told to me.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

My father

I thought I would redress the balance given my post about my unloveable MiL. No, I am not going to write nice things about her. Don't be silly. I said on the funerals post that she organised a good one, that is the nearest anyone will get to hearing me make a compliment about her. She could probably organise a good piss-up in a brewery too but a) she certainly wouldn't pay for it and b) she would probably object to it on principle. This post will instead, slag off my side of the family, ie my father. This, of course, is not the done thing. He was revered by many members of the family, looked up to for his business acumen, modest financial success, intelligence, wit, and - generosity. Perhaps I should have missed out everything except 'generosity' because that is probably what the family members were really interested in. Not all members of the family looked up to him. His older sister and his mother bossed him around. One of the reasons I was wary of my MiL was a tale from my own mother's past. My father had finally splashed out for a car (well before I was born), and they were going for a Sunday drive. As people did. Probably still do. 'We have to call and pick up my mother first,' my father finally confessed to my mother. I don't think my mother could believe it. As a young couple, they had finally bought a new, ie second-hand, car - and when my father was telling his mother about it, there was an automatic assumption that she would be going along for the jolly too. Did my father have the balls to say no? No. When my grandma (who wanted to be called Nanna because she thought grandma was rather ageing) died, there was about £160 left in her savings. The one down, two up, that she lived in was rented. The money was split between her four children. 'I'll take Older Brother's share,' said my father's sister. 'He'll only piss it up against the wall anyway.' He was in Australia where he had sensibly moved to some years previously, so I doubt he got to know that he was deprived of his measly inheritance by his Grasping Older Sister. There was a small bookshelf that had always been intended for the youngest daughter, who lived in London. Grasping Older Sister took that too. There was much discussion around our kitchen table about how unfair that was. Did either of my parents do anything about it? Little me resolved to sort it. I wasn't very old at the time, but luckily, GOS lived sort of next door ish. I wandered up our drive and down their avenue and knocked on the door. 'I've come for Little Auntie's bookcase that Nanna left for her,' I said ingenuously. I took it down the staircase, out of the house, paused to say thank you, dragged it up the street, started to get fed up with it, and finally brought it back down our drive. 'I've brought Little Auntie's bookcase,' I announced proudly when I arrived home. I think my father nearly wet himself. My father was an odd mix. It's like he always felt he should have done more than he did, and took it out on the rest of us. After leaving the RN, he wanted to go back to sea - but who else would look after his mother? Yup, youngest son. So he stayed home. He was offered a job in rags in the Midlands and decided not to go because he thought he might fall out with one of the partners. Yeah. In retrospect, I wonder if his mummy had something to do with that one too? He had to be in charge. (Wonder where I get it from?). When I was old enough, I worked with them on their market stall. When he got bad-tempered he would start shouting at my mother in front of customers. So when he hit the roof, I walked out. I usually came back half an hour later, but really, there was no reason for it in the first place and arguing in front of people like that with your wife is just deplorable and abusive. If he even started on me, he got the same treatment. I walked out while he had chance to cool down. The control stuff was just unbearable. When a lad I knew asked me out in my early teens - we knew each other from standing at opposite bus stops - it was a no no. I mean, it wasn't as though he lived in a council house, darlings, his parents owned their own perfectly acceptable detached house in a good street. Nope. Not allowed. About the only boyfriend who had my dad beaten was the head boy of the local grammar school. 'Well,' said my father pompously, 'you will bring my daughter home by some ridiculously early hour of course.' 'I can't possibly guarantee what time I will bring her home. In my role as head boy, I have a lot of duties to attend to on the night so need to stay late and your daughter will be quite safe with me. I will bring her home when we have finished at school. At whatever time that is.' Ha! Suck that one dad. Even my mother was pissing herself. Boring head boy boyfriend had taken the wind right out of my father's sails and left him speechless. Good one. We didn't go out for long. Then there was the adorable Viking gardener. I hadn't thought of him as a boyfriend, more as a friend, but I was informed we couldn't possibly take him out to lunch anywhere because of his Yorkshire accent. You're having a laugh dad. And what sort of accent did you have? Huh? My father didn't work on Monday, Tuesday or Thursday. His working week was pretty short. Much what we all want really, a very nice set up. His day would start with a disgusting fag, toast piled high with butter, and a very loud Yorkshire Radio Station. I tried to get up before him to have my breakfast in peace and tranquility, and not have smoke blown in my food or my face. Or loud Yorkshire Radio Station blasted into my ears. I took to taking them tea in bed in the hopes of keeping him there longer. My mother grasped the respite once he had risen. She surfaced about an hour or so later. Apart from in summer when she got up amazingly early and had put on a wash, dusted, vacuumed and done everything else before 8am. After breakfast time space invasion, my father would then pretend to do something vaguely work related. Either chatting to the staff in the bank/building society or going to pick up goods for work later in the week. And more chatting. At 10.45 he returned home and expected coffee to be ready. This was ground coffee boiled up with milk. It was a rather sickly vile concoction so I demanded black coffee. My mother was naturally chained to the cooker making two types of coffee. She didn't even like the stuff. An hour or so later, he would wander upstairs and have a shave, infrequently a shower, and comb the hair over his bald patch. Sometime after 12 noon he would clear off to the pub for an hour or two. He invariably timed his return for The Archers, so the bloody radio would be turned on again for an everyday tale of countryfolk or whatever it was billed as. I loathed The Archers. Some meal times involved stealing each other's food. Chips for example, were a prime target. Eating the food would degenerate into a stabbing frenzy as we both tried to claim as many chips from each other's plates as possible. My mother sat in the middle helplessly, saying she didn't think it was a good idea and forks could hurt people. When we had chicken - he always had breast. He didn't like chicken legs. There was no question of sharing round, no, he had as much of what he wanted and the rest of us picked up what was left. Inevitably my mother ended up with a leg. She liked breast too but did she ever get chicken breast?? I forgot to say he was usually at least ten minutes late for lunch. He was always kept talking by some inconsiderate punter in the pub. He only ever had a pint or two and a small rum (for which I blame the RN). My mother and I both knew exactly what he had drunk and it wasn't what he told us. Maybe what he drunk explained the bizarre behaviour after our meals. Naturally, with a full stomach and having had a couple of beers and a small rum, or rather more than that, he went to sleep in the arvo. So then began a race up the stairs. If I got there first, he would drag me back down the stairs so that he could win. Small child is not exactly capable of returning the favour to 6' 2" man weighing 15 stone. Did it hurt being dragged down the steps? What do you think? There were the love taps and pinches too of course. Nipping me and leaving bruises was fun. Slapping me and leaving bruises were just 'love taps'. Hardly surprising the school medical officer called in my mother because she was worried about my bruises. My mother knew my father loved me, and explained that I bruised easily and played outside a lot in the garden. Truth is, I don't think she had a clue. As I grew older, it seemed to be excellent fun to tear away my bath towel to leave me naked. At which point, I started dropping the towel. If that's the game, let's cut to the chase. Naturally, I was chastised for dropping the towel that he was trying to tug away and for being so immodest. Shall I mention how he used to 'jiggle' my developing breasts? All dads did this apparently. I would always be his little girl, I was told. At least until I was 30. Daddy's Little Princess? But I got married before I was 30. Daddy still thought he was in charge of course. One day I disagreed with him. He threatened to hit me. Sadly for my father, his threat wasn't interpreted too well by my partner who said: 'You lay a finger on her and I'll throw you through the fucking window.' I didn't get any more threats like that. What else did he say in front of my partner? Oh yes, the crass class one. 'You're looking rather tired. Must have been all that trashing around you did when you were younger.' Honestly. What sort of misguided arsehole says that to his daughter? The same one who carried out all the appalling behaviour I have just described? I have to laugh when other family members praise my dad and say how wonderful he was and how lucky I was. They really don't have any idea what goes on behind closed doors.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

My mother-in-law

Mothers in law occasionally (!!) comes up as a topic of coversation among some of my friends.

It is beyond me why male comedians seem to poke fun at their wife's mother-in-law. I think my women friends, like me, will agree whole-heartedly that there is nothing on earth worse than the mother of your husband, especially if you have married the only or favourite or most useful son. (Mine was the latter)

In point of fact my partner got on very well with my mother, and she loved him to bits. Even my father was heard to refer to me, his daughter, as his son-in-law's wife. Now is not the post to dissect that one.

Moving swiftly on to my infamous MiL. My first words to her were over the 'phone when I was in Australia and we had decided to get married. (Married to my partner, not my MiL, heaven forbid). I don't remember anything terrible about that, so let's move on to her first bout of interference.

We got married in a Register Office in Sydney. Neither of us is/was religious, and we weren't into show. Getting married was for us, quite simple really. We invited two obligatory witnesses and had three gate-crashers. My parents didn't come/chose not to come, and luckily the MiL couldn't either.

Happily married and ensconced in our little flat in Potts Point, we received a letter from her one day. Telling us how she was going to organise a church blessing and a party for us when we got back. Knowing what I do of her now, I'd be surprised if she was going to pay for it. And anyway, it's not the role of the mother of the bridegroom to go around organising stuff. That would have been the prerogative of my parents, who, luckily weren't stupid enough to suggest it. MiL didn't give up lightly.

In the end Partner told her in no uncertain terms that we had absolutely no interest in a church blessing or a party, and she had better not lift a finger to organise a cup of tea - let alone anything else - because we certainly wouldn't be attending.

That first attempt to interfere should have rung warning bells. Maybe it did. When we first met, she looked me up and down, and said, in a very pronounced South Wales accent, "Well, you're a skinny rabbit aren't you?" Possibly I was. Almost certainly I was, but "Hello, daughter-in-law, how lovely to meet you and welcome to the family," might have been a nicer greeting.

What should I call her? "You can call me Mam, or Our Mam," which is what all her children called her. But I noticed her son-in-law called her by her name. She wasn't my mother and I wasn't going to call her Mam. She got her name when I called her anything to her face.

Next up, we have moved to a rented place in Herts just north of Watford. MiL lived further north, we were probably equidistant between her and Watford. One evening she rings up and declares she wants to go to Watford Market the next day. Er why?

What Partner was instructed to do, was to drive up to collect her, then back (past our house) and on into Watford. Followed by a traipse around the shops with her, dutifully carrying all shopping, no doubt paying for coffee at a caff, and then piling her and and shopping into MY car, set off on the return journey past our house, up to hers and finally back to ours. Get the picture?

Hello MiL, how about you ring up saying YOU are driving to Watford and would one of us like picking up? She did drive and had her own car. Dear reader, alarm bells were def ringing on this one. I could see no logical reason for my partner to take my car to his mother's and drive however many miles out of the way when she was more than capable of driving herself.

The words CONTROL, POWER, DOMINANCE, MANIPULATION, sprung to mind. After - amazingly - a reasoned discussion that evening, he agreed to ring her in the morning and explain that sadly he was no longer free to do the Watford shopping run.

Then there was the bags of coal story. By now we had moved to our own house. She had been down to visit her mother in South Wales, and came back with a couple of bags of coal that were no longer needed.

Did she take them home and ring to ask us to collect them? The woman who couldn't drive herself to Watford? Of course not. She was with a friend, and they just happened to be passing our new house - which she had not yet been invited to, I may add. She happened to be passing 20 miles or so north of her own house, on the way back from Wales.

I think she needed a GPS because there was no way our house was remotely on the route between her place and Wales. At all. Nosy old MiL couldn't resist an excuse to come and sticky beak around our house. Like hell. I called Partner from whatever he was doing and he met her at the door, thanked her for the coal and sent her on her way. She didn't get across the threshold. In fact she never did.

Nor did she get to the second house either. But the third one ..... this was where Her Majesty was allowed to visit. I don't know what came over me. We were of course, living in the best part of the city, although in a small terraced house. We hadn't been in long, but we invited her up for autumn. We put a bed in the small bedroom, and tidied it up for her arrival. She was scheduled to stay a week I think.

I did the dutiful DiL thing as best I could. It included carting her over to the Lakes when I had a business meeting so she could traipse around some twee town and enjoy the scenic journey. I cooked for us. We were vegetarian by then. One day I came in from work and she was ensconced in the kitchen - she had decided she wanted cauliflower cheese and had bought a cauli and was preparing to cook. Well, she couldn't cook for shit. Her sprouts were soggy as hell because she put those stupid crosses in them, her gravy was undiluted salt, and any meat she ever cooked was virtually cinders. I quailed. And took over the cooking. Bloody cheek anyway taking over my kitchen without asking. Imperious dragon.

But she obviously liked something about the trip, apart from the cheap shopping trolley that she bought up the high street as a souvenir. Shortly before leaving, she announced that she could live with us in the small room (well until she took over ours no doubt). "I can just bring a few knick knacks, a couple of bits of furniture and install myself here." I was rather diplomatic in those days. Well sort of. I didn't actually say "Fuck. Right. Off. Mother-in-Law."

I developed paranoia about the descent of the MiL demanding permanent residency status. Apart from anything else, she had three other kids who all lived within a stone's throw of her down south. Why in hell did she want to come and live with us? I'm an only child and had both parents at that time, but clearly one would probably be left and it would have first call on being looked after. Not the MiL. Go live with your own daughter or your other two sons.

She announced her next visit would be at Easter. JFC, how much furniture and knick-knacks would she be bringing? And anyway, I didn't want to entertain my bloody MiL at Easter. Just wait until you are asked (not that she would be again).

Partner rang her back and patiently told her we would not be around. It seemed she had some friends visiting the area and she had cadged a lift (she seemed to make a habit of it where possible). Well she could damn well uncadge it.

By now, I was beginning to get the measure of her, say seven years into the marriage. I figured she'd turn up anyway. Partner wasn't so sure. I mean, why would your mother turn up on your doorstep when you had told her point blank you wouldn't be around? Nevertheless he agreed to my precautionary measures.

We stole out of the house incredibly early, bustled the dogs into the car, and escaped up the coast. We stayed out all day and got rather hungry although we had some lovely dog walks on the beach. Eventually, we headed for home. We pulled into the back street to put the car in the garage. Then we went into the garden through the back gate and sneaked into the house through the back door.

I had visions of her sitting on the front doorstep complete with bags, baggage, knick knacks and furniture. I had left the curtains pulled so she wouldn't see us in the house if indeed she had turned up. I ran through scenarios in my head about sending her on her way in a taxi. I skulked up the stairs to 'HER' bedroom to peep out of the window. The coast was clear. I breathed the biggest sigh of relief.

As I walked leisurely down the stairs I glanced through the glass door into the porch. There was something on the floor. Shit! I picked up a letter. In her handwriting. Oh yes, the old dear had honestly had the balls to turn up. I knew she would.

It seemed she was embarrassed. She had told her friends that she was coming to stay with us over Easter. But when they turned up we weren't there. (No, we said we wouldn't be - did you tell your friends that one too?). Can't remember what happened after that. I think she ponced some accommodation from the friends of the friends before they all went back down south again.

Not long afterwards there were snotty letters, snotty 'phone calls, general family interference, and Partner got sick of it. He stopped speaking to her.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, and he spoke to his sister expressing his condolences on the death of her daughter, his niece. 'Oh, it's your wife's fault that you and mum aren't speaking isn't it?' said Big Sis. 'No,' said Partner patiently, 'Mum and I fell out about something else'.

See, the miserable woman had clearly told all the family that everything was my fault. Well, fuck her. Because you know what, we didn't even get a frigging wedding present from her. Or Christmas presents. Or birthday presents (not as though she could forget mine, given that it is the day after Partner's).

Just forgotten the Mother's Day tale. Partner and I don't do Mother's Day. We didn't do it separately before we met, and we didn't do it afterwards. We both figured - before we met each other - that we did enough for our mothers all year round and we were damned if were going to pay through the nose for flowers and buy a silly card. We agreed, on marriage, to continue with this policy.

What happened when we visited his mother's a few days after the dreaded Mother's Day? There was a bloody card signed by my Partner. I was not pleased. When we got home I tackled him. He swore blind he hadn't sent one. So was I supposed to believe that she had dragged out a card from many many years previously, dusted it off, and displayed it so that people wouldn't think he hadn't sent one? Well, knowing her as I came to do, I could easily believe that.

I think that's the lot. Hope it brought a smile to someone's face somewhere. If not my MiL. I lied. There is more. My MiL's generosity knows no bounds. When we first turned up on her doorstep for the Big Reunion after getting married in Aus, she offered us a drink. Well not straightaway. In fact, I think when she offered tea, Partner asked for a beer. She frowned. "What would you like to drink?" she asked me and pointed to her drinks cabinet. "But you can't have the brandy. That's mine." Just as well I didn't like brandy wasn't it?

That same trip, we were naturally sleeping on the floor in the sitting room. One night she was going out with the new old husband, ie it was her third marriage. This was to her second husband who she had married twice because they had got divorced at one point. Sort of like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Maybe not quite like them. "Don't take too much money" she instructed poor FiL. "And don't go buying people drinks." We had a nice peaceful night in. Partner's gran was staying too, and took a bottle of lemonade to bed. Presumably to combat the salty food.

Some time near midnight the reckless party animals came in. MiL plonked herself down on the sofa, next to our sleeping bags on the floor and started blethering away. Jeez! Just shut up and clear off to bed. Suddenly she said "Isn't the ticking of that clock annoying you?" "NO!" shouted Partner. "Just the sound of your voice." She went to bed then.

However, we could have stayed there for some time. Unemployed, on the dole, and looking for work. Naturally we would have to pay board to sleep on the floor in the sitting room, accompanied by the noisy clock. We went back to my parents where we had our own room, and didn't pay board.

Sadly, some years later the FiL died. He was a nice guy. We went to his funeral in South Wales. See previous funeral post. MiL had done her usual trick of buying and selling council houses which she always got housed in because she had a registered disability and now had a small two-bed council house back in SW. She had one of the bedrooms. Her sister had been staying with her and had the other bedroom but come the day of the funeral and the advent of the guests, she cleared off to her own place. That left a bedroom free. The guests were us, one of Partner's brothers, and two friends of FiL. Who got the double bed? Well not us. Not the oldest bloke either (nice guy). Just some bloke who no-one else knew. The rest of us slept on the floor.

But the real issue was our two dogs. They HAD to sleep in the cupboard. Huh? Dogs sleeping in cupboards. Locked up in a tiny space?? We didn't rock the boat. Waited for everyone to go to sleep, aka the grieving window, and the guy in the double bed, and then the four conspirators - us, the younger brother, and the guy sleeping on the floor - let the dogs into the sitting room with us. The brother and the older guy didn't have a problem with the dogs so why the hell were they in the cupboard? In the morning we popped them into the porch and told MiL they had been out for a walk.

The dogs of course, were an issue at the wonderful future residence never-to-be of the MiL. When she came to stay, she insisted on waving her hands in the air at the dogs. We said this wasn't a good idea. Being dogs, they thought she had food for them. And jumped up. And knocked her over. So. Don't. Do. It. And don't blame the dogs. It is your fault, their home, and we have explained why they are doing it. Don't wave your bloody hands around.

Then there was the Cardiff trip. We were still in nice mode and Partner had gone to do up yet another of her council houses in South Wales. I arrived somewhat later by train to stay for a few days and travel back with him. It was our birthday week. MiL offered us her car for the day. My birthday. 'We can just pop into town, check on the curtains, blah blah boring blah, do this that and the other, take me back home, and then you can go to Cardiff.' ('Can you just?' should be written on her gravestone, 'Before you go, can you just ... rehang the toilet door, fix the toilet seat, hang the mirror, paint the wall - you name it.') I could see the day evaporating. And did I want to spend my birthday in boring local Welsh town following MiL around? Did I hell. And did I care about going to Cardiff in a Land Rover? MiL might have thought her Volvo was better but I didn't give a toss. We took the Land Rover to Cardiff and left her to her own devices. It was a very nice day. I liked Cardiff. I also liked not spending the day with my MiL.

Now, I really really think that is it. No husbands were harmed in the writing of this post. He has read it and corrected a couple of points. We both had a laugh remembering crap from the past. Lesson to MiLs. Don't fight battles you can't win.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Blogging and commenting and stuffs

I really can't manage to post doom and gloom endlessly so here is something rather more banal. Although not to the blogging community. Friend B posted on facebook about people who read and comment, and specifically about those who regularly read and don't comment. Ages ago, I would regularly read my statistics. Invariably the dog blog got the most hits. And, the hits on the other blogs often came via the dog blog and it was often easy to work out who the readers probably were because of the correlation with the general location and the ISP (partly dependent on whether or not it was dynamic). Some left comments on my personal blogs and others didn't. The Land Rover blog is an exception as that gets loads of hits through search engines. So we'll ignore that one for the purpose of this post. Now, I appreciate the comments from my dog blogging friends both on here and on Itchy Feet, and rarely read the stats any more. Some had/have personal blogs of their own and others didn't. And, although they didn't comment on every post, and some commented infrequently, their comments were invariably sensible and thoughtful. As, for example, have been some of the recent ones on my 'party' and 'funeral' posts. For those of you not in the FB loop, the discussion looked at the etiquette of blogs, commenting, following, adding to blogrolls etc. You all know the sort of thing. But always worth a repeat and a discussion because things move on. And so does technology and so does etiquette - although probably not as fast as technology. So for what it's worth, here are my views on blogs and commenting and following and blogrolling and all the rest of it. I appreciate all comments on my blogs apart from abusive, manipulative and offensive ones. A discussion is ok, scoring points is not. My blog, remember that? If you don't like what I write, don't read it. I also realise that some people are not happy commenting on blogs, don't know what to say, don't have enough time, or quite simply, can't comment if they are at work. I totally admire the ones who not only blog every day or every other day, but get round a zillion other blogs and comment too, and it is not the same comment they leave on each blog. I can't do that. I like it when those of you who don't comment - at all, or very often - at least write and tell me that you do read my posts and find them interesting. Thank you. Someone did that this week, and I appreciated it. Now, why don't I comment on other people's blogs? Well, like everyone, I may read, intend to do it and then forget or get distracted. Or I have nothing to say. Classic examples here are boring posts about your kids going to school (sorry, just alieniated all my parental readership) or mindless photos. Photoblogs invariably have a load of comments on the lines of 'What a wonderful image dahling.' My comment would add no value. Even if I could recognise a wonderful image, dahling. So it's a good image. So what? Better off posting on a camera forum and having a discussion. Or, and this is an interesting one - it may feel too cliquey. I have seen blogs with hundreds of thousands of comments (OK hundreds anyway) where people are fighting to comment to get in with the in-crowd. Dear, dear me. I know most of my regular commenters from other places, our comments may well sound cliquey on each others' blogs. When I have visited other peoples' blogs and everyone seems to be partying on together I am loathe to leave a comment. Which leads me onto the next aspect. Making new contacts - and either a) you forget to get back to them or b) you make a comment on theirs and they don't comment on yours, or don't add you to their blogroll. Or whatever. Followers. One of Blogger's worst ideas. Sounds like sheep or lemmings. I am neither. I will still add people to my list, because truth is, I find it easier to scroll down someone else's list looking for a good read than looking at a crappy follower link. Thank you to those who follow me and/or add me to your blogroll. Blogrolls. As you will have guessed, this suits me more. I obviously don't do new-fangled stuff so I am stuck with blogrolling friends. If and when they want. But I don't chuck people off if they don't add me, and I don't delete them if they stop commenting. While there is some mutuality in blogging, I add - or don't add - what I choose, to my blog. That's probably avoided the crux of the etiquette question. Do unto those etc. Well honestly there isn't time. Not in my life anyway, which is why I admire the ones I mentioned above who find time to blog and comment regularly while still in work and running homes. I don't think there is a need to reply to every comment on my blogs. But sometimes, I like to thank people for their comments on a sensitive post, or reply to questions or points. I have no idea how many people come back to see if there is a reply to their comment. Equally it seems a bit tat to go back to someone else's blog and derail their subject by answering over there - but it so depends on the subject, and how well you 'know' the blogger. A couple of thoughts to leave you with. Thanks again to those who comment regularly or infrequently, or let me know elsewhere that you read my blog. One small reason for liking comments on the blog is that it keeps the discussion - when there is one - in the same place. Having it split between facebook and blogs is difficult. I'm probably the only one who sees all of it. Not everyone who reads my blogs is a facebook friend. I have probably not caught up with some people and I am sorry for that. Actually I know I haven't. And the most important one is, that if you blog, or even comment on blogs, you do what you feel comfortable with without feeling pressurised while at the same time respecting fellow bloggers. And that means to people who do regularly read either this or any other blog, without ever commenting, it would be nice to occasionally say why you are reading. There endeth the homily for today. Except to say, to anyone who is interested, that the person from the UK who found my post so interesting that they clicked on the email linky thingy never did comment. But did I expect them to? Just thought you may all want to know. Blog life huh?

Sunday, 3 April 2011


I thought Death and Bereavement would be a suitable next topic in the new gloomy stories series, but to write that one, I have to set a bit of context first.

Not really sure when I first encountered death per se. Probably Great Great Aunt Ellen who was an ancient Victorian relic. I think I saw her once at some family tea party, was ushered over for my brief audience with Queen Victoria Great x 2 Aunt Ellen, and then ushered away again when my childish presence failed to amuse. And at some point she disappeared.

A few great aunts and uncles started to fall by the wayside, but my grandmothers were probably the first close relatives I remember dying. I think I was in my early teens and pre-occupied with my own adolescence so I don't remember any huge drama or feeling any great sense of loss. Or maybe I just have a poor memory.

Their deaths were accompanied with long grave faces and much officiousness from my parents. It was all very solemn and serious. I felt however, that in attending my first funeral, that of one of my grandmothers - who I had spent a lot of time with, one of them lived with us, both did at one point - I would be marking a rite of passage towards adulthood. It was not to be. My mother said very firmly that funerals were not a place for children and she had no intention of me going. Dejection. So much for growing up. I went back to my metaphorical corner where little girls were seen and not heard.

Needless to state when the second grandmother died a couple of years later, the same story was trotted out. The youngest of my great uncles died and - you've guessed it. Not a place for children, even though I was by then at university. His widow died a few years later, actually on the day I was travelling back from my stint as a bridesmaid which some of you will have read about elsewhere. I was 24. There 'was no need' apparently, for me to attend my great aunt's funeral either.

At this point I realised the only funerals I was ever likely to attend were my own, and those of my parents. Assuming they didn't put a caveat in their wills saying that their funerals were not a place for their little girl.

Salvation came at work. There I was happily bashing away at some story or other when the news editor assigned me to cover a funeral. I nearly blurted out 'But gosh! I've never been to a funeral. I don't know what to do. How will I cope?' I didn't. I was of course, aged a mere 30 at this point. I went home to change into something more respectful and funereal. Or what I thought was respectful and funereal given that I didn't actually know. My father invariably wore his black and stripes, and KT tie, and my mother wore a rather mumsy grey velvet suit whenever they went to the mysterious and secret events called funerals that weren't for little girls.

I slipped into the back of the church. It was bursting at the seams. A couple of local police officers nodded at me. I should explain that this was no ordinary funeral of a local dignitary. Oh no. My parents' over-protective behaviour in shielding me from the horrors of funerals had resulted in my first funeral being that of a murder victim. It was a very sad and horrible crime. The old woman concerned had been brutally killed, hit over the head as I remember, by a young woman (and/or her boyfriend) who had rented a room from her previously, and was running a bit short of cash. What a terrible way to die. I don't think I embarrassed myself any more than normal. A few tears dripped down my cheeks as the cortege went past and my over-active imagination pictured the woman's last moments. I was told to write as much as I could about it, so I filled most of the page and got a by-line and page lead.

Shortly afterwards, and while still working on the same paper, my partner's step-father died. Fortunately the news editor was sympathetic and gave me two days special leave. It was pretty impossible to get down to South Wales, attend the funeral, and back in a day. This was another eye-opener and exceedingly well done - to my inexperienced eyes of course.

I have very little good to say about my mother-in-law but she certainly arranged a class event. There were two cars for family. I could see a problem with this straightaway. There was the widow (the MIL), the four children (one of which was my partner), the husband and two children of the daughter, me, and the girlfriend of one of the sons. There was also the brother of the deceased and his wife and some other relatives on the same side. Even back then relations between me and the MIL were not exactly cordial. I had visions of her saying ' Well you can just go in the second car while I travel in style with my children in front.' Or maybe tell me to walk. Or whatever. The husband and the two children agreed to go separately.

That still left the thorny issue of who went in the first car, and who got allocated to the second one. MIL inclined herself graciously towards me. 'You will, of course, come in the front car with us.' I nearly fell over. The girlfriend, on the other hand, was relegated. Either to the second car, or she went with the husband and kids. On arrival at the church, MIL reminded me that I must go in the front pew with the family. Dear me. Whatever had come over her?

I should say that I had liked her husband. He was as nice and easy-going as she was unpleasant and cantankerous. It was another full house (ie church), packed with South Walians. And unsurprisingly, some exceptionally good singing. The spread afterwards was held at the brother's house. That was amazing too. His wife (who had the most lovely singing voice during the service) must have been baking for the previous week. The kitchen table was heaving with beautiful cakes and loads and loads of food. And as people chatted and relaxed I realised the ham tea after the service wasn't just a bite to eat. It gave people who hadn't seen each other for some time, chance to catch up, and it provided a more gradual way to get rid of the tension and emotion surrounding the funeral. (Needless to state my parents did not make a habit of attending ham teas after funerals). So at the age of 31, I had finally attended my first family funeral, even if it was the stepfather of my partner.

The next one was another sad work-related one, this time in the health service. There I was, sitting in my office just after eight o'clock, I think it was the first day back after the New Year break. The 'phone rang and it was one of my manager colleagues from the teaching hospital. One of the surgeons had died in a ski-ing accident during the holiday, leaving a widow and two young children. He was talented, young, conscientious, helpful, and had an excellent clinical reputation. We worked closely on a number of cancer-related issues, and he was the sort who would always go the extra mile, contribute whatever he could, and generally brought an awful lot to the service. When I asked him to do a presentation for an evening session I had organised for GPs, he made a superb effort, and his talk was the highlight of the evening. What a loss.

The funeral was the following week. As it was winter, it was freezing. I had a black suit, hat, and gloves, but no black coat. I had a brown one, and a Barbour. It fell to me to represent the authority as well as to turn up on a personal basis. I needed to buy a black coat. I poured through a couple of catalogues I had - but no black coats. Or none that could be sent in time. The following Saturday was spent going around the shops looking for a decent black coat that would pass muster in front of hundreds of consultant surgeons. I should point out that the main role of the authority was as scapegoat for anything and everything. Lack of presence at meetings was always criticised. Not turning up to a funeral would be bleated about forever. Turning up in the wrong clothes would probably be worse.

I found a decent coat. Luckily. Perhaps it should be an interview question. 'Are you prepared to spend all day Saturday traipsing around the shops and buy a black coat for £400 if you need to go to the funeral of a work colleague?' And when I got to the church, was I ever glad I had done. There wasn't a person there in any other colour apart from black. If the other two funerals I had been to were packed, this was jam-packed doubly. And it was a BIG church.

There can't have been a clinic running that morning as surgeons, physicians, nurses, GPs, admin staff, radiologists, radiographers - you name it - filled the pews. A group of medics who I worked with squashed themselves up so I could join them in the pew, otherwise I would probably have been standing at the back. I think we sang Jerusalem. Or at least I did until my voice faltered in the second verse and I had to shut up. Tough managers don't break down in church in front of all the city's health service staff.

Afterwards, the widow and children stood in the freezing snow and ice outside the church receiving all the guests (or whatever it's called). Another first. I'd only seen that one done at weddings. I shook hands dumbly - what the hell do you say? I couldn't think of anything. My colleague did, 'Terrific guy,' she said sincerely. 'Thank you,' said the widow.

There we have it. Three funerals by the age of 40. One for my in-laws, and two sad work-related ones.

And the whole point of this amazingly interesting saga is that it serves absolutely no purpose at all in shielding children/ teenagers/adults from death and funerals. It is a part of life, and it would be better to introduce them naturally as and when they happen.

Because it has to be said that going on your own to cover the funeral of a murder victim isn't exactly the best intro. Thanks mum and dad for yet another whacky decision in my upbringing.

Friday, 1 April 2011

A fool's tale

It is, as people know, the custom for journalists to write spoof stories on 1 April. I remember colleagues vying with each other to write the most ridiculous stories possible.

At the same time, these crazy stories had to have a grain of truth in them somewhere, or at least, to be potentially credible. A spaceship landing in the market place was a bit too obviously fictitious. But this is not going to be one of those sort of tales. In my characteristically unconventional fashion, I shall buck the trend and write a serious post.

Chatting with a friend a few weeks ago, I realised that I paint a somewhat rosy picture of my life, flitting backwards and forwards between two homes in the sunshine as a lady of leisure without a care in the world. Perhaps that is the Public Relations Manager in me coming out, presenting the good side of life. Or perhaps I think it is more interesting and rewarding to write about. Still, in an attempt to redress the balance, I propose to write a series of gloomy posts. Naturally these will cover the usual issues - money, health ie ill-health, relationships, friendships, work, unemployment, death and bereavement of course, crime, bureaucratic nightmares, redundancy - what have I left off the list? Oh yes, divorce. I can't manage that one, although there have been occasions when it could so easily have made the list. The sunny posts will continue of course, on Itchy Feet.

So where to start? Perhaps with something that has had a disproportionate effect on me. I was flicking through some old emails - if one can flick through emails - and enjoying reading them. I'd forgotten the content of so many of them, just had a hazy reminder of a - mostly - enjoyable exchange. It was rather like looking at old photos, you don't realise how much you forget until you look back at something tangible.

I was obviously in a ghastly nostalgic mood, sadly thinking 'all in the past, there'll be no more of that again, ever.' Now if I was dishing out really helpful practical advice to someone in the same position, it would be on the lines of 'Do snap out of it. This person has made it clear they no longer have any interest in you. Enjoy the memories if you want, but realise that's exactly what they are. If someone's ended a friendship, accept it, go forth and find new friends, and stop wishing things were different.' Or some such crap.

But whoever takes their own advice? A number of friends have complimented me on my level-headed practical approach to problems they have had. Thanks for that, although I don't think I said anything more valuable than anyone else could have done. If it helped though, I'm pleased. I've also received some excellent and sound comments from people on here. It's easy to look at someone else's problems and give advice when you are cold and objective and not involved in the situation. Not so easy when you are in the midst of it.

Advice is the wrong word. One I don't like. It smacks of 'I know better than you, so why don't you do what I say?' I hope whenever I have suggested anything to someone that they didn't take it as bossy advice. Option appraisal on the other hand I can live with. I considered it a rather high-faluting management term when I first met it, but now, everything is subject to option appraisal. Even the tiniest domestic situation - which causes problems in itself but this isn't the time for that gloomy post. At least it prevents a knee-jerk reaction doing the first thing that comes into your head. And I have realised with age, that time to think can bring different solutions. Or options.

I used to like pros and cons lists. When I was considering getting married, I cleared off to New Zealand for a holiday and happily made out the list. The cons list was longer but I still got married. At least the (short) exercise had given me chance to think through the implications. Option appraisals are even better though. You get to do a P&C list for every option.

So what options do I have in mind? Well I could snap out of it (as above). That would be a good idea. It hasn't worked so far, but maybe one day? I forgot the classic one to start with - Option 1 is always Do Nothing. But no, I don't think that will serve. It's relying on time, and how long will that take? I could waste even more time reading endless emails from the past and indulging in maudling and totally unproductive sentimentality. I could continue bleating about it on here. Wah! Wah! Someone doesn't want to be friends with me! Maybe not. I have other things to write about on here.

But I could start a new blog using those millions of old emails. Sort of like 84 Charing Cross Road. Or as I wouldn't be publishing the other side, maybe more like Letters from a Fainthearted Feminist. Most appropriate. What I really want to do is pick and choose some good bits and write about them rather than copying them. And maybe a few not-so-good. Then it becomes more 'Emails I've written, never meaning to send,' with apols to the Moody Blues. A blog with draft emails that I could write, wanting to share them with the one person who would understand them - and because he doesn't want me to contact him again, ever - I could never send them. A one-sided conversation in fact. No-one to answer me back or tell me off or criticise me or misunderstand me. Maybe I would get so bored with that I might even snap out of my soppy nostalgia.

If I was doing my level-headed approach to a friend, I would probably only offer two options. Option 1 - The snap out of it one. Option 2 - Or if you want to do something and try to salvage something, send a mail saying you think there has been a misunderstanding, and explain why. Then you have two further choices - either say it might be nice to contact each other occasionally (birthdays, Christmas and New Year?), or at least to agree to part on more civil terms than the last acrimonious exchange. And what are the disadvantages of that option? Well, you don't know if your ex-friend would even read the mail, let alone reply. You could get yet another cold rejection or no reply at all. You could be lucky and get a nice response. Unlikely, but hey you would have made the effort.

Would I do that? Would I hell. Because every time I think about it, I remember those last words he wrote and my fingers freeze up. So dear readers, if you have got this far, I shall not be taking my own sound advice. But I may start a new blog. All interested readers who need something soporific can let me know if they want the url, either on here or on facebook.

One of our neighbours in Spain stopped by the other day to tell us her younger brother had died. Four months from diagnosis to death (from cancer). News like that always seems to put apparently petty squabbles into perspective.

And yet ...... ever still seems such a long time to me. More fool me. And not just an April one.

ETA: Thanks to Bren for posting this sad but so relevant poem on her blog here