Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Wet T-Shirt



Saturday 17th

Tesco's Guy phones.

"Happy birthday, you cow. Meet you at the funfair at 3.30?" he says.

"Ok," I squeak. "Are you SURE you want to go on the perilously high swing seat ride thing?"

"For sure. I'll be shitting myself, mind. But I'm not doing the ice skating unless you go on that - that was the deal, remember?"

"Bastard."

We meet by the perilously high swing seat ride thing. He hands me a card - it is addressed to 'You cow' - and smothers me in birthday hug.

Since we split up in July, on those rare occasions I've been in Cardiff we've been hanging out together pretty regularly, and nothing much has changed, apart from we don't do the naughty stuff anymore, except for that one time after a night on the Stella but that doesn't count because we were drunk.

I swear he's the only thing that's kept me sane this year.

We go on the perilously high swing seat ride thing. He pays, because it's my birthday.

As it ascends to 60m (that's 196.850394 feet, folks), I become literally frozen with fear.

"I'm too frightened to move," I inform Tesco's Guy. "I'm too frightened even to swear."

"Jesusfuckingchristthisishigh. It'sabitfuckinghigh," he says. "Did you see the Millennium Stadium yet?"

"I can only look straight ahead," I say. "I'm too frightened to move my eyeballs."

Gallantly, he puts a protective arm round me, but quickly withdraws it to resume clutching the safety rail.

"I am going to close my eyes," I announce. I close my eyes. And I find that being swung around at speed in a plastic bucket at vertiginous height is better that way.

"Ha ha, did you really close your - ohmygoddon'tfuckinglookdown, whatever you do don'tfuckinglookdown," says Tesco's Guy.

I open my eyes and look down.

I see my feet dangling 196.850394 feet above a spinning Winter Wonderland. There are tiny people on the ice rink. Black ants. My stomach lurches.

"I want to get off," I say. "Please may I get off now? Make it stop."

"Look at the horizon," says Tesco's Guy, ever the pragmatist. "See those interesting cloud formations?"

I look at the horizon. I see clouds. I see the cliffs at Penarth. I see England. I see some hills. I try to see Cardiff, but it is spinning too fast. I look down and see the dragon on the roof of City Hall a million miles below me, and the ice rink, and my dangling feet.

"Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh," I say.

"Force yourself to relax," suggests Tesco's Guy. "Mind over matter. It's only fear. I decided that I'm going to try and like this experience, and now it's not too bad."

I take a deep breath and concentrate, and eventually my shoulders descend from my ears. My feet, which had been locked in a rigid skywards position, also drop to a more normal angle. I tell myself in a breezy manner, 'well, this is ok', and try looking around.

My brain rejects this attempt at enjoyment.

I recommence staring grimly at the horizon.

"Take a photo," I instruct Tesco's Guy through gritted teeth.

"I can't let go," he says.

Back on beautiful terra firma, we have a well-deserved mulled wine, then go ice skating, which is about 300,000,000% more fun than being suspended 196.850394 feet in the air. Then he buys me dinner, because it's my birthday, and after that we go and see my favourite 80s band The Beat, who are playing in a venue five minutes' walk from my flat.

Except I haven't bothered to book tickets, because surely I am the only person in the world who has ever heard of The Beat, and also it's my birthday, so life HAS to go my way. We are greeted by a large notice saying 'Sold Out'.

We loiter outside for a while, but eventually admit defeat, and slink off disappointed to The Claude.

Sunday 18th

I text Tesco's Guy.

dude, the beat are playing in gloucester tonight. just sayin'...

He rings instantly.

"I Google-mapped it - it's only an hour away," I say, thanking the heavens for the 1990 Ford Escort Eclipse I just inherited (and when I say 'inherited' I mean I said to my sister, 'I'll have that thanks').

"Hmm," says Tesco's Guy. "Yeah, I think I'd be up for that."

I ring the box office.

"Sorry, love, there aren't any tickets left, they've all gone," a woman says.

Noooooo! Damn me and my surprisingly popular 80s band taste.

"I'll ring them and leave my number in case they get any returns," offers Tesco's Guy. He is such a sweetheart. But I fear the worst, and settle in for a lonely night on the couch, morosely clicking my way through The Beat offerings on YouTube.

At 8pm, my phone rings. "They've just called," says Tesco's Guy, "they've got two -"

I am already out the door.

We drive at somewhat illegal speed to Gloucester, and, after sprinting through the city centre trying to find the venue, arrive two bars into their first song.

I am in heaven. I worm my way as close to the front as I can get, and dance. Tesco's Guy stands beside me, nodding approvingly (he has never heard of The Beat, because he is a young person) and drinking cider.

I love The Beat. I love them so much. AND it's my birthday*. I can't believe we managed to skank a pair of tickets. I can't believe we got here in time. This is possibly the greatest night of my life. I am so happy right now I think I might burst.

"Who wants a free T-shirt?" enquires Rankin' Roger from the stage.

"Meeeeeeeeee," I shout, along with 300 other people. I add "It's my birthday," for clarification.

Roger takes his top off, revealing a very impressive torso for a man in his 50s. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Tesco's Guy suddenly become alert. Before I can react, he is in the middle of the sweating, heaving mass of bodies in the mosh pit, one hand clutching his pint, the other aloft.

It feels inevitable, what happens next. It is destiny. Before the T-shirt has even left Roger's grip, I know that Tesco's Guy is going to get it.

It sails through the air. Why is everything in slow motion? It is like that bit in The Untouchables. Outstretched hands grab for the T-shirt; there is a brief scuffle. Tesco's Guy's height and sheer determination win out.

Open mouthed, I watch as Tesco's Guy brings the T-shirt over to me. He is puffed up and beaming, like a cat that's caught a rat or a blackbird or a small antelope.

"There you go, you cow."

People around us applaud and dispense congratulatory pats to our shoulders. I gaze at Tesco's Guy, starry-eyed and dumbstruck.

"Aaaaaaaaaagh!" I say. It seems to sum the situation up perfectly. We embrace. Both of us are delirious with delight. He is delirious with delight AND cider. I'm smiling so hard my face hurts. I find it impossible not to jump up and down. We can't stop hugging. He is without doubt the world's best human. He is my hero. Rankin' Roger's T-shirt is unpleasantly wet, dripping with ska sweat, but I don't care. It drips on our shoes.

Tesco's Guy sniffs it.

"Smells all right," he shrugs.

Best. Birthday. Ever.





* Yes it is. "My birthday" has been known to last for over a week



Friday, 16 December 2011

Situation Untenable



Thirty three minutes to go until my birthday and I haven't even had a drink yet.


Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Dogma



From an old diary:

Sunday, March 27 2005

Talked to Dad about 'God' today.

Even though I am agnostic with athiest leanings, I was appalled by his declaration "God is a bastard".

My view is that this thing people call 'God' represents some part of themselves, so if you're calling God a bastard then you really don't like yourself much.

I told him I didn't agree with his statement. I said I didn't believe God was some external, judgmental, interventional, anthropomorphised thing. I said I believed the thing people call God is their take on what your brain gets up to and the life force and stuff, which means we are all simultaneously God and godless and each individual has total and final responsibility for their actions.

He seemed startled by this. "I don't like that idea," he said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you'd get all the custard pies," he said.

I didn't understand what he meant, so asked him to elaborate.

"Every time something went wrong, it'd all be your fault," he said. "I've spent most of my life doing things wrong and it isn't nice."

So much easier than fronting up and learning from your mistakes is to keep fucking up then blame it on someone who doesn't exist then hate them for it too.


Friday, 2 December 2011

My Life In Small Ads



Hi Jamie

Re: 'please help all household items needed'

I just saw your ad on gumtree about wanting free stuff because you were coming out of sheltered accommodation and wondered if you were still needing anything. I have a houseful of stuff here that I need to shift so give us a shout as I might be able to help. Don't be shy just send a list and I'll see what I can do.

Cheers

Weasel

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Matthew

I saw your feedourhomeless.co.uk ad on gumtree asking for unwanted hats, gloves, scarves and socks and wondered if I could help.

My dad died last month and I'm clearing out his house. He has a lot of old socks, hats, gloves, scarves, jumpers, shirts, vests, trousers, jackets, shoes, cotton hankerchiefs etc that aren't quite sparkly enough to be donated to charity but are in good enough condition that I'm loathe just to throw them away (I've already binned all the stuff with holes, stains, too much wear and tear etc).

Is this the kind of thing you're interested in? I would much rather Dad's stuff was put to good use rather than just chucked away so it'd be fantastic for me to know his things are going directly to people who need them.

I'm in Gillingham and would be happy to pop down to Canterbury if you'd like.

Very best wishes,

Weasel

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dear Demelza House

My dad just died and I will be inundating your shop in Parkwood with donations over the course of the next few weeks - just wanted to check this will be ok. Do you take electrical goods?

Dad was a supporter of yours for many years.

Thank you

Weasel

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Your gumtree ad is going live: "Free - Trim Track 9-in-1 home gym, direct from the 1980s, never used, headbands not included"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "Free - Do you love coat hangers? I have eleventy thousand coat hangers needing a new home"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "Free - Could anybody use a whole bunch of plastic trophies? I hate to just throw them away and Bretts don't recycle :( "

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi, please can you ring me about the trophies. I run a kid's sports club and would love to have these. I just peel off the name plaque and put on a new one - the kids are thrilled with them.

Cheers, Tony

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

im interested in the home gym can collect today thx chloe

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Matthew

Awesome, thank you. I'll drop the clothes down to you on Friday. I've now found a whole load of blankets and sleeping bags you might be able to use. I'm also including a couple of bags of dog treats in case any dogs turn up to your Christmas meal :o)

What you're doing is wonderful.

All the best

Weez

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Your Freecycle ad has been posted: Old used candles

Your Freecycle ad has been posted: White 3-drawer chest of drawers

Your Freecycle ad has been posted: Children's slide

Your Freecycle ad has been posted: Cat transporter

Your Freecycle ad has been posted: Very scruffy wooden chest of drawers

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Roger

I saw your ad on Freecycle asking for large old suitcases.

I have five large/largish old cases you can have if you still need any. I also have three old-school suitcase trolleys, from the days when cases didn't have wheels - could you use these? If so they're yours at no extra charge ;o)

Cheers

Weez

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - double divan bed"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - headboard for double bed"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - G-Plan sideboard"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Jamie

We spoke on the phone last week. Please can you let me know if you still want the bed and the kitchen stuff? Like I said, I can't deliver the bed because it won't fit in my car but I'm happy to drop everything else round to you.

Weez

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi wld love the old candles as my wife reuses for Xmas deccies thanks Mick

I would be interested in the slide. We have our grandaughter a couple of days a week so it sounds ideal. Mary.

I'd love the wooden drawers! Thanks. Lorraine.

i will take the coat hangers off your hands! Mimi x

Hello. I was hoping u might consider me for the cat transporter please? I'd like it for my bunnies. Would it be suitable? Anna x

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Mark

I saw your ad on Freecycle asking for recyclable paper and card to raise money for your kids' karate club.

I can offer a one-off large bag of old greetings cards if that would help?

My dad died last month and I'm emptying his house - turns out he kept EVERYTHING, including every card he and my mum ever received. It's taking a while to go through them all but I'd be very glad if they could eventually be put to some good use.

If I'd have seen your ad before you could've had 30 years' worth of utility bills.

Cheers

Weez

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi again Mark

Thank you. It's actually been quite therapeutic. The one-off bag has now turned into two one-off bags. I'm going to Sittingbourne tomorrow to return an old 15kg gas bottle I found in the shed to the Calor Gas people so I can drop them off to you then.

Cheers

Weez

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Anna

It's an all-wicker carry-box for small animals - we used to take our cats to the vet in it, which is why I mentioned cats, but I'm sure it'd take a bunny or two.

It stands about 36cm/14" high with a high arched lid and fastens with a stick through two loops across the front. There is excellent visibility into the cage so you and your animal can keep an eye on each other and tickles can be dispensed if necessary. It's very roomy.

The handle is fashioned out of old washing line rope - one of my dad's famous home repairs.

It probably dates from the 1970s but while it looks a little scruffy it's still nice and solid and has lots of life left in it yet.

Weez x

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Is your double bed still available? Could collect tomorrow. Heather

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Weasel

It was very nice to have met you and had a chat, thanks again for the suitcases you really got us out of a hole, as I said I will try to pass them on once I've finished with them, long live freecycle! hope the house sorting goes with not too many problems.

Regards, Roger

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - Nesting tables & matching coffee table"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - Corner display cabinet"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - TV stand"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks Roger!

You too - I hope everything goes swimmingly with the move and the new job.

All the best, it was really nice to meet you.

Weez

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Your Freecycle ad has been posted: Fibre optic UFO lamp

Your Freecycle ad has been posted: Music cassette tapes

Your Freecycle ad has been posted: Coloured outdoor Christmas lights

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Anna

I am SO sorry about this but right at the last minute I've realised I can't bear to part with the cat transporter... I'm clearing out my dad's house after he's died and I thought this was one of the things that was ok to go on Freecycle but it's obviously more loved than I realised.

Really really sorry to you and your bunnies. I've deleted the ad.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie

Please can you let me know if you still need the bed etc? Thanks.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hello do you still have the fibre optic UFO lamp? How big is it please? Julia

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Julia

It's about 12" high all told. It's a blue plastic base in the shape of a flying saucer, with multi-coloured fibre optic wires extending from the top.

The wires rotate and the base flashes different colours, just like a real flying saucer.

It's a bit dusty but otherwise it's in perfect working order, although it makes a sort of creaking sound as it rotates.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Julia

6pm tonight is fine.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie

Sorry to hassle but were you still needing the bed and the kitchen stuff? I know you keep saying you do but like I said on the phone time is of the essence for me now as I've got to get home to Cardiff soon.

Please could you let me know what you want to do? If you can't collect by Friday I'm going to have to dispose of them elsewhere, sorry.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - Stag wardrobe"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - Stag dressing table"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - Table lamp"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - Moulinex Multichef food processor"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - Computer desk"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "For sale - Executive computer chair"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hello I am interested in your Stag wardrobe and dressing table please can you phone me?

Hi I'd like the headboard can pick up Saturday Balbir

Hello I'm really interested in your nesting tables, when can I come and view? Thanks, Jools

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Your gumtree ad is going live: "Free - Childrens' bikes: restoration project"

Your gumtree ad is going live: "Free - Children's pedal tractor: restoration project"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Your gumtree ad is going live
: "For sale - single divan bed, mattress and headboard"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Alicia

I saw your Freecycle ad about needing household stuff. What did you need?

I have a load of stuff I'm trying to get rid of - a single bed, a double bed, plates, mugs, glasses, duvets, sheets & bedding, photo frames, cutlery & utensils, fake flowers, a teak-effect shelving unit for books (or whatever), a radio/CD player, mirrors, a small white microwave...

Weasel

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hello Weasel

Thankyou for replying!

Im only 16 and moved into supported accomodation just over 3 months ago. I was given a couple of bits of furniture, but plates, mugs, glasses, photo frames, cutlery & utensils, fake flowers, the teak-effect unit for books or whatever, a radio/CD player, and mirrors would be amazing! I can try and arrange to pick up the stuff but obviously i dont drive lol, hope to hear from you soon

Alicia x

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Alicia

Eeeek! I took all the fake flowers to the charity shop this afternoon!!! I totally forgot I'd mentioned them in your email, sorry.

The rest of the stuff is still here though you'll be glad to know. I'm happy to deliver - whereabouts are you?

Be warned - the teak-effect unit thing is something my dad built in the 80s to house a record player. So it's not the most stylish thing you ever saw. Ditto the mirrors. I'll bring them anyway so you can see what you think and I honestly won't mind if you say you don't want them.

Weez x

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi just wondering where you are located and weather you still have the childrens bikes as Ive been looking for a smaller restoration project and they seem perfect thanks. How much do you want for them? Could pickup on Sunday - Paul

hello do you still have the tractor? my little boy is two and loves tractors and this would be perfect. I can ask my dad to fix it up for him. Many thanks sarah

Would love cassettes and can collect if they still available? Matt

I'd be very interested in your single bed. Can you text me please to arrange pick up? Thanks, Sam

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Weez

Thankyou for the stuff, all of it is lovely its so kind of you! Your a lovely lady and should have lots of good karma coming you way :o) It was really nice to meet you thankyou so much again

Alicia xxx

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Paul

If you're going to do the bikes up and make them lovely again, they're free with thanks! Anything saved from a trip to the tip is a bonus in my books.

The bikes are in Gillingham; it's fine to collect on Sunday.

Regards

Weez

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi just wondering about your white chest of drawers... absolutely just what i am looking for right now... I can pick up today if they are still available. Many many thanks, Caroline

Hi I'm Mark are the Christmas lights still available please can collect any time

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Sarah

If your little boy loves tractors then I'd love him to have this (it was mine - best Christmas present ever!) BUT it will take a fair bit of fixing.

The seat is very rusty, the whole thing's full of cobwebs and there are sharp edges where bits have broken off. It's been sitting neglected in a shed for years and years.

That said, a bit of creative TLC and I think there's a chance it could be as right as rain again.

I'm just wondering if your dad might want to come along and have a look at it to see if it's do-able before you take it? Or maybe he's one of those brilliant people who can fix anything - I don't know, I just don't want anyone to be disappointed.

Regards, Weez

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

hi weez, thanks for getting back to me. Mum and dad live in dorset so would be a bit of a trek for them. My dad has been very ill which has ment he's been pretty house bound so a resteration project for his grandson is just what he needs. He loves to fix things.

We live near canterbury so about 40 minutes from you. I have a friend in maidstone who might be able to pick it up for me.

I'll be in touch soon many thanks

sarah

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sarah if your friend can't get to me I'd be more than happy to drop it to her or to you.

My dad died last month which is why we've been clearing out the sheds. I've been stuck in his dusty old house sorting out his stuff for weeks (he had a LOT of stuff) so any chance for a drive out on a sunny day is fine by me. I dropped all his clothes off a while back to a bloke out past Canterbury who hands them on to homeless people so it's not too far for me to go.

Also I'd really like you to have the tractor now!

Cheers :o)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Weez

I'm so sorry to hear that I wish there was something I could say to make you feel better.

Why don't we meet half way?

Alfie is only two and loves tractors, my dad despite being 67 is a big kid as well. He's been so low lately that this will make his day. He's just recovering from major surgery which no one expected him to come out of and to be honest has loss a bit of his confidence and is feeling like he's not good at anything so like I say he will love this. He always spent his time in the garden and now he's not allowed to even mow the grass.

Well let me know what you would like to do. I also have some bits which I'm going to take to the demelza charity shop if you want me to take anything for you just say and I'll do it.

Kind regards

sarah x

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Mark

I have to go to Faversham tomorrow morning to drop off a toy tractor to a lovely lady from Canterbury (long story) so as I'll be passing through Sittingbourne on the way home I was hoping would it be ok to leave another huge bag of paper with you?

Cheers x

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi Jamie thanks for the email. Sorry but like I said I needed to shift as much as possible before last weekend so I've sold the bed now and given most of the other stuff away. There is another bed here you can have if you want - although it's not as nice as the first one - and some kitchen bits, but not much. When can you get here? It'd have to be before Thursday as I'm going home then.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Is the computer desk/chair still available? I am buying my son a computer tomorrow so these would be perfect! Thank you, Rose

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

hi, Do you still have your gplan sideboard for sale? thanks, Andrew

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ok Jamie. Hopefully see you some time tomorrow.


Monday, 14 November 2011

It's Only Stuff - Part Two




So.

I began writing this post two weeks ago and it started out as a bile-filled rant about various family members who shall remain nameless (my brother, his missus, their two kids) coming down for the funeral then going through the house like a plague of locusts - coked up locusts - participating in a particularly enthusiastic episode of Supermarket Sweep.

They asked if it was ok to take most of the things they took, but some things they took but didn't ask about, and one or two things they asked about and I said I wouldn't mind them myself but they took them anyway.

After two days of constant "Can I take this, can I take that?", tipping point was reached on the Sunday night when I realised the kitchen was being systematically emptied of anything useful by my brother's missus; the 5-year-old had claimed and was zooming about with an ancient Airfix model of a Lancaster bomber despite my protestations; and I found Ted stuffed headfirst into a wicker wastepaper basket with Mum's sugar bowl thrown on top of him, waiting to be taken out to my brother's car for the drive back to Bristol.

The sugar bowl was the mainstay of life at Mum and Dad's over the preceding 43 years. If our family had a totem, this would be it.

Ted, of course, had been my trusty companion in the fortnight leading up to the funeral.

(Technically, he does belong to my brother because when my brother was small he'd whinged about not having a teddy bear and Dad had handed Ted over, BUT my brother left home in 1976 and Ted remained at the house, gathering dust.)

The bin was neither here nor there, but they hadn't asked me if it was ok to take any of these items and what with the ADHD 5-year-old and the general atmosphere of greed and lawlessness, that was the moment it all got too much.

I retreated to my room and bawled my eyes out for an hour. When I stopped crying, I thought if I stayed in there long enough, they might go home. So I sat very quietly for another hour.

Eventually I realised they weren't going to go home until I came out of my room. So I marched downstairs and in a quavering voice suggested they might like to leave Ted behind because he wasn't quite ready to go yet, and could they also please leave me a saucepan because had they forgotten I was going to be staying there for a bit while I worked on emptying the house?

They looked at me as if I was insane (and at that moment, I probably was), fetched me Ted and a saucepan and then, thank fuck, they left.

The following week, I realised those two hours I'd spent in my room avoiding their "Can I take?" questions had been a terrible mistake.

Each day unearthed more and more things that weren't there anymore: the most astonishing being the potato peeler - the potato peeler! - and the most hurtful being a cheerful pukeko garden ornament I'd bought Mum and Dad from New Zealand - special to me, meaningless to them.

Each time I discovered a new absence it was a cold shock, like betrayal, then meltdown into a spitting ball of self-righteous fury.

I bitched about it to anyone who'd listen. I mean, really bitched about it. My sister bore the brunt:

How DARE they take stuff without asking? How dare they come here and help themselves to whatever they want then just fuck off and leave me and you to do the dirty work of actually clearing the house? What makes them think they're entitled to any of this stuff anyway? Brother left home when he was 16 and never came back. He's done fuck all to help Mum and Dad, EVER. Nothing. He's working, his missus is working, they can afford to buy things. They've got an established house already yet they clear this place of anything useful while I've been on £55 a week for a YEAR because I've been LOOKING AFTER DAD and have gone through HELL doing so and my new bedsit has nothing in it and they KNOW that because they've BEEN there so how come they think they need these things more than I do? Did they even ASK you if they could take any of what they took? I told them to clear EVERYTHING with you as well as with me. I can't believe they took things without asking. I can't believe they took the bins. I can't believe they took the POTATO PEELER. What the fuck do they need another potato peeler for? The PRICKS. The fucking insensitive PRICKS.

Etc.

But days passed, and slowly it began to sting less. They'd been so excited about having all these nice things for their new home. They'd started out scrupulously enough, listing items they wanted to take, and checking with me about each one. It'd just got a little out of control towards the end. They'd probably asked my sister while I was upstairs and she'd said 'take whatever you like', not realising it was ripping my heart out.

I could have - should have - spoken up at the time: told them to slow down, what was the rush, there was plenty of time to sort everything out, instead of getting overwhelmed and disappearing.

Our family: always useless at communication.

They hadn't cheated me out of anything. I was getting mad and bitter over stuff, like some crazy person. They were lovers of stuff, avid collectors of it, whereas I had regular Labyrinth-style get-rid-of-it-all-it's-meaningless-junk moments.

I realised that if they ever found out how angry I'd been, all the pleasure they were ever going to take in these objects would be immediately replaced by guilt and unhappiness.

I had no desire to do that to them. Why ruin Mum's sugar bowl and everything it stood for? Why spoil the delight in the cheeky pukeko? The things in that house weren't mine. I had no special claim to anything, just because I'd lived there longer than my brother and sister. Both Mum and Dad would've been hideously upset by the inglorious sentiment I was spouting - they were generous to a fault, would've given everything away without batting an eyelid.

I felt ashamed of my ugly outbursts, and swore my sister to secrecy - "Never mention this to them, ever! Please, let them enjoy their treasures."

(Apart from the potato peeler, obviously. I hope it claims at least a finger.)

I returned to the first draft of this post, and rewrote it.

Because you know what?

It's only stuff.

Fuck it, I was only going to get rid of it anyway.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

It's Only Stuff - Part One



It's rare to find a blog that captures my inner experience.

I include my own blog in that category. Yet Hyperbole and a Half has done it again!

Read all about my weekend in the rage-perfect Sneaky Hate Spiral.

(Yes, I even had an unsolicited anus.)

Before I let rip with the finer points of my trauma, though, I first need to introduce you to Ted.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ted is Dad's oldest friend. He dates from the 1930s. That's him up there in the photo. Ted has taken Dad's place in the armchair in front of the telly - while I'm here in this house on my own, I need the company.

When I was small Ted used to frighten me because he reminded me of Hitler, but nowadays I look at him and am heartened by his kindly face and benign manner. In his knitted yellow pyjama bottoms and dapper polkadot shirt, there is no-one in the world less like a psychotic Nazi overlord. I am very glad he is here to help me eat Milky Ways and watch endless Derren Brown repeats on 4Music every night.

Ted has always been a good friend - he got Dad through many unhappy years at boarding school. Somewhere in the loft there is an old school report that reads 'Trevor would do better if he didn't spend so much time staring out of the window dreaming up adventure stories about his teddy'. Ted used to take on pirates, bandits, and Red Indians with consummate ease. I'm not sure if Ted also went to Egypt on National Service after Dad left school, but if he did I'm sure he would've loved it.

After I grew up, Ted's life got boring. For years he gathered dust on an upstairs dressing table, part of the furniture and therefore invisible. If I ever went into Dad's bedroom I'd try to remember to say hello, but that was the only interaction he got.

Saddened by this neglect, a few months ago I took Dad out for lunch and insisted Ted came too. He stayed on the dashboard while we went inside the cafe to eat - he has some decorum, you know.



Dad seemed bemused by this outing, but me and Ted had a great time.

When Dad died, I wondered whether Ted should go in the coffin with him, to keep his old mate company. I thought it might be fitting. I sat Ted down and we had a heart to heart.

Ted whispered to me he'd rather like to resume the life he'd known as a cub - one of fun and adventure. He'd been getting rather tired of all the atrophy. Dad had been a good friend once, but he'd grown morose and inward-looking over the years, and had forgotten how to cherish people. Black tendrils of misery had enveloped everything he came into contact with; stagnation had squeezed the life out of life itself.

Ted wanted another chance.

You belong with Dad, I told him - my conscience tells me so. I've already put his unfinished Times cryptic crossword book in the coffin (and a pen! He'd go mad if there wasn't a pen) but I think he needs you too. You were his friend when friends were few and far between. Although, with your kindly face, sealing you in a coffin for cremation would be like committing the most horrible murder. And he HAS basically neglected you for the last 40-odd years.

I'll think about it, alright?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On the day of the funeral, while we were at the crematorium, Ted was in his usual place in Dad's armchair, keeping an eye on things in case the caterers burgled the house.


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Get Me Out Of Here



Last few days? This just about covers it.

Housefuls of people ain't my thing.

(On a plus note, I have now discovered the majorly awesome Hyperbole and a Half.)


Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Nuggets Of Joy



To be honest, I won't miss this sort of shit:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dad and I are watching the news. We learn that some scientists have decided using mobile phones might increase the risk of getting a brain tumour.

"The use of mobile phones may be carcinogenic, with the same risk as lead or coffee," intones the newsreader.

"They banned cigarettes for much less than that," scoffs Dad.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It's a beautiful day, so I sit in the garden to drink a cup of tea and flick through the Sunday magazine.

"It's lovely out there," I say when I return to the kitchen.

"Good way of getting skin cancer," he scowls.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Andy Murray has just slogged his way into the Wimbledon semi-finals, and is thanking his family for their support after the game.

Dad watches the televised interview with gritted teeth, then suddenly erupts.

"Christ, it's enough to make you want to nail your head to a coffee table," he roars, with real disgust.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Righto.

The funeral's on Friday. Let's just say I'm expecting it to be difficult.


Thursday, 20 October 2011

One Year On



A year ago today, Niecey texted me this:

I'm sad there's nowhere to go today to see nan! We should really let her ashes go somewhere else! Happy birthday to a super nan!X

I wrote about it here.

When I started looking after Dad, I found the letter mentioned in that post tucked away among his paperwork.

...Have you thought about getting a bench somewhere or tree planted in her name? It would be nice if there was somewhere family and friends could go to focus on memories of Mum, a special spot...

I wrote him a lot of letters after Mum died. This was the only one he'd saved.

That got me thinking.

One day when the time was right, I asked him why he hadn't done anything to commemorate Mum.

"I wanted to, but I didn't know what to do," he said.

I'd realised by then how scared he was of life, of everything; how difficult it was for him to do the things that everybody else took for granted; how weak and useless he thought he was, and therefore was.

So I'd said, "Want me to organise something?"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There is now a memorial bench in place at Elmley Marshes RSPB reserve.

It was put up on Tuesday, in time for what would've been Mum's 91st birthday today.

Dad was looking forward to a run out to see it.

But he died in an instant on Saturday morning, sitting in his armchair, a cup of tea beside him.

Just popped like a lightbulb, and was gone.

I so wasn't ready for that.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The bench is in a good spot - windswept, raw, remote: an elemental place.

There was a beautiful sunset tonight.


Saturday, 15 October 2011

14-01-32 - 15-10-11



My dad, the man who got everything wrong.


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Perhaps I Have Been On Holiday



Weekend one:

I say goodbye to dad at the hospital, and drive to Bristol.

I stay at my brother's. He has moved to a new house: I approve, it is splendid. Me and Bethan are sent to B&Q to buy some paint. We appropriate a new catchphrase and use it with relish all weekend, to the annoyance of the grown ups: "Where's the paint? Therrrhhh." I help empty and redecorate the flat they've just vacated. I eat good food, drink good coffee, hang out with the kids, and in my spare time help my brother's missus deliver 180 Avon books.

We don wellies and walk to the pond. Mia practises her football skills in the park opposite the house. I roadtest my new frisbee. Bethan nicks the book I am reading (The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-time). The sun shines. For once the Fluffmonster is full of love and not savagery. There is mayhem and laughter.

It is a fabulous couple of days. I feel like I've been on holiday.

I drive back to Kent, and resume hospital visiting duties.

Weekend two:

I say goodbye to dad at the hospital, and drive to Cornwall.

It is a special birthday weekend for My Lovely Brother-In-Law, organised by my wickedly cunning Niecey - he doesn't know it, but family members from all over the country are hiding in the wardrobes, cupboards and small rooms of his holiday cottage, waiting for him and my equally lovely sister to arrive. Surprise! He is surprised. There is cake, champagne, hugs.

It is astonishingly hot outside, and there are lush lawns to sprawl on; inside, there is a swimming pool, a games room, comfortable couches on which to collapse. There is a perfect beach nearby: I swim and swim under a cloudless blue sky. At night there is food, wine, yahtzee, gossip.

It is an exquisite couple of days. I feel like I've been on holiday.

I drive back to Kent, and resume hospital visiting duties.

Weekend three:

Dad is out of hospital, but I have arranged carers.

I catch a bus to Paris. BK is there, waiting for me at the bus terminal, on a two-week visit from New Zealand to pick up some stuff and see his folks. It is the first time I've seen him for three years and time has melted away the bad stuff, like it always does. We walk, talk, eat, laugh, chug down beer and croissants, like we always do.

He has brought me a gift from New Zealand - Kiwi rock behemoth Jon Toogood's autograph, obtained at a gig recently attended (BK got him to write "To Grandma, u fuckin' rock, Jon x"). I have brought him a gift from Britain - a mountain of 'only in the UK' chocolate and crisps, and a copy of Viz. Paris is secondary to the delight of spending time with the only person in the world I am comfortable farting in front of. Downstairs Monkey is pleased to see BK again too.

It is a soul-repairing couple of days. I feel like I've been on holiday.

I get the bus back to Kent, and resume caring duties.

But only for another couple of weeks: I'm handing over to professionals, and getting my life back.

It will feel like I'm on holiday.


Friday, 23 September 2011

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Do Not Disturb



My dad is in his own little room on a ward full of shouty, wandering old men.

This 'do not disturb' sign hangs on his door.

I flipped it over, thinking it might be like one of those 'open/closed' signs, with the opposite message on the reverse:


but the back was blank, I was sadly disappointed.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Oxygen



Although my push to become Britain's top shed blogger is going surprisingly well, I'd like to depart from the shed theme briefly to say Dad went into hospital yesterday and is likely to remain there for about two weeks while they try and work out why he can barely breathe anymore.

That leaves me and Downstairs Monkey free to run riot at Mission Control.

Chances are we will do very little, because we are a pair of indolent buggers. In between visiting hours, we will just enjoy the quiet time.





Sunday, 18 September 2011

Shed Wars III - Revenge of the Hedge



Ta-daaa! The even uglier shed at the bottom of the garden.

I don't go in there anymore.


Friday, 16 September 2011

Shed II - The Sequel

By popular demand, here is a photo of my dad's newly-trimmed shed:



It contains, as it always did, an assortment of rusting tools, antiquated lawnmowers, cobwebs and rotting cardboard boxes.

I agree, ladies - it is not without character. It holds happy memories for me (although the best shed-related memories I have are of the other, even uglier shed at the bottom of the garden. That shed was my den. I wrote a play in there, for chrissakes, which precipitated me to temporary stardom at my junior school. It was where I masterminded a Secret Seven-style gang - members: me, and Stephen Tuppeny).

This shed, though, just outside the kitchen window, is where, as a child, I would drive the neighbours mad by practising my tennis strokes during Wimbledon fortnight - bonk, bonk, bonk. It is also where I hung a dartboard (and before that, a poster of the Bay City Rollers) to hone my arrows technique - clonk, clonk, clonk. And of course many hours were spent playing those solo catch games involving two or three tennis balls and a wall to bounce them off - thunk thunk thunk. The uneven grain and various protuberances only added to the thrills.

The shed was also a prop in a cunning plan to lure wild birds (and even squirrels) to eat out of my hand. I carefully constructed a lifesized replica of my young self out of old clothes, pillows, bits of wood, a balloon, wellies and a hat, and left it leaning against the shed for days, so that the wildlife visiting the bird table would become accustomed to seeing it there.

Then the swap was made. I donned the scarecrow's clothes and took its place, my outstretched hand full of bird seed.

I stood there until my aching limbs could take it no longer, probably as long as ten whole minutes. The operation was not a success, although I was at a loss to explain why.

The shed, then, is not all bad.

However, the thing to remember is this. My mum loved 'nice' things. Her dearest wish in life was to see the shed transformed into a bright new shiny white sparkling conservatory.

Instead, the shed stands as a permanent reminder of the crushing disappointment of being married to a man who was allergic to effort, incapable of change, who thought 'difficult' was the same as 'impossible'.


Thursday, 15 September 2011

Home



When I woke, I didn't know where I was.

Then I saw the sky glowing in the east through church-arched windows, and remembered I was home.

My little bedsit, at the top of an elegant three-storey Victorian house overlooking a Cardiff park. I've hardly seen it since I moved here in April.

No matter; it's been a good year.

When I woke again properly, at 9.53am, I dropped out of bed and did a forward roll across the floor, because I could.


Monday, 12 September 2011

Black And White

[click me, i'm interesting]

To avoid this blog turning into an extended rant about someone with Aspergers Syndrome, I'm going to post, one day late and proud of it, the obligatory 'what I was doing on 9/11' yawnfest.

(That bit comes right at the end - please feel free to skip straight to it if you can't be arsed to plough through the preamble. Spoiler: it involves sadness and disbelief.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On New Year's Eve 1999, I stood at Bastion Point, Auckland, with my partner of 10 years, watching fireworks flashing pink and white inside the heavy clouds that obscured the skyline. Clammy, soggy, miserable weather. It matched our mood.

It seemed ridiculous, standing there in the rain, arms folded, hardly talking, watching some washed out firework display going off in the distance. Pointless. Weren't we meant to be celebrating something? The new millennium in a new country, on the brink of being granted permanent residency? A new life?

I'd brought along a bottle of bubbly and two plastic cups, but they stayed in my bag.

A couple of months later, the permanent residency visas came through. Valid for two years only, but when renewed after that, lasting indefinitely.

Their arrival only served to lower the mood. Although we weren't saying it, we both knew 'indefinite' was no longer a word that applied to us.

We'd always joked that when we ran out of things to talk about, we'd split up. One night I blurted into the aching silence of yet another evening staring at the TV, "Shall we call it a day, then?"

A pause. He turned to look at me. Big, sad eyes.

"I suppose so, yes," he said.

Ten years snuffed out, as easy as that.

Except, not easy at all.

I went into freefall. I'd lost everything I thought was mine. The earth was no longer solid; was gravity even reliable? At any moment I felt like I might go spinning off into space. Alone for the first time since I was 18, I was terrified. I didn't even know who I was.

I couldn't stop crying.

We had a wedding to go to, in the UK, in June. Our return flights were booked, our outfits decided.

"Please, please can we not tell them we've broken up until afterwards?" I begged.

I couldn't bear the thought of all that pity, the questions. I was so caved in my wretchedness was palpable. He reluctantly agreed.

Nobody guessed.

The wedding day passed (they're divorced now). We told family and friends our news. All were shocked - we'd been so good together. Then the day came when he had to go back to his job in Auckland. Feeling so numb all I could think of to do was cling to the familiar discomforts of my family, I told him I was going to stay in the UK a little longer, at mum and dad's. Maybe a month or so.

Two weeks later, at a friend's 40th birthday party, I walked into the kitchen, and fell in love with the man leaning against the sink.

I'd heard of this love at first sight business but didn't really believe in it until that moment. But here he was, the man I was destined to marry, no question. No violins, no cupids, no heavenly shafts of light; it was merely a recognition, but no less extraordinary for that.

We talked. It was easy. He was gorgeous. Quick, sharp and funny, with the softest brown eyes I'd ever seen. A portrait photographer with his own business, recently separated from the girl he'd been with for a couple of years. I knew he was as excited by me as I was by him. We just, as they say, clicked. I waited impatiently for him to ask me out.

Did I like The Stranglers, he said? I loved The Stranglers, I said. Would I like to borrow some of their CDs? He could drop them round to me, he said. We could maybe go out for a drink, a meal too?

I'd like that very much, I said.

(And anything else you're offering, sunshine.)

He was offering love, marriage, a future. We only managed about six months together in the end. It was too intense, too passionate, too crazy for either of us to handle. We couldn't stay away from each other; we tore each other apart.

He was possessive. Jealous of my ex, jealous of New Zealand. I felt swamped. And I was as lost in his world of designer kitchens and expensive cars as he was in my shoestring world of wanderlust and inner searching. We tried to reach each other from our different universes but there was no common language.

Apart from in bed. I'd never encountered jealousy before, and found it ugly and distressing. I'd never encountered passion either: it blew me inside out and kept me hooked. Nothing else mattered when he touched me. The craziness dragged on past Christmas, through spring and into summer. Chemistry overrode misery. We tried to be friends, but we were no such thing. We were just a pair of broken lovers.

I had to get away: I was in pieces. My departure broke his heart. I borrowed a sleeping bag and went for a drive, up to Scotland, down to Cornwall, some centrifugal force throwing me towards extremities. At John O'Groats, I stared at the sea and wished I was back in New Zealand. At Lands End, the same. When I got tired of sleeping in hostels and laybys, I came back to Kent.

He found me a job, working on a mate's stall in a shopping centre.

I sold nothing. I was lovesick and hopeless. I would stand at the stall each day staring at the escalator, willing it to deliver him to me. Then I'd pray in the evenings for that text message - 'eyeball 550' - our code for him letting me know he was about to drive past my parents' house. I would rush outside to catch him. Or stay stubbornly inside, tearful and furious he was breaking my heart again.

Seeing him, not seeing him - either way hurt.

Eventually I knew it was time to go back to New Zealand. My residency visa was running out, and I'd never forgive myself if I let it expire. I asked him one last time - would he come with me? He couldn't, he said - he couldn't leave. But I couldn't stay. I booked a one-way ticket to Auckland for November 4, 2001, and breathed a sigh of relief. The madness was nearly over.

Fifty four days before I got on that plane, I was slouching by the stall when I noticed something unusual on the bank of TV screens in the electrical shop nearby. Each one showed clouds and clouds of billowing grey smoke. I wandered over to take a look.

It looked bad. What on earth was going on? Had a volcano erupted? It must be big news, to be on TV like that - had a volcano taken out a major city? Not Auckland, god forbid?

I watched the silent TV screens. As the footage looped, concern turned into cold, sick horror - it wasn't a volcano, it was Manhattan. I couldn't tear my eyes away. A crowd had gathered now in front of the shop, all of us silent, some in tears. The plane strike was the worst thing I'd ever seen, the towers' collapse a close second (I'd stood on that roof: this was impossible). When they showed people falling, I had to turn away.

At 5pm I shut up the stall and drove home slowly the long way, winding through country lanes, lost in the radio news. I pulled up outside 550, and kept listening.

Then my phone beeped.

'Eyeball 550' - and a blue BMW with personalised plates screeched to a halt behind me.

We stood in the road and talked.

We talked about hope and longing, disappointment and regret. We talked about misunderstandings and confusion. We talked about love, the events rocking the world relegated to backdrop for our own private tragedy. But we had, for once, a sombre and thoughtful headspace, a sense of proportion.

He said he still believed he'd marry me, one day. Still believed I was the one. He'd never get over me. Was I really going back to New Zealand, was I really leaving him behind?

I couldn't meet his eyes, this man I knew I'd love forever.

I nodded. Yes, I was.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My ex met me at the airport, and drove me back to his flat to meet his new girlfriend. I lived on their floor until February. They got married in May, and I was one of two guests at their wedding at a remote spot on the Heaphy Track (where they met, a year to the day before). It was a beautiful time. We're still friends.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I've bumped into The Rebound a couple of times since. Even though he never did lend me those Stranglers CDs, the thought of him still flips my stomach.


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Greater Than Or Equal To



What I wanted to post about today, before I was rudely interrupted by the nostalgically old-school Dad/anger incident mentioned below, was this.

Yesterday, I finally plucked up the courage to check the internet for information on adult children of Aspergers parents.

While I've been researching what might be wrong with Dad for ages, it took me a long time to get round to looking into that particular topic. This was deliberate. I was strangely afraid of what I might find.

I might find out he didn't have Aspergers. I might find out what was wrong with me.

But yesterday was the day I could delay it no longer. 'Parent+Aspergers'; enter; oh my god here we go.

I spent the whole day, the whole evening, the whole night, absorbed.

It was like, after wandering alone for a lifetime, an outcast with a guilty secret, stepping into a giant hall of mirrors and finding your secret reflected back at you a thousand times over.

It was all there - on faaas.org, on an astonishing Wrong Planet forum thread, on the blog of the beautiful Doris Mash.

My story. My pain. My father. The details differing, but the essence the same.

The relief was incredible - I didn't imagine this nightmare. It's definitely AS. There are other people in the world who've had this experience too. He is different, unreachable, irredeemably selfish, and as cold as stone. The emotional damage he's caused is as real as day and night, or monkey gonads, or soup. And he will never change.

All these people say so. It's not just me. There is so much comfort in that.

It feels like phase one is drawing to a close now. Phase two is heal, move on, have a nice life.

'Here you go Dad, you can have all your shit back, I'm finished with it now. You're welcome. Goodbye.'


List



"Social Services are coming to see us at 2pm," I say. "Have you done that list yet?"

"What list?" he says.

"The list of things you think you'll need help with, in the event of me getting a job and not being able to come down to Kent anymore," I say. "I've asked you to do it a couple of times now."

"Oh, well, I've thought about that, and I can't think of anything."

"So, if I suddenly stopped coming - say, if I nipped out to post a letter this afternoon, and got run over by a bus - and if My Lovely Sister went away on another of her eternal holidays and never came back, and you stuck were here totally on your own, there's nothing you can think of you'd like help with?"

He thinks about it.

"I suppose I could do with a walk-in shower," he says.

"Social Services can't help with that, I've already told you. There's an 18 month waiting list and anyway you have too much money in your savings. You have to buy one yourself."

"So why exactly are Social Services coming?" he says, snarky.

"Because like I said, I'm probably going to stop doing this soon, because I'd like my little mail sorting job back in December, so they need to find out what kind of support you're likely to need when you're here on your own again," I say. "Which is why I asked you to do that list."

"I can't think of anything to put on it," he says.

"Really? Really? There's nothing at all I've been doing for you this past year that you think you couldn't manage if I wasn't around?"

He goes downstairs, grumbling.

Twenty minutes later I find him in the dining room, sat at his desk, going through paperwork.

"Done that list?" I say.

"I haven't done the list, because I am looking for my bank statements," he says.

"Why are you looking for your bank statements? They won't need to see your bank statements. They'll be here in half an hour and what they will need to see is a list of your care requirements. Bank statements aren't important right now."

"They are important. I need to find them."

"Yes, but not right now. Right now, you need to think about this list."

"I don't know what to put on this list."

"You honestly can't think of one thing you'd need help with if you were here on your own?"

"No I bloody don't. You tell me what to write and I'll write it," he snaps.

"I'm not going to do that. I want to see what support you think you need. I've already done my list. It's your viewpoint I'm after."

He grits his teeth, hunches his shoulders, and carries on sifting through his desk.

It is a posture I've seen many times before. It signals an explosion.

I leave the room.

When I return, he is still at the desk.

"Come on Dad, they'll be here in a minute. Please do this list. It's not difficult, all you've got to do is just think about what you might need a helping hand with when I'm not here. It doesn't have to be much. Just write a few things down."

He explodes.

"My list is in my head. There is nothing on it. All I want is to be left alone. LEFT ALONE. When I'm left alone I can think about the things I need to do."

Spitting, vicious fury, snarled through clenched teeth.

I laugh, not kindly. "What, think about all the things you need to do which you then won't do? You'll be left alone soon enough, don't worry. I'm just asking you to write a few things down on a list. Why is that so hard?"

It is a cruel question: I already know why.

Social Services arrive.

"So, what kind of things do you think you need help with, Mr H?" they say.

I show them our lists.

My list says:

ESSENTIAL:
Preparation of lunch/dinner daily
Monitoring medications twice-daily
Monitoring general health and responding to problems
GENERAL:
(ie Things I do at the moment)
Household
Prepare lunch/dinner daily
Housework/cleaning as required (cleaner comes Mon & Fri 2 hours each time)
Weekly grocery shop
Stack/empty dishwasher daily
Laundry
Fold dry laundry, return to bedroom
Put rubbish/recycling out weekly
Put milkbottles out three nights a week
Change lightbulbs, batteries etc, wind clocks as required
Notice when things need replacing, eg top up sugar bowl, tea caddy, change toilet rolls
Regulate central heating throughout year
Keep a shopping list
Ask if he wants a cup of tea (usually yes)
Personal
Monitor medicine-taking twice-daily (he rarely remembers without prompting)
Check leg wound regularly, alert District Nurse if any problems
Monitor/respond to health problems
Attend medical appointments with him
Other
Mobility – Dad is now wheelchair-dependent outside the house
Assistance with general finances, inc visits to bank, building society to withdraw cash. Keep an eye on bills.
Trips out for pleasure/general companionship
Car: keep tabs on MOT, tax, insurance, petrol, repairs
Put bird food out daily/replenish bird food supplies (very important!!)
Gardening (my brother-in-law mows the lawns every fortnight or so)
I do these things because he shows no inclination to do any of them when he's left to his own devices. This could be due to apathy or bad memory, or both. He appears to have no ability to plan ahead, and no awareness of his limitations.

His list says:

Housework and cleaning (this gets done by a cleaning lady)
Some cooking.
Some shopping.




Monday, 5 September 2011

Diary, Saturday 12 November 2005



"Ok some facts as I see them: I am banging my head against a brick wall trying to change what cannot be changed. I have spent 30+ years desperately trying to win love and approval from people completely unable to give it. I am sour and angry and complaining – upsetting myself needlessly by not accepting the situation, functioning abnormally in the role of ‘daughter’ when in other areas of life I function normally. I greatly lack confidence, having always been shouted down, sneered at, or drowned in disinterest. I get very tearful, angry and upset whenever I stay at Mum & Dad's.

During my time here I have succeeded in:

a) getting Mum help from Social Services in the mornings against Dad's wishes. So she is now being treated gently and with respect by at least one person in her life.

b) bringing Mum’s problems to the attention of the doctor and seeing her start having liquid meal supplements (Dad would’ve just kept making her meat-and-two-veg meals then shouting when she couldn’t eat them).

c) getting Occupational Therapy to put a bed lever on the bed to help her move herself around, a frame/raised seat for the loo, and longer legs on her armchair so she can sit more comfortably.

I can safely say none of these things would’ve happened if I hadn’t been here.

I also suggested Dad take the doorhandle off the loo as it was making it very difficult for Mum to get in using the handrails – and he did, same morning. I also got the mattress changed so she sleeps more comfortably, and got him to buy new, supporting pillows instead of the 100-year-old feather ones she’d been using that were making her neck sore.

Today Brother-In-Law will put down carpet in the downstairs loo, hopefully making it less icy in there. I have also demonstrated to Dad it’s possible to give her a hairwash downstairs (he refused to do it before as she couldn’t get upstairs, the only place hairwashes can ever happen, obviously). And I have told him in a calm, non-accusatory way not to speak to her so harshly (and later that day I found him sitting next to her on the bed with his arm around her shoulders, saying nice things. Don’t know how she would’ve felt about that).

So, perhaps my time here hasn’t been wasted.

However I am still struggling to come to terms with his irrationality and unpleasantness and the fact I feel devastated by his particular mode of parenting. Could do with a cuddle right now but hey I tell everybody else to deal with stuff themselves so I can get stuffed eh. The hollowness I feel, the deadness inside, I think is a desperate (and misguided) need for approval: 'please, daddy, please like me'. But no matter what I do he still doesn’t and that fucking hurts. Please daddy don’t shout, don’t rage, don’t be angry at me I’m doing my best but it’s not enough, how can you hate me so much when you don’t even know who I am?

Well fuck you, I’ll hate you right back you cunt; I’ll hate you too.

And inside I cry.

It’s not much to ask, is it? I just want him to open his eyes and like me. All my friends like me. Even my ex-boyfriends still like me. So why don’t you like me? I want you to give me something you can’t give. You don’t know how to love or care or cherish. You treat me like a stranger. You distrust me. You don’t respect me. You don’t even notice I’m a real human being – that hurts. Where there should be a bond, there is nothing. A yawning chasm, and the sheer drop into the nothingness I see there turns my stomach. You don’t even know how wrong that is. How YOU are is all you know. I’m disintegrating here. I hate you because as soon as I got old enough to develop a personality, you stopped liking me.

I had a dream last night, only sketchily remembered. Someone had moved all my things to the bottom of the school field at the end of the garden, into a tunnel, and I had to gather everything back together. I made a big pile of all my things and was glad there was nothing missing. But they'd taken everything, piece by piece, out of my washbag, which I found irritating before I realised it must've been some poor autistic boy who'd done it, so even though I felt frustrated I also felt sorry for him, and just shrugged and got on with the job of putting everything back."


Some poor autistic boy?

Jesus.

My subconscious already knew.

It's taken six years for the rest of me to catch up.


Friday, 2 September 2011

Tonight It Occurred To Me

I'm at THIS house...



...slaving in THIS garden...



...sleeping in THIS bedroom...



What happened to my life?


Sunday, 28 August 2011

Shed



I spend the weekend chopping back the ivy that is engulfing Dad's ugly old shed.

"Your mum used to like that ivy," he says reproachfully, "because it hid the shed."

"Have you ever considered it wasn't so much that she liked the ivy, but that she just didn't like the shed?" I say. "Have you ever considered she might've just wanted a new shed?"

He is silent.


Friday, 26 August 2011

Simply Because It Always Cheers Me Up



Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the ever-wonderful De La Soul.


Thursday, 25 August 2011

Letters And Numbers



School. It was someplace I was legally compelled to go, where I could hang out with my friends and learn lots of new swear words.

Education? Well, I learned about Greek gods, and Romeo and Juliet, and logarithms and stuff, and promptly forgot it all the moment I walked out of the exam room.

There were science lessons, where we learned the teacher could not control a group of adolescent girls, and maths lessons where I learned I could not do maths. PE was for finding out I was entirely average at sport. History was something about the Treaty of Versailles, but I never could remember what. Geography was mind-crushingly dull, thanks to the tortoise-paced, antediluvian teacher who failed to summon up any enthusiasm whatsoever about any topic she covered, and who kept calling me by my sister's name.

(My sister had left the school six years earlier, and we don't even look that much alike.)

The lack of context for the things they were trying to stuff inside my head rendered it all utterly meaningless, and me ignorant and unwilling. The only things I liked - English, drama, art - weren't 'useful' subjects. I was terrified by the thought of university, and refused to consider it. This meant, with my grammar school credentials, I was destined for a career in a bank or the civil service.

My sole meeting with the school Careers Advisor went like this:

Me - 'You're going to tell me to work in a bank or in the civil service. I don't want to work in a bank or the civil service. I don't want to work in an office. I want to work in a theatre. I hate routine.'

Careers Advisor - 'All jobs have routine. Have you thought about working in a building society?'

Manual labour, apprenticeships, even the local polytechnic, were for lesser folk apparently: the thickies from the wrong part of town with poor - or no (the horror) - qualifications. Then somebody told me I wasn't good enough for art college*. I was crushed. What meagre interest I'd had in education was lost. And anyway there were, shockingly, 3 million unemployed. As a rudderless 18-year-old so shy I couldn't speak to adults without blushing, not good at anything in particular, hopelessly unprepared for life, what was the point in trying?

I did a lot of bunking off. I read, I drew, I went for bike rides and found orchards to sun myself in. Sometimes I'd persuade a willing mate to hop on the train to Margate with me and spend the day at the funfair. I listened to music and dreamed. The net result of seven years at grammar school? Not very much. Subjects and grades, if you're interested:

O Level:
English Language - A
Greek Literature in Translation - A
English Literature - B
Art - B
French - B
Maths - C
Physics/Chemistry - C
History - D
Geography - D

A Level:
English - C
Classical Civilisations - C
Art - E

I never even finished Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Or Emma. Like my man Charlton, I relied on Brodie's Notes. And the art exam - paint a view of a cornfield out of a window? For fuck's sake. Shove it up your arse.

July 1985 came around eventually; it took a long time coming. My testimonial said "Weasel has the potential to do well" and it took me years to work out it wasn't a compliment. I left school without a backwards glance, vowed never to step through the gates again, got my A Level results through the post the following month, shrugged, went on a riotous holiday to The Cotswolds with five schoolfriends, came home and signed on the dole.

I lucked my first job (Christmas retail assistant, H Samuels) a few months later, and quickly discovered life was more about what you did and how you got on with people than the qualifications you had.

So, school was bollocks, and the only useful things I learned (like how to cook, how to type, how to drive, how to book a plane ticket, how to worm your way to the front at a concert, how to try, how to roll with the punches) I learned under my own steam when I finally grew up.

And of course, when I grew up, I started to understand the value of education.





* Fuck you, fuckers - I finally went in 2004 and I was plenty good enough


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

To The Woman In The Pink T-Shirt



...down at the river this afternoon, who witnessed a woman (me) trying to block her ears with her fingers while pushing an old man in a wheelchair, then, when that proved impossible, silently screaming the words "SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP" at the back of his head, while he chattered on happily oblivious to what was happening behind him - I apologise.

You looked absolutely disgusted.

But please don't judge me. It was the 'how Roland Garros invented deflector plates' story AGAIN, and you were actually watching me disintegrate.


Monday, 22 August 2011

Things My Dad Says



When taking his morning medicines:

[before swallowing pills] "One, two, three O'Leary."

[before using inhaler] "Two, six, nine, twenty seven, forty five."

When asked what he wants for lunch:

"Oh, I'm really not hungry. I hadn't even thought about lunch."

When asked if he'd like this (eg, a sandwich), or that (eg, scrambled eggs on toast) for lunch:

"I'm a civil servant; I can't make decisions."

When presented with lunch:

"Oh, luvv-er-leee."

Or:

"Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy."

Or:

"Cor, would you look at that? Scrumm-eeeee."

Or:

"Beee-yoo-ti-fold."

Or:

"I feel sorry for all the crowned heads of Europe. They only have caviar and quails eggs to dine on. But I have this."

When asked if he'd like anything else to eat:

"Oh no thank you. Enough is as good as a feast."

When asked what he'd like for dinner:

"Oh, I'm really not hungry. I hadn't even thought about dinner."

When presented with dinner:

"Oh, luvv-er-leee."

Or:

"Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy."

Or:

"Cor, would you look at that? Scrumm-eeeee."

Or:

"Beee-yoo-ti-fold."

Or:

"I feel sorry for all the crowned heads of Europe. They only have caviar and quails eggs to dine on. But I have this."

When asked if he'd like anything else to eat:

"Oh no thank you. Enough is as good as a feast."

When taking his evening medicines:

[before swallowing pills] "One, two, three O'Leary."

[before using inhaler] "Two, six, nine, twenty seven, forty five."


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Then there are the trips to the RSPB reserve.

On seeing a swan, he says:

"The silver swan who, living, had no note,
When death approached, unlocked her silent throat,
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more:
'Farewell, all joys! O death, come close mine eyes;
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise."

On seeing a rabbit, we get a song:

"Run rabbit, run rabbit, run run run,
Don't give the farmer his fun fun fun.
He'll get by without his rabbit pie,
So run rabbit, run rabbit, run run run."

When it's time to go home, it's The Walrus and The Carpenter:

"'O oysters,' said the Carpenter,
'You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none -
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one."

(This can sometimes prompt the entire poem.)

There are particular monologues about a hare, avocets, larks and pheasants too, if they're seen.

If we drive down a certain road to get to the RSPB reserve, this will always prompt the bee eater story.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I could go on.

I hear the same things, said the same way, day in day out.

My father consists of nothing more than an empty collection of parroted phrases.

But here's the thing. Unless he's had it forever, it's not dementia. He has been reciting the same facts, the same poems, the same bits of books and plays, the same selection of dreary sayings and anecdotes, to anyone who will listen, in lieu of conversation, for as long as I can remember.

Is this Aspergers?

It has to be something.