Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Painting Pictures On Silence

"You have to watch this," says Tesco's Guy. "It's amazing."

We watch.

Halfway through, he asks from his end of the sofa if I'm enjoying it.

"Enjoying it? I'm crying like a bastard here," I say.

It ends. Tesco's Guy lifts his glasses and wipes his eyes.

"First time I saw that it got me, alright," he says. "It's so beautiful."

I cannot answer.

He turns to look at me and is surprised to find tears streaming down my face.

"Oh shit, I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to make you cry like that," he says.

I take a deep breath.

"Not your fault," I say. "My mum ended up in Whitchurch after I was born because she thought I was going to be one like of the people in that video. She didn't believe I was her baby. She'd convinced herself I was going to be Downs because she was 45 when she got pregnant. She had a nervous breakdown; ECT and everything."

"Oh, no," he says.

"That's not why I'm crying," I say. "I look at that video, and I see..."

How do I say this?

"...I see people standing in a field pretending to be angels with not a shred of self-consciousness, no pretention. No baggage, no thinking 'oh fuck I look like a prat', no 'I've got to play a role here'. Living life like it should be lived. They're just completely themselves. I envy them their simplicity. I envy them their purity. I wish I could stand in a field pretending to be an angel and experience their joy. I wish I could be like that, instead of this fucked up ball of neuroses that I am. That's why I cried. I might've been better off if I had been like that. The killer irony kind of got to me."

Tesco's Guy looks at me, astonished. We stare at each other for a moment.

"Give me a cuddle then, you idiot," I say. "How can you sit there and watch someone crying and not give them a cuddle?"

"Shit, sorry, of course."

I burrow into his arms.

"That was really tight of me not to think of giving you a hug just then," he says.

"You're damned right, you freak."

He pecks me awkwardly on the forehead.

"You may be a fucked up ball of neuroses, but you're my fucked up ball of neuroses," he says.

It is the first time I've heard him describe how he feels towards me.

Please watch. It's lovely.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Dad complains a lot of boredom.

You need to get out more, I say. Do stuff. You know: go places, see things.

There is nowhere to go, nothing to see, he says. Seen it all before. Nothing is new, nothing is interesting. And it's no fun doing things on your own anyway.

Well, if places are so boring, what about people? Some company wouldn't hurt, I say. Why don't you join a solo whist club or something?

He shudders in horror. I like my own company, he says.

I grit my teeth and take him out for a drive.

Today, we will be exploring the Isle of Sheppey. What about Leysdown, I say? We haven't been there yet.

Yes, let's go to Leysdown, he agrees.

Over the bridge, past the marshes. Endless farmland. Low clouds threaten rain. We drive in silence. Conversation, music, laughter, don't happen when Dad is around.

A prison, he says? We are passing the turning for Eastchurch. I didn't know there was a prison there. Must be new.

It's been there a while, I say. I've been in it. Went on a guided tour before it opened. It was really weird because there were -

That's a nice patch of woodland, he interrupts.

Now the only sound is the engine, and me grinding my teeth.

The road crests a hill. A sweeping view of the Thames estuary appears before us.

Ah, I remember once upon a time there was a little girl who, on seeing a view like that, would have jumped around on the back seat going "The sea! The sea!", he says.

He chuckles to himself, lost in a world that stopped existing when he singlehandedly sucked the joy out of it.

I wonder how I have never once punched him in the face.

At Leysdown, I discover something interesting.

A sign says:

"We are all familiar with the saying 'if pigs could fly'. The first to do so took to the sky at Leysdown. On 13th November 1909, Brabazon took a pig for a flight at Shellness Beach."

I make him read the sign.

Well, I never knew that, he says.

I make him buy us a cup of tea each from the kiosk at the beach.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


"What would you like for lunch?"

I have asked him that question approximately 116 times since November.

Each time, he has said, "Oh, probably a sandwich." So I've made him a sandwich, or ignored his pedestrian request in favour of something more exotic, like a bacon butty, or scrambled eggs on toast; I've stood there and prepared food, something for him, and something for me, and a cup of tea for us both afterwards.

"What would you like for lunch?" I say. It is my first day back after a rather splendid week off.

"I'll make myself a sandwich, thank you."

He shuffles to the bread board, unwraps the loaf, cuts himself two slices. Slaps on some butter, gets ham out of the fridge.

"Mustard?" I say.

"Oh, yes."

I bring him the mustard. He applies the mustard. Puts the sandwich on a plate. Picks up the plate, turns to go back to his usual spot at the dining room table, where today's Daily Mail patiently waits . Hesitates.

"Do you want this crust?" he says. He waves the nub end of the loaf at me.

"Er, no thank you."

Puts it back down and off he goes.

I stand there for a bit, wondering why it did not occur to him to offer to make me a sandwich too, when I have made him lunch virtually every day I've been here for the last six months. Wondering why he thought I might want a manky old bit of crust when there is a perfectly good loaf sitting there, and a fridgeful of fillings. Wondering if he will ever notice there are other people in the world apart from himself.

It cannot be blamed on old age, or dementia - he has always been like this.

I make myself a sandwich, and find that the bread is stale, and the ham has mould on it.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

No Shit, Sherlock

I lined up my brother to take a turn at looking after our dear father for a few days while I enjoyed a much-needed break.

He emailed me this debrief:

Hi Weez

Tried to inject a little companionship, but had to spend a lot of time getting stuff ready for a meeting on the Wednesday. If I were Dad, I would have come and chatted with my kid while he worked, but this is outside his remit.

I had to drag him out to the garden to enjoy the spring sunshine for coffee break and tea break, this was also outside his comfort zone.

I feel Dad suffers from Aspergers and also from chronic inertia (always has – just accentuated by advancing years). His list of things to do each day is ......

1. Read Daily Mail (6 hours)

2. Do crossword (3 hours)

3. Google crossword answers (2 hours)

4. Watch CSI or similar (4 hours

There is no exaggeration here – this is a true workstudy of the meaning of narrowness. This is a person with an IQ of 139, but the imagination of a flea. No wonder he is fading away, this is not a happy life.

Needs to .....

1. Read Guardian and Dos Passos 42nd Parallel

2. Go to solo whist club

3. Collect old flintlock & muskets and have fellow collectors around for a weekly talk from guest speakers

4. Go to pub quiz night once a week

5. Watch interesting factual programs on TV, rather than CSI re-runs.

Peeb xxx

Um, yeah.

Dad always tells me he can't remember how to use the computer.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


It’s amazing how many things you can find to keep you occupied when there is a task ahead of you that you really, really don’t want to do.

Today, for example, I got up, had a quick game of Sudoku, fixed myself breakfast.

Read a few chapters of Charlie.

Made the bed, plumped the cushions, had some more toast and another cup of coffee.

The kitchen floor was starting to crunch underfoot. So I got out the cute little pink dustpan and brush I bought from the Pound Shop last month when I moved here, my lovely bedsit overlooking the park, and christened it.

Worktops next – very crumby. Better give them a good scrub, too. In fact, let’s wipe down all those surfaces.

Ugh, when did the inside of the microwave get so dirty? Ok, I’ll fix that.

And really should wash up – those plates have been in the sink for ages.

Wow, the bin smells. Disinfectant required.

Jeez, look at the state of the table – covered in papers and correspondence and all sorts of shit. Must tidy it.

And really must water the plants. And take those cut flowers out of their cellophane and transfer them from the pint glass they’ve been in for two days to a vase. And move my knitted cactus display slightly to the left because it’s been bugging me where it is.

Oh, mustn’t forget to text My Lovely Sister about that thing…

And my mate who’s just back from America…

And Tesco’s Guy…

And my niece…

And my brother…

…while the sausages are cooking. Because, gosh, it’s lunchtime already.

Then it was time to straighten the bed, have a shower, and clean out the soap dish so it sparkled again.

Pick up loose hairs from the bathroom floor.

Attend to my toenails, pluck stray bits of stubble from my shins. Moisturise my desiccated, lily-white feet while cursing my celtic genes. Slap on a bit of fake tan, for "a sun-kissed look for light skin". Wait for it to dry.

Apply a little bit of kohl around my eyes, as well as the usual lick of mascara, because that’s what everybody does these days, right?

Put all those clothes stored on the floordrobe back on hangers. Straighten the shoes so everything’s nice and neat.

Pull on some clothes. Dust the bookshelf. Plump the cushions a second time.

Gather up the relevant paperwork and study it for a while, picking out the important bits with a yellow highlighter pen.

Do some sums. Write stuff down. Put it all in a plastic document folder, and put it in my bag.

Take a deep breath.

Pick up my keys, with a pounding heart. Walk down the road to the café of my dodgy ex-landlord, ready to confront him for the first time since I moved out of his house while he was on holiday.

There is £75 in my pocket to cover my share of the bills before I went, and a lump in my throat in case he insists I pay him the three months’ rent I technically owe him.

I don’t have the cash for that, and I don’t have the stomach for an argument.

Legally, I’m in the wrong. I moved out without notice halfway through a six month contract. I shouldn’t have done that. But I did.

I also inadvertently dobbed this guy in to the council about how he hasn't been doing the council tax properly, and he might get into a lot of trouble. Maybe they’ve sent him a back-bill already. Maybe it’ll be for thousands of pounds. Maybe he’ll get prosecuted. Maybe he’ll be livid, and scream at or threaten me – I can’t deal with anger.

I saw enough anger in the first half of my life to last me a lifetime and it still reduces me to jelly.

I have been dreading this moment for so long.

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

I hovered at the entrance of the café, and suddenly he was there.

“Come out the back, we need to talk,” he said.

It went ok.

A little heated, perhaps, in places, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I was a bit wobbly on the inside, but stuck to my guns. He said he just wanted the bills sorted. I said, “So do I.” Eventually we agreed how to do that to the satisfaction of all parties - the little Polish girl still works there, and joined the debate.

The biggest argument was over returning my deposit.

I said “I moved out without giving you notice, I have caused you lots of problems. Keep it.”

He said “No, I’m not going to keep it just because you feel guilty or whatever. I’m not like that.”

Thursday, 5 May 2011


"I can't come down next week," I say.

"Oh dear, what a shame, I shall have to wail and weep and gnash my teeth so loudly it will wake the neighbours," he sneers.

Fuck you, Dad.