Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Cheep cheep cheep.

A bird is in the tree outside the window, cheeping loudly.

I am absorbed in something on my laptop, and notice it only vaguely.

But after a while, the cheeping creeps into the edge of my consciousness.

Cheep cheep cheep.

'That bird is making a bit of racket,' I think.

Time passes.

Cheep cheep cheep.

'I wish that bird would shut up,' I think.

Cheep cheep cheep.

I try to keep reading, but the noise is distracting me now.

Cheep cheep cheep.

'That bird is driving me crazy,' I think.

My phone buzzes. It is a text from Niecey, asking some question or other.

I answer the question.

Cheep cheep cheep.

Then add: niecey, there is a bird outside my bedroom window, it has been cheeping really loudly every 30 seconds for over an hour, if it doesn't shut up soon I am going to go outside and kick the fucker right in the balls xxx

A minute or two after sending the text, it dawns on me that the clockwork regularity of the cheeps may indicate the source is not actually a bird.

Cheep cheep cheep.

I go downstairs to investigate. Down here, the noise is deafening, echoing off the walls.

"What the hell is that?" I shout at Dad, who is in his armchair, watching CSI re-runs on the telly.

Cheep cheep cheep.

"What's what?" he says.

"That incredibly loud beeping noise that has been going off every minute for the last hour," I say.

He shrugs. "Haven't noticed anything," he says.

Cheep cheep cheep.

I put my fingers in my ears and glare at him.

He stares at the telly.

In the lull between cheeps, I check the smoke alarms. They are fine, minding their own business. Which means the culprit must be the carbon monoxide detector in the kitchen.

I grab it. On the front it says 'In the event of an alarm pull down flap for instructions'.

I pull down flap.


"Aaargh!" I say, my eardrums twanging.

'In the event of intermittent bleeps (every minute): refer to user manual for warning details.'

Dad wanders through. "Oh, it's that thing again, is it?"

"There's no 'off' or 'reset' switch," I say. "Where's the instruction booklet?"

"I don't know. I don't think I've seen one. If it's anywhere it'll be in the second drawer down in the kitchen."


I stuff the carbon monoxide detector under a cushion and rummage through the drawer. Nothing, apart from teatowels, string, and odd-shaped bits of plastic.

"It's not here," I say.


"I thought I hadn't seen one," says Dad.

I sit on the cushions and the carbon monoxide detector and google the user manual.

"It's the batteries," I say. "The batteries are low, but it says you can't take the back off to get to them. It says you've got to phone the advice line then replace the whole unit. But how do you shut the bloody thing up in the meantime?"


I stare at it wildly, contemplating smashing it with a rock from the garden.

"Well, I'm off to bed then. Goodnight," says Dad.

I glower at his departing back. Once upon a time there was a little girl who thought her dad was a hero.

I attack the carbon monoxide detector with a pair of scissors, and silence reigns again.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


I have a new favourite interweb thingie.

Birds with arms.

You know it makes sense.

(Thanks for sharing the love, Cliff.)

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

My Dad's Hospital Appointment

"You're here today at the cardiac clinic because of a referral from your GP about your breathlessness, is that right?" asks the nice Chinese lady doctor.

"I suppose so," says Dad.

"So how long have you been suffering from breathlessness, sir?"

"Oh... I don't know."

"Two months? Three months? Six? A year?"

"Um, probably about a month. Two months, maybe."

"So let's say, at the start of the year your breathing was fine, but now it's not?"

"No, it wasn't very good at the start of the year either."

"Right. So it's deteriorated."

"Not really."

The nice Chinese lady doctor blinks and looks down at her notes.

"You had pneumonia and pleurisy last year, Dad," I prompt, "after your femoral embolism in December 2009. They diagnosed heart failure when you were in hospital last November. And you went in again in January with pericarditis. So when I noticed you were getting more breathless than usual the other month I took you to see the GP, remember?"

"Oh yes, that's right. I suppose that's when it all started."

The nice Chinese lady doctor nods.

"Are you coughing anything up, sir?"


"Are you waking in the night gasping for breath?"


"Are you sleeping with two pillows, or more?"

"Just two."

"You haven't felt the need for any more pillows?"

"Well, I've always had two, so that's what I have."

"Do you get any pains in your chest?"


"What about that pain in your chest the other week?" I say. "The one you said felt like a strained muscle?"

"Oh yes. But that just went away."

"How far can you walk without getting breathless?" asks the nice Chinese lady doctor.

"Oh, I can walk a fair bit." He shifts around in his wheelchair.

"One hundred yards? Two hundred yards?"

"Oh yes."

"You don't really walk anywhere, Dad." I fix the nice Chinese lady doctor with what I hope is a knowing look. "He leads a very sedentary lifestyle."

"So how far do you walk, sir?"

"Oh, you know, from here to there. I walk to the shops."

"No you don't, Dad. You never walk to the shops. In fact you never have walked to the shops. These days you only walk from the telly to the table to the toilet."

"That's because those are the only places I go."

"Do you not go out a lot these days, sir?"

"Oh, you know, I get out when I can."

I wonder when this peripateticism manifests itself. Any roaming would necessitate tearing himself away from that day's copy of The Daily Mail, an unlikely occurrence. When I am there, it is always me who suggests going out. Even getting him to sit in the garden is a battle of wills.

"Has the distance you can walk lessened recently?"

"No, not really."

"It has, a lot," I say. "Last December, at our local shops, he was able to walk from the car to the cashpoint with relative ease. When I took him last month, he had to stop four or five times on the way because he was out of breath."

"I see," says the nice Chinese lady doctor. "What distance is that, approximately?"

"Not very far at all," Dad says cheerfully.

"How active were you before, sir?"

"Oh, I used to walk for miles."

"How far?"

"Well, it's difficult to say because it was always in the countryside."

My eyebrows spring skywards: where did that come from?

"Do you smoke?"

"I've never smoked."

"You used to smoke a pipe, Dad."

"Oh yes. But only for a year."

I shake my head at the nice Chinese lady doctor, and try to transmit to her telepathically that my first thirteen or so years on earth were shrouded in the stench of pipe tobacco.

"Your daughter is shaking her head, sir."

"Maybe it was a bit longer."

"And do you drink alcohol?"

"Oh, you know."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"Whenever I can lift a bottle."

He thinks he is being funny. The nice Chinese lady doctor looks at him blankly. I seize my chance.

"Dad hasn't drunk so much since Mum died in 2005 but before that they drank quite a lot."

"Quite a lot? How much?"

"They were getting through about three or four bottles of whisky a week, as far as I could gather from seeing their shopping. A bottle of wine or two with their meals..."

I wonder whether to mention I considered them to be out-and-out alcoholics, but decide to tone it down in deference to Mum who I'm now certain got routinely pissed on a daily basis purely to escape the living hell of being married to this cretin.

"They were proper blotto every night," I say.

"Would you agree with that, sir?"

Dad squirms.

"How long was this happening? For one year? Two years? Ten years?"

"Don't know."

"I'd say it was about from when you retired and were home all the time, to when Mum got ill. How long was that?"

"Don't know."

"About ten years?" suggests the nice Chinese lady doctor.

"I suppose so," he says.

"But you don't drink now?"

"No, I don't drink now. I can't, because of my medication."

"Okay. Do you live alone, sir?"


"Do you have a carer helping you?"

"Yes, I have a carer coming in every day to help me with the cleaning."

"No you don't. Vera comes on Monday and Friday mornings, for a couple of hours," I say.

"How are you managing on your own, sir? Do you do your own shopping?"

"Yes, I do my own shopping."

"No you don't, Dad. You haven't done your own shopping since last year."

I turn to the nice Chinese lady doctor. "I'm at his house each week from Monday night to Thursday. I cook his meals and do the shopping and remind him to take his medicines and all that. I've been doing this since he came out of hospital. On days I'm not there my sister or her husband do it. He sort of just doesn't bother to do anything if nobody's keeping an eye on him."

Dad shrugs nonchalantly.

"Okay, your other health issues - the rheumatoid arthritis, would you say that is adequately controlled, sir?"

"Yes, it's no problem at the moment."

"Your blood pressure's normal. How is your prostate cancer?"

"Ha! Nobody's done anything about that for years."

"For God's sake Dad, what about that appointment you had last Monday about it?"

"Oh, that."

"He has six-monthly check ups," I say. "It's dormant at the moment, or whatever you call it."

"And general mobility?"

"I did my shoulder in and nobody did a thing about it."

"Until you went to the doctor's about it eight years afterwards," I mutter.

"Do you fall over when you walk?"

"Only when I trip over things."

The nice Chinese lady doctor looks at me.

"No," I say.

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

After the appointment, I wheel him back to the car. We walk in silence. As the wheelchair bumps over the uneven pavement, he looks around with interest at the hurly-burly outside the hospital.

I think about wheeling my Mum around in those last months before she died. The slightest bump was agony for her. Riddled with undiagnosed cancer in her lungs and liver, she couldn't walk, couldn't sit, couldn't stand, couldn't lie down without crying out in pain.

And here is the man who refused to let a doctor near her, refused to allow Social Services into the house, who wrenched her roughly out of bed in the mornings and into her clothes, who manhandled her on and off the toilet with no gentleness and shouted when she soiled herself.

Who raged when she could no longer chew or swallow the meals he prepared, and kept on preparing the same old meals. Who decided when she was allowed to take painkillers. Who told her to shut up when she cried.

Who hissed, "It's me that should be crying, not you."

Here he is, trundling happily along in a wheelchair when his legs work perfectly, in comparatively rude health for a man of his age, and everybody bending over backwards to make sure his every need is met.

I am overcome with a sudden urge to tip the wheelchair over, kick him hard and repeatedly, and let out the scream that has been suppressed for many, many years.

"Hop in the car and we'll go home and watch some tennis," I say instead.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Guardian's 100 Greatest Non-Fiction Books

Two. Two!

I am thicker than I thought.

Actually, two and a bit: I abandoned Stephen Hawking in a backpackers' hostel in Christchurch.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


It is Sunday evening.

My phone beeps.

It is a text from Tesco’s Guy.

what do you want for tea, you cow? xxx

I am at work, 2 hours and 12 minutes away from the end of my shift.

your tears, I reply. fancy a short but rewarding ride out to rumney before we eat?

I have borrowed my dad’s car for the weekend, and will be driving it back to Kent in the morning. Wheels are rare and precious in Weaselworld these days and I want to squeeze every last morsel of fun from them while I can. The day before, we took short but rewarding rides out to Penarth, Sully (tide out), Barry, and Sully (tide in). I even let him drive, until he deliberately went the wrong way round a roundabout*.

hmm, okay, he says. what’s in Rumney?

This is why I love him. He agrees to stuff before he even knows what it is.

haha! you’ll have to wait and see! prepare to be amazed! I say.

But sensing he might appreciate a touch more information, add

a slide. a really big slide. i found it last year but was too chicken to have a go on my own. i thought we could go and have a quick play on it seeing as we’ve got the car xxx

I mull on this a moment before sending another text:

i am 44, honest xxx

One comes straight back: ha yeah that sounds cool

I finish work, and drag him out of the pub he is in with his mate. This is another reason why I love him - he does not mind being dragged out of a Sunday night session by a girl to go play on a slide.

We arrive in Rumney. I fear I may have bigged up the slide too much and Tesco’s Guy will be disappointed.

"Well, there it is over there," I say as we enter the park. "What do you think?"

He stops dead in his tracks, points with arm fully extended, and shouts “Woah!”

Stands gaping for a moment.

Turns and solemnly assures me he will never begrudge paying Council Tax again.

Takes my hand, and starts running across the grass.

Sadly, we are about to discover the slide is a shade too narrow for more mature arses.

* it's ok, there was nothing coming