Thursday, 17 October 2013

Why Is There An Elephant In This Room?

Tuesday was the second anniversary of the death of my father.

I came home from a long weekend in Liverpool to find an email to me and my brother, from my sister.

Hi there

I tried to be positive yesterday and think kindly of Dad. I came up with a short list but think I've forgotten loads. Can you add to it? 

  • Great with grandchildren
  • Always gave Mum a big bouquet on their anniversary
  • Told good stories about Ted and the Pirates
  • Good at reading bedtime stories (Treasure Island, Tale of Two Cities, Lord of the Rings)
  • Led good harmony singing in the car
  • Enthusiasm for Lake District
  • Happy to babysit at any time
  • Set up garden badminton, cricket, etc
  • Made some things successfully, like small cricket bat, go kart with no brakes
  • Enjoyed playing badminton with everyone at the club followed by a glass of cider
  • Always made us all a cheese sandwich at 9.00 pm
  • Allowed darts in the lounge so that whole wall was covered in dart holes
  • Allowed round the table games of table tennis in the dining room
  • Always jumped to it when Nana asked for something, despite swearing under his breath 

My brother had added:

  • Was a willing taxi service for teenagers, anytime, anyplace, anywhere
  • Told me to keep driving and got in the passenger seat when he flagged me down driving the car aged 14.  Gave me tips
  • Bonded with Bethan instantly making her part of the family [Bethan is my step-niece]
  • Later, Mia coined the name “Best friend Grandad” (her own words)
  • Font of knowledge around the dinner table.  Most of my knowledge of Trivial Pursuit questions comes from this
  • Told me to be a lion, not a lamb
  • Trained me how to do ‘close control’ football in the garden (balance, weight shift, dribbling, footwork)
  • With mum as a partner in tennis, still managed to singlehandedly beat me and my mates (not bad players)
  • Always seemed a jolly type – whistling and singing
  • Always had boiled a ham ready for us when we arrived, no matter what time of day or night
  • Believed in welcoming people and good hospitality
  • Author of an encyclopaedia of recipes which we still use regularly (despite the convenience of the internet)
  • Imparted good table manners and high moral standards

I added:

I spent most of my life trying desperately to find reasons to like him and feeling totally torn about that, so for the first time ever I am enjoying thinking "he was a utter pig" without any guilt at all.

I spent yesterday walking on Crosby beach in the sunshine feeling glad he was gone. Last week I remembered the anniversary but got the date wrong (I'd thought it was the 11th) and prior to that I hadn't even cared. He did too much damage for me to feel comfortable lauding him or any of his 'achievements', which seem to amount to 'sometimes acting like an actual human being'.

Even Charles Manson made his 'family' feel loved - Dad never once managed that.

Sunday, 29 September 2013


It is always a delight, the morning after a night out with my esteemed colleague Zippy, to check my phone to find out how I entertained myself on the long, boring walk home from the pub.

Sometimes it's photos:

Sometimes it's (mercifully unsent) tweets:

"hope yr toile got fixed or it there am unexpected item in yr baggage area?"

Today, it was additions to today's calendar/'to do' list. See if you can spot them:

  • isa bonus expiry date 30/9/13
  • nhs march, manchester
  • make livvy's birthday card
  • asda - post office
  • collect brantano boots b4 4pm
  • GO TO NERO TO PERV AT [redacted]
  • get rent £ out
  • grocery shopping

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Gone To The Dogs - Rapanui 2013

Ok, so I just went on holiday to Easter Island.

Here are some photos:




I also took photos of cats, birds, horses, graffiti.

Oh, and moai and that.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Overheard In The Park

[Couple discussing holidays]

Him: "I'd like to go somewhere warm."

Her: "Tenby?"

[Long pause, in which you can hear their relationship disintegrating]

Him: "Yes, or somewhere abroad."

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

My Job Has Its Moments

Charlie, one of our more entertaining regulars, was sent to earth to torment librarians.

He's been trying to convince us to hand over the Sony MP3 player ever since the above poster appeared in the library.

We know, and he knows, it's not his MP3 player.

Despite this minor setback, he conducts his campaign with increasing creativity.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I am standing by a trolley sorting books.

Charlie approaches.

"Oh God. I mean, hello Charlie."

Charlie gazes solemnly into my eyes and holds up a piece of paper:


I dissolve into giggles.

He looks aghast. 

"Ahem, no reason. And how may I help you today?"

"Really. Is that so?"

He nods eagerly.

"Well, if you could perhaps tell me what songs are on it so we can make sure it's definitely yours...?"

He glares at me scornfully. 

"So why the fuck have you got an MP3 player?"

He sighs; a big, theatrical, eye-rolling sigh.

I see he is holding one more piece of paper but by now I am laughing too much to carry on.

"This one's in case you said "You're not really deaf"," he explains.

It is almost as if we have had this conversation before.

"Charlie," I say, "I am impressed by your desperation."

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the end, we told him what songs were on it so he could come up with a more plausible story.

Ironically, he didn't believe us.

Saturday, 16 February 2013



A free day; unusually, no extra shifts to squeeze in before my normal 5pm start.

The sun is out. I pack a book in my bag, and the stale bread from the ends of the loaf - I am off to the park to feed the ducks then have lunch and a coffee in the pleasant cafe overlooking the lake.

I get a text.

'Please can you call into work as soon as you can. Helen needs to have a chat about something. Thanks Sue'.

Helen's the boss, Sue's the deputy. My blood runs cold.

Lily, is my immediate reaction.

No, it can't be that, I reason. I must be in trouble for something. What have I done? What haven't I done? I've been shooting my mouth off recently - maybe it's that. Or maybe Helen just wants to run  through something I need to do next week. Unlikely, but.

Please, please, let it be that.

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

Lily. Daft as a brush, but harmless. The last time I saw her, we'd shared an afternoon shift. She'd been complaining in her usual ineffectual way about the usual stuff - nebulous money worries; unresolved work issues; vague fears for the future.

She'd had problems in her previous department. Hadn't got on with the boss, a no-nonsense shoot-from-the-lip type. There were accusations of bullying. Lil was off sick for months with stress.

"Nobody does anything," she'd said. "Even my union rep got fed up with me. It's so unfair."

The first time you heard Lily's tales of woe, you were horrified. Such mistreatment! What nasty people.

The next time, you remained concerned. Yes, you told me that already - has there been progress then? No? Oh crap, poor you, that sucks.

The time after that, and the times after that, you started to wonder to what extent she was creating her own misery. No point constantly dredging up this old stuff, Lil, what's done is done. You're here now, in this new workplace, and supportive people are bending over backwards to help you settle in. Forget that other stuff, girl, it's history. Put it behind you and move on.

But wah wah wah went her mouth, over the same old ground, round and round in circles, getting nowhere, and finally you stopped listening, and then you'd smirk when someone called her Silly Lily behind her back.

Just before Christmas, she went off sick again. Hospitalised. Diabetes; severe and unexpected.

Still off sick in January. Then February. We heard from Helen she was in and out of hospital, wasn't coping well with the new insulin regime, and that her family were refusing to get involved.

Concerned, I sent Lily a get well soon card. For all her faults (and she made a terrible cup of tea) her heart was in the right place. She was genuine. She was kind. She was just, well, adrift.

The truth was, in Lily I recognised something of myself. Myself in my twenties, when I was totally clueless. I used to carry around such reproach and devastation that the world wasn't doing what I wanted it to. But in those days I failed to realise I had choices, and I had no idea what I wanted.

To pass the time while waiting for someone to rescue me, I clutched at straws, which always broke. I couldn't understand why there were no rescuers; why everything was against me. It was so unfair.

Fortunately, one day (after life had kicked me comprehensively up the arse) I realised that, if I wanted things to even slightly go my way, I'd need to provide some input, take some responsibility, be the change I wanted to see, and all that. Nobody else was sailing this ship but me - it was a thunderbolt moment.

I also saw in Lily myself last summer, when I was laid low by grief. Not eating, not sleeping, not going out, not seeing anyone. I'd felt utterly alone.

In those dark days, suicide stopped being a word and became an option. Only an option, mind - I was still a very, very long way away from selecting death over living - but still there, floating at the edges of my dulled, miserable brain, cooing softly to me, making itself known. Here if you need me, it whispered.

Its presence was terrifying. I acknowledged it, then got on with the business of simply getting through each day. Eventually, around Christmastime, I emerged safe and well on the other side.

Lily and me, then, we had a bit in common. Both single women in our forties. Both living alone, no kids, scraping by on a part-time wage. One just out of a debilitating depression, one well into it.

But Lily and me: polar attitudes. Positive and negative. Before and after. Then and now.

I knew how scared and alone and betrayed she'd be feeling. I think I felt that if I could get through feeling scared and alone and betrayed, she could too.

She texted to say thanks very much for the card, that she was feeling very down at the moment.

I texted back. It was difficult. What do you say? I barely knew her.

I'm here if you ever need a chat or to get out the house, just let me know.

She texted again. Thanks. Really struggling with diabetes. Not sleeping or eating. Family won't help. Have lost will to carry on.

Fuck. Was that a real 'have lost will to carry on', or just a turn of phrase? Now what? I texted again.

Have you seen doctor for depression? In my experience families generally are useless. Counselling really does help. If you need moral support to go places I'll go with you if you want. Always here if you need anything - just call. Please take care of yourself.

Then, nothing.

I showed Helen Lily's texts. Helen said she'd sent flowers, phoned every now and then, just to let her know there were people thinking about her. Kept inviting Lily into work, for a coffee and a friendly chat, to keep her in the loop, to get her out the house more than anything, but Lily kept saying no.

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

"I wanted to let you know, we've just found out Lily's gone missing," Helen says. "Police found her car abandoned on Monday up at the Severn Bridge."

The blood in my veins stops. The air in the overheated office stops. Time stops. Everything stops.

"It's not official yet, we found out by accident really, through a friend of a friend."

Make this not be happening.

"I know it's a big ask, but please could you not tell anybody until we know more next week? Sue and I thought you should know straight away because you've been in contact with her. But so far we've not heard anything from the police or the family."

I stare at my hands, because they feel like they're shaking, but in fact they are perfectly still.

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

I do not go to the park to feed the ducks and then have lunch and a coffee in the pleasant cafe overlooking the lake. I drift dazed along Albany Road, wanting bustle and distraction.

I think of all the things I should have said, and done.

When I realise I'm walking on the shadowy side of the road, I hastily cross over. Seek out the sun, Weez, always seek out the sun.

I turn up to work at 5pm, and act normal.

After work, I drive to Penarth and stare blankly at the river.

The tide is up, the estuary choppy, and I half expect the relentless waves to deliver Lily's body to me.

I can almost see her there, washed up on the cold dark beach. Pale and small and vulnerable, in a tangled seaweed shroud. What did she wear for her apogee event? She was always so nicely turned out. Did she keep her designer glasses on? Had she bothered to make herself a meal that day? Did she stop to say goodbye to her cat? Was she calm, was she crying? How do you even make yourself walk away from your car let alone climb over a bridge rail and - 

The lump in the back of my throat will not go away.

My thoughts race round and round, but no matter what keep coming back to this:

There but for the grace of God go I.