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Part-Time Hater

When I was in paid employment, like a number of women, I went to part-time hours when I had my first child. At that point, I think it is fair to say that for as long as I remained part-time, there was no prospect of career advancement. And I think it fair to say that because seeking some re-assurance that I was wrong, I suggested to a Partner that my career felt like it was on hold, and they confirmed that it was. When I went back after having had my third child, the situation had not changed. I handed most of my salary over to a nursery to look after my children when I was at work. Some people have help – we had none.

During that time I had a conversation with a friend about my job. I said that I was not enjoying it at all and whilst one could make a number of sacrifices for a job they enjoyed – not even that criteria was being met as far as I could see. I felt that I could sit at that desk for the next twenty years. I could go in and perform my job like an automaton such was the level of interest and challenge it presented me with. And when I eventually left, would anyone even realise that I had gone? She said that I could indeed sit there if I wanted to. But, and here was her crucial point, she said that if I chose to do that, because it was a choice, then I did it with my eyes wide open and I was not to complain about it. And certainly not to her. That thought depressed me so much that three days after that conversation, I resigned. That was nearly eight years ago.

Absolutely none of what I have said above is news to any women who works part time. And it is overwhelmingly women who continue to work part-time. (The reasons for that could form part of another blog). I bet they’ve heard it all. But they will have also not heard a lot of it because they will have been excluded from the conversations, because they’re only part-time.

I wish I could say that this has changed over the past eight years, but it seems to be a prevailing and persistent view that part-time paid employment, and full-time unpaid employment, doesn’t count. Except, it would seem from my reading, that part-time paid employment does count towards massaging the unemployment figures.

In the first instance, only recently, a friend who works part-time was messaged by their child asking to be collected early from school. When they didn’t receive a reply because their mother was working, they sent another one. And another one. Oddly enough, they did not send one message to their father, who works full-time. They weren’t collected, btw, because not oddly, their designated driver was working.

In the second instance, two people have recently suggested that because I don’t currently have paid employment that I have nothing better on the Earth to do except for my hair. And they’ve seen my hair. First one – I help out with childcare for a close family member on a Friday (another blog about women being lower paid there). Another day of childcare is needed. The response from someone else who is available but unwilling was: “Can’t Natalie do it?” Presumably because I spend the other six days of the week wafting around my Estate sixty miles away shouting at the staff. Second example, and in that same week, I was opining to someone (who frankly should know better) about when I could get back into paid employment without my family sinking further into chaos than it already is. Their view? “A little part time job wouldn’t do you any harm.” Ah bless me, with my Law Degree for Girls and well-thumbed copy of ‘Being a Solicitor for Ladies’.

Just over eight million people were working part-time in the UK in October 2022, which is nearly thirty five per cent of the workforce. I wonder what would happen if we took them out of the workforce? Would the businesses they work for miss them? I expect so if their productivity went down a commensurate thirty five per cent. How much tax revenue would be lost? What would the knock-on effect of that be on public services? How many more people and their children would fall, or fall even further, into poverty and therefore be forced to ask the State for help? Or as the State seemingly isn’t keen on helping anyone but themselves these days, charities. I daren’t think about it too much.

So what can we surmise from this? Fundamentally the message appears to be: unless you’re earning yourself or someone else money for twelve hours a day, five days a week, you don’t count. In any sense. If you work part-time, your hours don’t count to the business, and your money doesn’t count to your family. If you work for no money you simply don’t count at all because it doesn’t matter what else you are doing, or however many hours you’re doing it for, it is not important. Oh, and did I forget to mention? All of my examples, every single one of them, came from a woman. Shameful ladies. Absolutely shameful. Time to consider being the change we want to see in the world.

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The White Rabbit

A white rabbit lives in my garden.  An escaped pet.  Not my escaped pet.  But he is now my pet.  Or as close as he’s ever going to be to being someone’s pet.  I couldn’t tell you exactly when he started to visit.  It seems now that he has always been a part of my life. Every day he comes and sits on the back wall, waiting for me to feed him.  If I am in the garden he will bound up to me and sit at my feet until I do feed him.  Or a little nose will appear through the plants just to remind me that he’s there. Sometimes he even lets me stroke him.  

In this freezing weather The White Rabbit visits every day, twice a day.  In the Summer his attendance is more sporadic.  Some days he lies stretched out under the plants, contentedly dozing in the dappled shade. Near the water bowl I leave out for him.  When it rains I put an umbrella out on its side to shield him whilst he is eating. The little bastard sits on the opposite side from the umbrella to eat and then hops into the middle of the garden, directly facing me in the teeming rain, entirely uncovered and absolutely soaked. I’ve bought him a grass house, put boxes out, hay, straw; he spurns them all.  I have no idea where he goes at night, but somewhere safe – this will be his fourth Winter.  Not bad going for a domestic rabbit who lives wild. 

On the days he doesn’t come, I look for him.  I worry that the last time I saw him was the last time that I will ever see him. And when he springs down the garden to see me, I feel a rush of joy that this unexpected and resourceful little creature came into my life. So I took a photo of him.  Just in case. One day will be his last visit.  And as the Winters pass, I know that that day is getting closer.

I went out for a festive dinner with some friends the other night.  Or ‘the girls’ to give them their correct collective noun.  We try and do this every so often – see each other long enough to have a conversation and eat a meal that we haven’t had to cook ourselves.  Like a lot of people we haven’t had much opportunity to get together over the past few years.  This has been further complicated by work, children getting older and going to different schools and one of our number having had the audacity to move half an hour down the road.  On having a chance to talk, it transpired that three of the six us have the joy of children taking GCSEs this Summer. What a delight. Another has the thrill of ‘A’ levels to look forward to.  Three had children start secondary school in September.  Two started new jobs.  Three lost someone we love in the last twelve months.  Another is enduring watching a loved one undergo chemotherapy.  Comforted by the survivor sat beside her.  Life.  Rolling on.  Relentlessly.

As she ordered a second glass of wine, Petite Blonde Friend asked the waitress if she would take a photo of all of us.  There was a murmur of protest from the assembled company, which was completely ignored. Rather than cause a last-minute dash to check hair and make-up as may have been the case for others, for some inexplicable reason, with the girls, the prospect of a photograph caused a furore of tidying.  I am considering asking them all round to my house on Christmas morning and threatening them with a Polaroid. So there, on a ‘phone and preserved for posterity is a photo of six middle-aged women in paper hats, drinks aloft an exceptionally tidy dining table. 

Like The White Rabbit, I don’t really recall precisely when the girls came into my life.  It was around the time Childerbeast Number One started primary school, as that was the place that we all had in common at one point in time.  But it was more random than that. And my goodness we’ve all lived a lot of life since then.  At this time of year, we all raise a toast to absent friends.  We miss them. God, it aches to miss them. But we should also toast our present friends.  Our white rabbits.  Whilst we have them.

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The Last Spinster in Gloucestershire’s Guide to Pantomime

Like many schoolchildren at this time of year, one of my Childerbeasts has just been to the Panto (“Oh no they haven’t”). One of her classmates who has joined them this year is from the US.  This child has never heard of Pantomime.  Of course they haven’t – why would they have done?  This child had absolutely no idea what it was, so naturally they asked their British friends to explain.  The rest of the class had a rather difficult time explaining it.  It wasn’t until I had this conversation with my child that it occurred to me how utterly baffling it must be to discover this peculiarly British phenomenon, and even more difficult to explain it to someone who has not come across it before.  Difficult, mainly because we don’t really know why we do it either.  Therefore, after the runaway success of my Christmas present guide last week, without further ado, I now present to you my helpful guide to Pantomime.

History

According to Wikipedia the word “pantomimus” in Latin derives from the Greek word (for which I do not know how to change to a Greek keyboard) meaning a dancer who performs all of the roles or all of the story.  It continues that “Pantomime is a type of musical comedy stage production designed for family entertainment….a participatory form of theatre in which the audience is encouraged to [join in].”

Western Culture has a long history of pantomime and it dates back to classical theatre in Ancient Greece.  Pantomimes in other cultures mean miming and only in Britain does it relate to our particular type of theatrical show.  So, anyone who is new to this cries “what is this particular type of theatrical show”?

The story will be loosely based on a fairy tale

Every Panto I have ever been to is loosely based on a fairy tale.  There is usually a male romantic lead, a female romantic lead, usually in pursuit of eachother, or looking for love and bumping into eachother.  There is also a maternal character trying to care for one or both of them and a baddie, trying to thwart their love with their evil plotting. 

The men dress up as women and the women dress up as men….sometimes

Perhaps this is becoming less of a thing now but all of the characters are mixed up in the sense that their clothing is not conventional according to gender.  The particular character that springs to mind is “Widow Twanky” who is always played by a man.  At the risk of broaching a controversial issue, this is not a trans issue.  Or on second thoughts, maybe it is because it is the character in the story that is the important thing, the costume is merely to assist with the story-telling and no one, and I mean no one, bats an eyelid.

Bad jokes

The show will be littered with the type of jokes that you get from a cracker.  I need to pause here to explain crackers further.

Crackers in Britain can mean two things.  The first is a dried savoury biscuit upon which you, generally speaking, put and eat together with cheese.  They can be enjoyed all year as a light snack.  However, at Christmas they accompany a large cheeseboard, cold meats, chutney and other nibbly bits.  One usually consumes too many and then complains loudly about having eaten too much, when you only have yourself to blame.  We also refer to these as biscuits.  But they’re not sweet biscuits, which we also call biscuits and Americans call cookies.  See? It makes perfect sense.  

The second are paper cylinders wrapped festively which contain a small gift, a paper hat and a piece of paper upon which is printed an appallingly unfunny joke.  These crackers are laid with the rest of the table for festive meals. When everyone is seated you invite one of your fellow diners to “pull a cracker” with you.  They accept and you each hold one end and pull.  After a modest amount of good-humoured grappling and some care for the glassware, there is a small bang as the cracker separates, with one person winning the half with all of the goodies, and the other entirely bereft.   But don’t worry, Bereft Diner, there is a cracker for everyone and everyone ends up with a paper hat (which you are expected to wear for the duration of the meal), a baffling and useless gift (a hair clip for someone with no hair – that sort of thing) and a rubbish joke, which you are obliged to share with the table.

For those unfamiliar with the type of jokes in crackers, they are the sort of jokes your dad tells.  You will notice this if your father or grandfather is at the show with you because you will see them taking mental notes of the jokes in order to deploy them at a later date. If they get a notebook out, leave immediately.

Audience participation

Generally speaking the British are uncomfortable about absolutely everything, including breathing.  And we’re comfortable that way.  But oddly not at a Pantomime.  Audience participation is expected and encouraged at Panto, and lots of people join in enthusiastically.  Just once a year.

Booing at the baddy

Goodies enter and stand stage right and baddies enter and stand stage left.  The villain will usually be preceded by a loud bang and a puff of smoke.  As soon as they appear, the audience is expected to boo loudly.  Loudly, but politely.  Not so loudly or for so long that the villain can’t be heard telling everyone about their nefarious plans.  They exit stage left with a booming cackle and a big sweep of a large cape.

Shouting stock phrases

You (the audience) may be asked by one of the characters to shout out a phrase at a particular time, usually to alert another character to something that they otherwise would not have noticed.  You will probably be encouraged and coached by that character to practise this all together so you all know what you’re doing at the crucial moment.  However, in addition, there are some phrases that will also come up that you will be expected to just shout out as a group when required.  Learn them now and I shall endeavour to put them into context next:

  • “Oh no it isn’t/oh yes it is.”

The audience answers back to this phrase.  Almost conversationally, one character shouts out “Oh no it isn’t” at which point you (the audience) will be expected to shout back “oh yes it is.” No, I have absolutely no idea why we do that.

  • “It’s behind you”

The audience is expected to shout this phrase out.  It may involve the baddy trying to sneak up on one of the goodies, the goody “hasn’t noticed” and they step around the stage in circles. I have a very early memory of Sister A (as a small child, not last week) being so enraged that the character hadn’t noticed that they were being sneaked up on that she got herself out of her seat and stomped her little legs down to the edge of the stage in order to berate them publicly.  In addition she made some unflattering remarks about their eyesight and even less complimentary ones as to their IQ.  It is the only time I have been to the theatre and seen the entire company helpless with laughter.

Singing

Oh dear god, yes there is also singing.  As in audience-participatory singing.  You may be split into groups – don’t panic at this point, it’s not going to be a rendition of ‘O Fortuna’. Again, you’ll get to practise. The words will probably be unravelled on a large piece of paper so everyone can see and someone may have a pointy stick to guide you along.  But if you can’t see or can’t remember, there is no need to worry, it won’t be tricky and no one takes it seriously.  So if like my beloved late grandfather, your best singing is a low growl that summons the rocks, or like my beloved late mother, you can sing only one note and it’s not one known to music, no one cares.

And finally….

You’ll probably get squirted with water at some point.  No, I don’t know why. Now that I’ve thought about it I don’t understand any of it. Yes, we are weird. Very weird.

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The Last Spinster in Gloucestershire’s Guide to Christmas Shopping

I don’t mean to be smug, well actually I do, but I have nearly finished my Christmas shopping.  Of course, I do now have to do all the wrapping so there is no need for me to feel too pleased with myself.  However, as I have spent months gathering gifts, I thought that those of you who are behind on such things (read men) would appreciate the benefit of my gathered wisdom with some gift ideas.  Utterly pointless gift ideas, I might add.  Things that are no use whatsoever to woman nor beast.  Gifts for which I can see, nor find, any discernible reason for them having been invented other than something that seemed like a good idea when very drunk very late at night.  Not only have these been made, they are now available to the general public for purchase; I now present them to you.

For small children

My nephew is eighteen months old.  Like many fortunate children his age, he has more toys than Argos and more clothes than M&S.  He has, however, started going to hide in a corner to do a poo.  So it isn’t long before he will be introduced to a potty.  Imagine my delight when I happened upon a Potty Piano.  An original gift that I am sure is going to make potty-training a breeze.   It would appear that with this miracle item the child sits nicely on the potty, tip-tapping their teeny tiny feet on the keys of the mat beneath them, the music making an angelic and festive sound.  No longer will small children get up and run off, butt-naked and proceed to pee on the carpet. No, no. I am confident that the Potty Piano will be just as successful, if not more so, than the musical potty.  Which every child would tip over to see where the music was coming from.  I simply cannot wait to see my sister’s look of unending gratitude when the Potty Piano is unwrapped on Christmas morning.

For teenagers

Of course whatever you buy for a teenager is destined to be wrong.  Resign yourself to that fact now.  You are out of touch, out of place and when finished buying for them, out of money.  So when they stumble into the house the worse for wear after festive celebrations, guide them to the bathroom with a toilet bowl light.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Apparently these things come in a variety of colours – they may even change colour.  They’ve got every other electronic known to humanity, so at least with this they might be able to throw up in the right place.

For excessively lazy people

Now this could apply equally to teenagers, but also to many people who are no longer teenagers, so I have created an entirely separate section here.  I have to say, the variety of crap available for people so lazy that they can hardly be bothered to breathe is mind-boggling, so I have restricted it to three.

Self-Stirring Mug and Temperature Controlled Mug

I have seen one of each of these available for purchase this morning.  Google them if you don’t believe me.  The first is for the person who is so lazy that having made themselves a cup of tea, after having taken the tea bag out of the water with a spoon, for reasons as yet unexplained by psychiatry, they cannot be bothered to return the spoon to the cup to stir it a bit.  I would have thought that if you’re that lazy, then you won’t have even made the tea in the first place.  But if I’m wrong and it is the final flourish of a quick stir with a teaspoon that offends a person, then this is the item for them.

Alternatively, a mere snip at £139.99 for the delight of keeping your drink at optimum temperature for as long as you want in a cost of living crisis, is a temperature controlled mug.  Along the same lines as the self-stirring mug, but perhaps if someone has coped with the pressure of making their hot drink, then it is too much to ask them to drink it in a timely fashion as well.  This is a gift for a person who cannot, nor will not, be rushed.  They are simply too important for that.  The same sort of person who likes to send their requirements in advance, just so you know how important they are – the champagne in their hotel room is to be chilled to a certain temperature or certain foods are expressly forbidden because, you know, they’re that important.  What’s the word for them?  Oh yes, twats. Make a donation to a charity on their behalf instead.

Boiled egg cooker

These have been around for years.  So someone is buying them and I want to know who it is.  I think it is one person and it is probably the person who invented it.  However, if you have an urge to boil six eggs at once then apparently this device will make your life so much easier than, say, a large saucepan of water on the hob.  Suitable for someone who can’t cope with the mental load of a bubbling pan and a timer.

Electric Lazy Susan

So for those of you who need a quick reminder, a Lazy Susan is that large serving dish with different sections that you can have in the middle of the table, so people can twizzle it round to get to the twiglets without having to negotiate the table itself.  You lean forward, you give the bowl a little nudge, you take whatever it is you’re after, and so on. So my question is this:  just how lazy do you have to be to purchase an electric version of this?  Presumably the effort expended in leaning forward to press the button is as much as moving the dish manually?  Is there one button only or is there a button for everyone?  Because if there is a button for everyone, then I don’t know about you, but that is an opportunity for everyone in my house to both fall out and get covered in dip at the same time.  And if there is only one button, then it is a quick lesson in what happens when you give someone too much power and a button.  Buy one for someone you don’t like, then sit back and watch the fireworks.

For anxious people

There are a lot of anxious people about at the moment, and with good reason.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed to the eyeballs, the best way to get me to calm down is to tell me to calm down. As I held my dying mother’s hand last year, I could think of nothing more comforting at that time than someone appearing with a sign telling me to ‘look for rainbows’.   Had they done so, I could guarantee that they would have had to have looked very hard indeed to locate any rainbows where I would have put the sign.  But what if someone isn’t available?  A helpful sign saying ‘Exhale’ has to be the answer.  At least someone would be able to keep warm for a bit by burning it.

For forgetful people

This is related to the above, but for the more confused person in your life.  Buy them a photo frame with a word on and put a photo in it for them.  For example, you could get a photo frame with ‘Family’ or ‘Friends’ on it.  They seem to be everywhere so I can only assume that there are large sections of the population entirely and permanently baffled. Put a photo of their family or friends in the frame as described on the front.  This person will then have an aide-memoir for when they forget who’s who.

For people with more money than sense

I rather suspect that this is no one reading this, or else you’re all hiding your wealth and your sanity very well indeed.  We all know you can buy anything on the internet.  But did you know that you can buy diamond rings on the internet?  Probably.  But did you know you can buy them from the same site that you bulk buy your loo roll from?  No?  Well you can!  For £333,999.99 (that is three hundred and thirty three thousand nine hundred and ninety nine pounds and ninety nine pence) they will also throw in free delivery. How incredibly generous.

Shocking as it will be to you, I am not in the market for such an item and unless there is also something he is not telling me, neither is Man of the House.  I would just like to say to any (probably) men who have now broken into a cold-sweat that their go-to of jewellery is a mistake – diamonds can never be a mistake.  However, mail order diamonds are a big mistake.  And certainly for that amount of money.  If you’re buying jewellery you want to be schmoozed.  And if you’re dithering between diamonds and a house and thinking diamonds are the way to go then, you at least want champagne (at the correct temperature, obviously), nibbles and until someone steals it off you when you are sleeping on the street, an armed guard.  Someone must be buying them or they wouldn’t be for sale.  Perhaps it’s you. 

In a cost of living crisis what could be better than items which are not only a complete waste of money in themselves, but in addition, a number of them also pointlessly use electricity in being able to fulfil their utterly pointless (I use the word loosely) function.  There is absolutely no need to thank me now for this helpful and comprehensive list, which I hope means that you will get all of your shopping done in one afternoon.  Now you must excuse me, I have a toilet bowl light to wrap.

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Crackers

A few months ago everyone was an epidemiologist.  Now this week, it would appear that everyone is an economist.  I am neither an epidemiologist nor an economist.  I know that all viruses are things to be avoided, and to avoid spreading airborne ones that it is best to keep it out of the air. As far as Economics are concerned, I’m also something of a lost cause. Man of the House tried to explain World Monetary Theory to me once.  I looked as blank as he looked when I tried to explain the light in Caravaggio’s ‘Lazarus’ to him.  I know enough to know what my mortgage rate is, what my bills are, and what my income is compared to that.  I know that if interest rates go up, then that will cost me more money because things are more expensive.  I know that food prices have gone through the roof since Brexit and continue to get worse.  And I understand a little bit of why.

There is nothing wrong with me being a bit of a doofus on this subject.  If I make a mistake, then the only money I am risking is my own.  However, I had always hoped that, even if I disagree with those governing us, I could respect them for two things 1. That they were more experienced and intelligent than me and 2. Whatever they were doing, they believed that it was in the best interests of the country.  I think we can all agree that both of those things have gone entirely out of window these past few years.  Just when we thought the nadir had been reached, down they go again.

So when Man of the House came into the room last Friday and announced that the Chancellor had gone “batshit crazy” I barely turned a hair.  We are used to “batshit crazy”.  As if that means anything anymore.  We are used to being told that the facts staring us in the face are not the facts. A party?  No, you don’t understand peasants.  It was merely a gathering of people having drinks and nibbles – that’s not a party.  Bankers having unlimited bonuses affects inflation?  Don’t be silly plebs, it’s those pesky public sector workers on their massive salaries and having the brass neck to expect a payrise so they can both eat and heat their homes that are causing inflation. Fossil fuels causing climate change?  What nonsense!  Who told you that?  Climate scientists?  Honestly! We are used to this sort of illogical, patronising and sanctimonious bollocks being spouted at us as if it is we, the Members of the Public, who are too stupid to understand things. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I don’t think our stupidity is the problem.

When Man of the House explained to me that the Treasury had just done something which meant that it and the Bank of England were and are pulling in opposite directions, I formed the view that I didn’t much like the sound of that. Aren’t they both supposed to be on our side? In my not even pretty little head, I see this as a Christmas Cracker.  On one side we have the Treasury, and the Bank of England is on the other.  And we’re the cracker. Now unless I have missed something, things never turn out well for the cracker. But you don’t have to take my word for it, and to be perfectly honest, why would you. Those (and I am struggling to think of an exception as I type) who do understand the minutiae of this, think that what the Treasury has done is unwise at best. The Chancellor “[doesn’t] comment on market movements” apparently. Well, tanking the pound would appear to speak for itself. As does assisting the rich to become richer and the less well-off to remain so. So as no comment is forthcoming there are only two conclusions one could draw; the first is that they know something that everyone else in the area of economics in pretty much the entire world does not, or the second, rather more unpalatable one; they don’t care.

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The Last Spinster in Gloucestershire’s Guide to Grief

I have lost three people close to me in the past eighteen months; Adella, my mum and my brother in law. Obviously it would be extremely unusual and indeed, rather fortunate, for anyone to have got to my age (twenty one) without having lost anyone.  And I do not in any way claim that my losses are any worse or more devastating than any of those which any of you may have suffered throughout any of your lives.  However, I think we can all agree that on a personal level, losing three people in such a short space of time during a pandemic makes for a challenging time.

Instead of talking about how grief feels *spoiler alert* – horrendous – I thought that it might be helpful for those of you trying to support a person who is facing it full blast, if I gave my top hints and tips from my experience as a grieving person and someone who has tried to support people grieving.

1. Do or say something

Whatever you do, saying or doing nothing is not an option.  Yes, I know we’re all British and stiff upper lip and all that, but I so much appreciated people letting me know that I was in their thoughts.  I had a lovely card from a friend that said she didn’t know what to say but she was sending me her love.  Not a long, waffling epistle. Not dramatic.  No wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Thoughtful messages, cards and flowers from friends and family to let me know that they were there.  But don’t do nothing.  That is the worst thing you can do.

2. Ask them anything other than how they are

Now I’ve said that doing nothing is not an option, when you do something, whatever you do, don’t ask them how they are.  I don’t mean don’t acknowledge their loss.  I mean specifically don’t ask: “how are you?” And I’m going to put my hands up here.  I kept doing this to my sister.  Man of the House pointed out to me that it was not the question to be asking.  Don’t say this too loudly because I wouldn’t want him to hear, but *whispers* he was right.  It was, is and remains, a stupid question. In pretty much every conversation I can think of, actually.  Everyone will say that they’re fine when they are demonstrably not.  Someone in hospital?  They’re sufficiently unwell to require a stay in hospital.  Nasty cold?  Bad day at work?  You know how they are.  They’re shit.  They feel shit.  It is shit.  And as far as loss of a loved one is concerned, it is going to be unutterably shit in some way or other, probably for the rest of their lives. Talk about the weather if you must, but please don’t ask people how they are. 

3. Remember that none of us know how any of us really feel about anything

We each have individual relationships with each other, which is what makes them special.  But none of us know how the other feels about the loss of a particular person or a particular relationship with that person because it was unique. If at any point you feel yourself about to utter the immortal line “I know how you feel” – stop yourself; you don’t. 

4. Talk about normal stuff

You are allowed, encouraged even, to talk about normal crap. Jokes and piss-taking is also permitted.  As are personal comments about the bereaved not looking quite their best, and suggestions of brushes needing to be run through hair and teeth.  We have not undergone a personality change, but a loss.  It helps for us to know that life goes on, even if we feel like we have stepped out for a while.

5. Talk about the person who has died

A work colleague died a few years ago and memories were being shared on social media (see below).  I remembered that they once made a speech at the office Christmas party which included the line “I want to keep my speech like Natalie’s skirt – long enough to cover the important points but short enough to be interesting.” His family replied that it had made them howl with laughter.  And when I think of him, I always remember that.  People are only truly gone when you forget them.  Don’t forget them.

6. But not the detail of how they died

What is expressly discouraged is trying to get the bereaved person “to talk about it”. And by ‘it’ I mean the detail leading up to and including a person’s death.  I’m not suggesting that you, dear Reader, are such a person.  But there is always one person (and I suspect that person in your life has popped immediately into your mind right now) who takes a perverse delight in wanting the gory details under the not-very convincing disguise of getting the bereaved person to unburden themselves for their own good.  The bereaved do not need to unburden themselves out-loud over and over.  And do you know why? Because they lived it. And if they do, it will certainly not be to the funerial equivalent of a rubbernecker.  It is your job as someone who genuinely cared for the deceased to identify, intercept and distract this person should you encounter them. Talk about your iffy toe, your dodgy mole, your unpredictable bottom  – anything, but keep them away from the bereaved.

7. Offer to help with something specific

When someone dies everyone connected to the deceased, pretty much without exception, asks if there is anything they can do. I have done this.  And I meant it.  But on reflection it was not helpful for me to make a nebulous offer of “help” to a person who cannot think straight in the shock of grief to consider what I might have been able to help with.  If you are able, offer help with something specific. And if you feel confident enough, just do it.  My friend offered help with lifts for my children.  I could get my head round that.  A specific task that I could consider whether or not I needed help with.  I told my sister when her weekly shop would be arriving.  Leave a lasagne on their doorstep. A cake.  I came home from Adella’s funeral to a bottle of gin. Little acts of love wrapped up in everyday things. 

8. Don’t make us go out

There will come a point when we have to re-engage with the world.  We know that.  Just don’t try to make us. After my mum died a friend took me round some gardens on a Sunday afternoon and poked tea and cake at me.  That I could cope with.  Anything more vigorous or exciting, I could not.  You will have to judge the person you know for yourself.  Of course, if it looks as if the bereaved retreating into their shell is likely to be a longer-term issue, then you may have to consider an intervention at some point.  But I am telling you now, trying to persuade them out with the same tactics as one extracts a cat from it’s carrier at the vets is doomed to fail.

9. Self-flagellatory social media posts

I’m not even sure if that is a word but if not, it should be.  Social media has its uses, many, many good uses.  It can be a lovely way for people to share memories, exchange information, and so much money has been raised for charities in memory of loved ones (see above).  In a similar vein to the cryptic poster there is the person who, usually exceedingly peripheral to the deceased, posts something about being “absolutely heartbroken”.  I am sure that they are sad.  I am sure that they are upset.  We all are when someone dies, but for the love of god, and I can’t emphasise this enough, get over yourself.  It’s not about you.  Grief is not a competitive sport.  It’s about the person who has died.  I genuinely don’t know how to deal with these people other than ignore them.  All suggestions gratefully received.

10. Don’t go away after the aftermath

There is always a lot of activity leading up to someone’s final send-off; people to be contacted, arrangements to be made…..there is a lot to sort out.  People gather to show their respects. And then, for the most-part, they drift away.  I get that.  Life goes on as it absolutely must if for no other reason than to honour the life of the person no longer with us.  I was chatting to a friend about something banal around six months after my mum died, and in the middle of it she said she just wanted to let me know that she didn’t want to keep asking me, but she hadn’t forgotten either.  Be that person.  We all need that person in our lives.

So there you go.  Take from it what you will.  You may find it utterly useless.  I hope that one person finds some comfort in some of it, someday. You may have found yourself muttering in disgust as you read it and declaring it to be “all wrong”. If you are the latter, then you are unlikely to be the former. The world still turns.

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Zombie

Whilst the people of Ukraine face down the Russian war machine for the ego of one inadequate madman, never ones to miss the opportunity for self-aggrandisement when they could be doing something useful instead, various members of our government have been keeping the official photographer busy.  James Cleverley has been photographed sat alone at a well-polished table showing us what lovely handwriting he has.  Foreign Secretary and Thatcher-wanabee, Liz Truss has thrown herself into the dressing up box with increasingly gay abandon. Finally, the PM was photographed standing next to a plane last Thursday.  Looking Very Serious Indeed.  According to one of his sycophants who tweeted the picture, this was the “front line”.  At Brize Norton.  In Oxfordshire. 

Now we are all used to all of the disinformation flying around, so one does need to be wary.  I am pleased that Mr Cleverley is proud of his handwriting, although why he thinks we need to see it remains a mystery to me. I wish Ms Truss would stop her unconvincing drag act in a bid to show us what a wonderful PM she would be. And Mr Johnson? I live on that particular front line so I can let you have my live report. 

I ventured bravely into Oxfordshire this morning, a notoriously lawless county.  As it was raining and a bit cold, I put on a big coat.  With a hood.  I drove through some reasonably busy traffic to the supermarket, armed with a mask and some carrier bags where I talked to the self-checkout.  I then returned to my house. As my village has had a pretty tense disagreement with the one next to us over the date of the Summer Fete this year, my house was, much to my surprise, still standing.  I then walked the Hound when I weaved in and out of Oxfordshire.  In the wind and rain. I bumped into a neighbour when we complimented each other on our impressive bouffants.  So what I can tell you about this particular front line is this: avoid the M40 at rush hour if possible, the staff at Tesco are extremely helpful when the self-checkout accuses you of not scanning items that you have clearly scanned, and it is really quite muddy in the fields at the moment. Make sure you have good walking boots or wellies on.  And a well-fitting hat would also be advisable if it is windy.

Meanwhile elsewhere in Europe, the people of Ukraine have some real issues on their hands.  The Ukrainian President has declined to be airlifted out of his country.  People are making Molotov cocktails and sheltering underground.  It is reported that the Russian army has moved mobile crematoria to the front lines.  Actual front lines.  With machines designed specifically to process vast numbers of bodies. Because nothing gets in the way of an army advancing like piles of bodies.  

Of course there is never anything so bad that there isn’t always someone who can’t make it even worse.  Some British sanctions have thirty days before they kick in, leading many to opine as to the reason for this delay as the EU and the US seem to have managed it already.  One MP has sensitively suggested that any Ukrainians who want to seek refuge in this country should apply to pick fruit.  Because when you’re fleeing your home to escape being bombed to oblivion, do remember to make sure it’s in the right season and don’t forget to take a pen.  My personal favourite so far in the shitstorm of inhumanity currently on display is from The Telegraph: “They seem so like us.  That is what makes it so shocking.  War is no longer something visited upon remote and impoverished populations.” Who signed that off?  Good god.

This could all make one give up hope. And one could be forgiven for thinking that that is what it is designed to do.  Don’t.  Public opinion is doing a lot to move our politicians in the right moral direction, even if it is the threat of them losing their job that motivates them. The assistant in Tesco told me that they had had quite a number of people in buying supplies for humanitarian aid to be sent to Ukraine. It’s not fancy.  We don’t have a photographer to show the world how clever we are.  But it matters.  When it comes down to it it’s all that matters.  And it’s worth fighting for.

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Proof of Life

Somewhere in this country is a man.  A young man.  Aged twenty seven.  Actually, probably twenty eight now – I have no idea when his birthday is. I don’t know where he lives.  I don’t know what he does for a living.  I don’t know what he looks like. If he’s married.  Or has children.  Likes football.  Doesn’t like football. Likes shoes.  Chocolate.  Can’t stand cheese. The only other thing that I know about him is that he is of the same tissue type as a forty one year old man.  I know nothing else about him.  I don’t even know his name.

Nearly a year ago this mystery man agreed to be a stem cell donor.  He must have already had it in his mind that one day he might need to agree to this as he was already on the register.  And when the register was searched for a match for the forty one year old man, he popped up.  Doppelgangers.  Or even double-dickers as a confused child once thought. A ten out of ten match. I am not a doctor or a scientist, but I was always taught at school that if you get ten out of ten then that is to be celebrated.  And the people who know a lot more about it than me thought so too.  So we celebrated. Cautiously.

I presume that what next happened went loosely like this: said man was approached by several doctors, possibly in a lot of PPE at the time as the nation was in the teeth of the second lockdown.  He was advised that he was a double-dicker for someone needing a stem cell transplant.  I assume he was then asked if he would be prepared to be a stem cell donor.  Then he was probably given a lot of booklets and details as to the procedure, endless forms and a lot of people coming to see him to explain the forms. As a matter of procedure, I expect he was told a lot of things, but chiefly; a list of risks even more terrifying than the leaflet in a packet of paracetamol, possible outcomes, no one was allowed to know anyone else and no money would be changing hands.

Whatever happened between being identified as a match and being given a lever arch files of papers, this man agreed. As with his donee, I presume that he knew very little about the person he had been asked to help save.  He could not have known that his doppelganger was due to turn forty one in February.  That he lived in a village.  Had just moved into the house, in fact. That he was an Estates Manager.  Married.  Two children with another on the way.  Loved Spurs.  Disinterested by shoes.  Even less interested in chocolate.  Didn’t like bananas.  He didn’t even know his name. 

I don’t know his reasons for agreeing.  Maybe it was the opportunity to give a gift that only he could give to that one person. A gift that no one who loves and knows him could have given.  Perhaps an opportunity to do something special that comes along only once in a lifetime. Even just to get out of work for a couple of days. Whatever his reasons, I strongly suspect that at the point of agreement, one person advanced towards him with a biro.  And then several more people advanced on him with a buffet of needles.  He faced the pokings, the proddings, the general inconvenience of going back and forth to hospital and the risk to his own person.  All for someone he didn’t know and would never know. No money, no thanks, no recognition.

He will never know that the man’s family and friends were beside themselves at the prospect of losing him.  And the relief in knowing that not only had a donor been found, but, crucially, he was willing to proceed.  It is probably better that he will never know how they joked about a bevy of clucking middle-aged women turning up to his house or his place of work to thank him adoringly and tend to his every want and need ad infinitum. He will never know that because of what he did that he gave precious time.  Time for the man to talk to his wife.  His children.  His mum.  Time to hold his newborn child.

He will never know that he gave not just the man, but all those who love him, hope. Hope in such a time of darkness that it is hard to believe that life can ever be good again. He will never know that the leukaemia hid.  That after everything he did, in spite of everything everyone did, that it came back.  The crushing truth that even if everyone is pulling in the same direction, together, some storms cannot be weathered.  And we will never understand why. The comfort in our grief is that an entire stranger was prepared to give literally something of themselves and expect nothing in return.  Not a note.  Not a thank you.  Not a face. Not even a name. And they did it anyway.

If you are interested in joining the stem cell register, you can find more information here:

www.anthonynolan.org/

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Eulogy

Thank you for coming today.  I know that some of you have come a long way and not all of you are in the best of health. We very much appreciate your support and you being with us.

First we would like to publicly thank the teams of medical staff from our NHS for caring for Mum.  In particular, Dr Macmillan, Dr Fox, Lyn and the teams of the Haematology Department at Nottingham City Hospital.  They never gave up hope – they always tried everything.  And succeeded for nearly forty years.  The gratitude that we owe them can never be adequately expressed.  If you would like to make a donation to the ongoing and pioneering work of the Nottinghamshire Leukaemia Appeal there is a box for you to do so, and we will make sure it gets to them.  Thank you.

Our mum, Kaye, was born on 28 March 1948 in Leicester, a daughter to our grandparents and a younger sister for her brother. My uncle has told you about Mum’s younger days. She was a terror. Mum went to secretarial college at fourteen and at sixteen was sent out into the working world.  She had many jobs as one might expect, but one of her favourites was as a secretary in CID which she left in late 1974 just before my older sister was born.  I came along just over a year later and then seven years after that, much to our father’s surprise, but not our mother’s, my younger sister appeared.  It was during her pregnancy with my younger sister that my mum was diagnosed with leukaemia aged thirty four.

Sadly my parents divorced some years later.  It was hard for Mum to be a single parent.  She went back to college to upskill after having been at home for many years.  Having learnt to type on an old-fashioned typewriter, it took her some time to learn that there was no need to bash the living daylights out of a computer keyboard.  Mum then started a job at college, which was where she worked in various departments until she retired.

After many years Mum met our stepdad, Rob.  One evening after they had been seeing each other for a while he told her that he couldn’t see her anymore.  He said that he had been diagnosed with leukaemia and that he was going to die.  In a response that he was definitely not expecting Mum replied that she had never heard such nonsense, she had had leukaemia for twenty years and she wasn’t going to die.  They married at Gretna Green. Their time together was short and as many of you know, Rob did lose his fight against leukaemia.  Not as quickly as anyone thought he would, in large part due to the medics at Nottingham and another due to my mum’s love and care for him.

Being widowed did not come easily to Mum- she never enjoyed being single.  Nevertheless she continued to go out with friends and have holidays.  Mum had some enduring friendships – Sue, Val and Shirley are to name a few who will have many memories.  One friend, Yvonne, recalled a trip to the States when they got absolutely soaked on a boat trip. Rather than rush for a towel, Kaye pointed out to Yvonne and everyone else on the boat that she could see the pattern on Yvonne’s underwear. Tactful as ever.

Kaye had a lifelong love of animals.  She loved horses and riding when she was younger.  She always had a furry heartbeat or two around the house to keep her company.  She also loved reading – particularly history books about the Wars of the Roses.  Mum had a busy, restless, mind – it never stopped.  And until she lost her hearing, Mum also loved music and dancing.  The Beatles,  Queen – she felt the loss of Freddie Mercury profoundly. She largely failed in her attempts to get us to do the positively ridiculous ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’. And there is a reason me and my sisters know all of the words to Barry Manilow’s songs and it is not because we are fans.

Mum delighted in being a grandparent.  She didn’t even mind a honky nappy.  She was so pleased to have had the chance to hold little her newborn grandson and bounced with happiness at holding a new little life.  She once told me that having grandchildren made her feel like her life had been worth it.

I don’t want to give the impression of our mum as a saintly figure because we all know that would be an enormous porkie – she was often bad-mannered, bad-tempered and badly behaved. She wasn’t always entirely in command of her vehicle.  During a power cut when was a my younger sister was a baby the lights came back on for Mum to discover that she had the bottle in the baby’s ear.  I was once woken up by a loud bang and found that Mum had come home the worse for wear and bumped her head attempting to negotiate her way into the bathroom.  Much to my horror, either forgetting or not caring that she wasn’t a child of the sixties anymore when in her late forties Mum bought some leopard print hotpants.  I didn’t even begin to delve into when or where she thought she was going to wear them.  I am relieved to say that they never left the house.  On another occasion at my older sister’s secondary school a Maths teacher had got the wrong end of the stick about an ongoing debacle with another pupil.  My mum was exceedingly keen to appraise her of the full facts.  So keen, in fact, that the Headmaster had to stand between her and the teacher concerned.  A few days before she died, a junior doctor was trying to take some blood and my mother told her to go and find someone who could do it properly.  The doctor looked at me pleadingly to which my response was that I had no sympathy for her as that was just the sort of encouragement I had had for forty five years.  When it came to my mother – if you were a goose who had upset her, if “boo” was all that she said to you, then you should have considered yourself very lucky indeed.

Mum was also fearless.  And peerless.  She faced numerous rounds of chemotherapy over many years.  Stem cell transplant, radiotherapy.   You name the drug for her condition and she probably had it. I wouldn’t say it didn’t bother her, but she did just get on with it.  We never saw her cry about it. The alternative was to give up, and that wasn’t an alternative to her.  So she never gave up. It was that simple. “Unique” is a word that has come up a lot in speaking to people since Mum died.  As I said, peerless.

Kaye lived her life exactly the way she wanted to.  She never let anything or anyone stop her from going where she wanted to go, seeing who she wanted to see, doing what she wanted to do or saying what she wanted to say.

When it became apparent that there was to be no escape from this particular scrape, Mum said that she loved us and was going to miss us all terribly.  We don’t doubt that she loved us.  But I hope the bit about missing us isn’t true.  I don’t want her to miss us.  I want to believe that Mum can go wherever she wants, whenever she wants, with whoever she wants.  Where Freddie Mercury is borrowing her leopard print hotpants, Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits are on endless repeat and only she can hear them and my Nana and Grandad are waiting to call her home.