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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.

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The Incredible Unlikeliness of Grief

Yesterday – 16 June 2021 – one hundred and fifty two thousand three hundred and ninety seven people were recorded as having died from Coronavirus within twenty eight days of a positive test. If you have read my previous blog then you will know that one of those people in that very large number was my friend.  She died on 3 January.  Adella.

I’m not claiming that I’m exceptional.  She was.  I’m not.  I know that by my age that grief has affected everyone. It is different for everyone. That it takes us all by surprise and works in very mysterious ways. I have lost grandparents, watched my stepdad fight for his life for six years only to die at forty eight. Stupidly, I never expected a friend to die. Certainly not one younger than me. This has very much been The Spanish Inquisition as far as grief is concerned.

It’s been six months.  The first six months since I was little that I have faced a world without her in it. And I know now that it will never look the same through my eyes.  I never even thought about it because I foolishly assumed that as I was older that I would go first.  And not for a good few years yet because whilst my children think that I’m positively ancient and marvel at how I am still here, we all know I’m not.  I thought that when I finally went, Adella, amongst other people would shuffle into the service and say that it was very sad but what a good innings I had.  That I had lived my life.  And it was a good life.  As far as Adella was concerned, I also expected a modicum of alarm on her part as with my departure it would mean that she only had ten months until she caught up with me.  Therefore if there was something pressing she needed to be getting on with, then she had better get cracking.  Shocked as you may be to hear it, and not for the first time, I was completely and utterly wrong. 

Some dear friends have very kindly offered their ears if I have wanted to talk. But I haven’t been able to talk.  We didn’t have any friends in common. We had pre-dated every other friendship we had or have ever made.  What comfort is there to be had to sit and weep with someone who didn’t know the person you are weeping about – for weeper or weepee?  There are no shared memories.  I can’t say to them “oh do you remember that time when….” and we can laugh and remember together.  I have been so desperate to share memories, to connect with someone who knew her, that I have sat on my hands to avoid crying down the ‘phone to her parents.  Can you imagine her poor parents listening to me whitter on?  Or her ex-husband.  I’m sure he’d be thrilled.  Even driving to her funeral I thought of something that we had giggled about over the years and my brain actually went “oh Adella will laugh about that when I see her. At. Her. Funeral.”  Idiot.

When we were little, Adella and I used to go out for a walk around the country lanes near her parents’ house.  And when we heard a train coming we would run, flat out, to get to the rickety humpback bridge ready for when the train went under it.  Sometimes we would get there.  Sometimes we wouldn’t.  But when we did the bridge would shake under our feet.  And sometimes the driver would sound the horn when they saw us waving from the bridge.

A bit older and we got into make-up. Once we were giggling so much at trying to put eyeliner on that Adella poked me in the eye with the pencil.  Which made us laugh even more.

Like every other girl our age, when we saw Patrick Swayze sashay across the screen in ‘Dirty Dancing’ we knew that he was coming for us.  And much to his inevitable dismay, George Michael was no longer the man we were going to marry. I never let her forget that she suggested we listen to ‘Darty Dincing’.  On a mixed tape.  Yes.  We are that old.  We were that old.

We grew up some more.  Adella had a baby.  I was drunk in a pub.  Adella had two more babies and got married.  I was drunk in a different pub.  I moved away.  She moved further.  We meandered.  Life was busy.  I always loved her.  I wish I had told her that.

On her last birthday, as I have said in my blog, I wished her a happy birthday.  That was when she told me she was going into hospital.  I thought about telling her that I loved her then.  I remember the moment.  I wish I had told her that. Reader, I didn’t. It haunts me. 

After she died her daughter sent me some pictures she had found in her mum’s things.  Amongst them was a poem that I had written for Adella about friendship – she had kept it with her for nearly thirty five years. Turns out she always loved me.  I wish she had told me that. 

If you love someone, tell them.  They might need to hear it. You might need to say it.  And it may not be for that moment that it is really needed – you or they might need to park it and dust it off later.  If you are finding yourself very British about it then find a way. Perhaps a well-timed personal insult will suffice if you need to warm up to it.  But warm up to it.  None of us know what’s coming for us – good and bad.  Of all of the things I could have never predicted, I never could have predicted this.  We can’t tell each other now. Only one of us has to live with it. And I got the better end of the deal.

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Stick It Out

As I am sure many of you are aware there is a certain level of sweariness that is acceptable in an office.  Due to this, many years ago, a colleague and I came up with a few choice phrases that we could deploy in the office that would be deemed acceptable.  So, for example, instead of dropping the c-bomb and being frogmarched into the Senior Partner’s office for a stern word about conduct, we used the word “catflap”. True, the Senior Partner may have wanted a chat about mental stability. Maybe he just thought we were crazy cat ladies and best left well alone.  Whatever his reasons, I have been collecting euphemisms ever since.

Before this all kicked off (you’ll remember when you could go out for something as mundane as shopping without fear of transmitting a disease that could be deadly to a vulnerable person) Diminutive Friend was in her car and exiting a shopping park with her teenage daughter. Someone cut her up in terrifying style, causing an outburst of foul language not seen since King Alfred realised he’d left the oven on.  Her daughter, like every other child on Earth, has the ears of the cloth when her mother is asking her to do something useful.  However, like every other child on Earth, when she is saying something that she would rather she did not hear, said child has the ears of a bat.  Immediately she pounced: “What did you say Mummy?” Slightly flustered and thinking how she was going to get out of this one Diminutive Friend quietly cringed “…er…..chicken sucker…???” as a hopeful note crept into her voice that she had got away with it. Dear Reader, she did not get away with it.  She is now reminded of it at every possible opportunity.  But I have collected another euphemism. 

My final offering has arisen from the word “doppleganger”.  This word has caused some confusion in my family of late.  The person concerned, who had absolutely no reason to know any different from learning a new word, thought that the word for a doppleganger was “double dicker”.  A gift for someone who can’t stop swearing and needs to find ways not to.

Over the past few years I have come to the conclusion that the world is populated by two types of people: those of the human race who are catflaps, chicken-suckers and double-dickers and those who are not.

Let us consider some of the evidence. On the side of the chicken-suckers, a few selected highlights and in no particular order:

  1. Fishermen being abandoned to their fate when a big show has been made by those who were very keen to put the country in the position it is now in, of the importance of our fishing industry.
  2. People who go to the trouble of bagging their dog’s poo up and then throw it in the hedge.
  3. £22 billion taxpayer pounds spent on a Test and Trace System that has never worked.  For comparison purposes, the Mars Rover cost US$2.5 billion. 
  4. I won’t start on the other contracts to mates or I might start ranting.  Follow The Good Law Project and you can rant too.
  5. People who wear their mask under their nose or refuse to wear one at all blathering on about their human rights.  They really need to go and study human rights.
  6. MPs who vote against a pay rise for NHS staff. See point 3 above.
  7. People who have mixed during a pandemic when they have been specifically told not to.  I have heard of people still having their hair done weekly, friends and family visiting their houses in number, sending their children to school when they are awaiting a Covid test result because it’s hard looking after a child when you feel poorly – no shit – (they tested positive)…..
  8. Those who have had their first jab now announcing that they can visit you, whilst neatly ignoring the fact as of time of writing, that seventy three point seven per cent of us have not.  Oh, and it remains illegal to do so.  Well, as long as you’re mostly all right.  Azincourt salute to the rest of us is it?  See point 7 above.
  9. People who are not disabled, parking in spaces for disabled people.
  10. People who park in parent and child spaces when they have no child with them.
  11. Teacher-bashers.
  12. Loo-roll brawlers.

That’s just a few.  I’m sure you have many of your own.

And for balance, on the side of the non double-dickers:

  1. Those not approving of anyone being abandoned to their fate by their elected representatives regardless of their views differing from their own. 
  2. People who donate to their local food banks.
  3. In spite of it never having worked, people who used the Track and Trace system to try to do the right thing.
  4. People who would rather that contracts being paid for with taxpayers’ money were awarded through a transparent system to companies with a proven record and that there are mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with that transparent system. So we know what our money is being spent on.
  5. People who do not need to study human rights to understand that wearing a mask may (even though they will never know it or be able to see it) help save the life of one person, and that’s good enough for them.
  6. MPs who think NHS staff should have a pay rise.
  7. People who have stayed at home, often at great personal cost in terms of their mental and/or physical health because they know in their heart of hearts that it is the right thing to do.
  8. Scientists who developed the vaccine. Badasses.
  9. The NHS who are administering the vaccine.
  10. People who have been collecting prescriptions, shopping etc for people in their locality throughout the pandemic. 
  11. Teachers who have gone into work teaching children both in classes at school and online when on many, many occasions, it has appeared as if the government have been actively working against them. And if not working against them, then giving all the signs of being bloody ungrateful. 
  12. People who have decided that they will not be fighting for toilet roll.  They will not be sweeping tins off supermarket shelves and into their trolley.  They will not take so much fresh food that it is not humanly possible to eat it all before it rots.  They will not. Because that’s not what decent people do to each other.

Again, I am sure that you have many of your own examples that could be added to this list.

Is your politics basically that if there is one parking space left at the supermarket, you would like to have it but you draw the line at the disabled spaces? Would you quite like to know where all of our money, that we have earned and handed to the government to spend, has gone? Have you spent the last nearly twelve months trying to do your best to follow the rules in spite of it making you want to weep because you just want to hug the people you love? On the few occasions you have been out have you resisted all urges to go up to someone and shout “over your nose, you chicken sucker, that big lump in the middle of your face? That’s your nose!”  Yes?  That’s you? Excellent.  I think we can work together.  And we’ re going to need to because we’re not out of the woods yet, and in spite of them being blissfully unaware, neither are the catflaps. As we move towards Spring, and hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel, thank you for all you have endured.  For me.  For my family.  And the double dickers who would not afford you the same, let alone thank you for it. We are nearly there.  We must be nearly there.  And whilst I’m sure it is going to be bumpy for a while yet, there are many lives lost that shouldn’t have been and injustices that will need to be fought that shouldn’t be. But we can only do that if we have a care for eachother. As I said to a friend who has been told to shield again and was most displeased about it – I’ll stick the homestretch out for you, if you stick the homestretch out for me.

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The Way We Are

2021 has started off as 2020 meant to go on hasn’t it? I thought that I should keep my expectations low and then it might end up surprising me. And it already has. But not in a good way. Death rates in this country due to Covid 19 are currently higher than in April and not looking to abate. If only the government had had some sort of warning from the scientists. Oh wait, they did.

I then watched in wide-eyed horror at the events in Washington DC yesterday; gun-toting, mainly white nationalists breaking into the Capitol. Apparently the last time the Capitol was stormed was when the British were miffed about the Americans throwing some tea into the water in Boston nearly three hundred years ago.  As I write I believe that four people and a police officer are dead.  It is a dreadful state of affairs when one is saying that they are glad that it wasn’t considerably worse.  I also had to shake myself when watching to remember that we are also in a pandemic. So whilst the building was stormed and people were taking selfies, no one was wearing masks, no one was social-distancing – it was all one big jolly.  The illness and deaths that will follow from that one act are incalculable.  But follow they will.

As I saw the footage that we’ve all seen of that man who had his face painted, wearing horned hearwear, some sort of bearskin and not a lot else, shout furiously, I decided that perhaps I should turn the television off. I picked up my book, Ian Dunt’s ‘How To Be A Liberal’ ( sounds bland, but is anything but and I recommend for anyone interested in political history).  Hoping that it might provide me with some respite from the reality of living through a pandemic where large sections of the world seemed to have lost their mind, unfortunately I happened to be on the section about Hitler’s rise to power and Stalinist Russia.  Reading that one could be forgiven for concluding that homo sapiens is quite a bit of a shit.

I have wondered for some time what some people throughout history are so angry about.  The Persecution of the Jews, Stalin against his own people.  Further down the sliding scale I admit, but still on the scale Hardcore Brexiters ranting about immigrants and fish, anti-vaxxers screeching about their human rights being violated, Trump-supporting Republicans slavishly believing every deceitful word. 

I am in the section in Ian Dunt’s book where he is talking about belonging and what a powerful pull it is.  A lot of people, furious and red-faced when we see them on the news, don’t feel like they are listened to or that they belong. So when President Fart tells them that he loves them, they genuinely believe him because they feel heard and they want to be loved.  When Boris Johnson talks about putting an arm around people, rather than their skin making a dash for the door, some people actually find that comforting. Yes, I know.  But they do. In spite of their actions demonstrating only their self-interest is at heart, the words themselves matter to people, even if they are demonstrable lies.  It’s what they want to hear.  Through a desperate desire to be heard and to belong, people believe the words.  They just want to be loved. Which means that they don’t feel loved.  That is rather sad.

Now you will tell from my tone that I am not a fan of President Fart and his British Clone. So why do I loathe them when others love them? When the PM talked about the virus being over by Christmas, as (and I am being charitable here) he continually over-promises and consistently underdelivers, I decided to entirely ignore him and listen to the scientists. When President Fart looked at the fact of thousands of his people dying, presumably landing in reports on his desk each and every day and still refused to wear a mask, I wondered if he had seen someone be ill or die from Covid.  I concluded, probably not anyone he cares about. 

All evidence over the last few years would point to a large section of people not caring about something ,or enough about something, unless it directly affects them. Not because they don’t want to, but people have busy and stressful lives and unless they see it, or feel it, they don’t believe it and have little time to accommodate it.  Rather like in Jaws when Richard Dreyfus’s character tells the Mayor that he thought he was prepared to ignore the problem of the shark snacking on holidaymakers until it swam up and bit him on the ass. So people hear a death toll of over a thousand people a day, and they know it to be true, but they don’t honestly believe it until it affects them or someone they love. Because that’s what makes it real.  It is not intended as a criticism, it is just the way we are. And that is the power of a deranged but powerful man telling rioters that he loves them.  Or the rank hypocrisy of a man who claps the NHS once a week which makes the front pages but won’t put our money where his mouth is and give them a payrise.  Their supporters feel like they belong to something or someone more important than themselves. To someone who cares for them and has their best interests at heart because they say that they do, even if all of the available evidence shows entirely the opposite.  Thousands of people are dying on their watch.  Thousands.  The numbers are real.  The people are real. Each and every one of them. And they are the numbers that they can get away with.  Remember that to be counted you have to die within twenty-eight days of a positive test.  If you linger, by day twenty nine you quite literally do not count. Except to the people you belong to, they don’t care about the twenty eight days.

A week last Wednesday was the forty fourth birthday of my childhood friend.  I messaged her to wish her a Happy Birthday, pretty much as we had done for eachother every year for the last thirty five years.  In spite of us drifting through life’s twists and turns, we still belonged to eachother.  She had been taken into hospital on her birthday because she had Covid and needed some oxygen.  I told her that that was a rubbish birthday present, but I was sure that now she was in hospital she would be feeling better soon.  She said her fingers were crossed. I left her alone because who wants to be replying to messages when they’re ill in hospital. Three days later she died. She is one of the 454 people who count as having died from Covid that day because she had the good grace to go within twenty eight days from her positive test. Except to her children, her parents, and to me, one of her many friends. We will mourn her loss each and every day for the rest of our lives. We knew and loved her; she belonged to each and every one of us. And she’s gone.

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Wings

Hello all. How are you doing in the second lockdown? Or circuit break? Or whatever the hell it is called this time. A communal and national effort to look after each other. I have been struggling to write for months, as you may have noticed from my silence. I have found things so difficult that I have just started reading a biography about Thomas Becket a) to force myself to focus on something and b) to try and cheer myself up. I kid you not.

I have been considering how differently people’s minds work over the past few months. I often feel that my brain doesn’t work quite in the same way as a lot of people, and that my eyes don’t see things in quite the same way. This can leave one feeling rather even more discombobulated than usual, particularly at the moment and particularly when some people seem to make it their business to talk utter rubbish, and oh how much rubbish we have been treated to over the past few years. My word, where to start.

For obvious reasons I have converted entirely to the online shop this year. I was browsing one of the many catalogues to land on my doormat. I saw, amongst other things, some angel wings. I gather that one is supposed to hang these in your house and marvel at the other-worldly idea that angels might be watching over us, and in short, it is all going to be all right in the end. Rather a lovely idea. Everyone needs to feel loved and cared for. More now than ever.

Unfortunately this is not what it says to me. Unfortunately I have seen the film ‘Maleficent’. And those of you who have also seen it you now understand why it doesn’t say ‘love and fluffiness’ to me. I see a brutal scene. Angels have been hunted. By people in air ships, armed with nets and probably spears as well. Once pinned down the angels’ wings have been cleaved from their bodies with axes. The wings are then cleaned, mounted and photographed for sale. The angels are abandoned- bloodied, bruised and entirely bereft. Left to spend all eternity wandering the cosmos with their entire reason of being taken from them by the very creatures that they were stationed to protect…..I am not the target market for angel wings. Neither, I suspect, now are you. But plenty of people must do or they wouldn’t have been in that catalogue.

Another example is a sign that I saw whilst driving through a small village: “To the Nursing Home and Church.” I burst out laughing. What could be more cheering for a person who has become so frail that they need the care and attention of a nursing home, on their arrival to see a sign advising them that they will be of little inconvenience once they leave us, because a place of worship is just a short hop away? How comforting. How sensitive. I would have loved to have been in the meeting for approval of that sign. And the layers of people it must have gone through to have been approved, then re-approved and eventually signed off.

“Next item on the agenda, Snodsbury needs a sign for their church. Everyone knows that churches are notoriously difficult to find with their big pointy spires and being built in prominent places in order to be seen from afar, so I know it’s taxpayer’s money, but we need to help this village out.”

[earnest nods all round]

“Isn’t the Nursing Home opposite?”

“It is.”

“Couldn’t we put it on the same sign?”

“Hmmmmmmm……..I know! I’ve just had a brilliant idea. We could put it on the same sign. Saving taxpayer pounds. Green as well. Might also save some time for those visiting the nursing home as they’ll know where to go in the future. Ha, ha! Excellent.”

“What about putting some angel wings on as well? You know, church, nursing home – showing people that we are throwing a protective arm around them.”

“Don’t be absurd, Brenda. How monumentally insensitive. Haven’t you seen ‘Maleficent’?”

Another more obvious but distinctly less hilarious example is to the soon to be ex-President Fart. If there was ever a person to make you wonder if you are even both human, let alone think differently about things, he is it. Currently found to be having the biggest public tantrum since Childerbeast Number One lay down in a shop doorway because he wanted to be both inside and outside at the same time and didn’t, aged three, understand the contradiction. However, baffling as it is to me and everyone else who has expressed a view to me, there are a lot of people who voted for him. They have watched him over the past four years. Not through their fingers in horror, but listening and thinking “good point, why aren’t we injecting ourselves with bleach to kill the virus?” In my darker moments my only question has been “yes, in a limited and specific way, why aren’t you?”

Closer to home, we can find another example, the soon-to-be Strictly contestant, Boris “the Fridge” Johnson. Whilst I have not been keen on many of the people who have governed us (I feel as if it would be like being keen on estate agents), and we have differed politically, I was broadly of the view that they were reasonably intelligent people and earnestly doing what they believed to be the best for the country, even if I fundamentally disagreed with them. Sadly not with this lot. England does bleed. Or rather, be bled. Us. By them. Follow The Good Law Project and you’ll see what I mean. In addition, every day is a new nadir of incompetence. Pick an area of government, any one you like, and I bet a complete hash is being made of it right under our noses. On that basis, as I can decline Latin verbs and have been known to string a sentence together, perhaps I should have a crack at running the country? We are being governed by a group of people who, seemingly in their entirety, are demonstrably less intelligent than absolutely everyone I interact with on a day to day basis, including the cat. And he just meows constantly for food. But someone voted for them.

There we are. I don’t like angel wings, that sign is utterly ridiculous and I’m sick to my hind teeth of the endless spewing of lies. The last few years is enough to make you wonder what is wrong with you when you seem to see things so differently and the world seems to be so upside down. Even in times such as this, there is one thing I am sure of that doesn’t discombobulate me; I know who I am. I don’t like cheese, I have never seen ‘Game of Thrones’ and you really shouldn’t leave me alone with a box of After Eight mints. But I don’t cheat, not even at Monopoly. And I don’t lie. So whatever happens, when the time comes for an angel to bring me my wings (later rather than sooner, I hope) – I will be okay with that.

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Lockdown

Three months ago if you’d have told me that I was going to be confined to my house along with Man of the House and the Childerbeasts for at least three months I would have asked what on Earth I had done to upset you so much that would make you want to be so cruel to me.  I would have panicked.  I definitely would have sworn.  And there would have been tears.  If you had then told me that home-schooling would also be on the cards, things could have got a whole lot more unpleasant there and then.  I usually have a military schedule for the Summer Holidays so as to minimise the screeches of “I’m bored” and “what are we doing today?”  But this takes planning.  Usually from about May.  The year before.  And that’s only six weeks.  I say “only six weeks” now like it’s nothing, because the Summer Holiday no longer holds any fear for me.  To have three months dropped on my lap with notice may have caused me to consider President Fart’s untried, untested and frankly unhinged cure for coronavirus. Parents weeping in the street and clinging to fence posts wailing “don’t make me go back in there” was never going to be a good look.

Once the order for lockdown had been issued we were all inside.  Except for one nasty section of the population who decided that the best place for them was a supermarket.  With fourteen trollies. I suspect that they are one and the same people who fight over electrical goods on Black Friday because apparently they need a television that much on that day.   I also suspect that they’re the very same people who were flocking to the beach in the warm weather and then complaining that other people had done the same thing because they wanted to social distance.  Oh I see, Deidre from Leicester.  So you wanted a private beach?  And you are irked that Dave from Birmingham and thousands of other people have had the same idea.  Perhaps, and this is only a suggestion, the best way to isolate in a pandemic would be, to, er, isolate.

Diminutive Friend witnessed a store manager advising a lady (I use the word loosely) that she wasn’t permitted a trolley full of toilet roll in accordance with the signs all over the store and she started giving him verbal.  Perhaps she was expecting an unfortunate effect from all of the Vesta curries (showing my age now) that she had in her second trolley. Surely if you read the Daily Mail then one would expect a ready and never ending supply of something to wipe your bottom on?  Another candidate for Citizen of 2020 was witnessed by the mother of Diminutive Friend, not the springiest of chickens herself.  Along with a number of other people she found herself for the first time in her life, quite literally queuing for their health in order to go into her local supermarket.  A man of a similar age to her steamed past the queue snaking round the car park in his mobility scooter and headed at some speed for the doors.  Unfortunately for him, Mother of Diminutive Friend is not a woman to be trifled with.  And after an eight hour shift of policing similar behaviour, neither was the member of staff helping at the head of the queue.  This man was asked what the urgency was – apparently he wasn’t happy to be asked to queue.  That was it. He didn’t want to queue. He was told he would have to queue on this occasion. Rather than take his turn, he left, almost as quickly as he arrived.  I’m surprised it wasn’t to cheers of celebration having had the altercation described to me. 

On the positives, my village has a network of volunteers to support those who can’t get out and about.  Lots of villagers have been baking and the lady who delivers to the doctors’ surgeries and care homes says it is by far and away the easiest way to instantly become the most popular person in the building.  Worth noting for future reference. I believe that I have had coronavirus and as I adopted a horizontal position on the sofa, I was fielding offers of help from friends, and also people who don’t know me that well, because they knew that I was ill and they genuinely cared for my health.  I expect that the picture is the same all over the country.  Even, I gather, in Islington.

Maybe this has made us all genuinely value people who do essential, but often not highly paid, work.  Our NHS.  Rainbows in windows all over the country to support our keyworkers.  I haven’t been out clapping.  I decided quite early on that I could do more good by casting my vote for a party that won’t systematically destroy them.  But if you’ve applauded them, I applaud you.  Maybe we now value our teachers more.  I am fairly confident that none of my children’s teachers have been sat at their desk with their head on it saying to the class “We’ve been here an hour.  Just. Write. It. Down”.  I bet they haven’t done Times Tables with a large glass of wine either.  The DFE guidance for primary schools has changed forty-one times since the government announced without consultation with anyone who had been in a school, let alone run one, that they would be opening to more children.  Moveable goalposts?  I’m sure schools would just like some goalposts. People working in shops and warehouses.  Care workers who have holed themselves up in homes with some very confused and frightened people to try and protect them.  Refuse collectors – we would be quite literally in the shit without them. 

Maybe working from home can be more of a thing. We’ve shown that a great number of us can, which has got to be safer for those of us who can’t.  And the planet will surely thank us. Man of the House has had one call during lockdown when his advice had to compete with the cat purring down the line.  Another client enjoyed some words of wisdom along with commentary on my progress around the garden after an errant chicken.  And if you haven’t seen Andrew Cotter’s Zoom meeting with Olive and Mabel, you’re missing a treat. It’s lovely to see snippets of other people’s lives.

I am not for one minute suggesting that a continuing pandemic in a country with the world’s highest death toll is a success – apparent only by being not apparent at all.  Only an idiot would make such a suggestion.  And only an even bigger idiot would believe it.  My English teacher told me that she thought that great things could come out of great suffering.  I have always tried to see that or what is the point or hope for any of us?  In lockdown, a lot of us have had the unique opportunity to stop, look and listen.  To view the world and each other from an entirely new perspective.  And in doing so, I hope that we, the humans who have held the hands and will always hold the hearts of those who have been lost, are finally able to see our own humanity.