Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sex (Not) in the City

Escape to the city for a girly few days with long lost and long found schoolfriends. We might as well be bound to each other with pirate promises of blood and spit for the secrets that are spilled and not told. It is very liberating to be with people who know you and love you from first spot to first hot flush. From Clearosil to Kiesel Pro. Boys to bladder control. How bad is it, exactly, when you sneeze and by the way, does anyone use sex toys? Partners who won't hold hands but who care deeply; partners who are rampant but can't show affection; partners who won't work, haven't worked (but who still profess to care); partners who get drunk and with the baggage of old grievances. Lovers who are impossible or too remote and those who are expedient. The men whom my aunt calls "The Mantlepiece Men". Loyalties that are threadbare but still there. And our own never-to-be-broken bonds.
I owe you all so much.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Sun

The sun is a ruby star in the sapphire sky
It is a flaming ball on the bright blue sea
It is an orange baby in a big blue tummy
It is a yellow skeleton in a cold blue grave
It is the smile of my mummy in the morning

SSB writing about the sun.
Partisan, moi?!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


H2 calls and all is not well with LGP at all. She is worse than we thought - happy and pleasant one minute - cantankerous and rude the next. Her cousin thinks that she should have someone living with her until we can complete the house extension - a young companion, perhaps someone who wants to learn English. But without living on the doorstep, the risk is also great. We might not have much choice. How quickly these seeds are flying from the dandelion clock.

Lakshmi Mittal, steel tycoon, has come to the rescue of The Big Easy. Mittal tops the list of UK billionaires but like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, he sets a fine example of philanthropy. Well done, Mr Mittal. It's heartwarming for those of us who are grappling with the minutiae of everyday issues.

Who will come to the rescue of the half million homeless in Pakistan, I wonder?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Departure Lounge

Back again and no time for jet lag. The ironing, like Topsy, has growed and growed and is clawing its crumpled way to the ceiling. Mum looks tired and is still in the same clothes that I left her in a week ago. But her son - he who causes the sun to dim whene'er he sits - has taken her out to lunch. She doesn't understand why he leaves and H2, as usual, picks up the pieces in my absence.

Now H2 has flown like a large angel of mercy to collect LGP and escort her home. Up at 4.30 am to catch the flight. Later, there is a panicky call to our house: LGP is already awaiting H2's arrival but doesn't know where he is. This is the exact same flight that she took a couple of weeks ago, but she has forgotten when it leaves, much less what time it arrives.

My cousin calls and just has time to ask if this is a convenient time for a chat, when Mum picks up the phone downstairs and presses a secret code of numbers to obliterate the landline. All attempts to return the call are thwarted: my cousin is ex-directory; I no longer have her mobile number since three generations of mobile later, the transfer of all numbers from phone to SIM and back again are awry. So I call my aunt and leave one of those rambling messages.

Cook supper, wash up, dry up before Mum springs into action with the tea-towel to dry the dirty plates. Run bath, bath children and leave them on my bed watching TV. Run Mum home, change into pyjamas, make tea, heat pad, tuck in bed. Dash back. Don't they charge you for this? No, Saturday night at around 8.30pm is not a great time to sit and chat.

There is no song about ironing. That is because ironing, however you dress it, is unremittingly and back-achingly dull. Still, it has to be done, and an hour and a half later, I am rewarded with three huge baskets and a sense of virtuousness - and an aching back.

M e-mails to ask whether I have broached the S subject with the boys yet. No! I write back in a panic that I have done nothing and isn't it a little early? M, who is blessed with great commonsense and wonderful humour, agrees.

That sort of thing, I tell her, came with Mrs KumaraSwami's lecture on "pubitty" - and a particularly lovely illustration of a neatly squared off penis with my ruler.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Rain In The City & Ronnie O'Sullivan

The Big Apple is more like The Big Puddle. Rain is lashing down. The city is humid and full of the drip of umbrellas.

On the flight over, I read through Alan Bennett's "Candlewick Way of Death", a detached but not so detached account of his mother's slow slide into dementia and death. Evidently AB's mother was in a kindly nursing home in Weston-on-Sea, but how true the slow starvation by default; the ill-matched hand-on clothes and the stifling still air. And how sad the bodies that are turned away from the curl of the sea - the bodies, who once had their own names (Lilian, Mr Bennett, I took note.). Who once sat happily on every sands-by-the-sea, with the rug and the windbreak and the thermos flask and a round of sandwiches.

Mum is particularly taken with a badge of one of her Mother's Day cards that I sent her years ago. "World's Best Mum". It's fluffy and pink with a flashing light - and she wears it as proudly as she wore my grandmother's amethyst brooch.

A little known fact. H2 tells me that Mum has played in a snooker match against Ronnie O'Sullivan. Apparently Mum caught the bus to Sheffield and The Crucible. What is not clear, is whether her debut as a professional snooker player was before or after she went to tea with David Beckham at Manchester United. The SSBs are agog - not sure whether to believe Grandma or not.

Lovely meal last night with friends. We were evidently noisy though because guests at another table sent a stuffy little note saying that they were "trying to converse". I know it's annoying (and rude) when gales of laughter from another table keep sweeping the room - but it's such a luxury to be able to be off duty. (We might have been a convention of Tourette's sufferers. )

Not a single cab to be had so we rickshaw back in the deluge. My trousers are so wet, it looks like I am wearing sprayed on clothes.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The non-PC PC

Posted the forged card this afternoon, full of chatty gardening news and cricket. Let's hope the postmark blurs and that I am not struck by a thunderbolt. This is not psychiatrically PC at all. On his first visit, the "specialist" told Mum that she had dementia - the very thing that would scare her witless. Well, blessed be the departed wits that she doesn't remember.

Dr P was full of helpful advice. Why don't we keep a diary of appointments, daily events as an aide-memoire? We do actually, have done for years now. Labelling the drawers and light switches is another useful little tip. Done that too. Leaving little notes sometimes helps. (But it doesn't when the little notes get put away in drawers (sorry, labelled drawers) and forgotten. You have to socialise more. "Suppose I don't want to?" Mum said, smelling a rat. "We'll make you", smiled Dr P. Mum playing bingo or singing Siegfried Line songs? I don't think so. We've tried the Day Centre but as only a recent import to this area, her memories and experiences are completely different from everyone else. She might as well have green wobbly things on her head.

I asked about the treatment of dementia in Japan and China where ageing populations attract more research. Beijing University is conducting drug trials into a new drug that aids dementia patients, both Alzheimer's and vascular. Dr P hasn't heard and looks like he doesn't want to. Probably had enough of amateur Internet aided research.

I think non PC will do us fine.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Eric The Red

I actually managed to remember that it was Jewish New Year this weekend and since I have one or two good friends who are Jewish I thought I would email good wishes to them before being steamrollered by weekend chores, including, no doubt, the construct of a Viking longboat, using C8th Norse tools and C21st Ikea instructions...

Tra la la la. How prophetic! That was exactly SSB's assignment. Thanks to Blue Peter, what I can't do with a toilet roll tube, isn't worth knowing. H2 who invented the meaning of competition, set forth in the garden slaying conifers for hollowing out before retreating to consider subaqua elastic band turbo drive - in case there was a "Float my Boat" race as well. Covert enquiries showed that one child's longboat was a hollowed-out watermelon. Gleeful thought: no competition there, then. But full marks for nonchalance - until I saw the rune-encrusted, stripy sailed effort this morning and realised the subterfuge...Ours wasn't bad at all. I insisted on the oars and oar holders despite the fact that my sprayed hanger and two paperclips had gone missing. Other parents admit that they daren't throw anything out in case we are called upon to build the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Dangerous though - one man suffocated once from all the newspapers and cardboard cartons that stuffed all the rooms in his house.

Call from la Grande Pancake. Surprising since she rarely calls from abroad, and even rarelier, answers her phone. But she has forgotten to bring a present for someone and needs H2 to get one to save face. Bet she'll want to come and visit when she gets back - but the room is stuffed full - not newspapers this time, but all the furniture from the sitting room while we try to sort that for Christmas.

Christmas - horrors. The best one we ever had was when we were abroad. Still I am a lot better now - my paranoia about Christmas only starts around October as oppose to June as it did before.

Mum asked me this weekend if I might ever have children. "I do Mum", I said, pointing to the SSBs in a photo on the wall. "Are those yours?" she asked. "You never said". No, I never said. But you play with them every weekend. She wonders when Daddy will be coming back home. "A lot of the girls are after him, you know. Have you heard from him lately?" "Not lately Mum. I expect he'll be up when he's finished what he's doing". Daddy will never be back again - but we can't tell her. Her heart broke once when he left and that was enough. There is no point inflicting this final departure. My forgery skills must be put to work again.

H2 is wearing my Chanel glasses and looks quite sharp. SSBs say they look girly. I thought more Yves St Laurent myself. I can see, though that H2 is wavering. We are at the corduroy crossroads - trying to persuade him that casual shirts are better than overly tight washed out T-shirts. As Howie says, "They just don't get it!"

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Spontaneous combustion uncovered

Apparently SB was told last week that if he continues to progress as he has, he might just be able to swim for his country. Downside is that it is butterfly. Bummer. Now we have to find something that SSB can do especially well and I'm not sure that dancing the tango with his mother counts.

Daisies are our silver
Buttercups our gold
This is all the treasure we can have or hold.

Raindrops are our diamonds
And the morning dew

I wonder if anyone else remembers that.

My stepmother has apparently sold the house and now wonders where she might move to. She is to rent one of the houses that have been refurbished by her daughter. Odd. Not sure I would charge my mother rent.

Also odd: an Australian newspaper yesterday reported that a man had set fire to a building with his clothes! The build of static between his jacket and his trousers was sufficient to scorch the carpet. The poor man had some 40,000 volts rampaging about his body. A real case, of "Liar, liar, yer bum's on fire..."

Must get down to some work. Airhead.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New York & back

New York was wonderful. Blue skies and sunny - while Katrina threatens Galveston and ravages Louisiana and the levees of the Big Easy. The long wind of cars out of Texan coastal ports takes on Biblical proportions. Meanwhile I get my $2 ride on the Central Park carousel! As good a bargain as a night ride on Star Ferry in Hong Kong. Now Starbucked and topped up with Tylenol, I am back with the beat, Baggy.

First night back, and I managed to collect someone else's luggage from the airport! In how many years of travelling? How dumb can you be? I really don't want a Day-Glo suitcase but...On the bus to the hotel, I look at the case and say to the bus driver: "That's not my case"! He must have heard it a hundred times before. "Well, it's the one that you got on board with". Oh Lord. It belongs to someone in Nottingham & feels incredibly heavy. Hope it's not got her wedding dress. Fling other bags at kindly concierge, jump back on the bus to the airport - but the bird has flown. So too, have all the airline's last flights.

Corner friendly PC who offers to arrest me, but only after we retrieve my bag. PC takes pity and we dash along back corridors to sort out muddle of cases. I am reunited with mine, the airline promises to deliver to Nottingham, and all is well.

Back out again to the Hoppas and finally back to the hotel. Fly home the next day, drop bags, out again to see Mum. Thankfully, she doesn't look too dishevelled at all though she is still wearing the same clothes that I helped her dress in last week. But with bright pink night socks. They look like two enormous and oddly luminescent pink pigs.

It's wonderful to see the SBs.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Pots of gold

Two rainbows tonight. Great big, luscious arching rainbows, real as real, each with a pot of gold buried in a bale of September hay. Today the kind and endlessly patient GP signed and witnessed the confirmation of my Power of Attorney. Mum signed without the slightest hesitation - her trust is implicit, like the children. I can do no wrong. I am, and will be, her beloved daughter and her protector.

And tomorrow I have to leave for New York. Mum tries but doesn't quite understand. So I tuck her up in bed and smile back: "See you tomorrow Mum" - knowing that tomorrow will be next Sunday and it's a small lifetime for her.

The boys are full of excitement. VSB has learned a poem for next week: SB is travelling north tomorrow to play another rugby match. Big smiles. They will tell me the score when I arrive in New York. Sure? "Sure. I love you Mama." "God Bless my brother and help him score a try and God Bless all the children who don't have mummies and daddies and who don't play rugby".

My suitcase is nearly packed.

I called my stepmother last week. No answer. It's now almost a year since my father died but there will be flowers for him even though there is no grave.

Sometimes my heart is heavy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


SB played in his first proper rugby match today. Great success - he managed to keep going the same way as the rest of his team for the whole match! I thought I spotted blood on his shorts when I put them to wash but it was probably Ribena. Not bad at all. .

SB's sibling struggled with his last bit of prep tonight. But we managed to end on a high note: "Horrid Henry put the cat in the washing machine but found that it shrank." "I like that", said VSB. "It's evil". Better not mention to Grandma, I said. She'll only worry which is the cat programme on her washing machine....

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Summer sands Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Locks & other things

To BackMan to get back destressed, and he tells me about his sister-in-law who teaches walking on fire! All of his children have stepped on coals with not a burn to their name. His oldest, when he was just 8, knelt on the coals in grey school trousers, rubbed coals on his face and came away with only one tiny blister on his toe. Not a mark on the trousers. BM says that the only explanation he could offer was that the combined energy of the group was greater than the energy of the fire and therefore the fire could not harm the firewalkers' feet. Maybe that's what I need. To empower my feet.

Destressed shoulders immediately rise a notch. The (second, recently installed) KeySafe is now jammed, and this time Mum is locked inside the house, without breakfast, without tablets! Drive back to the house again, de-jam the KeySafe, reset the lock, unlock the door. Mum is back in bed and tries to tell me about some lovely people who talk each day through the letterbox. Tablets, make lunch, tea and sing the Pooh song to her. Big smile.

SB has made the swimming team, and both boys make a bold attempt to eat lamb's liver. Not bad at all!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


The thing about sunbeams is that they are supposed to shine. Throughout the day. That's quite a tall order, even for a 40-something, well-practised, full-on beam. But today is off to a running start. It's 8.30am, and Mum hasn't yet called to say that there is a strange woman on the end of the phone telling her to try again later. The boys are on their way to school with only a 5 minute argument about why boring parents confiscate aggressive, unfunny PS2 games. We compromise. Promise to find the game and SB will observe the Not To Be Played rule. No wonder Britain doesn't have a written constitution.

Mum is washed and spruced and ready for the day, and the lovely young girl who has come to help out has offered to play the cello for her. Mum would love it. Also discover that her regular cassette of tablets have not been picked up this week and so she has been without medication for three days. The lovely cellist leaves, and leaves the electric plate on full heat. Lucky I was here, and lucky I noticed. Lucky, lucky.

Five phone calls and I get to speak to the District Manager in charge of home care. Sounds very sympathetic. I assure her that my criticism is directed at the new rota system, and not at any of the ladies who attend Mum. She, we, I, really am lucky. Thanks to the ladies here, Mum is saved from the institutional care that she so fears. But since the rota changed, all the keys to the house have been lost, the keysafe broken, and like buses, the worthy ladies arrive either not at all, or in convoy. Still, they are caring and compassionate for the most part, and are careful to respect Mum's dignity. Even if she reminds "staff" to "wipe their feet".

When I was at university, I boosted my meagre stipend as a mopper and marmelade spreader in a care home in England. The home looked like the sort of place, that if you had to make the difficult choice of putting a relative in care, this would be first choice.

But Matron was all profit margin before patients. Ladies were dressed, but sat in wheelchairs without underwear "to cut down laundry bills". Elizabeth, a bright 24 year old, cruelly struck with MS, had to wait over the weekend before Matron would sanction the buying of cream to ease her muscle spasms. When I brought some to her after I went off-duty, Elizabeth broke down in tears. It was such a little thing. The young policeman,also with MS who soiled his sheets every night, turned his face to the wall while I cheerfully cleaned up the mess. A tall, blue-eyed and pretty 20-year old sunbeam was too painful a reminder of all he had lost.

My brother sees homes and sees the freedom from the day-to-day grind of mopping, reminding and not minding the querulous complaints. But while I am self cast in the role of Guardian Angel, residential care even with its glossy Homes and Gardens brochures must remain our last and final choice

Monday, September 05, 2005


The Dandelion Clock is a testament to my mother.

The Dandelion's puffball can tell you the time, but it is a fickle instrument. Time is dependent on how hard you puff and how quickly the seedlings fly away. The one thing that is constant, is that in the end, all the seedlings are gone. Dents de lion and pissenlit - it's all the same in dementia.

Born on the South Wales/ English border to a mother who died only a few hours later, Mum has lived her life, not especially happily, but with dogged determination. Devoted to my father who walked out when I was 15, my mother lived off Marmite and Ryvita and brought up my brother, me and our dog. Now in her 80s and suffering from dementia, her prodigious memory, that has the unfortunate ability to recall the slightest slight, is slipping away.

We four, two rats and a cat, are coping pretty well and life is still not without joy. We are blessed with the good-nature and love of two small boys who have two slightly wonky grandmothers, a loving but irascible father and me, their globe-trotting mother who knew very early on that Jesus wanted her for a Sunbeam.