Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Now We Are Three

My gorgeous, clever, artistic, funny, lovely wife, Karen, died on 19th July 2019 at Warwick Hospital. She'd had a successful breast cancer operation the previous month in June (only a small lump so surgery was not too invasive) but after 5 days at home recovering an infection had flared up that the best attempts of the ICU team at the hospital could not get under control.

I won't go into detail here but it was the worst two weeks of my life and I daresay our sons, Ben and Tom, will tell you the same thing. Right up to the last few days none of us had any indication of just how serious things were getting and we were all hopeful that Karen's return home was imminent. It was not to be.

9 months later I am only just coming out of shock and starting to deal with her loss and what it means for me and the boys.

The three of us are all well and safe and financially secure. Because Karen was smart she had set up various policies and insurances when we had first married that have saved us from life becoming much harder. Karen told me about them at the time - I have vague recollections of not really listening because (a) I didn't want to think about such hardline eventualities when we were just setting out on our lives together and (b) I'm crap with that kind of thing; Karen's being an accountant meant that, in my mind, this area was her domain and I was happy to defer all details and organization to her. I'm glad that I did; she did us proud and it is a comfort to know that even now she is looking after us. 

It is a bitter-sweet thing to revisit this blog and re-read the 1000+ posts published here. Karen was always very supportive of my writing and this blog in particular. Despite the many film and book reviews and attempts at comedy writing that are contained here, this blog was essentially a family archive - an online diary of our lives together. That is certainly how Karen viewed it and, rereading my posts now, I can see that inadvertently I captured much of our lives together even when I had not consciously meant to or had been writing about other things.

I recognize that by the very act of writing several posts a week I was savouring our lives together and appreciating being in the moment by celebrating much of it online. For that reason alone I regret letting this blog fall into disuse as we, in the real world, fell (like we all do) into dull unthinking routine. I know it is hard to do but, by God, seizing the day sometimes just means feeling the moment! None of us do it enough. But in this blog I had a bloody good go at feeling as many of them as I could. I am thankful for that.

Within these hundreds of posts I also recognize a happiness and a contentment in my writing that had never been there before. The source of that happiness, of course, was my relationship with Karen and our boys and our very happy home life together. I don't think I will ever have it in me to write like that again. This was a special time. A one-off. As cliched as it might be, Karen and I were soul-mates and when we were together my soul finally realized it had a singing voice and couldn't help but sound forth joyously. I had expected and hoped that it would last forever. Certainly for the rest of my life. Karen and I often daydreamed about what we would do in our retirement together... none of it very grand (a bit of travelling, days out, mostly mooching around the antique shops of Stow-on-the-Wold which had become our special place) but it would have made us both very happy.

It is hard to wake up each morning now and know that Karen is no longer here with us. It is harder still contemplating that I may have another 40 years on this earth without her. She was only 52 when she died. 2 days before our 14th wedding anniversary and a few weeks before my 50th birthday. To say last summer was a steaming pile of horseshit of galactic proportions is to put it mildly. Like I said, I'm only just now coming out of shock; the grief has moved from a hazy, dream-like pain to a sharply focused agony as the permanence of this horrible new world sinks in. 

Karen had suffered a horrific childhood. A physically abusive mother, raped horrifically when she was 3 years old... just one of those things on its own would have been enough to give someone PTSD for life. Karen had a double dose and for much of her adult life battled with the debilitating effects of it. She put an immense amount of work into getting herself "sorted out". Counselling, therapy, self-help... everything. She was incredibly brave and courageous. Some people never recover from such an awful start in life and slip into drug and alcohol abuse and worse. Karen didn't. She clawed her way out of it, determined that her relationships and any children she had would not be scarred by issues caused by her traumas. It was a long, tough, constantly uphill fight. But she did it. Anyone who knew Karen will tell you what a strong, warm, kind, wise and empathic person she was. She was the most honest and truthful person I have ever met. And, if I am honest, the only person on this planet that I can say without equivocation that I trusted 100%. I knew I could trust her with my soul. 

The boys and I feel like we have been robbed; that life has cheated us. 16 years together (14 married and 18+ months dating before that) is not nearly enough. We all deserved more. Karen deserved so much more. So there is pain, and grief, and sorrow and anger. But there is also thankfulness. I was lucky to have found someone like Karen. So lucky. Luckier than I probably deserved to be. 

Each day now is painful. Because every day without Karen feels like an utter waste. I don't want to move on. I don't want to forget or the memories to become faded and dull. I don't want life to close in around her absence and callously continue without her. 

And yet here we are.

Our boys need me. Ben is now 18 and Tom is 12. Both too young to have lost their mum. They keep me going. I mean to do them proud and to do Karen proud. But beyond that I have absolutely no fucking idea what to do or what I am doing.

Anyway, I won't bore you with that... whoever you are now. It's been quite a few years since I last updated this blog. At the time I had built up quite a good readership but like all things... nothing lasts forever. I doubt anyone will read this really but for the sake of completeness I needed to write this one last post. To say goodbye and to say thank you. I hope whoever stumbles across these posts takes some pleasure in them... even if it is only a small chuckle at my stupid jokes. I hope mostly though that a few of you are moved enough to go home today and give your loved ones a big hug. 

Because you always think you have enough time to do it later. To say all the important stuff later. 

But you don't.

Karen and I told each other we loved each other every single day - no word of a lie - and yet still, still, I regret not saying it more.

And I would gladly give up the entirety of the rest of my life just to have 10 more minutes with her. I would consider it a bloody good bargain.

I love you forever, gorgeous. I miss you.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The First Stone

Social media has always been vaunted as the means to connect us all. To turn the whole world into one vast social network where we can all revel in the unalloyed joys of immediate interconnectedness. Barriers will come down. Boundaries and borders will come to be meaningless, etc. 

And I’m sure that’s true in part and I’m all for it but there’s another side to social media that is making me extremely uncomfortable of late. The global kangaroo court culture that seems to be springing up. Nearly always fired up and stoked by traditional media outlets – newspapers and magazine articles – and usually targetted at sad individuals who have not merely broken some social taboo but – worst crime of all – have been caught and publically identified as doing so.

The killer of Cecil the Zimbabwean lion is a case in point.

Now let me make it clear that I abhore “sport” or “trophy” hunting. Of any kind. I don’t care whether you’re some Southern red neck who feels shooting bears is a tradional part of your culture / your right as an American to bear arms (or arm bears or shoot bears with arms) or if you’re a South African poacher whose sole earning potential relies on you supplying misguided Chinese doctors with rhino horn and tiger bone. Killing animals for no good reason at all is worse than criminal. Killing them at the behest of market forces is deplorable. Killing them for “the thrill” or for a misguided sense of “sporting achievement” is completely despicable. I don’t buy all this BS about the beauty and the skill of the hunt, etc. The thrill is sexual at some base level; some ego stroking catharsis that sees the testosterone driven huntsman masturbate live rounds into the flesh of some exquisite beast that he cannot otherwise tame, own or match.

I don’t much care for the apology that Cecil’s killer has offered to the world either; “he was sorry that he killed that particular lion”. As if all the other animals he and his kind have killed were somehow more morally palatable because they were not named or had not been adopted as some nationalist symbol. He is very sorry, I’m sure, that that particular lion’s death came endowed with so much media exposure and so many, many column inches. He killed a lion but has wounded himself. Badly.

But do we want the wound to be fatal?

See, I’m uncomfortable with the howling of the mob. The digital stoning that the hunter dentist is receiving. The screams of outrage. The death threats that have seen this man have to go into hiding, have to close down his business. While many people I am sure feel he does not deserve pity or mercy I, however, do not want to be party to a global culture that drops the equivalent of an atomic bomb of vitriol onto one single individual – as if we are, all of us, unimpeachable in our moral rectitude, as if we are all so righteous in our social standing that we have the right to dispense condemnation and judgement and to recommend lethal injection to those who offend us.

All from the comfort of our armchairs, inbetween surfing for pictures of Lady Ga-Ga / Justin Bieber and sharing the lastest meme about funny kittens on Facebook.

I felt the same when that poor science dude got publically excoriated for appearing on TV for wearing a shirt whose pattern design was made up of bikini-clad women. Sure, that does not compare to shooting a lion with a crossbow and letting it bleed to death for 40 hours but the howls of public outrage and indignation were much the same. The world spoke with one voice – one vast unthinking, rage-filled, knee-jerk propelled voice – and that voice was without mercy or consideration or humanity.

Lord knows we all have days when we feel like the entire world is against us… but social media can now make that proposition a very grim reality.

We all mess up now and again. Sometimes we spend vast tracts of our lives believing the wrong thing entirely until life or the universe or the deity of your choice sets us back onto the right track.

But imagine if we were condemned for it via social media, the newspapers, neon flashing lights, petitions, protest marches, movies, fatwas, campaigns, death threats, the mob outside our homes hefting huge rocks and baying for blood…

How can it be that social media makes a demand of us that we are all morally and irreproachably perfect on the one hand, but so easily turns us all into a blood-thirsty, vengeful mob on the other?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Tories Want To Kill Us All (And Make Us Pay For The Funeral)

History will record that George Osborne’s main career aspiration was to become a fifth-rate, Walter-the-Softie version of Joseph Stalin.

In the geographical absence of gulags and salt mines and being too media savvy to machine gun en masse an entire social class of dissenters (just imagine the Twitter-hate he’d get for that), George’s solution is turn the rights of the modern working man against him; to subvert the last gasping vestiges of the Welfare State and choke the last breath of life out of any human rights declaration of the last 200 years in order to return us all to the dark glories of the workhouse and a more bizarre rule of lassaiz-fare... where people are encouraged to fend for themselves without government assistance but with the government still wanting to take a good cut of the profit.

Not satisfied with pushing the retirement age back a couple of years (and undoubtedly it will get pushed back even further until aged 98 I will have to resort to selling my own body on street corners just to be able to afford a cheap moussaka from Lidl), there are now plans afoot to dispense with the old system of employers providing sick pay for their employees.

The idea being floated by George "Uncle Joe" Osborne (the Chancellor Palpatine of the Exchequer) is that worker's themselves should provide provision for their own sick pay out of the wages they earn.

Speaking as someone who at the moment can't even afford to pay pension contributions towards financing my old age ("don't worry," says George, "you've got at least another 80 years working life ahead of you - plenty of time to save for a retirement you'll never reach") I can tell you now that if deductions were forcibly being made out of my earnings in lieu of potential future sick pay awards I would simply not be able to afford to live and therefore going to work in the first place would become a pointless endeavour. Going to work would only remain viable were I never ever to become sick. Or to be exact, were I never ever to take a sick day even though I might genuinely be exploding with typhoid or - in the dystopian Victorianesque future that George is undoubtedly masturbating over - smallpox.

Essentially, my simple theory posits that the Tories are trying to kill us all. By "us" I do, of course, mean just the non-wealthy workers who don't have enough money in their Government bailed-out bank accounts to successfully lobby their favourite political party to adequately represent their own singularly selfish viewpoint over those of the moral majority.

The modus operandi of our murder is simple. Worked to death with longer hours 7 days a week, taxed to the hilt to pay for the privileges of the rich, sick pay only if you can afford to make the contributions, no sick pay at all if you can't, work work work until you drop or until you get your "congratulations on your first centenary" letter from HM The Queen (whichever comes first). Thus huge saving are made - no sick pay and no pensions payments made because I guarantee that should anyone actually make it to a pensionable age they'll be so worn out and exhausted by 80 years' hard labour they'll be dead before the first e-payment is made into their bank account. The 7 ages of man will be truncated to: baby, child, man, workhorse and fertilizer.

And who will benefit from all these savings?

The poor? The repressed?

According to the Tory worldview they do not exist. Instead the country is full of fat, lazy, ne'er-do-wells who are only in dire straits because an over-indulgent government hasn't done enough to encourage them to stand up on their own two feet and make their own way in the world.

In other words, we're back to the old "spare the rod, spoil the child" guff which has always been used in ages past to justify naked callousness and simple cold-heartedness.

Which when you are trying to hold down three jobs to put food on the table for children whose whereabouts and welfare you can't monitor anymore because you're always at work trying to pay for the sick pay you daren't take is not what you want to hear from some over-privileged buffoon in a suit whose idea of poverty a few years back was having to include the mortgage for his paddock on his taxpayer funded expenses...

Murder is going to be done, my friends. Murder is going to be done.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Sucking Face

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am slowly turning into Russell Brand.

By this bold statement I mean that I have become hyper-suspicious of traditional news outlets and information that can in any way, shape of form be traced back to the Establishment (as opposed to sleeping my way around half of England, marrying Katy Perry and then divorcing her because my own incapacity for fidelity means I am unable to trust anyone ever to forswear all others in my favour).

To be honest, this healthy paranoid belief that we’re constantly being steered and lied to began decades ago. I haven’t bought a newspaper since the early 90’s. Well not to read anyway. Occasionally I have purchased a tabloid to get my hands on a free Lego set promotion but, model acquired, the paper is then dumped straight into the recycling bin without a single headline ever touching the sensitive ears of my conscious mind.

But of late I have even begun to doubt the veracity and the agenda of fly-on-the-wall documentaries and travelogues. Even those on the BBC in whose bosom I was once glad to place my trust without a second thought. I find myself asking: who has commissioned this programme? Why did they commission it? Why spend money on it? Just for my entertainment and to openhandedly inform my mind? I don’t think so.

Lord knows big global corporations, bankers and politicians have been playing commercial tonsil tennis for years but it really feels like the “free press” has become a fourth bedfellow. Information is just another currency to do dirty deals with whilst truth itself is a rare intoxicant who purity is besmirched the closer it gets to street level; something that can he withheld, diced, cut with talcum powder or cleaning fluid and then distributed according to the preferences of those in power, it's potency and power diluted and irrevocably lost.

Which leaves precious few outlets for the little man on the street to acquire credible information about what goes on in the world. Left, right and centre we’re being sold opinion – being told what opinion to have – but most of the column inches and sound-bites are nothing more than the conjectures and bigotry of a few mega-rich old duffers who seek to stroke the world into shape the same way they stroke themselves off in the shower. 

It’s got to the point where my main news source at the moment is Facebook. Or rather various third parties who use Facebook to disseminate information, satire and political criticism. As underground information networks go it’s hardly MI5. And it could be argued that pictures of kittens, half naked celebrities and fake Mensa IQ tests hardly constitute the modus operandi of an all-seeing, completely unbiased oracle. In an age of information overload I’m finding the modern world curiously information-lite.

And that scares me.

In fact there’s too much going on at the moment that scares me: the dangerous dehumanizing rhetoric applied to immigrants and Muslims that is like something out of 1930’s Germany; the war against the poor and the under-privileged that the Tory’s are currently waging under the self-righteous, self-justifying banner of austerity; and the banking crisis that has never gone away but has not ever been adequately looked into… that has instead been allowed to roll on and on over all of our toes if not our legs. Breaking us all with our own money. And then beating us some more with our own money under the guise of fixing the damage.

Who is pulling the strings and pocketing the cash?

Generally speaking it’s not the people posting pictures of kittens on Facebook.

And for that reason alone they’ll get my trust ahead of some faceless corporate mogul running a newspaper empire or a television news channel.

But that paranoid little voice inside my head keeps telling me that even unscrupulous mega-rich media moguls can post pictures of moggies on Facebook…

And they can even write blogs.

Like I said, I’m slowly turning into Russell Brand…

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Schrödinger's Cough

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder so I have no doubt that over the last three months, although you have all been preoccupied with steering your loved ones away from the evils of extremism, trying to combat the attritional effects of ever-increasing austerity and washing your smalls with the cheapest but most eco-friendly washing powder to be found at Lidl you are now - upon discovering a new blog post from yours truly after a break of a quarter of a year - overcome with emotion so deep and so raw that you can barely read these words in front of you as the realization of how much you have missed me finally hits home.

Well, let it wash over you in great waves. Don't try and fight it. Let the deluge fill your teacup to the brim and then slowly but surely raise sea levels the world over.

For my part I am trying to think of a suitable celebrity couple with which to best represent my odd relationship with you all. Thelma & Louise? Not quite. Batman & Robin? Sorry, you don't have the legs for it. Closest I can find is Freddy and Stuart from Vicious. Of course I am Freddy, ever demanding and not really able to express the slight fondness I feel for you all though perfectly able to articulate my sneering contempt for any effort on your part to please me whilst you potter about the house (paid for by me) catering to my every whim and trying to kid yourself that you are utterly indispensable.

Yes. We are all entangled in a slightly clichéd gay relationship that exists only on the television.

But on the bright side, we can now get married.

"What have I been doing?" You clamour. "Where have I been?" Unlike the pussycat from childhood rhyme going to London and visiting the Queen has not featured on my itinerary at all.

Unfortunately, my father dying, trying to sort out stuff from Karen's mum's will, and trying to keep heart, body and soul together have featured large. And none of it has reached a stage that anybody could term "resolved".

As an aside - and thankfully it is only an aside - I had my own health scare last week when a persistent cough drove me to the doctors. Given my father's demise through lung cancer my doctor thought it best that I go for a chest X-ray immediately - to make sure there was "nothing nasty" causing me grief. Up until then I had gone for 8 weeks, coughing away without a second thought. As soon as the X-ray was booked in (and I realised my doctor was taking it all rather seriously) my mind kind of imploded with all of the unwelcome possibilities that exist in the world of disease and medicine. I had to wait a week for my results with my former casual cough now being the harbinger of chemotherapy at worst and the inaugurator of the iron lung at best.

It's appalling how one's mind can torment you and torture you. And it is totally self-defeating. Especially when you consider how some theorists posit the idea that thought and observation inform and create reality. As I waited for the 7 days to elapse before I could ring in for my results I found myself thinking of Schrödinger's cat quite often and realized that, in this uncertain interim, according to the laws of the Quantum universe, I both had and didn't have cancer at the same time. The answer lay in a closed box and would not settle into one of the two states until I opened it up and had a good look at it. Until then, to some degree, my behaviour in the universe would determine my fate.

Some believe that to get what we want from life we have to behave as if we already have it... and then the universe furnishes it to us accordingly. If we fill our hearts with yearning and desires that seem hopeless then the universe merely gifts us more of the same. The key is to live your life as if your desires are already met.

I have no idea whether that is true or not. I do not have empirical evidence that it works.

All I know is my results were clear and the doctor has put my cough down to either the onset of asthma or hay fever and since I have dispensed with subconscious fears about the Big C my cough seems to be getting better on its own.

And I am back. Back amongst you all.

So all is well that hasn't ended. See? Life can still be good.

Now put the kettle on and stop your embarrassingly high-pitched whimpering.