Saturday, July 19, 2014

Funereal

The last week has been a blur. Karen and I are still only just starting to make sense of it all. To cut a long story short Karen's mum died last week, late on the night of the 11th. We knew it was going to happen but the speed of it took us all by surprise. However, she had stayed fiercely determined to exercise her will to the very end and had refused all water as well as food. Hence, the speed of her decline. She also requested that nobody visit her in her final hours, preferring instead to be left in peace. As with so many elements of her life her control over her own death was absolute.

For the last 6 days Karen and I, accompanied by our boys, have made numerous forays into Berkshire to meet with doctors, solicitors, registrars and the like to ensure all the paperwork is tickety-boo and that the myriad hoops of death administration have been leapt through at the right speed and the precise angle. Hopefully the gods of bureaucracy are satisfied with our efforts.

We now have the funeral and the wake to arrange, people to contact, an empty house to sort out - not to mention the small matter of dealing with quite a big family death and all its attendant emotional strains. Karen's mother was not an easy woman. Even those who considered her a friend describe her as being "difficult". The grief will not be easy too.

There is, however, good news. The solicitor spoke to us on Friday and, despite being convinced otherwise due to previous wills, it seems Karen and the boys have been made beneficiaries. It would be distasteful to go into detail here and besides which we only know the theory for sure rather than the exact practicalities - the solicitors need to do their thing and press buttons on their calculators, remembering to deduct their own fees naturally - but on the face of it (though I am afraid to say it out loud in case I curse it) it looks like things might get a lot easier for us in the future. Bizarrely we are more shocked and disbelieving of the good news than we were previously instantly believing of the (potential) bad.

But on some level despite the all pervading glumness that abounds in such matters there is light and, dare I say it, relief. We are all numb. But also hopeful.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Fledging The Nest

subwoofer penis envyWe all know it has to happen sooner or later.

They grow up. They leave. They want to head off into the big wide world and leave behind the familiar safe comforts of home. The nest is suddenly too small to house their enthusiastic ambition. They say their goodbyes and head off into the brave new world.

I have been like a father to my student neighbours this year.

I have watched over them, my head shaking, as they have dumped enough beer cans and bottles on their front lawn to fill a landfill site the size of Wales.

I have laughed scornfully at their appalling dress sense, their idiotic facial hair furniture (ignoring my own) and the bizarre sound-bite posters they put on show in their bedroom windows.

I have gnashed my teeth and seethed through sleepless nights when the vibrations and noise from their industrial strength subwoofer has threatened to frack my entire street into Roman mosaic sized rubble. I have not understood their music. I have bewailed the tunelessness of it, the lyric ridiculousness; I have compared the endless beat and twisted synth moans to the meaningless noise emitted by a hippopotamus farting into a vuvuzela. It’s not proper music. Not like the music I used to listen to when I was their age; music that had a proper melody and lyrics that meant something that my dad nevertheless dismissed as meaningless noise.

I have shuddered every time they have slammed the front door, stomped up and down the stairs at all hours of the night and conducted loud and ebullient conversations about “how much beer, yeah, they can drink, yeah, in one sesh at the pub and still have room for a kebab, yeah, you get me?” at 4 effing a.m. in the morning.

Lord knows I’ve loved them. Lord knows I want the best for them given the amount of time, money and effort I have invested into their upbringing and education. But now that they are going, God forgive me, I can’t help but think “thank Christ, thank God it’s over”.

I wish them well. Of course I do. I wish them every success in whatever hare-brained pursuit they decide to follow.

But I consider my job to be done. I’m cutting the apron strings. I don’t want to see them back. Not ever. I’ll change the locks if I have to.

Go forth. Be men, my sons.

Go get some student kids of your own.

And then suffer as I have suffered, you little shits.

God bless.




Sunday, July 06, 2014

The D Word

Not a great week.

Certainly not conducive to producing posts of scintillating literary value. So finally I have an excuse for not doing so.

First off, my best friend's mother died suddenly last Sunday. I don't have all the details yet as Dave is understandably maintaining radio silence but I can imagine the immense emotional run-a-round he and his family are currently going through. Dave's mum played quite a major role in my life in my twenties and early thirties. I was at her house most Saturday evening's visiting Dave and have fond memories of firework's nights that seemed to last forever and watching cable TV before it was quite so commonplace. I was geeky and awkward when I was younger (much more so than I am now) but Dave's mum had an easy laugh and a constantly sunny disposition. To meet someone who laughs at all your feeble jokes at a time when you are desperate to build up your confidence is a real boon. I was made to feel part of the family and was ribbed as such - but in a way that made me feel safe and included. That she is gone now seems unnatural and impossible. She always seemed larger than life and irrepressibly vibrant. My thoughts are with Dave and his family for their huge loss.

Second, Karen and I seem to be heading into the above territory for ourselves. Karen's mother, a long time sufferer of Lupus, after strokes and other debilitating side-effects, announced on Wednesday that she's finally had enough and "cut her peg". Basically, after living the last couple of years taking only liquid food by tube, being unable to walk and talk, she has now decided - quite understandably - that enough is enough. She is refusing all medication, all food and as much water as she can comfortably do without. She's made up her mind that this is the end and there is little anyone can do about it. I believe she has been psychiatrically assessed though don't think the results have been announced yet. However, having seen her yesterday it is evident she is very clear about what she is doing. She is after all a qualified doctor herself and very intelligent. She is aware more than anyone around her of the direct consequences of this course of action.

The visit was hard going. Karen's relationship with her mother is difficult to say the least and not my place to detail here. Her mother is frustrated by her inability to communicate as fluently as she'd like, she's uncomfortable, in pain, tired and not entirely satisfied with the nursing home they moved her into on Friday - but she's aware that, after her shock announcement, remaining at home was going to be an impossibility.

Anyway, the visit went better than Karen and I had thought it would - she was in better condition than we imagined but, of course, this will deteriorate as the lack of food and medication begin to bite. Nobody likes to ask "how long" but that is the question that is never far away. We took the boys and they coped admirably with, what must be to them, quite a scary sight: a very old human being who looks both human and not, who frequently groans out loud, not from pain, but from anger and frustration and who is unable to reassure them about what she is going through. It is a scary situation for anybody - and I worked 10 years in a nursing home for the elderly so am reasonably used to it. We said our goodbyes - unsure if they were final or not; unsure of how many more we could reasonably expect - and then tried to make the best of the trip down to Cookham by taking the kids for a walk along the Thames before getting fish and chips and heading home. Karen and I will try and head back down in the week unless events demand a more immediate response.

So that was the week that was but that I wish was wasn't. And why I haven't been so alacritous with updating this blog. Bear with me, people, this is a bumpy ride.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Nice Bit Of Chaucer

swearing babyLike most of my countrymen I have a long established love affair with swearing.

Despite Irish Navvies possibly protesting the claim, I believe that nobody on this planet swears quite like your average Englishman. Possibly at one time, your choice of cuss was influenced by class and proclaimed the same but these days a Peer of the Realm is just as likely to drop the C word as some habitual fly-tipping dole-ite on Benefits Street and your average tramp on the street sometimes has more breeding than your average bank manager.

When I was at Secondary school I swore every day. It was de rigueur. It was part of the atomic make-up of the rarefied atmosphere of “hormonal teen”. More than that. If teenagehood was a nightclub then swearing was the stamp they put on the back of your hand to prove you’d paid to get in. And that you were probably too immature to be there.

As I got older swearing, for me at least, was no longer about expressing anger but expressing humour. Peter Cook might have been swearing like a trooper in the 60s but for me it was the alternative comedy scene in the 80s that awoke the realization that a fuck placed strategically into a sentence could be the source of much mirth. Suddenly expletives – not denying their inherent shock value – became a tool of comedy and humour.

And that emotional response is pretty much where I have stayed. Which isn’t to say I don’t wince when I catch my eldest boy befouling the air with an age appropriate / environment inappropriate F bomb. Or sneer when I overhear some yob in the street linking every second word he utters with a mispronounced “fock”. This is quite possibly hypocrisy but, well, what can I say but fuck you? Swearing is open to everybody but as an art form few master it properly.

Swearing is on my mind today because I have just finished writing a new Kindle book. It’s a joke autobiography and is scurrilous, blatantly un-PC, cartoon pornographic and deeply puerile and will be published under an assumed name. I had enormous fun writing it and it made me laugh out loud. My wife has now read it and it has made her laugh too. She also complimented me with the remark that it is very well written but just like my (proper) novel, The Great Escapes Of Danny Houdini, I have peppered it (or even soaked it) with the kind of language that will probably drive away a good portion of the book buying public.

The ones that say “breadbin” instead of “bastard” or “bum” instead of “arse”. The nice ones who suffer bouts of apoplexy when someone let’s rip with a “the pope be damned!”

She’s not the first person to say that. A colleague who is currently reading Danny Houdini has also admitted to me that she found the frequent bad language shocking and hard to take. She’s enjoying the story so is “persevering” but she made it sound like she was having to wade through the sewers of Calcutta to reach a promised Eden. More, she couldn’t conceive how a polite, well-spoken individual like myself could produce dialogue of such excoriating depravity. My words not hers. Because I’m bigging myself up as I took it as a compliment.

But. It does niggle me a bit.

For me, swearing is a reality. It is all around us and, really, there are far more important things to be offended by than mere language and phonetics. In literature generally, but especially in the books that I write, I like the dialogue to be real. People swear. They say the wrong thing. They say silly things. They are offensive deliberately for a laugh. They lack the education to express themselves well so swear. Or they are well educated but like to swear for the effect it has. For some, swearing is its own subculture and, like teenage swearing, is evidence of their membership to it.

But I worry that perhaps I am deliberately sabotaging myself. The gist of my wife’s remarks to me this morning are that I come up with great stories and then render them inaccessible to 50% of the population. If that is true it’s hardly a winning marketing strategy.

You see, I suspect that just as half of me yearns for artistic success, the other half of me is scared of it.

Fucking scared?

Possibly.

Or maybe I’m just sticking to my comedy bollockycunty guns.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Encyclopaedic Knowledge

Jeremy Paxman... Sex With...?Lord knows I like to think of myself as relatively intelligent though, of course, defining relative to whom or to what makes all the difference, relatively speaking. Relative to an egg box? Relative to an amoeba?

Relative to your average footballer I must be the brain of Britain though a friend I had a Facebook argument with on Saturday assures me that some footballers these days actually have degrees.

I’m assuming he didn’t mean as in third degree murder. Which is a pity given how I feel about football.

But.

The wife and I have been struggling of late to answer the cornucopia of questions that our youngest son has begun to throw at us.

The “reality science” ones are bad enough:

  • How big in metres is the world?
  • How far away is the furthest star?
  • How old is the universe?

But the ones that are really frying my brain are these:

  • How many yesterdays were there before tomorrow?
  • What do you get if you add a frog and water to an explosion?
  • What does [and I quote] lightning add house make?

Home life at the moment is akin to being a permanent contestant on University Challenge with a very impatient Jeremy Paxman demanding constant and immediate satisfaction. Incidentally, I muse on the pros and cons of Jeremy’s bedroom manner in my new Kindle book *cough cough* “Sex With…” which you can currently buy from Amazon. Please do.

In the end, when our young brainiac came up with the worst question of all: “Well, why don’t you know everything, daddy?” I finally admitted defeat and went out and bought a children’s encyclopaedia from WHSmiths.  On the whole it’s been a good buy and has put a stop to about 50% of the questions.

For the remaining 50%, it seems that even the best minds in the world stumble to a halt when trying to work out how many yesterdays there were before tomorrow.

My answer of “all of them” failed to impress.

One thing I do know though is how to make Professor Brian Cox have a nervous breakdown.

Lock him in a room for an hour with my son.

(And a copy of my “Sex With…” book which, funnily enough, for those of you who are interested, also features an enlightening piece about what Professor Brian might be like in the sack.)