Mort

Today’s been a weird ass day. I think that pretty much sums it up.

Carole got some shitty news at work today. And then this evening we got a phone call from my mum to say my grandma passed away. It’s been a day dominated by death, I think it’s fair to say.

The thing with my grandma is weird, though. It’s hard to quantify because ultimately she was a hard woman to get on with at the best of times, let alone since she was blighted with dementia.

We used to go down to visit her – she lived in Kent until dad brought her up her a while ago because she couldn’t live on her own any longer – every summer. Ten days staying with her and visiting all the attractions the South coast had to offer. I have seen more of Dover Castle than most people alive, I reckon. And Deal. And… you get the idea. We’d go down on a Sunday and drive out to Ashdown Forest in the afternoon and have ice creams. I mean, things were nice.

It was just such hard work.

Grandma used to buy me and my sister presents every year which we’d find on our pillows when we arrived. We’d get there, say hello to grandma and then tear upstairs – itself a novelty as we lived in a bungalow – and see what we’d got. Colouring books and the like were plentiful. Puzzle books. Things of that nature.

And then one year it was a sponge.

And then after that, no presents. But with no explanation given as to the whys or wherefores.

We were also instructed not to play on the stairs because the neighbours had pre-emptively complained to my grandma and expressed a preference that we did not do anything which may make noise. We couldn’t play out in the garden, for example, before a certain hour (and it was a late one) because we might disturb the sleeping beauties. There were a lot of rules. But then, having said that, there were a lot of times we slid down the stairs on our bums because, fuck it, we were kids!

But as the years went on, grandma became less and less welcoming and more and more hard work. I remember one year saying that I just wanted to get on a train and go home, thinking that my pocket money at the time would get me back up the country and away from the tortuous misery of it all. I mean, this was a woman who – if we had fish and chips – would insist that the papers were put in someone else’s bin in case anyone thought that we had had fish and chips.

But then, she also slept with her curtains open so that the neighbours wouldn’t think she was lazy if she didn’t have them opened by a certain hour.

So, hey ho.

And recent memory is tainted by the absolute misery that she put mum and dad through when they brought her up the country to live with them. They’d visited her not long before and found that everything was in a state and, talking with the neighbours, it transpired that she wasn’t washing or cleaning or generally doing anything. Just living in a cardigan. So they did the decent thing and brought her up here to live our her days. My dad’s original hope was that they wouldn’t have to put her in a home, that she’d be manageable living with them for however long was left – when they brought her up she was frail as anything.

But the years rolled by and everything was governed by her presence. And the fact that her dementia knocked out any last vestiges of niceness from her being. She was awful. Rude, ungrateful and generally a handful for both mum and dad. But mainly mum, because she had a weird hang-up about any women who got close to men in her family. It became apparent, as well, that she was insanely misbehaving – on purpose – as mum or dad would catch her doing things just because she knew it got a rise – and created tension – out of the other.

Eventually she had to go in a home. She didn’t want to. But she had to. They couldn’t cope any more. And so she did. And then dad died the year after – about six months after, for want of a better phrase, getting his life back.

And so she’s been like the Sword of Damocles, hanging over us, since then. Mum’s house, loft and garage is peppered with the contents of grandma’s house which was meant to be sorted when she’d gone into a home but wasn’t something dad ever got round to. And we haven’t got round to it either because… meh, we haven’t got round to anything like that. Still. I think that’s me not wanting to say goodbye. I mean, I know it is. If I start sorting out stuff it’s like I’m removing traces of dad from my life and I don’t want to do it. And I guess that’s why dad didn’t do it either. I mean, she was still his mum. Even if she thought she was in her twenties and was living in Orpington.

When mum called tonight it was weird. It wasn’t like a collapse of grief like when dad died. It was just a relief. It sounds awful to say that. But it was. There’s the conflicting emotions of the fact that she was my gran and the fact that I know – and have witnessed – her to be an absolute cowbag when she wanted to be. And there’s the relief that we don’t have to worry about stuff any more. We don’t have to constantly make sure there’s money to cover the home fees each month or – in Carole’s case – take mum on ridiculously regular toiletry runs to the home (we have been working on the assumption that the rate of soap consumption indicates we have actually been providing soap for the whole home) and countless other things.

We can start sorting stuff out. Me and my sister can fight over who gets to inherit the blue bowl which is, apparently, a family heirloom but no-one had ever seen it before it started to live in my parent’s front room. I’m happy to let my sister have it. I’m sure she’s happy to let me have it. We can close things down. We can stop worrying about the fact that the doctors and/or hospitals mix up my gran’s medical records with mum’s (hopefully).

But more importantly, I hope, it’ll take some of the pressure of mum. Because I know since dad died the mantle of responsibility has weighed heavily upon her. I have been present for almost every rant she has had regarding the situation. They have not been pleasant.

There’s a lot of admin in my future. I don’t think I’ve ever really got a handle on all of grandma’s various accounts and things. They’re just in a file labelled “mum” that my dad made. We’ve never really looked in it. We’ve just added things to it over the past couple of years. And fun as it would be to leave it all to half-blind stroke victim to sort out, I can’t do that. I know dad sorted a lot of stuff out a while ago. But it’s never something that was really discussed.

I think I’m going to be one of those people you see in movies and the like, with loads of paper spread out over a table, and one of those adding machines, beavering away into the night.

 

 

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D’Oh

There was a moment, earlier today, where it was looking extremely likely that Carole would come home to find me glued to the kitchen worktops by what was (at the time) an insanely sticky mess of dough.

I have started, this year, a nonsense idea where I (or we, depending on whether we have time at the weekends etc) are going to do 52 different bakes across the year. There is also a similar project afoot regarding soup because, apparently, we’re massive nerds this year. But the baking is where the action is at. And this week – week 3 – is maple bars.

Maple bars don’t really exist outside of the US, by the looks of it. There’s certainly no recipes geared towards a UK-based chef as everything is in cups. Pfft. Cups. Get proper measurements, people. The bars themselves are, basically, like an iced finger with maple icing on. That’s the best way of looking at them. Mine aren’t bars, they’re squares. But that’s fine as well because they’re basically diabetes in a cakey form, so it’s probably for the best that they’re smaller squares rather than bars double the size.

To be fair, though, I’m lucky they came out at all.

Because the dough was just… well, it was a massive pile of slime for quite some time.

I don’t know if it was an issue with the cups thing – whether I wasn’t measuring quite enough when it came to the dry ingredients or what I don’t know, but it was a mess. A warm, sticky mess. And once I’d come into contact with it, everything else I came into contact with became covered in the dough. Like King Midas, but with a cinnamon-y dough mixture.

I eventually managed to get it into a manageable lump through the liberal use of the flour sifter. Which was more or less adhered to my hand, and my bread spanner – I have no idea what the technical name for it is, it’s like a scraper/cutter thing for baking – which was stuck to my other hand. There was also a spatula involved. No-one needs to know where that was stuck.

At one point I was considering ditching the whole lot and calling it quits. Having now made the bars, I’m glad I didn’t because they are delicious. But earlier this afternoon disposing for everything was looking like that best option. The only reason I didn’t was because I couldn’t work how to get the stuff off the work top and into a bin bag without becoming stuck to everything in the house.

I was, though, quite disappointed in the universe.

Because if ever there was a time to get a phone call or someone at the door, it’s when your hands are stuck to the worktop via the medium of thick dough and, if you manage to pull them free, they look like they’ve been modeled by Nick Park for use in a claymation film.

 

SnowPocalypse

I went into work this afternoon, to lock a couple of lovely people in the dungeon.

When I left home, it was sleeting. It had been hailing and raining on and off throughout the day, but not with any great lasting effect. When I arrived in town, it was damp but clear.

I went into work, set up for the game and marvelled at the sound of hail slamming into the windows. It was like a constant stream of tiny ice bullets being blasted at the panes of glass. I didn’t think that much of it, though.

And then I went downstairs to open the door and wait for the team to arrive…

And it was a winter wonderland out there.

Oh and absolute bloody chaos.

It was about half past four at this time, but what had obviously happened is that everyone has seen the hail coming down and settling and had suddenly all decided that they needed to go home. Straight away. Like right now.

And then they all decided, collectively, that they would drive like nobs. But there would be different level of nob depending on the type of car and, indeed, type of number plate. If you hit the jackpot of BMW or Merc with personalised number plate you could almost guarantee that you would be able to watch them almost kill themselves or others with their ridiculous driving skills.

I watched a BMW gun its engine like mad, causing the back wheels to spin with no purchase whatsoever. Literally no other car was doing this, they’d all set off slowly from the stop brought about by traffic lights and they were all fine. The BMW, though, was doing so badly that a man in a taxi stopped and told them what to do. And also to get off the main road and take a different route.

But you know you’ve crossed a line when you’re being told how to drive by someone who drives a taxi. Taxis, as we all know, do not adhere to any of the road laws or regulations as we understand them. They do not have to use correct lanes, lights or indicators. They do not have to adhere to speed limits. The only rule that a taxi has to follow is that it must have a fully exposed Magic Tree in the car and the radio must be tuned to something terrible, but loud. Other than that they can do whatever the frick they want.

And yet there they are, telling BMW drivers how to drive. It was amazing. It’s the sort of thing that people make “restores faith in humanity” videos about on YouTube.

It was a highlight in what was an otherwise embarrassing moment for the country, proving once again that we can’t cope with a teensy bit of bad weather. Whole towns should not become gridlocked by a bit of hail. Traffic around town was still insane at 7pm – some two and a half hours after the hail had come, and some two hours after most of it had melted anyway.

It’s snowing now. We could wake up tomorrow to upwards of 3 or 4 millimetres of the stuff.

 

 

Stamp Duty

Yesterday when we were at mum’s, I was tasked with being responsible for sending a parcel to my sister. The reasons behind this are many but boil down to the fact that mum doesn’t trust her local Post Office after – many years ago – sending a parcel next day delivery and finding, after some investigation, that it was still sitting in the post office several days later. And the fact that the Post Office in Halifax town centre has now amalgamated with WHSmith’s and the last time she was in there to go to the Post Office she accidentally went to the wrong end of the queue and a woman nearly lynched her.

So, as dutiful son it’s my responsibility to stroll to our local post office and send the parcel.

I haven’t sent anything in analogue form for ages. I’m a digital guy. If I can send it electronically, I will do. I do do.

As such I may have let out several gasps when the price of various things was revealed to me.

The parcel itself – weight weighed less than a bag of sugar – cost £3.40 to post to my sister. My sister lives in Glasgow. She doesn’t live, say, in another galaxy. I know it’s technically another country and everything, but even so it seemed quite a lot of money to send a box of stuff that didn’t weigh very much on a journey to somewhere a few hours away.

And then a book of six stamps.

The  book of stamps cost more or less the same amount as the parcel. I have never clutched something so closely to my person in ages. You know when you’re told not to walk around with your phone out because you advertise the fact you have valuables on you? I was like that with the book of stamps. I stopped short of leaving the post office and saying, loudly, “Oh well, it’s a shame you didn’t have any books of stamps to sell me. Oh well, I’ll just go home with this small cardboard folder which contains a shopping list and nothing else…” so as to dissuade any ne’er-do-wells from following me, pushing me to the ground and making off with the stamps that I can only assume have actual gold in them.

A “decent” looking Penny Black stamp (according to a very dull webpage) can cost £25 (tip top condition is up around the £1800 mark). I paid nearly a fifth of that for six stamps that were probably printed last week. The Penny Black has survived two World Wars and exposure to Victorian spit, and we all know from historic dramas that the Victorians were not the healthiest when it came to spit. It’s 170 years old, for chuff’s sake. And a “decent” version is worth the equivalent of 36 first class stamps today.

I think I’ll stick with doing stuff electronically…

 

Stash In The Attic

Today was a visit to mum’s. And with every visit to mum’s there’s a to-do list which we can’t read because her handwriting is terrible. That’s not a slight on her writing skills post-stroke. It was crap before. Now it’s the same, but smaller.

The list, though, required me to venture into the loft. She had written “mice?” twice on her list, convinced that she had heard the sound of traps slamming shut as she lay in bed. But also convinced that she might actually have exploding head syndrome as well.

So into the loft I went to inspect all the mousetraps. None of them contained mice. They all contained the poison-laden peanut butter and nothing else. You can’t go too close to the traps, you have to observe them from a distance – not because they’re in hard to reach places but because they tend to go off (in a way which scares the shit out of you) if you even so much as look at them. The weight of a gaze is enough to trigger them, so imagine what a mouse would do.

Anyway, finding no mice I set to on a bit of a rummage. I was looking for a couple of things which mum wanted. I didn’t find all of it because it’s like a junk shop up there.

But I did find an erotic book.

Which was both intriguing and worrying.

It was amongst a pile of stuff made up things of my parents’ and things from my grandma. So I had no idea who to attribute this bit of porn lit to. I mean, neither option is particularly great, though.

So, naturally, I took a picture of it and stuck it on Instagram. My sister commented, summing up how we all felt,  with a simple “fucking hell!”

It turns out the book belongs to my parents. The story mum told is that it was ordered by dad because it was free from Reader’s Digest or something. They must have been doing a saucy line, or something, because all the other Reader’s Digest books I’ve ever seen in our house have been those condensed books ones and none of them had tits and bums in them.

So the book came and, by the sounds of it, dad gave it a good read and then advised my mum not to proceed further than chapter one.

“He told me he’d thrown it away,” she said. “Well, now I know why he kept going up into the loft…”

Parents, eh?