Saturday, December 30, 2017

Forgive me Reader, For I Have Sinned. It's Been Two Years Since My Last Post

There aren’t, thankfully, many times in my life where I’m watching a shitstorm unfold in front of me while I think ‘Oh great! I did this.’

But it happened on Christmas Day, my sister and two nieces hugging one another for reassurance as they cried and screamed. Their exact words are lost to me now, but they were along the lines of “Ungrateful bastard!” and “He’s ruined everything!”

I’d been at their home for ten minutes, but the argument had kicked off as soon as I walked through the door. It happened because I'd specifically asked them not to buy me anything as I’d just lost my new job and it was easier all round to hide in my flat throughout December eating Doritos and not actually buying anyone anything. When I walked into the living room and saw a mound of presents however, I felt at once impotent, embarrassed, and ashamed.

‘Can’t you just save them for my birthday?’ I asked diplomatically. It didn’t help that my sister has a dark temper and zero patience that wasn't helped by a cold and her cooking all morning.

‘Don’t be so ungrateful!’ she snapped, speeding from gift-giving to rage in just under a second.
"Ungrateful," it transpires, is my trigger word and soon after, I’d stormed out of the house. My sister’s boyfriend managed to talk me back in (quite easily; I was starving), and after a Christmas meal in near-silence, I ended up creeping out and driving home before dessert once it became clear my presence was so toxic that there was no point in me staying.

I felt wretched and when I got home. I didn’t bother to turn on the lights and sat in the dark sobbing like a drain or, if you prefer, like an overweight forty-something with two dead parents and no wife or job and the remaining three members of my family not speaking to me.

I wasn’t really with it after Mum died, and my boss of ten-and-a-half years hadn’t helped. I’d like to say he meant well but I can’t as, at best, he’d horribly fucking misjudged the situation.
Mum died mid-November 2015. Two weeks later, having returned to work a fat demoralised orphan, he assumed that what I needed was to be thrown an exciting job ultimatum: As my decade-long getting in for 9am not counting occasional train delays really pissed him off, I was to commit to 8:45am starts each morning. If not, I could come in for 9am and take a cut in wages, or else work ‘til 7pm. As my hour's lunchbreak already consisted of me running across the road to get a sandwich and eating it at my desk in ten minutes flat before carrying on with work, my argument was always that it mitigated any morning lateness and then some.

But he never saw it that way. He just really hated my 9am starts.

And so, as I left on Christmas Eve 2015 for my first zero parents yuletide having lost Mum just five weeks before, my boss’s final sentence was a cheery ‘Think it over!’ as he shut the door behind me.

I’d been back less than ten minutes in 2016 when, after standard pleasantries, he asked what my decision was.
‘Is everything still as you say? 8:45am, or a wage cut, or changing my hours?’
‘Well you’re kinda boxing me into a corner here, so I don’t really have a choice and feel like I have to resign.’
‘Put it in writing then,’ he said breezily as he sat down at his desk, the cheerfulness of his reply at odds with his shock when I handed him my resignation that evening.

Turns out he'd been bluffing and I'd called it, but what followed was a mess. The boss decided to get  a freelance HR person in to an emergency meeting. I wasn't all that happy about his weird motivational fuckery, while he was annoyed (or at any rate it gnawed in his head) about the two extra weeks I took off to bury my mother and deal with her no longer breathing, as I had by then used up all my leave. 

All we established was the same old status quo where I agreed, as I always did, to do my utmost to get in by 9am and not after, but weeks later, things had really gone downhill. I was seeing a bereavement counsellor and didn’t know what the hell I was doing with my life other than going through the motions. Then my Mum's little dog that she absolutely doted on died, and that raw sense of loss overtook me again. Meanwhile, I was having more selfish neighbour flare-ups with 1am music blasting out from one of the apartments, and a new management company who really couldn’t give a fuck about my complaints. And at work, our cold stalemate exploded into a nasty argument one Monday morning and I felt it best to go home.

‘I’ll take this as a full day’s leave’, I told the boss as I left, and called my mate Ed on the way out. I wanted to see if he was around for an impromptu coffee but he had an 11am shift starting and suggested I see my doctor instead to get a note.
Things had been really shit, he said, and with my boss demonstrating all the compassion and understanding of a stucco wall, he thought it sensible to prepare for the worst.

‘I guess so,’ I replied, and with nothing better to do, I headed straight for the station, got the train home, walked to the doctor’s, pleaded with the receptionist dragons that sorry for not booking but I would only be five literal minutes, then burst into tears when I saw him.

It caught me by surprise as I thought I was coping quite well as he signed me off work for a week. I emailed the form through to the office which was met with a stony silence, but guilt and responsibility got the better of me and I only took three days off; three days spent compiling photos and hanging up pictures of my dead parents.

In the end, my boss had had enough and offered me “two or three month’s wages” to just fuck off forever, though I didn’t take him up on it at the time. It took me a couple more months to realise this was actually a pretty good deal so,  in the spring of 2016, I reminded him if he ever remembered his offer and when he said he did, I told him I'd take him up on it and I resigned. I had worked at that company for almost eleven years - most of my thirties then into my forties, and all of this blog - and tried to concentrate on the pluses (getting on the housing ladder with my flat), and not the minuses (rotting there for over a decade, and not having any romantic female contact since my last dates when I started work in 2005).

So it was a bit of a shock when I left the company, and my final pay packet was exactly the same as it always was. I was given a pen though, and it turned out that without his offer in writing, he thought that would suffice. (It took a further six months and having to hire a solicitor to get it sorted.)
I used my newfound freedom to give myself an amazing summer of 2016. I didn’t go on holiday, but quitting my dead-end job meant I had the time and inclination to diet and hit the gym hard. Over two intense months, I lost a remarkable two stone and for the first time in several years, I felt lighter, happier, and energised. I could see a future once again; with no job, the possibilities felt endless. I could write. I could do 'any old job' and meet new people. I thought about studying to become a counsellor (but didn’t, due to the expense and arbitrariness of choosing that as a career. I also have a counsellor cousin who scared me off when he told me “Hell is other people” - and he's way more fucking cheerful than me.)

I was a little too eager in my weight loss endeavours. My new lifestyle wasn’t exactly realistic or, y'know, liveable, and I gave up as I didn’t feel I could both diet, and look for work – a job in itself – at the same time.
I tend to do new things with such intensity that I compartmentalise them into standalone projects instead of babystepping sensibly through everything together, and burn myself out. This meant by August 2016, I stopped gymming and drinking cold, horrific liquidised vegetable mulch each day, and switched instead to spending a few hours each day trawling through jobsites and applying for work. 

It was painfully slow and dispiriting, and because I’m the junk-food equivalent of an alcoholic, I started buying Tescos Chicken Caesar Wraps and Sun-dried tomato and feta pasta salads for lunch which I kidded myself was vaguely healthy until I added what were once called ‘Family-sized’ bags of crisps as an appetizer. Needless to say, by last Christmas, I'd secured a handful of interviews for jobs I never got, and regained all the weight I lost to boot.

So, looking and feeling like shit, just a slave to my pathetic weaknesses and failing to get that magical, exciting new job I thought was just around the corner, I broke the habit of a lifetime; I spoke to my doctor about anti-depressants.

They did nothing at first and I felt nothing, neutral; not happy, but not completely miserable either. Then after about a month, I felt great. Normally I'd have to be on a strict diet and cry on a treadmill every other day to get that warm sense of achievement but now, a pill each evening was all it took. 

By mid-May after five and a half months of intense job searching (I must have applied for about 300 jobs by then), I managed to get a great job just fifteen minutes’ walk from my flat, and for considerably more money than before. Finally, I had turned everything around, notwithstanding my weight which got turned around then put back again.
With things back on track and feeling good, I decided I didn’t want to get addicted to anti-depressants so a few months ago, I decided to ween myself off them, a six-week process of reduction that as luck would have it, coincided neatly with my sudden sacking. 

I had passed my three-month probation period comfortably. The directors didn’t much give a shit. There was no appraisal or meeting. Time simply passed so I sent an email to remind them and asked if they had any issues about me they'd like to raise. They didn’t, not that they bothered to reply.
But that all changed a few months later anyway when I was asked to go into the meeting room one Monday morning in October. I grabbed my notepad and pen thinking we were about to have an impromptu meeting but instead, I was sacked on the spot. There was no verbal or written warning, just ‘It’s not working out', and fuck off.

To say I was shocked was an understatement. I'd had two interviews to get the job - the second one lasting a full day - and I was asked to prepare a report. My first two weeks was spent shadowing my predecessor and getting an in-depth feel for the role so there'd be a good handover. And when they sacked me, they wanted me gone that instant even though it would fuck them up as much as it did me, and that's a tremendous blow to anyone's confidence, being wanted rid of that urgently.

I suspected something was afoot though, as the company had just hired a waddling lard-arse comprised of 20% duplicity and 80% pie and who saw no hypocrisy in calling me fat, and who clearly wanted to make a name for himself as a ruthless cost-cutter. And while I thought I'd been settling in quite nicely, the truth was I never really gelled with anyone and I could be booted out with relative ease. There were a few people I got on with, but it was an extremely cliquey company in an industry I had no background in and I simply didn't fit; My complete disinterest in any kind of sport didn't help either.

I did get on with a couple of guys though. One I sent a text to a couple of days after I was fired, but he misconstrued what I wrote and thought I was blaming him for my sacking, so that's us never speaking again.The other wanted to meet up a few weeks later which cheered my spirits until he asked me for a £10,000.00 investment in a business he wanted to set up. I politely declined, and remain thoroughly unsurprised that we've not spoken since.

So with no income coming in, I asked my family for a Xmas gift freeze that got ignored.

I have had two interviews with a charity in London, though. I hope I get it despite the large drop in salary and the fact it’s only three days a week – giving me very little to live on – but I'll be grateful to work in the public sector again which suits me ethically. I really don’t want to work for money-motivated Del Boys ever again. 

At least this fucking year’s nearly over, one that was spent mostly unemployed, largely on antidepressants, and wholly overweight. It’s New Year’s Eve tomorrow, and for the first time in over twenty years, I’m likely to be spending it home alone. It feels quite appropriate.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015


In retrospect, the loss of my father last year feels like Training Death. I apologise if that sounds flippant, but Dad's passing was almost textbook. He got older and greyer, he couldn't walk as well as he did, and the cough that would go on to kill him got so bad that a physician with poor social skills was (just about) able to tell my sister and me that Dad had about six months left.

In fact, he was five months and three weeks out, as Dad faded before our eyes and died a week later.

I went to pieces. I sobbed so hard that my shoulders shook, and curled up in bed bleating 'Dad!' When the day of the funeral came two days later as per religious custom, I broke down when I saw his coffin, barely kept it together during the service, and just about managed to stay sane as I became the first of many to scoop three shovelfuls of earth onto his casket.

But then I had work to do. As Executor of his Estate, I had to tidy up the mess Dad left behind. His cards and overdraft debts were a couple of grand more than the £20,000 life insurance we received when he died, and I did my best to sort things out with his banks. I can even say with confidence that Dad would've been proud that I solved his secret financial fuck ups and months after it was all done, I smiled happily when I thought of him.

But Mum... I just don't know. I don't think I'll ever fully recover, not completely. Dad and I got on okay, but Mum and I were really close. When Dad died, I began phoning Mum literally every single day. I tried to spend as much time as I could with my sole surviving parent - time I now think wasn't nearly enough, and I began my Big Plan. 

It took months for me to summon up the will, but after my summer holiday and the fattest I'd ever been, I finally managed to start my 2015 diet. I'd completed a couple of great months with visits to the gym every other day, and I lost 11lbs. And I was just getting started. The plan was to power through November and December then start dating, no matter what my weight, in the New Year. The Big Plan, ambitious though it was, was to finally meet someone special, get married, and bang out the kids. I was even happy to skip the marriage part, and ideally squeeze in a new job I've been bleating about for the six or so years I've been blogging. I wanted to be a success for my Mum, and wanted to give her grandchildren.

But Mum died.

Even though I'm typing that, and even though I've discussed this at length with family and friends for two weeks straight, it's still not sinking in, not really. I still say the words, and recall those last horrible days, and I even acknowledge and accept that she's gone, but at the very same time, I don't. It's too awful, and weird, and surreal. I just haven't spoken to her or seen her for a fortnight, that's all.

That last Monday night we saw her truly alive was exhausting. My sister, her two girls and I couldn't sleep. And as we lay in our beds - I chose my sofa as it felt less permanent - we feared that call in the middle of the night but it never came. Instead we went back to see Mum, unconscious and unresponsive on the hospital bed, that damn tube in her dry mouth. We'd hold and squeeze her hand, and kiss her head, but she didn't move a muscle.

Our cousins turned up. They'd cancelled work to be with us. We bought coffees and sent texts and spoke to other relatives to update them, as my sister and I had been given some ghastly options: The hospital still needed to stabilise Mum for an operation but even if she got there, she could easily die in the process. And if Mum were to have a heart attack at any time, we were asked if they should resuscitate.

I squinted in astonishment. 'Of course!' I said. My sister urgently agreed.
'Well it's not very dignified,' the head of Intensive Care told us, 'plus it would only keep her alive at that moment. Mum could have another attack right afterwards.'
And as she talked, the prognosis got worse. They could break her ribs. If Mum ever got out of hospital at all, she simply wouldn't be the person she was when she came in, and she was already wheelchair-bound with a urine colostomy bag and prone to all number of infections. She'd probably need a bag for faeces next as the operation was thought to be needed in her colon. But the real kicker was this: if, against all the odds, Mum did come back after that, if her weak body had the op and had a heart attack and she was forced back to life having endured it all, there was a chance she might return to us brain-damaged.

My step-family had been extremely stoic throughout all of this. The only person other than my stepfather to cry, albeit briefly, was my step-sister, when I called to give her an update:
'We were asked about whether or not to resuscitate Mum, if it came to it.'
'Well?' she asked, 'will you?' 
I had to pause. Even short words were a struggle at trying moments.


There was a magical Hollywood moment later that day. I'd been sat in the relatives' waiting room next to the ICU when my youngest niece came running in.
'Grandma's responding!' she squawked.
'Her arm! Come and see!'
I ran into the ward. Mum looked no different as she lay there with her eyes closed, motionless. But my sister and her eldest were both stood there smiling.
'We've been talking to her!' my sister said. 'Watch her arm,' and as I looked down, her left arm suddenly flailed into the air.
'Oh Jesus!' I yelled as I grabbed her hand and squeezed it. 'Mum, it's me! Are you there?'
I felt her arm twitch, so I let go and stepped back as her arm rose up and back down again.
We cried with joy.

'Mum!' we said, 'Open your eyes! Can you speak to us?' and then Mum's jaw began to wriggle and writhe. She was trying to talk, to communicate with us were it not for the tube in her mouth, but it was happening, her incredible recovery! We'd had two years of her in and out of hospital. We were almost indifferent to it now as we'd visit each day to hear her complain about the food and her nails looking crap, until her infection cleared up and we'd make plans for her to go home. And now it seemed she was going for the full scare before getting better once again.

But nothing happened apart from her arm, and her mouth, and I couldn't work out why she wasn't squeezing my hand or listening to what we asked.

And then the horrible truth dawned after several minutes; Mum was barely aware of us, if at all. Her only sensation was this thing in her mouth she was trying to spit out or yank free with her flailing arm she hardly had the strength to raise.
'Oh god,' I yelled at a nurse, 'she knows something's wrong. She's scared!'
The nurse squinted at the monitors, and looked at her blood pressure and heart rate.
'No', he said, 'she's fine. Just confused, probably. We'll put her under a little more.'
And as they administered more sedative that stilled Mum for good, we drifted back to the waiting room to wait.

My sister called me the next morning at 6:30am, but I was already awake. Although I expected the worse, I was exceptionally calm.
'She's alive,' she told me, 'but the hospital have asked us to come in. Her signs are starting to fade.'

And that was it as we all gathered round her bedside two weeks ago to the day, holding her hands, kissing her forehead, and telling her how much we loved and adored her. I never did get the return squeeze I longed for. In truth, Mum as we knew her died two days earlier when she managed to say her final words,

'Love you...'

I have never cried as much as I did that day, and did so to the point of panic. My breathing became erratic and as I gasped lungfuls of air, I thought I might die there myself. As I clutched on to Mum's hand and kissed her arm, I wished to trade places with her right there, to be the one dying on that bed instead of her but for some reason, I'd taken that fanciful notion so seriously that I realised if the roles were truly reversed, my mother wouldn't be able to stand the pain we were all feeling.

I was deep into vast rollercoaster waves of grief by that point; cool and detached for the most part, often cracking poor jokes and generally making light of the situation when suddenly, my eyes would tear over and I'd sob violently and quietly, just about able to keep my breakdown to myself.

Then we had that quick funeral. I laughed and smiled and put on that brave face when my friends arrived. When I saw frowns, I told them to cheer up. I'd done this before not that long ago and knew how this would play out, yet I dreaded seeing that coffin. I knew I'd fall to pieces and my cheerful exterior would be betrayed - but it never happened. I walked into the hall and there was her casket. I kept telling myself Mum was in there, but it just didn't seem real. None of it seemed real; just one long, bad, made for TV movie I happened to be in, and as I watched that coffin get lowered into the ground, I shook my head in disbelief. It wasn't grief either, but head cocked to one side, what-the-fuck-is-that-supposed-to-mean? disbelief, and I knew right then that something was seriously wrong and I'd have to visit a counsellor.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Mum Doesn't Have Long To Live

I'm a little numb to be writing this; I'm still trying to summon up the will to finish writing what's become the world's longest summer holiday blog-post, when this has happened:

At eight o'clock last night, my mother was taken to Intensive Care where a tube was put down her throat, and lines were inserted into her neck to keep her alive. She's now unconscious, having been fairly alert in hospital for the last two weeks. In fact she's been in and out of hospital for the last two years so we're all used to it. We thought this was just another bump in the road.

Mum suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and has been in a wheelchair for at least twenty years. The net effect of this has been the atrophying of her legs. They don't do anything anymore except gain fluid and over time, this has caused complications.

When she was first diagnosed back in the Eighties, she tried everything to beat it and walk again. She flew to Germany to meet a doctor who was working on pioneering research that as far as I recall, went nowhere. She had all her fillings removed and replaced with a substance that was supposed to be better for her. And she had surgery to insert a kind of electrical widget into her body to trigger her nerves back to life. But nothing worked and she concentrated instead on trying to live as normal a life as possible.

But it wasn't easy. Being wheelchair-bound, a simple trip to the shops is a huge undertaking. She needs carers to dress her weeping legs, and a home help to cook meals. Mum hasn't worn shoes for years, and recently, her visits to hospital have increased as complications set in. We took all this as it came; she certainly did. Though it would've been nice if she didn't falter quite so soon after my Dad, her first husband, died last year. The timing was pretty shitty.

Mum always recovered though from the leg infections that started affecting her mind, making her, temporarily at least, babble. It was petrifying to see, but the few antibiotics she wasn't allergic to would kick in and she'd be her normal, chuckling self a few days later, eager to get home to her quiz shows and to her small, fat dog that dotes on her.

So when Mum went back in to hospital of her own volition this time (my sister and I would normally have to insist she go in), we thought it was just another dip. And like I say, a few days later she was the chattiest she's ever been - and then she deteriorated.

Mum looked tired, and stopped eating. She'd started throwing up too; little amounts of stomach acid she's casually retch into a cardboard bowl as there was no actual food in her. And day by day, she got a little worse.

Last night, I did my usual skip out of work an hour earlier and got to the hospital. I was feeling okay til I saw my sister and niece, red-eyed and sobbing, and I panicked. When I parted the curtain around Mum's bed, I saw her with a ventilator mask on. She was panting, and grasping on to the bed rail as if trying to escape.  I stepped towards her.

'Mum?' I said, as casually as I could. She looked around trying to focus, and I brought my face to her.
'Hello sweetie, are you okay?' I asked as I kissed her forehead.
Mum mumbled something. It was short and urgent, and her eyes widened as if compelled to by a brief, terrifying moment of lucidity.
'Love you,' Mum panted.
'I love you too, Mum,' I said. I was proud of how casual I sounded.
'Love you,' she panted again. There was panic in her voice, and I hyperventilated as I stepped away from her bed.

This shouldn't be happening. I wasn't ready. We weren't ready. And I'd still done bugger-all with my life to make her proud.

A nurse approached and said she needed to go to Intensive Care. I kept it together, and nodded like a fucking pro. Mum would've been proud of that. In fact, over the last year, she'd started to listen to me more and would even defer to whatever I told her to do. She even listened to me over the opinion of my stepfather who didn't want her to go to hospital at all. And the responsibility unnerved me.

'She needs an operation on her bowel,' a sober-looking man told me, 'but she's weak. She has sepsis. She won't survive it so we need to stabilize her as much as possible first.'
My sister came running over. 'Please save my mummy; don't let her die.'
The doctor gave a half-smile and cringed while I nodded some more. 'Don't worry,' I said, 'No pressure. Okay.'
Just nod.
When the doctor left, I walked into the corridor to call my step-father. Despite it all, he still had no idea his wife was dying.

'Please come in to the hospital now,' I said.
'I've been!' he told me cheerfully. 'I went this afternoon. Shame. She looks very poor.'
'No,' I replied as something gripped hold of my throat and made the words squeeze out like they were caught in a vice, 'She's... really... not well'

And then we waited. I had small windows of tearfulness, but there was a glimmer of hope while she was alive. Mum always told me to never give up on hope; if there was any hope anywhere, it had to be clung on to - though I did have the dual loop in my head of General Melchett in Blackadder IV: "If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through."

We spotted my step-father stagger in to the hospital and head to the ward my mother was no longer in, and my niece ran to get him. We gathered round and said as calmly as we could that Mum was going to Intensive Care to be stabilized for an op, but her chances weren't good. We'd been warned that her age and her many complications all went against her.
'Oh dear,' my step-father said.

As we headed up to the relatives' waiting room adjoining Intensive Care, my head was killing me from stress, emotion, and not the greatest amount of sleep the night before. We couldn't see Mum yet, as there'd been a struggle to set her up to the ventilator and feed wires into her body. All we could do was sit and wait and think, and stare at the NHS posters plastered all over the walls that we read without taking them in. After an hour, my step-father's children turned up and sat down next to him.
'Oh dear,' he said again and started to cry, which set me and my sister off as we've never seen him cry before.

Two more hours passed. A surgeon appeared with a team, and said more of the same things with a somber tone. She's very, very ill. She needs surgery, but the scar tissue from earlier operations over the years were causing them concern. She's not even well enough to get the scan she needs to work out their next move. But we could see her soon.

It was midnight when a nurse ushered us in. My stepfather had already gone home. He didn't want to see her in that state. I didn't either, but my sister was adamant that she was going to see her and there was talk that Mum might even be able to hear us, at least in theory, as she was only mildly sedated.

We walked in to a hospital cliche. The machine next to our mother gave a gentle, rhythmic beep and the lights all around us were off, apart from a strong beam that lit up her gaunt face. Her mouth was open with a tube in it, and a clamp around her cheeks meant I only had room to brush a finger against her temple.
'Love you,' was all I could say, this time no longer sounding calm. My sister by comparison wouldn't shut up.
'Stay strong,' she said. 'Fight this. Get strong enough for surgery,' and I had to leave. I was so paranoid that I feared in my mother's fragile state, my sister might be putting undue pressure on her even if it was anyone's guess that she could hear us.

And then we were sent back to the relatives' room where I realised I couldn't take it any longer. I was exhausted and decided to go home, where I was thrilled to see my cat had shat all over my carpet.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Summer Holiday #3: Spain

I couldn't sleep a wink. There was a sign above the window overlooking a dodgy rear carpark that I managed to translate into 'Open this, and all bets are off', so I lay there in the darkness broiling in my own juices. The only upside to the entire experience was that if I was finding it uncomfortable, Pete was in the inner pits of hell.

After my three sweaty hours of demi-sleep, I visited him the next morning. It turned out that Pete's room on the other side of the corridor was far cooler, and he looked at me as if I had five heads when I asked him how bad his night was. He even looked refreshed and raring to go as he insulted me with casual ease and minutes later, we were back on the road. After a couple of hours, the landscape outside had morphed from flat, temperate Northern Europe to the warm, hilly terracottas of the South and that day, we made it as far down as Millau (twinned with Bridlington) where we spent the night, lucking out with a proper hotel this time that overlooked the small red-roofed town. We even had a balcony where I sat with a bottle of cheap cherry wine that in any other environment would've been turpentine, but what with the warmth, and the view, and the fact that we'd tossed a coin to see who'd sleep where and Pete got the floor, it tasted like Kelly Brook's sugary lips.

A massive bridge dominates the town, and the following day we (ie, the other two) decided we had to drive near it and look up, mainly because they could then say they stood under the tallest bridge in the world (British-designed). After a few more hour's drive, we'd crossed the unassuming border into Spain (No fanfare; just a motorway that passes two white pillars we had to assume meant something), and headed into an infrastructure of slightly shittier roads and buildings and more worn-looking tollbooths that made everything feel ever so slightly poorer.

The temperature had risen to  "fuck!" I've been to the tropics before, and in the summer too like an idiot, but this felt really bad, perhaps because in my attempts to shit out this awful novel, I'd sat on my arse for several years and eaten my way up to my fattest. And now it was taking its toll. Before moving in to our apartment, Dom had to first find the agent, sign in and get the keys (this took over an hour), then head to our sumptuous accommodation which I was thrilled to note featured a huge, wall-mounted air-conditioning unit - that refused to turn on. I probed and slapped it for a good half hour (getting drenched with sweat in the process) before losing my rag; a pure, uncomfortably moist, helplessness-based anger that had me incapable of doing anything until I had the air-conditioning I could see right in front of me.

Pete was kind enough to lend me his shit phone so I could call the agent. For some reason, he was incredibly chilled. He'd not travelled for decades and hadn't set foot in either France or Spain, and his lazy curiosity had kept him cool. By contrast, even my knees were wet and I was furious - though I still had the presence of mind to change Pete's phone language to Spanish when he wasn't looking.

I had no luck getting hold of the agent so Dom made a detour back to the office to get the air-con sorted out in person while Pete and I went out to watch Nottingham Forest get trounced by Brighton. If he was pissed off - which I assume he was - he hid it well. Pete's had years perfecting a poker face when it comes to shitty Nottingham Forest results.
Dom was in a good mood when he found us; he'd secured an air-conditioning unit which would be delivered the next day so that night, we moved on to the beach and bars of Salou....

which was nothing to write home about. We wandered along the promenade by the shore which was distinctly teenage as local kids strutted past, making us all feel ancient. Everyone else, meanwhile, seemed to be their parents. The whole damn town wasn't just outside of our age group, they weren't even in our linguistic group as ever passer-by seemed either Spanish or French.
We chose Salou to cut down the journey time as Benidorm, our original choice, was too far away. Only now did we begin to wonder if it would've catered to our needs a little better.

A few years earlier, Dom had lived in Seville and he explained how you have to immerse yourself in a language and a culture if you had any chance of banging a local. Attractive Mediterranean women in Catholic countries for some reason don't tend to have drunken one-night stands with fat, pissed  Englishman, and for the first time ever I realised that those godforsaken British/ Irish bars I normally avoid are actually the best chance I'd have to get laid.

And I had no chance. While Dom was game for a laugh, I felt like a sack of fat shit. I wasn't on my A game,* and if there's a male equivalent of a hymen (a guymen?), Pete's had grown back with a vengeance as had mine, a metaphorical ghastly flesh casket imprisoning my underwhelming sweaty goods from the world. We sat down at a crowded bar and ordered a vast homosexual cocktail. And I mean that. If this drink had a sexuality with its florid colours and fucking sparklers coming out of it, it would be totally flamingly queer. And we drank the shit out of it as mute Spanish teenagers stared at us curiously before we headed on to the only Irish bar in town.

As I was incapable of talking to young women nearby, I gravitated towards the only lady hominids who had to talk to me; the barmaids - in this case an attractive young lady from St Petersburg who was just about able to smile in my direction and once again, I knew I was not going to have sex with anyone.

*I've never had a fucking A-game

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Summer Holiday #2: France

I'd slept fairly well, considering I'd used Pete's sofa cushions as an improvised mattress and spent it on the floor while Pete snored next to me like a fucking sawmill.

Dom was fully rested too. Pete had given up his own bed for his friend to use, but then seeing as Dom was driving us all down in his car to Salou approximately 1,000 miles away, it was important that he felt refreshed. The drive down to Newhaven was largely academic; I was still half asleep as it takes me about eight hours to adjust to waking up, and I couldn't quite hear Pete's non-stop monologue at Dom as I was sat in the back. It wasn't until the ferry crawled off at 20 earth mph's and the three of us sat in the ferry canteen that I got subjected to Pete's stream of consciousness, and I zoned out as I usually do.

I did bring along a copy of my book though (available through Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions), so I could quite literally wave it in his face. Pete took it from me with a grimace, and flicked through the pages as if it were an animated flip book before handing it right back.
'Don't you want to read a bit of it?' I asked.
'I don't read international bestsellers,' Pete said, 'so why should I read some Joe Shmo nobody?'
'Because you're fucking in it.'
Pete shrugged. 'Not interested,' he added, so I changed his phone language to French when he wasn't looking.

It was 4pm when we crawled off the ferry and headed into the continent. Decency and fair play were now off the menu, as were, it transpired, working towns. We drove for a couple of hours making sure we avoided the traffic of Paris, and found a small place just off the motorway so we could fill the car up and get something to eat but the whole place seemed deserted. It was eerie; there was just the occasional pedestrian walking past closed shops despite it being early evening, and we were starting to give up hope until we saw the first of many out-of-town hypermarkets that the French hate for being Anglo-Saxon American-inspired hell-holes whilst at the same time, reliable, well-stocked, and open.

Pete bought himself a cheap tennis racket as he and Dom were going to play in Spain.
'Actually, I wouldn't mind having a go,' I said as I watched Pete test the strings by bouncing a racket off his open palm.
'You?' he baulked, pausing mid-bounce for effect.
'Uh, sure,' I replied. 'I haven't played for a few years and I'd quite lik-'
'Let's be absolutely clear here; you have no part in this,' Pete said as he waved his hand over the imaginary tennis universe in front of him. ' This is between me and Dom.'
'I get that, but I just want to, y'know... bat a few balls about.'
Pete chuckled to himself and his oversized shoulders shook. 'Once again; there will be no batting, no swinging, no...'
'Whatever,' I said, and walked off as he continued to reel off present participles. I'd forgone a plane for that flight-allergic fucker.

It was pleasantly warm outside as we ate our packaged supermarket sandwiches in the car park while French versions of People of Walmart wandered past sneering Gallicly. With food in my hand and 12 days of freedom all ahead, I was actually happy until a stripey winged insect took a shine to me and tried to make a home in my hair. Pete enjoyed this rather too much as I was forced to abandon my sandwich in favour of running. I hadn't seen him laugh that hard since 1995.

The weather got a little warmer as we drove south into the evening, and to pass the time we were forced to play I-Spy which got ridiculously, childishly competitive, particularly considering our collective age was 141 and there was only three of us. I was sat in the front now with a huge map on my lap (Pete doesn't "do maps"), and I'd chosen La Ferté-Saint-Aubin as a good place to sleep in. But that town was dead too apart from one lively pizzeria we'd decided to visit once we found a room for the night. Unfortunately, we had to drive on for another twenty minutes until we found a hotel but it was too expensive, so we U-turned back through La Ferté and out the other side where we booked ourselves into a dirt-cheap Formula 1 hotel, self-service former shipping containers (literally) we'd passed an hour earlier.
Once we'd got a cheap room each, we set off for something to eat.
Though everywhere was closed.
Or closing.
We were too late.

'There's a McDonalds in Olivet' a waiter told us in one restaurant before shooing us out, and our first night in France ended with the sad munching of a dry, stale Big Mac that took an uncharacteristically long time to arrive. And it would've been nice if we could just get back to our hotel afterwards, but even though we could see it in the distance, Dom's GPS seemed to think we could drive on the left and it sent us miles away among a tangled collection of French B-roads.

It took an hour for us to get the half a mile back, where we passed out in tiny sweatboxes that had once shipped car parts and toasters to Marseilles.

Coming up: In a series of consistently-laboured posts (or perhaps just one more), I stretch out several more days of non-happenings. You have been warned.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer Holiday #1

I couldn't take my eyes off her. She was stood outside by the corner of the pub waiting for her boyfriend as Martin and I sat on a bench under the sun, catching up over a drink.

I couldn't have been happier. I'd left my damn job early to cart my luggage to Pete's (referred to earlier in this blog as "Large Northern Flatmate", then "Large Northern ex-Flatmate"). I was staying at his house because we had an early start the next morning. Due to Pete's fear of flying, his mate Dom was driving us all through France and down to Spain.

Not Martin, though. He just lives nearby, and with ten looming days spent mere inches from Pete's mouth, I was keen to delay that never-ending monologue for as long as I could. Martin meanwhile was  normally quite entertaining, but I wasn't listening to him. I was too absorbed stealing occasional glances at the goddess nearby. I gave a little internal shrug when her boyfriend and his mate turned up, but I noticed as they sat at a nearby table for a chat that they weren't that close. In fact they were more like acquaintances, and when they left soon after, the girl stood up to once more hand out leaflets I hadn't noticed before. My god, maybe she was single? She was so my type of woman, with gorgeous, coffee-coloured skin and light curly hair, and a body so voluptuous that I'd gladly jog into ISIS-held Syria dressed as a rabbi just to see an etching of her naked silhouette for twelve seconds.

And then I felt aggrieved. Some passer-by, a Jeremy Corbyn lookalike in a flat cap, had stopped her to chat and from what I could make out, it was nothing to do with the gym she was promoting. In fact he seemed to be raging about gay pride in an irrelevant and slightly snotty way, and he continued to bang on about it for ages. My future wife in a parallel life (the life where I also win seven lotteries and have a foot-long penis) was too nice to tell him to fuck off, and I considered saying something myself.
But I didn't; that would've made me an arsehole. Instead I let him get on with it, and when he did leave forty-five minutes later, I started clapping when she caught my eye.

It turns out there's a magic formula to get beautiful women to talk to me; I just need greying homophobes to bore them for nearly an hour. That way, and only then, my presence becomes as alluring as Colin Farrell handing out free Malono Blahniks in a beauty salon.

She even sat down at the next table to chat animatedly. She had a beautiful smile, and as I made her laugh, I realised I was at the top of my game in that magical one-and-a-half pint witty zone; not so drunk that I'm slurring, but drunk enough to have funnied away my insecurities. Plus I felt incredible; I'd no work for nearly two weeks, and 100% of holiday all ahead of me. She soon returned to handing out leaflets and I came back down to earth a little... until she got bored and came back to chat.

I. Was. On. Fire.

It occurred to me to ask for her number, but I'm not a giant swaggering cockring and in any case, Martin wanted to eat and it was probably wise to quit while I was ahead. We left for chips, where I encountered regular ladies who were back to being aloof. I was properly drunk now, but by pub three I felt guilty too as I assumed Pete and Dom were waiting.

In the end I bade Martin a farewell and raced over to Pete around 10-ish, but Dom still hadn't arrived and Pete looked thoroughly indifferent as he picked his nose in front of the TV. We had a benign chat. Pete was boring and sober but fuck him! This was it, the beginning of my holiday. I'd even brought along some chilli nuts and a 4-pack of beer, though I'd left my bloody condoms at home.

I wasn't unduly worried. For a start, those condoms were Best Before 2010 and besides, I'd a sneaking suspicion that zero johnnies were the least of my worries.

Part of me knew that I'd just had the best experience I was going to get with a woman all holiday.

And I hadn't even left Greenwich yet.

Coming soon: Summer Holiday #2

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kindle Price Drop! Til the end of the week

You can now buy my shit hysterical autobiography for the bargain price of 99p ($1.54) which is a steal, considering how much it killed me to write.


The offer's only good for a few hours when it'll increase to £1.99 before ending back up to £3.49 by the end of the month.

And good or bad, do leave a review. I kinda need it to improve my (ha!) sales.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Book Is Dead; Long Live Benidorm

I've spent so many years torturing myself to create a story and bitching about it here, that I never imagined what it would be like if I did.

Actually, that's not strictly true; I thought it would be magical. I believed all my dreams would come to pass, that I would be furiously, overwhelmingly happy and everything would simply fall into place. I'd find myself, and my beautiful wife, and we'd live in wedded bliss thereafter with kids n' shit.

The truth however has been unsurprisingly underwhelming, like my book sales:

So I finally finish the book. I put it out there, and did a spot of promoting (this, it transpires, is quite hard. You have to do this every three minutes, forever). I sold a modest 3 paperbacks, and 350 kindle copies, 329 of which were given away in a free promotion.

But I don't give a tuppenny cock about the figures - even though I've just banged on about them as if I do.

Having spent over five years writing my (Ha!) "book" a creative endeavour that actually began twenty years ago, I feel justifiably proud even though it turns out that many of the purchasers have been my friends who I forgot knew about this blog and now know my deepest darkest secrets. So that's awkward. But anyway...

I still want to get this book out there. Call me biased, but I rather like it.
After uploading it to Kindle back in April, I decided to speed-read said autobiography before getting the physical copies made, and I quite enjoyed it. I was reading it properly for the first time and it wasn't too bad, even though I was a little disturbed at how much crying I seemed to do.

But my stories were there; the ups and downs, mistakes made and lessons learned. I even laughed in places as I made those final requisite trims.The book seemed to have a beginning, middle, and end. It had that journey feel to it, a Roman à clef but with more fact. It read like the story I was always trying to produce.

And I thought it would sell, but it turns out it's not that easy. You can't just put it out there and hope it stands and falls on its own. That's why large marketing and PR teams exist, companies who for vast sums of money can promote a movie and encourage enough people to see it even though it's an absolute abomination against mankind.

But with next to no promotion for a book with very little sex, mine will vanish like a beloved national institution under the Tories. 

My friends have advised me to write Book #2, which I find hysterical. It was torture cobbling together a series of stories I'd already lived and told. Book #2 would have to start here, in the present, where I've not got a fucking clue what happens next. 

And as for the present, I am the fattest I've ever been, which is a shame as something clicked inside me a few years ago when I read The Game. I realised I only had this one life and this one body. I managed to find the willpower and perseverance to lose over 30lbs/ 2.5 stone, and get in the best shape I'd been in since my teens.

That became Stage One of my Grand Life Plan. Stage Two was to get dating, but I was too paralysed by fear and chicken-shit, so I moved directly on to Stage Three: Write that Thing. And in doing so, I stopped eating lettuce and pretended I was Hemingway. I chugged back all manner of fine wines Merlot and Stella Artois and ate beige things that just needed to be heated first so that I might produce my magnum opus, and now I'm rather fat. 

My bearded face is round.

My penis has vanished beneath my gut.

And I look like a sausage.

I also have to accept that I've absolutely no excuse but to quit my job, the one I took as a stop-gap in 2005. In two weeks time, I will celebrate my tenth anniversary at a place I stayed at because of a) the 2008 recession and b), I wanted to write my way out.

I've had a few cursory glances at the jobs pages since and to tell you the truth, I'm scared. 

I'm in my forties now, yet all I can take are administrative positions. When I look at adverts for Office Managers and the like, they all seem to want people with enthusiasm. The last time I was enthusiastic, The Prodigy had just hit the charts.

But I have to do this. I can't dismiss this anymore as that job is over in my heart. I no longer want to be there, particularly as our stock and accounting systems I use on a minute-by-minute basis every single day have been switched to one that has slowed down everything I do. In the two months since the changeover, it is now impossible to get anything done any quicker. Switching over has been a colossal mistake, and my job has become infinitely more frustrating as a result.

And next week - somehow I've been told this is my fault - I'd logged my boss's weekly vacation in the diary followed by our colleague the week after. My boss then decided to extend his leave by another week and not tell anyone, meaning that from Monday, I'll have to run the damn company on my own. 

The only upside is when that fresh hell's over, I'll get my own holiday. Large Northern Flatmate (since outed in the book as "Pete" as that's his name) and I will be going to Benidorm (fucking Benidorm) with his mate Dom. 

Because Pete's scared of flying, Dom's offered to drive there - from London to fucking Benidorm. In my head, this will be a grand adventure. After all, even being stuck in a car for days with a man who's incapable of shutting up and another man I've only met once for five minutes nine years ago will be bliss compared to twenty minutes at work.

Though I may end up killing Pete. A few weeks ago, we wandered through the Marylebone street fair and I had to leave after a couple of hours. I could no longer bear his unceasing, incessant commentary on absolutely everything whilst he either dismissed or ignored everything I said. By the time Pete started muttering loud insults about passers by for absolutely no reason as we sat chilling in Paddington Street Gardens, I had to leave. 

Wait, why the fuck am I going on this holiday?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

'It's Egg & Cress, Do You Want It?' now available as a physical book

I feel oddly subdued. My physical autowhyography proof arrived yesterday, and I've been thumbing through it with a twisted smile on my face as I fill up with one part pride, one part stunned silence. I know it's essentially a vanity project, but still, it's a pretty weighty tome, and I don't mean War & Peace, or Ulysses "weighty" either, just that at nearly 100,000 words, it feels substantially thick. It's mostly full of cocaine, pizza, and wanking, and I still keep wanting to edit it. I also this month read it from beginning to end for the first time, and was surprised at the amount of crying I do.

So that was odd.

Anyway, it feels like I'm in a bargain basement version of this scene, minus the family, and DeLorean:

Point is, I'm done with this mammoth project (did I ever mention it?) I should technically go on that diet I said I'd begin once I finished the book, having gained three fucking stone during the writing process - but I also have a marketing spree to do. Turns out people don't just buy your book once it's written. In the month it's been available, I've sold 40 copies - which is fine, thank you all very much - plus a further 50 copies today in my FREE, TIME-LIMITED KINDLE PROMOTION now that the paper copy's available to buy.

The physical book can currently be purchased at Amazon UK or Amazon US - or Amazon France, for that matter. The price is £6.99 GBP, $7.99 USD, and €7.99. The cost is mostly manufacture, and Amazon's cut. I get pennies on each book, but this isn't about the money as much as it is getting the word out. So go buy it. It'll make a wonderful addition to your book collection of much better books. Yes, reverse psychology's an excellent way to promote this thing.

Here's a picture of it on my kitchen worksurface. Just look at that!

And here it is with my cat:

So all I need to do now is lose the weight of a small child, quit my job, maybe buy a new house - something with stairs as I once promised the cat in a moment of drunken introspection - and get a girlfriend. Nothing too major there. I hope to get back into the rhythm of blogging soon too.

In the meantime, please download for absolutely no money the book that took me years to write, and broke my brain. And don't forget to leave a review when you're done!

FREE KINDLE PROMOTION ENDS MAY 12th 2015. The free Kindle App is also available to download for all smartphones, even shit Windows Nokia ones.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

'It's Egg & Cress, Do You Want It?' available to buy on Kindle now

Hardcopy to be released in the next few days stroke weeks. I'm just waiting for the back cover to be designed, plus I'll probably need to order myself a copy to check it for errors first.

But for all you 21st century digital people, you can buy it on Kindle right now, via the following link:


Needless to say, this is very, very surreal. Good job I'm drunk.

If you like it, please leave a review. If you hate it, leave a review too. I don't care anymore*

*I totally do.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Book (ha!) is Nearing Publication

It's only taken several years and seven drafts, but this weird fucking project of mine appears to be at an end.

It's Only Egg & Cress, Do You Want It? is in the final proofing stages. THIS MAN is desperately churning it out with a fair amount of angst and pressure, and has lots to say about it having last read it three drafts ago.

I would like to say I'll be taking everything on board and writing an eighth draft, but that would be a lie. I never want to go near a computer again, much less think about writing another 300 page paperback.

Today's excitement (aided by a single can of Kronembourg I've had instead of eating dinner) is down to the front cover that was emailed to me today:

The back cover (for the physical book edition) is another story, but as far as Kindles go, this thing's ready for sale in the next five to ten days. Maybe. The actual book may be a week or two later, at which point I'll feel like I've actually done this and I'll be found running naked around Trafalgar Square honked up on something improper.

If you follow me on Twitter, expect me to become really annoying. Probably. If you (used to) read this blog, I'll try and get back into updating it, though it's been a while and I'm (almost) 41.

But otherwise, thank you for your patience.

Oh, and don't get your hopes up :(

Friday, January 09, 2015

Rate My Title

Oh hello, happy new year. Apologies for the lack of anything but, y'know, book. I'm 20-something pages from the end of draft 5, then it's a cursory last-minute check before I publish this fucker once I work out a) how to publish it, and 6) artwork - both of which are massive undertakings I haven't considered properly.

Anyway, I wanted to solicit your advice. I've had my title now for about a year, and I like it. It's quirky and (hopefully) eye-catching, with a 'reveal' towards the end of the book. The title's:
  • It's Egg & Cress, do you want it?
Then @digressica proof-read the story and did an amazing job, recommending in the process that I use a different title taken from the content:

  • Wrong-Com
Now I'm confused. Egg and Cress is weird, but doubly so as I believe many English-speaking countries don't even know what the hell that is. And while Wrong-Com's pithy with a play on a phrase that should be obvious, it sounds generally negative whereas Egg & Cress has an interesting positive question.

I also have a hunch if this blog's been anything to go by, then my (ugh) "target demographic" will likely be women, and 'Wrong-Com's more accessible than 'Egg...' which my testosterone-based chums seem to prefer.

Yes, I'm over-analysing this.

Please let me know your thoughts below, and by all means please suggest alternatives to confuse me further.

Yours, blah blah blah

Normal service may eventually resume this year.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Just weeks away

I'm the wrong side of a bottle of red, plus an almost out of date Carling that had been reduced and I bought because it's Friday and needed a beer for my delayed train home. Anyway, I realise I've not blogged for, erm, two months, but then I'm writing the mother of all blogs by turning all my angst into a novel. Except it would've been too easy for me to just put everything in chronological order and leave it at that. Oh no, I had to weave a fucking narrative into it, and turn it into some kind of journey as if any of this is meaningful to anyone.

Anyway, I'm now 40 pages shy of the end of Draft 4, and drunk, and it's probably it's most readable yet*  
*This still doesn't make it Wuthering Heights, but you get the point.

Suffice to say, this is definitely going to be published. I was planning on a Draft 6 as well as Draft 5, but I can't take it and may slit my wrists before then. I mean, I'm happy with it, but I also can't live like this any more. I've spent years working on it and I want my life back - which is ironic, as I barely had one.

So, "sorry" for not blogging, which I understand has bothered absolutely no-one, but this has consumed me. Here is a picture of my chair at work yesterday, no longer able to take the weight I've gained since I gave up the gym in order to write.

Behold! The sight of success:

If I can pull my finger out, I'll edit/ re-write this final 40 over the next couple of weeks. I've got a few more proofers to check it out (thank you Nix and Kaiser, who I'm certain has totally forgotten), and if I can somehow strain Draft 5 out in a matter of days, I may - may - have this ready to put out there by December.


Normal service will resume soon, though I'll probably become an annoying marketeer for a sub-par story that renders every blog post from now on an advert.

At least I can say I've tried hard not to just wham my posts together. Seriously, if I did that, this would've been over about two years ago. And once this is done and I sell twelve copies, look out for my bloated corpse being fished out of the Thames soon!

Thank you all.

Monday, July 28, 2014


The nice lady from the council's just come and collected the recording equipment. It's been in my apartment for the last three weeks, as once again I find myself living next to a neighbour who doesn't give a fuck and thinks it's acceptable to hold parties on a Tuesday til gone three in the morning.

I called the cops (they said it was a personal matter and not their business) and called the council (who oddly don't operate at 3am). I wrote to all my neighbours including the wankers involved, reminding them that it was a little bit inconsiderate to blast music out and scream with the unremitting joy of being alive while all around them, people tried to sleep, but it had no effect.

It all came to a head a couple of months ago. They held two parties in a week, and I always seemed to be in bed desperate for an early night when they came back from the pub ready to rock. The last time they did this, it was my 40th birthday. I was literally entering a new and miserable decade of non-achievement and saw it in as I lay in bed listening to the dull throb of bass from downstairs. I snapped. The next day I went on a crusade, calling the police and bombarding the council with such ferocity that I made a nuisance of myself until the Noise Abatement Team installed a recorder in my bedroom ready for their next party.

And of course it never happened. The council's warning letters have worked and they've been silent. I've had a few moments of phantom bass in my head where I've been sat up listening to nothing but the whistle of my tinnitus at 2am, and the whole thing's been a waste of time. When the lady came and collected the recorder just now, she spoke her name, and the date and time into it to sign the recording off, and I giggled nervously... because I snore like I'm being waterboarded and choke on my own breath. A couple of weeks ago I had a dream that some malevolent bogeyman was creeping into my room and I literally woke myself up screaming "GET OUT!". I've been told besides the snoring I mumble incoherently in a dead language and the demons in my mind begin to chatter.

But worst of all, I've watched a ton of porn on my phone as I've wanked away the pain. I completely forgot about that mic pointed right at my head.

Which is going to be a little awkward when anyone listens back to it.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Third Draft is Done. Long Live Draft Four.

I've almost finished my book, which is great timing now that I've stopped blogging and alienated all seven of my readers.

This morning I typed my final paragraph, and will now return to the beginning and do it all over again - hopefully once and for all. And to avoid the awful, ponderous temptation to keep editing forever, I'll be reading it in real time and highlighting passages to work on later.

The point is, I'm aiming to publish it in a month or so. The working title was 'Autobiography of an Idiot', but that has since changed to 'It's Egg & Cress, do you want it?' - which obviously requires no explanation and will probably change again anyway.

So there's the update. After years of trying to write a great novel, I gave up in favour of expanding this blog instead. I thought it would just take a few months to reorder everything and add a bit of filler, but it wound up being more like two years - mainly because I wanted to write something "worthy", plus I've added entire travelogues from my backpacking trips that needed to be trimmed.

So yeah. Sorry for the delay. 105,000 words of awkward navel-gazing introspection coming very, very soon...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Great Escape

It's been seven weeks since Dad died and I'm fine. In fact I'm a little worried at how quickly I've defaulted back to 'normal', although there are a hellish amount of unresolved issues both with Dad, and my sodding head. As a result I still haven't started my annual New Year's Final Diet Ever as I fling back metric fucktons of shitty beige food and sedate my issues with alcohol.

I went through the usual stages of grief that began with good old denial, repeating over and over to my stepmother on the night he died, that 'I can't believe he's gone,' as if a poorly eighty-year-old man had it in him to keep going for another thirty years.

Then things took a surreal turn. Due to my sister's habit of logging every fucking sneeze and haircut on Facebook, she'd been detailing Dad's descent, and discussed his healthcare. A journalist picked it up, and it spiralled out of control. A week after Dad died I was in my sister's kitchen peeling potatoes when my nieces screamed at me to come into the living room. There was Dad's grinning face on TV looking back at us and millions of others as a BBC London News anchor mentioned him by name. Then it cut to a report filmed in that same room as my actual sister next to me squirmed at television sister complaining about Dad's care.

Life went on. My sister and I were named in Dad's will as executors, and I had an estate to sort out which sounds rather grand; an Estate, as if he left behind a large mansion house with fine tapestries and objets d'art.

Except he didn't. It turns out that Dad was terrible with money. Actually, let me clarify that: He was fucking appalling, and if it tarnishes his memory to implore the six people who read this who may be in pecuniary straits, then so be it: If you're in debt, PLEASE GET OUT OF IT. Accept that any money you earn simply isn't yours until you're back in black. You're not going to win that cash back at the bookies, or make canny investments that'll solve all your problems. Instead, make huge sacrifices and crawl your way back up to £0.00. At least from then on in, it's all yours.

Dad didn't have a gambling problem, or a drink problem, and certainly not an issue with drugs, so it was a complete mystery as to how he managed to rack up over twenty-seven thousand pounds worth of credit card and overdraft debts. It took a while for the penny to drop, but it was a combination of several decades of a poorly-paying job alongside a stubborn refusal to stop spending money. Dad had a near pathological need to keep buying things; records, CDs, DVDs, cheap Chinese gadgets that pretended to be iPads but weren't, Dad loved a bargain even though he couldn't afford it.

Three years ago the debt appears to have caught up with him, and he pulled out his trump card. The flat he shared with his wife was paid off, so he found a lender who'd give him a huge chunk of cash in return for a slice of the flat - They'll get their money back one day when the flat gets sold.
The trouble is those vampires are charging a hideous interest on that loan and the £60k he took out is now £75k as it increases by (currently) £5,000 every year. So Dad's gone, having left behind a legacy of debt that continues to eat away at my stepmother's home and her children's inheritance.

Last week, she told me she now hates him.

I'm trying to sort out all this mess. My sister and I had a huge argument - all via text as she refuses to speak to me - that was pretty spiteful and mean, mainly from me, because I've dealt with everything alone. I've trashed all Dad's audio cassettes and VHS's at the town dump, and sold a couple of new DVDs on eBay. I've scoured all Dad's paperwork to uncover the debts, then written to all his creditors to start sorting this out. Admittedly she helped find a solicitor and attended our first meeting, but only because she used to work there. I still have to clear out a lifetime of his belongings, sort out his car, deal with solicitors, make offers to banks, and try and tackle that fucking equity loan.

I'm not ashamed to say that despite my strident atheism, I've been buying lottery tickets and scratchcards under the assumption that my dead father is still somehow 'there', and has assumed supernatural powers to make his bereaved family millionaires.

Except nah.

If I've got anything from all this besides a small pyramid of scrunched-up lotto tickets, it's a wrought-iron conviction that products don't make us happy. Consumerism is a giant con, and the most sensible thing in life is to spend less than you earn and save for your retirement.

I'm also no longer scared of death. I used to obsess about it to an unhealthy degree, fretting about achieving nothing and wasting my life. Instead I've realised that Dad used it to escape his debts. He won, in a weird kind of way. Death's great for the deceased, provided it comes at a dignified old age with next to no pain. It's actually shitty for the rest of us.

I've also realised I'm doing okay. I've been doing the right thing all along, though my damn book has come to an annoying standstill three-quarters into draft three, but once I've got closure from all Dad's stuff I can get back to writing it again. And once that's done, I'll have the free time and headspace to get back to my glorious Final Diet Ever so I can date attractive female hominids even though I'm turning fucking forty in as many days,  but that doesn't matter as my Autobiography of a Complete Nobody storms the planet and I become a huge Internet sensation who hadn't wasted his life after all.....

Friday, January 24, 2014

My Dad Has Five Days Left To Live

My sister and I thought Dad was on the mend when he was sent home from hospital a couple of weeks ago, but somebody fucked up. In their desperation to free a bed, they discharged a seriously ill man as barely two days later, he was readmitted via ambulance. The breathlessness he'd been admitted for in the first place returned as he sat in his living room watching TV. Dad began to panic as he choked, and waved frantically at my stepmother as he struggled to take in air.

Dad will never go home again. He has a lung disease that'll finish him. For the last couple of weeks I've found myself sobbing uncontrollably in the middle of the night, then going to work and pretending nothing's wrong. I've also seen more of my sister and nieces than I ever have, and I've seen Dad virtually every night too so that's been lovely, apart from his daily decline.

When my stepmother first called me, tearfully, to say he'd been readmitted, I was petrified. I asked to leave work a little earlier and raced to the hospital where I found him sat up in bed wearing an oxygen mask. He was in good spirits despite the circumstances, through he struggled to speak as he told me about how breathless he'd been. I told him not to talk.
Dad slowly, clumsily pulled the mask up onto his forehead and asked me to hand him the cup of hot chocolate cooling on the table. In slow motion he leaned in with puckered lips and slurped on the drink he then began to choke on. Then he sat the cup back down and dropped back into the pillows, gasping.

'Don't get old,' he said. It's been the closest thing to an acknowledgement of how frail he's got.

I spent the rest of that night with my hand on his bare shoulder, rubbing his skin with my thumb as antibiotics were pumped into his arms. He was panting like a tired dog in the sun. I tried not to cry but I couldn't stop myself, and broke down, sobbing. Dad squeezed my hand and from behind the clear plastic mask, he looked over at me and gave me a cheeky grin.

The next day my sister and I visited him after work. Dad had me calling AmEx's automated service so he could pay off his bill but his other card kept being declined. He insisted on me connecting him to an operator to get it sorted but his speech was slurred and lazy, so I got my card out and paid the £300 myself.

Within a couple of days, he was no longer talking in whole sentences and wound up in a horrible ward with uncaring night nurses. Apparently he asked one of them to hold the pee-bottle for him. She told him to do it himself, but Dad has carpal tunnel syndrome in his right hand and has no grip.
'I can't,' he told her, and she simply walked off.
Dad wet himself.

He deteriorated in that ward, and was asleep most times we visited. Occasionally he'd wake up and slur hellos, and even give us toothless grins. But they were trying small doses of oral morphine and it was making him sleepy. Then last week his specialist asked to see us. My stepmum couldn't deal with it so my sister and I went. He told us that Dad has perhaps a few months left.

We continued to see my father every night after that, but the nurses were pissing us off. We'd tried to give them the benefit of the doubt but some gave us an attitude and withering looks if we dared ask for a blanket, or a new bottle for Dad to pee in as they weren't emptying the old ones. Then Dad was moved to an adjacent ward without anyone being notified - including the new ward - and he was found by my sister in a wheelchair shivering with cold next to a chart with another man's name and medical requirements on it. That was when we went medieval  and launched an all-out campaign of complaint that went right to the Chief Executive of the hospital, who is doing all he can to keep us sweet.

I took Tuesday and yesterday off work to see my Dad. I also spent last night with my stepmum going through Dad's papers which I couldn't do as it all felt "too soon." I did discover though that Dad has several bank accounts which are maxed out and hellishly overdrawn, explaining why he couldn't pay his AmEx card a few days earlier. This means I get the pleasure of telling a bunch of banks that they will never get back the money they're owed, although I also discovered that the reason my father worked well into his eightieth year was because he hadn't saved a bean; no life insurance, no will, just a metric fuckton of debt.

Having said that, he did have a pot to piss in. I know because I had to hold the fucking thing three times last week between his legs, scarred and slightly terrified at having seen the paternal penis in all its greying, octogenarian glory. Dad simply looked into my terrified eyes, and smiled.

Yesterday, I found an amazing hospice for him to move in to, although they called me this morning to say Dad didn't make today's admission as they had an emergency case. Hopefully he'll get in tomorrow, particularly as he's now an emergency himself. When I saw Dad tonight, he was almost perpetually asleep. He's been switched to intravenous morphine and when my sister spoke to a nurse a few hours ago to say we've found a hospice for him to see out his last few months, she took her aside to explain that Dad's got more like five days left. She knows what it looks like, she said, to see someone fall into death, and my father was exhibiting everything.

We tried talking to Dad tonight. Occasionally we roused him enough to get him to squeeze our hands. We also managed to get him to open his sleepy eyes to tell him how much we both loved him. My sister did this with surprising calm, but I couldn't suppress the utter devastation in my voice. Dad looked at us both in turn and slowly closed his eyes. The effort was immense.
'Love you,' he sighed.

Edit - Five days turned out to be optimistic. My Daddy died at 7:20am this morning, about ten minutes before I got there. If your parents are around, go say hello to them.