Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Honeymoon from hell...well almost

Our wedding day was wonderful, truly great, quite honestly the best day of my life. I’d hardly had any time to think about it as I’d been revising for my OU Psychology degree exams which took place three days before and we were moving house within the village a few weeks later. With the festive season looming two weeks after that, my nerves were shredded, shot to hell really. But come the day, I was relaxed and happy and looking forward to becoming Mr MOB’s Mrs MOB, if you know what I mean. There simply wasn’t space or time to arrange a honeymoon but we didn’t mind because it didn’t matter where we were or who we were with because we had each other – altogether now.....Awwwww!

By the time we hit January at full pelt with short days, long nights, temperatures below zero and freezing rain, we knew the time had come to head off in search of a more temperate climate. “Egypt”, we trilled together as we came across a reasonably priced package deal promising soft white sands, blue skies, spectacular coral reefs and an all inclusive nosh setup.

“I can’t wait to see the Pyramids”, I cried with excitement, as Himself tapped away, booking our holiday online. My childhood had been a daydream of discovering exotic lands as I pored over my mother’s National Geographic magazines and now I was finally going to see the real thing; the stuff of dreams.

Now I don’t know about you but there is something disconcerting about taking a coach ride from the airport to the hotel with a battalion of armed guards to smooth your way.

“I don’t remember signing up as an extra in a Hollywood movie”, himself said, as he eyed up the trained killers decked out in desert coloured combat gear, designed to make them blend in with their surroundings. “Shame about the contrasting gun metal coloured Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders - bit of a giveaway that”, he added, as he searched under his chair for a flak jacket.

“Yeah, that and the multicoloured headgear seem to be this seasons must-have if you want to merge with the natives”, I said, rifling through my bag for a t-towel and a pea-shooter, preparing for the worst should our attackers decide to take a few Western looking hostages.

Bailing out at the hotel some one hour later, I almost kissed the ground in thanks to the Lord above for a safe but life affirming journey. There’s nothing like contemplating an all out gun battle and seeing your life flash before you to get the holiday off to a great start. I mean, who wouldn’t want to risk their life trying to hang onto a suitcase full of T.K.Max holiday gear in assorted gregarious colours. After all, you’d have nowt to wear if the bandits toe’d it off with your XXL threads and call me a liar but that would surely spoil the rest of your relaxing break, wouldn’t it?

Lounging by the Olympic sized pool catching a few rays is fine for most people but if you’re a dark haired fair skinned Celt like me, all that gets you is sunstroke, sunburn, blisters that pop, skin peeling in great chunks that make your fellow tourists heave in horror before you eventually go white again. It’s really not a good look or worth the hassle and besides, what’s the point of sitting under an umbrella avoiding the sun? I can do that here, it costs nothing, and there’s not a weapon in sight. Johnny Holiday rep rubbed his hands in anticipation as we weaved our way towards him, part dazed by the sun and heat, part pissed from the cheap cocktails we had slung down our necks to calm ourselves after our journey. We opted for a trip to Cairo to see the much anticipated city, bazaars and Pyramids.

“Well then, that’s sorted, you leave Wednesday, return Friday. Now, as you have a day or two to spare, perhaps you’d like to consider a day experiencing traditional Bedouin village life”, he asked as he passed us the details. “Sure”, we said, “that sounds great”, as we handed over a wad of cash, cementing the deal for the next day.

Well let me tell you, riding on a Camel is no ordinary experience. There’s nothing better than sitting on a cantankerous old fart of an animal, about a hundred feet high and as wide as a razor blade. The sheer joy of having nothing to cling to other than a sweaty hump as it swings about 20 degrees left then right whilst bobbing forward at the same time caused me no end of terror. But that doesn’t equal the absolute delight I experienced as it decided, without warning mind you, to have a wee rest when it wanted to. Who can blame it, carrying a screaming lardy butt in blazing sun filled skies for its trouble? But just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, down went the left leg sharply followed by the right whilst its arse was still 90 feet in the air and before I had a clue as to what the hell happened, I was soaring through the ether, face first towards terra firma and getting myself a wee head injury for my troubles. Oh yes, lying spread-eagled, face down on the burning sand in front of 50 or so still mounted riders just made my day. I had a face the colour of a well slapped arse.

Still, there’s always an upside if you look for it, the souvenirs from that trip were incomparable to any tat I have bought before; besides the multiple trauma flashbacks, we got to take home a few thousand Camel fleas. As we ate dinner in the archetypal Lawrence of Arabia type Bedouin tents, we looked like we were moving even when we sat deathly still. Growing almost fond of them by the end of the meal, we took them for a walk up a nearby hill to watch a magnificent sunset that was both spectacular and romantic. As day gave way to dusk, we walked to a hallowed area of the village that was snugly nestled by mountains, joined hands as a group and experienced a Bedouin blessing which was both peaceful and uplifting. Traditional music was played for us around open camp fires before we returned to our hotel for a nightcap. As we left, I felt sadness that such a proud people had been reduced to becoming a tourist attraction, but if not that, how would they survive in an ever increasingly commercial world? But they did it with pride and dignity and at least tomorrow they can feed their children.

We never made it to Cairo. 90% of the hotel guests, including us, caught a dose of the Nefertiti trots. We couldn’t stray more than ten feet from a toilet and if you weren’t quick off the mark to perform the old Pharoe quick step, you were done for. In a lesser hotel, some enterprising young Egyptian could have made his fortune selling toilet rolls for the price of a gold bar for he would have had a captive audience only too willing to swap their first born baby for a roll of Andrex. Thankfully, our hotel was a sumptuous cool sanctuary of air conditioned marble, soft seats and a bar that served until the last agony riddled tourists could feel no more pain and lurched off back to their room to sleep in peace until the alcohol wore off.

I must have missed that part in those National Geographic magazines.

Friday, 20 November 2009

I'm a Celebrity get me Out of Here

Dear God, have you been watching 'I'm a nobody, keep me in here this week'? Now I am not a fan of reality shows in general. I used to watch the X Factor but when I realised the level of manipulation involved on the part of the production team - you know what I mean - the 'my father died before he could see me on here as it was his dearest wish but I know he's watching from above' type of tugging at the heartstring statement as he/she wipes away a tear, I stopped watching. In the thick of severe depression and the menopause, I'd sit with tears streaming down my face until I realised I was being played for a mug.

I'd laugh like a drain when someone came on and sang like a bag of spanners in a tumble drier and Simon Cowell would put them straight - but my laughter was reserved for those little angels who had been told by mummy and daddy that they were special and then let rip a foul mouth string of abuse at Cowell for telling them the truth. It didn't sit comfortably with me that the other poor hopefuls chasing their dreams got sharp shrift and summarily dismissed. Perhaps it's best they know and find another dream but we seem to have spawned a plethora of Cruelality TV programmes where the criticism is delivered with unqualified glee.

The only show that I'd beat a path back from the pub at speed to see was 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here'. I reckoned that as these celeb's were trying to kick start their careers and get paid and humiliated for the privilege and were adults capable of rational decision, then what the hell, I'd have a laugh at their expense. And that was fine whilst the public voted for characters and not simply out of spite. I can't bear Celebrity for Celebrity sake - the Paris Hilton's, the Katie Price's of this world. If someone can act, sing, dance, and work hard, then great they deserve to achieve success in the bear pit of the arts. If they need to keep their name at the top of the next casting director's list then why not get themselves more air time because there are too many talented actors out of work, too many chasing the same parts. It's a tough ole world out there so good on them I say, although many would say that the rag bag of celeb's that go into the show are pretty devoid of talent but I find it refreshing when you see someone you previously disliked coming up trumps and changing your opinion of them.

But for the love of God, this year's offering has become the 'let's beat the crap out of Katie Price' show. If you read the comments on the articles about the show on the Daily Mail web site then you would think this girl was a paedophile. She has a great many haters who spit venom and vile and keep voting her in to do the bush tucker trials. Anyone who tries to point out the simple truth that to keep voting for her is to continue to supply her with the oxygen of publicity and if they stopped we might get to see some of the other celeb's have a go, gets shot down in flames and red arrowed - nope that wasn't me - I don't bother my arse to comment. As much as I despise the cult of celebrity - and I don't mean the reverence afforded to the great iconic actors, singers, comics and so on that have talent - I am sickened by a demographic of society who behave in the manner of spectators holding their thumbs down as a Christian was thrown to the lions. I know she has courted publicity when it suited her and I know she divides opinion into those who love her and those who hate her. It has been argued enough about how she is iconic to a section of young impressionable people who think they don't have to work hard and just want to be famous. But for all I hate to see column inches about this young woman as frankly she just annoys me, no one could say she got there by not working hard at it. That's the message that doesn't get across to those seeking fame for fame sake.

IACGMOOH has become a ritualistic virtual stoning of a young woman whose life has been spiralling out of control since the breakup of her marriage. We are seeing the public destruction of a celebrity without really realising that she is a person who doesn't always make the right decisions in her life. I know I've made some horrendous decisions in my life but I've been able to lick my wounds in private. I know my life fell apart when relationships have fallen apart but I raged, cried and grieved in private. We all know just how duplicitous and wicked the press can be but we still fall for their tricks and read the papers believing somewhere along the line that there is no smoke without fire and so she becomes a figure of hate. She should have taken herself away and recovered in private but she is a product of her own, her fans'and the press's making with 'Brand Katie' to protect. She clearly went full-on to attempt to win the ratings war against the husband who left her. In her hurt and humiliation and most likely reeling from a broken heart she reverted to her alter ego 'Jordan' and seemed out of control as she blundered from one photo opportunity to another, each one showing her in a worse light than the one before. I mean who of us hasn't lost weight, acquired a new hairdo, and changed our wardrobe in a futile attempt to show the git that dumped us that we've moved on, ready for action and say hey, just look what you lost? In her desperation to wash that man right out of her hair, it seems that Katie went back to her alter ego of the glamour model Jordan, to a time when she was successful before Andre entered her life. She should have moved forward, not back. Doesn't that seem like a poorly advised woman who reverted to type and tried too hard to pretend her heart wasn't broken; the Sod you Mr, I'll show you how little you mean to me when all she really meant was come back and stop the hurt?

Her apparent panic attacks each time she is chosen for a trial didn't ring true to me as she's been in there before and coped admirably with the tasks. But I swing between believing it's an act of public manipulation and then wondering, given the knocks she is taking and the realisation that she is so disliked, if it is hurting her psychologically. Who can really say but although she is an ace manipulator I'd rather err on the side of caution and get her out of there pronto. But the mighty buck rules all and I doubt the producers of this show are too keen to lose their cash cow before the public oust her at the first chance. I find no comfort or laughter any more in seeing her do the trials.

We are known for being a nation that puts people on pedestals and then doing our utmost to knock them down for becoming too grand and full of themselves. Perhaps she deserves a lot of time in the shade but this public show of tearing her limb from limb leaves me distinctly uncomfortable and is bullying at its worst. Her mother and brother were both interviewed on a day time TV programme, saying quite rightly that she was being thrown to the lions. But really, I think their efforts might have been better served nurturing her and advising her not to throw herself into the den in the first place.

I never watched her reality show on TV, I'd rather have my eyes gouged out with a red hot poker but in reading more about her this week than at any other time I found that the general view is she bullied Andre incessantly and that her ego is rampant. She seems to be narcissistic and single minded in achieving her goals but I wonder how much we would find that distasteful were she male? After all, the majority of successful type A personalities run huge corporations and will step on anyone to get to the top - I know, I worked with and was married to one! I knew he would reach the top and he's achieved his dream of holding top positions and lately becoming the Chief Information Officer for a Fortune 500 international travel company that we all know and love. He's quoted regularly in the business press and I always smile when I see a reference to him and avidly read his words of wisdom for he is talented and wily and manipulative and a great orator. He talks up a good storm and is very charismatic. He was also hard to live with, vain, unfaithful and controlling. But that wasn't the whole man. He could be loving and kind and loved to party too, it was just that in time, I only saw the negative and needed my freedom and as I slowly emerged into the nutter I am today, he found his lack of ability to control me as constricting as I found him and so he left me. My point? Yes he had some distasteful traits but that wasn't all of him, and none of us are perfect. Inside Katie Price is someone just like him. She might have set herself up for retaliation but the beatings are severe, quite out of proportion to the crime.

And if anyone wants a real bush tucker trial, just nip over to my old mate Garry's house. The stuff he knocks up would have the lining of your stomach on the floor.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Paper Anniversary

It was our fifth wedding anniversary on the 16th of October. It’s a paper gift kinda anniversary. I hadn’t seen any receipts from Aspreys or the like, no small packages secreted away in Himself’s usual hidey holes so I resigned myself to receiving a toilet roll as a keepsake. Useful I thought, you can never have enough bog roll. Even if you die, someone’s bound to nick it; it will never go to waste. I mean, how many times at work have you done a sprint to the loo in record times that only an Olympic medallist could dream of because you left the call of nature to the last minute and just as you are about to get down to the admin work you realise some light-fingered little toerag has made it away on their toes with the five rolls you saw in there earlier? There is nothing worse than the walk of shame as you shuffle off to another cubicle to remedy your acute distress followed by the need to torture the thieving little git with a shitty stick the next the time you catch them stuffing loo rolls in their oversized designer handbags that should have SWAG printed on the side. So all in all, you can never have too much bog roll I say.

As anniversaries go, it wasn’t all it should have been. Personally, I felt so ill that I should have been on a life support machine but Himself was determined we should go out and celebrate our wondrous union. I argued that being riddled with aches and pains, coughing up a storm and breaking a rib each time was probably going to take the edge off our romantic evening. Shivering like a washing machine on a fast cycle just added to my joy along with a runny nose that was barely contained by a truckload of tissues. I’d have been better off hooking a nosebag over my ears and just letting it run into that. Still, I’ll have the bog roll I thought and so, we reached a compromise and went to the pub up the road. I managed three small glasses of wine, purely medicinal of course, and enjoyed the look on the regulars’ faces as I told them it was swine flu. Hah, you’ve never seen so many backs rapidly disappear since the Great Plague of London. We almost got caught up in the slipstream of hasty exists.

And so it went with a whimper. “Never mind there’s always next year”, I consoled him as I headed off for a hot bath and back to my death bed, too ill to read Frankie Boyle’s autobiography that he’d thoughtfully chosen as my gift, as he knows I love his humour. So what, no bog roll then?

As a husband, Himself is wonderfully attentive and as these last two weeks have trawled by, he has enquired after my health to almost unheard of proportions, so much so, that I mooched off to check that my life assurance policy was still in the filing cabinet and not top-of-the-pile in his briefcase. I needn’t have worried, he still loves me and isn’t ready to dispose of my dismembered body parts quite yet. He was simply making sure I was in the rudest of health for a surprise two day trip to London; a city that I adore and lived in for ten years yet never did the tourist thing. He’s booked a fabulous 4* hotel behind Buckingham Palace, a theatre trip and worked out a wonderfully paced programme of top places to visit. What a catch eh? What a guy. What a totally adorable man.

And so we are off tomorrow morning to just be tourists. I am so excited I could dance, well almost. I can’t be arsed dancing really, never truly felt comfortable doing it. My blood runs cold when I see women dancing barefoot at wedding receptions. The sheer thought of some hefty eejit in stilettos piercing my foot makes me faint. So, as a nod to our wedding day where we didn’t have a ‘first dance’ here’s what himself and me would have looked like if we had. I’m the rotund one. Click here.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Parliamo Glasgow

A company in Glasgow is recruiting ‘Glaswegian translators’ to help out visiting business men and women to understand the local lingo and the wee nuances of being Scottish. Top of the tasks they are expected to do is to attend business meetings. I can just hear the dialogue now.

Visiting business person: “So, what kind of revenue are we talking here?”

Scottish person: “Aw aboot a hunnerrrrr million, gie or take a tenner here an’ rer. Bit of courrrse, it’s aw subject tae auld Jimmy, oor high-heed-yin, geein us ra go aheeed”.

Translator: “We’ll be talking your proposal over with our CEO Sir James Farquahar before we give you the final figures, but we expect it to be in the region of one million pounds”.

Visiting Business person: “Great so we’ll wait for you to get in touch then. Now, how about joining us for a few drinks and dinner, we can talk over the fine details over a snort or two and perhaps get a feel for the local culture?”.

Scottish person: “Oh aye, nae borra there son, we like a wee bevvy noo an’ again. There’s a rare wee place doon the Barra’s; the place gits full o’ baw-bags frae time tae time, but therrrrr harrrmless rrreaally, as long as you don’t make eye coantact an’ hang oan tae yer wallet. The pub dae a great line in pints o’ heavy and Bucky cocktails, bit mind ye take care drinking them, ye can get fair stocious an’ fine yersel’ face doon in the gutter afore chuckin’ oot time. But ye’ll no git a finer intrrroduction tae Glesca culture, no surr.

Translator: “Thank you, that would be lovely, we enjoy an aperitif or two now and then. Perhaps you’d enjoy visiting a quaint and typically Scottish venue situated in our famous market area, the Barra’s. It’s patronised by some colourful local characters that you might find entertaining; apparently they collect money after their performances so you might like to donate a pound or two. Seems they also specialise in local beer and cocktails made from Buckfast, a glorious concoction made by Benedictine monks and now responsible for 80% of all alcohol sales within the Strathclyde area. But a word to the wise, two or three of these little numbers can leave you rather squishy by the end of the evening".

Scottish person; “Aye an’ you’ll no be wantin’ tae gie yersel’ a bagie-heed fur yer flight hame the morra mornin’. See, ma wee pal Hamish, pished as a fart efter ten aw those wee beauties, stoated oot only tae huv a hughie right oan a polis man’s boots. He wis fair near blind, whit wae him fallin’ doon three flights of stairs and the polis geein’ him a kick in the heed fur his troubles but fair play to him, wae the help of the polis, it didnae take Hamish mair than a few minutes tae find his wallies afore he could head aff hame fur his deep fried haggis and chip supper. Man, ah wis fair black-affrontit wae that wee effort and ma face wis beamin’ fur a week. And mind whit a say aboot the baggie-heed; Hamish wis fair crabbit fur at least a week and said he was getting home fine until someone stepped oan his fingers so we’ll no be wantin’ that tae happen to youse yin’s, seen as yer oor guests an’ all that. So, seen as ye’ve been brought up tae speed aboot whit a great night oot it can be, and ye don’t mind a wee heed injury here and there, we’ll meet ye aw there aboot 7 okay?

Translator: “Well ladies and gents, it seems an acquaintance of Mr Scottish Person had a tipple or two too many and found himself, temporarily myopic, rather disoriented and had some difficulty negotiating his way home. Luckily for him, the local constabulary were most helpful and after a short stumble on leaving the hostelry, pulled him upright and brushed him down. Wishing to maintain their well deserved reputation as a sharing caring police service, they went to great pains to check he had no head injuries and helped him to locate and refit his false teeth which had inadvertently been displaced rather conveniently onto the policeman’s boots when he was somewhat sick at the shock of tripping and being unable to right himself in time. Thankfully, there was no lasting damage and the man was on his way home in no time for a light supper of haggis and French-fries. And while Mr Scottish person was somewhat embarrassed for his friend, he empathised totally with the following day’s crushing hangover and why his friend seemed to have experienced a personality bypass and sense of humour failure for several days following their jolly jape. So, there you have it, a salutatory tale of overindulgence for you to consider but forewarned being forearmed and if you’re sure you’re up for it, we’ll rendezvous there around 7, shall we?

Visiting business person: Well, that’s certainly fine by us, and perhaps we can try a spot of haggis too?

Scottish Person: Oh aye, nae danger ranger. It’s shootin’ season, so there’ll be plenty of haggis tae be had and the beauty of it is, that if ye find yersel’ huving a wee chunder, it looks nae different on the pavement to when it was oan yer plate.

So, for a £140 a day, I think I’m more than qualified for the job. Only problem is, I’d have to relocate back home and a’m unrny gonnae dae that jist yet!

But as a wee taster and an introduction to Scottish culture, have a wee read of some jokes below. You’d have to go a long way to find a nation more self deprecating than the Scots and we’re all the better for being like that.

The Scots have the [unjustified] reputation of being stingy.
But what they do have is the ability to laugh at themselves.
Here are few examples
Double glazing is doing great business in Scotland in hope that the children cannot hear the icecream van when it comes round.
Angus called in to see his friend Donald to find he was stripping the wallpaper from the walls. Rather obviously, he remarked "You're decorating, I see." to which Donald replied "Naw. I'm moving house."
Old Tam, who had lost all his teeth, had a visit from the minister who noted that Tam had a bowl of almonds. "My brother gave me those, but I don't want them, you can have them" said Old Tam. The minister tucked into them and the said "That was a funny present to give a man with no teeth." To which Old Tam replied "Not really, they had chocolate on them..."
Callum decided to call his father-in-law the "Exorcist" because every time he came to visit he made the spirits disappear
A farmer's wife, who was rather stingy with her whisky, was giving her shepherd a drink. As she handed him his glass, she said it was extra good whisky, being fourteen years old. "Weel, mistress," said the shepherd regarding his glass sorrowfully, "It's very small for its age."
At an auction in Glasgow a wealthy American announced that he had lost his wallet containing £10,000 and would give a reward of £100 to the person who found it.
From the back of the hall a Scottish voice shouted, "I'll give £150!"
Jock was out working the field when a barnstormer landed.
"I'll give you an airplane ride for £5," said the pilot.
"Sorry, cannae afford it," replied Jock.
"Tell you what," said the pilot, "I'll give you and your wife a free ride if you promise not to yell. Otherwise it'll be £10."
So up they went and the pilot rolled, looped, stalled and did all he could to scare Jock. Nothing worked and the defeated pilot finally landed the plane. Turning around to the rear seat he said, "Gotta hand it to you. For country folk you sure are brave!"
"Aye," said Jock "But ye nearly had me there when the wife fell oot!"
Jock's nephew came to him with a problem. "I have my choice of two women," he said, "a beautiful, penniless young girl whom I love dearly, and a rich old widow whom I can't stand."
"Follow your heart; marry the girl you love," Jock counseled.
"Very well, Uncle Jock," said the nephew, "that's sound advice."
"By the way," asked Jock "where does the widow live?"
"I hear Maggie and yourself settled your difficulties and decided to get married after all," Jock said to Sandy.
"That's right," said Sandy, "Maggie's put on so much weight that we couldn't get the engagement ring off her finger."
Have you heard about the lecherous Jock who lured a girl up to his attic to see his etchings?
He sold her four of them.
A Scotsman took a girl for a ride in a taxi. She was so beautiful he could hardly keep his eye on the meter
A Scottish newspaper ad "Lost - a £5 note. Sentimental value.
Scottish telephone directories make ideal personal address books. Simply cross out the names and address of people you don't know.
SAVE petrol by pushing your car to your destination. Invariably passers-by will think you've broken down and help.
HOUSEWIVES: I find the best way to get two bottles of washing-up liquid for the price of one is by putting one in your shopping trolley and the other in your coat pocket.
INCREASE the life of your carpets by rolling them up and keeping them in the garage.
One day Jock bought a bottle of fine whiskey and while walking home he fell.
Getting up he felt something wet on his pants.
He looked up at the sky and said,"Oh lord please I beg you let it be blood!"
A Scotsmen and a Jewish man were having a magnificent meal at one of the finest restaurants in New York .At the end of the evening the waiter came over to present the check and a Scottish voice said "that's all right laddie just gae the check to me". The headlines in the local newspaper next day proclaimed "Jewish ventriloquist found beaten to death".

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Chasing the Sun

Imbued with the spirit of adventure after our walking holiday in North Wales, we were itching to get away again, but not for a week this time, just a short break of a few days to fit in with our weekend commitments. We checked the weather reports to see where the sun was destined to shine over our beautiful island and decided to chase after it instead of being at the mercy of clouds and rain over our little patch in Northamptonshire. We Ebay’d our way through cottages, B&B’s, static caravans and log cabins that offered so much or indeed too little for stonking great wedges of greenbacks for what amounted to a short let of two nights, where even worse, our furry friends were mostly persona non grata.

“When did things get so damn complicated and expensive?”, I asked Himself as I sloped off to make us a coffee and to rethink our options. I thought back to the ease of my teenage years where camping was a de rigueur requirement of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme of which I was working my way through the achievement levels. The excitement of leaving one’s parents to partake of an adventure of sailing, canoeing and rock climbing sent us giddy with anticipation. Each day was an adventure of hanging precariously backwards over the side of a yacht, holding steadfastly to the jib rope, as the sail swung dangerously low overhead, changing our direction as we sailed round at a superbly fast rate of noughts that would have the fainthearted heaving up lunch overboard. If it wasn’t sailing it was canoeing in the icy cold waters of the lake where learning to roll your canoe, wait three seconds and tap the now upturned underside to say you were still alive took your breath away as you almost expired from hypothermia before any thought of drowning entered your head. No matter that we returned to base camp soaked and cold through to the bones, for a hot shower, beans and sausages for dinner with a mug of hot chocolate. We could sleep for Scotland under damp canvas on a mountain of building site rubble and with our supple, mouldable young bodies experiencing few bouts of agony before embarking on another days exciting activity

Many years later, foot firmly placed on the bottom rung of the career ladder and somewhat financially challenged, I experienced camping as an activity once again. Only this time, there was no joie de vivre comparable to the experiences of my earlier youth. The cheap inflatable beds deflated overnight and were about as comfortable as an MFI flat-pack; the ground sheet wasn’t attached to the tent and all manner of creepy crawlies found the inside of our tent much more favourable than the howling soaking conditions just outside. The piece de résistance was to discover that as we had pitched the tent in darkness, we were perilously close to the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop of heart stopping proportions. Obviously we relocated and re-erected the tent somewhere less life threatening but I spent the rest of a two week vacation in that bloody hell hole. Why we stayed is another story, but I vowed that as long as hotels and B&B’s were in existence I would never spend another night under some flimsy piece of canvas masquerading as a holiday home; where the toilet and shower block looked like something out of Tenko with turds floating in toilet pans whose previous incumbents hadn’t enough brain cells to work a flush handle; where the only thing missing was a tower manned with a search light, machine gun and a barbed wire fence to complete the ambiance of the camp site from hell. And so it was, that in the intervening years of international travel staying in top class hotels, apartments and villa’s, I kept my word never to holiday like a refugee and having been spoiled to within an inch of my life, had become somewhat even more precious.

“Where’s the coffee then?”, Himself asked, as he slumped down at the kitchen table and interrupted my trip down memory lane.

“I don’t think it’s worth shelling out a week’s money for a two to three night stay”, I said, as I passed him his coffee and sat down, resigned to shelving our mini break for the time being.

“Well, what about we take that tent I bought a few weeks back?”, he proffered carefully, knowing I’d rather poke my eyes out with a hot poker than go camping again in this life time.

“Camping! Bloody camping in that 3 man tent you bought for your road-trip with D?” The shrill tone of my voice wasn’t entirely unexpected but it made him sit back in his chair nonetheless. “You mean the tiny effort you bought at Asda for forty quid that hasn’t seen the light of day because ‘it rained a bit’ and you wallowed in comfort in a B&B with gastro food on the go and Guinness at three quid a pint keeping the smile on your face? You must think my head buttons up the back”, I threw as a final shot at such a ludicrous suggestion.

“Nah, didn’t think you’d go for that, I’ll keep looking ”, he said with a cheeky grin as he picked up his coffee and headed towards the study, leaving me mumbling to myself about what it was to be living the dream.

As I prepared lunch my thoughts turned to the girl and woman I had been who’d embraced life and was up for a challenge. Somewhere along the line I’d lost sight of the tomboy that loved the outdoors; that often rose to any dare my five brothers would throw at me. I winced at the time I lost my footing and fell out of a tree; gasped at my foolhardy actions when I swam the Margin in the river Clyde knowing that the dangerously strong currents could whisk me away in a moment and smiled at numerous other calamities that befell me. But eventually I mourned the woman who had travelled the world on business and holiday, never worrying about my destination or the people I would meet. All those years of childhood devouring my mother’s National Geographic magazines instilled in me a need to travel far and wide and I’d achieved more than my wildest dreams but it had lain dormant for too long. Too many business trips over a 25 year period, initially exciting and fun had eventually become a chore and long left me jaded, dulled my inquisitive nature and quashed my spirit of adventure. In short, I was a bore.

“Okay, you’re on”, I said, with eyes shining as Himself raised his fork to his mouth.

“On for what?”, he asked, eyeing me suspiciously .

“Camping, what else? It was your suggestion, okay? So let’s do it”.

“Yeah right,” he said, almost choking on his lunch at my sudden change of attitude.

“The weather’s great here today”, I continued, “but fantastic down south tomorrow so if we get packed early morning we can be in the New Forest by lunchtime, that way we can maximise the amount of sunshine we get over the next few days. And, if the worst comes to the worst and we get flooded out, we’re no more than two hours journey back home”, I offered, convincing myself that nothing was irredeemable.

“Yeah, right”.

And so it came to pass and we found ourselves pitching our all-in-one tent with attached ground sheet – no scary hairy monsters sharing our sleeping bags then - in the New Forest, a national park and an area of exceptional beauty. History records that the New Forest was created as a royal hunting ground in 1079 by William the Conqueror, the Norman king who trounced King Harold at the battle of Hastings in 1066. In time William handed the New Forest over to the commoners for the pasturing of ponies, cattle, pigs and donkeys and those royal concessions remain today. We walked our dogs alongside ponies and donkeys of all shapes, sizes and colours; an equine mishmash synonymous to the area and with the freedom to roam wherever their hooves take them. In a surreal moment we shared a pavement with a donkey in the picturesque town of Brockenhurst as it ambled its way from one end of the town to the other, perhaps looking for this season’s horse shoes by Manolo Blahnik.

The camp site, populated by enormous oak, elm, monkey puzzle, silver birch, willow trees and many more, too numerous to mention here, provided the camouflage needed to protect us from the elements. Bordering the campsite was a vast field, home to some of the equine population and provided the ideal place to walk the dogs sans leads. As we strolled onwards we entered a continuation of forest providing long walks of great stillness and serenity where the only sound was the crackling underfoot of twig and leaf as we traversed the designated paths in warm sunlight recharging our sun starved souls.

On our second day we took a trip to Milford on sea and discovered to our delight the Hurst shingle bank, a mammoth shingle barrier and natural feature that runs from Milford alongside the Isle of Wight. Cascading downwards in a seamless flow of shingle, bank became beach, to meet the Solent, a sparkling azure sea with the stillness of a millpond. Waves broke gently on the shore as Beach-casters cast their lines wide hoping to catch Mackerel, Scad and Black Bream. We watched as they gazed out to sea, lost in thought and turning only infrequently with a companionable nod to their fellow fisherman in acknowledgement of their shared solitude. As we scanned East of the shoreline we could see Hurst castle, where Charles the 1st was kept captive during the English Civil war; situated in the narrowest stretch of water between the mainland and the northern shores of the Isle of Wight, the castle was the first line of defence from ships entering the Solent from the west. Scanning westwards from the castle, we couldn’t fail to see the Needles, a famous trio of distinctive formations of chalk that rise out of the sea to the west of the Isle of Wight.

Further west and a short drive along the coast we alighted at Barton on sea. Hovering precariously close to the edge of the cliff top, the Solent below us had taken on a hue of brilliant aquamarine and melded perfectly on the horizon with a clear blue sky in a panorama reminiscent of Italy's Amalfi coast. Our high vantage point afforded us a spectacular view to Milford on sea in the west and to Christchurch and Hengitsbury Head in the east. With a sky so immense and a vista so extensive I willed myself to absorb every single detail my eyes could see as I inhaled the smell of fresh seaweed and listened to the seagulls cawing mournfully as they flew gracefully over the sea.

Each night we’d return to our temporary home on a beautiful campsite so far removed from Dante’s campsite for the criminally insane that I’d stayed in all those years ago. The shower and toilet blocks were clean and modern. We met people from all walks of life who were fun and interesting; the most surprising a group of senior citizens in their 60’s 70’ and 80’s for whom they claimed camping was a way of life and who were strong advocates for how the outdoor life kept them fit, healthy and vibrant. Our dogs behaved impeccably as they sat snuggled in the open tailgate of our people carrier, backed onto our area where we sat in surprisingly comfortable camping chairs. As the hot sun soaked day gave way to a balmy dusk, we sat drinking red wine out of plastic beakers and talked about so much that was important to us and what the future could hold for us too. A quiet hush descended upon the campsite around 10pm as weary campers retired for the night. With one last look at the star encrusted sky, so very clear without the light pollution we are used to, we too retired exhausted, dogs in tow into our small tent with the most comfortable blow up bed ever.

“So, what do you think of it all now, Mrs Mob?”, Himself asked, as we snuggled down for the night.

“Brilliant”, I replied. “And surprisingly romantic too. What about you eh, what do you think about it dearheart?”

“Ditto”, he said, seconds before a gentle snore told me this was the best thing we had done in years.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

How green is my valley?

Well just about as green as it gets. We took a holiday in Wales, on the edge of the Snowdonia National park. I’d been to Wales over thirty years ago and remember its beauty then. We’d planned to go away but couldn’t decide from the many great areas around Britain and Ireland. In the end we plumped for a beautiful cottage in a lovely village called Llanrug, ideally placed at the edge of the Snowdonia national Park. Now folks Llanrug is one of the easier Welsh names to pronounce but forgive me any Welsh Gaelic speaker who may be reading this but let’s face it, when it comes to naming places, someone just chucks a pile of letters in the air, lets them land and that’s it, named. A pile of consonants spewed out one after the other that only another Gaelic speaking nation could understand. To make matters worse, there’s rarely a vowel in sight and before you know it you are hoarse trying to pronounce a bunch of names that require the skill and dexterity of a voice coach on the X-factor teaching the tone deaf to throttle out a note or two. It is the closest I came to getting a grip on what it must be like to be severely dyslexic but it just ads to the quaintness and uniqueness of this wonderful country.

That aside, what an amazing place to spend a week of your life; Snowdon as the highest mountain in the UK outside of Scotland, is fairly impressive and it can be walked up in four hours and down in three. But knowing my lack of ability to walk back down without tripping over some weedy twig, losing my footing and rolling down at a thunderous speed threatening to wipe out flora and fauna, wildlife and eventually a human or two as I bowl on into them, I’d do it in a fraction of that time. Alas none of us were fit enough for the descent let alone the whole climb but we shook on oath that next year we would return and take on the challenge. So, as a compromise we took the Snowdon Ranger trail, a gentle rise named after a ranger John Morton who was an early mountain guide, and walked as far as our unfit bodies would take us, just to say we’d done it. I stopped before the others and sat on a rock surrounded by mountains nestling a valley with a lake of tremendous proportions. The colours of the flora and fauna and in particular the purple heather were outstandingly beautiful. The silence and exquisiteness of that moment will stay with me forever. And the sheep, dear God, the sheep! I think there must be more sheep in Wales than there are people. That reminds me of an old joke...

Q - What’s the Welsh for foreplay?
A - Here sheepie, sheepie, sheepie!

And just in the spirit of fairness here’s a couple more.
Q - What’s the Scots for foreplay?
A - Urrr ye sleepin’?

Q - What’s the Irish for foreplay?
A – Brace yerself Maureen

And just to end the theme of sheep...

Q – What’s the Scottish version of Silence of the Lambs?
A – Shut up yous! (Ewes, geddit?)

Jokes aside, I discovered that North Wales is truly one of the most beautiful parts of our country. Time and again I found that I could have been home in Scotland as so many places reminded me of its breathtaking scenery and in particular my beloved Loch Lomond which is only a short drive from the city of Glasgow. Each day was a discovery of wild rugged beaches with huge arching waves the hue of slate grey edged with blindingly white foam surging towards the beach carrying surfers brave enough to embrace the icy cold water of the Irish Sea. We walked for miles in warm sunlight and sometimes bracing winds, foraged in the sand dunes with the dogs, poked around the rock pools for signs of life and I imagined a heroine nestling a broken heart taking the same route as she came to terms with her loss and need for solitude. And so it was for my lovely sister in law who had come with us and is indeed searching for answers with the sudden, unexpected and unexplained abandonment of her by her paramour.

And castles! We drove into pretty town upon town, unspoilt and basking in the glory of a majestic stronghold. We regularly stopped for lunch in cafe’s that welcomed our canine friends and the quality of the meals were surprisingly good in these tourist areas. We all agreed that a must see was the village of Portmeirion which is located on the coast of Snowdonia on the estuary of the river Dwyryd, (see what I mean about those names? Not a vowel in site and God knows how you pronounce it). For those of us in our fifties and over it was the location for the filming of the cult 70’s TV series The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan. It was a pleasant surprise to discover the architect of this wonderful coastal village of Arts and Crafts style constructions which were later contrasted by classical and Palladian constructions was devised and designed by a Mr Clough Williams-Ellis, a great environmentalist who was born and grew up Northampton, a town where ‘Himself’ was born and not far from us today.

At the end of each day, dogs exhausted and able to be left in our homely cottage to snooze, we strolled somewhat stiffly and slowly to the local pub, a mere one hundred yards away, to imbibe is some amazing repast and a couple of glasses of wine where to Himself’s delight the extra cold Guinness was only £3 a pint! We talked easily; read books, looked only at the TV for the weather reports to adjust our plans for the next day should storms of driving rain be expected. But we were very fortunate indeed as mostly the sun shone warmly just sealing the deal on one of the best holidays we have ever had.

And so we are home, rested and in awe of a country of hardy unique people who cling to and celebrate their language and individuality, a country of sheer beauty where progress meets tradition and is seamless in its execution. My sister in law found no real answers for only the absconder can give her closure but she came back with more understanding of perhaps why he ran away; returned with a sense of family and friendship to retreat to whilst her heart heals. And us? Well, it’s back to the diet and into the gym on Monday because we shook on a deal to climb Snowdon next year and it’s going to take that long to get in shape.

Friday, 7 August 2009

AWOL , missing in action but the wanderer has returned!

It wasn’t intentional, truly, my absence from blogging I mean. There I was happily blogging away and the next day the real world took over. It’s hard to know where to start really but here goes. In my penultimate post I had mentioned that one of my furbabies was suffering somewhat. My wee Jack Russel Taz, who is the female doggie love of my life, started to have regular seizures. Somewhat prone to one every six months and previously not too much to worry about she began to seize several times over a period of weeks – a worrying development that made me deeply concerned. I was sure she was not going to make old bones. I researched the net, read the abstracts of a truckload of scientific papers and delved deeply into the publications that proved the most informative. I found out some horrifying facts, discarded the positively obscure and ran with the most relevant. A change of diet to naturally produced food that doesn’t include euthanized pets and zoo animals plus diseased organs as a major ingredient in many pet foods, has put my mind at rest that I am feeding her the best she can have. Many scientists believe that the Pentobarbital used to euthanize pets is not eradicated at high heat and therefore causes seizures when ingested through commercially produced pet food. In addition, she is now on a course of Phenobarbital to calm the electrical activity in her brain. It was a last resort but one nevertheless I am grateful for. Her progress seems good with no more fits and remains an active wee doggie that bounds around wagging her tail and barking at all and sundry who dares to invade her territory.

Shortly after this little drama, my 19 year old cat, Hattie the fatty catty took a downturn in her health. She was suffering from Kidney failure but with treatment she was coasting along eating us out of house and home – she was the Desperate Dan of the feline world. Had she been human she would have been evicted from every all-you-can-eat establishment for being a greedy mare. She loved nothing better than to be fed smoked salmon with a side serving of freshwater prawns hand shelled and served by yours truly. Hattie arrived on our doorstep nine years ago, some months after I had the last of my three cats euthanized. Given the utter heartbreak of losing the last of my pride I was in no mind to take on yet another. We tried everything we knew to chase her away, even going on holiday to Crete for ten days hoping she had returned to whence she came before our return. We hadn’t bargained for her determination to make our home hers and in time, after she had disposed of a multitude of field mice in the garden, himself relented and recognised that a win win situation of mutual gain was to be had and in she moved taking up where the other cats left off. She was a chubby soft white and black moggy with mesmerizing eyes and a wonderful temperament. On the last visit to the vet, we knew her time was short but I wanted her to have one last summer, lounging around in the garden, basking in some warm sunlight whilst flicking her ears at the flies and butterflies that dared disturb her slumber as they fluttered too closely past her.

Three weeks ago, she slowly stopped eating and no amount of tidbits could encourage her otherwise – she tried but with a heavy heart and a look of acceptance on her beautiful face, we knew the time had arrived. She slept peacefully in the wonderfully warm and sunlit garden in between cuddles and quiet tears from me whilst we waited for the vet to arrive. Needless to say, she went quickly and peacefully and is buried in the garden in the spot she so loved. I cried off and on for two days but consoled myself with the fact that she was loved and loved us and had a great life.

And so, moving on from a bit of a sad and relatively testing time we concentrated on continuing with the renovations of our home where great progress is being made and we can see light at the end of the tunnel. The work proved to be a great cathartic activity that occupied my mind and stopped me dwelling on what had passed. I spent a good deal of time doing research for and writing my novel whilst himself went off on a road trip with his eldest son. Four days of father son bonding was a great success and one that we have decided they and his other son should do on a yearly basis. I also revelled in the complete freedom to see to myself and set my own schedules.

During this quiet period, I toodled off as I was forced to do, to the village surgery for an HRT review – my doctor insisted I do so as I had used every excuse in the book to avoid it – and so I sat down for a wee chat on how useless the stuff actually is. I was in for a bit of a surprise though. During a general check-up he informed me that my BP was 170/96. Now, being a fat bird, I expect my BP to be borderline but given that I have lost two stone in weight over the last three months, I was somewhat surprised. The doc whipped out his stethoscope and did a wee check of my heart. He looked concerned and then came clean. He suspected I had Arterial Fibrillation which is a bit of a heart condition. I won’t bore you with too many details but it can be there from birth – no chance for me as I had been in hospital before and it had never been detected so there must have been some other cause. It can be caused by drinking yourself to a standstill on a regular basis – clearly the more likely cause given our lifestyle although strangely enough I got fed up with that and cut back drastically over the last six months as I pursued a new lifestyle, or it can be the result of heart failure. Given that my mammy had a major heart attack at 60 and died at 64 and my daddy lived with angina until he was 78 I was pretty sure it must be heart failure. Even worse, I thought, cirrhosis of the liver – a death sentence if ever there was one.

I had to wait a week for my blood test and ECG to be done and another week for the results. In the mean time I had trawled the net, scared the bejeebies out of myself and convinced myself that I was not long for this world. I told himself but no one else and endured sleepless nights of worry and angst. Fear gripped me and just about every psychosomatic symptom reared its ugly head. When the results came through I resolved to ignore them until I had my birthday. Oh the sheer drama of it all as himself pleaded with me to find out what the score was and me playing the dying diva saying I just wanted one more birthday without a death sentence hanging over me. There was time enough afterwards to determine my fate I argued, feeling all of five years old and trying to be an adult at the same time. But I grasped the nettle on my birthday and phoned to make an appointment for the next day, the stress of not knowing was becoming a health hazard in itself.

The upshot? My liver and heart are healthy as are the other organs that float around in my torso! But I do have an extra heartbeat! What does that mean? Not much really, I just get one more beat every ten beats or so and there should be no adverse effects. But dear God, it was two weeks of hell not knowing my fate and no matter how hard I tried to relax and think positively, my overactive imagination wouldn’t let up. To be fair, I made the doc tell me the worst and then went off and thought it. There’s a lesson here, just can’t think of what it is at the moment......

Sunday, 21 June 2009

A wee bit of Scottish dialogue.....

You know you are a true Scot if...........

Ye can properly pronounce McConnochie, Ecclefechan, Milngavie, Sauchiehall Street , St. Enoch, Auchtermuchty and Aufurfuksake.
Yer used tae four seasons in wan day.
Ye kin faw aboot pished withoot spilling yer drink.
Ye measure distance in minutes.
Ye kin understaun Rab C Nesbitt and know characters just like him in yer ain family.

Ye kin make hael sentences jist wae sweer wurds.
Ye know whit haggis is made ae and stull like eating it.
Somedy ye know his used a fitba schedule tae plan thur wedding day date.
You've been at a wedding and fitba scores are announced in the Church/Chapel.

Ye urny surprised tae find curries, pizzas, kebabs, fish n chips, iron-bru, fags and nappies all in the wan shop.

Yer holiday home at the seaside has calor gas under it.
Ye know irn-bru is a hangover cure.
Ye actually understand this and yurr gonnae send it tae yer pals.

Finally, you are 100% Scot if you have ever said/heard these words;

how's it hingin
get it up ye
wee beasties
erse bandit
away an bile yer heid
humphey backit
Baw Bag
dubble nugget
And finally......

A wee Glesga wumman goes intae a butcher shop, where the butcher has just came oot the freezer, and is standing haunds ahint his back, with his erse aimed at an electric fire. The wee wumman checks oot the display case then

"Is that yer Ayrshire bacon?"

"Naw," replies the butcher. "It's jist ma haun's ah'm heatin"

My adorable cousin Robert sent me this. He keeps me well up on Scottish sayings and I thought I'd share it with you. I laughed my head off at it - but then I am a Scot through and through.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

The Emotional Rollercoaster

It’s been a month of highs and lows and one where I kept meaning to blog but never quite got around to it. April 30th through to today, May 31st are difficult weeks for me to navigate. Anyone who has read this blog will know that I lost my father and an uncle on one night, followed by another uncle six days later, my mother three weeks later and then my step-father a few weeks after that. I don’t dread the time anymore having come to terms with my loss some years ago but there is always the subconscious at work taking the odd pop at me when I least expect it. Today is the anniversary of my mother’s passing.

Grief is a strange old taskmaster that never entirely leaves me no matter how long the journey has been from the loss of a loved one. I have come to recognise it over time and even welcome a good old sob now and again as it means I haven’t forgotten what the person(s) meant to me. But I am not going to dwell in the past or let my loss define me; rather I thank God for what is in my life now and how fortunate I have been. So, I am not at all sad today, just reflective on what my wee mammy meant to me and how with time, we could have created so many more memories together as I matured into the many ages she had traversed before me. I think I may just have missed her wisdom more than anything in my life. R.I.P mammy, I love you. So, that is a few lows and nothing I can’t manage but it is enough, along with some renovations we are doing, to render me blogless for too many weeks.

One particular high was unexpected and still leaves me with a glow of joy. Some years ago I was quite a big earner of the old greenbacks, spondoolicks, dosh, whatever you may want to call it. I also had a superb expense account but nothing that quite matches that of the thieving fraudulent and ethically challenged gaggle of MP’s that have been ‘creative’ with their accounting of late. To cut a long story short – hah about time I hear you say! – four years ago, after a marathon effort at sorting out my tax returns, Her Maj’s taxman sent me a wee note saying they owed me several thousand pounds. Buoyed with delight at this piece of good fortune I did a jig of thanks to whatever God had blessed me that day, grabbed a cup of tea and sat down to call and claim my booty.

“Hello”, I chirruped in a light and jolly happy tone to the woman that answered; a first if ever there was one, I am usually subdued and fearful when dealing with the hand that wields a baseball bat over my finances.

“Name, NI number”, she barked back at me without any kind of pleasantry or even the most basic of telephone etiquette. Miserable old bag, I thought, as her blunt and rude tone bit into my good mood.

“I’m calling about the letter you sent. You know, ref number 1234567 etc, the one that says you owe me millions!”, I joked obviously delighted in my good fortune that it wasn’t the other way around. “Okay not millions”, I said as her silence at my wee joke deafened the airwaves, “but I have in my hot little hand a letter from you that says a number consisting of five figures and 49 pence, so may I have a cheque to that value please”, I carried on determined not to let this misery-guts ruin my moment.

Tap, tap, tap was the only response I heard as she thumped the keyboard rather too hard. Must be menopausal, I thought. as the silence stretched and I drank my now tepid tea just for something to do.

“Mrs MOB”, she barked over the phone like a sergeant major, "there is nothing here to say that we owe you that money".

“But you sent me a letter saying so”, I protested, feeling my good mood drain from me quicker than blood from a severed artery or indeed pounds being sucked out of my imagined fat bank account.

“Nope, not a thing, it’s a computer or record error”, she spat back at me with what sounded like unbridled glee in her voice.

“No, surely not, if you sent me a letter then it must be true, isn’t it”, I asked in desperation and by now sounding and feeling like a child who had been told that Disneyworld had gone bust. “Oh c’mon, you're joking aren’t you? Is there perhaps someone else that could check your findings, or verify......”

“.....NO”, she interrupted far too quickly in her hurry to dismiss me. “Now is that all I can help you with?” Call that help?, Call that Help? you miserable hairy chinned old boot, I wanted to spit back at her but self preservation kicked in and I accepted a shocked defeat before thanking her – God knows why – and reluctantly placing the handset on the receiver. Himself said I looked like I needed to be put on suicide watch and I felt how I looked.

We didn’t have an accountant at that time so I knew not what else to do but to file the letter away as one of life’s little snatched moments of happiness that turned ugly.

We have a fantastic accountant now, when she came on board she took up my case but got nowhere and I finally gave up the ghost and duly forgot about it until....

.......In April of this year, along comes a letter from the Inland revenue. ‘Dear Mrs Mob, H.M. I.R. owes you a five figure sum and 49 pence’ Oh for Christ sake, here we go again I thought. Bugger it, I can't be arsed chasing my tail over this one again, I decided, and went to file it. But himself had other ideas and took it to our lovely accountant. She drew the same conclusions as I had but with a sigh, offered one last time to chase it up. Rather her than me I thought, simply because I didn’t fancy another ten rounds with that hairy faced old bat who’d taken such delight in ruining my day all those years before. But in all reality, she’s probably been head hunted by a fundamentalist terrorist organisation to train their new recruits in torture and telephone techniques, so who cares eh?

The upshot is that I got a cheque about a month ago, with a guarantee that they will not come after me to return the money at any time in the future. Y’see the records for more than six years have been destroyed and as my claim was for that period, no one can prove whether that money was mine or not to claim. I almost peed myself with utter joy, well that and the ageing effects of the menopause, the joy just compounded things. I danced even more jigs this time as I kissed the cheque and himself in that order. We’d already started a renovation project on our house to sort our drive out, update the outside of the house and modernise our three toilet and bathroom facilities so this is a welcome bonus. The drive and outside of the house looks great. We now have those lovely square toilets with soft close seats, eco friendly with 3 and 6 litre flush options, and much more comfortable to lounge about on, if you get my drift. There’s something quite satisfying about being the first person ever to use a new loo. But, the soft closing seat is a revelation. You just have to touch the lid and it closes gently, but here’s the best part: On first use, after his return from the pub and needing to relieve himself of a few gallons of Guinness, himself toddled off to the downstairs cloakroom. Strange strangulated noises coupled with a few choice Anglo-Saxon words came hurtling through the door. On his exit from said room with the most cheesed off look I have ever registered on his moosh, himself enlightened me to his problem; each time he lifted the loo seat, it started closing down again before he could aim Percy at the porcelain. Crikey it must have been designed by a woman I thought as I laughed up my internal organs at such an unexpected bonus. The loo seat is now known as the Todger Trap and himself now has to adjust his position to accommodate our new purchase, well it’s either that or a mad rush to finish before all hell breaks out! Hah, result!

Around the same time as this we were in the process of selling a hideous purple suite that sat in our conservatory – got a hundred knicker for that just by telling the step-son that we wanted to get rid of it and his friend gladly grabbed it for it was in good condition – and this additional money meant we could treat ourselves to some beige leather chairs and foot-stools from Ikea. We had an expensive garden table and chairs languishing in our summer house so we moved that inside our conservatory. What with new lights and shelving, the room looks superb and has already lent itself to a few dinner parties using our raclette machines that we dragged out from storage and dusted down. We have had the most fabulous social times of late and this has made my April/May much more bearable.

To cap our good financial windfall, Himself’s pension went up unexpectedly by 25%. We hadn’t factored that in for this year and as our company has a contract with the Justice Office that pays superbly well, we are comfortable - for the first time in yonks - we've had some hefty financial demands in the past and God what a relief it is to be free of that. Himself is basking in the glorious feedback he has been receiving of late from his employers for a job well done – he does some very intricate investigations for them that requires a high level of professionalism so I am rightly proud of him. We’ve been having a mega clearout and selling our unwanted stuff on E-bay, thus generating some additional pin money. Lately with my investment income taking a bit of a battering from the latest financial crisis we thought we would have to tighten our belts a bit and put some of our plans on hold so this has all come as a relief and a welcome surprise and all in the space of six weeks or so.

But, every silver lining has a cloud and if I sound too delighted for my own good, I am reminded that life is precious and that at times there is a rug waiting to be pulled from under my feet. Something has happened of late that has made me sob in desperation and sadness but that is for my next post. I cried, off and on, for two days, picked myself up and resolved to find a solution. I’m in the thick of my research now and will post when I have a path to follow.

Life can be a rollercoaster of emotions, and it’s not what life throws at you but how you handle it that defines you. I’ve not always been strong in my past but I’m not going to fall apart now, not when my wee pal and fur-baby needs me.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Fact is stranger than fiction...

.......It is you know. Many years ago when my mother was a young girl, she lived in the south of Glasgow in a housing complex called tenements. These Victorian red stone buildings were a series of dwellings that house four floors of apartments. The entrance to each dwelling is called a close that has stairs leading to the upper floors. In essence they are vertical villages for they housed many families, often several members of one family, to just two rooms called a room and kitchen. Built in a large rectangle, there was a huge central area out the back where the middens were kept for disposing of household rubbish; where the lavvies, (toilets), were placed, where lines and lines of washing hung in addition to the area serving as a great big play pen for the weans to play in. Games of kick the can, hide and seek, postman's knock and spin the bottle could be heard echoing around the area as the weans laughed and screamed in their play. Everyone knew everyone’s business which was sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing too. But in the 1930’s and the great depression, poverty, hardship and struggle were commonplace. Inside toilets were a thing to be dreamed of and tin baths in front of the fire were the norm for a family of ten or so. The luxury of separate bedrooms for the parents let alone the children was something only the wealthy could aspire to. God knows how people with large families survived but certainly with no National Health Service and a visit to the doctor for a prescription costing more than a wage packet denting shilling, infant mortality was high and family health in general was poor. Even so, with little or no contraception to talk of, families continued to grow, stretching the already thin wage packet that if you were lucky, the man of the house brought home on a Friday evening. Jobs were hard to come by during the depression and the sight of men queuing for work on a Monday morning at the steel works would fair break your heart at the desperation of it all as many were turned away, returning home with an acute sense of worry and hopelessness etched firmly on their weary faces. But as my wee mammy used to say, desperate as those times were, families stuck together, looked out for each other, lent each other money when shoes were needed or a loaf of bread meant the difference between going to bed hungry or not. Often when the man of the house had one too many and spent the wages at the pub before coming home as one local Da was prone to do, a kind hearted neighbour would take pity and lend a frantic mother a shilling tae get the weans their dinner.

It was in this vein that my mammy and her sister Aunt T had the regular task of walking the wee wean for the wee wumman upstairs. Her man was away working and so a bit of respite from being a lone parent was my granny’s way of helping her out. Every day, after finishing their chores, mammy and her sister would gleefully run upstairs and bang heavily on the door for the wee wumman played her radio so loud that she often didn’t hear her door go, as we say up north. Grabbing the weans’ buggy, one at the back and one at the front, they’d negotiate the stairs until finally they emerged into the sunlight and wheeled the wean away down the road at speed, making him giggle at the fun of it all. He was a bright wee boy and fell easily to laughter and for this reason my wee mammy and her sister loved taking him out. A few years went by and my mammy and her family moved to better accommodation in the shape of a new council house in a new development in the south of Glasgow.

In time, they thought no more of that little boy until quite a few years later. At first they weren’t quite sure that it was him, for he had changed his surname and now lived in northern England but as details of his life unfolded in the press, there before their eyes was the confirmation that it was THAT little boy; the little boy with the rosy cheeks who would laugh hysterically as they ran so carefree with him all those years before. There he was as bold as brass - Ian Sloane – now known as Ian Brady, the Moors murderer; a serial killer of young children. My mammy said she was so shocked at such a coincidence that she almost didn’t believe it was him.

In a further twist of fate, some years later my younger sister married the son of a Doctor of Psychology who was the director of the southern region for the Open University. I would see her father-in-law regularly for the Open University hired classrooms at the large education and training centre in Milton Keynes where I worked. Had I done my psychology degree course with them at that time, he would likely have been my tutor. We’d often have a chat as our two sets of students frequented the bar before and after dinner and it was expected that lecturers would join their students on the first night for a welcoming drink.

On my way to my desk one morning I stopped at reception to pick up my daily newspaper. In an instant I was drawn to the headlines and photograph on the front page of the Sun newspaper; a red top tabloid noted for its sensationalism in news reporting. There in full Technicolor was my sister's father-in-law presenting Myra Hindley with her psychology degree. To say you could have knocked me down with a feather is an understatement. It struck me as quite strange that first Ian Brady’s connection with my mother and aunt and then his female partner in crime being associated with my sister’s in-laws. It was bizarre and sometime later when I saw my sister’s FIL I asked him about the experience. I can’t tell you what he said as it was a confidence he shared with me and not mine to tell. I can say that he thought it was to be done in private but that Lord Longford, a long time sympathiser and supporter of Hindley had arranged for the press to be present. I can also tell you that it was an experience he was none too fond of. The fact that Hindley was born on the 23rd of July doesn’t thrill me either as we share the same birthday....AAAARRRGGGHHH! Hopefully, that’s where the coincidences end......And, as himself has just read this, he says, hopefully that's where the coincidences end too.

And finally, just as an aside, my sister’s F-I-L is the direct descendant of the man who shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand on the 28th of June 1914, thus technically starting World War 1. The 28th of June is the day I got engaged to the man who was to become my first husband and one of his given names is Wilhelm, same as the archduke.

Strange old world isn’t it?!

Friday, 27 February 2009

Legs Akimbo LIL - the PAP test Queen....

Look away now guys - the following content may gross you out as it contains medical information, a visit to the doctor - which we all know that anyone of the male gender does his utmost to avoid and would rather have his eyes poked out with a red hot poker - and graphic descriptions of a Menopausaloldbag in a compromising position; a vision guaranteed to make the population rip out their eyeballs in shock.

There was nothing untoward in my compromising position. It was a medical necessity, lying there ankles together, knees apart and trying not to meet the gaze of the nurse as she inserted the speculum - several inches of stainless steel that felt like it has just been extracted from the freezer - and shoved well up into places only my husband has seen of late; actually that's not entirely true, I think the nurse went where no man has gone before because I am sure I felt the swab tickle my tonsils.

Now, as any woman will tell you, a smear test is at best a mildly embarrassing event in her life, and for others it is excruciatingly so - it shouldn't be an excuse to forego it - remember the old campaign message a few years ago? 'Don't die of embarrassment ladies'. Even so, I certainly don't open the reminder letter from my local PCT and go "whoopee, time to show off the innards of the old wedding tackle to someone I've never met before". I mean there you are having intimate relations with a stranger, a someone who doesn't even have the decency to give you a kiss on the lips first before rooting around in places he/she really ought not to be. It's all very surreal you know. And with that in mind, for about 30 seconds I think about making an appointment, shudder, then surreptitiously file the reminder on a pile on my imaginary to-do-list. I've done that for the last four years. Stupid really, as I am scheduled for a test every 12 months as I had precancerous cells on the last result.

On that occasion, I won a little visit to my nearest hospital to have a loop diathermy done on the old cervix. Now what a wonderful event that is for a woman to enjoy. Two nurses chatting away to you about anything you care to jabber on about so as to distract you from the rather odd burning smell permeating the room as the doc zaps those precancerous little sucker cells with his mighty laser beam. To add another dimension to the procedure, there is a screen next to you, showing your cervix in the starring role for all in the room to see. Interesting, I've never been on telly before but one of the most intimate parts of me now has. But I don't suppose anyone would recognise me walking down the street though unless I was sans knickers and Legs Akimbo Lil-like in the gutter somewhere and before you ask it, nope, not managed to do that one yet. To be fair, the film of the procedure wasn't broadcast on any terrestrial T.V. stations so I guess my anonymity remains intact. My viewing public was restricted to a couple of nurses and a male doc wearing a hard hat just in case at my age any more of my body collapsed towards him, braining him in the process as he played a medical version of space invaders. My footage is probably doing the rounds as a horror movie somewhere out there in the ether, if you come across it, you can't see me smiling.

Do you know the silly thing about all of this? Up until they found pre-cancerous cells, I was a regular good girl and attended the clinic every three years for my test. The wait for the results was always a semi anxious time but I never lost sleep worrying about it. Now, when I should know better, and get straight down there, I'm much too reticent to make that appointment. Finding the pre-cancerous cells has had the opposite effect to how it should have turned out, i.e. making me ultra efficient in booking those appointments straight away. In my defence though, I've had such a bad time with the menopause and without going into grossly horrid details, until recently, was rarely in a position to have the test done, if one gets my drift.

Scary and embarrassing as it may be though, no experience can match the one that happened to a colleague of my cousin. Rushing home from a nightshift in a busy emergency housing association, she bathed, dried herself off but decided at the last minute, that for extra freshness, she'd spray some antiperspirant over the area in question. Realising she'd run out, a quick raid was performed on her teenage daughter's room to grab her aerosol can. Running terribly late, she pressed the trigger, squished the contents rapidly around her target area, pulled on her knickers and got dressed. Feeling mightily pleased with herself for arriving at the surgery with minutes to spare, she happily followed the nurse into her private office, undressed as instructed and within minutes had assumed the position. Minutes later, the doctor entered the room.

"Hello Mrs A, I'm Dr B", he said smiling at her as he snapped on his latex gloves. "Now just relax for me dear", he instructed as he picked up the speculum, ready to insert. "Oh for the love of God", he stuttered in astonishment, stepping backwards. He shot her a quizzical look before clearing his throat, raising his eyebrow and carrying on with the procedure.

Wondering what had caused such a reaction, Mrs A was a tad uneasy as to what the doctor might have seen. She decided not to ask and thought perhaps he was just a smidgen eccentric and possibly she'd ask the nurse after the doctor had gone. She didn't have to ask however, because when she rose to get dressed, pulling on her knickers, Mrs A was shocked to see the gusset full of glitter particles. Blushing profusely, she realised that in her rush to deodorize she had unwittingly decorated her pubic hairdo with a layer of glitter spray that her daughter used when she dressed up to go nightclubbing. Mortified with shame, Mrs A finished dressing and left the surgery at the speed of light, leaving all and sundry behind her in her wake. Clearly, she reasoned, the doctor thought she was either demented, or on the make for dolling up her nether regions especially for the examination.

Jokes aside though, a young celebrity mother, Jade Goody, is now terminally ill from widespread secondary cancers that eminated from a cervical cancer that went untreated. News reports say this is because she ignored repeated letters requesting her to return to the surgery for further tests and treatment. There but for the grace of God go many others for it is so easy to say manyana, manyana. She now has weeks to live. She has been the subject of much press coverage and whether it is morally right to cover every detail of her deterioration. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that situation, and you may have an opinion on it, she is dying and will be leaving behind two young sons. Her rationale for living out her death in the public eye is to secure as much money for her sons' future. Her childhood with an addict mother had been tragic by all accounts but she seems determined to be a loving mother and give her children the choices and education she was never granted; as a Big Brother contestant she was vilified by the press for a lack of education but now that she is dying she is a hero to them - oh hail the fickle press and public. I am not a fan of reality television shows or celebrity where people are famous for being famous, and Jade falls into this category. Tragically though, she has transcended that moniker and through her celebrity, done something truly magnificent. It seems God had much bigger plans for this young woman. The general consensus by those in the know, is that many more women are clamouring to their surgeries to have a smear test done. Opinion on the constant coverage of her death has polarised the population into two camps, those who support her, those who condemn her and leave some astonishingly cruel comments on the newspaper online message boards. I am pragmatic about both viewpoints. I believe in live and let live but perhaps now I believe in die and let die. What harm does it do to let her die and the story to be told in a manner of her chosing? I wouldn't want it for me, but I defend the right of a dying woman to have the choice. Perhaps it's a small price to pay for the good she is doing.

I am deeply moved by her plight and I admit, that it is instrumental in goading me into finally making that long overdue appointment. I, like many others, may just be very glad that we did and for that, Jade Goody's legacy is something much bigger, much more important and much more enduring than fifteen minutes of fame on a reality show. The nature of her death, how it came about and the message it conveys to women of all ages, backgrounds, creeds and cultures may just be a gift of life from an unfortunate young woman who's life ended prematurely and so publicly.

I don't want to watch her die anymore than I would want to watch anyone else die. I want privacy and dignity for her in her painful and heartbreaking journey. But it is her life and her death, and her decision. I have an off button if I don't care to rubberneck at her last moments on earth.

May the road rise up to meet you Jade Goody......and whilst I'm at it, my heartfelt thanks.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Connections of the heart

Have you ever felt a connection so deeply strong to someone that you feel secure just knowing that it's there? You know, a real connection where you feel you are impregnable because the love this other person has for you and you have for them survives a distance of miles and a difference in time zones? I have been fortunate in my life to know people that I love dearly and who in return love me deeply too. I first became aware of long distance relationships and the kryptonite strength of the invisible umbilical cord that exists between people who are intrinsically linked, when I relocated to London from my home city of Glasgow to take up my career in Information Technology.

In my excitement at arriving in the capital I gave so little thought to what was left behind. My parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and great friends; One of those great friendships was made way back on that first terrifying day in junior school. A day when my bottom lip trembled as my mother turned around for the very last time that morning, tears in her eyes as she smiled forlornly then waved at my tear stained face and snotty nose before turning her back again and disappearing through the classroom door. I thought my heart would break and no matter how many times she tried to reassure me that I'd be coming home at the end of the school day, I wouldn't nor couldn't believe it. I will never forget the deep feeling of sadness on that first day, but neither will I forget Jenny Burns.......

……….. I sat on the tiny grey metal S framed chair at the tiny wooden desk and being so completely ego centric as all children are I hung my head and assumed I would never ever recover from being abandoned. As my own sobs began to subside, so did the sniffling and sobbing of the other abandonee next to me that until now I had only been vaguely aware of. Slowly I raised my head and turned to see a wee lassie, much the same size as myself but with a shock of curly ginger hair and red eyes with a red nose to match sitting on an identical chair, swinging her wee legs for like me she was too short to reach the floor.

"Hello.......errr, wiz that your mammy then?", she asked in a small nasally Glaswegian accent as she stared at me with her huge tear laden brown eyes framed by the longest lashes I'd ever seen.

"Aye it wiz,", I answered, before choking back another sob at being reminded she'd abandoned me only minutes before. I took a minute to blow my red nose on my by now very soggy hankie, "So……so where's your mammy then?", I asked with all the curiosity and naivety of a tiny wee five year old wondering how all these mammy's could abandon their weans and then leg it out of the place.

She's no here, she didnae come wae me", she said in a voice even smaller than before.

"No here? Whit dae ye mean she didnae come wae ye?" I asked, wide eyed with legs swinging away wildly on the chair as I stuck my thumb in my mouth for a suck whilst she answered this conundrum.

With her huge brown eyes fixed tightly upon mine, tears welled again and began to trickle down her rosy cheeks. "Ma mammy's deed", she spluttered out before letting out the loudest wail of utter heartbreak I had ever heard.

"Oh no, yer mammy's no really deed, is she?" I asked, getting all weepy because even though my mammy had dumped me there, at least I had one. The shock almost did for me for I knew nothing of death except that sometimes I would get scared that my wee mammy might die one day. So there it was, wee Jenny Burns didnae huv a mammy and I wiz heartbroken fur her. We sobbed our wee broken hearts out in unison until Mrs Murray, our lovely sweet teacher came over, put her arms around us both, calmed us with soothing words and dried our tears. Shortly after, down at the bottom of the school yard for playtime break we sat on the ground on our coats drinking our free milk through a straw and scoffing a digestive biscuit.

"Jenny?", I asked her in between slurps and chomps.

"Aye whit Annie?", she asked after swallowing the ice cold milk.

"Will ye be ma new best pal?"

"Aye, aye a wull", she said turning to look at me with the biggest smile I'd ever seen. Bless her, all of five years old and she had teeth like a bar chart thanks to her brother who 'encouraged' her to pull her wobbly milk teeth out so they could share the sixpence she'd get under her pillow from the tooth fairy.

"Great", I said delighted that at least one good thing had come out of the day, "and seein' as yer gonnae be ma best pal and seein' that you've no goat a mammy, ye can share ma mammy tae, that's IF she comes back fur me ye understand"........ The jury was still out on that one and I'd need a lot more convincing that the woman I knew as mammy and had dumped me here this morning would actually come back for me. Still, I reasoned, it was the least I could do for ma best pal who unquestionably had been bonded to me for life in our shared grief and loss that very same day.

Six years later after much tears and laughter; after sleepovers at each other's homes; after shared hours of playing 'kick the can' in summer until it got dark and we were dragged inside exhausted but still delirious with joy; after climbing trees and returning home with bumps the size of golf balls on our foreheads because we lost our footing and much to the merriment of our brothers, swan dived out of a tree hurtling head first towards earth; after having our hair doused in nit killer because yet again we let wee Gladys who lived next to the dump come and have a sleepover in our homemade tent in the back garden where we were infested within an inch of our lives; after rolling doon the hill outside ma hoose in summer on a homemade geggie, (go cart) - three pieces of wood knocked together like a big letter H with big auld wheels off a pram at the back with two smaller one's at the front, no brakes and a long piece of string attached to the front bit of wood for steering. There we were getting splinters in our arses as we ricocheted downhill at speed right into the path of the parish priest's new car; After sliding doon the hill outside ma hoose in winter wearing our plastic beach sandals that polished the compacted snow into an Olympic standard ski slope so dangerously slippy that we could get a fair bit of speed on before crash landing through auld Alfie's garden fence and into his allotment at the bottom of the road; after making faces with me at the grumpy old folk who moaned as they slid down the road on their arse and then swore at us and threatened to go straight to oor parents to tell them we should get a hiding for being so bloody cheeky; after laughing even harder at the ill-tempered old biddy's when they tried to chase us as their moaning reached epic proportions and not one of us getting anywhere because we were all running on the spot; after nearly melting the ice with hot yellow pee as we laughed ourselves stupid at the whole scenario; after promising to be best pals for ever and ever and ever and after her da, a skilled carpenter, a tired, skint single parent announced that they were off, off to the land of opportunity.........

...........A land of opportunity where he could earn enough to buy them new shoes and clothes instead of second hand clobber from the jumble sales; where a working man was paid a decent wage without having to scrimp and scrape his way cap in hand through life just to feed the weans; where the sun shone so much that life would no longer be grey with arctic like winters for them to struggle through with nae money fur their heating. He'd found a beacon of hope and a step up from the near poverty that threatened to overwhelm him and his young family. Australia and the Ten Pound Pom emigration scheme was the answer to his prayers and he'd been planning it for a while but said nothing for fear it wouldn't work out and expectations were dashed or even thwarted by those who would make a fuss and not want to go. By the time Jenny had been told, it was a done deal and she came to tell me, stayed for a sleepover and reminiscent of that first day together at school, we both cried the night away in total grief. In two months she was gone but we never lost that connection, well not for a long time but as with all distance relationships, pre email and affordable telephone calls, contact by written hand that was fervent in the beginning became sporadic as the years went by and our adult lives moved on from those relatively carefree childhood days.

I will never forget her but life moves on and I have made other friendships that have had the same deep connection - some of these made after just one meeting which has been a delightful surprise over the years. Ella was a work colleague and a real Jolly Hockey sticks kinda gal. She had all the eccentricity of the very rich, which she was after her parents shuffled off their mortal coils leaving her a multi millionaire. You'd never know it though for what I loved about her was the way she lived modestly almost impoverished with a sofa that her four cats shredded on a daily basis. With huge lumps of sponge filling missing and other pieces hanging down onto the carpet, it was a work of art that Damien Hurst and the Tate gallery would have been proud of. We worked on different projects much of the time but we knew each other through the vast social scene that was inherent to our work life. She lived about five miles from me and when I heard that she had cancer I made a point of going to see her. Our friendship developed over the year during which she went into remission and returned to work with her no nonsense approach to take on the huge projects she was famed for managing. But her good fortune wasn't to last. Excruciating pain in her spine and a sudden inability to walk back from the coffee machine to her desk told her something was drastically wrong. In the midst of her colleagues carrying her to her chair, Ella's heart sunk lower than she had ever imagined it could.

The oncologists report identified secondary tumors in her spine and other major organs. I was naïve and positive and hopeful that she'd beat these monsters down yet again. "You'll do it again Els", I reassured her brightly. "You did it before, you can do it again and this time you know what you're up against, so half the battle's won okay", I flannelled on, hoping to inspire her. I didn't know then that her only hope was chemo and radio therapy to shrink the tumors, to slow their growth. I didn't know that when these didn't work anymore that her end was nigh and that palliative care was all that could be offered. I didn't know until I was finally taken aside and told by a wonderful MacMillan nurse that secondary tumors are terminal and that I should prepare myself for the loss of my friend.

I took my turn, along with closer friends that had known her much longer, in doing practical things she found difficult to undertake as time went on. Her husband, grateful of our help, support and friendship thanked us profusely but we didn't need thanks for you don't do you?; not when it's a pal. But, it wasn't at all miserable and certainly not all one sided. No matter how ill Ella became she kept her sharp dark wit and we would often roll around trying not to dampen the chairs in our great shared mirth.

I'd boss her around and remind her to take her medication. She'd grumble and tell me she was rattling away thanks to the overabundance of pills she had sunk so far that day; "What did forgetting to take a few more matter?", she'd ask crossly, annoyed that her life had been overtaken by schedules, pills, appointments, taking urine samples along with the indignity of being prodded and poked at by doctors and nurses and anyone else called a specialist. She'd tell me to get lost when I was of no more use to her and she needed a nap. She'd become argumentative as exhaustion and pain took over. I'd tell her to watch her manners or she could decompose without me. On one memorable outing, I took her to pick up her NHS freebie wigs that she much preferred over spending good money on privately made wigs that she said she certainly wasn't going to take into the next world with her. I nagged at her and called her mean because I said that a good wig made all the difference and anyway, I wanted them after she was gone because they'd come in handy for Halloween parties and such like. As usual she ignored my advice, tried on a plethora of cheapo wigs and solicited my opinion on which was best. She was none too pleased when I said she had all the allure of a blow up rubber doll.

One Sunday soon after, when she was roasting a chicken for lunch that by now she had no appetite for but wanted to prepare for her husband, she opened the oven rather too quickly. Whilst bending down to check on the contents an excruciatingly hot blast of air hit her full on the face and welded the nylon NHS wig to her forehead. "Cheap is as cheap does", I said when I saw her still wearing it a few hours later. "Christ Ella", I continued as I stared at her. "You could take the fecking thing off, it looks like a rancid bit of old road kill on yer bonce". She registered my comment just as she was taking a drink and I heard her snort heavily before two streams of water and other gooey stuff trickled down her nose as we laughed our heads off at this vision of loveliness she had become.

No matter that when I returned the next day, I scolded her for still wearing this year's 'fascinator' as a hairdo. "I'm not", she said looking straight at me, waiting for reality to set in. "Now don't be so bloody cheeky", she said, as she watched my horrified reaction turn to deep sadness as I looked at the wisps of fine hair left after several bouts of chemo. She'd done well to keep the effects of the chemo under wraps with her wig until her disaster made her go commando as it were. She teased me relentlessly at her little joke for she knew perfectly well that her hair and wig were on a par and that I'd mistake her hair for the burnt wig. I played along and smiled but in my heart I was haemorrhaging emotion because her life was ebbing away in front of me.

Some months later I had to attend a software conference in Minneapolis, USA and it was a three line whip as far as my job was concerned. She understood and scolded me for considering not going and insisted she was much more interested in hearing all the fun tales and gossip from our shenanigans abroad. I knew she missed the vibrancy of work and promised a warts and all report upon my return. To my shame, I felt relieved and quite a bit selfish because her deterioration was rapidly causing her more and more distress and I wondered if I would be strong enough to hold out for her at the end. I was grateful for my friends permission to go and I relished the conference and the chance to socialize with colleagues and friends as we worked hard but also partook of a great deal of alcohol. I had so much to tell her when I returned that would have her heaving with laughter and looked forward to hearing her fantastically wicked laugh. We were in the thick of it all and jolly merry when I was suddenly stopped in my tracks, as though a Tom and Jerry frying-pan-in-the-face kind of moment had happened. I stood still and felt a wave of emotion so strong that I was overwhelmed with the need to cry. I took a moment to register my astonishment at such a depth of feeling.

"Oh God, it's Ella", I blurted out to my drinking buddies as tears welled in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. "She's gone, I'm sure of it. Oh Christ", I wailed, "and here I am enjoying myself when God knows how she must have been". The guilt of laughter was hanging heavily upon me.

"No she hasn't, she can't have, how on earth would you know?", they asked whilst looking at me as though it was time to cart me off to bed after ten drinks too many.

"She has, I know she has, I just know okay?", I said tetchily for I was filled with a deep sadness and confused at my inability to explain what I was certain of.

When I returned to the UK some three days later, I returned her husband's voice mail message. "What time did she pass away ?", I asked him as he gave me details of her last hours with him."Oh, at six am", he said. "I know because we were in bed together, and for some strange reason the alarm on the clock, which hasn't been set since Ella came home from the hospice, came on to wake me. Shortly after that she let out her last breath. It's incredibly strange but I'm just so grateful that it woke me in time", he said, as he went quiet, reflecting upon those last few painful moments together.

My blood ran cold for a moment for the time that I had felt and known that Ella had gone was 1200am in the USA. - six hours behind 6am in the UK. Sometime after the funeral and when we were able to talk with an amount of acceptance and peace within us I told him what had happened. He felt comforted by my story and I was glad that I had shared it with him.

Although I believe in God, or at least a higher being, I am not inclined to believe in spirits and such like and with a science background tend to be pragmatic about what happens after death but this 'visit' from Ella I cannot explain. I felt the strong disconnection from her after that visit in Minneapolis. I believe in my heart that she came to say goodbye but my head disputes this. I knew she had died and I couldn't be moved on that conclusion even though I couldn't explain it. And now I feel the same overwhelming disconnection from Jenny. Just recently I felt a wave of loss so deep that it threw me. It made me think of Ella but it was Jenny that flooded my mind and stayed with me for days after. Perhaps, it was a goodbye. I don't want to know. I'm too sad to think of her passing, but if it was that I hope she's content and happy and that she's caught up with that mammy of hers after all this time. You see, I am a dichotomy, a person of conflicting views and beliefs as my certainty on things crumble as life teaches me otherwise. As I get older, the more I learn the less I know and the more inclined I am to open up my mind to new orders and possibilities.

I hope she relished her wonderful new life as a Ten Pound Pom; she and her family certainly deserved a better future and God, there are worse places to grow up than paradise. But I hope too she never suffered the hopelessness of the tyranny of distance, of the dislocation of family and of homesickness and knew that somewhere back in the UK, her wee pal held her as dear to her heart as she had always done for even though the memories faded, the friendship and love never did. And finally, I just hope she didn't call any of her kids Kylie or Jason.....