Yet more rubbish

Hello again.  I know I said I would write about making a donation of bits of yourself after death and I will do so.

At present, however I am deeply enmeshed in all the practical things that have to be done after someone dies.  When my father died the accounts and papers for the house had been kept in order by someone very old looking after a demented person and a demented person having a quick shuffle of the papers just because.

For the last four and a half years the papers have been sorted out by someone reputedly sane (me, that’s me I’m referring to) so it should be easier.  Stuff such as agencies who still haven’t managed to cancel their direct debits have to be dealt with as the problems arise, however.  I spent the whole morning doing a list of addresses of beneficiaries for the solicitor.  There were many, most of whom have not been near for the last four and a half years, needless to say.

I am doing what I set out to do at the very beginning, which is to do as much as I can each day, which is easier now that I’m not having strange phone calls late at night because when I stop to rest, I know I can do so.

Now I have stopped I am so tired but last thing at night I look much less like a panda, which is an improvement.  When the weather gets warmer I shall get outside and do some digging.

And soon, too soon, it’ll be Miniatura.


I know I sound tired but I am glad it’s on the horizon and this time I’ll be able to do it without my mother feigning sudden heart attacks or whatever to stop me going, so that will be better.


Miniatura March 25th and 26th NEC full details

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The penultimate dementia diary.

I expect you’ve guessed from the title.  I couldn’t blog it any sooner until I had made sure all friends and relatives had been informed of my mother’s death, a fortnight ago.

She actually died of a chest infection and hasn’t been cremated yet because the virus is everywhere; if you’re wanting a funeral in a rush in the UK at present, it won’t happen.

As I last wrote, it looked as if she was on the mend but she quite suddenly worsened.  They sent for the doctor, she stood up out of bed and then literally dropped dead on the spot and five minutes later I rang.  So it was all a bit of a shock.  It was, however, exactly the way she wanted to go, no ambulances, no paramedics, no machinery, no pain, no struggle.  Just one minute there and the next minute not there.

Because she died on a Friday, events became time critical.  In order for her to make a successful brain donation she had to be at the receiving university within a certain number of days; there was an intervening weekend on which nothing can happen, and because there was a DOLS order against her there had to be a coroner’s inquest.  Also the care home manager had suddenly left that morning and the deputy had taken over.

Fortunately I had everything written down and had given the care home the written procedure and all the phone numbers, which they easily found in my mother’s file.  At my house I followed my own identical list and three hours after the death had spoken to all the professionals involved and had put them all in touch with each other and with all the relevant information.  I had not had the coroner’s office on my list, but they were helpful and professional and told me that an inquest could be a paper investigation rather than a physical post mortem.  That afternoon the coroner emailed me a statement of Truth for me to fill in saying what I knew.  I filled it in and sent it straight back and an hour later he was able to tell me that he had spoken to the doctor who had attended my mother ten days previously and received evidence from him and that the meeting to hold the inquest would take place early in the week.  I rang all interested parties, the bank, the Department of Work and pensions and the Inland Revenue and all pension providers.  By teatime I had stopped all incoming money and then rang the solicitor.

I also rang the undertakers who were on my list, who, aware of the situation speedily received the body and stored it to maximise the chances of the donation happening.   When I originally made enquiries, some years ago, they said that a whole body and brain donation would be usual.  Since then regulations had changed because of the dementia; whilst the brain donation would be even more welcome for dementia research, the body was now classed as a bio hazard.

I will write in the next blog about donating a body after death.  The OH worked as a medical scientist for many years, so I was aware that research situations can be dynamic and severely constrained by health and safety at work considerations – you probably couldn’t plate up a microscope slide while you had a fag on the go at the end of the bench anymore, I expect, though you could in the 1970s.

So my poor dead mother went off to the university and then most of her came all the way back again, assisted by the undertaker, the coroner, and the university and by the time she came back the coroner had finished his deliberations and registered the death himself.

Two weeks later we have cleared my mother’s rooms and have to have all the furniture here until probate.  We met the solicitor after I had spent a week and four days with the dining table covered in papers, so that I was able to hand over everything necessary in chronological order.  The solicitor said I could probably do everything myself and I’m quite sure I could too but I handed it all over very willingly and received a couple of certified copies of the will, one of which I took to the bank the day before yesterday.

All I have to do now is send out photographs to the family, as I did for my father, to provide closure for those who have no funeral to attend.

And then I’m done.  Four and a half years working every day without a break.  When I look in the mirror I look like it, but at last, I can rest.  It’s been hard but I am not ill as I was when my mother-in-law died, I am also not in debt, as I was then, for which I am thankful.

Most of all I know I could not have done more than I have done.  My conscience is clear, if I were an ancient Egyptian my heart would be light as a feather.

I hope you can see that if I can do this you can do it too.  Dementia is spreading like a plague, it seems to be taking hold in every country in the developed world.  Thirty odd years ago when I had cancer people crossed the road to avoid speaking to me because they didn’t know what to say.  Right now people are frightened to speak to people with dementia, they are terrified of the disease and don’t know what to do.

But you do, you’ve read the blog, four and half years of it, you know that if I can care for my difficult, critical and frequently aggressive mother, every day for four and a half years in another town more than an hour away and at the end just be tired, you can contact the person you know with dementia too.  Send a card.  Pop in for five minutes.  Do what my 102 year old aunt did, phone and say you’ve just put the sprouts on to boil and excuse yourself if the conversation takes a tricky turn to go and see to your sprouts.  Send love, send good thoughts.

I have been struck by the number of number of strange communications I’ve had since my mother died, from people who headed for the hills in terror at the beginning.  To a man they are now troubled and upset people.  Please don’t do this to yourself.  If you even just managed to send a birthday card and a Christmas card to the demented person, they would notice and be glad; my mother was.

Because it’s bad enough to have a frightening disease without being isolated too, and who knows, until all the research is in and we know what’s causing it, although I hope it isn’t, it could be me, it could be you.


And rest.

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Happy New Year.

A belated happy new year from me.  Thanks to the mild weather there seems to be vast numbers of horrible germs going around, plenty of which, I’ve got.

And so has my mother,  Last visit, I rang her in the morning to remind her we were going and she was fine.  By the time we got there she was a bit croakey, by the time we left she had a well-established chesty cough.  The care home was great and got a doctor and antibiotics for her at once but now she is on the mend she is absolutely evil.  I rang at lunchtime when I finally stopped coughing long enough to get up and learned that she was starving, had been wickedly abandoned, was no way going to press the buzzer beside her bed for help, they could all rot and I could ring the office, stamp on their toes, spit in their eyes and call them some really bad names she couldn’t be bothered to think of now but I could and was instructed to be inventive.

I wasn’t at school with my mother, which goes to show the good Lord limits misfortune for all of us in some ways, but I have thought for quite a while that it is probable that her CV includes a lengthy stint as school bully.  I remember from my childhood when I was bullied by a much bigger girl, my mother’s amazement.  ‘Why don’t you,’ she asked, ‘just reach up and pull her hair really hard?’  I never made the classic rejoinder: With which arm?  The one she was twisting or the one she was standing on?

So I did ring the office and politely expressed my concern and advised them gently of my mother’s mood.  I have every confidence that they can deal with the problem and grateful that I no longer get embroiled in such difficulties as I used to do when she was cared for at home.

Have you ever felt that the first few days of a new year can give an indicator of what is to come?

I am hoping this year will feature more problems that magically vanish as I get closer to them, such as the mouse.

Cleo brings in mice and loses them, easily.  Russell tracks them down.  Last week he kept putting his head in the kitchen cupboard whenever I retrieved a plate.  I have yet to find a cat with a keen interest in crockery, though I’ve known a few furry students of tin openers.  I remarked upon it to the OH who had also noticed the feline plate inspector and, he thought, a smell.  So when I finally surfaced today we took everything with great trepidation and rubber gloves out of the cupboard.  First we emptied the bottom shelf, filling a bag for the charity shop in the process.  I washed the shelf, we put the plates back and then I surveyed the top shelf.  Mountaineering mice?  Hmmm.  Jumping mice pursued by a cat?  Very possibly.  With even more trepidation I emptied the top shelf as the OH had an urgent recorded comedy TV programme he’s only seen ten times to watch.  And for LO!  Nothing.  Hooray.  What would you call the opposite of serendipity, you know, the expectation of something awful that turns out to be the discovery of nothing?  Well whatever it is, I had the pleasure of it.

And then the bottom fell out of the kitchen drawer again, so I took it out and mended it.  Just like that.

Are you familiar with the dinosaur behind the door in the dark that turns out to be a coat on a hook when you put the light on?  After the last few years, I could think of a worse theme for the year.  I hope all your tyrannosaurs turn into car coats with an abandoned bank note in one pocket and a pair of gloves that you thought you’d lost in the other.

Happy 2017.


Can you remember when no one was sure how to spell millennium?

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Christmas day.

It started badly.  There was a phone call at nine.

Well!’ exclaimed my mother, ‘why has no one been to fetch me?  I expect you are knee deep in turkey and I am alone on this desert island!  I am disgusted!’

Happy Christmas.’

‘Oh don’t go happy Christmasing me.  I’ve been up since six, they made me go on the bus to another house.  Where is my house?  What have you done with it.  I walked to your house, I saw you cooking the turkey.  WHERE ARE MY PRESENTS?  Where are the staff?  The cook has mickeyed off and I am left on this desert island.  What do you think you are doing?  You are evil, evil, happy Christmasing me.  Why has no one told me the arrangements?’

I have written the arrangements on the card with Rudolph on it.’

I cannot possibly find it in this jumble of junk, someone has been moving everything around.  Have you been here moving things?  I hope no one comes near me today.  I will tell on them.  Why are they starving me?’

And so on.  You get the general idea.  Halfway through the tirade she pressed something on the phone which, bizarrely, stared to play Fur Elise.  After a couple of minutes of it I hung up.

I finished feeding the cats and started off upstairs.  The phone rang.

‘What was that music?  Are you trying to fob me off?’  and so on for another half hour by which time I was late getting ready to go and didn’t want to anyway.

But we went, after lunch, as arranged, told for a fortnight and written in the card with Rudolph on it.  Fortunately the roads were relatively empty, though not necessarily empty of relatives and one lone lorry driver from Albania.

We arrived, the car park was relatively empty too.

I knocked on her door with some trepidation but all was well.  She was up and dressed and we had an hour to spare and the room was not disarranged but fairly normal.  So I washed her hair while the OH wandered around muttering that he didn’t know how to child-proof a room, though he managed quite nicely and by the time I was drying her hair on the curlers she was chatty and cheerful.  I took the curlers out and gave her her presents and she loved them all, especially the royal blue all lace dress with the matching slip, high neckline and scalloped hem and sleeves.   I hung it on the outside of the wardrobe as instructed so she could enjoy it and then the family arrived as I hastily combed her hair through.

And it was OK.  She gave the present I had brought to the baby who was excited to open it.  I distributed various presents while the S&H and the DIL answered the same questions multiple times beautifully.  I went up to my mother and murmured in her ear to ask if she wanted to give the elf to the baby.  She murmured back that it was hers and no one could have it.  But for lo with cries of great pleasure the baby found the elf for herself.

The S&H remarked that it wasn’t her elf and she had better put it back but for even more lo, my mother said as the baby liked the elf so much (which was fairly obvious as she was kissing the elf and cuddling it) she had better have it.

A Christmas miracle!  (Yes it was, don’t argue.)

At which point, winning, the S&H suggested they leave having been there three quarters of an hour, everyone agreed and they did.  My mother got up to wave them off at the door, the OH took them down in the lift and let them out.  He returned, I took the empty bags and we departed having reassured my mother, who had become anxious, that the baby would being the elf back next time she came.

In the car on the way home the songs on the radio were Christmas songs from the late 1950s and we sang all the way home.

So it all went better than anticipated up to the point where the OH left me to go and drink round at the house of a couple of heavy drinkers, which is why I’m sitting at home alone on Christmas night typing this.

So, a bit of a curate’s egg, good in parts and not a disaster and therefore, under the circumstances, OK.

But I’ll have to get up early to go back to the posh supermarket where I got the elf, to see if he has a friend.


Happy Christmas from Jane’s little self elf group.  (You and me against the world.  As usual.)

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Christmas – will we or not?

This is the fourth time I’ve written about Christmas for the demented.  The first two times I arranged it at my mother’s she was well enough to enjoy critiquing my efforts, mostly approvingly, though I scored poorly on a few fronts.

Last year Christmas was cancelled by the doctor on Christmas Eve when she became dangerously hysterical.  She phoned frequently through the day, although sedated, to express her opinion that I would go to hell and deserved the trip.  We had Christmas a week later when she was better.

This year the arrangements are that we will meet the expectant parents and the great granddaughter at the care home for an hour in the afternoon and that I will take the present, that we will turn up early to child-proof the room and ring the S&H and tribe to warn if she is dangerous.

I could already feel the problems drifting in the wind.

I had decorated her room including a brightly coloured stuffed elf to sit in the Victorian fireplace, which is black.  The plan to which she wholeheartedly agreed, after I had washed the fireplace and put the elf there, was that she should, in addition to the main present, enjoy giving the elf to her great granddaughter.  We left her last week talking to the elf.  By Tuesday it had become a present someone had given her and it was her elf and no one was getting it and anyone who was thinking of parting her and the elf had another think coming.

Last night she rang at ten to explain for an hour how ill she was.

And today when we arrived she wouldn’t get out of bed.  It took me ten minutes or so to find out how to fill her hot water bottles.  They used to be microwave bottles but they were banned after reports of explosions during heating, which was a pity because there is a tiny kitchen along the hall from her room with a microwave in it.  Today I couldn’t find a kettle anywhere but finally located a hot water boiler for tea making and filled up the bottles.  Back in her room I placed one by each foot.

She lay in bed hardly speaking.  This is bad.  You know my mother is really ill when she goes quiet.

Four days to go and she is lying in bed not speaking.

The OH has arranged to go to some hard-drinking friends on Christmas night and do some hard drinking.  After we come back from whatever occurs between a one and a half hour drive there and and a one and a half hour drive back.

I think I remember Christmas being a happy time instead of a worrying time or a lonely time but that was a long time ago.


The rising of the sun and the running to and fro.

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Christmas for the ancient.

Today I visited my neighbour who had gone into residential accommodation, with a present for his 90th birthday.  It’s my third visit since he’s been there.  As I arrived so did his son and daughter-in-law up from the big city.  He was fast asleep, having his after dinner nap, so I had a chat to his son and his wife, put my present and card on the table and left.

I might be getting wise in my old age, anything is possible.  A few years ago I’d have waited until he woke up.  As I spend more time with those of advanced age it becomes more apparent, like anyone of any age, that ambition often exceeds ability.

Last year Christmas had to be cancelled for my mother at the last minute on doctor’s orders.  She had so many visitors, many of whom stayed for hours, that she became hysterical and dangerous.  She spent Christmas day sedated, in bed and we had the celebrations a week later when she was better.

In the same year an aunt, a year older than my mother, made her customary trip in a car the length of half the country to her son’s house as usual.  On the way she did not like to ask for toilet breaks and arrived ill, fell over and was immediately carted off to hospital.

Last week in my mother’s care home they had the Christmas party, very wisely a fortnight before Christmas.  I arrived, washed and set my mother’s hair, dressed her in her finery, as reported.  She thought the party was great fun, stayed till the bitter end ( half past eight at night) enjoyed every minute and then they had to call the doctor out because she was ill the following day.

When you are young you hope and expect the holidays will bring something exciting that will last into the small hours at least every other day and include vast amounts of eating, drinking and dancing.  When you are old you dread it.

And that is the clue to getting the most out of the holidays for the very senior.  A couple of hours of mild excitement, while seated, followed by several days of rest.  So, for my mother, what is now planned is for us to turn up later in the afternoon, baby proof her room and then enjoy for up to an hour the company of her great granddaughter after which we’ll all go home to bed.  That’s it.  She is under strict instruction after her Christmas lunch to go to her room and rest.  If she isn’t feeling well enough to go to the dining room, to have her lunch in her own room and then rest.

On the whole it’s not terribly different from Christmas for babies, if the nap isn’t built into the plan you know it will all end in tears.  Which is why I was happy to leave my neighbour today.  I’ll visit later in the week when he’s had time to recover from having a birthday.

There is a Spanish proverb: How beautiful it is to do nothing and then rest afterwards.  I think this is the perfect prescription for those of advanced age wishing to survive the festive season.

I even hope to manage a bit of it myself.


ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ happy Christmas  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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Happy visit.

There are some and I have just had one, so I thought I’d let you know.  One of the purposes of the dementia diaries is to encourage relatives to engage with people who have this disease.  Contact with those whose brains are not working within the parameters of normal can be challenging to say the least.  Part of the problem is that, for many years, the sufferer may look as they always have done until they speak and reveal their thought processes are not as they were.  Their utterances may prove challenging: they may talk nonsense, slip backwards in time and appear to be living in a different time frame, speak as if family members who died long ago are still alive.  As the disease progresses they may be verbally aggressive, may lie, may argue, make false accusations and so on and these are only the verbal challenging behaviours.  Physically they may behave in any inappropriate manner you can think of, from taking all their clothes off to hitting you with their walking stick.  They may exhibit various signs of emotional disturbance, crying for no apparent reason, being indignant with no stimulus, uttering profanities with no provocation.  And so on through most types of behaviour people are capable of exhibiting, all upsetting to onlookers, difficult to deal with, tricky to stop and tiring all the time.

And yet, even this far into the disease, which I calculate my mother has had at least six or seven years, there can be happy visits and nice days.  This of course is why it’s worth persevering with your difficult demented relative.  It is for them that you do it, because you could be ill this way too but it’s also for you.  First, you will live after they have departed and then you will be glad that you have an easy conscience and did not run away.  There will be people who will run away and which people they turn out to be may surprise you.  Second you never know when you might have a nice visit and no matter what happens afterwards this is a visit you can remember.  I can’t think of a third reason, these days I am scraping the barrel a bit, when I look in the mirror I appear to be doing barrel scraping with my eye sockets; without the make-up I now look dreadful all the time but if I can do it at five foot two and theoretically retired with a husband who dives to the pub the minute we get home, then it can be done.

The morning did not start well.  My mother rang to complain first thing.  Not about anything necessarily, just to complain.  She was surprised to hear we were going to visit, as it felt like a Sunday, but somewhat mollified and promised to have a list of what was wrong written out for me when I arrived.

You would think this would make you rush there like the wind to discover what was amiss, wouldn’t you?  So we arrived late and later than that because there were traffic problems.  But as we walked in it was apparent preparations were in progress as all the dining tables were being laid with black and gold decorations and Christmas crackers.  And for lo further down the hall a blackboard informed everyone that there was going to be a party from five until eight in the evening that very day.  Striding down the hall was my mother who, surprised to see us, told me she was going to the office to see if they could buy Christmas cards for her because she couldn’t get out and no one had helped her to get them because she had just been abandoned.  However as luck would have it the two packs of very superior cards I had brought for her were in the bag I was carrying.  I had to coax her to come back up to her room and look at them and there was a good deal of muttering on the way about how unsatisfactory they were going to be.  I, knowing the recipient, had bought the poshest mail order cards I could find which were like medieval triptychs and very nearly solid gold and diamond encrusted.  She examined them in silence as long as she could manage it ( silence has never really been her forte)  and could not prevent a couple of ‘ooh’s escaping and then said she supposed they would do though she didn’t really want to send them to people as they were too nice.  So I pointed out that there were two of each in each pack and two packs so she would be able to keep the best ones herself.

I had also brought decorations including a garland for the fireplace which I knew she would love and a tiny tree, and the present she will give her great granddaughter to show her before I take it away to wrap it up. And they were all OK.  Then I suggested I wash her hair so it would be nice for the party and she agreed, even though she wasn’t sure she would go downstairs and grace them with her presence (I was not fooled, she is the original party animal).  And when I looked in the wardrobe the sewing department had attached labels to her best velvet swirly skirt as requested so I dressed her and combed out her hair and found the bling and overdid it and over did it a bit more because the Queen wears a necklace and a brooch often and by then she was excited but not letting on and so cheerful she didn’t even go bananas when her ‘diamond’ bangle snagged her tights and she was finished and done in time to have half an hour rest before the party started.

We went downstairs to find the staff trying to put the more difficult or wheeled old people in place, a fruitless task without strong glue and we left feeling cheerful.

And tomorrow, if she remembers, I will hear how she did look better than anyone else (though we did see an old gentleman in full dinner suit polished to perfection because it is a very posh residence for the very posh of a very posh town)  and whether or not she won prizes and what rubbish they were and how much better she would have done the catering.  Though, this last, maybe not, as I learned she has made friends with the cook on the staff and they discuss matters culinary at length.

All in all a good visit and if it were the last a good one to remember.  Who would not like to make an exit after a triumph at a party?  And what is the point of a party if you cannot be better than all the other partygoers and then boast about it to your family?


91 outside, 16 inside.

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Dreadful visit.

The last visit to my mother was so dreadful it has taken me several days to process it sufficiently to be able to write about it.  In the past, dreadful visits have frequently been an indicator of an underlying infection which has subsequently evidenced itself, so that later you tell yourself that was why she was so rude or critical or aggressive; the knowledge makes the insult easier to bear.  Now, however, as the disease takes firmer hold and the brain is destroyed, bad days are just bad days for no reason other than the condition itself.  They are very random and her mood can turn on a sixpence.  She can be nice as ninepence when I ring in the morning and accusatory, shrill and hysterical when she rings me later the same day.  The only certainty is that she will be nasty when tired.  If I get a string of phone calls starting about seven in the evening I know what sort of evening to expect. The only action I can take is to wait until they unplug her phone, wait until I’ve calmed down before I go to bed and then have a bit of a lie in in the morning followed by a work out.

Last visit when we arrived she had locked her door and wouldn’t let us in.  She shouted through the locked door that she was busy reading the newspaper and we’d have to go away.  I kept knocking patiently and explaining that it was me and that I’d come to see her and she kept replying that she was very busy sitting down.

Eventually the OH had the bright idea of ringing her on his mobile.  I spoke:  Hello it’s me.

Oh hang on Jane, there’s someone at the door.

Could you answer it?

I don’t know who it is.

It’s me.

Is it? But you’re on the phone.

Yes I’m also standing outside the door.

Oh wait a minute, I think there’s someone at the door.

Yes it’s me.

Is it?  Well you’ll have to wait.  There’s someone at the door.  I wasn’t going to answer it but I might was well because I’ve had to cross the floor because the phone was ringing.

Was it?  Well could you open the door and we’ll come in for a visit.

Will you?  (Opens the door)  Oh that was quick you were just on the phone.

Was I?  Let me put the phone down for you.

Who was it?

Oh it’s all right, they’ve rung off, anyway I’m here, as usual, for a visit.


It sounds funny now, I wish it had at the time.

I find often these days that washing her hair and setting it for her is helpful.  There is a hairdressing salon in the building but she has taken against the hairdresser and her hairdressing friend who used to visit the house cannot do it anymore.  In fact the hairdressing helps because  it is soothing and physical and while I am putting the curlers in all wrong and drying it too hot or too whooshy or too cold we can fall into easy hairdresser talk (avoiding the bit where I ask if she’s been on her holidays yet, because as soon as I do she’s back on a cruise ship again).  All her adult life she has been to the hairdresser once a week; as with all dementia patients any well established routine is soothing.  In deference to her physical frailty we have a break between the drying and the removal of the curlers.  Often after the brushing out the afternoon tea trolley makes an appearance which is our signal to take tea and subsequently, our leave.

The visit takes no more than three hours which will exhaust her.  In the space of three hours I can turn her mood from anything to calmer and sometimes even happy but it is exhausting work.  I feel like a tiny tug boat trying to turn an ocean liner. 

It is not natural to swallow your own feelings and reply calmly and kindly regardless of the provocation. Being relentlessly cheerful while people are either lying to you or screaming at you does not come easily either. I am getting a lot of practice.  At the weekend the OH was out all Saturday afternoon and then out at a party until half past one on Sunday morning and wasted all Sunday afternoon. My mother did a couple of aggressive phone calls on Saturday and a very confused two on Sunday.  It was her sister’s one hundred and second birthday.  My mother wanted to ring her but didn’t have the number and had to wait while I looked up the number on the Internet, then had to ring on her own, but, as her sister didn’t have a direct line, had to ask the care home office for the phone to be taken to her sister.  All of which I had to school her in over the phone.  When she rang back it was hard to find out if she was aggressive because she had done it and was tired, or aggressive because se hadn’t managed it and was annoyed.  And I’d just finished with all of that when the OH staggered downstairs sneezing and looking fifty shades of grey round the gills but not in a good way.

But by nine at night she’d been unplugged, he’d taken himself off the bed and I breathed out.

And then I cheered myself up with a bit of online shopping.

If you’re expecting a present from me it’ll be whatever annoyed people buy late at night.  Flame throwers for garden weeds or brushes with metal bristles for a lot of scrubbing or maybe just a nice simple gallon bottle of caustic drain cleaner.

Next difficult day or two I’ll be online sourcing big sheets of sandpaper for wrapping and barbed wire for the bows.


Heigh ho heigh ho……………is there no let up at all?

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Vast quantities of assorted junk.

It’s what I brought home from my mother’s house.  Vast quantities of assorted junk.  There is so much of it that I have been going through the boxes sporadically and resting in between, or doing other things or going through my own rubbish.

When I first began I was under the impression that it was all fabulous valuable antiques.  I had been brought up on the dictum that upon the demise of my father a famous London auction establishment should be alerted and would momentarily be on the doorstep like pointer dogs with their noses through the letterbox and their hands on their mobiles to monied collectors globally, who, alerted, would be rummaging frantically down the sides of their sofas for handfuls of spare banknotes.

All of my life I had been brought up to scorn the opinion of my mother’s eldest sister, the one who will be 102 any day now, that it was all second hand.  To annunciate correctly it is necessary to say that, with a particular sneer, as you snap your rubber gloves at the wrist and prepare to scrub the surface of something brand new, wrought from nice clean plastic in a factory.  Metal is also acceptable, providing it is shiny, and lace, if starched.  Her opinion was also that her little sister would not have stood a chance if she, the sister had met the man the little sister married first and that once she had him in her clutches he would swiftly be re-educated, persuaded to stop collecting and disabused of his strange notions that anything eighteenth century was preferable to anything Victorian or newer.

My aunt was wrong on several counts.  My father assured my mother he would not have looked twice at her sister.  There is no possibility that he would have given up collecting antiques; my mother tried hard to dissuade him for 65 years  and failed utterly, he was still smuggling paper bags full of old things into the house the week before he died and, judging by the piles of books that now adorn my bedroom floor, lived most of his life, in his head, in the eighteenth century.

My aunt, however, was right on one issue, it is by and large second hand junk, mostly old, fairly grubby, failing notably to sell at provincial auctions at knock-down prices and the famous London auction establishment wouldn’t touch the slightest bit of hand sawn veneer of any of it with a late nineteenth century pole au barge, ormolu mounts and ostrich leather hand tooled handle wearing gloves, even.

Which is why vast quantities of it have landed in my house, after all the stuff the charity shops will take has been taken.  So when the kitchen drawer bottom fell out, dumping everything on the floor, what it was dumping was stuff not even good enough for a charity shop to take for free.  In the drawer already was all the usual junk.  The cutlery, the instructions for all the lights, including the ones replaced twenty years ago, kitchen gizmos, many of dubious use even when new, and the bright red building society passbook, containing the Christmas savings, which I put in a safe place immediately so as not to lose it.

24 hours later I now have old shoeboxes full of stuff that is going to the dump tomorrow just as soon as I have been through it all for the fifth time to make sure the passbook is not going to the dump too.  Of course it won’t be.  It is in a safe place.  Or alternate reality, or elsewhere.

Yes I have looked there, thank you for suggesting it.  Yes I have done my sock drawer in case.  Twice.  Yes the desk.  I no longer have your email address spider scribbled in pencil on the bottom of a tiny shopping receipt in case it could be mistaken for a red passbook.

Yes I have stood in the kitchen doing the mime.  The drawer falls out smash  I pick it up  lift   I collect a bajillion odd knives, blades to the hand ouch  I place the box full of gadgets on the counter top put I rescue the passbook from the floor and I……….

According the the mime I spin in circles cursing myself, though I don’t remember doing that so much at the time.

I had to stop half an hour ago and have something to eat as I was going all dizzy.

It doesn’t help that when the bottom fell out of the drawer I was engaged in sorting the ancient photos chucked in a box and putting them in an album and that I have photos everywhere in piles which are now spread even further in ransacked piles.  Great Uncle Percy does not look anything like a red passbook, nevertheless I have stared at him three times now in the vain hope that he might morph into one, because you never know.

I certainly don’t.  But I am not a quitter, you’ll know that if you’ve been reading a while.  I have found things I didn’t know I had, such as a dead mouse someone furry was saving for later, some really big paperclips, two red liquorice pinwheels and such a lot of candles.  I have no idea why the candles which have not been lit in living memory – we have electricity.  I put them back in the drawer because I do now have my grandmother’s candlestick, though I have no intention of putting a candle in and lighting it, the house is full of heaps of incendiary junk.  Not random junk either, sorted junk, some of it sorted up to six times.

I am going to go through the cupboard which is one entire half height wall of the kitchen before bed.  I am. 

I thought when I brought cars full of junk home repeatedly that it would take me months or years to go through it all.  It’s amazing how quickly your opinion can change.  I thought I would always have to spend time searching through the junk to find what I need whereas I now have the most indexed sock drawer in the land, I can co-ordinate with any trouser leg I have ever possessed at a moment’s notice.  Go on, mention a colour.  See?? And that, and that one for contrast and look! Stripes!

I must stop acquiring stuff.  I really must.  Sometimes I deliberately go to shops and buy things.  This has got to stop.  I must stop paddling up the Amazon immediately and if anyone wants a house clearing they can jolly well do it themselves.

I am off to tackle the kitchen cupboard.  Oh why did I bring all those plates back from my mother’s when we already had plates?  What fool has seven egg cups?*  Why save a small 1920s cut glass sauce boat when I have never knowingly made sauce in my life, except cheese sauce all poured on a cauliflower and eaten at once, boatlessly.  I have three rolling pins, am I crazy?+

It’s vast quantities of assorted junk, and, somewhere, a passbook, and also two cats, a dead mouse, one really old hard red liquorice pinwheel and a drawer full of socks sorted by colour, pattern, length and age.  Actually I am throwing the mouse out now.  There, gone.  Got to start somewhere.  Oh what idiot lives in an open plan house and fills it full of junk?%

And five dolls house kits, which are, of course, not junk but valuable pieces of wooded happiness that will be constructed just as soon as I have finished wading through the junk.

And found the passbook.


* Me.  +Yes   % Me again, I’m afraid.

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I was going to get up early this morning so the OH could get into the bathroom and out again to the gym.  He is, however, going to give up the gym today in favour of sitting at home nursing his gout.

Considering I haven’t got it myself and hope never to have it, gout seems to have played quite a bit part in my life. 

That is, in fact, how I might categorise the lives of those whose family and friends suffer from the disease of alcoholism; their numerous aliments including gout, road rage, moodiness, fiduciary incontinence, fiscal irregularity, malfunctioning of the heart, lungs and liver and, if they get that far, dementia, impinge upon your own sober and responsible life in a way that cannot be ignored.  Your own life can become unliveable long before their physical symptoms become obvious.

Gout, for example, affected my mother long before she had her first sip of alcohol.  To this day, aged 91, she always shuts doors quietly.  This, for someone who never enters a room she cannot command, seems out of character until you hear the stories of her father sitting with his foot up in his gout stool, sipping his whiskey (can’t help feeling the answer lies embedded in the question here, but never mind) shouting at her for slamming the door so the draught (it was that wide, that wide and pointed, no doubt) sliced across his toes like a knife.  She still does a good impression of it all these years later; her face becomes enraged and overbearing (yes I know, more overbearing than normal) as she shouts in a loud deep voice ‘Put the wood in the hole, you stupid child!’  She is acting out an injustice done to her.  She was the youngest of five, still a child when her older siblings were at work.  Full of youthful enthusiasm and high spirits and running and pouncing into room only to be shouted at by a crabby old father in pain and topping up his withdrawal.

Gout is a progressive and chronic illness, a type of arthritis, in which uric acid crystallises and forms needle-like structures in the joints that pierce the sufferer from the inside every time the joint is moved.  Sufferers, especially sufferers who are drinkers, will be very keen to tell you all about dietary causes. ill-fitting shoes and the like.  Nevertheless two of the most significant triggers for the deposition of purines in the blood (which are normally filtered by the kidneys and passed out of the body harmlessly) are dehydration and beer consumption.  There are folk with gout who have had blameless teetotal lives, if you are one and reading this, I am very sorry, jolly bad genetic luck, have this nice glass of cherry juice, I hope you feel better soon.  Their numbers are considerably outweighed by those who, waking the morning after the night before find that three glasses of water first thing simply don’t reach as far as the big toe anymore.

I have had an interesting few days examining the contents of a box of old photographs that came from  my mother’s house.  To save them from disintegrating I have purchased a 12 inch scrapbook album into which I shall stick them.  There is not much of great age from my mother’s side of the family, she was, after all the youngest of five but I did find some notes about my mother’s father’s father.  He was a ship’s steward who was killed when he fell between two ships when boarding.  His wife received no financial compensation as some local busybody said that he had been drinking.  But, said the note, it was known that he had gout and was unsteady on his legs.

You could expand this story in any direction you like; it’s difficult not to do so.  The aspect that strikes me most is the suffering of his poor wife.  If he was an habitual drinker and therefore his gout was so bad he had difficulty walking, I cannot imagine he would have been a sweet tempered individual.  Having put up with years of that, she then had to suffer financial hardship being penalised for a disease that she was powerless to control or prevent.  Poor woman, it’s a hard enough life sitting at home taking care of the children while the person who should be helping you is out drinking the money but then to be fined for doing so seems a wicked injustice.

There was no help in the dim and distant past for the families of alcoholics, there wasn’t any help for the alcoholics either, who were considered to be morally degenerate rather than people with an inherited disease.

Fortunately these days there is help for both parties.  Around the world AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, is available to help people who have chosen to live with the disease rather than die from it.  For families and friends there is Al-Anon Family groups which exists solely to give comfort and support to families of alcoholics.  It’s not there to tell you how to stop the alcoholic drinking; I don’t think there is a disease where shouting at the sufferer creates a magical cure, I wish there was but there ain’t.  It’s there to give you the support so that you can find ways yourself of living a happy life despite being surrounded by people who are so ill they are drinking themselves to death and blaming you for it.

If you have been shouted at by someone with a glass in their hand and gout in their foot you might want to go and have a look

this is the UK web resource which has a geographical drop-down menu to help you find the nearest meeting to you.  Al-Anon is a world-wide organisation which exists only for the benefit of its members, you can find a meeting anywhere in the world by putting Al-Anon Family groups into a search engine.  If, like the family of my great grandmother, you find yourself short of cash, you’ll be relieved to know that membership costs nothing; the group I meet with hires rooms to meet in, so we all make a small voluntary contribution that covers the cost of room hire.  If you meet in a member’s house anywhere in the world, it may cost nothing at all.  You don’t have to learn anything, or do anything at all but turn up and keep turning up for a hug and some ears.  In time you’ll discover how to give a hug and provide ears yourself.

For those of us who grew up being shouted down and shouted at it’s the revolution that can turn your attention from someone else’s gouty feet or damaged brain to your own wonderful life just waiting for you to live it.



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