A letter to my grandmother

>> Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Dear Nana,

yesterday lunchtime we got the call that you had passed on.

It wasn't unexpected and yet, it was.  You'd beaten the odds a number of times to reach one hundred and four; in your fifties when you had a cancerous kidney removed; in your sixties when you had a double mastectomy after the early discovery of the same growths that had taken your mother and sister; most recently of all last week, when you had an operation to pin your hip back together after a fall.  So whilst it was obvious that you couldn't live for ever, I suspect that most of the people who knew you wondered if, actually, you might.

The pneumonia that probably caused your heart to stop was clearly in evidence when my mother and I visited you yesterday morning, and you were weary, oh, so weary, but dressed neatly as ever you sat in your high-backed arm-chair, gently stroking the soft grey lacy blanket that I bought you from a snow-bound Russian market six years ago.  The same blanket which, at the time of giving, you dismissed as being for an old person.  When you were ninety-eight.

'She loves that blanket', my mother told me.  'It's her favourite.'  Raising her voice, in the hope that you could hear; 'That blanket was made by Russian babushkas, Mum!'

You nodded, vaguely.  I can only imagine what it must have been like to be distanced from the world by your failing hearing, as if trapped in a thick cardboard box invisible to everyone except yourself.

The nurse who had dressed you that morning came in to say hello.  'She's an angel,' you said, the pneumonia rattling threateningly in your chest.  Mum and I agreed, thankful that such people exist.

'I'm glad she's up.'  Mum said to me.  'It's better for her chest that way.  And G (my uncle) was only saying yesterday, after he visited, that they should get her out of bed.  I'll have to tell him that they have done.'

'Tell you what; I'll take a photo, so that you can send it on to him.'  (It's on my phone now, Nana.  Always a little vain, disliking the marks of time, you would hate it.  I shall treasure it.)

We chatted to you for about an hour, not sure how much you heard and how much you deciphered or simply ignored.  We talked to you about my mother's recent holiday and your great-grandchildren; when I showed you pictures of my boys - fourteen and eleven now, how did that happen? - you smiled at my oldest, grinning cheekily up at you from the screen.

'Saucy', you said, pointing at the photo.  'Lovely boys'.

'Yes, Nana.  They take after your side of the family.'

My mother snorted and told me I was being smooth, but I could tell you appreciated the compliment.  Your family always was the apple of your eye, especially - as a product of your time - the boys.

You leaned forward a little in your chair, and gestured at my mother.  'She's beautiful.'

My eyes filled with tears at the sound of the pneumonic gurgle in your voice; it was clearly an effort for you to speak.  'She is, Nana.'

Mum shifted in her chair, uncertain at the unexpected compliment.  'She was talking about you.'

'No, Mum.  She was talking about you.'

Time came for us to leave, and my mother stood. 'Goodbye, Mum.  I'll see you tomorrow.'

'Goodbye, darlin'.'

We gathered up our coats and bags and I kissed you on the forehead, careful to avoid knocking your chair and your painful hip.  'Bye, Nana.  I'll come back and see you next week.'

You nodded.  'Sleep.'

Mum rearranged the cushion behind your head, and pulled the babushka-crocheted blanket up around you.  'You have a rest.  I'll see you tomorrow.'

'I love you all.'

We stopped, startled.  Such a statement wasn't entirely out of character, but it wasn't common.  I kissed you again, making sure you had a supply of tissues within reach, and as I left I turned and waved at you, sitting small and pale in the corner of the room.

You waved back.


Goodbye, Nana.  I love you too.

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Still learning how to parent...

>> Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Boy #1 is growing up.  Getting taller, broader, etc etc.  So when I picked him up from the sports camp he's been at for the last couple of days, red-faced and a bit sweaty, I suggested that he might want to take a shower when we got home.

To my relief, (because let's be honest, boys don't always see the need for such trivial pursuits as showers) he agreed and disappeared upstairs when we arrived back.  Thirty minutes later he appeared in the kitchen; wet-haired, clearly cleaner but - and this, I think, may be where my understanding of boys and their priorities falls somewhat short - crucially in the same clothes he'd been wearing before his shower.  The ones he'd been training in all morning.  The ones that - well, I don't think I need to spell it out.

I pointed out that climbing back into his dirty kit - no matter how comfortable he found it - sort of negated the beneficial effects of the shower.   His response?  'Mum, you asked me to take a shower.  You didn't ask me to change my clothes as well..'

Lesson learned.


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Of mice and AI

>> Friday, 18 August 2017

I just spotted something small, brown and furry emerging from under one of the kitchen cabinets.  Now, I've been here before.  I have form in this area, but not for some time now have I had the fun of dealing with unwanted household visitors.  As I sit here typing my feet are on high alert (who knows when I may need to stand on a chair whilst I assess the situation at the top of my voice?), with a weather eye on the gap between the dishwasher and the cupboard, that it used as an escape route.

I'm kidding myself that it was temporary incursion made through the kitchen door left open into the garden all morning, and also hoping that my initial impression from the fleeting glimpse I caught of the creature - that it was a shrew, rather than a mouse - was correct.  I'm not sure why, but a shrew in the house seems far less concerning to me than a mouse, which is ridiculous, really, because both are rodents and both are unwelcome; it's just a matter of semantics, really.

Whilst I wait for the fugitive to show itself, I'm taking my mind off it with some displacement activity; namely that of today's rant.

As an aside here, I do find this whole getting older thing makes me far more sensitive to - and crosser about - things that in the past I would yes, have noticed, but probably shrugged off as just part of life's rich tapestry.  Hormones, eh?

In any case, the subject of today's mini rant is Alexa, Amazon's cloud-based home management system.

Tell me please: why is Alexa a woman?  Or more specifically, since I'm sure there are options to customise the system and have an 'Alex' rather than an 'Alexa', why is the one featured on all the advertising a woman?

Because I don't know about you but I am sick to the back teeth of being the go-to person in this house for just about any query regarding home administration, especially when the person asking the question has usually not even bothered to raise their eyes from whichever screen they're watching to try and locate the information themselves.

As a feminist (a label I'm proud of by the way; more of that in another rant in the not too distant future), I'm trying to raise my sons to make no assumptions that it will be the woman of the house who will sort home-based admin problems out for them.  Yet on every side they are confronted with images that tell them no, your mother's wrong; no matter how much she may try to encourage you to adopt a non-sexist approach as you deal with life, it IS a woman who is going to run things for you.  And here, on the tv and radio is Alexa, an early version of AI - complete with female voice -  to underline that fact.

I can't be the only woman to be annoyed by this, surely?




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Eight Reasons to Suspect Your Chosen Holiday Destination is Middle Class.

>> Friday, 28 July 2017

1)  Every second child playing Wholesome Outdoor Games on the beach is called Saskia, Lolly, Sophia, Algie, or Fred.

2) Red shorts, red trousers.  Everywhere.

3)  It appears to be a legal requirement to have a dog, to the extent that you begin to wonder if there is a check-point at the edge of town refusing entry to those families who turn up without them. (You personally don't own a dog, but congratulate yourself for having taken the precaution of borrowing one for the duration of your holiday.  Although - picking up pooh.  Do people really do this ALL the time?).

4) Said dog must be either a Jack Russell, Border Terrier, Labrador (any colour acceptable), Golden Retriever, or a Springer or Cocker Spaniel.  (Your borrowed dog is a Labrador / Cocker Spaniel cross.  So THAT's a relief).

5)  The dog's name must be Saskia, Lolly, Sophia, Algie or Fred.

6)  You walk into a shop looking for a friend who has wandered off and ask the sales assistant if she's seen her.  The conversation goes as follows:

Me: 'Is my friend in the changing rooms?  She's wearing a blue & white striped top.'

Sales Assistant - without missing a beat: 'You mean, like everyone else in town at the moment?'

7)  The narrow streets of the town are clogged with people, children, and dogs, and things get somewhat fraught when a random parent calls out to their child (using, of course, a name from the prescribed list) and assorted toddlers and dogs strain at the leash to see who is summoning them, tripping up their red-trousered matelot-top wearing parents' and / or owners as they do so.

8)  The same narrow streets are regularly jammed by traffic in the middle of the day, not by holiday makers hopelessly circumnavigating the town in their shiny 4x4's hunting for the El Dorado of an available parking space (they do at least keep moving, even if it is at snail's pace), but by Waitrose and Ocado vans driven by dead-eyed men and women trying to deliver halloumi and couscous to the hungry masses.


Please Note:

No, I'm not telling you where this is.  I'm far too busy shaking the sand out of my deck shoes, sorting whites from coloureds (red shorts have a tendency to run when washed with blue & white striped tops), and hunting through the cupboards for some couscous to serve with a delicious grilled halloumi salad for dinner tonight.



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That thing when...

>> Thursday, 6 July 2017

... you click on your child's school Twitter feed, hoping to see a picture of them enjoying themselves on their week away doing Wholesome Outdoor Activities, but knowing it's something of a fool's errand because previous experience has shown that they are clearly working on their camera avoidance skills (perhaps they have a great future ahead as a spy?), as they NEVER appear on photos on these trips. Every other child in the class seems to appear with impressive regularity, but yours?  No.

Yes - I know all about that.

But this year, bloggie mates, I made Arrangements to Deal with It.

This year, I bought said child a red baseball hat, and ensured that not one but two red fleeces made it into the suitcase.  Not only would he be visible - if he DID make it into the shot - but based on my admittedly limited understanding of what teachers look for when they point and shoot, a child in a bright colour makes a much better subject than one in navy, black or dark grey.

I know - it's a long shot.  Truthfully, I never really thought it would work.

Today, however, I clicked on the school's feed and there he was; Boy #2 in a starring role kayaking, on climbing walls, hanging out with his mates whilst waiting for another day of Wholesomeness Outdoors, and so on.  All the while in red hat, fleece, or both.

Well, friends, that did it; I got cocky and decided that if Boy #2 was so highly visible then his older brother - far less camera-shy - must be visible in at least a couple of photos of HIS school trip.

But no.  Not a whiff of him, kayaking, climbing or otherwise.  And you know why?  No red baseball hat, no red fleece, that's why.

Lesson learned.






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Breaking out of stasis

>> Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Tick, tick, tick...

I think the world might be trying to tell me something.  On facebook this last week I've been assailed with suggestions that I might like to look at posts featuring activities for Empty Nesters.  Has someone told them both my children are away on activity weeks with their school?  And if they have been told, why would fb then think it a good idea to follow up that suggestion with a link to a new scary movie; 'It Comes At Night'?  Why, fb, why?  For all they know, I'm alone in the house this week.  And even though I'm not (alone, that is), I am SO not going to click on a link to a movie that will make it even more difficult to get to sleep in a draughty old house on the occasions that I am...

And then, to add insult to injury, when I checked my email this morning there was an ad in the sidebar from Boots, inviting me to 'Stay Dry and Confident' with incontinence pants.

I used to like you, Boots.

The thing is, I don't actually feel my age.  Yes, I'm 50.  But I feel somewhere in my mid 30's. Having kids a bit later can do that for you, I think.  Well, either that, or it will make you feel somewhere around 70 when they roll their eyes with embarrassment as you try unsuccessfully to stay relevant and up-to-date with their latest musical crush - but let's not dwell on those moments.  (Is it my fault I didn't react in a suitably outraged manner when Boy #1 confronted me with the news that Justin Bieber essentially stole all the credit for 'Despacito' from Luis Fonsi?  Is it?  Well, apparently, yes...)

Here's an interesting thought; when I was 13 (as my older child is now) my mother was only 37.  And I STILL thought she was out of touch.

Boom.

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Just do it... (writing as therapy)

>> Wednesday, 3 May 2017

I've always been a firm believer in the truism that 'A writer writes'.  Except, I've not been doing very much of that recently - either here on the blog or elsewhere - which begs the question; am I still a writer?

I'm not sure.

Life has got in the way recently.  It's drained the energy from me; any creative spark I have is easily snuffed out.  I get inspiration for a post, or a story, get excited about it, start to plan, maybe even begin to write, and then bam!  Out of left-field it comes; another metaphorical body blow knocking me sideways.  Just like that the idea - and the impetus to put pen to paper - is gone.  A brief flare of the match and then, before the flame has even had the chance to take hold, nothing. I know I had it, I could almost touch it, see the words on the page, feel the satisfaction of having written and created something just for myself but now... it's gone.

I'm not sure if it's the life-stage I'm at (that pesky menopause is knocking on the door at the very time I need all my wits about me), or the external influences surrounding me, but for the last few months I've felt about as creative as a worn-out floor mop.

It occurred to me recently that perhaps I should just let this blog go.  I've been writing The Potty Diaries for ten years now, perhaps it's time to move on.  Other bloggers I started this activity with have - perhaps I should follow suit.

But then, why should I?  It's not that my life has become less eventful or that I have nothing to record.  In the last two years I've moved countries, re-assimilated to my home country (or at least, have tried to.  If' I'm honest that's still something of a work in progress), moved house - twice - excavated and sifted through 20 years of the detritus and leaf litter that's accumulated as the result of modern living, coped (yet again) as a week-day widow whilst Husband continues his work abroad, and kept the family more or less intact as we deal with the short-term impact and long-term ramifications of understanding newly diagnosed learning difficulties in one of our children.  That last one's still a work in progress too, actually.

Frankly, I'm exhausted - never a good state to be in if you want to be creative.  But I've been here before, years ago, when I started this blog to - literally - make shit funny, and back then it helped enormously.

Maybe it will again - watch this space.

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