Shits n’ giggles

Public Toilet

Public Toilet (Photo credit: ilovebutter)

This blog used to be all about shits n’ giggles.

You know; drinking beyond excess. Frolicking with the Plumber like a reckless youth. Buying loads of ‘things’. The comedic potential of dog ownership. A right old barrel o’ laughs.

I’ve noticed, and also had it pointed out, that it’s become increasingly maudlin as time has gone on. I assure you, it ain’t intentional. It seems to be the way grief is leading me. The first few months were like, whoah! What the fuck is going on here? Suddenly, from being in a relationship with the love of my life for ten years, (married for five), I am, for all intents and purposes, single.

What does this mean?

He’s not here, that’s what it means. And I can do whatever, or whomever I want! I don’t have to ‘check’ if I can go out with the girls for a night. I don’t have to ‘run it by Him’ if I want to go away for the weekend. I can sleep with whomever I choose, without explanation. I can spend money on whatever I want, (He never would have agreed to half the shit I’ve bought since He died). I can now make decisions about my daughter’s future singularly, without having to seek a second opinion.

In short, it’s back to ME, ME, ME. Freedom, George Michael-style. (With the exception of that unfortunate public toilet debacle.)

But actually. Erm. I don’t like it. The ‘fun’ is over.

You can come back now, love…Love? Love?

On turning 38

Bontempi

Bontempi (Photo credit: Jacob Whittaker)

The last thing you need on a post-birthday hangover are the strains of a child’s Bontempi organ bouncing off your eardrums.

However this morning my daughter has rediscovered the cursed instrument which has hitherto been hidden in a cupboard for months.

It has been in the cupboard for reasons other than her inability to play a note. There is a demo tune on it which takes me whirling back to a moment in time that I’m trying hard to forget – specifically, six days after M died.

The woman from The Humanist Society had just arrived to talk to us about M’s funeral service. Did we have any stories we wanted to include? What sort of man was my husband? Their son? Her brother?

My daughter, still high on the constant stream of visitors and piles of placatory sweets from the past six days, was corralled in the living room with my sister and the Bontempi. They spent the half an hour or so making up a daft dance to the demo that she is playing now, on a loop, downstairs. When we had finished with The Humanist we emerged from the kitchen, wrung out and catatonic, and had to sit and watch the dance. Over and over again.

I’m tired of this. Tired of the reminders of what I have lost and the traumas I have had to face. I spend my time finding distractions, but I am tired of waking up without Him, not remembering going to bed.

I’ve just turned thirty-eight. I shouldn’t be this weary.

Hymn to Him

Hello keyboard my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

You're so cool. (Except perhaps in those wellies)

You’re so cool. (Except perhaps in those wellies)

And tonight I just want to riff about my husband. Thoughts of Him occupy me so completely, but I am unable to express them to anyone but this multi-buttoned musketeer. The words form on my tongue but come out stutteringly, meanderingly, without flow or point.

Besides, why would anyone want to know about how I was always so proud that it was HIM I was going home with at the end of a night?

Or how when I first met Him we used to sit smoking roll-ups til morning, stubbing them out in a Lambrini bottle, which became a brown-silted graveyard for fag ends?

Or how He played ‘Romanza’ on the guitar with the devotion of a father nurturing a child? And how we used to sing together, to our daughter, ‘Dream A Little Dream of You?

How He introduced me to JJ Cale, War of the Worlds, Robertson Davies?

Or how He spoke in a low, deep voice – slowly and without pauses?

How He drank Black Sheep bitter and would always order beef curry at the Chinese?

How our last words before bed were always: I love you pet.

How He was without doubt the most courageous and beautiful human being I have ever met, and I still can’t believe He’s gone?

“…I look back and am amazed that my thoughts were so clear and true, that three words went through my mind endlessly, repeating themselves like a broken record: you’re so cool, you’re so cool, you’re so cool.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzR4Agcsuh8

The Big Uh-Oh

A Mary Berry masterpiece

This week heralds another birthday for me, and this year it’s the big one.

Not the big four-oh; the big uh-oh. I’m officially older than my husband will ever be.

It’s difficult to explain how sad this makes me feel, but on a scale of one to bastardfuckballs, I’m up there with the profanity. Not only did I leave Him behind in 2012 (please forgive me for that, pet), but now I’ve overtaken Him completely. He will never age. The rest of His eyebrow will never go white. He is inexorably frozen in time aged 37.

I can’t help but remember His last ever birthday, just over five weeks before He died. He is pictured here with the cake I made Him. Sadly, having the dexterity of a Dalek in the kitchen, I made too little mixture and the ‘sponge’ ended up being more of a biscuit – and a half measure at that. The poor bastard arrived home from work to it, sitting flaccidly on the chopping board. Even IT was embarrassed. It was supposed to be low fat too as we were both on a diet. As if it could get more pleasure-free.

The great, yet unsurprisingly thing about it though, was that my husband sampled the cake with the gusto of a man who had been presented with a Mary Berry masterpiece.

“Pet, it’s lovely,” he said, washing it down with a swig of tea, from where it had jammed in His gullet.

He placed the remaining quarter in a tin and put it at the back of the kitchen cupboard ‘for later’. And guess what? When the removal men came to package up our belongings from the house five surreal months later, one of them unearthed the tin and found that remaining quarter still secreted within it. I watched him sniff it with disdain, then ask me: “Do you…want to keep this?”

My instinct was to say yes. But I said; “Just chuck it.”

I am seeing in my 39th year with my Dad and my daughter and undoubtedly my dear friend Mr Rioja. As I no longer have need for a diet (note: sudden death of spouse – brilliant for weight-loss folks!) I may even treat myself to a slice of decent cake.

Photographs of dead relatives

This is you and your daddy

My Mother is a keen curator of what M used to call ‘photographs of dead relatives’.

Sepia miniature of unidentified raggy-arsed forebear? Mother’s all over it like Old Etonians in Parliament. She’s got the census from 1743 and worked out it’s a great, great, great uncle’s love child. She’s been on a pilgrimage to an outpost north of Inverness to visit the grave.

The significance of this ancestor differs among family members – most couldn’t give a monkey’s, but for others (well, my Mother), they are an important part of the jigsaw of family history.

I’m doing some historical research of my own at the moment, for a piece of writing I’m doing about Newcastle. This morning I’ve been in the city looking at other people’s raggy-arsed forebears in a collection of photographs from 1860. In one or two of them I thought I recognised myself – the bone structure of the face, the slightly hooded eyes. It is possible, I conceded, that I may be looking at a forebear without realising it. It is certainly conceivable that I am related to a Geordie fishwife, somewhere down the line.

Being in Newcastle always brings out a yearning for M, but I have begun to notice that He has started to take on saintly, almost mythical status in my mind. Thoughts of Him infuse everything I do.

It struck me today, as looked at the photographs and wandered around the Quayside, trying to absorb the history of the place, that M is now ‘a dead relative’. All that remains of Him for my daughter are scant memories (if any memories at all), photographs and some personal effects. I can record, recount, curate and archive His life until my fingers bleed, but for her, He will always be in 2D.

Yes, she looks like Him. Her kids will probably look like Him. Her kids kids will probably look like Him. He ‘lives on’, as people keep telling me.

But the fact is that He has already become a photograph of a dead relative to add to the pile.

A macabre, head-banging, delusional freak

English: Low cost above knee prosthetic limbs:...

English: Low cost above knee prosthetic limbs: ICRC (left) LC Knee (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Great Aunt Edith died fifteen years ago, yet her husband (now a death-defying nonagenarian in the rudest of health) still keeps her prosthetic leg propped up by the fireplace in the lounge.

What a macabre, head-banging, delusional freak, right?

Me? My husband died in my Mother’s house. And sometimes, when Mum’s not looking, I go into the bedroom where He took His final breath, open the cupboard and allow my eyes to drift along the rail of her clothes to where His jacket still hangs. It’s right at the end of the rail, tucked away so it can’t be immediately seen.

Some days I just look, then close the door. Other days I sniff it, then reach into the pockets. There are three used tickets to The Deep in Hull, a half-eaten packet of Extra-Strong Mints and His pill box (empty). In the top pocket, there’s a pen.

Below the jacket, at the bottom of the cupboard, is the overnight case He had brought in anticipation of a weekend at Mother’s.

Inside: wash bag (too painful to look through now, but I know it contains toothbrush, toothpaste, razors – items which still hold His DNA), jeans, a brown leather belt, one pair of brown Dr Marten’s boots (size 9), various jumpers and underwear. He had brought the pair of unworn Superdry socks I bought Him for Christmas too, but I had Him cremated in those.

Meanwhile, downstairs at poor Mother’s is the four pack of Guinness M had bought about an hour before He died. It sits on a shelf in the porch, tucked far enough behind the boxes of washing powder and detergent that it is not immediately obvious, but still, I always check for it, glinting through the gloom. I have forbidden her to get rid of it or to allow anyone else to drink it.

In the light of this, and other evidence (the vacuum packed contents of His wardrobe, His guitar, His ashes), I asked my counsellor today, “Am I building a shrine to M? Should I be getting rid of all this stuff, in order to ‘move on’?”

She looked at me with well-rehearsed neutrality. “You have to do what’s right for you. Some people may not understand it. But others – well, they will.”

I thought about the macabre, head-banging, delusional freak, and his wife’s prosthetic leg.

I understand, Uncle Gordon. I understand old son.

The Seven Year Bitch

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Re-enacting scenes from Sorry (photo: http://www.bbc.co.uk)

Today I am picking the carrot out of the fact that I should have been married exactly seven years.

What would we have been doing? Probably popping the cork on a nice bottle of red. Settling in to watch Masterchef. We may have ordered in, but that’s not a given.

I’ve said before that M and I didn’t place much stock in anniversaries of any kind – birthdays were about as excited as we got, usually marked by a card and, if He was very unlucky, a home-made, and therefore deflated, Victoria sponge.

Instead, we lived by my granddad’s old adage; ‘Every day’s a Christmas day’.

Not much would have been different today, actually, except for the company.

As it is, I’m re-enacting scenes out of Sorry, where I am a sort of female Timothy Lumsden, having my dinner served to me by my Mother who then does the dishes afterwards. Fortunately she is far cry from Lumsden’s mother, and tolerates my shameful bad language with characteristic equanimity.

I have glanced at the photographs on the sideboard of this time seven years ago and it feels as if I’m looking at a different couple. That bloke wearing the big smile and the tails, next to that bird in the long dress. Figments of some distant lifetime. How is it possible that the day depicted would signal the start of just five years of marriage?

I have spent the day trying to put a name on the hollow space within me. It’s the part which paints a grey wash of sadness over everything. Sometimes it’s so grey it’s opaque – other times it’s cygnet-coloured. But no matter the hue, it leaves everything slightly out-of-tune.

I can only come up with one name for the hollow space.

His.

Happy anniversary, pet. Wherever you are.

Brace, brace!

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As someone who has a morbid fear of flying , what better programme to tune into last night but ‘The Plane Crash’, a documentary about a Boeing 737 which was deliberately crashed in order for engineers to see what really happens at the point of impact?

Aside from feeling a sense of vindication (yeah, OK, so it’s the safest form of travel, but Christ look what HAPPENS when something goes wrong!), there was a moment which, for me, provided a perfect visual representation of what grief feels like.

Crash test dummies were placed around the aircraft; some were strapped in, some were left untethered, some were placed in the brace position, others sat upright.

Cameras filmed from inside the cabin and caught the action within at the point of impact. The experts who examined the resultant footage agreed what we all already knew – braced, with a seatbelt fastened was the best position to adopt in the event of a crash.

What the footage also revealed though, was what happened to the dummies who were in the other positions. The poor bastard without a seatbelt was found wedged under the seat in front, folded backwards in a contortion worthy of Houdini.

But it was the guy who was sitting upright who could have been the poster boy for the aftermath of death of a spouse.

He looked forwards, unswerving in the face of the glass, luggage, wires, trays, pieces of fuselage which tore through him. His head ricocheted off the seat in front, whilst debris melted and fizzed all around. Unbelievably, the engineers believed he probably wouldn’t have died. The severity of the head injuries, however, could not be ascertained.

Adopting the brace position in grief is without doubt the safest option, but I’m starting to realise that looking forwards and facing the onslaught is a necessary part of the journey. I have done that very thing today with my counsellor. Lifted my gaze and felt the impact of the debris.

As with all catastrophic events, however, the severity of the head injuries cannot yet be ascertained.

Him and her

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This is Him, and her.

Hello. I’m having a glass of Rioja at the end of one of those ‘Oh sweet Satan’s ball-sack, I’m a TERRIBLE mother’ days. Will you join me?

I have had the emotional resilience of Wensleydale cheese today (crumbly, for all you non-Northern-English people). And I’ve been unable to toughen myself up.

And my child has both a) witnessed it and b) had to stay at my Mother’s whilst I spent time collapsing on the bed at home. It sounds melodramatic, but I swear, today, I’ve not even been able to THINK about, you know, Him, without going all Wensleydale.

I don’t know why it hits you like this. Anyone? Anyone?

If I’d even tried to compose a post earlier I wouldn’t have had the energy to press the buttons on the keyboard. Fortunately, Rioja has the same effect on me as spinach has on Popeye – it makes me strong to the finich.

It’s the school holidays and I’m up to my ears with the sound of kids shouting for their daddies. I’m sick of people rambling on about going on holiday together. I’m weary of people complaining about the forthcoming fortnight they’re going to have to endure with their husband and kids. I’d sell a kidney for the chance of a holiday with just Him and her.

“Are you cryin’?” My daughter asked me, as tears powered down my cheeks.

“Uhuh.”

“‘Cos you miss Daddy?”

“U”- snort- “Huh”

She doesn’t say anymore than that these days. She just goes and gets a length of toilet paper from the bathroom and clumsily tries to stop the flow.

And I thought to myself today – with no level of profundity whatsoever – I thought, nothing really matters. Nothing.

All I want is you, Buble. Can you hear me?

The Duchess of Hazard

I am the Fun Police.

At least as far as my daughter goes. She wants to take her scooter down a slight incline and I’m there, sucking my teeth on the sidelines, hardly daring to look. She wants to do star jumps on the trampoline and there’s my face, moulded into the mesh like a bank robber.

Yesterday, a group of us went to Newby Hall. Fun central, as far as kids are concerned. Water fountains to jump in. A lake to paddle in. A zip-wire to…zip down.

All potential death traps. Lynn Faulds-Wood has got nothing on me.

Water fountains = slip hazard.

Lake = drowning hazard.

Zip-wire = one way ticket to paraplegia.

Friends will testify that I have always been on the cautious side. (Except after a few beers – then I’ll do owt). However, since M died, I have become convinced something is going to happen to take my child too. In fact, my buttocks have been permanently clenched for eighteen months.

Prior to this, it was my own health which caused me anxiety. Everything took on catastrophic significance, from headaches (brain tumour) to athletes foot (skin cancer). It was a psychological unhinging which was attributed to M’s sudden illness and near-death in 2008. Finally I was told I had ‘Health Anxiety’ by my weary-eyed GP, who just wanted to satisfy me with a diagnosis of some description so that I would fuck off and leave her alone.

Since M was taken from me though, my anxieties have been transposed onto my girl. To the point yesterday where I was so caught up in worrying, I forgot to take her bathing suit and she refused to go into the fountains nude.

Instead she stayed close to me, wrapped up in the safety of the towel.