Saturday, 31 May 2014

Losing Your Marbles

Somebody once said, ‘Stress doesn’t kill.  What does kill, is the way stress is handled.’  Currently I’m not sure whether my stress levels are being handled brilliantly or, thanks to some heart twinges, whether my life plan to live to one hundred is actually going to end in the next one hundred seconds.
          We all suffer stress, and many of us on a daily basis.  Most of us juggle work, kids, spouse, home, and chores on automatic pilot.  However, if you add too many extras into that juggling act, there is a danger of everything collapsing around your ears.  When my mother was taken into hospital as an emergency admission three weeks ago, all the balls I’d been juggling began to falter.  In order to find considerable time to visit her every day and see to her personal needs, something had to give.  The ironing was the first thing to go.  Like a rolling snowball, it quickly gathered momentum.  Within days a huge pile of crumpled clothes had accumulated.
          ‘I’ve nearly run out of shirts,’ said my husband, reclining against the sofa to watch his beloved football.
          ‘How shocking!’
          He gave me an uncertain look, decided I was being serious, and ploughed on.  ‘It’s true.  My wardrobe is nearly empty.
          The shopping was the next thing to slide.
          ‘What’s for tea?’ asked my daughter.  ‘I’m starving.’
          I peered inside the freezer.  ‘Brussel sprouts, peas and roast potatoes.’
          Eleanor looked confused.  ‘Isn’t there something to go with that?’
          I looked inside the freezer again.  ‘Yes.  Ice-cream.’
          The next thing to lapse was housework.
          ‘Mum, there’s cat hair everywhere,’ said my son when he visited last weekend.  ‘You haven’t vacuumed.  You know I’m allergic to Dolly!’
          The washing was the next thing to be abandoned.
          ‘I’m out of socks,’ said Mr V.
          ‘I’m out of pants,’ said Eleanor.
          ‘I’m out of anti-histimine,’ said Robbie.
          ‘And I’m out of patience,’ I said.
          It was at that point that everybody ran for cover.  The blue touch paper had been lit, and there was no holding me back.  Like a bottle of dropped Cola, stress fizzed up and exploded out of me.
          Suddenly my son was vacuuming as if his life depended on it, my husband was whizzing an iron backwards and forwards over the mountain of crumpled clothes, my daughter tidied her room and walked the dog, and then everybody took off to the local supermarket to do a mammoth trolley fill.  I left them all to it and rushed off to the hospital to speak to doctors about unchanged dressings, potential cellulitis, lack of bed bathing assistance, drug changes, care assistance and post-operative delirium.  At the end of it all my mother berated me for ‘interfering’.
          ‘My life won’t be worth living,’ she snapped.  ‘They taunt me you know.’
          ‘Everybody.  And one of the nurses here is absolute poison.  And she hates your guts.  She’s reported you to all the national newspapers.  Do you realise everyone is reading about you?  Your name is mud.’
          ‘Yes, Mum,’ I said.  ‘You kindly told me all that yesterday.  And the day before.  And the day before that.  And the day before that one too.’
          ‘You’ve got to stop causing me trouble.’
          I knelt before my mother and cupped her face in my hands.
          ‘Listen to me, Mum.  Try and hang on to what I’m saying.  I care about you.  I love you.  And I’m interfering – as you call it – because I love and care.’
          She gazed back at me with vacant blue eyes.  The lights were on but nobody was home.
          The time when the tears actually fell was when I mislaid my mobile phone.  Silly how something so trivial can reduce you to floods, but that was the breaking point.  I needed my phone!  I couldn’t function without my phone!  Where was the ruddy thing?!  I dashed off to the hospital trumpeting into a packet of Kleenex, and minus the phone.  I met my father in the hospital foyer.
          ‘I’ve mislaid my mobile, Dad.  Can I borrow yours?  I need to text Eleanor to say I will be late picking her up from college.’
          ‘Of course,’ said my father.  ‘You can use my new mobile.’
          ‘What happened to the old one?’  It wasn’t that long ago my father had upgraded to a Smart phone.
          ‘I couldn’t get on with it.’
          ‘Really?  Oh, that’s a shame.  Well, never mind.  Give me the new one.’
          And with that my father placed a small clam in the palm of my hand.  It was, possibly, the very first mobile phone ever invented.  Oh, hang on, the first mobile phone had been the size of a brick.  Okay, this one was possibly the second mobile phone ever invented.
          ‘How much did you pay for this?’
          ‘Oh, it was a bargain,’ he assured.
          I bit my tongue and wondered what salesman had fleeced my father.  Now wasn’t the time to fight another battle.  I opened the clam and tried to remember how to use such a mobile.  Dear Lord.  Where was the internet?  It didn’t even have a camera!
          ‘Okay.  I need to text.  Do you know how to text on this thing?’
          ‘I’m still finding my way around it,’ my father said vaguely.
          ‘Right.  Not to worry.  Ah.  Found it.’  I started to stab out a message to my daughter.  ‘Blast.  How do you backspace?’
          ‘I don’t know.’
          ‘Damn.  All the words are joining up.  Do you know which key is the space bar?’
          ‘I don’t know.’
          ‘Doesn’t matter,’ I smiled, whilst inwardly screaming.  ‘I think Eleanor will understand the gist of this message.’  I hit the send button.
           Later that day Eleanor found my mobile phone, where I’d left it, on the study floor next to a brochure about a nursing home for my mother.  I stared at the phone’s screen.  There were thirteen missed calls, a voicemail and one text.  Twelve of the missed calls were from my mother.  So was the voicemail.  I pressed the button and listened to her quavering voice.
          ‘Please tell me.  Please, please, please.’
          I shook my head.  Tell you what, Mum?
          As if on cue, she continued.  ‘Tell me whether your private life is in all the newspapers and your name is mud.’
          I gave a weary sigh and deleted the message.
          The other missed call was from Eleanor, followed by a text.  It read:
          Grandad sent me a really weird message.  Please can you translate:
          Well it made perfect sense to me.  Which reminds me.  Did you hear about the two mobile phones that got married?  The wedding was terrible, but the reception was terrific…

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Home Havoc

Following last week’s hospital havoc surrounding my mother, it would seem that havoc took it upon itself to spread to my home life too.  On the home front things have been…testing.  Mr V has attempted making the peace by presenting me with a dozen rose buds.  The cat – an understanding female – shredded them on my behalf.  And on top of that, my daughter’s two year ‘romance’ with her sweetheart came to an abrupt full stop.
          ‘I can’t understand it,’ she wailed.
          Unfortunately I could.  ‘You don’t think,’ I suggested cautiously, ‘that it could be anything to do with being a bit, um, bossy?’
          Bossy?’ my daughter’s head rotated one-hundred-and-eighty degrees.  ‘Are you saying it’s all my fault?’
          ‘Okay, scrap that idea,’ I soothed.
          ‘No,’ Eleanor hissed, ‘that’s a really awful thing to suggest.  And from my own mother too.  I thought you’d be on my side.’
          ‘I’m not on anybody’s side, nor am I taking sides.  I’m simply pointing out that it’s good to speak to others in the same way as you’d like them to speak to you.’
          ‘I SPEAK TO EVERYBODY EXTREMELY NICELY!’ my daughter roared.
          ‘I rest my case.’
          ‘I’ve had enough of this conversation,’ said Eleanor as she flounced off to her room.  ‘Roll on Saturday,’ she called over her shoulder, ‘because there’s a party to go to with my college friends.’
          Saturday arrived, and with it my son who wanted company following his own recent relationship going down the plug hole.
          ‘I still don’t know where I went wrong,’ Rob lamented.
          As my children are two peas in a pod when it comes to temperament, I could again hazard a fairly good guess.  ‘Are you possibly a little, er, bossy?’
          Bossy?’ Rob’s eyes widened incredulously.  ‘I can’t believe you could say such a thing!’  This was followed by an extremely bossy rant about his own mother not being supportive enough.
          On Sunday there was a shift in the household’s mood.  Rob was nursing a stonking hangover and Eleanor was tearful and subdued.  We sat around the table and had breakfast together.  I’ll rephrase that.  I tucked into a mound of toast, Eleanor took one mouthful and said she was too upset to eat another thing, and Rob told us both off for crunching too loudly.
          I looked at my daughter’s unhappy face.  ‘Didn’t you enjoy your party last night?’
          ‘Oh, yes, I actually had a lovely time.  It was good fun.’
          ‘So why the long face?’
          ‘Because we all played Spin the Bottle and I had to kiss H.’
          ‘I see,’ I replied, not seeing at all.  ‘So what’s the problem?’
          ‘Because now I feel so guilty!’
          ‘Why?  It was a game you were all playing.’
          ‘I know!  But I’ve been going out with M and never kissed anybody else before!’
          ‘But you’re not going out with M anymore.’
          ‘Yeah, but you don’t understand.  It seems wrong, even though it was just a silly game and meant nothing.’
          ‘Oh my God!’ Rob interrupted.  ‘My fingers have gone numb!’
          ‘I just can’t stop this ridiculous feeling of being in the wrong.’
          ‘Well you must.’
          ‘My fingers are tingling like crazy.’
          ‘So what shall I do about this guilt feeling?’
          ‘Ignore it.’
          ‘It’s spreading to my hands.’
          ‘Do you think I should tell M?’
          ‘It wouldn’t change anything.’
          ‘And now my hands have gone numb.’
          ‘I just feel I should tell him.  Then maybe this guilt will go away.’
          ‘Don’t be silly.  You’re a free agent, after all.’
          ‘It’s spreading up my arms. Help!  Help me!’
          ‘I feel so miserable.’
          ‘Time is a great healer.’
          ‘I’ve just Googled this and I think I’m dying.’
          ‘So what do you think I should do?’
          ‘Stop fretting.  I tell you, there is nothing to feel guilty about.’
          ‘Call the emergency doctor!’
          ‘Do you think we’ll ever get back together?’
          ‘I don’t know.  Right now you both need time apart.’
          ‘Call an ambulance!’
          ‘I feel like I can’t cope with anything right now.’
          ‘I’ve been feeling like that all week.’
          ‘I feel slightly hysterical.’
          ‘I’ve felt hysterical for weeks.’
          ‘THIS ISN’T FUNNY.’
          It was with a sense of relief that I greeted Monday.  Which reminds me.
If you ever think everything seems to be going well, then you have obviously overlooked something…

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Hospital Havoc

This time last week my mother was rushed to hospital in an ambulance.  She required an operation, and was advised about the risks and complications.  However, if she hadn’t had the operation she would have eventually died, so she signed the consent form and we all kept our fingers crossed for her.
          ­­­Thankfully Mother Bryant survived the op and, physically, she is now on the road to recovery.  However, we are still awaiting the return of her mental faculties which – thanks to anaesthetic and morphine – have blurred the lines between reality and dreams.  It has also left her very paranoid.
          ‘Ssh,’ she said when I greeted her yesterday.  ‘The nurses don’t like me.  In fact, they don’t like any of us.  They know absolutely everything about my family.  There must be a hidden microphone somewhere.  I don’t want them hearing me repeat this to you.  Come closer.’  I leant in.  ‘They’re all in cahoots with each other.’  She stabbed a finger into my chest.  ‘And they think you’re a trouble-maker.  And at night, there is bedlam on this ward.  The nurses do terrible things.’  My mother leant back and gave me a conspiratorial look.  ‘You ask Iris.  She’ll tell you.’
          My mother jerked her head.  ‘In the next bed.  She knows what’s been going on.  She and I talk, you know.’
          I looked at the little old lady next door.  She was staring vacantly at the ceiling, mouth hanging open.  Dear Lord, had my mother had this effect on her?
          The thing is, I’ve been listening to this sort of nonsense throughout the entirety of the week.  Some of the things my mother has come out with would have been quite funny if we weren’t so worried.  To say she is confused is an understatement.  It is also quite astonishing how the energy of somebody’s confusion can rub off on you.  Let me give you an example.
          On Thursday I was accompanied to the hospital by my father and sister.  By the time visiting came to an end, all three of us had monumental headaches.
          ‘I don’t know about you girls,’ said Father Bryant as we stood in the hospital corridor, ‘but I need a cup of coffee and some Paracetamol.  Fancy joining me?’
          ‘Good idea,’ Janice and I chorused.
          We made our way to the hospital’s on-site Costa and joined the queue.  When our turn came, the young lady behind the counter asked us what we would like.
          Father Bryant: ‘I’ll have a black coffee.’
          Me:  ‘Tea, please.’
          Janice:  ‘Hot chocolate for me.’
          Me: ‘Ooh, that sounds nice.  Cancel the tea, I’ll have hot chocolate too.’
          Father Bryant: ‘Actually, something milky sounds appealing. Change mine to a latte, please.’
          Janice: ‘Can I have soya rather than milk?’
          Me:    ‘Yes, make mine with soya too, please.’
          Costa Lady: ‘So that’s two hot chocolates and a latte, all to be made with soya?’
          Father Bryant: ‘Milk.’
          Costa Lady: ‘Sorry, two hot chocolates and a latte, all to be made with milk.’
          Janice: ‘No, two with soya.’
          Father Bryant: ‘I’ll have milk, please.’
          Costa Lady: ‘So that’s two hot chocolates with soya, and you, Sir, are now having a hot milk?’
          Father Bryant: ‘No, coffee.’
          Costa Lady: ‘American?’
          Father Bryant: ‘No, I’m English.’
          Janice: ‘She means filter coffee, Dad.’
          Father Bryant: ‘Oh, I see.  Sorry, dear (turning back to Costa Lady), I’d rather have a latte.’
          Costa Lady, looking confused: ‘So that’s…one latte with soya and two hot chocolates with milk?’
          Me: ‘No. One latte with milk, two hot chocolates with soya.’
          Costa Lady: ‘Okay, I think I’ve got it!  What size?’
          Father Bryant: ‘I’ll have a medium.’
          Janice: ‘I’ll have a small.’
          Me: ‘Medium, please.’
          Janice: ‘Actually, stuff the diet, I’ll have a medium too.’
          Me: ‘Oh, that’s a point, I’m meant to be weight watching.  Make mine a small.’
          Father Bryant: ‘Exactly how big is a medium?’
          Costa Lady, waggling a paper cup about: ‘This big.’
          Father Bryant: ‘In that case, I think I’ll have a small.’
          Costa Lady: ‘To have here or take away?’
          Me/Janice/Father Bryant all at the same time: ‘Here/take away/um…?’
          Costa Lady, looking somewhat frazzled: ‘Go to the till and pay, please.’
          Lady on till: ‘I’ve tried to follow the thread of the conversation and I haven’t a clue specifically what you’re all having or where you’re having it.  So I’ll tell you what, just have it on us.’
          Father Bryant: ‘Well, that’s awfully generous of you.  Are you sure?’
          Janice: ‘Have we muddled you?’
          Lady on till: ‘Um, I think we’re all a little confused.  It’s going to be interesting to see exactly what the boy on drinks produces.’
          We turned, expectantly, to a young lad who at that moment was setting a tray down on the counter with our drinks.  It contained one vast hot chocolate in a soup bowl, one tiny hot chocolate in a glass, and one medium sized latte in a paper cup.  All made with soya.  But by that point we didn’t care.  We just wanted something to take our Paracetamol with.  I noticed the staff looking longingly at my little box of pills.
          ‘Would you all like a Paracetamol?’ I asked.
          It’s probably the closest I’ve ever got to drug dealing.
          Which reminds me.  Did you hear about the duck with a drug problem?  He was a quack-head…

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Let's Be Honest

My son, having been unceremoniously dumped by his latest, has been home for the last couple of weekends looking for a shoulder to cry on.  Well, cry isn’t strictly true.  But you know what I mean.  He’s looking for comfort.  Distraction.  So, on Friday night, we went to Pizza Express and had mother-and-son time.  Which, believe me, isn’t something I’m honoured with very often.  After all, I am still very much an ‘embarrassing parent’ according to both my children.
          ‘I do hope,’ said Robbie, ‘that when we go to Canada you won’t suddenly announce to family and friends, “Oh excuse me, I’m having a hot flush,” and then start fanning yourself with whatever you can get your hands on.’
          ‘Honestly, what sort of uncouth person do you take me for?’ I asked, picking up the menu and flapping it about.
          ‘Look!  You’re doing it now!’ my son hissed.  ‘It’s so embarrassing.’
          ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ I snapped.  ‘Look around this restaurant.  Every woman my age is fanning herself with the menu.’
          ‘But not setting fire to it,’ said Rob grabbing the menu from me and bashing it against the table.  ‘You constantly set fire to menus.’
          ‘It’s not my fault the menus are tall, made of paper and that there’s always a candle burning on the table.
          ‘I just wish you were, you know, a bit more composed.’
          ‘You mean seen but not heard.’
          ‘No, I mean composed.’
          ‘I am who I am and can’t pretend to be something I’m not.’
          ‘Why not?’ asked Rob, giving me a frank look.
          ‘Because I tried all that long ago and it’s impossible to keep up.’
          I was instantly transported back in time to my late thirties when I began dating again.
          ‘Don’t tell any potential date that you are a rubbish cook,’ advised a friend.
          So there I was ordering take-outs from restaurants and pretending to be a marvelous domestic goddess.
          ‘Good heavens,’ said the first man brave enough not to run a mile upon finding out I had two small children, ‘this is a superb curry you’ve made.  It tastes just like the one from my local.’
          That’s because it was.
          And when I produced an Italian three course meal right down to ‘home made’ tiramisu, my date thought he’d died and gone to heaven.  A woman who cooked like his mama!  It was un miracolo.
          ‘Tell me, you don’t happen to play golf do you?’
          ‘Do I play golf?’ I rolled my eyes.  Do I play golf?  That’s like asking me whether I can cook!’
          ‘I knew it!’ my date sighed happily.  ‘I’ll book us a round.’
          ‘Er, I’m a bit rusty,’ I nodded my head vigorously.  Bugger.  Things were getting seriously out of hand here.  And then a light-bulb went off in my head.  I picked up the phone to the local golf club and booked a course of lessons.
          ‘Yes,’ said the golf club, ‘we can give you regular lessons and have you playing a decent handicap within six months or so.’
          ‘Make it six days,’ I replied, ‘it’s an emergency.’
          My date took me to the local club where fortunately there was a nine hole option.  I persuaded him to play this shorter course on the grounds of me ‘not having played for years’.
          ‘Of course,’ he said magnanimously.
          The fact that I teed off and promptly did a fluke hole-in-one had my date in raptures.  At the second hole I wasn’t so lucky and ended up in the bunker.  However, the Gods were looking down on me and miraculously I chipped the ball up and out where another fluke took place.  The ball shot across the green and rattled straight into the hole.
          ‘One under par!  Is there no end to your talent?’
          I think it was at that point I collapsed on the green in a gibbering heap and said something like, ‘Yes, I’m an accomplished fraud.’
          Needless to say I murdered the rest of the game.  And the golf course.  Divots and sand everywhere.
          I came back to the present and looked across the table at my son.
          ‘Trying to be something you’re not is exhausting.  Honesty really is the best policy.’ Well, most of the time anyway.  Which reminds me.
          A wife looked in the mirror and didn’t like what she saw.  ‘I’m old, wrinkled, grey, and fat.’  She turned to her husband.  ‘Give me a compliment to make me feel better.’  ‘Well,’ he considered, ‘there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight.’ His funeral will be held next week... 

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Me, myself, I(pad)

            ‘I’ve done it!’ I proclaimed, coming in through the front door.
            ‘Done what?’ asked my daughter.
            ‘Bought a mini iPad.’
            ‘You mean an iPad mini,’ Eleanor corrected.
            ‘That’s what I said.’  I reverently set my purchase down on the dining room table.  ‘And this time, it’s mine.’
            ‘Let me see?’
            ‘No,’ I instantly snatched up the little white box with its bitten apple logo.
            You see, this isn’t the first time I’ve bought an iPad.  My first attempt at acquainting myself with the gadget was a couple of years ago.  Except my daughter suggested we share it.  And then, of course, the purchase just happened to coincide with her fast approaching birthday.  So in fact it ended up being her birthday present, with me supposedly having a go on it here and there.  Except here and there, as you’ve probably guessed, only materialised on the days the moon turned blue.
            The second time I bought myself an iPad was last year.  My son took one look at it and said, ‘You know how you always insist that you treat me and Ellie the same?’
            ‘Er…yes,’ I looked at Robbie warily.
            ‘Well, that’s not strictly true.’
            ‘What do you mean?’
            ‘My sister has an iPad, but I don’t.’
            ‘It was her birthday present.’
            Rob grinned broadly.  ‘I just thought I’d remind you that I have a birthday looming.’
            I sighed, and wrapped up the iPad in gift paper.  After all, what did I want with such a gadget?  I couldn’t even send an email on my Smartphone, let alone talk to Siri.
            However, I revised this drop-out attitude after my parents’ recent sixtieth wedding anniversary celebrations.  On that night, I was very cross with myself for failing to charge up my digital camera to take to their celebratory ‘do’.  I thought my camera was the bee’s knees.  After all, it came in a box with a vast sticker screaming ‘Five Megapixels’.  I realised how lacking it was when I heard that Nokia’s Lumia phone has a forty-one megapixel camera.  And glancing around at the many guests taking pictures of my parents cutting their diamond anniversary cake, half the guests weren’t snapping away with a five megapixel digital camera.  They were using iPads.  When my uncle strolled past clutching such a gadget, it was the last straw.  My uncle is nearly eighty.  If an eighty-year-old can keep up with technology, then surely to goodness I can – especially when I’m off to Canada in August to visit precious family and dear friends.  I want to capture the memories.  
             So yesterday, for the third time, I bought an iPad.  This smaller version is much more suitable for slipping into my handbag.
            ‘Ooh, isn’t it a lovely size,’ said Eleanor after grappling the box from my grasp.  ‘It’s perfect for slipping into my handbag.’
            Was this kid a mind reader?
            ‘Indeed.  Except it’s going in my handbag.’
            ‘Gosh, and sixteen gigabytes,’ said Eleanor, ignoring me.  ‘Mine is only eight.’
            I kept my silence, and waited.  I wasn’t the only one who could mind read, and knew what was coming next.
            ‘You know, Mum, you’d be much better off having my old iPad to mess about on, and instead give this one to me.’
            ‘You don’t say!’ I turned to my daughter wide eyed.  ‘Tell you what…I’ll share it with you.  But only when the moon turns blue.’
            I left my daughter to think about it.  Which reminds me.  If Apple made a car, would it have windows…?