Friday, 28 March 2014

The Woman Who Stares At Ponies














I had a ticket to see the lovely Jon Ronson speaking at Oswestry Lit Fest, so I thought I might take advantage of the post-talk book signing to see if I couldn't manage to exchange a few words with a famous person without making a complete ningnong of myself (see previous post).

On arrival at the Travelodge, the sun was shining. I was delighted to find my room overlooked actual genuine countryside. Right outside, there was a field with a pony in it. A rabbit emerged from a burrow by the fence and started nibbling on the grass.

This was proper bucolic, like. I sat there for ages soaking up the tranquility, then I drove into town for the talk.

Jon Ronson was, as expected, interesting, funny and absorbing. He spoke for an hour which wasn't nearly enough but he did manage to drop some fascinating gossip about Richard Branson, David Icke and George Clooney while he was at it.

Time was tight because he needed to dash off and get a train back to London that night, and in case the Oswestry folks hadn't noticed they'd shut the train station, which meant he had to drive to Crewe. Did we want him to speak for another 20 minutes, he asked, or did we want him to sign the book that came free with our ticket?

BOOK, the crowd decided, and we formed an orderly queue.

I was towards the back of the queue, and after last weekend's The Beat debacle was kind of hoping he would have to dash off before I reached the front. But Jon Ronson is astonishingly fast at signing books (so much so he wondered out loud if he could claim the Guinness World Record for Fastest Book Signing), and the queue snaked forward with alarming speed.

When I was five people away from him, with Jon glancing wildly at the clock and his entourage making noises about closing the line, I relaxed.

When I was two people away, and he looked as if he was good for another three minutes at least, I realised line closure wasn't going to happen AND I NEEDED TO THINK OF SOMETHING REASONABLY INTELLIGENT TO SAY TO JON RONSON RIGHT NOW.

Various things came to mind, none of which made much sense. I felt the panic rising. When it was my turn, I thrust the book at him and mumbled something like "Really enjoyed that, thank you."

He was busy scribbling his name: Jon, with three big kisses.

Then, from some unknown part of me, I heard myself say, "I drove up from Cardiff today to see you. I think about you every time I jog around the lake." Calmly and clearly, with a wry friendly grin, like an actual human being.

"Really?" Jon said. His head whipped up from the book and he gave me a big smile. "You jog round Roath lake?"

"Yeah, I live by the park."

Conscious of the queue behind me, I'd already started to move away.

"Well, don't fall in," he said to my departing back. "It's not very nice in there!"

Bless.

The next morning, the sun was still shining. I drew back the hotel curtains and gazed at the field and saw there were two ponies now. Little skewbald things, with hairy feet.

I went to find some breakfast.  Travelodge have forged a pact with the devil and praise be there was a Little Chef right outside. When I came back, there were four ponies.

I drove home slowly the long way, on snaking B-roads. A sign seemingly on every turn: 'Welcome to Powys', 'Welcome to Shropshire'. 'Welcome to England', 'Welcome to Wales'. Ancient byways. Ancient scenery. Ancient towns, ripe for a wander. No need to rush. The sun was still shining.

When I got home, I took a walk around the lake.

And I did think about Jon Ronson. I thought about Jimi Hendrix too. But I also thought about the turbulent history of the British Isles. And how pretty the countryside is here. And you bet I thought about the ponies. What on earth was going on with the ponies?

I could only conclude that Oswestry ponies (or was it Shropshire ponies? Or just ponies in general?) must increase exponentially.







Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Doh


2006 was the best year. I was flying - loving Wellington, working three brilliant jobs, meeting great people, feeling strong, brave and pretty for the first time ever.

So when I saw a flyer saying The Beat were due to play at Bar Bodega, I was rapt. My favourite 80s band! It felt like they had come all the way to New Zealand just for me. I decided to go to the gig on my own, give Dave Wakeling the glad eye (I'd had a crush on him since I was 13), and see what happened. I'd once read that the lead singer of Tears For Fears had met his wife when she'd gone to a gig and pulled faces at him from the front row so I thought I might as well give it a shot.

What I hadn't realised - this being the days before ubiquitous internet - was this was the wrong The Beat. Dave had buggered off to America to do his own thing some years previously.

But never mind. I went to the gig, had a blast and went home afterwards sniggering at the presumptuousness of my thwarted groupie ambitions. My 'how I failed to pull the lead singer of The Beat' story grew legendary, in my head.

I have seen the wrong The Beat many times since. They are always wonderful, and satisfy most of my The Beat urges. And yet, the Dave thing remained. Not so much the glad eye bit - thanks to the internet I knew by now he was a family man and also, those 2006 levels of confidence didn't last long - but just to see him play. I wanted to hear that smoky voice in the flesh, singing the songs I loved, had grown up to. I wondered if this might be a good excuse for a jaunt to America, where he seemed always to be touring.

But then to save me the bother The English Beat (as Dave's lot are known) announced some 2014 British tour dates.

I got a ticket for Bristol.

I was excited.

The security man searched my bag on the way in. "Nothing much to see - just a book and a peanut butter sandwich and a banana," I said helpfully (I am so rock and roll).

"No food allowed inside the venue, my darling, so just make sure you keep it all in there, ok?" he said.

Did I look like the kind of person who would eat a peanut butter sandwich and a banana at a concert at the Bristol O2? Clearly, I did.

"Yes of course," I said. "They're for the trip home." The bus back to Cardiff left Bristol at 11.25pm and the hour-long journey demanded a peanut butter sandwich and banana at the very least to ward off my fear of accidentally dying of starvation should I stray too far from my flat.

Inside, the auditorium wasn't too packed. No need to worm my way to my customary place at the front - there was plenty of room. I assumed gig position (barrier slouch, elbow defence against last minute surge) by the speaker to the right of the stage. At twenty past eight, the band came out. The grin on my face didn't falter until the last song finished at 10pm. They were magic.

Dave seemed to know most of the people in the audience. He greeted several of his Facebook followers by name. One of them got up on stage to join him for a song. He recognised the couple next to me and gave them a cheery wave and a thumbs up.

He was lovely, spending most of the evening beaming at everyone, seeming utterly delighted to be there. Indeed, most of the band also gave that impression. The other guitarist, stood right in front of me, kept catching my eye and smiling. I smiled back - I was having a great time.

At the end, Dave jumped down off the stage and made his way along the barrier chatting to everyone and shaking hands. While he was talking to the couple standing next to me (old mates from the Birmingham days) I stared at him longer and harder than would normally be polite, amazed at the fact that here, just an arm's length away, was the person who wrote songs that are woven into the very fabric of my being and yet he was a normal bloke, an ordinary normal bloke. Why was he not hovering, or sporting some kind of golden glow, or shooting little lightning bolts of raw musical talent from the end of his fingertips? It seemed impossible. Also, how come he was only a little bit older than me? How did that happen? He was so grown up when I used to watch him on Top of the Pops.

Tongue-tied, I grabbed a handshake as he came past. A girl to my right leaned over to peck his cheek and I wished I'd been bold enough to do that.

The drummer also came out for chats and handshakes then the house lights went up and everybody started filing out. I stood there, idly watching the roadies start packing things away. My bus wasn't for another one and a quarter hours and it was only a ten minute walk to the bus station. The couple next to me were dawdling too, as were a few other stragglers.

Then I noticed the other, smiley guitarist back out on the stage. I watched him jump down where Dave had jumped down, and start walking towards my end of the barrier.

There was a purpose to his walk that wasn't there with Dave and the drummer. Like he was on his way somewhere, rather than he was there to let the masses come unto him. I felt a sudden cold shiver of fear. Was he coming to talk to me?

I stood rooted to the spot, wondering what on earth was about to happen. As he drew close, the couple next to me pounced. He stood there making awkward conversation with them in a soft Californian accent. The couple mentioned the after-show party. He said something about it being in the pub over the road, then turned to me and asked, "Are you coming to the after-show party?"

And I said, "I can't, I've got to get the bus back to Cardiff."

Like I didn't have more than an hour to kill before my bus. Like if I missed it I couldn't have got a train home at any subsequent point. Like I couldn't have gone just for a swift half, and got chatting to people like normal human beings do. Like I wasn't 47 years old and able to stay out all night cavorting with musicians if I wanted.

Like I was Miss Prim the vicar's daughter.

Like I am a total fucking idiot.

He stood there looking bewildered for a moment, said goodbye to the couple, and went back the same way he'd come.

I walked with infinite slowness back to the bus station where I listened to The Beat on my MP3 player and ate the peanut butter sandwich and the banana while trying not to think about the party I'd been invited to by a member of the band I've loved for a lifetime happening in a pub not 10 minutes away from where I sat.

2006 me was hopping up and down shouting "oooh, the irony".

2014 me was wondering why I am such a dick.







Friday, 28 February 2014

The Thing Is, Is To Do The Thing















The sun is out.

It is the first time the sun has been out for what feels like forever and the park is packed with pasty faces squinting into the chill light.

I take my spot on a bench overlooking the lake, and watch the humanity troop past.

Honestly, I think the whole of Cardiff is here today. All shapes, sizes, colours. Old, young, and everything in between. Parents introducing their newborns - tiny wrinkled peanuts swathed in blankets - to the outside world for the first time, now that the rain has stopped. Clumps of teenagers drooping about by the gate. In spite of the cold, a long queue at the ice cream van. Entire families partaking of an afternoon constitutional, as if it was Christmas Day.

A woman exclaims in amazement to her female companion, about the two men strolling ahead of them, "He walks exactly like his brother!" A man urges his toddler, "Look at the baby birds." (Although there are no baby birds - just a bunch of geese.) A young guy with a pair of mirrored Ray Bans hanging off a belt loop announces to his mate, "I'm gonna whack on a jumper, cos I'm feeling a little bit chilly now," and he makes this ordinary statement sound like a line from a Michael Caine film.

Dogs of all descriptions. Kids on bikes, scooters. Young couples. Couples who have been holding hands on these strolls for the last four or five decades.

After a while, I realise I feel overwhelmingly lonely.

I move to a quieter section of the park.

By the bowling green, a pair of magpies are rootling about. One for sorrow, two for joy. I watch them for a while, thinking about nothing in particular. I kind of like magpies. I like how they hang out together. I like their brash confidence. I like their secret colours.

These two are taking on the afternoon as a unit.

Sorrow is under the bush; Joy is in its branches.

Sorrow flies up into a tree; Joy pecks around by its roots.

Sorrow hops up on the low fence, keeping watch while Joy investigates the middle of the green, turning over stray leaves and twigs.

Joy, under the bench two away from mine; Sorrow, perched on the seat.

Those two friends, sorrow and joy. Is one ever far away from the other?

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I tell my counsellor I am missing blogging.

She says, just do it. Just write something. It doesn't matter what.

I say it feels too difficult these days. I say that I feel like I have something inside me that is too big, too terrifiying, too painful, to say, and that is stopping me from saying anything. It is a story about my father. Or, it is a story about a little girl who had a father but who didn't have a father; who had a mother but who didn't have a mother. It feels impossible to put into words. But I feel like I will disintegrate if I don't - somehow - ease it out. As Maya Angelou said, there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

You just have to do these things, my counsellor says. Just try. A little bit at a time.




Thursday, 17 October 2013

Why Is There An Elephant In This Room?


















Tuesday was the second anniversary of the death of my father.

I came home from a long weekend in Liverpool to find an email to me and my brother, from my sister.


Hi there

I tried to be positive yesterday and think kindly of Dad. I came up with a short list but think I've forgotten loads. Can you add to it? 


  • Great with grandchildren
  • Always gave Mum a big bouquet on their anniversary
  • Told good stories about Ted and the Pirates
  • Good at reading bedtime stories (Treasure Island, Tale of Two Cities, Lord of the Rings)
  • Led good harmony singing in the car
  • Enthusiasm for Lake District
  • Happy to babysit at any time
  • Set up garden badminton, cricket, etc
  • Made some things successfully, like small cricket bat, go kart with no brakes
  • Enjoyed playing badminton with everyone at the club followed by a glass of cider
  • Always made us all a cheese sandwich at 9.00 pm
  • Allowed darts in the lounge so that whole wall was covered in dart holes
  • Allowed round the table games of table tennis in the dining room
  • Always jumped to it when Nana asked for something, despite swearing under his breath 

My brother had added:

  • Was a willing taxi service for teenagers, anytime, anyplace, anywhere
  • Told me to keep driving and got in the passenger seat when he flagged me down driving the car aged 14.  Gave me tips
  • Bonded with Bethan instantly making her part of the family [Bethan is my step-niece]
  • Later, Mia coined the name “Best friend Grandad” (her own words)
  • Font of knowledge around the dinner table.  Most of my knowledge of Trivial Pursuit questions comes from this
  • Told me to be a lion, not a lamb
  • Trained me how to do ‘close control’ football in the garden (balance, weight shift, dribbling, footwork)
  • With mum as a partner in tennis, still managed to singlehandedly beat me and my mates (not bad players)
  • Always seemed a jolly type – whistling and singing
  • Always had boiled a ham ready for us when we arrived, no matter what time of day or night
  • Believed in welcoming people and good hospitality
  • Author of an encyclopaedia of recipes which we still use regularly (despite the convenience of the internet)
  • Imparted good table manners and high moral standards


I added:
  

I spent most of my life trying desperately to find reasons to like him and feeling totally torn about that, so for the first time ever I am enjoying thinking "he was a utter pig" without any guilt at all.

I spent yesterday walking on Crosby beach in the sunshine feeling glad he was gone. Last week I remembered the anniversary but got the date wrong (I'd thought it was the 11th) and prior to that I hadn't even cared. He did too much damage for me to feel comfortable lauding him or any of his 'achievements', which seem to amount to 'sometimes acting like an actual human being'.



Even Charles Manson made his 'family' feel loved - Dad never once managed that.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

List

It is always a delight, the morning after a night out with my esteemed colleague Zippy, to check my phone to find out how I entertained myself on the long, boring walk home from the pub.

Sometimes it's photos:















Sometimes it's (mercifully unsent) tweets:

"hope yr toile got fixed or it there am unexpected item in yr baggage area?"

Today, it was additions to today's calendar/'to do' list. See if you can spot them:

  • isa bonus expiry date 30/9/13
  • nhs march, manchester
  • make livvy's birthday card
  • asda - post office
  • PICK UP FUCKING CAR
  • collect brantano boots b4 4pm
  • GO TO NERO TO PERV AT [redacted]
  • get rent £ out
  • go and do some fucking shopping
  • FUCKING MOUSE BASTARD SINK

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Gone To The Dogs - Rapanui 2013

Ok, so I just went on holiday to Easter Island.

Here are some photos:








 





  


                     



I also took photos of cats, birds, horses, graffiti.

Oh, and moai and that.


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Overheard In The Park















Him: "I'd like to go somewhere warm."

Her: "Tenby?"

[Long pause, in which you can hear their relationship disintegrating]

Him: "Yes, or somewhere abroad."


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

My Job Has Its Moments
























Charlie, one of our more entertaining regulars, was sent to earth to torment librarians.

He's been trying to convince us to hand over the Sony MP3 player ever since the above poster appeared in the library.

We know, and he knows, it's not his MP3 player.

Despite this minor setback, he conducts his campaign with increasing creativity.


 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


I am standing by a trolley sorting books.

Charlie approaches.

"Oh God. I mean, hello Charlie."

Charlie gazes solemnly into my eyes and holds up a piece of paper:

 












I dissolve into giggles.

He looks aghast. 

"Ahem, no reason. And how may I help you today?"

"Really. Is that so?"

He nods eagerly.

"Well, if you could perhaps tell me what songs are on it so we can make sure it's definitely yours...?"

He glares at me scornfully. 

"So why the fuck have you got an MP3 player?"

He sighs; a big, theatrical, eye-rolling sigh.


I see he is holding one more piece of paper but by now I am laughing too much to carry on.

"This one's in case you said "You're not really deaf"," he explains.














It is almost as if we have had this conversation before.

"Charlie," I say, "I am impressed by your desperation."


 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the end, we told him what songs were on it so he could come up with a more plausible story.

Ironically, he didn't believe us.


Saturday, 16 February 2013

Downstream
















Friday.

A free day; unusually, no extra shifts to squeeze in before my normal 5pm start.

The sun is out. I pack a book in my bag, and the stale bread from the ends of the loaf - I am off to the park to feed the ducks then have lunch and a coffee in the pleasant cafe overlooking the lake.

I get a text.

'Please can you call into work as soon as you can. Helen needs to have a chat about something. Thanks Sue'.

Helen's the boss, Sue's the deputy. My blood runs cold.

Lily, is my immediate reaction.

No, it can't be that, I reason. I must be in trouble for something. What have I done? What haven't I done? I've been shooting my mouth off recently - maybe it's that. Or maybe Helen just wants to run  through something I need to do next week. Unlikely, but.

Please, please, let it be that.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lily. Daft as a brush, but harmless. The last time I saw her, we'd shared an afternoon shift. She'd been complaining in her usual ineffectual way about the usual stuff - nebulous money worries; unresolved work issues; vague fears for the future.

She'd had problems in her previous department. Hadn't got on with the boss, a no-nonsense shoot-from-the-lip type. There were accusations of bullying. Lil was off sick for months with stress.

"Nobody does anything," she'd said. "Even my union rep got fed up with me. It's so unfair."

The first time you heard Lily's tales of woe, you were horrified. Such mistreatment! What nasty people.

The next time, you remained concerned. Yes, you told me that already - has there been progress then? No? Oh crap, poor you, that sucks.

The time after that, and the times after that, you started to wonder to what extent she was creating her own misery. No point constantly dredging up this old stuff, Lil, what's done is done. You're here now, in this new workplace, and supportive people are bending over backwards to help you settle in. Forget that other stuff, girl, it's history. Put it behind you and move on.

But wah wah wah went her mouth, over the same old ground, round and round in circles, getting nowhere, and finally you stopped listening, and then you'd smirk when someone called her Silly Lily behind her back.

Just before Christmas, she went off sick again. Hospitalised. Diabetes; severe and unexpected.

Still off sick in January. Then February. We heard from Helen she was in and out of hospital, wasn't coping well with the new insulin regime, and that her family were refusing to get involved.

Concerned, I sent Lily a get well soon card. For all her faults (and she made a terrible cup of tea) her heart was in the right place. She was genuine. She was kind. She was just, well, adrift.

The truth was, in Lily I recognised something of myself. Myself in my twenties, when I was totally clueless. I used to carry around such reproach and devastation that the world wasn't doing what I wanted it to. But in those days I failed to realise I had choices, and I had no idea what I wanted.

To pass the time while waiting for someone to rescue me, I clutched at straws, which always broke. I couldn't understand why there were no rescuers; why everything was against me. It was so unfair.

Fortunately, one day (after life had kicked me comprehensively up the arse) I realised that, if I wanted things to even slightly go my way, I'd need to provide some input, take some responsibility, be the change I wanted to see, and all that. Nobody else was sailing this ship but me - it was a thunderbolt moment.

I also saw in Lily myself last summer, when I was laid low by grief. Not eating, not sleeping, not going out, not seeing anyone. I'd felt utterly alone.

In those dark days, suicide stopped being a word and became an option. Only an option, mind - I was still a very, very long way away from selecting death over living - but still there, floating at the edges of my dulled, miserable brain, cooing softly to me, making itself known. Here if you need me, it whispered.

Its presence was terrifying. I acknowledged it, then got on with the business of simply getting through each day. Eventually, around Christmastime, I emerged safe and well on the other side.

Lily and me, then, we had a bit in common. Both single women in our forties. Both living alone, no kids, scraping by on a part-time wage. One just out of a debilitating depression, one well into it.

But Lily and me: polar attitudes. Positive and negative. Before and after. Then and now.

I knew how scared and alone and betrayed she'd be feeling. I think I felt that if I could get through feeling scared and alone and betrayed, she could too.

She texted to say thanks very much for the card, that she was feeling very down at the moment.

I texted back. It was difficult. What do you say? I barely knew her.

I'm here if you ever need a chat or to get out the house, just let me know.

She texted again. Thanks. Really struggling with diabetes. Not sleeping or eating. Family won't help. Have lost will to carry on.

Fuck. Was that a real 'have lost will to carry on', or just a turn of phrase? Now what? I texted again.

Have you seen doctor for depression? In my experience families generally are useless. Counselling really does help. If you need moral support to go places I'll go with you if you want. Always here if you need anything - just call. Please take care of yourself.

Then, nothing.

I showed Helen Lily's texts. Helen said she'd sent flowers, phoned every now and then, just to let her know there were people thinking about her. Kept inviting Lily into work, for a coffee and a friendly chat, to keep her in the loop, to get her out the house more than anything, but Lily kept saying no.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

"I wanted to let you know, we've just found out Lily's gone missing," Helen says. "Police found her car abandoned on Monday up at the Severn Bridge."

The blood in my veins stops. The air in the overheated office stops. Time stops. Everything stops.

"It's not official yet, we found out by accident really, through a friend of a friend."

Make this not be happening.

"I know it's a big ask, but please could you not tell anybody until we know more next week? Sue and I thought you should know straight away because you've been in contact with her. But so far we've not heard anything from the police or the family."

I stare at my hands, because they feel like they're shaking, but in fact they are perfectly still.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

I do not go to the park to feed the ducks and then have lunch and a coffee in the pleasant cafe overlooking the lake. I drift dazed along Albany Road, wanting bustle and distraction.

I think of all the things I should have said, and done.

When I realise I'm walking on the shadowy side of the road, I hastily cross over. Seek out the sun, Weez, always seek out the sun.

I turn up to work at 5pm, and act normal.

After work, I drive to Penarth and stare blankly at the river.

The tide is up, the estuary choppy, and I half expect the relentless waves to deliver Lily's body to me.

I can almost see her there, washed up on the cold dark beach. Pale and small and vulnerable, in a tangled seaweed shroud. What did she wear for her apogee event? She was always so nicely turned out. Did she keep her designer glasses on? Had she bothered to make herself a meal that day? Did she stop to say goodbye to her cat? Was she calm, was she crying? How do you even make yourself walk away from your car let alone climb over a bridge rail and - 

The lump in the back of my throat will not go away.

My thoughts race round and round, but no matter what keep coming back to this:

There but for the grace of God go I.



Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Haiku For A Sunday Morning


Woke early today

Full of snot and self-loathing

Roath Park calmed my soul.



  









Sunday, 7 October 2012

Write On
















"In all sorts of areas of our life, we enhance the quality of our lives by going for the slow option, the path which takes a little bit of effort. Sometimes, we don't spend an evening watching Kim Kardashian falling over on YouTube: we read a book. Sometimes, we don't just push a pre- prepared meal into the oven and take it out some time later. We chop and prepare vegetables; we follow a recipe, and we make dinner from scratch, with pleasure. We often do this because we love people, and think they are worthy of our effort from time to time. Sometimes we don't get in a car and get to where we have to go as soon as we possibly can. We open our front doors, and go for a walk in the spring sunshine and feel better for it.

Perhaps that is the way to get handwriting back into our lives – as something which is a pleasure, which is good for us, and which is human in ways not all communication systems manage to be. It will never again have the place in people's lives that it had in 1850. But it should, like good food or the capacity to take a walk, have some place in our lives from which it is not going to be dislodged. I want to know what people are like from their handwriting – friends, intimates, acquaintances, strangers, and people I can never and will never meet. I want everyone to maintain an intimate and unique connection with words and ink and paper and the movement of hand and arm. I want people to write, not on special occasions, but daily."

I love this article - an extract from Philip Hensher's book The Missing Ink: The lost art of handwriting (and why it still matters).

Do you like your handwriting?

Did you write anything today?



Monday, 20 August 2012

Dear Diatribe




















 Dad in 1947, aged 16.


I think the main reason I got so rhapsodic over my brother's impassioned reaction to the demise of his cat was that, at the time, I'd been busying myself reading my dad's old diaries.

I'd found a pile of them at the back of a cupboard when I was emptying his house last year. The ones from the fifties and sixties were pocketbooks, too small for any properly interesting disclosures, but the ones for 1970, 1971 and 1973 were A4, one page per day - plenty of room for fascinating revelations from a time when I still thought the words "happy" and "families" went together.

I'd put the diaries to one side until I felt strong enough to delve. The trouble with Dad is that even now, with him ten months dead, the thought of him still makes my flesh crawl. If I give him any headspace at all, he gets in there and I end up feeling all wonky.

He was, it has to be said, a keenly unpleasant man. Self-centred, dull and eternally furious, my father had few redeeming features. He had to be right, whatever the cost. Anything he didn't understand, he ignored, which meant it stopped existing. He went through life apparently unaware other people had thoughts or feelings. Beyond maudlin self-pity or anger, he would not or could not express feelings of his own. He had four modes of communication: sulking, shouting, sneering, or pontificating.

"Sorry" wasn't a word he used. It is a struggle to remember him saying anything pleasant about anyone. Appreciation for things people did on his behalf? Nope - it was entirely his due. Laughter? Rare, and frequently cruel. Smiles that lit up his whole face? Jog on, dreamer. Once or twice, maybe, for special occasions, but more often than not a "smile" deserved those inverted commas - it was a facial contortion more resembling a snarl. There was no hesitation to rip into anyone who failed to meet his exacting standards, and yet on those multitudinous occasions he got it wrong, we all just had to button up.

Truly, at some point, this man had had a personality bypass.

The diaires, I hoped, might show a side of him that he'd kept hidden from the family - the human side, the caring husband and father, full of the love and humour he'd repressed in real life.

I rolled up my sleeves and waded in, looking for clues.

Foolish me.

Here were three years' worth of diaries charting that time when his youngest child, the apple of his eye, was growing fast and off to school for the first time; his eldest daughter was blossoming into womanhood; his teenage son was becoming a man. His wife, recently recovered from postpartum psychosis, was putting in hard graft day in day out to make the house they'd just moved into a home.

Um, yeah. Imagine a man who does nothing, sees nothing, feels nothing, keeping an extensive journal of the minutiae of his daily activities, oblivious to all that stuff. It is three years' worth of drear, recorded with obsessive attention to detail, about all the wrong things. From a man who genuinely believed he was literary.

There are no highlights. Most of the time (as he saw it) nothing happened. If anything did happen, it was recorded in the same flat, emotionless tone as everything else.

The diaries are as soulless as the man.


  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A few samples.

Topical issues warranting a rare expression of personal opinion:

 ... After my meal, we watched TV, a rather depressing programme about women's position in society. I thought it would be good, but it was full of cranks and frustrated women howling about equality, by which they mean dragging everyone down to their level. Who wants to have no more identity and individuality than cows? Thank God 'He and She' followed, to put things in perspective. Bed at 11.15pm.

Pet worries:

 ... Sooty, the black cat, came in after a 2 day absence. He is not well, and I think his jaw is broken. He can't eat. We will just have to wait till tomorrow to find a vet. Went to bed at 12.10am.

Family events:

 ... My mother phoned in the early evening to bid us all farewell. She leaves from Heathrow Airport tomorrow to start a new life in Australia. Got to bed 11.50pm.

History in the making:

I struggled with queries the rest of the morning, and went home for lunch in time to see Princess Anne and her husband leaving Westminster Abbey and returning to Buckingham Palace. It was a colourful spectacle, and Anne looked pretty, for once.

Real life drama:

 ... We saw an interesting road accident. A couple, old enough to know better, tried to cross the main crossroads against the lights. An oncoming car picked them up on its bonnet and tossed them onto their behinds like a couple of rag dolls.

Spousal support:

... After serving my dinner, Kath took herself off to [Weasel]'s school, to attend a meeting discussing first communions, or some such nonsense.

Bereavement:

... For the rest of the evening we watched TV, except when I phoned Kath at 9.10pm. Her mother died this afternoon at 2.34pm, and Kath seemed very sad. I went to bed at midnight.

And another ordinary day, just like any other:

...Up again at 5.45am, and got away with the normal routine. I caught my train comfortably and got to work at 8.30am. The weather was bright and clear, but, for the first time, there was a real wintry snap in the air.
I had a really good day's work. The mail was good quality, and we had no interruptions. I cleared 118 parcels. I left the office at 4.15pm, and got home at 6.10pm. I had to move two cars to get out of the car park.
Kath went for a driving lesson today at 4.30pm. She had not arrived home when I got there, and [eldest daughter] was looking after the dinner. Kath came home at 6.20pm. We had a visit from Barbara across the road to apologise for her son Matthew's having given [Weasel] a nasty bite on the cheek.
After dinner, I read [Weasel] a story, then went up to finish the ceiling tiles in [eldest daughter]'s bedroom. It was a fiddly job, and I took a couple of breaks, for tea & TV, but finished it off by 10pm. Kath had a go at the Fablon, but couldn't get much done. [Son]'s friends turned up again, with a tape recorder, which kept them amused all evening. I drove them home at 10pm. We got to bed at 11.25pm.

That last one there being my Mum's 50th birthday, incidentally.

(While I'm sure she would've said "no fuss", she probably didn't mean for you to take it quite so literally, Dad.)



  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hang on a minute. "Sooty, the black cat"?

We only had two cats. Did he actually need to remind himself which one Sooty was?

Yes, he clearly did. This is why, when I saw my brother expressing normal human sentiment in a normal human way about a sad cat thing, I was greatly moved.

Moved, and very relieved whatever Dad had is not catching.



Monday, 30 July 2012

Viva Fluffy




















My phone rings.

It's my brother.

My spidey-sense immediately tells me this means trouble.

"Hi Weez. How are you? Good. Right, listen. Last night, I had to sleep downstairs on the sofa because Mia wasn't feeling well and she got into bed with Deb. Fluffy was outside the French doors asking to be let in, which is not like him at all. I told him in no uncertain terms to go and use his cat flap. I even put my hand through it to see if it was working. But he was still outside when I went to sleep. Then in the morning, he was lying down just inside the back door..."

He falters, takes a breath, continues.

I listen to his hurried, throat-constricted outpouring with a sinking heart. There are no prizes for guessing where this is heading.

Yes, the king of beasts, Fluffy the Great, Fluffy the Terrible, is no more. Sleek and beautiful and blessed with a monstrous personality disorder that could whisk him from tender and loving to A&E dangerous in under a second, he in came through his cat flap while my brother slept, lay down, and died.

"Not a mark on him," my brother says. "He'd been fine that afternoon, watching me build a fence. He looked so peaceful lying there in the morning with his little paws crossed - I didn't realise. I thought he was sleeping. He always slept like that. He wasn't even that old..." His voice cracks. "I need your advice, Weez. How do we tell Mia?"

Why he is asking his childless younger sister how to break the news of a bereavement to his 5-year-old, I don't know, but I am deeply touched.

"I mean, do we just bury him and tell her later, or do we do a little ceremony with her there? Would that upset her more? Fluff was her absolute favourite person in the world."

I think back to when my childhood pets died. I didn't witness any of the garden burials, but Dad meticulously carved gravestones out of breezeblocks - "Blackie 1957-75", "Tigger 1976-93", "Billie 1981-91". It was one of the nicest things he ever did.

"I think it's good to have some sort of ceremony," I say. "She's old enough to understand about death, right? I mean, she lost her grandad last year, so she knows what it's about - that that person's never coming back? So a proper send off's a nice idea, and I can't see any harm in including her in it - in fact she'd probably feel a lot worse for being left out now. This is what rituals are for - to help you deal with the big stuff that happens. It's a good way of saying goodbye. You can make it really lovely. It's also a great way of showing her it's ok to be sad about sad stuff."

(This is a lesson I'm only just starting to learn.)

"Yes, yes, you're right. Good, that's what I thought," says my brother. "Ceremony it is then."

"I'm really sad about Fluffy," I say. "He was awesome. I'm so sorry."

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

I email a few days later to ask how it went.

He replies:

We had a lovely thank you ceremony for him and put him to rest in a lovely white casket tied with white ribbon and decorated with pictures and words from Mia and all of us.  He never like to be far from us, so we chose a quiet corner of the wild field near our house where the dog walkers never go, and laid him to rest in a very deep grave which took me several hours to dig (thick hay grass & roots, stones, clay etc).  Very sweaty work.  I will try to make a stone for him like Dad used to, but am suffering from cat grave digging exhaustion. 

He had a good life, he was loved, despite viciously scratching the kids for no reason and pooing on the lawn (not to mention the fleas).  Maybe having such a long tail makes you have a short life?  Who knows?  My cynical side says him going this way saved us a lot on vet bills.  But we miss him and things feel a bit empty and lonely around here without his funny character.

Mia was sad for her Fluff, despite his faults, despite being directly on the receiving end of Fluff’s issues.  He seemed like one of those odd gifted people who have no common sense, but are highly intelligent.  He really seemed to love us all and bond with us in a way unusual for a cat.  He never lost his inner kitten.  She would play with him with string and would collapse with laughter.  She also thinks cats come to the shops with you, run around the block in a race against your scooter (always winning in the last furlong),  she thinks they always sit near you, but not on you, wherever you are inside or out.  

It was really right to do the ceremony.  She seemed to really respect this tribute and it eased her sadness, was a happy time, not sad.  We're all looking around the house, missing him being there and wishing we could have known, so as to not take him for granted, made more of a fuss of him, made him feel special, which he was.

Peebro X

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

My brother's fantastic.

This is a tribute.



Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Walkabout



No two ways about it - the first half of 2012 was shit.

Working six day weeks, when most of the time I didn't feel like leaving the house at all.

Dad's car being stolen from outside my flat in February, then turning up three weeks later burnt out. With three boxes of Dad's books inside, an irreplaceable collection gathered over a lifetime - his bequest to his brother. I'd been meant to deliver them, but hadn't found the energy.

Easter weekend, when I abruptly found out Tesco's Guy was, in fact, a very treacherous friend, the kind of person a Weasel wouldn't choose to hang out with at all.

The subsequent adjustment to life without a playmate. Rebuilding shattered trust. And, with a sudden lack of pleasant distraction, the shockwaves of bereavement finally hitting me like a punch in the gut.

Alone, alone, alone, and with a horrible 'ashes scattering' weekend looming.

Did I need a holiday?

Fuck yeah.


 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Day One:

Job's finished until September. Working for a university ROCKS.

Get in my new car and get the hell out of Cardiff.

It is raining - hard - and I wonder if there is a word for that moment's lull you get in the rain-noise when you pass under a bridge on a motorway.

First stop - Travelodge Warrington.

It is nicer than my flat: there is a vast bed, a telly, a bath. You can walk distances in here.

Ponder the feasibility of living in Travelodges for the rest of my life.























Day Two:

Brief detour to explore Warrington. Don't actually make it into the city centre as distracted by a bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal. It is fascinating. Stop to take photos. Worry that I am unusually excited by bridges.

Onwards up the M6. It's still raining.

Tiredness can kill. Take a break.  Is it just me or do those signs loosely translate as Buy stuff in our shop or YOU WILL DIE?

The CDs I made specially for the journey are skipping.

I'm sure the M6 didn't use to be this long. Now it is raining even harder. If it carries on like this I will need an ark, not a Suzuki Ignis.

Arrive in the Lake District. Am meant to be camping but instead go straight to the hostel whose details I'd prudently jotted down before leaving Cardiff. The road there is flooded, but passable.

Phone call from my brother - his tent has blown away. He is not happy. He is shouting. He has no trousers on.

In the background, the kids are crying, his wife is hysterical. He claims a small hurricane whipped through their campsite. Everything they have is drenched, all their clothes, everything. His trousers are too wet to wear and his spare ones are soaked. Without trousers, the holiday cannot continue. They are going home immediately.

I suggest they stay at the hostel tonight in order to utilise the drying room. He concurs, grudgingly.

I lend him my tracksuit bottoms. A nice cup of tea soon fixes everything.























Day Three:

The family have gathered, today's the day.

Mum died in 2005, Dad in October last year, but due to the family's lack of imagination and failure to properly communicate, there are no memorials and instead we are just going to throw them into a lake.

Dad's parents had a house nearby in the 60s and early 70s, so most family holidays were spent here. Dad loved it (free holidays!); Mum less so, seeing as she didn't care for Nana, hated the rain, hated the cold, hated the hiking and the bugs and the poor-man's picnics, and would much rather have been propping up a bar by some hot exotic beach, but she didn't get a say in the matter.

The Lake District is NOT my choice of location to scatter Mum. Nor is it entirely Dad, as I feel, what with him being a Gillingham-born Customs & Excise man, part of him belongs in the River Medway. Mum, I feel, should be with her parents. And a little bit of both of them should be buried in the garden of the house in Kent.

(I have got round this problem by secretly asking my brother in law to decant some of their ashes into separate jars for me to deal with later. He doesn't mind, as he is currently driving round with half of his dad in the boot of his car while the other half is in his sister's cupboard in Scotland.)

At a car park by the lake - about 20 people have turned up for this event, so parking is an important consideration - we discreetly do the deed.

Dad turns the water a strange milky colour, then quickly disperses. Mum clings grimly to the bank, like she's trying to get back out.

There are too many people there to say goodbye properly. The atmosphere is too lighthearted. I find myself wondering out loud what it'd be like if the water rehydrated them and they started to reform, like a Grow Your Own Parent kit.

We linger for a bit, then go and wander round Keswick in the rain.

Later, we retire to a pub for a meal, where the language barrier prevents the person from Bristol from having a conversation with the Cumbrian barman.























Day Four:

Sick of the rain. The roads are flooded. My coat is not waterproof after all and my hat smells of wet dog.

Everyone goes home.

After waving goodbye to my brother and his family, the last to depart, a sense of relief spreads through me - I am alone here in Cumbria: my holiday starts at last!

Drive around aimlessly, feeling miserable. Park at the top of a dramatic mountain pass and cry a bit. Being alone here in Cumbria is not as much fun as I thought it was going to be.

Have a nap. When I wake, the sun has come out. That's more like it.

Revisit the scene of the scattering, and am appalled to see the lake has receded and while Dad has mostly gone, Mum is now quite literally high and dry in the middle of the car park.

Go and climb Cat Bells to stretch my legs and think about this problem.

Watch a sheep take a prolonged and clearly deeply satisfying scratch on a rock. It helps settle my mind.

But then am startled to be flashed by an elderly man who stops to engage me in idle chitchat.

I have never been flashed before, especially not half way up a mountain, and am not sure if my eyes are deceiving me. But yes, that's definitely his cock, and yes he has definitely manipulated his shorts during our brief conversation to ensure his entire Benedict Cumberbatch is in full view.

Some people are really fucking weird.

Rattled, I take my dignity to a pub to watch England crash out of Euro 2012, then spend the night in the car, keeping Mum company by the lake.


 
  




















Day Five:

There is no such thing as Monday morning here. I breakfast in the sun outside a cafe surrounded by peaks and soak up the tranquility.

Bid my mother farewell and drive the long way, via Seascale, to Barrow-in-Furness.

The sun is still out and I fall in love with the big sky above Walney Island.

Idle the day away there, mooching by the beach.

At a remote and deserted layby next to the sea, I watch the evening fade into night. There is a lovely sunset. Stars come out. Two young rabbits emerge to play in the road.

It is peaceful. I like it.


Day Six:

Time to head east. I have a ticket for Stewart Lee tonight in Hull. I bought it because I have to be in Scotland on Friday and Hull is sort of on the way to Scotland and Stewart Lee is brilliant and I have never visited Hull before.

After a pleasant drive through Kirkby Lonsdale, where I mistake Yorkshiremen for Italians because I can't understand what they're saying, and York, which I would stop and walk round if I didn't hate paying for parking, I arrive in Hull.

It is Tuesday, mid-afternoon. The sun is out, and every pub's beer garden is doing a roaring trade.

I check into my hotel - not a Travelodge, unfortunately, but similar - and enjoy the facilities (electricity, running water) the way only a person who has slept in their car for two nights can.

At the Stewart Lee gig, I laugh so hard I spill my Bovril.

In the foyer afterwards, he is signing books, but I am too scared to go and talk to him as he is too clever and too beautiful.















 Day Seven:

Steal as many pastries from the complementary breakfast buffet as possible.

On checking out, decide to ignore the art galleries and other multitudinous cultural offerings of Hull in favour of visiting the Humber Bridge, thus fuelling my fear that I am overly enamoured with bridges.

Imagine my delight when I get there and realise you can not just walk under it, you can also walk across it.

Walk across it.

Walk back.

This comes with an added bonus. Having set myself the mission of visiting every county in mainland Britain before nicking back off to New Zealand (for nicking back off to New Zealand is what I will surely do, one day), that's Lincolnshire done.

Cruise up to Bridlington in scorching sunshine. Why did no one tell me the Yorkshire coast was so beautiful?

At Flamborough Heads, a family are just leaving and offer me their £3 parking ticket, which is good as I hate paying for parking.

"We thought this place were somewhere else," the man explains. "Somewhere with a ramp down to t' sea."

"But we've 'ad an ice cream, so it wasn't a wasted journey!" his wife adds brightly.

It is a lovely spot, high on a remote cliff, all wheeling seabirds and crashing surf, but I feel miserable and unsettled. Restless. I want to move on, but I don't know why. Hell, I don't even know where.

At a roundabout on the road heading north, I'm distracted by the sight of a group of travellers, complete with horses, and head down a side road I didn't mean to take. The road leads me to an RSPB reserve - Bempton Cliffs.

Hours later, as the sun dips below the horizon, I leave, tired, sunburned and totally blissed out.

This place is my new favourite place in the world. There are gannets and guillemots and kittiwakes and razorbills. And, from a distance, I have SEEN MY FIRST PUFFIN.

A lifetime's ambition fulfilled, by accident, because of a group of gypsies camped by the road.

I drive to Scarborough, high on life and elegant seabirds, get a Chinese takeaway, and bed down, en voiture, on North Bay.


Day Eight:

I LOVE THE SEA.

I love waking up by the sea.

I love waking very early, climbing out of the car, and going for a brisk walk under a blue sky along a long yet well-maintained yet deserted stretch of seafront in order to find the nearest toilet which happens to be in a charming and picturesque harbour, then buying a bacon buttie wrapped in a paper napkin and a steaming hot coffee in a polystyrene cup, and walking back again. It really perks you up in the mornings.

Scarborough is lovely. Almost too lovely to leave.

Back on the road, the rain starts at Saltburn.

Entering County Durham, the welcome sign says The Land of the Prince Bishops. Wonder if they couldn't do with a catchier slogan.

By the time I reach the Angel of the North it is absolutely pissing down.

Am faintly underwhelmed by Gormley's metal masterpiece, until I pause to read the information board on my way back to the carpark. For some reason, the diagram depicting its immense foundations moves me to tears.

Detour through Newcastle city centre solely to drive across the Tyne bridge, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Alnwick. Is this the prettiest place I have ever seen from the safety of my car while the rain is lashing down? Yes. Wish I had the fortitude and the wet-weather gear to stop and explore it.

It is also too wet for Lindisfarne.

On the A1 towards Berwick, traffic slows to a crawl as a sheet of pale brown water submerges a long flat stretch of road. All jolly fun and exciting, until the point where the road dips and the water is as deep as the headlights of approaching cars.

Hold breath, cross fingers, and plough on through, praying not to stall.

I am very relieved to make it, although the steam coming off the engine is alarming.

At the border, I pull over and wait for this stupid weather to stop. When I wake up, the sun is back out. Not only that, but I am abroad, IN SCOTLAND!

Consult the map, and work out a route that bypasses Edinburgh but takes me over the Forth Bridge. I've never seen the Forth bridges up close and find the prospect exciting.

Admit am maybe getting a bit too excited about bridges now.

Stop under the rail bridge and take lots of photos.

At Falkirk, as I gaze with admiration at their splendid Wheel, I am struck by a revelation - it is not just bridges that I love. It is structures. Feel reassured.

Stop for supplies at the huge Tesco at Bonnybridge. Ask the checkout lady what the weather forecast is for the next few days.

"Shite!" she replies, with far too much gusto. Her enthusiasm takes both of us by surprise and for the next few minutes neither of us can stop giggling.

Halt for the night in a layby overlooking Loch Lubnaig but it's raining too hard to see it.


















Day Nine:

Arrive in Oban too early to check into my hostel. Park up on a free bit at the edge of town, and do some exploring.

Instantly rewarded by the sight of a man in a kilt striding up the main street. The kilt is inadvertently tucked into the back of his knickers.

This is so brilliant I don't even care he's not being traditional.

Oban is not what I was expecting. It is meaner, and larger. It has a disturbing amount of metered parking. There are no free toilets.

But wait. What is this? A huge Tesco, just round the back of the railway station, hidden from the tourist hordes by Oban's unnecessarily complicated one-way system. Not only does it have free toilets AND free parking, but the cafe sells a perfectly acceptable mug of latte for a measly £1.40.

I know instantly this Tesco will be not only an emotional crutch but a spiritual home for my three days here.

When it is time, I check into the hostel. I have reserved a single ensuite room with a TV, which is in a separate building.

I go to the wrong building, and get the key stuck in the front door.

Later, I complete a driving recce of the wider area, and find the peaceful Ganavan Bay. Park there and read a while - Oban has worn me out with all its hustle and bustle.

At one point, look up to see there is a rabbit on the beach.

Repeat, a rabbit on the beach.

In the hostel I spend a fitful night, kept awake by the sound of drunks, speeding traffic, and loud vomiting in the street.


















Day Ten:

Today is a tennis day, but first there is the small matter of a Tesco cooked breakfast (including OJ) for only £4.75, plus a mug of latte for only £1.40, followed by a comprehensive examination of the charity shops in the high street.

Retire to single ensuite room with TV for a full afternoon and evening of Wimbledon, and it is bliss.

Afterwards, go for a stroll in the rain and find some hot pussy action.

Can't sleep, for the previous night's reasons, and also because the whole point of this holiday is approaching - my pre-booked puffin trip.

Am very excited.



Day Eleven:

OMG OMG OMG OMG PUFFINS!!!!

Up early so have plenty of time to get to Tesco before the ferry departs for Mull.

The rain has stopped and the crossing is scenic. Impressed by the fact not only does the Tesco open at a decent hour on a Sunday (unlike the ones I frequent in England and Wales), but the captain of this ship is, at just gone 10am, exhorting everybody via loudspeaker to have a whisky at the onboard bar.

I suppose it makes a change from the ubiquitous Irn Bru.

At Craignure our tour group transfers to a minibus and we are driven at speed across the island to the Ulva ferry landing. It is remote and pretty. We pile onto a brightly-painted little boat, and under blue skies chug to our first stop, the island of Staffa.

Staffa is lovely - a little lump of green in a sea of sparkling blue.

Unexpectedly, in Fingal's Cave, a man whips out some bagpipes and starts playing. The sounds it makes, with the sea, and the echoes, makes the hairs on the back my neck stand up. I am all a-tingle.

On top of the island, I bask in the sun and enjoy a picnic.

Staffa's not the main attraction, though. Staffa is merely a prelude to the main event. I am itching to continue the trip and cannot wait until the boat sails to the next stop - Lunga.

Let me put it this way. Lunga = puffin central.

Yes, there are other birds on this remote Scottish isle, but those other birds don't stare curiously at you from an arm's length away with their comedy markings and doleful expressions. Those other birds don't waddle around looking adorable not caring in the slightest that you are so close you could reach out and prod them. The other birds AREN'T FANTASTIC, LIKE PUFFINS ARE.

I have wanted to see a puffin up close with my own eyes ever since I joined the Puffin Club, c.1974. I loved the books, I loved the badge. I couldn't believe a bird could actually look like that, with that sad clown face and the weird Day Glo beak.

But they do.

Two hours, 300 photos.

Puffins are very addictive.

The rest of the day doesn't matter. I SAW PUFFINS.


















Day Twelve:

My waking thought at the Hostel of Doom is 'Let's get the fucking fuck out of Scotland'.

Pack up the car in lugubrious rain. A German couple get on the motorbike parked behind. They fire up, roar off, and a split second later topple into me and my car with an enormous bang.

The man looks sheepish and undoes the bike's front wheel lock.

I too hit the road (after a farewell trip to Tesco).

Wonder if there is a word for that helpless rage you feel while stuck behind a lorry or camper van for miles and miles of narrow, winding Scottish road.

Pass Loch Lomond, and drive down through Glasgow, failing to cross any bridges of note, so there.

On the M74, am so smitten by the loveliness of the surrounding countryside that I decide to stop at the junction 13 services to look at it properly.

The services are packed. The car park alone has the feel of a bustling resort. Do people come here on holiday?

Scan the map and decide on a route south-ish through the Mennock Pass.

Good decision - it's the most stunning place I've seen so far. Gorgeous, even in the rain.  Loads of pretty little cottages line the main street of Leadhills, and I make a mental note to check property prices when I get home. I could live here.

Wonder what all the people who do live here do for a living. Maybe they work at the services?

Dumfries: a shocking traffic jam.

Lockerbie: the smartest, cleanest, nicest public toilets in the known universe. And a quiet dignity to the town, like it took a collective decision to simply put the past behind it.

Carlisle. A petrol stop to fill the car, and the pump clicks off at £41.00 exactly.

I stare in disbelief.

The time I've spent fiddling around trying to round petrol pumps up to .00 pence exactly must amount to years, like sleeping does, or sitting on the toilet. This is nothing short of amazing.

Overcome by the urge to tell someone - MUST TELL SOMEONE - but the dour face of the woman at the till forbids me blurting this sensational news to her. Approaching a random stranger with the news is tempting but would surely class me as proper mental.

Decide it'll have to wait until I get home, where I can tell my colleague Scott, who I know will be just as impressed as me by this wondrous event, and will probably even be able to calculate the statistical likelihood, perhaps drawing a little diagram to help explain it better, and that is why I love working at the library.

Continue cross-country towards Keswick. It's all new to me from this direction and it's lovely.

I go straight back to Mum, and she's right where I left her, in the middle of the car park.

There's nobody about. I wish I had a shovel, but I don't have a shovel, so there's no other option but to scoop her up by hand.

It takes ages. The thing about cremated remains is that there is a lot more of it than you'd think. My fingers are sore (it's a gravelly car park) and they're freezing. But finally, she is all in the lake.

I construct a little stone heart on a sticking-out rock, with pebbles from the lake bed.

Sit and think a while.

Skim a few stones, until the rain comes down again.

Wade back out into the lake, and standing in the icy clear water, say goodbye to my lovely mum.

I get the feeling she's still sad about being abandoned in such a cold, wet, lonely place, but acknowledges it is at least better than a car park.

I start to cry. It's the first time I've cried properly for her since 2005.

I know she's not really sad about anything. How can she be? She's not here. It's just a bunch of ashes. They both are.

It feels good to shed uncomplicated tears of simple, straightforward grief. Everything before was tangled up with anger for my dad. He treated her so cruelly towards the end. What a bastard he was.

I cry until the tears stop. This is what I needed to do.

And it's done. All that - all this - is over now.

I walk back to the car and let my feet dry off.

Wonder where to go next, now I actually have the heart for it.

Head to Blackpool, of course.

Why not?