Pandemic Productivity

Reading time: 3-4 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): Another slice of homemade cake (go on, treat yourself)

Lockdown has the potential to be a time of unparalleled productivity. Less distractions. More time. No FOMO. It has been said that Shakespeare wrote not only King Lear or Macbeth or Antony and Cleopatra—but in fact all bloody (pun intended) three—during the plague pandemic of 1606. Four hundred years later, during the coronavirus pandemic, I, on the other hand, have written approximately, well, nothing much at all. I did write one blog post, at the end of April (a cracking good read, let me tell you), but with a grand total of nine hundred and sixty-three words, though each expertly selected and utilised, I don’t think it can be considered quite the same accomplishment as that of my thespian forefather.

The thing is—I have simply not had the inclination to write. Apart from in my journal in the wee hours when I cannot sleep (the result of which I do not wish anyone, myself included, the horror of reading). In fact, I have lacked any inclination to do many a normal activity during this unsettling but, let’s face it, equally tranquil period of time. Perhaps it is because of a lack of inspiration. A dwindling of social engagements causing a depletion of any interesting base material. Perhaps it is because of all of the internal, and increasingly external, discussions about big and scary topics such as life and control and sovereignty and racism. And Bill Gates. If it’s all still such a muddle in my head, how on earth am I supposed to write any of it down with any sort of eloquence? (That’s a rhetorical question, to myself; I’m still in the figuring-it-out stage.) Or perhaps it’s because I’m lazy. A state of being that I’m almost becoming comfortable owning. (As in: you own dat, girlfriend.)

I have had some non-literary-excellence achievements, though: I have completed two jigsaw puzzles (the first since around twelve years of age), and I have baked not one but TWO BLOODY DELICIOUS cakes (my first time ever!!!). A feat I am inordinately proud of, and clearly modest about. But the jigsaws have been dismantled and the cakes consumed. So what have I really got to show for my time spent indoors? Merely slightly more dexterous fingers and a COVID-19 waistline?

Perhaps a better way to quantify my quaran-time achievements is through looking at the thoughts I am unpacking, the conversations I am having, and the way I am treating others and myself. I mean, if my daily candle-lit bubble baths are anything to go by, I’d say I’m doing pretty darn well. Not sure the couple living below us would agree, whose bathroom gets leaked on every time our tub drains. But, you know, swings and roundabouts. I am beginning to try out meditation. I am journaling more. I am entering into those aforementioned uncomfortable conversations with a willingness to learn as opposed to a one-sided view with which to preach. I may still not always communicate my thoughts or frustrations or confusions in the best or most sympathetic way (something I have always done with greater ease via writing, with more time to think, than in conversation, with less time to edit), but I am trying and, hopefully, improving, and that can only be a positive.

But maybe judging everything on a scale of productivity or achievement is where we are all going wrong anyway. I have not written King Lear or Macbeth or Antony and Cleopatra during the lockdown. But what is the problem with that? Am I a machine in a factory? Do I always need to be productive? Maybe the most important thing I’ve discovered during this quiet time is that productivity is not the holy grail. Headspace is constantly telling me to just be, after all. Which leads me to ponder: is a pandemic the ideal habitat for productivity, or is the constant pressure to be, or often simply appear, productive a pandemic in itself? I’m not sure. But it’s food for thought, definitely. And great served on the side of a slice of homemade cake. (Carrot, if you’re curious, with a slathering of coconut cream.)

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Twenty twenty

Reading time: 4–5 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): a slice of homemade cake or chocolate chip oat cookie

2020 has been an interesting one to date, I’m sure you will agree. What with Harry and Meghan renouncing the royal family and all. I can’t think that there have been any other cataclysmic events this year? I guess it’s all been pretty quiet in newsland since Boris took over last summer to #GetBrexitDone. It was going to be a simple in and out jobby, no? Or maybe that was just with his fiancé. After all, getting Brexit done was, and is, the most important development that the British people await. I mean, they voted for it. It is the will of the people. It is democracy at its purest. It is…oh, wait, aren’t some more pressing matters currently taking centre stage?

I have never before had the urge to research the difference in definition between epidemic and pandemic. If I’m totally honest, I thought both were a fancy way of saying “widespread disaster”. Which in many ways they are. But their specificity is not something to be sniffed at. Or indeed used haphazardly. We are, quite officially, in the middle of worldwide pandemic. And with a comprehensive understanding of what precisely that means, things become really rather scary.

To be fearful of a disease is nothing new. But to be fearful of the not-even-physical close contact of any family member, friend or passer-by in the street is like nothing, I believe, ever experienced before. Those of older generations muse that the current climate (though, alas, not the sunshine and rainbows) can only be compared to that of the world wars. When food was rationed, uncertainty was rife, and fear was part and parcel of everyday life. There was an enemy, there were heroes, there was a front line. There was a sense of all being in it together. There was substantial loss of life. But in the situation we find ourselves in today, we are on the same side as the enemy. We are, in many cases, the enemy. Or, perhaps more accurately, are housing it within our selves. Though, it doesn’t come looking for us in shooter planes or via hand grenades; it presents, instead, quite casually, as a high temperature and a new, continuous cough.

I seem to be on a journey (gotta love a spiritual journey) of many different stages in my relationship to and understanding of the coronavirus, sometimes on a daily-changing basis. Incredulousness, peacefulness, confusion, clarity and inquisitiveness all feature heavily. The whirlwind of emotions and thoughts and ponderings and political press conferences has rendered life before the outbreak an elusive haze in which I can barely remember how things went. How things worked. How easy everything was. How one could dash. Oh the time when one could dash! Somewhere, anywhere… the destination is neither here nor there, the enviable fleetingness the fond, but now distant, memory. Now one must plan. One must take plastic gloves. One must ensure that one’s business is essential and less than an hour in duration. And one must NOT FORGET THE BLOODY EGGS.

Sure, there are a lot of inconveniences to life as we now know it. Not to mention the stress of having to re-imagine your WFH routine now that your other half is too working from the kitchen table. But I have also discovered a kind of beautiful serenity in this time. And I believe that this is thanks to our individual and collective ability to see more clearly what is truly important, without all of the distractions and deliberations and, dare I say, dashing of pre-isolation life. I mean, is it simply a coincidence that perfect sight is referred to as twenty-twenty vision?

Not that I wish to undermine or diminish the distress and trouble caused to many as a direct result of this situation. I have friends on the front line and pregnant siblings scared shitless for their safety. I have furloughed friends who are struggling without any sort of routine. I have parents and other self-isolating relatives whose only contact with other people is through screens or windows or the reflection in the glass of the microwave door. And I have a dodgy, dongle-based Wi-Fi connection making the weekly virtual pub quiz a trifle bit infuriating. But out of adversity, if we are to believe a certain Mr Benjamin Franklin, comes opportunity.

Without a regimented and incessantly documented 37.5-hour routine thrust upon us each and every week, we are able to envision and experiment with our own take on day-to-day life. The fact that this concept seems – to probably the majority of the western world – a far-fetched fantasy is, to me at least, absolutely terrifying. When did we become so conditioned to the nine-to-five that not doing it was unquestionable? Who even came up with this eight-hour satanic ideal? (Apparently it started with the Industrial Revolution and became widespread in the 1920s following the lead of Henry Ford, which, though at the time was a reduction in hours, was underpinned by the logic of more free time equals more spending equals more profit for Henry Ford. Gah.)

Imagine waking up without the dependence on an alarm, or indeed the need for an alarm to wake up at a reasonable hour, because the lack of sleep accumulated due to the use of an alarm has vanished with the dissipation of Dolly Parton’s classic. Are you still with me? It just strikes me that – if you are lucky enough not to be suffering from the virus, or tending to those who are – we now have a golden opportunity to re-write our scripts. To – shock horror – plan our own days. Make our own routines. Look for what’s really important, and simply tend to that. For me, it boils down to happiness. And my search is at all systems go.

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What Democracy?

Reading time: 3-4 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): Something very strong 

Believe it or not, I have work to do. Important and time sensitive work, might I add. But I cannot even begin to consider starting this work before I get to grips with today’s – Friday the thirteenth’s, no less – catastrophic news. I mean, really. What on Earth is going on? 

I thought the vote for Brexit was bad, and that was won by a less than convincing 52%. But to go to bed with the nightmarish news of the exit polls; to hope that this was a practical joke on the side of all of those who really voted against the Tories; and to wake up to confirmation that the Conservatives had indeed won the UK’s gazzillionth general election in the space of four years, by a landslide of seventy-eight seats – their biggest majority in over thirty years, was to be hit by an apocalyptic hangover that no dosage of painkillers will ever be able to subside.

But instead of diving full-throttle into an unabridged tirade into what is wholly wrong with this result and the bleached-blonde buffoon spearheading it, I would like to look a little more closely at the numbers involved. 44% of voters yesterday voted for the Conservative Party, yet in return they were presented with 56% of the parliamentary seats. In contrast, 11% of votes went to the Liberal Democrats, yet they received only a 2% share of seats. Labour, it seems, was the only major party that actually acquired close to what it deserved: 32% of votes related to 31% of seats. 

Though, of course, if you take into account the total size of the electorate, the results appear even more skewed, with the winning party – now basically 100% in control of Britain’s future – having received a vote from less than a third of those registered to vote, and even less if you consider all those who are not registered, plus all of the sixteen and seventeen year olds who, as yet, are not permitted to vote. (Just take a moment to think about TIME’s Person of the Year 2019 who, if she were a Brit, would not have been able to cast her vote. (Nor can she for that matter cast a vote in Sweden for over a year, but that problem I’ll leave up to the Swedes, as I think we have enough on our plates right now.))

While we’re on the numbers game, that brings me back to Brexit (urgh). While I don’t believe that 52% is a big enough majority to pass such a momentous change (which, at the time and perhaps still now, we have little to no idea how it will affect us and indeed others (but clearly no one cares about them)), I cannot deny that it is a majority. But what, exactly, is it a majority of? Those who felt clued up enough on the murky, bottomless, unceasingly selfish pit that seems to be the process of Britain exiting the European Union, to cast a well-thought-through or at least momentarily-thought-about vote? I voted. To remain. But was I clued up? Hell no! How could I have been when even those campaigning on both sides didn’t have the foggiest of what leaving would entail? I just felt something deep within telling me that it was an utterly preposterous idea to even contemplate. And by Jove, I was right! But I could have questioned my gut. I could have thought, “Hmm, I am not one hundred per cent sure about this. I do not feel confident enough in my knowledge of the potential outcomes to vote in this referendum, and do not wish to vote for something I later regret because of this lack of knowledge and foresight.” Perhaps this is how many who didn’t vote in 2016 felt. Perhaps not. But you simply cannot know, unless you ask each and every one of them. But to presume that these non-voters couldn’t care less about Brexit is a very dangerous assumption indeed. Let’s instead assign them the opinion of ‘Not Sure’. Brexit would then have had the following statistics:

Leave: 37%
Remain: 35%
Not Sure: 28%

Even less convincing now, hey?

It seems to me that no matter the question, the policies or the unfortunate hairstyle, the voting system that we currently use is simply not democratic. And if at its core it is undemocratic, how can we ever trust those who benefit from its quirks?

I have yet to step outside or even open my blinds today, for fear of ridicule and abandonment from my adopted Dutch neighbours. But at least I am already here; I escaped with some time to spare. The deadline is looming, but, friends, you still have time. Mass emigration is the only solution I see. Grab your passports and pack a bag, if you move fast you may just make it out in time.

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The Year of the Wedding: Part Two

Reading time: 5-7 minutes
Recommended accompaniment(s): A large gin and tonic, served with a slice of cucumber and an environmentally-friendly straw

[Catch up on Part One]

Since my last linguistic foray into the ever-embarrassing world of British hen dos, I have attended two more weddings and one more hen. So that’s now three out of three hen dos complete, and two out of six weddings yet to come (not that I’m counting). I have also, already, got three weddings firmly in the diary for next year, one of which I have been asked to be bridesmaid – totally unexpected and totes emosh (another blog post in itself quite frankly). But before I commence my future bridesmaid taskettes, I must – as promised in Part One – divulge my second wedding-related misfortune of 2019.

Having been asked back in 2017 to be bridesmaid to my lovely friend Sophie, I had been waiting for the big day to come around like a child (or myself) waiting for Christmas. Then one sunny Saturday in June the day was finally here. Woohoo! The morning spent getting ready seemed to go very smoothly indeed. In many ways I was the model ’maid. I was first to arrive for hair and makeup; I came armed with fizz; I volunteered my painting services to the bride’s naked toes. I did have to de-top as soon as I arrived – as I came dressed in a white over-the-head strappy that would have wreaked havoc if taken off post-makeup application – much to the in-room photographer’s alarm, but, in all honesty, he was much more interested in catching the kilt-clad groom in a gust of wind, if you know what I mean, so I don’t think it caused too much of a ruckus. And anyway, as soon as we were all present we were given goodie bags by the bride, containing a fortuitous dressing gown that covered up my bra, restored my modesty and, hopefully, improved all future photographs.

With my hair and makeup completed early on, I had a good few hours to gossip, giggle and guzzle multiple glasses of champagne. It’s a hard life being a bridesmaid, let me tell you. Sophie, bless her, didn’t want to drink because of her nerves, but when a large gin and tonic arrived to our room from a mystery admirer (please Lord let it be from the groom), she couldn’t resist but take a long, lengthy, gulp. As she put down the glass and declared that first sip sound of ‘ahh,’ I asked her if she would like me to add any of the tonic water, by its side. Her eyes grew wide, her complexion rosy, she looked down at the neat gin she had just, moments before, necked. She laughed. We all laughed. Then I poured the entirety of the Fever Tree bottle into her glass. Responsible bridesmaid? Tick.

As the morning came to a close the ceremony drew ever nearer. We were made up, our hair was perfectly preened, and all we had left to do was get into our dresses. And this was stressing me out. Having tried on the dress maybe three times prior to the wedding, I, and everyone else, had become acquainted with the villainous zip. It was tough; it was sticky; it certainly didn’t respond well to human hands. It was, let’s just say, a wee bit problematic. So I was keen to get into it as early on as possible, to give myself the longest possible time with which to ease and entertain the zip up. Everyone else, it seems, was on a wavelength much more ‘chill’. I tried to meet them there, for as long as I possibly could, but after fifteen minutes of pacing and checking the time, I opened the wardrobe and pulled out my floor-length frock. This was it. This was the moment. I was going to put the ruddy thing on.

The other bridesmaids joined me in the bathroom. Getting dressed was most certainly a three-man job. I first attempted to get in feet first – to save the hair and face – but posteriorly this was not a feasible option. So we abandoned ship and went in over the head. For some reason I held my breath and shut my eyes while positioned like a stationary rocket, to try to slide in more easily. As I opened my eyes, and took in some air, the dress was on and my hair was untouched. First hurdle: flawlessly complete. The second and final challenge was to do the bloody thing up. This is the moment we had all been dreading. And it quickly steamrolled into a nightmare we could never have dreamt up.

I held my arms up in the air while Claire pulled the sides of the dress together and Sarah, simultaneously, pulled down on the material below the zip and tugged up the fastening itself. This needed serious concentration and teamwork. The zip began its ascent armpit-bound, in a not-too-turbulent transition. Sarah expertly manoeuvred over the join in the fabric – the danger zone, if you will – with ease and grace. Our tensions subsided; we were on the home straight. 

Then, about two inches below the finish line, the zip decided veer off course. It became caught in the fabric; its journey to the summit suspended. The tension in the room returned. We decided the best course of action was to retrace our steps, a couple of centimetres or so, to disentangle the fabric, and then resume our valiant climb. We went down, but this only pulled in more fabric. We went back up, and even more became entrapped. And then, very unaccommodatingly, the zip decided he’d had enough. This up- and down-motion had tired him out; he was not, with all his might, going to move any more.

Tension transitioned to panic. The Mother of the Bride was called into the room. An emergency was announced. 

With just fifteen minutes to go until show time, the other bridesmaids, mother, and bride needed to get dressed too, so I was passed on to the unsuspecting hair and makeup artists. Greeted with an increasingly sweaty armpit it didn’t take them long to assess the situation. We had hairpins, tweezers, and all manner of appliances to try to prise the zip free, albeit to no avail. The scissors came out, as a last solution, but no amount of interior trimming had any impact whatsoever; it was stuck, I was stuck, but the show had to go on.

A safety pin became the next fixation, in order to join the flap at the top. Alas, of course, one was nowhere to be found. With my arm by my side one would never have known the mishap, so this is how I was to spend the duration of the day. This was actually surprisingly easy, and only required a slight toning down of my dancing to YMCA, Mr Brightside, and (hen do favourite) I Predict A Riot.

As midnight struck the dance floor emptied and we headed back to our rooms. I tasked my boyfriend with the mission of getting me out of my dress. He trained as an engineer, after all, and so would make light work of the unmovable fastening. Twenty minutes later, with tweezers, eyelash curlers, and anything else remotely tool-like from my makeup bag scattered around us like a pair of beauty junkies, we headed down to reception to find something stronger. Not whisky, unfortunately, but that might have made the whole fiasco a little less painful.

The night-hours receptionist was really rather handy. He got for us scissors, pliers, and, in fact, a fully-fitted-out tool box. Gijs started with the pliers, aiming to bend the metal slider cleanly off the troublesome teeth. If anything this held its grip tighter. Then came the scissors: he was going to have to hack. He started off tentative, not wanting to harm me and only minimally disfigure the dress. This tactic, though admirable, was not getting me any closer to freedom.

Opportunely, fellow bridesmaid Sarah entered reception from the bar. She saw the scissors in Gijs’ hand; his pained, nervous expression; and took matters into her own hands. Literally. (After all, she did used to be a hairdresser.) After a few savage snips the zip was cut loose; the fastening released; Django was finally unchained. The dress, on the other hand, was ruined. 

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He Will See You Now

Reading time: 10-15 minutes
Recommended accompaniment(s): a strong mug of Yorkshire Tea and a digestive biscuit, for dunking

Looking after one’s father during and after hospitalisation is not something that one expects to do before the age – of said father – of perhaps seventy-five or eighty. One hopes, really, never to have to do such a thing, not least because one never wants to see someone they love go through any sort of hardship or suffering. But when, last month, I volunteered to care for my father (sixty years of age) for one week pre- and post-operation, I didn’t know how entertaining the whole charade would be. For my father, the publisher, sailor and windmill-dweller, is really rather amusing. (Especially when strapped to a hospital bed with tubes and wires and electronic leg warmers.)

The operation in question was not emergency surgery or a life-lengthening procedure. In fact it needn’t have been a lights-out operation whatsoever. It could have been an in-and-out twenty-minute jobby. But Daddy Dearest, as squeamish as he is strange, could not face the thought of seeing someone cut into his eyes, remove his actual eyeball lenses, and replace them with shiny, full-sighted, new ones. I have to say I can’t blame him. So for his surgery – cataract removal with a hope to improve his dilapidated minus-twenty-two vision – he opted for general anaesthetic, the medically-practised knock-you-out-of-consciousness drug, which truly worked a treat.

I arrived at The Windmill, father’s modest six-story abode, the evening before the operation was scheduled. We went to the pub for his last supper (the last one in which he didn’t have a clue what he was eating). On doctor’s orders he was forbidden to consume alcohol the night preceding, as well as three nights after, the dreaded operation, which, as you can imagine, made his temperament a little…well…frosty. I left my handbag at home intentionally before we headed to the pub. Not only to ensure that this one was definitely on him, it also gave me some leverage if I had to talk him out of having a pint with dinner. You see, the last time we frequented this pub I was refused even a look at the wine list because I didn’t have my ID. (I am twenty-seven though the years have been too kind, and as you can imagine this did not go down swimmingly.) So I figured that if he tried to order a drink, but then I was refused service, he would think again and stick to sparkling water. Luckily this back up plan was surplus to requirements and the embarrassing intervention not needed. I mean, I should have known. As much as my dad is a fan of the strong stuff (though, if you’re buying him a Christmas gift, for heavens sake, under 4.5% ABV, please!), he is even more so a sucker for following rules, to the T, and so wouldn’t have dreamt of disobeying doctor’s orders. 

(To give an example, also medically-concerned: I was once looking after him after a severe case of man flu. He was in his bed for about four days straight, which was more time than he’d spent there in the whole year leading up to that point. It got to the stage where I needed to call the doctor, and was put through to a very helpful out-of-hours assistant. She told me just how much paracetamol and ibuprofen he could be taking, and, well, it was about twenty times more than what he had been taking up until that point. There were timing implications, of course, to ensure that he didn’t overdose, but, generally speaking, it was basically do one then the other equally spaced throughout the day, no more than four rounds and have a biscuit when you take the ibuprofen. He was so concerned with timing the gaps at exactly four hours between doses that he actually set his alarm for six in the morning, to not be late for the next set. I explained to him that sleep was a very beneficial healer too, and took over charge of his pain killer intake from that point on. Needless to say he made a speedy recovery.)

Anyway, back to the eyes. We arrived at the hospital promptly at seven a.m. and were shown to his private room. We were then visited by a seemingly never ending number of medical professionals of different standings, all coming to ask the very same questions and perform the very same checks. They were particularly interested in whether he had crowns or dentures – God knows why – but this was the one fact that he simply could not remember. He had to explain, each time, that he just didn’t know, but that the person before them had had a look and didn’t seem to think so.

The best moment is when they ask what procedure you’re having done, almost like a lawyer in a courtroom questioning the alibi of the defence. “And which eye, or eyes, are you having done?” they would ask, making a subtle but noticeable smirk at him as they said the word ‘eyes’. This was giving the game away, I would say, but did mean that we managed to get through the three rounds of that question without a hitch. Phew.

Last to visit was the anaesthetist, a friendly-looking rather rotund man who appeared through the window in his surgical-scrubs-and-hat situation. I missed the part when he said he was the anaesthetist so was very confused indeed why he was so interested in my father’s medical history, and his choice of general anaesthetic. I thought maybe he was looking for a life partner, but I didn’t think that he was my dad’s type. And anyway, they could never be together because my father, it turns out, cannot say the word ‘anaesthetic’. With a dry mouth already from a total ban on fluids, this enunciation problem was only magnified. Listening to him attempt to say it was even more cringe worthy than him explaining how he couldn’t remember his dental history, but I was there to support him and so wouldn’t dare to ridicule him for it (until now).

The anaesthetist asked the million-dollar question too, while staring down at the answer on the bundle of notes slowly accumulating on the table. “Both,” my father replied, now confidently, to which the man looked up, smiled and agreed, “Yes, indeed, that you are!” And then he came towards my dad with a marker pen and started scribbling on his face.

I felt a sense of intrusion, almost attack, vicariously from this stranger graffitiing my father’s forehead. Until I realised that he was just marking the eyes on which they were to operate. Which in this case, as we all at this point were certain of, was both. As he retreated with his pen, and my dad looked at me, I saw that he had drawn a letter ‘R’ on his temple to my left, and a letter ‘L’ on the other side. Ah, I thought. They’re just making absolute sure.

When he left the room and we ascertained who the hell he was, I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a photo-sesh. For my dad was now dressed in his hospital robe, naked underneath except for a pair of threadbare rusty red socks, and his rather fetching new facial art. I photographed him from a number of angles and distances, and I do believe that the results make very comical iPhone screensavers.

After three hours of waiting, questions and mouth excavations Dad got walked down to theatre where he would be put to sleep, lenses replaced, and back up on the ward in time for lunch. I took this opportunity to hot foot it to Coffee Architects to enjoy a humongous plate of the most beautifully presented banana bread, fruit, coconut yoghurt and edible flowers. I really should have taken a photo. It would have rivalled that of my dad’s mug shot as my next background image.

I got back to his hospital room with plenty of time to spare, although I was now rather desperate for the toilet, given the magnificent proportion I had just consumed. And here lay the conundrum. Do I stay or do I go? I tried to stay for as long as I could, crossing my legs in a whole manner of contortions but eventually giving in to the need. I rushed to the hospital toilet – the disinfectant-smelling cube of sanitation and ill health prevention posters, and did my business as quickly as I could. But, you know, you can’t really rush these things. As I walked the fifty metres back to his room I could tell immediately that I had missed his return, as the door was open and the light back on. God damn it. He was being manoeuvred atop a typical wheelie bed into position, now not only dressed in ghastly hospital gown and rather distasteful temporary facial tattoos, but also a Spiderman-esque clear plastic mask shielding his brand new lenses from the germs and interference of the outside world.

He was awake already, having been let to resurface in the basement before being brought up for air. His first words were not, “Hello,” “How do I look?” or “I think it went well.” No. They were: “I need the loo.”

Given the lack of beer he’d drank the previous evening, and the nil-by-mouth orders he’d been following since six a.m., I was finding it hard to comprehend where any liquid could have come from. Then I feared the worst. Did he really need a number two?

Proceeding to try to get up from his cot-like bed, he was firmly restrained by one of the nurses and told, “you can’t get up yet, Jeremy.”

“He needs the loo.” I interjected, feeling like a translator between newborn baby and rushed but capable midwife.

“You need the toilet?” she asked Dad directly, adding to the adult-child atmosphere quickly settling over the room.

“Yes. I need to pee.” He stated, much to my relief.

“You can’t use the toilet,” she told him, “so I’ll go get you a bottle,” and off she went.

Oh. My. Lord. This couldn’t be happening. She was going to get him a bottle. And then he was going to wee. And I was sitting there in the room!!!!! I didn’t know where to look. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know whether to stay silent or make awkward small talk. It went on for an awfully long time. And then it was over. I breathed a sigh of relief. And pretended it had all been a horrible, horrible dream.

Thing was, he needed a pee, as he so delicately put it, another three times in the next two hours. Each time causing me to have to sheepishly go to the nurses’ office, knock on the door, and ask for a toilet device thingy watchamacallit for my dad, in Room 17. He then did his business into it, with me waiting at his side, and I had to take the vessel, like an angular cardboard milk bottle in form, pour the contents into the toilet in the en suite, wash my hands and erase my memory. Dad – I love you, but I’m never bloody doing that again.

When he was a little more with it (a little), he asked me if I’d been there when he’d “had a fight with the nurses.”

“No, Dad,” I replied lightly, “you didn’t have a fight, she just wouldn’t let you walk to the bathroom.”

“No!” he retorted. “I did have a fight! I did! I was trying to get up and we got into some fisty cuffs!”

“Ok…” I concluded, not wanting to make this into a(nother) battle. And just prayed that this belief was as a result of the strong, overwhelming anaesthetic, not an incident I had missed in the recovery room.

Dad was supposed to be fit for discharge two to three hours post-op. So roughly two-thirty in the afternoon. At eight p.m., however, I was still sitting at his side in the outpatient ward, in an increasingly uncomfortable chair having scrolled through the whole of Instagram at least three times over. Just when I thought I couldn’t cope any more with the boredom some alarms started ringing from the blood pressure monitor. Ooh this was an unexpected turn in events!

At first I didn’t know if I should call someone or if the bleeping enough would alert them sufficiently. Alas the bleeping doesn’t alert anyone at all, merely giving the drowsy patient and their companion the starts of a headache. So I went to the nurses’ office once more, slightly concerned about the situation but relieved not to be asking for yet another blinking urine bottle. The nurses seemed pretty chilled about the situation and said someone would be along shortly. Someone was along shortly – Karen, if I remember correctly – who proceeded to engage the blood pressure monitor once more. She then became a little less chilled. Dad’s blood pressure was very, very low. Even to my untrained eye, hitting figures of about forty or fifty less than on admission did not seem good. But, to me, Dad seemed his usual, bumbling self. He was even cracking a few jokes! As far as I was concerned, he was absolutely fine. It was just his body’s way of telling him to get some bloody rest, man! (As I don’t believe he has done since the summer of ’72.) He seemed to agree with this analysis and told Karen of our suspicions. She did not seem so convinced and made him lie down more horizontally to ensure enough oxygen was reaching his brain. I took this opportunity of his total lack of autonomy to book him in overnight, order him a Full English for the morning, and make my way back to The Windmill for a well-earned glass of red.

The next morning I was back in at eight o’clock. A condition of his overnight stay was that he be out by nine, as the room was booked for another day guest, soon to arrive; and that he ‘didn’t make any trouble in the small hours’. Having no control over his late-night behaviour, I made sure I would take care of the former request. As I entered his room he was up and out of bed, eating his breakfast in an armchair while sporting the fetching Spiderman eye shields. It looked bloody delicious (and that’s coming from a vegetarian), and I was a little regretful that I hadn’t stayed overnight myself. But I don’t think that they served wine there in the evenings, and I definitely needed that after the exhausting day I’d had.

Halfway through his feast we were interrupted by another nurse, a new one who had not been there the day before, who announced that the eye surgeon would like to see Jeremy. Now. Downstairs in his clinic. I looked at my Dad, I looked at his food, I turned to the nurse and asked, “well, can’t he come to us?”

He could not.

As I led Dad down to the ground floor by the sleeve of his pyjama, I wondered what the eye surgeon was going to say. Dad for one said that his sight didn’t seem any better, so I waited with baited breath as the expert studied the newly inserted lenses. “All looks good!” he beamed confidently, “Now let’s have a look at the vision.”

He re-angled the mirror in front of Dad so that it reflected the back-to-front letters displayed digitally in the back corner of the room. Dad began to read – no spectacles present – and got every single letter on the top row correct. He moved onto the next and then the next, and then jumped straight to the very bottom, very tiniest, line. Near perfect recital. He mistook an A for an H but I think we can skip over that. I stood behind him to see what he could see, and removed my minus-four-grade glasses. I couldn’t make out any letterforms. All I could see was a blurry white screen.

I think – technically speaking – that, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a bloody great success.

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The Year of The Wedding: Part One

It’s official. The invites are in. The RSVPs have been returned. The outfits have been planned. I have reached the age in which everyone I know (only partially exaggerated) is getting married. And this age in question is twenty-seven. I have come to the conclusion that the number twenty-seven is in some way symbolic in the matrimonial occasion, and that, having achieved this number of candles on the cake, my year was always destined to be ruled by hen parties, marriage ceremonies and hideous amounts of Prosecco.

My sister got married four days after her twenty-seventh birthday. There’s that rom-com starring Katherine Heigl as a perennial bridesmaid, 27 Dresses. The number twenty-seven is a perfect cube: 3(3 x 3 x 3) – isn’t that harmonious? And the very first result search when Googling ‘number twenty seven’ is Number 27 Floral Design: A natural, unstructured approach to styling flowers for weddings. Spooky.

We may be two-thirds of our way through 2019 (yikes), but I count my progression differently: I am two-thirds of my way through 2019’s hen dos (of which I am attending three), but only one-third of my way through 2019’s weddings (of which there, for me, are six). (And guess what happens if you deduct one from the number of hen dos and add it instead to the number of weddings…?) So all in all I am thoroughly immersed in my wedding-heavy twenty-seventh year. And so far it’s been rather entertaining.

As you can imagine the hen dos often bring out the biggest laughs, and the hilarity has been heightened thus far due to the addition of mothers, aunties and honorary both on the guest lists. This adds a whole ’nother dimension to the traditional bride-to-be send offs, especially combined with the exploitation of penis straws, Prosecco Pong, and a penniless student moonlighting as a rather excitable nude life model. The inebriated shrieks by the over fifties of “drink the willy” will forever be etched on my memory, as will the image of a blindfolded soon-to-be aunt-in-law cupping her way to a concealed ball of Sellotape (which, much to her dismay, was hidden behind the ear – not a more southerly part – of the very naked life model).

Of the four events I have attended this year so far I have only experienced two embarrassing situations, which is somewhat of a relief and in many ways a bloody miracle. If one hadn’t already grasped, embarrassing myself in public has become something of a recurring problem, so I am mightily thankful that half of the occasions to date have gone by without so much of a hitch (in both senses of the word, come to think of it).

First up was the travel sickness. If you have not yet read, or have somehow forgotten, about my less-than-savoury experience on a coach ride from Nice to Lyon back in summer 2017, I suggest you refresh your memory with a quick glance over previous post Did She Get On The Plane? (and pay particular attention to paragraph two). This provides both a foundation of understanding for my sensitivity to travel, as well as a much worse example that may invoke – of the coming story – a better view of me. 

The main problem at this hen do (the first of three) was that we had to take a coach from our lovely rental house in Eggleton (between Hereford and the Malvern Hills) to go on a boozy night out in Cheltenham. This coach ride took one hour each way, which is approximately fifty-five minutes more than I’d like to be spending on a coach, on winding roads, on even a tee-total weekend. An added annoyance was the fact that I, for some unsubstantiated reason, thought that this journey was going to take half an hour; a still unenjoyable but certainly less nauseating travel time. When, on our way to the city, the half-hour mark passed, I was left with an uncertain road ahead, and at the same time was being passed more than enough unidentified alcoholic concoctions in dinky plastic cups. I chose to hold onto mine, at a distance of about twenty centimetres from my nose, to reduce any potent wafts coming my way, and as an attempt at damage limitation for my outfit were the coach to mount another speed bump at breakneck pace. We eventually made it to Cheltenham city centre and I disembarked the vehicle with an even paler than normal complexion. As all good hens would, I gave my untouched drink to the pregnant bridesmaid and hoped she would get rid of it for me. (I think the great aunt finished it off pretty swiftly.) Part One of the coach ride had been completed, sans any sicky situations. We now had seven hours of drinking to endure, before being collected by our driver who was to deposit us back at home, safe and sound.

Following a cocktail masterclass, three-course dinner and numerous dance-floor position changes, we filed back onto the coach – now a different, slightly less robust, model – and began our north-westerly descent. With foresight I chose to sit at the front, and was grateful to be joined by fellow hen Claire. She soon fell fast asleep and I fixated my focus on the digital clock directly ahead. On departure it read 01:25. I knew I just had to survive until 02:25. Spoiler alert: I did not make it.

I decided to count down in chunks of five minutes. One-minute chunks seemed far too overwhelming and slow; twelve lots of five seemed much more manageable an exercise. 01:30 eventually arrived, mocking my desperation in its green fluorescent light. 01:35 took even longer to appear, but its presence marked the accomplishment of one-sixth of the torturous trek. 01:40, 01:45 and 01:50, too, came and went, as did 01:55, but that was somewhat of a blur. 01:57 was an important moment as that was the point in which I knew it was going to happen. You see, I’ve become very sensitive to the individual pre-vomit signals, now, so I know which sensations are false alarms and which ones mean business. And at 01:57, ladies and gentlemen, the fizzing in my salivary glands meant business. 

Turning to my right to face Claire I realised that she was still very much asleep. I nudged her with my elbow and made strange noises from my tightly shut mouth. My memory is of something resounding, “muregh eerugh.” She slowly awakened and smiled sweetly towards me. “Hey, how’s it going?” she asked, wiping the sleep away from her mascara-encrusted eye. I didn’t want to risk opening my mouth so widened my eyes and stared demonically at her, which I felt unequivocally expressed, “I’m going to be sick. Like, right now this second. Please help me.” Perhaps my days of amateur dramatics were behind me; she didn’t have the foggiest what on earth was going on. With no other option I risked opening my mouth, for the shortest period possible. “Sick bag! Sick bag!” She quickly understood. Leaning to the driver she asked if he had a sick bag. “No,” came the accommodating reply. I widened my eyes once more, this time not as any sort of communication but in pure, unfiltered terror. If I did not get off this bus now it was going to get very messy indeed. I managed “I need to get off,” and Claire dutifully instructed the driver. Performing a near-emergency stop (I’m glad he understood the gravity of the situation), I was practically flung to a standing position ahead of the door, and squeezed through the gap as soon as it was open enough to allow me to. In all the panic I didn’t think to move away from the open door of the coach, and proceeded to throw up, three times, five feet away from the disconcerted driver, and unflatteringly illuminated by the coach’s interior strip lighting.

As the ailment began to subside the lovely pregnant bridesmaid came to see if I was ok. “Can I get you anything?” she asked tentatively. “Water?” She went back on board to investigate, and reappeared with her hands full. Alas water had not been brought onto the Hen Do Express, but a pocket tissue did help to clean me up and bide me a little time before facing the other hens. I politely declined the pre-mixed vodka and lemonade. Getting back onto the coach was really rather embarrassing. I made it very clear, for the remainder of the journey and the party itself, that it was travel sickness – not drink related – and that I was really a very mature and sensible young lady. They all nodded in agreement the following morning as I handed out penis straws for our morning cup of tea. Gratefully last night’s shenanigans were never spoken of again.

And as for the second misfortune… I think I’ll save that one for next time.

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Spice Up Your Life

*WARNING* This post contains the word ‘bitch’. Multiple times. If you are of a delicate constitution I advise you skip this one and read an older entry. (But under all accounts avoid my depiction of visiting Amsterdam’s Red Light District in Finding Netherland.)


It has been fifty days since I fulfilled the childhood dream of all high-kicking Millennial girls (and many boys): attending the legendary Spice World tour, the nineteen-years-later reunion of four-fifths of, like, the best pop group ever on earth. It was a blast. Having booked the tickets as a thirtieth birthday present for my sister, this outing was well and truly a celebration of girl power; sisterhood; and swinging it, shaking it, moving it and making it.

First on the agenda was gaining access to the stadium – Coventry’s answer to the O2 – the Ricoh Arena. If you haven’t been to Coventry before: don’t go. And if you’ve never heard of it: I envy you. No one wants to be sent to Coventry. Apparently it was a rather lovely city pre-World War Two. But, you know, the Nazis put a stop to that. Once within the stadium’s bounds, however, one could detach oneself from one’s geographical placement, though the steadily-growing abyss of unfortunate Coventry accents made this exercise somewhat challenging. But we survived.

Finding the correct door, as indicated on our tickets, was a trek and a half. Imagine the circumference of the venue as an elongated clock. Our door was at twelve o’clock. We started at one o’clock. We set off in a clockwise direction… When we eventually round up in the right place we were scanned through and security checked in a jiffy. Fabulous! You might say. No long queues or unnecessary waiting. Hoorah! This was my reaction, but my safety-conscious sister had other ideas. The breezy bag check left her feeling uneasy and unsafe. She was certain that we were going to get bombed, and proceeded to point out every pen cap and sweet wrapper on the floor as potential terrorist paraphernalia. Thankfully we made it to the end alive, with the only explosive episodes arising when we were rudely pushed in front of by a group of three venomous bitches. But more on that later.

A grave mistake I had made when booking the tickets was leaving it until late on the day of release to actually get round to buying them. As 5 pm struck I logged on to the ticketing site, which had now been open for over seven hours. The standard tickets had all sold out; the VIP tickets were all that were still available. Working against the clock on my iPhone SE (I know, frightfully behind the times), I scoured through the abundance of VIP packages offering slightly different privileges for mouth-watering amounts of money. It was seriously ridiculous. Who would pay that much for this? Well… me, it turns out. I found the cheapest possible option (Zig-a-Zig-ah VIP) and punched in my credit card details. They were booked. I had done it. This was going to be the best thirtieth birthday present ever!

On obtaining the VIP aspect of the Zig-a-Zig-ah tickets I felt more like a Victim In Pain than a Very Important Person. With our exorbitantly-priced tickets we were entitled to a goody bag, consisting of a ‘Spice World’ emblazoned water bottle; a ‘Spice Word’ emblazoned pin badge; a set of ‘commemorative’ postcards; and a ‘Spice World’ lanyard. It specifically stated on our tickets that we were NOT permitted to enter the VIP area (which we duly checked and were downright turned away from), which meant that the VIP nature of the ticket was this goody bag alone. And an ugly bloody canvas bag it came in. Without divulging exactly how costly this Very Idiotic Purchase was, let’s just say it sat in the low three figures. Per ticket. On top of general admission.

With a beer in hand (I needed something to numb the pain) we ventured into the arena to set up camp for the night. It was remarkably empty. Clearly most people adhere to the frightfully depressing reality of full-time work and are unable to step foot in the Ricoh at five o’clock on a Monday afternoon. For me this was no such problem. The hardcore fans had begun to populate the area immediate behind the security barrier, but other than that we had pretty much free choice. After an exploratory wander we opted for a spot slightly right of centre, about three metres back from the protruding walkway on which we would soon see Sporty, Scary, Posh and Ginger. OMGP (Oh My Girl Power.)

Supporting the Spice Girls on their long-awaited tour was singer / songwriter Jess Glynne, who, despite the meagre crowd and haemorrhaged vocal chord, was really rather good. And who knew that I knew all the words to every Jess Glynne song ever released? I impressed myself! My sister was more bemused than impressed – it must be the first time that I’ve sung more, and more loudly, than her in our lives, and – if she wants her eardrums to remain intact – I’m sure she won’t let that happen again any time soon.

But as the Jess Glynne set came to an end our evening took a turn for the worst. By this point we had amassed a posse of SGFs (Spice Girl Fanatics), and some lifelong friendships were beginning to blossom. There was the calm looking blonde girl, who would become our closest ally. The friendly male couple, whose whooping and cheering would bring a smile to even the poshest of spices. And the gregarious, gargantuan Spice Girl devotee, whose bosom alerted you (in the back) to her presence in the row behind, and with whom we placed bets on which song the girls would open up with. (Louise and I were correct: Spice Up Your Life; she, regrettably, was wrong: Wannabe.)

We had our crew, the countdown was on, and then the most obnoxious threesome (two women, perhaps sisters or friends, and one very uninterested husband) stood immediately in front of us, completely blocking our five-foot-two views. Calm Blonde was the first to make a stand. “Are you actually planning on standing there?” she asked one of the less-than-empathetic women. “No,” came the sullen reply. This, it transpired, was a lie. A flurry of vexed glances were exchanged between myself and my sister, and between us and Calm Blonde. I don’t know what was said next but the reply from CB to BF1 (Bitch Face 1) was, “Don’t speak to me so patronisingly.” Eek. Things were really tensing up. Louise then got an understandable bee in her bonnet. The man of said trio was standing right in front of her. Did I mention that he was six foot three? She cleared her throat and gave me a quick, sideways, cautionary glance. “Excuse me,” annunciated with impeccable diction, “are you actually going to stand in front of me? I’ve waited for two hours [both excellently stressed] to secure this position and now you’ve come and are completely blocking my view.” Well said, sis, I thought, cowering from all the confrontation. He took a small step to the side and replied in THE MOST PATRONISING VOICE, “No, don’t worry, I’ll stand to your left.” In unison we gave him one of our signature looks: the head tilt / fake smile / eye scrunch combination. It seemed to work a treat, as he stayed there, stationary, for the entirety of the gig. (I don’t he think he even swayed to Viva Forever. Must be really cold inside.) Bitch Faces 1 and 2, however, needed more time and effort to overcome.

As the Spice Girls emerged onto the stage – obviously we couldn’t see them but could sense their arrival due to the uproar of the crowd – BFs got their phones out and didn’t seem to put them down. For two and a half hours. Not satisfied with stealing our carefully selected spot, they were intent on filming / photographing the entire concert, or taking selfies of themselves with the stage in the background. This proved to be extremely awkward, as they would turn their backs to the stage and directly face us, and I didn’t know quite how to react. I tended to just look them in the eye for an uncomfortable amount of time without blinking, in the hope that they would leave. Alas they did not. And once they’d taken the ruddy photos they would – right there and then – upload them to Instagram, taking a good few minutes staring down at their screens to think of a caption, while Mel C was strutting her stuff just a stone’s throw away. It was excruciating to observe. One: photos at gigs are always rubbish. Two: no one cares. Three: watch the bloody concert!

After half an hour of trying to peer over their shoulders or watch through their phone screens, Louise made a dash for it and managed to re-position herself. She was now in front of the lanky man, to the left of the BFs, and to the right of Calm Blonde. We were all mightily pleased. Still recovering from the initial confrontation, though, I was slower to reassert my position. I didn’t want any more animosity, but I did want to stop having to stand on tiptoes. My neck was also in spasm, but I’m unsure if this was due to the bitches in front or my rather bitching dance moves. Never Give Up on the Good Times gave me just the crowd movement I needed to squeeze between then and emerge in front, victorious, at last. 

And do you know my immediate reaction? Well, my reaction that immediately followed my elation and sense of righteousness? Guilt. I felt just a little bit guilty for pushing in front of them. I wonder, what is the correct etiquette in terms of the pushers and the pushees? How long must the first be in their looted positions before it becomes theirs? Would they now have a go at me for pushing in front of them? I think they wanted to. I think they were overcome with rage. But they knew – just as well as I did, and my sister did, and Calm Blonde did – that we weren’t going to take any more of their sh…enanigans. This was it. We were back. And, boy, were we going to milk it.

As a collective force we were unstoppable. Our dancing and singing became wilder, louder, even more energetic. An unexpected cover of Sister Sledge’s We Are Family blew the roof off. Louise and I were now on full throttle. The group was back together and we were jumping and bosom-bouncing like there was no tomorrow. I accidentally stood on the feet of BF1 a number of times, and flailed my arms in the air like I didn’t care. I do hope it didn’t ruin their Instagram stories…

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