LAST CHRISTMAS

I’m staring at the shiny decorations and colours sparkling on the tree. I love coloured lights – always have. Outside people are dashing around in the frost looking excited and full of that pre-festive buzz. It’s even snowed a little to make the Christmas card effect that little bit closer to perfect.

This year though, things are very different. I’m not observing the scene from my house or even a store. I’m standing in the sun room of the local cottage hospital and in a small room down the corridor, my Mum is terminally ill.

That tiny room became her whole world for the last weeks of her life. Every morning from the window we would see birds fly past in a V formation, off to warmer climes for the rest of the winter. I wished that same sense of freedom and space for her. Instead, the cancer she had kept at bay with such optimism and good grace for the previous six years was finally catching up with her and now she was bed bound until…well, just until.

There’s never a good time to say goodbye but at Christmas it seemed particularly unfair. I felt there was so much more I should be doing. Certainly more I should be saying but we both knew the situation and I didn’t want to dampen my Mum’s extraordinary optimism by talking about it out loud. I couldn’t fully accept what was happening anyway and there was still a little part of me that hoped for a miracle and that things would become more ‘December Will Be Magic Again’ than ‘Eleanor Rigby’.

There are a million memories and images from that Christmas that broke my heart – my Mum smiling and singing along to the carol concert going on in the ward next door that she was too ill to go through and see; coming back from a little break to see her standing waiting for me by the day room – she hadn’t stood let alone walked for weeks but was determined to greet me one more time despite it taking its toll on her for the remaining days; having our Christmas lunch in that bleak little room, me wolfing it down because I hadn’t eaten properly in ages, my Mum barely touching hers because she was so tired and just didn’t feel like eating.

I think she held on just to have one last Christmas. After that, she went into herself more and more and by the 29th she was gone. I stayed right through that last night with her, holding her hand until the morning – sometimes all you can do is hold someones hand. She was there but not there. The heavy medication and pain relief preventing any form of communication. I hope she knew I was there though I will probably never know if she did.

It’s now seven years on and as I write I find myself overcome at times but there are several reasons why I’ve put this together.

Every year I get someone thinking I’m being ‘Grinch-like’ for not throwing myself into the festive season. All I would say to them is, you don’t know people’s back stories or experiences and so think before you judge. More importantly, spare a thought for people who are no doubt going through the same sad experiences this Christmas thinking their world has come to an end. They need consideration not criticism.

Every year I have to deal with the perfect family Christmas on TV, in shops and in everyday conversations. All of them unintentionally saying ‘here’s what you used to have’. It’s unavoidable and everywhere and so it should be. I would NEVER put a dampener on anyone’s jolly holiday. I have had many of them myself. Fragments of a million happy memories come and go but it’s impossible not to be affected – especially at this time of year – by the losses of Decembers past (including my Dad and a close Aunt) and how it affects my life now.

In recent years a few Christmas Day’s have been solo affairs. It’s not how I’d like it to be but everyone is off doing their own family festivities and I don’t like to impinge on peoples plans. I hope I do regain more of the magic of Christmas again though.

We all deserve someone to help us make sense of the world and when you have that you must always appreciate and make the most of it. I am luckier than many and blessed with some great friends.

In the meantime, I like to think that my Mum is flying off with those birds whenever she wants to.

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SHIMMER LIKE MIRRORS

Picture It.

Friday 13th April, 1979. A young, innocent, teenage boy (that would be me) travels to the big city of Edinburgh for his first proper pop concert. Accompanied by three schoolpals and a rabbit gonk (that Angela Murray stopped me from throwing towards the stage incase I took someone’s eye out!), I saw the Queen of my musical world Kate Bush live on stage. Only 20 years old, she sang, danced, spun and acted her way through ‘The Tour Of Life’, a theatrical rock extravaganza unlike anything seen before.

The marvellous memories of that show have forever remained. In the years since, friends, family, waistline and daydreams have come and gone but my love for that woman’s work has never wavered. Neither has my utter conviction that she would never tour again.

Until, last year, she came back! 35 years is a long time to wait for a second date Kate! Still, she’s never followed the norm and fans love her all the more for it.

The news of ‘Before The Dawn‘ genuinely thrilled me, then filled me with fear that I wouldn’t get one of the precious tickets. This was beyond Willy Wonka territory. Not getting in just wasn’t an option.

The internet melted the moment they went on sale. 22 shows sold out in 7 minutes, but someone was smiling down on me and I somehow managed to get a couple of tickets. I still couldn’t allow myself to quite believe it though.

I finally realised this was really happening to me one year ago this very day when my fellow Bush-a-holic (and thankfully patient) chum Mike and I were ushered into London’s Eventim Apollo by a smiley pair of security guards. God it felt wonderful. Good seats too (Led Zep’s Jimmy Page a couple of rows infront and was that Chrissie Hynde over on the left?)

The sense of anticipation from the audience was off the scale – you could actually feel it. Any moment now, Kate would be right there again infront of ME. The intervening years would melt away and I would be a teenager again.

Bang on time, there she was. The noisy reception was beyond joyful as she casually and merrily led her band of minstrels onto the stage conga style, looking genuinely moved and amazed by the euphoric welcome (can you imagine Madonna being so endearingly humble?)

We were treated to half a dozen hits that we never thought we’d ever hear live – ‘Hounds of Love’, ‘Running Up That Hill’, ‘King Of The Mountain’ and more. THAT voice was as unique as ever. Richer and deeper over the years but also as powerful and tuneful as it’s ever been. Yep, she’d still got it!

To be honest, she could have stood there and burped the national anthem and we’d have been ecstatic but this is Kate Bush and you knew something dramatic was imminent.

BANG!

A cannon of gold tissue was fired into the audience and via film, swift scenery, entrances & exits from above and below the stage (and through the side stalls!), we were treated to the whole of ‘The Ninth Wave‘ suite from side two of ‘Hounds Of Love‘. The songs tell the story of a woman lost at sea and featured film of Kate floating in the actual water singing her drowning heart out. Brilliant, beautiful and bonkers!

At the interval, we joined queues in the lovely art deco bar to purchase programmes, posters and T-shirts (I still haven’t worn my T incase I get Pot Noodle on it). Then it was back in for Act Two and the whole of ‘A Sky Of Honey‘ – the 2nd half of the album ‘Ariel’ taking us through a summer day from dawn ’til dusk.

Painters painted, wood models danced, feathers flew and even trees appeared from the sky. The songs were perfectly recreated musically and visually and at the end, Kate turned ever so bird-like and flew – she fecking flew man!

Blackout, audience eruptions, sheer unadulterated joy…

But there was more. After all the effects and drama, Kate returned to the prop ridden stage, sat at the piano and just sang. The song ‘Among Angels‘ is a personal favourite. It got me through my first Christmas Day alone in the city, thinking about lost loved ones so to hear her perform it live meant a lot.

A crowd bursting ‘Cloudbusting‘ singalong encore and Kate’s joyful face at our rapturous appreciation brought the evening to a close. We very reluctantly left, hanging around outside a bit longer just to try and take in what we had just experienced.

All of her albums returned to the chart, her first night triumph was pictured on all the front pages (with 5 star reviews), people and stars travelled from all over the world to see the shows…the acclaim just kept on coming and I may be biased but every single bit of it was truly deserved.

So, going by the time scale of this event, I’ll be 87 when she next tours. Mind you, she’ll be 91…

See you again in 2049 Kate xx

‘I can see angels, around you

they shimmer, like mirrors

they’re someone, who’s loved you

forever…but you don’t know it’

SAY WHAT?

Someone once said ‘Into every life a little rain must fall’. I can see how this works as a ‘we’re all in the same boat so buck up‘ kind of statement.

However, Dolly Parton took the monsoon metaphor too far, beating it to death when she spouted ‘If you want the rainbow you have to put up with the rain’. That’s on a par with ‘If you want the diarrhea you have to put up with the dodgy kebab.’

Now I like a good rainbow as much as the next person but it’s hard to adhere to the rantings of a woman who couldn’t even kick that trollope Jolene into touch.

There’s just certain ways of expressing stuff. I work with a lot of younger people at the moment. In fact I could have fathered most of them (though if I had done, I’d never have had the time to wash my smalls). Anyway, I do sometimes wonder how I’m being perceived by my colleagues. ‘Cool, ageless, older brother figure’ I’ll accept. ‘Flatulent, feckless old uncle figure’ I will not. I’m so hip I’m practically unhip and totally down with the kids – though when they say something’s ‘sick’ I still want to locate the first aid kit…

Mind you, how people view us is a bigger deal than we may realise. A while back I wandered into the Disney store (when I indicated before that I was down with the kids, I really meant ‘kids’). I am not ashamed to admit I was eyeing up a Miss Piggy mug despite being initially drawn towards the Animal backpack.

I took my mug to the counter and the jolly girl serving said ‘Aww, how old is your little girl? She’s going to love this.’ I should just have said that the mug was for me but what I heard myself saying was ‘Oh, well, er Molly’s going to be 7 next week’…and it didn’t stop there. I begain to enjoy having an imaginary daughter (they’re so little fuss) and by the end of the conversation Molly had just had braces fitted, come top in spelling and won a 2nd place rosette at her first gymkhana. Yep, I have an imaginary pony as well.

It’s easy to get yourself verbally tied up in knots though. One time I was just leaving the Doctor’s surgery when a woman came up to me with her son and asked where the toilets were as the kid was in need. I told her that the gents were right behind her. She looked at me blankly and asked again where the toilets were. I pointed to the door directly behind her with the little man sign on and repeated that they were over there. Her voice suddenly went stern, declaring ‘my child is a little girl.’ Realising that there was no way back from this unintentional faux pas I went for the honest response ‘Wow, she’s really boyish isn’t she?’ then legged it to the lift ASAP.

Is honestly always the best policy though? When a friend asks how they look in a new outfit do you always say flattering things even if the garment gives them an arse the size of the Titanic? Personally, I want to know if I’m adopting the mutton dressed as lamb look or if my deoderant isn’t fullfilling its promise.

There are ways of saying it…and ways of not. Like those skin crawlingly uncomfortable TV ‘talent’ auditions where the obligatory nasty panellist writes their unpleasant comments off as merely ‘telling it like it is‘. Says who? You can offer a bit of tough love without being downright rude. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to make for massive TV ratings.

My favourite misconception with language comes via a classic Scots joke. A woman is being propositioned by a randy waiter in a restaurant…

Waiter: ‘Would you like some super sex?

Woman: ‘I’ll have the soup please.’

This Is The Place…Isn’t It ?

Belonging.

It’s a complicated old concept I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Without realising it, most people have a place where they feel they belong, or a person(s) that they belong with. A constant they will automatically return to.

It’s not based on ownership or entitlement, its just an inbuilt homing pigeon instinct that propels us directly to where we feel we’re meant to be. You don’t question it, it’s just how it is. It has a sense of permanence – as much as anything is permanent – and it makes you feel secure and comforted.

Relationships are complicated beggars but solid ones (be they family, friend or partner) may well dictate where you feel you belong. Train stations are great places to observe people returning to their ‘safe place’ as they reunite with loved ones. It’s comforting to observe faces light up as their sense of belonging confirms on first sight of their special someone.

A friend said to me recently that you can’t belong to a place. That it’s down to a person to inspire where you feel you’re supposed to be. However, if there’s no one to produce such a feeling then cant a location manage it?

Everything is transient. The temporary nature of life all too easily trips us up but certain things carry on long after they appear gone. Memories for instance are powerful things though in good and bad ways. Those rose coloured specs can throw a mean curve ball at times but sometimes they are all we have to go on.

You’d think I’d be going somewhere with all this musing wouldn’t you? Truth is, I haven’t got a clue how it all works (or doesn’t work) though I have a feeling that sometimes the snow globe of life just needs a good old shake.

NOTHING MORE THAN FEELINGS

Sometimes we all need an emotional MOT. An inner spruce up can work wonders and there’s plenty of unconventional options to investigate.

Maybe you’ve always fancied finding your inner child (mine is probably in a huff). Perhaps you have a long held ambition to reach out to the universe by naked sky diving – flange or knackers to the wind.

I’ve explored a few alternative notions and although the following, painstakingly researched guide (which took a good five minutes) is not definitive, it is, at the very least, deeply flawed…

I Didn’t Know You Could Shove Something THERE…

Colonic irrigation!

The very mention could bring tears to a ventriloquist doll’s eyes. It’s supposed to inwardly cleanse, outwardly improve appearance and boost energy levels so I thought I’d give it a crack (no pun intended…OK, maybe a little bit intended).

My backside bubble bath came courtesy of a ballsy Aussie (of course) called Molly who immediately got down to the job in hand – she didnt even buy me dinner first. Within minutes of meeting I was on my side in the foetal position, arse open for business while she casually nattered on about Tim Tam biscuits and sorted out her hosepipe.

Next thing I know, my cat flap had been well and truly infiltrated as Molly began having a rummage around with what felt like a Pringles tub. She muttered something about it going up the wrong way…how many routes can there possibly be? It’s pretty much a cul-de-sac (again, no pun intend…oh who am I kidding?) So, after reversing then re-entering, presumably having consulted a map, we were off again and the tap was turned on.

I felt so violated I thought I was going to have to call the Police. Surely this couldn’t be legal? After a couple of minutes though, it sort of settled down and she even showed me ‘stuff’ that was being flushed out and through the clear pipe. It can even dislodge things that have been stuck in your tubing for years. I swear I saw the Basil Brush fan club badge that I swallowed when I was seven finally evacuate the building.

After half an hour of flushing, abdomen massage and being told everything there is to know about box jellyfish I was done. Inwardly cleansed and fairly unscathed. Did I feel massive bursts of energy afterwards and that glow other people raved about? For about ten minutes maybe but it was a tad disappointing to be honest.

I did feel that the hosepipe and I should have got married though (the fickle implement has never even kept in touch).

Oh Reiki You’re Not So Fine.

Reikie.

This is where a ‘master’ lays his hands just above and around your body, channelling the healing powers and strength of the universe in order to clear any blockages in the body that are stopping it from doing its duty.

I called up a practitioner who told me to call him Ricky. Game over. How could I take seriously getting reiki from Ricky? He told me he charged £45 for him and his wife to basically feel me up on a table for an hour with no guarantee it would help. A win-win for Ricky the reiki then but a severe loss to my bank balance.

Shrink wrapped!

Therapy.

Emotional release can be attained through counselling. A check up from the neck up if you will. If this was America, I could pop along to a therapist in the same way we go to an optitian. Good analogy – both can help you to see better – but the UK just hasn’t caught up with the USA in its ‘can do’ attitude to mental health.

Over there it’s very analytical with your every thought challenged. Over here the woman I tried was more like talking to an old biddy at the bus stop. She spent most of the 45 minutes telling me HER life woes as if this qualified her for the job as much as the dubious framed certificate on her wall.

She threw out phrases like ‘I’m holding your troubles in my heart’ and ‘I feel your pain’ (yeah and £38 plus bus fare of my money in her back pocket thank you very much). I did glean two important lessons from the session however:

1) Anyone can set themselves up as a counsellor (so beware).

2) There’s one born every minute.

For feck’s sake, SMILE

Think it, BE it!

Studies suggest that loneliness undermines health which in turn causes high blood pressure and heart disease. Urine samples taken from the lonely (well it passes the time, they’ve nothing else to do of an evening) were found to contain high levels of epinephrine – a “fight or flight” hormone.

Since the body’s stress hormones help fight inflammation and infection, doctors believe loneliness contributes to the wear and tear of aging. Being the eternal singleton truly is the unwanted gift that keeps on giving…

So what have scientists offered as an antidote? Smile therapy. Keep a rictus grin glued to your face until you’ve convinced even yourself that you’re actually in a good mood.

There’s a fine line between a grin and a leer though and when I tried smiling inanely at anyone and everyone I freaked several people out and attracted the unwanted attentions of a nutjob called Gladys.

BOOZE

Merlot or shiraz.

Works everytime.

DREW-RASSIC PARK

My names Drew and I am a dinosaur!

Apparently acceptance is the first step towards enlightenment but good God – when did it happen to me? I am still so young and vibrant (to all my friends – SHUT UP! I AM). I pride myself in my effortless immaturity. I am hip, cool and groovy – kids still use those terms right?

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans it seems. Not sure what I was busy planning but I certainly seem to have been looking the other way. I was probably busy eating a Twix or something, I don’t know, but here we are, well into the digital party and I forgot to R.S.V.P.

I now seem to be constantly and unavoidably hit with barrages of technical babble just to enable me to get from A to B. A piece of poop for the majority it seems but, for me, you might as well ask me to scuba dive in a saucer because, frankly, I don’t want to play.

I think the online world has caused us to lose way more in life than we’ve gained. It’s become an iron lung we cannot seem to function properly without.

Whatever happened to :-

  • Talking to people face to face ?

  • Being able to spell ?

  • Forming proper sentences ?

  • Shake & Vac (OK, not a relevent example, but what DID happen to it?)

Call me an old fart if you like – and, after a quorn stew, you’d be uncannily accurate in that accusation – but we’re fast becoming a world of illiterate strangers.

Go on public transport, into any bar/cafe/restaurant or in pretty much anywhere there are living breathing people and all you see are heads looking down at some sort of appliance, ignoring their partners, friends and the outside world in general. Wasn’t the advance of communications supposed to bring people closer together rather than making us more and more distanced from one another?

Walking to work, its impossible not to notice that the bulk of my fellow pedestrians have earphones in and eyes fixated on a screen, thus cutting off two major senses. They don’t even look up at crossings to check if a truck is approaching.

It’s a pretty embarrassing demise if you get flattened by a tram just because you were too distracted watching a clip of juggling kittens or something equally trivial. No minister or vicar could deliver that eulogy with any dignity.

I have a friend who doesnt even use a credit card and steadfastly refuses to be forced into getting one, preferring instead to pay by cash or cheque! This may be extreme but there are many things in life that are thrust upon us with no choice, so if you can dig your heels in about other things I can see the twisted appeal. I’m not advocating we go back to barter and exchange – I don’t have any camels to trade at the moment – but often the simpler things in life remain the best.

A sunset, angel delight (Flake optional), a genuine belly laugh with that old friend who shares your sense of humour, turning on the radio and hearing a song you love – the list is endless and none of it involves charging anything up !

Maybe those of us without the natural inclination or desire to form relationships with computers should start a support group?

I concede that part of my aversion is a complete lack of interest and that now, more than ever, the working world largely rejects you if you’d rather cut your googlies off than create an excel spreadsheet but it’s square pegs, round holes people! We can’t all be good at everything. Some of us are just on a more spiritual plain (again, to my friends – SHUT UP!)

Mind you, if that shepherd job I’ve applied for turns out to involve electronic sheep that only operate on j-pegs I’ll be hugely disillusioned…

Perhaps I’d just prefer a hassle free life? A less meddle-some existence? Just yesterday, my email provider, for no valid reason, forced upon me changes in the format and design of my messages. It hasn’t made things better, its made them worse…way worse (with no option to change settings to suit). Why BT why? I was happy with the way things were in my limited little PC world (good name for a shop that – what do you mean there already is one?)

My name is Drew and I’m a dinosaur…and proud of it !!!!

TEA TOWELS AND TEARS

Spring cleaning time again.

With every move my space seems to have become smaller and my belongings reduced. A succession of clear outs has pared my things down to almost the bare essentials…give or take a treasured knick knack or two.

There’s always a few things that manage to survive though. You convince yourself they’ll be needed one day so you hang onto them for a bit longer.

Sometimes an item you haven’t seen for a while can trigger all sorts of memories.

Having made an unsuccessful attempt to get the hoover right into the corner of the bedroom to tackle a dust bunny or three, I remembered storing away something my Mum had bought because she thought it would make it easier for me to clean the stair carpet.

I think she had visions of me getting all tangled up in the vacuum cable halfway down and having the kind of accident you normally see at the beginning of ‘Casualty‘ where someone gets admitted with an attachment lodged up some unfortunate orifice…

Anyway, it had to be in the spare cupboard that everyone has. That place you shove everything you don’t have another place for.

I opened the door tentatively, worried that an avalanche of stuff would come tumbling out.

I carefully dug under the pile of suitcases, spare duvets and coats, trying to avoid a Jenga-type collapse and there it was…

The mini Dyson.

As I picked it up my eyes suddenly welled up with tears.

‘What are you crying for son?’ I could just hear her ask over my shoulder.

‘It just reminds me of when you bought it. You were so chuffed with it.’

Of course the reality was that the novelty wore off as soon as we discovered the thing ate electricity and constantly needed charging after giving about 5 minutes of suction but, right at that point of rediscovery, it just brought back a happy moment.

It’s often the daftest things that trigger the memories. Every now and then I’ll notice an insignificant item that my Mum bought that I still use – a tea towel, torch or some stationery – and it just strikes me as insane that these everyday items are still here but she isn’t.

She could never have thought, wandering through Semi-Chem or Tescos, that buying these basic bits and pieces would trigger such emotions down the line.

Today (April 14th) would’ve have been my Mum’s 78th birthday.

Of all the many things that I miss in the 6 years since she’s been gone, one of the most difficult to deal with is the loss of that constant anchor figure in my life. Even now, if I’m feeling down or anxious, no longer having that endless, unconditional support is tough to deal with. It sometimes feels like I might drift so far out to sea I’ll never find my way back.

The gradual clearing out of my Mum’s clothes was spring cleaning at its most brutal – every charity shop bag a betrayal.

I was very lucky with my Mum and my Dad and the foundation that they built for me was loving, vast and reliable. Just before the first Mothers’ Day that came along a few months after my Mum died, I wrote down some thoughts and sent them to the editor of a national newspaper in Scotland that I’d worked with in the past.

I remarked how I hated that I was now a member of the ‘dead parents club’. I felt lost that I was nobody’s son anymore. I was 46 and orphaned.

The editor got back in touch and pointed out something so simple it has stayed with me ever since.

‘You’ll always be your parents’ son. NOTHING changes that’.

Happy birthday Mum xxxx