Monday 26 March 2012

Alzheimers and Ernest Shackleton

I wrote this in summer 2011, on Facebook

I've just spent nearly a week staying with my parents; my father is 81, and my mother is 85 and was diagnosed with Alzheimers about 18 months ago.

Mum spends much of her day wanting to go 'home', which alternates between the home of her childhood, and some fictitious place in her head.  She challenges my dad approximately every five minutes about his true identity.  She needs (very) frequent confirmation of her name, her age, her address......  at least thirty times during my stay she asked me if I knew her son, and was surprised/disbelieving when I said that yes, I did, because he is my brother.  To continue to describe the effects of this illness would be as tedious to write and read as they are to witness them - my dad lives with this 24 hours a day.  I suggested that he make cards with the appropriate pieces of information written on them, so he can just hold them up, rather than having to repeat himself over and over and over again.  Joke....

Our family, taken in 1994.  My pre-Alzheimers Mummy would kill me if she knew I'd posted a picture of her wearing such peculiar trousers - we were at an air show - but it was the most recent one I could find of all 5 of us!

My mum is an extremely intelligent, witty person, well read, well educated, with a lively Aquarian off-the-wall outlook.  I've always really enjoyed her company.  She loved dead hard cryptic crosswords, and learnt to speak Italian when she was in her 70s.  She used to be an A Level French teacher.   Now, her brain is mashed.  Dad, at 81, is having to deal with all this, instead of being able to meander comfortably through his twilight years!  Apart from anything else, he has lost his life-long companion.

Mum and Dad in 1955, in Portsmouth

Because my parents are, like, WELL old, they go to bed early.  For six nights I had to be in bed at ten o'clock, at which time the house is all shut up - in other words, I couldn't sit up and watch telly.  Neither could I have a fag.  However, there are many v interesting books in the house; a cracking tome about Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated mission to cross Antarctica became my nightly friend.  I do love a bit of polar exploration, particularly when it goes wrong, which it usually does.  The tale of Shackleton and the Endurance has fascinated me for years, not only because of the amazing way in which the whole party survived against all odds, but also because they were such twats to embark upon it in the first place, when they were actually warned that the conditions were about the opposite from what they should have been for even a chance of success.  Talk about the triumph of ego over sense, eh?

I kept a wee hip flask of whisky in my bag (from which I daresay Shackleton and his merry men would have been grateful for a few nips), which perfectly complimented the stories of ten days at sea with no fresh water, a diet of seal steaks and dead husky, and NOT TAKING OFF THEIR UNDERWEAR FOR A YEAR.  How bad did those dudes smell when they got to South Georgia, huh??

Am home now, wonderful home, but just thinking of people everywhere who care for loved ones with Alzheimers - it SUCKS.  The person you love is there,  but not there, anymore.  My brother and sister and I have commented already that Mum as we knew our mum is gone - how much worse it is for Dad, who lives with it every day.

Since I wrote this my mother has, of course, deteriorated, and has been in a care home since June 2012.  She still knows who we are - just.  It's so hard for Dad, who misses her constantly - he sees memories in everything.

This month (May 2013) my sister visited Mum and took her laptop in, so that I could talk to her on Skype, as my personal circumstances mean that I can't visit as often as I'd like.  Mum hasn't seen me since December, but when she saw me she said, "Oh, there's Ree" - Ree was what I used to call myself when I was a little girl.  The problem with Skype is that you can't cry on it, because people will see you!

Mum with my sister Julia and me, 1959

Sending you {{hugs}}!! Luv ya! xoxoxox (and the culture of encouragement)

I wrote this piece on Facebook in 2010, before I started to use Twitter, and still feel much the same way....

Since texting became part of our lives, have you begun to feel that any message to a friend without at least one ‘x’ on the end looks naked – or abrupt, or even rude?  So much so that you almost put one on the end of a hurried note left on your boss’s desk?  I have, and I am annoyed with myself about it...

A friend texts you to confirm an arrangement.  So you text back ‘See you later x’.  Okay, in this instance the ‘x’ implies ‘and I am looking forward to doing so’.  But why does just ‘See you later’ look almost dismissive?  And why, increasingly, does every comment on a Facebook status update have to end in an ‘x’, even the ones that disagree with what you’re saying?  Is it supposed to convey ‘I think you’re talking bollocks and I am telling you so, but I still like you/want you to like me’ ?

Why do I feel guilty if I don’t end practically every Facebook private message with at least one ‘x’?  I don’t want to kiss you.  I don’t want to kiss any of you.  I don’t want to hug you either – and that’s another thing.  Why can’t anyone greet anyone these days without throwing their arms around each other?  There are very, very few people I want to hug.  Back in the olden days when I was a young 'un, my girlfriends and I managed to get through without any physical contact whatsoever.  But in the last 10-15 years there seems to have arisen this culture of over the top affection, for everyone.   Yes, I might want to give a quick hug to members of my family who I have not seen for a long time, or to a really good friend after a particularly joyful weekend, etc.  Maybe.  But I’m not Italian.  I like you, I love being in your company, I hope we’ll always be great friends, but I don’t want to hug and kiss you.  I’m English.  I don’t even hug my sister.  What would we want to do that for?  


A while back I was reading a literary publisher’s opinion about the many creative writing courses available these days, for those who fancy themselves the next J K Rowling, George R R Martin, Douglas Kennedy, Sophie Kinsella, or whoever.  He said that the main problem with these courses/workshops was that in today’s culture of encouragement, no matter to what standard a piece had been written, the writer would usually only receive positive comments – rendering this critique pointless, as it gives an inaccurate impression to the writer of the standard expected by literary agents/publishers.  This ‘culture of encouragement’ seems to have become widespread.  I tell you, since I’ve been putting photographs on Facebook, not only am I virtually hugged all the time, but I’ve never had so many compliments in my life.  This isn’t because I AM stunning, but because these days women seem to think they have to bolster each other’s confidence up all the time by telling each other they’re gorgeous.  You know, in Dove advertisement styleee.  Yes yes, we’re all so beautiful, even if we are middle aged and overweight with, frankly, rather commonplace features, aren’t we???  Of course, when you receive outrageous compliments, you feel you have to give them back.  If I don’t tell a friend that she looks ‘knock-out’ or ‘fantastic’, I feel almost bitchy.  I try not to fall into the trap; if I see a photo in which someone looks particularly nice, I tell them.  But I will probably say “Love this one of you" rather than “WOW!!  Stunning!!”  Few people are stunning.   Are we all so insecure that we need this constant boost of love and approval all the time?

Please note, I am not criticising individuals here, I am remarking on this trend that seems to have grown up of late, in which there are so many kisses, hugs (both real and virtual) and compliments that they have lost their impact.  So, friends of mine, please don’t feel the need to end every text telling me what time your train gets in, for instance, with a kiss.  You don’t need to tell me I’m gorgeous; I’m probably gorgeous to the man who loves me, and that’s about it; and even then not always.  I’m just an ordinary person who looks quite nice sometimes.  And, next time I meet you, can we just say hi and look pleased to see one another without doing that huggy thing?  There, aren’t you relieved you don’t have to do it now, either??!

What's the diagnosis, Doc?

You’re no-one if you haven’t got a ‘syndrome’!  And guess what?  You can get pills to cure it!

You know how, in the past 15 years or so, people are no longer just a bit crap at spelling, but 'dyslexic'?  Please note, I am not having a pop at people who are genuinely word blind, but those who, similarly, cannot accept that their child is just an undisciplined little monster who needs a firm hand, but in fact has ADFHDDTA, or some other 'syndrome' made up by psychiatrists in order to sell more highly addictive drugs to the NHS or, indeed, the individual (though that whole subject requires a rant of its own, and a much more serious and informed one than I am likely to put on here).

Right, you also know how some conditions/illnesses become 'fashionable'?  For example, a couple of years ago the world and his wife were 'bi-polar'.  Not just a bit depressed, and by nature highly strung. 

I think I've just spotted the next one.  You may have noticed how Alzheimers is a bit of a hot potato at the moment.  Lots of research going into it, which is terrific.  A lot more recognition for the sufferers and their carers, marvellous.

Lots of articles in the papers about it.  Well, the other day I was on a bus and couldn't help but listen to a conversation behind me, which involved one woman telling her friend about her mother, who was a bit forgetful, and who, she thought, had 'a touch of Alzheimers'.  She expanded on this and repeated her theory several times.

Please note, I am not being dismissive of the possibility of her mother actually HAVING this disease.  But one can't have a 'touch of Alzheimers' in the way one can have a 'touch of indigestion'.  Forgetting to put the rubbish out on a Friday morning, or not being able to find your glasses does not mean you have Alzheimers.

Maybe she was just pissed and had forgotten where she put them.

I apologise in advance if this offends anyone, and fully accept that I may need to be treated with strong medication for "Extreme Tolerance Deficiency".  I bet that exists, too!

(oh, and ps – your sneezes, cough and muzzy head don’t mean you have a ‘touch of flu’. You’ve got a cold.  If you had flu, which is short for influenza, you’d know about it)

"Curvy" versus skinny...

I wrote this on Facebook in about September 2011

I have noticed, of late, a new trend, both on Facebook and in those emails that go round and round the block. 

I imagine you will have seen either or both of the two following examples:

1.  A picture of a naked fat woman, artfully posed and (no doubt) skilfully airbrushed.  She is beautiful, and has a mane of shampoo advert hair.  There is an article alongside the picture, showing an apparently offensive advert in some gym, asking if you want to be a mermaid or a whale this summer.

2.  A picture of Marilyn Monroe in a white bikini, next to a picture of a girl in a bikini who has either dieted off two stone too many, or is anorexic.  The caption is something along the lines of men preferring curvy women.

On Facebook, both these posts provoke many comments along the lines of  “Yay!  Let’s hear it for curvy girls!”  “And she was a size 16!” “Men prefer a bit of meat on the bone, not all these stick insects!”  “I’m a size 20 and proud of it!”  On one I was reading the other day, it became a rant by size 16-20 women against their slimmer sisters, all of whom were assuring each other than men preferred ‘curvy’ girls.  (When I posted a short comment along the lines of this article, I was told to ‘feck’ off!)

I would just like to say that I am neither slim nor fat, but someone who is a size 14-16 and looks a hell of a lot better when a size 12-14.  This is not relevant, but I want to make it clear that I am arguing from neither camp.

Imagine the opposite.  Someone posts a picture of a well known slim Goddess of the screen.  Farrah Fawcett.  Brigitte Bardot.  Next to this picture, there is a paparazzi snap of an overweight, little known soap star on the beach, displaying a huge arse, thunder thighs, a wobbly stomach, cellulite, etc.  The caption would read “Men prefer slim women!”

Can you imagine what an outrage that would cause?  Can you see how ludicrous it is?

Marilyn Monroe (ditto Diana Dors, and others frequently given as examples of the ‘curvier’ woman) was well proportioned and curvaceous.  She was reported to be a size 16 only occasionally, and let us not forget that a size 16 in the 1950s was inches smaller than the size 16 of today (it was 38-28-38; nowadays it is approximately 38-33-42).  Also, she had an hourglass figure, and did not suffer the double chins, bingo wings, seven months pregnant appearance and jodhpur thighs of many of today's size 16s.

Some men like women rounded and ample.  Some like ‘em fat.  Some go for the boyish figure.  Most, though, I believe, prefer attractively slim.  However, that is not really the point.  A few of my (slimmer) friends have read some of these articles and the ensuing comments, and found them to be insulting to slim women.  As one said, if she slagged off fat birds the way some fat (whoops, sorry, I mean ‘curvy’!) birds slag off the slim ones, she’d be called every bitch under the sun.

I find it depressing that these posts and the comments that follow seem to be aiming to put women in competition with each other for acceptance by men, too.  Now, imagine this scenario.  A man posts a picture of a bit of 1950s beefcake (oh, I dunno; Marlon Brando at his slightly porkier stage, maybe!), next to a picture of some skinny bloke in swimming trunks.  It is captioned “Women prefer beefier men!”  Lots of men comment “Yay, let’s hear it for the bigger guy!”  “Women like something to cuddle, not some stick insect!!”  Hmm, not likely to happen, is it? 

One of my slim friends pointed out something else that is rarely mentioned in these type of articles: being overweight is bad for your health.  It is bad for your heart, your cholesterol levels, your joints, your back, not to mention your sleep patterns and your psychological well-being. 

So, mermaid or whale?  I think I’ll go for the mermaid; without the fish tail, though, because my legs are my best feature.  Unlike my middle area, which is fat.  And no, it’s not curvy; it’s FAT.  Anyone can be whatever size they want to be; most of all, it is not a competition.

The Golden Days of Stalking

Remember when your ex would crank call you?  Send pizzas and taxi cabs to your house?  Sign you up with 'Dateline'?  Get a sales rep from Stannah Stair Lifts to call on you?  Drive by in the wee hours of the morning blasting their horn?  Turn up wherever you are?  Nuisance call your parents? 

I miss those days. 

The internet's made it all too easy for them, hasn't it?

To unfriend or not to unfriend?

I wrote this on Facebook about a year ago, on the subject of the culling of one’s Facebook friend list……

Do other people feel guilty when they have a friend 'cull'?  I don't mean deleting someone because they've done something to piss you off, but doing so because - well, just because?

Although I am a Leo, the zodiac sign of Virgo the List-Maker features strongly in my natal chart.  Thus, whilst waiting for a friend to reply to a message, last night, I began to mentally sort my friends list into categories.  These are my conclusions:

Facebook friends are:

1.  Close friends and family, obviously, all of whom you would never delete, though if my sister tells me I look a twat on ONE MORE of my photos, I may have to reconsider.

2.  People you haven't seen for YEARS, who you're really glad to have got in touch with again - usually you found them or they found you during those random late night searches you have after a few beers when you start looking up everyone you've ever known

3.  Friends from whom you've recently moved away, and with whom you might not get round to staying in touch were it not for Facebook - what a useful tool it is!

4.  People you have now got to know better than you knew them in Real Life; ie ex colleagues, friends of friends, all of whom log on quite often, and with whom you now exhange light witty banter - without this, you may never have spoken to them again, so it's all good.

5.  Friends you've made on other websites - MySpace, obscure forums where you can exchange views on motorbikes or vampires or "The Stars of Dallas - where are they now?", or any other shit you happen to be into

6.  People you've 'met' on here, usually added because you thought they sounded interesting/funny, or vice versa, and who've now become as much friends as your RL ones... sometimes more so.

7.  People who are there for a reason; a old friend's daughter or mother or sister, or whatever; you may not communicate much but they're there because of the connection, as you presume you are for them, too.  (or people who play games that you play...)

And now we come to categories 8 & 9

8.  People of the opposite sex who have seen you on their friends'  pages, and think you look like a bit of all right.  First they poke.  Then they send the request.  Then they poke again.  You cancel the poke, the little finger comes out again.  No, Johnny Persistent, I am not going to add you.  I don't know you.  We haven't exchanged amusing comments on our mutual friend's status, so why would I want to add you?  THIS IS NOT A DATING AGENCY!

9.  And finally...... the pointless adds.  You've known them at some point in your life; maybe you requested them or they you.  It doesn't matter.  Whoever they are, you've never communicated, since the day you became Facebook Friends.  Not a 'like' on a status, not a photo comment, not a 'happy birthday', not a 'thank you for saying happy birthday to me’, not a suggestion that you meet up some time'.  These are the candidates for the cull.  I'm not saying this is a problem, I've been culled myself (though in my case I think I may sometimes get deleted because I write the word 'cunt' too often on my status updates).  What amazes me, though, is when these people get offended by it!  Several times, I've been asked, "why did you delete me?"  BECAUSE WE'VE BEEN 'FRIENDS' ON HERE FOR 8 MONTHS AND YOU'VE NEVER SAID AS MUCH AS "HOW ARE YOU DOING?"  THAT'S FINE - BUT CLEARLY WE HAVE NOTHING TO SAY TO EACH OTHER, SO WHY BOTHER?  AND PLEASE, DON'T SEND ME ANOTHER FRIEND REQUEST NEXT TIME THAT LITTLE CHAP IN THE TOP RIGHT HAND CORNER REMINDS YOU THAT WE HAVE 24 MUTUAL FRIENDS!


Being 50......

I wrote this as a blog on MySpace a couple of years ago, when, having sailed through my 30th and 40th birthdays with ne’er a thought about the passing years, I’d just turned 50 and was amazed to find myself really depressed by it.   At the time I was assured by my older sister and a couple of her friends that once you get ‘over the hump’ and properly stuck into your 50s it’s fine – better, even!   I’ve put this on here for anyone coming up to this age and feeling like I did then, because I am happy to say that she was right!  And it is better, it really is!

BEING 50..........

It isn’t the new 30, or the new 40, or even the new 45.  It’s 50, and my youth is over. 

Yeah, yeah, okay, I know, thirty years ago when my mother was this age you wouldn’t have found her going out to see bands, or getting hammered with her mates, or still assuming an ageing rock-chick hair do; yes I KNOW it’s probably the best time in the history of the world to be this age, but it still SUCKS!!

I have never wanted children, but I can’t help being aware that this window of opportunity has been closed to me now, for several years.  I know I don't look too ancient for my age, I know my tastes and way of expressing myself (ha!) tend towards those of a ‘younger’ person, I have good friends ranging in age from 25 to nearly 60, I still know how to party, I still embrace new relationships with the same zest as ever I did, but ….

 ……oh, just BUT!!!!  My face is sagging, I put on weight in an instant, my hair is greying at an alarming rate (I regularly pluck out grey eyebrows), I get aches and pains and, worse, I TALK about them, I make ooh-ooh-ooh noises when I stand up after being in a sitting position for a long time, and never again will I sashay down the road being eyed up by men of under 40…

 …………… usual, I am sounding more shallow than I meant to.  It isn’t just about looks, or even health.  It’s about the narrowing down of LIFE, the closing down of opportunities, the knowledge that all those things I was going to do, I never did, all those choices I might have made went un-chosen, and now it’s too late, for much of it.  Do not misunderstand me, for I am not moaning about my lot, rather the opposite; I have generally good health, a wonderful family, fab mates and a dear man who loves me, and in this I am rich amongst women.  Yes, yes, I know one can start all sorts of things in one’s later years, and, indeed, should I be of a mind to take up T’ai Chi or learn to Samba/speak Polish, I dare say I will.  Except that all that smacks a bit of being a clichรฉd ‘jaunty’ 50+ lady, doesn’t it?  I am certainly not ready to have my hair cut into a funky spikey ‘do’, and start wearing witty earrings.  Heaven forbid. 

Look, I know we all go through it.  People older than me tell me that one comes out the other side of it, whereas people younger don’t know what the hell I am talking about, though their time will come, ha ha ha!!!  At which time I suppose I’ll be telling them all the stuff that people tell me…..   yes, yes, I know there are much worse things that can happen, for instance, not having the opportunity to grow old.  Yes, I know all that.  But, oh, how lovely it would be to have a birthday that begins with a 4, once again…