To John: a very happy, hot, and sunny Father’s day

As usual on a Sunday, I am trying to come up with witty, informative reading material that really captures my chosen subject. Unfortunately, it’s so hot, I’m struggling to think of anything remotely clever. Fortunately, my chosen subject has reassured me that he is not remotely clever. Introducing: husband to my mother, father to my stepbrothers*…my stepfather John!

When John first turned up in our lives, we were a single parent family – Mum, five year old me, one year old sister Rhian – living on benefits. My father, for all his apparently fine qualities, had not come up trumps, my earliest memories comprising me and my pregnant mother hiding in her locked bedroom after a particularly nasty fight.

A year on, and we were on a single parents week at a Christian holiday/retreat centre. I don’t remember much about those early stages, except that this man who Mum met during the week kept visiting. And sleeping in our living room. It’s been 19 years, and in retrospect, moving in with him was probably a hint that he was here to stay. Or we were.

I’ve told John several times that of all the dads I’ve had, he’s definitely in the top 50 per cent. He fits all the basic “dad” criteria to a tee. He makes predictable jokes. He makes them again. He sings out of tune. Over the years, he’s helped me and my sister with revision, job applications, and unwanted bits of food. Or food that he mistook for being unwanted. And, despite his earlier assurances, he’s actually pretty clever.

Plus, he’s had a role in many a family anecdote. Like when, pre-marriage, he took six year old me and two year old Rhian to the smallpox museum. Picture it: photos of hideously scarred, dying children everywhere, and a video all about a disease that killed everyone. Mum knew it hadn’t been a success when we came back white as a sheet, and unable to finish our dinner. It seems that John’s stepdad potential could only go up from there.

And of course, bedtime reading. It was John who got me reading people stories as well as animal ones, when he said he was going to read a surprise book. He did a good job of hiding the cover as well; I only got a split-second glimpse of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone before he started reading.

During my sister’s Enid Blyton phase, he had a real knack (or was it need?) when it came to livening up tales of pious schoolgirls with zany French teachers. Not satisfied with his old trick of inserting funny words, he had to give each character a badly-portrayed accent. Welsh? Afro-American? Dalek? You name it.

Yep, John is very much dad material. And I fully appreciate what he’s done for us. I’ve often thought it must take dedication to take on someone else’s kids and help raise them as your own. So I want to raise a glass to all dedicated fathers, and specifically those who take on the role, no matter how late in their children’s lives. Who better to teach me how to quickly predict a dad joke?

 

 

*one of whom features here

 

To Mum: surprise!

You know that awkward moment when you’re struggling to write a surprise blog post, but the person you usually ask for advice is the central character of said post? Yeah. It’s hard, isn’t it? So without further ado, let me introduce…you guessed it, my mother!

For starters, my mum has many names to choose from, the most common ones being Helen, Hez, Hezza, and, according to her Sainsbury’s reward cards, Melen* (my personal favourite). She spent her teen years at ballet school, then worked for several more years in Taiwan, where she met my father. Now back in England and married to my stepdad, she teaches Pilates and is training to be a counsellor. Long story short.

One of Mum’s many achievements in life is to produce two children who look nothing like her. Given this fact, and my father’s shenanigans with other women, I have asked her if she’s sure I’m not some other woman’s child. For some reason, she keeps insisting I’m hers, and refuses to believe otherwise. Almost as if my logic is flawed…

She also never tires of talking about what a huge baby I was, often completely at random. Having recently had my 24th birthday, this subject has been particularly high on the agenda. But given that I’d forget if it was mentioned on anything less than a daily basis, this is probably character building for me.

To this day, Mum still has a collection of letters I posted under her door as a small child. Such as “Dear Mummy, are you sorry that I hurt my knee?” And “Dear Mummy, I am sorry that the book got broken. Maybe we can fix it somehow.” And this classic from Year 1 at school: “My mummy is nice and kind and pretty and firm when me and my sister are bad. Sometimes my sister is bad, but I am good most of the time.” I always was destined to be a writer…

Apparently one of the perks of being a mother is the thrill of embarrassing your children. Personally I don’t buy the excuse that it’s revenge for every time your kids publicly embarrass you. But then her favourite weapon is stories of all those times. She also likes trying to be cool with words like “lol”, “lmao”, “grooveh” and “in with da kids”. Which she does to drive my sister crazy “just for the lolz.”

But for all her eccentricities, my mum fits all the important mum criteria. Throughout divorce, living on benefits, school struggles, Grannie dying, and the trials and tribulations of growing up, she has been there. Loved me and my sister. Fed us properly. Given us a good life. And never let us down. Well, unless you count the time she wasn’t sorry I hurt my knee.

Melen Mum, I will just say this for you. I love you. Oh, and happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

 

*Whoever created those cards must have looked at her signature, wondered to themselves whether the first letter was an H or an M, and decided that “Melen” was the most likely option.

My Grandfather, a Kind Old Man

You know those nagging regrets that won’t leave you alone? Anything from wanting to change something about the past to eating out and wishing you’d had dessert – or hadn’t. Relatable as these regrets are (!!!), what I was really thinking of was not blogging about Grannie before she died. Which brings me onto the topic of this post which I’ve been planning for months. Surprise, Grandad, this one’s for you!

My earliest memory of my grandfather was of how tickly his moustache felt whenever he kissed me. Not being a fan of tickly things on my bare skin, I would, rather formally for a child, politely ask “On the head, Grandad.” To this day, this is our main catchprase whenever Grandad is around. Messages from him to me often end in “xx (on the head)” – for an example, just look through the comments on my previous posts.

Another neat little phrase that hasn’t grown old started out as a compliment I gave him when I was little. Mum thinks it’s ironic that I summarised him as a “kind old man,” when he was barely older than my stepdad is now. Details, details. I clearly saw him as a good-hearted and fun grandfather, and he was. When he looked after my sister and I (pre-school and early primary school age, respectively) when Mum went to hospital, I have vague memories of him playing a joke on my sister that involved a very realistic, shiny plastic banana and a bunch of real ones. Interestingly, she remembers this better than he does. When our mum and stepdad were on their honeymoon, we went for a photo shoot in our bridesmaid dresses. Why did we look so happy? Grandad was standing behind the photographer pulling faces.

Years went by, and Grannie and Grandad continued to be a strong influence in our lives. Then at the start of 2013, Grannie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Suddenly, contact became so much more important. Mum would be ringing regularly, or driving from Loughborough to Gloucestershire, while I had the surreal task of emailing Grannie about which pieces to play at her funeral. Throughout this, Grandad waited on Grannie hand and foot, unendingly patient and never asking for help.

This wasn’t the happiest time in any of our lives, but ironically I don’t think our family had ever been so united. And it was through this that we got to know Grandad even better. Since Grannie died, he has survived well with support from many sources, and has lived life to the full, be it moving into a new flat or doing marathon walks across Spain.

And now today is his birthday, and I have just completed his surprise birthday present. Happy birthday Grandad! xx (on the head).

Suri

As you can see from the above photo, we have a new family member. Because it felt strange saying I have three cats having still not met the third, I made a date to come straight home at the beginning of the reading week to meet the new arrival: Suri.

Like Lionel, Suri is a former Redgate resident. Apparently there is some controversy over her history, but long story short, she is three, and had previously suffered from cat flu and abscesses before she was given the all-clear. She still has bald patches on three out of four legs, but is none the worse for wear. The staff at Redgate depicted her as liking other cats. She shows Tango and Bouncer how much she loves them by hissing at them and swiping at them when they try to use the stairs. My family collected her on Sunday 15th February and last Monday I finally met her.

The main difference between her and the tabbies, aside from being a completely different colour, is how kitten-like she is. At 10 and three quarters, the boys are getting to that stage in life where they are well used to everything life has thrown at them. They have taken Suri’s arrival in their stride, and having seen Thomas, Lionel and Basil come and go, were probably thinking “Ok, what’s this one going to be like?”. I think we’ve all said how small she is compared to the tabbies, but then we say that about most cats we see! Even the vet said they are at least a quarter longer than the average cat. Mum can’t get over how tiny her paws* are compared to theirs, especially Tango’s – we think if he was a man, he would be a size 14.

Despite her previous health problems, Suri is a lively little thing and wants to be everywhere all the time. When I was there, she was all over the worktop, explored the crockery cupboard and even got into the cupboard where the kitchen knives are kept. Apparently this is normal and shouldn’t be discouraged – that said, I still drew the line at her investigating the cheese box. She loves her food apparently, but (unlike Thomas) knows not to expect it at 5am. She has outdoor access, but seems to approach the outdoors like a newly-released prisoner. So far, 10 seconds at a time is more than enough for her.

It’s hard not to feel like I’m missing out, as this is the first time I haven’t been fully involved in the arrival of a new cat. I do miss having cats, and often worry that the tabbies will forget about me. Having spent so many years running to me when called, Bouncer always gets excited when I come back, however long it has been. Tango, on the other hand, is so docile it doesn’t make much difference whether he remembers you or not. Despite being more timid that Bouncer, he does seem less wary of Suri. Then again he was the only cat who could ever stand up to Basil, by developing a Jekyll and Hyde persona. Clearly we underestimate him.

Changing the subject, I am once again trying a new approach to blogging. The best way to make a blog more successful is to write about a recurring topic. So I was thinking about writing more about special needs based subjects, including posts based on my online Demon articles, such as the last post. I’ll probably write either once a week or every other week and alternate between special needs posts and the usual ramblings about my life. I might also add in the odd bit of creative writing. I always worry I’ll run out of topics, but if I can write about a cat I have only met once, I can’t be doing too badly.

And just so they don’t feel left out, here are the tabbies at their best:

*Suri’s paws, that is. Mum doesn’t have any paws.

When things get too much…

1546304_855123871173450_5444187306995747447_nLife in the flat has been going pretty well overall, but right now I am at a bit of a low point. I try to be careful about posting depressing things on the internet because I know this can be attention seeking, so if I come across like that, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to.

For a start, my stepdad rang me yesterday to tell me our elderly ginger cat Thomas was going to be put down due to kidney failure. We adopted Thomas in June 2010 from a vet nurse who had saved him from being put down by the RSPCA who was unable to take care of him. Since then, he has survived much, eaten much, loved much and been loved very much in return. He was so outgoing, he was the perfect icebreaker whenever we had people over for the first time. He had what I always called “Puss in Boots” eyes – the way he would stare at someone while they were eating was the spitting image of the cat in Shrek. Then there were so many times when he nearly died, then didn’t, I can’t quite believe that this is the last time. I went back to say goodbye yesterday evening, and by 11 this morning he was gone.

Aside from Thomas dying, life in general seems to be getting on top of me at the moment. Maybe it will feel easier as the grief passes, maybe it will feel easier once I get on top of my work. I have four assignments due in before Christmas, possibly more Demon articles and am struggling to get to grips with various adult life skills. In some ways the last part hasn’t been too hard. In others, all the little mistakes I’ve made have made me feel like a bit of a failure at adult life. Apart from anything I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now why my self confidence crashes so hard when I don’t meet the standards I (or others) set for myself. Being sensitive is supposed to be a good trait, but it can be a double edged sword at times.

In short, I am having one of those days where it’s all getting a bit much. I spent most of last night staring tearfully at the ceiling feeling like a scared child as everything threatened to overwhelm me. Not good. Normally I try really hard on my blog to sound interesting, eloquent or at least vaguely funny. But recently I have come across blogs (including vlogs) where the main message is: it’s ok to be sad. I can fight back the urge to cry until I turn blue, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is no point pretending life is perfect. I’m not good at being open with my emotions, so am trying to be more so. Because in the long run, letting yourself be unhappy, cry, talk to loved ones, etc. not only gets the emotions off your chest, but also, to an extent, shows those close to you that crying, sadness and bad days are all a part of life.

So to conclude, I will try to make future blog posts more entertaining, and hopefully things will feel better soon. I’m generally very grateful for the good things in my life, both recent and longer term, and am hoping I can express myself more easily in writing than face-to-face conversation. I still managed to get this image of Thomas and Lionel seeing each other up there and thinking “Not you again!” In the meantime, I am just praying that God, Grannie and all previously deceased pets receive Thomas well.

Students can’t be choosers

Brief recap: in January, I mentioned that the accommodation my housemate and I found was clean, secure and functional. Frequent visits to said accommodation, followed by the long-awaited moving day, have challenged my original opinion, leading me to just accept how we will be living for the next academic year. But, despite all the horror stories I’ve heard, not least regarding living with your best friend, things are getting off to a pretty good start, with partially amended plumbing, teddy bear fights and a balanced diet of apples, baked potatoes and church refreshments. More about the flat in a bit, but until then, my much-loved best friend and housemate…

Hannah and I first met at a Christian youth group, aged 14 and 15 respectively, when she spotted me being the recluse that I was and gave me a hug because I looked “depressed”. On seeing each other in the school corridors after that, my reaction to her gradually went from “who is this strange person?” to “Somebody actually notices me!” Realising that we were both “special” was one of the things we bonded over – I have Asperger’s, she is severely dyslexic. Our mutual school/Christian activities were another, and before long we ended up in the same tent at Soul Survivor, annual teenage Christian camp extraordinaire. Since then, Hannah has never had any faith in my sense of direction. So looking for the facilities in the middle of the first night was a bad idea. How did I know I was going to need a search party? Despite that, she has put up with me with unending patience, hugs, and renditions of “Amazing Grace” to this day, supporting me through my grandmother’s death and my exam disaster. And I couldn’t appreciate her more.

Back to the flat. More recent visits to it revealed that all was not quite as it should be. One thing that bothers me is that we are not allowed to use blu-tack. Which I think would be a small price to pay for fatty deposits all over the kitchen, a broken entrance light and dysfunctional bathroom plumbing. The issue that made the biggest impression on me, as a notorious hygiene freak, was the fridge. Many of you whom I have spoken to recently may have picked up on this by now. Hannah and I came over last Tuesday for some last minute cleaning and tidying. I had just started anti-bacterialising the stale smelling fridge when I inadvertently opened a well concealed compartment full of stinking, decaying food. Curry sauce, garlic, mayonnaise, chocolate and goodness knows what else.

After staring in shocked silence, I called Hannah over and we attempted to remove the worst of it, with me having a heart attack when some of it fell on my hand. Hannah suddenly announced she was going to be sick; not wanting to ruin the recently cleaned floor, I unceremoniously bundled her out of the room. Though I myself was fighting the gagging reflex for the rest of the day, we managed not to throw up and, perhaps more surprisingly in my case, didn’t develop a phobia of fridges.

Moving out has been a blur of stress, excitement and exhaustion. On Saturday morning, I was a bundle of nerves and emotions, not helped by certain cats desperately trying to follow as I left the house. Arriving at the flat somehow calmed me down no end, and our parents soon left us to it with a cheery farewell. We tried out Leicester City Vineyard Church yesterday, and found ourselves up to our ears in food, old friends and more new people in a day than I normally speak to in a month. A bit demanding of social energy, but a sure sign we had landed on our feet. Our second day ended with us snuggling up in bed with Hannah’s laptop in front of us, watching a film, chatting and having a laugh just as we always do. I sincerely hope that we always will. Two days down, eight months to go!

Meet Basil

I mentioned in April the book “All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome”. Well, I think I now know a cat with ADHD. Forget the statistic stating that cats spend 3/4 of their lives asleep. Everyone in my house has, at some point, worn themselves out after trying to use up this cat’s energy by running around with a simple fishing rod cat toy. If you don’t understand the effort behind these attempts to tire him, then you clearly haven’t been kept awake at night by him hurling himself at the door of the room he is in. When he sleeps, he REALLY sleeps. Otherwise he spends his waking hours leaping through life and laying waste to my ornaments, like an interesting combination of a furry ballet dancer and a bull in a china shop. Friends and fellow bloggers alike…meet Basil.

As previously mentioned, Basil was Grannie’s cat. Having had at least four homes in as many years, Basil found himself with us when Mum offered to take him off Grandad’s hands to make things easier. He is what my stepdad calls a “bonsai cat”, as he is no more than half the size of the whoppers we already had. The saying “big things come in small packages” definitely springs to mind here. He is also the only cat I have met who opens doors by clinging to the door handles. We realised this when we tried to confine him to one room to begin with, all the time and then only at night. Not a good idea.

They say a new cat should remain under house arrest for at least a fortnight. Within a week, Basil was beside himself with desperation to break down the doors and get out, or else yowl his frustration to the world. At one point, I found him yowling at the bathroom mirror. Clearly he was experiencing a deeply troubling crisis and wanted to lament about it to his reflection. Minutes later, Mum, probably wondering why he’d suddenly gone quiet, went to look for him, only to find him happily frolicking around in the garden. Instructions such as “do not open windows” really should be more heavily reinforced. I honestly can’t remember if that had been me, but I’m sure Basil is deeply thankful to whoever it was.

Meeting the other three cats proved to be an interesting experience for all involved. Basil is a Burmese, a breed known for not getting on with other cats. So far, this fact has proved to have varying levels of truth. Tango, the laziest of the group has had few encounters with him, so no problems there. Thomas, our elderly ginger cat, has to be the most outgoing, openly emotional cat on the face of the earth. What he lacks is subtlety, which meant that staring in wide-eyed astonishment at Basil before trotting right up to him mewing was just asking to be whacked round the face.

Since then, Basil has taken great pleasure in chasing Thomas just for the fun of it, with no respect for the elderly whatsoever. Attempting to do the same with Bouncer had a less entertaining effect. Never one to lose his composure, Bouncer simply sat up straight and tall while staring down at Basil. Basil, meanwhile, was beginning to look less sure of himself and remained with one paw stretched out in mid air for a few moments, before deciding he had better things to do anyway and heading off. Since then, I have seen the two of them curled up asleep together more than once. So clearly Bouncer has managed to win his respect.

As I was drafting this post, I had a disconcerting feeling of wanting to tell Grannie of all the hilarious antics we have seen so far, as she loved Basil and was so worried about him during her last days. He was a constant companion/hot water bottle for her while she was ill, and genuinely pined for her after she died. I just hope that the internet connection in heaven is good enough for her to be able to read this. If I know my grandmother, she will find a way.

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