We’re back with brown knees …

A month in Riyadh. I’ll (pretty much) leave politics and religion out of this because you’ll know my views. Let’s talk as a tourist. 

some ontersting architecture

There is nothing to do. Not really. Riyadh is a series of air conditioning units placed between an American type grid road system. Think 8-lane highways, many of which have a secondary set of roads running parallel to them. Like much of the US it is not a place designed for pedestrians and everyone expects to travel from air conditioned mall to air conditioned mall in an air conditioned car, quite a few of which are large 4x4s. It’s no surprise. It is ridiculously hot. When we arrived the BBC weather app showed a constant 43/28c. By the time we left the forecast was for 38/25c. There was some wind, which was always a relief. And we did see a solitary cloud. Apparently it gets much more amenable in the winter and, to be fair, it’s a v dry heat which you do get used to … but it’s still blooming hot. (And dusty. Everything is covered in a fine sand. I’m not sure my lungs enjoyed the experience.)

It is a consumer city. I tried to imagine driving through Birmingham, a similarly sized place, to compare and contrast. Sure our climate allows parks and green verges and football fields – and trees and bushes. And, to be fair, Riyadh is trying to develop the same sort of spaces – there is an awful lot of building work going on. But you can’t get away from the fact that, unlike Birmingham, all roads are lined with shops and businesses which look like shops. And most roads have a mall on them somewhere, all of which are full of top end boutiques and eateries. The people of Riyadh seem to be ultimate consumers. 

We did try. We popped to a local souk so the girls could buy an abaya. We went to the huge (and architecturally beautiful) Kingdom Tower to walk across the skybridge. We trekked around the Diplomatic Quarter. And, leaving aside the heat, it was all pleasant enough. But, bless them, mostly everything is sand-coloured (with neon or LED facing). It is, afterall, a city in the middle of the desert. And it’s working really hard to be a pleasant place, but for that, read places to shop and eat. There is no World Heritage site to gawp at. No history of note. The ‘Edge of World’, which is a mountainous plateau about an hour into the desert, is meant to be spectacular. But you either need your own 4×4 fitted with decent GPS and a jerrycan of water, or you go on an organised trip … which is pricey. And that’s the only attraction. At the moment … 

But we had been warned. And we didn’t go to Riyadh for the sites. We went to help Bex and Steven. Their compound is lovely. It’s small village sized, and is equipped with multiple pools, a decent-sized shop and a v good and inexpensive restaurant. C and I had lunch there often. There’s a well equipped gym, tennis courts, a squash court, a kids pool, play areas, a games room and an indoor sports hall. All free. It’s easy. And the accommodation is excellent, supported by a great team of willing staff. There’s a bus everyday (sometimes twice) to take you to one of the many malls and bring you back a couple of hours later. Fabulous …

… if that’s what works for you.

We tried. We booked a return train to Dammam, Saudi Arabia’s major oil port. We travelled first class (£70 each return for a four hour journey) and it was great. There are no hills, so you don’t get sweeping vistas full of eagles and vultures. But you do get a lot of sand. And some bedouin. And camels. Dammam itself is a bit Riyadh-like, but by the sea. We didn’t have much daylight to explore (the point was the train journey), but we did get decent views of the Gulf of Arabia from our hotel. And then we came back again. It was fun. And different. A change is, as they say, as good as a rest.

the Gulf of Arabia

But there was an incident. And, in light of the protests in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini and the wearing of a hijab (a head scarf), I think it’s worth telling. C and I walked for five miles from our hotel. We wanted to walk along one sea channel, cross over a Wirral-like peninsula, and then walk back down a second channel ending up at a restaurant. It was hot. I was in trousers and a shirt. C wore trousers, a t-shirt and covered herself in an abaya (think of a wizard’s coat). Apparently the rules have been relaxed recently with regard to what women can and can’t wear, but C had been careful to remain covered throughout our stay in Saudi. Except it was hot in Dammam, especially after a few miles. And, down some backstreets and in shadow, she took her abaya off and carried it.

A number of cars passed us and one, a minivan driven by a younger man wearing a t-shirt, shouted a C and waved a fist. A lot. Menacingly. The guy was in a t-shirt and was probably wearing jeans. He was telling her off for not wearing an abaya. And C – and it doesn’t matter what the colour of her skin is – wasn’t allowed that. According to some random local bloke. 

I know it’s a small thing but it really brought home to both of us how the women of Iran must feel. To have a conservative dress code imposed upon them by random men. It was an awful feeling.    

Anyhow, overall we had a lovely time. It was great being with Bex, Steven and Henry … and, as always, we feel v privileged to have been asked to stay for such an extended period of time. Alas, ex-pat life and, in particular, ex-pat life in Riyadh, is not for us. Not at our age and with our ambitions. But to be fair to everyone else we spoke to, they were all having a fab time. Many had been there for years. 

We made it back, hopping via Bahrain. Although late, Gulf Air were a good bet and we swept through Heathrow as though we were VIPs. We’ve just stayed with Mary for a couple of days. I popped up to see mum (which was another awful experience … ho hum) and we’re now back in Bristol prepping Doris for the great Spanish getaway. For which, hurrah!

Stay safe everyone. And we’re looking forward to letting you know how Spain goes. Can’t wait.   

Here’s a thing

I know. I said that while we were in Saudi I wouldn’t write. So I’m not. Not about where we are geographically. But where we are in ourselves. I do that. You may have noticed. I think a few of you might have been surprised that I was quite so frank about the recent period with mum. How difficult I found that and how I was prepared to write about it. And I get that. But, for me, this has always been a way to tell the story of our travels while, at the same time, documenting everything else. 

I think it’s fair to say that we’re coming out of a difficult time. Italy and covid, a family issue which is too sensitive to discuss, the kids home from Seoul and our role with looking after Henry (and them), C’s own mental health over that time, then the uproar which was mum’s illness and Bex and Steven travelling to Saudi on their own, Henry becoming frighteningly unwell just before we were due to fly to Riyadh (which in the end was just an infection that he fought without recourse to a doctor, but at the time felt much worse), then here, where C has been unwell and restrictions, which we were aware of before we came, placed upon us.

But C is feeling better. We have got a grip of Uber. We have established a routine which works for all of us. And, as of yesterday, we have a really exciting plan in place for the next six months.   

Mental health is a broad term. Some people find it uncomfortable to use, and are uncomfortable discussing it. Most recognise that people can become v unwell if the brain fails to work sensibly. Mental illness can kill you. It can make you take your own life, something which is unfathomable to most of us. It can make you do and say things you wouldn’t ordinarily want to. It can make you inert. Or it can send you into a mad frenzy. And, a point a lot of us reject, it can affect any of us. And it can come out of the blue.

I suppose the most contentious issue is the delineation between depression and sadness. Between not being able to cope and not wanting to cope. That ‘in my day’ you just got on with it. And that today there’s too much emphasis on wellbeing … too many allowances given to people who should just stiffen up, and soldier on. Doubtless there is some truth in that. That, for some who feel mentally overawed, they might benefit from a gentle shake of the shoulders. A bit of a talking to about how fortunate they are and told not to be quite so introspective. I recognise that.  

But I also know for sure that it’s not that easy … that is, it’s neither easy to know who would benefit from a pep talk, nor it is easy to know who actually has mental health issues and is in need of clinical help because they are hiding it so well. As we know, it’s not like having a broken leg where you can see the bone sticking out through the skin. So if you can’t see it, surely the answer is to offer those suffering the benefit of the doubt? If they look ragged, let’s assume that they are and self help won’t work on its own. What else is there to do?

I’m not going to expose my own family (although I am going to talk about myself) other than to say that C is a brilliant ‘get through it’ merchant. She has always suffered from anxiety and confidence issues. And she has covered those really well, recently with the help of some readily available prescription medicine. But that doesn’t stop her from feeling desperate at times. The last couple of months was one of those times. When it happens she needs space and time (which was v difficult to administer this summer) and, and I’ve never known her not do this, she clambers out of the well and gets on with life. I really admire her tenacity – as I really sense how desperate she feels when she’s unwell. 

Me, then. Looking back, I think I’ve had two episodes. First was my last year working at the school. I was a deputy head responsible for staff and the cocurricular programme. I had a 75% timetable and, over a period of time, I had taken on a number of other responsibilities which I felt needed attending to. And I loved it. Then it became clear there was a senior member of staff who needed leadership coaching. I volunteered for the guardroom and, over a period of three months, worked v closely with that person. I wouldn’t say I was doing their job, but I was involved in much of the decision making. The problem was I knew that there was only one way to move forward. And it was a seismic solution. But I couldn’t make it happen. Not in a way that wouldn’t result in lots of unwelcome fallout. 

It got to the point where, for about a week, it was too much. I didn’t want to go into work. No … I couldn’t face going into work. It was too big an issue. I couldn’t rely on the support I needed. I was twitchy. Unsure of myself. Distracted. I was close to giving up. I was close to not getting out of bed. So, one day, I dragged myself into work and wrote a long email to my boss telling her that I had failed. That I couldn’t do it anymore. That, without a change, I was in real danger of going under. The email sat on my computer, waiting to be sent. It was a Saturday morning. I remember it vividly. I twitched. And then the person I was coaching breezed into the office, stuttered and then burst into tears. They offered me the solution I was seeking. The one that was best for everyone. The one I couldn’t articulate without causing other issues. But they could. 

The email was left unsent. The solution was accepted and a weight was lifted from me. (And, I strongly believe, the person I was coaching was in a much better place.)

That happened at the end of my formal career and I wished I had experienced it earlier. I would have known what it must be like for ten of thousands of people who drag themselves into work everyday facing what they feel are insurmountable problems. And how awful that feels. And how close they are to jacking it all in … not getting out of bed. How their brain is masking the issue, but only just. They are left disconnected and jittery. 

The second time was at mum’s, recently. I don’t need to rehearse what C and I were going through because I’ve documented it here before. I felt awful. I was v distracted … and exhausted. But, particularly, I didn’t want to visit mum in the home. I hated it. I knew it would be awful. I knew there would be unkind words. And I didn’t want to be exposed to that. On top of that I couldn’t see how it was going to get better. There was a longevity to the problem which gnawed at me. Some people might have been able to ignore it. To push it to the back of their minds. But I couldn’t. You might argue it was because it was my mum, and I only have one of those. I’m not sure, though. I think it was the responsibility of having to make the right decisions for mum, none of which looked like a winner. Especially, in this case, when it was only me. I missed my brother, Kevin, more than anything then (although I sense he would have been much more hard-lined with mum, or even dismissive of her, and left me with the same responsibility). But it would have been good to have a family member to share the burden with.

And I feel it now. Here in Saudi. I cannot phone her often because it’s complicated and expensive. That’s good. Because I don’t want to. Even though, when I do, she’s as happy as Larry. The week’s stint in the home, followed by the bliss of being back in her own place with professional carers, has peaked her contentedness. That’s what she tells me. And she’s apologised. It’s the same old mum I had before the whole debacle. 

But I don’t want to talk to her. I do call her … that’s my job. But I don’t look forward to it. I worry that there’ll be another argument. That she’ll be unhappy about something and, inevitably, it will be my fault. 

Ho hum.

Anyhow … so what? Two things. First, I can confirm that mental health is a precarious thing. The brain is a significant organ and manages to process a lot of anxiety and hurt and still lets you get on with life. But for many, possibly, everyone, the line between working and not working is there, somewhere. And I know how close I have come to my mind telling me that enough is enough. Sure, the two occasions have been at times of significant stress. And maybe I’m better at managing this than some others. But I know what it feels like to get close to the edge. So I recognise that many people can cross that line. And when they do, love, kindness and time is a great healer. But so is professional help. Look out for it with your loved ones. Believe them. Help them. 

Second, C and I are now in a pretty good place. We are a week away from flying home and, between now and then, we have a number of decent things in the Saudi diary. Importantly, when we get back there is less than a week before we get on a ferry and head down to Spain for the grand Ibiza wedding. We’ve given ourselves a week to get to Valencia and have booked a ferry (two adults and two bikes) to the island – and a hotel for three nights, followed by a ferry back. After that we’ve four and a bit weeks (mostly in Spain) before we catch a ferry back … and then pack up and move out of Bradley Stoke.

Yes, we’ve done it. A really great opportunity came to us just before we flew to Riyadh. It didn’t take us long to make a decision and we should be in our new place in early January. The more we discuss it, the more excited we are about it. It’s not yet for us to release the details but we will in time. Whatever … it’s a rare opportunity that ticks as many boxes as it might. Fabulous. And, of course, we’re off skiing in late January with Bex, Steven and Henry joining us for February half term. How cool is that?

That’s that, I think. I’ll put together a summary of our Riyadh stay at the end of next week. There’s a lot of stuff there, much of which you could write yourself. Some of which will be new to you. I look forward to writing it …

Stay safe everyone.

A hiatus

Is ‘an’ or ‘a’ hiatus? Whatever. Some of you may have noticed that I’ve deleted my last post and I’m here to report that I will not be posting again until we get back to the UK, currently planned for the end of this month. Bex and I had a chat last night and we agreed that doing anything on social media is a risk here. And, whilst we are here temporarily, they are here for the long term. So an/a hiatus it is.

For the record C and I haven’t been in the best form. I’m better but she’s struck down with a chesty cold, probably caused by the dust and AC. But we’re running and ‘tripping’ to the myriad of malls. Between now and when we finish we hope to take the train to Dammam, on the Arabian Gulf and, for the long Saudi national weekend, hire a car and get out with the kids.

More to follow, later.

Please stay safe. And ‘Slava Ukraini!’.

I am Steve McQueen

We made it. I’m writing this on Gulf Aiir, flight something or other, currently 40,000 feet above Bonn. I’m guessing if we had window seats were be able to see a pretty empty River Rhine, with a long line of barges stuck in the mud. My conscience isn’t clear (obviously) as we’re contributing to global warming by flying to Saudi. But needs must. And this morning’s two hour trek through Terminal 4 cemented my very clear belief that C and I should only fly when absolutely necessary. Book-in was slow. Security no better. We were three hours early and we still didn’t have time for a relaxed cup of coffee. But … the three of us, plus Henry, made it.

Where’s my bike and the fence?

And it’s not been without trauma which, when you add to the previous x weeks of tragedy, has left us a little bit traumatized and in need of a break.

Mum has settled back in her own home. And yes, it’s the right decision. The carers have, so far, failed to put a foot wrong (I had an email from them this morning – a Saturday). And she seems to like them. But every phone call I have has been laced with a little bit of upset. Most concerning for me was that she has tried to get in touch with her previous carers to do her shopping, something I’m not keen on. I think it’s a control thing. Whatever it is, it’s frustrating when we have a plan in place and the previous crew have been poor and expensive (and contractless – it was all cash in hand), a concern when mum is so vulnerable. I get that she misses her routine. But I’m confident the new regime is so much safer. Anyhow, we seen to have made it to somewhere which, at the moment, works for all of us – just in time for C and I to get on the plane …

this was the only time he was happy during the whole process

… which wasn’t a certainty for other reasons. Bex got her visa sorted and flew back yesterday (we couldn’t sort it so we could fly out with Henry; the via situation in Saudi is v complex). But, alas, he fell ill on Tuesday. He had a continuous high temperature, kept down with Calpol, was moany and off his food (which was v unlike him). On Thursday night C and I were discussing whether he should fly or not. And whether Bex should turn around and give us a week to get him better, knowing we had British healthcare on hand. At one point I was close to taking him into A&E. 

Covid was a possibility. (We’ve been vaxxed, had it in June, and Henry has had it at least once.) I took a test, (if he had it, so did I) which was negative, so we assumed it was just a heavy cold. Thankfully on Friday morning when Bex turned up his temperature had broken and, whilst he still not right, the worst seems to be over. Phew.

So we struggled with a sick child to Mary’s where a bigger house was welcome relief. But it wasn’t until yesterday morning that we began to think that Henry might be safe to travel. And here we are …

Not so happy to see mum initially

… with the additional good news that Henry’s nanny in Riyadh starts tomorrow! I have no idea what that will look like. But it does seem possible that once she’s in her stride, C and I might have a slab of time without responsibilities. Now wouldn’t that be great?

Stay safe everyone. My next post will likely be focused on the dry heat of Arabian desert. But if that’s all I’ve got to moan about … 

I’m living in an Eastenders’ plot line

Inevitably it was never going to be that easy. To finish the mum saga (which would make a good plot line for the Eastenders Christmas Special), by Saturday evening she didn’t want to stay in the home and I was the worst son in the world. So I reorganised the care at home people to take her out this week. Then, on Monday morning she wanted to stay. Well … we had a conversation which included ‘please remember we had this discussion as we’re leaving on Tuesday and there’s nothing I can do to reverse this decision until we come back from Saudi’. Mum said that of course she was sure. And, yes, I should cancel the care people …

he loves the sea

… only for her to change her mind Monday evening. It was, of course, all my fault. And I know I should be the adult in the room, but mum’s dementia isn’t so far down the line that she’s incapable of making a decision and sticking to it. She’s just terribly flip-floppy. I told her that this was her decision (did she remember?) and that she would have to stay in the home until we got back from Saudi. At which point all the options would be on the table. No, that wasn’t good enough. And, no, she wasn’t prepared to put herself out for me, C, the baby and, frankly, anyone else. Ho hum.

The long and the short is that we have re-energised the carers and they have seen mum and are happy. I will go back up to Colchester on Monday, resort the house, restock the fridge and freezer (etc), and then the carers will take her out on Tuesday. She will be less safe, but happier. As opposed to v safe and unhappy. I’m afraid  cannot be the son who incarcerates his mother. I can’t. But, hopefully, that’s that. And, insha’Allah, we fly out to Saudi on Saturday. 

everything is a mess

There is no need for reflection: it has easily been the worst three weeks of my life. And I just want it to be over. I think we might be there now. I hope so.

Anyhow, we’re back in Bristol, getting our poop in a sock, as they say. There’s been plenty of mum stuff to do (registering powers of attorney with both banks) and other prep for the Arabian peninsula. Henry, of course, has continued to keep us on our toes both in a delightful and, at the same time, exhaustingly busy way. C’s mental health has been a yo-yoish (I know she won’t mind me mentioning this) which has all added colour. But, it looks like we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

no part of our house has been left unexplored

The good news is both sets of kids are in good form. Jen, who was v poorly last month (and has added to our woes), is in the best place I’ve seen her for a while – even if she has a tube coming out of her nose. We took Henry to their place yesterday afternoon and he had a ball. I’ve never seen a kid laugh so much. And the Henryless Bex and Steven look like they’re settling in well in Riyadh. Whilst this time has been an unmitigated disaster back here, what it does mean is, when we get to Saudi, rather than being part of the settling in package (one of the main reasons for going), we can now arrive with the pair of them set up, having taught for a week, and with a nanny on the cards. It might mean that C and I get a chance to put our feet up and enjoy the step change in culture. We’ll see.

Other than that, I’ve tried my best to keep out of politics. The fact that the cost of living crisis has grown to such huge proportions whilst the government is in stasis – and Johnson has taken two European holidays – is hugely frustrating. I have absolutely no time for any of them. But you know that.

Keep safe. Hopefully next time I write this it won’t be between nappy changes. And, as  result, I may be able to pay more attention to what I’m writing. Bye for now.    

Pass me another beer

Well, that’s been a week. To be accurate it’s been a bit of a couple of months. Italy was tough as we all had covid, then we had a difficult time with a close family member, C’s mental health hasn’t been great … and now 10 days with mum. Interestingly she was more malleable when she was poorly. Since then it’s been v problematic, and that’s an understatement.

We got her through her UTI. It was messy and tiring but, in the end, worth all the effort. By Monday she was weak, but she was making complete sense. And we managed to get her into a routine, but it was clear that she wasn’t capable of looking after herself in the way that she had before. It’s a combination of both mental fragility combined with physical weakness. On occasion she shows peaks of strength in both of those departments, but most of the time she sleeps. So …

We looked at three homes. The one she wanted to go to is in the village. It has only a reasonable reputation but she was incapable of rationalising that. She wanted to go there because it’s ‘in the village’ and people could visit her (they were all 5 minutes drive away, but she couldn’t get that). C and I looked at the furthest and discounted it straight away (I’ll go through numbers in a minute in case you’re interested … it’s all important stuff). We did the village one and neither of us were overly enamoured. In the end we took mum to two: a swanky, 60-bed place in its own fabulous grounds where the fee for her (minimal nursing) was £1075 per week, with no additional charges; and the village one (£870 a week) – 19 bed, and a bit threadbare, with a few more dementia patients than I would have liked. (Mum has dementia, by the way, but it’s v early days and she can be quite lucid.)

Mum turned down the swanky one on the spot. Indeed she didn’t want to go there in the first place. Once there she was rude and difficult, but the manager handled her well. From my perspective it was lovely – more smart country house hotel than residential home. But mum wasn’t convinced – at all. I was expecting the same reaction at the village one, but mum took to it. So much so that without much prodding she decided to stay. Simple as that.

Inevitably it wasn’t as simple as that. The following day I was the worst son in the world. And more. I don’t want to share the details, but after nurse-maiding her through her short illness and everything else we’ve been through, it has been a struggle. In the end, on the second day, I couldn’t take any more. So I put in train Plan B, which was care in the home. I told mum that we would get her assessed this Monday and have care in place on Wednesday. We would leave the same day (our nerves not up to staying … and with care in place she would be safe).

Before I finish the saga, let’s talk money. As far as I get it you have to pay for any care until you have no more than £23,250 in savings. It doesn’t matter what the care is – and you should apply for attendance allowance and mum has that – but the council will not get involved until you’re down to that figure. In terms of owning a house, this assumes you haven’t got empty property. If your house is lying dormant the council will expect you to sell it. But if you have family members living in it, or have it rented, then they don’t count it.

The council guy told me that when mum’s savings got to £30k to give him a call and then the council would do a care assessment and then talk cash for when the total reached £23,250. I understand that if mum’s in a home they will pay for most of it and ask for a contribution, depending on her income. In short, therefore, your house and £23k is safe, if you engage with the council. If I have this wrong, please let me know.

Anyhow, I was now working on decent care in the home (we were looking at around £600 a week and rising over time with her destined for a care home at some point). C and I were frantically working out how to pull this off. The problem is mum still needs food; she still needs to pay her electricity; she has a gardener and cleaners … and you can keep adding up the figures. How do you organise that? Plus, of course, we wouldn’t be able to rent out the house, something we would do if she were in a home to supplement mum’s income. It was all doing our head in a bit. [I’m coming to a punchline, but I would like to add that throughout Henry has been a joy.]

Anyhow, after I had visited her this morning where the Plan B hadn’t changed, mum phoned me. ‘You’re not want to hear this’, she said. Of bugger, what now? ‘I’ve decided to stay in the home. It’s the best place for me. I’m safe here and have all my needs met.’ (I’ve paraphrased a longish conversation.)

Phew. And, although she has wobbled (she just been on the phone threatening to come out, not that she can), the plan for her to stay is in place. She will stay at the home she wanted to move into pretty much indefinitely. We will make it work. We have to.

That’s the short story. The longer story is more painful and with plenty of tears. But we’re there. We will sort out mum this week and head home by the weekend. We might be on a flight to Saudi a week on Friday. I hate to sound callous, but mum has reached that stage of her life. The living must come before the v old, I’m afraid. She’s safe, secure and all her needs are provided for.

In between times we have taken Henry to the seaside three times. Every time he has loved it. He has been a saviour. When I have been close to tears he has made me laugh. C too. He loves her. He won’t sleep unless he’s grabbing onto her hair. We have been v lucky to have him in our midst at this tortuous time. Well done him.

Stay safe everyone.         

All change

We should be in Saudi where photos from Bex (they arrived this morning) show a rather imposing 10 foot wall topped with barbed wire. Inside the complex, however, their house is lovely. It’s a few feet from the pool and just down from a baby pool, a gym, a shop and a restaurant. Hotel California springs to mind. As ex-military I’m used to this sort of set up (so is C; we lived behind the wire in Northern Ireland), but it still seems strange. 

a strengthening bond

Why aren’t we there with them? Well, mum took a turn at the end of the week before last. The view was she had a UTI which can often send older people a delirious, among many other ailments. As a pre-flight check I popped along to see her on Sunday, by which time a v short course of antibiotics seemed to be doing its thing. Mum managed to walk upstairs and back down again without issue – and she was lucid enough. However, by late Monday she’d taken a turn for the worse and rather than be called back from Saudi, we decided to postpone our flight … which meant keeping Henry with us, a not uncomplicated decision.

a not uncomplicated decision

We got to mum’s on Thursday, having picked Henry up from Penkridge first thing. Mum was in a right old state. We’d sent in the paramedics that morning – the carer having slept overnight for the first time. The paramedic’s view was the same as ours: the three days of antibiotics was not enough and, in any case, nobody could be sure that she’d taken the tablets. Anyhow, with Henry behaving impeccably, we managed to get mum sorted – in her own bed – and comfortable. To be fair, the last time I saw someone this ill it was my dad who was in hospital with dementia and pneumonia. He died a day later. 

we got her downstairs

I had said goodbye to mum in 2012 after open heart surgery for an aortic aneurysm complicated by a massive stroke on the operating table. I was convinced she was going to die. The fact that she’s with us 10 years later is a biological mystery – and the doctors are as confused as all of us. But she is, and we are all mighty thankful as without her, managing my dad would have been a nightmare. How she stayed the course for three years with dad deteriorating by the week is a mystery to me.

Well it’s two days later and we’ve got her downstairs again. She’s sleeping all the time and is now drinking water (and taking her tablets). She even had a shower today, but everything she does seems to be an enormous effort. And she is v sore. At least now we can have an intelligent conversation with her, which means she is much less belligerent. We won’t know where she is until the UTI has gone completely – I think tomorrow night might be the earliest that we will be able to assess where we are. The left hand decision will be more and better care. The right hand decision will be a home. There may be something in the middle, but we can’t yet see it. And, for those of you suggesting we move in (like we have – we’ve delayed Saudi by three weeks), or that she moves in with us – neither of those are options, I’m afraid. It wouldn’t work and, like mum and dad’s parents before them, that is not our family way. I’m sorry if that disappoints you, but it is what it is. 

this is how we all feel

It’s important now to recognise two people. First, Henry, who has been a darling. There is little more to add. My mum scares him, but he’s still as happy as Larry. Second is C. It’s fair to say her relationship with my mum has never been perfect – and the blame there must rest with my mum. Regardless, and noting that C’s mental health hasn’t been in the best possible place for the last couple of months (she’s happy that I share this), she has been magnificent. C’s an ex-nurse, with an additional 7 years’ experience as a care assistant. It could have been chaos here. But, as well as making mum’s house a home for the four of us, she has treated mum with real dignity whilst making sure a non-compliant mum gets the care she needs. As you can imagine looking after an elderly invalid is tough work. Looking after one who is delirious and doesn’t want to shift from the prone position is doubly so. Add in a toddler who has been pulled from the grasps of his parents, and it might have all been unworkable. It has not. And I think it’s fair to say that we have never worked so well together. I love her more now than I ever have. Adversity has that knack, don’t you think?

Who knows where we’ll be this time next week. Mum may not have long with us. Or she might still outlive us all. Let’s hope the answer is somewhere in the middle.

Keep safe everyone.   

Ups and Downs

It’s been an up and down week and a bit. Newquay was fun. The small static caravan we stayed in was damp and in the middle of a campsite which was probably put together before war, updated in the 50s and not been touched since. The argument that it was cheap is against the backdrop that any UK-based holiday is currently inordinately expensive. We paid £150 a night for four and a half of us, which seems like a lot to me (although for the first night it was just three of us as Bex and Steven were finishing off their wedding anniversary bash at a v swanky, seafront hotel). But it allowed us to do Newquay, to see Steven’s relatives, to take Henry crab fishing, to have breakfast at a lovely cliff top restaurant, and generally have a fab, but exhausting time. Henry was pretty perfect and clearly loves putting wet sand into a bucket and taking it out again.

a day by the sea
with friends

When we got home Bex took C out for a birthday outing into Bristol, and Henry and I spent the day together walking into town and playing down the playpark. The next day, Thursday, I drove them all back up north to have their final few days with Steven’s parents … and since then C and I have been pottering about doing chores and admin.

Henry and I went shopping

One job was to replace Doris’s starter motor. For this my pal from down the road, John, was on hand. I managed to change the earthing strap, which is well into the body of the engine. Simples, with scraped knuckles. And then, on Saturday, John and I took the old starter motor off and replaced it with a new one. It went swimmingly and the big 3.0 litre lump spins like a top now. Job done.

Except it wasn’t. 

my mate John with the offending article

In order to do the work I had removed the top of the air filter housing and the air filter. Not a difficult job. And to prevent rubbish from falling into the filter housing I blocked the hole with some kitchen roll. Yes, you know what happened next: I forgot it was there and when I next looked it was gone.

mmmm, paper in the engine. Not good.

Now, if the paper had made it to the turbo it would have been an almighty thing, possibly with lots of noise and a very big bill. But, other than an illuminated orange engine light and a loss of power, no real damage. Everything seemed to work. The ECU reader told me there was a problem with the EGR valve (I know all about those from our original Doris), but I couldn’t see how. Anyhow, Bex and Steven were staying with pals of theirs, the husband of which is a pretty sharp mechanic (among other things). He explained that there is an airflow sensor (MAF) beyond the air filter which is shrouded in mesh. The paper might well have caught there.

Up early this morning, I found the MAF. It was just reachable, so I took it out of the pipework … and found the paper. Just sitting there. All fresh and new, but clearly blocking the progress of air. An hour later and after some teething problems and resetting the ECU error codes, Doris was back on song … with a starter motor that spins like a top. Hurrah! [Am I the only one who does one job and creates one more?]

met up with pals in my favourite town

It would be unhistorical not to mention that our Jen has been in the wars again and, as it always does, that impacts upon all of us. None of this has been helped by C and I having our focus on Bex, Steven and Henry … but we got through it. Bless her. 

I’m off to mum’s and Mary’s tomorrow, a sort of mad dash to see the rellies before we hit the Saudi peninsula. And then we’ve got three days of jobs, including a trip to Ikea, a visit to Jen, and general packing, before we head off. We’ve got a coach booked for Thursday to Heathrow. We’re meeting Bex and Steven at a local hotel on Thursday and we’re all flying on Friday. Next stop … the fan oven that is Saudi Arabia. I can’t wait?

Anyhow. Stay safe everyone.   

Three things

It’s been a bit of a blur of admin, Mary’s party and getting book 8, To She Who Waits, out there. And we’re now about to embark on another Henry expedition, including a short trip to Newquay (to see his other relatives); we will be clear of the toddler by next Wednesday. We next meet up with him on 11 August, the day before we all fly to Saudi (Roland and C, for up to 7 weeks!). It is, as they say, all go.

it’s done

Admin has been about getting ourselves sorted for Saudi. Flights, evisas (which are really easy), extended health insurance (with HSBC), letters from doctors, a new travel money card etc. I think we’re just about there. Just. We’ve got some printing of stuff to do, and we need to book a coach from Bristol to Heathrow where we meet Bex, Steven and Henry for an overnight stay before our flights. They’re travelling via Saudi air, which is non stop – sorted by the school. We’re paying £700 less each (yes, each), flying with Gulf Air via Bahrain. It’s going to be quite an adventure … on so many fronts. More of which, of course, later.

The book. Ahhh, the book. It’s done and available. You can find it here: https://amzn.to/3Q3gchv. I am really, really pleased with it. I won’t add any spoilers, but I have left room for book 9, which I am already thinking about. Doubtless there will be some Saudi scenes in there somewhere. Tired of trying to be my own publicist, on Monday I spent the morning in the library working on agents and publishers for the series. I have 11 queries in. If history repeats itself, that’ll be 11 rejections, but you have to try. I have also looked at a couple of digital imprint publishers who specialise in romantic thrillers … don’t worry, I haven’t thrown the Sam Green series at them – that would blow their minds. But I have suggested they might like of Black Bulls and White Horses, which, if you don’t remember, is a non-Sam Green romantic thriller. Again, you have to try. If these two latest approaches don’t come to anything then I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

Oh … and for the record I’ve just put 6 signed books in the post to my beta readers. They deserve it, mostly because they make all these wonderful suggestions and I don’t act on them. It’s a long story. But in the end it’s my book, with my name on it. I have to be happy (and I have to get it out there without major rewrite!).

oooo, look what I do!

Mary’s party was a scream. Because we had caterers there was less for the home team to do. And whilst that is never a major issue, it meant we were able to breeze the room. She has some lovely and some v interesting friends. And the weather was fab, which always helps. Afterward we drove via Al and Annie’s for supper, which was a lovely way to end the week. It’s so good to have him back in the UK and just down the road. They’ve got their own project at the mo, which isn’t for me to share. But when I can, I will. It’s v exciting!

Our old pals

I think that fills all the gaps. We’re both still running every second day. I’d not done my timed 4.6km since before Italy (where I clocked a v surprising and v welcome 19.30). I ran it again on Monday and was slower, at 20.20. It felt quick but I sense that I have yet to fully shake covid. I hope that in the next week or so I can break the 20 minute target. We’ll see.

our Jen

So, it’s Bex, Henry and Steven tomorrow. Their off (without the boy) to Newquay on Friday for a well deserved hotel break to celebrate their anniversary. We’re bringing the lad down on Saturday to a caravan chalet (really looking forward to that) where we’ll meet up with them before we all head home on Tuesday. More sand between the toes I hope.

Stay safe, all of you. And don’t think about Liz Truss becoming PM for any longer than you need to. I do sense she is going to be awful and we’ll have a general election early in 2023. In the meantime climate change, cost of living, the NHS, Brexit etc, will continue to be untackled as the Tory party consumes itself. It really really frustrates me. But, hey ho.

Just fabulous

You’ll have noticed that I have avoided politics for a while. And I intend to avoid it for a while longer. The whole leadership process and His Borisness staying in post is doing my head in. So I’ll focus on nicer things.

ahhh, Tenby

Like Tenby. We were actually in Freshwater East, in a lovely, big Airbnb by the beach. Our Bex is good at finding these properties and she was spot on with this one. We had far reaching sea views out of two patio doors, a large garden, a ten minute tumble to the beach (downhill easy; uphill was more of a gym session) and a lovely pub-cum-cafe a very short walk/drive away. Henry, who was perfect throughout, loved it. We went to the beach often, had a look at some boats, walked around a couple of tanks (outside Castlemartin ranges, an old haunt of mine), popped along to the lifeboat launch place and generally did things you do by the seaside. Typically, though, it wasn’t relaxing. I was number one on the Henry machine, and C, as is her wont, organised everything else. I’d like to hope Bex and Steven got some well-earned rest.

The lad was perfect, if busy. And I really enjoyed my bit. But, there was little let up and no evenings to speak of, mostly because mum and dad an he all went to bed together, and C and I were shattered (and I was running the final proof of my novel). On Friday, by the time we dropped them off at Port Talbot station so they could go to a wedding in Kent, we needed a break … but, delightfully, couldn’t take one because we were flying solo with Henry. Who was even more perfect in the two days he spent with us. I know I go on about things. Our car. Doris. Our bikes. Our new wifi process, which is both fabulous and contractless. But I really think that Henry is as good as I say he is. Of course I’m biased. But I do remember a little of what it was like to be a parent and, in our hands, our two fabulous girls weren’t always this lovely. Perhaps it is a grandparent thing. We have more time. We’re able to offer a more relaxed atmosphere. Probably. But it’s still fabulous.

Henry helping me run through my book

On Sunday we almost broke him, though. A three hour journey to mum’s in Colchester. Another three hour journey to Lichfield to deliver him to his other grandparents (and his parents). At which point, on a particularly hot day (not as hot as today … I am currently typing this with my elbows raised), he turned up at Lichfield drenched, either with a full nappy, which had been soaked by grandpa making sure he was hydrated, or that he had spilt my drink all down him in the car. Or both. He didn’t care, though. And that’s what I love about him.

quite a view. Well done Bex!

Today has been the final few chapters of To She Who Waits. It’s now ready for typed amendment and publication tomorrow. A job for the local library. I have to say that I was worried the book wasn’t as good as the original seven. But it kept me enthralled – and I know what happens next. For those of you who do get round to reading it, I hope I’m right. And, as always, please pen a review.

That’s tomorrow’s job. We then have a further couple of days of not much, and then off to Mary’s on Friday to help with her summer party. Sometime next week we have Henry again and a short trip to Newquay is planned. More sea and more sand. Fabulous.

a tank

Stay safe. People close to us are dropping like flies with covid. Even if you get it midly it is a bugger to shake off. C has only just started to feel better. And let’s hope one of the contenders turns out to be better than Johnson. Noe of them have mentioned climate change, something which is clearly pressing … but, when you’re only in it for yourselves.