There’s a thought

I was rereading some of my very early blog posts, when we were preparing for our 8-month trip onto the continent. We were pottering around central England, doing not a great deal. It was fascinating to sense the difference in my tone of writing in those days. What I wrote was lighter, buoyant … as though we hadn’t got a care in the world. Of course we hadn’t. We had just given up work, retiring from the rat race after 34 years. (Pretty much) everything we owned was in Doris One, we wanted for nothing because our needs were small and, frankly, we were still working out if we could afford to do b**ger-all and live off my pension and some property income. We were free. And it read as such.

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our carefree days?

It’s almost 5 years down the line and that feeling of freedom does not so easily navigate its way onto the pages of the blog. I complain a bit – mostly about politics. We are both working at about 65% … a cylinder dropped or a spark plug missing. This is certainly how I read it.

Why? Dunno.

I have deadlines. Some self-imposed, like the book (which will be out late July, a few weeks later than usual, but we don’t get back from Asia until 18 July), some self-generated, like a day’s work for the military on Tuesday and a couple of days at the school a couple of weeks after. And, of course, poor old dad’s funeral a week on Tuesday. And we have those residual folk who we love, such as mum, who need us on hand. And, on hand we will be.

But, actually, when you get your magnifying glass out, very little has changed. Sure, last year I had 7-months work at a school in Bristol which did little for my morale and easily took a couple of years off me. But that was a flash in the pan and, having made that decision once, it’s not one I’m going to be making again. On the face of it I don’t work. Not in any way that you would class as work. I could easily turn down the consultancy stuff, especially as C and I have got a grips of living on not a great deal. Book 5 could be the final chapter of Sam Green; if I wanted it to be. And, as such, once we come back from Korea etc I could easily hang up my commitments on the coat rack of life and we could spend the next 25 years (I should be so lucky) doing very little apart from travelling. We both have full state pensions due, and that will take us from managing to very comfortable. And, whilst our little house is, well, little, it is lovely – especially as it now has a new back gate.

We could become old(er) rockers. Grow our hair. Get piercings. Wear holes in our jeans and socks with our sandals. We could prune our non-existent hedges, mow our two small lawns, watch Eggheads and Pointless and, when we’re not doing that, we could travel Europe (the world, not so often as the money will only go so far) pulling our trike and taking up too much room in the French aires. We could shop at Aldi, borrow books from the library and use, when they come, our free bus passes.

Yes, that’s it. That’s something to look forward to. In the meantime …

[For the record. Went to the dump. Made a shelf. Had a day’s work at the school. Had fun with Mary and her guests. Ran. Walked. Had tea in Doris, because we wanted to pretend to be away in her. And, on the face of it, lived the life of Riley. Fab.]

A prophesy?

So, I made a gate. I’d like to think that maybe it’s prophetic. That maybe the gate was a door to another world. A passage to Doris which, in turn, is only a few gallons of burnt diesel away from the south coast of France. Which, once there, shouts at the Pyrenees and onward into Spain and then Morocco.

Or maybe it’s just a gate. Yes, that’s it. It’s just a gate. But, and still with all my fingers, it is a gate that I made. From scratch. Total cost, including all the accessories: under £100. Although when B&Q didn’t recognise one article it priced it at £36,253. Having unswallowed my tongue, I did point out the discrepancy. The girl behind the till said, ‘Don’t worry, if often does that.’ Oh, OK. Let’s hope everyone has the sense to look at what they’re entering the pin for, otherwise its seems like an awful lot of money for three bags of compost.

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look – I still have all my fingers!

But my original thought about disembarking at Calais and turning right still looms large. I know we have nothing to complain about (we have a new gate, for a start), but after a curtailed trip to Scotland, dad – and prep for his funeral, Jen (who’s not doing so well at the mo and, as a result, has closed down Cubbly’s), some work and a general feeling that we should be eking out more from our time, the thought screams at me. Last night – after a couple of hours of Homeland (Series two), which we are loving – I reread some of my blog from a couple of years ago. Time when we lived in the original Doris and had little to do other than amble about, walk, run, and visit people. Life was simpler. The days were longer. And, goodness, we did seem to live the life of Riley.

Life, of course, is never that simple. And nowhere near as miserable as I am currently making it out to be. The next six weeks are busy (I have four days work, we have a number of immovable commitments including dad’s funeral and looking after mum either side of that date), but on 4th June, just when His Orangeness touches down for his visit, we shall be off to SE Asia for six weeks. It wasn’t planned that way, but it feels good to be leaving just when the man with no morals turns up. I really hope that Bercow stops him from addressing the House of Commons. I know it’s the title that’s visiting and we do need to keep that relationship healthy (post-Brexit we’re going to need all the friends we can get our hands on), but, come on. Who knows, he might be impeached by then and unable to travel due to the fact that he is no longer the leader of the free world. How lucky are we?

Other than feeling the need to spread our wings, we have been busy. We’ve just come back from Jen’s where we’ve been finishing off a couple of items so she can close the business down for now. I’ve done a lot of work on Doris, including resealing the roof lights and servicing the fridge. And generally we’ve been enjoying having Mrs Sun around.

We’re down at Mary’s tomorrow (I have a work commitment in Farnham) and between now and Tuesday I need to sharpen up a presentation for Tuesday which I’m giving to the military. And then it’s heads down for dad’s funeral. I’ll be glad when that it is over.

Hey ho. Till Sunday.

Is there a doctor in the house?

Something akin to normality has hit the Ladley household. We got back from mum’s on Thursday and since then, after a massive ‘unpack’, we’ve been doing normal things. Like: today we took the trike out and, in the presence of a beaming Mrs Sun, rode a picnic down the Wye Valley. It was lovely, and the bike grows on us every time we use it. The good thing is, unlike the car, I can only hear half of C’s instructions. Actually, on reflection that’s not such a good thing as she jabs me in the side when I’m going too quickly, turning too sharply or braking too hard. I will be permanently bruised.

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the Wye Valley looking all gorgeous

Talking of medical conditions, is there a cardiologist or immunologist in the house? The good news is my heart is back to normal. Completely. Those three weeks of fluttering, which included a miserable self-admission into Southmead and an almost ‘turn back’ from Scotland when I woke at one in the morning with my heart on a completely different hymn sheet to the rest of me, were really uncomfortable. Unnecessarily so. And yet, for the past two weeks where none of the environmental factors have changed, I forget that it’s there (thankfully it still is …).

So, why? Well here’s our theory. The first session I had was in the evening after the morning when I’d had the MMR vaccine (for SE Asia). I remember that session really acutely (obviously) and since then, after a peak at 10 days, it’s gradually got back into rhythm until … zip; nothing. Now, I’v done some research. There are countless recorded incidences of post-MMR vaccine reactions. One of which was sudden heart-stop (followed, not long after, by death) and another of fibrillation. There have been thousands of other reactions and all of these could have been caused by all manner of environmental factors, so there’s no proof that MMR is the issue.

But, it’s strange, isn’t it? Anyhow if you don’t know, MMR is a live vaccine and given in two shots. The first covers you 95% and the second the final top up. I’m due my top-up in a week and faced with a decision between sudden death and a 5% chance of catching mumps, measles or rubella, call me cautious but I’ve decided to opt for the latter. We shall see. thoughts welcome.

Finally we’ve being doing a lot to Doris on the roof. I’ve resealed all of the roof lights with Sikaflex and taken the satellite dish apart, oiled and greased it, and stuck it back together again. I’m not sure how long before it starts to moan again … and then stop, but it’s working perfectly at the mo.

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teedah!

And we’ve put the trike on the trailer. It’s a really easy job. The trailer comes with a winch and you just clip the bike on a pull it up the ramp. I’ve yet to fix it to the back of Doris yet, and reversing is going to be a whole new art form, but practice will make perfect.

Tomorrow is ‘new back gate’ day. It’s the last major job in the house. I’m making a gate from scratch, which will put my DIY skills to the test, and probably mean another visit to the hospital. We shall see. Photos to follow.

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me and chief rib-poker

I hope Mrs Sun is out with you at the moment. Clearly there will be a time when global warming is the death of us. In the meantime we might as well brown our knees whilst we can.

King of the Road

We’re getting there. Death is a complicated business and particularly when mum wants to stay in the house and we need to sort out her finances so that she can. I’ve learnt an awful lot about the process of dealing with a death, and mostly I’ve found everyone to be as helpful as they can be. Except HSBC this morning:

‘Hello, my name is Roland Ladley. I’m phoning about the account details I have entered. The account belonged to my dad who passed away last week.’

‘Sure. Can I speak to him please?’

And then, as with every other organisation I’ve spoken to I got passed to a bereavement section where the wait to chat to a talking head took forever, whilst the most obsequious music droned on. I’m glad there were no sharp objects nearby, otherwise dad may have got unexpected company. Of course the bereavement department can’t make any decisions, they can only cancel dad’s stuff (even though I had been told they could) … so, to amend standing orders I was passed back to a new talking head, who wasn’t in the same country, at which point we had to go through the whole security process again. Mum, on stand-by to say that I could talk on her behalf, couldn’t understand the non-UK resident and so we spent an age getting through the necessary protocols. Eventually …

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Essex is not so bad

It’s been ok, overall. Mum, bless her, has her ups and downs. C has been brilliant with her, considering how mum can be. Me, I’m normally steady-eddie, but when mum was obstinately stood in the middle of the road this morning in Clacton, with the neon man clearly blinking red-not-green, and she wouldn’t budge … and I was on the phone to the solicitors who wanted to write two letters not one, I did raise my voice.

Ho hum.

Of course we’re in Essex. Which is like living in a reality TV show – all the time. Everything is slightly overdone. The accents. The waistlines. The foul language. The cars. The breasts – which, clearly, I’m not complaining about.

The Essex coastline is particularly poor. Jaywick (just down from Clacton), a town built on a salt marsh and made up exclusively of single-brick-skinned caravan-sized holiday homes which, over time, have morphed into residential areas, is the poorest community in England. Clacton is where the East End come on holiday once Southend is full; it’s all pier and candyfloss and not much else. Sure, further north towards Suffolk, Walton-on-the-Naze is more upmarket – but it very quickly becomes Suffolk (I’m pretty sure it wishes it was in Suffolk). But, aside from the expletives, I have encountered nothing more than acts of kindness. The woman in front of mum today in Morrisons wanted mum to use her points card as she didn’t have one. A bloke hit me on the head with a mattress at the dump the other day and couldn’t apologise enough.

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. I soldiered with Essex boys, and C looked after their blue-rinsed wives, for 25 years. They are the salt of the earth. And would do anything for you. But, for the wary, the accent is threatening, like living with a couple of thousand gangsters. Inevitably, Essex has its share of gangsters. But so does Bristol – it’s just that their suits are sharper.

I think that’s enough from me. I could go down a political rabbit hole, but I do not have the energy. I have to say that if I were PM I wouldn’t have gone walking in Wales for Easter. I would have stayed in London and got Brexit sorted. But if the leader of the free world can golf in Mar-a-Lago at the same time that he’s proclaiming a national emergency on the US’s southern border, then she’s hardly got a model to follow.

Home tomorrow and back in early May to help mum through the funeral … which we have just about sorted. We’re walking out of the family crem service to King of the Road, which couldn’t be more Essex. Well done dad.

[We’re holding a Thanksgiving Service in Great Bentley parish church on Tuesday 7th May at 11.30 if anyone is interested.]

Major (Retired) Colin Ladley – rest in peace

Dad left us on Wednesday. I got a call from the nurse late on in the evening that his breathing had become very shallow and if we wanted to, we should get to the hospital asp. We quickly agreed to leave mum behind … she wasn’t in a fit state to come with us. C and I got in the car, drove out of their road when I noticed that the car’s lights weren’t working. That is they were on with main beam, but not on dipped. Bugger. And then there was a further call from the hospital and dad was gone. We turned the car around and went home.

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Since then we’ve been sorting stuff – medical certificates, green cards, death certificates, undertakers, vicars, crematoriums, churches, people, pensions, picnics (taking mum out) etc. The list is pretty endless, but thankfully between us we have managed to maintain our humour – just. Mum has been better, although it’s probably fair to say that we’ve tried our best to mellow a little.

Dad, what to say?

What few people know was that he’s the son of a farm labourer. Poorly educated, left school at 14 and after a spell of National Service stayed in the army where he made his way all the way through the ranks: from private to major. That is no small achievement. He is widely respected among his regimental pals (the accolades keep coming in) and him and mum were loved by almost everyone – they were generous with their time and always on hand when other military families were struggling. Dad retired early and they bought a pub, which was very successful, and then they ran a series of post offices/shops retiring into Great Bentley … and golf.

And golf was huge. Dad became both the veterans’ and main captain of a posh golf club (did I tell you he was the son of a farm labourer?) in Stoke-by-Nayland and a major pillar in the village. Unfortunately dementia stalked him for the past five years, with the last 18 months being particularly frustrating. In the end, at 88, it was a blessing that his time ran out.

As a dad? I think it’s fair to say that I come from a generation where mums brought up the children and dads were more shadowy figures in the sidelines. As such, dad was always there … and always a gentle man … but not the beacon of advice and support that we sort of expect from dads nowadays. He was a figure to be admired, and to emulate. But not someone with an obvious metaphorical knee to perch on. But, we didn’t expect anything else. And I can tell you that it hasn’t done me any harm. Far from it. Before I was old enough to take my own control, I had a lighthouse to follow. And follow it I did.

So, thanks dad. Thanks for your example – straight and honest. Thanks for putting your hand in your pocket when my car needed new brakes at Sandhurst after I’d spent all my cash on beer and women (and so many other times). Thanks for pointing me towards the army. Thanks for being there … and whilst I rarely asked for advice, I always knew that you’d drop everything and listen intently. And thanks for never being anything other than you.

I miss you. I hope you’ve found the organ and are giving it everything you’ve got. And that you’ve found Mags (C’s mum) and give her a hug from us.   

My poor old dad

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My nerve endings are exposed at the end of my fingertips. The relentless home to hospital back to home, when home is not actually home but mum and dad’s place, is much more tiring than it should be. Mum, a beacon of motherhood throughout my life, is bitter and hasn’t got a good word to say about anything or anyone; more so as the levels of white wine increase throughout the evening [sorry, BTW, for anyone reading this who knows Eileen … but I don’t write this on a keyboard made of sugar, and I obviously understand that this is a v tough time for her, although she is so much happier now that we know dad is not coming home]. We are getting along. At times, though, you might want to include the word ‘just’.

And my poor old dad, bless him, is hanging on. We have switched to palliative care and this morning he was comfortable, out of it and enjoying the benefit of a continuous morphine drip. I can tell you that, just now in the slightly febrile atmosphere of ‘home’, I wish I had half-hinched a couple of doses; I’m sure morphine mixes well with red wine. But, his need is greater than mine. Recently he has taken the ignominy of dementia, a fall, hospitalisation, pneumonia and now in ‘the waiting’ room, with a grace that makes me tearful. Again, more on dad later at an  appropriate moment, but all I will say now is that underneath his military brusqueness there is always a gentle-man underneath (purposefully hyphenated).

At the moment C and I have opposite sinusoidal rhythms. Generally when she is up, I am down. And vice-versa. This works until our rhythms get into sync … which happened as we went to bed last night. It’s a v irregular occurrence, but the situation here is making it so. We always work it out and always will. But it’s adding to my fingertip issue.

Anyhow, it seems that booking crematoriums (Roland … ever the military planner) is easy, and done by the undertaker. But, actually, securing an early date is more difficult. Therefore we may be at this for some time. In some ways that works for C and I, though. Once we have mum settled and everything is in place, we will pop home and then come back up here for a week or so to see her through the funeral. In the meantime we might take her down to see my brother on Saturday … and, and I’ll know you’ll be interested, we had a v chilly picnic accompanied by Mrs Sun in the car on Clacton seafront today. We have tried to do something everyday with mum whilst we’ve been here.

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Clacton, colder than it looks

Oh, and here’s a thing. I got a phone call yesterday. Out of the blue. It was my old workplace, the defence procurement people. They … wait for it … want me to be the ‘motivational speaker’ at a conference for the teams from Abbeywood. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as grand as it sounds, but I’m getting a small fee and a free lunch, so that’ll be nice. End of April, I think. I’d better start writing something down.

And I’ve had a bit of flurry of book sales (eight yesterday). No idea why, but it’s nice thing to happen.

Hospital tomorrow (dad; not for me – heart behaving). And hopefully I’ll make it to the end of the evening without throwing a rope around the rafters. And tomorrow night. And the night after.   

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Scotland. What to say, apart from we only managed one out of three weeks because of mum and dad, but more of that later. My brother doesn’t give it time of day, and I can see why the weather and the midges might deter some. But for us the combination of fabulously old mountains – greens and brown dusted with snow – the dark blue lochs with hidden monsters, and sparkling clear seas floating above white sands always makes it special. Oh, and the rain. And the five degree drop in temperature. And the wind. Lots of wind.

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west coast – fab

But, do you know what? We walked and ran and cycled – every day. We found new places, better places … strange places. We wild camped for four nights, parked on a friend of C’s drive for another and stayed in two lovely Caravan Club sites (now the Caravan and Motorhome Club – can’t miss then: more signs than a nuclear power station) with fabulous showers and ever-so-slightly over-attendant attendants.

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lovely?

We left on Friday to travel to Bristol and then turn round to get to mum and dad’s yesterday. On the way we picked up the trailer for our Piaggio mp3 trike. Built buy Armitage (and sold, almost new by a chap in Doncaster) it is fab. I’ll elucidate more once I’ve managed to put the bike on top (via a winch), but Doris pulled the bikeless trailer behind without a by-your-leave. When we next go on our ‘big tour’, we’ll be the business: big van pulling a motorbike. You won’t miss us when we pull up. And, as you can see from the photo, the trailer lives on its end when not in use. What’s not to like?

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And dad. We didn’t expect him to be with us now and it is a bonus that he is. But not for long, I fear. He was v poorly today and pretty much unresponsive … and in a lot of pain. Mum and I will speak with the doctor tomorrow and see what the plan is. There seems little chance that he will come out of hospital and, certainly mum will not be able to cope if he does. I think we’ll have to have a frank discussion tomorrow.

Politics? Well, what can I say? His Orangeness thinks wind farms give you cancer, unlike the by-product(s) of fossil fuels, which clearly have not over-heated the planted and do not spew out particulates that infest young lungs. What hope do we have? What really pisses me off … sorry … is that this is not our planet. It belongs to the sperm whale with plastic in its stomach, dead on a beach somewhere, the disappearing insects and the hedgehogs who are still elusive. The arrogance of our race, and particularly our leaders, who opt for short termism over our children’s future. I do not get it.

And, as for Brexit, well what can you say? Jacob Rees Mogg says, should we have to go through the process of electing MEPs, those selected should do as much damage as possible to the institution in Brussels whilst they’re there.

What? Really? How hateful is that?

No wonder my heart is dancing to its own tune, although to be fair, after a rubbish Friday, Saturday was better and today you wouldn’t think there was a problem. I have scratched my head as to what environmental factors may have influenced how my ticker behaves, but other than a cup of caffeinated tea on Thursday evening, I can’t put my finger on anything. We’ll see.

We’re here in Great Bentley for at least a couple of weeks, assuming we – that is C and I and mum – remain harmonious. Mum, bless her, is old and frail … and cantankerous. And she can say hurtful things, especially after a glass of wine. But she’s in a difficult place; we will make it work.

A day at a time.