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.]

D – Day

It’s all pretty close now. I left Mum and Dad’s with a lump in my throat. They’re both getting older and, perhaps just when they need us most (although they are both proud people) we are pushing off into the sunset. But, you know, I have seen more of them and spoken to my Mum much more in the past three months than over the past three years; so Stage 3 has already reaped some benefits for both of us. We, of course, are stood by to rush back if there is an issue. It’s interesting that in late June at a school sports supper I was talking with some parents about what we were up to. The mother recounted the story of friends of theirs who had made a similar decision to us, except they took off in a yacht around the world. They made it clear to everyone that they weren’t coming back under any circumstances, including a funeral. And apparently they missed a couple. At least we’ve not gone that far.

We took M&D into Clacton to get Dad a reading lamp (he’s struggling to read the paper even with a magnifying glass) and stopped off at Morrisons for a cup of coffee. It’s funny, but since I’ve become lactose free (my ears, you know), I’ve made a point of asking for soya milk wherever I go. The main coffee branded shops all seem to have soya straight at hand. The supermarkets are a little behind the curve, but quickly scoot down the isles to get some, and that’s what they did in Morrisons today. Bravo for them!

We left Colchester and headed for Thurrock Lakeside which must be the biggest shopping centre in the western universe. It has a large central covered shopping area like Cribbs in Bristol, but the surrounding real estate is full of every shop known to man. They have, among a bazillion others: TK Maxx, Go Outdoors and a Decathlon. We were in shopping heaven. We needed a small ceramic blow heater (we’ve decided to leave the oil radiator behind – it’s too big and heavy) and a single halogen hob to replace the electric ring we bought a year ago which is rubbish. We had also left a waterproof jacket and a gilet at Mary’s (I say we, for completeness I mean C) so we had hoped we might find replacements.

Lakeside - shopping on an unearthly scale

Lakeside – shopping on an unearthly scale

The first stop (for C) was Primarni (you have to be in the know to understand the joke). It must be the biggest in the UK, even bigger than the one we visited the other day in Oxford Street: it works in every level…..that is, it’s on three levels. I poked around a small Currys and found my camera on sale for £245 having got it second hand (unused) from Amazon for £155. How smug do I feel? So – how, exactly, do these electronics shops actually make a living? We then spent an hour and a half looking over TK Maxx, Go Outdoors and Decathlon. Inevitably we came out with nothing that we thought we needed, but got a pair of jogging pants each to put on in the evening to keep warm. C spent an age looking through all the men’s joggers, sorting colours and labels. Grey was good, blue was bad. This logo looked smart, this one a bit naff. Do I want one with a drawstring, or not? This one was £2 cheaper, this one over £20. Um and ahhh. Of course the only person likely to see the pants is me, oh, and C. But at least they’ll be fabulous and have a smart label from a company I’ve never heard of.

Interesting clientele at Lakeside though. I had to be reminded that we were in Southern Essex where image is everything and breast augmentation a must-have accessory. But that’s not a bad thing as, opposed to Brissol where most folk look like they’ve gone shopping in the clothes they slept in, at least here in Essex there’s some pride in looking dolled up and slightly perter than God intended. The accent, which ten years ago would have spelt banishment and attract ridicule is now, of course, sexier than a French bloke’s. Whereas it was heading for the UN’s ‘endangered language list’, it’s now copied and emulated by every school kid across southeast Britain, init, though. Again, I have no problems with this. My old Regiment recruits from the whole of East Anglia and Essex soldiers could always be relied upon to get things done, even if the route to the solution wasn’t one you’d necessarily been taught at Sandhurst.

We got to Kevin’s at about tea time. We all popped along to Grace’s school to pick

where's Grace?

where’s Grace?

her up after drama (she’s Peter in the school’s Peter Pan at Christmas, well done her). They then went out for an hour and C and I took Winston, the chocolate lab, for a walk. Like Cassie he’s another wonderful pet and, whilst the butt of all the house’s jokes, a constant in a often complicated life living without the steadying influence of a mother and a wife. We all miss Tracey. Kevin’s in good form and, as with my Mum, I have seen more and spoken more with Kevin in Stage 3 than ever before. And that’s a v good thing.

Winston - a constant

Winston – a constant

I booked the ferry last night; £43 one way at midnight tonight. We’re down to meet up with Richard and Andrea near Arras for Friday night. He’s ex-RAF and is now responsible for all of European war graves. They taking us on a Somme tour on Saturday. Fabulous.

D-Day today….