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.]

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.   

Motorhoming – don’t you love it?

We’re not natural nature people. Not really. Not ‘climb every mountain’. Nor long walks whenever the chance arises. It’s not that we’re sloths. Townies. It’s just that our days get full of stuff and to keep ourselves fit we run. Every second day, religiously.

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we would never have done this if we weren’t in Doris

But something changes when we’re away in Doris. Hills shout at us. Valleys beckon us. Peaks wolf whistle – loudly. And so we become converts. We walk. And walk. And, when we’re not walking, we cycle (power assisted, of course).

And it’s fab. We’ve been in Scotland for just 4 days and we’ve already walked three times and cycled once. Today, in what looks likely to be the only pure Spring day in the near future, we walked up to a small lake – two hours up, and an hour back – having parked Doris in the car park of Creag Meagaidh park. It was a fabulous walk and the view at the end of the valley was among the top 50 things we’ve ever seen. We were accompanied by people with ice axes and crampons as they left the lake and attacked the sides. It was a perfect spot. So much so that we’ve decided to stay here another night and head off to Fort William tomorrow.

The night before last we parked outside of an old army friend of C’s, south of Dundee looking over the Tay (thanks Cat). And yesterday we popped into the new V&A in Dundee, which, if it’s your bag, is next to Cook’s Discovery. The V&A is brand-spanking and was apparently designed to look like a rock face. It’s not quite Guggenheim, and inside there is more coffee shop than gallery, but it is really worth a visit. Alongside the Discovery I think it looks more like a concrete ship, but what do I know?

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they’re both boats?

Heading further west tomorrow where we are due to be met by wind, rain and, maybe, some sleet. Hurrah?

And me? Well I feel much better. The old ticker has settled down a bit. It’s still throwing the odd-wobbly, but for v short periods of time – minutes rather than hours. I’ve tried to think of all the environmental things that may have played their part, but can’t think of much. C reckons I’m stressed, what with Dad’s hospitalisation, Mum on her own, me and work at Jen’s and at the school in Farnham – plus all of the early mornings, but I can’t see it myself. Anyhow, the good news is that as I type this my heart is beating away with rhythm that you could write a song to. For that there’s another hurrah!   

I’m still here

Scotland. The land of potholes, thin roads and fast-moving logging trucks. Don’t worry, we haven’t written Doris off, although she has taken a helluva stone chip on her front bumper which will need filling. But I’d forgotten how badly potted most of their roads are … and with Doris’s suspension akin to that of a 4-tonner (the army will understand) we do get rattled about a bit.

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Night one

Leaving aside my heart (more of which in a bit) it’s great to be away. We stopped at a Caravan Club CL off the M5 parallel with Manchester the day before yesterday (£8, no EHU). It was by a canal and so we both managed a joggette in the morning before our assault on L’Ecosse. We stopped at the middle-class ‘Teebay Services’ for lunch (Lake District and v posh) before turning right off the M74 and parking up on the hills on the way to Edinburgh. The freedom to pick and chose where you kip still takes my breath away. It was between two Scottish hills and whilst C was sorting out tea, I pushed myself up the hill just to check that my heart was still working when asked. As you can tell, it has been on my mind a bit.

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Up the hill … Where’s Doris?

Today we’ve made our way to the Edinburgh Caravan Club site (technically it’s now the Caravan and Motorhome Club, but that wears out my fingers) which is right on the Forth, a short bus ride from the city centre. At £18, including all facilities, it’s a bargain. We’ve come here because we’re due to meet up (for tea) with an ex-army chap (and his wife) who I’ve met on Instagram. I know, it all sounds a little dubious, but he’s a fellow motorhomer and last year they did North Cap to Spain, including, if I remember rightly, much of Eastern Europe. It’ll be fun to hear the story.

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And me? Well it comes and goes. It’s been two weeks since my first heart episode. I saw the GP on Monday (as instructed by the hospital) and they have referred me to the cardiology unit where, in a couple of weeks, I should be fitted with a 24-hour ECG machine. However, the old heart has not settled down. In between extended periods of something close to normalness I get these ‘fits’ (mostly when static and mostly in the evening) where each of the heart’s chambers wrestle with who’s in charge. Interestingly (from my perspective – you’re bored now, I can tell) whereas my one attack of AF was like three hours with my fingers in a socket where the kettle should be, this is different. It’s as though the heart, which is normally lethargic (52 bpm) slows to a stop and then wakes up in a fit – like a tired student trying to stay awake at a lecture; his head rubber-necking. For a couple of hours. Last night, after sustained period of flip-flopping, I almost woke C up and to say, ‘let’s go home’. But I went back to sleep and things are much more normal this morning.

We shall see.

Off to Dundee tomorrow to meet up with an old pal of C’s and a trip to the new V&A, which should be fun.

Oh … and it was my birthday yesterday. Loving the nose hair clippers …

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The NHS

I’m becoming a bit of an expert when it comes to the NHS (National Health Service for my overseas readers; you’re very welcome here, by the way – don’t listen to the Brexenophobes). I’ve been in its clutches in one way or another for the last 24 hours. First with dad in Colchester General, and then I decided to pay Bristol Southmead a visit last night.

The NHS is a behemoth. It employs 1.5 million workers. And with doctors, surgeons, nurses, cleaners, caretakers, drivers … (I could go on), it pretty much represents every strata of the UK. I can tell you now that it employs people from all over the world: I know two Spaniards and an Indian quite well now; and a couple from Essex, which might as well be a foreign land to the rest of us.

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Southmead has its own resident cat – how cool is that?

It is big. And, I’m guessing as a result, a bit slow. C and I popped into Southmead just after two yesterday morning and, whilst we did see three different nurses and I had my blood pressure taken more times than was necessary and had wires stuck to every spare piece of flesh and then strapped to a machine that goes ‘ping’, we didn’t see a doctor until gone nine. And we were out 15 minutes later.

And the staff with dad (who is very poorly, but today mum says he is looking a bit brighter – we’re made of strong stuff, us Ladleys) were less enthusiastic than those at A&E last night. And I felt that they had too much to do, and on that list wasn’t giving my pop the nursing care you sort of expect. But, with staff shortages and maybe without the stern oversight of Hattie Jacques bursting out of her matron’s uniform, they’re just all a bit floppy. C, an ex-Army nurse, was spotting all sorts of nursing ‘don’ts’, but dad was comfortable. And safe.

Of course, the biggest thing which we all take for granted is that the NHS if free. From my 111 phone call last night, to the two bits of toast and two cuppas this morning, and a wonderful post-Brexit chat to a lovely Spanish nurse [issue: if we leave the EU, Spanish nurses stop earning ‘equivalent experience’ points which they can trade for a job back home – jobs which are in short supply; hence they are all thinking about moving away from the NHS to somewhere where there are jobs that the Spanish health service will recognise. Nice one Brexit.] the cost to me was zilch. Yes, it would have been nice to see a doctor before the sun had risen, but we were sat in our own cubicle and I was checked on regularly. I was never in danger. And it was all free. We should not take that for granted.

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Special chair for the weak kid on the touchline with oranges

So, what’s wrong with me?

I have an ectopic heartbeat (an extra beat that surprises me every so often) which developed into full-blown atrial fibrillation (AF) ten years ago … that’s where the heart dances to its own tune, indignantly ignoring the instructions that are designed to allow you to climb the stairs without passing out. I was admitted … and a half-an-hour drip later my heart was back under command. A round of tests later and I was told to expect this to happen more and more, and at some point I’d be fitted with a pacemaker with a rheostat that I could turn up just before I went out for a Saturday Park Run.

But nothing happened. Sure, my ectopic heartbeat continued to ambush me, but no more AF.

Until last week. When, instead of a full blown AF episode, my heart picked a fight with itself as to who was in charge of the beating. Then, the good old sinus nerve (the one who should be in charge) asserted itself and all was well. I weathered this for a bit, but then by about 1.30 last night I’d had enough and, via 111, admitted myself … with a sleepy C following me dutifully.

The prognosis is unclear. I have to get a 24 hour ECG and then they’ll look at the results. Hopefully it’ll be another passing episode and I can forget about it for a while longer. Who knows.

For the record? I had two really good days down at the school in Farnham and I might have picked up another job at a school slightly closer to home. And, notwithstanding wandering around with a bunch of wires stuck to my skin for 24 hours sometime soon, we’re hoping to get up to Scotland before Friday and have a couple of weeks wandering around in Doris.

In the meantime the government has a chance to redeem itself this week. But, somehow, I feel we’re in for a series of events designed to try to get May’s deal through the Commons. I live in hope that this is not the case.

Mmm, towbar

There is so much to write about, but if I did I might lose my final three readers. But, come on, unless I misunderstand May’s letter and Tusk’s reply we now find ourselves having to either accept the PM’s plan (which, BTW, gives away the crown jewels and only then opens trade talks with the EU … they have all the cards) or leave without a deal. Both of which I thought had been written off. The first by Speaker Bercow; the second by Parliament last week. Where on earth does this leave us? Has sanity lost the will to live and deserted London for the Shires? Does any of this make sense?

Ho-hum.

On a more positive note (realising you’ve just eaten ham that’s two weeks out of date is more positive than Brexit) after a couple of days work at Jen’s, and in preparation for picking up the trike trailer on the way back from Scotland, we had our towbar fitted today. The photos tell the story. A fab job by LNB Leisure. They’re based in Aztec West, just half a mile from here. I took Doris in this morning, ran home, did some stuff – including taking Jen for a consultation – and then picked her up this afternoon. The cost = £950, including grounding wheels, which I love. That’s £400 cheaper than an equivalent quote I got last year.

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Other than the service, which was great, what was fab was that they fitted a special bracket for our external alarm socket and put a little sticker reminding us that this was not where you stick your trailer electrics. And for £20 they soldered the extra plate back onto the silencer which had fallen off on the way to the MoT. So, all-in-all, a proper job, even if we’re now a good deal poorer.

I’m off to the school for two days work, and then I’m up seeing Mum on Friday night/Saturday. My bum is beginning to look like the Focus’s seat base. We then have just a couple of days before we head off to Scotland.

CAN’T WAIT! (Hurrah …).

 

 

Call me Jonathan Ross

OK, Jonathan Ross no longer does the BBC film show, nor do I think the BBC even has a film show other than Front Row on Radio 4. So, you definitely need someone like me, every so often, to remind you of what’s good and what’s not so good.

Let’s face it, anything to take our minds off the train wreck that is Brexit. And have our attentions diverted from His Orangeness – who’s not having a great couple of weeks now that it’s been shown that North Korea have started working on their missile sites again, and the US trade deficit (something his tariffs were meant to be sorting) is the largest for a decade. That’s what happens when you put a talent show host in charge of the largest economy in the world. And, back in the UK, when we employ people like ‘failing Grayling’ to oversee the unnecessary (that is, if the government would rule out a no deal Brexit) additional ferry contracts. Why, oh why are the lunatics in the asylum spending my hard-earned tax paying off Eurotunnel which was, for whatever reason, not made aware of the ferry contracts – bearing in mind they ran a ferry company just a few years ago? And, as a result, they’ve sued the government and won £33 million in damages.

It’s a mad world with the unhinged in charge.

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Anyhow, back onto films and TV. Actually, mostly TV.

If you have Netflix and haven’t watched Black Mirror and Stranger Things, then what have you spending your money on? Both are fabulous. Get over episode 1, season 1 of Black Mirror (where the PM has sex with a pig – that’s put you off already) and you’re onto a real find. Stranger Things is ET, but slightly darker, and we all know how successful ET was. Also on Netflix watch Orphan Black (40-odd episodes) which is about present-day human clones. The main actress – Tatiana Maslany – plays 7 different parts/clones, including a bloke, and she is magnificent. We’ve also watched the series Designated Survivor (a less-intelligent, but watchable version of the West Wing), Travelers (set today, people come back from the future to save the world) and the brilliant The Expanse, which is about a pending war between Mars and Earth. The special effects of The Expanse are out of this world (see what I did there?).

And, staying on Netflix, if you haven’t watched The Good Life, then you’ve missed an ongoing, light-hearted hilarious comedy series about life after death.

I suppose the real reason I’ve turned film critic just now is last night we watched three things in succession which were just fab. First, and you can imagine this being right up our street, we watched episode one of BBC 2’s Race Across The World, which pits 5 couples against each other to get from London to Singapore without using an aircraft, and with only the cost of the flight ticket in their pockets … and no phones, just a map of the world. The relationship side was great, but the travelling was fascinating as they made their way to Delphi (Greece – been there!) for phase one. Next they’re off to one of the ‘Stans … so that should be good.

Next we watched the sitcom Derry Girls which is into its second series. You have to have an ear for it, and as we lived in Londonderry for a bit (it’s set in the height of the troubles) so much of it rings true. Thanks to James and Sheron for putting us onto that. Then we watched Home, another C4 sitcom, about a family returning from holiday to find a Syrian refugee in the boot of their car. You will laugh and cry at the same time … it is fabulously written.

Finally, of course, we’re into Endeavour, which always beats us. We have no idea what’s happening or who did what, but Morse was always like that. Love it.

That’s me. For the record: a couple of days work at Jen’s. Today, I lifted and refitted the kitchen laminate flooring, which I had laid about a year ago, as a case of red wine had leaked overnight and lifted a couple of boards. Shame about the wine …

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Tomorrow I’m off to Mum and Dad’s and then, on Friday, a meeting at the school I work at, all to do with the 360 review I completed last week. It’s a bit of a journey, but I feel I ought to.

And back home … Mary’s down for the weekend. Hurrah!