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.

The Circle of Life

So much to discuss, not all of it good I’m afraid.

First, it seems that my poor old dad is on his way out. We knew that and, indeed, I said goodbye to him 10 days ago. But it’s confirmed today that he has pneumonia and IV antibiotics and oxygen are not doing much so they’re going to stop the medicine soon and make him comfortable. He will not be going home. As a result we are cutting short our trip and, having popped in to see an old pal of C’s tomorrow, should be home by the weekend. Mum is fine … indeed, it’s fair to say that she’s much stronger with dad in hospital. Him and his dementia at home had taken its toll. In the end it will be a blessing.

I could say a lot about my dad, and will leave that for when he eventually goes. What is clear is that he had a helluva life, apart from the last couple of years where he has become more and more frustrated. The circle of life, I guess.

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It’s raining here. A lot. But it’s the first day it’s been like it. We had a super day yesterday on our bikes riding down Loch Duich in some decent sunshine … even though it was cold. At the end of the road by a slip way we had uninterrupted views across to Eilean Donan, the iconic castle on a island in the middle of the water. Actually it’s not as impressive as seeing it surrounded by water, but it was still lovely to get out. I’m penning this waiting to walk down the valley and will crack on when the water stops falling in stair rods.

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Eilean Donan

And what else? My heart is still enjoying its independence, but nowhere near as bad as it was. It flips and flops every so often and then gets reminded of what it’s real purpose is (keeping me alive), and all is well. It will be interesting to see what the 24 hour ECG throws up.

Books? Still selling. Twenty copies last month – now below one-a-day, but still chugging along. And I thought you might like to read this, the draft blurb for book 5 (definitely On The Back Foot To Hell):

On The Back Foot To Hell – Blurb

A new, undefined terror is spreading across the globe. Indiscriminate, low-level acts of violence have hit all five continents – and it’s getting worse. The world’s security services are at a loss. Who is behind the upsurge in violence? Where will the next attack take place? Will it ever stop?

Sam Green, now a supermarket till girl in a small town in England, is oblivious to world events. She has her own inner demons to fight and they’re consuming every spare moment. All too soon though, these demons will take on human form. And then she will be faced with two choices: run or fight.

In Naples, Italy, a young Welsh student is innocently researching a link between The Mafia and the history of art. And two thousand miles away in Moscow, Russian intelligence services are struggling to contain a new terror cell that threatens nuclear catastrophe.

Are all these things connected? If so, can someone force order from chaos? Sam has managed before. But now there are too many obstacles, the biggest of which are those plaguing her own mind.

This time the world might just have to rely on someone else.

 

  

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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