27 September 2010


I haven't been to Al-Anon for about six weeks now, what with Kay at home over the summer, or visits to my mother, or last week's trip up north. I thought I'd better put in an appearance this week. It struck me for the first time, that at the moment I am really in a better place than most of the others there. Although, naturally, I would give the world to have Greg still here with me, the nightmare of my situation has gone. I can relax at last. The hamster wheel is turning much more slowly, I can breathe easily, turn the light off at night knowing all is calm in the house and buy what frugal things I need for myself without filling up the supermarket trolley with bottles and more bottles. I am my own master. I now make the decisions what to do or not, what to spend or save, without having to pass it by another person. (Not that Greg was dictatorial about those things, but in an equal partnership, we always chose to agree on things first rather than insist on our own way.)

The majority of others at Al-Anon are still in the midst of their nightmares, with their partners or parents or children still doing the drinking or at best undergoing yet another detox, which for now will bring sobriety but only for as long as the patient is physically locked up for ten days and on medication. Once the key is turned and the patient is out on the street again, they will more than likely be looking for their next drink yet again. When depends on how long their willpower will last out - a few hours, a few days, a few weeks.

Most at the Al-anon meetings are weary, crushed, even numb. That was me a year ago. Thankfully, my nightmare is over, although at a price. The alcoholism has gone, but so has Greg. I am a victim of the alcohol, although I did not drink it and it did not kill me. Although I am in a relatively good place at the moment, Greg's absence is a glaring big hole in my life, ever reminding me of that nightmare.

Whether I shall ever totally recover worries me. There are some people I have met at Al-Anon who have been parted from their alcoholic loved ones for decades, either through divorce, separation, death (or in the case of adult childen, marriage and moves away from home). But they still need the crutch of Al-Anon as they feel they are "damaged goods" or victims. Their confidence or self-esteem has been battered by long years of being in the alcoholic's shadow, of being physically or mentally worn away until only the outer shell of them now exists. They still weep at the memories that never go away. Years of having to pretend to the outside world that everything was fine, yet coming home to violence or aggression or arguments and shouting. Whatever the severity of the drinking, it takes its toll on other family members emotionally and sometimes sadly physically.

I have tried my utmost to be strong - both before Greg died and since. Goodness knows where I get it from, because up to now I have always been timid, shy, socially-anxious and withdrawing. Maybe that comes from being an only-child. But I am damned if I am going to let this beat me. That is why I have been so determined to keep busy and get on with life, to draw up decorating projects and to oscillate between my home and my mother's home to get all the chores done. But sometimes in the wee small hours of the morning, when I lie awake in an empty house and hear nothing but the clock ticking, I am worried. I worry about the slow-developing scar this alcoholic experience is leaving and will leave on Kay and me, long after the alcoholism has passed through our lives and gone.

20 September 2010

All's well that ends well (I think)

I'm back from the North having deposited daughter there for the start of her second year at uni. After all the problems relayed in my last post, we did manage to move in to the house (the German girls true to their word let us in) and we met up with my sister-in-law and her partner who had come up from Lincolnshire in a van with Kay's belongings which they had collected earlier in the week from us. We plodded up and down stairs taking said stuff up to Kay's room which is three floors up in an attic room. The house is in an area of town which is predominantly inhabited by students or immigrants. Streets and streets of back to back terraced houses. The housing is all right although hardly the luxury end of the market. I think once upon time the house may have been built for millworkers and their families. But by gum they must have had small feet in those days. The staircases are little more than glorified ladders! They are very very steep, very narrow and won't take a foot-tread front on. You sort of have to go up or down sideways like a crab, or risk falling down head over heels. Carrying heavy boxes and suitcases up the two steep flights was an acquired art. Afterwards, we were all in need of a stiff lunchtime drink and a sit-down in a local pub to recover.

Once my sister-in-law and her family had gone home, Kay unpacked her things and we started to make the room a little more like home, taking note of what little extras still needed to be bought. The three German girls (staying on for yet another week) were very friendly, apologised for the state of the kitchen, as they had been working hard to get their dissertation finished and had therefore had scant time to worry about washing up. I reckoned there must have been at least five days of washing-up in the sink alone, not to mention the piles of plates attracting flies on the work surfaces. True to typical German behaviour, instead of leaving towels on deckchairs, they had left jackets on backs of dining chairs and all their china/pans and food in the cupboards, so Kay could not put any of her food or china/pans away, but we managed to eat out a lot or bring sandwiches home, so that was no great problem.

Kay and I had a great last few days together, buying more household items for the room, doing a bit of sightseeing and having some nice meals out. The week was only marred by the not altogether unexpected news that the fifth girl (Danielle in my last post) had pulled out altogether. It meant that a fifth housemate needed to be found urgently or else the four other girls would need to cover the outstanding rent. Abigail, now back from Thailand, felt partially responsible for choosing Danielle in the first place and took it up herself to advertise the room in all the appropriate places. It paid off as about 8 people have responded to the ad, mainly Americans, Australians and a Spaniard, all of whom have just arrived in the UK this week as international freshers. Kay, as the only housemate to have arrived, had to show them the room and common areas of the house, while I made myself scarce. Hopefully one of them will be suitable.

With heavy heart, I hugged Kay goodbye on Friday evening and made the long train journey back to London, arriving home to an empty house (except for a very relieved Snoopy and cat). I am really happy Kay is settled with nice friends in a nice house. It'll be a long time until I see her at Christmas and a bit daunting on my own, if I am honest, but I have lots of decorating to do, new double-glazing arriving in a week and the same at my mother's house, so I am sure the time will go quickly. I might even sneak in another visit north, if I get the chance! A new chapter begins in both our lives.

14 September 2010

The joys of student accommodation

By the time this is published, I shall be speeding my way up North with Kay on the train to settle her into her new accommodation for the next year - a shared house with 4 other girls. I plan to stay up there for four days and return on Friday. Meanwhile, a dog-sitter is staying in my house to look after Snoopy and the cat.

We are half-expecting we might have to sleep on the pavement tonight. The house-let has not been without its problems. Kay and three of her friends (let's call them Abigail, Beth,and Chloe) saw the house last December and told the agent (let's call them Disorganised Properties) they wanted to rent the house from July 2010 , the time that First Years come out of university acommodation in Halls of Residence and when the majority of private student house contracts run from. In actual fact, friend Abigail was already living in the house, sharing it with some German girls. The German girls however, wanted to keep the contract on until 31 August, so Kay, Beth and Choe were told they could not move in until 1 September. That seemed fine, as it would mean Kay did not have to pay rent over the summer, when her room would be unoccupied anyway and lectures do not in any case start until 20 September.

Disorganised Properties asked Kay for a £300 desposit (returnable when she moves out again, unless she wrecks the joint) and the first instalment of £280 to cover September's rent. In addition she had to pay £60 (in cash!!!?) for agents' fees. There are five bedrooms in the house, so the girls advertised for a fifth housemate and eventually Abigail (already in the house, remember) said she knew someone, unknown to the others (let's call her Danielle) and it seemed simpler for the others to agree to this, even though, there were other candidates in the offering. So far so good.

The summer vacation started, the girls all went their separate ways and some to far-flung places. Kay met up with Abigail for the exam a few weeks ago and Abigail let slip that the Germans wanted to stay a bit longer than 31 August and she had said that would be fine, as the other housemates would not want to move in to their rooms until 18 September. She had said this of course, without consulting the others. Had she have done so, she would have found out that one girl wanted to move her stuff in at the beginning of September and Kay wanted to move in around 12th September. However, Abigail, as I said already resident in the house, has taken it upon herself to agree to these and other things without consulting the others and without really thinking things through.

A few weeks ago, in my organised, ticking-off-list-of-what-to-do mode, I rang Disorganised Properties to enquire how and when we should pick up Kay's key when we arrive in town. The answer was not what I was expecting. It seemed only Kay and one other girl had completed and returned all their paperwork and paid their £640 up front, the other 3 girls had still not done so and until all the paperwork and money was finalised, nobody could move in at all. I needed to book train tickets for us well in advance, organise for a dog-sitter, plan for Kay's stuff to be collected and taken up by road etc and the agent would not accept my pleas that we had done our bit and paid up, therefore we should be entitled to move in on the 12th. Disorganised Properties then said Kay should chase everyone up, if she wanted to move in. Quite why Disorganised Properties had not already done this or intended to do it, escaped me. Beth was in Greece, but in any case was paid up and paperwork was done. Chloe was in Dubai and said she had not received any paperwork in the first place to return, but did return it quickly once another set had been sent to her. Abigail was in Thailand for a month and not responding to email or facebook or mobile messages; also she was the only one who could get in touch with the fifth girl Danielle, as none of the others personally knew her. To cut an even longer story short, Kay finally got through to Abigail and got Danielle's number and texted her about the problem, but Danielle was not responding to her mobile calls or texts. The agent just wiped his hands of the whole thing every time we phoned up and said we needed to get it sorted. It did cross my mind to ask why on earth were they charging £60 per girl for agent's fees if we were the ones doing all the administrative running around, but I decided to keep quiet for now and raise it some time later (mental note to contact Trading Standards). To cap it all, the agent then said they did not know the German girls were staying on beyond the 31st August and started to charge them, so they are getting rent from us AND the German girls for the same period (another mental note to Trading Standards).

Finally last week, after a long silence, Danielle got in touch and said she had been in hospital but would sort her paperwork out with the agent. Whoppeee. I made my plans, booked train reservations (although for 14th and not the date we originally wanted), arranged dog-sitter etc. Then a few days later Danielle dropped the bombshell that she cannot afford the rent and if the others would like to look for another fifth housemate she won't mind! Seven days before term starts!!!

As if that was not enough, there is another mess to sort out...when we should read gas and electricity meters, as strictly speaking it should be when the new tenancy starts (1 September ?) but the German girls will be using gas and electricity afte that date and before our arrival and are not moving out until 22 Sept. So when do they stop paying for utilities and the English girls start? Such a tangle...

So Kay and I are travelling up today, the German girls are letting us in (hopefully) and if anyone asks anything, we'll just claim squatters' rights. But I'm taking my sleeping bag and camping mattress just in case! Those pavements can be quite hard to sleep on.
copyright First Baptist Orlando from Google library

08 September 2010

Great news

When Kay first went up to uni last year, she was told about the marking system. If you got grade E or F, you had failed by varying degrees. If you got a D you had just passed and it was OK. If you got a C, you could be very very pleased with yourself and so were the university pleased with you. If you got B, it was absolutely fantastic. Grade As were almost non-existent, as they were only awarded for truly exceptional work.

Yesterday Kay got the results of her exam that she did two weeks ago (the one she missed when Greg died in March.) She got a B. Of course I have been going around like a pigeon with a puffed up chest, proud as punch. Although she has missed out on the summer holidays because she has been revising so much, she can now rest assured that she is through to the second year of her course. (Sighs of relief). We now have just under a week to relax and pack for her return north early next week. I do so wish Greg could be here to share this good news.

03 September 2010

Waste not, want not

Following on from my post about the staircases, it does not strike me as at all odd that I have reached the ripe old age I am, without having achieved the perfect house. I was born in a post-war London (just inside the 1950s) when rationing was still very much de rigeur. My mother recently produced my ration book from the caverns of her wardrobe, although it is hard to think that at the time as a six-month-old I demanded my ration of whale meat or parachute lining!

I do remember as a small child that there was nowhere near the choice of shops on offer today. If you needed a dress, there were only one or two shops to choose from - and that was in a very busy quarter of London; not the overload of boutiques and chain stores there are now. Not only that but everything was still in short supply. What you needed, let alone wanted, was just not available. Furniture was bought on hire purchase- a sort of forerunner of credit cards - where you paid weekly instalments at the shop where the item was purchased. There was not much choice in furniture either, apart from can I afford it or not? To this day, my mother still has her utility sideboard in her dining room. Fridges or washing machines were relatively unheard of; there was only one channel on the television (BBC1), although ITV was just coming in and I used to go to a neighbour's house,whenever I wanted to watch Noddy on ITV, as we only had BBC; and phones and cars were for the very wealthy. Housing was in short supply too - the bombing had seen to that. My grandparents had moved about 6 times in the space of 4 years during the war, as each house was blown to smithereens. I remember bombed-out houses and gaping holes here and there in the terraced streets, where I played. (That was another thing - then, I played on the streets. Shock, horror, nowadays.)

People's expectations of life were a lot less and they were more accepting of their lot . My parents had lived apart for the first two years of their post-war marriage, as they had nowhere to live together and the only hope of getting somewhere was to get on the council housing list - and for that you had to be married!!! So they married and then lived with their respective parents on opposite sides of London about an hour's bus and undergound journey apart. They never did get that Council flat, by the way, although an offer did come in about 8 years' later by which time they had already put a deposit on their first mortgaged house.

Used to these wartime shortages, I grew up in a family where everything was kept and recycled if possible. Nothing was thown away - just in case. Certainly not furniture. That has definitely rubbed off onto me. Being a student helped too, having to live frugally in the late 1960s/ early 70s. Greg came from a similar background too. He and I were both horders. I wouldn't throw so much as a piece of string away, as it might come in handy and Greg would reuse nails or screws. Over the years we have squirreled away quite lot of stuff - just in case - until every drawer, cupboard or cellar space is now groaning. Last week, I replaced our fridge/freezer which had reached the grand old age of 22 years. It was a bit battered, but it still worked and I did not see the point of throwing it out. The salad drawers were held together with duct tape where they had cracked many years ago, the handles had come off and I could not find replacements, but the fridge still kept things cold. It was only because the seal on the door had recently gone, that I felt forced (yes, forced) to replace it. And I tell you, the new fridge-freezer is bigger in size than the old one, but it doesn't store as much. How I miss that old one, already.

I recall some years ago when I was at work, that a young single twenty-something was buying a flat for herself and she wanted it freshly-decorated, furnished with all the mod cons (washing machine, dishwasher, TV, telephone, fridge, the lot) all BEFORE she moved in. My parents' generation would have saved for years even decades, for such things, had they been available. My generation had to gradually amass them too, as and when we could afford them. The young generation of today take so much for granted.

There currently is a must-have culture that buys now and worries later. I am sure that's why there are so many house repossessions , as people just do not think beyond the present and cannot contemplate that interest rates might rise. When Greg and I first bought our current house in 1988, we started on 16% interest rates!!! It is a throw-away culture too. Watches and computers are past-it when they are only three years old. As for mobile phones - they HAVE to be replaced each year - so that you can flash the lastest gimmick around in the train. My Nokia 3410 is still going some three hundred years since I first got it. I get funny looks when I use it in public, as if I have just exposed myself. But it works beautifully. Why do I need to replace it? I managed before without photographing everything in sight or ruining my hearing with i-tunes. Why do I need to upgrade it (that wonderful little word which suggests you are missing out, if you don't!) People even seem to replace their furniture every five minutes too to match the wallpaper. What happens to the old stuff? Does it go to some big warehouse in the sky, get dumped on a rubbish tip or get handed down to some lesser mortal?

Times are changing:sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. I am not sure if all this hyperconsumerism is necessarily a good thing. Yes, we have more choices, but we are in danger of becoming greedy and complacent, particularly when half of the world has very little, including a roof over their head and something to eat. As I start to tackle some of the decorating projects, I shall naturally brighten and clean the house up, but I doubt whether I'll manage to upgrade furniture or de-clutter to the extent that it has that minamalist unlived-in look. It will pain me to throw things out - just in case. Anyway the cat and the dog won't stand for that either, I know.