26 October 2012

Intensive care

The bed is made, fresh towels laid out and a hearty meal is cooking on the stove. Kay is coming home for the weekend complete with infected tonsils. She rang earlier in the week to say she felt she had swallowed a razorblade, had a bit of a fever and felt very sick. She fancied a weekend at home and a bit of TLC and requested her favourite meal of cock-a-leekie soup with dumplings. I'll have you know my dumplings are renowned! ( Yes, all right, all right.)

I've bought a huge jar of Manuka honey. That and the dumplings are going to stick to those tonsils and fight it out (although the doctor has prescribed antibiotics in the event it gets any worse, but has said not to take them if at all possible). For two whole days, Kay and I will curl up on the sofa, watch DVDs and have a giggle.

My kind of intensive care.

picture from www.allrecipes.co.uk

22 October 2012

Savile's Travels

About twelve years or so ago, Greg, Kay and I went on a camping trip to Scotland. We were going to try to do the whole journey in one go from London, but got held up in an enormous traffic jam on the M25 caused by an overturned newspaper bale lorry and only made it as far as Northumberland by nightfall. The next day, we carried on through the border with Scotland and got as far as Glencoe before stopping for a lunch break.

We stopped off at a remote roadside cafe high up in the mountain pass just before you reach Glencoe and piled into a warm cosy interior offering warm drinks and light snacks for refreshment. As we settled down at our table and took in our surroundings, the strong waft of cigar smoke and a very distinctive voice reached our senses. It was Jimmy Savile sitting at a corner table with a crew of mountain rescue people, deep in animated conversation. We learned much later that he had a cottage up that way and often helped out with the mountain rescue teams. His camper van was parked outside near our car. Kay, then about 10 years old, was excited that we were in spitting distance of not just any old celebrity, but THE Jim'll Fix It one. We tried our best not to stare at him and left him in peace, as we appreciated what it must be like to be a celebrity and have people clammering for autographs or taking photos, when all you want is a quiet chat with friends and a cup of coffee. It fills me with dread now to think what a lucky escape we had. Kay could have so easily run over to him and got in contact.... in more ways than one.

My reaction when the news about Savile first broke was to think what a shame he was not alive to defend these malicious allegations,but with every person that comes forward to say it happened to them, I now think, what a shame he is not alive to face the punishment for these charges. The NSPCC has been quoted  as saying he is likely to be one of the most prolific sex offenders they have ever encountered. It is incredible that for 5 decades nobody had the courage to stand up and report him (from the many child vicitims to the adults who worked with him or for him). It seems everybody thought or was told the same - that he was too big a personality, particularly in the  charity arena, for their complaints to be believed. It either seemed too far-fetched or it would damage the donations or salaries he put their way. He used his charity work to gild his reputation, make himself look extremely altruistic, when all along it would seem he was doing the very opposite, creating more opportunity for himself to pursue his own vile interests.

It is sadly too late to get justice from him now, but a lesson to be learned from all this is  surely that we should not put any one soul on too high a pedestal that they cannot be knocked off, if need be. Celebrities are but ordinary mortals who just happen to be able to sing, act, tell a good joke or be in the right place at the right time. (Some are even just famous for being famous, although they cannot do anything remarkable to save their lives. They just happen to be the ex or the current squeeze of someone who is famous). We must stop treating them as if they somehow have supernatural powers and are beyond the laws of the land.

18 October 2012

Letting Go

Kay and I are very close and have always got on very well together. That's not to say we don't have the occasional argument or disagreement over something, but generally speaking we are very close. She tries to phone me every day, partly because she knows I am on my own and  am trapped in the house for long periods (because of not leaving an aged dog on his own too long) and partly because she likes to share her news with me.

However, I know that I am an anxious person and always see the worst in situations or people. It probably stems from growing up in a family where my maternal grandmother lost two of her three young children within the same week (one six weeks old, the other three years old) in 1925 to double pneumonia and whooping cough. My mum was 18 months old at the time and the only one to pull through, even though she was in hospital with the other two.  On my paternal side, things were not so hunky dory either. My father's wider family in Germany were largely wiped out by the holocaust and he and his brother and parents only managed to escape to England in 1939 by the skin of their teeth. So gloom and doom and cautionary tales were forever in the family psyche and have rubbed off well and truly onto me.

Whenever someone tells me something, I am a glass half-empty rather than half-full. I see problems where noone else can. I sense danger. This tends to heighten where Kay is involved and I just cannot help myself saying "don't do this, don't try that." When she was little, it was not too much of a problem, and I don't think I was any worse than the average mum, waving a small child off to school, letting them make that first climb alone on a slide, dropping them off at their first sleepover. As she grew older, I adjusted reasonably to waving her off on school trips to France, watching her jump off at the deep end of a swimming pool or seeing her head off on a backpack challenge to Guatemala and Belize. My grandmother used to say "Small child, small worries. Big child, big worries." This is so true. No matter how old your children, the worry grows in ratio to their age, as they become more and more independent and experimental. Try as I might to bite my lip, I find words tumble out of my mouth with dire warnings. The result is that Kay thinks that on occasions I am trying to smother her or stifle her wanderlust. She once said that I can never be pleased for her about trying something new. It is not so much that I don't want her to challenge life or experiment, but that I am afraid it will go wrong and harm her. I accept that since Greg has died, I think this has got worse, as she is now my world.

With that in mind, I am trying very hard to be pleased for her that she is taking a 7-hour coach trip tonight along dark foggy autumnal motorways from the far north end of the country to Cornwall to go surfing for a long weekend with the new club she has just joined.  She is an average swimmer, although you can count on one hand the number of times she goes to a pool in any given year. She never swims in the sea and she has never been surfing......ever. The weather is reasonably good this weekend. So I am desperately trying to put on my glass half-full hat. Cross fingers, touch wood and wish me a shedful of luck!

All is well.....she survived the weekend safely and so did I!

12 October 2012

Wrinkly drinking

This article appeared in the news today. Greg would certainly have been one of those listed in the 2010 statistics.  Having been a light social drinker most of his life, he suddenly took to drinking in an excessive way literally once he hit the age of 55 and took early retirement on health grounds (ailments that had nothing to do with drinking at that stage). I still ponder about why he took up drinking and why so excessively, but have to put depression over quitting a very stressful but  extremely dynamic job high up on the list. Nothing he did after that (particularly because his health prevented him) came close to the excitement his job had given him. I guess for a lot of over-55 year olds that may well be a key factor for taking to the bottle... the feeling of no longer being useful to society....as well as a dawning resignation of changes not necessarily for the better in life/marriage/health and the outlook of being on a downhill slope.

It's knowing when to keep to the advised drinking guidelines, though, that can be the difference between life and death. In Greg's case, addiction took hold and he was dead by the age of 60. He'll be in one of those statistics somewhere too.

09 October 2012

Water on the brain?

There's something about being by water that I find very restful and calming. (I am sure Freudians would say it has something to do with being back in the womb.) If ever I have troubles on my mind, a walk by a river, a lake or the sea seems to put them in perspective and I can breathe freely again. When my father and then Greg died, a walk with the dog around the lake in my local park used to help no end. I love to hear the sound of water lapping against the shore of a lake, water rippling over stones in the river, or the waves pounding over shingle on the beach.

After my recent fiasco with the roof problem, I was very much in need of some therapy and a week at my mother's by the sea was all I needed. Of course I was busy doing her garden and other chores in the pouring rain, but there were also some nice days to take in the sea air and relax.

01 October 2012

Raising the roof

I've just had one hell of a week. One of those weeks where you feel like bursting into tears and taking to the hills. I've spent endless nights staring at the walls, tossing and turning and trying to sleep, but have lain awake all night and waited for the alarm to go off in the morning. I've lost my appetite and lost pounds in the bargain. It's not a week I want to repeat in a hurry. In fact, ever.

And the reason for all this? I've just had a new roof put on my house.

I've mentioned before I live in a small cul-de-sac of town houses... six-storey houses with flat roofs. The reason for the six storeys is that from the side elevation the house looks like this.....

From the front or back of the house, there are only three storeys, but once inside the staircase winds centrally through the house and through the six storeys. The roof, as you can see, is in two parts - an upper roof and a lower roof. On the very top level (to the top left of the diagram) is a bedroom and bathroom and from the bathroom window you can look down onto the lower roof. This sets the scene for my story.
The roof is 24 years old and, as anyone with a flat roof will know, that is ancient. It hadn't failed me and would probably have been going strong for a while longer, but it had got to that stage where I began to think my luck might not hold out much longer and it would be better to replace it while it was still keeping out water, than wait for a deluge, a crack and be swept away in the current. What with the washed-out summer we have just had, the miserable  wet autumn and thoughts of cold snowy wet winters ahead, I decided to bite the bullet and have the roof replaced now. I also decided that while the roof was off, I would also invest in roof insulation as well to do my bit for the planet.
I did a bit of research on roofing companies but decided to pick a small family business which had been going strong for the last three decades.  They have a website and it looks friendly and cosy, like a comfy pair of slippers, and I felt we could get on famously. More than half the employees (both workmen and office staff)  are related with a few non-family members thrown in. I should have maybe got a few other quotes in, but since it is all down to gut reaction anyway, I decided I was happy with that one. I arranged for them to come along to look at what needed doing and the owner turned up the next day. I thought it a bit strange that our entire meeting was done outside the house, including the bits about possible price and other details. Not that I have secrets fom my neighbours, but I kinda didn't want the whole street to be involved with the discussion. Mums were coming back to the cul-de-sac with their kids from school runs and it was a bit of circus rather than a quiet meeting.
When the estimate came in, I gulped a bit but it was within the price range I had expected it would be, so was not unduly alarmed. But they had missed a significant detail out and when I wrote back to clarify whether that detail was included in the price or they had left it off, the owner said he had forgotten to include it, but as a gesture of goodwill he would let me have it for free, as I was now a pensionner. So far, so good.
I wrote back agreeing to the work and signed their terms and conditions which basically covered such things like having no comeback if cracks appeared in my ceilings, or not being able to alter the slope of the roof (it's flat, so no problem), and not holding them to keeping my TV aerial in its place etc. After a week or so had passed, I had heard no more, so casually rang up to ask when they might be able to start the work. I was told it was scheduled for a few days from then, but nobody had bothered to telephone or write to tell me, so that was slightly alarming. Having told them I could not be there for that date, we agreed a date a week later.
The scaffolders turned up to erect a scaffolding tower and also drilled holes in my upper brickwork to put a fence around the perimeter of both roof levels. Nobody had told me there would be holes in the brickwork, but I was assured it would be filled in when the scaffolding was being removed. The roofers were due to start on  a Monday, but by midday had not turned up and when I rang, the office serenely told me (in the kind of tone to suggest my psychic powers had definitely let me down and should have told me) that they were still on another job.
On Tuesday, the men turned up and to be fair worked like Trojans. They did not stop once from 8am though to 4pm. I plied them with endless cups of tea and coffee and would climb to the top of the house each time to pass the cups through the bathroom window. It meant too I could have a peep at what they were doing at each stage of the process. About 40 huge great insulation slabs each the size of dining tables were hoisted up and laid on the surface before several layers of felt was fixed over them.The men did not even have any lunch and one of them did not even get down from the roof all day, so goodness knows what he was using as a toilet, although I have a pretty good idea! The same happened on Wednesday and Thursday.  I thanked my lucky stars that the weather was fantastic and the sun shone its head off for all three days. 
The main roofer seemed to have plenty to say against his boss, giving pretty good vibes that all was not harmonious, and said his boss had little understanding of the problems that could suddenly crop up which meant that he always underallocated time on these jobs and meant this particular roofer had to work like crazy to get things done.
The job was finished on the Thursday and I heaved a sigh of relief as I'm not very good with sharing my home with workmen or making small talk, as I pass the tea and coffee over to them.
On the Friday and Saturday the sun continued to shine and I forgot all about the roof. On Sunday it rained and boy, did it rain! The heavens opened and the rain came down in stair-rods. I was suddenly reminded of the roof, so ran up two steps at a time to the top of the house, to admire my beautiful new roof through the bathroom window and see how it was coping. This is what I saw......
After four hours of rain it looked like this.........
The puddle was 16 feet long, about two feet wide and probably about an inch deep. I naturally panicked and texted the boss on his mobile. He seemed a bit taken aback that I could see it and at first must have wildly imagined I was dangling from the scaffold in the rain with my camera.  I said I was not happy with the water collecting on the roof. He seemed completely laid back about it and said all flat roofs have pooling. He pointed out, that he had not altered the slope or fall of the roof, I must have had water on it before but that because my old roof had a layer of gravel on it, I had simply not seen it before.  I pointed out that my neighbour's roof was exactly the same construction as mine and also had no gravel, but did not have a vestige of water on it. Long story short, the texts went back and forth between us but he did not seem too fussed and seemed to dismiss everything I said.  He did say he would send the workmen back the next morning to have a look and they dutifully turned up at 7.30 am to "get me out of the way before they started their other job". They were up and down from the roof within minutes and said it was fine and the water would eventually evaporate, although if any more rain came, it would just wash over the edge and not get any worse. I was made to feel I was fussing about nothing.
As the week went on, the amount of water did get worse. I kept inviting the owner to come and see for himself, but he refused to come out, kept on talking down to me as if I were an idiot and said it was not a problem. I then got the invoice through the post and was on the verge of signing the cheque, when I got an email from Trading Standards whom I had contacted earlier in the week. They said I should get a second opinion from another roofer, as the problem did not sound right. The second opinion  said  I should not accept that size of puddle under any circumstances.  By now I was getting more than a little worried and didn't know how much or whom to trust. So I decided to get a third opinion from the trade association. I thought it prudent to email the owner to say I was doing this and would not pay until I had spoken to the trade  association about it. The logic in this was that the invoice had to be paid within 5 days of receipt or otherwise I had to lodge a written complaint by then instead. At this point the owner went completely ballistic and accused me of blatantly trying to avoid payment and, if I did not pay in full within 24 hours of receiving  the invoice, he would put the matter in the hands of his solicitor and I would be charged all legal fees. I literally didn't sleep a wink all that night. Or the next night. The  day after that,  I finally got to speak with the appropriate contact at the trade association and they assured me that, although it was not an ideal situation and the roof company should have made sure that water could drain off properly, the roof would nevertheless cope and, if not, I  would at least have the guarantee to fall back on. They suggested I only pay three quarters of the bill and then only the final quarter once I had the guarantee. When I told him this, the owner went ballistic again and said that he would only issue the guarantee if I paid in full.   What a nice man. With my arms tied well and truly behind my back, I have paid the £4000 in full, as I am sick of the whole thing and just want an end to it.  I'm still left worrying whether I have done the right thing to pay up when I am so unhappy about the outcome, but fingers crossed that the owner keeps to his word and that the guarantee comes through the post in the next few weeks as promised ....
Meanwhile, one thing is certain - I never want to replace a roof ever again.