26 September 2013

In the nick of time

I swear I've got another few grey hairs overnight.   Selling my mother's house and buying her a retirement flat near to me was in theory easy peasy with only three of us in the chain (a cash buyer, us and a lady going into a home), but even so, it has taken since early July when offers were made until today when contracts were finally exchanged. Only in the nick of time, mind.  I won't bore you with the details about how the cash buyer turned out to be in reality a mortgage-buyer and the inevitable wait for surveys and reports to be done, shortfalls of money offered and solicitors working at snail's pace etc. 

Mum's buyer (MH) was off to the USA for a long-planned month's holiday this afternoon which meant if the contracts did not get exchanged today, it would be another month before we could do so. The vendor of the flat was getting impatient and threatening, if contracts were not exchanged by today, to pull out and sell to someone else (not that they had someone else in the frame). So with us in the middle being squeezed and dictated to by both sides, there was a lot of histrionics and nail-biting over the last few weeks trying to chivvy surveyors and solicitors to extract their digits and earn the fortune we are paying them. Contracts were exchanged at 1044 hours this morning and MH left for Heathrow at 1200 hours. Just an hour's difference between elation and utter despair.

We've got a month to sort out the removals and a million other things connected with it, but for now I'm just off to pour a glass of wine and find the hair dye.

24 September 2013

Ten green bottles

I know nothing about the programme that is going to be on ITV at 9pm tonight (Living with Paul Gascoigne), but am hoping it might give those of you who have never lived with alcoholism an insight into what it is like to live with an alcoholic.

Probably living on cloud cuckoo-land, Gascoigne may either not admit he has a  problem (denial) or think he can beat it (denial). He'll more than likely end up on a mortuary slab as another statistic (most probable outcome).  Alcoholics always seem to think they are going to lick this awful disease, but 90% never manage it. As one falls there is always another in denial to take their place.

This programme will be worth watching if only because (for me) it'll be like picking at a scab to relive the nightmare.

16 September 2013


I took a tram into Croydon this morning. There's one shop there which I don't have in my local neighbourhood, so I like to browse around there occasionally. I like travelling on the tram. It appeals to my sense of loss of not living anymore in Germany where trams are the norm and gives me just a small sense of feeling I am living somewhere foreign, which is not entirely deluded. 

The tram is full of all kinds of nationalities, creeds and persuasions.  The streets reflect the same. Glancing out of the window there are Latvian shops, Polish supermarkets, Jamaican cafes.  There's even a tramstop called Lebanon Road, where you could easily be, if you happen to count the number of burkahs walking along the road. Croydon has the potential to be one big melting pot, although the people don't always "melt" ......the recent tensions in the London riots a couple of years ago showed this. I suspect people do tend to get on well with one another, if given the chance, but Croydon has turned into a rather drab poverty-stricken area, where even the very fabric of the buildings shrieks for improvement and some TLC.

Across the aisle from me on the tram sat a very young black mother. A girl in her early twenties with a small toddler of about 2 years, if that, next to her.  At first, the child sat glued to the window (just like me), looking at all the interesting things going by on a sunny Monday morning. Not so his mother. She sat, face down less than six inches away from her mobile phone, texting. The child babbled turning excitedly to point out things to her, but still she texted. On and on she texted, as the tram went from stop to stop, never lifting her head once to glance at her son. The boy began to fidget and lost his shoe, trying to crawl under the seat to get it, but he was not able to reach it. He tried to get his mother's attention, but she was too busy texting and dragged him roughly back onto his seat. He sat there dangling one foot in a sock, the other with a shoe, looking under the seat at his lost shoe and by now his mother was distracted by something else - she was scrolling down to find something on the internet. The little fellow then got off the seat again and onto his knees, still trying to retrieve his shoe. At this point the mother, who remember had her mobile phone in one hand, whacked him in the chest with her free hand and dragged him forcefully by the scruff of his clothes back to his seat.  As she did so, she caught his head against the hard base of the seat which caused him to break out into howls and screams. To stop him getting off the seat again, she used her large handbag to pin him down and carried on staring into her mobile phone again, completely ignoring him. The boy howled and howled. The noise was deafening.  People stared into their laps or at the ceiling. Anywhere but at the boy. The woman opposite me began to tutt in disgust and I muttered as loudly as I could that the mother had had her head in the mobile phone for the entire journey. No reaction from the mother or anyone else. The howling went on until eventually it subsided into a few sobs and then quiet. Still the mum went on texting.

I am ashamed to say that NOBODY (me included) did or said a single damn thing. Going through my head was all the things I wanted to say to that mother. The poor kid was starved of attention or stimulation. The mother looked no more than a kid herself. Kids having kids. But did I say anything? Sure as hell, no.  And I'm ashamed of myself. I've spent the entire morning worrying about that little kid. Worrying about what slap he's getting now and what he's going to grow up like. And when the girl and her son got off the tram, everyone was glad they could stop looking in their lap. Shame on us all.

12 September 2013

Museum Piece

I told you my mum hoards things and can't bear to throw them away. If proof be needed, two items have been accepted by the local museum

One is a brown Bakelite electric hairdryer pretty much identical to this one 
in its own carry-case complete with mirror estimated to have been manufactured in about the 1940s or possibly even 1930s. It first belonged to my grandmother and I used to use it as a child.

The other is a set of kitchen weighing scales complete with weights similar to this one. 

I can't help having a big smile on my face that my mum's home is part of a museum!

09 September 2013

My whole life flashed before me - in a carrier bag

I'm convinced my mother has a carrier bag fetish. I've just spent the last ten days at her house clearing out cupboards and drawers of stuff that she'll have no room for when she moves out of her 4-bedroom house into the 1-bedroom retirement flat to be closer to me. Moving day is drawing ever closer as the solicitors and agents do their searches and wotnot so I have been cranking up our clearing out and preparations too.

My mother doesn't just keep a few things out of sentimentality. She hoards them. Not only that but she then wraps them in plastic carrier bags. The plastic bags are then put in groups inside larger plastic bags. Each bag is tied with a tight knot (presumably not only to stop things falling out but to keep them airtight too.) Sorting through her possessions has resulted in me tying to unpick knots from plastic bags, find more plastic bags (also knotted) within and eventual finding the contents - birthday cards going back decades, receipts of furniture bought in the 1950s, hospital appointment letters going back decades, a cocktail stirrer from a cruise, letters from relatives, restaurant bills, picture Kay drew as a child, pictures I drew as a child. They are all carefully put back in their envelopes (the stamps alone tell the history of the rise in postage over the last few decades).

Sorting through her wardrobes has also been an eye-opener. Birthday or Christmas presents carefully inserted back into the original wrapping paper lie unused (she would hate to insult the giver by using the present and ruining it!).  We have enough unopened bath foam to open a shop. As she's moving to a flat with a walk-in shower we may need to! In one of the bags in her wardrobe, I found two of my old school hats and a primary school blazer. She even asked me if I wanted to keep them. I mean, I am sixty-two.... would I still fit into them? Needless to say they were relegated to the textile recycling at the local dump. In the kitchen cupboards were at least twenty empty glass jars, just in case the urge to make jam or chutney descended upon her, as well as countless gadgets hardly used.

In ten days I have filled a huge packing box with hundreds of discarded plastic carrier bags (to keep just in case...); made several visits to the refuse tip with discarded paper, cards, and irrelevant items; humped countless bags full of stuff in reasonable condition to charity shops and filled my car to the roof on my return journey with stuff I might possibly be able to sell on ebay or keep myself (perish the thought that I am turning into my mother and Kay will be doing all this for me in a few years' time).

I have left her to fend for herself over the next few weeks (her cracked ribs are now nicely healed and she can cope on her own again). She is under strict instruction to wade through another 6 large containers of letters or documents inside bags inside bags and  be RUTHLESS. She is only to keep the very precious things to a minimum. What are the chances when I get back there, she's put them all back again in a knotted bag within a knotted bag?