Took its toll

A brief few moments of calm and mellow light before the dark clouds rolled in and it absolutely chucked it down – AGAIN. A photo sometimes doesn’t tell the entire story. It doesn’t show the person behind the camera. Caked in mud and water dripping off his sodden clothing. The lane in the distance looks inviting through the lens. Really! In practice it was stream. Torrents of mud and water making it a runners nightmare. But for these brief moments it did look pretty.

The other thing the photo doesn’t tell you about the lane is the surface condition. It’s a dirt track. Trying to navigate the exposed bedrock, ankle breaking potholes and badly eroded surfaces. I first ran down this path in 2010. The new nursery was close by so I could occasionally squeeze in a quick run before it was time to pick up our Son. Then it was a beautiful lane to run down. The surface was in a wonderful condition. Flat and ever so forgiving. Clearly the decade took its toll.

Sadly it was not the only thing that the decade took its toll on. As my MP3 player had run out of juice, pondering on this helped take my mind of the battering my knees and ankles were taking.

  • The Dreamer has seen his soul darkened,
  • The thick mop of black hair now more resembles a badly worn corridor carpet,
  • The body once fluid is a little more wooden,
  • The knees once strong are a little squeaky and in need of oiling,
  • The reliable feet now most definitely over pronating,
  • My pert bum is definitely more rounded. To the extent that it has developed its own gravitational pull.

But that’s life. I can still smile. I’ve still got my best feature – my long eyelashes. I’m probably stronger and fitter than I was back in 2010. I was drinking far too much in 2010 and now I’m completely tea total. My excellent sartorial taste is still with me – bright pink leggings today. I’m certainly more resilient these days.

So yes the decade has definitely taken its toll on me but that’s not to say that actually I might be a better person for it. Which neatly brings me to saying thank you to Di for tagging me for the Ten Years (2010-2020) challenge.

Play Along Guidelines

Please share a link to the creator of the tag-jesusluvsall.wordpress.com

Share some highlights for you over the past decade and if you want, a few low points

 Tag whoever you wish to.

Ask them some questions

Use any picture appropriate for such a tag.

Going with the last guideline first, I’m also going with Rory’s choice as it works on so many levels!

So here goes then….

Is there any year in the past decade that stands out as the best?

2010. Son was a bundle of joy and energy. This was probably the last year my partner was truly healthy. Best winter in ages. Plenty of snow which hung around for two months. It was properly cold. Didn’t feel like Yorkshire. It was a dry cold. More Alpine. It was snowman central in our garden. The first snowman lasted 10 weeks.

Has your taste in music changed in the past ten years or do you think music in general has changed?

Went into the decade a metal head who liked classical music. Left the decade as a metal head who liked classical music and who plays a little bit of Leonard Cohen.

Are you heavier or lighter than you were ten years ago?

I have much improved muscle mass density with some incremental drift on the biometrics …. in other words heavier….

How many cars have you owned in the past decade?

Two plus my partners car for 2 months until it was sold. I think she would have been smiling down at me as I tried to drive her automatic which was the size of a glove compartment.

Highlights of the decade

  • Son
  • Switzerland
  • Partner

Low points

  • Death
  • Constantly trying to push up hill on support for Son
  • Rupturing Bicep

Strange Yellow Thing

Such a change 24 hours. Yes still very very very wet and muddy. But that strange yellow thing in the sky has returned. It does make such a difference.

Son did you get time to look at the strange yellow thing in the sky today”

What strange yellow thing.

“That big yellow thing we don’t often get in Yorkshire”

Dad was it a large Canary or Yellow Parrot.

No it was Big Bird from Sesame Street”

Your pulling my leg aren’t you Dad. And Big Bird can’t fly.

Son it was the Sun. Did you see the Sun today”

Dad your not supposed to look at the Sun directly. It could damage your eyes.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

It’s Wednesday so it must be time for this weeks spelling test. Not the easiest thing for a kid with dyslexia. Ok Gang your words for this week which you need to learn or makeup fiction with are

Overreact, Hero, Claudio, Beatrice, Benedick, Character, Scene, Subservient, Discipline, Accused, Blessing, Suspicion, Breadwinner, Complicated, Stereotypical.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

A letter came home with Son today. In two weeks his year group will sit exams for all subjects. They will be organised in the same way as final exams to better prepare students. Exams will last 75 minutes with time for reading provided. Results are important as they will largely form this years assessment. This determines which set you are placed in.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

So beginneth the first true school test of 2020. A test for school not pupils. What support will school put in place for our son. For kids like our son. I have already let school know very clearly what we expect. Additional Time. A Reader & Scribe. Separate room. If these are not viable in any particular exam then significant marking adjustments or removing son from exams where adjustments can’t be made. Over to school now.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

Today at work I found out that the office unit might be relocating. A local Car Garage is looking for a trustworthy organisation to share a unit with. Oh what fun. It’s closer. More modern office. And best of all maybe I get some company. No more Billy no mates.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

On further investigation I do get some company just not quite what I was expecting. The garage will be using it’s part of the unit to store car parts and tyres. So my new buddies are called Mr Dunlop, Miss Bridgestone, Mr Goodyear, Mrs Pirelli and Mr Continental. Will have to tread carefully with these guys…..

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

Sad Playlist

It’s been yet another wet, muddy and stormy day. This photo was taken during one of the slightly drier spells.

Grim dog walk.

Exceedingly grim run.

I wasn’t planning on running today but I just needed to get out of the house. I felt the house walls closing in on me. For times like this I often find a run is the most reliable way of clearing my head. It certainly worked. Not sure it worked for the skin. Came back looking like a Prune.

When I say running works I should add And listening to music on my MP3 player as well. I have a playlist for this type run. The music is either quite deep or somber. I blame my mum for this. If she was feeling down she would always listen to music. Always sad songs. As soon as you went through the front door you could tell if mum was trying to cheer herself up. Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Runrig, Sinatra, Roger Whittaker or Andy Williams would be blasting out. She always said that sad songs cheered her up. I always thought it was very bizarre yet all these years later and I’m doing the same. So here goes. Here are some of the songs which have made the list. And no Roger Whittaker and Durham Town is not included.

Alter Bridge – Godspeed

Disturbed – Sound of Silence

Shinedown – Get Up

Five Finger Death Punch – Gone Away

Runrig – Somewhere

Avenged Sevenfold – So far away

Johnny Cash – Hurt

Anathema – One Last Goodbye

Leonard Cohen – You want it darker

Queen – Who wants to live forever

Neal Morse – He died at home

Pink Floyd – Coming Back to Life

Just in case Mum is expecting it, here’s one just for mum. This is certainly not on the playlist.

Roger Whittaker – Durham Town

And here’s one for my partner. This could make the playlist.

Madness – It must be love

Grief and muddy puddles

A brief respite before the next storm arrives. Grey, cold and very muddy. Soon to be grey, cold, very muddy, very wet and stormy. It’s been one of those winters. Constantly just trying to avoid deep muddy puddles. Today I failed. My old running shoes have hardly any tread left on them. As I tried to sidestep a large puddle my foot slipped and I ended up standing in 4 inches of dirty water. Lovely. I really should buy a good pair of trail shoes but money is a little tight. Expenditure is prioritised. They will have to wait their turn.

If you we’re like me then you tried not to think about death and grief. I knew it would strike at some stage (that’s life) but best not think about it too much. I could understand the emotions as I had experienced losing my Dad when I was quite young. But I was shielded from much of the fallout. I really didn’t have the faintest idea about the practicalities. Years passed and I avoided thinking about death again. Then my mum died. This time no shield. Suddenly I was grieving again but this time I was also dealing with practicalities. So when my partner then died 6 weeks later. I was doubling up on the emotions and doubling up on the practicalities.

That is what’s tough about losing someone so close to you. At your lowest emotional point you are saddled with practicalities. You can’t think but you are trying to organise

  • Registering the death
  • Informing people
  • Organising a funeral
  • Sorting out your job
  • Sorting out your partners job. Returning work assets and documents.
  • Trying to work out finances
  • Trying to find the will and wade your way through probate
  • Dealing with Government Departments, Banks, Utility Companies
  • Trying to change the deeds to the house
  • Going through personal items and enduring countless trips to charity shops
  • Trying to change car ownership so I can sell her car
  • Sorting out what to do with the ashes

Your not even warned that the ashes come back in a glorified giant sweet jar. I wasn’t expecting an Egyptian Sarcophagus but I certainly wasn’t expecting a sweet jar shaped thing.

Like grief the practicalities tend to stick with you. As we were not married probate was brutal and took 15 months to finally bottom out. I didn’t expect that. I never considered that my career would have to be ditched quickly as it became incompatible with the now number one priority – single parenting. Suddenly two steady incomes dropped to one zero based hours contract income. Where did that practicality come from. I should have realised really. The sudden loss of someone your intrinsically linked with is going to send seismic waves through the very foundations of your life. Stuff will fall down. Things will change. Seismic waves – guess whose been trying to help son with Wave Theory for school.

So here we are in 2020 and I’m still dealing with grief. Still dealing with practicalities. I have managed to kinda stabilise the new post death financial world. But things are tight. Very tight. Again something I would never have immediately associated with losing someone close to you. But it is what it is. You prioritise the essential stuff. Unfortunately brand shiny mud loving trail shoes are not essential. So I guess it won’t be the last muddy puddle I end up standing in.

I guess I can forgive myself for not seeing that particular connection. Grief and muddy puddles.

Odd sizes

Running. Running. Keep on running to try and get closer to the hot air balloon. As hard as I tried this was as close as I got. In the photo it looks so small. Odd sizing.

Only two hours work today. Really could do with a few more hours. But that’s the price you pay for having to work to a zero based contract. What I miss out in terms of money is balanced by the flexibility it affords me. I’m lucky it’s run by good honest people. On the way back home I called into the supermarket. The shop has over the last few days introduced a new car parking layout. After two minutes of unsuccessfully trying to park I realised the problem. Unless you are driving the smallest two seater then your car is going to be too big for the parking bays. Clearly the shop only wants to attract those with car boots the size of glove compartments. Odd sizing.

Is it so difficult for running shoe manufacturers to actually use a shoe sizing standard which applies to all trainers. Each manufacturer seems to have a slightly different definition of what size 9 is. That’s UK 9 or EU 43 or US 9.5. Yet depending on which brand I go for sometimes I need to buy a 9. Then again sometimes it has to be 9.5. Then again 8.5 has been the best fit. That’s even before we go down the line of feet width. According to some manufacturers I’m wide, some think I’m standard and one company think I’m narrow. This is all fine as you can try them on in the shop. But what happens if you need to buy them online because they are so much cheaper. It’s a nightmare. My new trainers came today. With New Balance I’m either a 9 or 9.5. So I played safe and went 9.5(wide). And guess what they are too pigging small. So they have to be sent back. Deep breath. Along with Son’s new coat. Which was too small even though I went two year sizes up – so he could grow into it. Ha ha. Very odd sizing.

Yesterday was the school bag apocalypse day. Every two weeks we have one day which requires separate kits for Drama, indoor PE and outdoor Games. The day also involves Design Technology with its own wheelbarrow full of items. On top of this he needs to bring the bucketload of daily required school gear including books and iPad. And then as Monty Python would say ‘just one more wafer thin mint’ – room needs to be found for his lunch (as school can’t guarantee that he will be given food). Poor kid was sent in with two extra large rucksacks packed to busting. Too busting for his plastic lunch box. So with trepidation the food is sent in a food bag. Asking for trouble.

Dad I look like I’m carrying a parachute and a paraglider.

No wonder when he comes home we have rucksack chaos resulting in sports kit being scattered over a 15 mile radius. Even accounting for lost items you can still see the forces building inside the bags like an overheating pressure cooker. The seams fighting not to burst like The Hulks pants. And at the bottom of the last bag is his uneaten packed lunch. Due to the Black Hole type conditions at the bottom of the bag the packed lunched has been compressed into a fraction of its original size.

“I take it you didn’t have your packed lunch.”

No after PE it was missing in action.

Did you get a school lunch then.”

No by the time I had got everything back into the bag the queue was too long for lunch. So I just gave it a miss.

You must be starving. What do you want to eat now”

Super size bowl of cornflakes with a mega packet of crisps. The biggest banana in the house washed down with a pint of orange juice. Then the biggest bar of Cadbury’s chocolate as second helpings.

****

That’s an odd sizing order I can finally sign up to.

Lakeside

New Years Eve. A walk to a local lake. For our Son a good walk as apart from a couple of anglers we had the place to ourselves.

This might have been the first place we walked to when we moved to the village. A time before parenthood. But parenting was at the forefront of our thoughts. It was the main reason we left the city. It looked a good safe place to raise a family. A perfect fit.

Fast forward far too many years and again I’m walking around this lake. This time as a parent. Still thinking about parenthood. Realising with hindsight what an excellent location choice we made. It’s perfect for our son. A landscape which can inspire dreams. Quiet. Isolated.

Yet even here sometimes it’s not isolated enough. Two anglers fishing at the far corner of the lake. A hundred yards away. Yet son still pulled his hood over his head and talked quietly. Just in case. It’s so difficult for him to interact with our society. Imagine how difficult it would be for him if we lived in a busy city. How difficult it is for him trying to learn in a school with 800 pupils.

Looking back to my life I can understand his anxieties. I can understand the effect those two anglers can have. I’ve always struggled in social settings. People thought I was outgoing and confident. They didn’t see the nervous kid with a stammer. The child only truly at ease when he was playing by himself. Only happy to laugh and joke when in small groups of trusted friends. Or within a trusted sports team where I would allow myself to take down some the self erected defensive walls. Yet throw in a stranger and I clammed up. I remember the teacher telling the class that the next day would be different. Kids from another school would be visiting us. The thought of strangers spooked me. The next day I bunked off school. As I walked towards the school gates I panicked. I spent the rainy day crouched under a bush. As an adult again I was often seen as the outgoing confident joker. Oh so wrong. Often my social skills needed to be fuelled with alcohol. Those antics masked my anxieties. I kept to a small circle of close friends. Avoided strangers. Constantly battling with my insecurities and nervous stammer.

These years later I’m still wracked with social anxieties. Now no alcohol to fuel the alter ego. So yes I can understand what our Son is going through. I’m no expert but what he has to deal with makes my struggles look like a cakewalk. So everyday I ponder on ways I can find to help him with his anxieties. Yet apart from Sport, Alcohol and hiding under bushes I’ve not been able to help myself. Maybe we could add – walking around completely deserted lakes to the list.

Ghost letters

We have some really nice postmen who work our mail route. Even down to our third reserve postie who is equally nice and conscientious. So rather than just post an unusual letter he knocked at the door.

“Sorry to bother you but I don’t recognise the name on this letter addressed to you”

After a quick scan I confirmed the letter was correctly addressed to us. You see this postie only occasionally covers our village and probably only for the last couple of years. He has no idea, nor should he. We often think the world stops when someone dies and grief hits. But you quickly realise that the wider world keeps spinning. Only you and maybe a handful of others experience a shuddering world halt. When finally your world does starts spinning again there is no guarantee that it will get back up to the speed of the wider world. Until the speeds harmonise you feel out of synch. Not quite part of this world anymore. For me everything seems to happen in slow motion while outside of my bubble the world flies by. Sometimes I drift into social settings and no one seems to see me. They certainly don’t see the grief baggage that I am am shouldering. My chains. When I do reach out to make contact with the outside world again I often fail. As if I just can’t grasp it anymore. Part of the world yet removed from it. Maybe this is what a ghost feels like.

So when a letter arrives addressed to my partner and only two people blink. An efficient but blissfully unaware postman and me. You realise then that grief is deeply personal. Incredibly localised. All this from one of those letters. A random invite to a furniture sale. A mass produced advert. But the computer generated name on the front of the envelope changes everything. It reminds me of what I have become. Someone going through a process. Transitioning. Currently in the ghost stage.

Red School Sky

Red sky at night ready for the school fight.

So the dreaded hour is fast approaching. School opening its gates again. Feel so sorry, sad and angry for the kids like our Son having to face up to the nightmare which is modern schooling. I use the term modern in its loosest sense.

Increasingly my thoughts are turning to homeschooling. When to flick the switch. How to make it happen. Trying to stress tests the plans which are swirling around in my pea soup of a brain. Which options are best. What fits best with our circumstances. The aim being to have a workable plan in place by the end of February. As ever Son is the voice of reason. In fact as it’s his future he is driving the process. It has to be that way. He really isn’t happy but he’s giving the new term a go.

Dad going to give it a real go. Want to either see me moved up in the subjects I’m good at or want to be helped in the ones I struggle a bit in. Just one subject move would be cool.

“It’s not the subjects you struggle in. It’s the way the teachers judge you in those subjects. It’s never about the stuff you know. You have never had one comment about that. Remember what that teacher said last year – Don’t let anyone tell you your not clever. You are. The problems are not yours. It’s ours. We need to find better ways of getting the stuff in your head out into the wider world.

Ok Dad. Well let’s see what happens. What’s the plan if it goes pear shape this week at school?

Send you up chimneys to earn some money to pay for my rock and roll lifestyle”

Are you joking?

“Sorry, yes son I am pulling your leg. At least you can fit up a chimney.”

Your bottom would me a fine chimney sweeping tool. Not much would get past that.

“Let’s hope that school goes really well and your super happy. Let’s cross the over bridges if they happen. Most bridges are good ones.”

Which bridges. If I remember correctly we drive over 5 on the way to school.

And the voice of reason brings his Dad back into the real world again. So many options to consider.

  • Online tutor v Local tutor.
    How much will I teach. I can certainly do Computing, Mathematics, Science.
    Subjects like Geography and History maybe we just let him run with it. As last years Class Teacher said ‘you probably know the subject better than me already“. Just concentrate on how to access his ideas. Find the best way to express them.
    How to tailor some of the tuition around times that I need to go into the work base.
    Restructuring work to fit round the new world. Luckily I can probably do this. Just maybe will have to put off buying that sports car for say the next 100 years.
    When we move into the 15 and 16 age range how to handle examinations. Some of the colleges have courses for qualifications he could opt for. Would that work for him. Or do we go the tutor or online tuition routes.
    Languages – how far do we go down the online packages route such as Rosetta.
    Ways to ensure that he can socialise when he wants and needs to.
    And on and on

So much to consider. Maybe just maybe school might step up to the plate and this is never needed. That is probably a pipe dream so it’s time to sort this out. It will be a reassuring feeling when a plan is in place. When we have an idea what his education week and plan will look like. To our Son that level of practicality is an essential part of the transition process. It will help him at school knowing that he has a Plan b.

If anyone reading this has ever homeschooled then it would be great to hear from you. Either as a comment or email. What did your ‘learning week’ look like. What approach did you take. I’m sure this wont be the last you hear of this. I think the more we can talk about homeschooling the better. In many places it’s still frowned upon or it’s seen as a bit of a dark art. Maybe people should frown upon the mainstream school system instead.

I will leave you with one final thought.

Dad Santa can get down chimneys so there is always hope for you. There is always hope.

Flick the switch

Ans so the transition begins.

A transition from a happy and relaxed boy to one wracked with doubt and anxiety.

School starts to flick the switch again. How many kids are going through this experience. Far Too Many.

Here the school prison gates open on Monday. Son’s words not mine.

So on this glorious winters day he tries to wade through the homework which was dished out before Christmas. He spent an hour trying to sketch a mirror image of a Scream like skull photo. The fear of picking up a negative for not putting enough effort into the drawing driving him on. Sadly I fear it’s also driving any love he might have for art well and truly out of his system as well.

Once the skull torture was finished. He started work for two upcoming spelling tests. Then time spent on Science, Mathematics and French work. Finally he needed to work hard to complete a writing piece neatly. His teachers words. Whats the point, going to get told that it’s not good enough, I haven’t tried enough and it needs to be done again. Son’s words.

This really can’t go on. Son deserve so much more than this. So many kids deserve better than this. Is it so difficult to make education just a little less daunting and just a little bit more inclusive. What’s the word I’m looking for. Welcoming. Another word. Enriching. Another word. Fun.

Who am I kidding. It will be the same school that he was so pleased to escape from before Christmas. But 2020 feels different this time. This time the prospect of a positive change has dimmed significantly. Our Government is now in place until son will have left secondary school. It is committed to extending the current education philosophy which has already created this hell hole. We are now facing a real risk of son being failed for the entirety of his school life. That’s a sobering thought.

2020 will start with yet another push to deliver any positive change at all. Again school and teachers will be told exactly what actions and support son needs to be put in place to make his schooling work better for him. The dialogue will be constant – certainly from my side. But deep down I know what the likely outcome is. So this year the question is probably more about what it will take for us to flick the switch and turn off this failed schooling nightmare. If we were still a two parent family then the switch would have already been flicked. Homeschooling. With Single Parenting it’s more fraught with logistical and financial issues. So many issues to address. BUT son only gets one childhood. One go at his formative years. Flicking the switch is increasingly looking inevitable.

Pesky New Year

A late evening walk. Not easy for our son. Full of anxieties. But he only had 36 hours to meet his goal for the year. Twelve new places visited in 2019. We had two more to tick off. Too many crowds at the places we ventured to over the last few weeks. So a walk in a desolate dark wood became the next best option.

New Years Eve brought a walk down a little used path. A path that took us to a couple fishing lakes. Thankfully few anglers today so we could have our space. Son counted this as his 12th new place visited. His goal achieved. Not an easy goal for him because of his social anxieties.

*******

Dad I’m going to set a target of 15 new places for 2020. Surely we can find 15 deserted areas. Maybe one or two places will be allowed to have a few people there. Are you going for any New Year goals?

Just my usual trying to end up looking like George Clooney.

Who is George Clooney? Is he cool?

He was Batman.

That’s cool enough. Don’t expect any help from me getting you into the Bat Suit.

No I suspect I would need scaffolding and a construction team for that.

*******

2020 goals……

The only thing I’m specifically aiming for apart from looking like a George came from a blog I was reading this week. It mentioned changing things up. So I’m going to do some writing which takes me out of my comfort zone. Not sure what yet. Maybe I will write a professional looking post. That will be a first. Any volunteers for the ghostwriter for that one.

2020 goals……

Apart from that writing one I can’t think of any new ones that will stick. This year it feels like just dusting myself down and going again. I do tend to struggle with Day 365 of the year.

New Years Eve. I hate it. I’m sorry I just can’t buy into the fondly saying goodbye to the current year. Let’s look at all the highlights. Then welcome in the new year. It’s a new beginning. Is it really. You wake up January 1st to find that your slate has not been wiped clean. Sorry that’s just me. I’m so pleased for the people who can see the New Year so positively. I just can’t.

This year we add the end of the decade. Pictures of people ten years ago and now. For us it would be a family of 3 and now a family of 2. Not going down that road tonight.

So for those who enjoy New Year then I wish you a really happy time. Hope it’s great for you. For anyone who feels like me – I send you all my hugs and we will hopefully reconvene on the other side of this pesky midnight.