Red Rose

That’s me expelled from Yorkshire. A red rose……. Historically our greatest rival has been our neighbour Lancashire. We have had bloody civil wars and battled over who should have the English Throne. We are the White Rose County. Lancashire is the Red Rose County. To this day when our teams meet the matches are often called the Roses Game. Even sometimes – The War of the Roses.

I can get away with a red rose. I was born in a Yorkshire town but on the northern edge. The Yorkshire Cricket Team would play in my town once a year. A few years later and the government decided to have a local government reorganisation and suddenly we were kind of just outside my birth county. That’s my excuse anyway.

It really doesn’t matter what colour Rose you are. We are all in this mess together. Work briefly picked up. Glimmers of hope. But that didn’t last long. Most of the work programme has been cancelled again. We help to manage public events and deal with things like cycle races. Trying to stop the roads clogging up and looking after the safety of the competitors/public. Not a great line of work to be in during a pandemic. Most of the remaining events have been waiting for news on the upcoming London Marathon. If they run then we can. Well the London Marathon has now cancelled the public element of the race. It will hold a much smaller professional race with no spectators. Worse news is that next years marathon has already been pushed back months into October 2021. With all the money and resources they have available to them and they can’t run the event safely for well over a year. Crumbs…..

So our work programme is effectively wrecked until well into next year. We might get a few small events but hardly anything. Maybe a few ‘helping to manage drive in vaccination schemes’. But we can’t spend to long fretting over this. It’s really out of our hands. Not much we can do except batten down the hatches and try to weather the storm. Try to look after the pennies. It could be so much worse. So many don’t have a job. Now that is properly tough.

Much less work has many advantages. Yes it focuses the mind on money but look on the bright side. More time to focus on Hawklad. Much reduced carbon footprint – the mad car is hardly getting used, it’s been to the petrol station once since March. And other advantages.

I was sat on the floor in the bathroom cleaning the toilet. I’ve got a rock and roll lifestyle. Listening to some fine Canadian Rock – RUSH. Thinking what a good job I was doing getting the throne glistening white again. Normally toilet cleaning duties are seen as as a real chore. Something to be squeezed in to an overly busy day. Get it done as quick as possible. But today I could take my time. Do a proper job.

Now that’s finished it’s time to fold the bathroom sheets (toilet roll) into nice shapes – just like the hotels do. Now that’s a first…….

Money, money, money

Clearly the blueberry has given up on this Yorkshire Summer and just assumed it’s autumn already.

MONEY. Not listened to that Pink Floyd song in ages.

Get a good job with good pay and you’re okay….

That’s how the song goes. It’s funny that I love Floyd but this is the only song of theirs that I don’t like. The sound of the cash till just annoys me. It’s kinda nice that when I finally got to see them live, I can remember the concert so well yet I can’t remember them playing this song. It’s so good when the mind works like that.

MONEY. Before the world changed in 2016 we were doing alright. Finding a way to maintain two quite well paid jobs while making sure one of us was always there for Hawklad. It wasn’t easy and took a shed load of planning, but we found a way. We had a nice house, two cars (our jobs headed in different directions) and we could afford a trip to Switzerland every year. We tried to save for the future so we didn’t buy much. But it was a comfortable life and we could certainly pay the bills.

Then the world suddenly changed. I’ve just realised how lame that phrase sounds. Took me long enough. Seismic Rupture might be better. Need to think about that…

MONEY. The last thing you should be thinking about after a bereavement is money. But far too often MONEY quickly looms over you when you are at your lowest ebb. Bills still have to be paid. Food has to be bought. The government wants its pound of flesh, death brings the delights of Inheritance Tax. Two incomes suddenly became one. Even that one….. Single parenting, Single Aspergers parenting, Single parenting to a 9 year old who has just lost his mum. My job became impossible to maintain. Suddenly I was scrambling for a part time job which worked round Hawklad. MONEY became a very scarce commodity. Trying to get my head properly round these scary things is the last thing I needed when my world had just been shaken to the ground. Trying to look at a shrinking bank statement is bloody hard when it’s done through crying eyes.

That’s how it’s been with MONEY ever since 2016. I was so lucky to find a job which was flexible enough to fit round the single parenting gig. But I was still trying to pay the bills. Working out which repair jobs would have to be kicked into the future – which is most of them. Only trying to spend on the absolutely essential stuff. Funny thing is how often schooling costs suck up any spare cash. Holidays are just not happening – the last one was back in 2015. When we do have to buy items the first point of call is always the previously enjoyed or damaged sections. Our one extravagance, concerts, are always in the much cheaper – restricted view areas. We never turn down hand me downs. I’m currently looking at an exercise bike which was surplus to someone’s requirements and is held together with copious amounts of electricians tape.

MONEY. How needs it. With hindsight it’s clear that we are so lucky. So many are in a much worse position than we are. I’ve found a job that kinda fits our lifestyle. We have a nice house and garden. Live in a lovely area. Friends are wonderful. Financially it’s challenging but we are just about stable. Money helps but it doesn’t buy you happiness. Thinking of Hawklad, memories and friends – money doesn’t buy you those things.

Flying

Wouldn’t it be great to fly. To just fly. No need for a baggage check in, security and long waits in the Terminal. Just to fly under your own steam, when and wherever. Given the size of my bum during these lockdown days, that would have to me some mighty wingspan to get me airborne. Buttocks like mine are the reason that they invented super sized planes like the 747 with those massive engines.

“Dad have you lost that weight you said you were going to before the summer…”

Yes I did set a goal of shedding some weight.

You actually said it would be 14lbs which is 6.3kg’s. So how are you doing?”

I am probably about 6.3kg’s short of the goal currently…..

“So what’s gone wrong?”

I’m exercising really hard but I’m just not getting any long runs. Without the runs it’s a real struggle to get my heart rate above 100 during the exercise. But the main problem is the food. I’m having to eat Soya and some Gluten products. These just make me blow up as if I’m pregnant.

Are you sure your not pregnant?”

Pretty sure, although we have some of your old baby clothes somewhere – just in case. Those food types just make my abdomen and face puff up. It takes ages for my system to try and process them. When the shop gets a better range of things back in, then things will improve.

Arnold Schwarzenegger became pregnant in that movie. Look how much money he has now. Just saying……Instead of soya and gluten stuff, Dad, why don’t you just eat salads and soups…”

*******

Yes we could all do with some more money but call me a coward, not that way please…. But Hawklad does have a good point. I’ve just switched to the soya and gluten alternatives without really thinking. Salads would be far better for me. I’ve become lazy, stopped making things like soups and stews. So from today my body becomes a temple. A well cared for one. Now I don’t have an excuse, that weight has to come off now. Either that or it’s a remake of the movie Junior….

Get my head round

The sun is shining. It’s still cold but we will settle for this.

So it’s almost official. School has emailed parents to say that looking at the latest government guidance – which apparently isn’t much – only some Primary pupils and those sitting final exams next year will get any direct teaching over the next few months. The earliest Son will be back in school is going to be September. So it’s time to get our heads round this.

Looking at the government’s plan for the economy – doesn’t take long as it’s basically wrote on the back of the PMs hand – probably means the company I work for won’t be operating anytime before September. That’s being extremely optimistic and requires an awful lot of good fortune. Being realistic there is a high probability it will not survive. So it’s time to get our heads round this.

It’s also time to get my head round the likelihood that I won’t be seeing my brother and sisters much in 2020. If things improve then maybe visits at Christmas might be a possibility. Realistically meet ups are not happening anytime this side of September. Already one Government official has said Summer family holidays and meet ups are cancelled, as these are unsafe – but apparently getting on a packed bus and going to work is completely safe.

AND WE HAVE TO GET OUR HEADS ROUND TWO EVEN MORE PRESSING MATTERS.

  • How are we going to celebrate my partners birthday in just over a weeks time. We had been planning on doing a camp fire party. Unfortunately the fire pit didn’t survive the Yorkshire winter. Yesterday I tried to pick it up to clean and the metal just crumbled, leaving me holding just two wooden handles. At least they can be used as fire wood. The other idea was to have my partners favourite meal – Chinese. Unfortunately the local takeaways are still closed and the local supermarket is completely sold out of Chinese food – apart from crispy seaweed. Which brought the response “well the gerbils will eat well then….”. I did offer to cook Chinese from scratch, but that brought the response “I’d rather suck on a gooseberry….”. So we are in plan F territory.
  • Dad I am so missing not going on my trampoline.” A couple of months back our garden pigeons decided to nest right next to the big bouncy thing (thats not my tummy before you say anything….). When I say right next to, I mean within 10 centimetres (not using inches will really upset Boris). Well the pigeons and chicks are showing no sign of moving, so I have two options. One is to dismantle and then rebuild somewhere else. Problem is that it’s in the only flat part of the garden and it’s like trying to assemble a Super Tanker. The instructions helpfully explained that you will need three reasonably fit adults to assemble. They failed to mention at least one of those adults must be an expert in structural engineering and the other two will need to have the strength of The Hulk. The other option is to try and drag the complete trampoline. We tried yesterday and after 30 minutes had shifted it 1 cm (up yours Boris). So we are also on Plan F here as well.

But at least the sun is shining.

Doll

Let’s see what we can find in our little part of this beautiful planet. Today it’s the village pond. Few will know it exists as it’s hidden well behind the church, backing onto farmland. Yes a footpath passes close by but if you stick to it then the water is hidden. To find the pond you need to venture off the path and slog your way through an overgrown and very muddy piece of land. Hard work but worth it.

Understandably today brought a catalogue of work event cancellations. Certainly the rest of March and April will be virtually workless. Probably May as well. Three months without pay really. But we are so fortunate. As a family we can just about survive until work picks up again. At least I will have a job after things stabilise. Many will not be that fortunate. My heart goes out to you if your in that position.

I can’t do anything about the lack of work. What I can do is to use the time it frees up to focus even more on our son. Like many kids he is concerned, frightened, confused… I need to use this time to try and make happy memories for him. And maybe me as well.

So lets see what we can squeeze out of this strange period in our life’s. Fun and good stuff might not necessarily be easy to find currently. But like the village pond, with a bit of hard work it must be there somewhere. We will find it and create memories.

The village pond always brings a smile. Its already a location which has helped form good memories. His old nursery had this thing about getting the kids to look after and care for various toys. One weekend our son was sent home with a doll in a beautiful white dress. He had to look after the doll, show her his home, care for her and record all this in her diary. He decided that he wanted to show the doll the village pond. We set off with him carefully cradling the doll. Unfortunately on the way our son accidentally dropped her in a cow pat. The poor doll was submerged, head first with just her legs sticking out of the smelly pile of poo. Our little four year olds son looked at the poor doll, then calmly at me and with a cheeky smile said the immortal words

“Dad what have you done….”

White elephant

The zero hours contract yielded 5 hours work today. Another 50000000 hours and I might just keep the bank manager from sending me snotty letters. Just enough time left for a quick run. The light was stunning. It’s the quiet before the next storm hits.

“Is it true that we are getting another storm.”

“Yes Son it’s due to hit at the weekend. But this time maybe just a little less wind but much more rain.”

Great. I bet they have given it a really silly name.”

“Storm Dennis.”

“Your joking aren’t you.”

No Son it’s officially called Dennis.”

Probably named after Dennis The Menice. Would have been better if they had called it Storm Menice.”

Given we seem to be getting them every 6 days now maybe they should call it ANOTHER STORM.”

Son gave the car radio a quizzical look when the news reporter mentioned that Boris Johnson is still committed to building a bridge between Scotland and Ireland.

How much is that going to cost”

“I think it was a minimum £20 billion but given our track record of overspends that probably means about £80 billion”

Dad what a stupid idea. How many operations, or school books or trees could that pay for. How many months will it be closed for high winds.”

It’s a staggering idea. A 45km bridge over a seriously mad and volatile sea area. Supported by a series of giant towers having to be spaced at least a kilometre apart to accommodate the busy shipping routes. It would also have to cross the location of the country’s largest military dump. In 1945 over a million tons of munitions and submarines were dumped in a 300m deep sea trench.

“Its ok Son it’s unlikely to be built. When he was Mayor of London Boris committed to another big bridge idea. He was going to build a pedestrian bridge over the Thames. It ended up as a shambles and nothing happened. So if he can’t build a bridge between London and London he’s going to struggle to build one from Scotland to Ireland”.

Talking about building Dad. When are you going to get round to putting my shelf back up in my bedroom.”

The project is currently in the planning stages.”

If you mean by planning that it’s been propped against the wardrobe them then planning stage has lasted almost two years.”

I will try to do it tomorrow.”

Yeh right. Two massive white elephants. The Irish Sea Bridge and my Lego Shelf.”

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.

Knife edge

Another day and yes more rain. It’s been that wet for weeks we have new streams starting to form. More rain it will get bigger. A couple of dry days and it will be gone. It’s survival is on a knife edge.

Yesterday two things happened which got me thinking.

  • I went for a run in the rain and the mud. It was actually great fun. Had the forest and hills to myself. For a few minutes I felt connected to nature again. So good for the soul and it helped lift the veil which has shrouded me for days. After a couple of miles I encountered a steep downward muddy bank. Combination of my rubbish well worn trail shoes and trying to run to fast – quickly I slipped. Who needs a toboggan when you have a butt like mine. I slid at an alarming rate for about 30 yards. Somehow missed some alarmingly large boulders.
  • While trying to give the dog another bath. He is just a mud magnet at the moment. I slipped on the wet bathroom floor. Went down with a violent bang. Really cracked my head, my back and my knee. Luckily apart from some bruises no damage. But for a few seconds I was crumpled up on the floor pretty sure I must have broken something.

Both of these incidents could have ended up oh so differently. Fine margins.

So many of us live survive on fine margins. Operating without a safety net. Knife edge budgets. Parents or carers with no support and no cover. People trying to balance multiple jobs while maintaining a family life. People needing care but with insufficient support. People becoming increasingly isolated from society with wafer thin social connections. People battling odds stacked against them.

Life is always about fine margins. Many people will understand this.

My parenting support net was ruptured three years ago. Suddenly it was parenting and caring on a knife edge. No one else there for our son. I’ve got the ball and I just can’t drop it. I have to be there for him. But what happens if one day I don’t miss that large boulder or the bathroom floor is less forgiving. Forgive the language but the answer is – we are screwed.

But in the great scheme of things – we are lucky. So far we have managed. Yes money is very tight but we are stable. Far too many good people have fallen on the wrong side of the knife edge.

One worrying trend paints this picture. In Britain the use of Food Banks has gone from a few thousand food parcels issued in 2010 to millions of emergency hand outs in 2019. But here’s the rub. The Government has washed its hands of the problem.

Our Home Secretary said “You can’t blame the Government for poverty”

The vile Michael Gove helpfully pointed out that families who survive on handouts from Food Banks only have themselves to blame because they were “unable to manage their finances”.

Both of these characters will earn a minimum £142,000 a year. £142k was an amount our Prime Minister said that he struggled to live on. On top of that modest BASIC income they will top it up further. In the case of the Home Secretary she was also working as a strategic advisor to a Communications Company. Her poverty wage for that job was paid at £1000 per hour. They don’t have the first clue about the real world and what it’s like to be on a knife edge.

So yes we are fortunate as a family. But we are so aware that many are in a far worse place. Its all about fine margins. One unforeseen incident and suddenly we lurch to the wrong side of the edge. That is such a sobering thought.

I am not a widow

Bereavement is one of the most intense and horrible experiences a person will ever go through. It’s sharp prickles and thorns grab hold of you. It scars you. So how can you ever forget it’s happened.

I had stopped off at the local store for food for tonight. Son is easy – just look for any food that starts with an S and ends with ausages…. Then fill the plate with tomatoes, carrots and bell peppers. I will look longingly at the cakes then eventually go for soup. Oh look they have some giant jacket potatoes I can get them for my partner. Where’s the cheese to go with them. No prizes for spotting the deliberate mistake.

It wasn’t until I was focusing on finding a mild cheddar that the brain finally kicked into gear. Oh bugger. For a few glorious seconds I was not bereaved. Not a widow. Then that sinking feeling. That awful feeling in my tummy. Completely disoriented trying to process two completely different places which are three years apart within a few seconds. Maybe this is what Time Travel will feel like.

Not a widow.

According to the UK Government I’m actually not a widow. Officially you can only be a widow if you are married in a manner recognised by our beloved rulers. We were a couple for 20 years. Now approaching 23 years…. The plan was always to get married but we had plenty of time to sort that out. Then we became a family. Then Aspergers entered our life’s. Again marriage was put on the back burner as we had something far more important to focus on. Then time ran out.

So since we were not married I’m not supposed to call myself a widow. The Government is not stupid. It’s a money thing. Death benefits are aimed at easing some of the initial financial pressures which will hit when a partner dies. These benefits need to be restricted so we have a very selective definition. If you are not defined as being officially married then it’s zero help for you. Your not a widow. It’s not the denial of benefits which annoys me it’s that somehow that unmarried bereavement is officially seen as less important. Not an issue. I remember talking to a man whose male partner had died. For years they were unable to get married because of the law. That has now changed. The irony was that it was done by a Conservative PM who needed help from the opposition as many of his own party voted against the change. Five of the current Government voted against same sex marriage. This wonderful couple never got married after the law changed in 2013. The man said

All I wanted to do was call myself a widow and get on with grieving. But according to the Government I am not a widow.

We agreed an appropriate response. Bugger off. We don’t care what others may think because in our eyes we are widows.

So I may briefly forget that all this bad stuff has happened. But sadly it has. So yesterday, today, tomorrow and going forward I AM A WIDOW. Interestingly my spell checker is desperate to change widow to window. So to keep it happy I AM A WINDOW. Now that opens up a whole new philosophical blog and probably makes a great Prog Rock Album Title. On that thought it’s time to draw the blinds down and go to bed.

I know that I will miss her tonight.

Village life

We knew a really nice couple in the village who we became good friends with. But life happens. Our own lives and troubles took over and we slowly drifted apart. To the extent that we hardly ever saw each other. Now it’s mostly a quick wave on dog walks. But it’s reassuring to have someone in the village who I know. Over the last few years the people I could talk to has reduced rapidly. The village is lovely but the isolation is often suffocating.

Today the isolation feels like it’s gone off the scale.

A sign has appeared outside our old friends house. House Sold by Private Sale. My heart sunk when I saw that. Even though our friendship has cooled the thought of them leaving still hurts. More isolated than ever. Now the village is entirely filled with nameless people who smile and occasionally say hello. They are friendly but are not friends. Our lives don’t cross. They haven’t a clue who I am. I’m just that bloke who goes for a run, takes the dog for a walk and appears to be a single parent. He’s probably separated from his wife.

With no pub, or shop or natural village focal point that is unlikely to change. During winter with the poor weather and dark nights you can go weeks without seeing another villager. The house lights are the only indication that it’s not a ghost village. It’s more isolation I could do without. The feeling of being trapped. The isolation is perfect for our son currently. He doesn’t want to leave the house with memories of his mum. Who can blame him. He can control his interaction with the outside world. The house is good for him.

Even if that wasn’t the case – we just can’t afford to move.

Trapped.

Isolation is increasingly a theme for so many in today’s fractured society. I feel it’s icy cold grip. More than ever. It’s another battle I need to take on. At the moment the battles just seem to keep coming.