Tales from a 37 year old brain.

I know, I know, I know – I haven’t written anything for ages. It’s my brain. It’s a bit – well – a bit like me I suppose. It’s rather rebellious and doesn’t do things that it doesn’t want to. And, unlike children, I can’t shout at it to make it do things. Well, I could, but I suspect that would guarantee me a long stay parking space at the nearest asylum.

Anyway, we’re here now. Minus the bits of me that fell victim to the weekend, as usual. My brain leaps about and says “Yes! I can do two nights out in a row! I can stay up until 2am in a friend’s hot tub drinking Prosecco and feel absolutely great at 9am! And I can certainly get 2000 words written sharpish before breakfast.” And then the sad truth emerges from my actual body:

-          I am exhausted

-          I have a headache

-          I am grumpy

-          I want to sleep

-          I am devoid of inspiration

-          I NEED carbs

-          Everything is going to take four times as long as usual today

-          So it probably won’t get done

I am not 21 anymore. I am not even 31 anymore. I’m 37 and I need to remember that and especially for weekends like our last one, body and brain took a bit of a battering.  We flew to Ireland, for a wedding, and it was St Patrick’s Day. Except the place that we stayed at for the wedding was a 5* castle which was a bit too grand, really, to acknowledge the day – so, in generosity, we lent it a hand instead.

Personally, I began ‘celebrating’ at lunchtime on Friday. As anyone who knows me will testify – I don’t fly well. At all. I am petrified of the bloody things groaning their improbable way into the sky and I simply do not understand how they get up there and – perhaps more importantly – STAY up there with no visible means of support. The sum total of this means that I take a few mg of diazepam before the flight, to keep me calm and controlled. That’s the idea anyway, it doesn’t always happen like that (insert guilty emoji face here).

In fact, the flight we took back from Spain in the summer went so badly that my partner and both of my daughters refused to fly with me again. I think I drank a bit too much wine, pre-flight, out of sheer terror. Certainly, by the time I boarded the plane, there was still a bit too much blood in my alcohol system as far as I was concerned. Partner and younger daughter headed straight to their seats, and my eldest was left with the unenviable task of accompanying me. At the front of the plane there was a kind stewardess who noticed my ashen face (and probably tears, I can’t really remember) and took me to one side to calm me down. Apparently anyway, (this was all relayed to me by my daughter afterwards). After a few minutes of gentle chatting, I was asked if I wanted to go and speak to the pilots either before the flight or when we landed.

“Oh, right now!” I declared, setting off purposefully towards the cockpit, but she put her hand on my arm. I think it was at about this stage that the stewardess had noticed that something was amiss. To my daughter’s horror, she then began questioning me about how much wine I had actually drunk. Through my ramblings, I cut the number in half and then reduced it again and her eyes told me that even that was too much.

“And have you taken anything else?” she asks suspiciously. By this point, something was creeping through the thick fog in my brain which told me that the truth wasn’t the best answer here.

“Oh – I – er – I’ve just taken some painkillers,” I tell her, and then for reasons totally unknown to me both at the time and now, I added a little extra detail: “I’ve got a touch of the old arthritis in my knee.” I bent down and touched it for a extra bit of authenticity. A TOUCH OF THE OLD ARTHRITIS IN MY KNEE????? What POSSESSED me to come up with that?? I’ve never had arthritis in my knee, or anywhere else for that matter. There was a perilous moment (apparently) where my poor daughter didn’t know if I was going to be allowed onto the plane, but I was and carefully limped to my seat. We took off and the drinks trolley eventually rumbled to a stop beside me. I requested wine – and was refused.

“We won’t be serving any alcohol to you on this flight, madam.” Given that this – to me – was a catastrophe of epic proportions, I whispered to my daughter that she would need to get the wine. The fact that she was only sixteen at the time escaped me completely. When she explained this, I (apparently) hissed at her “You are a very bad daughter. I will not forget this. Not EVER.” A few months on and I rather think that it’s more the other way around. Eventually we landed and I am still several sheets to the wind. Border Control looms in front of us, and unfortunately between the four of us, only myself and my youngest daughter had the same surname. I was asked (apparently) who my eldest daughter was. To the collective horror of my family, I swayed on my feet, beamed at him and said, “She’s my daughter.” I even spoke slowly because the poor man didn’t seem to have a grip on the facts.

“Can you prove this?”

“Prove?” I am flummoxed. And still beaming at him as he told me that she should have a letter from her father giving permission for her to travel. We didn’t have this, obviously, and there was a tense moment (apparently) when we almost weren’t allowed back into the country.

Needless to say, I was not popular.

So, you can understand why Friday’s flight was approached with trepidation from both me and my partner. Me for the flying bit, and him for simply being next to me throughout this journey. I was a lot better though, much less panicky and I didn’t do anything strange or out of the ordinary. Oh – actually – there was one thing I did for reasons unknown; I ordered Scotch on the plane. I don’t even like it! I rather detest it, in fact. But the mind works in mysterious ways……..well, mine certainly does. And now I have to go and apologise to it for a bit of a frantic weekend and try some gentle persuasion to make it address some work. Luckily, I’m a copywriter as well as an author, so ‘words is what I do best’.

Unless I’m on a plane, of course. Or at Border Control.

“Grade II listing property.”

I’ve just moved house. For various reasons too boring to go into, we had precisely two weeks in between knowing that we were moving and the actual date on which we were moving. 14 days, during which time I am home alone with two children, two cats, two dogs and two rabbits to look after. You can probably sense where this is going.

BEFORE THE MOVE (two weeks to go):

Oh, I think, looking vaguely around the sitting room. There’s not much in here, it won’t take long to pack up. I prove this by constructing a cardboard box (slippery slope where these things are concerned) and packing most things within half an hour. I did not pack: lamps, anything from the sofa, anything to do with the TV, anything to do with the record player or anything that was shoved under the sofas from the last time we moved. Nevertheless, I am pretty pleased with myself. A whole box filled!

I repeat this success in our bedroom by pulling out the full boxes that have sat in the wardrobe since our last move and re-labelling them. I did not pack: any clothes I thought we might need (changeable weather at the moment, so that was pretty much all of them), anything that I would need up to moving day (make-up, hair dryer, hair straighteners, etc.), anything of Sean’s (where do you even start?), any of the lamps or bedroom furniture. Still, it’s better than nothing I tell myself.

After this, I am tired and unenthused. So, I go and sit on my still-constructed sofa and put on the still-there television.

One week to go:

I’ve told Sean that I’ve done ‘most’ of the packing so we are well underway. He arrives home and I discover that our ideas of the word ‘most’ do not match. I am rapidly set to work constructing box after box after box……….and then to my great indignation he makes me actually pack the bloody things as well. I am realising that, in fact, we do have more stuff than I’d thought. Something which is proved when I spend half an hour wrapping things and packing them carefully and you can’t even tell that I’ve stepped over the threshold.

One day to go: There are some boxes to put into the van………

MOVING DAY

Oh, the excitement! I was up with the larks at an hour that I haven’t seen since I had to be at the hospital by 6:30am for my c-section with Alice, eleven years ago. I begin sorting things with a new vigour, determined to make this a smooth process for all concerned.

7am: I have a lot of the kitchen utensils packed. I have not packed: plates, bowls or cutlery (because we will need them), anything in the utility room (I shuddered just looking through the door), any food from the cupboards because food is Sean’s area (I tell myself) or anything from the large shelf that runs along one side of the kitchen because it is piled full of stuff that needs to be sorted. The kitchen is big enough to give the illusion that many, many belongings have been packed and I skedaddle out of there before Sean goes in.

10am: I need a rest.

10:05am: “What are you doing?!” (Resting).

10:30am: OK, I really need a rest now.

12 midday: We take the first load of stuff over to the house and heave our boxes through the entrance passageway that was originally constructed for people in the 1420s so I’m bent double and Sean’s on his knees.

“I’ll stay here and unpack,” I announce.

“You will not. We need more boxes over here before we can even think of unpacking.”

1pm: I don’t like making boxes.

2pm: I don’t like packing the wretched things.

3pm: I don’t like Sean.

4pm: I decide that the best, all-round solution seems to be that I leave Sean to move into the 14th century house and I sink into some sort of modern, sheltered accommodation somewhere and wait for the move to be over.

6pm: I am disabused of this notion – but I am allowed to stay at the new house and start unpacking. Hallelujah!

After that, I don’t see Sean again until the early hours of the morning. I can’t say whether this was deliberate or not.

Day 1 (9:30 am): We’re in our new house! Let me at those boxes……..

10pm: Pillows? Who needs pillows?! Pillows are for wusses!

Day 2 (9:30am): The boxes have been breeding overnight; it’s the only explanation for why there are STILL so many of them.

10:30am: There’s no actual path through the sitting room because the boxes are sitting majestically in my way. This must be fate, surely? Giving me an other-worldly message that they wish to stay intact. The only benefit to this is that Sean can’t actually see where I am, or, more importantly, what I’m (not) doing.

10:30pm: How did we not realise last night that our 14th century bedroom has no light fittings? And where are the lamps?? I am in bed in the pitch dark, quite cold, and cursing myself for thinking about other-worldly messages earlier. I make sure all of my limbs are fully beneath the duvet so ghostly hands don’t touch me…….ARGHHHH!!!!!!!!! Why, why, why, why would I have these thoughts??

11:30pm: The bed is moving. The BED is MOVING!!!!!!!!! IT HAS MOVED. These ghosts haven’t wasted any time have they? Oh no, they’ve started a party and invited the poltergeists. Surely there’s some ancient 14th century law stating that all ghosts must give the new occupants seven days before they begin to haunt? And not only is the bed not where we left it earlier, the chest of drawers is now just a chest because the drawers have fallen out. Oh this is too much. I am decidedly not brave enough to risk getting out of bed and I shut my eyes tightly until I open them again the next morning.

Day 3 (8am): I am having a Pot Noodle for breakfast. Enough said.

9am: I venture back upstairs to investigate our haunted bedroom. However, in the light of day I can see quite clearly that the problem is that the floor is so old that it bows in the middle, gently persuading my furniture to move in that direction. I must have read the details wrongly, I thought it said “Grade II listed property”, not “Grade II listING property.” On the plus side, no ghosts! (Or none that we know of).

12 midday: That is it, I am never moving again. Not even when I’m too old and spindly to use the stairs. They will be taking me out of this house in a box.

And, knowing my luck, it will probably be a cardboard one.

 

The sea. Without me.

I am on holiday. Only for about four minutes, but it’s still a holiday. This tiny getaway was designed to satiate the longings of a madman who wanted to surf in North Devon for the weekend. That’s right, surfing. In Devon. In March. I don’t even want to think about the temperature of the sea, it’s truly for the die-hards and I am definitely not one of those.

We are in a gorgeous little holiday apartment right on the beach which means that we don’t have to mess around carting surfboards back and forth on the car, we can wreck our forearms by carrying them to the water. It’s out of season, there’s loads of parking right next to the apartment and it’s literally seconds from the sea. Perfect! Except things haven’t gone exactly smoothly since we arrived.

The first thing we did wrong was to not actually arrive. I thought I was fairly safe by following directions to this specific, tailored-for-surfing beach but we left the main roads for these tiny, little lanes and after twenty minutes the sea was nowhere in sight. But that wasn’t too much trouble – nothing was in sight. Because of the fog. And there was not another car on the road, unless you count the one with the faulty headlight following very closely behind us (Wolf Creek, need I say more). Then we saw a sign for some military thing ahead but we persevered down the lane anyway and quickly came to a gate. I did a 93 point turn and suggested that while we were here we should probably let the dogs out for a quick wee, seeing as they’d been in the car for about three hours.

“Come on,” I say to my eldest daughter, “let’s just walk them quickly.”

“Mummy! No! Didn’t you see the signs?!”

“Yes…..but so what?”

“It said there were troops training, it had a little picture of shotguns and unexploded bombs! I am not getting out here!”

Oh. OK, maybe it’s best if we don’t go for a wander here, alone, in the dark then.

When we arrived at our destination, it was pitch black and all we had were vague instructions which alluded to a reception hut, a key safe and the details of our apartment. ‘Next to the restaurant’ it said. All that was next to the restaurant was their bin area, which seemed improbable for hosting a reception, we did actually check, albeit doubtfully and trying not to breathe. ‘Next to the restaurant’ happened to be about half a mile away along cold, windy, sandy footpaths with no lights, it turns out. But we found it eventually and began the gargantuan task of locating the actual apartment. The place was literally deserted, with no signs whatsoever. There’s a row of apartments called ‘The Burrows’ and our burrow was allegedly number 5. The problem was that there were no actual numbers, or indeed any indication, to clarify which one was which. Some had lights on and some were in the dark, so we hedged our bets and stole up to one of the dark ones. This is worse than it sounds because in order to do this we had to open their private garden gate and trespass across their land, sneaking up to the front door to see if we could spy a number. I hoped fervently that there was no farmer with a shotgun, ready to take us out if we started worrying the residents.

For the first couple, nope, there was nothing. We were reduced to burglar status, trying each door until we found one that our key fitted, which it eventually did. In a bid to recover from our journey I, quite reasonably and immediately sought sustenance in the form of wine, but the only glasses that are here are the smallest, meanest little wine glasses that I’ve ever seen. It’s like drinking from a thimble. But desperate times, desperate measures and all that.

This morning it was snowing. Undeterred, my crazy family donned their wetsuits, waxed their boards and headed off determinedly to submerge themselves into the sea under the blanket of the howling winds and blizzard. I honestly feared for their poor little hearts, being goaded into sudden arrest by the sub-zero temperature of the water. I, myself, stayed in bed with tea and a book. As anyone who knows me will testify, I’m more likely to fly through the air than I am to get into the English seas in March. And it seems that I was right, about ten minutes later the intrepid explorers were back, blue of lips and chattering of teeth. “Nice time?” I called out.

“Can’t. Feel. My. Hands.” But their hearts were still beating so we must be thankful for small mercies.

And then this afternoon, it was my turn to venture out to the sand dunes with my newly-arrived-back-from-work partner. We’re still at the stage where spending a second apart seems completely unreasonable. We were hoping for a nice walk. We didn’t mind the chilly weather (although we were freezing), we didn’t mind the biting wind that attacked us as we walked along the top of the dunes. Well, I say we didn’t mind – it was enough to drive us elsewhere. So, we made our way further down into the dunes, off piste – off the beaten track, if you will. And we found brambles, vicious brambles, that were growing over every single path we went down and were determined to rip my leggings, and Dubarrys, to shreds. We came across a sign telling us to beware of the sheep, dogs must be kept on leads, that kind of thing, but other than that, we were alone.

Walking in the sand dunes is like entering an alternate universe. Everything looks the same, all the paths are identical, winding up and down around the dunes and all routes lead to the same place. Almost literally. You quickly become disorientated, lose track of which direction you’re facing and have no idea where the beach is and much less your apartment. It was freezing cold, the sea winds whipped around us and chilled our very bones. After about fifteen minutes, I looked around me and realised two things:

a)       We were lost

b)      There was a bull bellowing at us and preparing to charge

Yep. I kid you not. As we clambered up onto a dune which dipped sharply downwards, we were suddenly confronted by at least four cows and a bull. Sheep! Where were the sheep??? We signed up for sheep! We both froze, unwillingly to attract any attention to ourselves, but as luck would have it, we had the dogs to do that for us. Off they bombed towards the bovines, happily anticipating a nice chase. I don’t think for one second that they appreciated they might be the chasees. We glanced at each other, “They can run faster than we can,” we reasoned, and we climbed swiftly up onto the next dune. In our hurry to get away, I fell once, sustaining bramble injuries to my frozen hands and knees, but we had to scrabble hastily onwards in order to escape the bull. It didn’t work. Every time we peered over a peak, that bloody bull was there, surrounded by an increasing number of acolyte cows. Watching us with his black, beady eyes, bellowing and planning his next mode of attack.

“Get down!” was hissed at me. “Get down here, quickly!”

It soon became clear that he was pursuing us. I have no idea what for, or how long we traversed the dunes, shivering, frantically searching for the path that led to home. I didn’t care how cold I was. It may not be my idea of fun, but I will say that I’d rather dive into the sub-zero seas than I would be gored by an angry bull.

Happily, we made it back eventually, the dogs had re-joined us just as we emerged from the dunes, wondering if we were in fact walking into 2055. We stumbled down towards the safety of the beach in blinding snow and freezing temperatures and I realised something. I may not be a die-hard, but I was a hair’s breadth away from becoming a die-cold.