Sunday, 4 October 2015

Blue doughnuts and choosing quotes

Many, many months ago, The Daughter and her boyfriend came up with the idea of buying a travel-package-type-thing, in which they could tour the world (or part of it, anyway) changing flights as and when they liked, depending on how much they enjoyed being in that particular country. Plans were made, and I didn't have to worry as it was ages away. Except, now, it's last Thursday. They stayed with us for a few days, then The Husband and Son Number One drove them to Heathrow and waved them off.

They're in Dubai now. Daughter and boyfriend, I mean. Tomorrow, they fly to Sri Lanka, then it's Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand (for Christmas), then back to Dubai, before returning to the delights of a shivering and dismal England in early January. I know they'll have a marvelous time. They're going to Buddhist temples and elephant orphanages and tours around New Zealand on a minibus, but I can't stop doing the mum-thing of worrying. Will they forget that they're not allowed to hold hands in the street in Dubai? Will they appear on the news after some elephant-trampling incident? I've seen photos, and they're both still smiling, and neither of them are behind bars; so far, so good. Actually, I have been pathetic (in the eyes of my eldest son) and bought myself a tablet (The computer-type. I'm not on the other sort yet.) just so I can get Instagram and follow their progress. I've seen some pictures of amazing buildings and waterfalls and, strangely, some bright blue and green iced doughnuts, which look as if they'd be banned in the UK for being too much fun and containing too many E-numbers. 

Alarmingly, I got an email from The Daughter this morning, with the heading 'Ur gent' (yes, it was spelt like that). I opened it, wondering if we could afford the bail, and whether I'd be allowed six months off work to argue with UAE lawyers and do BBC news appeals. The email was an advert for a weight-loss programme. I warned The Daughter that she was spamming all of her friends, and then had a quick lie-down while my heart went back to normal. Mind you, too many of those blue doughnuts, and she may be needing the programme herself. 

My mother has just finished jury service. A couple of years short of her 70th birthday, after which she would have been excused, she had to travel by train every day to Ipswich and listen to a rather nasty court case about child pornography. Unfortunately, she came down with a virus which made her lose her voice and cough so much that she had to be escorted out of the court-room and sat down with a drink. She had to miss the final day, during which the defendant absconded, causing a man-hunt which was all over the local news. He was found guilty and captured, but my mother feels rather peeved that she missed all the excitement.  

I have done some OU work. I've replied to my tutor's post on the forum. He asked us to choose a quote we liked, say why we chose it, and discuss its genre. I waited and waited but no-one else replied, so I thought, bugger it - I'll write something and all the intelligent people will then get motivated to rip my ideas to pieces. How to choose just one quote I liked? I ended up cheating, and copied out the whole of the first paragraph from the children's book Tuck Everlasting, about the first week of August hanging at the top of summer, like the highest seat on a Ferris wheel. Predictably, people followed that up with quotes from Jane Austin and the like.  

And now, I'm meant to be doing my assignment, so I must get off here and make some coffee and have a biscuit and read a book. I am justified in doing this: reading extensively makes you a better writer, I've been told. So, reading a Ruth Rendell murder mystery is actually homework.

Think I'll just check Instagram first, though, and make sure I don't have to do any prison-visiting. 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Fiction and flint mines

The new OU course (creative writing) starts in a couple of weeks, so you can probably expect more regular posts on here as I try avoiding real work. I'm only on the first chapter of the course book, but it's already irritating me. A chunk of the book is put aside for short stories and novel extracts, so we can 'get a taste of different genres'. I don't get that. Why would you take a writing course if you don't already read a lot? Surely students don't have to be taught how to recognise mystery or science fiction? Oh well, I'll skip that bit and read a book instead. And then there are all the 'activities' you're meant to do ('Add another couple of paragraphs to this story,' or 'Change the genre of this extract'). I'm glad someone else in the OU Facebook group admitted to ignoring them all. 

'Magic' by Shel Silverstein

My first assignment is due at the end of October, and I think I'll be writing fiction based on the local battle-area, which swallowed up part of a village and several little hamlets in the early 1940s. People who lived in that area were given around a month to leave their homes before the area was taken over by the Ministry of Defence, so I think there may be some 'scope for the imagination' there. 

I was getting a bit worried about the end of my OU degree. I could see a future in which boredom would start to creep in. My spending on books would go through the roof, and I would get sucked into watching Strictly Come Dancing and soap operas. Thankfully, The Husband has said we have the finances for me to do a Masters degree. I think he, too, is envisaging a future in which I become bored and impossible to live with. 'A Masters will keep her busy for another few years,' he's plotting, 'and then I can go to lots of football matches while she's busy writing assignments.' So I've emailed Roehampton, and they've said my study record is good enough, and my job is 'brilliant preparation' for a Masters in Children's Literature. They start taking applications in November, so I must start thinking of things to write that'll make them realise just how amazing I am. It may take some time. 

School-wise, we've just taken the year 5s and 6s to Grimes Graves, a local area where there are Neolithic flint mines. It was, surprisingly, a rather good day. I say 'surprisingly', because school trips are often days of continual head-counts and stress before you go home and down an entire bottle of spirits in a bid to forget the whole thing. We had talks and guided walks from local wildlife experts, during which we saw a lizard and the children became obsessed with different types of animal poo. We also went down one of the mines, got to see flint tools and had multiple trips to the very far-away toilets. I'd have been quite happy to have been left behind when the children returned to school. One of the guides was an ex-archaeology teacher and was a source of amazing information: did you know that 10% of Neolithic people were left-handed? Apparently, they can tell from the deer antlers miners used as pick-axes to get the flint. Sadly, we were only with this guy for an hour, but I felt like sending the children off for a long walk - with a warning not to fall down any deep holes - and just do more listening. 

I was kindly invited to share a table with some of the girls at lunch-time, during which they quizzed me on whether I like Marmite and how many times I'd had my ears pierced. Then we had more toilet trips. Why is it they only decide at ten minute intervals that they need the loo, but if you shout out: 'Who needs the toilet?' the whole class comes with you?

Well, I suppose it's time to get on with some proper work. I've just been assigned my new tutor. Poor guy. I wonder if he knows what he's in for?

Saturday, 5 September 2015

On becoming mature and sophisticated

September already, and I need to get back on track. Last month, I only updated the blog once, for which, as it was the school holidays, I have no excuse. We did manage get away and see The Daughter in Cornwall for a couple of days, but apart from that, we didn't really do a lot. (Well, The Husband was working - I was the one who wasn't doing a lot.)

So, now the new school year has begun and I've just received the books for my final Open University course, ready for an October start. Because I'm halfway through a rather good book (Touching the Void, by Joe Simpson), I've not really looked at the course book, other than to read the introduction. Worryingly, the aims of the course include being able to write 'with a mature and sophisticated style'. Hmmmm. Just as well this course won't change the final result for my degree...It also says that I should end up being able to contribute to group discussions and 'be supportive, yet appropriately critical'. I am useless at group discussions; I'm usually the one that's passed the pen to record things ('because you have nice writing') and that means I can look busy whilst contributing very little. As for being supportive and appropriately critical, I take it that's not the usual thing that happens on courses, when we all sit around nodding wisely, before complaining on the way home that it was all absolute bollocks. I think, for this course, we have to read people's work and critique them on a forum. I tend to avoid forums as everyone else appears far more intelligent than me (I?) and uses long words. I'd probably get thrown out and returned to pre-school for writing, 'Well, I liked the ending.'

Actually, I did learn a new word, whilst reading Angelmaker (which I mentioned in my last post): 'myrmidon'. A word, like 'serendipity', which I love the sound of, but can't fit into my work without sounding pretentious. Or would such words add the maturity and sophistication I'm striving for for which I am striving? Nah, I can't do it. I will aim to develop an individual style, known as 'uneducated country-dweller'. If Cormac McCarthy can write whole books without speech marks, I'm sure I can dump the sophistication. Mind you, he is a lot more famous than me (I?). Sigh... Perhaps I should have gone with Art History. 

As proof of a total absence of maturity and so forth, I am getting ridiculously excited about going on the Harry Potter studio tour next month. And there's a special Dark Arts exhibition specially for Halloween. If I was mature and sophisticated, I wouldn't be able to have my photo taken pretending to push a trolley through a wall on Platform 9 and three quarters (how the heck do you do fractions when you're typing?). 

And I need a Hufflepuff t-shirt because I did the official quiz and that's my house team, apparently. I'm so unsophisticated, it scares me. 

Monday, 10 August 2015

Rescuing books and Polish motorcyclists

We're a good couple of weeks into the school holidays, and I have to confess I've done barely anything apart from catch up with my reading. My next OU course doesn't start until October, so there's nothing to be done there. It feels very wrong not to be reading text books or preparing for an assignment, but I guess I'll have to get used to that for when my degree comes to an end next June. 

I have managed to rescue a couple of books from a pile that's destined to be taken to a charity shop. This consists of books that I've started several times but just can't get into, or ones that include irritating, pathetic or unbelievable characters. The third Bridget Jones novel fits into the latter category, sadly, as I rather liked the first two, but when a character has said, 'Gahh!' about seven times in the first few pages, I know that I'm going to spend the whole book counting, rather than reading, and getting more and more irritated. So I got to page 15 and added it to the pile, thankful that I only paid a pound for it in the first place. The rescued books were ones I've had for a long time, started reading, but couldn't get interested in, but I was obviously in the right mood for them this time. The first was The Godfather. Yes, I know it's meant to be a classic and all that, but I couldn't get on with it before. Now I've read it, seen the film, recorded The Godfather Part Two, and know what the quote used in You've Got Mail, about going to the mattresses means. Book two was (is, because I'm still reading it) Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway. It's brilliant, quite mad and I have no idea why I couldn't get on with it before. Thank goodness I rescued it; I nearly missed a great book. 

I need to go to the bookshop and buy my annual 'holiday book' - the longest book I can find by an author I've never read before - because we've managed to arrange a few days in Cornwall. We didn't think we'd be able to get away this year, what with funerals and the non-stop paperwork that comes with sorting out probate, but we've got four days with The Daughter next week. Not long, but we've not seen her since Christmas, and she and The Boyfriend are off hostelling round the world in October, so a visit is important. It's a long drive, and I was tempted to get some audiobooks for the journey, but I think I'd get so involved in the stories that I'd forget about traffic. Never a good thing on the M25. 

And on that subject: we had a bit of a day, yesterday. We'd planned a relaxing, middle-aged trip to the Sandringham food and drink festival but, instead, got halfway there, stopped at some crossroads and got hit up the arse by a motorcyclist. So, after picking him up off the road and exchanging details, we turned round and came home again. There's nothing like having a large, Polish biker slide the length of your car and just lie there in the road, to put you off an afternoon out. He was very nice, very apologetic (he hadn't been looking and was too close behind us - confirmed by both him and the car behind him) and he came to see us in the evening to try and sort out a private arrangement so his third-party insurance didn't get clobbered. We were more worried that he was hurt than about any damage to the car, but apart from shredded trousers (please wear leathers if you ride a motorbike. It gives me the shivers to see bikers going 60 mph and wearing jeans.) and a few bruises, he was okay. We just got a broken rear light-cover. Which, of course, isn't just a cover: it's a whole light unit, so for a tiny bit of smashed plastic, there's over £100 worth of hardware to be replaced. Oh well, hopefully he's learnt something that will stop him having a bigger smash in the future. After determining that the guy wasn't hurt, we all stood there, not really knowing what to do, as none of us had been in an accident before. We have learnt that we need to keep a copy of our insurance documents in the car. Thankfully, a phone call to Son Number One at home got us our details.

Hopefully, our journey to Cornwall will be far less eventful. I'm really looking forward to the part where we drive past the 'Welcome to Cornwall' sign at 2mph in a 35 mile queue. Always my favourite bit. 

Thursday, 23 July 2015

I'm sure I left my sanity around here somewhere...

School finished on Tuesday, and the 'Let's-celebrate-the-end-of-a-really-crappy-year' vibe was strong. Tuesday evening, staff gathered at Ms Titian's house, because she's used to entertaining and knows how to do so in style. Food was eaten, wine glasses were broken and occasional insults were not particularly well-hidden. Never mind. We have six weeks to forget that we've really got on each other's nerves lately. 

Last night, we had a smaller meeting, when The Sozzlers went to the village pub. Usually consisting of Ms Fab, Mrs GSOH and me (I? Whatever. I have six weeks away from school. I don't care.), we had an honorary Sozzler in the shape of Mr Chaos. A welcome addition, and hopefully a permanent one, if he hasn't changed his phone number and moved out of the village since last night. 

For the first year in many, there were no tears from our departing Year 6 children. In fact they looked so happy and relieved to be on their way, that I was very tempted to join them. I think there are some feelings which can only be summed up by teenagers, so I'll say that this school year has been very 'Meh'. A word which here means 'We got really fed up and complained a lot, but did nothing about it but slump around and sigh.' (Apologies to Lemony Snicket.)

I have looked for another job, and got all hopeful when Ms Fab told me about one at a local high school, but looking into it this morning, it's for someone to work in the Special Needs department, especially with children with behavioural problems and that play truant a lot. I currently have enough of a challenge working with staff with behavioural problems, but at least they can't swear at you or hurl a chair in your direction. (Well, they haven't as yet. We'll see...) I wrote myself a list of the pros and cons of applying for the job. Pros were: a change of scenery, working with older children, more money, it was a nice school, and I'll know some of the children there. Cons were: working with especially badly-behaved high school children and their parents, longer hours, I'd miss the nicer people I work with, I'd no longer be able to walk to work (not that I ever do), and I'd have to give up the school library. I think it was the library that did it. That, and not being able to have a good bitch with Mrs Secretary. So, I have told myself that if I'm not going to change my job, I must shut up and stop moaning. I think The Husband is getting fed up with my complaints about work. He had to go to the dentist this morning for a filling, and he looked relieved to be leaving the house, so I think I've overdone the whinging. 

Speaking (writing) of the school library, I have kind of jumped the gun and chosen next year's librarians already. The criteria they have to fit is to like books and be nice people to be around. In fact, the latter is more important because I have to work with them. Noisy or argumentative children stand no chance; the meek shall inherit the library. I have shiny new badges at the ready.

Anyway, I must go. The Husband and I are having a rare evening out and are going to see Jurassic World. I promise I'll be good and try not to mention work, so we can just have a nice time watching people being eaten by dinosaurs.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

'Gardening' or 'How to drive The Husband mad'

It's raining hard. The Husband is, I think, very grateful for this, as I've been 'helping' him in the garden. As he is a gardener by trade, by the time he gets home in the evenings, he's had enough of turfing, pruning and landscaping. When I've offered to do bits in our garden, it's taken as nagging. Either that, or he knows I'm going to do a terrible job and can't bare to watch as the hedges get massacred by someone holding the very expensive loppers the wrong way. 

We have had a rather large pile of earth in the garden for about two years, ready to fill in the hole where Son Number One broke up the horrific crazy-paved patio. The pile of earth was meant to be leveled-out and turfed, but it's actually been covered by a large green tarpaulin and used as a look-out post by the cats. Every time The Daughter visited from Cornwall, or my parents came over, they would say, 'You've not done that garden yet, then?' But now it's just a given that half our garden looks like an abandoned building site. Anyway, today turned into the day to do something about it. While Son Number Two nervously took a girl on their first date and Son Number One headed to the cricket club, The Husband and I ripped up long grass, dug up brambles, pulled ivy out of trees and made a start on flattening the heap of earth. 

I suppose I should be honest here, and say that I was of some help, but there are so many things to distract you in a garden. For a start, some ants had made a massive home in the pile of earth. When I disturbed the nest and exposed some eggs, there was frenzied activity: hundreds of ants were racing around trying to take the eggs back underground. I stood and watched them for ages. I imagined mini air-raid sirens going off, and father ants shooing their families down underground tunnels to safety. 'Save yourselves!' they'd cry. 'I'm going back for the babies.' While I was engrossed in all this nonsense, The Husband cleared his throat and I was reminded of what I really should have been doing. Then there were ladybirds to be rescued from being dug into the earth, woodlice that appeared in their dozens from under stones, plants to ask the names of, and so on. It was only after a heavy sigh from The Husband, that I realised it must have been like working with a particularly irritating child. It is to his credit that he didn't tell me to be quiet and get on with it. Anyway, it started raining heavily, and The Husband is now watching Wimbledon and trying to think of excuses not to work with me again. 

Earlier this week, I got the results for my OU course on religious controversies. I managed to get a distinction, which means I'm guaranteed a first class degree, no matter how much I mess up my creative writing efforts. It's quite a relief because I think I may have already used up all of my ideas on my level 2 creative writing. And I've found that I'm not very good at writing fiction. Everything I did on my level 2 was based on fact. Even the story about the scarlet fever outbreak in our village was based on entries in our school log-book, and I killed off a couple of school children that were in my class at the time. The piece of work that I will very loosely call a 'poem' was about some oyster-catchers that I had watched at 6 am whilst on a school trip to the Lake District. 

                                            Merlin, helping me study

I'm not sure if I have enough experiences to write about for another 6 assignments. The Husband has been very supportive during my studies, and has often agreed to me buying £40 text books to help with essays, but I think he may draw the line on a round-the-world back-packing holiday just so I can write about it.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Dress stress

It's the Brother in law's funeral this Wednesday, and I had no idea there was so much to organise. Prior to this, the only family funerals I've been involved in were those of my grandparents, and my parents had done everything, including the 'Which pub holds a good wake?' stuff. The Grandparents' funerals had been Christian, and there had been prayers and hymns to choose, whereas the Brother in law's is not religious, and the choice of songs and readings has been incredibly difficult. The Husband comes from a pretty complicated family, and there was a period of about twenty years when he didn't even know where his brother lived, so he's been trying to piece together enough information from friends and colleagues to put together a eulogy. 

Anyway, it's all pretty much sorted now. I just have some shirts to iron and we're ready. Last weekend was spent shopping for smart clothes; The Husband's suit-trousers had mysteriously shrunk around the waistband while they'd been hanging in his wardrobe, so needed replacing; Son Number Two had to have new shoes, as the only time he ever needs smart shoes, he steals his brother's; and I needed a dress. Son Number One was already sorted, as he's the most fashion-conscious and smartest dressed of us all, but he still decided he needed yet another pair of sunglasses and a t-shirt with a picture of New York on the front (not for the funeral, I must add). 

I do not enjoy clothes shopping. I get very impatient and huffy and am rather a 'that'll do' shopper, but decided that, for this occasion, it was no good buying something from the dregs of the sale-rail. I had spent several hours on the internet, looking up 'black dresses' in the hope that I wouldn't even have to enter a real clothes shop, but as I scrolled through the offerings, it dawned on me that no-one seems to make clothes that I like. I flicked through photos of skinny 18-year-olds wearing things under the heading of 'black dresses', but found nothing: 'Slutty, slutty, horrible, too expensive, slutty, oh that's nice - no, it's backless, slutty, vile, seriously - who would wear that? slutty, dammit, I can't find anything'. I couldn't find anything suitable amongst my work clothes either, so there was no alternative but to actually go to real shops. I went on my own, because I didn't think it fair to inflict my impending bad-temper on my loved-ones. Thankfully, I found something without indulging in too much stress or violence. It's a black and white spotty dress, with a black cardigan. It covers my knickers and is not see-through, so has the advantage over the offers on the internet. I also had to buy proper shoes, because you can't wear a classy dress with Doc Martens. Well, you can, but not at a funeral (I will when it becomes a work dress, needless to say).

I now get it when bereaved people say they need to get the funeral over with before they can carry on with their own lives. We, but especially The Husband, have been preparing for this since the Brother in law's terminal cancer was diagnosed back in March. Our Silver Wedding anniversary passed a couple of weeks ago, with an exchange of cards but without the weekend away that we'd promised ourselves. Sons One and Two have celebrated their 21st and 18th birthdays with kind of muted congratulations because we're all funeralled-out. And we don't have a summer holiday to look forward to because we knew all this was imminent and have been unable to book anything. Sorry, that all sounds very self-pitying, but we are all feeling quite shattered by the past year's events. My father's prostate cancer (now thankfully treated) was followed by the Father in law's stroke and eventual death, and now this. I know shit happens, but a break would be nice. I am just extremely thankful for good friends. I've had hugs when things have been tough, good-natured abuse when tears threatened, and bottles of wine brought to the door. On the other hand, some people have obviously not known what to say, and so have totally blanked me instead. Cheers for that. 

So, enough of the self-pity. (I was trying to find another word for 'self-pity' because I've already used it once. Urban dictionary says that 'emo' and 'Arthur Dent' are related words, which reminds me: I've not read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for ages. We should make it compulsory reading in Year 6 because they never get my, 'Here I am, brain the size of a planet...' jokes. So sad. (Me, that is, not them.))

Tomorrow, it's meant to be good weather - a cause of great celebration here in England. The Sons are visiting The Daughter in Cornwall (Am I jealous? You bet.) and The Husband is not playing cricket, so we may actually be able to go out. I'm hoping we can go to Southwold, but I have to plant the thought in The Husband's head and make him think it was his idea. Obviously, he will also have to decide to visit the Adnams brewery shop, too. If I can't have a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, then a pint of Broadside will have to do...

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Stop summoning demons and get on with your maths

It's taken nearly a week for me to cotton on to the lack of pencils in our classroom, but it seems it can all be explained by the craze of Charlie Charlie. I had noticed some children playing about with pencils, but assumed it was the usual stuff they get up to when their attention drifts. Then, a couple of afternoons ago, one Year 6 boy came up to me, white in the face, and told me that he was never coming back to school again 'because the demon thing really works and our classroom is haunted'. 'Okaaaaay,' I replied, and they explained the Charlie Charlie thing to me. Basically, if you're extremely gullible, don't know how gravity works, and have forgotten all you ever learnt about science, you cross two pencils over, ask them questions, and they get possessed by a demon which answers your questions. (I'm thinking this must be a very lesser type of demon. The sort that get relegated to possessing pencils, and will never inspire a 'based on a true story' type of movie.)

As the boy who had got the jitters was one of our more intelligent students, I was a bit startled that he had been so easily taken in, but then an unrelated conversation in the staffroom had an adult confessing that she thought Ouija boards really worked, so what hope was there? Anyway, I thought I'd managed to sort out the boy's fears, when Ms Fab said she'd had to ban the class from playing the Charlie Charlie game yesterday lunch time, as they were all getting a bit silly and she was worried someone might tell the infants about it (like they did with the Bloody Mary game a year or so ago, which made an infant so frightened to go to the bathroom, in case she saw something in the mirror, that we had a furious mother storming into school). As we were having a bit of a 'finishing off / freetime' session, I stopped the class, told them, in the nicest possible way (I hope) to stop being pathetic, and we discussed the science behind the pencil-spinning. 'But a priest was on the news and says it's dangerous,' The Boy Formerly Thought of as Clever told me. I wasn't sure whether to believe that or not but, yes, I've now read it on the internet, so it must be true: a Catholic priest has warned students that they are opening themselves up to demonic activity. Sigh. More science lessons needed. 

(By the way, I am aware that a few of my recent posts may come across as bashing religion. That's not my intent: I have friends with a range of religious beliefs and they're all very nice people. However, people who use their religions as an excuse to be an arse are in for a bashing.)

During our class discussion, a more enlightened boy said exactly what I had wanted to: 'So, basically, we know it's not haunted and the people who carry on doing it are being stupid attention-seekers because it's a load of crap.' 'Yes, exactly,' I told him, and then remembered that I needed to add, 'but please don't use that word at school.' 

And on the subject of weird stuff, we went to see Derren Brown's stage show 'Miracle' in Norwich last week. Amazing, brilliant, and his book Tricks of the Mind explains just how Ouija boards and the like are 'a load of crap' (to quote my favourite student of the moment). 

Monday, 1 June 2015

On books, families and burning in hell

The final assignment has been submitted for my course 'Why is religion controversial?' and I'm rather sad to see it go (I'm sure my tutor will be even more sorry to see it appear in his inbox). It's definitely been my favourite course, tipping Children's Literature off the top spot. It tied in perfectly with our class RE topic of 'Does following a religion make you a better person?' (to which the answer from the whole class was 'Nope') and I can now irritate my family hugely by explaining, at great and unnecessary length, any religion-related item in the news. I'm hoping for a distinction for the assignment, as it means I'll get a first class honours degree instead of a 2:1, but I'm also trying to kid myself that I don't really mind either way. The Open Uni website tells me I should get my results by 17th July. I thought it was June. Damn. An extra month of pretending not to care. 

I've registered for my final course, which starts in October, and is Advanced Creative Writing. There's no reading list, for which The Husband gives thanks as past text books have been rather pricey at times. However, a past student has recommended that I 'read as much, and as widely, as possible before the course starts.' Oh well, if I must. We've just had a week off for half term, so after dashing off my assignment, I got down to the more serious business of catching up with my reading. I've just finished The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, which is a rather odd book which I've had on my 'to be read' shelf since 2001. I've started it half a dozen times, but now was obviously the right time to read it, as I managed to stick with it. It's about a Jesuit mission to a newly discovered inhabited planet (yes, yes, I know), but it was the bit on the blurb: 'They went for the greater glory of God. They meant no harm,' which made me buy it. It's good. In a kind of weird way. Anyway, I'm now reading the sequel, Children of God, having sandwiched the second compendium of The Walking Dead in between the two. 

Family-wise, the Brother in Law is getting worse and can now barely hear, is falling down a lot, and is not expected to live for very much longer. We have disgraced ourselves, in the eyes of The Husband's cousin, by not making this poor man repent of his sins, and have thus, apparently, condemned his soul to burn in the pits of hell for all eternity. I'm afraid this brings out my inner teenager, as I just want to sigh, 'Yeah, right...' and roll my eyes. Religion is controversial, indeed. The Mother in Law (who is, I suppose, proof that hell does exist) has phoned and made it clear that she has little interest in her son's death, and does not want to know when he dies, as she has no intention of attending his funeral. This, in contrast, brings out my inner Jewish Mother, as I want to rush round hugging my children, and tell them that no-one can possibly love them as much as I do. There's no point arguing with the Mother in Law. She is always right, other people don't know what they're talking about, end of. So we don't argue. We just laugh rather wickedly when she's put the phone down.

I don't see any of us going to heaven, personally. 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

You can take your Bible and... try reading it

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my brother in law was in hospital with, we all assumed, a recurrence of his old problem of hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain). A scan informed us that the problem this time was a very aggressive form of brain cancer. So, since the beginning of April, he's not actually been back home. He's been moved from hospital to hospice, and is now almost completely deaf, getting increasingly confused, and has weeks left to live. 

The Husband is visiting him every evening that he can, taking the pressure off by playing cricket at the weekends and working hard. The rest of us are taking it in turns to accompany him. Despite the bleakness of it all, there are funny moments: The Brother in Law is on steroids, which are making him very hungry - if you turn up for a visit without a bag from KFC or McDonald's, you're sent on your way. When The Husband appeared empty-handed once, and pointed out that collecting a KFC order would take twenty minutes, leaving little time for visiting, he was told that food was more important, and not to forget a milkshake. (The Brother in Law is on the autistic spectrum, so doesn't tend to sugar-coat things...). 

It was all very hard to deal with, at the beginning. One of the main problems was that he hadn't made a will. Being unmarried, with no children, the lack of a will would mean everything he had spent his life working incredibly hard for would go to his mother. I haven't really mentioned the Mother in Law on here. Mainly because I ticked a box, when creating the blog, that said it was suitable for general viewing and would have no adult content. Therefore, the amount of Bad Words I'm allowed to use is limited. Suffice to say, on the morning of our wedding, she smiled sweetly at me and the Almost Husband, and told us that she gave us six months at the most. I have stuck it 25 years just to spite her. She has used and put-down every one of her children (sorry, that makes it sound like she has hundreds - there are three), and is honestly the most poisonous person I have ever known. So, anyway, the Brother in Law has made it very clear in the past that no money was ever to go her way but, without a will, there was no other way. The hospital consultant had told us that it would do the poor guy no good to know that he was dying (although someone thoughtlessly told him anyway), so we were kind of stuck. Not that we wanted his money, you understand. We just wanted it to go to someone or an organisation of his choice. 

That's now sorted, but it was a very stressful time, because it was all new to us, and we wanted the best for him. I had to hurry out of a school assembly during that time as the children were singing 'One more step along the world I go,' and it got to the chorus of: '... and it's from the old I travel to the new...' and I had to leave the hall. It was totally my own fault. In the years since I've taken creative writing courses, I tend to observe situations and think of how I'd write about them. When the children started singing, my writing brain thought: if I was doing a screenplay, I'd have a funeral scene, with background music of primary school children singing this song. And, dammit, that was it. I had to go and be consoled by The Boss Lady. I really must stop being pathetic. 

And now we're kind of getting as used to the situation as we can. We can see the humour in him bumming cigarettes off the nurses and threatening to hitchhike home when the man in the opposite bed annoys him. But, boy, did we get angry last night... The Husband phoned his cousin, just to update him on things. It was explained that the Brother in Law kind of knows he's dying, but has hope, and wants his job kept open for him, just in case. The Cousin said that it should be made clear to him that he's dying. That he should have a Bible taken in and have Psalm 23 read to him, so he can repent of all his sins and relax in the knowledge that he'll go to heaven. The Husband was remarkably restrained (Brother in Law doesn't believe in God, by the way) and said it would be an incredibly cruel thing to do. 'Everyone should have the chance to repent of their sins,' was the answer. 'Even those who are part of ISIS and behead people need the chance to repent.' We were told that we should at least leave a Bible by his bed, in case he needed it. 'Do we even have a Bible?' The Husband asked me, when he'd calmed down. 'Several,' I replied. 'Plus a Qur'an and other holy books.' We both got the same mischievous look in our eyes then, but decided that placing a Qur'an next to the bed when The Cousin visited might be a step too far. 

I have no objection to religion, but when it's used in cruel or hurtful ways, or just to make yourself feel good at the expense of others, then you can keep it. On the other hand, I know good Christians who know I don't believe, but show their kindheartedness and thoughtfulness in ways that are not shoving their religion in my face. 'I know you don't believe in such stuff,' one told me a while back, 'but I'm praying for you anyway.' To which my answer was, 'Thank you, I appreciate that you care.'