Monday, 23 December 2013

For Mum who would have been 80 years old today

Mum on a break Nairobi 1957

My mum would have been 80 years old today. I wanted to try not to feel sad but to celebrate the fact that I was lucky enough to know her.

It’s impossible to convey how lovely she was or to try and encapsulate her life into a blog but I wanted to mark today by explaining what she meant to me.

She was born into a working class family in Shropshire in 1933. Because her mother was a nurse in Wolverhampton she had the luxury of having her 3rd child in a hospital, rather than at home.

Setting a pattern, which followed her throughout her life mum, Elizabeth, was a very quiet, undemanding baby. She’d be put out in pram for fresh air and sunshine and because she was so quiet she was sometimes forgotten.

Grandma Mollie 1930

Her mum, Mollie was loving, funny, fiercely intelligent and a very hardworking nurse and mum was as devoted to her mother, as I was to mine.

Mum trained to be a nurse too and after qualifying she travelled by ship to Africa where she worked in The African, Asian and European Hospitals. 

Leaving Shropshire in the early fifties as a single woman to travel to Africa was an extraordinary event in those days. Her parents were terrified for their only daughter, as she "may as well have announced that she was going to the moon", but they knew that once mum made up her mind, her quiet determination made further discussion redundant.

Mum's parents on their way to a wedding 1957

Her mum took her to the station for the train to London and lingered until mum’s train disappeared before leaving the platform. That was the last time they saw each other. A few years later when mum was still only in her early twenties, now married and pregnant with my sister, Mollie suffered a brain hemorrhage and died. 

Mum worked throughout her pregnancies as her husband was regularly unfortunately out of work. She would often do double shifts even whilst pregnant in the polio unit of the hospital.

Nairobi 1958

My brother and sister were born in Kenya where they all lived for 8 years then my parents travelled back to her husband’s home country of Ireland where I was born.

My sister was chronically ill with Asthma to a very severe degree throughout her childhood and into her early twenties and I knew how to phone an ambulance from a very young age.

My brother was usually the picture of health. He was over 6 feet tall, played rugby and cricket and in the summer tanned like a surfer. The symptoms of his terminal heart condition were initially missed. Mum however remained concerned and through her persistence eventually he was diagnosed.

On Christmas day 1978, my beautiful brother, who was going to become a classical guitarist, died. It was 4am and I was at home sleeping and mum was sitting with him. His breathing was becoming more difficult as his lungs were filling with blood. 

He opened his eyes and asked her if he could be 'greedy' and have some more iced water.

As she walked back with the jug of iced water, to the curtains surrounding his bed, she heard the rasping rattle as the breath left his body.

She opened the curtains and the nurse who arrived beside her began to cry.

Michael was 17 years old.

Mum was able to have two weeks off. Then went back to work as a health visitor. Part of her job was visiting mums at home with new babies. I often wonder how hard this must have been for her having just lost her own child. She never complained.

How she found the strength to support me and my sister through the weeks and months that followed, alone, I’ll never know.  But she did.

She was simply remarkable, made of gentle granite with no bitterness or cruelty, or anger.

She got me through and at 19 I went to drama school in London and moved back home in 1992. I started going out with Phil who I’d known for years and after 6 weeks discovered I was pregnant with Lizzy.

Mum took it completely in her stride. She didn’t judge anyone and firmly believed that a family is what you find behind a front door. Which made her a great Health Visitor.  Phil and I decided to move in together to see how it all worked out and it did. Mum gave me away at our wedding with Lizzy as a bridesmaid.

Mum carried on working until the age of 65 and at 68 was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Lizzy and Emily 2000

She had been so wonderful with her grandchildren. She played with them patiently, baking cakes and knitting and doing everything beautifully as ever.

Gentle, kind and loving until the end.

She had Alzheimer’s for a decade and I was able to repay some of my huge debt of love and gratitude in this time. It wasn’t enough it would never have been enough

She was typically stoic and funny after the diagnosis came she said “They say I have Alzheimer’s Nicky, but I don’t have to believe them if I don’t want to, do I?”.

After 5 years of caring for her at home for the last two years with the help of a home care provider, her condition deteriorated so I found her a nursing home.

I wanted to bring her to live with us but this was impossible. Emily's learning disability meant that she couldn't cope with the change in her grandma that Alzheimer's brings. Both conditions require very high levels of care. 

It was in this nursing home on the 5th of December 2011 that she died. She’d had a stroke and aspirated some blood from biting her tongue. This led to pneumonia.

Years before she’d talked of the gentle end that pneumonia brings to the elderly. From her nursing days she called it “The old man’s friend”

She’d been resolute even with advanced Alzheimer’s that she would have the flu jab but not the one that combined with pneumonia. She’d fix me with her beautiful blue eyes and say “No thank you”

Mum in her garden 1993

As the end stage advanced during her final year she lost almost all of her speech. Except one word.

The hallucinations, which had understandably been so frightening to her earlier in her condition, transformed in the end into a comfort, she would look past me and smiling in recognition, she’d say my brother’s name.

I’d been with her everyday for the ten days that she lived after the stroke. I’d gone home for a shower and something to eat and was leaving when they phoned and told me she’d died.

I had kissed her before I left and repeated the words, which after a decade had become a mantra. “I love you mum, you were the best mum in the world,” 

I also added the words which confirmed her belief in God and offered as comfort to her from my atheism. “You’ve worked so hard for so long. You’ve done enough now, go and be with Michael. He’s waiting for you.”

Elizabeth, my mum, my friend, and my strength, taught me how to love and also taught me that love does not end when life does.

It stays with you forever.

Me as a blackbird Chester 1971

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Twelve days of Twitter

Twitter can be beautiful and terrible. After my fifth year on here and because it's that time of year here's my 12 days of Twitter.

On any given month my timeline showed to me:

Twelve “Nazi” brandings

Eleven misunderstandings

Ten idiots bragging

Nine haters hurting

Eight freelancers working

Seven hampsters twerking

Six bullies gloating

Five celebs promoting

Four babies laughing

Three kittens farting

Two pedants carping


Because you've been so good this year here's a link to enjoy. Happy Christmas love Nik xxx

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Babe, District Attorney and Driving Miss Daisy

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats

Dreams, aspirations and hopes, as the tightly held secrets of our collective hearts are a precious and vulnerable weak point ; which for many people remains unspoken throughout the whole of our lives. 

This weak point as creativity, is distinct from it’s more outgoing and popular sister, ambition and much more fragile.

Whilst Ambition ploughs on regardless, fueled by supreme self-confidence and assuredness, happily stamping on anything that get’s between it and its goal, creativity sits cringing at home convinced of its utter uselessness and terrified of discovery for the most part.

The symbiosis, in effect, is that creativity envies ambition and ambition uses creativity.  The term show business was framed with ambition rather than creativity in mind as nothing speaks to ambition more than the generation of cash, but creativity is rewarded handsomely to a small minority of highly creative cash generators. More usually referred to as actors.


Creativity as expressed in the “yoof “obsessed culture of TV and film has taken a massive slap in the chops with some spectacularly good stuff. recently.

‘Last tango in Halifax’, ‘Philomena,’ ‘Saving Mr Banks’ and ‘Derek’ have at their core, cast lists drawn predominantly from the mature end of the creativity pool.

Proving that there really isn’t a use by date on talent, as long as what you’re wanting is,
1) Ability to convey emotion,
2) Good storytelling
3) Truth
 Rather than an ability to “give good nakedness.”

The idea that a random sequence of DNA and rapid cell renewal as a aspiration in depicting good story telling has always been a mystery to me but this is explained by the character of director Bo Hodges in the film “Sweet Liberty”:

“Well, this may sound silly to you, but kids go completely ape if you do three things in a picture: defy authority, destroy property, and take people's clothes off”

It’s not that I’m opposed to sex on screen it’s just that the perceived wisdom in the pornification of stories is that it doesn’t lend itself well to ageing. 

It’s not deemed to be an aspirational aesthetic, and that’s why the kit stays firmly on stars who shun the knife. It’s an odd CV requisite for women of 50 to look no more than 30 but as 45 year old Elise  explains to her plastic surgeon in "The First Wives Club", when he asks if she she wants to play her own age:

“My own age?" No no. You don't understand. There are only three ages for women in Hollywood; "Babe", "District Attorney", and "Driving Ms. Daisy." And right now, I want to be young. Science-fiction young”

Her demands to be uber plumped by her plastic surgeon is worryingly necessary for work.

As is the way of all things where Show business leads everything follows. Youth is all when it comes to starting any career really. Anything, which impedes progress, is “out” and harboring the creative hope into middle age or past raising children is bewildering to some.

When I was at drama school in the 1980’s I was told in no uncertain terms that I could either be “an actress or a mother. You can’t be both”

This was no less true two decades later, when I tried again a few years ago. A sweet but brutally honest agent said:

“Darling do you know how many graduating drama students are struggling to find work these days? At 40 I’d find something else to do if I were you”

Fortunately as women have taken greater control of their careers they no longer have to choose between children and creativity.  Their work life balance may not yet be as straightforward as their male counterparts but it is at least achievable.

For me it’s very pleasing to see the direction that commissioners are going in. Opening the gates for older performers with stories that are ultimately more rewarding, because of the lives lived and with appropriate faces, gives me hope that maybe this old bag might still be able to dream the impossible dream.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Carers Rights Day 2013

It’s carers rights day today and you can find out all about it here.

I’ve been an unpaid carer for twenty years and finding out about your rights, entitlements and welfare benefits it’s a crucial initiative for a group of people on whom society depends. That may seem a bold assertion but a couple of years ago I did a calculator to assess the monetary value of the caring I did and discovered I was worth £186,000 per annum to the economy.

That is the saving I’ve made the country in one year when you multiply that by the 20 years I’ve been caring that’s possibly slightly shy of a Bank chief’s pension or their annual bonus… I’m not sure. When you multiply that by the millions of carers in this country that’s a pretty big contribution.

I used to get carers allowance every month. It was the exorbitant figure of £172 per month. Given the hours I did and the physical and mental exertion this requires, given also that it negates much hope of future employment due to the impact on my CV (unless I want to be a paid carer) then just over £60 per week is a nice gesture but not really commensurate with the work carers do.

So having detailed the link for carers to access, I wanted to use the rest of this space to highlight something else.

Carers most constant companion is guilt.

Mum in 1999. She died from Alzheimer's disease in 2011

You never think you’re doing enough because you can’t ever do enough.  You neglect yourself your friends and your extended family because of exhaustion, diminishing frames of reference/shared interests and because of time.

Anytime you spend away from your caring duties is spent fretting about being away from your caring duties or thinking of ways to be a better carer, or remembering that thing you were supposed to do as part of your caring duties. So it’s a pursuit of diminishing returns.

I’m sure there are carers who have huge friendship groups.

The majority of carers I speak to have experienced things differently.

People are still afraid of difference and this difference extends to carers because we live our lives to the beat of a different drum.

It’s one that revolves around medications, doctor’s appointments and meetings.

When you attend these meetings you are usually the only person at the table who isn’t paid to be there and it’s daunting when confronted by professionals who know everything. The best professionals know how little they actually know and so tend to listen far more than they talk. Cherish them. As carers though you have 24 hour training and practical experience to offer and this is equally as crucial as theory.

The other aspect in caring is the reason you are doing this. In every family there are those who do and those who see you doing and breathe a sigh of relief.

The same people often care for their elderly parents their disabled children and their sick in laws. Funny that isn’t it.

Perhaps this carers day might send a message out to siblings of carers that in fact pulling your finger out and pitching in might lessen the need for you to remark on how tired your sister or brother is looking. Or how quickly they seem to lose their temper with you “these days”, or indeed where you think they may be “going wrong” generally…Just a thought, Perhaps if you were a little less self involved you could help rather than criticise those who do care.

Making time for yourself when you’re a carer is at the bottom of a hugely long list of other things that you’re aware you need to get around to “at some point”

Mum with Lizzy 1994 

Like sleeping, eating and addressing those symptoms, which are becoming harder to ignore; making any time for yourself is a concept, which makes you laugh a hollow laugh. There aren’t enough hours in the day as it is.  I had to fit in going for an x-ray for broken bones from challenging behaviours around other people’s availability to care for the girls. That’s the reality.

But it really is crucial because you are the foundation of the life you inhabit. It is true that if you fall apart, every thing falls down and it’s more likely that you will fall apart, if you don’t take any breaks. It’s not just your mental health but also the cumulative effect of sheer exhaustion.

Although we are conditioned to believe by society and this greedy government that caring at home is the only way, it’s much cheaper than investing in good care provision, sometimes this becomes impossible.

Finding a good care home or residential school is vital.  Do as much research as you can, but also know that nothing is 100%. This is equally true of the horror stories you will read about things going wrong. This will compound the enormous grief and guilt you are already experiencing but remember in almost every case it was a dedicated carer or nurse who blew the whistle.

For every abusive paid carer there are so many more who are kind and gentle loving and dedicated. As I’ve being saying for years, Harold Shipman is not every GP and he does not define or describe the NHS. This is also true of social care and all those who work within it.

Mostly though for Carers Rights Day, I wanted to send my love. Not sure how many people will read this but if you’re reading this and any of it has chimed with how you’re feeling please know that you’re not alone.

The pressures of our lives mean that we are at a higher than national average rate of divorce and family breakdown

Like many carers I reached my lowest point a few years ago. As Phil came into the house I ran out, jumped into my car and drove down to the river. I couldn’t cope anymore I was broken. I was so sure that I didn’t want to live.  So sure that I wasn’t doing anything right.

I just wanted everything to stop.  I sat there for the longest time and gradually remembered the reason why this wasn’t going to be an option for me, why there was a reason to keep going, to endure and not to give in. Three reasons at that time, Mum, Lizzy and Emily.

I thought about those carers, who are repeatedly let down by the system and to add insult to injury judged by society when they ask for help, or realise the needs of the person they love are too great for one person to manage. I still think about them everyday.

It made me determined to keep shouting, and to keep bloody fighting. 

So I will, just like the millions of carers before me and the many millions to come. 

Happy carers rights day. xx

Lizzy and Emily 2001

Monday, 25 November 2013

The truth is the easiest thing to remember.

Dear Ricky,

Having seen a series of tweets you wrote last night I wanted to respond. 140 characters is a little restrictive for what I wanted to say so I've blogged it. 

I'm glad that you tweet repeatedly about atheism.

Some people seem to forget that not everyone who follows you lives within a society which allows for freedom of expression and speech; that there are those who live within far more oppressive and restrictive societies than our own. 

Others forget that whilst they may have identified and embraced their own lack of belief, some are still too nervous of the consequences to voice this due to external factors.

The ties that bind many to a faith they have been raised within, are invisible but strong. No one wants to hurt or disappoint the people we love.  To step outside the accepted norms of familial expectation is daunting at times and none more so than by rejecting religion as a staple of life.

Your tweets on this subject offer an alternate viewpoint. Anyone who feels you force your views upon them is misunderstanding the basic premise of social networks. More significantly they fail to recognise that the status quo of religious doctrine, functions more comfortably for them, by maintaing a 'message monopoly' on public platforms and potentially finds itself shaken by being questioned.

On Twitter I follow and am followed by people of faith, who enjoy being challenged respectfully.  They understand that the discussion and the exchange of ideas is paramount to all crucial debate and recognise that questioning of an institution, or the leadership of faith groups, is not an assault on the people who comprise its membership.  

Those who seemingly become the most enraged by your tweets, are those who speak of offence, which they say you inflict on them or others they claim to speak for.  If any personal belief is weakened by questions oft repeated, or a simple statement of atheism, then perhaps they need to work harder on assimilating more detailed answers than  “Because we say so”.

My point is that in speaking about the things that matter to you, you allow others a chance to know that there is another choice beyond an unquestioning acceptance of  doctrine. Also no individual or group should believe they are above challenge, question or concern. 

There will always be many who attack, who belittle, denigrate and despise you for this, but I’m sure you know, they are not the people who count. The people who count are the ones who allow themselves a doubt, which becomes a conviction that a freedom from oppression, whether that is in terms of sexuality, or reproductive choice, gender equality, equal marriage or in terms of a quiet request for rationale in the face of rhetoric; begins with the freedom to speak your own truth.

I feel your tweets offer this.

Ultimately to me and to many others, truth is preferable because it’s the easiest thing to remember.

I doubt you would consider doing anything other than this anyway.

All best, Nik

Friday, 15 November 2013

Chapter Four

I was starting to enjoy the quiet now the Adam was gone. I missed him terribly but I hadn’t noticed until it stopped how noisy the house had become in the months previously. Not because Adam was noisy but because it had been a way of him filling the silence. As we had started to talk less and less, he had put the TV on to fill the distance.  Whatever room we were in together had acquired a TV. All except his office.
Eventually the only time we were talking was when we were out and it wasn’t to each other. Unknowingly I was finding a way to ignore completely that Adam and I were beginning to talk less and less because I had my germ-busting secret mission filling my time.
As we alternated dinner parties over the next few week’s things went from bad to worse.
Through stealth and careful monitoring, I managed to make my way through most of the rooms in each home. There was evidence on more than one host and hostesses mattress and inside various pillowcases that left much to be desired.
At the time though I didn’t realise I was unhappy. I’d found a way to actually enjoy these evenings. My mission was clear. These people needed to be saved from themselves.
So secretly every time we were invited out to dinner, I cleaned the houses we were invited to.
It had been surprisingly easy. As the dishes were removed and collective blood left the brains and settled itself to the job of digestion and alcohol absorption, no one really noticed as I left the room. No one commented on the size of my bag. It was weird, but I was weird so no news there. No one really noticed the late arrival of the coffee either, which now became my designated job, a special assignment allocated to me after my rough treatment of Eileen’s precious dinner service and as her new ‘hilarious’ punch line to my perceived bulimia  “Sending you to make the coffee is a great way of keeping your head out of the toilet darling”.
As any group becomes more and more drunk, the quieter ones seem to vanish anyway and time takes on it’s own continuum.
Mention coffee to a group of ten drunks and you will get maybe two takers. By the time you walk back in with a pot of freshly brewed aromatic Arabica and some tiny biscuits, you can guarantee that a least six will have convinced themselves that they said yes.
Add Cocaine to the scenario which Gareth had started to do with Freddy’s help as a secret and stupid ‘protest’ against Eileen’s tyranny, and you’ve got at least two people who will rant on for ages, if you forget the sugar.
Fortunately drugs had never been Adams thing. Seeing his cousin sent down for fifteen years for trafficking drugs when Adam was nine had a lasting effect on him and one of the main reasons he’d gone into medicine. He was ‘disappointed with Gareth’ for a while but it didn’t last.
So I was on the clock if I was going to get it done before anyone noticed I was gone. It never failed to amaze me just how much grime seems to lie unnoticed beside the cooker in an average kitchen. To me in my purposeful state these people could qualify for the Ecoli Olympics.
Yet their kitchens were a shrine to the nations obsession, with all things food.
They were definitely my favourite.
It’s unbelievable how tidy, yet filthy they were. People will mention their mess in an off hand jovial way, whilst not really believing what they say. You never cross the threshold of a home only to hear “Oh please excuse the dirt”.
People just don’t see it for themselves but to me, since beginning my crusade it was obvious.
Once in the kitchen, I knew that I had a maximum of half an hour before I was missed.
Well I say me that was missed but actually I mean the coffee.
I got away with it for ages. I had removed soap scum and degreased for months undetected. My big bag you see. Best thing I ever bought.
But my greatest challenged remained unconquered.
More than anything else she ran her home as I suspected she ran her sex life. Eileen definitely did not like the idea of people wandering unchecked outside her strictly designated areas.
The house they lived in was at the end of the village in a slightly elevated spot on a lane with eight other listed Georgian townhouses alongside it.  Each house had a high walled front garden with the obligatory gravel. There was enough room for ten cars at the front but as we were all villagers too, we’d all walked to the party.
They had moved in five years previously and had been re-decorating floor by floor. At various dinner parties they had walked us through their thoughts, then talked us through the drawings, then shown us the work in progress and finally the finished result. The last room to be done was the master bedroom and every time I had been shown this room the en-suite bathroom door had been firmly closed. There was no reason to open it. The house had a bathroom on every one of its four floors.
Since I begun my secret cleaning, I had suggested popping in on more than one occasion but this was always met with firm rebuttal and we were then swept en masse out of the area to the waiting pigs trotters on the dining table downstairs.
It drove me to distraction. I had to know what lay behind that door but it wasn’t going to be easy.
Regardless of the months we had known one another, regardless even of the parameters of personal space, Eileen would trot along behind me like a Messerschmitt in the wake of a spitfire.
It never exactly got to a dogfight but we weren’t far off.
I would attempt
Distraction ”Is that Gareth calling you from downstairs?”
Deviation ”Oh I think I dropped an earring.”
Diarrhea, clutching my stomach and making a dash from the bedroom toward the en-suite.
But with lightening speed Eileen would get between me and my goal  and waggling her finger she would herd us back downstairs.
As I’d cleaned my way through our other friend’s houses, the contents of Eileen’s bathroom had consumed me. What was that woman hiding?
I knew that whatever lay behind that door must be a veritable treasure trove of filth and this meant that it would take all of my cleaning skills and products from my top shelf.
These were my Internet ordered, truly hazardous ones.
Industrial strength cleaners. In the wrong hands they could be dangerous but for me, they were safe.
As the evening wore on a most unexpected thing happened to me. I found myself quite enjoying this evening. I’d been chatting to Eileen’s sister Kathy, a “wild card” single. She was up from London staying for a week. She worked for a mental health charity in their campaigns department and we’d been having a chat about the challenges they faced with funding. She was really committed and also hilarious. She knew her sister better than anyone and together we were getting quietly pissed and laughing at all the bullshit. “We should have lunch while I’m here” she said ”Then I can tell you all about Eileen’s past. Don’t believe her holier than thou bollocks, she’s full of it” I really liked Kathy.
A vague feeling of guilt became stronger and harder to ignore. What I was doing was crazy and impossible to explain.  If any of them found out it would be the end of our friendship let alone Adam’s reaction. No the products in my bag would stay bottled up and unused.
Then Moira’s mobile phone rang.
Moira was the other “wild card” single and had been wooed by Eileen, into a friendship she seemed slightly uncomfortable with.
Her discomfiture was entirely academic to Eileen. The facts to her were clear. Their children attended the Independent school a couple of miles outside Leebury and Moira’s husband David was a famous actor doing what all famous actors should have been doing that night, filming with Julia Roberts in Scotland.
The phone call was from the nanny.
Moira’s daughter had fallen out of her top bunk bed and in the nanny’s opinion, broken her arm. The nanny had sensibly wasted no time and was calling Moira from the car to tell her they were on their way to the Hospital and for Moira to meet them there.
Moira dissolved into floods of tears.
Eileen immediately ordered Gareth to run Moira to the Hospital. A feat made obviously impossible as he stood up and promptly fell backwards pissed and laughing.
This served to heighten Moira’s distress and desperate to save face and secure her position as Moira’s new best friend, Eileen seething, announced that she would do it.
You could see that Eileen wasn’t overly thrilled. Moira had let the side down already by not bringing her famous husband with her.  Eileen had already mentioned to me privately that evening, that with the BAFTA’S coming up she had high hopes of being included on David’s table, so she rushed to cover her irritation with a breathtaking, if slightly forced smile.
And with that they were gone.
The ease with which the opportunity had arisen was staggering. I tried to ignore it but I had to know what was behind that door. This was my only chance. I had to take it. I made my excuses to Kathy and grabbing my bag from the hall I made my way upstairs.
My heart was pounding as I climbed the stairs. I reached floor after floor tiptoeing past the children’s bedrooms. 
I needed to focus. With a sweating palm I turned the handle to the master bedroom. Slowly and savouring every step I approached the door to the bathroom. I was there.
I opened the door and in the darkness felt around for the light switch. I found it. I was trembling in anticipation. I turned the switch.
Slowly I tried again. Still nothing. There were trailing wires and boxes of tiles clearly the new en-suite was in the final stages of redecorating.
How could I clean it, if I couldn’t see it? I opened the door to the bedroom as wide as I could. I couldn’t turn back now.
I knew it was there. The dirt had to be there. Why else keep it so secret. There was no other explanation for the secrecy. I opened my bag in the reflected light from the bedroom and choosing carefully, I selected the products I needed.
I poured them one by one into the toilet bowl, which I knew had to be filthy and slipped on my marigolds with a delicious shiver. The products mixed together and began to fizz, a lot. I hadn’t used them before so had no idea if this was normal but no matter.
It was then that I heard a distant belch. Then after a pause, another one, this time a little closer and followed by a prolonged fart.
It was Gareth.
I tried to move and couldn’t. He was going to catch me red handed, cleaning his bathroom.
How would I explain this?
Well you can’t explain it can you. There was nothing else to do. I grabbed my bag, ran into the bedroom and hid under the bed.
Wheezing heavily Gareth stumbled in and staggered into the bathroom.
Although obviously used to the lack of light, due to the building work, his blood alcohol seemed to be impeding his progress. From my vantage point under the bed, I heard him opening a cabinet in the bathroom smashing a bottle in the basin in the process.  The unmistakable sound of Gareth snorting cocaine was followed by a pause then
“Where are you, you fucker” he growled. I froze. Did he know I was under the bed?
Then he said “AH HA GOTCHA! This‘ll give ‘em a laugh”
He knew. He’d found me. It was all over.
But it wasn’t me he’d found.
As I peered out from under the bed, Gareth walked out into the bedroom grinning and holding the largest vibrator I had ever seen.
“Eileen’s best friend eh? The sanctimonious cow doesn’t know I know about you, does she my Phallus friend. Let’s take you downstairs and give everyone a big laugh eh?” And with that he took his cigar out of his mouth and turning threw it into the toilet bowl behind him, where it connected with my chemicals.  There was a searing blue white light then nothing.
I was told afterwards that the explosion could be heard for 3 miles.
I woke up in hospital two days later. 
I’d lost two days but Gareth had lost the tip of two fingers from his left hand and had to have skin grafts to his right. Possibly the part that had annoyed Eileen the most, was the reason for his skin grafts.
The heat from the blast had welded the vibrator to his palm. The police cordoned off the area and evacuated the neighbours for their own safety. Most of the village was assembled by the time Gareth was wheeled the length of the lane on a stretcher to the waiting ambulance. His arm in a splint and the welded vibrator still attached to his hand.
Adam divided his time between visiting my hospital bed and Gareth’s and sat grim faced while I gave my statement to a young PC who to her great credit didn’t laugh once.
Although the anti-terror unit decided not to pursue it, It didn’t prevent Kate nicknaming the whole episode “Operation dildo”

So there it was done and dusted, to use a cleaning analogy.
Still we’d all come out of it more or less alive. Gareth was healing and he and Eileen had retrieved their favourite bit of my marriage, Adam and taken him to a ‘place of safety’. I was feeling a little sorry for myself and I was wondering what else could go wrong. I was having a bit of a wallow in selfpity and I hated myself for it but it was true.
I filled the kettle and the phone rang. It was my sister Lucy “ Hi Sarah,” she sounded quiet. “Hi luce how’s things?” She paused then “Oh there ok. Listen, if Adam doesn’t mind, can I come over to yours tomorrow night?”
 I still hadn’t plucked up the courage to tell her that Adam had left yet. I just didn’t think it was fair to Mum and I really couldn’t face telling Mum.
“Um… sure are you ok?” “Yes fine it’s just the girls..” She trailed off,  my twin nieces Amy and Phoebe  were quite a handful and Lucy was shattered most of the time because they didn’t sleep much and were into everything.
 “Are they ok”
“Yes well…yes except.. well, the thing is, it’s Amy. She’s been diagnosed with Autism”

Chapter Three

 So to make Adam happy we’d bloody joined Gareth and Eileen’s bloody “group” and fell into bloody step in the bloody ranks of bloody Suburban dinner party people.
Marriage is about compromise.
There were our hosts, Us, Pauline and Trevor who both worked with Gareth, Katrina (Eileen’s Psychic) and her husband Freddy, Jamie and Paulette who owned the Country Club where Adam and Gareth played tennis and occasionally a ”wild card” couple who Eileen would gives clues to in a god awful guessing game, mysteriously, as though she had Brad and Angelina tucked away in a cupboard somewhere.
 I hated it but somehow or other we’d always turn up, dutifully suited and booted and armed with wine and smiles of joy. Real smiles in Adams case, forced and very fake smiles in my case.
The fact that none of us liked each other didn’t really feature. Once you’re in, getting out was unthinkable.
We all sat around with The Arctic Monkeys on Gareth and Eileen’s, Linn music system and chatted about current affairs, illicit affairs and who should win X factor. Eileen commented very loudly every time the subject was raised “I never watch ’that rubbish’ but has everyone seen the new Attenborough programme. It’s breath taking?”
We discussed their book clubs; their holiday plans and whether moving or building an extension was the answer for them.  
In reality they discussed it; I was my usual tongue-tied self in the face of small talk. As Eileen’s sat beside me, on more than one occasion, patting my hand, and saying  “ I think you are so true to yourself Sarah my Darling, so real. You’re very brave, not caring about how you look”
I fumed, and mentally tattooed the word ‘Twat’ on her forehead.
Mainly the women talked about their children. The fact that we didn’t have any through choice and were therefore excluded from this conversation, didn’t pose a problem as far as they were all concerned. I’d tried to explain at the first gathering, but the idea of not wanting children was so offensive to earth mother Eileen that it led her to talk for an hour about breast feeding as a form of self comfort.
Eileen cleared the field on the topic of being a mother. As a businesswoman and proud procreator she assured us, with studied modesty, that she juggled both her fabulous chain of clothes shops and fabulous home in her inimitable fabulous way.
I sought solace in relating key “Eileen-isms” once a week to Kate whilst Adam was politically losing his tennis matches to Gareth. Her snort of derision on Eileen was very cathartic “If instructing the nanny and housekeeper and her assistant, can be considered juggling then, juggle she does Sarah, juggle she does”.
I had nothing against careers, mothers or rich people normally. All my friends in London worked and all of them had children. They were always knackered and mostly guilty that they were potentially neglecting one or all areas of their lives. Then there would be some tabloid crap about supposed research which would darkly suggest they were causing harm to their much loved children through sending them to nursery and they would torture themselves.
I remember when I was at the newspaper finding the Head of News sobbing in the toilets at work because she’d phoned the nursery and they’d excitedly told her that her daughter had taken her first steps. “I wasn’t there” she’d sobbed “I’m missing everything” Loving her job and loving her child were not mutually exclusive.
I’ve never yet met a working mother who didn’t love their child to distraction.
Yet every time Eileen opened her collagen enhanced lips (again cosmetic enhancements what ever floats you boat unless it’s Eileen in which case I want to sink that boat with a torpedo) I loathed every single word she said. I toyed with the idea of joining the Socialist Workers Party and hosting dinner at ours with my new comrades as guests of honour, laughing and pointing at Eileen and Gareth as fine examples of privileged “scum”.
Then I realised that as dinner parties were probably viewed as the ultimate bourgeois pursuit, the Socialist Workers Party wouldn’t come and it would be just the four of us with me trying to rant about Karl Marx, whilst the other three ignored me and discussed Gareth’s shares portfolio.
Although I disagreed with both Eileen and Gareth on almost every account from politics (right wing posing as centre left because we had a Labour Controlled Council and Eileen couldn’t risk it) to the internet (not just because of Eileen’s campaigning but another opportunity for a speech from Gareth about ‘feminazis’) I did envy the fact that Eileen had an opinion on everything and she wasn’t afraid to use it.
She at least had my grudging respect on that.
I had time to psychologically examine the situation whilst I was silently watching Adam morph from the man I loved into a spineless shadow of himself.
Frustrated by yet another conversation revolving around children, I once tried to start a conversation about feminism. The ensuing conversation looked promising until our host Gareth said “oh you mean bull-dykes” There followed a short, politically correct silence in which the group struggled to work out if this comment from Gareth was ‘ironic sexism’ or actual sexism-and if laughter in either case was acceptable.
 You could literally see the group’s confusion crash from being thought humourless to being thought sexist, via concern as to whether Gareth might get annoyed.
In the unstable world of fake friendship a missed step could prove fatal. Just like a baby Impala straying too far from the herd on the Serengeti, straight into the path of a hunting lioness.
This silence was, swiftly and expediently broken by our own pride leader.
Eileen correctly reading the silent subtext showed us the truth and the light with her comment of “Oh Gareth you are such a Neanderthal at times Darling, but to be honest I just loathe political correctness don’t you?”
Relieved, everyone except me agreed noisily.
Most of it was tolerable to some degree, but there came a stage in the sheer familiarity of it all that I was pretty much able to second guess who would say what to whom, on any given subject.
There were also strictly observed rules which I became aware of when I’d once walked through to the kitchen carrying plates from the table and found Eileen upbraiding her sister in law Caroline, who was married to Gareth’s kind and quieter brother, Paul.
 We hadn’t met them before this evening. They were the nights “wild card” couple and had been charming all night. Their genuine and funny stories of their own children and what growing up with Gareth had been like had, had me in tears of laughter. At one point Caroline’s battle with cancer had come up as natural part of conversation and in the midst of Caroline’s sentence Eileen had suddenly stood up and clapping her hands together had declared “Pudding I think” Non-plussed Caroline had stood up too and offered to help. Eileen had brushed past her wordlessly into the kitchen. So Caroline had quietly followed.
I waited a moment then gathered plates and followed too. I wasn’t sure what I would do or say but I knew Eileen would pounce. Eileen always pounced. Caroline was the baby Impala tonight.
As I walked into the kitchen she was serving Eton mess into bowls with her back to Caroline and in the clipped tones of a PE teacher berating a class of children, Eileen was instructing Caroline “Cancer is awful my darling I know, and you’re being very brave blah blah blah. But really, no one needs to hear about it in graphic detail. I was trying to save everyone from an explanation of your chemo side effects. I mean I’m family and I struggle with that as a topic my darling” I saw Caroline’s face register shock and then her eyes fill with tears. I half threw the plates on to the worktop. Caroline drew in her breath slowly and simply replied “Thank you Eileen” Then she walked out of the kitchen.
Eileen said,  ”Oh kind of you to bring them out Darling, but do be careful with those as you put them down won’t you. You won’t recognise it but they’re quite valuable”.
I stared at her. She briefly looked up from her task. “Sorry Darling did you have something you wanted to say?” I had a lot that I wanted to say. But because it was me, because I wasn’t entirely sure that I would be able to stop and might inadvertently beat her to death with one of her slotted spoons. I said nothing.
I walked back to the dining room and took my place beside Adam, who was laughing far too loudly as Gareth droned on. Across the table from me, Paul was whispering to Caroline and carefully taking her tissue from her he gently dabbed her eyes and kissed the tip of her nose, making her smile. The love they had for one another was so apparent in that tiny gesture of comfort that I held my breath for a while. I knew that even if I’d dragged Adam away from Gareth’s every word and drawn his attention to the couple across the table, he wouldn’t have a clue what I meant. Not anymore the old Adam was gone and he had been body snatched by this man sitting beside me laughing too loudly at unfunny jokes told by an asshole.
I suddenly wondered in that moment if this new Adam would, love me, through the worst that life can bring, in the way that Paul was doing for Caroline. Whether we would ever unite in being one another’s comfort if the terror of life was before us. Facing it together and holding hands and walking on.
Worse than that, I knew that I wouldn’t want this Adam standing beside me.
It was, I suppose this moment of tenderness, of truth in the midst of so much superficiality that something imploded in my head. Unable to deal with the truth of my own life and the change in a man I’d loved for so long, I buried it and gave myself a distraction to focus on instead.
My mind began to wander, away from the tales of work rest and play and I started to drift.
As I nodded and smiled at the hilarity of the Gareth’s latest triumph over his work nemesis “Fuckface”, I noticed over his head a cobweb hanging down and trailing a little dust.
It was fleeting but it was there and I couldn’t take my eyes of it. This redundant web, which was now only useful to catch the dust of the lives, which passed below it. I drained my wine glass and tried to remember how many refills I’d had that night. I couldn’t and I really didn’t care.
Next time that it was their turn to host. There was no “wild card” couple. I sat in almost total silence willing the night to be over, especially when a couple of hours in Adam was being really enthusiastic over the idea of a group holiday. An evening of this once a fortnight was torture enough the notion of ten consecutive nights with all their children made me feel nauseous. So I tried to find something to focus on and there it was. The cobweb was still there and if anything a little longer, a little heavier with dust and it moved slightly, pushed by the slight breeze from Eileen’s theatrical hand gestures.
Now I came to notice it there was another cobweb in the corner of the ceiling. Or was it a crack in the plaster? No cobweb definitely a cobweb and another over the doorframe. Why hadn’t I noticed this before?
I excused myself from the table and made my way to the bathroom. I sat for a moment on the closed lid. I was vaguely aware of the dry sensation in my mouth and the familiar pounding of my heart. So again I wondered just how bad this place was in terms of cleanliness.
I stood up and faced the toilet. My worst fears were confirmed. As I lifted the lid of the toilet bowl the evidence was plain to see. It was slightly stained.
I ran a finger along the windowsill. It was barely perceptible but unmistakable. Staring back at me from my trembling fingertip was some dust.
My heart was pounding. I felt faint and a little sick. These people were feeding us. Feeding us God only knew what concoction of salmonella based food. No it was fine. It was fine I was just a little drunk or just over reacting. I steadied myself against the wall and took the pulse in my neck. Trying to remember how quickly salmonella forces the shut down of all organs. This panic attack was a tricky one. All the people I had come to like least in the world, including Adam, surrounded me. What had happened to us?  I tried to remember my happy place but all I could see was dust and dirt and a sea of advancing cockroaches.
My heart was definitely beating far too fast It was it also skipping now. Oh God this was it. It was going to burst. My neck ached and there was a pain in my left arm I was dying I was definitely dying I couldn’t breath.  I slid down the wall convinced that each desperate breath was my last. As  rolled myself in a tight ball on the floor all I could see was Adam at my funeral heckling Adam during my Eulogy with shouts of ‘Bloody feminazi actually” and Adam and everyone else laughing hysterically…
Salvation came in the least Samaritan-esque form I’ve ever experienced There was a pounding on the bathroom door “Sarah….SARAH. What on earth are you DOING in there all this time?” Barked Eileen, through the door.
Then in a stage whisper “Is it Bulimia Darling? Is that why your skin is so bad?”

So I’d done this for Adam, compromised and been flexible and joined his group of fake friends and now he was gone. Remembering all this as I turned the light out and closed the door on all his stuff packed up and labeled and ordered, was awful and wishing it wasn’t so was pointless.  As the result of a chain reaction of one tiny set of unforeseen circumstances, the whole thing was literally about to all, blow up in my face.