Saturday, 27 December 2008

Why I can no longer phone home

Welcome to the bereavement counsellor’s chair. That’s you in the chair, and me the bereaved … so if you’re not ready to be subsumed by my gloomy news, “look away now”.

My mother died of a sudden heart attack on Monday 8 December, at about 2:20 in the afternoon.

I had just returned from a very pleasant walk in the woods with my dog, and answered the phone expecting a work-related call, not my grief-stricken not-step-father saying my mum had collapsed while cleaning the windows and the paramedics could not revive her. For the record, she was only 64, and had only been retired from her very hectic publishing job for about six years.

Since the 8th, life has been a strange mixture of sadness, raucous laughter, not getting ready for Christmas, and mild panic and confusion, because I no longer have anyone special to phone to tell my news.

I live about 100 miles from my mum, and haven’t lived at home permanently since I went away to school, aged 11, in 1977. In all that time, we mostly spoke on the phone, or while we were driving around from one place to another – on work-related trips or the 50-minute ‘school run’ at the start and end of holidays and Sunday afternoon ‘tea visits’. We had a regular appointment, during my school days, whereby I would ring her on Sundays (after church, a daily ritual at my C of E boarding school) giving ‘three rings’ to let her know it was me, then redialing so she could pick up the receiver.

On the day after her death, Mr Ms_well and I drove up the M1 and back to do the grim things I now know you have to do, if you’re a next of kin. When we arrived home at about 10 minutes to midnight, we couldn’t sleep, and instead watched a DVD of Peter Kaye featuring his own personal take on the ‘three rings’. Are all northern mothers the same, then? I howled with laughter, and with sadness. My mum was a fan of Peter Kaye, and I was half tempted to have Is this the way to Amarillo? – the Tony Christie version, mind you – played at the funeral, because my mum loved it, and she used to live next door but one to TC.

Once I left school and had a phone of my own and, crucially, an answering machine, my mum’s catch-phrase of “It’s only me, I’ll phone you later”, became very familiar, and already, that’s the thing I miss the most.

So here I am, having gone through a thoroughly modern Yorkshire funeral – no punch-ups (that’s the old-fashioned way!), but emotionally charged by ex-husbands, bereaved partners, bereaved partner’s US-based son who’s a stranger to everyone at the wake, aunts and uncles who don’t speak to each other, and former bosses and their families who diplomatically fail to turn up, despite the 20+ years of devoted service given with only a pittance of a pension to show for it (which will only just cover the funeral expenses, but don’t be me started on that just now).

And now I’ve had three unexpected and unwelcome weeks off work, at a time when I’ve got a bulging order book and clients who are being extremely thoughtful through the gritted teeth of “when will you deliver that job?”

Back to work, then. As my dad wrote in my son’s remembrance book “Oh blah dee, oh blah dah, life goes on …”.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Melvyn Bragg hits the hot spot

Quote of the day, aka “How to get one over on Today’s pompous and self-important anchor man, John Humphrys”:

Trailing his show In Our Time (which immediately follows Today, at 9am on Thursdays) Melvyn Bragg said:
“So, the science of heat with … [names of guests].

“It’s extraordinary to think that until 1700 almost all the world was heated and lit by fire alone. Since then, we have discovered many ingenious ways to generate hot air — John …”

[Noises off: not-so-muffled laughter and noisy protestations from Mr H!]

Time: 8.35 (2:35 minutes into Today)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

A red-tailed hawk and a three-legged dog

Nothing much happens in the small Hertfordshire town where I live (though we have made the headlines once this year). But I’ve seen two unusual sights in two days, so thought I’d share them with you.

Yesterday I met a three-legged dog.

When I say ‘met’, it glared at me and my dog from a distance, stalked us for several yards, then gambled towards us at a frightening pace (given his disability). I stood my ground while my cowardly and totally soppy Springer Spaniel groveled in case the newcomer was unfriendly. [My dog was attacked when he was a puppy and has learnt to be wary of growly border-collie-types who can out-run him!]

But fear not, dear reader, after a quick sniff, the three-legged dog trotted off. Then he cocked his leg…

…Not by slightly raising the stump of the missing leg, but by doing what can only be described as a doggie hand-stand.

Talk about adaptability! (And what fantastic balance.)


Today, because the sun was shining, we dared to stray further from home to a nearby country-park-cum-woodland (owned by the Woodland Trust, in fact), which is a very popular dog-walking venue – providing you don’t mind washing off the cow pats and badgers-doings when you get home.

We’d had a good stretch through the fields in the sunshine, and climbed high up into the woods then back down to head for home, when I spotted a chap walking towards us behaving rather oddly.

Not sure whether to choose a different direction (I am hyper-conscious of potential problems walking alone in isolated spots, even with my dog and mobile phone), I paused and shielded my eyes from the sun to see if I could tell what he was up to.

As he approached, I realised – he’d been catching his red-tailed hawk.

I put my dog on the lead and so we got a really good close-up of the bird, and a quick chat with the ‘owner’ who assured me that this huge bird of prey is fine with dogs. He tells me he doesn’t need a licence to own/hunt with the beastie, which surprised me, knowing how up-tight some farmers can be about their live-stock. Apparently, though, the red-tailed hawk only goes for the small-fry that farmers think of as pests (cute bunny rabbits, mice, voles, squirrels etc).

Having seen it up-close, I’m very glad he caught the bird, before it caught us!


This wasn’t what I had intended to write in my blog this week, but you know how things can pile up. Things I was intending to write about:

* Eddie Izzard live in London last Saturday - excellent; and included an hysterical joke for editors… but damned if I can remember it. Woe.
* Last night’s Horizon on ‘Time’, plus more on science communication.
* Still trying to get round to doing my ‘green’ story; started it in September. It will come, eventually.
* And ‘slow blogging’ - snippet spotted in Guardian last week. Instead of writing about it, I’ve been practising it!