Tag Archives: family

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Return to the old stomping ground…


This weekend’s prompt from Linda G Hill for her regular Stream of Consciousness Saturday thread manages to tie in quite nicely with the reason I didn’t post anything last Saturday.

” “-cat-”  Use the letters at the start, middle, or end of a word and make it the subject of your post – or just use the word “cat.” “

Ok then…

Back to the old stomping ground.

Ever since Rhonda and Audrey arrived from America this time last year, Audrey has been inordinately excited about the fact that she now has “new cousins” in my sister’s children.
But because my immediate family all live 250 miles away in Crowborough, East Sussex, the only chance she had to meet them in person was in March (when they all came down for our somewhat delayed wedding reception) and we’ve not had a chance to get up there and catch up with them since.

That is, until last weekend.

As the end of the school holidays coincided with Halloween, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make the journey back to the place where I grew up, introduce Rhonda to some old friends, have Audrey spoiled by her newly-acquired grandparents and let her go Trick or Treating with those eagerly anticipated cousins.
So as soon as work was over on Thursday and I’d had a quick shower, we all jumped in the car and headed eastwards.

I’ve made the journey many times over the years, but never at night.
Isn’t it amazing how different everything looks (or doesn’t look) in the dark?

Road junctions for instance.

Especially when there’s an outbreak of cones, roadworks, temporary signs and closed off-ramps on a stretch of previously familiar motorway.

In short, we (ok, I) got lost somewhere around Winchester, had to backtrack a few miles before the unfamiliar became recognisable again and we finally arrived about two hours late.

After spending Friday catching up with family, listening to Audrey chattering happily with her new cousins, playing with my sister’s two cats and being treated to a meal by mum in the evening, we scheduled a trip out onto Ashdown Forest, the setting for A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories.

If you come from Crowborough, it’s pretty much compulsory to go to the world famous Pooh Bridge at least once, to play a game of “Pooh Sticks”, as played by Pooh and Christopher Robin in those enchanting books and we couldn’t go back to my old home town without taking Audrey out there.


So on Saturday morning we drove over to pick up my old friend Biff and his dog, Luigi, before visiting the official Pooh shop and taking a very pleasant stroll through the forest in the autumn sunshine, culminating in a few races on the river (making certain we gathered plenty of sticks on the way, as the area around the bridge is a barren, stick-free zone) and allowing Audrey to fall in deep boggy puddle, filling her boots with mud and requiring us to make a quick diversion on the way back to change clothes.








Then it was time to meet up with a few mates at my old local, The Wheatsheaf, a real pub with low ceilings, open fires and plenty of dark wood paneling, a place that never seems to alter, despite the passing of time and changing clientele.
We had a few drinks, caught up with the local gossip and arranged to meet up with anybody we missed later on that evening.

Trick or Treating was obviously the highlight of Audrey’s weekend, getting to dress up and terrorize the locals with my sister’s kids, who were wonderful with her, keeping her entertained the whole time and making our stay a real pleasure.


It was so good to see Rhonda enjoying the company of my old friends that evening, listening to us reminiscing about our misspent youth and fielding questions about her life in America.
I’m always grateful to have a group of people who are just as pleased to see me as I am to see them, even after all these years away.
I hear about so many people who lose track of those people they grew up with and that really would be a shame because, as Rhonda says, I really do have the most wonderful collection of friends.

Leaving with a promise to return before too long, to spend longer in the land of Pooh next time, we weaved our way back to my sister’s for the final time on this flying visit.

We made sure we left in daylight on Sunday morning, to avoid any more navigational mishaps, arriving home after only a small diversion and just the one deer jumping out of the fog in front of the car.
I rang my sister to let her know we’d made it home safely and she asked whether we had an uninvited cat in our luggage, as one of hers had gone missing. We had no stowaway on board as far as I could tell, but the next day there was a rather worried appeal on Facebook for anyone who spotted an escaped cat to please return it.

Fortunately there is a happy ending to the story, as the errant feline turned up with a minor back injury, slightly disheveled and dehydrated the next day behind a neighbour’s garage, requiring only a quick once-over by the vet and a drip to facilitate a full recovery.


All-in-all a fabulous weekend, with great people that I’m so lucky to know and a family who have been nothing but supportive in the emotional and financial maelstrom that has made up the last year or so of my life.

Thank you all, we couldn’t have done it without you.
See you all again soon.


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The absence of Martin…

Should I feel bad?
Should I make a note in my diary to remind me?
Should I mark the anniversary in some way?

Death is a funny thing.
Not in a hahaha way, obviously.
But it’s one of those things that requires special treatment by the little people in our heads that are responsible for filtering our memories through the gauze of time, to enable us to experience the best bits of a person’s life without having to continually relive the gut-wrenching moment of loss when that life comes to an end.

In many ways, the unreal feeling of absence that comes with losing someone who has been integral to your life for so long becomes more unreal with the passage of time.
Initially, the shock, pain and sorrow that is part and parcel of loss seems like a comfort, almost as if the process of grieving is a defence in and of itself, a way of opening you up to any and all feelings you had for someone who is now gone.
This huge overload of emotion insulates you from the true horror of the situation, only letting you take in the full impact at a later date, when you’re better able to cope, more hardened to the terrible shape reality has taken.

The further you get from that awful point in time however, the less real it seems and, although you’ve known for years that they’ve gone and aren’t coming back, just occasionally something will generate a spark and that emotional tinderbox will suddenly burst into life, prompting a flood of nostalgia which can shock you all over again with the knowledge that you ran out of time years ago.

I got a message from my sister Kerry yesterday, saying it was 15 years since our father, Martin, died.
My first reaction was; “That can’t be right, it’s not as long as that”, but then I realised how long I’ve been living in Devon and that he became ill after I’d already been here nearly a year.
How time flies.


Dad and Ann, my mother.

As I have said before, my relationship with Dad was not the smoothest of rides, which explains why I moved away from home at 16 and subsequently, maybe why he didn’t really get to know who I was (i.e. not a smaller version of him) until it was nearly too late.

I think my spell of living in a coach was probably the thing that shocked him the most, possibly making him finally grasp the fact that I’d never have the ambitious, career-driven executive attitude I’m guessing he wanted me to aspire to.
I remember very clearly, after I made a rare visit home, he gave me a lift back to the apple farm on which our camp was pitched and dropping me at the gate, looked at the collection of ramshackle tents, benders and dilapidated vehicles and then looked at me with an expression that said; “Oh for God’s sake, what are you doing living here?”
How could I possibly explain to him, a respectable businessman, that what I was doing was having the absolute best time of my life, a period that taught me so much independence, hard work, self-sufficiency, about being who you are, and not taking too much notice of what others have in mind for you.

Of course, looking back, I can appreciate exactly what it must have seemed like to him, especially given the reputation that “travellers” had back then. He probably thought I was on a fast train to Junkie City, stopping only briefly at Unemployment Junction before continuing through Pariah Town to the end of the inevitable line.
Although I can’t help feeling slightly pleased that he must have by then fervently wished he’d been more enthusiastic about my desire to follow a career in the theatre.
If ever there was a lesser of two evils, grease paint beats fingerprint ink every time.

Where I was fortunate though, was that I had my very own reality filter working in my favour, my loyal sister, Kerry.
All through these years she had been slowly chipping away at Dad’s image of me, trying to persuade him I wasn’t the hopeless case he feared I’d become and in the end it finally paid off.
We did become more tolerant of each other’s personalities (which were, when all was said and done, the same) and reached an understanding of sorts.

I still recall the slightly surreal evening when Dad and I went out for a drink together at my local, The Wheatsheaf in Crowborough, not long before I moved away.
It was the first, and only, time that he and I went for a friendly pint (that being the intent on his part I believe, “a friendly pint”) and the suggestion touched and amused me in equal parts, bearing in mind the locals were rather more – how shall I put this? – colourful than they are nowadays.

There just so happened to be a wake going on that night, for one of the more conspicuous consumers in the pub’s recent history, featuring the intake of Herculean quantities of (insert your chosen poison here) and culminating in a cataclysmically loud impromptu firework display just outside.
To be fair, Dad took it in his stride, presumably thinking this was an average night at The ‘Sheaf and restricting himself to the odd comment, on the lines of; “You have some very,…um, interesting friends” for which I silently gave him credit and liked him that little bit more, because he had finally given up on moulding me and appeared to be content that I’d been finding my own way all along.

The saddest thing?
Probably that for the last few days in that hospital room in London, (where he’d gone after the treacherous cells in his body had finally won their battle to lay low this energetic, ambitious, driven and tireless man, a man who had lost his wife to the same merciless killer and not only brought up Kerry and I, but taken on a second family too) we were closer than at any time I can remember since I was very young, and I think we both recognised it too.

Too late to make anything meaningful from the realisation by then of course (and who’s to say whether or not it’s just those little people in my head, straining my memories through their gauzy soft filters?) and I’m sure everyone has those feelings that they shouldn’t have left things to the last minute, but I’m glad that we could look each other in the eye and know we had made that final connection, it’s what gives me the ability to look back and think; “Blimey, has it really been that long?” with a melancholy that is not sadness but the affection of absence.


With second wife, Sue, the year before he died.

So I don’t feel too guilty about not remembering the anniversary of his passing, just that we didn’t have enough time to further understand each other.
For good or for bad we were very alike, something for which I’m sometimes grateful, sometimes not so much, but if it wasn’t for Dad, I wouldn’t be me.

Thanks Martin.
We owe you, big time.


Posted by on July 13, 2014 in Blogging, Personal anecdote


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Sibling survivalry…

Before I continue with any more original material, I’d like to take the opportunity to repost the article I wrote recently for A World Of Pain, just in case anyone neglected to click across the link to it from Adam’s wonderful Fantastic Four post, (and I know from my stat counter that an considerable number of people didn’t visit his blog) including some extra photos from the family archive, plus one of Ho’s excellent, bespoke cartoons.

So, once again ladies and gentlemen, I give you;
Sibling survivalry…

There is a line in Baz Luhrmann’s Everyone’s Free To Wear Sunscreen that says;
“Be nice to your siblings, they’re the best link to your past and the most likely to stick with you in the future”

Well I couldn’t have put it better myself, and evidently neither could Mr Luhrmann, taking as he did the text of a Chicago Tribune column by Mary Schmich for the vocal on his 1998 hit, a song which I seem to be referencing a lot recently.
Maybe it’s an age thing. Much as I try to ignore the arbitrary application of numeric value applied to our lives, (my personal tally has just passed its 48th solar orbit) there’s no getting away from it, we’re all getting older and Ms Schmich certainly does dispense some good advice.

But no matter how many turns round that big fiery ball we take, the one thing that has been constant in my life, right back to when I was still in my terrible twos, is my little sister, Kerry.
(If this was a strictly accurate history, I would of course refer to her throughout by the full name that she answered to at the time, the hated, hyphenated, Kerry-Jane, but I value my life too much so Kerry it will stay)


Mum, Kerry and me.

So let’s get the other thing Kerry won’t like out of the way first, shall we?
When she was born, we lived in Colchester, which of course makes her an Essex Girl by birth.
I should (very hastily) point out that this was a quirk of history, geography, gynecology, call it what you will and she does not wear white stilettos and fake tan to go dancing round her handbag at weekends. As far as I know anyway.


The Essex Years.

Besides, she has spent the vast majority of her life in leafy Sussex and the rough edges must have been thoroughly worn off by now.
But before we leave Essex – where we resided until I was just shy of six years old – let me tell you one of my earliest memories of Kerry, typical of older brothers everywhere I suspect, it’s one that is at her expense.

One day I was playing in the front garden when there was a loud thudding sound from indoors which terminated with the arrival of my two year old sister.

Cut to…

Scene: House interior, stairs.

Kerry clumsily trips at the top of the stairs, losing her as yet partially developed sense of balance and plummets downward, cunningly striking the wall at the corner of the staircase, enabling her a straight run down the main flight to the glazed panel next to the front door, which she apparently takes like a human bowling ball.

Scene: Exterior, garden.

The thudding noise rapidly increases in volume and intensity, until it abruptly stops (as, it turns out, Kerry’s knees hit the hallway floor) and my sister’s startled but otherwise undamaged head suddenly appears, via a perfectly circular hole it has smashed in the glass door panel, looking for all the world like a confused punter in a seaside photo diorama. The most memorable thing was, she didn’t even cry. Not a peep.

Now, I’m not consciously aware of any thought processes that may have been going on at the time, but it seems as though I must have taken this as an unspoken challenge to test my unfortunate sibling’s endurance and indestructibility.


“I’m sure I can unscrew this…”

Over the next few years, after our family moved to Sussex, Kerry somehow managed to survive my increasingly bizarre (but involuntary, honest) attempts to maim her, such as the time I was pushing her on the garden swing and encouraging her to jump off on the upswing, a favourite stunt of mine at the time.

Kerry dutifully complied, unaware that I was giving the swing one last push behind her as she jumped.

Of course she didn’t have the sense to do a spectacular dismount manoeuvre, thereby clearing the danger zone, as I would have done. No, she chose to turn and grin proudly back at me like the girl she was…

Just in time to catch the wooden seat of the swing full in the face.

There was already a certain amount of bed-without-any-dinner in my dad’s expression, even as he marched down the garden to investigate Kerry’s blood-curdling scream.


“Now, you see that ramp and those buses…?”

Or there was the time that, just as an experiment you understand, I persuaded Kerry to stand at the bottom of our metal climbing frame while I ascended to the top, dragging the large, red, evilly grinning sphere of a Spacehopper with me.

I was interested in finding out how high it would bounce off my sister’s head.

I duly dropped the heavy rubber ball from a height of about seven feet, hitting my target dead centre on top of the head, narrowly avoiding driving her straight into the ground like a fence post, but failing to avoid (to my continuing shame) being responsible for compressing her spine and giving her a lifetime of back problems, for which Kerry, I apologise once again.


Kerry, me and THAT climbing frame.

The point is, I utterly failed to follow the – then unrecorded – advice from Messrs Luhrmann / Schmich and was anything but “nice to my sibling” for a considerable length of time, and yet, against all the odds she remains a source of friendship, comfort and advice that would leave an indescribable hole in my life were she not there.




The Spacehopper Incident, by Ho.



A lot of that sense of connection undoubtedly comes from the death of our mother when I was just nine or ten, taken by a brain tumour after a relatively short illness. (Her all-too-short period of remission marked by a final, happy, sun-drenched family holiday in France that will always be my abiding memory of her; Happy and content, with her newly short-cropped hair, the result of surgery, making her look young again, albeit for a painfully brief time)  The extra responsibility I was expected to shoulder, whether real or imagined, made me more protective of Kerry after that I think, to the extent that I even once got into trouble at school for dragging another kid across the playing field by his ankles because he’d punched Kerry in the playground.


That final holiday.

It often didn’t help my rather volatile relationship with dad that Kerry was the model child to my black sheep either.

When we were at school, teachers who had taught me would say things like “Oh, you’re HIS sister are you?!” when they spotted Kerry’s surname on the register, and keep a surreptitious eye on her, in case she was another bad influence.


While I was living in a coach, she was working in a bank.

When I was living in a flat that resembled The Young Ones In Commuter Land, she was getting married and buying a house.

In short; “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”


Me, dad and Kerry – Butter not melting in mouth, just out of sight.

Indeed, doing the exhaustive research on this post alone (amounting to a 45 minute phone call with Kerry prior to writing) I’ve found that she had more than one patient talk with him, trying to “explain” me to him, attempting to convince him that not wishing to be a carbon copy of him did not make me necessarily a bad person, just a different one.

Mind you, she also said he and I were “too alike for your own good” and told me that “moving out at 16 was the best move you ever made” so she’s pragmatic as well as sensitive. Not a bad mixture. For a girl.




Kerry – Clearly not impressed.

And now we live nearly 300 miles apart, but when one of us gets round to picking up the phone we very rarely manage to get off the line within the hour, with conversations that end about nine times with the words “Oh, by the way, did I tell you…” and only conclude when her battery goes flat or my ear does.

So if you have a brother or sister who you don’t speak to as often as you should, make the effort, don’t wait for them to do it first, you know they’re just stubbornly waiting for you to do the same.

Mary Schmich was spot on, they are the best link to your future and, if you’re as lucky as me, they’ll be the ones who stick with you in the future too.

For Kerry and Ann.


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One of the fantastic four…

Once again I am collaborating with my friend and fellow blogger, Mr Adam Pain, this time on simultaneous posts for our respective blogs.
This time however, there’s a catch.

Previously, when it has occurred to me that something I’m working on may be on a subject that has also caught the ever-watchful eye of Mr Pain, I have enquired as to whether we might each take a different strand of the story and go in our own direction with it, coming at it from two different angles, so to speak.
We would then link our two posts, so that you, my lovely readers, could pop over to A World of Pain and get Adam’s take on the subject, and vice versa.
But this time Adam suggested we both write on the same subject, one that he would suggest, and post directly to each other’s blogs, thereby communicating with one another’s audience.

With me so far?

And so to the topic of this little challenge – Being a sibling.

I have submitted a piece that details the horrors of being my little sister, which you can read AT THIS LINK and which doesn’t even include the incident when she did an Exorcist / Mr Creosote impression (minus the spinning head, or the exploding) in the face of an unsuspecting dentist as she came round from being gassed. Aren’t I the considerate brother?

But for now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr Adam Pain…

Being One Of The Fantastic Four

When I was a kid at school, the last day of every term was marked by a delicious slice of perceived childhood freedom. Firstly, it was invariably declared a mufti day – a term I suspect is both archaic and quintessentially British, now likely to have been christened something depressingly functional, like ‘wear your own clothes day’. This was treated as an opportunity for ten-year-old girls to dress as their thirteen-year-old future selves, whilst the lads turned up in the replica football shirts they’d press ganged their parents into being shafted over a barrel for that season.

But it was the second treat bestowed upon us that was the most tantalising to me. We were all allowed to bring a game in. It was probably just an excuse for our frazzled teachers to take their feet off the educational accelerator for a minute, put them up on the dashboard and catch up on a few Reader’s Digest articles, but we relished it nonetheless. Who wants algebra, when Claire’s got Buckaroo under her arm, or David’s struggled in with a full set of Subutteo in his backpack?

There was always one kid who brought a game in that cost more than the entire contents of my house, complete with a power supply like a Ukrainian sub station. Most kids would coo, gasp and fawn in it’s presence, but I was always inclined to take a step back and let the others get in on the action. Firstly, because I’ve always had a deep-seated fear that I will break anything with substantial value the minute I touch it (one of the reasons holding other people’s babies freaks me out) but, also, because I often felt a little sorry for the owner. Sorry, because really expensive toy usually spelt only child.

I have always regarded my siblings as being my most precious possessions, and am fiercely protective as a direct result. We fought, squabbled and sulked as all siblings do, but my childhood is liberally smothered in memories of the four of us howling with laughter whilst playing silly buggers. Cats dressed as Victorian prostitutes; underwhelming but enthusiastic gymnastic displays in the back garden; water fights that lasted for days; pranking our parents by moving all of the lounge furniture onto the front lawn – tv, lamps and rugs included. These stories represent just the tip of a joyous iceberg that often lured the whole motley crew of kids on the estate into choppy waters. Local parents sometimes regarded us an utterly feral bunch, but it was water off a duck’s bum. We were the awesome foursome, the quad squad, an entire world of Pain – with our own ecosystem, honour code and secret handshake. A few disgruntled old squares weren’t going to ruin our adventures.

The tempestuousness of our teens led to adult lives in far-flung places (although I’ve ended up settling about three minutes away from my childhood home) but geographical distance has never dulled the homing pigeon instinct in any of us. When Mum died, we spent two weeks together – just walking, sitting, thinking and playing – because it was the only way we knew how to cope. Licking each other’s wounds.

When Katy got sick with the cancer that had first taken bites out of her in her early twenties, it slowly became apparent that the fantastic four might be in some serious trouble. All of the pissing about in the world wasn’t going to get us out of this one, and the gravitas of the situation made me feel emotionally bloated. Like turning the contrast down on the telly, whilst boosting all the greys. Saying goodbye to Katy in the hospice was unbearably grim, mourning not only the loss of an enormous part of the team, but the team itself. We felt like The Beatles without John – a shotgun sized hole blasted into the fabric of the family.

That feeling never goes away. We all think about Katy at various points every day. Not because we are trapped in some morbid cycle of despair, but because she’s so intrinsic to our cultural and emotional make-up. You can’t escape it – to try would be as ludicrous as attempting to recall Spain in summer without summoning a vision of sunshine.

This week, on my birthday of all days, Dad was taken into hospital with crippling abdominal pains. The three of us adopted the brace position that’s become so horrendously familiar to us, only to sigh in relief on finding out it wasn’t anything too sinister. A hiatus hernia sounds hideous, but the relief at the diagnosis starting with an ‘h’ and not a ‘c’ was palpable for all of us.

The remaining members of the world of Pain remain, our wizened patriarch fit to fight on for the foreseeable future too. Shields down, weapons set to stun.

So – I’m not bothered I never got to take in the world’s best toy on the last day of term. My most treasured gifts were dotted around other classrooms, playing the dog eared versions of Guess Who, Operation or Mastermind we’d carried into school that morning – together.



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