Thursday, December 29, 2005

In the 'good old days', you married younger, had your children, then you were free to start taking care of elderly relatives. But today, we marry later, with the inevitable knock-on effect: our elders get older before our kids have grown up, and we find ourselves struggling with a double-whammy of care issues whilst still holding down a full-time job.

I believe oriental societies take much more care of their elders within the family. But I don't understand how they deal with the issue of working at the same time. I mean, if your relative has Alzheimer's, then they can't be left alone. But there must be the same economic issues of needing to maintain your level of income at the same time as caring for your relatives ... how do they do it?!

SuperSpouse and I were talking about our friends' situation. One is fit, and loves to travel abroad in pursuit of his hobby. But how can he do it, if his wife can't manage alone? If grown-up children are busy with their own lives and possibly unable to move into the family home whilst he's away? On the face of it, you can draw your own conclusions - the able partner's life is limited whilst protecting the vulnerable one.

With Alzheimers', the sufferer does - certainly initially - know that something is going wrong. It's frustrating. They imagine that sometime they will "get better". Our elderly auntie was persuaded to go to a care home for "a fortnight's respite care". She was far enough along the track not to realise that it was an awfully long fortnight. She'd already been having carers come to the home to provide her meals and see that she'd got dressed in the morning. Indeed, by the time she was asked if she would like to stay - and she was asked, in a lengthy consultation between care staff, social workers, herself and SuperSpouse - she couldn't remember where she'd been before. And it was an inevitability - once she'd been three times found wandering out in the street, unable to find her way home. She hadn't strayed more than a hundred yards, but she didn't know her home.

Occasionally we're asked, "didn't I have a house?". Or there will be the comment, "Oh, I'm just stupid." It used to be "Oh, I'm just stupid - I can't imagine how I held down a job like mine. It must have worn out my brain." But that has stopped. All you can say, is "not stupid - just forgetful." She'll have forgotten the conversation within a minute, anyway.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

As Wednesday dawned, Customer Care caringly told me that I could have a washing-machine engineer call me on Thursday. This was because "my" area mechanic was still off sick. It seemed fair enough.

Within half an hour, no.1 son yelled that the Dolphin electric shower had stopped working (their Customer Care answering machine told me they were operating a skeleton service on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and invited me to leave a message) - and I'd simultaneously discovered that my new "all-in-one" printer/copier/scanner came complete with everything but a USB cable. Aw, shucks!

Things could only get better. And they did. A ring at the doorbell brought a washing-machine engineer, oblivious to the fact that he wasn't free until tomorrow. Obviously the Saturday Customer Care lady had taken care of his schedule for this morning, even though Wednesday's girl had no record of it! My washing machine is functioning again - and it was done under warranty. I'm quids in already, with eleven months' warranty to go.

The Dolphin skeletal Customer Care lady then phoned to say that we could have a shower mechanic could visit us a week tomorrow. Ah well, we can live without a shower, easier than without a washing machine. They'll have to have baths for a change. Lovely!

Anyway, that was most of this morning gone. I read a few pages in preparation for writing the research paper that will have been delivered in just over a week ... then fixed lunch.

This afternoon, no.3 son and I went to the opticians, got his eyes tested and specs straightened out; then to pay in cheques at the bank; finally to the cobbler to mend SuperSpouse's shoes, and the supermarket for sweeties. I needed a form stamped and signed at the hospital, but the department was closed and no-one else was willing to use their stamp. Resisting the urge to stamp our feet instead, we came home. SuperSpouse has gone in search of a USB cable.

Cinderella to the last, I must clean the kitchen floor (after the washing-machine mechanic), and turn the last of the turkey into a curry for tea.

It's a great life, innit?!

If you're in the UK, I hope you're watching Jamie's School Dinners on Channel 4 at 7 pm? Jamie Oliver, that is. It's compelling viewing.

I have to say at this point that our family actually lives in Scotland! So we've no experience of the truly awful school dinners served up in England these days. 37p for a nourishing meal? Virtually impossible! Scotland does rather better, I believe. No.1 son is thriving on Healthy Options (bribed by the thought of a John Lewis voucher) - but our two Primary aged boys have packed lunches, so we know roughly what they're eating!)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


We still haven't got the washing machine fixed, but the bedroom wall-heaters are back on the walls. Does that sound weird? Well, no.3 son pulled the heater off his big brother's wall, some months ago. Meaning it couldn't be used. It's freezing outside, so it seems reasonable to expect wall-heaters to keep " inside" warm. Meanwhile, SuperSpouse bought a new heater for our bedroom, a few weeks ago, when the old one gave up the ghost. But he hadn't gotten round to fixing it onto the wall.

However, he has fixed them both, now! Oh, happy day - I am much happier using a wall-heater that is securely attached to a wall, rather than sitting on two suede shoes and leaning against a chest of drawers ...

Three cheers for SuperSpouse.

Meanwhile, no.3 son has had a friend round to play, and no.2 son has started assembling his Christmas Warhammer miniatures, so happiness abounds.

I have only to START writing this conference paper. I can't put it off much longer - I have just about all the info I need, and I just have to jump in with both feet and write the thing!

Monday, December 26, 2005

"Mother never allowed us to sew on a Sunday."

I was mending no.2 son's anorak and shortening school trousers. "I know, May", I responded. "But today isn't Sunday - it's Monday."

"Oh, I know - but you know, Mother never allowed us to sew on a Sunday."

We got to talking about old times, and what a Scottish Sunday was like in the 1930's, 40's and even 50's. You couldn't go out to play. You couldn't read a novel. You could read your Bible, or listen to religious programmes on the wireless. But then, as Super-Spouse pointed out, once you'd been to church in the morning, Sunday School in the afternoon and church in the evening - not to mention visiting the relatives - there wasn't much time to do anything that would defile the Sabbath.

I got back to shortening trousers.

"Mother never allowed us to sew on a Sunday", May repeated. Super-Spouse's aunt has Alzheimer's. She cannot remember anything for even 30 seconds.

But the strange thing is, her manners are impeccable. She's grateful for being invited to lunch, anxious that her hostess hasn't been to too much trouble, and appreciative of the meal. She politely asks after the boys, and their schools, and our holiday plans. The social niceties, dinned into her seventy-odd years ago, have remained as sharp as when her mother trained the little girl how to behave "in company".

Super-Spouse has just taken her back to her rest-home. I cleared away the post-prandial tea-cups, then went up to the bathroom.

A scrunched-up piece of soiled toilet-paper lay beside the wash-basin. Alzheimer's robs people of their dignity. It's scary to stop and reflect that I or any of my peers could end up going the same way. One of our sons' godmothers has recently been diagnosed. And she's only in her early seventies. A tall, strong-looking woman, once capable of running a household, now becoming confused and fearful for the future. Loads of old people have dementia - thousands of tragedies on a small, family scale.

Cheery stuff for Boxing Day, isn't it?!

There is one more thing I must do now. Whilst Super-Spouse was out collecting his aunt, I phoned the rest-home to say he was on his way. No-one came to the phone, so I left a voicemail. There's only one problem - I subsequently realised that I hadn't phoned the rest-home. I had phoned our eldest son's halls of residence. Oh, golly ... So now I must phone to say "ignore the last message, I was confused." Confusion abounds today!

The cold and sore throat that laid me low last Monday is still with me. I've had enough of it, but it hasn't had enough of me yet. You can only do so much for so long. If you persist in overdoing things, then eventually your body comes to a screaming halt. I still have to write that conference paper for a week on Thursday. I'll start tomorrow - not today. Please God, not today.

I've just read an interesting autobiography by American oboist Blair Tindall - Mozart in the jungle : sex, drugs and classical music. It was lent to me by an American musician friend who knows I'm an oboist. It made interesting reading. At the age of forty, Tindall got sick of scraping by as a freelance musician, went back to college and trained to be a journalist. She now combines both careers. She doesn't recommend life as a freelance musician unless you're really aware of what you're taking on and what you're giving up. (You'll find details of the book on the sidebar to the right of my posting.)

At the age of seventeen, I didn't fancy life as a freelance musician. I opted for the career and the pension plan. In that, my path differs drastically from Tindall's. But I clung to the music that I excelled at. Was it a wise move? Like Tindall, my mid-life crisis has me asking whether I really used my abilities to best advantage. Should I not have left music as a hobby and gone for a better-paid job with better career-prospects? The autobiography is interesting and amusing at times. But the conclusions she draws are devastating. The bubble has burst with classical music. The growth of the eighties has slowed down. Too many orchestras, poor pay, poor prospects. What a sad way to end a book!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A seven-year old's Christmas:-
  • Plan number 1. Wake up middle brother.
  • Plan number 2. Wake up big brother.
  • Plan number 3. Wake up mum and dad.
  • Plan number 4. Open stocking.
  • Final plan. Go downstairs and open more presents.

Succinct, logical - says it all, really. We've stated firmly that 6.30 am is plenty early enough ...

No.3 son was a perfect patient. Indeed, he bounded into hospital for his day-surgery. He was happy and co-operative, and as for driving the four-by-four to the operating theatre - you couldn't have held him back. It was only as the anaesthetic was adminstered that he looked up and said, "Uh-oh, this is the going-to-sleep bit, isn't it?" It was.

I went for my half-hour cup of coffee in the canteen at that stage. I was irritated to be told by the cashier that because I had my coffee in a brown rather than a red paper cup, strictly speaking she ouught to have charged me more? In God's name, why? I expressed myself rather firmly. How on earth could I have known that you needed different cups for different vending machines?

Back I trotted to the room marked "Parent waiting area", and waited. More than half an hour passed, and I was still waiting. Worried, I went to ask if he was back from theatre yet. Yes, he was still sleeping. My child slept not for the anticipated 30 minutes, but for 90. An anxious time.

He was very concerned to find his arm painted yellow with iodine, above and below the bandage. The yellow bothered him far more than the big bandage. Anyway, he had his cereals, then we went to play in the playroom until it was time for him to be discharged.

At this stage, the wheel came off. He liked being given chocolate "from Santa", but didn't see why he was advised to wait until he'd had a meal before he got stuck in. And he really objected to having his arm elevated in a sling. Considering he'd been allowed to sit and play - with both hands - on the X-box for over an hour, it didn't make sense that he was now being told not to use his arm!

We left with the perfect patient shouting and raging, kicking walls, banging doors ... I hope we don't have to go back!

I had woken up at 4 am, frightened to sleep in case I overslept the time by which the patient was allowed his last drink. I had eaten my own breakfast at 7 am, and apart from the brown cup coffee and a Mars bar, I had eaten nothing all day. By the time we got home at 3.30 pm, I was tired and weepy. This cold still hasn't shifted, which didn't help. Notwithstanding how I felt, I had to go shopping for a house-coat for Super-Spouse's aged auntie, last night.

Notwithstanding how I felt, I had to go and do the supermarket run today, too. The only way to make it bearable was to go early. I went at six am. Once home, I went to bed, and didn't waken until 11.35 am!

Remember the washing machine saga? It packed up again today. I realised at 2.30 pm. I managed to speak to the insurance helpline, and the customer care helpline, but was told that the only Scottish electrician was off sick with no cover available over the Christmas period.

I have a good fairy in my neighbour Alice, who did a load of washing for me this afternoon. And on Boxing Day (Monday), I've suggested to Super-Spouse that he could put a batch of washing in Aged Auntie's machine (in her empty flat) before going to collect her from her old folks' home - and retrieve it, washed, when he takes her back after lunch.

Aaagh, it's enough to make you scream. Still, at least I did buy the expensive repair-plan, so hopefully all will be sorted out.

Peace on earth, goodwill to men - and please God, nae mair arguments in oor hoose over the festive period!


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Blooming kids!
  • No.1 son forgot to give me the slip of paper telling me the amount I had to write a cheque for, in payment for his music exam.
  • Whether or not I had other things to do, I had to take the cheque across to his hall of residence this evening, or he'd miss the payment deadline tomorrow.
  • No.2 son went into a strop, because he didn't want to go with me to take the cheque.
  • As I locked the front door, no.2 son vented his bad temper on his little brother, thumping no.3 son, whose glasses fell off and broke. In the dark. The arm came off, to be more precise - luckily the glass was intact. All three boys have glasses. Only no.3 son wears them all the time for severe long-sightedness. He couldn't manage school without them. He can't cross the road safely without them, either, since he couldn't actually see the "red man" or "green man" signals clearly. This was a disaster!

We delivered the cheque. Came home. I despatched both boys to bed, took their hot chocolate and biscuits upstairs, and once the light was out, went back down to try to mend the glasses. I butchered two old pairs of glasses to get spare screws. Goodness knows how many are somewhere on the floor. I tried various screwdrivers, tweezers, tried wearing my own close-reading glasses - nothing worked. After 110 minutes, Super-Spouse came home. He tried a good bit longer - still no luck. Finally, we abandoned the struggle. The screws were too tiny, our fingers too big, the screwdrivers not magnetic, and the screw-holes didn't seem to line up properly.

No.2 son was still sobbing because he knew he'd done wrong. No.3 son was by this time fast asleep.

Super-Spouse disappeared upstairs, checked his emails, and vanished into the bathroom. Stealthily, I decided to have another go at mending the specs. This time I applied Pritt-Stick to the screwdriver, in the hope of keeping the screw slightly attached to it as I positioned it. Ten minutes later - BINGO!!!!!

I proudly proclaim myself not only Queen of the Superglue, but now Queen of the Superglue and Pritt-Stick to boot! Don't know how well the screw will stay in, but it is in.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Join Pseudo-Supermum in my darkest hour. Tuesday before Christmas. I had a raging sore throat yesterday (a day's leave, if you please! I had research that simply had to be done whilst the Uni Special Collections were open) - and today it was no better. I felt lousy. Time to phone in sick. I haven't had a day off sick in over 18 months, so it isn't as though I abuse the system. I lay and sweated and snoozed in bed, reflecting that it was a shame I am practically obliged to be back at work tomorrow for staff training.

Haven't been able to get what I have in mind for SuperSpouse - you can be sure the shops will have sold out by tomorrow evening. What am I to do? Amazon.co.uk have "it" in stock, but getting it two days after Christmas is not exactly what I had in mind. I really am up the creek this time.

I've just laid out all Santa's contributions in three matching piles to ensure they're roughly equal. Got it put away just before no.2 son appeared (at 11 pm) complaining he couldn't sleep. Chased him away, and heaved a sigh of relief that I got away with it this time. Too close for comfort.

Enough is enough. Groan, sigh.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Running scared - Pseudo-Supermum is disappearing down the Christmas plug-hole! I'm behind with Christmas, behind with research (make that stationary!), behind with general paperwork, behind with mending ...

More anon.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Hamster curled, cold, ceased?
Slightest shallow breath - the last?
Day dawns. Normal now!

I could get hooked on haiku - they save so much time!

Slept in this morning. Panto in the afternoon. Online Christmas shopping after tea, then out to Toys 'R Us. When, oh when will I get any research done? Time to get boys to bed, hot water bottles and hot chocolate made, then I'll have had enough for one day.

Sigh!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Haiku for a headache

Tent-spike skewers skull,
VDU monitor glares;
My intellect's dull.

That's it for Tuesday, folks - can't look at the screen any more.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

There's a lot to be said for haiku - their brevity, especially. Wikipedia tells me they roughly correspond to 5, 7 and 5 Western syllables.

So, can I summarise a night in a haiku? Try me!

Audience clapping;
Sons sitting still, praised warmly;
Bouquet warms my heart.

If I were to write one for Super-Spouse, however, it might look slightly different.

Sweat running freely,
Master of the podium,
Satisfied maestro!

After the concert, we were all exhausted, and tumbled into bed without a backward glance. It went well, and everyone was happy - who could ask for more?

This afternoon, I've been Dealing with Christmas again. Once you've looked at Plan, you might like to visit Traidcraft!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

You know my views on Christmas - you take a busy life, then for the last month in the year, you try to fit in twice as much as you normally struggle to do.

I've discovered gifts4life.org (https://gifts4life.org) - and I must say, I think it's brilliant. I'm benefitting people in the third world, and at the same time, my friends know I've been thinking about them. I've asked my parents if they'd like a goat (or something), but they may not approve of the idea. We'll see!

It's a typical Saturday - swimming lessons first thing, back home, then out to Middle Man's guitar lesson. He was in a grump - didn't see why he should drag himself back out again. (I reminded him that he WANTED to learn the guitar ...)

SuperSpouse is away out to replace our bedroom wall-heater. Knowing we're heading for a cold winter, it has given up the ghost - and is heading for the scrapheap in the sky.

Tonight, it's SuperSpouse's choir concert. I'm accompanying them - I must do some piano practice right now ...

Cello Boy is going ten-pin bowling tonight, but the other two are coming to the concert with us. I wonder if I dare suggest a bath and hairwash in the middle of the afternoon, so they won't smell of swimming-pool?