Itchy and scratchy

What a strange day it has been and I apologise if this post is lowering the tone. Firstly, I don’t sleep at all but lie on the edge of sleep for 8 hours, willing myself to tip over the edge but not able to do so. It is a long night. The birds actually start singing around 4am at the moment and an hour later I am confused when our alarm goes off. It has the sound of a variety of songbirds and today it sounds like the thrush but it’s so loud and sudden that for a moment I think a bird has got into the room somehow.

Determined not to sit or lie around all day, I get up and colour my hair. I am very bad at remembering when I last coloured it. The date I don’t know but I tend to remember things by event. This leads to a text to Ms Marsden asking when we last ate at Patisserie Valerie as I remember colouring my hair on that day. This day I will remember for something quite different but more of that later.

It is raining as usual this morning but by the time I have faffed around, answering emails and tweeting, my hair has dried and so has the rain. This allows me to embark on my next quest which is to find disposable cameras for Ms Mason’s forthcoming nuptuals. Yes, I know it’s not until November but we like to be prepared and not leave things to the last minute. Going out without having had any sleep is a strange adventure. I feel I stagger about quite a bit and find myself almost dreaming as I walk along. I am a danger and shouldn’t be allowed out. However, I duly ask at every pound shop in West Ealing whether they have disposable cameras and am met with a lot of incredulity. ‘We stopped selling those a long time ago’ I am told in one shop, due to lack of demand. In another I am told they are always being asked for disposable cameras but have not rallied to the demand so also do not sell them. Sigh. Yes, I know you can get them in other shops but we need a lot so were investigating the cheaper option first. Following this disappointment, I buy myself some more hair colouring and retire to my favourite cafe. I had never realised there were so many hair colours and types of colouring on the market BC. If I had colour in my hair it was put there by my hairdresser using highlights and lowlights but now I have grasped the colouring bull by the horns and am throwing myself headfirst into a riot of colours. Mostly reds, so no need to imagine me with a blue rinse.

On entering the courageous 97p shop, a whole 2p cheaper than it’s nearest rival, I am treated to a blast of Motown and the sight of a shop assistant dancing down the aisle towards the back of the shop scratching his bottom. When I say ‘scratching his bottom’ this is the polite version as his hand had virtually disappeared in his vigorous efforts to stifle an itch or remove his underpants from where they had bunched up between his cheeks. Someone’s mother always used to call it ‘taking in washing’ and I have never forgotten that apt phrase. I cross the road and decide to check out one of the better charity shops in case someone had given them a load of disposable cameras to sell. The assistant says they did get them in but have none at the moment. I turn to go back through the shop doorway and am temporarily blocked by a woman giving herself a long and luxurious scratch. Her jumper is pulled half up revealing a fleshy back and she actually has her hand down the back of her trouser waistband. It is really quite unsettling. I manage to squeeze past so I can gulp in the toxic fumes of the Uxbridge Road to prevent myself hyperventilating. Not one bum scratcher but two! Would there be a hat trick, I wonder? What does one call a group of bum scratchers? An itch? It was quite an alarming morning.

In my favourite cafe, things are not going well. The man with few teeth and long hair is shouting at the man behind the counter about his tea. As far as I can see it is being made as quickly as possible but this is not good enough. It is the sort of argument I listen to but can still make no sense of. The man with few teeth and long hair seems to make his living working with the fruit and vegetable traders at the top of the road, unloading things from the lorry and in Summer, sitting in the cab drinking cider. He certainly isn’t going to be drinking tea today as he storms out shouting something intelligible. It is a grand exit but alas, the door fails to slam behind him. On the way home, it pours with rain again and I get soaked but manage to arrive home before the hail storm.

The afternoon I spend trying not to fall asleep and then waking myself by snoring and having terribly confused dreams. It’s a high powered life I live.


One of the lovely things on sale today. Enough to give me nightmares.

Coffee with the milliner

Today I am going to see my friend, Ms Wengraf, and give her some wings. It’s a long story so put the kettle on and pull up your chair. Some time BC (Before Cancer) Mr Mason and I went to an antique shop in Lincolnshire and spied a pair of vintage wings in a cabinet. They were not really a pair except there were two but they clearly came from different birds. There is something fascinating and yet a little gruesome about them. Although beautiful, they appear to have been ripped from some poor bird in order to adorn a woman. So why buy them? I hear you cry. They had been taken from the bird some time ago. We are not sure of their exact vintage but suspect they are from the 1950s at the very latest. This means I am not encouraging people to go ripping wings off birds in an effort to plug a new and exciting demand so I feel it is OK. I still won’t buy or wear fur, despite there being a huge array of fur and astrakhan coats available for very small prices.

So, the wings. I bought them for my friend, Ms Wengraf, who is a milliner extraordinaire. She also supports herself by working all the hours God sends in a cafe and a bookshop, delighting all the customers with her wit, charm and ready smile. Cancer got in the way of me delivering them to her or her collecting them from me. She did come to visit me but my brain was so scrambled and she was so polite that I forgot to give them to her. So, today is the day. I have an appointment at St Mary’s with Holly, my fabulous psychologist and then I make my way to Scooter’s where Ms Wengraf is dispensing coffee and cake with a magical, sparkling aura around her. At first, she greets me and asks me what I want to drink. It is a double take situation. She looks again and realises it is me and at once she flies (not literally) around the counter and we share an enormous hug. I have a coffee and a slice of cake. Not carrot. There is something wrong with carrot cake and I don’t like it. It’s wrong. I tell Ms Wengraf this and and she tells me that she has had a divine courgette cake but it doesn’t convince me. I know beetroot is used to sweeten cake but it’s still plain wrong. I settle for a chocolate and amaretti cake. Not too much almond flavour which makes it perfect for me. We chat in between customers and I give her the wings. We are repelled and entranced in equal measure. Ms Wengraf thinks she will be able to use them but is not sure how at present. Ms Mason has asked her to make a bridal something to wear on The Big Day and I have asked for a headband with ears on it. Yes, I know. Way too old for such things but I like them and, post cancer, why not? At least I have a head to wear them on, unlike some of my sisters. Anyway, heads need measuring before headgear can be made. I leave with another hug and marvelling at the fortitude of Ms Wengraf who has worked immensely hard to get where she is and is still working like a Trojan.

Arriving home, I turn on the tv and catch part of the Olympic ice free short dance competition. The German pair are dancing the second half of their story which apparently involves them waking up on a park bench. The woman then continues to try to get away from the male skater, according to the commentator. Huh?  Not perhaps the romantic story I was anticipating but maybe skating has got more gritty and down to earth in recent years. On the way home I am drawn invisibly into Patisserie Valerie where I am forced to buy 2 cakes, one each for Mr Mason and I. Yes, I know I had cake with Ms Wengraf but call the police if you think it’s criminal. Some days 2 cakes are essential.

Anger, frustration and hurt

Oh, anger, frustration and hurt. We will be moving later this year and want to move Mr and Mrs Mason senior with us as I’m sure I have blogged about before. Today we go to Parent Central with a couple of boxes filled with food Mr Mason and I have cooked over the last couple of days. Being elderly and as Mr Mason Snr no longer drives, they rely on a neighbour to shop for them. We have offered to do this online for them but we have been rebuffed. As they are eating virtually nothing but ready meals, such an unhealthy long term solution, we offered to make a range of meals for them so they can be frozen and then re-heated. We make macaroni and cauliflower cheese, sausage and mash with vegetables and onion gravy, Spanish chicken and rice, spaghetti bolognaise, pasta with tomato and bacon sauce and a bacon and mushroom risotto. There may be other things but I have forgotten, as usual. They are happy to receive them and it all gets stored into the freezer.

While both Mr Masons go to buy fish and chips for lunch, I chat with Mrs M Snr. She tells me she cannot wash her hair by herself and the woman who comes to set her hair has not been able to come this week. I offer to help but she says ‘No’. I wonder how she manages as they have a bath but no working shower. I offer to do any cleaning or other tasks but again, she says ‘No. We are just about managing but I don’t know how long for’. This gives me the ideal opportunity to say that we know what the solution to that might be but I get no response. Mrs M Snr makes much of being wobbly and unable to look after herself but will not accept help from us and within a few minutes of our arrival is walking around as easily as I am. After lunch, Mr M Jnr shows the details of a house we have been sent which has the potential to convert part of it into an annexe. He asks his mother whether she would prefer to live in an annexe or nearby in a bungalow. She laughs and responds saying we will have to wait and see what happens, how long she will live. This does not make sense except she is saying that she will not be moved, regardless of the fact that she does not step outside the door. Mr Mason Snr,being gregarious, likes to go out and about but it has become increasingly difficult as he is subject to the desperate attempts of a frightened woman to stop him going out of the house at all. This is not good for his mental health and he says he gets down at times. Gets down as in feeling miserable, not in the dance sense. If only.

Having been in hospital a couple of times in recent years, we are concerned that we will not be able to deal with any future admissions for Mr M Snr easily. We will be around 500 miles from them which is not a journey of a couple of hours. With Mrs M Snr not leaving the house, our idea is that she can live in a very similar bungalow to the one they have now but which will be much closer to us. This way, Mr M Snr will be able to go out and about while I have a cup of coffee with Mrs M Snr, thus allowing her to feel secure and giving Mr M Snr an opportunity to talk to people which is something he loves. So starved of this opportunity has he been that he has even invited men into the house when he knew they were trying to operate some kind of scam. This worries us.

We are offering to buy a house with an annexe or cottage in the garden and they can live there without contributing to it. They can sell their house and live wildly on the profits. We don’t mind. Or they could sell their house and buy a lovely little bungalow which would see them with a tidy profit which they could fritter away on puzzle books and lottery tickets. We do not mind. We want them to be near enough so that we can cook them some food, do a bit of cleaning, help with the shopping and help out with any of the hundred and one issues that arrive with day to day living. Did I say already that Mr Mason Jnr would actually like to spend more time with his parents? Another option which has been thrown down like a gauntlet is that Mr Mason Jnr’s cousin, who has recently moved to the area, would be available to help with anything that needed doing. Mrs Mason Snr brandishes this like a weapon in our faces. Apart from the fact that Mr Mason Jnr’s cousin has looked after both her parents and is now able to enjoy her life free of elderly dependants, we doubt she has been informed of the plan.

We are offering to spend time, help and generally be more together as a family in the remaining years we all have left. This is what we are choosing to offer. I wonder just where we are going wrong.

Ahoy Cap’n Deryn

The rain it doth continue to pour. England is saturated and can take no more. Mr Mason senior is on the telephone on a daily basis telling us of other places which are flooded. Today it is Chiswick. “That’s near you, isn’t it?” Well, no, not in that sense. “What about the canal?” It’s a long way downhill from here and no, it hasn’t flooded either. We have water coming in from the top but nothing from the ground. It is dispiriting to get up and find it raining day after day, though. Snow would be better than this. At least there is some entertainment in slipping and sliding all over the place, watching Dog trying to bite snowflakes and seeing the Psychotic cat knee deep in the white stuff and positively fuming. Alas, we are not so lucky.

Training for Vogalonga is ramped up a little at the weekend. We are not sure if we can paddle or not as the wind is high and all that but we are also having a meeting to Plan Things. As I haven’t been paddling for a couple of weeks it is lovely to see everyone and to try out my new heat generating t-shirt plus, obviously, the Monkey Hat. The Monkey Hat is a source of amusement/terror/concern about my sanity, depending on your perspective. I love it. Arriving at training, the wind is too high to take the boat out so it’s the old favourite – circuit training. Clearly I don’t understand the concept because when we complete one set of exercises, I am horrified to hear Ciara, our coach, say that we will start from the beginning all over again. All over again? D’oh! That’s the meaning of circuits. There are some exercises which are just beyond me but I swing my paddle about with enthusiasm and stretch everything which is able to be stretched to the best of my ability. Everyone else seems to be doing well and we even have some seasonal speed skating moves thrown in for good measure.

After doing 3 circuits (who asked for a fourth?) we head upstairs to the fabulous Dim Sum restaurant at the top of the Regatta Centre. We are early and have to wait before closed doors looking like we haven’t eaten a decent meal since breakfast. Once inside, we settle down to chatting, ribbing each other and wondering who was the most pervy in our email exchanges about team kit. Eddy does the all-important ordering remembering not to order 3 portions of tripe like we accidentally did last time.

Our job is to select a team captain which was easy to do and we are overwhelming in our choice. Cap’n Deryn. Then we are on to selecting our team colours which is harder than it might sound and the jury is still out as to what they will be so hold your breath a little longer and I’ll report back. We also arrange more dates for training and then, as it would be rude not to, we eat some dim sum which is divine, especially after circuit training.

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I bet you wished you belonged to a Dragon Boat team!

Mr Mason’s mild-mannered rampage

Following the breakdown of Mr Mason’s coffee machine, I fear he has turned into something of a monster. Having slaved over our tax returns, he is despatched to the bank so he can pay a cheque in for me. I do hate it when people pay by cheque – is it designed to stop me cashing it? They have not factored in Mr Mason’s tenacious spirit but I digress (my specialty). He is also going to the bank to pay his tax bill. When he returns, he presents me with a stamped and authorised paying-in slip which is unusual as I use the diy drop system. Did you queue? I ask. “Yes” he says, with an impish look on his face. It’s quicker to use the drop box, I say. “Yes, but it was all kicking off in the bank so I waited to see what would happen.” Clearly Mr Mason needs to get out more, or less, depending on your perspective. He explains that the bank was crowded with Polish builders, all trying to pay their money in or tax bills, he wasn’t sure. There were only 3 staff in the bank and they were arguing amongst themselves having been shipped in from other banks when the local staff all went off sick. The builders were shouting about the amount of time they were having to wait and the staff were complaining about the local staff. One of the staff was just going on her lunch break, one was serving customers and the other said she couldn’t help because she was an Advisor and not trained to take money. She apparently sat in full view of everyone doing absolutely nothing which can’t made the situation easier. What an awful situation, I say. “Yes,” says Mr Mason. What did you do? I ask. “I egged them on!”he says. “I sympathised quietly with the builders about how terrible the staff were and then when I got to the desk I sympathised with the bank staff about how awful the builders were.” I guess this is what happens when your coffee machine breaks down.

Tuesday finds me on a train to Leeds for a meeting at the Thackray Medical Museum but the train isn’t going anywhere fast. Apparently a car has hit a railway bridge (I initially typed ‘cat’ which would make the story so much better) near St Neots and this means trains from London to Leeds and beyond are delayed and cancelled. A woman nearby appears to be having a restrained and quite polite nervous breakdown. She makes phone call after phone call telling various people she is sick of someone’s behaviour and is going to put a stop to it. I gather she is in the tv business and that they have someone appearing on The One Show (known in our house as Celebrity Lawnmowers ever since Miss Mason, on watching the first ever show, swore this was a real segment of the show). She is called Clare (without the ‘i’) and the group of people she represents are all texting each other and causing lots of upset and, of course, she is sick of it. From her conversation, I put 2 and 2 together and deduce she is involved with the programme called Big Ballet where heavier people are allowed to dance ballet under the tutelage of Wayne Sleep. Now I want to know the names of the dancers to see who the source of all the rumpus is. I wouldn’t want to cross Clare, though. As we are de-trained (which I believe is a real word) at Doncaster into freezing wind and rain I am able to get a glimpse of Clare and she looks quite fearsome as well as having poor dress sense. Or maybe she got dressed in the dark. Clearly Mr Mason’s mean streak is catching…

But before you cheer or boo us, karma is already catching up in the form of a leak in the roof, right above Master Mason’s bed. Cancer and its treatment, having robbed me of so many brain cells, meant that for a few days we put a bucket on Master Mason’s bed and lay at night fretting and listening to the insistent drip, drip, drip that has been the soundtrack to the awful weather. Only when we were getting a man in to look at and assess the damage did Mr Mason think to put a bucket in the attic. Brainwave! But then I am so easily pleased.