Happy Birthday, Tilly

You are 23 today, my Tilly.

You think I would have run out of things to say at this point, but honestly, I never run out of things to say to you. You are the easiest person in the world to talk to about anything at all, and we do mostly talk about anything and also everything.

Mainly it’s easy to say that I love you because every day where you are in the world I love you more. You are my person and I am so grateful (although I have a few other persons too, but we can talk about them another time. It’s your day, today.)

This year has seen you get to uni to study fine art (which I have not so secretly been hoping for for you for a long time now). It is wonderful to see you flourish and thrive there. Your imagination is a thing of wonder and a joy forever and I am so very happy that you are so very happy.

Your enthusiasm for life is so infectious. I love that not only are you finally at uni but after all these years you are also doing things you dreamed about doing when you were younger. Roller derby, dungeons and dragons, pole dancing, climbing hills, whatever it is isn’t really the point. The point is that no matter what it is, you think about doing it and then you find a way to do it. You embrace life and in return, life embraces you. I cannot wait to see what things you end up doing next.

Whether you’re driving about with a mouse eating stale bread in the cup holder in your car, or dressing up as a giant dandelion, or joining a band, you never cease to live life to the very fullest and weirdest and it’s bloody wonderful. And thank you for sharing it with me sometimes. I love our running away days so much. I hope I’m allowed always and forever.

I wish you the very best day. I actually hope that every day turns out to be your best day, because you deserve it. I am so grateful that you chose me as your mum when there were all those other mums to choose from. Thank you for making every one of the 23 years you’ve been hanging out on this planet with me a gift. It’s me that is supposed to give you the gift but honestly, you’re one of the best presents I ever received.

I love you with all my heart. I wish there was another word that would sum up what that actually means, but this little word will have to do to represent the huge, squidgy awe of it all.

Happy Birthday my darling girl.

Good morning.

It is nearly June.

Fuck me, the year is galloping on apace.

I thought I would pop up in a ‘whack a mole’ style way and say hello and give you a heads up about stuff and things.

Here is the news:

After five years of fighting about it, my new sofa/armchair finally arrived yesterday. This is a cause for celebration. We ordered it in January. It was supposed to be delivered in April but even though it was weeks late, at least it came.

We had our old three piece suite delivered the week that Oscar was born, so it had done sterling service. It was filthy, the padding had given up the ghost long ago and unless you wanted to be trapped inside it you had to sit on cushions like the Princess and the Pea. And in certain places, if you sat down violently you could feel the wooden frame underneath. It was time. It was long past time to be honest but everyone (except me) had strong, sentimental attachments to it and shouted me down every time I talked about having a new one.

I am so happy I prevailed. And I chose a dark green velvet, which was my heart’s desire instead of nasty beige corduroy which was what we had before.

My next job is to stalk some more fancy cushions, because I feel the need to accessorise. And a rug to cover up the hideous, faded, urine yellow carpet.

Rock ‘n’ roll.

In less interior design based news:

Tilly is in the last throes of her first year at university and up to her eyes in deadlines. She is loving it and thriving like a thriving thing, which makes me extraordinarily happy. She has also taken up roller derby recently. I try not to think about that too much.

Tallulah and her girlfriend, Dani are off travelling across Europe for a month very shortly. They are making many, many plans and are super excited. Then, when they get back it is full steam ahead to get them both to uni in September. Big, grown up changes are afoot. I am excited for them and I will miss them horribly and am trying not to worry about them, all at the same time.

Oscar is still having ups and downs. Mostly ups, which is good, but there are troughs and we are in one at the moment. There was not a lot of sleep to be had last night. Another reason to be grateful for a newly comfortable sofa, given that I was awake with him until four this morning and a lot of television was watched. Thankfully I have a day off today.

Jason is still empire building. It’s hard work and long, long hours and very often he wanders downstairs looking a bit like a mad scientist where he has run his fingers through his hair so much he has made it all stand on end. Things are generally going in a good direction. We are still keeping lots of things crossed and hanging on in there.

The cats are driving me crazy. Anorak tore half his face up a couple of weeks ago, and then it got infected and he is on massive doses of antibiotics and steroids and has a lump in his throat and we have no idea whether it is a good or bad lump until he has stopped having a messy face and frankly I am worried sick about him. And then Ronnie disappeared for two days last week and all in all, Derek is the only one who remains constant, steadfast and in one piece.

I am gradually getting to grips with some of the stuff we brought from the old house to here and sort of dumped. I have streamlined a lot of my old stock and donated it to charity and am finally, only selling what I actually want to sell, which has freed up a lot of room and taken a lot of pressure off me. We have had blinds fitted in the huge, Victorian, single glazed windows in the kitchen and utility room in preparations for the winter to come and in an attempt to future proof the house slightly given looming bills in a house that leaks heat like it’s trying to win a prize. The house is looking more like a home and less like somewhere we are passing through.

I am still working and juggling, juggling and working. We work in a giant, glass box, so I spend a lot of my days shovelling books and trying not to turn into soup in the process. Work is ok, but as my mum says, work is often very worky and gets in the way of life. As we know, my life is technicolour, sprawling and complicated and there is a fine line between everything going well and everything falling apart at the seams. I am staying on the right side of it. For now.

Books are still being read. Art is still being made. There are days when I sneak away and do marvellous things with my best beloveds. I enjoyed my time away in Aldeburgh with Jason. We spent a lot of time crashing about on windswept beaches and eating pastries, all of which we 100% endorse as a good way to spend your free time.

I went to see the Daniel Lismore exhibition at the Herbert Gallery in Coventry with Tilly recently. I ran away to London and did a tour of Brick Lane and ate Korean fried chicken with Andrea. I took my mum to London for the day and treated her to afternoon tea and a jaunt round Liberty. There is a holiday to the Fife coast looming soon, which cannot come soon enough for me. I am also attempting to go and see the Portrait exhibition at Compton Verney shortly.

It’s not all gloom. Which is good.

My birthday was nice. I was spoiled rotten. Good food was eaten. It was very low key, which is exactly what was needed if I’m honest. I couldn’t be doing with a big brouhaha. My big brouhaha days are over.

For now.

April is icumen in

It’s been an age, lovely people. For which I apologise.

I am ok. I am busy, busy, busy and still attempting to walk that fine line between doing too much and not doing anything at all.

Family life is more or less ok. There is drama. There is always drama. I have learned to accept the fact that my life will always be something an Eastenders’ script writer would look at and consider too far fetched to put on television. Also the fact that it is mostly not my stuff, yet it appears to be ‘in my wheelhouse’ which is an annoying phrase that I have had the misfortune to hear a lot in recent months.

And that whole because it is not my stuff I can’t really write about it, even though it is buzzing around in my head like a bluebottle trapped in a window type scenario. This is what makes me hesitate to blog as often, frankly. After I have made a list of all the things I can’t write about, I am not left with much, day to day.

I am still making art. This week I poured half a bottle of sepia ink over myself by accident and was so engrossed in painting I didn’t realise until I looked down and thought I had had a secret haemorrhage. I am not a performance artist, otherwise I could have filmed it.

I am reading about four billion books. It’s been a good year for books so far. I’ve got about twenty to go in my top ten of 2022 already and it’s only April.

I have had some holidays from work and Jason and I have run away here and there for a few days. We have been to Hebden Bridge and we have been to Dungeness and next week we are off to Aldeburgh for a few days.

We are still in our rental house, which is colder than a witches’ tit, but which we renewed for another year because Oscar is now thigh high in GCSE’s and we have no more pressing plans about the future as yet. I am sad about the cold, particularly given that our heating bill will cost more than a small bungalow very soon, but I am not sad about putting off moving house for another year. Twice last year was enough for me. I still bear the mental scars.

Work is less stressful. There are still tonnes of things I don’t know how to do, but I’m pretty solid on the fundamentals now and this gives me more mental bandwidth, which means I don’t come home and cry every night. So that’s nice. I would like to start a blog about all the stupid things people say in bookshops, but I need my job, so I won’t. However, if we meet in real life and you buy me a bun, I will tell you everything.

Mental health wise, I am attempting to come off the anti-depressants I was prescribed 18 months ago as a short term thing to stop me hurling myself down a well. I decided that I wouldn’t know if I could manage without them if I never came off them to see what happens. I’m decreasing the dosage very slowly and very carefully because I am mad but not that mad. Of course I haven’t actually managed to talk to a doctor about it, because like so much stuff in the last year or two, they are rarer than hen’s teeth.

I am rather wobbly, but I think that will always be the case. So far I am not in the slough of despond. I am more in the lay-by of anxiety, but that’s reasonably manageable. I’m taking it day by day and seeing what happens. Some days I want to hide under the duvet. Other days I want to sing from the roof tops. Except not that because it’s too high and I’m a wimp.

I am fifty in nine days time.

How did that even happen?

I am having a strange relationship with the thought of being fifty.

It’s good to age. The alternative is unthinkable.

This is my second go at being fifty. As we know, I am incredibly bad with numbers so I thought I was fifty, two years ago. So as far as I’m concerned I have had two, free years and another try at it. Some days I look forward to my birthday. Other days I want to throw rocks at it.

I used to be a full on; ‘Let’s party! It’s my birthday,’ kind of person. April would be a month dedicated to celebrating and the more cakes/trips I could fit in, the better. Now I’m just not feeling it. Last year’s birthday was a cluster fuck in which we had no heating or hot water and hadn’t finished unpacking the house. Everyone came over and ate Dominos’ pizza, which I detest and then they all had a fight and cried while I watched and then everyone hated me when I shouted at them all.

Whatever happens this year will be better, unless the house falls down a mine shaft.

But I am kind of out of ideas.

I realise that largely I am very tired of thinking about the practicalities of life at the moment. It’s lovely to have a birthday. It’s not so lovely to think about all the things I would have to do when someone asks me what I would like to do/have and relies on me to actually organise it myself.

I spend a lot of my life doing things I don’t want to do, thinking about things I don’t want to think about and organising things for people who are not me. I realise that this is largely a description of adult life in its entirety, but there are times when I am fine with it and times when I am just sick of the whole thing.

As we know, it isn’t the cooking of dinner that is the issue, it’s thinking about what to cook for dinner every night for the rest of your bloody life.

I am a control freak and I hate surprises, so my family have, through no fault of their own, rather relinquished control over the whole birthday/celebration thing as they don’t want me to have to suffer through the whole, ‘I thought you’d like to go in a glider’ situation again (I still bear the scars of this particular outing after a quarter of a century).

Generally this is a good thing, except for the times when I am weary and just want someone to anticipate my every need and whim and make it magically appear (sort of how I imagine Brooklyn Beckham lives), but I can’t quite put my finger on my every need and whim because I have eye bags the size of Copenhagen and every time I sit down I start to dribble.

I have decided to mostly ignore my birthday and play things by ear. I shall, if nothing occurs to me whatsoever, pick a random day later in the year and have my birthday when inspiration has returned.

In the meantime, today I have a pressing need for roast chicken and mashed potato and Thank God that is both easy to achieve and also solves the perennial dilemma of what to have for fucking dinner.

P.S. I only came here to tell you that I have, along with nine thousand instagram accounts, also started a Substack newsletter today. It is for small writings about inconsequential stuff that flits through my brain. You can subscribe if you want. It’s called Shenanigans and Stuff and I am katywheatley.substack.com

Hello there.

It’s nearly February already and I’ve been meaning to drop in and say how I am still alive etc. I have pinched a few minutes in between other things to come and do it now.

I hope that your January isn’t feeling as long as mine, which is that it has lasted approximately 9452 days so far, and even though we are on the cusp of a new month, I really can’t quite believe that it will ever arrive and that there are at least 5467 more days of January left to endure. Like that last, run on sentence, it do go on something alarming.

It is not, I am grateful to say, because terrible things are happening in my life. It’s just that this is what January does and every year it takes me by surprise and I think: ‘Surely we can’t still be in January. I ran out of money 3428 days ago and it must be pay day soon etc, etc.’

Anyway, here we are and I am broke again until many, many more days have passed, and resigned to Tesco beans, which thanks to the government’s superb handling of anything you care to mention, now cost £269 a tin anyway.

Let’s catch you up a bit on what has been happening.

Oscar is doing well. He is back at school full time and has made the decision to go to therapy once a month rather than every week. He is picking up his social life again and generally behaving like a teenage boy, which makes me want to clout him from time to time and then makes me happy because I haven’t wanted to clout him for months. So that’s rather weird and good altogether.

January was the month almost everyone I knew got COVID. I got quite a lot of overtime due to people at work coming down with it. And then Jason got it and then Oscar got it and I still have not had it. I asked Jason if he thought it was because I drank so much green tea and surely those antioxidants must be doing me the world of good. He said that if that was the case, it probably wouldn’t have originated in China. So I am putting it down to the fact that I am probably a medical marvel and a wonder to behold.

January was also the beginning of birthday hell for me. Jason had his birthday, which caused me endless stress, because he is a nightmare to buy for and I had already used up all my ideas at Christmas. In the end I managed to take him away for a couple of nights to a converted chapel on the Welsh border. This was after everyone got COVID. Tilly came to look after the boy and we ran away to read books and bask in front of the world’s most efficient log burner, which caused us to have to throw all the windows open at three in the morning because we were simply unable to cope with the fierceness of the heat.

It is my mum and dad’s birthday next week. With three, vital birthday happenings being so close together it explains the extra broke-ness of my life along with a teenage son who grew out of his trousers and just about everything else he owned and was reduced to jogging bottoms and the coat I bought him when he announced in mid December that he hadn’t actually got a coat.

Sometimes I think a lot about how different my life would have been if I had run away and joined the circus and bred performing guinea pigs or something.

Oh, and Anorak decided to break out in some mysterious lumps which took an £80 trip to the V E T to sort out.

So I won’t be breeding performing cats.

I was due to get my hair done in January. It did not happen due to COVID outbreaks and now I have about half a centimetre of pale pink hair, an inch of yellowing blonde and a lot of dark brown with silver threaded through it. I have had to cut my own fringe twice, using the kitchen scissors. I find the best method is when you’re going to be late for work, but you can’t see to drive so you throw caution to the winds and set about yourself in a mad panic, staring furiously into the mirror in the downstairs loo and chopping away at it like you’re in some kind of competition. Sticking your tongue out helps with balance. And never brushing your hair and only washing it once a week also helps to hide the criminality of what you’ve done, because you always look like things are nesting in it anyway.

Now I cannot afford to have my hair cut again until at least March, so there will be more hair doctoring going on in the weeks to come. GAWDELPUS.

I am still making art. Slowly, slowly, slowly, but making it nonetheless. I am attempting to enter things for Grayson’s Art Club again. I have two pieces finished but not submitted, and one piece that I am hoping to finish in the next week. After that I have no idea what I will do for the rest of the prompts, but I shall put all three things I have in together and worry about the rest later.

Book selling is still happening. I am less frightened of the things I don’t know now, which is good, as terror is not a great baseline for doing anything. I find being nice to people all day extraordinarily wearing still, and get quite a few headaches which is me resisting myself with might and main under certain circumstances. People say be yourself, and it’s a great mantra. I always feel better when I do be myself, but unfortunately myself is not entirely compatible with the world of work, so I endure.

I am still reading lots of things. I have read some corkers already this month and can highly recommend Nina Stibbe’s new book: ‘One Day I Shall Astonish The World,’ which is not out yet (spring I think) and Deborah Levy’s trilogy of autobiographies, both of which will most definitely be going on my top ten reads of the year list.

There is probably loads more to say, but I have run out of steam and need to go and do some drawing before the light in here, which is dismal at the best of times, disappears altogether.

New Ear

It is the last day of the year. I am very grateful for that, it has to be said. I’d take 2020 all over again rather than have to do another 2021. I really hope that I’m not saying that again in a year. I’m keeping everything crossed.

Let’s see what’s happened:

Oscar is beginning to get better. We are hoping for a full return to school after the holidays. He is sleeping. He is socialising. He does not need me to sit with him all night.

Things began to get brighter a few weeks ago and there has been steady improvement. We are keeping everything crossed, although we are also very much aware that recovery is not linear, so we are prepared for every eventuality.

It is nice to see him choosing to live again.

I say nice. That’s an understatement. I am extraordinarily grateful for the chance to watch him turn into a shruggy, offhand teenager again. I know I am blessed.

Work continues workish. I have weathered my first Christmas and January sale in retail land and nobody has died. I consider this to be a positive sign. I am frequently amazed at the levels my tolerance has reached, considering how often I think about ‘accidentally’ hurling a book at someone’s head and how I never actually do it.

Yet.

Covid is amongst us at work. I have dodged that particular bullet to date, but I don’t hold out much hope. I have been taking lateral flow tests like it’s a new fashion this week, as I have earache and a raging sore throat, but all continues negative. For now.

I continue to make big art. I finished my collage of Derek Jarman’s cottage and needed a break from cutting out forty trillion small, paper pebbles. I have just finished a big landscape called Cloud Forest, based on an ambient dance album by Nora Van Elken (I am nothing if not eclectic). It is made of thousands of dots and dashes and now I need a break from that. I am thinking that I might make a painting next. I had a seascape in mind, but have been obsessed by the idea of attempting a portrait, so I might give that a whirl first.

Christmas was surprisingly lovely given that all my kids changed their plans three days before Christmas and that required a fair amount of re-jigging. I was also working most of Christmas week and all of Christmas Eve day, so prep was frantic to say the least.

It all came together in the end. We spent Christmas Eve night at mum and dad’s with my brother and his partner, which was very lovely, despite me being extremely knackered for most of it. We spent Christmas Day here with all the kids and their partners and for once, none of them had to dash off to be somewhere else. It was delightful to have them to ourselves until Boxing Day morning.

I am at work tomorrow and Sunday, so no wild times for me this evening. I am not at all sad about that, given that I hate New Year’s with the heat of a thousand suns and am always happy to ignore it. Oscar is at a friend’s house for their shenanigans and the girls are out out. Jason and I are having a fridge raid supper and some Taskmaster and an early night and that’s exactly how it should be.

It only remains for me to tack my top ten reads of 2021 to the bottom of this post, because I am too tired to do my proper yearly round up. Needless to say, they are all excellent and in no particular order.

1. The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin

2. Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

. Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

4. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

5. What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaraonvitch

6. James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes by James Acaster

7. Funny Weather: Art In An Emergency by Olivia Laing

8. These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

9. Open Water by Caleb Azuman Nelson

10. The Blue Cupboard by Tess Jaray

I wish you all peace, health and happiness just as I would wish it for you whatever day of the year it is.

Things That Bring Joy

After reading Orwell’s Roses and being reminded of the need for joy, I started to dip into a book called: The Joy Of Small Things by Hannah Jane Parkinson. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a collection of short essays about the small things in life that bring Parkinson joy. They’re not all things I agree with. She loves theatre without an interval and I for one, fear plays without intervals because my experience is that they are usually terrible (there is the odd exception) and the interval has been removed to stop you fleeing the scene. Having said that, there are lots of things she loves (solo trips to the cinema for example) that I adore, and lots to think about in terms of what I might love myself.

This morning I chanced upon a short thread on Twitter in which Emma Wayland writes a list of things she would gift to someone who was struggling and needed cheer.

I am trying to do more listening to the universe at the moment so I thought that this confluence of events might suggest that I needed a list myself, due to the fact that struggling is what I have been doing quite a bit of recently.

Here is my list. It is non-hierarchical and subject to change due to random whims and the forgetfulness of old age. Most of it will undoubtedly be food/book based.

A really good hot water bottle

A cashmere blanket large enough to wrap yourself in without any bits of you poking out

Some exceedingly buttery/peppery mashed potato with onion gravy

Tove Jansson’s Summer and Winter books

A packet of really good felt tip pens

A notebook of thick, creamy paper, unlined.

A packet of milk chocolate, Choco Liebniz

Some cream roses with eucalyptus leaves and that blue tinged spruce/pine bough stuff

A bag of rich ground coffee with a smooth, deep flavour and a double skinned cafetière to brew it in.

One of these hats from The Old Electric Shop in Hay on Wye.

A Keith Brymer Jones large bucket mug so you can have a proper cup of tea without having to get up every five minutes to refill it.

A packet of really good quality jasmine tea pearls

The box set of Schitt’s Creek (Season one is not the best, but bear with it. It becomes sublime and utterly joyful).

A Spotify playlist with a lot of Guy Garvey’s voice on it.

A box of heritage tomatoes in splendid colours, with particular emphasis on the vivid green ones with dark green stripes because they are the most delicious of all.

A round, sourdough loaf with a very dark, chewy crust.

A proper nap where you fall asleep immediately and wake up feeling refreshed and snuggled.

A pat of Shirgar, Welsh salted butter (for the above – the bread and tomatoes, not the nap, although you could have a buttered nap if you like).

A bottle of jewel coloured ink from Choosing Keeping

A bar of Tony’s Chocolonely dark milk pretzel toffee chocolate.

A cuddle from my cat Anorak who is stinky and weighs as much as a bungalow, but is always ecstatic to see you, loves cuddles and purrs like an outboard motor so you feel very wanted.

An hour to yourself.

What would be on your list?

Orwell’s Roses

A random post in the midst of radio silence.

I’ve just finished reading Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit and it has led to lots of thoughts and one of those thoughts is that I probably need to write some of those thoughts down – so here we are.

I’ve never read any Solnit before, but I very much enjoy the way she starts with one thing and then sort of wanders around lots of offshoot thoughts, circling back to the main thought along the way.

The idea for the book was prompted by an essay Orwell wrote in which he talks about planting some roses from Woolworths’ in his garden in Hertfordshire. Solnit loves the way that he writes with such beauty and pleasure about such simple, every day things and starts following a chain of thought in which she explores his love of nature as one way to reframe the Orwell everyone thinks they know. Along the way she discusses coal mining, Stalin, genetics, the environmental crisis, poor working conditions amongst South American rose growers/workers and goats.

There were so many brilliant moments in the book that it would take another book to write about them all. One, huge thing for me, a person who often worries that I’m not doing enough of ‘the right thing’ whatever that is, or that somehow I have let the opportunity to live my best life pass me by, was her exploration of how it is most often the most tangential things in life that are your true path or at least lead you there.

She talks about Jacques Lusseyran, blinded as a child, who nevertheless went on to become an organiser of the Resistance in Paris in WWII. She talks about his time working in the resistance and how he also learned to swing dance whilst fighting against the Nazis and; ‘that you might prepare for your central mission in life by doing other things that may seem entirely unrelated, and how necessary this may be.’

She gives other examples of how our immersion in joy, in frivolity in apparently ‘meaningless’ activities can so often give us the strength and purpose to carry on in life. She talks about a judge in a war crimes trial, decompressing from his job by going to see the Vermeer paintings in the town art gallery on his lunch hour. How his immersion in the beautiful ordinariness of the scenes allowed him to go back and listen to and face extraordinary cruelty and horror and not lose his faith in humanity.

She talks about 1984 and how Winston buys a glass paperweight with a piece of coral inside it from a junk shop, and how this beautiful, pointless object both helps to condemn him, but also gives him the strength to push back against a world in which there is increasingly no room for beauty at all.

She completely dismantles the idea that our paths in life are narrow and straight, which is often what we, and by that I mean I, subconsciously feel, despite the fact that time and time again, it is the tangents of my life, the byways, not the highways, that have given me joy and purpose and meaning.

She also talks about love.

Again, she quotes excerpts from 1984 where Winston watches film footage of a boat load of refugees being mowed down by machine guns and sees a mother reach forward and shelter her son in her arms, even though the gesture is futile.

‘He thinks of his mother: “It would not have occurred to her that an action which is ineffectual thereby becomes meaningless. If you loved someone, you loved him, and when you had nothing else to give, you still gave him love.” Things that matter for their own sake and serve no larger purpose or practical agenda recur as ideals in the book.’

And these are the words I needed to unlock me today. And even reading them was a tangential action on my part. I read that my friend, the wonderful author Katherine May, had been reading Solnit’s book and loving it. This led me to request it on Netgalley and they were kind enough to allow me to read it. It’s not a book I would have otherwise picked up. A series of chance encounters led to this morning’s reading.

Because I have been bowed down in recent weeks by the cruelty of the world. Young men I know taking their own lives. My son feeling that there is no space in the world left for someone who feels and thinks like him. Young women I know feeling desperate and driven and that they cannot shake off a past that they inherited through no fault of their own, but which dogs their days. People jubilant at the death of refugees in boats trying to seek sanctuary. People abusing those who try to help others. People torturing children who are supposed to be safe and loved in their care. People taking pleasure in making other people feel loveless and hopeless. It’s a lot.

Orwell knew that. He writes so vividly about man’s inhumanity to man and 1984 is the pinnacle of that achievement, his image of the future being a boot stamping on a human face forever, is one that has haunted me ever since I first read it.

What Solnit does is remind us of the joy of Orwell, despite all this. She shows us a man who, in the last 18 months of his life, knowing he was dying, carved out a sixteen acre farm on the inhospitable, wind blown Isle of Jura. A man who planted an orchard whose apples he would never eat. A man who adopted a son in the last years of his life because he wanted to give love to an orphan who didn’t have any. A man who knew it was all transient, but that finding and making joy mattered, particularly in the face of inescapable odds. A man who found pleasure in the simplest things and relished it while he could.

Orwell is Winston and Winston is Orwell. As soon as Winston starts writing in his diary he knows he is a dead man, but he chooses to forge on anyway. He has hope that he will find some pleasure and some meaning however small, and he does.

The reality is that none of us are getting out of here alive. Nothing we do is forever. I think that sometimes we are so tired, so exhausted that we forget that. We act as if everything we do, every choice we make is somehow set in stone and will be and has to be and this is the way it is. We forget, so very often we forget that this too will pass, good and most importantly, bad.

Solnit reminds us of the last night that Winston spends with Julia and how, before the soldiers come, he looks out of the window and sees the washerwoman, pegging out the nappies and singing. Winston realises that she carries her own kind of beauty. She, with her countless babies and her pointless song that lifts the mundanity and brutality of the day is as much the future as a boot stamping on a human face.

And for us, it reminds us that beauty isn’t what we see on Instagram, or what comes in a Tiffany box. That’s one type of beauty but there are many and some of them are surprising and all the more wonderful for it. It is good to be surprised by life. It is good to find something new to wonder at, celebrate, enjoy. And some of the most beautiful of those moments will undoubtedly be found on that tangential path we think is probably a mistake but turns out not to be. And a lot of it will seem ‘useless’ unless we understand that beauty and goodness and joy don’t have to be practical or useful or even what other people think they are. They are enough in themselves and allowing ourselves to have them is a great act of resistance against a world in which misery has such a strong toehold.

And some of that beauty is in the futile gesture of a woman, protecting her son from the inevitable because her love is bigger than death and some of it is in a man planting roses from Woolworths for a future he will not see but is sure will be there anyway.

Another day off.

We have some temporary Christmas staff starting this week at work. This means from next week I am, for the next two weeks at least, working for just the three days a week I am actually contracted for.

I am very much looking forward to being at work for less time than I am not at work.

It is increasingly busy when I am there, which I don’t mind too much as it helps to pass the time. It’s the size of the deliveries we are getting that are killing me at the moment. Last week, over two days, I hefted about 27 large boxes of books from the delivery loading bay, up two floors to our tiny stock room. On one of the days I was off, they got 27 boxes in a single delivery.

We have to get them out as soon as possible because there is very little space in the stock room, which also triples up as our staff room and office, so the pace never really lets up. As there is very limited space on the shop floor, because we are a small shop, getting stuff out means a lot of lifting, rearranging and shuffling about. It’s hard, physical labour which is doing my upper arms the world of good, but is doing my knees no good at all.

Back at home, Oscar is improving slowly. He had his first full day at school for weeks, on Monday. Today was therapy day, so he didn’t go in. We are hoping he will make it into school tomorrow for at least some of the day. Sleep is patchy for all of us, but there have been a few nights when we have all managed to sleep through. Thank God.

One of his best friends got diagnosed with COVID at the weekend, after Oscar spent Friday evening having dinner with his family to celebrate his birthday. We have all had tests, which have come back negative, but we are all keeping well clear of our vulnerable loved ones for the foreseeable, just in case. So many people we know are catching it now, we can’t take any chances and we are back to analysing every sore throat, twinge and headache.

I am not in the best of places, mental health wise myself. My spending addiction has been ratcheting up. Not to the point where I am causing myself or anyone else financial harm, which is good. Enough to be worrying though. It’s understandable that it’s happening. My own needs are currently about 431st on the list of things that must be attended to and there has to be some kind of release, otherwise the spending will be the least of my problems. It is the lesser of a fair few evils.

It is very difficult, if spending and reading is your thing, to be working all the hours God sends in a bookshop, over the festive period, where you spend all day long unloading lots and lots of shiny new books. It is number 4387 on the list of reasons why I am really not cut out for a life in retail.

I had a fair bit of capital in my emotional bank due to having worked very hard on my own therapy, and that has seen me over the worst of the last couple of months, but I am increasingly running on empty. It’s a race with regard to my physical and mental exhaustion to see which one hits bottom first. I am hoping that the reduced hours at work and Oscar being at school a bit more might buy me the time I need to sort myself out for a bit.

Today, although I had errands to run and therapy to chauffeur back and forth from, I did manage to spend an hour in the kitchen this afternoon cooking roast pumpkin soup for my dinner. The boys don’t like it, so they are seeing to themselves, but I wanted to make something for myself. Something that I didn’t have to rush to cook because I was hungry and exhausted, and something that I wouldn’t suddenly have to share when everyone else decided they might love it after all. I’m going to eat some later while I watch Escape to the Chateau and be grateful that I don’t have to hoover it.

The Chateau, not the soup.

A day off.

The boys are out this afternoon and I am alone in the house. It really needs cleaning but I am hiding upstairs in the office, making slow, slow progress with my latest big artwork, listening to L’il Nas X and drinking tea.

The news.

Oscar is still quite poorly. He’s not in school at the moment. We are paying for private therapy and are on various lists for other help. I have no confidence that these lists will manifest in any concrete way for months. We looked at a private psychiatrist this week in an attempt to get him some medication to take the edge off, so he can at least sleep better. We can’t get medication prescribed by the gp without a full assessment, which is why we are on a list. We can’t find a private psychiatrist whose list is open either.

This is not a time to have a teenager with mental health issues.

My heart breaks about three times a week, currently.

Jason and I are juggling caring for him between his job and mine. My job is less mentally demanding so I take most of the night shifts. The rest of the family are helping out when we can’t manage.

We are lucky. We have enough money to get help. We have family and friends who are supporting us.

Some days it’s hard to feel lucky though.

I am exhausted.

I am still gainfully employed. I find the job difficult for many reasons, not least of which is that my son is unwell and dealing with people who want to know why the latest Lee Child book isn’t in paperback yet is not something I particularly want to prioritise right now. Having said that, everyone I work with is lovely and the strain on our finances is considerably less now that I am more or less working full time (I should be part time, but there are staffing issues), and that is a good thing.

Contrary to popular belief, I spend very little of my day chatting to people about books and most of it dragging huge, book filled totes from the basement up two floors and loading them onto various trolleys whereupon I get to push them around a shop that is already full, looking for space to shelve things. It is a hugely physical job. Most people I work with have bookseller’s back. I do not. I have bookseller’s knees.

The house looks like a bomb site. We are mostly existing as best we can from day to day right now. Finesse can come later when we all have room to breathe again. When we’re not holding it all together and trying to believe that things must be improving, incrementally, but improving nonetheless.

I keep telling myself this is happening. It’s easy to lose sight of. Most days are a cross between some kind of hideous endurance race and feeling trapped on a hamster wheel.

I am doing nice things from time to time. I am mostly too tired to appreciate them fully and not entirely relaxed due to being worried sick every time my phone beeps at me in case something terrible has happened.

It will change.

I thought I might feel a bit better writing some of it down. I’m going to go and have another cup of tea and think about it.

Still here.

Still hanging on.

Oscar Is Fifteen

Dearest Oscar, you are fifteen today.

As usual, despite birthdays coming around rather regularly, it takes me by surprise that time can be measured this way. It’s been quite the journey from the small, round bundle that got delivered into my arms on this day fifteen years ago, to the towering giant looming through the hallways of our house, stopping only occasionally to pat me on the head. You grow, I shrink. That seems to be the rule these days.

It’s been a hell of a year, boy. You’ve lost a lot this year and I’ve been sorely grieved to see the pain you’ve endured and continue to work through. My birthday wish for you this year is that we finally find that fabled magic wand to make it all better. Or that a ‘kiss it better’ really could resolve all that pain for you. In the absence of that I hope that we managed to take your mind off things for a few hours yesterday and set a marker and a reminder of what life can be again.

You told me a few weeks ago that you were ashamed that you were not ‘man’ enough to deal with things as quickly as other people seemed to. You said: ‘I’m fifteen now. I should be over behaving like a baby.’ I told you then what I’m going to write now, but I’m writing it down because I hope one day that you find this and it prompts you to re-remember and assess how you felt then.

A man, and I use this word advisedly, is someone who is alive to ALL his emotions and who is willing to sit with them, think about them and deal with them appropriately. Feelings are difficult because they don’t come in neat packages. They squiggle about. They bleed at the edges. They get caught up in other things. Sometimes we feel two opposite feelings about one thing at the same time and the conflict pulls us to the edges of what we think we can endure. Anyone who tells you that facing, owning and dealing with your feelings is not a manly thing to do, is doing you, and themselves a massive disservice.

A man is prepared to be hurt, to grieve, to sorrow, to own confusion and anger and articulate them. A man owns both the softness of themselves and their edges. A man is prepared to admit that things are too difficult rather than barrelling through and putting a brave face on things. A man is loving and kind and generous and understands that allowing that vulnerability to shine out from them doesn’t make them weak. Owning your vulnerability and being willing to show it and share it is one of the greatest things any human being can do, let alone a man.

A man is willing to care and show that in a multitude of ways. A man is someone who is strong and brave enough to ask for help when they can’t help themselves. A man is someone who is able to admit that they don’t have all the answers. A man is someone who knows that loving someone else is the greatest and most dangerous adventure they can possibly go on in their lifetime and that it risks everything, but the rewards are the greatest. Whether that’s the love for a partner or a friend. A man understands that love is not narrow and restrictive. It blooms, if you allow it to.

A man is what you have become this year. I know that none of us would have chosen this to be the way you shed the last of the boy in you, but sometimes fate dictates that our path will be harder than we would like, and it is how we rise to meet it that is the measure of who we are, and you have surpassed all our expectations on that front.

No test, no exam, no job or figure in your bank account will ever make me prouder of you than I am right now. The dignity with which you have faced adversity. The willingness you have shown to love others. The bravery of your decisions to keep moving forward and to work through everything life has thrown at you, makes me burst with pride when I think about it. You are the very best of us and I love you so much it physically hurts.

I know that you have felt so alone in recent weeks, but know that we are always here for you, no matter what. No matter what you think or say or do with your life, you are ours and we are yours and home is where we are together and you are always a part of that. We can always sit with you in the dark days as well as the light ones, and although we cannot take the pain away, we can bear witness and love you and help shoulder the burden in any way that you need.

I hope you manage to feel some joy on this day, because we felt it fifteen years ago and every day you have been in our lives since. You enrich our lives beyond measure. Thank you for choosing us to be your parents.