Thursday, November 06, 2014

A Very Long and Winding Road

Over the last few weeks, right up until today, the much-maligned British summer time (deceased) clung on for dear life. October was unusual in that it allowed me to do something that I tend to feel is limited to the months of May to September (but never guaranteed) - sit in the garden and do some work.

We find the media obsess over heavy rain, excessive snowfall and high winds and when conditions are right - drought. The fact that October 31st was the warmest day in the UK for that day's history ever, probably should have garnered more comment; it was, after all, nearly 4 degrees warmer than the record and it was the warmest day in October - right at the very end of it. Pretty much as bizarre a weather event I've seen for a long time. No crashing and banging or human interest, so it pretty much got breezed over in favour of some shite Farage was spouting, no doubt.

The year before I got married - 1986 - was a weird summer; it was reminiscent of 2012, in that it was crap and this was highlighted by the fact the hottest day of the year - 30.6 degrees - was registered on October 1st. I always thought that was a strange one, especially as it fell a couple of weeks after the autumnal equinox; but 24 degrees six weeks after the sun shifts in its equinox deserves putting to memory.

The month following my mum's death in 1998 was another one of those anomalies. February 1998 recorded some of the highest temperatures for that month ever, with five days in the middle of the month averaging 18 degrees and I remember walking the dogs at the time, wearing my old check shirt and no coat or jacket.

It's terribly anal that I remember shit like this, but I've always been a weather bore and I function so much better when the ambient temperature is higher than 15 degrees. I was miserable in the winter even before I heard about such things as SADS; it was something that bugged my old man and I suppose I 'caught' it from him.

The irony is that my 'condition', the COPD prefers the weather when it's cooler and there's more air circulating, which is why I seem to de-age about 10 years whenever I go to the seaside (and why this preamble has meandered around like a drunken Geordie in the Big Market). And that is one of the reasons for this bit of boring weather lore...

2014 hasn't been a good year for my family and friends - deaths, cancer, debt, unemployment and many other travails have been inflicted on my little sphere of people and, of course, there's been my own summer of physical upheaval.

It started so brightly too...

I'd made my mind up long before I started to attend the COPD clinic that I was going to get myself fitter this year; that meant more exercise, more walking and ensuring that core muscles were toned to enable me to breath and function better. Last winter's lack of breath-taking (literally) cold days meant that I went into 2014 having not suffered a winter of bad colds and chest infections; yeah, I had bad days, but what are bad days when it's all about adjusting to new ways of living? Plus, my condition might kill me, there are people all around me fighting tougher battles. Some perspective and humility is the order of the day.

I abandoned the COPD clinic not because I was already considerably healthier than the octogenarians all attending, but because on July 1st I thought I'd dislocated my shoulder and the three weeks or so I figured it would take to heal meant the clinic would have run its course. The shoulder was the tip of an iceberg of shit that seemed to descend throughout the summer - some things make even nice weather immaterial.

With friends and family faltering around me, the wife really struggling to cope and so August was effectively a shut-down month for me - if my battered body could have got into a foetal position it would have, I'm sure. My business suffered; my personal life was in the toilet and I started smoking again... It was short-lived, but it was still a few weeks off the wagon and instead of the wife hating me for it, she took her ire out on others.

Sunshine is my God. It doesn't really matter if its freezing cold, if I can feel the sun on the back of my neck it tends to bring a smile to my face and October was good in that respect, because as long as the sun shone I got things done.

I finally decided at the start of October to go and see the doctor about my shoulder; it was three months and it was getting much worse; almost to the levels it was prior to my operation in 2009. It surely couldn't still be the after effects of the presumed dislocation. The doc didn't need an x-ray machine or MRI to know that the 'pop' we heard in the vet's wasn't my shoulder dislocating but a ruptured tendon (why is it called ruptured when it means detached?) and the upshot there was lots of physiotherapy until they decide that it isn't going to miraculously reattach and then I'll have an operation to sort it. In the current NHS climate I might get this done before I die.

Even with this hindrance, me and the wife managed to get lots of things done during October that made her feel better and no longer dreading Christmas as much as she was. It's still no where near perfect with uncertainty surrounding my brother's illness, my inability to identify appropriate Chinese printers and just everyone I know sitting around seemingly waiting for the next wave of shit to hit.

I was driving to the Leamington Spa comics convention on October 18 - a day that would have been memorable for its summer like temperatures had it not been consigned to just a mild day by Halloween's unusual heat - talking to Colin, my oldest friend and helper for the day. It was on this trip I told him about our plans, still very embryonic, but what we're aiming to achieve in the next THREE years.

During our week's holiday in Dumfries & Galloway at the start of September, we both realised that us and the rat race were coming to a head. I'd been sold on the idea of moving to Scotland 20 years ago, but we shelved the idea when we realised that the only way we'd be able to do it it was when we were old and would we really want to be in a more isolated place when our need for emergency services grew each extra year we lived?

Plus the idea originally seeded itself when I worked in comics and it seemed the ideal way of escaping. When we ventured back to D&G in 2012 (because it was free holiday accommodation and we needed a break), I never expected it to to have transformed as much as it had, but we were holidaying in a different part...

The wife and I, Roger and Barbara did west Dumfries in 1998 - the year mum died and we all agreed that even if the shadow of grief hadn't been hanging over us at times, it still would have been one of the worst holidays we'd ever had. we'd done west Wales in a monsoon; North-west Scotland at the start of its winter and Cornwall at its worst; all of these holidays urinated from a great height on our week in Ballantrae. The accommodation was grotty, the 'town' of Ballantrae was a bit like Corby's Kingsholme Estate-by-the-sea and, seriously, Robert Louis Stevenson must have seen the name on the map and thought it would make a good name for a smugglers' tale, because if he's gone there the story would have been called The Master of Someplace Else...

We vowed never to return and to be fair we've been back to D&G twice now and never gone anywhere near the desolation and despair that greets anyone venturing within 10 miles of Stranraer - a sink hole town and as salubrious as a bucket of cold sick (or at least that's what it was like 16 years ago, it might be the Cosmopolis of Southern Scotland now for all I know). We soon realised that everywhere has its own shit holes and we avoid them most of the time, so we can avoid them even easier when we're on holiday.

We both fell in love with this part of the country and our holiday in 2012 - a fantastic week when the rest of the country was wading around in wellies watching the Olympics - was made more intriguing when we met a woman from the East end who came up to Kirkcudbright (pronounced Ker-koo-bree) on holiday 30 years ago and never went back; she kind of inspired us.

We got back to Northampton and for two weeks we dreamt of moving there; but it was vague and general dreams, nothing specific. The rat race returned and the idea, like so many dreams, went on the back burner.

We went back this year and I was filled with trepidation; I don't know why because the week we had was possibly the best week the wife and I have had for a couple of years; but you know what they say about looking forward to things? The dread I felt was because I so desperately wanted to have a great week; as I wrote back in September, I wasn't disappointed in the slightest.

The subject of moving there was always close to the surface and Shortie was now looking in estate agent windows as much as she was looking at tourist knick-knacks and shortbread. On our last day, we went to our favourite pub, ate some great food and drank some excellent beer; we sat in the garden - rain had been forecast but it was warm and sunny; the barmaid said they pay as much attention to the weather forecast as they do Westminster politicians. We struck up a conversation with a couple from Newcastle who had up sticks and moved to a place called Bar Hill - literally the one jewel in our 1998 holiday - and bought a two bedroom cottage for £40k. Yes, your eyes didn't deceive you - forty grand.

Then we came home and I decided that as I know my wife extremely well the easiest thing to do would be to let her have all the ideas. Let her take the initiative - if this was her idea she'd be up for it.

We worked it out that at the current rate, if we sold our house for its market value we'd have something in the region of £100k in equity and for that kind of money you could buy something akin to a posh house; for £40k or £50k you could buy something that gave you a safety net.

Before you start pooh-poohing the idea, the wife spent a week looking up houses and the amount under £80k that you could literally move into tomorrow was astounding; the property market there is dead - houses are selling for £60k that sold for £80k in 2008. You don't buy property here for investment reasons, not unless you're brain dead. Because there is no 'real' work or careers up there, no one can afford to buy houses - unless they have some money behind them. Yet, there's load of jobs, if you want to work part time or seasonal and if you haven't got a mortgage...

There's a lot to be done and one of those things is me getting a part time job in the New Year. For Borderline Press to work and possibly be viable enough to move to a cottage in Scotland, it needs to make money, generate money and produce the 2015 schedule without the hiccups we had in 2014; that can be achieved better by me taking myself out of the equation and doing it part time; I mean it's not like it's a full time job even at the busiest of periods and some intelligent holiday booking will enable me to dodge any bullets.

The house we live in is in good nick, but needs cosmetic work doing to it to realise its potential and that needs money we haven't got, and I'm going to have to have another op on my shoulder - I'm a realist, that could take a lot longer now we have an NHS being primed for privatisation. Perhaps having it done in Scotland might end up being the best solution. We're not ready yet, but we have a goal now.

Unfortunately, because all my silver clouds tend to come with fully-formed black linings, I did my back in at the start of the week. The first cold day, I stood up wrong (I'm presuming) and twang my back went. Down the left hand side, which suggests the inactivity because of my shoulder has affected the rest of my back. A mate of mine said 'Well, you are a wreck generally', and I can't argue with him... I'm thinking that living down here has a detrimental effect on my health at the best of times and I kind of think if I need to be crocked, I'd rather be crocked in a picturesque place, near the sea and on the doorstep of a mycological cornucopia.


Effercio et Ineptias
  • It's all change at the Lithuanian house. For the last three months one of the two adults have had their parents living there - odd people, look totally out of place - anachronisms would be a good description. They disappeared at the weekend and have been replaced by the mother of the other - the infamous masturbating woman in the window - who disappeared about six months ago and is now back (and the phrase 'mutton dressed as lamb' is almost a compliment, because it's more like 'Old goat dressed as embryo' - women in their early 60s should not wear puffball skirts and low cut tops - there should be a law against it!). There is also a young couple staying there; where they are sleeping I have no idea, but there does seem to be a revolving door policy there (there is also a rumour circulating they are Albanians and not Lithuanians).
  • The road is being dug up (obliterated) by pipe layers and parking is at an absolute premium at the moment. I can see anger rising, especially as I am in a very unhelpful mood at the moment.
  • The new neighbours continue to be lovely, although Sam has been dicing with death by beating me at my one Internet game. As I explained to him, if he wants us to continue being friends and for me to be his Max safety net, he needs to ensure that he never beats me again. I was, of course, joking, but he's not been even close to beating me since. Good lad.
  • We're in for more changes; two families have moved out in the last week and have To Let signs up; but nothing - absolutely nothing - can beat this: Less than 8 months after Fishwife and Fat Lass moved out, the houses either side of their new place are up for sale. I mean, if you were looking at buying a house and the houses either side of one were both up for sale, you'd have to wonder if it was a coincidence or if perhaps the neighbours had grown tired of a constant 50 decibel commentary about poohing and chicken shit.
  • Fuckwit and The Purple Moose (her new nom de plume) continue to subvert the benefits system while living an increasingly curious existence. The wife reckons one of them might be working because they leave the house early every day. Me? I see far more sinister things - child slavery, goat porn, UKIP branch meetings, discount shopping...
  • ???
  • US TV worth watching: The Leftovers was great and bleak; it also had a scene in it I could not watch; I had to cover my eyes, it was that horrific!
    Resurrection is considerably better and weirder than you might expect and is one of those shows that you expect will end up being formulaic and dire and yet continually mucks about with your expectations. It is hard work at times though.
    The Walking Dead has been a revelation so far this season, with four top drawer episodes that have actually taken it to another level.
    Sleepy Hollow had a great first season, but with popularity has come some mediocrity - the main villain seems to have been de-creepified and the way the Headless Horseman has been 'developed' just adds unwanted baggage to what was a great show, but now is just average.
    There's also a load of rubbish that I have to admit to loving the first two episodes of... <scorpion>; It's a great show and I love it. It's the A Team meets Big Bang Theory, it's riddled with clich├ęs and stereotypes, is questionable in its source material and I just think it's great fun, even if no one else does.
  • The nectarine tree which almost died because of some late April frosts, now looks like it's been time-shifted from June to November or vice versa; everything else in the garden seems to have prepared for winter, yet odd fruit tree just sits there acting like its Spain. Weird.
  • The apricot is no longer. Bummer.
  • It's official - the UK has shite potatoes now and no one (except a dodgy company) sells decent spuds any more. It's all your fault for wanting uniform dullness in your shopping bags!
  • There are less than 8 weeks left of this year, therefore if you haven't let me down yet there's still time! There are a few people out there who as yet haven't; but there's also 8 weeks for repeat offenders to have another go.