Happy birthday, mum

Today should be my mum’s birthday; it’s the first since we lost her with such awful, shocking, sickening suddenness. Right now I should be getting a delighted phone call from her after she received the big bouquet of birthday flowers I’d always have sent to her. She loved getting that big bunch of birthday flowers and I loved how happy they made her. Sometimes they’d even still be in bloom when I went home for Christmas a couple of weeks later.

I’ll never hear that ever again. Instead I’ll be back through to Glasgow with dad and taking flowers to her grave. And I hate this. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. She should be here and she’s not. I feel it every single day, a horrible ache inside, a weight on my spirit I can’t lift, but this makes it worse and the imminent arrival of the Christmas period lurks around the corner like an unwanted visitor and how I hate the thought of Christmas without her. The world feels very cold and all there seems to be to look forward to is small diversions but no real delight. She should be here and happy with us and instead we’re taking flowers to her grave and her name is on a cold bloody stone and that’s not right.

Rusted pipe

Now the time has come to speak
I was not able
And water through a rusted pipe
Could make the sense that I do

Gurgle, mutter
Hiss, stutter
Moan the words like water
Rush and foam and choke

Having waited
This long of a winter
I fear I only
Croak and sigh

Somewhere deep within
Hear the creak
That lets the tale begin

Now the time has come to move
I was not able
Water through a rusted pipe
Could make the moves that I do

Stagger, stumble
Trip, fumble
I fear I only
Slip and slide

Somewhere deep within
Hear the creak
That lets the tale begin

Somewhere deep within
Hear the creak
That lets the tale begin

Suzanne Vega, “Rusted Pipe” from Days of Open Hand.

I’ve always loved that song by Suzanne Vega, right from the warm tones of the marimba which plays under it, counterpointing its warmth against the melancholy of the lyrics. Now it seems very apt. I’ve struggled very hard to write something on here for months, since we lost mum. I’m still struggling, to be brutally honest, I can hardly keep my eyes clear at times. I’ve tried again and again to re-start the Woolamaloo in the last few weeks and months. Months already, how can that be? Already more of this year has passed by without my mum in it than the months of it she was here with us and its so damned wrong. I’ve never left the blog alone so long; the fifth anniversary came and went and I didn’t give a damn. I’m finding it hard to care about much right now and yes, I know that’s selfish but again I really don’t care. Everything for me has become separated into Before and After now.

Each time I tried to restart I simply couldn’t. I’d look at the last post in March, still deliriously happy from my time in Paris and then at the following one, the brief one, all I could hold myself together long enough to write. And I’d think how did I get from there to here. Back home in Glasgow among the dozens of family pictures on the walls there’s one of me, a school picture, primary school years, little freckled face, bright red hair and blue eyes, next to it me in my mid twenties, long hair, cape, standing at my graduation. And I’d look at them and think how did I get from there to there to here? How did it happen? Why did it bloody happen? When dad was in hospital last Christmas, scaring the hell out of me, I remember returning to the family home. There was no-one in, mum had been in visiting him while I was on the train on the way through after my boss kindly told me to just leave and go home. And, worried though I was, I saw among the photos one of my uncle, the Comrade, who we lost a couple of years ago after a long fight. He’s smiling in that pic and in the instant I looked at it I knew it was going to be alright, that dad would be fine and be home with us for Christmas. I didn’t know it would be our last Christmas all together. And I found myself in April looking at that same picture and begging the Comrade to please, please, please make it alright now.

But he can’t and no-one can. And that hurts more than anything in the world.

No-one can fix it, no-one can make it better, its a wound that I know never heals. To hell with all that ‘time heals all’ nonsense; I never believed that for an instant before and I certainly don’t now. It doesn’t heal; like Lancelot’s wound it never truly heals. It might, as a good writer friend of mine who lost his mother a couple of years ago said, scar over the wound but the scar and the pain are there below it, they don’t go away. Dad lost his mother when he was just a boy; that was half a century ago now and the pain is still there. I feel tired all the time. I’ve slowly gotten back to sleeping more regularly, unlike my poor old dad who hasn’t slept right since it happened. But its not restful. I’ve never been great at getting up in the morning but this isn’t my usual reluctance to get out of bed and wake up properly. Its more that I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to go out and face the world that’s taken her away from us. Its a bloody struggle every single bloody day. Its a struggle to go to social events and weddings and gatherings, its a struggle just to go to work some days. I’m tired deep down and no amount of rest is helping that. My soul is weary, weary, weary and wondering is this it, is this all there is now but the slow, inevitable descent, losing the rest of the people you love until you find yourself one day alone and old and wishing it was your turn? I’m a cynic but also an optimist usually, but at the moment its hard to see past that sort of feeling.

And I don’t think a lot of people get that. They see you, you seem normal. I walk, I talk, I make my usual bad jokes (inherited from dad) and they think isn’t he coping well. No, I’m not. I’m really not. I’m drifting. One of the anchors for my life has been ripped away from me and I’m drifting in the current without any ability or even urge to put my hand on the tiller. I’m on autopilot a lot of the time, just getting through the work day and going home. I get out, make myself go out, go to films, festival shows and I do enjoy them and they do distract me for a while, usually, but afterwards the pain is still there, lingering. It washes over me a dozen times a day, every day. I doubt the folks I work next to even realise there must be so many moments during the day when I have to stop for a moment and try to hold it together as another black wave comes across. And I don’t think some folks around realise how brittle it leaves me, how even small arguments or tensions at work or home cut right through because you have no patience and you have to bite your tongue and suppress an angry retort because emotions are right at the surface right now.

And I don’t think they get that at all. A part of me is broken and it won’t ever be fixed. When someone is in a dreadful accident they may spends months in surgery and then therapy to walk again. And even when they do they never walk the same way as they did before and always the memory of that trauma is there, waiting to pounce on them at any time without warning. Its much the same with loss like this. I’m slowly trying to learn how to get on, but even as I do I know I won’t be the same again. I’m not the person I was in March, that Joe doesn’t exist anymore except as a memory. Everything feels different now. When its bad I wonder why she isn’t there to comfort me as she always did. When it ever gets good again – if it does – I’ll wonder why she isn’t there to share it with me. And yes, I know in a way she will be, but its not the same, its just not the same. And I know I am being indulgent – some kids never get the love and security that I’ve enjoyed since the day I was born, probably since before I was even born on a New Year’s Eve years ago and I’ve had a lifetime of that love and I ache for those who never had that. But I’m still broken inside and the person you see is just a simulacra, not the same person as before. He might improve a bit but he’s not going to be the same again and there’s nothing that can make it better.

And that’s the bitterest part of all. Nothing can ever make it better. There’s no fix, no magic, nothing. Dad and I can alleviate some of it for each other but we can’t fix it and that’s the horrible, bitter reality of being born mortal. And I hate that feeling. Along with the sadness I feel angry at the world for doing this to us, for taking her from us just like that. Why so many evil, selfish people get to live to old age while my mum is taken at 61 I don’t understand. If its god moving in his bloody mysterious ways then I’d like to give the old deity a good kicking because he deserves it. The headstone went up just a couple of weeks ago and that ripped me open again. Dad and I are up there every weekend with flowers and it upsets us terribly, but at the same time we can’t not go up to visit her, to take flowers. I used to take flowers for my mum all the time or arrange to have them delivered to her on her birthday or mother’s day and I loved how delighted she always was with them. And now taking her flowers spills my soul open. I could barely look at the bloody stone. Its a lovely stone my cousin and I picked out, but I still can hardly look at it. My mum’s name is on a bloody stone and that’s just not right, its never ever going to be right. I feel sick and tired most of the time and the smallest thing can set me off, even emotional scenes in the movies or books I try to distract myself with; I’ve got no armour left, my shield is shattered, my lance broken and my armour is all undone and I don’t know if it can be mended. And if it can it will still never be the same. Its too much to bear sometimes. I loved her so much and the world took her away just like that and I can’t bear it. I still can’t work out how a heart so full of love can just stop. Why isn’t it enough? It should be and it isn’t and the universe doesn’t care.

One hour to go

One single hour to go before I am no longer a thirtysomething. End of the year and end of my thirties, hello being a funky fortysomething. Thank goodness for my creamy Celtic complexion and youthful exuberance – with those most folks think I look only 39 and a bit… Nah, that’s not true, it seems to surprise a lot of folks who didn’t think I was that age yet, although of course they may all just be being polite, but frankly I’m taking it the positive way. Bottle of champers chilling nicely for the birthday breakfast as we speak, any excuse… Anyway, champagne for breakfast is something everyone should indulge themselves in from time to time and if you can’t do it on your birthday then when the hell can you? First time I ever had champagne at breakfast was way back in the mid 1980s in a hotel in Aachen in Germany and its kind of become a birthday ritual these days and why not? Got to live a little, especially at my age 🙂

Dad continues to be on the mend – he seems a bit more tired than before, but that’s pretty understandable between the lethargy having to spend several days in a hospital bed can impart and the shock to the old system. He’s pretty upbeat and the final scans were clear (although he will go back in sometime in the next month or two for some routine further checks to make sure) but I think it has rattled him a little more than he lets on. We had a good Christmas together, the pair of us took every excuse to sit and watch the Wallace and Gromit repeats on the BBC while my mum tutted at us about enjoy cartoons at ‘our ages’, although by the time they were halfway through we heard barely suppressed sniggers coming from her direction, then out and out laughs from the woman who claims animation is for kids and not funny… Mind you that’s not bad going, it took us from the early video days (Betamax no less) to just a few years back to persuade her that Blazing Saddles was a comedy masterpiece (she finally gets it).

Ton of food was guzzled of course, all homemade – can’t beat yer mum’s cooking! My veggie main course this year was a delicious herb-stuffed pinenut roast in red wine sauce (again homemade). Mum’s meringue nests, cream, fresh fruit and some ice cream from the bloody excellent Equi’s (one of the best ice cream emporiums in Scotland) for dessert (although my cousins opted for the traditional Christmas pudding instead), all washed down with a bottle of Saint Joe. My mum couldn’t resist buying this bottle when she saw the name on it, although I don’t actually answer to that name to anyone except her and a couple of family members as I have hated my full name for as long as I can remember and prefer just Joe; anyone else using the full name will find themselves being ignored…

(Saint Joseph, the patron saint of mixing good chocolate and red wine)

As ever we all collapsed after dinner feeling as if we had swallowed a (delicious) cannonball, full, full, full… I always look forward to enjoying mum’s cooking at Christmas, but getting dad home on Christmas Eve made it particularly special. I could see him through a window as I was walking up to the house and boy was that a nice sight. We’re still trying to get him to take it easy, but mum and dad have been out a bit in the last few days and in fact they took me out for an early birthday treat lunch this weekend, which was good, off to the Bridge Inn at Ratho, which is a spot I first found years back when I used to cycle a lot and Brendan and I cycled out the canal towpath several miles out of Edinburgh, saw the village, the old humpbacked bridge and the canalside pub and thought we had earned a pint, found out they did food and that was it (incidentally Brendan’s 40th was a couple of weeks back – the party had a loose theme of dead rock stars and one guy came as Kurt Cobain; when he turned round he had fake blood and brains on the back of his head).

The menu was a bit disappointing – the veggie options were extremely poor which was annoying as we’ve eaten there many times and they usually had a number of options (I once had gorgeous hot peppers stuffed with fresh cream cheese from one of the local farms, shame they don’t do it anymore) so it was irritating to see a new menu that was so limited on the veggie front – most places tend to add more vegetarian options rather than reducing them. Still, I picked out a couple of simple items and enjoyed them with a decent beer from the Atlas brewery and it meant having more time to spend with the folks which is never bad.

Xmas in Edinburgh

Inside Jenners in Edinburgh this evening, a little Xmas shopping with my mum and dad who were through visiting (off for some nice food as well, poor mum with her arm in a sling still).

We could hear music but weren’t sure where it was coming from. Beautiful bit of acoustic guitar, lovely golden chords. As we walked round we spotted the musician playing away, just sitting in front of the clothing department. I liked the two mannequins on the upper right, they look almost like they are leaning forward to listen to him.

The open air Xmas Fair and German market are now open in Princes Street Gardens and the Mound right next to the Royal Scottish Academy. All sorts of lovely things on offer and hot food, mulled wine, Gluhwein… I love when this comes to town, the people, the atmosphere, the light, the smell of food and spiced wines all make such a magnificent contrast with the long, cold, dark winter nights of Scotland.

I wonder if this is the same tilting swing I snapped back during the summer at Fringe Sunday?

Roll up, roll up, all the fun of the fair!!!


My lovely mum was all set to retire at the ripe age of 60 next month from her part time work but unfortunately it has been brought forward by circumstances: she works in a bakery and on her way to help a colleague she slipped on a bit of foodstuff and had a nasty tumble, injuring her arm quite badly. She’s pulled muscles rather nastily but after a couple of days of increasing pain she finally went to the casualty department at hospital and it turns out she chipped the bone and caused more damage than she thought. So now she is in a lot of pain and bound up with a special sling, which is making life very difficult – she isn’t sleeping right because of the pain (and being worried about rolling over onto the bad arm in her sleep – major owww!) and simple things like fixing her hair are very hard to do with one hand, so she isn’t going out much because she won’t go out unless she looks presentable (unlike her son who is a scruff, looks, as she puts it “like something that fell of a flitting” – or ‘Bohemian’ as I would have it). And since she will be bound up like this for several weeks it will go past her 60th birthday in December when she was to retire, so she missed that.

And she isn’t trying to claim for compensation. If it was a small family business I could understand her not wanting to claim in case it ruined their business, but it is a large group of national bakeries; it wasn’t a malicious thing, but she slipped and injured herself on something that shouldn’t have been there and is in a lot of pain because of it, so that is their responsibility (yes, Greggs, the “family baker”, I am talking about you and the crap way you treated a long-serving employee). I’m damned annoyed she won’t claim and I’m going to keep pressing her on it. Does seem very funny to think on my mum as retired though (although 60 isn’t old these days, is it? Not unless you are 16) – she still has a creamy complexion and her hair is still red, the benefits of a Celtic heritage. I’ve never been someone obsessed with money (which is just as well as I’ve never really earned much!); mostly I’m happy to make enough to be comfortable and doing a job you like is worth a lot more.

One of the few reasons I would like to be wealthier is to be able to say to both my folks, here’s all your outstanding stuff paid off, now bugger off on a big, long holiday and enjoy yourselves while you’re still fit and young enough. Alas I can just about pay my own mortgage, so that isn’t going to happen, but it would be nice, wouldn’t it? I’d love to be able to take care of them the way they have taken care of me over the years. One thing I’ve never taken for granted is my parents; so many kids in our world grow up with parents who don’t care or no parents at all. Not me, I got the luckiest draw you can get, parents who love you and will do anything for you and a big family of uncles, aunts and cousins into the bargain. That’s worth more than money and I know how damned lucky it makes me; anything and everything I ever do in life is built on that foundation. I wish every kid had that, then the world would be a much better place.


Apologies for the gap between posts, but I’ve been busy with last minute Xmas shopping, then back off to the outskirts of Glasgow for a nice time at my parents. While there I also took the opportunity to visit my dear uncle – known to most of the family as ‘the Comrade’; he’s old school socialist with a human face and has proudly worn this alternative moniker I dubbed him with many moons ago.

I was warned by everyone to brace myself for his appearance, because he has deteriorated so much even since my previous visit two week ago. One of my cousins up visiting from the Deep South of England (land of thatched cottages) hadn’t seen him for many months, certainly not since the Big C came back with a vengeance and was so shocked she couldn’t stay long in his room. I can’t blame her for that – he’s wasting away before our eyes and growing weaker every day; frankly I was surprised he was still there, I had the horrible feeling that my previous visit would prove to be the last time I saw him alive. That’s a bloody horrible feeling – worse for my Canadian uncle over to visit his dying brother and knowing full well that it would be the last week he would get to spend with him.

So I braced myself and did my best not to let it show when I was with him, or round my poor mother who is fighting to stay together to help my aunt look after her husband, my mother’s big brother. Again we managed to swap jokes and share some laughs (the sense of humour must be up there with love as our finest defence mechanism), despite his voice growing weaker and fainter, as if every faculty is slowly winding down for him now, except his eyes which still shine. Lord knows what is keeping him going – he always was a tall, broad built, strong man with a good constitution; it is what helped him fight this awful disease the first time round, but now it is as much a liability since it is prolonging the inevitable. Part of me likes to think that he tried his level best to hold on through the holidays so as not to ruin Xmas for the family. Sheer speculation I know, but it would be very much in keeping with his selfless attitude and since no-one can prove such conjecture either way I choose to think it.

So I did manage to keep it together and spent some good time with the Comrade over my days back home. Between those visits, being around my beloved parents and seeing so more of my cousins and aunts than I have in ages (perhaps a positive aspect to all of this) I managed to keep it together, although I did fall apart in the car as my Dad drove me home after Xmas. We were just talking about it and the damned thing up and overwhelmed me, the sheer unfairness of this happening to such a good man. As regular readers know I’m not religious, but the Comrade is a devout Catholic (his absence at the special Xmas Eve mass finally drove it home to my poor aunt that his days were really coming to an end). If I hadn’t lost faith in any god decades ago I would now – he’s a good man, never missed mass in his life, did good work for the church… What sort of reward is this for any god to show to such a faithful follower? I know, life simply isn’t fair and bad things happen to good people, it rains on the just and the unjust, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it and it still doesn’t make it right. Naturally I keep such observations to myself – not really the time or place to air them around my uncle, aunt or mother (watching what this does to her is as hurtful as the thought of losing the Comrade).

Despite this we actually had some good times over Christmas. Spending time with my folks is always good (I am a very, very lucky boy in that respect). My mother’s home cooking was the highlight of course and naturally I did my best to eat absolutely everything she put out on the table until it felt like I’d swallowed a cannonball. Main veggie course for me was a gorgeous terrine of wild mushrooms, two types of cheese, two types of nuts and spiced potatoes, with an accompanying (and also home-made of course) spicy tomato sauce. My mum’s cooking skills are matched only by her baking skills (she is the official maker of cakes to the family) and her meringues crunched delicately under my spoon…mmmmmmm……

My birthday arrives tomorrow, on Hogmanay when I will be – ahem – years old, although I’m not especially in a birthday or New Years kind of mood really. Will try and post something slightly less depressing later on – its hard to talk about this stuff but equally hard not to talk about it, if you know what I mean. Hopefully go for a complete subject change when I next post (actually I wasn’t even going to write what I did today, but it just kind of came out and I feel a little better for that. I know all too many of you have loved ones who have endured or fallen to cancer as well, so you know where I’m coming from) – perhaps it is that time to do a review of the year (the one just ending, not next year; I would review 2006 for you now but I promised the Time Lords I wouldn’t monkey around with causality anymore)? Pick a few best of an worst of movies and books from the last twelve months, maybe some events – anyone wanting to add their own best or worst ofs for 2005 feel free to post (on which note I apologise for having to make the Woolamaloo comments non-anonymous, but I was getting some awful hate comments from some right-wing neo-nazi thugs for an earlier posting, and, as always with nasty folk, posted behind the cowardly ‘anonymous’ mask, so I had to withdraw that facility – apologies to the majority who used it for constructive purposes).