I haven’t posted since my review of Force of Nature on the 15th of January, which was a cheat post anyway because I wrote it last June. Before that I did my End of Year Reflections, plus a few other posts thinking about the year that had just happened and the one that was coming up.
Well, suffice it to say 2017 wasn’t exactly excellent. For the past few years I’ve adopted a Russian tradition of writing a wish for the upcoming year on a piece of paper, burning it, then tipping the ash into a glass of champagne and drinking it as I welcome in the new year. This year I didn’t get a chance to do that, but if I had then my wish would have been for the year to be better than 2017.
I mean, that’s not hard. Globally, more excellent people died (John Hurt, Glen Campbell, Malcolm Young, Chris Cornell, Chuck Berry, and of course Chester Bennington). Politically… well, shit happened. And personally, I spent most of the year in bed, took ten months off work, and was in hospital far too often.
This year didn’t start out so well either. At the end of December, having just recovered from my surgery and been given the all-clear from the doctors to go and help my grandparents move house, I headed up north to surprise my mother with a visit.
It all started out so wonderfully. I reached my grandparents’ new flat; my mother had told me she’d be there at 9.30am, but since she didn’t know I was coming I couldn’t text her to ask where she was when she still hadn’t arrived by half ten. I was standing outside in the drizzling rain, probably looking a bit suspicious, but in Blackpool everyone looks a bit suspicious some of the time, which has the advantage of making people ignore you when you look like you’re casing a house.
After another fifteen minutes a van drew up and an electrician got out. I introduced myself and explained what I was doing; he let me in and then helped with my plan by calling my mother and asking her when she’d be there, making the excuse that he wanted to show her how to work the alarm. She said she’d be there in a few minutes, so he packed up his stuff and left me in the flat. I hid in the dark little kitchen, and when my mother came in the front door and shouted ‘Hello?’ because she thought the electrician was still there, I popped out into the hallway.
“You didn’t really think I’d let you do it all on your own, did you?” I asked.
Her face was a picture.
I sort of wish I’d taken a video, but it would have been cruel. It will forever be one of my favourite memories, I think. She was overwhelmed that I was there – for the first half hour or so she kept looking at me to check she wasn’t dreaming.
We cleaned the flat from top to bottom, removed all the manky sticky stuff the previous tenants had left on the windows, sorted out the radiators, scrubbed and de-spidered and sprayed and wiped and scrubbed and planted and scrubbed. My body was not massively happy to have gone from ten months in bed directly into doing manual work like this, and it only got angrier when we started lifting the furniture. But it was worth it to see how happy she was.
Once we’d prepared the flat, we drove to Scotland to pick up my grandparents and move them down to England. I stayed in The Station House, a beautiful B&B which I thoroughly recommend if you’re planning a trip to the West Lowlands, or if you’re looking for a stop-off point on your way to the Highlands.
My grandfather was taken into hospital shortly before we went up, but the doctors said they’d stabilise him and then move him in an ambulance to a hospital in Blackpool so that my grandparents could be together.
We packed up my grandmother and all her stuff, fitting most of it into a van plus my mother’s car, which was packed to the hilt. I spent the 400-mile journey being thwacked in the head by a picture of some birds, which slid off the top of the pile in the backseat every time we turned a corner. I fucking hate those birds.
We arrived in Blackpool on the Thursday evening and spent Friday unpacking and sorting out furniture. Then on Friday evening, my mother received a phone call to say one of her close friends had died. He’d had cancer, so it was expected, but these things are never easy and she was understandably very sad. Plus, she was exhausted from all the moving.
Saturday morning we woke up to more snow and weather warnings throughout the north of England and the whole of Scotland. “At least we’re not still driving in this!” one of us said… and then we got the phone call: my grandfather was dying. Would my mother and grandmother be able to go back to Scotland to say their final goodbyes?
Of course they did: there wasn’t really much of a choice. By this point my mother and I were both worried about my grandmother, who hadn’t left her house in fourteen years and now was travelling up and down the country all the time. But there wasn’t much they could do except get back in the car and drive all the way to Scotland again. I stayed behind to let in the workmen and sort out the flat some more.
My grandfather died that night, bringing the total number of people my mother was close to dying in a 24-hour period to two. Since they couldn’t find anywhere to stay that was wheelchair-accessible, my mother then had to drive herself and my grandmother back to Blackpool the same day. That’s 800 miles, for anyone who wasn’t keeping track. 800 miles, in treacherous conditions, when she was grieving and exhausted from moving house.
I was a bit worried they wouldn’t make it back, but they did.
I’d originally planned to go home on the Friday evening, one week after I’d arrived, because in theory by that point my grandparents would have been installed in their new home. Since things hadn’t exactly gone to plan, however, I decided to stay a while longer, but by this point I felt like I was going insane and really needed some time to myself. Plus it was almost New Year, which is my favourite holiday, and I wanted to celebrate it with friends.
So on Sunday 31st of December I got on a rail replacement bus, and then on a train, and then into a taxi (because fuck the tube when you’ve been travelling that long), and I headed over to Caitlin’s for a rooftop party. It was wonderful.
By New Year’s Day I was wrecked: not hungover, but exhausted. I’d gone from splitting my time between my own bed and the ones in local hospitals over the past ten months, to spending 10+ hours per day doing physically strenuous work and the rest of the time trying to help my mother through her grief and keep my grandmother calm.
Nonetheless I spent the next few weeks bouncing back and forth between London, Blackpool and Scotland while we sorted out my grandmother’s flat; I submitted tax things to HMRC for my various businesses; we sorted out the funeral and post-mortem arrangements for my grandfather (there is SO MUCH admin to do when someone dies, I had no idea); and eventually I arrived in London again on Saturday 13th of January.
I barely had time to unpack and repack my bag before I got on yet another bus and went to Glastonbury for a much-needed break. I turned off all my technology and went to see some friends. Once I’d caught her up on how my year had been, my friend’s reaction was “Wow… you must be exhausted on every possible level.” Which was true, but I hadn’t realised that until she said it.
I spent the next few days wandering around the Somerset countryside, drinking hot chocolates in the Blue Note Café, eating most of the menu at Excalibur and generally chilling out. The holiday wasn’t long enough but was sorely needed.
I got home the following week, immediately had a bunch of client calls and desperately tried to climb back on top of the pile of work I have planned for the year.
Unsurprisingly, I succeeded at some bits and failed at others. I got a few more clients on board for this year, gave myself a pay rise and managed to work out a sensible structure for my time. I sorted out a plan for my next book and thought about pitching it to some publishers, but didn’t actually do that last step yet. I felt increasingly exhausted as I tried to work out what needed to happen work-wise, while also trying to catch up with all the people I hadn’t seen in a year due to being ill and then in Scotland.
Now I’m exhausted, confused, a bit overwhelmed, and in need of another holiday. I’m planning one holiday per quarter, which I’ve already told all my clients about, and surprisingly none of them seemed that bothered by it (we’ll see what happens when I actually take them, though).
Today Hippy Poppins is coming over and we’re going to hang out at a local restaurant I’ve been wanting to try for ages, and probably also in my living room with wine, Bananagrams and Black Books reruns. Tomorrow I need to do some more planning – Getting Shit Done is one of my main skills in life, and I’m confident I can make things work. Friday I’m heading into Childline to hopefully get my old volunteer role back (I had to quit last year when I was ill for so long), and then full service should hopefully resume from next week. Except that this post is going up on Monday even though I’m writing it the Thursday before, so from your perspective full service should resume this week.
Yeah, I’m confused too. Welcome to the club.
Happy new… February? I guess.