What’s Behind The Square Window?

Christmas

 

Most British children who were allowed to watch television from the 1960s onward will remember Play School. We had a selection of toys presented to us who could apparently speak through their human companions; Little Ted and Big Ted – who I’m sure were gay or maybe that’s just me. There was Jemima – a throw back hippy rag doll and her evil counterpart Hamble. I fucking hated Hamble. If Hamble were a person she’d have been that dodgy looking woman down the end of the street with 50 cats and a house that smells of ammonia, stale cabbage and burnt tapioca pudding. Finally we had Humpty, a rotund character. I’m not sure we’d be allowed Humpty as a toy today because the program makers could get accused of being fatist. It’s because of Play School that I developed an irrational fear of feet. Some middle aged woman presenter did a sketch on feet. Her feet were minging, I mean disgusting gnarly bunioned beasts. At least that’s how they looked to my 5 year old eyes. I’ve never really recovered and I’m wondering whom I could sue?

Everyday on Play School we were invited to look behind a window of the house and a story would emerge from the image that came slowly into focus.

Play School and its window stories are similar to living here in Jolly Harbour. Behind each of our condo doors lies a novella in itself. Dickens would have had a field day and if I had any sort of self discipline I should sit down and type a weekly saga of events. Scrooge was positively Mr Fezziwig compared to some of the miserable shites who live around here in the winter.*

Antigua is a rich vibrant explosion of colour and people. Jolly Harbour? Not so much at times. The comradery experienced during our hurricane season seems to have died a death. Our resident tourists have returned; old scores, petty resentments, bitching niggles and gripes resurface for their annual airing. It can be a dangerous place to live for the idle handed. It can be very easy to fall down that rabbit hole and never escape. I can now understand why some ex-pats throw themselves towards charitable deeds; it staves off the temptation to live on an existence of gossip and backstabbing. I’m not saying that Antiguans aren’t prone to a good old gossip. 10 minutes under the tamarind tree at our local beach will give you an intimate insight into those who are no better than they ought to be, but the ex-pats seem to take it to a whole new level. Some of the resentments people hold against each other can last 20 years or more, or so it seems and all because someone’s patio is one third of a tile bigger than they think it should be. A prime example is Brun-fucking-Hilda. Short version of who she is: A lady who unofficially looks after a few villas in our street for some elderly Swiss homeowners. She has zero social skills and she screams at contractors, tourists and other homeowners as if she owns the whole damn village. One of her particular pet hatreds, of which she has many, is people parking on the driveways of the empty villas. For 7 months of the year there are approximately 4 fully occupied houses in our cul-de-sac and the rest of the time we have renters drifting in and out. So naturally builders and contractors park in any available space. It’s not the crime of the fucking century. It’s not like the parked cars are permanent fixtures – unlike one homeowner who took it upon himself to build a doorway through to his neighbour’s balcony just because he felt like having an extension to his property – parking a car temporarily is not the same as commandeering someone’s balcony as their own. There again, if that’d been our house, and someone wanted to have through access to our balcony and bedroom I’m pretty certain that we’re both in agreement on this, John and I would just have taken to having sex on the balcony or making sure we did our anal ablutions in full view.  They’d brick up any doorway pretty damn quick, unless they’re a very special type of pervert of course. Anyway, Brun-fucking-Hilda decided she’d had enough of the riffraff on the unused drive so she annexed it off with another of our neighbour’s plants and tied together scratty pieces of string in order to establish border rights. NO ONE WAS FUCKING THERE! NO ONE HAD BEEN THERE FOR MONTHS! When confronted by us regarding her evil plan she waffled that she couldn’t understand English and scuttled off back to her home in the hills. We haven’t seen her since. The actual homeowners are lovely and on return were horrified to learn their home had been looked after by someone that clearly embraces psychopathic tendencies. Peace reigns supreme in our little corner of paradise. I can’t say the same for the rest of Jolly Harbour. The residents association is battling the same old battles but the long-term residents just plod on with life knowing that in 4 months time or less, everyone will pootle off home again.

Thankfully The Yuletide Spirit does indeed live amongst us yet. We had a group of Barbudan evacuees living down the street following the devastation on their island. When we asked one of the beautiful little girls how things looked after they’d been over for a weekend to assess the damage, she just in a matter-of-fact way pulled her tiny finger across her throat in a resigned gesture; all gone, nothing left of their beautiful family home. Later that day we saw Hayley and her friends again. Their energy and zest for life is infectious. They bounced down the street to fuss Holly and Fred. The girls found us hunting out our Christmas decorations and dived into the boxes and promptly decorated our house from top to bottom. We had no tree at this point and we told the girls we’d be back in a few hours with a tree. Much excitement greeted the tree. Once again they set about adorning our plastic symbol of winter evergreen beautifully. We were taught a Calypso Christmas Song and our tiny home was ringing with laughter, noise and joy. John was forced to learn to play ‘How Will Santa Get Here’ on his guitar. The fact he couldn’t play  it perfectly within 5 minutes caused hysterics amongst the girls. Eventually we were all jumping around the house singing.

Our home calmed down to a dull roar and Hayley asked where are our presents? I told her that we don’t buy presents for each other anymore as we have everything we want and need in life. The girls were not happy about this at all and I was chupsed severely. They left our house deep in discussion. About half an hour later they returned with tiny gift-wrapped packages. They placed these parcels solemnly around the tree and called John in from outside where he was fixing something on Mahalo. He was instructed to open these shiny packages. In each gift was a small toy, a bangle, some crayons. Each girl had taken one of their last remaining precious possessions and wrapped them carefully for their neighbour because they were sad that he wasn’t going to be visited by Santa.

 That my friends, is Christmas.

 Have a good one, however you choose to celebrate.

 *If you haven’t read any Dickens you must do so, immediately. Put him on your bucket list and if you don’t at least try, fuck off you miserable fucker (all those literature/ language lectures and seminars were not wasted on me, oh no!)

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The Fred, The Mongoose and The No-Fish

Freddyboo

My Fred is not a ‘thick bastard’ as John describes him. Ok so he walked into a rock because he was staring at a mongoose. That doesn’t make him stupid that makes him very sensible because those mongooses are shifty little beasts. I stand with Fred on that one. Mongoose have a look in their eyes similar to the look I see in the face of a Jehovah’s Witness heading towards me with a copy of ‘Watchtower’. In my opinion Fred is far from stupid, he’s an example of Darwin’s theory; he has adapted to his environment and survived. Fred may be timid when it comes to mongoose, boat lines, bangy-bats and his own shadow, but I think this is a genetic timidity, one which I’ve observed in a lot of the Antiguan dogs. Fred is still the most kind, gentle and loving little dog we’ve ever had in our family. It’s almost a shame that we cut his balls off so he can’t pass on those street smarts to the next generation, but Antigua has enough problems with strays without my Freddy’s genes out there too. John did not get a verbal blasting for slating the lovely Fred because I am a reasonably tolerant person. I do shriek like a banshee when someone comes steaming through the harbour at over five knots because that sends Mahalo bucking around on her mooring lines like a donkey with a chilli up its arse but I’ve never killed anyone because of it. In fact I’ve never knowingly killed anyone. There are a couple of males in Yorkshire who carry the psychological and physical scars from having a broken nose. In my defence one twanged my bra strap when I was twelve and he got both barrels of my fury – yeh yeh I know, me in a bra at twelve. I think I had the theory that if you build the scaffolding around them, they will come. I’m still waiting. Still, at least I won’t get chaffing on my shins from my nipples when I’m seventy. Oh, and the other guy who got a broken nose called me a prick-tease. Of all the names I could be called that one is not remotely apt.  Anyone who has known me over the years knows for a fact that if I said I was going to fuck someone, I did*. Bloody male entitlement, grumble grumble he was lucky to walk away with his gonads still attached.

 

My tolerance is tested differently now. Since throwing open the doors of our small home to guests through Airbnb we’ve met great people – I touched briefly on this in a previous blog. For John, the suggestion to run our house as a part-time small business was not an easy sell but once the accounts showed that ten days of bookings pays for a whole month’s community charge and utilities he was swayed to my way of thinking. The only inconvenience we could envisage was that John wouldn’t be able to walk around the house with his love tackle hanging out once it got to rum o’clock and his one man Pink Floyd axe solos would need to be turned down a little – I don’t mind the mad axe solos, it’s the one hundredth attempt at that ONE phrase in ‘Purple Haze’ that he just can’t get which is slowly murdering my love for Hendrix. So in rolled the guests. Some required a little more work than others. We met the incredibly adventurous Holly-human, Simon-human, Daisy-baby (I’m assured Daisy is human just in miniature form but its such a long time since I’ve been around babies that I had to be reminded) and Scrump-dog. This vibrant family unit are sailing their way around the world and they have been drifting in and out of our lives for the last few months, now they’re finally on the next stage of their voyage. We’ve had vacationers from Harlem, Chelsea and her partner Taj – wide eyed energetic young people who I am absolutely sure will make a difference to this planet. We met with Hary from Berlin, a first time sailor who kept coming back to walk the dogs even after he’d left to join his boat! We had Billy from Virginia who works as a journalist in Canada. We spent too many nights sitting up talking with Billy. We didn’t quite put the world to rights but we did wonders for the distillery’s profits here on the island. We had part of The Barmy Army pass through in a frenzy of perfume and tutu skirts. Kosta from Vancouver who was a real dark horse, that’s not true, Kosta is far from dark as his feet paid testament to when they got sautéed the first day he was here. Kosta is originally from Russia but moved to Canada for a new life, he decided to learn how to sail and now he competes on serious big-girl&boy racing yachts, Awe inspiring in the truest sense of the phrase. Many of our guests were absorbed into our un-scheduled life and we hope that no one has required therapy once they have returned home. So tolerance? Why? Well there’s always a real chance when you throw open the doors to your own home that you’ll get a real bunny-boiling psycho-troll rolling through the door. We’ve been reasonably lucky on that score, we’ve never actually told anyone to fuck off, yet. No the risk is that someone will show up with political and religious views that are polar opposite to our own. We thought we’d got away with it, until last week. We took an out of season booking – two people from Louisiana – last minute through some friends of ours. I had to set aside my own prejudice and allow them in with a completely open mind. My prejudice – the same as all prejudices – stemmed from ignorance. My only experience of people from Louisiana and the deep south of The USA to this point in life has been Fox News, commercials for NASCAR, ‘Deliverance’ and the Donald Trump supporters that online news outlets vomit at me via the Internet. For the first few nights we were able to stay clear of politics, religion and The Confederate history of The USofA. We enlisted midweek back up by way of inviting some friends over for a dinner party. It was touch and go for a while when the subject of Vietnam came up but me being the awesome host that I am, I timed my cheesecake entrance to perfection. We dodged controversial bullets incredibly well. I nearly took a few rounds when I suggested that health care free at the point of delivery works well in The UK, I got a full frontal assault of eye-daggers that said, “Why don’t you just invite the Commies to come over to eat our first born?” The final night arrived and I was feeling thoroughly smug, I’d begun to think that I’d grown as a person – in the past I’d have poked angry people just to watch them turn purple and foam at the mouth in illogical rage. And then it happened John went and asked the big no-no, the one thing you never ask anyone who has been dropping hints all week that their faith drives them and their church is clearly a huge comfort and focus in their lives back in The USA. John asked our guests WHY they believe in God. I headed for the sink to wash up and afterwards grabbed a large rum and coke and tried to go fetal in the corner of the sofa. I think the debate rumbled on for three hours. I do know at one point I muttered that I simply don’t care and if there is a God why’s s/he not doing something about all the shit in the world right now. That was ignored, so I put some Peter Gabriel music on as a distraction and threw some more rum down the hatch. My choice of satanic music had a Noriega effect on them and they retired to bed. We parted on good terms the following morning, so much so that they left a John a gift. John is now the proud owner of a Kindle Fire with a whole host of books installed which ‘prove’ scientifically why creation is true, not just true because our guests choose to believe its true and that makes more sense to me, I’ll accept that explanation one hundred percent, if faith gives them joy and meaning to their life I would never be the person to tell them they’re wrong, but when someone says they have mathematical, empirical data which proves once and for all that some big assed hairy bloke in the sky did it all, forgive me if I raise an eyebrow of extreme skepticism. I look forward to John’s assessment of these great works of science. Thankfully I won’t be here when he’s reading his way through all this evidence because I’ll be taking a short holiday in The UK. The UK no longer feels like home, it’s now a place I see on TV – sadly too often for the wrong reasons recently – it feels remote. It’s a place I visit to see friends and family. I know I’m not Antiguan either, I have no right to claim that title right now, if ever. I suppose that makes me a Trish, a more tolerant Trish. I’ve even stopped screaming at the fishing rod when once again we return home from sailing with no fish. I’ll claim tolerance**, it might not be a nationality but I sure as shit believe it should be an ideology, and that can never be a bad thing.

 

*Mr Trish is the only recipient these days.

**Tolerance is not the same as apathy, I will never be apathetic. My blood is too hot to allow apathy to slime it’s treacherous tendrils around my soul. 

Choose Your Bubble Carefully.

IMG_1578

 

I knew it would happen at some point. No I haven’t been placed on Trump’s travel ban list, although I’m sure that I’ll be on a list of undesirables somewhere on the planet if only because of my tattoos. Apparently because of my choice to have talented artists draw beautiful designs on my body I am:

  1. Uneducated
  2. Deaf
  3. Unemployable
  4. Capable of ripping unborn babies from the womb and burning them in sacrificial rituals.

 Oh ok, the fourth one may be an exaggeration but given the facial ticks and Tourette’s type comments elicited from some observers of my body art I’m quite sure that’s what some people think when they see me. I’ve had comments ranging from “Urgh, what’s she going to look like when she’s older?” to “I hate being served by people with tattoos, they’re just so dirty” and one very extreme reaction to my body art was at a village community meeting back in The UK when someone actually moved their chair away from me because clearly my art work is contagious. Just to educate you non-tattooed people out there, no they’re not contagious but petty minded ignorance is. I may not have been born with tattoos but I was born with thick skin and I bear detractors comments and actions rather well. The second comment I mentioned was spoken behind my back when at an ATM. It was a hot day in my old home town so I had on a t-shirt and I was proudly wearing my body art for all to see; I even think I may not have had on a bra so I was committing a further outrage by having both my nipples and their piercings clearly visible through the thin cotton – shock gasp horror, women have nipples ARGGGGHHHHH. Anyway, the hag faced bitch troll had obviously said those comments so that I could hear because she continued her rant about people with body art generally. I got my money, turned around and looked her square in the face and said, “Yeh well love, some people might think you’re too old to be wearing that outfit it’s just most people are too polite to say anything” I know, I was as bad as the bitch troll from hell but fuck it, sometimes the ‘be nice’ button in my head is on a well-earned holiday.

 So what has finally happened? Homesickness, that’s what has happened and it has crept in stealthily over the last week or so. Yeh yeh I know Antigua is home now and I’ve bleated on long enough to all in ear shot about how utterly fabulous it is here, and it is. I’m not sick for things back in The UK. I can live without decent cheese (we do get cheese here, good stuff too but you need a mortgage to buy it). I can exist quite merrily without British television and I can even tolerate the US channels we get here with their endless sodding adverts catering to viewers who have the attention span of a hyperactive squirrel. The adverts do make me wonder if The USA is a nation of pile suffering dodgy bowel victims who have psoriasis and/or at some point have been butchered when having trans-vaginal mesh implants. I didn’t even know what a trans-vaginal mesh was until I Googled it. There are some things that just can’t be unseen.

I don’t miss the Britishness of life and we could talk all day about what is Britishness anyway. If you were to go by some people here Britishness seems to be endless rounds of G&T evenings sitting around slagging off how shit everything is here (I’ve been to one or two of those sort of gatherings) and how they really should do things like they do back in The UK. I understand finally now what Jamaica Kincaid* meant when she called out on people who came to Antigua thirty plus years ago. She said it was because English people had no opportunity to feel superior on the planet now the Empire was dead so they bought properties here on Antigua because it is a corner of the world where they can still feel superior. I know I’m an Englander too but fuck me backwards with a wet kipper, I hope to hell I am NEVER like some of the Englishers I’ve met here over the last few months. A prime example of one such wank stain was heard by John when he was pulling down the pier outside our house. A neighbour leaned over his balcony a few doors down and told John he should get a black guy to do that because apparently ‘they cope with it better than us’. There we have it folks, insidious twatting bollocking racism in all it’s glory. It might seem an innocent enough statement to some people, but behind it was generations of the ‘Them and Us’ mentality. Mr Britisher might like to remember that historically The Antiguans’ ancestors didn’t actually volunteer to come here and work in the sweltering sun all day. Black or white, sweat is the same colour. I even met a woman who’s been coming here from The UK for over ten years,  she holidays in the same hotel, and for the last ten years has told everyone within range how much she’s paid for her three weeks, how Antigua is a shit place and how the people are horrible. Why come? No-one is holding a gun to her head every time she waltzes into a travel agency. She is not unusual in her attitude either, on our first visit to Antigua we were greeted by a woman on the beach who announced that her an her husband had been coming here for years and it’s all a bit shit really, from immigration right through to customer service and proceeded to tell me how lovely it is in Gloucestershire, where she lives. I simply stated “Fred and Rose West loved Gloucestershire too”. She quickly left our company and didn’t bother trying to make eye contact for the rest of the holiday, RESULT! My point? There are good and not good people all over the planet so don’t go slagging off a country in which you are a guest**. Also remember, as a guest you have the luxury of choice, you chose to visit here, you may even have set up a home here but unlike many who were born here you have the privilege to leave at any time. This is your bubble of choice, it might not be a perfect bubble, but where is?

 I miss friends and some family. I’ve been a snotting dribbling mess since my daughter visited. She’s gone now and it hit me how much I miss not being a bus or train ride away from both my son and my daughter. They’re both cool people to be around and I miss that. I was getting over my misery of Caitlin leaving when I received a letter from my Women’s Institute friends and it set me off again. So if you visit Antigua and there’s a tall, tattooed dribbling mess on the beach, it’s me. No change from when I lived in the UK some may think but I have a tan now.

That’s not to say I’ve not made new friends, of course I have. Our Airbnb room has provided us with so much more than a financial income. One simple run to the airport with a guest resulted in being paid in rum, which John exchanged for about one hundred foot of rope. I love it when currency isn’t just dollar bills.

We’ve met some amazing people from all over this planet and at some point I’ll write a bit about that, but only the nice ones. So if any past guests are reading this and you don’t get a mention in the future that means you were a twat (just joking?)

 The homesickness will pass and I’ve no doubt when I have a trip back to The UK I’ll feel homesick for Antigua, my little bubble of choice.

*Thank you Katarina for the loan of ‘A Small Place’

** Thank you to Dorothy for keeping me grounded and reminding us when needed that we are guests.

Thank Goodness for Dogs

jen

Thank Goodness for Dogs.

(Not so much praise for irresponsible abusive fucking retard humans who can’t be bothered to act with a shred of decency)

Facebook and I have always had a strange relationship. I love that I get to stalk fellow humans and judge them based on their posts. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this behaviour and if anyone reading this wishes to reciprocate my conduct that’s fine, fill your boots, have a ball, I welcome it, BRING IT ON BABY because I am my own worst critic and no matter how pathetic, sad, stupid or insignificant someone else thinks I am, I think of myself in far worse terms than anyone else ever could. Saying that, I also think I’m amazing, fabulous, gorgeous, scintillating, scandalous and exotic too. My hugely exaggerated sense of self is neutralized by my self-loathing, so fret not, I’m not about to arm myself with guns and shoot the shit out of a shopping mall. Although maybe I might, I’m not exactly sure of the gun laws here in Antigua, whatever they are, they can’t be as fucked up as the US. There again given the current political climate in The USA, I think access to guns by socially rejected teens, unsupervised children, the rabidly unhinged and the police is the least of that country’s worries right now.

I had very little knowledge or experience of US politics beyond the UK’s mainstream media outlets prior to my move to Antigua. After about four weeks of a constant bullshit barrage from our cable TV here I started to get a clear idea of how The US political system works. In brief, it’s just as fucked up as The UK’s and misinformation fed to the electorate swells nationalism, racism and ignorance. The posts that I’ve seen on Facebook over the last twelve months, some from whom I considered friends has shocked even me. I’m not sorry to say some of these people have been deleted and blocked out of my Facebook sphere (yeh Trish stick it to em good, that’ll show em, or not). A friend of mine said that the only way to deal with racism, sexism and downright ignorance is to educate and I go along with that to a certain degree, but you can’t educate a rotting corpse, spend too long around that level of stench and some of it rubs off on you and infects your ability to empathise. It does me anyway.

 …..AND BREATH IN BREATH OUT, BREATH IN BREATH OUT. REPEAT UNTIL THE RAGE PASSES.

 Meanwhile, back in the real world here in the bubble of Antigua the struggle goes on. Oh shut up with the “what the fuck do you know about struggle you lucky bitch, drinking rum and enjoying the sunshine whilst the rest of us in the northern hemisphere are freezing our doo-dahs off?” I mean the struggle against an endless stream of unwanted pups and uncared for adult dogs here in Antigua. John and I were pootling along in our daily life. We set out with purpose to hunt and gather a fly screen for the door, some cream cheese for a carrot cake and to find a mirror for the guest bedroom (It’s not all rock ‘n’ roll or drinking dark and stormies from a floating bar in a turquoise sea you know). So, We came back with a dog. A dog, yes, a dog, a three month old brindle ridgeback cross puppy. What the hell could we do with a half dead tiny scrap of a pup we found wandering in and out of the traffic in a village called Jennings. Of course the rehoming centre was full. So being the type of humans we are, we contacted Dogs and Cats of Antigua (namely Joy Farrell) and asked her for help. Eventually we agreed to foster once we’d got this wee thing to a vet, established what sort of nasty diseases we might be dealing with, treated her with medication, food, water and love, all with the view to finding her a nice new permanent home. We got her sorted out with the wonderful help of the vets at The Ark Vet’s Centre in St John’s and brought her home to meet Holly and Fred. Neither of whom was impressed at all. Holly took one look at her, growled and sulked off into a corner. Fred sniffed her, decided that this little pup was naturally Satan incarnate, whimpered and legged it into his corner*. So, we ended up with Jen, Jen the Jennings puppy. We were unsure whether she’d survive the night, but she did and as is the way of puppies, she bounced back to health within forty eight hours. So here we are, we have a tiny house with two humans, two adult dogs and one tiny screaming puppy, no secure gallery and no yard. Piss and poo time is bad enough already without throwing an un-housetrained puppy into the mix. Shit. Oh shit shite bugger damn. I know John and I wondered what we’d taken on, especially with the four in the morning wake up yowls. We’re too old for babies and poor old Holly certainly is. The cavalry arrived to our help, Facebook, the enemy, the lurker, the misinformation demon itself. On the occasions Facebook works, it works so well. Dogs and Cats of Antigua group might not have a physical location, but my gods it comes up with a plan of action. It’s exactly like a dog howl. It starts with one message and a cute photo of a little abandoned and pup and then BAM! A whole load of other people continue the howl and before you know it there’s an adoption agency in the US and/or Canada willing and able to find a home for these pathetic little mites.

 Two weeks on and little Jen is flying off on Saturday to a new home in New Jersey. Joy, Lynda and Jo from Dogs and Cats of Antigua, Lauren in the USA combined with FOWA Rescue over there in New Jersey, Dr Francis at The Ark and Dr Edwards the Government vet here on Antigua have all been instrumental in getting Jen away from her miserable start in life and the chance to find yet more humans who give a damn about those on this planet who have no voice. I was told that John and I have done a great thing for Jen, but I replied that only a complete bastard wouldn’t. On the day we stopped to pick up Jen from the road another lovely human, Susie stopped as well, so whatever Jen’s future she had two people willing to stop that day and that’s all it takes, one human at a time helping one of the voiceless at a time. For many dogs here it’s their only chance of a safe loving future, to get off island. There are too many strays plus too many un-spayed/neutered dogs and these dogs pop out a seemingly endless stream of new life for which there are not enough homes. Without the support of local people,people living here, holidaymakers and people travelling to and from Antigua regularly, these dogs would stand no chance at all. I know cats and {insert animal welfare issue of your choice} have the same problems, I know humans with mental and physical disabilities need help, I know those humans facing poverty need assistance, I know pretty much every human on the planet with the exception of the one percent are having a hard time right now,  but I’m writing about my experience with a dog because at that time in that space where I found Jen, she needed help and she got it.

Now I’m sitting typing this with a lump in my throat and a few salty tears and snot dripping down my face at the prospect of waving goodbye to Jen, but shag me backwards with a wet kipper, if us privileged humans can’t do something kind once in a while, well we really are all fucked as a species. So please think on, just be kind. Kindness doesn’t need to cost a shed load of money. Ok, lesson over, be about your day peoples.

 BE KIND, OK?

*Fred has accepted Jen into the pack. They spend many hours a day play fighting. He’s a real Daddy dog, a gentle lovely soul, but Holly? No, not so much. I think her days of being a parent are long gone, even Grand parenting is not on her agenda.

….So, Who The Hell Do You Think You Are?

Ultz Fitzosmond

 

About a decade ago spurred on by the BBC genealogy programme ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ I was curious to find out who the hell I am.

Without sounding melodramatic, oh sod it, who am I kidding, I AM melodramatic and what’s language for if not to add a little sparkle to life. Who was it said that “you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter”? That seems like a damn good motto to me. Ahem, I embarked on a journey of self discovery in an earnest attempt to truly understand who I am (thats a load of bollocks of course but it gives the piece a sense of the drama, peril and suspense).

So, to begin. I didn’t have much of an idea about any of my family beyond the immediate two generations I’d grown up with. I certainly didn’t have a clue about my Father’s side of the genetic pool, as he and his eclectic bunch of petty criminals and grubby family sheep were a bit of mystery to me, at least beyond the horror stories told to me by the ever vindictive and psychotic maternal Grandmother (no really I am over it, honest, no lasting psychological issues AT ALL, twitch blink twitch).

I began by signing up to Ancestry.com, FindmyPast.com and some other Genealogy websites. I was armed with my mother’s maiden name, my maternal Grandmother’s maiden name, my paternal Grandmother’s maiden name and a few anecdotal tales of who shagged whom and who may or may not have been a result of these unions. I am an only child so I had no siblings to join in with the cause; apparently one was enough for both my Mum and Dad. Mum and Dad weren’t compatible, for many reasons, but I think the biggest reason as I discovered in later life was that Dad was quite decidedly and spectacularly gay. Even if he’d not been a dithering sod with an overbearing mother I reckon their marriage would have come unstuck sooner or later. Anyway…….

What have I uncovered? Well, apart from solving the mystery of who my maternal Grandmother’s biological father was and generations of abject poverty, a fight for survival in Stockton on Tees and York’s slums, it has all been very pedestrian. For many generations my ancestors were born, fucked, married (more often than not they didn’t bother with anything so ‘respectable’ as marriage so by having my son when unmarried I was ecstatic to know I was continuing a well trodden family tradition), worked in low paid unskilled employment, went to prison and/or reform school and ultimately died in the workhouse.

My maternal Grandfather’s family are descended from the very first Quakers; non-conformists with a tradition of pacifism and social reform. Yeh, I can be happy with that. Whilst I’m not a God botherer in any shape or form I can accept their key philosophies – don’t be a shit to people and be the voice for the voiceless. So far not a bad set of genes to carry.

The Grandmother was brought up thinking her Grandmother was her biological Mum, and that her Mum was her sister, which is all very soap opera. A lovely woman (blood relative, some sort of cousin) contacted me with an album of photographs of Grandmother’s side of the family and she informed me that the man Grandmother thought was her Step-Father, was actually her real Father. It was a well-known fact within her side of the family but was only spoken about in hushed tones in dark corners. What happened was that a married man named Samuel Henderson was having an affair with GM’s Mum whilst she was his housekeeper. She got pregnant several times as was the way of things. Grandmother was born and kept in the family because her Uncles refused to give her away. However two more children were born out of this liaison a few years later. One who died at birth and the other adopted. GM’s Mum eventually married the man whom she’d been having an affair with following his wife’s death. I have no idea how she died but given the amount of pregnancies and live births that poor woman had I wouldn’t be surprised if she wasn’t just plain knackered! GM’s Mum went on to have a long and happy marriage with this man and had many children with him. When Grandmother discovered the truth of who her Mum actually was, she never liked the man who she thought to be her Stepfather and Grandmother went to her grave a bitter and twisted woman who resented love in any form. Sadly, this isn’t an unusual family story, it’s pathetically typical of a fucked up society where morals were twisted in favour of saving family reputations.

My Father’s family? Well, where can I start? My paternal Grandfather was a violent old drunk, wife beater and work-shy bastard. He was the Great Grandson of an Irish immigrant who I can only assume was starved out of Ireland during the Irish Genocide of the 19th Century. My GF married my Nana Violet (yet another nasty little woman who wore resentment and bitterness like a wool spun floor length cloak). Somehow this marriage resulted in four live births and one set of stillborn twins. Both Grandparents are now dead as are most of their children, my Dad included.

The Irish side of the family was gutter poor. They were laborers in Stockton-on- Tees ironworks. From census returns it seems they moved from hovel to hovel and two of the children were sent to Catholic Reform School after being convicted of scrap metal theft. I cannot even begin to imagine that level of deprivation. My Great Great Grandmother was born Christiana Cook, she hooked up with the illiterate Irishman James Tague and had several children with him. I have the deepest admiration for this woman. She saw all of her children survive to adulthood. From newspaper records I found she was subject to two abusive husbands/partners, was beaten to the point of death by one of her alcoholic sons and she herself was convicted of metal theft; but what she did do was keep all of her family out of the workhouse. She did what she needed to do in order to survive. Sadly Christiana Cook/Tague/Maroney died in the Workhouse from TB shortly after her 50th birthday. I didn’t know this woman, and I should imagine she was a fearsome, hard drinking, tough talking, aggressive lioness of a woman but I wish I could say thank you to her for surviving. Without her tenacious, bloody-minded will to endure I would not be here.

Nana Violet’s family was unremarkable at first glance and surprisingly respectable. Her Father and paternal Grandfather had been builders and publicans. So why when it seemed there was a certain amount of inheritance attached to these men did Nana Violet end up a piss poor bitter woman alienated from most of her family by the end of her life? Well! She went and did that thing, she only bloody well went and had a baby without being married and to compound the family shame? This good protestant girl went on to marry a piss-head unskilled hardly ever employed Catholic and even worse, the descendant of an Irish immigrant. I mean, for fuck’s sake, she might as well have shagged a horse in the middle of Stockton High Street; the shame would probably have been more bearable for the family.

Further up the tree of my Nana Violet, through a paternal Grandmother, I hit on an interesting ancestor, who led me back 32 generations. After more double-checking than I care to think about, it transpires that I’m a direct descendant of a 10th Century Anglo-Danish Viking Warrior named Ultz FitzOsmond. I have no idea what sort of person he was but I’m sure I will discover he was a big old murdering twat who ate live puppies for breakfast. Nothing would surprise me anymore.

Incidentally, more often than not family history research hits many cul-de-sacs. I spend a lot of time pouring over archives, microfiche, old newspapers, online directories and ordering certificates on the off chance a hunch is right and I am indeed sniffing along the correct branch of the family tree. I’ve even had John drive me to Stockton-On-Tees just to trace old maps and archives on the off chance it might turn up a missing link (no comments please).

I’m not sure what I was hoping to find. Maybe some clue as to why, who, what and how I am. I suppose what a lot of us genealogy types are looking for is some long lost hidden treasure or landed gentry title, which has lain in a dusty vault somewhere waiting to be discovered. Although if I did find some great big mansion with my name on it, I think as act of rebellion I’d give it to a homeless charity to turn into a hostel, not only because that’s a nice thing to do, but also it’d really piss off the neighbours. That’s always been a dream of mine, to win the lottery, buy a shit load of houses near the NIMBYs (Not in my back yard type arseholes) in this village and convert them into some sort of assisted living accommodation for people who really need it. Several years ago some of the ‘We Go to Church Every Week You Know’ bastards got all up in arms because there was the off-chance some social housing may be built near their houses and they started a protest group. I threw my opinion into the mix and said I thought they should convert the local pub into a hostel; there wasn’t (and still isn’t) ANY emergency accommodation locally. Naturally their Christianity didn’t extend beyond the church walls. The pub is a still a pub and no social or affordable housing was built.

Right, so back to my family. What have I learned?

I’ve learned that somewhat like Fred the dog we are both a  mongrel mix of many sets of genes and influences but we are both survivors. I have the ginger haired temperament of a viking warrior, I can drink whisky with the best of them and I genuinely do enjoy a pint of stout, I’ve a strong sense of social justice and a dramatic campness that any drag queen would be proud of. Fred is a laid back West Indian who lets little bother him and loves life passionately.  We are both the product of our ancestors but it has little bearing on who we are now. I am who I am because of where I am, the people I’ve met during my lifetime (so far) in the same way Fred is the product of love, a full belly and warm bed. What more is there to know, and ultimately, who cares?

 

But… I can still dream of the unclaimed estate.

 

And I will continue researching.

Bah Humbug.

ShoppingChristmas

 

There are many things which I love about my homeland at this time of year. I love bright crisp mornings. I love the stunning colours which autumn and early winter brings to the Northumberland countryside. I love snuggling up by the log fire and watching old black and white films. I even love the wild cold easterly winds which whip the sea into a cauldron of fury building to a crescendo of percussive crashing waves against the dunes. I still get a secret thrill when writing my Christmas shopping list and planning all the lovely recipes that I’ll attempt this year. In my head I’ll be as calm as Nigella, blissfully whipping up amazing treats (in reality the kitchen will look like a bomb site and the dogs will be cowering in their beds after been yelled at to “FUCK OFF OUT OF THE KITCHEN YOU LITTLE TWATS”). MY attempts at arts and crafts will result in the living room carpet looking like a three year has run amok with a glue gun and glitter and of course I’ll not post any card until the very last posting date.

However…….

For the last three years I’ve returned home from Antigua straight in the heart of the consumer frenzy which is a UK Christmas.  I am never prepared for the shear tooth curling cringe inducing madness which seems to take hold of people at this time of year. Being flown from paradise on a warm Saturday evening and landing into a dismal stale piss smelling Gatwick at stupid o clock on an early Sunday morning is never going to be my favourite day of the year. Add to this the hysterical advertising screens all screaming “Buy our shit, buy our shit, because buying this piece of shit for your friends and relatives means you love them because you spent half your yearly salary on buying this piece of shit”. Into this mix throw a three hour train journey up north accompanied by refugees from the west coast mainline which was closed due to the epic floods, so the usually crowded Edinburgh service was filled to bursting. Some of these fellow travellers had the table manners of rabid warthogs and slapped their lips and gums around a truckload of stinking food. What dregs of humanity I had left gradually ebbed away and as we left the train and walked past the offenders I actually heard myself say, out loud, “I hope they get fucking mugged in Edinburgh”. After this was the taxi drive from station to home which just about finished me off; we pulled up to a traffic light and in a shop doorway was a huge semi-solid human shit. Welcome home Trish.

*Sigh*

Christmas in Antigua, well certainly amongst the people I know there, is not all about how much you can spend, it’s about being with family and/or friends, sprucing up the house with bright colours, maybe get some new curtains and cushions and FOOD! Lots and lots of food. My friend Kenya’s face comes alive just at the mention of the Christmas feast. He once spent nearly half an hour describing how full his belly will be and the secret to eating his body weight is to not drink any juice during the gorging.  I cannot wait until I get to experience a Caribbean Christmas.

In the meantime I’m stuck in the consumer feeding frenzy. I by-passed/chickened out of going into Newcastle for two days by ordering a lot of stuff online but yesterday I had to admit defeat and head into town for those little things that I could try and make, but honestly, by the time I’d burned the chocolate and wrecked a pan attempting to make a sugar syrup it would be easier and less stressful to just get on a bus, join the crowds and go grab a load of three for two offers.

Famous last words of course! It’s never that simple.

I admit I may not have been in the best shape emotionally or psychologically. Earlier that morning I’d splodged through ankle deep mud with the dogs. The dogs who had been collected from the boarding kennels, pampered, bathed, cuddled, fed and brushed and who promptly rolled in fox shit the minute my back was turned when slurping through a flooded hedgerow. Both disgusting stinking beasts were dumped in the river and dragged home on the doggy walk of shame on tight leashes. The instant I stepped off the bus in Newcastle I knew it was going to be a drama. It was two in the afternoon and already the bus station had pissed morons vomming up in a corner. Deep joy. Then there’s the ordeal by old biddies with shopping trolleys in Marks and Spencer. If a scientist ever wants to observe random object movement, just watch these old twats with their trolleys/weapons. Those shrivelled old sods are lethal; they have no logic behind where they’re going to go next, they are purely random creatures of evil ankle crushing intent. After being unimpressed by anything in any shop whatsoever I sat down for a few minutes to try and muster some enthusiasm.  I knew it wasn’t going well when the dulcet tones of the school children singing carols in Eldon Square didn’t fill me with Christmas joy; I just wanted to shout “FUCK OFF YOU ANNOYING SMALL PEOPLE YOURE NOT CUTE” Yeh, not my finest internal dialogue! The miserable faces of other shoppers didn’t lift my mood either. I’m not used to this disengaged way of shopping. Everyone walking around in their own little bubble, walking fast, with purpose no deviation from the plan, got to buy, got to buy, need to go this way NOW and screw you if you’re in my path. I was still in Antiguan mode and I love that in Antigua a conversation can start anywhere with anyone for no reason, just the fact you’re in the same place at the same time is enough reason to talk to someone. Any trip out for shopping can take HOURS because no-one’s in a hurry and I love love that. Newcastle? Not a fucking chance!

I did eventually find a few things which weren’t A) Over priced crap B) Cheesy bollocks which only sells at Christmas because everyone’s desperate to shift the crap they can’t sell any other time of year so they stick glitter and a bell on it.

And talking about crap which only sells at Christmas, do people really buy special bedding just for this time of year? Are your visitors going to storm out in a fit of pique because their pillows don’t have little holly leaves embroidered on them? If your friends and relatives are those sorts of people, fuck ‘em. They’re morons.

I knew it was time to get out of Dodge when I walked past a tragic beardy hipster in overly tight budgied trousers and all I wanted to do was cut that twattily pretentious mess right off his face.

Yeh, I know, that was a message from the universe to go home. It’s not worth doing time for that.

 

Sixteen Years at Number Two.

Home

No, I’m not a member of a dodgy girl/middle aged woman band who hasn’t achieved top of the chart success.

I have never had ambitions to conquer the world of music with my cat strangling vocal range. ‘Wor Cheryl I am not.

The title of this piece refers to the sixteen years that I’ve lived in this house. The house from where I’m typing these words. The house which is now under offer from a delightful couple and I’m sure number two will wrap its walls around them, envelop them with warmth and weave it’s magic into their life tapestry as much as it has mine.  The house where my husband and I set up home for the first time and the house where I’ve had some of the best sex in my entire life. Seriously, anyone who says they’re not really sexual hasn’t had an out of body orgasm, the sort of sex where you think there’s no point in living anymore, the type of sex where the bed breaks and the neighbours start hoovering to cover up the symphony of passion coming through the walls and floorboards, the sort of sex where a few days after you find yourself sweating and blushing when the flashbacks race across the mind, tantalising and inviting you to give chase for more. *

The house which saw two children grow into reasonably well adjusted adults, the house which has seen eight dogs, four rabbits, four pet rats, four little parrot things and one well stocked aquarium. All of which apart from me, John, the children and two dogs are now dead and buried in the garden. Yes some of the fish were buried because they were just too bloody big to flush away. If anyone digs up our garden they’ll think the people who lived here were either trainee taxidermists or the neighbourhood animal serial killers.

The house at number two has been the scene of parties; shit we threw some good parties here. We were picking pieces of fancy dress out of the garden for years after one particularly debauched night of fun. Then there was the bonfire night parties where so called responsible Scout leaders thought it would be a grand idea to gaffer tape three rockets together just to see what would happen. What happened was that none of the rockets took off at the same time so the contraption shot up about 6 feet in the air and made a sharp turn left over next door’s fence and exploded spectacularly about 3 foot from their guinea pigs. All we heard was a quivering “EEEEEEP”**

My favourite nights were the impromptu gatherings with a fire burning brightly and John playing his guitar until sunrise. Our garden has rocked to the sounds of Pink Floyd, Paul Weller, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Ocean Colour Scene, Peter Gabriel and many others over the years. There’s a beautiful warmth of togetherness when a group of good friends are sitting around the glow of a fire singing ‘Wish You Were Here’ at 3am. I’m not sure our neighbours would agree, fuck em, they were always invited they don’t know what they missed.

Number two isn’t just a house; it’s been so much more than that. I don’t mean that soppy cliché of ‘a house is a home’.  I see her as a changing evolving living creature. She (yes my house is a she) has changed depending on our needs as a family. At one point she was a ski slope for my adventurous daughter. As a young teenager, the daughter decided that her curfew was unacceptable. I had taken to bed early to revise for a Latin exam (don’t even go there, who the fuck takes Latin, pffft it was my pretentious phase). I heard rumblings on the roof, fearing the chimney was falling off or the aliens were finally invading I leapt out of the house just in time to see the teenage daughter in the act of sliding down the roof with roller blades around her neck and rucksack on her back. Naturally I asked the obvious question,

“What the fuck are you doing?”

Her response?

“I’m going rollerblading”

Of course. Stupid me. The escapade ended safely and she was grounded in more ways than one.

Number Two has seen a lot of tears. Tears of joy on the day John’s divorce finally came through after five years of bitterness from the other side. Tears of sadness when my daughter’s pet rat Fidget died on the night before she started school, even though we took the ratty little bastard on holiday to Scotland with us because it was sick and needed antibiotics twice a day. We drove for seven hours with that bloody rat in its box, tended it, nursed it back to health, drove seven hours home again two weeks later and the little fiend dropped down dead about a week later. Tears of anger and frustration every month for many years when income did not match our outgoings and no amount of cutting back seemed to help which led to tears of despair when we were bordering on bankruptcy, but there has been one variety of tears which this house has seen much more of and these are tears of laughter. We laugh so much. No we really do. I know I come across as an angry fierce woman at times, but I’ve tried explaining this to many people I’m not THAT angry, I’m passionate as I’ve said before I am a woman of extremes and I intend to live life extremely well. Number two has absorbed all of our tears and she has comforted us all in turn.

Where we go next is unknown in the short term, but I know that my home is wherever my husband John is. You could plop a sofa in the middle of a field and if he’s sitting there, that’s where I want to be. I know that’s a bit mushy and I make no apologies. I am pretty damn sure that if it wasn’t for him I would have self-destructed a long time ago so I will name drop him relentlessly from now until my last breath.

This little piece is by way of a thank you to Number Two, a way to remember her and celebrate her place in the lives of those who have lived colourfully and spectacularly within her walls over the last sixteen years.

* Sorry John, the world now knows that you’re a love-god.

**Yes they survived and they were unharmed physically. The emotional scars are another matter.