Missing

dementia poem

So – just to bring you up to speed, or remind you, or let you know: my mother died just before Christmas. Don’t worry, you don’t need to feel sorry. She was old and sick and had a poor quality of life despite the best efforts of a number of people; it was her time. She believed in life after death and was ready to go and be with her family again.

I am going to tell you about her dying and her living with dementia Don’t read it if you might get upset.

My mother suffered from advanced dementia, and until last June had been living with us. As her mental condition and physical frailties worsened, it became increasingly apparent she was not safe to stay at home any more so we moved her to a local residential care home where they looked after her far better than I could manage with my intermittent checks between travelling away for work. I took it hard. I felt I failed her because I knew that it would have been the last thing she wanted. Fortunately she didn’t remember that, even though I did, and so she was very happy in her new home. Dementia can have some upsides to it.

When she moved in with us, we built a granny annexe and designed it for wheelchair access. We didn’t make it easy for dementia, for example by making the kitchenette logical. She moved in after Christmas and by Easter we knew something was badly wrong. Finally we had the diagnosis. It was May 2008.

I remember one day, fairly soon after the diagnosis, a mental health worker came to see her, and talked to her in that horrible high-pitched voice about doing some knitting. I had suggested something like that might help her come out of the shell she was constructing.

“Shall we do a little bit of knitting, dear? You’d like that wouldn’t you?”

Well, really! She was suffering from early stages of dementia, not a backwards toddler.

“No,” she said firmly. And set her mouth and turned the television on very loudly.

When the mental health worker told me that my mother was “uncooperative” and “difficult” I laughed at her and said if she had spoken to me in that tone of voice I’d have stuck the knitting needle through her eye. So I got a worse label and we never saw them again because my mother had “chosen not to accept help.” Idiots.

Dementia is a slow disease. We went through phases, and because she had vascular dementia they were often sudden and pronounced. Yesterday she knew how to turn on the television, today she had forgotten. Yesterday she knew all the grandchildren, today perhaps two of them. She wound backwards through her life, shedding people and places as she went; talking about me as a child, then about meeting my father, then about her parents, then settling on a loop asking about the weather every sentence because she remembered nothing more.

“Is it cold out?”

“A bit chilly, nice and sunny though.”

“Oh, that’s nice…is it cold out?”

And so on endlessly. I am not covered in glory here, least of all with my snapping and snarling at her stupid bloody questions.

The December before last she suffered some internal bleeding which wouldn’t stop because she was on warfarin to thin her blood (to reduce further strokes and memory loss). The doctor and I had a long and earnest conversation about which death was worse: bleeding out or stroke. I agreed bleeding out was worse and we took her off the tablets. She declined more rapidly.

Last December she developed problems in her foot associated with her diabetes and poor circulation (no blood thinners!) and eventually had to have a toe amputated. The disruption, operation and subsequent infection all proved too much and her lungs gave out soon after. She had pretty much everything wrong with her: asthma, emphysema, arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes, heart arrhythmia, furred arteries, cataracts, deafness, stomach problems (as a side effect of medication) and, of course, vascular dementia. One of them had to get her in the end, although she eluded them nimbly until well into her 88th year.

Then my mother finally died. She didn’t quite want to, but she couldn’t find the strength any more. She wasn’t afraid or worried, because her horizons were too close for that. I sat with her, holding her hand, and Sigoth and various grandchildren waited with us. One moment she rattled a breath. Then nothing came after it.

We scattered her ashes a couple of weeks ago, on the day after her 88th birthday.

My mother’s death was not what I expected. Of course, my actual mother, the one I remember from childhood, vanished years ago, eaten by dementia almost before we even knew it was there. It crept up on us and her from the shadows. My family didn’t get dementia. We have heart attacks and strokes usually, or general immobility and decay from rheumatoid arthritis. We don’t have brains that melt. At least we didn’t until this time round, so I was unprepared for the symptoms and assumed my mother was being bloody-minded when she wanted me to do basic things like turn on the washing machine, because she had “forgotten how”.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” I told her as she sat there with her list of jobs she wanted me and Sigoth to do on our precious Saturday off work, complaining that we never came to see her.

“She’s doing it to get attention,” I thought. Because sadly that was not an unlikely explanation; my mother was a needy individual only too often.

Of course, during this slow evolution into a new person she was aware of the changes and frightened, confused and angry in turns. Thanks to dementia, we were glad when she was finally so ill she didn’t know what was happening at all and so was not afraid of it.

We actually had it easy of course, if this kind of suffering is a competition. She didn’t wander, she didn’t get angry or aggressive, and she didn’t do too many dangerous things (apart from sticking the knife in the toaster and fusing the lights) because she became incredibly passive. As a responsible adult she had always preferred to be looked after, and my father had joyfully accepted the challenge. This attitude became more pronounced over time, so there were few “issues” as her condition worsened. By keeping her at home with us I was the best person to understand her fraying mind and predict what she would expect, so she was comfortable and rarely disoriented enough to become angry. She was described as an “easy” patient, because obviously the most important thing about someone with dementia is how much they disrupt the rest of us. As a result their behaviour garners them blame or praise for being bad or good.

I expected to feel sadness, guilt, relief, regret, possibly anger and even loneliness. I felt comfort and love, both of which were entirely unexpected. I felt that finally she did appreciate me – if only I had known that while she was alive! I didn’t feel as if I had let her down or done the wrong thing, despite the fact that for a number of years she had been letting everyone know my failings. She said some pretty terrible things at times, most of which I ignored as symptoms of mental imbalance, but some hit home and I carried with me. Some of them were deserved.

The final year was hard going, and in the end it was just waiting, some days with more patience than others, for her to die. I had plenty of time to be ready for the actual event. Every day I saw her was a small guilty disappointment; every time the phone rang, I wondered if this was it, the call, until one night at 3am it really was the beginning of the end.

My mother and I were not close. It helped as she declined, so that I did not feel such terrible loss; but it made continuing as her carer harder. Dementia gets you either way.

In contrast my father’s death was sudden and devastating. He died in 1992, just as I was home to tell my parents about the imminent arrival of Offspring Number 4. Dad was really pleased and excited; he liked children. That evening I took my mother out to a concert for her birthday present and when we got home my father was dead. He had had heart failure during the evening, after going to bed.

I was furious with him for leaving me to deal with the family he supported, which included my elderly aunt as well as my mother, to deal with a bankrupt business and a derelict shop property, to re-house my aunt, sell the shop, re-house my mother, sell her house and all while pregnant, working full time and having three other young children. Sigoth got me through it somehow, although we struggled at times under the pressure.

I’m not the kind of person who would do well in one of the caring professions. I get bored with other people’s problems. I get frustrated with slowness. I could be ready to rip the throat out of a doctor who talked down to my mother, but I didn’t want to spend time with her over a cup of tea repeating how warm it was or wasn’t outside. She didn’t remember if I sat with her or not anyway.

Meanwhile, my memories of my father are not sullied by him declining until I no longer wanted to see him. Dementia destroys other people’s memories of the living person and replaces them with doddering, shambling simulacra. It’s the Zombie Apocalypse.

Death isn’t noble, but sometimes it relieves and even pre-empts pain.

The final gift that dementia leaves us is fear. Every time I forget something, every time I have to check if I locked the door or turned off the light, every time I can’t recall a name or a film title or where I left my glasses, on each of those occasions a little voice now pops up and says cheerfully:

“Hi there! Are you getting dementia? Is it all going to happen to you?”

Meaning…

Am I going to drive my family mad and break their hearts and call them names and take so long to die that I turn into a stranger first, like some kind of alien shapeshifter?

Am I going to have carers who make jokes I don’t understand, often about me?

Will I forget to eat or drink and then be hungry and thirsty all the time?

Will I soil the bed and not understand what is happening?

But before I get that bad, will I experience those things anyway and yet still know what they mean and suffer terrible shame and humiliation and confusion?

Thanks for the memories, Dementia.

I want to be clear that every dementia journey, like every human, is unique and special. My mother’s, and my, experiences will have some similarities to others, and some quirks all our very own.

If ever anything taught us the Buddhist notion of patient acceptance, this is it. Or as a Christian might put it:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

Never give up, never surrender, and never blame yourself. It is what it is.

Namaste.

Circle of life

Time to update regular readers on EBL family affairs.

You may recall from earlier posts this month that my mother was not doing too well. Unfortunately she died on 17 December. The chest infection was not a chest infection at all; it was simply lung disease and stress and old age. It was life fading and slipping away. It was, in the raw, the circle of life.

Sigoth, two Offspringses and I were with her for her last hours and watched her through to her last breath on earth. She was not really conscious. We held her hand and smoothed her forehead and moistened her lips. Then we said goodbye.

She believed in life after death and probably reincarnation. Her beliefs were different from mine. Possibly she was right and somewhere a squalling infant is her new home. I’m pretty sure, from a Buddhist perspective, she will make it back as a human. She did little harm overall and meant none at all. She was a nice person.

If that sounds like faint praise I suppose it’s because her ups and downs, her achievements and failures, her light and her darkness are not really for public consumption. Her generation did not live its life publicly, as people do now. Family is family. The rest can mind their own business.

What I felt during those last hours was love around me. I have been humbled by the way people have mourned her loss. Carers at the residential home and nurses on the ward were tearful and genuinely sad at her passing; they had known her only for a few months, or even days. She touched their lives in positive ways, which is a great achievement. Her friends have shared their memories with me, as have my friends, some of whom have known her almost as long as I have.  Universally they remember her as kindly and welcoming and caring. There are worse legacies.

First Christmas

This picture is of her and me around my first Christmas. I apologise for the gratuitous nudity. Obviously in those days colour had not yet been invented although later it transpired the tub was pink, as am I although a slightly different shade.

To life, my dears, and what we make of it, and all we leave behind!

Namaste.

Scraping off the rust

rusty chains

That’s how it feels anyway, although it would make me some kind of RoboBagLady, rather than a mere Electronic one. I’m not sure I’d be keen on it, honestly, because I’d probably have to adhere to Asimov’s Laws and I’m not sure I’m that kind of person.

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics

A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence, except where such protection would conflict with the First or Second Law.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Laws_of_Robotics

Still, rejoice, oh gentle reader! I have found my way back to the keyboard and hope to enter into constructive dialogue through the medium of the Blogverse. Let’s go!

Things got a little overwhelming back in the summer, both for good and less good reasons, but now that is over. The thing is I finally had to take a break from normal routine and allow myself a rest. I eventually recognised that I had been struggling to balance work, family and community, and that if I was someone else, I would be telling them to stop. So for once I listened to my wiser self and did indeed stop.

Guess what? It worked and I feel much better so here I am, bothering your eyeballs as you scan my words. In due course I will be scanning and chatting away just like the old days.

Ah, the old days! Things were better then. We were cleverererer, the sun was brighter and policemen were kindly and compassionate adults rather than arsy adolescents with acne and snotty noses. There were fewer television channels but we made our own entertainment and wrote about it in letters to the local paper – the equivalent of the blogging world I suppose.

Right then, I’ll remove the rose-tinted optical devices and get back to reality, but allow me the odd excursion to a fantasy land.

On a slightly related note, I heard that there is a film in the making of the Magic Faraway Tree, by far my favouritest book of all childhood, and I am half desperate with anticipation and half terrified in case of disappointment. It was the same with Lord of the Rings, my favouritest book of post-childhood, but Peter Jackson was in charge of that and talked to the fans so it was all OK. In the case of TMFT, as it will inevitably become known, I doubt the same rigour will apply. Oh woe to the world!

So here is your EBL-homework until we meet again:

  1. How do you feel about your favourite book being “interpreted” by film? Be honest.
  2. Would it/did it work? Be polite.
  3. And really, who is going to play the part of Moon Face? Be creative.

Namaste

Colour Savings Time

Snooker

Friday night in the Seventies didn’t get any better!

One of my happy routines as an Electronic Bag Teen was to watch snooker with my dad. I know, I was really living la vida loca back then! We also watched showjumping, Tom & Jerry and Dr Who, and if possible any silent comedy films starring people such as Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd. My father was a discerning television viewer who would quite literally turn on for a three minute cartoon, then turn off again.

During the Seventies, which is when all this crazy was going on chez Bag Teen, Friday night didn’t get any more exciting than Pot Black, a half hour performance of snooker showmanship. All the big names were there, such as the great Fred Davis, Cliff Thorburn, Dennis Taylor, Ray Reardon, Terry Griffiths and eventually a very young Steve Davis. And you really had to learn the how it worked because back in those days we were on colour-savings time and mostly everything was in black and white. Believe it or not, I didn’t find out my eyes were blue until the Eighties.

For those of you not familiar with the phenomenon, colour-savings time (or “CST”) was invented in order to manage an orderly transition from the Age of Monochrome to the Age of Multichrome. Colour had of course been invented some years previously, resulting in general excitement with a tendency to hysteria and significant economic success for traders in smelling salts. The population gradually became more alert to the opportunities of a nuanced colour scheme in their everyday lives, but initially it was considered a social shift of cataclysmic proportion which needed delicate management. For centuries colour had been as theoretical as the Higgs boson, and until someone invented the equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider (it was actually called the Large Pantone Collider and patented in 1928 by Ingrid Bergman’s uncle) there continued to be savage debate over such contentious issues as the colours to be found in a rainbow, or the actual colour of the Red Sea and its implications for biblical epistemology.

Nevertheless, demand was high; the world expected colour in every last nook and cranny, although early attempts were clumsy as armies of painters (or “colourists” as they were known) were deployed globally to render key landmarks and treasures in red, green, or blue. The discovery by Howard Carter in Tutankhamen’s tomb of the colour gold, for example, caused quite a stir. The colourists started with works of art and later moved into cinema. Their early enthusiasm was prone to excess, and indeed one colourist was so carried away when updating the Book of Kells that he was forcibly sectioned for the greater good.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKellsFol032vChristEnthroned.jpg

The new phenomenon of colour resulted in some extremely vibrant pages in the Book of Kells

Gradually colouring became mainstream and coloured versions of everyday items made it into the shops, such as blue jeans and itsty-bitsy-teeny-weeny-yellow-polka-dot bikinis. Following the psychedelic period at the end of the Sixties, the world was mostly transitioned but the BBC lagged a little behind due to a limited budget. It couldn’t afford a complete colour output and snooker balls were last in the cue.

As a result, my father taught me the rules of the game the old-fashioned way: keen observation to memorise the placement of balls on the table. Snooker nowadays is a garish game, but then it was all shades of grey, and not in a kinky sense. Now there is the green baize, and balls of white, red, black, pink, blue, brown, green and yellow.

The important thing to remember with snooker, the really important thing, especially if watching in monochrome, is that apart from the white and the reds, all the colours have a home spot marked on the baize. They return to it throughout the game, like salmon to the glens or pigeons to their lofts. It is a game of physics: angles, velocity and spin. The goal is to clear the table by potting all the balls in a certain order, ending with the black. Only the white must never vanish down the rabbit hole. There are hideous forfeits if this happens. Hideous.

Knowing these rules and paying attention to play, it made perfect sense then for whispering Ted Lowe, the television commentator, to murmur “and for those of you watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green.”

What were your favourite TV moments as a teenager?

Namaste

Spring thoughts

199504 Rillington daffodilsDon’t you love Spring? Well, perhaps you don’t but I quite like it, although Autumn is my season of choice. I like the in-between seasons, which are full of possibility. Summer and winter seem so fixed in their ways and I enjoy the bracing winds of change and blue horizons. They offer potential.

Anyway, Spring. Time for some more positive reflections on life, the universe and everything after recent dark and ponderous posts. Spring, the season of cute little baa-lambs, poetic daffodils and inexplicable urges to wash the windows and vacuum the loft. There are lots of birds flapping about with tree trunks in their beaks as they prepare nests for their hard-wrapped offspring. I imagine finding an endless source of nourishment for hungry beaks after the bairns have hatched is a glide in the park after all the construction activity.

The miserable side of my soul mutters in a corner about hay fever and sunburn in my imminent future, but I have her under control. No sunburn for me as I go out very little due to working, and I live in England which doesn’t get enough sun to be dangerous. Plus my hay fever seems to have lessened over recent years so I appear to have grown out of it. Take that, roasting rays and pesky pollen! Who knew working long hours and getting old could be so good?

Another thing to look forward to is the Chocolate Festival. The family are all due home for the weekend, so I am planning menus. The rhubarb is growing nicely in the garden so crumble is on the list. We like our rhubarb crumble in EBL Towers, with thick, sweet custard, the kind you eat with a knife and fork.

The final Spring activity at EBL Towers is Birthday Overload. Four birthdays in 24 days, my dears, put a bit of a strain on the celebratory muscles. With ChocoFest inevitably added into the mix we are the very definition of Party Animals; at least, the kind of Party Animals who might participate in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and end up sleeping in the tea pot.

My father’s birthday was in June, near solstice. He used to say he liked having his birthday then because it was half-way to Christmas so spread the presents out nicely. I, on the other hand, like my April birthday because it was half-way through the school year and didn’t get spoiled by exams or people being away on holiday with Granny in Wales. In those days a week with Granny in Wales was as good as a fortnight in Turkey for today’s young people, and we were grateful for it. My granny lived with us, so a week in her sitting room was the best I got, or a day trip to granddad’s in Croydon.

I didn’t have birthday parties. We tried once and it was a terrible failure because my mother had absolutely no idea how to run one. We had a cake for tea but she didn’t know any games apart from gin rummy and sent us into the garden where it rained on us. After that, I moved on to getting infected with diseases at the local cinema: three birthdays in a row produced measles (Snow White), mumps (Pinocchio) and chicken pox (Dumbo). I am not a Disney fan and now you know why. He ruined my birthdays. Later birthdays were day trips with a best friend, usually to London or Kew Gardens. Even today I associate my birthday with hiding in a den under rhododendrons and pretending we were fighting pirates or cowboys or bank robbers, I forget which. It hardly matters: we were the goodies and we couldn’t lose because of the narrative imperative.

Nowadays I like the end of short, dark days and appreciate the onset of lighter evenings. I don’t mind dark nights. In many ways I quite enjoy them. Again they are more mysterious and secretive, and being out in them or at home feels quite secure and comforting. It’s just that going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark wears thin after a few months. When the first good days in Spring roll in, there’s a sense of desperation in the air as the population surges outside and exposes their pasty, goose-pimpled, northern flesh to the vitamin D enriched goodness of our local star. Even I, encased in layers of crumpled clothing, turn my face up to the sky and soak up the beams of life-enhancing light. Then I sneeze and hide indoors.

We know Spring is really here now because Sigoth is cutting the grass between showers and we are thinking about whether to risk hanging the laundry out. The bluebells are massing to put in an appearance, annoyed that the grape hyacinths have beaten them to it. There is forsythia ablaze in half the gardens along the street, and our lilac tree is shuddering under the weight of orgies of sparrows, getting jiggy in the twiggy.

I still prefer Autumn but rumbustious old Spring is pretty nice. Feel like sharing some seasonal thoughts? Get on, then, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Namaste.

 

 

All My Loving

Lots of people seem to be participating in contests lately so I thought I would join in, But with so many options, which to choose?

Over at the marvellous Knocked Over By A Feather there was the contest beyond ll contests: write a blog based on one of the following Beatles songs:.

All My Loving

Day Tripper

Helter Skelter

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

This gets me back to basics – nostalgia. I used to do it better in the old days but such is life. Also Sigoth and I are both Beatles fans. Partly because I remember running around the playground yelling about yellow submarines, and partly because it is the Law.

This is therefore going to be an appropriate story of days of old. It includes life and death struggle, serial killers, fashion, drinking, music and twue twue wuv. It’s about how I met Sigoth, and it’s going to get soppy.

Picture the scene if you will; indeed, if you continue to read, it is a prerequisite.

It is 1980 in Leeds, a city n West Yorkshire with a long and noble history dating back to the medieval wool trade and earlier. That’s about all the wool you will get, but some of us are keen knitters so it had to be mentioned.

As I say, Leeds in 1980. It is October, cold and dark, and the beginning of a new academic year, bringing new and anxious students to university for the first time. They are to be ritually immersed in a proud educational establishment through the medium of Freshers’ Week. I am not sure if this happens elsewhere in the world, but the beginning of term has a pre-study week for new students to help them find their way around, meet new friends, sign up for societies (such as sports, music, politics, issues or general leisure activities), and get very drunk in the company of relative strangers. Somewhere in this heady mix you also pick up your course timetable and possibly start looking for text books.

Hall in snow

I was living a few miles out of town with a bunch of women in a single sex hall of residence. It is no longer part of the university but at the time it was a great old Victorian lodge which housed about 20 female students. We pretty much all got along very well from the first, and soon were meeting up for sandwiches and introducing each other to new people we had met along the way. In that first week I came across a boy called Sigoth who was in one of the societies a girl from my hall had joined. He looked a bit bemused by everything but gamely tagged along with the raucous mob.

Over the next week I ran into him a couple of times and we nodded to each other and went our separate ways. Then as the courses started picking up I found myself doing lab work on Wednesday afternoons, and regularly caught the same bus back to hall with him as he was doing different labs at the same time, and his hall was on the same bus route. We nodded a bit more but didn’t sit together. We were acquaintances only. I felt sorry for him in the same way I felt sorry for me doing labs late into the afternoon while everyone else was at home drinking hot chocolate and listening to music. He looked cold and sad in the gloom and mist and damp of a November evening.

That winter term was an eventful one in many ways. Firstly we were in the grip of a nightmare known as the Yorkshire Ripper. Although he was eventually caught, at the time he was still very much on the prowl. It was frightening enough arriving in Leeds, away from home for the first time, to be confronted by posters everywhere warning me to look out for a great big old actual murderer. Then a girl was killed just outside the flat where some friends of mine lived. Her body was found by a boy I was going out with (to be clear I wasn’t with him at the time – he lived in those flats too). Initially we were worried a student had been killed; then the police confirmed it was the Ripper and all hell broke loose. At the same time a man started hanging around our hall, and climbing on the roof at nights. The police said he was just after lead, but how to be sure?

I remember you always knew who the journalists were because they were the only ones prepared to be out on their own. The rest of us travelled in packs at all times.

By the end of term tensions were running high. The news was full of shootings: first the Pope and then John Lennon. (Well done, EBL, you’ve got a Beatles reference in at last!)

I had been feeling unwell with a virus caught inevitably from mixing with strangers from all across the country. Students are particularly sickly at this stage. However, it was so bad my room-mate called the doctor and she decided it was meningitis and whisked me off to the Infectious Diseases Unit at Seacroft Hospital. I stayed there five days and was given 2 paracetamol. They took a sample of spinal fluid and decided I was just a whinging student. John Lennon was shot the day I was sent home.

Bad Taste Party

It just so happened that the day I did get home, the rest of the Hall were having a Bad Taste Party. I stepped out of the taxi into a joyous scene, hugs and shrieks of welcome, alcohol in abundance and loud music. The party involved dressing up in anything that was considered bad taste – in my case I just stayed in my horrible dressing gown; others came as John Lennon or Mark Chapman. What jolly japes!

Naturally I had too much cheap booze and then discovered Sigoth also weaving unsteadily along the hallway to the kitchen. We sat down and started talking, mainly about John Lennon and life, the universe and everything. To be honest I can’t really remember what we talked about (apart from John Lennon, because that was all anyone talked about that evening) but it was deep and meaningful because we were tipsy. We spent the night together, and in the morning Sigoth found my guitar in the corner and started to play Beatles songs on it. He knew loads of them; he even sang me “Dear Prudence” but substituted my name instead. It was gloriously romantic for a shy, innocent 18 year old. (That was me, in case you are wondering.)

And ever since, to tie in with KOBAF’s contest, because apparently there are rules and stuff, he has had all my loving: when we were apart during university vacations; when we each went off to gatherings and trips without the other; when work or illness or external crises separated us; and every day we wake up together too.

Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true
And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving to you

I’ll pretend that I’m kissing
The lips I am missing
And hope that my dreams will come true
And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving to you

All my loving I will send to you
All my loving, darling I’ll be true

Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true
And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving to you

All my loving I will send to you
All my loving, darling I’ll be true
All my loving, all my loving ooh
All my loving I will send to you,

Every day I am grateful for my luck.

Namaste

the-princess-bride

twue wuv

The Computer Whisperer

COMPUTERWHISPERER

My dears, for many years I have laboured under the tyranny of silicon, woman and girl, battling the forces of Intel to bring order to the chaos which is personal computing. I have hewn the mighty forests of Novell and delved the mines of Microsoft. My wandering star has led me through the valley of CPM to the heights of Oracle via Linux lakes and OS/2 shores.

As a humble scout of the Web, a weaver of mysteries of the first and even second circles, I have many a tale to tell that would freeze your blood or perchance light fire in your eyes, and occasionally crinkle your lips with amusement and wry amazement. Truly you would not believe the half of it!

In days of yore when this technology was still fresh and new, it is the unassailable truth that when I asked a colleague to copy a disk they did it on the photocopier.

I once worked in a central London location where the Circle Line ran beneath the building and caused power spikes and cuts at random intervals. On a day of a power cut I raced up and down flights of stairs making sure everyone knew how to recover draft files when the power came back on. A little later, in a corner I found a colleague in tears. She had spent several hours working on a document of infinite complexity and had not been saving as she went along. All was lost!

I droned on about how to get back the draft.

There was none to retrieve.

Was she sure?

Oh yes.

Why was she sure? (You have to check.)

Because it was switched off when the power cut happened.

Ah…. I have good news!

In another job I worked with colleagues in various parts of what we then called “countries of the South” (aka the Developing World). In particular, Sudan. There were the obvious difficulties when my ability to explain the more esoteric concepts of Windows in Sudanese French met a wall of baffled silence, but we coped. Good humour and pictures are wonderful things. The biggest problem though was the locusts laying eggs in the nice warm, dry, sheltered interior of the computer casing. It was an interesting insurance claim.

Later I took a job with a charity that had around 250 PCs in its possession, of which about 8 were Year 2000 compliant as of January 1999. It was an interesting year and somehow I became embroiled in the wider project to ensure our residential clients were safe in the event of Armageddon on 1 January 2000. If nothing else it was a useful exercise in planning for disasters. The security systems were set to open all doors if power failed, for good reasons. We merely had to be ready to prevent clients who were often mentally confused or learning disabled from wandering off and becoming lost or injured as a result.

I have talked people through opening up computer cases to remove CDs inadvertently inserted (with some force nevertheless) through a gap in the casing, or in using the command line to delete a file (like they do in the films as if there are no computer mice in Hollywood – what is all that typing about? They aren’t writing a blog! I’m pretty sure Microsoft / Apple will have thought up Spaceship Destruct Sequence Wizards by now), or through plugging in a keyboard. This last was very traumatic for the poor person involved. She was convinced I was trying to electrocute her.

I’m going to break ranks and let you all into a little secret. The lovely patient people on your favourite helpdesk have an acronym for the more challenged computer users out there. Not the average person like me who forgets their password because they have been on holiday or can’t find the right printer or needs to find a file they saved last week. Those are normal run-of-the-mill things that can happen to anyone. We all have days when the brain cells desert the sinking cranium.

I have had my share of lonely home-based workers who just wanted a chat. I offered that service gladly. I have been called up to find out the date of Easter next year or the translation of Latin phrases or a recipe for vegetarian haggis. It’s all part of the service.

No, this phrase is for the frequent fliers who have been talked through how to switch the computer on seventeen times this week and it’s only Wednesday. Or the ones who can’t put a CD into the “cup holder” the right way up until the 3rd attempt. (What was he doing? Balancing it on its edge? And it happened every time!).

I have sorted out the virus infestation caused by letting a teenager use the computer to download illegal music. I had the Director who filled up the corporate shared drive with Dido CDs because he liked to listen to music while he worked and could never remember where he saved it last time. I had the Professor who kept installing a different word processor to the corporate standard then wondering why it crashed. He did it over and over again, despite the fact that the same thing always happened. I had the person who decided he wanted to try Windows NT because his mate told him it was better than Windows 98 (that much was true), bought a copy at a car boot sale and installed it only to discover it was a French version. Merde, as they say.

We use it for the ones where we suspect it is deliberate attention-seeking behaviour, for people who are just not trying properly.

It’s PEBCAK.

I suppose after that build-up I should probably tell you what it stands for. But the devil is in me today and glinting from behind the screen. “Make ‘em guess!” it cries.

What do you think? Should I?

It could stand for “probably errant behaviour causing anomalous Kafka-ism.”

Or maybe “potentially embarrassing bigwig chasing attentive kindness.”

What about “purely erroneous banter cheapening all knowledge.”

You may suspect it’s “patience ended by considerable altercation. Kill!”

The interpretation my team has actually used in the past is merely “problem exists between chair and keyboard.”

Feel free to join in below with your own ideas. Keep ‘em reasonably clean; IT workers are fragile creatures really.

Namaste.