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Breathe

Christmas is a difficult time of year for my family. In late December 2010, my Dad passed away and I live with a number of regrets where my father is concerned.

As the atypical moody teenager, I treated my father with contempt. Dad loved me, but had his own way of showing it; something I’ve only come to realise recently. He was not the easiest person to be around: irritable, irrational and often hilariously, disproportionately quick to temper over the most insignificant matters. He was loving, caring and affectionate toward me when I was a child, yet I slowly destroyed his kindness throughout my adolescence and beyond.

Upon turning 13 and forever falling under the spell of James Dean, I behaved as if it was mandatory to hate my father. Years later, I tried to make it up to him in my own small way, but the damage had been done and I got the impression Dad held a grudge against me for all the heartache I’d caused him. I can’t say I blame him for feeling hurt. He deserved so much better and ever wanted the best for me. The real tragedy is that Dad only started to show degrees of warmth toward me again when dementia began to consume his mind and he grew increasingly confused and bewildered.

Out of all the memories of my father, the one that endures the most is the day I held his hand as he lay dying in hospital. Dad had succumbed to pneumonia for the second time in his life, which was bad news as only one of his lungs was fully functional following the first instance several years ago. Due to the onset of vascular dementia, regrettably, we’d sent Dad to live in a care home as the family simply couldn’t cope any longer. He’d started going walkabout – for miles and miles with no particular purpose or destination. On each occasion, we’d had to call the police to help track him down. Mum was completely devastated that her beloved husband had been reduced to a befuddled, rambling shell of his former self.

When Dad caught a nasty cold in the care home, due to the earlier and nearly fatal episode of pneumonia (combined with septicaemia) several years previously, we insisted that the staff send for a doctor immediately. Sadly, the carers ignored our wishes and within a few hours, Dad was rushed to hospital suffering from chronic chest pains. The family arrived soon after.

I vividly recall being sat next to Dad’s hospital bed and, for the first time in decades, holding his hand. His beautiful, piercing blue eyes were heavily bloodshot and, unable to speak (due to the pain in his chest), desperately thirsty and just plain scared, Dad gripped my hand so tightly that I can still recollect the feeling to this day. It didn’t hurt – or if it did, then I didn’t care – and I believe he wanted me to fix him somehow, telling me in the only way that he could. He’d done everything he ever could for me all my life and yet, in those final, crucial hours, I couldn’t do anything to save him. That’s what hurts the most: that I let my father down in his most desperate moment of need. Though, just perhaps, as he lay on (effectively) his deathbed, he was trying to tell me that I shouldn’t feel so guilty? That he realised there was no hope? I wish I knew the answer.

That day on the ward, the rest of my immediate family also sat by the bed. But in those precious few moments between Dad and myself, it felt as if we were the only two people in the whole world. Everything else was just static.

The only other thing I remember about that day is when, just as the family were leaving, a senior consultant approached us to discuss the best course of treatment for Dad. Sat in a family room, we listened as the consultant gently emphasised the difficultly with my father’s lungs and how any further intake of antibiotics would only be 15-20% effective and that, in the long run, may do more harm than good. We had to decide whether or not to continue with another course of treatment or, simply and more humanely, let him go. Despite the practicality, I’m sure you can imagine the difficulty with making such a ominous decision. But – and to this day, I don’t know where this came from – as soon as the consultant finished talking, I spoke up:

“No, leave him alone. Let him go. He should be at rest and I don’t want him to suffer any more than he already has.”

To my relief, the rest of the family agreed, but that doesn’t stop me wondering what would have happened if I’d made a different choice. Perhaps, in those moments on the ward, in his own way, that was what Dad was trying to tell me as he squeezed my hand? With the decision made, all the consultant could do now was to make Dad more comfortable as we waited for the inevitable. Being driven home by one of my brothers, no-one said a word for the entire journey.

December 20th. I awoke from a bad dream at exactly 4am. On my way downstairs to make a cup of tea, the phone rang. Mum answered the call but I just knew: Dad had passed away. As I tried to comfort her, Mum told me that the hospital had phoned and informed her that my Dad had passed away peacefully at 4am. These days, I think it’s merely coincidental.

My father’s funeral was every bit as difficult as I’d anticipated. I lost count of how many well-meaning relatives asked me if I was OK when I plainly wasn’t. I’d had to bite my tongue to stop myself from telling them exactly where to go. Both Mum and I sobbed uncontrollably throughout the service. Even now, I cannot bring myself to attend another funeral. As I’ve mentioned in another post, I couldn’t face going to Steve’s funeral and, at the time, I hoped somehow he’d understand.

Over the years, I’ve often reflected on the relationship between my father and myself. I honestly wish I’d done things differently. But at least I tried to offer Dad some comfort in those desperate moments at the hospital. My Mum says he wouldn’t want me to keep torturing myself. I tell others that regret is a useless emotion and it solves nothing but, looking back, there’s only one thing I’d change.

Everything.

Featured

The Sound of Silence

It’s 2:20am on Thursday morning, sometime in August 2021 and I’m sat on a patio chair in the garden smoking a cigarette. It’s pitch dark save for a clear sky and a million stars glimmering above me.

Silent.

Sedate.

Beautiful.

I feel like crying.

Crying with happiness.

For three straight years, moments of silence and tranquility have been few and far between. Come to think of it, make that non-existent.

Why?

People.

It’s always people, isn’t it? We fuck everything up. The planet, COVID 19, queues at the post office, litter, cruelty to animals. Ghastly, selfish, inconsiderate people.

Am I any better? Certainly not. But I try to consider others. I try to be sensitive. I try to be polite wherever possible. Doesn’t always work out that way, but at least I try and make the effort.

And my friends, both on and offline, are a wonderful, special people: kind, considerate, sensitive, intelligent and witty. Wonderful chums. I treasure my It’s. I’m nowhere near as social as I used to be but my good friends are only a text or a phone call away.

When we (my elderly mother and I) moved back to Redditch three years ago, we had such high hopes. After two year (pre-COVID) in Evesham, we were looking forward to being part of a warm, welcoming community. We hoped to have lovely neighbours willing to look out for us and us for them in return.

It took about a month for all our hopes to be dashed.

It soon became apparent that there was a general air of resentment toward us in the so-called neighbourhood. After a few days, I figured out that it was largely down to one thing: jealousy.

You see, our house was a brand new, spacious dormer bungalow with all mod cons, surrounded by a collection of run down semi-detached dwellings that hadn’t seen a lick of paint since VE Day.

Mr and Mrs A to the left (late sixties/early seventies) soon introduced themselves the day after we’d moved in. This was exactly what we’d hoped to experience: community. Don’t get me wrong, our neighbours in Evesham were absolutely lovely – two bachelor boys for whom nothing was too much trouble. But they led busy social lives so we didn’t see them as often as we’d liked. Consequently, we were pleased to have someone nearby who was more than willing to keep Mum company and we welcomed these new friends into our home on a regular basis. However, it didn’t take long for the reasons behind our neighbours’ amiability to become glaringly conspicuous.

Excuse me if I sound somewhat snobbish from hereon in but I’m being honest.

On the rare occasions when Mum paid a visit to Mr and Mrs A’s house, she was struck by a rather pungent aroma and the overwhelming untidiness. Each surface was coated in a thick pile of dust. Our new chums were not exactly ‘house proud’ and had clearly avoided anything associated with housework for a number of years. Decades, even. In the kitchen, all manner of plates, cups and cooking utensils had long since been abandoned and remained piled high in the sink. Kitchen surfaces were overrun with saucepans drenched in cooking oil. Greasy chip papers, McDonalds and takeaway containers littered the floor. Catching glimpse of one of the (separate) bedrooms one day, Mum noticed a trail in the mucky carpet from the side of the bed to the bedroom door. Stepping reluctantly into the bathroom one afternoon, she observed a thick line of detritus around the rim of the bath and the toilet was a mass of ghastly brown and yellow stains.

Equally, Mum often felt decidedly chilly whenever she dropped by and was informed the heating worked “sometimes”, along with the doorbells. Three doorbells, to be precise. Clearly, whenever one doorbell stopped working, instead of taking it down and replacing the battery, Mr and Mrs A would simply have another installed. Our new chums were both untidy and downright lazy. As far as we could tell, neither of them was physically incapacitated in any way.

At this point, you may be thinking that our neighbours’ domestic arrangements were none of my business and normally I’d agree with you. But I have my reasons for mentioning these shortcomings.

By comparison, our house was a haven of warmth, luxury and cleanliness for our new friends and soon the regularity of visits increased tenfold. It wasn’t long before Mr A asked us to forward ‘leftovers’ at any given opportunity. On Christmas Day, I received a text asking if they could “come over and keep your Mum company” during the annual family Yuletide dinner. What?! That’s just taking the piss.

I recall one occasion when we needed to defrost the freezer and, somewhat naively, I asked our neighbours if they could temporarily store all the frozen food in their own fridge freezer. Upon collecting our food a few hours later, I noticed several items were missing. In addition, a mound of chocolate ice cream had been scooped by from its tub. The fucking nerve of these people.

Additionally, Mr and Mrs A’s garden was wildly overgrown with weeds, brambles and the grass was at least knee high. At one point, the weeds began to droop over our fence, so Mum asked politely if our new friends would be kind enough to trim these particular weeds (as we didn’t want them ‘polluting’ our garden, so to speak). This did not go down at all well. Mr A shouted at my mother, “WE CAN’T FUCKING AFFORD IT” and slammed the door in her face. From that moment on, we were persona non grata. No more visits from our next door companions were forthcoming. We were public enemy number one and the rest of the neighbourhood were soon informed.

Which brings us to Mr and Mrs B , out other neighbours to the right of our home (also late sixties/early seventies). To begin with, Mr B was one of the curious fellows who, at the merest sign of baldness, immediately shaves all his hair off, so that he resembles an extra from Max Mad: Fury Road. Throughout our residence in the area, these completely inconsiderate cockwombles kept a series of increasingly deranged dogs stationed on the premises, which would bark at the merest provocation e.g. a mouse moving a pebble three miles away or, perish the thought, a minor change in wind direction, which often drove these raucous animals into a unimaginable frenzy of repetitive barks, fearsome snarls and ominous growls.

Being semi-retired, Mr B was something of a ‘DIY enthusiast’, beginning Friday at 9am on the dot and all the way through until Tuesday morning when he fucked off back to work.

During all of his numerous DIY projects, it was guaranteed that at some point, Mr B would remove his shirt (in all manner of weather conditions), thus revealing his considerably chubby physique and several badly misspelt tattoos.

Mr B had an abundance of tools and equipment at his disposal: electric saws, drills, hammers, nail guns and so on. I recall one particular occasion, when he’d managed to source a road drill.

Over the course of three years and throughout several lockdowns, Mr B constructed sheds (three), water featured (three), ponds (two) and treehouses (one). This is in addition to block paving his driveway and installing a garden patio. The levels of noise were simply unbearable.

In the first instance, I complained to the council, who suggested I approach Mr B in a polite, cordial manner and ask him – in the spirit of community – to please try to lower the noise levels and curtail his dogs’ behaviour. To my surprise, Mr B appeared receptive and for a 24 hour period there wasn’t the slightest sound from his side of the fence. No dogs, no drills, no hammers … not a peep. Absolute bliss. However, once the 24 hours had elapsed, all hell broke loose.

For a start, the dogs were left outside to bark from dawn till dusk, whilst Mr B increased his DIY activity 200%. It was, without question, a living hell. Mrs B also stepped up to the plate. Whenever she spotted my mother in the garden, Mrs B informed her that she was a “fucking nosy old cow” for no apparent reason. This wasn’t just harassment or antisocial behaviour – this was a carefully calculated and coordinated campaign of noise designed to drive us out of our home by two deeply disturbed individuals. It was only by promising my mother not to that stopped me from paying Mr and Mrs B a second visit, only this time taking a much less friendly approach via the medium of a baseball bat.

Inevitably, my mental health started to unravel. I began to self-harm again. Sharp scissors across my thighs and upper arms – my usual coping mechanism whenever I’m overanxious. This wasn’t life – living next door to a DIY maniac determined to drive us insane and our lives a complete misery by creating as much noise as humanly possible on a daily basis, the evil cunt. All because I dared to ask him to consider his neighbours and their sensitivities.

I asked for the council ‘s assistance, who sent Mr and Mrs B a letter. Fat lot of good that did. They might as well have sent a singing telegram. Next, they suggested installing Noise Monitoring Equipment (NME) at our house to see if the levels of noise being generated were, in fact, illegal. I welcomed the opportunity. Funny thing is, as soon as a date had been agreed for the equipment to be installed, Mr B immediately downed tools and all noise from next door stopped for a two to three week period. The first time this occurred, I thought nothing of it and welcomed the peace and quiet. But then, after a few weeks, Mr B restarted his DIY shenanigans. So, back to the council and a second mutually convenient date for installation of the NME was set. But then the same thing happened again: no dog barking and all DIY activities suddenly ground to a halt. This ridiculous cat and mouse scenario went on and on and it was obvious that somehow, Mr Fury Road was obtaining insider information and staying one step ahead of the council and ourselves.

I dig a bit of digging online and it turned out Mr B was, in fact, a Freemason. Game over. That rather antiquated, sinister old boys club was keeping him free from prosecution. I didn’t stand a chance and my anxiety and depression tumbled further into the abyss.

Of course, no-one would dare admit to this rather obvious explanation. The bloke from the council claimed to be none the wiser. But then, they look out for one another whenever possible, don’t they? That’s part of their constitution. Though, I was under the impression the Freemasons was mainly populated by solicitors, doctors and the like. Not DIY maniacs forever clad in greasy overalls.

Three years on from Evesham, we were right back to square one. Trapped. There was no reasoning with Mr B as he was intent on making our lives as miserable as possible for as long as it took to drive us out. He was clearly playing the long game; bitter and envious of our allegedly superior lifestyle, riddled with insecurity and consumed by vengeful animosity. When I think about it now, I believe it was down to class, which remains a longstanding, tedious preoccupation for people in this country.

Why are the British still so obsessed with class? It’s 2021, for fuck’s sake.

Every day for eighteen long months, I trawled Rightmove in vain, desperately seeking sanctuary from this power drill-obsessed psychopath and his disturbed canines. But there was nothing. I desperately hoped something would appear on my computer screen to provide a glimmer of hope; a relief from our perpetual suffering. Due to Mum’s multiple joint arthritis and, as with myself, being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, stairs were becoming a significant problem for her. Ideally, a three bedroom bungalow (on a desert island) would suffice, far and away from DIY-obsessed social misfits with nothing better to do other than perpetual DIY escapades and a major grudge against the middle classed.

Month after month dragged on. Every day, the noise grew exponentially worse. With the advent of COVID, Mr Fury Road was off work, so his hateful campaign became practically a 24 hour crusade. I even pleaded with the police. Not interested. It was, in their words, “A civil matter.” Oh, the irony. As I mentioned earlier, one morning, the cunt was playing with a road drill, for fuck’s sake. Call me naive, but you can’t just walk into B & Q and buy a road drill, right? I stopped self-harming but spent practically every day hiding in bed (with ear plugs). I lost all interest in life. I wanted to fade away.

But, lo and behold, during another trawl through Rightmove one day, there it was. A brand new detached three bedroom dormer bungalow in a much more secluded part of town. Salvation was finally at hand. Frustratingly, we faced setback after setback in our attempt to move house. Loads of viewings but mostly time wasters who just wanted to nose around someone’s house. As bizarre as it sounds, it seemed like the house wouldn’t let us go or, perhaps, someone was pulling all the wrong strings behind the scenes. I wish I knew. Each day seemed to bring a new problem. More viewings, more time wasters, ineffective estate agents (we used three different firms before finding one who actually knew how to sell a house). Plus it took a mountain of litigation to get there – restrictive covenants; what a pain in the arse – but we never gave up and it paid off in the end. Adios, Mr and Mrs Fury Road and Mr and Mrs Scrounge. Hello normality.

So here we are. We’re feel enormously lucky to have moved into a gorgeous house in very quiet cul-de-sac, only a couple of neighbours either side (who are lovely and quiet), and just woods at the front and rear of the property. There’s an abundance of greenery in the area.

Paradise.

Despite three years of sheer misery, in an obtuse way, Mr and Mrs B did us a favour. The new house is in a location far more suitable to our needs and a bit more upmarket. I have a feeling Mr B will eventually be hospitalised because his behaviour is far from normal. He’s fucking psychotic.

So, if one day you happen to find yourself in Redditch, Worcestershire, stop by for a cuppa.

You’d be more than welcome.