My Mother… Bosses The Students

Now that my blog star mother is on the road to recovery after her soap opera-style stint in hospital, I thought I would share some previously unseen footage of her doing what she does best: namely bossing students around.

As landlady of a house she rents out to students, my mother is convinced that all of them are utterly simple (see previous blog here) and so every year they get her Simpletons’ Guide To Independent Living.

Back in September, she gave one poor, beleaguered student the full house induction, including (in no particular order): which cupboard they should store their tinned beans in, which washing machine cycle to wash their togs on, how not to set the house alarm (whatever you do, don’t press ‘yes’!) and – bizarrely – where to find a starter motor for the fluorescent tube light in the kitchen.

Here she is at her most brilliant, bonkers best.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/113854597″>My Mother… And The Students</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user33278695″>Palmersan</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

What’s Up, Doc?

My mum has escaped from hospital. I say ‘escaped’ because it turns out getting discharged from hospital isn’t too dissimilar to applying for parole from prison.

First, you have to be assessed by a team of various people to check that you are fit to leave. Then you have to pass… The Stair Test.

The Stair Test is probably the biggest hurdle between being a hospital inmate and getting dispatched back into the big wide world. It involves two physiotherapists assisting you to a flight of stairs and then cutting you loose. If you can make it to the top unaided, you walk free; if you don’t, it’s back to bed with cold custard for one.

Luckily, my mother was already braced for this Krypton Factor-style physical challenge. The poor Scottish woman in the bed opposite (the one who was left stuck in the shower last week despite her cries for help) failed The Stair Test miserably and returned back to the ward with her tail between her legs. She also made the mistake of telling the nurses that she only had a bathroom upstairs. Schoolboy error!

My mother was so determined to get out of hospital, and away from Mad Margaret (another patient who had imaginary telephone conversations using the handheld device that moves the bed up and down), that she mustered up every ounce of her strength to reach that top step.

Now that she is convalescing on the sofa at home, she looks back on her hospital stay as ‘being to hell and back’.

Still, I think the nurses might miss my mum a bit. Each time I visited, she seemed to be living a real-life episode of Holby City. She was able to give a detailed explanation of all the other patients’ various woes and life stories. She was on first name terms with the doctors, nurses waved at her as they passed, cleaners chuckled.

As she was exiting the hospital, someone bore down on my mother clutching a questionnaire asking whether she would recommend the hospital to friends and family.

‘I was speechless,’ said my mother. ‘I told them I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy!’

‘It is a bit weird that they’re asking you to rate the hospital like a hotel,’ I said. ‘No-one goes into hospital by choice. Next, they’ll be on Tripadvisor!’

My father now seems to be occupying his days roaming around supermarkets, looking for things to cook for my mum, who is on a very strict diet.

He has also identified that B&Q have mobility scooters, should she fancy a day out when she’s feeling a bit stronger. Given that my parents are on B&Q Preston’s top 100 customers list, this is a distinct possibility.

My father was despatched to buy a white loaf (white bread for her no-fibre diet) from Booths.

Booths, if you haven’t heard of it, is like the Waitrose of Lancashire. Started in Blackpool in 1847, they have stores dotted around the county and have even reached as far as Ilkley in Yorkshire. It’s generally full of slow-moving, silver-haired trolley pushers who base their whole day around one supermarket visit.

Anyway, my father did manage to procure the white loaf. But unfortunately he somehow missed the huge label emblazoned across it that read, ‘now with all the fibre of wholemeal bread’ – much to my mum’s dismay.

In the midst of all this activity, it emerged that my parents’ rabbit of 8 years was taking its last breaths in the garage.

My father was so flustered about the rabbit’s imminent passing that he decided to drive 10 miles to a garden centre that he knew had cardboard boxes – to buy one to bury her in.

I offered to go to Booths and rectify the bread situation.

When I got back, the whole family – sister included – were assembled in the lounge, dabbing moist eyes with tissues. It was very sad.

‘What’s happened?’ I said.

‘Your dad thinks the rabbit’s dead but he’s only 95 per cent sure,’ said my mother wearily.

‘We’re all waiting for you to go and check on it,’ she added.

‘I’m not checking,’ I said. ‘I can’t cope with dead or dying animals.’

My sister and father weren’t keen on re-entering the garage either.

‘Shall I phone Mr Cummings from next door? He could come and have a look,’ suggested my sister.

‘I’ve heard of some odd things but phoning your next door neighbour to come and write a death certificate for your pet rabbit is pretty weird,’ I said.

‘I am sure the rabbit’s dead,’ said my father. ‘She felt stiff and cold. And I’m certain she had stopped breathing.’

‘Well, you need to get her in the box before rigor mortis sets in,’ said my mother. ‘Otherwise, she won’t fit in the box; her legs will be sticking out!’

My father disappeared for while. When he returned the rabbit was now in the box and he was now ’99 per cent sure’ she was dead.

I peeped in the garage. I could see a box with some white fluff sticking out, surrounded by 200 cooking apples. It didn’t appear to be moving.

‘Let’s leave her in state for now,’ said my father, who I suspect would do anything to put off having to spend the afternoon digging a grave. ‘We’ll bury her tomorrow.’

‘You’d better phone Uncle Stephen and tell him to come to the funeral,’ said my mother, gravely.

‘Will Uncle Stephen even be bothered about the rabbit?’ I said.

‘I think so,’ she said. ‘He used to bring the tops of his Brussel sprouts. The rabbit loved them.’

‘Maybe Stephen could say a few words about the rabbit and his sprouts at the eulogy,’ pondered my father.

‘Tell him to bring a spade too.’

Hospital Dramas

There’s something strangely reassuring that while my mum is holed up in Critical Care following a seven-hour operation, my father remains insistent on avoiding hospital parking fees by parking on a remote residential street at least half a mile away – simply because it is free.

My father never believes in paying for parking anywhere: a habit so firmly entrenched that even though my mother is lost somewhere in the cavernous corridors of Preston Royal Infirmary, he refuses to part with a few pounds for the convenience of the car park.

Lost in the hospital might sound a little dramatic but after an anxious wait all day, I phoned to see whether my mum had come out of theatre. There was a long pause and a bit of tapping on a keyboard. It seemed that she had left the admissions ward at 7am that morning but had yet to arrive in Critical Care, according to the computer. She was currently unaccounted for.

An hour later, I phoned back only to be told that the computer still said ‘no’.

At 7pm, with my father pacing around the lounge and fielding calls from feeble Great Uncle Keith, I phoned again and she was STILL lost in hospital No Man’s Land.

‘We don’t even need to come and see her,’ I told the nurse a little desperately. ‘I just want to know if she’s had the operation and if she’s STILL ALIVE.’

At 8pm, my father and I decided to go down in person. After parking in father’s aforementioned free parking spot, we set off on foot to the Critical Care visitor waiting room, swiftly renamed The Waiting Room of Doom. It was packed to the gills with desperate relatives but not a single member of staff in sight.

I had begun to imagine my mother languishing on a bed in a corridor somewhere, or stuffed in a store cupboard having to drink water from a vase. I was already penning my letter to the Daily Mail.

After what seemed like hours, someone eventually arrived and confirmed that my mum had finally arrived at the Critical Care ward, following a bed shortage. Relieved, we followed the nurse down the corridor.

We had been told that she might look terrible and would be covered in tubes. But as we rounded the corner, she was propped up in bed and looked remarkably well, all considering.

‘I feel like I’ve been run over by a double-decker bus,’ she croaked.

‘Everyone keeps telling my how well I look but I feel terrible. The nurses said I look like I’ve just stepped out of a hair salon!’

‘I have to laugh otherwise I’d cry.’

I took a closer look at her hair. It did – incredibly – look like she had just stepped out of a hair salon.

A doctor came over, ‘What is your date of birth and full address?’ he asked.

‘Ah,’ said my mother. ‘You’re doing this to check whether I’m compos mentis.’

She rattled off her particulars and for added effect said, ‘The current Prime Minister is David Cameron.’

‘What are your dislikes?’ said the doctor.

There was a long pause while both my parents pondered this.

‘She doesn’t like tinned tomatoes,’ said my father eventually. ‘And she doesn’t like going out to sea in the boat.’

My mother nodded in agreement.

Inevitably, now that my mum has been moved onto a ward, she has been put next to the most delirious woman in the whole hospital.

Mad Margaret doesn’t actually believe she is a patient; she thinks she’s a visitor. This means that she refuses to stay in her bed but wanders round ‘visiting’ other patients, including my poor mother. At one point she tried to climb on top of her. She is also perpetually preoccupied by when everyone’s birthday is.

‘She’s completely doolally,’ whispered my mother. ‘The best thing to do is keep smiling and be firm with her.’

Another patient – across from my mother – had a terrible experience in the shower this morning. Apparently, she was helped to the shower by a nurse who plonked her on the shower seat and then abandoned her.

Despite her cries for help and pulling the emergency cord, she was stuck in the shower for up to an hour! She’s still in a state of shock.

‘I’m just going to have a shower when I get home,’ whispered my mother, who is currently too poorly to move from her bed. ‘It’s just not worth the risk; I might never make it out.’

‘I couldn’t make it even to the door,’ she went on. ‘Just getting into the chair feels like I’ve climbed Mount Everest and run a marathon.’

So far, my mother’s visitors have been restricted to immediate family but now that Uncle Stephen is back from Benidorm, he’s planning a visit on Monday. Uncle Stephen, I’m reliably informed, absolutely loves hospital visiting.

My mum’s friend Valerie might also come but she can only turn left in her car so she would have to map out an anti-clockwise route if she were ever to make it.

In the meantime, I’ve been staying with my father which has been an enlightening experience in itself. In the garage, I found literally hundreds of cooking apples, which my father is insistent he is planning on eating, despite my incredulity.

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There’s also several boxes of onions from Uncle Stephen, who has taken to growing them again, now that his pyromaniac neighbour has finally been wheeled off by the men in white coats and can no longer set fire to his vegetables.

As a treat, the husband and I took my Dad to Nando’s which he rather liked although he insists on mistakenly calling it Nachos. We also had a coffee in Starbucks.

When we got to the hospital, my mother said: ‘How was Stardrops and Nachos?’

My father was about to answer, when his mobile rang shrilly. A look of horror crossed both my parents’ faces.

‘You can’t bring mobiles in here,’ cried my mother. ‘They’ll interfere with the machinery!’

My mother went on to say that the doctor had been round that morning and asked if she wanted any morphine.

‘Morphine?!” said my mother, horrified. ‘No thank you. That’s what drug addicts have!’

‘I definitely don’t want morphine,’ she recounted to us after. ‘I might get hooked on it.’

‘I don’t think you can get addicted,’ said my father, in all seriousness. ‘You haven’t got a dealer.’

Herbaceous And Voracious

Ever heard of Giant Hogweed? It’s a voracious plant that grows on river banks and one touch could turn you blind.

In the 80s – when Giant Hogweed was at its most prevalent – my father started this bizarre competition with our relatives Jack and Jill in Scotland, over who could spot the biggest Giant Hogweed. They started posting pictures (in the old-fashioned Royal Mail sense) of the vicious weed – to see who could out-do each other. Some weeds were up to 15 feet tall!

This obsession meant that my father would march the family up and down the banks of the River Ribble in Preston looking for the tallest batch of Hogweed he could find. He would then plonk my sister and I next to it as height markers and snap away.

I wish I could find photographic proof of this but, after scouring old photo albums, I fear all the pictures ended up in the hands of our Scottish relatives. So you’ll have to make do with me dressed as a giant carrot instead.

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My mother always warned us never to get too close to the Hogweed as contact with skin could lead to a terrible rash.

As a result, I became utterly terrified of Giant Hogweed, convinced that a bit of it might touch my skin and turn me into an extra from Gremlins.

(This fear was only usurped by my mother telling me that pretty much all dogs in France might have rabies which, during our car tour of France one year, left me absolutely terrified that I might be savaged by a foaming-mouthed mutt.)

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I was recently sat wondering whether there was any truth to the perils of this perennial (my mother is prone to bouts of extreme exaggeration).

But a quick Wiki search revealed: ‘Giant Hogweed can cause severe skin inflammations when the skin is exposed to sunlight or to ultraviolet rays. Initially, the skin colours red and starts itching. Then, blisters form as it burns within 48 hours. They form black or purplish scars that can last several years. Hospitalisation may be necessary.

‘Presence of minute amounts of sap in the eyes can lead to temporary or even permanent blindness.’

Jeez. Mother was not wrong.

I’d completely forgotten about my ingrained fear of Hogweed until quite by chance, I came across its evil cousin: Japanese Knotweed.

When we were in the process of buying our apartment, our solicitor Jackie – nicknamed The Rottweiler for her aggressive approach to conveyancing – uncovered the existence of Japanese Knotweed lurking in the valley below. Untreated, this rampant weed, which actually EATS through concrete and STRANGLES brickwork, could bring the whole apartment block tumbling down like a stack of cards.

For weeks, emails were to-ing and fro-ing on how to treat this problem. I think a specialist was drafted in – and we were eventually give the green light to go ahead with the purchase.

And in that strange way when you’re just thinking about a subject and it crops up some time soon after, The Times ran an article all about indestructible Japanese Knotweed. Tag line: It eats asphalt for breakfast.

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‘In summer it grows 10 centimetres a day,’ wrote the journalist. ‘If you watch it closely enough, you can almost see it growing.’

He continued: ‘In 2012, mortgage lenders stopped mortgages if Japanese Knotweed was spotted on a property.’

I actually have no idea what happened to the deadly Japanese Knotweed at the bottom of the valley. Apparently, if chopped down, it simply grows back twice as quick; it’s the Hydra of the weed world!

The irony is, that for all their grumbles and complaints, our twitchy neighbours Susan and Dick never so much as uttered the words ‘Japanese Knotweed’. They’ve now moved out but I wished I had emailed them before they left with my concerns that The Knotweed Is Back: one final moan bone for them to gnaw on.

But if skin-singing Hogweed and concrete-chomping Knotweed were bad enough, there’s a new contender to the throne of Most Invasive Weed: Himalayan Balsam. If left unfettered, this beast will wipe out all other species across river banks.

Himalayan Balsam only hit my radar when I received an email from Friends of the Park last month. I thought I’d better join Friends of the Park (details here) given that out house is on the border of the park and I might need to garner sympathy for our much-maligned house extension.

The email contained an invitation to ‘A Big Balsam Bash’!

For those of you not aware, a new invasive species strategy has been devised for Leeds to tackle the main culprits: Himalayan balsam, Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed,’ it said (cripes – the deadly trio, no less!).

As part of this strategy we hope to eradicate Himalayan Balsam from the tributaries of the River Aire.

Join in if you can – all you need is a pair of gloves, in case you grab a nettle by mistake!

I wonder how many takers there were for the Big Balsam Bash? No matter how you dress it up, the concept of throwing a party to spend the day clearing weeds from a river doesn’t exactly have the guests flooding in (no pun intended).

I might forward the invite to my father. I’m sure he’ll be interested.

My Mother… and The British Gas Debacle Part II

It seems that my mother has become an unwitting video star after waxing lyrical about her fiasco with her British Gas bill (here) and chewing the fat with my uncle Stephen over his pyromaniac neighbour (here).

So here’s an update on my mother’s British Gas saga (amongst other trivialities!):

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/109387621″>My Mother… And The British Gas Debacle Part II</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user33278695″>Palmersan</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

She’s Got A Ticket To Ride

I took a trip back home on Thursday to spend the day with my mum. I miss hanging out with her and enjoying her everyday idiosyncrasies. She’s a lot of fun.

Isn’t it funny how you still refer to the family homestead as ‘home’? Even though I haven’t lived at my parents’ home for 16 years and they’ve since moved house from our childhood domicile, I still have their number programmed in my phone as ‘Home’. I suppose it always will be home to me.

Pulling up on the driveway, I ventured round to the back garden to find 67-year-old mother slide-tackling her grandson in a competitive game of football. When I said I was spending the day with my mum, I actually meant my mother and her little partner in crime aka my four-year-old nephew Max. As my mum loves to say, there’s no show without Punch.

‘You’re back!’ cried my mother, clutching hold of the garden bench to regain her breath. ‘We’re just having a quick kick around.’

My mother is the most virile 67-year-old you’ll meet. Having never learnt to drive (despite a top qualification in backseat driving), she still cycles everywhere on her trusty bicycle; her day is just one long list of energetic escapades.

In fact, nephew Max complained to my sister that after a day with my mother, he is absolutely exhausted. His favourite phrase at bed time is, ‘I’m so tired. Nanny’s worn me out – again!’

Inside the house, my father’s original inflatable boat ‘Chrismick’ was laid on the floor of the kitchen, sad and deflated.

‘Your dad’s been trying to pump it up but it keeps going down,’ said my mother. (I hope she was referring to the boat!). The parents seem oblivious to the fact that they bought the dinghy in 1976 and it would struggle to stay afloat in a swimming pool, let alone the sea. Even Max looked sceptical.

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Despite replacing it with Chrismick II in the early 90s (more on that here), my father seems unable to discard his original Chrismick (pictured in its heyday below), preferring to carry on adding more and more puncture patches, in the hope it will once again make a glorious return to sail the River Fowey (and stalk Dawn French).

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Over lunch, I made enquiries as to the welfare of my mother’s best friend Val. Every other Friday, Val and my mother head out to the local bingo hall (they’ve been meeting on alternate Fridays for the last 40 years). Unbelievably, they manage to play two hours of bingo without spending a penny.

I’ve never really got to the bottom of how this is possible but I think it is something to do with bingo hall offering free games of bingo, thinking that they will make money on drinks at the bar.

However, they’ve clearly underestimated my frugal mother, who doesn’t drink and gets by on glasses of tap water. Sometimes, they actually win at bingo so end up coming back in profit. This is my mum and Val having a boogie at my wedding (Val on left; mother on right).

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The trips to bingo have been a little few and far between recently after a terrible incident befell Val on her annual holiday to Benidorm. On the second day of the holiday, her husband Laurence took a tumble and took all the skin off his shin. He had to have a skin graft and was admitted to hospital for week.

During Val’s visit, a patient in the bed next to Laurence asked if Val would be so kind as to lift his suitcase down from the cupboard above. Unfortunately for Val, this particular patient appeared to be harbouring several slabs of concrete in his case. As Val struggled under its immense weight, her kind deed ended up giving her a hernia!

Poor Val was instantly admitted to hospital herself and found herself laid up in the hospital bed next to her husband. She went from hospital visitor to fellow patient within an hour. It was the holiday from hell.

Val now does all the driving in the family, my mother went on. But for inexplicable reasons, she is only able to turn left in the vehicle, being too fearful of right turns. This means that every journey she takes has to be meticulously planned so that the car only travels in an anti-clockwise direction.

In other news, the days of riding the Blackpool tram using a pensioner’s bus pass have come to a sad end. My mother, father and Uncle Stephen (pictured) used to regularly ride along the promenade for free, using their bus pass.

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They weren’t the only ones; scores of grey-haired pensioners would clamber aboard and ride up and down all day at tax payer’s expense. At the end stop, they were forced to alight the tram for 10 minutes for the driver to take a toilet break, where they would stand grumbling and shivering until the tram re-opened in order for them to repeat the journey all over again.

Naturally, Uncle Stephen drove up to Blackpool the day before the new ‘no bus passes’ rule came into force, and went up and down a few times on his own: one final free hurrah.

After watching one episode too many of Homes Under The Hammer, my family have recently invested in a bungalow and is in the process of doing it up. My mother was keen to show me how it was coming along.

We pulled up outside and my mother and Max tiptoed out of the car in an exaggerated fashion, like two pantomime characters.

‘What are you doing?’ I hissed.

‘Trying not to alert the neighbour that we’re here,’ said my mother in hushed tones. ‘She’s a bit S.I.M.P.L.E.’

Max nodded sagely, in agreement.

As I’ve mentioned before, the number of simple people my mother encounters on a weekly basis is disproportionately high.

‘What do you mean?’ I whispered back.

‘She not quite all there,’ said my mother, reciting another of her favourite phrases. ‘She keep asking me if I’m a farmer!”

Driving home from the bungalow, we hit rush hour traffic and I suddenly realised I was going to be late to meet my friend at Starbucks.

My mother foraged feverishly in her pocket. ‘Don’t worry,’ she cried triumphantly. ‘I’ve got my bus pass!’

‘Just drop us off here and they you can get to Stardrops!’ she continued, leaping out of the car.

‘Stardrops is what you use to clean the carpet with!’ I called out of the window. ‘It’s STARBUCKS!’

But she didn’t hear me; she was already marching purposefully in the direction of the bus stop, Max trotting obediently at her side.

With a free bus pass in her hand and an open road ahead, it was anybody’s guess where she might end up.