Friday, December 31

2010 Roundup

A bit of a shit year really, with a few shimmers of joy. I suddenly feel very old and grown up. Today I spent over a hundred pounds in John Lewis - entirely on household items.

It is one of my resolutions to blog slightly more frequently. So here is my grisly annual roundup. Seems like a bummer ending it on a depressing note. So let's start with The Bad:

The Bad:

My boss is still insane. My school still teaches creationism. My commute is still an hour each way. This must be rectified, and soon.

Family woe
My relationship with my father is ten times more complicated than it was a year ago. This is partly due to  'The Awful' (see below) but mostly due to the fact that he's been dating a Shameless version of Tracey Stubbs since about 3 weeks after Mum died. My brother is, essentially, an overgrown puppy with a sex addiction.

I'm still a bit mental. Sometimes. Oh well.

The Awful: 

Mum died. 
At times I wanted to join her. At times it feels like she only died yesterday. Grief festers in your brain like a canker and dulls the sheen on the most uplifting and exciting days. 

The Good:

Getting out of debt
I am £4800 less in debt than I was this time last year. At some point in 2011 I will owe HSBC £0 for the first time in over ten years. Money will enter my account on payday and be MINE, ALL MINE and with it I will buy glitter and moonbeams and puppies, and probably more jay cloths (why this constant need to buy more jay cloths?).

Mr G
He's been absolutely wonderful this year. Best boyfriend, ever. And very clever too. If I had the money I'd buy him a yacht and a big car and a solid gold watch. But he hates all those things and I'm too poor, so I'll just keep bringing him tea in bed.

New friends
Thanks to Twitter and despite crushing social retardation I have three lovely new lady friends to quiz and titter with. We quite often win. Hi Jesus!

Big sis
Unchanged and reliable in times of hideous overhaul, I am beginning to appreciate my sister in a Hallmark-cards-kinda-way. 

Wednesday, December 8

Powdered milk

It's just over a year since I found out mum was sick, and as you'd expect, I am not doing very well. I'm haunted by frequent and vivid flashbacks in which I am mixing milk powder into full fat milk for my mum. It was all she could manage in the last week of her life. I can see myself measuring it out, feeling utterly pathetic and hopeless at the good it will do her. Then I can see her hands shaking as she tries to drink it and the floodgates open. This crying is like nothing I've experienced before. It hurts, and it makes me breathless. I bellow into cushions or the empty flat and worry that I am going insane.

It's going to be a tough Christmas.

Wednesday, November 10

Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you, from doing all the things in life you'd like to.

Hello, my name is Gem and I am a social phobic. I get anxious about meeting friends for Sunday lunch. Work dos make me feel sick. Parties terrify me. Sheer willpower prevents me from hiding under a blanket on my sofa every time I'm required to go out and converse with people that I have never met before. For every social situation, from going to the pub to attending a friend's wedding, I am forced to choose from one of the following options:

A - Force myself to go out. Stand in the middle of the room and feel like I am drowning. Feel sick. Get very sweaty. Panic. Come home.
B - Force myself to go out. Enjoy it. Forget myself. Feel better.
C - Stay at home. Feel safe. Go to bed.
D - Stay at home. Feel horrifically guilty. Commit mental Harakiri until I pass out on the sofa from shame.

A has only occurred a few times, and when it has I've felt like a total failure as a result. B is occurring more frequently recently, but is harder to psyche myself up for. C, if I am honest, is the option I take most regularly, for less-pressing social concerns such as drinks after work or one of James' work dos. D occurs when I let down a friend, or feel unwell. It happens fairly regularly.

Many sociophobes, like these guys here, have hang-ups about the way they look. For me, it's not so much what I look like, exactly, more what I sound like when I open my mouth. I'm quite loud, always have been, so my voice stands out (I have since given a name to this; 'Teacher Voice', and it's very useful). And to further compound my shame what came out of it in school was quickly deemed to be abnormal. I withstood years of persecution by my peers for saying 'weird' things that simply came naturally to me. I'd quote Oscar Wilde at opportune moments in class, or attempt to engage others in a discussion on the merits of Reeves and Mortimer. I thought these were all very normal topics for discussion, they were at home. But apparently, in school, you are only allowed to discuss two topics: shagging and each other.

Awareness of this condition has only made it worse. Meta-cognition has ruined conversation for me, to the extent that whenever I talk to somebody I don't know very well this monologue will run in my head:








It'd be so easy to blame those bastards at school, wouldn't it? But the fact is that I am a grown woman and should be able to look back and learn from my own errors, and the errors of others. No, it's mostly me. I could spend all day reeling off a list of the reasons why I feel safer indoors than out at some cocktail bar. Let me begin to count the ways:

  • People, generally, annoy me. High voices annoy me. Quiet, timid voices annoy me. People with expensive clothes annoy me. Loud chewers annoy me. And people that sniff.
  • People are mean. They make snap judgements about people based on ridiculous things, such as their tone of voice, or their clothes, or the fact that they sniff.
  • People are noisy. Well, lots of people together in a room are. I have a real problem with noise differentiation, so I find rooms with lots of different conversations going on in them really scary and disorientating.
  • People smell. They really do. Some people smell worse than others.
  • People are stupid. Show me one clever person and I bet I can find at least ten stupid people to outnumber them. I'm not, by any means, a genius, but I genuinely have no idea what to say to people with marshmallow-fluff brains in a social situation. Where does one start with these people? The weather?

Occasionally I attempt to explain my 'problem' to people I meet, but it just confuses them. Or makes them think I'm mental. Or, worse, they nod sagely, join their palms in a symbol of shamanic wisdom and make snap proclamations of cod-psychology that they've gleaned from too much Trisha such as: "You know your problem, Gem? You think too much."

Thus reinforcing my opinion that I am better off indoors.

So that's it, then. I'm a sociophobic. So now what do I do? I would like to get better. I would like to be able to attend work events with my boyfriend and not feel like I am melting into the carpet, or being trodden into it. I'd go and see my GP, and perhaps try for cognitive therapy, but she's put up with enough harassment from me recently, and would probably just tell me to 'go out more'. She'd be right, wouldn't she?

Monday, November 8


Jesus Christ I am so sick of being poor. It started at university, when I received huge cheques for over a grand and had absolutely no idea how to spend them correctly. I bought a load of shit.

Then I graduated and bought a load more. I got greedy. I borrowed money to buy more shit. And so on for another few years until...

A bank machine ate my card. I went home and threw up. My work closed, and my hours were drastically reduced. Minimum payments went unpaid. Bills arrived at my parents house, and I was too scared to open them so just chucked them straight in the bin. At certain points I imagined myself banged up in a debtor's prison, like a character from Dickens. Poor Mistress Gemblesnuff, she got behind with her payments and ended up in the Marshalsea. I was terrified of bailiffs and checked my windows to make sure they were locked before I left the house.

I fell in love. I moved to London. Now I knew I had to get real and sort myself out or lose everything. I contacted a debt management agency on the recommendation of a friend and added it all up. I was sick countless times. It felt utterly unmanageable.

The debt management company were excellent. They contacted all my creditors and got them to agree to reduced payments. I started paying £300 a month to them, which was shared equally between my debtors (of which there were seven).

Years passed. I became a teacher, with a proper wage. I was even able to increase my monthly payment to try and pay my debts off more quickly.

I don't earn enough, in my opinion, for the job that I do. However, I could probably have a reasonably good quality of life if I didn't have to pay £402 to my debtors every month. I am skint within ten days of payday, and have to dole tenners out to myself to ensure I can eat until the next payday. On days like today, when I see £200 left in my account until the end of the month I want to cry.

Next year one of my most enormous debts will be cleared, a debt to HSBC totalling over £9000. This will mean that my other debts can be cleared much more quickly, because my monthly payment to each will increase. I know it's not the end of it, but I'm going to celebrate nonetheless. And whenever I see £200 in my account and want to cry I have to repeat this mantra: 'Soon. It will be over soon.'

Tuesday, November 2

25 things about me

1. I once wrote a letter to Jim'll Fix It, asking to meet the entire cast of Baywatch (I was 8).
2. The idea of terrapins existing makes me feel sick.
3. I once ate a whole box of Maltesers in under half an hour.
4. I am, despite often seeming otherwise, quite a solitary person.
5. When I was 17 I once sat outside the King's Lynn Corn Exchange for five hours in the middle of a freezing cold winter night, waiting for Mansun to come out, warming myself on the exhaust fumes from their tour bus. I caught mild hypothermia. It took me two days to thaw out.
6. The person I can't stand the thought of anything happening to is my little brother. I would crumble.
7. I listen to Prince, on average, every 3 days.
8. I know all the words to 'Snooker Loopy' by Chas & Dave.
9. Dogs love me.
10. And small children.
11. I don't really like small children.
12. I hate being overlooked more than anything.
13. I jumped off a tube train and followed a man down the platform to give him back a £2 coin that he'd dropped on the floor of the train.
14. I have had the same pillow for about 6 years. It's moulded to my head, flat as a pancake, and probably mouldy inside.
15. I once spent £500 in one go in Topshop. The £500 was part of my student loan.
16. I know A LOT about the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
17. As children, my sister and I were encouraged to refer to our genitalia as a 'doody'.
18. Christmas always makes me really depressed. I get fed up of being around people at close quarters by 3pm and storm upstairs for a nap.
19. I have a Moomin themed bathroom, with a Moomin soap dish, a Moomin toothbrush holder, a Moomin hand towel and Moomin pictures.
20. I smoked for about 10 years, until I gave up two years ago. I never told my parents.
21. I had 9 piercings at one point. I got bored and took them all out.
22. I thought Heath Ledger's Joker was sexy.
23. I use certain songs/tv shows/films as benchmarks when assessing potential suitors, but I never reveal what they are.
24. I sometimes stop and stand in the street, looking up at the London sky and feeling grateful for being alive.
25. I am petrified of ketchup.

Thursday, October 28

Bad Day

So yeah, my last post was a bit intense, right? So glad to have drawn a line underneath yesterday; a Bad Day all round. Managed to convince myself that I was dying of cancer before passing out in a co-codamol-induced coma at 4am. Definitely need to try and get some more sleep this morning, babysitting an eight-year-old in a few hours' time.

Thanks for reading and kind comments via Twitter. They make it less painful, honest. xx

Wednesday, October 27

Autumn letter to Mum...

(I'm not going for any writing awards here)

It's getting really cold outside now, you'd definitely be wearing your pink wool coat in this weather. Dad rings and says your grave looks sad and barren without a headstone or any plants to keep it company. It's too soon to put a stone over your remains, and your death is too raw to work out what we'd write on it.

In a few weeks it'll be a whole year since you made that phone call to tell me about the scan. Your voice was so tiny on the phone, and I melted into a pool on the living room floor after you'd rung off. Blind panic gave way to an odd kind of autopilot, and somehow time passed. That night I woke up at 2am screaming 'I don't want my mum to die', and managed to calm myself down by convincing myself that you wouldn't. If I'd let myself think for a moment that you would I would have been useless to you.

Do you remember how I took the next day off work and came straight back to Norfolk to see you? You looked tiny. Shrunken, and yellowing. After you'd gone for a sleep I broke down in the living room and retched all over the carpet, I was terrified that you'd leave me, the world without you in it seemed sick and horrific.

I lost your voice for a while, Mum. White hot fear set in for a few days until I found it again. I got it back by remembering the time I took you to the ballet for your birthday, and how you'd bought chocolates because 'everybody has to have chocolates at the ballet'. I miss your sense of humour so much. On days like today I would give anything to hear you speak again.

I hardly ever say the word 'Mum' anymore. Sometimes I say it to myself, when there's nobody around, just to feel the sensation of the word on my lips. But it's forced, not like the 'Muu-uuuum' I uttered as a teenager, or the 'Mummy' I repeated as I stroked your hair in your final hours. I've lost you, and the word, it seems.

Nobody warns you about the loneliness. It's terribly lonely without you, Mum. In the past, whenever life threw shit at me I could always somehow think my way back to you, and feel safe again. In the picture by my bed you are holding me as a baby. It's a snapshot, so neither of us is posed. I'm gazing dreamily at the camera, and you are holding me and watching me, the weight of motherly responsibility very clearly on your shoulders. Now it's much harder to find a way out of the darkness without you acting as my spine. I knew this would happen. As I watched you fight for your final few breaths I wanted to grab your body so that you could take me with you. I didn't want you to be alone. I didn't want to be alone.

I'm so grateful for the perspective that your death has given me, your final gift to me; you made me 'grow up'. You'd be so proud of the way I handle life's trivial ups and downs now. But I'm scared of this winter, and the memories it might throw up. I almost feel like I should stock an arsenal of happy memories to see me through it.

I'll write again Mum. Sorry it took me so long to write this one. I love you.

Gemmie-Lou xx

P.S. I need to buy a cardigan. The only warm cardie I have is the one you bought me for Christmas two years ago but wearing it makes me sad. I think about how you'd tease me mercilessly over this and I giggle through my sobs. I pine for you and celebrate you in equal measure. I think you'd be okay with this.

Felt this needed a photo. Don't want to forget your face as well as your voice!

Sunday, September 26

And the result is...

... my wee is...


Found out on Friday, and was instantly relieved. Yet another example of me tying myself up in knots over something very minor indeed. Have decided to CTFO (Chill The Fuck Out) and laugh at myself for making shit mountains out of tiny little dung-piles.

Monday, September 20

The vicious cycle of hypochondria

I decided to write down my spiralling thoughts, with the idea that reading them back to myself would embarrass me enough to stop having them.

To Wee or Not to Wee?

I need a wee

Oh God, was that a twinge?

My back hurts a bit

I’ve got a kidney infection.
I’ve got diabetes.
I’ve got cancer.

I feel sick.

I feel sick because I AM sick.

I’m going to get sicker, I might even die.

I’ll have to have time off work.

I’ll lose my job.

I’ll lose my boyfriend. And my house.

I need a wee.

Sunday, August 29

Cinnamon Breakfast Cake

Were two words ever more perfectly suited than 'breakfast' and 'cake'? Anna made this for me yesterday during a little holiday at her house in Harrogate, from a recipe her mum gave her, and I have to share it with you here. It's essentially a tray-bake cake/pastry hybrid. You make the cake batter and sprinkle it with sugar, then you melt a load of butter with cinnamon and pour it over the batter, creating seams of glorious spicy/sugary goo. This recipe uses the American cup system, but I have put the conversions you'll need for this recipe below:

1 cup flour = 150g
1 cup sugar = 225g
1 cup butter = 175g
1 cup milk = 240ml

And don't thank me, thank Anna's mum!


Heat your oven to approx Gas Mark 6. Line a smallish deepish roasting tin with parchment- or a deep cake tin.

Cake Ingredients:

1 egg
3 cups plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar (white not brown for the cake)
1 and a half cups milk

For the Topping:

Lots of cinnamon
1 and a half cups brown sugar- demerara works best
Half a cup melted butter


Melt your butter.
Mix all the cake ingredients together and pour into your lined tin.
Sift over the cake surface all the sugar- add a bit more if you like it extra gooey.
Sift a generous amount of cinnamon all over the sugar.
Drizzle all the butter all over the sugar topping.
Bake for 35 minutes or until it looks done on top, but not too brown.
The butter and sugar sink through the top to make streaks of goo throughout the cake.

Eat warm if you can wait that long, and it reheats quite well.

It should look like this once it's cooked:


I just made this. I used caster sugar for the cake, because I'd run out of granulated, and it was fine. I also used extra butter, and the cake was REALLY gooey on the bottom, but I like it that way.

Friday, August 20

Adam and Jane

I HATE BT's Adam and Jane, they are the budget Gold Blend couple. The adverts have been going on and on for years now, with little sign of stopping. I have no affection for either character; I hate Adam and I hate Jane. She's got really pinched-looking as the saga has rolled on, and he's completely sold out and now wears a suit and shirts with cufflinks all the time.

The latest advert has them both sat in stunned silence before the great 'reveal' that Jane is pregnant. And apparently this is because WE, the great British public, wanted this to happen. I never made it to the forum on to have my say, and I never got to cast my vote, but if I HAD then I definitely would have gone for 'not pregnant' because now if he dumps her and goes off with his unruly mates (1:54) he's going to look like a heartless bastard. And if she dumps him everyone's going to say 'Oooh, you cow, you're the mother of his kid!' etc etc. So they'll probably just stay together and have occasional tiffs, like usual. Yawn.

Below are a series of suggestions for the next advert which I would have made on the forum, if I had the chance, and one 'red herring' which is boring and most probably what will happen:
  • Jane goes for ultrasound, discovers 'baby' is, in fact, giant teratoma containing mainly hair and teeth. Goes home and gives birth to it on the kitchen table. Adam watches on his BT broadband via webcam.
  • Jane raids Adam's hard drive, finds video he was watching with mates on stag night, projectile vomits and drops dead.
  • Adam kills Jane. Wears her face as a mask to fool the kids on webcam chat. Feigns trip to theme park and drives minibus with kids into Thames. 
  • Adam wakes up and discovers he has the face of Keanu Reeves, he turns to Laurence Fishburne who says 'That's what happens when you take the blue tablet'.
  • Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wanamaker turn up to pick up Adam, he is their oldest son and this whole thing has been one of his 'pranks'. They tell him off and he starts wanking.
  • Jane goes into labour, Adam finds out about it via his BT phoneline, gets to hospital just in time, uses his BT phone to ring his parents and tell them, and his BT broadband to email them pictures.
Feel free to add more suggestions below.

P.S. I made the jam. It set and everything.

Rainy days and sick days

I'm currently recovering from a nasty bout of milk-based food poisoning. I'm not longer vomiting every three minutes but I'm still a bit nervous of leaving the house. I can't bake, because of all the food touching involved, and the TV is getting SOOOO boring. But I've hit upon an ingenious plan - jam making. I don't have to touch it, and I can eat it on toast when I am better. I've trawled the web for recipes, and have created this one, which takes into account the ingredients that I already have in my cupboard, and what I like the taste of.

MissGembles's Plum Jam

700-750g plums halved and stoned, then quartered
600g granulated or jam sugar
175ml water
2 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla pod with seeds scraped out)

Sterilising jars:

To sterilise jam jars and lids, wash, rinse and dry them (remove any traces of old labels if you’re recycling) and put into the oven for 10 minutes at 150 degrees C/gas 2.

Put the plums, and 175ml of water into a pan.

Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the fruit is tender and the skin soft. May take 20 minutes depends on the size and variety of the plums.

Add the sugar and vanilla and stir until dissolved. Bring to boiling point and boil rapidly until setting point is reached, usually 10 – 12 minutes. If you have a sugar thermometer you can check, setting point is 105C or 220F.

Take off the heat. If the fruit is bobbing about at the top of the pan then it may not be cooked enough. If this happens, cook for a few more minutes, about 3 – 4.

*You should always pour the jam directly into the hot, sterilised jars after it has reached setting point, and you need to seal the jars up straight away. Pop them in the fridge when they have cooled. The jam lasts about 2 months.

Purists amongst you might have noticed the omission of gelatine, or pectin. That's because the cooking process I have used above SHOULD bring out the pectin that is already contained in the fruit. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, August 14


James and I received a small aquarium for Christmas. We put an ugly bottom feeder and a Siamese fighting fish in it (which died after about two weeks).

(RIP Cromwell)

Then we populated it with platys (a much hardier fish) and two out of three have survived, despite constant attention from the cat.

I am fast becoming a 'fish person'. I often find myself drawn to aquatics shops, murmuring appreciation of enormous koi carp and tutting when the tanks do not meed my standards.

Today we bought a Glass Fish to replace Bowie, the silver platy who blew up like a pine cone and died. He looks like a ghost so we've called him Hopkirk. He's ace. I already want another one.

I have Aqualust.

Saturday, August 7

Letter to my sixteen year old self...

Turn the music down and pay attention, close your bedroom door and have a sneak peek at what the next thirteen years of your life will bring.

Firstly, your hair is going to change colour multiple times, to orange, pink, purple, red, blue and blonde. It's never going to forgive you for this. Please stop dying it.

I suspect you've been listening to the Manics, and gazing longingly at your copies of Melody Maker (you're going to get work experience there, next year!), imagining life passing you by as you rot in your Fenland bedroom doing your Geography homework. You want to get out, but you're scared of what you'll find. You're scared that you won't be able to cope on your own, without your cosy bedroom to fall back on.

You've just started smoking. YOU IDIOT. You're about to waste the next nine years of your life pissing money away on Marlboro Lights. You conceal your smoking habit from mum and dad for nine years. You think you've got away with it. You haven't. They know. They've known all along.

Recently you've been experiencing feelings of unreality, where you imagine yourself detached from what is happening around you every day. You cry more than is necessary. Getting drunk and stoned is scary and disorientating, and you can't understand why everybody else is so keen on it. Sometimes you're frightened to leave the house. I know all this scares you, but trust me, I've had a lot of experience of all this and you don't need to worry. It's called 'depression'. You'll suffer with it all your life. But you will be fine. Every day of your life from now on is a baby step towards happiness and freedom. Even the days when you feel like you are sliding backwards into despair will teach you a valuable lesson. Try to talk to Mum about this, she wants to understand but she's not sure how to approach you. Dad's not angry with you, he's just afraid.

Don't be so afraid of being alone. Your lonely moments tend to be defining points in your life. You need them to think and move on.

You've got your GCSEs by now, so you know that English is your strong point. Stick with it, it'll serve you well in your future. And pay more attention in Geography, because it'll feature again in your life. You're working harder than you've ever worked because you've realised that the only escape from the boredom of being a teenager in West Norfolk is to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. You're quite right. Keep it up. I won't reveal your grades but you will pass your A-Levels and you will get into your first choice of university.

You LOVE university. Nobody laughs at your clothes or calls you 'weird' (or, worse still, 'original', urgh). You make friends that will stay with you for life. You study Film. You live in a shared house and in this house you find the freedom and acceptance that you've yearned for. Be good to Elin and Anna, they'll take good care of you when you need them the most.

Someone you really fancy off the telly is going to try and have sex with you when you are 26. You knock them back because you've fallen in love with someone else. You think you fall in love at 20. You learn a lesson. At 24 you fall in love for real. He is marvellous, and intelligent, and funny, and all the things you have found lacking in the male populace so far. He gives you confidence and brings you into the light. You move in with him in London and have pets and lots and lots of books and DVDs (they're like videos, only on CDs). He writes comedy for BBC radio, and you are immensely proud of him. I can guarantee you'll still be with him at age 29.

Now, I don't want to alarm you, but I must warn you that at some point in your twenties something bad is going to happen. I've decided not to tell you what it is, because as I look back I wouldn't change a thing. All you need to know is that this event will test you to the very precipice of your soul, but you will cope with it, and you will emerge from the wreckage a stronger and more sympathetic person.

Joe is fine. He never grows out of his epilepsy, but it is controlled, and he has a good quality of life. Maria is fine. You and her live close to each other in London for a few years, and you miss her when she goes back to the North.

You never really 'grow up'. You will feel sixteen forever. But you'll get better and better at being sixteen as the years go by, and your life will sprawl out around you like a rich carpet. It's all going to be okay.

Tuesday, July 13

Phones 4 POO

A summary of the worst customer service ever. I have replaced the guy's name with 'DICKWAD' to spare his dignity, but even that is a questionable concept:

Dear Phones 4 U:

This letter is to complain about service I recently received from a Phones 4 U customer service representative named DICKWAD.

I came to your Kilburn High Road branch (ref 424) on 13/07/10 at approx 15.20pm to find out how to deal with a problem I’ve had with the handset of my Sony Ericsson Experia X10 phone. After I had been waiting on the shop floor for several minutes, a member of staff told me to wait on a stool. A few minutes later a member of staff named DICKWAD called out to me from where he was sat with another customer and asked me the nature of my enquiry. I rather self-consciously called back from my position on the other side of the store that my phone was faulty. After a few minutes he turned around and said ‘You’ve got a faulty phone, yeah?’ then continued talking to his other customer. Seemingly having finished with the other customer, he started the consultation by tapping on his computer with his back to me, and turning round periodically to call out and ask me for details; this prompted me to ask ‘Would you like me to come over there?’. The sales assistant shrugged. Not wanting to conduct business by calling across a shop floor, I went over and stood next to the seated sales assistant for a few minutes before another member of staff saw me and fetched me a chair.

Once I had explained my fault the sales assistant asked me to remove my memory and SIM cards, because, he said, ‘I don’t wanna break your phone’. I had to explain my problem to him several times (can’t switch phone on, red flashing light) because he did not seem to be listening, frequently asking me to spell simple words out to him and appearing never to have heard of the London district of Hornsey, which is less than three miles from his store. I was informed that my phone would take two weeks to be returned to me, and when I asked why I could not have a replacement handset or a loan phone immediately he told me that it was because ‘Phones 4 U are tight’. Needless to say, I was quite frustrated, not just with him, but because I would effectively be paying line rental for a phone I could not use.

I asked to speak to the manager, who was busy with a customer at this stage. He later told DICKWAD to call the customer service team and speak to them. DICKWAD conducted his conversation with his back to me, and seemed quite agitated. He then passed the phone over for me to speak with customer services, and walked off to another area in the shop. After I had finished speaking to customer services I was asked to hand the phone back to the assistant, but was unable to do so because he had gone off to try and sell a phone to someone else. Myself, and the representative of your company at the other end of the phone, spent an uncomfortable few minutes waiting for him, and in the end I had to go and fetch him to speak to me. After the call ended he walked away and the manager dealt with me from that point.

The manager and the customer services team on the phone were able to provide an adequate handset replacement for me to use while my X10 is being repaired, but by this point it was 16.10 and I had been in the store nearly an hour.

At one point while I was waiting for the manager, a customer’s coin fell out of his hand and past DICKWAD, who noticed it, and ignored it, preferring to sit and fan himself with a mouse mat in the shape of a telephone handset. This signposted to me very clearly his lack of customer service skills and given that your website says that ‘Delivering excellent customer service is Phones 4u’s number one priority’, I would recommend some basic training in this area, as he was practically monosyllabic throughout my consultation.

I expected a much higher level of service from your company, and I am quite disappointed. I will be informing my friends and family about this experience.

Sunday, July 11

Lost one, losing the other...

Mum and Dad were a unit. Dad was the one who called me every day, but Mum was the one who always said 'goodbye' at the end. Since Mum died Dad calls me rarely, and when he does it feels like I am talking to an android. I know why he's so scared of talking to me, because most of his 'news' revolves around the lovely adventures he's having with the woman that he so conveniently slotted into my mother's place about two months after she died. Over thirty years of marriage, and a loss, dealt with in two months, it must be some kind of miracle. He's still very angry and guilty around us kids, so he clearly hasn't dealt with his loss yet, and I worry that because he's not dealt with it yet he'll jump feet-first into a situation that is difficult for him to extract himself from.

I have told Dad that I love him, but I can't deal with this new relationship so soon after Mum's death (her grave doesn't even have a headstone yet). He went on holiday with her last week, and I received a five minute phone call on my birthday and a BACS payment of £70. I felt like sending it back. I still might. I told him 'okay, have fun' but no, I don't want to hear about it, because I'm not over my mum yet, and it feels completely alien, but because he's like a teenager in the throes of first love, he's not listening to anything that anybody else says, using juvenile defiance along the lines of 'It's not fair, huff...'. I can't feel how he wants me to feel. I love him, and he knows it, but I feel hollow with loss, and I can't deal with any more.

One day I'll be in a place to accept what he's doing but it is just too raw now. So I've gone from two amazing parents to half a parent; it hurts like hell but what can I do about it?

Monday, June 28


That is the name I have given to days when I am sad and heavily under the influence of hormones. D stands for any of the following: Depression, Darkness, Despair, Doubt and Disappointment. Fleetingly (and I really do mean 'fleetingly') it can stand for Death, when I can see only my own and my loved ones' demise through a port-hole of misery.

Today is a D-Day. I am really poor until payday on Weds, I have about a fiver to live on. The heat hasn't helped. Nor has my impending period. Nor did the fact that I was given a cover lesson and had to work flat-out all day to try and inject enthusiasm into wilting kids. Then I got home and discovered something about potential upcoming changes at work, and BOOM... D-Day*.

All I could see in my future were more days like today and worse, and I honestly felt hopeless. If I'm more honest, I still feel a little like that right now. I sobbed through a phonecall from my dad and jibbered through a phone call with my sister, and I felt embarrassed on each occasion. It is pointless to try and think yourself out of a D-Day situation. Every turn has me slinking back into poverty and mental illness and that futile feeling like I am wading through quicksand. Shame prevents me from sharing my feelings; thoughts of those 'starving children in Africa' that were pummeled into my brain when I complained about doing PE in the rain at primary school. My boss is a control freak! Tough, there are babies in Africa with flies in their eyes. Get a grip.

I can't get a grip.

So I keep thinking to myself 'Next year'. Next year I will be out of debt. Next year I will be able to quit my job and find one in a place that isn't run by a megalomaniac. I will be further along the bereavement trail and coping better without Mum. But it isn't bloody 'Next year' is it? It's 'Now' and it's fucking horrid.

*Also, my fish wasn't cooked properly and I had to spit it out and leave it on the plate. Yes I know, starving children in...

Saturday, April 17

What a let-down!

I had a bit of a meltdown this evening, before James and I were due to leave to see a comedy show. I've been pining for Mum a lot since I got back from New York. It's almost like I took a holiday from grief and came back only to experience it all over again. Fresh grief. Nice. In the end I pulled myself together, got myself there and had a good time, but it wasn't easy.

So here's the truth:

I'm not in good shape. I'm so stressed that I've got shingles on my stomach, and shooting pains around my shoulder and neck. I'm not sleeping well at all. I'm knackered all the time. I feel constantly guilty because I can't live at the pace I used to, so even though I give people the impression that I'm coping okay, I'm actually feeling like a tiny piranha swimming the wrong way up the Ganges, my fins are flapping so fast that they are wearing me out. At best I am functioning at around 70%, which means I can hold a conversation and crack a joke, but need to compensate by staring at the wall on my own for an hour or so every night. Usually at around 2am. My doctor, counsellor and family all tell me to take it easy, and give myself a break by taking less on and indulging myself a little more than usual. But when I do I feel extravagant, selfish and like I'm constantly letting other people down. And worrying about that just makes things ten times worse.

Grieving is like climbing a really greasy pole, or being a counter in 'Snakes and Ladders'. I don't know when I'm going to be back up to full speed again, and that's frustrating for me and others close to me. One week I can take two steps forward, and then three steps back. Another I can take four steps forward and no steps back. Sometimes I hit a big fat snake and end up back near the start of the board again. I want to be better. I don't need to win, I just need to know that I'll finish the game; even if I have to start all over again in a few years time.

Thursday, April 15


I'm dying. I'm ALWAYS dying. Well, sometimes I think I am. Perhaps more frequently at the moment. I also think that my loved ones are all dying too. I stare really hard at them hoping to magically develop x-ray vision to enable me to scan them for tumours. Last week I watched James walking through Central Park in glorious sunshine and just thought 'What will happen to me if you die?'. Seriously though, all I think about at the moment is my own demise and that of my loved ones. I think the suddenness of Mum's illness has left me believing that death is a trickster, hell-bent on following me around and ruining all my fun. It's like I have a cartoon reaper on my shoulder that I have to keep swatting away.

Tuesday, April 6


I might be being a little melodramatic here. I'm flying to New York this evening. Anybody that knows me will tell you I am a RUBBISH flyer. I have to wrap my head in a scarf during take-off and landing so that I can't see what's going on. I take Valium before getting on the plane. I make informal wills on Twitter and Facebook bequeathing my worthless belongings to my nearest and dearest.

Once I am in New York I will be absolutely fine. But until then I have to contend with the following invasive thought every 2-3 seconds for the next twelve hours - 'DEATH DEATH DEATH!'.

Nevertheless I am determined to enjoy this holiday, Dad gave me money towards it from Mum's life insurance payout. If I believed in heaven I'd imagine her up there, cheering me on in the shoe aisles of Macy's.

Sunday, March 28

A letter to Mum

Mum, it is spring. I wake up to chirruping birds and only need to wear a cardie to work. The daffodils are out, and the evenings are longer and every single shop is stacked with chocolate eggs.

I picture you on your hands and knees, prodding at the bulbs in the back garden in Norfolk. I can hear the 'snip snip' of your shears and smell the ozone in the air all around you. Spring was your season, and without you I feel lost. My daffodils wilted last week and I left them as they were for several days. Sorry Mum.

Sunday, March 14

Mother's Day

Mum's been gone over two months now, her death is still very raw and occasionally inconceivable.

I can't get over Mum's final days and hours. Dark images creep into my head when I'm on the Tube or in the bath, and I agonise for ages over these pictures which show her shrunken, yellowing and in pain. Questions rise like bubbles over the pictures: Did she know she was dying? Was she scared? Could she hear me? The bubbles rise higher, choking me, and it can take hours to recover.

But I had my first counselling session last week, which was great. The counsellor promised me that the images would recede, in time. Everyone keeps promising me that. But they haven't, they're still there, and while they're still there I can't enjoy any memories of Mum when she was healthy.

One way I'm trying to combat these thoughts is by trying to replace them with a happy pre-cancer memory of Mum, where she's smiling, or teasing me, or baking me a Victoria sponge cake. But it's a lot harder to remember those memories than the more recent, more painful ones.

I am determined to do Mum justice this Mother's Day and remember her as I know she would want to be remembered; laughing, always busy, and calling me a 'baggage'.

Happy Mother's Day, Mum. Love you.

Monday, March 8

So I don't forget...

The bereavement counsellor has just left. It was good, I cried and laughed and cried some more. And now I am eating Mini Eggs.

I thought I'd share another recipe, cos I'm all Mastercheffy, like...

Chicken and Chorizo Stew

2 chicken breasts
1 chorizo ring - sliced
2 sticks celery - chopped
1 medium onion - chopped
1/2 can chick peas - drained
3 garlic cloves - crushed
Handful parsley - chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tiny bottle red wine
Salt, pepper, smoked paprika

1. Sprinkle half a teaspoon of smoked paprika over 2 chicken breasts and seal for 5 mins over a hot griddle.

2. Slice the chorizo into slices no thicker than 5mm and use them to line a casserole dish.

3. Chop onion, parsley and celery sticks and drain chickpeas.

4. Crush garlic.

5. Place sealed chicken breasts over chorizo. Cover with chopped vegetables and garlic.

6. Pour over chopped tomatoes and wine.

7. Season according to taste and cook in oven (gas mark 5) for approx 90 mins.

8. Garnish with leftover parsley and serve with crusty bread.

Tuesday, February 16

Witness the decline!

I'm losing followers like the Church of England is losing worshippers. Look!

Wednesday, February 10

Occupational Hell-th

I'm currently the subject of an occupational health assessment. They're supposed to be supportive means of getting you fit for work, but I don't feel at all supported, just terrified.

I had a couple of weeks off last year for flu, and was doing really well, but then, well, you know... the stuff with Mum started happening. I haven't gone back to work since Mum's death on Jan 2nd.

I keep having flashbacks to my mother's illness. I find anything beyond pottering extremely stressful. Some days I can barely get out of bed, and neglect myself completely. Appointments scare the living daylights out of me, as I feel pressurised into keeping them. I know that this is depression bought on by my mother's death, I have suffered depression since I was 16, and have learned to live with it. I was doing SO well until all of this. I had a catch up session with a psychiatrist over the summer and he told me that I was doing 'very well' and was 'fully functioning'.

Last week my boss sent me an occupational health consent form to sign citing 'ongoing illness' and 'sick leave beyond what is normal' (or words to that effect). I signed it to agree to the assessment and sent it back. That's where I'm at right now.

My GP and I were going to try to get me back to work after half term, but this has thrown me into confusion. I have so many questions but these are the main ones:

  • Should I hold out for the OH assessment and follow their guidance, or go back to school and try to muddle though?
  • If the OH advises phased return (which is what I'm hoping for) are my school required to act upon their advice, or can they still drop me in at the deep end?
  • If I take the OH's guidance can it lead to dismissal on the grounds of capability?

I don't want to lose my job. I love my job. I just can't do it right now.

I want to go back to work and try to have a 'normal' life again, but I'm scared that I won't be able to do it. Can occupational health help me with that? I don't know. I just want someone to help me a little bit, because I feel like I'm drowning right now.

Sunday, February 7

**Not about being miserable**

It is a truth, locally acknowledged that I am rather a dab hand in the kitchen. If I had my way I'd bake and roast food all day, but then I wouldn't earn any money. I often borrow recipes from Gordon or Nigella, but very occasionally I compose my own, based on something I have tried and never found the recipe for. The recipe I am sharing with you in this post doesn't exist anywhere else online. I should know, I've searched for it often enough!

So there's a woman at the Alexandra Palace farmer's market that makes the most amazing fridge cake I have ever tasted. She calls it 'white chocolate slab cake' but, to the cake connoisseur, that is a very different thing indeed (an American brownie type cake, baked in a tray). See, she is not as good a baker as I, she hasn't done her homework. Despite her inability to correctly name her creations, I dream about this woman's fridge cake, and I actually drool. I needed the recipe. I had to have it. Obviously Ally Pally lady hasn't shared her recipe with me, it's the only thing that keeps me going to her stall, so I have devised my own (slightly better) recipe, and have rendered her useless! Hooray for ingenuity! Enjoy!

Gemma's White Chocolate Fridge Cake

300g good quality white chocolate, broken into pieces
175g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 tbsp golden syrup
150g digestive biscuits
150g dried apricots, cut into pieces
100g sultanas
50g mixed fruit peel

1. Line a 23cm square or 22 x 25cm tray with clingfilm or baking parchment. Place the white chocolate in a large heatproof bowl with the butter and syrup and allow to melt over a pan of barely simmering water for about 6-7 minutes, taking care not to let the bowl touch the water.

2. Meanwhile, break the biscuits into small pieces with a rolling pin. Stir all the remaining ingredients into the melted chocolate mixture until evenly coated. Pour into the prepared tray and level with the back of a spoon.

3. Chill in the fridge for 3-4 hours, or overnight. Cut into 16 squares using a large sharp knife dipped into hot water. The pieces will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Friday, February 5

Slightly better news...

The hits for this blog have tripled recently. I can only thank you, and all of my Twitter friends who follow my boring antics.

Bad Day

I have had what can only be termed as a Bad Day today. Grumbling tum led to broken sleep, which led to lethargy and tears, which led to me not being able to get on a train and go back to London. And now I feel guilty about all of the above, which makes things worse.

Dad's been very sweet, and now the child in me wants to stay here forever and let him bring me cups of tea in bed and tissues. I know I can't. I know it's dumb. But right now it's what I want to do more than anything else.

Wednesday, February 3

Wherever I lay my hat...

I've been thinking about the word 'home' a lot lately. Where is Home? Can you have more than one? My sister calls Norfolk 'Home'. Mum was 'Home', now she's gone does that make me homeless? I call my flat in London 'Home' but also tell people that I am going 'Home' to Norfolk whenever I go to visit my Dad and my brother. So where is it? Have I found it yet? How will I know when I'm there?

When I was younger I'd get very anxious about leaving home, even if it was to go on holiday. My parents would have to go through the accommodation arrangements with me in significant detail in order to prepare me for the change in surroundings. I didn't attend a sleepover until I was about fifteen because I'd freak out at the thought of not returning home at the end of the day. Home was special, it was a three bedroom house in the suburbs of King's Lynn, but it was special. I lived here for thirteen years from the age of five to eighteen. When my brother was born I would press my ear to his bedroom door to listen to him breathing. It was there that I sat on the stairs late at night and heard (through the door) that my beloved Grandad had died. I sobbed there for hours and fell asleep slumped against the bannister. I dyed my hair blue here when I was fourteen. I kicked a small dent in my sister's bedroom door when she ran upstairs telling me she was 'going to eat all of the Nutella'. When I was sixteen I slashed my forearms in the bathroom, trying to emulate my hero of the time Richey Edwards (yes, I was a dick). I buried my guinea pigs in the back garden, I made foul-smelling 'perfume' from Mum's rose bushes in the summer. Then I went to uni, and never came 'Home' again.

However, I look back over all the places I have lived, and try to remember where I have felt most 'at home' in my life, and the answer always surprises me, because it is always Norwich. This house, to be precise:

This is Cardiff Road, in Norwich, part of a little student enclave in the city affectionately referred to by students and estate agents alike as the 'Golden Triangle'. All houses in the area look exactly like this one, so it's hardly distinguished by its features, but by the memories I have attached to it. This house is where I learned to cook a roast dinner from scratch for the first time. It's where I first became familiar with the term 'emergency plumber'. It's where I sat up most nights until 3 or 4 in the morning with my closest friends, smoking Marlboro Lights, drinking tea and plotting world domination (which, of course, never took place). I spent a month on the sofa in the living room here recovering from shingles by eating family sized bars of chocolate and chain-smoking. I naively said 'I love you' to a boy for the first time in my little bedroom at the back of the house. Once I drunkenly dragged a damp sandbag back here at 4am and named it 'Sammy', the effort left my arms aching for days. It's hard to believe that I lived here for just two years, but the rooms and corridors are imprinted in my memory more vividly than any place I have lived before or since. We were all of us amateurs at living independently, growing up, laughing (so much laughing) and making mistakes together. I never felt alone when I lived in this house.

I made a few mistakes; the biggest was moving in with my boyfriend of the time into a shared residence the Daily Mail would call a 'Drug Den Hell'. I had a boring job as a civil servant at the time, I'd leave for work as they all turned in for the night. They grew mushrooms in the cupboard under the stairs and smoked weed constantly. One housemate stole the laces out of my trainers while I was asleep one night, when questioned about it the next morning he replied 'Yeah, er, I needed some, so I took yours'. As you do. My room became my refuge but I was never 'at home' in this place. I was bored, depressed and isolated - my uni friends had all moved away by this point. Despite the fact that his girlfriend nearly losing her mind, my boyfriend refused to leave his mates, grow up and move in with me. So I moved out. And dumped him.

Back to Norfolk then, but by now my folks had moved out of the Home that I grew up in in King's Lynn and into a luxury (well, it has an en suite!!) detached residence in the MIDDLE OF FUCKING NOWHERE. I had a few years here while I got my head together. It was good. I went shopping at weekends with my Mum and took my Dad out for curries on a Thursday. I played video games with my brother. I made friends with local people. I saw a psychiatrist and got treatment for my depression. I learned to drive and worked in a college for a reasonable wage. It was nearly home. But my God I was bored, bored as hell. Luckily, one weekend visiting my mate in London, I met James...

When I first moved to London and lived in a tiny studio flat with James I'd pine for home - Norfolk home - every night through tears of anxiety and self-pity. I'd long for the endless fields and deafening silence of the Fens. I missed darkness, which doesn't seem to exist inside the M25. I'd drive through Tottenham on my way to work dodging children and cats, instead of rabbits and pheasants. James would take me for dinner in the West End and I'd secretly wish I was back at the carvery at the King of Hearts in my parents' village, eating ham and roast potatoes. It got easier. In time I laughed at mentals on the bus instead of being scared of them. I completed my PGCE and became a qualified teacher. We moved to a bigger, better flat, in a nicer part of Crouch End. We got a cat.

This is home now:

Well, to be specific, the top floor. It is my current London home to which I beat a hasty retreat when I am depressed or anxious. It is where I am loved. It is where I am warm. It is the place I look forward to being at the end of the day. I chose the furniture, and the contents, and the company. I love every single thing in this flat (except the tiny kitchen, which I am prepared to overlook). Sometimes I sit at the window and watch the world go by, it never gets boring. I wave to my neighbours and water their plants while they are away. I feel 'at home' here. I am on first name terms with my local grocer and newsagent. I buy my produce locally and recycle my rubbish.

But I miss the Fens. I wait for them to enclose me when I get the train up at weekends and the endless emptiness always takes my breath away. I watch the stars come out in the back garden at night and sleep soundly in my old bedroom, to the symphony of my father's snoring. Other weekends I stay in London, go up to Alexandra Palace and mooch around the farmers market where, in a nod to Norfolk patriotism, I buy produce at inflated prices that is created not half a mile away from my Dad's house. I tell my boyfriend it's because 'it comes from home'. He says 'but you are home'. I don't argue. He's not wrong. It's just that he's only half right.

Thursday, January 28

Don't Help Haiti! Pt2

They haven't finished!

Now you understand why I had to move!

Don't Help Haiti! Pt1

No, of course I don't think that. But some people I was friends on Facebook with do! I'll let you read our exchange for yourself. Humour them, they're from Norfolk...

Monday, January 25

A Question of Work

So I'm not at work this week either. I had a chat with the GP on Friday and she still thinks I'm far from well enough, mentally, to yell at teenagers all day and cram their heads full of information in order to pass exams. I must say, the idea of returning to work fills me with a sort of pantomime dread at the moment, I'm hoping that when it DOESN'T I'll be ready to go back, whenever that is.

So what does one do with their days when off work with stress/bereavement? Well, you have to try and have a normal day, so you get up, preferably before midday, and then you just potter, gently, around your local area, completing all the little chores you don't have time to complete when you are chained to a classroom.

So today my mission is to buy cake tins. If I find them I will consider today a success. Watch this space...

Thursday, January 21

Liar liar, bums on...'

I've been a bit sneaky recently. I've been telling people I'm coping okay when, in fact, I'm not. I'm a bit ashamed of how crap I am, to be honest. I'm still very much in the 'mourning' stage and can't seem to snap out of it. I sit down to drink a cup of tea, then look at the clock and realise three hours have passed and I haven't moved.

I have to go to the doctors tomorrow and am dreading it. I can either lie, and say ''yeah, I'm coping fine'', or I can tell the truth and say ''I keep seeing my dying mum's face in my head and it makes me retch. I am not sleeping properly. I forget to eat and wash my face''. She will look at me like I'm mental, and possibly sign me off for another week.

It seems that everyone is saying to me, 'come on, time to get back to normal now' and I just... can't. Not just like that. I am trying, but I can't just flick a switch, go back to work and be completely okay again. For one thing my guts are a mess, and another is the fact that my sleep is ALL over the place, and another is that I can't stop thinking about mum in her final days. No matter how hard I try to be 'normal' she just pops into my head and I feel like I've been punched, and then I start getting all panicky. It's so hard to explain this to people who haven't been through a similar situation, it's not like it's a year later and I'm still brooding over it, Mum only died just over a fortnight ago. That's NOT very long ago! I can manage getting dressed and having conversations, but that's about it. I haven't even been out of Crouch End really, except to go to a friend's house for dinner.

So watch this space to see if I lie tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 19


How do you know when you're recovering from a major trauma?

It is 1.20pm. I am sitting on the sofa in my pyjamas. This is not recovery. This is uncovery.

Monday, January 18

How Mum Died

My brave and beautiful mum died just over two weeks ago on January 2nd. Mum had a very rare and very aggressive form of pancreatic cancer, which took her life just six weeks after initial diagnosis. Her cancer spread to her liver and was too advanced for chemo. The doctor told us to 'prepare ourselves' for the worst. We only got a diagnosis at the end of Nov. Watching her deteriorate was the most painful process I have ever experienced. I can only take some solace in the fact that Mum was happy and well in October, and that this process has been short.

I know I haven't updated this blog. I can barely talk about it without sobbing. But I need to record certain events, for my future self's sake.


As the school term drew to a close it became increasingly clear that my mother's condition was deteriorating, and rapidly. I knew she had cancer, I knew it was in her pancreas and I knew she couldn't recover from it. I spent a weekend at home with my parents. I didn't return to school on the Monday morning as Mum had a biopsy scheduled that day and I just couldn't bear the thought of leaving her. Dad took her to hospital and dropped me at the train station between visiting hours. As the train pulled out of the station I felt something tear inside, and I wept all the way back to London.

I thought it'd be a one-day thing. I thought she'd be home that night. But Mum was so unwell that the biopsy couldn't be performed on schedule and she had to stay in hospital overnight. When this stay turned into two nights I shot back to Norfolk as quickly as possible, just in time to see her discharged and bought home. I put the Christmas tree up for Mum, and she thanked me. She wasn't strong enough to decorate it herself. I showed her every bauble before I attached it, and we chatted about the memories attached to them.

Mum kept getting her medication confused, so I made her a chart on my laptop to tick off when she took each different tablet. We thought this was working. But one night, after my sister gave her the pills and ticked off the chart, Mum told Dad that she hadn't had her meds. He didn't check the chart and gave them to her again. Once we realised this we knew that Mum couldn't administer her own meds any more. My dad and my sister went upstairs to tell her that they were going to take control of the meds from now on, Mum complied with the acceptance of an infant. I stood in the kitchen sobbing; the cancer had taken my mum's reasoning and dignity away, what else could it do?

Getting Mum to Eat

One of the greatest battles we encountered was against Mum's appetite. She just could not eat. I assume it was a combination of two factors: 50% sheer terror and 50% pancreatic cancer. Nurses gave us milkshakes and juices to 'bulk her up', but they just made her retch. I don't think a single meal passed her lips between Christmas Eve and her death. This drove my sister and Dad mad, they wanted Mum to keep her strength up, I did too, but I could clearly see that she was dying and didn't see the point in distressing her (and us) over eating when her entire immune system was attacking itself. The only thing that Mum could manage was whole milk fortified with milk powder, which I mixed up for her with the diligence of a new mother. Several times I caught myself mixing her milk and tasting it, and the irony took my breath away. Mum always drank the milk for me, and she never one complained.

Water retention and constipation are two very common side effects of gastric cancer. Two days before Christmas Mum's belly was swollen to the size of a small space hopper. We called her Macmillan nurse who found her a bed at the hospital to get it drained. More admissions, more agony. The hospital became more and more familiar as time wore on. One night the duty nurse gave my mother a double dose of morphine by accident. When my sister and father visited her the next day she couldn't even lift a cup to her lips...

Morphine O'Clock

Which leads me to question... to dope or not to dope? Answer: DOPE. By this point Mum was on about 30mg of morphine twice a day, with 10mg top-ups every four hours or so. This is A LOT of morphine. It knocked her out, and it was distressing to see, but at least she wasn't in pain. Mum could still sit up and swallow the pills at this point. Later on that too was an impossibility. It made Mum so dopey that she could barely get out of bed to use to toilet, so somebody had to be on hand 24 hours a day to help her get around.


We were determined to celebrate Christmas. I hadn't spent a Christmas in Norfolk in three years, so this year was supposed to be extra special, because we were all at home. Mum had bought be a gorgeous cerise duffel coat from M&S online a few weeks earlier, when she was able to concentrate on books and the internet.

My brother made a schedule for cooking the Christmas dinner, my sister made the starter and I made the dessert. The meal was perfect, and Mum got dressed and came downstairs to sit with us while we ate it. She took a bite of every dish, just to taste it. My sister has some lovely photos of our family at this meal. I won't post them here because they're too painful to look at at the moment, but maybe I'll put them on here another day. While my brother was outside dishing up my mum caught my dad's arm and said 'it's nice to give him a chance to shine'. She was still there, my Mum, despite all the morphine. She went up to sleep. I went up to sleep. Christmas was over.

Final Days

I went home to London on 27th December, I didn't want to, but I needed a rest, as I'd been in Norfolk for nearly two weeks. I called Dad three/four times a day. On the 28th Mum started behaving very strangely. She'd gone from comatose to hyperactive overnight. She kept getting out of bed, walking around the room and at one point she flipped the bird at my Dad! She was ranting about her sister Glenys, who died when she was in her early twenties, and very agitated, basically exhibiting every symptom of terminal restlessness. Alarm bells started ringing in my head. I called my Dad and told him I'd be home the next day. I called my Head of Department at work and told her 'Mum is entering her final days now'. I don't know how I managed this, but I think I was in autopilot.

I was up, out and on the train at 9am. I called Dad to tell him, he said 'good', Mum was v quiet now, and mostly unconscious.

I walked into the house at 11am, there was nobody downstairs. I walked upstairs and my Dad was lying on the bed with Mum, who was now hooked up to a catheter. She held out her arms and said 'cuddle, cuddle', so I gave her a huge hug and a kiss.

My dad, my sister, my brother and I all took turns to watch over Mum. Every day brought a new development: catheter, more morphine, less morphine, syringe driver, jaundice. Lots of people wanted to come and see Mum before she died. Her best friend visited twice, and sat by the bed chatting away to Mum. More friends came from her work. Maybe it was too much, but who were we to deny these people their right to say goodbye? Everybody told us how unfair it was that she'd got cancer at such a young age, which infuriated me. I don't think cancer is about fairness or misfortune. It's something that happens to people. End of. I know Mum felt the same way because she told me when she was first diagnosed.

They tell you that you should use a loved ones last few days to tell them all the things you ever wanted to say. What does that mean? I only wanted my Mum to know that I loved her. On the night of the 31st I leaned over Mum, so that my face was close to hers, and told her very softly 'I love you, Mummy'. She opened her eyes, stroked my face and told me 'I love you too, Gem.' These were her last words to me before she died. She fell back into the bed with the effort and lapsed back into unconsciousness.

That night I sat by her bed from 2am - 5am and told her about my hopes and dreams for the future. I thanked her for buying me books as a child. I thanked her for staying home with us when we were little. I played her Classic FM and sang her songs that she used to sing to me as a child to soothe me back to sleep.

My uncle (a GP) and aunt offered to come and spend New Years Day with us, to give us all a break from our 72 hour vigil. We were relieved when they arrived, by this point Mum was on a syringe driver that delivered a constant supply of morphine to her bloodstream, she couldn't swallow pills. Mum's sister arrived from Canada, I was so glad she got to see her before she died. The night before Mum died my brother, sister and I all slept in the same room. I had been on the sofa, but the noise of the activity in the room above was upsetting me and keeping me awake. I could hear that there was some sort of crisis going on with Mum's pain management, but I didn't know what it was. I was exhausted and upset and afraid. I asked myself if Mum would want me up there, seeing her like that. The answer came back immediately; No. I crept up to my brother's room and got in bed with him. In the morning I found out that somebody had had to sit by Mum's bed and hit the 'boost' button on the syringe driver every three minutes or she'd start contorting in agony.

January the 2nd. The syringe driver clearly wasn't working, and the GP prescribed a new dose of morphine, which my uncle and I had to search (what felt like) the entire Fens for. Boots told me to come back in half an hour because the pharmacist was on his lunch break. Between clenched teeth I explained that my mother was dying. We understand that, robot lady said, come back in half an hour. By now I was so angry with my family for making me go with my uncle, because I knew my Mum was going to die that day, and I needed to be there when it happened. But they were right, I knew the roads the best, and I managed to get all the meds and pick up my boyfriend in about an hour flat.

I'd been in the door less than five minutes when my sister ran down the stairs and told my uncle 'Mum's breathing's gone all funny'. This is it, I told myself. She is about to die.

We all went upstairs. Mum's breathing had gone from laboured to rasping. Her eyes were staring up at the ceiling, like she was already dead. She took 3-4 more breaths. I held my father as Mum breathed her last breath. I felt him shaking beneath my arms, his tears falling onto my hands as I gripped him tight. I told Mum 'I love you', but I think she was beyond hearing at that point. She took one last rasping breath, and then... nothing. My uncle ran downstairs to get his bag. He came back up, examined Mum and said 'She's gone'. He and my Dad embraced, both in tears. I made myself look at my Mum's body on the bed. I told myself 'she is dead'. Then I left the room.

The Aftermath

We left Dad with Mum. We all went downstairs. I made tea. Nobody drank it. James hugged me. I called my friends. Dad came down and sat on the sofa looking stunned. We didn't know what to say to each other. My aunt called the nurses, and the duty doctor, to inform them of the death. One of the nurses was Mum's friend from work, we told her she didn't have to come and tend to the body if it was too much. She told us it would be an honour to do that for Mum. Mum's body was still upstairs. I didn't want to see it again. It was a Saturday and it was getting dark. I called the undertakers, and gave them Mum's details.

That night I remembered a book I had seen Mum writing in early in her illness. I found it in Dad's room. It was a journal of the early stages of her illness. I called Dad up and we read it together. It contained her hopes and fears, and messages for all of us. It also gave us very specific instructions for her funeral, written in an increasingly shaky hand. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for her to write those words, but I am so grateful that she did. We gave her exactly what she wanted.

The funeral

You think you've felt pain? Watch your 21 year old brother carry his mother's coffin. That is the very definition of pain right there. It is simply unbearable. My brother was a credit to Mum. He carried her well and he never faltered. One day he will be proud that he was able to do that for her. I had to stay strong, as I had a reading to get through, and I didn't want to be one of those awful quivering wrecks you see at funerals on bad TV shows like Casualty.

The funeral was beautiful, and in the village church, just as Mum requested. When the hearse arrived you couldn't see mum's coffin for all the flowers that people had sent. The 'Ma' wreath that my sister, brother and I bought was in the back window. I hated riding in the limousine, but knew it was a necessary evil to be endured. The vicar was waiting outside for us and told us 'the church is full'. He was right, it was packed. Every single seat was taken, and my uncle and aunt had to sit and watch from the side.

I took my place at the plinth and read Remember Me by Christina Rossetti. It's a positive and practical poem, and I chose it because it is was what I could imagine my Mum choosing. Mum didn't really believe in God, and she knew I was a hardened atheist. It felt like the last gift I could give her, these words.

The burial took place in the little parish cemetery opposite the church. We watched as the bearers lowered her coffin to the ground. It's not her, I thought, it's her body, but it's not her. We looked at the flowers, and retired to the pub for an 80s buffet.

And now...?

I'm writing this on a Monday afternoon. I'm not at work. My GP is concerned that returning too soon could trigger my depression, so has told me not to go back until the middle of next week.

My grandfather (Mum's father) died from pancreatic cancer at age 57. My mum died from it a month short of her 57th birthday. I have been offered 'genetic counselling' by my GP, but what can they do? They can tell me if I carry a gene. Do I want to know this? Right now I'm not sure, so I'll give myself some time to grieve before I decide what to do.

Nothing galvanizes you like watching somebody you love die. I have a whole new perspective on the word 'perspective'. I genuinely don't care about missed buses, or the milk running out. It's nothing. Honestly. Nothing.

Do Google searches and that...