Me and My Braces

jawsI’ve been wearing braces for three weeks now. I’m not too fond of them. I feel caught (like a bit of arugula) somewhere between Jaws and Hannibal Lecter.

You can tell a lot about your friends by the way they react to the gleam of mouth metal. There’s the ‘oh my god’ with a little laugh, which is really just a ‘holy fuck Maggie you weren’t kidding’. Then there’s the sweet, ‘oh you can barely see them’, which is quite patently not true, but a lot closer to what my polite reaction might be if in the same situation. The best of them so far has been, ‘they look cute on you’. I love the person for saying this, but I’ve been fooled by this one before. ‘Oh your hair is so cute’ turned out to be code for ‘good for you, but I’d sooner die than cut mine that short’.

No, much like my accent, my braces are not ‘cute’. They make me lisp, but not in an oh so hilarious five year old trying to read Shakespeare out loud way. More of an, is she drunk or did she have a stroke kind of way. The latter being exacerbated by the lopsidedness of my mouth giving the impression of bells palsy setting in.

Of course it’s not lost on me that I’m conforming to one of the great stereotypes of the British by now having to wear these damned things. (British friends can say entirely the same in reverse). I can only look forward to the uncensored comments from residents of the home for the demented when I go back to visit my mum at Christmas. Just hoping that while I’m in England I’ll encounter some building site arseholes yelling out ‘give us a smile love’. Be careful what you ask for.

When I was a kid, I was teased for having yellow stained teeth. My reaction was to not smile. Being a teenager and living in a village where medieval described more than the time period when it was founded, this was pretty easy. Plus, bad teeth were as common as the yobs living on the council estate. And the worst teeth of all belonged to the ultra posh Nigel and Penny’s of the village, big horsey gnashers that flashed at you as their Range Rover sprayed you with puddle sludge.

But hardest of all to accept is the lost job opportunities. Or more specifically, two event planner internships applied for as part of my hospitality industry classes. A job requiring lots of talking and smiling. And tasting food. I’m pretty sure that one interviewer was already visualizing the strands of veg in my front teeth as I slurred my way through her perfunctory questions, regularly licking my lips and swirling my tongue across the front of my teeth as if in eager anticipation of my fava beans and chianti. Of course in all other respects I was the perfect candidate. There was absolutely no other reason that I wasn’t selected as an intern. Nope, not a one.

Eating is an interesting experience. Actually it’s a wretched experience, but gives me a greater insight into the puree lifestyle so at least I’ll be ready for it in the nursing home. Which is ironic really because I’m going through all this so I don’t lose all my teeth and have to wear dentures when I end up there. Alanis Morrisette, you’re welcome.

Course now I have them I do empathize more with teenagers who have to find their way around the minefield of sticking their tongues and other things in each other’s mouths while both wearing them. Fortunately I’ve been married for 14 years so no need to dwell on that.

Still, there’s always a metal lining to every cloud. I was googling to find people in braces worse off than me and came across this on the site:

ATTENTION NEW MEMBERS: Do not post full-face photos or personal contact information on this website. We have had problems with people re-posting members’ photos on fetish websites. 

I honestly never knew, though it does give some comfort when I look in the mirror. But I do fear that the over 40 market may not be the primary target for the fetishists. Oh well, only one way to find out. And after that I’ll investigate the market for women with one sticky-out ear.

Anyway, now that I’ve revealed all, please don’t completely ignore them when I next see you. Go ahead and acknowledge them, just a little, not too much, then move on. And don’t stare too hard at the arugula.

How I spent my week

I’ve just returned from a week at Hillbeck, home for the demented. My mother has lived there for two years now. We moved her when she had one fall too many in her own home and had largely lost her sense of time and place. For the first few months we reassured (lied to) her that she would be living there on a temporary basis, but after a while she stopped asking when she would be going home. Until this trip. Out of the blue she announced to me that she’d be leaving there soon.

“but you haven’t been here very long mum”
“yes I have”
“no you haven’t, how long do you think it’s been?”
“two years”

Bugger me! How the hell did she know that? It will be two years next month. Fortunately, the good thing about Alzheimers is.

Where was I? Anyway, we had a reasonably good week, with me being introduced as either her daughter, cousin or sister. To help remind her, I called her ‘mum’ as often as I could. It used to irritate me when I visited her in Lenham and she’d proudly tell anyone and everyone in the village: “this is my daughter visiting me from Texas.” I miss that.

Hillbeck is a really great care home. The staff are infinitely kind, calm and cheerful. I’ve not seen it yet, but there is a staff venting room where they can go and scream, curse and kick a few walls. Perhaps not, but their patience mystifies me, though this may say more about me than them.

When I arrived last week, many of the residents were gathered around a table folding napkins and cleaning placemats. My mum was the only one not folding the napkins correctly and so of course I told her so in something of an annoyed fashion. See above.

As they folded, the singalong started. There are at least 3 singalongs a day at Hillbeck. Most are 1940s wartime classics along the line of Vera Lynn’s White Cliffs of Dover and We’ll Meet Again. There’s never any shortage of songs because as one comes to an end, it’s instantly forgotten and can therefore be sung all over again. I’ve worked in a nursing home long enough to know the power of music with dementia sufferers. But there’s something about seeing it in my mother. She knew the words to every song, often clapping along to her own personal beat, but like everyone else at the table, totally engaged and happy.

IMG_0299Much like owning a dog, caring for someone with Alzheimers, teaches you about living in the moment.

At the Hillbeck summer fete, mum won this bear for her surprisingly good throwing skills. But a minute after this photo was taken, she had no idea who the bear belonged to and was quite adamant that it wasn’t hers. But in that one moment, she cradled him like the grandchild I never gave her and told me his name was Charles.

Friendships change around at Hillbeck. The ‘best friend forever’ that mum’s holding hands with on one trip might be ignored or referred to as “that wretched thing” on my next. This time I was told by the administrator that there had been an ‘incident’ where mum was seen kissing a male resident. But, she reassured me, there was ‘no tongues’. I of course couldn’t respond as I was trying to swallow back the rising vomit. The man has apparently left now, removed by his family from the clutches of this 87 year old floozy.

Fortunately the unusually decent weather meant we were able to sit outside in the garden for much of my visit. It can get noisy and stuffy inside where residents start complaining if the temperature falls below around 90 degrees. One resident regularly calls out to no-one in particular “am I alright?” I noted on this trip that a sign has been pre-emptively placed on her walker saying “yes you are alright”. But as the sign faces out, my mum decided this was directed at her and crossly told staff that she already knew that.

I take most of this in my stride. The residents I get most upset by are the ones who seem to be perfectly normal. The ones pottering about in the garden, watering plants and wheeling wheelbarrows. Talking to them, I can usually find some mild signs of looming looniness – repetition of the same questions, a weird tick – but the conversations are mostly standard British fare. (1) The weather (“lovely, makes a nice change doesn’t it”), (2) Tea (“there’s nothing like a nice cuppa is there”) and (3) The garden (“don’t the fuschias look lovely”). Pretty much the same small talk my mum and I engaged in for most of my life. So what were these people doing at Hillbeck? Did they start to see the signs in themselves and voluntarily check themselves in? Or did a family member drop them off with the promise that it was ‘just on a temporary basis’.

I look at all these residents in their 70s, 80s, 90s and can’t help but wonder what they were like as young men and women growing up in (to me) one of the most remarkable periods in history. I never talked to my mum enough about her life. Never realized that it was actually a gift and not a burden on me that she was born and grew up during a time that would fascinate me as an adult. There are so many stories and experiences among those Hillbeck residents but their memories are locked away (and unlike the Disney classics, they won’t be released from the vault).

hillbeck2This is one of my favorite photos of my mum. I’ve no idea who took it or where she was, but I know she was happy and living in the moment. And that’s the best that I can continue to hope for her.


You can’t go home again

hamlaneThis is the house I grew up in. 9 Ham Lane, Lenham, a smallish village in Kent. I know that to many Americans the word ‘village’ conjures up images of thatched cottages and duck ponds and vicars* so the house you see in photo might be something of a disappointment.  I know, I felt the same way.

We sold the house just over a year ago, the proceeds funding my mum’s new life in the home for the demented. It was bought by the Campbell family (no relation to soup), whom I vaguely recall because their dad was the village policeman during the 1970s. Not sure which of the Campbell offspring bought it, but both were a bit common and frankly anyone that stayed in the village after leaving school was peculiar and suspect.

I’ve made three trips back to see my mum since we sold the house that she spent 42 years in,  raised two kids and three dogs in, that her husband died in, and where Alzheimer’s gradually robbed her of her memory, safety and ability to take care of herself. So, no guilt there then.

On none of those trips have I been back to the village, even though it’s only a 10 minute train journey from the home for the demented. But this time I’m going back. I need to see the house. I need to see the garish changes the Campbell’s have made to the place. No doubt they’ll have replaced the rotting front door and the crumbling window frames. Poncy gits might even have taken down the lace curtains in every room that were a lovely shade of grey and smelled of moth balls no matter how often they were boiled. I’m sure there’ll be plenty to roll my eyes at in disgust.

I leave in a week and I can tell that it’s time for me to go. It’s not so much extra sensory bollocks as it is the fact that I’m simultaneously mad at the world, feeling lost,  prone to bursting into tears and spoiling for a fight. Lucky Erik.

Something about going back to England reminds me that I am still an outsider here. Even after 12 years. It’s all well and good having an accent that everyone thinks is ‘so cute’ (must you perpetuate such stereotypes?). But it’s not much use when people can’t understand what I’m saying. But you don’t want to admit to that do you? So you just smile and nod in response. And then I just smile and nod back because I’m too lame to ask you if you actually understood what I asked.

So off to England I’ll go. To spend a week visiting my mum in the home for the demented, with a side trip of house stalking. And when my mum points out the cabbages she’s wearing on her feet and tells her best friend that I’m her sister, I’ll just smile and nod and pray that she never asks about 9 Ham Lane.

*Lenham does have a vicar. Called Nigel. He’s visited my mum once. The Roman Catholics have since weedled their way into the home for the demented.



My fourth of july

Getting into the Brit v American spirit of the day, I managed to insult a friend this morning by inadvertently calling her middle-aged. Inadvertent because I was merely describing the clientele of a particular clothing store (Athleta). Which she happens to shop at.  This was a hole which I then tried to dig myself out of by mocking another store (Title Nine). Which she also shops at. So I decided to stop there and instead have a bit of a rant about Lululemon, which is far more acceptable as they are Canadian.

img001Anyway, my friend pointed out that if she were now middle-aged that means that she’ll live to well over 100. I hadn’t necessarily considered middle aged being the exact mid point of one’s life but it made me realize that if I die tomorrow then I was middle aged at 23.5 years which definitely makes sense because this is how I looked at that age.

However, if I am middle-aged right now then I will definitely make it to 94, unless I am ousted and forced back to England which will by then have disowned me and I will be left in Heathrow’s transit area along with the bones of Edward Snowden.

I realized while writing this that my middle-aged-dom was confirmed by a store far beyond Athleta or Title Nine. Yesterday I went to Instep, the Birkenstock store. Oh yes. And not even for Birkenstocks. I had to go in for a heel lift to put in my (non-Birkenstock) shoes. To try and correct my leg length discrepancy which might be causing my hip pain which might be causing my sciatic pain. If this doesn’t work, the next step is a built up shoe, though the  expression ‘over my dead (and lopsided) body’ comes to mind.

Anyway, sorry Vicki. Nothing middle-aged about you. Well, except for the Athleta/Title Nine thing of course.

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I was asked this week why I still hadn’t become an American citizen. My usual answer is that I’d never pass the naturalization exam, given my inability to distinguish between Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

But then it struck me today that perhaps the more likely reason is my avoidance of 4th July parades and dislike of fireworks. Actually I don’t dislike fireworks, it’s more the length of the average fireworks display in this country.

We do of course have fireworks in England. We shoot them off on November 5 to celebrate Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. He didn’t quite make it, but at least he tried. As the saying goes, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, say fuck it and throw yourself a sparkler party.’

Due to the fact that it’s November and invariably cold, foggy and/or pissing down with rain, the fireworks are kept mercifully short. A good 10 minutes of oohs and aahs in a muddy field and we’re off home to try and wash the smell of bonfire and (pieces of) kebabs out of our hair

But, in a reminder perhaps to the Brits, the typical 4th of July fireworks display far outstays its welcome. It all starts off quite well, jumps straight in with some fairly impressive stuff, but then you get into into the middle(aged) section and it just goes on and on with the same old bangs and whizzes and you stop craning your neck and making oohing sounds. Finally, it gets interesting again and you get ready for the big close. But like a bad Steven Spielberg movie (A.I) it’s incapable of ending. And I’m not the only one that gets fooled. Everyone starts clapping and cheering and packing up the kids but hold on, we’ve got an encore before we even got to the end of the show. Oh and here comes another. And maybe even a third. Apparently this is what orgasms are like too.

Why not try for minimalist next year? You know, the whole less is more thing? Ten minutes tops. You already got rid of us America, there’s really no reason to brag.

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I know of at least 3 people in Austin who will be in Paris this summer. Hopefully that means July and not August when most Parisian business owners bugger off to the beach with their families, leaving behind aging parents and grandparents in the hope that nature will take its course.

Just heard on the news yesterday that Parisian waiters, hoteliers and taxi drivers have been given an ‘etiquette manual’ on how to deal with tourists.

“A six-page booklet entitled “Do you speak Touriste?” contains greetings in eight languages including German, Chinese and Portuguese and advice on the spending habits and cultural codes of different nationalities.”

I’m not entirely sure about the title, it doesn’t quite seem to fit with the spirit of the plan. May as well have called it, ‘Parlez-vous Foreigner?’ This whole thing has been prompted by concerns over the reputation of Parisians for rudeness to tourists, said the Paris Tourism Bureau which awoke this week after a 30 year deep sleep.

Even I was stunned by the apparent seriousness of the problem which has apparently caused concern that tourists may choose instead to go to friendlier cities like London.  Things must be bad.

Here’s the valuable insights from the Paris team:

“The British like to be called by their first names,” the guide explains, while Italians should be shaken by the hand and Americans reassured on prices.

Actually the British would probably settle for getting French waiters to make eye contact and an attempt to provide the service they’re getting paid for. I’ll happily take a ‘oui madame’ over some insincere and botched attempt to say my name.

When it comes to the Italians, I’m not sure what other body part they should be shaken with if not the hand, but this seems like pretty sound advice.

Americans needing to be reassured on price strikes me as odd. Most Parisian restaurants have a prix fixe menu and prices are displayed outside.  Who are these price-obsessed people whose only French learned in the language labs was ‘bonjour Sylvie, combien d’argent pour le blow job?’

Of course all this is mute anyway. Tourists wanting to go to Paris will continue to go and in the case of most Americans will congratulate themselves when they return home for the warm hospitality of their own country. No right-minded tourist will arrive at Gare Du Nord, take a quick look around and then hightail it over to London. We’ve got some of the best sights in the world but we can’t compete with a fresh baguette and a hunk o’ brie under the Eiffel Tower. The cheddar and chutney bap on a pigeon-poo splattered bench just doesn’t quite do it.






Best of eff’ Fest

Audiences are fickle. Tonight I say fuck em*. There, that’s almost alliteration for you.

The great thing about stand-up comedy is that when you’re sucking up the room, audience-wise, there will always be a group of your fellow comics standing at the back, laughing their asses off as you sweat it out onstage. As brutal as it used to be when I did the Velveeta Room open mic, I would have loved those schadenfraude laughs at the Hyde Park theatre tonight.

I was pretty excited about tonight’s show. For the first time ever I made Fronterafest Best of Fest for Kevorkian’s Cat. Erik was going to tape it and I laid off coffee (sort of) and cheese today so my mouth wouldn’t go all cotton-wooly.  I ran my lines while driving around, brushed up my cod-Russian accent and dug my show shirt out of the laundry basket. Oh and I bought another Snickers bar to replace the one I accidentally ate last week during a chocolate binge.

I watched the first two pieces on the bill tonight, both great, funny and full of energy. Then me.

As soon as Cat started talking I knew I was in trouble. For those that haven’t seen the show, I play Cat, along with the main character Vicki, who interacts with her unseen husband (played by a wheelchair). Confused? You won’t be. (Oh Soap, you were one of my first introductions to American TV).

Going back to my stand-up comparison, it didn’t matter too much if your opening material sucked, you could generally get them back with a quick ‘hey Austin, who likes pot/pussy?’ line. Note: this approach does work better with men than women. ‘Hey ladies, who likes sucking lollipops and cocks?’ wasn’t generally as effective.

But the Fronterafest audience started out quiet and they weren’t going to change their minds. Who knows, maybe it was the wheelchair (always blame the inanimate object first). It’s funny the way people react to a wheelchair, especially those who haven’t been into a nursing home or had to interact with someone in one. I’m very familiar with them because of where I work but it was different when I brought one into the house and asked Erik to sit in it. It was terrifying to imagine him like that and he had the same reaction with me in it. (note: we did briefly contemplate posting a Facebook picture of Erik in the chair with a caption about how much he’s been improving recently, but our better judgement, and fear of his family fortunately stopped us).

Whatever it was, it rattled me. And yes, I know all the lines about every audience being different; that they didn’t necessarily hate you; that they may not have known that they could laugh. Oh that last one really gets me. Funny is funny, laugh if it is, don’t if it isn’t, no-one needs to give you permission. Unless you’re at a funeral, in which case probably best not to even ask. I know this show can be funny, I’ve got my first performance of it to prove it. Though only in my head as I was too dumb to ask Erik to tape it.

In stand-up, it’s all too easy to blame the audience. I’ve seen it millions of times, onstage and off. You know, tapping on the mic “hello? is anyone out there?”, or “fuck you, that’s funny”. And afterwards, complaining about a shit audience. There was a moment tonight when I was starting to get so rattled that I wanted to just stop. But instead I just said fuck it (fortunately only to myself) and decided to forget about what they were or weren’t doing and just focus on myself.

After avoiding eye-contact at intermission, I came home and told Riley that this just proves how much better dogs are than cats and she agreed, even though we both knew it was a nonsensical point and that Riley just wanted an almond. Then Erik came home and we had an argument because I wouldn’t stop with my repetitive post-mortem and my demand to know what happened and why.

The simple answer, though one that would have rendered this blog entry rather short and pointless, is I don’t know. It just was what it was. Now the trick is going back on Saturday night for the final show without any expectations, good or bad. And beyond that, not getting onstage again for another 3 or 4 years.

I remember a few years ago having to go on that Dudley and Bob radio show to promote a set I was doing at CapCity. It was awful. It’s hard enough for me to be on form when I’m actually in the club, let alone in a studio at 7am. The feelings between that twat and myself were mutual. As I was leaving, he said without any feeling, ‘you did fine’. Which of course we both knew wasn’t true but it was enough to draw a line under a hideous morning.

So tonight is now done with. Over. Floating around in my head right now is that line from the film Babe. ‘That’ll do pig”. Yeah, I suppose it will.

*Naturally I am exempting my always brilliant friends who came to see the show and who always support me, no matter whether I was ‘fine’ or not.