Wednesday, 24 September 2014

What I've been doing for the last week or so...

It's been a strange and difficult few weeks. It's hard to know what to write.

We buried Mike. We've just come back from a brief holiday in North Wales. Life goes on.

On a personal level, that was notable for a couple of things. Finally getting to the top of the Glyderau, and swimming in the sea in Abersoch.

I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to personal discomfort, but it was a beautiful warm late summer afternoon, and after paddling about for a bit, I stripped down to my undies (we just went out and had no intention of getting more than our feet wet) and and I gradually went all the way in. The shoulders were the hardest bit but once in, it was almost pleasantly warm, at least in patches. The temperature was in no way uniform. There were swathes of cold and warm all moiling and mixing. There were fishes too. Thousands of little pipe nosed things that shoaled and darted around me. Bren took a few photographs but without a polarising filter, they didn't show much.

Last time I swam in the sea was in Cornwall about 12 years ago, and by the time I'd managed to pluck up the courage to go in, it was time to get out. Minor bucket list thing ticked off I suppose.

I went part way up Glyder Fach (or fawr - they're part of the same mass really) a couple of years ago with Bren. In retrospect, big kudos to her for getting as far as she did. It's a long steep ascent for those of us who's idea of mountaineering is a gentle ramble up Moel Famau. We got to the top of the first bit, Llyn Y Cwn, but found there was further to go. It was getting a bit late, so rather than push on, we turned back.

This time though, I set out with Alex, my stepson (and all round active bloke) and we got right to the top. What had seemed like a short further climb to the summit from Llyn Y Cwn turned out to be a long and steep scramble of several hundred more vertical metres. The cloud base was a long way beneath us, and visibility was appalling. At times it was far less than 100 metres. The high Glyderau massif is an incredibly rugged place. Glacial action from the end of the last ice age left it a fractured and almost pathless wilderness. There are low cairns spaced every so often. By going from one cairn to the next, right at the limit of visibility, we were able to make progress along the top, but all too frequently, the line would end, leaving us lost. And we did indeed become lost.


This is not a good place to be stumbling around in the dark. There are sheer and vertiginous cliffs, and it would be inky black once the daylight had gone, even if the moon managed to penetrate the fog. Eventually we heard voices, and made for them. A group of well organised walkers had a good idea of where they were going, and did enough for us to find our way down, although they had their own agenda to follow.

 An autostitch pano. Click image for bigger pic.

 At Idwal Youth Hostal. Raring to go!

  The three images above were shot on the banks of Lake Idwal, at the bottom of it all. Well paved and relatively flat. Already the fog is thick.

The word, "Glyderau" comes from the Welsh, meaning "Pile of stones".

 We'd hoped to get to Castell Y Gwynt (the castle of winds) and the famous Cantilever Stone. In the event, we found neither, although the whole damn place looked like Castell Y Gwynt, and the picture below shows the closest we got to finding the Cantilever Stone...

 Murphy's Law dictated that as we made our way back down, the clouds would clear.

This is what I look like when I'm totally shagged out.

In the end we spent 8 hours dealing with slippery rocks, steep uphill scrambles (my lungs and muscles complained) and rocky steep downhill plods (my knees and ankles bore the brunt) I'd had little choice but to keep pushing and pushing, long after I'd had enough, and when I got back to the car, I cried real tears. Just a little. I did on the way out too, when REM's "Everybody Hurts" came on the car stereo.

Which brings me to the third bit of this post: Mike's funeral.

It took several weeks for the coroner to carry out the inquest and release Mike's body.

The cause of death was compression of the arteries in the neck, due to hanging. The toxicology results aren't with us yet, but I'd expect them to show significant levels of alcohol in the bloodstream. I'd be surprised but not flabbergasted if there was anything else.

So Mike would have lost consciousness quite quickly then, as the blood supply to his brain was cut off, rather than over several minutes through asphyxiation, as I'd assumed. I hope so anyway.

Mike's partner, Jenny wanted a woodland burial. The most local site is in Frankby but it's right next to a proper graveyard, and she didn't want to see a load of old stones. We found another site in South Wirral, close to the start of the Manchester Ship Canal, and right on the final approach path for Speke Airport. Truly a place of quiet reflection and meditation!

Bren was the main organiser in it all, and it was a memorable and special ceremony for us all. We'd expected optimistically for around 100 people to attend, but in the event, there were far more than that. Perhaps 150 or more. The bulk of the service was in the main building. Bren spoke at some length about Mike, and introduced a number of other people, who'd chosen to say something. Bren also spoke about how suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 50 in the UK. That's something I didn't know before.

Alex had wanted to pay his respects to his brother by being a pallbearer. This is something I'd also wanted to do. The funeral directors were happy to oblige, and organised us carefully. Six of us, Me, Alex, Pete (Mike and Alex's Dad), Peter (Mike's half Brother), Pidge (Mike's best mate and partner in crime) and one other who I can't remember carried the coffin in and out of the building, then it was put into the hearse, and driven up to the plot. We didn't linger long by the graveside. Jenny has been to his grave since. We haven't yet. At some point, a tree will be planted, and as the site matures, it will change from being wildflower meadow to woodland. My Mum and Sister represented my side of the family. Both would now like to be buried there.

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Sunday, 31 August 2014


person = person.

person + drug = different person

there was a time a few years ago when Mike lived at home with us.

Every so often, we would get a midnight phonecall. A drunken Mike had got into some kind of scrape. Tried to jump off a building, or had the crap beaten out of him/beaten the crap out of someone. He's done himself real harm before today, and there were times where his rampages put us in danger too. But somehow, he'd got through and once sober, was back to his usual self.

I understand the compulsion to do self destructive shit. It's a behaviour I've engaged in many times.

Mike had problems for years. He longed for a normal life. The whole family/home/job deal. Eventually he got something like it, living with Jenny, and having a child, Zach. Yet it couldn't banish the demons.

On Friday night, Mike had been out with Jenny for a birthday party. He'd been drinking spirits. He left early.

Some time later, Jenny came home to find him hanging from the bannister. She cut him down and phoned 999. Mike wasn't breathing. The emergency people talked her through how to do CPR, and the police and paramedics arrived. They continued to work on Mike as they took him to hospital, and there the work continued for about an hour before finally, Mike was pronounced dead.

I'd like to think he didn't really mean it. Maybe he thought Jenny would be back sooner, or that he'd be able to get out of what he got into. I know he wouldn't have done it if he'd been sober.

I went out to my monthly backgammon meeting on Friday night. I'd been up since 7 that morning, so I was very tired when I got home from Liverpool. Bren was watching Suburgatory on the telly. I went into my cave and went on the internet. About midnight, the phone rang. It was my other step-son, Alex. We knew straight away that it would be something to do with Mike. I must confess, my initial thought was "For fuck's sake, Mike. What now?" Alex couldn't tell us much more than that Mike had been taken to Arrowe Park hospital. I would have gone with Bren, but I should have been working early next morning, so Bren went on her own. She even took a book with her, expecting it to be the usual long wait in A and E while they patched him up.

I stayed up for half an hour or so, then went to bed. Lying there, somehow I had a sense of foreboding but eventually I slept. I was woken by Bren about 3 in the morning. She didn't beat around the bush.

"Mike's dead." She said. "He hung himself."

Dark dark dark. I sent texts to the pupils I was supposed to teach yesterday, cancelling. We cried. We slept. A little. I was shaking with shock. Bren was in a strange place. Too numb to feel anything at all.

We woke early to find nothing had changed. It wasn't going to go away.

We went for a walk along the shore while we were killing time. I looked out at the wide expanses of sea and sky. There were black clouds over New Brighton.

Bren's daughter, Lisa, had been staying in Liverpool, and we had no way of seeing her. We knew she was coming home the next morning and wanted to tell her face to face, rather than by phone, and Bren was scared that someone would post something on facebook. So we went for a walk, then headed to the house in Wallasey.

Lisa hadn't heard. Bren told her. More fucked up despair and disbelief.

A lot of people knew by then, but nobody had said anything on social media until either his girlfriend, Jenny, or Bren had said something publicly.

Bren said goodbye to him on facebook this morning and finally had a good cry. A premonition to doing it for real when he has his funeral.

As far as that's concerned, we don't know anything about that just yet. Until the coroner releases the body, we can't make any arrangements.

Right now, the initial raw grief and shock have subsided a little. It will take a long time before things get back to any kind of normal though. It takes very little to make the tears flow.

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Saturday, 30 August 2014


My Stepson killed himself last night.                                                                                      
There's a big hole that I keep falling into.                                                                               
my poor poor bren. nobody should have to bury their child                                                   

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Breaking Bad

I rarely watch the telly. My habit is to disappear into my cave and surf the net.

This is not a good way of spending time with the most important person (apart from me!) in my life.

A lot of people who's opinions I respect have been bigging up Breaking Bad.

So, to kill two birds with one stone, a couple of weeks ago, I signed up for the month free trial of Netflix.

Bren and I watched the movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I read the book years ago, and really enjoyed it. I saw the movie when it first came out, at a movie theatre that's now been turned into a block of flats. The audience was full of ageing hippies. The film adaptation was incredibly faithful to the book. The script was lifted almost verbatim from the text of the book. Yet somehow, apart from brief moments, such as the "If you look, with the right kind of eyes, you can almost see where the wave broke" bit, the collateral damage caused by the reckless hedonism of the protagonists left me troubled.

Johnny Depp's character was obviously aware of this, particularly in the cafe scene where his sidekick had opened old wounds in the life of the woman serving them with his hunting knife.

I've often hurt others because of my selfishness, but deliberate cruelty just isn't part of who I am, or ever want to be.

Anyway, netflix languished on my playstation, unwatched, until tonight.

Instead of disappearing into my room, I put on Episode one, Season one of Breaking Bad. That's really why I signed up for netflix in the first place.

So, first impressions?

Well, why on earth did the emergency vehicles have their sirens blaring in the middle of nowhere? In the UK, they use them to alert traffic on busy roads, not as a matter of routine. Perhaps it's different in the US?

The programme had a lovely mix of believability and drama. I quickly gained empathy with Walter White. There was humour too.

Without ever watching any of it before, I'd heard enough about it to be familiar with the basic premise, but had no idea about the specifics.

So far so good, anyway. I'm looking forward to watching as much of it as I can before the free month expires.

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Actually, on second drinking, that mead is pretty disgusting. Most of my brews are. I really should invest in some brewers yeast.

Anyway, there's a lot of volcanic and tectonic activity going on in Iceland right now. There frequently is, but it's in the news at the moment, and that got me thinking.

If a major geological event were to occur, on the South coast of Iceland, which generated a sizeable tsunami, where would it hit hardest?

Well, presumably the Faroe Islands would get the first impact, followed by the North West coast of Scotland, and then the North coast of Ireland before the surge was funnelled through the narrow bit between Northern Ireland and the Mull of Kintyre, before spreading out into the Irish Sea, (possibly causing carnage on the Isle of Man, and then on to the North Wales coast, and Liverpool Bay.


Well, I've checked the location of the Bardarbunga volcano on Google Earth, and it's pretty much in the centre of Iceland, but if the Hvannadalshn├║kur volcano was to go in a big way, then I might just be in trouble.

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