There are not many things more stereotypically male than being able to change a tyre, and I had my chance to do just that at work.
I noticed my rear driver’s side tyre was running a little flat about half way through my day. My hope was that I could negotiate the rest of my shift with a little careful driving and speed management… and then I could get around to fixing the problem. Except, of course, that’s not the way things worked out, and I had to pull into the side of the road with the darkness beginning to fall and the rain already doing so.
When I called my boss and asked her if she had any pointers for me, she told me I should know how to do it because, well, I’m a man. True, I am one of those, but I’ve never changed a tyre – I’ve never had any need to do so. I know what needs to be done, just not how to do it. I really think that kind of thing should be a part of every learner’s driving lessons.
So, I watched a YouTube video and one minute and thirty-four seconds later I was ready to give it a go. I managed to get the van off the ground, but… ahem… my nuts were too tight, and no matter how much I channelled my inner strongman I wasn’t able to get the tyre off. As luck would have it, and completely unbeknown to me, I had broken down outside a garage. One of the guys came out to ask if I was all right, then proceeded to finish the job for me in about the length of time it had taken me to watch that video.
Of course, I loosened the nuts for him, but I still had to hand over my Man Card.
We had been based in Chester, so on our last day, before heading off to the Lake District, we thought it would be great to actually check out the town itself.
As it turns out, Chester is an extremely pleasant town to spend the day. I’m not sure why I was surprised… but maybe it’s because I live in a much larger city that only seems to have a fraction of Chester’s charm, with a centre that is nowhere near as alive or thriving.
We spent a good portion of our time there wandering through and marvelling at Chester Cathedral. It’s a glorious example of stonework (as many such buildings are), and the local authorities have gone to great lengths to ensure it is accessible to even the most God-fearing of folk.
We even did the real touristy thing and got on a bright red open-topped bus, and I don’t do that for just any place. Chester is a town I would like to go back to some day, and really spend more time exploring what it has to offer, instead of the four or five hours we gave it this time around.
This entire trip was fashioned around the idea that Liverpool is the largest city in the UK that neither of us had ever visited… and this was the day for all that to change.
We had only left the car park for ten seconds before the city reminded us with a statue that, yes, this was indeed the birthplace of the Beatles. It was fine – I’d be proud of it and using it to empty the tourist wallets too – but it was comical how fast Liverpool told us.
We took the Beatles Story audio tour, which is filled with memorabilia and recreations of the different stages of their career. It’s an interesting excursion, but one that I think could have been better with a couple of tweaks to the format.
Of course, getting to know the Beatles better is one of the two things any newbie has to do in Liverpool – the other is take a ferry ‘cross the Mersey… so we did that as well. It was a shame about the weather (again!) because that experience would have been a lot better in the sunshine.
We spent some time wandering through the Liverpool Museum, and then a couple of hours browsing through the shops at the Royal Albert Dock. All in all we barely ventured away from the water, and before I knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel.
I have only ever spent one night in Wales, and I didn’t get to see much of what the country has to offer then, so I was happy to give it another chance this week.
We left our base in Chester without much of a plan – knowing only that we were heading for a few sights in Wales. Sometimes a little mystery can make for the most fun.
We drove through and stopped at a number of places that were difficult to spell and even harder to pronounce. A lot of what I saw was just a little depressing, and it is clear that Covid’s footprint still lingers. Many stores were boarded up; many lots were empty. It’s a shame because I’m sure these places were once vibrant and thriving. And like the day before, the early weather didn’t help.
We eventually landed on the west coast and spent some time exploring Caernarfon Castle, where I discovered that goats were actually a part of the Welsh military. No, seriously. They get medals and everything.
We stopped off for lunch in the town of Betws-y-coed – a place I will never remember how to say – before we decided to make our way back under black skies…
…but, it began to clear midway through the afternoon and we spent a pleasant few hours strolling along the promenade in Llandudno, driving along a narrow road to the highest point in town, and then finished our day with a lovely meal at a local eaterie.
A week off work was just what the doctor ordered, so we packed our bags and headed south for some relaxation. We had booked in to Chester for a few days, but along the way we stopped off in Blackpool.
I had never been to Blackpool and I had heard conflicting reports about it over the years. Some people seem to think it’s a poor and distant cousin of the entertainment strips that exist on the other side of the pond, while others swear that it’s the best fun you can have with a bucket, a spade, and a pocket full of copper coins. Well, the truth is some where in the middle.
It’s fair to say that the weather (which wasn’t great) had a negative effect on my opinion, because everything looks better in the sunshine – even those ubiquitous tourist stands. We didn’t go up Blackpool Tower because with the fog we would have been lucky to even appreciate we were a few hundred feet off the ground. Still, it’s England in the middle of October – what more do you expect?
But we had fun walking along the prom, and killed a few hours in a clutch of arcades and attractions that really don’t seem to have progressed much past the 1980s.
My grandma was two months short of her ninety-seventh birthday, when she took her final breath yesterday. The dementia had seen her deteriorate over the last half dozen years – slowly at first, but then quite rapidly towards the end – so she hasn’t been the woman I loved for a long time. That person had already moved on, and I have had to make my peace with that.
Still, it’s difficult for me to let go of someone I have known my whole life, no matter how diminished she was when that final curtain was drawn, and no matter how much I wanted it to be over for her. I have wished for her to pass on peacefully in her sleep many times. Is that a little selfish? Sure. I own that. But that pain; that emptiness; that confusion. Those moments when there was just nothing behind her eyes, which were all too frequent in the last few months. She didn’t deserve that – few people do.
On Friday I had been advised that she likely only had a few days left, so I went to visit her yesterday afternoon with the intention of saying goodbye. She was asleep – the doctors had given her a drug to calm her down – and she didn’t look much like the grandma I had seen even just a couple of weeks earlier. She was thin, gaunt, and curled up in the foetal position, and she never acknowledged my presence, but I sat there and I cried for all the good years and the good times we had had just the same.
As I left her side an hour later, after kissing her on the forehead one final time, I knew I would never see her again and that I was just waiting for that phone call. I didn’t expect it quite so soon, but just five hours later she was gone.
But my grandma’s death isn’t about letting her go, or putting her in the rear view mirror. It’s more about making sure I remember the person she was, when she was vibrant and full of life, and about treating those times with the respect they deserve. What she became in the last six years is not that person, and I won’t be remembering her that way. Dementia may have taken my grandma from me, but it won’t rob me of my memories.
Our two kittens, Tess and Frankie, are a couple of weeks shy of their first birthday. I’m still reluctant to leave them to their own devices when they’re outside, but I’m learning to live with it.
Yesterday I came home from work, sat down to a spot of writing, and let the girls out into the back garden for a while. Not long after, I turned around to see Tess had snagged the wing of a pigeon and – despite my attempts to stop her – was dragging it inside.
She let it go in the utility room, where it made an attempt to escape through the kitchen window… except it was closed, so it proceeded to smack itself against the glass while Tess tried to finish off the job she had started.
After I got the window open the pigeon squeezed out and dragged itself to (relative) safety, and I spent the next hour cleaning up blood, feathers, and DNA from all the surfaces.
I have worked for the last ten months, during the pandemic – and for that I am grateful – but yesterday was my last day. Tomorrow I begin a new job, one that is more in line with what I am looking for. The hours are better, and there are absolutely no weekend shifts… and for that I am even more grateful.
When all is said and done the money is probably going to work out to be less than I have been getting, but after weighing it all up I quickly came to the conclusion that it’s not always about the money. In fact, it’s rarely about the money. As long as everything is covered with a little left over, the rest is gravy.
Unexpectedly, I spent last evening – the day after my birthday – in the Accident & Emergency Department at hospital. A few hours earlier I had closed the side door of my van at work with my right hand, and forgotten to move my left one out of the way. For a split second I feared the worst.
Fortunately, when I opened the door my fingers were still intact, although the pain I could feel and the amount of blood coming from my hand suggested I was in a bad way. I didn’t have anything in the van to stem the bleeding so I went to the nearest house and was given a towel… which did the trick, until I was able to bandage my fingers properly.
Some painkillers, super-glue, and a couple of x-rays later and – thankfully – there doesn’t seem to be any lasting damage. My ring finger and middle finger of my left hand are bandaged, and there’s a measure of swelling and bruising, but after some rest I should be back to normal in no time.
I had my first COVID vaccination today, three days before my birthday. It was a strange half hour wait in the queue, watching everyone going in before me – wondering why l had been chosen to be protected along with all these old people, before I quickly realised that I was one of them too – but it also felt like the beginning of the next chapter.
Hope was in the air this morning – you could taste it. I’m sure most of that was in my head, but we’ve been living with this social claustrophobia for over a year now, so I’m prepared to go with it and believe in the brighter future they keep telling us about.
I also got a cracking idea for a story while I was waiting for the nurse to stick me with the needle, so there’s that too.