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Being positive about not dying is going to kill me.

I have many unattractive qualities. I like eating Maltesers in bed. I have a tendency to gross untidiness. My foul language would lead to a docker high-fiving me with pride. The one unattractive quality I hate, and that has crippled me at times, is excessive worrying.

I’ve managed to mask it and build up little coping mechanisms. One is – don’t bloody tell anyone. Some of the worries are so ridiculous I don’t even give them voice. Instead they fester in my head until logic finally kicks in and I realise how stupid they are.

Another way is just get rid of them with sense. My friends are used to me disappearing for ten minutes whenever we go to a new pub or club – scoping out the toilets, the fire escapes, how busy it is. Once that’s done, I can relax a bit.

Japan was a fucking laugh and a half for worries. Number one was Earthquakes. That was numbers one through ten actually.

All my worries disappeared three months ago. Out of nowhere something I had never worried about, had never even given a second thought, malfunctioned and nearly killed us all.

I had no time for worry or panic in the immediate aftermath. All I could think about was getting to R. Once I was with R I just wanted to be calm so as not to worry her. I knew how close I had come to dying – I remember a thought in my head saying, “Get up; if you stay down, you die” – and seeing R I knew she wasn’t completely safe yet. So we sat and I kept her awake and joked about my burnt hair and to all the people watching we must have looked insane as we smiled and laughed as if this was how we spent a normal day.

And I’m thinking, Stop shaking darlin please stop shaking R that’s shock and shock’s bad. You can be shocked but don’t be in shock. Look at me darlin, look at me talk to me.

I had no time for worry and panic when the emergency services turned up. I knew for a fact that freaky screamy me would not be allowed to stay with R, and the only thing I wanted at that moment was to stay with R, so I was calm. And because I was calm I knew I had to get out of the cramped space we were in to let the paramedics in to treat her. And I knew if I went to the hospital with her it meant I was bumping a very highly trained medic. So I had to let her go to the hospital without me.

And I’m smiling and I’m promising her I’ll see her soon and she just waves and says, OK, bye mum! and the pain relief has her off her head and I’m so happy because she isn’t in pain but fucking devastated so just do as I’m told and get on the heart monitor and put on the oxygen mask and get in the ambulance and wonder when the hell they wrapped my legs in clingfilm because I can’t remember it.

I had no time for worry or panic at the hospital because I just wanted to get checked out and to get to R. So I let them do their X rays and their scans. They kept finding other things to bandage and scan and scope. A nurse said to me, “Oh dear, you’ve had a bad day, haven’t you?” and all I could say was,” No, this is the best day of our lives. We all lived.” I even surprised myself; worrier, negative, moany, me believed it with all my heart. I still do.

C came to the hospital with me but he went straight to R when we arrived at the hospital. We all met up at Xray. What a crew we must have looked. R and I covered in black soot. Our hair singed off. Both of us with our burns covered in clingfilm. C and R both on trolleys because neither could walk. All of our clothes burned, fallen, or cut off. But we were all still here.

I still haven’t had time to be anything but positive. Keep positive when R nearly lost her foot. Keep positive when they saved the foot but then thought she’d lose her leg. Relax when they saved both. Keep positive when the skin grafts failed. Keep positive when her wounds went chronic. Relax when there was a slight improvement.

To worry and panic now seems almost rude. To worry and panic keeps me away from sitting with R playing scrabble. It stops me enjoying the time spent coorying in together as she draws. It fogs my brain as I try and write down all the questions for her team of doctors (She has 8 consultants. They are all lovely and brilliant but Christ even remembering their names stretches me. And that’s the least I can do seeing as these are the people we’re relying upon to get her walking and burns manageable. Oh, and saving her life as well.)

Worry and panic would stop me remembering all her physio and pharmacological regime, and that’s what I need to remember because they won’t let me keep her at home without it. It would stop me sitting beside her, marvelling as she screams with laughter at Parks & Recreation, or the two of us lying in her hospital bed and waving our arms in the air at our midnight raves to Taylor Swift and Fall Out Boy.

The nurses complement us on how calm we all are and how we keep our heads and our sense of humour but ffs I feel like a big old fake because how do you deal with this. I’m one piece of bad news away from unravelling but maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m one of those people that’s good in a crisis but shite at normal life.

We’re still here. We’re smiling and happy and looking to the future.

R laughs at me when I push the rocking chair up against the bed as a makeshift barrier when I say goodnight to her.

“Really mum, really? You’re worried about me falling out of bed?”

I’m allowed one little worry.

A scar and a message.

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(I just found this in drafts. It was supposed to be posted at the beginning of August )

R didn’t have the easiest of entrances into the world. When she finally arrived after a lot of intervention her head and face was cut and bruised and swollen.

The bruises faded, the swelling went down, and the cuts healed. The worst cut left a scar, a huge frown shape carved into the top of her head.

Our family only makes bald babies and then bald children. Our shelves are full of pictures of kids starting school with not a hair on their heads. Until R was five this scar was seen every day, but then her hair grew and covered it, and everyone forgot.

She’s 13 next week. The bald baby has long hair to her waist. For her birthday she asked me to make her a bag to carry her drawing equipment.

So I made her the bag. Underneath one of the seams I wrote a message for her. No one will ever see it but it’s there. No one knows where it is.

A scar and a message. Both only known and remembered by me.

I can’t sleep

Three in the morning is a wee fucker.

Two in the morning, not so much. You can pretend it’s a late night; a little extravagance. As those hands sweep round the clock, nearer and nearer to three then you can’t lie any more – three in the morning is full blown “I can’t sleep.”

It’s not nice. Three in the morning gambols round the inside of your head, searching for all those thoughts that you’ve been hiding and pulling them out for you. The tasteless joke that you told is waved in your face, the hurt expression of a friend replayed over and over again. The time when you thought you looked lovely at a party, but then saw a photograph and you looked like something that had been dug up and reanimated. The screw up at work. The parenting failure. Three in the morning loves dragging those out. You’re never clever enough, never funny enough, never good enough for three in the morning.

Three in the morning loves mistakes. Can’t get enough of them. “Do you remember the time you thought it would be a good idea to do this?” it crows. It loves setting out all your mistakes in front of you, showing them off like precious diamonds. All the while you lie there and feel your stomach contract and your cheeks burn. Three in the morning loves failure.

Three in the morning doesn’t give a shit about successes either. It enjoys playing “What if …?”. What if that scan had came back positive? What if that van hadn’t swerved and missed the car? Then it sits back and watches you as the scenarios in your head become a waking nightmare.

So you lie there, praying that the thoughts in your head become the nonsensical jumble that means sleep is on the way. That three in the morning will piss off out of your head. That it won’t come back.

Three in the morning is a wee fucker.

Cartwheels now mean goodbye

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It started raining as we left her service. Not just a gentle pitter-patter either; this was full on, “Shit, where did we park the ark” rainfall. Coats and cardigans were raised above our heads as we ran to take cover.

We laughed as we looked behind us, a fast moving flock of black filling the space. We laughed as a release, “Typical J!” someone said, as if that gave the rain a meaning. The whole service was everyone struggling to find a meaning and failing as we knew we would. There was no meaning in this, nothing could make it feel better. We just came together to say goodbye.

We all knew a different side of her. Her friends told stories about nights out with drag queens, about champagne and shoes. Her work colleagues told stories of a woman who smashed sales targets in a male dominated industry and organised team building events for her colleagues that really did build teams. Her mum and dad knew a daughter, her brothers a sister.

Her girls didn’t come to the funeral but arrived at the reception at the hotel afterwards – two whirlwinds in black and pink, smashing through the room, their presence announced by half-sobs and intakes of breath from people as they saw her daughters. The girls ignored us adults and barrelled into R, jumping into her, grabbing her arms, not looking at anyone as they collected her up and then the three of them disappeared out of the double doors at the end of the room and onto the lawns.

They disappeared up trees, through fences, into bushes. “Come and explore!” they shouted. The spell was broken. The mood lifted. We sat on the hotel verandah like we did on the sand dunes and watched the three girls as they reminded us of other days with their mum and aunty.

“Isn’t Gee like her mum?”
“Oh no, Ell isn’t allowed to eat that, her mum didn’t allow it”
“R was as tall as her, did you know that?”

And then the girls started to do cartwheels.

We thought we’d have more time together.

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C’s sister got her diagnosis just before Christmas. Cancer. Everyone reeled, but she was so strong. One massive rage and rail against the world, then she carried on as normal. She didn’t ask for a timescale because she didn’t want to be living with an end date hanging over her.

So we had Christmas. Then we all went away together as a family at New Year; a massive family gathering where everyone knew why we were together but no-one mentioned it. We had time.

We spent every weekend together that we could. Miraculously, we all seemed to be passing her house at the same time. We went away at Easter – all 12 of us in the family for two weeks in the sun. Her two girls and R running about on the beaches, while she lay on a sunbed, getting weaker. I looked after her girls so she could have some rest. The time didn’t stretch out as far before us as it once had.

She moved in with her mum and dad; her girls stayed with their dad and came to her at the weekends. The “just passing” excuses faded away; we’d all gather at her mum and dad’s house as often as we could. C and his brother would sit in the chairs either side of her, winding her up as big brothers do to their annoying little sister. She’d scowl, then out of the corner of our eyes we’d see one of the boys reach out a hand, and she’d stroke it. We needed more time.

She set up a team and we Raced For Life. She cheered us on from the sidelines.

She organised a last holiday for her with family and her girls. She picked the location and the cottage. She was looking forward to a week away. C was in Asia, and made plans to come home early on the following Tuesday to spend the last few days of the trip with us. I ran about on Thursday and Friday, getting all the little last minute things that she texted to me. I dropped them off on Friday night and waved to her in her chair in the garden. We were all looking forward to a week spent together, starting on the Saturday. Spending time.

She died Saturday morning.

We thought we’d have more time together.

Her girls. Her little wonderful 8 and 6 year old girls. They definitely should have had more time.

They wanted to go on the last holiday that mummy organised so off we went to a cottage right on the beach in Cornwall.

It was the right thing to do for the girls but oh she was missed. She wasn’t there and she was everywhere.

Then we all stood on a dune and watched her two girls and R as they cartwheeled across the beach in their best party dresses “because mummy bought them for us and she loved counting our cartwheels”.

Five things I know to be true.

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1. If it is raining, I will stand on the wonky paving stone which will then shoot a jet of water right up my dress. Every damn time.

2. When my hair looks fantastic and my outfit doesn’t look like something out of the bottom of the ragbag then I will not see a soul all day.

3. Conversely, when my hair looks like a Take A Break makeover before picture I will meet everyone and their granny.

4. I do not look good in yoga pants. I do not even know why I own these things. I had one yoga class 10 years ago and it made me cry. The lessons went but the pants live on.

5. The reasons why my big black boots are in the spare room is because the zip is broken. The zip goes up but doesn’t come down. I find the boots, go, “oooh, I love those boots”, wear them, then struggle for half an hour to get the bloody things off. I need to throw them out, not throw them in the spare room.

My Mum

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She was the eldest of ten.

She helped bring up her brothers and sisters, and the youngest three thought of her as their mum.

She was very stylish. When they were older, her sisters would steal her clothes to wear themselves. Mum would sleep with her clothes for the next day under her pillow.

She wanted to be a nun when she was younger, then met my dad and that didn’t happen.

She had a beautiful voice and sung in an award-winning choir.

Because my dad was Protestant and she was Catholic they were married at the chapel’s side altar. Mum lost her faith shortly after that.

We moved to America with my dad just after I was born. He had an affair while she was pregnant with my brother and she moved back to Glasgow with us two kids.

She worked so many jobs to keep us going. She was a cutter, a barmaid, a packer, a cook. She worked as a cleaner and on the market and in the chippie.

She’d come in from the chippie late at night and kiss me goodnight and I’d smell the fryers on her clothes. I liked the smell because then I knew she was home.

She always thought she should know more. She’d take correspondence courses because she left school at 14 to help look after her brothers and sisters.

She never drank, but kept a bottle of Southern Comfort in the house “in case I ever fancy a wee drink.” She never fancied a wee drink.

She wrote letters. Every single one started “Hoping that this letter finds you well.” She signed off every letter and card, “Wishing you all that’s good.”

She had long elegant fingers, like a piano player.

She had beautiful handwriting.

She was terrified of dogs, and had a phobia of earrings and pierced ears. When my granny took me to get my ears pierced without telling her, mum went ballistic.

Mum threw up every time she saw me twisting my earrings.

She’d blister in the sun, even with full sun cream on.

Her hair was like wire wool, and she would curse when she was trying to style it. She’d brush mine and tell me she wished she had straight hair like mine.

I wanted my hair to be like hers.

She baked every Sunday. Singin’ Hinnies, bread and scones.

I loved the way our house smelled on Sundays.

She talked to all the old biddies at the post office, at the bus stop, in the street. I complained and she said that she could be the only person they talked to that day, and I should think on.

She wore Tweed perfume. I’d save up my pocket money to buy her a bottle at Christmas.

Whenever she watched a sad film she’d say, “C’mere, sit on my knee” and we’d coorie in together on the couch.

She loved a coorie in.

She never learned how to drive a car or ride a bike.

She was really funny. She’d come out with some shockingly funny things then say, “Oh, you never heard that, ok?”

She loved Walnut Whips and treated herself to one every Friday.

Every Mother’s Day I’d buy her an African Violet, and my brother would buy her three Walnut Whips.

She would have been a brilliant granny.



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