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Strange nights spent away from where you normally sleep (usually no beds involved)

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    Very much so

    That is one of the most bizarrely baroque "suicide attempts" I've ever heard of.


      V2001. Despite having spent years hanging around with teenagers who smoked weed, took poppers, ecstasy and MDMA, cocaine, mushrooms, ketamine and even ayahuasca at times, by the age of 19 I had tried nothing other than alcohol and the occasional cigarette. Strangely, despite having bipolar, I have always been cautious about trying anything mind-altering. Maybe it was even because of having bipolar. Most of the effects that people described when under the effect of various drugs, I could mimic through simple sleep-deprivation. Want to lie in bed feeling your limbs being alternately tiny and huge? Yep, I could do that one sober. Want to feel like the room around you was swaying, rocking, spinning or distorting? That happened to me fairly regularly. I used to get sleep paralysis and could control my dreams, so whenever anything scary happened in dreams I just consciously grew wings and flew away.

      Anyway, I digress. After watching the effects of the aforementioned drugs on my contemporaries, I made the scientific conclusion that I would like to try weed, because maybe a calming effect would be good for me, and no-one seemed to have a bad experience unless they ate too many hash brownies in one go and didn't moderate their dose well. The problem at this point was that everyone I knew had been smoking it for years and I didn't want to feel foolish in front of 'experienced' users.

      Fortunately, one of my female friends was in the same boat as me, so we devised a plan to go to v2001 to try it together. And we did. We bought some weed off some guys we met in a music tent. I already knew how to roll joints because I did it for friends when they were too wasted for hand-eye coordination. We probably smoked too much because in the middle of the night I had to crawl out of our tent and throw up just outside the doorway.

      I lost a contact lens in the grass (lawn grass, not the smoking kind) and ended up trimming blades of grass with nail scissors in a futile attempt to find it. We watched Coldplay, and Kylie Minogue, often sitting on the shoulders of men we'd just met who, for whatever reason, were happy to boost us up to where we could see. We ate lots of beans on toast and drank tea.

      At the end of the festival, I changed into clean clothes to go home, but my friend deliberately kept on her mud-caked trousers and boots because she knew her grandmother would be at home and she wanted to see her face when she walked in.

      I'll tell the ayahuasca story another time. That one's quite good.


        Right then. Ayahuasca.

        2002. The South America tour. Our tour officially finished in Quito, Ecuador. Our tour guide had been sacked about two weeks earlier for running round a hotel wearing nothing but my pink thong and blowing up watermelons while high as a kite. We refused to engage with the replacement tour guide and kept our original one. Despite seeming like the reincarnation of Hunter S. Thompson at times, he was incredibly knowledgeable about all the places we went to, very kind to me whenever we were hiking and I was the slowest person, and generally lots of fun.

        We were supposed to be in Quito for only a few days, but I had contracted a horrible sickness bug and lost dangerous amounts of weight. We stayed for a couple of weeks while we were put in contact with a diplomatic family who were friends of my boyfriend's mother, who got me appointments with their family doctor. The doctor prescribed antibiotics and anti-nausea injections which for some unknown reason had to be jabbed in my bum.

        While I was recuperating, the three teenage boys I was travelling with went on a mission to find ayahuasca. They toured Quito with a cactus-identifying book until they found the right variety growing in an old lady's front garden (not a euphemism) and persuaded her to sell them a large specimen.

        First attempt, we went to a volcano crater on the outskirts of Quito and the boys chopped the cactus into easily swallowable chunks. This didn't work as it was impossible to eat the necessary dose without vomiting. As I was recovering from weeks of involuntary vomiting, I was fairly obviously disinclined to try it.

        Next, the boys read that the cactus needed to be boiled down and reduced. As we were long-term guests in the hotel, the owner let us use the industrial kitchen for the task. We had huge metal vats of cactus boiling and bubbling away, while the chef used the next gas ring to cook breakfast for a large American tour group. The end-result was a thick, sludgy green liquid, that looked similar in texture to orange juice with bits in, but a deeply unappealing colour.

        We went on a trip to some hot springs in the mountains. Me, the three boys, one of the boy's girlfriend's who he'd got into thousands of pounds of debt in order to fly her out to Ecuador for two weeks, our tour guide, and his new girlfriend who he'd met a week before in Peru and had decided to tag along with us. We were all staying in a ramshackle caravan, but it didn't matter because the hot springs were beautiful. I babysat my boyfriend, another male friend, the tour guide and his girlfriend, while they drank copious amounts of ayahuasca and then spent hours talking gibberish. My boyfriend tried to explain in very earnest detail the wonderful fractal patterns he was seeing in the rocks around the hot springs. The Peruvian girlfriend threw up her portion and it had no effect, but everyone else tripped for about 8 hours solid.
        Last edited by Balderdasha; 19-08-2019, 22:08.


          2002 again. Cusco, Peru. The night we got back from the Inca Trail. I was tired and went to sleep, but the others went out drinking and watching the England-Argentina World Cup match. I woke up after a couple of hours, feeling refreshed and lonely, so went out find them. This was one of the first times I'd walked around a strange city abroad in the dark on my own, and it felt oddly liberating. I looked in a few obvious bars and found my friends quite quickly.

          Our tour guide, who was Argentinian, had sourced far too much cocaine, the dealer sold it for $5 for as much as you could grab with your fists. My boyfriend was pretty wired, so I gave him a head massage to calm him down. When England won the match, we won our tour guides Argentina shirt, and moved onto a night club to celebrate / commiserate.

          The club was fun, we danced a lot, but it didn't ever close unless everyone left. By 9am in the morning, I was tired again so I found a sofa and curled up on it for a snooze (loud music has never been a barrier to sleep for me. I've slept standing up, leaning against walls in London nightclubs before).

          I was woken up by a friendly Peruvian, who tried to persuade me I needed coca. I thanked him politely, but said I just needed sleep.

          A few months later, at university, I was chatting in the kitchen to the girl who lived upstairs. We realised first that we'd been in South America at the same time, then narrowed it down to Peru, then Cusco on the same night of the World Cup match. We had been in the same nightclub, she'd seen me on the sofa chatting to the Peruvian guy, had briefly wondered whether to intervene if he was harassing me, then decided I was handling the situation fine by myself.

          That girl remains one of my best friends. She did my make up on my wedding day and I went round her flat for dinner last month.


            2007. This was when I was part-time flat-sharing with Sally in Chongqing. The spring / Chinese New year holidays were coming up. We both had offers to go travelling with boys, but for various reasons, we had gone off men for a bit. Instead, we decided to travel together.

            Arranging visas outside China was quite complex and we wanted to put our burgeoning Mandarin skills to good use so we opted to fly to Hainan Island, a Chinese-owned semi-tropical island with white sandy beaches. The following ten days were probably my most surreal holiday yet.

            We stayed in a youth hostel that had poetry, jokes and inane witticisms written all over the wall. There we met a French guy whose life story was fairly unbelievable. When we met him, he was in the middle of an argument with the hostel owner about the fact that he had harpooned the owner's goldfish. He didn't dispute this fact, and it got him evicted. He then slept on the beach and woke up to find that all of his belongings, including his passport, had been stolen. All he had left was his Bermuda shorts, a pair of flip flops, and a set of golf clubs that a friend had kept in a locker for him. This was problematic because he needed to get back to Guangzhou, Southern China, border of Hong Kong, where his job was to hang out in night clubs and drink with wealthy Chinese businessmen. Fortunately, his dad was some sort of diplomat, so he was going to get a new passport fast-tracked. Given Chinese bureaucracy, that meant a possible new passport in weeks instead of months. In the meantime, the French guy, let's call him Pierre, started teaching golf to the children of a local Chinese bigwig, by teeing off from the top of one of the apartment blocks he owned. After the first lesson, the Chinese dad had the roof of the building astroturfed to create a more realistic golfing experience. Pierre came out drinking with us in the evenings, and one night emerged from the nightclub toilet completely mummified in toilet roll.

            We also met an older white-haired divorced lawyer. He claimed to be one of five Canadian lawyers who had negotiated the transferral of Nunavut to Inuit control. For the last ten years he had alternated one year living in Canada being a lawyer and then one year living on an island or a boat somewhere around the world, making ends meet by contributing to radio shows.

            One night we went to one of the posher hotels and got chatting to the Cuban band members. They took us to an underground nightclub which was furnished entirely in red leather, had women dancing in cages and seemed mostly to be frequented by Russian mobsters. One of them outlined his plans to distribute homeopathic medicine to China. We made our excuses politely and left as fast as we could.

            Before we went on the holiday, Sally had been chatting on some sort of travel forum, asking for tips on where to visit. She got some advice from a guy who lived near the mountain on the centre of the island, which is called Wuzhi mountain, literal translation Five-Finger mountain. We began to refer to the guy who lived there as Five-Finger-Phil. It's the tallest mountain in China and he persuaded us it was worth visiting.

            Five-Finger-Phil was also Canadian and was teaching English at a school. He shared an apartment with a retired Iowan farmer and the farmer's Chinese girlfriend. We ate dinner and watched ice hockey while the farmer explained his vision to bring organic banana farming to Hainan Island. They told us the story of the island's university.

            Apparently, in the 90s the Chinese government experimented with devolving government to regional parliaments and let Hainan's Li minority have full control of the budget. Millions of yuan were sent across for building roads and sewerage systems, etc. But the Li government spent all the funds on building themselves truly palatial parliament buildings. When someone from Beijing eventually came to audit the funds, the Li government was promptly dismissed and direct rule from Beijing was reinstated. The palatial government buildings were bequeathed to Hainan university. Now, I have no idea if any of that is true, and I can't find any reference to it by googling in English. All I know is that Hainan university has amazing buildings despite having relatively few students enrolled. It's proper sweeping marble staircases and columns and arches everywhere.

            While staying with Five-Finger-Phil, we went to visit an abandoned theme park. The park had originally been intended to be an ethnic minority theme park. China officially recognises 55 ethnic minorities in addition to the Han majority. Ethnic minority status is stamped into identity documents and affects many aspects of life. There is a sort of positive discrimination system at university, for example, although it doesn't really make up for the fact that all courses are in Mandarin Chinese, never minority languages. At the time of the one-child policy, ethnic minorities were also given more leeway to have two or sometimes more children. Anyway, there are loads of these ethnic minority theme parks across China. They are set in vast grounds and have examples of all the different types of traditional houses that the different minorities build. When built, the plan was for the park to be home to 'real-life' ethnic minorities who would wear their traditional outfits, do dances and singing, and cook traditional foods, like some sort of human zoo. Somewhere along the way, funds were mislaid, and the park was left to decay. When we visited it, a lot of the buildings were still there, including temples or sacred buildings from various religions (a Buddhist temple, a Daoist one, a mosque), but they were all overgrown. There was one family still living in the middle of the abandoned park, who sold a limited range of souvenirs and snacks. It would have made an amazing paint ball site.

            When we went back to the beaches, we bought ourselves Chinese bikinis, complete with twee frills, and spent a couple of days just lying on the beach watching the Chinese tourists. There was a real trend at the time for Chinese families, often three generations and extended aunts, uncles, cousins, etc, to all travel together and all wear matching beach outfits. It was like playing an amazing live version of Where's Wally.


              2009. I went to secret garden party festival. There were great things about it, a tent full of cushions you could lie in and draw on, a wooden boat on a lake that was burned down on the last day with fireworks and fire poi performers. But it just made me feel old. I was working quite a full-on long-hours consultancy job at this point. I went with my then boyfriend and his group of friends who were a couple of years younger physically and almost a decade younger mentally.

              One guy had a ridiculous name. Let's say his real name was Leroy, but everyone called him Meroy. He was one of these white guys with long, stinking dreadlocks who thought that playing bass guitar in a struggling band made him more interesting than he was. He would wake up absurdly early in the morning and start bongo drumming in the grassy circle our tents were pitched around, and shouting out odd 'hilarious' phrases like 'bum your mum'. I wanted to murder Meroy.

              Also, the guys who were wandering the site selling drugs had a whole new set of drugs that I'd never even heard of. They were pushing PCP, 2C-B, DMT, GHB, and anything else that was just a bizarre string of letters. The names alone scared me.

              I ended up going to bed much earlier than all the others, and sometimes napping in the tent in the middle of the day. It made me realise that with the job I had I needed more relaxing holidays, without Meroy around.


                2010: I briefly mentioned before that when the graffiti boyfriend split up with me, I went hiking in the Himalayas as a response. This is the slightly more fleshed out story of that.

                I was heartbroken. My schoolfriend had already arranged to go on a hiking trip in the Himalayas and asked if I'd like to join her. I phoned up and booked the trip that day without checking any of the details.

                Unfortunately, I couldn't find my passport anywhere. As there were only two days until I was supposed to leave, I had to ring around the passport offices to find one that had an appointment free to issue a same-day passport. I struck gold with an 8am appointment in Newport, Wales. I had to get a hideously early train from London and email my boss to explain my unscheduled absence. I sat in the passport offices working on my laptop while I waited for the passport to be printed and was pleasantly surprised by how cheap cups of tea were from the local café.

                Because I'd booked the trip at short notice, I hadn't been able to book the same flight as my friend, I was going to have 24 hours in Kathmandu alone before she arrived. This wouldn't have been a problem except that the day I was due to fly, my wallet was stolen. I'd got on the bus to work, carrying my massive rucksack because I was going straight to the airport after work. I must have looked like an easy target and someone took my wallet straight from my pocket. I managed to go to the bank in my lunch hour and take cash out using my shiny new passport, emailed my friend and transferred £200 into her bank account to use during the trip. I still wasn't completely happy travelling alone without cards, but there was nothing more I could do.

                Flying to Nepal, the plane was diverted due to bad weather and we landed in Lukla, Tenzing-Hilary airport. I flicked through my guide book to find out where I was and immediately wished I hadn't. The page for Lukla had a big square of warning text saying 'don't fly to or from Lukla, it's the world's most dangerous airport'. I'm a nervous flyer anyway, so this was not great to read. We hung around there for a couple of hours, then had a very bumpy take-off and made it safely to Kathmandu.

                I found our hotel and went for a wander. Found somewhere to take the photos I needed for my hiking visa, found a hiking shop to sell me all the stuff I'd forgotten to bring, had a nice dinner and an early night.

                The tour my friend had booked turned out to be a 10-day hike to and from base camp on Annapurna. We were in a group of 14: a Kiwi couple, an Ozzie couple, a retired American who had never left the USA before, a British small shop keeper, a New York psychotherapist, the tour guide, the sherpas and us.

                The hikes were stunning. Just walking through the valleys on the way up was immensely therapeutic. We stopped at little hostels for lunch and to sleep in. One day, after lunch, all the hikers were getting itchy feet and wanting to start walking again. The tour guide and the sherpas were sitting around, staring at the completely clear blue sky, showing no inclination to move. People grumbled a little bit, but we clearly weren't going to head off on our own. Fifteen minutes later, there was a huge thunderclap and hailstones the size of golf balls started plummeting from the sky. We ran inside, chastened, and never questioned the guides again.

                Five or six days in, I got sick. Probably a stomach bug. Might have been exacerbated by the altitude. Whatever the cause, I was vomiting off the side of the mountain three or four times a day and couldn't eat anything. One night, I shat myself in my lovely silk pyjamas and vomitted in my red moccasin slippers that I'd bought from a bazaar in Morocco. That was definitely a low point. One of the sherpas silently took my slippers away and washed them in a stream. I still had to keep walking, but I agreed to stay at the camp just below base camp and rest for the day rather than getting a photo with the base camp wooden sign.

                The hostels all had lounges with seats built around a central table with gas burners underneath to keep your legs warm. One of the sherpas stayed behind with me. He taught me Nepalese card games,and how to count to ten in Nepalese, and told me a traditional tale about a boy who was a pumpkin. There was something about a princess falling in love with him even though he was ugly. There was another story about a farting bear.

                I had a bit of a crush on this sherpa, but he had a wife and kids back in his village. The next day, when we were walking down the steep mountain, he stayed to walk at my pace as I stumbled along and vomitted. He kept trying to persuade me to let him carry me. I held out the whole morning, feeling that it would be humiliating for me, and a strain on his back. He laughed when I said I was too heavy and insisted he regularly carried loads twice my weight. He eventually wore me down by complaining that I was too slow and that he wasn't going to get to eat lunch. He gave me a piggy back and ran down the hill jumping from rock to rock. It was absolutely terrifying, but we got there in time for lunch.


                  2010 again. Another friend of mine had just split up from her boyfriend. This woman is a massive over-achiever. She has a starred first from Oxford. I met her while we were both teaching in China. She learnt Mandarin in a far more disciplined way than me, stayed there for three years and could read and write as well as speak it (no mean feat, you need to recognise a core of about 7,000 individual characters to read an average newspaper). In 2010 she was working for a magic circle law firm.

                  Anyway, she arranged an active camping holiday and invited me along. We stayed in tents in the New Forest over a bank holiday weekend along with two couples. I annoyed both of them by combining their names a la Brangelina and referring to them as that for the whole weekend (I can be a bit of an arse when I'm closer to the mania end of my spectrum).

                  The weekend's heavy schedule included hiking, cycling, and kayaking. I'm not a confident cyclist so me and my high-powered friend hired a tandem. The bike hire shop was busy so we got the last available model, an elderly, heavy, metal tandem. We cycled it about 10km through the forest before it fell apart, and we had to spend the rest of the day walking / carrying it back. Sometimes there were slopes in the forest floor and we sat on the tandem and free-wheeled through the leaf cover, but we couldn't pedal it uphill or on the flat.

                  I really enjoyed the kayaking. We went down a river, out the estuary and along the coast. I've never kayaked in the sea before or since and I'd highly recommend it.

                  Three years later, I was very grateful for my friend's impressive organisational skills as she co-ordinated my hen do for me.


                    September 2016. I was home from the mother and baby unit but still not well. My mother-in-law came round every morning to help get my daughter ready and walk her to school. While walking along holding my daughter's hand, I would have visions that she had been eaten by piranhas and all that remained was her hand. I had to regularly look at her to reassure myself she was all there. I struggled to talk to the other mums at the school gate.

                    Somehow, in September, we went on a mini break to Brighton. I don't remember much about it except that the room we booked was actually an enormous suite so we could sleep easily for once, and we paddled on the pebbly beaches.

                    At this point, I was on such a cocktail of medication, that I was effectively knocked out from 7pm to 7am, so my husband had to do the whole night shift with our soon, feeding him bottles of milk two or three times a night.

                    In November, we went on a city break to York. As we sat down to dinner the first night, my daughter said she wasn't feeling well, then vomitted all over the table. We left a £20 tip, ate nothing and hurried back to our room. My son and daughter took it in turns to vomit for the remainder of the holiday. We saw very little of York. The Yorvick Viking Centre was closed due to flooding, with just a temporary mini exhibition in the church next door. The hotel lobby had a table with an iPad table top that you could play games on. We spent most of the weekend there. We didn't attempt another city break for a long time after.

                    A couple of days before Christmas, my son managed to get into a cupboard in the kitchen, pull out a pyrex casserole dish and smash it on the floor. My husband picked up the big fragments, hoovered, then for reasons known only to himself, swept the floor with his bare foot to check if there were any tiny shards left. There were. Having cut his foot, we sterilised it, put a plaster on, and thought little more about it.

                    Christmas Day, my husband managed to get up in the morning for present opening, but then was feeling feverish and went straight back to bed. To make things easy, we'd pre-bought instant Christmas food from M&S. The plan had been for my husband to cook it, but he clearly couldn't. I summoned all my available mental faculties and managed to put all the food in the oven for the right length of time while the kids were watching TV. We ate Christmas lunch around the table. I took a plate up to my husband but he couldn't face eating. That should have been a sign to me that he was really unwell, but I was too out of it to register.

                    Boxing Day, my husband's leg had started to go red and had lines tracking along the veins. Very bad sign. My parents-in-law came to look after the kids and we went straight to A&E. The cut from the pyrex meant my husband was developing cellulitis and possible sepsis. A harassed doctor drew round the lines of infection with a black marker pen, created a raised platform out of cardboard chamber pots and told me to press an alarm if the infection spread.

                    ​​​​​​I was terrified. I still wasn't completely sane. My husband was (and still is) my carer. If anything happened to him, what would happen to me and the kids? I couldn't look after us on my own.

                    My mum came to the hospital. I asked her to stay in my house to help me look after the kids so that I was still close to my husband in hospital. She refused and said she'd only look after us if we came to her house 40 miles away from the hospital. My mum is quite controlling and feels safest in her house. She doesn't like using other people's kitchens or appliances. I felt like I didn't have a choice. I had to leave my possibly dying husband in hospital and go to my mum's house.

                    Long-story short, my husband survived. He was still in hospital on New Year's Eve, my son's birthday. By that point I was back in my house with my mother-in-law helping out. We went to the hospital to celebrate our son's first birthday. Friends brought a chocolate cake. My sister-in-law came with her family and we all went out for a meal in the beefeater next door. Apart from my husband, he still couldn't leave his bed. I think he was still on an antibiotic IV drip. Our son was just learning to walk and I remember holding his hands while he led me around the restaurant.

                    Sometime during this period. My dad made a very callous comment while talking to him on the phone. I mentioned how ill my husband was and he said something along the lines of 'but as long as you and the kids are ok, that's all that really matters'. I've never really forgiven him for that.

                    My husband came home some time in January 2017. He still has one foot/leg bigger than the other, and has problems with circulation. We are very careful with broken glass now. But it could have been so much worse.


                      Summer 2017, we decided we deserved the type of holiday that you just throw money at. All inclusive in Majorca. A week without having to cook, clean, think of activities for the kids. The only problem was that we couldn't find our daughter's passport. After two days of ransacking the house, my husband said "I think your sister has it". Initially I thought, that's crazy, why on earth would she have it? But I knew she took various documents from our safe while I was ill and she was looking after my daughter. Some of them made sense, like she might need her red book of vaccination records in case my daughter was ill and the GP needed historical info. So one night, on my way to a zumba class, I phoned my sister and asked directly if she had the passport. There was a pause and my sister said something along the lines of 'oh dear, maybe I do still have that in a folder somewhere'. I could hear the lie in her voice. I think she kept it because she worried my husband would somehow smuggle the children out of the country (she follows lots of stories of Middle Eastern men abducting their children on Facebook. The fact that my husband only has an Italian passport and doesn't speak a word of Italian hasn't registered).

                      I made an abrupt decision and instead of going to zumba, I told my sister I was coming to collect the passport, got on a train to the nearest station to my sister, got a taxi and met her on her doorstep. She handed over a folder containing my daughter's passport, her red book, her birth certificate and various other documents. I was angry, but just glad to get the documents back. My sister told me she was worried about me. I said the only thing she needed to worry about was the fact that I had just needlessly spent two days turning my house upside down. I got back in the taxi, back on the train, and came home.

                      The holiday to Majorca was relatively uneventful. The plane ride was torturous. My son was too young too have a seat of his own, but old enough that he thought he should have his own seat. Cue 4 hours of being strapped to my husband's lap, kicking the seat in front, head-butting my husband and repeatedly shouting 'get down, get down'. We swam lots, ate far too much. This was me at my heaviest, with a BMI of 31. One day my son grabbed hold of the beside lamp and burned his hand. We made a complaint, nothing happened, and it healed quickly. We didn't have the resources to pursue it further. My daughter loved the children's club. My son liked running around the mosaic paths in the resort. We relaxed a little. After a year of utter hell, we were all still alive, and it was sunny.


                        2008. The ten days in a cupboard in Hong Kong that I mentioned briefly in another post.

                        My grandpa died. My last grandparent. A few days before his 95th birthday. He'd been a little bit under the weather and staying in bed at his care home, but the day he died, he got out of bed, demanded (and received) kippers and vanilla ice cream for breakfast, then went back to bed and had a mini stroke. He held on just long enough for my mum to get there and hold his hand, then passed away relatively peacefully.

                        ​​​I was due to travel to Hong Kong with the graffiti boyfriend two days later to visit his mum. I obviously suggested cancelling but my family were adamant that I should still go and said they'd postpone the funeral until I got back ten days later. I went to view the body with my sister and nieces before I left. We wrote notes on little cards decorated with poppies from the funeral home and put them in his coffin. Only the oldest nieces were meant to go in but the youngest niece, younger than two, screamed until she was allowed in too.

                        My grandpa was a complex character. His mother came from a relatively well-off family, but she had an affair with a railway man, refused to marry him or have an abortion and was kicked out. My grandpa was born into poverty in 1913, a slum dwelling with one standpipe at the end of the road where they had to choose between bread with butter OR jam OR dripping for dinner every night. His mother married an alcoholic abusive divorcee later and he acquired step-siblings, then half-siblings. When he went to school, my grandpa refused to take on his stepfather's name and insisted on using the name on his birth certificate, much to his mother's shame. He revelled in being illegitimate, a bastard.

                        My grandpa excelled at school and met my grandmother at Sunday school aged 13 or 14. They dated off and on until he won a place at Bangor university to study history. They continued writing to each other until one day a letter arrived where my grandpa described suspiciously romantic hill walks with a fellow female student. My grandmother packed a lunch for herself, got on her bike and cycled 169 miles in one day to go and tell him off. She then went to Belgium for a year as an au pair to teach him a lesson. They married soon after she returned.

                        My grandpa qualified as a teacher and my grandparents began moving around the country with his teaching placements. They had their first daughter at the start of the second world war and gave her a German name as a protest at the futility of war. They discussed spacing their children five years apart so they could afford to send them to university (obviously the children were going to study at Cambridge). Sometimes they had to move because my grandpa got too close to another teacher or female student.

                        My grandpa was exempt from conscription for two reasons. He was too old and he was in a protected profession. He signed up anyway to get away from my grandmother and their baby. My grandpa mostly told rip-roaring tales about the war, all camaraderie and cooking beans out of a tin over the fire. He led a radio unit whose job was to sneak ahead of the front lines and lay communication lines as the troops advanced. Later, he was posted to Palestine. But whenever we ate at a restaurant, he always had to have a seat with his back to the corner with a good view of the exits. Once, he told me the story of being among the first troops into Bergen-Belsen after the war and how they accidentally killed some of the emaciated prisoners by feeding them cooked sausages too quickly. My grandmother ran a home for evacuees while he was away.

                        After the war, they had a second daughter. It quickly became clear that she had communication difficulties and she was diagnosed with severe autism. My grandmother had trained as a nurse and a special needs teacher and threw herself into the task of raising her. She still wasn't speaking five years later when my mother was born, but she learned to speak as my mum did.

                        When their oldest daughter was 14, she was struck down by polio. She was one of the first patients to benefit from an iron lung and survived, albeit paralysed and wheelchair bound. For the next ten years she was mostly confined to the house, but effectively raised my mum. She taught her how to cook, sew, knit, brush her teeth, maintain a household. She took a long-distance secretarial course and gained distinctions, then sadly died aged 24.

                        By this time, my grandpa was a headteacher, one of the first of a comprehensive school, and the family were dressed immaculately for the funeral and drilled that it was their duty not to cry, to uphold the dignity of their position as the headmaster's family.

                        My aunt eventually made it to university to study music. My mum studied biology in London but had very little interest in it. She wore seventies mini-skirts and flares, hung out at the Playboy bunny bar, travelled to America in the summer holidays and earned so few marks that 'they could be counted on one hand'. The dream of a daughter going to Cambridge was forlorn.

                        Despite having raging arguments for most of their marriage, mostly about my grandpa's infidelities, my grandparents stayed married for over sixty years. After retirement they designed and built a bungalow in three quarters of an acre for their dotage. They travelled and brought back traditional costumes for me and my sister from various countries.

                        When I was young, my grandmother started to develop Alzheimer's. It started with her forgetting the ingredients for baking cakes. It was eventually so bad that she couldn't speak and remembered no-one. My grandpa cared for her, almost entirely by himself for 14 years. He would dress her every day in smart matching clothing and jewellery, take her out to cafes for lunch, and make sure that she had her hair done professionally every week. He knew that she had always been proud of her appearance. After she died he maintained that those 14 years had been his privilege and were the achievement he was most proud of.

                        I graduated from Cambridge when my grandpa was 92 years old. He came to the ceremony. I was pleased that he got to see that, and he appreciated the fact that I was one of three graduands who refused to kneel.

                        When my grandpa died I was dislocated. He was never physically affectionate but I loved him and I knew that he loved me. When I was little he would wear tea cosies on his head to entertain and let me draw unflattering portraits that highlighted his ear hair. Later, we would discuss politics, philosophy, economics.

                        Getting on a plane to Hong Kong two days later felt wrong and I didn't know how I was going to cope with the holiday.

                        My boyfriend's mother, let's call her Elizabeth, my boyfriend referred to her by her first name, was kind and friendly, and occupied a small flat in a tower block. By UK standards it was tiny. For Hong Kong, it was a modest apartment. Many apartments in Hong Kong come with a cupboard-sized room that is designed for the live-in help. This is where me and my boyfriend stayed. Every morning, when we woke up, Elizabeth would be checking all the share channels on the TV in the lounge. She made a modest income from selling insurance, and earned more money on the side by trading shares. Each day she arranged multiple trips to different restaurants, to meet various friends and extended family. Often, she alternated between standard restaurants and vegetarian restaurants, kindly catering for my diet. Hong Kong vegetarian restaurants are amazing. I ate so much one day that I have a photo which looks almost identical to how I looked while 3 months pregnant. Food baby.

                        One day, me and my boyfriend hiked out to see the golden Buddha on Lantau Island. I somehow put my hip out of joint and it was incredibly painful. I think my joints still hadn't fully recovered from the three peaks challenge. Elizabeth arranged for us both to visit an osteopath. I watched the osteopath gently manipulate my boyfriend's limbs and decided it wasn't so bad. But when it came to my turn, the osteopath examined me, lay me on my side and then, with no warning, body slammed my hip back into the socket. The pain was excruciating, and then was followed by a worse procedure involving scraping along my nerves with some sort of sharp shell. I cried. Elizabeth was amused. She declared it was because I am a water sign. Whatever the pain, it did seem to fix my hip and I've never had major problems with it since.

                        Another day, we went out shopping to buy shoes as a Christmas present for my sister. She loves extravagant platform heels and you can find some amazing varieties in Hong Kong. The shopping centres are so well-lit and so cut-off from the outside world, that we accidentally shopped until 2am without noticing.

                        It was a good visit, but tinged with sadness over the loss of my grandpa. Sometimes I would cry with no warning and struggled to hide it from my boyfriend and his mother.

                        When we came home, we went straight to my grandpa's funeral the next day. My aunt, the one with the autism diagnosis, held it together to sing a beautiful opera song, then cried at the end.
                        Last edited by Balderdasha; 27-08-2019, 19:30.


                          Originally posted by Balderdasha View Post
                          My grandpa died. My last grandparent. A few days before his 95th birthday. He'd been a little bit under the weather and staying in bed at his care home, but the day he died, he got out of bed, demanded (and received) kippers and vanilla ice cream for breakfast, then went back to bed and had a mini stroke. He held on just long enough for my mum to get there and hold his hand, then passed away relatively peacefully.
                          This reminds me of my Dad's death. He'd gone into hospital the day after my Mum had gone into a care home, supposedly for respite care (which eventually lasted four years until she died.) I phoned my Dad every day. Though a nurse told me he was very ill, he sounded relatively chipper for an 88-year-old. Chatty, coherent, we talked about his beloved Blades and how his grand-kids were doing. I never mentioned Mum, because I knew he never forgave himself for agreeing to her "incarceration." One evening he told me he'd been given a can of peaches, which he was really looking forward to. He went on and on about them, then began getting distressed because he couldn't find them, "Where are those peaches? I bet someone's taken them!" "Nah, Dad they've just been mislaid, you'll find them in the morning." He died that night. I don't think he ever found the peaches. I'm pretty sure they never existed.


                            2017. December. We were hoping to have a quiet Christmas. Early in the month, I woke up in the middle of the night with sharp stabbing pains in my abdomen. For the last six months I had been regularly going to zumba and yoga in an effort to halt my ballooning weight. So I tried all the yoga moves I knew to try and dislodge the pain. Nothing worked. Painkillers didn't work. Indigestion tablets didn't work. I woke my husband up and we googled the possible causes, deciding that it was serious enough to phone 111, who then told me to go to A&E. We were thinking possible appendicitis. Later on, my mum told me my dad had appendicitis, a fact I'd never heard before. Just like I only found out my grandpa had been diagnosed with schizophrenia after I had my psychotic episode. Would have been useful to know the family medical history.

                            Anyway, I got a taxi into hospital by myself and waited in agony for a couple of hours before they managed to get me on a drip and some more industrial strength painkillers. The conclusion from a barrage of tests was that I had suspected gall stones which were blocking a duct and causing deranged liver functioning.

                            I had to stay in hospital for three days. Fortunately, December is usually a quieter month for my husband and he was able to look after the children. The gall stone managed to dislodge itself without the need for surgery, but I was told there would be more and it was just a matter of time before I had another painful attack. I was put on a waiting list to have my gall bladder removed, and advised, if possible, to lose weight before the surgery. Those three days, with someone bringing me meals and the chance to read rubbish on my phone, were like a mini holiday. I think I even posted on here at the time.

                            Edit: I almost forgot, I was also put on a strict low fat diet to try and prevent any more flare ups before the surgery.


                              1998-2001. As a child, I never really learnt to ride a bike properly. I could ride one with stabilisers, but then we moved house when I was 5 to a house on top of a hill, and there was nowhere to practice cycling apart from hurtling headfirst down the hill at terrifying speed.

                              Then, soon after we moved into the house, we were burgled. The burglar didn't manage to get into the house, but broke into the garage. He stole all the family bikes, and all the discount pig meat out of our chest freezer. We were hard up so didn't buy new bikes for a while. By the time we did, I'd developed a fear of cycling.

                              Fast forward to my teenage years. I was at school in Cambridge and all my friends could cycle. Several of them had bike racks and I perfected the art of sitting side saddle and balancing oh the bike racks as my friends raced around the town. Age 16 I started dating a boy who cycled a racing bike with clip-in shoes. I used to sit on the back half of the saddle, knees tucked in, holding onto his shoulders while he pedalled standing up.

                              Everyone was in agreement that I should learn to cycle but I was terrified. These were the years where there was a house party every weekend. My boyfriend or one of my friends would give me a ride to the party, I'd get a bit tipsy and then I'd practice cycling on the way home. It was always around 2am, the roads were empty and quiet. At first, I could only ride in a straight line and I stopped by steering into wheelie bins. It took me ages to summon the courage to take one hand off the handle bars to signal.

                              By the time I started university though, I could ride a bike.
                              Last edited by Balderdasha; 03-09-2019, 08:14.


                                Originally posted by Balderdasha View Post
                                My grandmother packed a lunch for herself, got on her bike and cycled 169 miles in one day to go and tell him off
                                That's an incredible distance. Are you sure there's no typo here?


                                  Originally posted by Sporting View Post

                                  That's an incredible distance. Are you sure there's no typo here?
                                  No typo. She was a terrifyingly determined woman. And very fit. Much later on, as a woman in her late eighties with the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease, she had a row with my grandpa and walked out. He couldn't find her anywhere and was distraught. A couple of hours later, she turned up on foot at the factory where my dad worked, which was 14 miles from her home.


                                    Wow! And sorry for doubting. Still, at least you know that your anecdotes are being read, and very much enjoyed,


                                      Glad to hear it.

                                      1994, age 12, I was selected to attend a residential creative writing course. We stayed in bunk beds, four to a room, and learned how to write kennings, limericks and other fun poems. One of my bunk mates talked in her sleep. She always slept earlier than the rest of us and then provided hours of amusement as she wandered the room, waving her hands about and shouting 'there's lightning in my finger and it hurts!' In the morning, she refused to believe us.


                                        I read them too.


                                          2003. My 21st birthday. I went on holiday to Rome with a female university friend to celebrate. The holiday started badly with the discovery that our bargain hotel, was actually comprised of twin beds made of thin slices of foam in portakabins near a mosquito infested swamp miles out of the city centre. Undaunted, we threw ourselves into exploring Rome.

                                          Day one, my friend climbed into the Fontana di Trevi so I could take a photo of her. Cue sirens, and us being bundled into a police van. We spent two hours in the police station answering questions like 'Would you do this in your own country?' 'Sure, we climbed into the fountains in Trafalgar Square last summer'. I know it sounds stupid, but we genuinely didn't see any of the signs warning you not to climb into the fountain and had no idea it would be so offensive. Eventually, the police took our passport numbers, fined us 200Euros in theory, and sent us on our way. We asked the police officer what would happen if we didn't pay the fine and we tried to come back to Italy. He replied 'It is my duty to tell you that you must pay the fine, but if you don't, meh, nothing happens'. We never paid the fine.

                                          Day two, we met up with a friend of mine who was working as a 'manny' (male nanny) and went out drinking with him. We missed the last train back to our portakabin and ended up staying at his flat. He offered a threesome. I declined and went to sleep as fast as possible in a sleeping bag on the floor to the sounds of my two friends making out on the bed.

                                          Day three, in the morning, we all ate pancakes with the family my friend was nannying for, then went to the coast and went skinny dipping.

                                          Day four, our last day, we hired a moped off a guy at the side of the road. He made us ride it once, individually, around a quiet square to show we were competent, then sent us off into the heavy Rome traffic despite neither of us ever having driven a moped before. My friend drove it, I clung on for dear life at the back as we zoomed through multi-lane traffic and underground tunnels at terrifying speed. Amazingly, we didn't die. My friend suggested I have a go at driving as we got close to our starting point. I thought this was a bad idea, but she persuaded me. As we came towards the square, I realised I didn't know which was the accelerator and which was the brake. I also didn't have the arm strength necessary to turn the bike. As a consquence, I accidentally hit the accelerator and drove us full speed into the barriers of the square, catapulting the bike, myself and my friend over the barrier and into the square. When I came to, I tried to pick up the bike, which was still running, and drove it further into a lamppost. We then managed to switch it off, and wheeled it back, shame-faced to the guy at the edge of the square who had held our passports as collateral. We tried to just nonchalantly slide the moped back in place, but the wing mirror was hanging off by a thread and my friend was limping. It was fairly obvious we had crashed the bike. The operation must have been illegal as the guy just gave us a dirty look and charged us 100Euros. We considered that 50Euros each for hiring a moped, riding it round Rome for an hour, crashing it, and still getting our passports back, was a bargain, so we paid up and scarpered.

                                          My friend had hurt her leg quite badly, so we walked slowly and ended up missing our intended bus to the airport. I suggested catching a taxi, my friend thought that was too expensive so we waited for the next bus and ended up missing our Easyjet flight by five minutes. We were at the gate, we could see the plane, but they wouldn't let us on. Paying to get on the next flight was far more expensive than the taxi was. My friend has never forgiven me for not offering to pay for both of our new flights. She thought it was my fault for crashing the bike. I thought she was at least half responsible for persuading me to drive the bike, and for refusing to get a taxi. We have reached a semi-truce of agreeing to disagree on this one. I have never driven a moped or motorbike since.


                                            2005-2007. More snippets from night-time in Chongqing. Chinese businessmen liked to buy us drinks. Drink of choice was a bottle of whiskey mixed with peach iced tea (don't knock it til you've tried it). One night, one of them gave us a ride to another night club in his sports car. Bombing down the motorway at more than seventy miles an hour, he suddenly handed the wheel over to one of my fellow female teachers and laughingly jumped into the back of the car. She was screaming, we were screaming, it was a horrible way to sober up. Another of the various incidents when I was very lucky not to die.

                                            We knew three young TEFL teachers, an Australian guy, a Canadian guy and a Canadian girl, who shared a flat. The girl, who was stunningly pretty, used to get drunk very quickly and pass out. The guys would then carry her around from bar to bar on their shoulders, using her good looks to get into clubs, and making sure she got home safely. Once inside a bar or a club or McDonald's at 2am, they would rest her gently on a seat / table and then play games trying to build towers of glasses and packaging on her back. Back home in Canada, she told us she worked for a car wash and was in masses of debt, I never quite worked out how or why she ended up in Chongqing.

                                            The shopping malls had long metal slides next to all the escalators and weren't locked at night. We'd spend hours sliding down them and giggling.

                                            We became friends with two female bar owners from Foreigner's street. They both had large, gruff Chinese boyfriends who kept baseball bats behind the counters to ward off the various mafia who came round asking for protection money.

                                            Chongqing held a monthly drag queen night. Quite astonishing given that homosexuality was only legalised in 1997 and was still classed as a mental illness until 2001.

                                            ​​​Christmas Day isn't really a thing in China, but a tradition had developed in Chongqing where after school all the students would head into the city centre, buy inflatable baseball bats and have a massive friendly ruck.


                                              1995 to the present day. A note on whenever I go and stay at my mum's house. When I was 13 I had a phase of wanting to be an interior designer. As previously mentioned, my grandpa let me decorate one of his bedrooms with sunflowers and trees. My mum let me paint her downstairs toilet with ducks and a strange scrunched up carrier bag painting method that I'd seen on one of those house improvement programmes. And then she let me redecorate my bedroom.

                                              I did it over one summer holiday. My grand plan was to paint the walls as a 'slice of life' street scene in sepia photograph colours. I got as far as sketching the scene out on paper with lots of stereotypical characters, then I bought all the sepia photo colours, cream, orange, brown, and painted all my bedroom walls cream as a base. It then took me a whole day to draw one full-size person on the wall in pencil. I quickly calculated that at this rate, it would take me more than the available days I had to draw the characters, let alone paint them.

                                              I had roped in two of my friends to help me paint and we came up with a 'Plan B'. Using the paint colours I had bought, we mixed up as many different shades as we could, used square paint rollers, and decorated the wall with swirling, chunky, overlapping streaks. It's a fairly trippy result, I'll try to find a photo as it's hard to describe. Other people call it the 'toilet roll room'. To counteract the walls, I decorated everything else in the room in plain cream and neutral pine. This room has remained unchanged since 1995 and I still sleep in it every time I visit (my husband has long since put his foot down and refuses to stay at my mum's house in the yellow room with the creepy dolls).


                                                1994 - 2002. I was an odd child. I squirreled pocket money and birthday money away, saved it, and bought strangely grown-up items: a wooden rocking chair, an electric keyboard, a television. When I was eleven I decided that my bedroom was too small and I developed a plan to buy a garden shed as an extra bedroom. Once I had saved £100 towards it, my dad was impressed and said he'd match it. We looked around at all the ready-built sheds in the garden centre and my dad declared they were too expensive and he'd build one himself.

                                                Prior to this, my dad's greatest foray into DIY was a wonky bookcase so we were all a little sceptical. He booked two weeks off work in August, had planks of wood delivered to our driveway, drew up plans and got up at 5am every morning to hammer and saw. I don't know what suddenly possessed him, but he stuck to his word and built me an 8 foot by 16 foot shed. He insulated it properly, put in windows, an electrician friend came round and wired it to the mains, then we threw a family barbecue and four of my dad's friends helped him pick up the roof he'd built and ran down the garden to plonk it on the frame. That's probably one of my happiest childhood memories.

                                                We had an old set of bunk beds and an old futon that we put in the shed. I went round second hand furniture shops and furnished it with carpets, curtains, chests of drawers, a desk. I wallpapered the walls and painted pictures to hang. It was my own haven. From then on, whenever friends stayed, we slept in the shed. We had a baby monitor so we could call my parents if needed, and a key to the back door to use the downstairs loo, but it felt safe and secret. I threw Hallowe'en and murder mystery parties there.

                                                Many years later, when I had my first boyfriend, my mum was a bit prudish. Whilst she knew I slept in his bedroom at his house, we always slept in separate bedrooms at my house. I thought this was a bit silly so one day I informed her that next time my boyfriend stayed, we would both be sleeping in the shed. That was my territory so she didn't object.

                                                The shed still stands, but after I left home, my mum turned it into a study / storage room for all her teaching resources so it is absolutely full to the brim with plastic boxes.


                                                  1996. My oldest friend's 13th birthday (I've known her since she was born). Her mum was a brownie Brown Owl, so she got a discount for renting a bunkhouse near Great Yarmouth and my friend had a three day party. We stayed in bunk beds, played tennis outside (I twisted my ankle), played games jumping over the freezing waves, ate fresh hot doughnuts and played in the arcade. While I was playing on one of the 2p machines I got separated from the group. A gang of teenage boys crowded round me asking if they could put 2p in my slot. The air was very menacing, I was wearing short shorts and a crop top and I suddenly felt very vulnerable. I just said 'no you can't' quite aggressively and escaped as soon as possible. One of my earliest memories of public harassment. Sadly not my last.


                                                    1998, I think. We went on a caravan holiday near Cheddar Gorge, me, my mum and dad, my grandpa and one of my friends. One day we walked down a long hill in the Gorge. At the bottom, my grandpa came to the realisation that at 85, perhaps he was too old for these expeditions. A couple of years earlier, his next-door neighbour had phoned us because he'd fallen out of his apple tree wielding a hand hacksaw and had gashed his knee and was refusing to go to hospital. My grandpa generally believed that old age was something that happened to other people. At the bottom of the gorge, I saw him come to terms with his physical limitations, and we walked out, slowly, slowly, over the course of several hours.

                                                    Later in the holiday, my dad tried to race my friend, who took part in all the cross-country running competitions that I avoided. My dad held a county record for running that hadn't been beaten since his teens so it was a matter of pride. Maybe he would have outraced her, if he wasn't wearing open-toed sandals that flapped and slapped against the pavement as he ran.