Living Alone after a Lifetime Living with Others

most-beautiful-small-islands

Writing the other day of my thoughts on mortality and the avoidance of becoming consumed by the fear of death in the wee hours of the morning, I got a comment from my good friend Tash over at Films and Things. She mentioned that when she was younger she had the irrational fear that she would die old and alone. I could relate.

For years I suffered the same fear. In fact it was this fear that lead me to leap into my second marriage; an act similar to jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Despite the fact that I was drawn to the young lady in question, and she was young at a staggering seven years my junior, I should not have been thinking in matrimonial terms at all. I’d only just met her.

But in those days, it was unusual for me to not be thinking with my smaller more hormonally driven brain and the fact that I wanted to just talk to the girl put her in a special ranking. I thought, in my infinite wisdom, that this meant she was special. Special enough to marry. Which I did.

Now many years later, I am living my younger self’s nightmare. I am old-er and living alone. Well and truly the master of all I survey and answerable to no-one except my creditors and the taxman. Amazingly, I am happier than ever before in my life. The young me’s fear of being all alone and dying alone never rears its ugly head. Except in wee hours as I mentioned in my last post.  We all die alone, whether surrounded by loved ones or not. Death is meant to be lonely, it is our own journey that has to be taken in solo status. We can invite no one else to accompany us on this final trip. Hence, we die alone.

But this post is not about dying, sorry to have strayed off the path there. I am back now and moving on to less morbid musings. The post is about living alone after a lifetime of living with others and just how much my life has changed.

The realisation came to me yesterday as I struggled to find enough clothes to make it worth my while to wash one of my summer uniforms (said uniform, donned  the second the sun comes out consists of my speedo shorts and what ever shirt I first grab in the morning); after wandering through the house and realising that all I could add was the two kitchen towels, I realised that this was another symptom of living alone.

On the same day  (busy day yesterday) I filled the kitchen sink with about nine small bits of dishes and cutlery to do the washing up. Another “symptom” of being a loner at home. Probably a bit wasteful of water, but I really cannot stand seeing washing up staggering about the otherwise clean kitchen. One of the things that my long second marriage instilled in me.

Image created by Sarah Danaher with a Canon EOS 5D MkII

But those two similar acts got me thinking. I am now truly alone. I have no one to work around, move around, stumble around. My daughter moved out earlier in the year to share a flat with her boyfriend, a lovely chap that I keep referring to as my “almost son-in-law,” and I have, since that time grown accustomed to being a solo act.

It has been a learning experience this living alone. I have learned how to “downsize” my weekly shop for groceries. That particular task took ages. The amount of times that I had to throw out food that had gone off makes me cringe. Learning to schedule my house cleaning chores by levels. *Said levels are made up of dust accumulation and floors of the house.*  Struggling to make the time to cook my meals so that I do not live on the unhealthy option of constant take-a-way.  That one is the most difficult.

I said to my boss just the other day that I wanted to earn enough money at the paper to pay for a cook and housekeeper…oh and to pay all my outstanding bills of course. I could stand someone coming in occasionally to clean the house and to cook me my healthy heart meals. Even, perhaps, to buy me the groceries needed to set up my meals. I add this last part as I consume my late breakfast of strawberries with unrefined sugar that I threw together since the fruit was  due to go off today.

I love living alone. The freedom it gives me is heady. If I want to walk through my house all day in my birthday suit I can – sorry if that dredges up unwelcome images, if it makes you feel any better, I have not succumbed to that particular temptation just yet.  If I want to hoover (vacuum for those of you in America) my house at nine o’clock at night I can.  These two examples of my freedom are not indicative of everything I love about being gloriously selfish for the first time in my life, but they’ll do for right now.

I am not yearning for physical contact with anyone, be they of the opposite or same sex. I don’t miss hugs or caresses or the other messier types of physical demonstrations of affection/love.  A fact that I was shocked to discover.  I have always been a very tactile person. Sex, to me, was the most fun I’d ever had that did not cost me huge amounts of money. It was also the way I could show, in a physical sense, just how much I cared for the person I was with.

When I was younger, sex was a very important part of my “big game plan” it was something that I knew with utmost certainty that I could not live without.

Right.

Turns out that, like so many things I thought I knew when I was younger, I was wrong. I have written about my feelings about “grown up” love and attraction before. I think the reason that I do not miss the physical act is because the age of my potential playmates match my own. My girlfriends, wives, lovers were always much younger than me, not indecently so, but around the three to seven year mark. There were two exceptions to that rule and both were wonderful experiences.

My circumstances may change in that area, but I do not think so. I have no time for the intrusiveness of a proper relationship and all its incumbent baggage. I write full time for the paper and on my blog whenever I can.  I do my healthy heart walks daily, if at all possible, and write. It is difficult to find the time to clean the blooming house! I certainly do not have the time required to “cultivate” a relationship and like I’ve said before, I may have wrinkles but I don’t find them attractive in potential “mates,” And yes I am aware of how shallow that makes me sound.

But I can say with  certainty that I do love living alone after a lifetime of living with others. I am comfortable with my own company and do not feel the need to find another person to make me complete. I have come to the realisation that, in terms of living space, I am happier flying solo. Besides as my list of friends and colleagues continues to grow, I am never truly lonely.

Michael Smith

Cheers!
Cheers!

United Kingdom

27 August 2013

Societal Ills: Lack of Parenting

At the bus stop today as I was leaving the Metro after my daily jaunt I shared the waiting area with a young woman and her son. She could not have been any older than 20 or 21 years-old. Her son was around 5 or 6 years-old.

This young fellow could have been a poster child for ADHD (or ADD in the US) he could not stand still. Moving jerkily and quickly, he would zoom from one spot to the next and then return to Mum to address her rudely and aggressively. At one point he picked up some shards of glass and put them in his pocket. Mum reacted (very slowly) and after telling him repeatedly (at least six times, I counted) she finally approached him and forced him to empty his pockets. Which he initially refused to do; Mum then started a new game of wills by repeatedly telling him to empty his pockets.

All during this four-minute wait for the bus, the young woman threatened “We’ll go back home, if I have to tell you off one more time.” She continually raised her voice to just below a shout. The only time her son actually appeared to listen to her was when she dropped the F-bomb. The emergence of this word caused him to return to Mum, sit down and be still; for roughly half a second.

I kept my distance and did my best to ignore this display and kept fervently hoping that the bus would arrive early.

I was a juvenile prison officer for about ten years. I have seen older children at their absolute worst. I have seen parents that apparently share the same parenting skills as the young lady at the bus stop. Whenever I see a situation like this, I used to think the same thing every time; I’ll be seeing you in about ten years little man. Juvenile prisons are full of young men who have “suffered” from poor parenting skills by their guardians. I hasten to add that not all of the older children suffer this fate, but a large amount of them do.

I have had training in Child Protection which includes the psychology of children. I am also a parent.

The episode at the bus stop was not unusual. More and more you see ever younger parents not dealing with their children’s behaviour. It is not a “one-off” it is becoming a trend; a trait of our society that got its start in the 1970’s when younger parents did not want to discipline their children because “if I punish them they won’t like me anymore.”

It has obviously trickled down through the generations until it has become the commonplace rule of parenting. I’ve got news for you folks, your children don’t have to like you, respect and love you yes, but not like you. Not during the “learning years” at any rate, that will come later if it comes at all.

Children need boundaries. They need rules and they need direction; and in that dichotomous nature of parenting, they also need the freedom to develop personality, imagination and opinion. Sure it’s confusing, parenting is. There is no “See Spot Run” type book on parenting, usually we learn from our parents. And as I’ve already stated, this trend of passive parenting began in the 1970’s. So one of the types of modern parents can be classed as the “passive” parent; someone who will not directly influence their child.

Now I will go on record here and say that I am not a firm believer in “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” I do not advocate beating your children. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there, you’re so angry that you are one step away from exploding; but that is not the time to strike your child. The act of hitting a child whilst in the throes of adrenaline will cause bruises that are far deeper than the bruises on their skin.

There is another type parent out there, the “oblivious” parent. Unlike the passive parent who at least goes through the motions of controlling their offspring, the oblivious parent ignores them. These are the kids that run riot in the restaurant, grocery store, shop, high street, mall, et al. These are also the children who get hurt or, more sadly, wind up getting snatched or killed. Unlike the “passive” parent, I have no idea how to get it through their self-centred heads that they need to pay attention to their children; not talk to their neighbour, friend, co-worker et al.

Oblivious parents also seem to expect everyone else to look out for their children’s well-being. Neighbours, retail staff and even strangers are considered to be responsible for their little ones.

What is your major malfunction Private?

For the passive parent, you just need to be in charge. You don’t need to be a Drill Sergeant rushing up to your small child screaming, “What is your major malfunction?” In fact you shouldn’t yell or scream at all. When you do that you’ve just lowered your maturity level to the rough equivalent of your child. You’ve lost the battle of who’s in charge already.

You just need to let your kids know what is and is not permissible. If they screw up – and they will, they are human and screwing up is something we are all very good at – don’t lose your rag. Let them know what they’ve done wrong and if they do it again they will be punished. And I do mean punish, not beat. But the most important thing about punishment is to be consistent. If your punishment for your offspring’s infractions means “time out on the naughty step” then make it happen. Don’t threaten and not follow through. Children learn incredibly fast, they will soon figure out that mummy and daddy don’t really mean it. They learn all too quickly that there are no real boundaries.

Shouting at your kids will accomplish nothing apart from possibly making you feel better. Part of our training in the prison officer college was that when two prisoners start to fight you should bellow, “Pack it in or stop it.” I can tell you that out of the many times I’ve bellowed, “Pack it in,” only one pair of lad did (quite possibly because I am very loud). Yelling doesn’t work, trust me.

In a nutshell? Punish bad behaviour and reward good behaviour; and I don’t mean buy your kid a Porsche or its kiddie equivalent, a hug or a well done will suffice. Again consistency is the key. If you don’t differentiate between good and bad behaviour how do you think your children are going to learn the difference.

The one common factor in dealing with the end result of poor parenting is that children respond to boundaries and rules. They don’t like it at first; oh no; no one’s going to tell them what to do. But after a while they grow used to it and then come to expect it and then miss it when it’s no longer there; when they leave. In this country there is a huge  rate. Roughly 70 to 75 % re-offend and wind up back in prison. Why? What are we doing wrong?

The answer is, we are not doing anything wrong. We are offering, though, the first structure that these young people have probably ever encountered. If I had a penny for every kid who came back to prison and told me or other staff that the reason they’ve come back is because, “I couldn’t make it on the out, Guv,” I wouldn’t be rich, but I be a lot better off financially than I am at present. If you question them further, they’ll explain that they could not manage themselves because they had no rules; no boundaries. If there were rules, they failed to obey them because they had no help from their families.

Now I am not saying that all poorly parented children will wind up in a juvenile prison, but they definitely have a head start on their peers.

After I got on the bus with the ADHD lad and his mum, I could hear a load of kids yelling and running on the top level of the bus. When the bus pulled up two stops down, these same kids all haphazardly came down the stairs and then (like they were the ephemeral twins of the other ADHD lad) they began exhibiting the exact same behaviour as the other lad at the bus stop. The main difference was that this mother was an “oblivious” parent and said or did nothing to control her brood.

Twice in one day on the same bus route I was privy to both types of modern-day parents and the image was not comforting. And despite the fact that I am now a retired prison officer I thought the same thing about both sets of children, “I’ll be seeing you in about ten years time.” I’d like to think that things will change, but it has taken a few generations for parenting to reach where it is at right now. Obviously it is going to take a few more to straighten this problem out.

I hope I get to see the difference while I’m still aware enough to care.

Children can be happy behaving, they really can.

Scars and Diapers…

Today I had the thrill of getting a cyst removed from my back. The excitement level of this minor operation was minimal, so I didn’t have to worry about a jolt of high blood pressure kicking me off. Apart from a “slight scratch” as the doctor described it and some “prodding around” he removed something so small that an ant would have turned up his nose at it. (If an ant had a nose that is)

Two stitches later and I was released into the world once again. One more scar to add to my ever-growing collection. The joke around the Smith house is that I’ve got enough scars, impressive and not-so-impressive that I could change my name to Colonel Quaritch, the suitably nasty alpha male in Avatar.

For the record I do have a few. I have a scar on my right knee that I got (along with either 16 or 32 stitches. My memory says 32, but since it tends to exaggerate, it’s probably 16 or even six) from being scared silly by an old man who couldn’t see me on the path or even hear me, let alone harm me. But he scared the hell out of me and I ran like the Devil was chasing my ass. I tripped and opened my knee to the bone (or cap I guess).

What was funny was how I came to be on the path to town that day and my discovery of my injury.

Back in the old days when I was a wee lad of 7 women used old-fashioned cloth diapers (nappies, if you’re English) with diaper pins. *Just a side note about diaper pins. I think that these self-injuring giant clothes pins were the main reason that “throw away” diapers became the rage. Every time you went to thread the pin through the diaper to close it, your fingers automatically got skewered. There were a few folks who never stuck their fingers with the damned things, but no one I knew ever changed a diaper unharmed.*

My brother who had made his entrance into the world just a short time before was doing what every baby does when they first arrive. He was going through diapers at a rapid rate. Our mother had run out of, not diapers, but pins. I was sent to run the half mile or so to the town centre and get a pack. In those day’s you could even walk outside by yourself at 7 years of age in the dark. (Though not likely, we had curfews back then, by God!)

This task was deemed urgent, no pins no diaper for my baby brother, I left in what I was wearing. I don’t remember the shirt I had on, but I do remember I was wearing white blue jeans. I even seem to remember that they were Levis. I scarpered out the front door and headed off at a pretty good pace to town. As I walked in front of the now deserted High School (it was summer) I spied the “old man.”

All the town kids were terrified of him. He wore a black fedora hat and a long black coat, even in blazing heat of the summer. He wore black “clodhopper” boots and used a cane to walk. He rarely looked up when he walked and he mumbled to himself. I was scared of him because he kicked my dog. Scamper got in his way once, tail wagging and trying to be friendly. The old chap immediately kicked the dog a good yard down the path. Scamper squealed with pain and hi-tailed it back to the house. I yelled at the old man for kicking my dog, but he never paused or even looked at me. He just continued down the path looking at the ground.

My dad said that the old man was half blind and pretty much completely deaf. He said that Scamper probably frightened him and that was why he kicked the dog. I remember dad had a talk with him later the same day about the incident and the old fellow spoke in a very loud tone and said, “I didn’t kick your damn dog sonny, now get out of my way.”

Dad came back shaking his head and chuckling. He told me to make sure that Scamper stayed away from the old man. I didn’t think it was amusing or forgivable. I thought the old man was mean and would probably kick me if he got the chance.

That’s why I ran away from him yelling (no words but if I was to translate, it was a YAAAAAAAAH sound). Just as I started to slow myself down, I tripped and did a face plant in the rock and dirt path I’d been sprinting on. I got back up and brushed the dirt off as I ran.

I didn’t slow down till I got to the old general store (Boy, I sure do miss those). I found a packet of diaper pins and brought them up to the counter. I handed them to the lady at the till and gave her my quarter for them and as she handed me my change she nodded her head towards my jeans and asked, “Have you been painting?”

“No,” I replied, “Why?”

She pointed to my right knee and said, “It looks like you got some red paint on your knee. It looks pretty fresh too. Did you brush against something on the way here?”

I looked down at my white jeans and found that from the knee down they were red. My knee was pumping out freshets of blood.

“No, I fell.” I put the change in my pocket. “I’d better get home, these pins are an emergency.”

The lady smiled and said, “You’d better get your mom to look at your knee.”

I thanked her and told her that I would.

I took the back way home so I wouldn’t run into the scary old man. I ran into the house with the diaper pins held out to my mom. She noticed the red jeans right away. As she was a bit harassed, she wasn’t too pleased to see that I’d injured my knee, “Running away from a harmless deaf and blind old man.”

With the sigh of overworked mothers everywhere she then declared that we would have to go see our GP and see if it needed stitches. “You’d better hope you need stitches, buster. I really don’t have time for this.”

Of course I did need stitches so I never found out what would have happened if I didn’t. Not a lot I don’t imagine. My mother to this day remembers the incident and feels guilty that she’d made the, “You’d better hope you need stitches,” remark. On the day, she felt so bad about it that she stopped and got us both a fudgesicle –my favourite.

Not all my scars have such a “quaint” back story. Nor do they hold much in the way of pleasant memory. A lot of them didn’t even get stitches although I’ll wager they probably should have. But what every scar I have does is show that my life has quite often been exciting, scary, painful and for a couple of them at least, fun.

My First “Real” Thanksgiving in Years

I have not celebrated Thanksgiving for years. Mainly because  I live in England and despite my American heritage, since I don’t live state side, I tend to forget about “turkey day.”

When I was growing up Thanksgiving meant great food and a double celebration. We would go and eat ourselves silly at one grandparents house and then go to the other grandparent‘s house and eat some more.

Each year our family got together with various aunts and uncles and cousins and ate, argued, laughed and lounged for a few hours. But I can honestly say, apart from when I was really young and impressionable, I was never really “thankful” for anything.

This year, though, is different. I have a lot to be thankful for. Even though I’m not living state side, I think I might just drag out some fake meat product and try my hand at making sweet potato pie.

I feel like I’ve been given a huge second chance. Not many people get one of those and I don’t want to waste mine. I just need to figure out how to make the most of it.

I won’t lie, it’s going to take me a while to figure this out. I am still in shock after receiving the news from my surgeon about just how close I really came to meeting the “Big Guy.” And that the resultant surgery that left a tear in my aortic arch is going to put me into a “disabled” category whether I like it or not.

Once I’m done reeling from this information, and the implications of a sudden high surge of blood pressure possibly killing me now or later, I’ll figure out why I was spared.

As you can no doubt tell from my above meanderings, I am still a little freaked out by the whole “tear in my aorta” thing and how my life has changed in the blink of an eye. I have gone from a guy who ran to answer alarm bells and struggled with lads fighting each other or attempting to assault a fellow member of staff to a guy who can barely walk to the Tesco Metro and back.

It is all a little overwhelming and despite all the wonderful folks who’ve been so supportive since this has happened I am still having a bit of a hard time adjusting. It will be worse when I actually start my “return to work” schedule in December. It will be incredibly difficult to watch my friends and colleagues come in and collect their work keys, keys that I can’t use and will probably never get to use again.

The idea of being re-rolled into a job that pays less (a lot less) has also got me freaked out. I won’t, to the best of my knowledge anyway, be eligible for medical retirement. It is notoriously hard to get and you are not allowed to work anywhere else if they decide you are eligible.

But.

Apart from all the “freaking out” and worry about my future employment and my possible financial heartache, I am thankful. Because if I wasn’t here, I would not be able to do or feel all the things that I am currently feeling.

Hell, I’m so thankful  that I might just opt for sacrificing a real bird for Thanksgiving instead of  munching on a meat substitute.

So I’ll close by wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving aka Turkey Day. Enjoy it and appreciate it, because you just never know what’s around that next corner. Be thankful that you don’t.

Chilli Quorn Carne Another Healthy Heart Meal

Chilli Con Carne Quorn style

After my previous attempt at “healthy” chilli –Turkey mince chilli– I was a bit skeptical about trying another variation on the healthy alternative theme.

Despite my best efforts the turkey chilli, even with all the extra spices added, still tasted like turkey chilli. It was edible sure, but it was not a screaming success.

I had previously thought about using Quorn. Quorn for the uninitiated is a meat substitute manufactured in the United Kingdom. It is available in 11 countries, the USA being one of them.

Now here’s the important bit.

It’s good.

My first introduction to the product was when my daughter Meg was in high school and in a cookery class. Her teacher had insisted that her class make a pizza with this ham substitute called Quorn.

I did not like it. The texture was funny and even though it did taste faintly of ham the texture of it didn’t match the taste. Fortunately they’ve improved on their imitation meat textures. Improved enough for me to give it a second chance.

Since my heart attack and the resultant surgery I’ve had to completely restructure my diet as well as my lifestyle. I’ve been trying to share each new recipe as I try them.

For the record we’ve tried the winter vegetable lasagna:

Scrumptious.

And the turkey Chilli Con Carne:

Chilli Con Carne with turkey mince

In my blog post For ‘Every Beat of My Heart’ Thanks I mentioned Quorn but had decided that it was too expensive. The packet of mince I’d seen in the store was priced at £1.85 for 300 grams. I had decided that I would need at least 2 packets to make chilli con carne.

That would have made it pretty expensive so I gave it a miss. Actually the reverse was true. It was extremely cost effective. Cost effective because you only need one 300g packet to make chilli.

The recipe is simple and just like making regular chilli –the meaty type– and it tastes delicious. If you’re interested, I’ll pass the recipe on before the end of the post.

But first I’d like to tell you what Quorn is made of. According to Wikipedia Quorn is made of fungi:

Quorn is made from the soil mould Fusarium venenatum strain PTA-2684 (previously misidentified as the parasitic mold Fusarium graminearum [13]). The fungus is grown in continually oxygenated water in large, otherwise sterile fermentation tanks. During the growth phase, glucose is added as a food for the fungus, as are various vitamins and minerals (to improve the food value of the resulting product). The resulting mycoprotein is then extracted and heat-treated to remove excess levels of RNA. Previous attempts to produce such fermented protein foodstuffs were thwarted by excessive levels of DNA or RNA; without the heat treatment, purine, found in nucleic acids, is metabolised by humans, producing uric acid, which can lead to gout.[14]

The product is dried and mixed with chicken egg albumen, which acts as a binder. It is then textured, giving it some of the grained character of meat, and pressed either into a mince (resembling ground beef), forms resembling breasts, meatballs, turkey roasts, or into chunks (resembling diced chicken breast). In these forms, Quorn has a varying colour and a mild flavour resembling the imitated meat product, and is suitable for use as a replacement for meat in many dishes, such as stews and casseroles.[citation needed] The final Quorn product is high in protein and dietary fibre and is low in saturated fat and salt. It contains less dietary iron than do most meats.

The different tastes and forms of Quorn are results of industrial processing of the raw fungus.

Okay, boring science class over. I just felt that you ought to know what this tasty stuff is made of. It doesn’t bother me, because it tastes brilliant and is better for my heart than my lifetime favorite of meat.

  • 300g pack of Quorn Mince
  • 1 onion diced
  • 3 large flat mushrooms diced
  • 2 tsp of chilli powder
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 400g can of kidney beans
  • 400g can of chopped tomatoes
  • garlic powder approximately 1/4 tsp
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • salt
  • lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp unrefined sugar
  • 1 tsp of mixed herbs

Cook the above ingredients for approximately 15 minutes while you boil up a cup of rice –you can use wild rice– and grate a bit of light mature cheese for a topping.

This will feed four or if you are a family of two it will stretch for two meals.

This recipe is actually cheaper than making it with traditional beef mince (hamburger).

If you can get Quorn where you live, give it a try and let me know what you think of it!