Category Archives: 50 Excerpt

The Great Parking Fine Con in the News

Throughout my time of writing ’50’ I was involved in a long-running battle with Euro Car Parks about a parking charge notice (aka “parking fine”). Right from the beginning, I wrote that it felt like a con, a money-making scheme, a honey trap for the owners of the car park and nothing to do with me parking in a prohibited place.

On November 12th 2019, I write: “I’ve decided to contest the parking charge notice. It came about because I parked my car outside, but adjacent to, a car park in town in an area where there were no signs about parking restrictions and no yellow lines of any kind. It was just a neat little space outside a car park, on the road. In front of it was a large planter for some kind of bush. Behind, two other cars were parked either side of a small barrier, neither of which were in the car park either. It seemed to be a well-known spot. I had had lunch with Lindsay in a café and when I got back to the car there was the dreaded yellow pouch attached to the front windscreen. I won’t win the appeal, no-one ever does, but if I have the courage to take it further and not back down when they threaten court action I could avoid this unfair fine. It’s a game of chicken. These car parking companies repeatedly menace and pressurise you, but if you don’t back down you have a chance especially, as in my case, when you haven’t even parked in the carpark that the fine applies to!”

I didn’t back down and for over a year ignored threatening letter after threatening letter – usually written in large print with red banners warning me of imminent court action, debt collection, and a greatly increased amount to pay. My ‘fine’ was tripled in price.

For months I felt harassed, bullied, and frightened, but because I strongly believed it was an immoral practice I refused to give in, I refused to pay up (although I did think about it a few times because the letters were so intimidating). Sadly, I’m sure the sheer persistence of the letters and the way they were worded so aggressively would have been enough to make most people pay. But somehow I found the courage to continue to refuse. I emailed Euro Car Parks several times and hand wrote them a letter until, a year-and-a-half later, the letters dribbled to a halt and they apparently gave up. I never paid the money. But I bet 95% of people who undergo such a horrible experience do.

And then this morning, three years later, I read this on the news: Minister Neil O’Brien said: “Private firms issue roughly 22,000 parking tickets every day, often adopting a system of misleading and confusing signage, aggressive debt collection and unreasonable fees designed to extort money from motorists.”

It’s such a vindication, such a glorious paragraph to read, because it exactly sums up my experience. It’s wonderful to have it recognised officially that these car parking companies enact aggressive money-making schemes on often innocent members of the public. It’s so greedy and disgusting. I’m very glad the government is finally recognising this as a dishonourable practice, capping ‘fines’, and cracking down on the worst offenders. AT LAST!

March 5th 2020 (50 Excerpt)

Last night I made a big decision. I’ve been closely following the coronavirus epidemic and I came to the conclusion that I need to begin social distancing as soon as possible. After much thought I have decided to keep the children home from school from Monday (which is in four days’ time) and we’ll also be maintaining a distance from the public and even friends and family. There are just over 96,000 confirmed cases worldwide including 3,300 fatalities. Italy and Delhi are closing all schools until further notice and many countries are now banning large gatherings and events. I worry that fears of damaging the economy might mean strong measures such as these won’t come into effect here until the last minute, when it’s absolutely necessary (which in my opinion will already be too late). Shutting down society will affect people’s ability to go out to work, and capitalism and money are so important in the UK. I think the money men are going to dictate how we tackle this virus.

I’m not waiting until everyone is dropping like flies to self-isolate and stay away from public places. I’m going to do it now, even though it’s early and I’m sure I’ll be blamed for stoking fears, being unnecessarily cautious, and preventing my children from continuing their education. It’s taken a lot of thought, but the more I analyse the situation worldwide, the more I believe that where Italy leads, the rest of us will soon follow. It’s spreading endemically there now, beyond the control of anyone, and because we in the UK haven’t undertaken any special measures to protect the population other than asking people to wash their hands, I’m taking matters into my own (thoroughly washed) hands. I’m living in fear. I can’t sleep at night. I feel relieved that I’ve made a decision, a decision that my gut was urging me to make a couple of weeks ago.

It’s a bit scary because I know I’ll be criticised, and I don’t think anyone will agree with me. But due to my special circumstances (already working part-time from home) and the fact that I’m probably keeping the closest eye on developments, I trust myself over others and will act on my knowledge and predictions rather than waiting to be told what to do by anyone.

The overall death rate of people who catch the virus has been raised to 3.4% and I suspect it’ll increase. The one good thing to come out of all of this is that experts think the under twenties are much less affected than older people. The older you are, the more severe it seems to be. Which is not great news for me, and certainly not for my parents. They’re likely to die if they get it, while I’m more likely to merely suffer. The twins are apparently barely likely to notice they even have it. I can’t bear the idea of struggling to breathe. I can deal with pain. I have frequent migraines and have given birth to three children. I know what agony is. But gasping for breath, heart racing, having to rest just because I want to walk to the toilet… that’s very frightening. How could I be a single mother while dealing with this? I need to be able to cook and clean and comfort the kids, and generally have the energy and ability to look after them in every way I normally do. If I go into intensive care (supposing there’s even a bed available) who will look after my children? I need to stay healthy for them.

My intention is to create a timetable for weekdays so we don’t just sit at home and play computer games or watch television. We need to include physical education, French, maths, English, reading and writing, at the very least, but I’m hoping to also include geography, biology, history, and some kind of project work. I will do my best, but I’m not a teacher and have only a very basic understanding of maths. I’ll research the books, schedules, materials and techniques of home schooling and see what I can come up with. I don’t want the twins’ education to suffer if I can help it. I’ve got four days to get everything organised. It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to get through it. Somehow.

November 20th 2019 (50 excerpt)

Last night I was really tired. I knew my makeup was smeared under my eyes giving me a vampiric look, but I planned to take it off when I went upstairs to bed. I couldn’t be bothered to do it right then. I had just put the kids to sleep and come downstairs to apply my HRT gel.

To do this I have to strip down to my bra and apply it over my arms and shoulders, then leave it to dry for five minutes before I can get dressed again. I was wearing my least attractive, skin-coloured bra, and after I’d smeared on the gel and washed my hands I sat down in the armchair to check my messages on my phone.

Suddenly, somehow, my phone dialled my new boyfriend on video call! Seriously! I didn’t realise what was happening at first, so I was just staring at my phone trying to figure out why the screen had changed, scowling and feeling confused. The angle of the phone was from below, giving the effect of a huge, pointed nose and a view straight up my nostrils. The screen, which was mysteriously in selfie video mode, suddenly gave me a vision of myself and I couldn’t have looked more ugly if I’d tried. I was a horrible naked mutant goth rodent.

It was at that moment that I realised what was going on and went into absolute PANIC STATIONS pressing every button on the phone in my desperation to close it down and stop the call. Eventually I had the luck of sliding a button icon sideways which ended it, but I was so worried he had already answered or looked at his phone and glimpsed this traumatising live image.

I immediately went on WhatsApp and sent him a note apologising for calling him accidentally, but he seemed unperturbed and said he hadn’t realised I was calling. Do I believe him? I have to for my own sanity. But to prevent any more cold sweats and potential heart attacks I’ve made a note to make sure I handle my phone very carefully in future. I have no idea how it started dialling on video mode, it was the last thing I wanted. Sometimes technology sets nasty traps.

January 13th 2020 (50 excerpt)

Last night I had excruciating outer ear pain from a quarter to five until a quarter past six in the morning. It was so agonisingly painful that I was groaning in my mind as it pulsed and the pain overcame me in waves. This was a screaming, pinching, slicing pain, different from the aching pain I get in my joints. Even just the sheet touching it was almost too painful to bear. What the hell is this?! Why would the outer ear (and I really do mean the external part of the ear — I think it’s made of cartilage?) be that intensely sensitive and engulfed in pain? It’s bizarre. I lay there gritting my teeth trying to decide how to put either a hot water bottle or a pack of frozen peas on it when any contact with anything was impossible, and what kind of pain killers, if any, would work. Somehow I made it through enough time for it to ease off a little, and I managed to doze off and sleep fitfully until seven o’clock.

Sometimes I wish someone I trusted had given me advice about being hypermobile when I was younger, instead of what actually happened which was my friends giving me masses of positive attention and telling me to, “do it again – stick your legs behind your head!” or “show us the splits,” or “do another backflip.” I wish someone had said, “don’t stretch your already over-stretched ligaments any further or you’ll have constant pain in your knees, hips, and back when you’re fifty.” If I could speak to my younger self I’d say, “be gentle with your body. I know you get a lot of admiration from pushing it to its limits and doing crazy party tricks with your unnatural flexibility, but you’ve got to understand this will wreck your joints forever and you’ll have pain when you’re older that will never go away. Life is fleeting. You’re in your prime only once and when it’s gone it never comes back. So enjoy it, make it good and interesting, but look after your body. Treat it with respect and don’t overstress the ligaments in your joints. And another thing… Live how you want to live. Make your life count for you. Soon you’ll be old, your body will start failing and your beauty will be gone. All too soon it will be over and then someone will be saying about you, “yes, she died fifteen years ago…” And that will be true! You will have died fifteen years ago and life will have moved on. Everything will have changed. Your time and your one chance will be used up. Make the most of it now, and be aware that your lifetime is very precious and very brief.”

Life is so pleasurable between bouts of pain and anguish. I guess that’s what we live for, those fleeting moments of glory.

Birds (50 excerpt)

The osprey nest in the Highlands of Scotland continues to thrive. The father catches and delivers copious amounts of fish for his wife and three babies. The chicks are now over a month old and have mostly lost their down and gained their pin feathers. They’re tentatively stretching and, on occasion, flapping their prototype wings. It’s such a happy family. The mother still broods them if the weather is bad, but they’re really far too big to all fit underneath her now. Sometimes they just manage to get their heads under her body leaving the rest of them sticking out in the rain. My insider knowledge of the Scottish nest helps me imagine what’s going on with my resident blackbird pair, who are currently raising their second brood in a bush right next to the house. I watched in delight as both parents brought worms and food to the nest in April, and now I have the pleasure of watching again as they bring up their second lot, mid-June. I can clearly hear the cries of the chicks. There must be three or more. The nice thing about it is that the father blackbird and I have reached an understanding. Every time a magpie comes close he releases a loud alarm call which I always hear since our back door and windows are permanently open, and I immediately rush outside and clap my hands. For some reason this terrifies the magpie but not the blackbird, who doesn’t even blink and stays exactly where he is. We exchange a knowing glance and stand for a few seconds in mutual satisfaction — he on a branch, me on the grass — before I go back inside and he resumes his business collecting worms and defending his territory. Sometimes he sings a beautiful, varied song which totally delights my soul and I stop still and listen in rapt attention. I try and get the kids to pay attention and listen too… but that’s a rare victory. They’re usually glued to their screens, headphones on, unwilling to even press the pause button.

Trees (50 excerpt)

Today, as we walked along a river in the evening sunshine, I realised that the older I become the more fanatical I am about nature and beauty. I complain loudly every time I walk past a tree that’s been pollarded or ‘severed’ as I like to call it. It pains me to see how humans are always seemingly randomly hewing off tree branches, denuding and emasculating them, turning them from magnificent, sweeping, tangled structures into stubby, frilly amputated shapes unnatural in every way. It disgusts me. My eye longs for thick trunks to swell upwards and outwards narrowing gracefully into twisting squiggles, ever smaller and thinner until they naturally end in a leaf. Instead, we find thick trunks callously sliced off, and sprouting out of them like nasty, pathetic hair, lots of thin, leggy twigs where proud branches used to be.

“UGLY!” I’ll shout as I walk by, scowling and staring. “THAT’S THE UGLIEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN.”

My children don’t flinch in embarrassment yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long. Out of respect for them I’m trying to hold in my comments, but occasionally they blurt out, such as this evening when we came upon a once beautiful weeping willow that now looked like a human hand with five fingers, stumpy, stubbed, bare, and subjugated. No leaf or bud, no light green shoot, nothing. It looked like a dead thing. And this is spring!

I honestly can’t find enough words to express my outrage at this human interference, no doubt carried out solely for the reason of saving money, in case in the distant future an aging branch just so happened to fall on someone’s car and the owner sued the council (or whoever owns the land we walked on).

A Spider in the Heat of Summer (50 excerpt)


I’ve been typing this diary entry at the computer in the living room and I’ve just dashed to the kitchen to get a mixing bowl whilst having a sweaty panic attack. This is what comes of having to keep all doors and windows open to combat the intense heat. Now I’m trapped and terrified. It’s ten o’clock in the evening. I don’t think I can deal with this enormous monster by myself. I’m not sure what to do.

I’ve just messaged Lindsay to come and save me. I’m desperately trying not to look at the creature whilst at the same time never taking me eyes off it, so I don’t lose it if it runs off. It’s so big. It’s disgusting. It’s making my toes curl. I’ve put an extended umbrella on the floor next to it and laid a chair on its side in order to keep the thing from running under a desk and into a bunch of wires where it would be difficult to get at. On the other side I’ve put three Asterix books on top of each other. I’m trying to box it in. But I won’t be able to get the mixing bowl over it because it’s right up against the side of the bookcase so the angle isn’t right and I could accidentally chop it in half or tear a leg off or something revolting. I’m sweating with fear and trembling all over. I hope Lindsay gets here soon. This is an awful situation. I hate being a single mother and having to deal with spiders.

I’m frozen. I daren’t move, and I’m praying to God that it doesn’t move either, because then I’ll have no choice but to advance on it with the bowl all by myself. But what if it moves when I go and answer the door? How will I keep it in sight if I’m walking away from it?

Oh thank God Lindsay has arrived.

She has just said, “Oh fuck it’s a tarantula. It’s massive. It’s come straight out of the jungle.”

We are both sweating and swearing and wondering what to do. I don’t think she expected something THIS BIG. We’re also desperately trying not to wake the twins, who are asleep in the sauna upstairs.

“I’m naming him Cedric.” Lindsay is staring at it with deep respect.

We discuss optimal methods of approach. We try out different ways to hold and utilise the mixing bowl for when Cedric moves and she needs to quickly ram it down over him.

Now she’s having difficulty getting him into the bowl because the horrible thing won’t move! How loathsome is that? She’s just prodded it, and all it did was shift a leg slightly. Now she’s stabbing at it with the corner of a magazine… and she’s done it!!!! She’s managed it. Oh thank fuck for that. She did yelp and jump backwards, but the deed is finally done. The monster is underneath the mixing bowl.

Jesus, that was so stressful. We are both panting heavily, but at least we can relax for five minutes until we feel strong enough to complete the second half of the task. Time to wipe ourselves down with kitchen roll.

Hot Flush

What does it feel like to have a hot flush when you’re in the menopause? Well, I write about this in 50:

Everything is normal, then suddenly it begins with a mini explosion of heat originating around the ears and neck, before swiftly radiating out over the shoulders. The heat then expands in all directions over the head and down into the body in pulsating waves of such extreme heat that it demands immediate adjustment of clothing. Perspiration breaks out everywhere, including in places I’ve never sweated before: on my chin, shins, stomach, back, and inner arms. The back of my neck becomes moist, and hair clings to the skin as if I’ve just done a work-out at the gym. Rivulets of sweat run down my chest between my breasts. Sweat breaks out on my face and forehead, which shines and glints in the light, even if it’s an overcast, gloomy day. The temperature remains at an unbearably hot intensity for about three minutes, pulsating in slow waves from extreme, to impossibly extreme, before it suddenly, rapidly dissipates and I start to feel a magnificent relief. Sadly, this is instantly followed by being unpleasantly cold as my body instantly cools, the sweat useless on my body, my clothes hanging in chilly wet patches. This happens about twenty-five times per day and every time I wake at night, which can be up to five or six times. Bed sheets, pillow cases, and pyjamas have to be changed every few days. I need to wash frequently, especially under the arms. The need for antibacterial soap is paramount. Everything about this is tedious and irritating. It’s not painful, but it’s deeply unsettling and exasperating.

The menopause induces a raging internal climate change.
But why? What is the point of this suffering?
I don’t think anyone knows. Mother nature has not revealed her reasons.

Stir-fried Tofu (50 excerpt)

Ugh. Just now I popped a piece of stir-fried tofu in my mouth and swallowed, but immediately needed to sneeze. Unable to prevent it, I at least managed to keep my mouth closed, but the pressure of the sneeze forced the tofu up my nasal passage. I started coughing and snorting to try and get it out but it wouldn’t budge, so I drank a sip of my tea in case the heat made a difference. It didn’t, but when I looked down at the kitchen side, the piece of tofu unexpectedly dropped into the back of my throat making me gag and heave the tea back up. In my horror I knocked a heavy knife off the kitchen side, which landed on my toe. I’m traumatised.

Is this what it’s going to be like from now on? Is the body an uncontrollable sack of perplexing embarrassment from your fifties onwards? I need a spa day to recover from merely trying to eat.