Saturday, 31 January 2009

The oldest man in the Nightclub

My 2nd oldest daughter, Colleen is to be married in 9 days to Jim. This is my 4th daughter to be married, and the 3rd wedding in 3 years. To say that this is not good for the finances would be a gross understatement!

Last night was the Stag Night. The British quintessential precursor to the nuptial ceremony.

The evening started traditionally with the younger males drinking as much as possible in as short a time as possible. The older males, my future son-in-law's father and I, exercised more moderation. Then, when all (except we two oldies) were drunk enough – but not too obviously drunk to gain admittance - we went to Taunton's biggest night club, Shout.

Shout has a “proper dress” policy. Males have to wear clean clothes and ladies have to wear as little as possible!

The club was full, with a long queue of hopefuls waiting outside to be allowed in. It was a cold evening and the girls outside were getting goosebumps on their goosebumps! Luckily someone had arranged the VIP treatment for our party, so we were admitted without delay.

It is possible that the club is called Shout because communicating at any level below a shout is impossible. I expected that; but as a musician and a former sound technician, I was very disappointed with the quality of the sound. There was an abundance or deafening decibels of distortion. The light show was equally disappointing.

Attention was brought to bear on boobs and buttocks as the ladies highlighted their best assets. Hem lines were high and trousers appeared to have been painted on to bottoms. Copious amounts of cleavage were available for consideration. The young men, at whom the display was directed, moved around like farmers at a livestock auction. Eyeing up the stock. Ladies were categorised as unappealing, unaffordable, aspirational or attainable and the last category was pursued.

I realised that I was witnessing the mating rituals of Homo sapiens, British subspecies.

Jason, my oldest son-in-law, leaned over to me, positioning his mouth close to my ear. I'm getting to old for this,” he bellowed. He is 37. “As I was saying to Neil, I haven't been clubbing for a few years now. I'd rather have a some friends around for a few drinks at home. I could hear what's being said.”

Neil - another son-in-law and also 37 - nodded, being too far away from my ear to attempt conversation. He apparently knew what was being said. Perhaps he was lip-reading?

Two things occurred to me at that moment. Firstly, Jim would be my first son-in-law to be younger than my wife. Isn't that weird? Secondly, how much I agreed with Jason and Neil. And the fact that I was the oldest man in the nightclub (although there were a couple of others who looked a similar age to me) had nothing to do with it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * *

Meanwhile Marie, who due to her agoraphobia can't get into any nightclub (too crowded, to difficult to get to the exits, toilets would be too busy etc.) was spending the evening with two of my daughters, Carla and Collette. They watched The Accidental Husband. They had nibbles and related amusing anecdotes about their husbands. They lounged about and relaxed.

You know, I'm pretty certain that Marie had more fun than me.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

A little old lady gets robbed

Last night a little old granny got robbed in our little town. It happened like this -

She left the local convenience store and went home. Shortly afterwards, there was a knock on her door. She opened up as far as her security chain would let her and looked out. She saw two respectable-looking men, one of whom was carrying a clipboard. They claimed that they were police officers doing a crime survey, so she opened the door fully. One of these brave men then pushed her backwards so violently that she fell right over on to her back. Keeping an eye on her and issuing threats, our two heroes ransacked her house, taking everything of value and wantonly destroying any non-value items that got in their way.

After a few minutes, it was all over.

When I saw the little old lady today, she was sporting an ugly bruise which covered a significant portion of the left side of her face. She was also showing that she had pain when she walked. But those injuries are almost insignificant compared to her real injuries - the psychological ones. Normally a popular, cheerful, gregarious lady, today she didn't wish to communicate with anyone. However, her body language exhibited her shame at being conned, being too physically weak to stand up to these vermin, being vulnerable. She's too frightened to stay in her home now; fortunately her daughter, who accompanied her today to talk on her behalf, lives nearby and she's staying with her and her family. The little old lady's self-confidence and dignity are history and she will find it difficult to regain them.

This type of crime is always perpetrated by local people, and so it was in this case. The town I live in is almost crime free, so there aren't many people capable of carrying out a crime like this. Those that are capable of doing it are well-known and the two scumbags responsible were arrested today.

Case closed.

Except for the little old lady.

And Marie.

Her anxiety level passed boiling point. I'm not sure who feels more vulnerable, Marie or the little old lady. Probably Marie. She's almost as fearful of attack as she was after surviving the armed robbery here. Our home is a veritable fortress now and no random visitor can hope to gain entry without passing her comprehensive interrogation - conducted through an upstairs window.

I expect Marie to recover fairly quickly. But the little old granny might never recover.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The dog, the children and agoraphobia

Blaze is growing into a handsome dog. He's 7 months old (you can see what he looked like when he first arrived here), so he has some way to grow yet. He's found his self-confidence and loves to gambol about outside, play with children or other dogs and has started to fetch a ball on demand. He is terrific with the children and doesn't bark much. He is quite easy to train, is good at recall and doesn't strain at the lead. So he's no problem then...
...but Orla is. She has decided that he's a breathing toy. She wants him to go to sleep in her bed, hide in the wardrobe with her and steal biscuits together. Blaze is so good-natured that he goes along with most of this childish behaviour.
Joseph, on the other hand, is acting the responsible owner. It's Marie's dog, of course, but since she cannot do anything more than a basic toilet trip, Joseph has volunteered to help. As soon as he gets home from school, he gets the dog's lead and off they go on a short walk – even if it's raining. He helps with the feeding and grooming. He's really super with the dog.
Blaze hasn't helped Marie in her fight against agoraphobia. Her earlier gains after Blaze arrived have all disappeared. On the plus side, he's another source of enjoyment to her self-determined prison – on the minus side, there's more cleaning to be done. She tells me that in retrospect, she should have waited for a while to add a dog to our family. But he's here now and part of the family and there's no question of him leaving. Hopefully Marie will be able to make some progress walking with him in the spring, when the weather improves and lifts everyone's spirits.

Often Joseph, Orla & I go on a longer walk with Blaze. After a while, Orla wants carried on my shoulders and I acquiesce. I enjoy these walks. One or other of the children is chatting to me from the moment we leave the house until our return, how ever long that may be. It is a special time.

Today, Orla was unremitting in her torture for poor, patient Blaze. No amount of cajoling would stop her. I had to employ The Stern Voice and perform a Telling Off. Orla's almost permanent smile was erased, little rivers of tears issued from her eyes, and the pathos in her sobs would have melted even the hardest of hearts. A few moments later, I was sitting on the floor with the dog and Orla came up to me. Her head and mine were on about the same level. She looked me in the eyes with her big, saucer-shaped, bright blue eyes (still a little watery from crying) and said gently “I love you, Daddy.” A full embrace followed, accompanied with another “I love you.” There was no guile. It was genuine, trusting, childish love. The type that only a 3 year old girl can exhibit. It will disappear soon.

The magic of the moment was broken when Joseph called to me from the next room“Dad, can you help me with Mario Kart?” (The Nintendo Wii game.)

Orla doesn't know it, but when she gives me that special look - that trusting, loving look - there is nothing I wouldn't do for her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Blaze has been begging me to let him write his own post. In the end I relented and let him. I had to help him, of course - like all dogs, his eyesight isn't that good and he found operating the keyboard a bit awkward. The result of our combined efforts can be found in the post before this one.

A post from Blaze the Dog

It was a nice morning, a few days ago (the humans have names for days - why?) and Robert took me out in the car. A boy called Joseph and the little girl called Get off that dog!! (I think that's her name - Robert and Marie shout that at her all the time) came along too. I think they are Robert's and Marie's pups. Marie is my owner, but she doesn't go out with us much.
Robert and his pups stopped to talk to one of his older pups called Collette. I was just minding my own business, when I smelled a familiar smell.

I followed the smell and I saw a dog hiding behind some plants.

It was my friend, Collette's dog, Dee!
She might not have been hiding - there was nice-smelling fresh pee there... I had a good sniff at it.

So we played chasing for a while.
As you do...

And then we pretended to fight. But no biting allowed!!

Then we had a sniff around to see if any of our friends had visited here recently.
Or if there was more interesting pee to be sniffed.
Dee found a rather fragrant pee stain.
I took the opportunity to have a surreptitious sniff at her private area.

I had a quick lick of her bum, which startled her!
She's only a pup about the same age as me, but one day soon she'll be a goodlooking bitch.
Then we might be able to..........

She went home after a while, but the taste and smell of her bum was still on my tongue.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Marie has got her own blog!

I've often been asked, "Why doesn't Marie blog?"

The answer was always, "Because she doesn't want to."

That has changed. She's joined the blogosphere. She's written 2 posts, so far. More might come - who knows?

Anyhow, if you're curious, why not click on the picture on the left or here?

Agoraphobia - our Care Network

I don't look after Marie alone. There is a care network.

Marie needs 24-hour care. She couldn't last one single minute without knowing that there is someone nearby that could come to her assistance within minutes. Or so she believes. And this belief rules her life.

There are others in our family who also need care. We have 2 small children. Then there are my businesses, without which our standard of living would take a sharp drop. This wouldn't actually bother me too much – I've led the millionaire lifestyle and found it lacking – but not being able to provide the best possible childhood for my 2 children is not a possibility I let myself consider. I also try to be available for my grown-up children when they need help or something sorted. Last, and not least of course, is Colm, who needs time with his family, a legal representative and someone to oversee that the care package the state provides is operating the way it should.

This is our care network -

  • My 3 adult daughters who live nearby, who assist me look after their younger siblings and Colm. They take the younger ones out on trips, particularly during school holidays. They babysit when required. They make sure that Colm is involved in all the family occasions and take him to their houses or out for a trip on an ad hoc basis. This works very well. Btw, their partners are equally helpful.

  • My staff, who are aware of Marie's disability and my family obligations. They work extra hours at the drop of a hat for me when required. Often, before I've got round to asking them for assistance, they have seen a need and have accommodated it.

  • Our neighbours, who are always there when required to be available for Marie when I have to go out.

  • Our friends, who never question why Marie cannot get into a certain building or attend an open air event. They just accept her the way she is.

  • Our family doctor, who visits Marie at home, since she can't get into the surgery. No matter how trivial the matter is, when Marie rings, she's here within a few hours.

  • Local businesses, most of whom don't do deliveries, but collect/deliver to Marie (when I'm not around) without charge.

  • Our local school and nursery school. If I cannot collect the children on time, it's no bother to them. They'll look after them until I do. Likewise, if I have to leave earlier than usual in the morning, I can drop the children off early.

  • Marie's parents, who look after her, and sometimes the children too, when I'm away for a few days.

There's not a day passes that I don't feel immense gratitude to all the folk who assist Marie and help me in my capacity as a carer.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

My Autistic Son - Part 3 - a medical mystery?

If you haven't already read them, I recommend that you read part 1 and part 2 before reading this.

Here is a picture of Colm when he was staying in this attractive cot at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, when...

The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children hospital was quite close to my shop, so it wasn't long before I was in Colm's ward. I went straight to his cot. He wasn't there! I fought panic and nausea as I made my way to the Staff Nurse's room, as prepared as I could be for the worst news.

Immediately recognising me, the Staff Nurse told me that I had a very sick little boy and ushered me into a side ward. Colm had been transferred here, out of sight of the other tiny patients and their parents. My wife, sat beside him, looked up at me briefly, wordlessly, for a moment. Colm was lying prostrate and motionless in an oxygen tent with a plethora of tubes and wires attached to his little naked body, his perfect white skin exuding a deathly pallor.

But he was still breathing!

I was suddenly gripped with an incredibly intense emotion. My body convulsed internally and tears began to stream down my face. I sobbed uncontrolably. Colm looked so helpless.

The side ward was of claustrophobia-inducing dimensions. There was room for a bed (not a baby cot), a bank of winking, beeping electronic equipment at each side of the bed, two armchairs, a small bedside cabinet placed beside the side wall and not the bed, an intravenous drip and just about enough room to access them all. The ubiquitous fluorescent tube lighting was atypically dim – perhaps on purpose?

The door opened and a doctor appeared to look at Colm's charts. He appeared agitated and tutted softly.

Is Colm improving?” I enquired.

The doctor assumed his poker face. “Difficult to say” he replied ambiguously.

But he's not dying any more?”

There's always hope.” Then, pulling a non-beeping pager from his pocket and looking at it, said “I see I'm needed in another ward” and promptly exited.

Almost immediately after the doctor left, a couple of nurses appeared and removed one of the armchairs, replacing it with a recliner and a couple of thin, white, infant-size blankets. “You'll be wanting to sleep here”, one of the nurses said by way of explanation.

During an uncomfortable night, Sandy filled me in with the day's events. She had gone out for a short break from sitting beside Colm. She needed a cigarette and he was sleeping. On her return, he looked “different” she said, so she picked him up. As she lifted him, he gave a “sort of sigh” and went totally limp. There was a nurse nearby who noticed this and called in the emergency team. Colm's heart had stopped and they tried for several minutes (but seemed to Sandy like several hours) to get it going again. Just as it seemed that they were about to give up, Colm gave a kind of noisy wheeze and then began breathing erratically. He was placed in an oxygen tent. After some tests, they told Sandy that they had discovered that Colm had become anaemic and that his blood had an irregular composition, so a series of blood and platelet transfusions followed.

Next morning: “Oh, I see he made it through the night. We didn't expect that.” It was a different doctor, checking Colm's charts.

Is he going to live, then?” I asked.

Latest blood tests results are good, pulse is good, respiration is good. I think he's going to make it. We'll know better in another 24 hours.”

So what exactly is wrong with Colm?”

Well,” said the doctor, “I'm sure you can see that your son has an enlarged abdomen.” He nodded towards my son's still form. “That's because his liver and spleen are massively enlarged. If they were normal size, you wouldn't see them at all. To simplify matters, we'll say that the liver manufactures new blood and the spleen destroys the old, tired blood. They act together so that the blood supply remains constant. Except in Colm's case. For some reason that we don't know, Colm's liver and spleen have not been working together. His blood supply has gone up and down, and components in his blood haven't been at the correct levels either. When he was admitted here, he had too many white blood cells and leukemia was suspected; but then that changed to too few. Yesterday he had almost no platelets - that's the cells which are required to give blood its clotting properties - and we had to give him a transfusion to correct that.”

If it had been happening before, why did it become life-threatening now?”

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. “We don't have all the answers, I'm afraid.”

So will this happen again - is this going to continue like this?” I enquired.

Oh, I don't think it'll happen again. Our hope is that Colm's liver and spleen will eventually reach a satisfactory equilibrium and work normally after that,” the doctor replied.

And that is what happened – as far as I know. Next day Colm was pronounced “out of danger” and the reclining chair was removed from his room. A week later, he was home again.


We didn't get visited by social workers or child protection officers, so I think that the accusing doctor had a change of mind.


The following year I was chatting to my cousin about Colm. My cousin, whom I saw infrequently, was a consultant in the adjacent adult hospital. “Ah yes,” he said, “I remember hearing about that incident. Didn't know it was your son, though. Apparently there was some cross infection in that ward. Nearly killed your little one!”

This information is not on Colm's medical notes.

Now go to Part 4

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Ponies and hoar frost

My business operates from 8 sites in and around the incredibly beautiful Exmoor area. In the course of my "work" I regularly have to drive through this lovely scenery. I'm sure you all pity me...

If I'm not staying a
long time at a site, or it's a site that she can get into. Marie will accompany me on my travels. I get quality company and she gets out of the house - it's mutually advantageous. Now that we have a dog and I have to exercise him, I often bring him along too. Then I can stop in some picturesque place or other and allow him to investigate the area. I don't do this for me, you understand, it's for the dog.

This morning was one of those times when I was accompanied by Marie and Blaze. It was quite early and we were driving over
Winsford Hill. The road was extremely slippery since the previous night's hoar frost hadn't cleared. However, the frost added its own special beauty to the landscape. It was one of those magical winter mornings, when the air is still and so clear that you can feel its purity when you breathe it, and the sun gives everything a special vividness. I just had to stop atop a small hill on the moor to take the dog for a walk. We had been exploring some of the tracks which crisscross the moor when, out of the blue, we came across a small herd of Exmoor ponies.

These ponies roam wild throughout Exmoor but being shy, you can't normally get close to them. This morning was the exception. I got within 2 metres of the herd. Blaze, on the other hand, stopped about 5m from the herd. He was frightened of them!

Marie, unable to join Blaze & me for a walk, could only view the ponies from a distance in the safety of our car. Nevertheless, the sheer beauty of the surroundings this area and its environs meant that she really enjoyed our drive today.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

My Autistic Son - Part 2 - the sick child

If you haven't already read it, I recommend that you read Part 1 before reading this.

We called our son Colm (an Irish name and the short version of Columba or Columbanus) for no other reason than we liked the name. Most people who comment on his name tell me how unusual it is, although the same people don't think Malcolm an unusual name. Malcolm means follower of Colm.

Colm was discharged from hospital when he was 5 weeks old, looking a little thin, but fit and healthy. He was a hungry baby and a couple of months later was soon the normal weight for his age. He started solid food at about 15 weeks and all seemed to be going well...until the 9th month. That's when Colm began to have an insatiable appetite. He was wanting to be fed all the time. “It's just a phase,” the hospital's health visitor said. “Just go with it. It won't last.” Within a month, Colm was obviously overweight. The Health Visitor told us not to worry – it would be a passing phase. Try giving him more drinks of water during the day. We were also told not to worry about the fact that Colm couldn't sit upright by himself – that was due to his prolonged stay in hospital at the start of his life.

By the 11th month, Colm was obese, and we were referred to the local hospital. Again we were told not to worry, but we had to limit Colm's food intake to help him go down to a more acceptable weight. We had to follow this diet no matter how much he cried. After the first day of his diet, Colm refused ALL solid food and would only take milk from his bottle. A week later, he was refusing to take anything but water. “Don't worry,” said the health visitor. “As long as he's drinking, everything is all right.” Soon afterwards he refused to take anything at all.

Now we were going to the hospital every couple of days for tests and to have Colm fed intravenously thus preventing dehydration. The tests only showed that Colm was a healthy baby. Still he wouldn't eat or drink. Nevertheless, we were still being told not to worry.

Here is a picture of Colm about this time. He doesn't look fat, but can you see how swollen his abdomen is? More on that later.

The ward doctor rang me up one morning, a couple of weeks later.

Hi there, I just wanted to let you know that the latest bunch of tests showed no abnormalities,” he said. “There seems to be no physical reason why Colm isn't eating or drinking.” He paused and sighed before continuing, “Perhaps it's time to look at other possible causes.”

What other possible causes?” I enquired.

The possibility that he is too upset to feed.”

Too upset to feed? What could make him that upset?”

Another sigh. Then, “This sort of thing has been known to happen in situations where the parents have been abusing the infant. What I'm saying is that we're going to have to refer this matter to the Social Services department so that they can look into it.”

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Because Colm was now an extremely irritable infant, only quiet when asleep, I was at home for as much of the time as possible. I KNEW that my wife wasn't abusing Colm. And, of course, neither was I. Sandra and were very upset by this turn of events and it was an additional worry for us – as if we didn't have enough to worry about already.

Next morning, I had another call from the same doctor.

You need to take your son to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children straight away,” he told me. It was almost a command. “One of the tests has shown a very high level of white cells in his blood.”

A high level of white cells? What is the significance of that?” I asked him, forgetting that I was very angry with him for suggesting that either my wife or I was an abusive parent.

Well, I don't want to scare you, but all the signs are now pointing to your son having leukemia. I have arranged a bed for him there, and they are going to carry out further tests.”

He may not have wanted to scare me, but that's exactly what the doctor had done. I could think of nothing else but my son, dying from leukemia, as I drove with him to the hospital as quickly as I could, breaking all the speed limits on the way.

The infants' ward at the hospital was a rather grim place. It had the standard, pastel-coloured walls, grey plastic floor tiles and fluorescent lighting; but the management had tried to make the d├ęcor more cheerful by dotting cartoon paintings of animals, flowers and mythical characters on the walls. Instead of beds there were uncomfortable looking, silver coloured, metal cots with very high, thickly barred sides. Each cot had a couple of worn-looking chairs beside it. There was the constant sound of wailing infants and the smell of baby milk mixed with a chlorine-based disinfectant. Since parents and immediate family members of the tiny patients could stay with their babies or toddlers all the time, a waiting room had not been deemed necessary, but a small smoking room had been thoughtfully provided at the end of the ward. It was in this unhealthy, poorly ventilated room that I spent the next several hours, increasing the air pollution with my cigarette smoke.

Here I am, nursing Colm. I stayed with him as much as I could. Notice the lovely baby cot and curtains.

About 15 cigarettes later, a doctor appeared to announce that Colm most definitely did not have leukemia. However, he had a very swollen liver and spleen. Both were about 6 times normal size! Because of this unexplained fact and Colm's continuing refusal to eat or drink voluntarily, it had been decided that he should stay at the hospital for observation while they carried out further tests. So for the next couple of weeks, my wife and/or I spent all our waking hours at the hospital.

Colm spent his first birthday in the ward. It didn't seem appropriate to have a birthday cake or any sort of celebration for him at the time. He was a sick, unhappy baby, constantly attached to an IV feed. The arrival of a few brightly-coloured birthday cards to the ward only served to highlight the drabness of the depressing surroundings and made what should have been a joyful day even sadder.

A week later, I was at work in my electronics sales and repairs shop. It was about 3 p.m. when the phone rang. Eddy the engineer answered and then called me. “The hospital is on the phone.” I was hopeful. At last! Some news about why Colm is ill.

Would you like to come up to the hospital?” a female enquired.

Why yes, I was intending to come up in a couple of hours' time,” I replied.

Would you like to come up to the hospital sooner than that?” asked the female voice.

Well, I could maybe come in about an hour or so. Would that be okay? Is there something urgent?” I asked.

Your son is dying.”

Now read part 3.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Agoraphobia, Monophobia, Autism and Family - 2008 summary

Marie's Agoraphobia, Monophobia & OCD Last year, I predicted an improvement in Marie's agoraphobia, due to an improved attitude to fighting it. Unfortunately the reverse is the case. Her anxiety levels increased to such a level that she accepted the assistance of medication, but she has still got a worryingly high level of background anxiety. Her agoraphobia has become more severe since the start of the year. and is worse than when I met her in 1999. Her monophobia has become a little less severe. Her OCD remains virtually unchanged.
Marie can, at the start of 2009...
  • Stay at home on her own, as long she knows that is at least one safe person at home nearby and I am less than 30 miles away. New! - I can be in an area where there is no mobile phone signal (common around here). This is a little better than last year and much better than in 2000.
  • Go out in a car, with a safe person, almost anywhere - although recently she has been more anxious when out.
  • Walk 2 - 3 metres from our car/home/a safe place. This is back to the 2000 level & significantly worse than last year.
  • Stay in any non-threatening place (e.g. a house) with a selection of "safe" people, as long as they can drive and there is a car close by. This is unchanged since last year. Marie could stay in any small building - e.g. a pub or shop - as long as there were other people there, not necessarily safe people - in 2000.
Marie cannot, at the start of 2009 -
  • Be alone anywhere, if I am more than 30 miles away. Slight improvement on 2008.
  • Be alone at any time (see above for exceptions)
  • Walk more than 3 metres outside our building. Slight improvement over 2008.
  • Walk more than 2 metres from a car in an open area
  • Go anywhere, except by car and accompanied by a safe person
  • Go into any large building - e.g. supermarkets, the doctors' surgery, hospital, office blocks - or go more than 2 metres away from the door of small buildings. Worse than last year, but similar to 2000.
Colm's Autism Colm started to live away from home 10 years ago. Throughout the entire period I have been worried about his quality of life and his happiness (or rather the lack of it). I have felt guilty about "abandoning" him when he clearly preferred to live at home, even though I knew that if he continued to live at home both his personal development and his siblings' lives would be adversely affected. Then, for the first time, last October, Colm told me that he LIKED the house which is now his home AND called our family home "Daddy's house". This has been a huge weight off my shoulders. Also, Colm has started to call Marie his "new mum" this year. He even repeated this to his birth mother (who has almost completely removed herself from his life) at Collette's wedding. (If it upset her, she didn't show it.) I'm hoping, desperately hoping, that Colm will stay as settled as he is now - or even improve - during the forthcoming year.

The Family
Joseph (7) and Orla (3) are maturing nicely and are a constant source of wonder, enjoyment and pride to Marie and me. There are times when Marie's anxiety affects mothering ability, but the rest of the time she is a superb mum. She is kind, patient and loving and plays with the children at their own levels. This year Orla starts proper" school, but being precocious and sociable, I see no problems here.

All my older children have left home and are becoming increasingly independent. With the exception of Jenna, who now lives in Ireland, their relationship with each other and their younger siblings continues to grow - a fact which gives Marie and me great pleasure.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

A Happy Christmas holiday season

Getting into the holiday mood on Christmas Eve.......Marie, Sylvia & Audrey entertain customers dressed as Cinderella & her 2 ugly sisters.

Later that evening... daughter Colleen hosts a birthday party dinner in my honour. All the family attend, so she has 15 to feed!

Next morning, and Santa Claus has called...
...and this is only part of what he left! Later there were presents from their mum & me, brothers, sisters & cousins, who all spent the afternoon and evening with us.

Here is Colm with his big sister, Carla....
....He had a really good day! We had 15 for Christmas dinner. This year Marie did all the cooking (I did it last year). She cooks the best Somerset cider ham in the county! My daughters helped her with serving & clearing up. I had the laziest Christmas Day in years!

On Boxing Day we visited Marie's family at the family home in Weymouth. More presents! Only 10 for dinner (!) Orla found a picture of her mum when she was 13...
...Is there a resemblance?

Grandma really enjoys her time with her 4 grandchildren. Here she is with 3 of them........The picture of the 4th grandchild is on the wall behind them.

On 30th December, we had a heavy frost - unusual in this part of England. The kids, the dog & I enjoyed a walk in the nearby Quantock Hills in the winter sunshine.

On New Year's Eve, Marie & other staff members dressed up as naughty schoolgirls to entertain our customers.

I'm not sure who had the most fun - the girls or the customers!

In the evening, after the children went to bed, Marie & I had a pleasant, quiet evening cuddled up on the settee watching a movie until the New Year arrived.

Today - New Year's Day, was a rest day. We needed it!

Now we're ready to face the rest of 2009.