Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Mittens and my Mum

I had a memory emerge today that I think I had almost forgotten.

I took my youngest daughter to school today as usual, as we are in Brum there isn't much  snow, but it is SUPER cold, so I made sure she was wrapped up warm. Then I did the same for me, scarf, hat, extra vest, and my mittens.

My mittens

I rarely wear my mittens, I prefer my fingerless gloves, freeing up my fingers to apply lip gloss, blow my nose, or use my phone. And normally, you don't need to cover the ends of you fingers. Today, however, it is minus four, fingers would be frosty with out an extra layer.

Anyway, after dropping Lola off, I was driving home and I saw my mittened hands on the steering wheel and these nearly forgotten memories came flooding back.

I remember my Mum in her mittens, always sheepskin, on the steering wheel of the car, looking too big and covered up. I remember one mitten being taken off to apply lipstick, whilst driving. I remember the rummaging in the bag to put the lipstick on, and I remember prior to that, that she would always have started the car and be moving before putting her seat belt on.

I remember my brother and I quoting the advert at her, "clunk click, every trip" and my Dad being so angry with her. He was an insurance man and had seen the results of no seat belt.

I remember the mittens only went on after the seat belt was done. My Mum was a health and safety nightmare. And yet I remember no accidents during this flurry of activity as she started driving the car.

Today, whilst driving, I took off a mitten and rummaged in a pocket for lip salve, applied it, and reinstated the mitten I was wearing afterwards.

I am my mother's daughter. The only saving grace, my daughter was safely in school whilst I did this, driving on icy roads.

The sort of mittens my Mum had, although hers were never new, they were always a bit battered

Those mittens were such an intrinsic part of my Mum. Sensible and yet silly, warm and childlike. I remember holding her hands when she wore the mittens and my small hands were engulfed in them. I felt safe, she made me feel safe and warm and in the winter months those big old mittens contributed to that. 

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Sunday, 25 February 2018

Half Term with Teenagers - Challenge Accepted

School holidays have become a completely different experience now my kids are a teenager and pre-teen.

No more pushing swings and roundabouts, or soft play.

Now, working out what to do in the holidays is a whole new thing, half the time they just want to be on their own and don't want to spend time with us boring adults, and then they emerge from their rooms saying 'so what are we doing today?' all expectant and child like again.

This in-between child and adult time is a difficult time, not just in the holidays but generally as they find themselves and grown into little adults taking their child personalities and becoming something new.

The first few days of this half term were very quiet, my eleven year old was poorly with the lurgy that had affected most of her class the week before. She had managed to resist it for the majority of that time but just as the holiday was about to begin she got it. Bless her.

Fortunately, I hadn't planned anything for the first half of the week anyway.

The plan for the second half of the week was to go away, only and hour or so down the motorway, but away for a couple of nights, with a friend and her two similar aged boys.

So it's us, verses four teenagers, or rather two teenagers and two nearly teenagers.

The four of them have known each other since birth and think of each other as family, so there are no holes barred. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My girls with my friend and her boys in front of Grafham Water

We went to a place called Grafham in Cambridgeshire, which is a fifteen minute walk across country to Grafham Water which is a beautiful lake.

We went for two nights and one whole day. On the whole day we walked to the lake in the morning and went to Cambridge in the afternoon.

I was hoping to have a mooch through some museums and look at the beautiful architecture of the city. I had, of course, forgotten that I was travelling with four teenagers, all of whom wanted to to do slightly different things. One wanted to shop for clothes another wanted to go to Forbidden Planet, another wanted to go to the museum....you get the picture, a little bit fraught.

In the end we did manage to see some of Christ Church College, and we did shop for clothes and go to Forbidden Plant (for the non-geeks amongst you, it is a shop for geeks with lots of geeky stuff in it).

So there was some reluctant compromise - unsurprisingly, we didn't manage to get to any of the wonderful museums in Cambridge (next time when I am sans kids, I think).

Part of Christ Church College Cambridge


So what have I learnt?
  • All families are different and have different approaches to looking after their kids. 
  • Lots of teenagers/pre-teens are hard to please as a group. 
  • With negotiation and sticking to your guns you can get some compromise out of them, but you need to be steely.
  • They are are always hungry and can eat constantly (I knew this already, but when you are away from home it can get really expensive).
  •  I am proud of my kids, and their behaviour (on the whole).
  • Being confined in a fairly small Airbnb place with four teenagers, probably wasn't the wisest decision when there aren't enough seats for all of us in the communal area.
  • Getting them outside and walking in the countryside was the best thing we could have done.
So what would I do differently next time? Possibly get a bigger space to stay in, with more privacy for them, and definitely do more country walks and less going into the city.

So that was my half term, how was yours?

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Monday, 19 February 2018

Guns don't kill people, people do

In America in 2017 there were 437 people killed in mass shootings and 1802 injured, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker.

In this year in America 60 people have already lost their lives in mass shootings and 143 people have been injured. It's not even the end of February.

American's are ten times more likely to be killed by guns than people from other developed countries.


A report by the World Health Organisation showed that, they are also six times more likely to die from an accident with a gun.

As a result, gun related murders are much higher than the other high income countries they looked at.

For the full story relating to this go here.

For 15 - 24  year olds in America, murder is the second highest cause of death.

Similarly, there are more suicides in America because of guns, psychologists believe that if the person didn't have a gun, they would have more time to consider their options, rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to a bad situation and shooting themselves.

As a British person, I am horrified by the gun laws in America. Here is a brief list of things that I cannot understand.

  1. Gun laws can vary from state to state
  2. Gun laws are independent of federal fire arm laws (These laws regulate the manufacture, trade, possession, transfer, record keeping, transport, and destruction of firearms, ammunition, and firearms accessories).
  3. 44 states have a link to the second amendment where they talk about the right to 'bear arms'
  4. Some states acknowledge other states laws, for example around the right to carry a concealed weapon, but other states don't.
  5. Only some states require you to apply for a gun permit
  6. Some states require you to register your gun with local enforcement
  7. Only some states set restrictions on carrying semi-automatic or assault weapons
  8. Some states have allowed for a Castle doctrine or stand your ground laws, which gives people the right to use deadly force in self defence

All of the above is terrifying. But it also clearly shows there is no simple way to fix this. President Trump refers to the Second Amendment constantly when referring to gun laws.

This is the Second Amendment


A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

This was agreed on in 1791, when there were no semi-automatic weapons, just muskets.

This is just a get out clause for the pro-guns lobbyists, Trump included, and needs to change.

There needs to be a country wide review of the gun laws, and clearly they need to check people's mental state before issuing them with a gun.

America need to tale a leaf out of Australia's book (as Barack Obama stated) who after the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996 where 35 people were killed, they decided as a country that things needed to change - within 2 weeks a law was passed.

There would be no more semi-automatic or assault rifles sold to members of the public, there is a 28 day waiting period and they have thorough background checks. They also have to provide a justifiable reason for owning a gun. Needing it for your own protection is not considered to be a good enough reason.

Personally, I think we (Britain) have the right idea, we don't have guns because our laws are so restrictive, after Dunblane owning a handgun was effectively banned. Dunblane was our only school shooting and there has only been one other mass shooting which was in Hungerford in 1987.

Britain has one of the lowest incidents of fire arm related crime in the world with only 0.05 per 100,000 people being killed by guns between 2006 - 2011.

Yes, Britain does have a problem with illegally held firearms, but we still have less issues with firearms than most other countries and I love that our police force don't carry firearms - unless they are part of the armed response unit.

Sadly, I don't think America can ever go back to where we are in Britain, as they say, the genie is out of the bottle.

Instead, consider amending their second amendment to make it more current and relevant to the world we live in today.

And remember that the American National Rifle Association donated 30 million dollars to Trumps campaign so he has a vested interest in allowing guns to be readily available.

The only way we will see change in America is if the country stands up, united, to stop these gun crimes, and does something to avoid all this awful death particularly in the schools. They are, after all The United States.

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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

A Work Life Balance?

Here I am staring out of my window, at another cold rainy day. Thinking about all the things I should be doing except this. I have already, filled the car with petrol, cleaned up the chaos in the kitchen, that was pancake day and cleaned and dusted our bathroom and bedroom.

I am still to clean down the stairs, in the other bathroom, one of my daughters rooms (the older one does her own cleaning - Thank goodness) and clean down the other flight of stairs.

I also need to make a cottage pie for tea and then go to the hospital for one of my CML appointments, meanwhile I have arranged for a friend to pick up Lola from school.

Later we are going to see Lola play flute with some other schools who have children who play flute.

This is pretty much an average day, and yet I still have so many other things on my list of things to do.

I need to paint our bathroom and get a new bath front for the girls bathroom. I also need to remove all the sealant around the girls bath and reseal it.

Then we need a new boiler.

I also need to paint the walls in the toilet (we are old school and have a separate bathroom and toilet).

And whilst I consider all this, I wonder how managed to do any of these things whilst working in a full time job.

Admittedly I had more help then, a childminder and a cleaner, and I would probably have paid someone to paint things. So that explains some of it, and obviously, I didn't write as much. But how did I find time to see the kids.

I was exhausted when I got home, usually they had already had their tea, sometimes I missed their bedtimes. It was far from ideal. But I was so desperate to give my girls a positive female role model that I forgot to actually be there for them.

My eldest, says I was there, but I am not sure I was always as present as I could have been, and she didn't do as many extra curricular activities as my youngest does now as we couldn't arrange drop off's and pick ups.


Gratuitous photo of my family whilst on holiday in Ireland seeing the lovely in-laws

This is, of course Mummy guilt. A well know phenomena that only Mummy's seem to have, I had guilt about working, I have guilt about doing the type of work I do now, I have guilt, full stop.

My husband has no guilt for working, he has never felt bad about going out to see his friends or going to his man cave to play guitar

At least now, I have less guilt. My children are older now, I don't feel that heart wrench when I am apart from them that I used to get. They are independent people. Which I am exceptionally proud of, both of them and of my husband and I for helping them to become the people they are.

So what is all of this about?

Time.

I still don't have time to do everything I want to do, but now I am better at prioritising my time. I know that when the children come home. I am available to them. Everything else I do, is in my own time when they are not here.

That is the work, life balance we aim for and I realise today that I think I may have achieved it. Its a shame I can't earn more money because then this scenario would be perfect. But, I would rather be poor and have that balance, than rich with out it.

I would still like a cleaner though. Hate cleaning.

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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Pancake Day - Facts and Fun

Today my daughters are making dinner. Its pancakes.

I am not allowed in the kitchen.

There will be chaos and arguments (between the two of them) and there will be pancakes (as they are both quite good cooks).

I have to admit, I am quite happy to let them take over the kitchen for this, when I make pancakes I get hot, sweaty and grumpy as I end up eating the cold pancakes at the end. So this year I plan to sit at the dinner table knife and fork at the ready.

Can't wait.

I will worry about the devastation of my kitchen after - they do 'clean up' but it is not exactly to any health and safety standard.
Pancake day 2017
This morning my daughter, who is Catholic asked if, as it was Shrove Tuesday - a religious celebration, other religions celebrated it as well. I said, no but for some people it is just pancake day and not religious to them at all.

In the Christian religion it should be Shriven Tuesday, as you are shriven of your sins on Shrove Tuesday in preparation for Lent. With each element of a pancake meaning something.

Eggs ~ Creation
Flour ~ The staff of life
Salt ~ Wholesomeness
Milk ~ Purity

Personally, I'm not religious, I just like pancakes. But I am also interested in how most religious festivals came from Paganism.

In the case of Shrove Tuesday, Pagans believed that we needed to encourage the Spring and bringing the sun. Most of the Pagan religion is about light and dark*.

So around the same time as Shrove Tuesday, the Pagans held a festival where they made pancakes to eat. As the pancakes were the shape of the sun they encouraged the Gods of Vegetation and Springtime. They also would leave them on window sills for the spirits and the ancestors. This celebration would last about a week with a massive bonfire at the end where pancakes were thrown onto the bonfire.

So, I don't know about you but I am going to take a couple of pancakes and leave them on a window sill in the hope of the weather getting better.

Then I will consider what to give up for Lent.

These are the advantages of being non-religious, I can take what I want from each one.

Have a very happy pancake day and enjoy your relinquishment of Coffee/Wine/Alcohol/Chocolate/Sweets/Fat/Fun/GoingOut/Reality TV - Delete as appropriate, for the following 46 days.

*This is a huge generalisation

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Monday, 12 February 2018

Five Years Ago

I wrote this five years ago, and didn't publish it, it felt too raw and real and I wasn't ready to share all of this with anyone else. But now I am.

My Mum and Dad and me, in better days - (Mum could never keep her eyes open in photo's)




In September 2010 I was diagnosed with Chronic Myloid Leukaemia (CML)
In October 2011 my Dad had a Heart attack, he nearly died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, but he made it through and had a stent put in.
In December 2011 my Mum was an out patient for a scan which found a lump.
In February 2012 my Mum was admitted to hospital, because she had an obstruction in her stomach
In May 2012 my Mum died

From September 2010 to now, I have got through each day, one day at a time.

My Dad has become increasingly frail and has falls, he takes his Warfarin but he bleeds and his skin is like tissue paper. He has taken to over sharing, some of his bleeds in more personal areas, now Mum is not around. I did not expect that.

My Mum's will is taking a lot of sorting out, it is not resolved, and it is over a year since she died.

My Dad lives in the beautiful big 3 storey house that he has lived in for all his married life, but like my Mum, is making plans to live just in the downstairs. My Mum died in the bed we put in the dining room when the the hospital could do nothing more for her.

When we visit, I cook a Sunday dinner and we eat in the room my Mum died in.

My Dad made me go and see my Mum after she died. He told me to hold her hand. So I did. And now when I think of her, I think of her cold body and her open gaping mouth and stiff tongue. This is not the way I want to remember my Mum a year after her death, I need to remember the vital, strong women that taught me to stand my ground.

I want to remember the woman who slapped me around the face mid argument because she was infuriated with me sleeping with my boyfriend at 17.

I want to remember the woman who built, sit in, sand trains when we were small at the beach in Borth.

I want to remember the heated political debates around the dining table.

And as I struggle to remember what my Mum was, what my Dad was (before age and grumpy old man-ness came along). I want to remember me, before my cancer, before Mum's cancer. I feel, adrift.

I have three shining lights that keep me from completely going off the rails (although at times I am pretty close). My daughters and my husband. I am also fortunate to have some great friends.

They remind me what hope is, what joy looks like, there is laughter and light and I hope my daughters mostly see that in me, and not all this. Hopefully, I save this for the late nights and the quiet moments when they are not around.

So, moving forward, what do I do?


  • I don't think I need to be strong for everybody else, I think I need to focus on me for a bit.
  • I need to be more open about how I am feeling, I have read the bereavement pamphlet the doctor gave me. I think I may be 'bottling things up' (As my boss would say, 'No shit, Sherlock').
  •  I don't think I need to weep, but I do need to accept I am sad my Mum has died. 
  • And I need to remember not to get confused about the whole who is my Mum thing (being adopted and all) and adding an unnecessary layer to my grief. My Mum died, just because she wasn't biological makes not one iota of difference. She was mine.
  • I really need to get my head round my own cancer, come on, it has been nearly 3 years, I have had painful bone marrow biopsies, I take medicine referred to as Chemo every day. Come on Jane, accept it!!! 

Now 5 years things have improved, Mum lives on in my heart, telling me off when I do things wrong and generally being Mum. Dad is in a home. The big beautiful three story house is sold, to pay for Dad's care. And I think I have accepted the CML, it is now as much a part of me as my bum, I'm not particularly fond of it, but here it is big and proud. 
So I share this now for the people in the depths of despair to remind them that, time will heal. Time doesn't make us forget but it does make things feel a little better. 
I am in a completely different place now. Happier, contented and ready for all that life can throw at me, because, to be frank, if I can cope with all of that, I can cope with anything.

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Thursday, 8 February 2018

Procrastination


I was going to write something about how I have procrastinated all week to get things done. But instead I wrote a poem about it, which is actually quite light hearted (a bit of a break through for me).

Here it is.



Procrastination

I would rather tile my kitchen
Than clean my lounge
I would rather look on my laptop
Than fetch the hoover, to nip around

I would rather watch bad telly
Or mess about on my phone
Than clean a toilet
Or tidy a room

I am a procrastinator, I do not care
It’s my house and the bits that really need to be clean
Are there

I am messy and muddled
I like to faff about
My favourite thing is chaos
I’m not minimalist nor lout

I am Mum in our home
Full of laughter and fun
I am Mum in our home
Let the scum come
Because I am Mum

And I might get around to it…. eventually.


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Tuesday, 6 February 2018

An Ode to Birmingham

I live on the outskirts of Birmingham in a leaf suburb, in a beautiful house which I have lived in with my husband since 2000.

Since we have had the house we have done loads to improve it. We now have central heating, a loft conversion, a pod in the garden and had the downstairs updated, including the kitchen.

For the first 10 years we couldn't afford any of that, so we painted kitchen doors, took out the abundance of 1970's red brick around the fire place, put up shelves and painted and wallpapered ourselves, and we had the front of the house paved.

Now my little 3 bedroom (and very small box room/man cave) semi-detached home is beautiful.

The area we live in is great too. We have nice neighbours who happily feed the cats and hamsters whenever we are away. We are off the main drag, so cars who cut through the local area to avoid bad traffic don't go down our road. Our road is always very quiet, and we are within walking distance of a curry house, Chinese take away, chip shop, a really nice Italian restaurant, supermarket, my daughters primary school and the pub. Having grow up in the countryside I really appreciate the 'in walking distance' thing, as I had to drive or be driven to everywhere growing up, until around 1980 when we got a Chinese, which was very exciting.

My friends who live in the country are always surprised at how quiet it is, when they visit. We do live near Birmingham airport, but not under any flight paths so you do hear the planes if you are outside (double glazing is wonderful for keeping those noises out of inside the house) and occasionally we have the police helicopter hoovering above our house, which to be honest just leads to conversations about which one of us they are looking for and why!

My husband and I do have plans to move to somewhere by the sea when we are older, but I am going to struggle to leave this home that we have created. It is where my children will have grown up, it is where I found out I had cancer, it is where I grieved after I lost my Mum. It is where I have laughed and cried with my husband, partied with my friends and family, soothed my babies and sung lullaby's. If this homes walls could talk it could tell some tales.

In October I will have lived in this house as long as I lived in my parents home. Eighteen years. After I left home I moved to 9 different places before we settled here.
My husband told me that Sheldon was the equivalent of the Riviera in Birmingham, as a joke. But I tell you something, on a warm summers day our back garden is a little sun spot. So, actually, I think it really is.

So yes, one day we will move, downsize somewhere, but we will bulk buy from the curry house before we do and take it with us in the freezer because no one does curry's quite as well as the Brummies. And although I am not a Brummie I think, as I have lived in Birmingham since 1996 I should be adopted by the city (I still don't have the accent though), because I love it here. Not just in my little suburb but in the city as well.

The city is so vibrant, and full of diversity and life. There is the Custard Factory (Where the old Birds Custard Factory was) in Digbeth, where there are clubs, vintage clothing stores, tattoo shops, street food, great graffiti and lots more. The city centre has amazing architecture from St Martins Church in the Bullring to Selfridge's right by it with all those silver disks. There are amazing theatres and art gallery's (The Icon Gallery is my favourite) and then all the canals, more than in Venice. Beautiful. A walk along the canal side can make any one slow down and relax.
Selfridges

The Rotunda

I purposely chose to bring up my children in a city, I wanted them to experience a diversity of beliefs, ethnicity and religion. I grew up in a predominantly white, middle class area, and I don't think it prepared me fully for the world which is full of lots of different people. I think Birmingham is a brilliant city, I have lived in London and visited lots of other cities but Birmingham, in my humble view is best, under-rated and undervalued.

Come to Birmingham it's fab - Here endeth the lesson - Love Jane who really doesn't work for the Birmingham tourist board - Honest.

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Sunday, 4 February 2018

Lame Ducks (Or the men I have loved)

I have made some dreadful choices in my life when it comes to men.

I have what my father used to call, 'an attraction for lame ducks'.

I thought I could fix them.

The reason my Dad likes my husband so much, is because he is not a lame duck. Far from it, and he is the first completely selfish choice I made, when it came to men.

I have been out with an agoraphobic, claustrophobic with anxiety issues, an alcoholic, a narcissist (I am not joking, this man could not walk past a mirror) and a man with quite severe anger issues amongst other things.

Unsurprisingly, I didn't manage to fix one of them.

And the last one, the man with anger issues, was my husbands friend, so when Anger Issues and I split up, and I ended up with my husband, things did not go well, he made our lives quite challenging for about two years after we split up. Our lives turned into a bit of a soap opera.

I look back now and think, gosh, I wasted time alot of my time on men that were really bad for me, and in fact, men who were better off without me as I pandered to their needs. Once I was gone, they mostly managed better and improved (this does not include anger issues, he was a whole different thing).

However, I don't regret a single one of them. They led me on a path that brought me to here, happily married with kids.
My husband, kids and I at my 50th birthday party.

And I learnt things, I learnt how to be strong and independent. I learnt to be resilient. I am definitely a case of learning from my mistakes.

I do hope my daughters avoid this, because it has left me, on occassion, in fairly treacherous situations, particularly with Anger Issues and I would hate that for them. I wouldn't want their lives put at risk because of a partner (whether they be male or female).

With Anger Issues, I spent over four years with him, I bought a house with him, and he slowly eroded my confidence and withdrew me from my family and friends.

Initially it was verbal violence, then it became physical. Not a lot at first, just shoves and pushes.

Just after we split up and he was still in our home, we were having a normal conversation when suddenly he was on top of me holding my neck.

It is funny how time slows when you think you are about to die, I remember looking up at him and thinking how sad he was, seeing all that anger in his face and not knowing what to do with it except attack me, I was almost calm. It was very odd.

When I went to the police they knew he was left handed by the the marks on my throat. I ended up not reporting him, as I thought it would just make a bad situation worse.

I was wrong, he went on to be verbally abusive to my parents, my future husbands parents and our friends. He made life very difficult for a very long time. It finally stopped when we bought a home together and made sure we weren't findable via the internet or any other way.

I should have reported him as I fear he will have done the same to other women.

This relationship affected me mentally as well as physically and my husband, being the good man that he is, patiently helped me to restore my confidence. I also needed counselling which helped as well.

All this happened nearly 20 years ago now and I have been happily married for the last 16 and a half years, so my selfish decision to choose a man that didn't have issues, and definitely didn't need fixing worked out brilliantly.

So if you are out there now, looking for love, don't fall for the charmer who throws you a compliment and then takes it back with a little snide comment that he only says in front of you. Or the man who needs help to get his shopping, or wants you to buy him whiskey. Or never has any money of his own. Don't fall for any of that. Just choose the man (or woman) that makes you happy, all the time, who doesn't leave you second guessing yourself. That person, is the person who loves and respects you. They are the one.

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Thursday, 1 February 2018

The Woman - A short story

She was, mother, child, daughter, sister, aunt, wife and widow. She was the woman.
That's what her neighbours called her.

She sits in her chair alone, when she stands, the cushion are sunken and frayed, it fits her perfectly.


She likes the silence of her house, she can listen to the noise outside, the wind blowing, the rain falling, the birds singing, the cats fighting and the dogs barking whilst feeling the warm sun on her face. When darkness comes she closes the curtains and the noises would change, still cats fighting, wind, rain and dogs barking, but now the quiet of night, no rumble of cars, the odd shout as some one rolls out of a pub and the quiet glow of the street lights.

She sits in her chair alone, looking at the photo's on the wall and on top of the piano, once played and now forgotten, just a surface to polish and place for things.

When she goes out, she always wear a hat, that's how she was brought up, her hair has to be done, and a little lipstick to brighten her face. She is old school, with old habits, old style.

She sits in her chair alone, no need for company or a pet, they would just bring noise and disruption into her quiet place.

She goes to her fridge, there is cheese, butter, ham, tomatoes and cucumber. It's all she needs.

She sits in her chair alone, eating a sandwich, the only sounds are her teeth biting and her throat swallowing.

Eventually, she doesn't wear her hat any more, she doesn't go out, or to the fridge. She just sits.

She sits in her chair alone, for many days, not moving.

She sits in her chair alone, not thinking, not feeling.

She sits in her chair alone, and eventually...

She stops. 



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