Prescription for Disaster

Monday, 28 July 2014

I don't hate my mother in law, but I did take her camping

My mother in law hath cometh for the summer Part III

I don’t hate my mother in law, but I did take her camping.

So she’s now convinced that I do.

Well, my mother in law is here for the summer, and I’m disappointed that we’ve not had many adventures while she has been here. We have to renew our visas, so we can’t actually take her outside of the UK this time. Home adventures it is, with the odd road-stop toilet mayhem thrown in here and there (let’s just say that Paul is an amazing father and goes WELL ABOVE AND BEYOND for his kids. Shudder.) So, in an effort to at least have a little bit of fun this summer, we took her camping.

We first drove her around Stratford Upon Avon to see the home of Anne something. I don’t know, all of these thatched cottages surrounded by colorful wildflowers tend to look the same after a couple of years. Boleyn maybe. Of possibly ‘of Green Gables’. Whatever – she loved it.

We picnicked in the parking lot of a small airfield at random in the country, watching planes come and go and encountering the largest, creepiest and quite possibly deadliest Australian refugee spider any of us had ever seen, that my mother in law had discovered on her car door handle. And Spiderzilla had moves.

Satisfied and terrified we packed up and headed further into the country to our campsite – none of us saying it but all of us hoping to hell that the spider had not stowed away within the confines of our camping gear and pillows.

The campsite was perfect and so typically British. A wide open field out the back of a country pub and surrounded by stinging nettle – which got Lochie within the first hour and mum within the next. Paul warned Kaitie not to go behind the car, as she would surely trip over the tent guidelines and fall into the stinging nettles as well –

Kaitie:             “I won’t Daddy.”
Paul:                “Yes you will. Just don’t go back there.”
Kaitie:              “I won’t fall daddy.”
Paul:                “Yes you will. You can’t help it. It’s genetic.”
Me:                   Nods in agreement.

Poor Sylvia hadn’t been camping in… well… a couple of years, so she more or less hung out directly in whatever spot that Paul needed to be at the time while reigning back Huar Huar / Cujo / Shaky McFrostyNuts from tearing after the much larger, much meaner looking dogs across the field and by the pub while we set up first our family tent, and then hers – nearly getting clocked in the head by a rounders ball from the family that had laid claim to the whole of the field before we had arrived in the process.

Now, taking mother in law camping with us was a rather last minute ‘let’s go camping tomorrow!’ kind of decision – the kind of decisions I’m best known for. So Paul looked online, found a fantastic deal on a 2-man tent for only £10 at Argos, hit ‘BUY NOW’ and sat back, pleased with his purchase AND the incredible cost savings. We even had an extra sleeping bag and a single air mattress in the shed – she would be completely comfortable!

With our tent nicely set up and finished I went to the communal area to give our dishes from lunch a quick wash – thinking that Paul could get started on her tent and that I would help him to finish it up when I got back. I forgot the dish soap, however, and upon my return was surprised to find them standing around her tent, staring down at it in silence. “Do you need help?!” I called over – nope. He was done.

That was most definitely not a 2-man tent. Not even by Chinese circus midget standards. Well, it was too late to turn back now and she said she was fine with it – it would only be one night, right? The single air mattress fit in there quite comfortably and didn’t quite stick out the end – she would be fiiiiiiine.

The rest of the evening was lovely – coloring with the kids, chatting in our camping chairs and eating burgers with an array of British cheese and crackers – with cold beer from the pub, of course. Tired from the day we called it a night early, got the kids ready for bed and crawled into our tent – first making sure that Sylvia was going to be alright before I climbed in.

Me:                        “Are you going to be comfortable in there?”
Sylvia:                   “Oh yes.”
Me:                        “Are you going to be warm enough? Would you like an extra blanket?”
Sylvia:                   “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Me:                        “Do you have all of your stuff from the car? Water? Everything?”
Sylvia:                   “Oh yes. Don’t worry about me.”
Me:                        “Okay then – let us know if you need anything! Night!”

She didn’t. She suffered in silence throughout the night, only to hold it against me for the rest of my life.

It started right when she went to bed – crawling into her tent like a bear trying to put on Spanx. Thrashing around against the sides and bouncing along the single air mattress like a tiny bouncy castle of violence and constricting wrath.

“Is that thunder Daddy?”
“No Lochie, that’s just Grandma getting into her tent. YOU OKAY MUM?”

But apparently, she couldn't sleep.

We didn’t hear anything else from Grandma that night, except for the terrifying snoring coming from either her or my husband. Or a warthog that had snuck up and camped out beside us – it was hard to tell. It also might have been me, my narcolepsy does weird things.

At about 1am she woke up, regretting that she hadn’t changed into pajamas for fear of having to walk across the public green less than fully dressed, rolling around on the coins flowing out of her pockets.

At about 2am her air mattress, despite its valiant effort, finally died a withering, sad and deflating death. Our choice of rocky field as a campsite was cursed loudly.

At about 3am, she awoke again, sore and cramped from the hard ground and freezing. Her coat was in the car, as was her sweater and the extra blanket I had offered her earlier – but she didn’t want to wake us up.

At 4am the pigeons living in the bushes behind us started their day building a nest directly behind her tent – loudly.

I, however, slept wonderfully curled up with Kaitie on our soft double air mattress and warm sleeping bag. I was awoken by birdsong at around 7am with the sunshine coming through the side of the tent. Groggy with sleep I stumbled out to get my shoes, emerging from the tent to the sight of Paparazzi Grandma with her massive camera lens pointed right at me, sat in a broken camping chair and wrapped up in a sleeping bag – looking miserable and cold, but stroking her camera like Golem and his ring.

She claims that her camera positioning wasn’t revenge related, but we don’t quite believe her.

The day went uphill from there, for the most part, until we got home. The stench of camping was too much for my ‘chemo-nose’ and I attacked the house with scent-destroying chemical warfare, essentially Febreezing my mother in law into a coma to cement her experience of camping hell.

The poor woman actually passed out.

Paul gently knocked on her door, then backed away slowly with a “Ummm… she’ll be fine. But I don’t know if she is going to want to come camping again.”

Touche mother in law, touche.


Friday, 25 July 2014

My Mother in Law Hath Cometh for the Summer - Part II. The sobbing airplane incident

The Sobbing Airplane Incident

My mother in law is here for the summer, and in her honor I am recalling the times that I have completely humiliated her - which is quite often if I'm honest. This is one of our family favourites - the sobbing plane incident in China.

We were flying (Paul, Sylvia and I) on an internal flight in China, I think we were going from Guilin to Hainan or something, but it was a relatively short flight of only about 4 hours or so. We were, of course, the only non-Chinese people on the entire plane and were placed in the exact middle of the plane - possibly for greater viewing access for the other passengers as back then in 2003 foreigners in some parts of China still made a pretty big scene. 

Paul and I were sat together and my mother in law was just across the aisle. The plane was dark and we had all settled in, watching our little headrest movie screens - I was watching Big Fish, for the first time.

Oh holy hell have you guys seen that movie? Oh my freaking God. The ending!

So we're on this quiet flight full of Chinese people and were the only foreigners on the entire flight. No biggie. But I'm watching this movie and it nears the end and I start to tear up. Just a little at first, but then the ending builds and builds and I start to sniffle.

Then the ending gets even more emotionally traumatic and I let out a stifled sob. Paul hasn't yet noticed anything, he's engrossed in Police Story - some Jackie Chan kicks the world's ass movie. I'm breathing hard and starting to really cry when a flight attendant, who spoke no English whatsoever, came over to see if I was okay. I waved her off politely, smiling to indicate that I was okay - but still engrossed in the movie. 

The ending got worse and I let out a loud sob. My shoulders were trembling and I was gripping my blanket to my running nose and the tears dripping down my face. I had headphones on, so didn't realize quite how loud I was being. I started to hiccup, tears pouring down my face and emitting little sobs. 

The flight attendant approached me again, this time with a friend. Neither spoke any English, but I assured them that I was fine. They left, reluctantly.

The ending then built even more and I was positively whimpering at this stage. People on the plane were starting to turn around and look at me (I always cause a scene there) but with looks of concern more than curiosity. Sylvia was starting to notice but I couldn't pay attention - I was engrossed in the movie. 

The movie hit its climax and I let loose a howling wail and then descended into inconsolable, loud weeping. 

My husband was startled out of his movie and was trying to get me to calm down but I was beyond any point of consolation. I was sobbing loudly, head thrown back and making a proper scene with 'waahaaaaa' type noises.

The flight attendants had rushed over and everyone around me was standing up in their seat staring and trying to make sense of what was happening to the sobbing foreigner - the flight attendants demanded to know what was going on and my poor mother in law was just covered in spectators - 

I managed to shout out (between sobs) the only coherent sentence in Chinese I could think to string together:

The DVD is so happy!!!! (zhege DVD hao gaoxin le!)

Have you ever heard an entire plane of people burst into laughter? It's quite an experience, let me tell you. And it's not like Paul and Sylvia could pretend not to know me, either. CLEARLY we were related.

The Dirty Immigrant Test (that I was nearly kicked out of)

I have a confession to make, and it may surprise you.

*clears throat*

I… am a dirty immigrant.

Yes, yes I am. My husband is an immigrant. My children are dirty immigrants and even my sister is an immigrant in yet another country.

“Oh. But we don’t mean you when we talk about how much we hate immigrants and how they singlehandedly ruin our great country.”

It’s not difficult to figure out which immigrants they do mean then – you usually just have to keep quiet and listen. Or hand the person a shovel to help with the hole they are digging themselves into.

We once stayed near good friends close to Bath, England, at a lovely little B&B cottage in the country. The breakfast was lovely and as the charming, elderly owners filled our plates with scrambled eggs the topic of immigrants came up (as it does over orange juice, apparently) and how they are ruining Britain. My husband coughed and made his accent more noticeable – they were oblivious. The woman asked us where we were from and my husband answered London.

“No, where are you originally from, dear?”


“Oh! Lovely country! London is lovely too, well it was, before all the immigrants took the place over.”

“They’re here too now,” the man interjected, “they’ve taken over Little Crossing now as well. Filthy immigrants and their gangs of purse snatchers – the lot of them should just be sent packing to where they came from.”

“Um… we are immigrants.” Offered my husband.

“No you’re not. You’re Canadian.”

Well then.

We’ve since gotten used to the blatant racism and vile ignorance that most people display when discussing immigration in any country or context – they don’t mean us. Of course not. Just people that don’t look like us. But regardless of this we are still treated as ‘dirty immigrants’ and even have the deportation letters for myself, Paul and each of the girls to prove it, sent accidentally when the Home Office had cocked something up.

Many people don’t realize that immigrating to another county isn’t a simple matter of making a decision and getting on a plane. That other country has to actually want you – and this is hard to come by. Visas are a necessity of life, and we have, in the five years we have lived here, spent just over £12,000 on visas alone for a family of four. Should we wish to get citizenship in another year it will be yet another £4,000.

(that's $27,000 USD in six years, paid to the UK government just to be here)

And our families wonder why we still rent.

To add insult to financial injury, we have had to pass the dreaded Life in the UK Test of the United Kingdom – a test of 24 random questions about British history, politics, sporting heroes, literature, culture and laws. These are important, critical things that one must know in order to integrate into British society.

Such as at what age Victoria became Queen. Or at what age children can start on alcoholism. 

These questions made no sense to me and have so incredibly little to do with actually integrating into British society.You know what makes me a good British person? I'm nice. I help people, often going out of my way to do so. I don't drink, but I keep that a shameful secret. I don't like football but I'll watch it if I have to. And I believe in what this country stands for, as well as my own. 

But nooooo..... it's clearly more important to know that Scotland got its' own parliament in 1999. 


So we went for the test - which we had to pass before spending this new ridiculous amount of money on more visas to stay here. 

The testing centre was terrifying. A tiny computer learning centre in Harrow, London, surrounded by pawn shops, chippers and chicken shops. We didn't really want to touch anything and the waiting room reeked of cat pee. The room quickly filled for our allotted test time with Americans, Indians, a Saudi Arabian woman, a Chinese woman and another Canadian - all looking nervous and anxious to get our tests over with. 

We were corralled into another room full of computers that smelled somewhat less of offensive cat urine and were given our instructions. We were not to talk, for any reason. Our ears were checked for blue-tooth systems. Our phones were checked. Our bags were stored away and we were silent - waiting for the test to start.

The Chinese woman looked distraught, signalling to one of the test invigilators.She tried explaining in broken English that she couldn't see - she had forgotten her glasses. She could barely see a thing - but the invigilator didn't understand her.

She switched to Chinese, frantically explaining that her glasses were just downstairs, she just had to get them. The invigilator wouldn't let her leave, and both were getting heated and upset with each other. I looked at Paul - he was shaking his head at me as if to say 'don't do it'.

I did it. I had to.

I turned to the distraught women, interrupted them and in Chinese asked the woman what was wrong, translating for her to the invigilator. 

Both the invigilator and the Chinese woman were shocked into silence. NOBODY in that room was expecting me to suddenly speak Chinese. Me, the tall and very white blonde woman there with her very white husband. Western people and Chinese language don't usually mix.

The Chinese woman was the first to recover from her shock and jumped into the typical 'how do you know how to speak Chinese?' spiel that I hear so often. I told her it didn't matter, we weren't supposed to be talking in here and let's just help her and then take the test. The invigilator recovered and scolded me, in front of everyone, that we weren't to speak to anyone in the exam room. I apologized and turned back to my computer screen, waiting patiently for the test to start.

The two of them started fighting again, until the invigilator who had just scolded me then asked me to kindly help them to translate.

So to the awe of everyone in the room, I translated for them until the Chinese woman's glasses were retrieved. The invigilator then thanked me but scolded me again for speaking in the testing room. WTF lady, make up your mind!

I then spent the rest of the test muttering to the Chinese woman beside me to shut up, we can't talk - as she wanted to know where I was from, why I spoke Chinese, what the answer to number one was... 

Paul was right. I should have just kept quiet - like a good dirty immigrant.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Author's Cave - Celebrating Indie Authors!

So I am officially an Indie Author - which although infinitely cool is also infinitely intimidating. I've entered a world in which I have absolutely NO idea what I am doing. However, there shall always be strength in numbers, so I've joined The Authors Cave.

Part of this is an annual 'Blog Train' -  in which we use our blogs to showcase other Indie authors within our group - some of which have written some really fantastic stuff!

So here is my intro to the Author's Cave Blog Train

This is my book! It feels SO crazy to say that! Links to info about Prescription for Disaster are above and on the side - and I sincerely hope that you too can appreciate the funny side of falling apart.

3 Sentences about myself:

I'm a Canadian living in England, but I've lived in China, America and Hong Kong, so far. I'm an absolute magnet for disaster and I really have no shame - so I write about my experiences in mayhem. I like to write, but I love to make people laugh and to tell a good story.

Three years ago I was diagnosed with a rare disease - which tends to propel a person toward some serious doom and gloom. I spent ages looking for a positive, uplifting and funny book about the experiences in hospital of people who were there all the time like me, but I couldn't find anything like it - so I wrote one. It's been out for only two months but so far hundreds of people are laughing - hard, and feeling better, even if just for a moment. 

And that is all I ever wanted.

The first three words I would use to describe myself are:

Driven, Optimist and very, VERY unlucky (I've actually been hit by lightning)

I am currently working on this project:

A similar compilation of my adventures in China - more adventures in mayhem and misadventure!

My favourite thing about Author's Cave:

This is a group of established authors that tolerate my general ignorance and idiocy with a smile. Very helpful and supportive - plus they actually know what they're doing whereas I'm just going at writing and publishing my books like a dyslexic bear typing with oven mitts on. I have NO IDEA what I am doing but they nudge (punt) me in the right direction.

Here are three more books from the Author's Cave that you might enjoy!

 See how these authors answered the same questions!

Kat Miller

Claudette Alexander

Jalpa Williby

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Taser Incident

I met my step-sister Christine when I was 12 and we positively loathed each other.

To be fair we were exactly the same age and were suddenly mashed together into the same house in the same bedroom in the same school in the same grade and with the same friends.
As it turned out, I had a twin in Christine. Her humor, her laughter, her magnetism for disaster and mayhem was exactly like mine. We competed with each other constantly. 

We were nerds together (summers spent having RL Stine novel speed reading competitions in a tent in the backyard. We weren’t allowed to live in the house in summer).

We were idiots together (who can make it across the river on foot in late Spring first? We both nearly drowned).

We were terrified together (chased into traffic by a rabid squirrel, and there was always the ‘tent incident’)

and we were social outcasts together (there may have been a skunk incident in junior high).

So when I up and decided to randomly move to China at the age of 20 there was nobody in the world I would have rather come with me.

And so, together, Christine and I moved to China.

We are both the type that strange things just happen to, always have been. We had so many adventures in China together and afterward when she had left (China pretty much gave her the boot), more than enough to fill my next book.

We were living in Shenyang, Liaoning (up by North Korea) back in 2001. At the time it was a city of 13 million people and only 900 foreigners – 750 of those being from Korea. So the rest of us stood out quite a bit and more or less stuck together. Back then there was a single foreigner bar in Shenyang (Sophie’s) and although Christine spent a lot of evenings there I couldn’t really go because, well, I employed more than half of their western clientele (long, weird story) which made it awkward as well. Trust me, the boss wants even less to drink with their employees as the employees want to drink with their boss.

Anyway, Christine used to go to the expat bar in the evenings pretty often, as you do in China, as there was absolutely nothing else to do, and some of the guys there were worried about her walking home at night by herself or taking taxis alone so late at night. Being not gentlemanly enough to walk her home but gentlemanly enough to care they did the next best thing and bought her a police grade taser gun.

It was a little purse sized, hand-held taser in which you push a button and blue lightning arcs out, dancing back and forth between the protruding metal nodes on the top. Being China these weren't exactly common, but you could pick it up at the same store that you could buy police vests, helmets and cherry lights for your car.

I miss China. 

Anyway, she had come home to our apartment late one night, having had a bit to drink and was hanging out in her room about to have a cigarette, but couldn't find a lighter.

I’ll give you a minute to guess where this is going.

She searched everywhere until she fumbled upon the taser in her purse, taking it out and giving it a good look. The lightning was electricity, surely that would light a cigarette? Now, having had a bit to drink certainly helped her extreme lack of judgment, but her just being her is what led her to PUT THE CIGARETTE IN HER MOUTH and then try to light it with the taser like you would a standard lighter. 

She claims that she woke up on the other side of the room having effectively tasered herself in the face.

Now, the instructions (once translated) explain that a one second pulse is all that is required to bring an assailant to their knees. A two second pulse and they will mostly likely wet themselves. A three second pulse and they will be rendered unconscious. It is, according to Christine’s experience, not possible to control the amount of time you are holding down the button when you are simultaneously electrocuting yourself in the face. Somehow her violent launch across the room and subsequent flopping around dislodged the taser from her grasp and it stopped, leaving her unconscious on the floor.

It gets worse. 

When she woke up SHE DID IT AGAIN, the exact same thing again, desperate for a cigarette - and this is how I came to find her upon hearing a bloodcurling scream, facedown on her bedroom floor with the room reeking of burnt hair.

I then confiscated her taser, but the adventures with it did not end there.

Years later, my husband Paul (then boyfriend), found the taser in an old box of mine at our apartment in China, long after my sister had left. I had forgotten about the thing, never having had cause to use it. He, being a typical guy, had a bit of fun lighting various things on fire with it, always being too much of a wuss to ever try it out on himself.
He did discover, though, that the taser had an additional feature he had never asked me about - a small red button down by the base.

And this is how my husband maced himself in the face by inadvertently pressing this red button while aiming the nozzle at the fan in our bedroom.

The Darwin Awards are strong in my social circle - it keeps life interesting.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Shooting the messenger... with a bazooka

Have you ever tried to help a stranger and then IMMEDIATELY regretted it so badly that you leaped onto a train just to get away from them?

This was my morning commute. I think I actually met the worst person in the world today.

I'm a Londoner. It has taken me many years to become a proper Londoner. I have perfected the art of reading a book while walking during rush hour. I always stand on the right and have no patience whatsoever for people that use large maps on crowded streets. I loathe the constant stream of tourists throughout the city with their loud accents and unseemly habit of *gasp* talking to strangers. 

We're Londoners. We don't do that. 

But I am, sadly, still quite Canadian as well.

I had made it this morning to Tottenham Court Road, a major underground station in central London and had descended further levels to get to the Northern Line, the line I needed to then get the single extra stop to my office. I traipsed through the corridors among the usual mass of London commuters, all of us wearing various forms of black and glued to our Kindles and paperback books as we marched through halls we had memorized, like well dressed sleepwalkers.

We came down a final set of stairs to the lower platform at a divide - south to the left and north to the right and I turned, reading my book, onto my usual route but was jerked from my commuter trance by a hysterical American woman with a suitcase, standing directly in everyone's way as they came down the stairs and moved around her without making eye contact.

That wouldn't be British.

She was crying and wailing, clearly lost and clearly in a lot of distress. I wanted to go on, I was already having a crappy day of a crappy week and urgently needed to get to my office. But the Canadian in me, or just the overly nice person in me, won out. 

I took a deep breath, folded the page of my book down and resolutely walked back over to her, against the crowd and quietly said "Hey, do you need some help?"

"Yes! I just got beat up by an old lady and I don't know where I am and there are no ****ing maps in this ****ing place!", she shouted in my general direction.

Ah crap. I really should have just kept going.

"Okay. Well, that sounds rough. Where are you trying to get to?"

"An old lady seriously just BEAT ME UP for NO REASON and I don't know where I'm going and nobody is helping me!"

"Okay. Well. I'M here helping you, so where is it you would like to go?"

"She BEAT ME UP!!! And nobody did anything!!! And I need to get to the Tate museum!"

Already we had a crowd. British people were backing away from us and looking at us over their books and Kindles. A blonde woman in a tight bun stared at me with her mouth open - probably in shock that I hadn't yet clocked this crazy tourist. They were certainly too smart to get involved.

"Do you mean the Tate Modern Museum? Because there are a lot of Tate's."


Alright. Fuck me sideways this woman was insane. I couldn't leave now, she might attack me. Okay. Just get her to a map and be done with it. Karma will owe me BIG TIME.

"Ah. You need to get to Waterloo I think. It's not on this line - "


"Okaaaaay. Let's find you a map."

And so she followed me down the platform to a large tube map where I talked her through the route she needed to take. She wasn't listening. Obviously she wasn't listening. Her shoulders were heaving and she was crying and you could practically see smoke coming out of her ears. I tried the gentle approach:

"Hey. Are you going to be okay?"

And she exploded.

"How could I be okay?! A woman actually BEAT ME UP! There I was, just standing there to get onto the train and it was so busy and she wouldn't get out of my way so I could get on, even though I clearly had a suitcase, so I pushed her out of my way and said 'get the **** out of my way'..."

As though pushing someone and swearing at them is a totally normal and appropriate thing to do to get onto a train somehow? 

"... and then that b*** turned around and kicked me in the leg and then punched me in the face!..."

I gotta admit. I was kind of rooting for the old lady at this point.

The American Psycho continued shouting at me

"... and then she called me a f***ing c*** and a wh*** and a b**** and then kicked me again and then she pushed me away and got on the train and it left!"

Oh my god I was wishing the violent little old lady was there right then to save me. I was so horrified by her shouting and uber loud profanity that I stopped her right there, put my hands up and pointed out that hey, I didn't beat you up. I'm here trying to help you.

She exploded again - shouting that "Why did I ask her what was wrong then?!?"

It was at this point that I started trying to back away, but my fellow Londoners had formed a semi circle around us, not getting close enough to get involved but not so far as to miss the show while they waited for the next train. The bastards. I should have been one of them.

I was in too deep now, I couldn't escape. So I calmly suggested that she contact the police, to her violent shouting retort that they couldn't do anything, the (insert excessive use of offensive expletives) woman had already left!

I pointed around us to the abundance of CCTV cameras, telling her quite calmly that this was one of the largest tube stations in the city, there are cameras everywhere and special transport police upstairs - they would be able to help her out better than I can.

Did I get a thank you? An 'oh that is so kind of you, thank you?' A 'thank you for missing your own train just to help me?' No. I got a


Yeah no. F*** that crazy lady, you're on your own. 

I literally backed up and jumped onto the packed train that was about to leave, the crazy irate American woman with the suitcase screaming behind me into the closing doors. Everyone on the train saw. People that had been on the platform were also on the train sardined around me as we clung to the ceiling handles and watched the platform pull away. They were all looking at me.

So I cleared my throat and in my best British accent (so as not to let people think that I had any commonality with the American Psycho) said

"Well, I guess that's what you get for taking a suitcase on the underground during rush hour. The nerve, right?"

Sigh. No matter how bad my day is, at least I'm not her .

Or her family or friends. Yeesh.