Thursday, 25 June 2015

Holding my hand

     For some reason, this morning, as I said goodbye to The Boy at the school gates, I was reminded of this old blogpost. And hey, what do you know? I wrote it exactly two years ago today. I can remember writing it, oddly. The strange feeling I had that he was growing up, growing older, and growing away from me.

     Which has turned out to be utter rubbish. He’s not. If anything, we’re closer than ever, me and my boy. He’s taller, broader, he has more questions that I don’t have the answers for, but what seems to be unshakable is the bond between us. It’s not that I love him more than I do The Girl, or that he’s my favourite or anything like that. It’s that we seem to share a soul.

     I can look at him, and know exactly what he’s thinking. I can tell, from the subtlest gesture that there’s something troubling him. I can see, just from the way he stands, that something funny has just occurred to him, and he’s about to share it with me because he knows I’ll laugh too (and then we’ll have to explain it to Alistair and The Girl, who won’t find it as funny).

     Earlier this week, The Girl had an after school club, so The Boy and I decamped to what we both call The Grotty Pub to while away an hour or so. And we were chatting, talking about his day. The following exchange took place:

     The Boy: Imogen asked me if I wanted to go out with Claire this lunchtime

     Me [wildly excited, starts thinking of buying a Mother of The Groom hat] And what did you SAY????

     The Boy: No. Not because of Claire personally, but because I don’t ever want to go out with anyone, ever. I prefer solitude.

     Me: Hmm… but it might be nice when you’re older to have someone special to share things with?

     The Boy: No, not really. I just don’t like being around people. Apart from you. That’s different. And a few of my friends, because they’re like me. But mostly, I just want to be alone.

     I’m still not sure what to make of that. On the one hand, it troubles me that despite being reasonably popular at school, and part of various groups and good at Joining In With Things, he seems to reject the idea of being close to anyone. That spending so much time in his own head can’t be healthy, that he really should be more open to the idea of being around other people, and sharing things with them. And yet… and yet, and yet, and yet… I’m the same. I know I am. I don’t like being around other people too much. Given the choice, I would always choose to be alone, rather than feeling I had to share thoughts and emotions with other people. Too much social interaction and I’m a wreck, totally drained and prone to getting ratty with everyone. And so is he.

     The only exception to the rule is when we’re together. We can sit in companionable silence, or we can talk and talk and talk. And laugh, of course. Being around him is never a chore or a strain. We see the world with the same eyes, and it feels effortless, when you’re with someone who understands you so instinctively. We’re both moody, stroppy, and sarcastic at times, but it never grates on me when he’s in one of Those Moods because I know why, and I know the best way to get him out of it is to leave him alone. Something that not many other people understand. And I wonder how differently my life would have been if I'd been as aware of my introvert nature at the same age. The things I would have done differently, how perhaps things wouldn't have seemed so overwhelming if I knew how to handle them better.

     I do worry, though. I worry that because I see so much of myself in him that I let him get away with too much. That maybe I’m guilty of giving him what he wants and not what he needs. That perhaps I ought to be tougher on him, that in life he’s not going to always have people around who’ll understand him the way I do, and he needs to find ways of dealing with that. But then I look at him again, my beautiful boy with his blond hair, his silly expressions, his thoughtfulness and gentle nature… and I remind myself that he’s still only ten.


     I can’t protect him from life forever. Part of parenting is learning to let go. But while he’s still young, I can be here for him. I can do my best to smooth his path and help him to understand himself better. I worried he was slipping through my fingers. He’s not. He’s still holding my hand.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Give a little bit

     Happy National Volunteers Week!

     What? Ok, yes, I know, alright? Trust me [adopts Sybil Fawlty voice] oh, I know… Every day is National Something Day, or it’s National Something Week, or International Day of Something awareness. Too many bloody Days, Weeks, Months, Years, all wrangled into some kind of Good Cause Promotion, all of which can be filed under These Things Are Important, and Stuff You Should Care About, and If You’re Not Out There Actively Supporting This, Then What Kind Of Callous Monster Are You?

     I sort of care about a lot of them, in a vague and halfarsed way, by which I mean I might tweet about something, or share stuff on facebook, or nod approvingly to myself when something flashes up on my phone. I don’t usually get involved in these campaigns. But this one, volunteering, is very dear to my heart.

     I’m a volunteer. I do stuff, for free. Because it matters to me, because I feel it’s important, because I think other people should care about it too. I have the time, I have the inclination, I have the energy. It’s that simple. There is one volunteer led project that I adore above all others, but there’s other stuff too that I’m kind of on the edges of. If I’m honest, there are an awful lot more causes I could and should help out with too, but I don’t. And if I'm even more honest, it's because the attitude of some people really pisses me right off.

     Because we do it for free. Because we don’t get paid. Because we do it for nothing other than the love of it… the professionals and academics seem to think it’s fine to sneer at us and assume we don’t understand anything more than handing out stickers and badges. I’ve seen a lot of it in the last few days, as volunteering has become a topic of debate on twitter. Actually, debate’s the wrong word. Because it’s only the professionals who are doing it, in their cosy little echo chamber where everyone reinforces each other’s opinions and no one else is allowed in. Professional = valid. Volunteer = invalid.

     Invalid… huh. InVALid, or invullid? I’m sort of both. I can’t work. I would love to work, trust me. I would love to feel I’m making a contribution, I’m helping, I’m doing something of worth. My income last year was a grand total of £5k. Once you’ve bought food for a family of four, and paid for school trips, and dance classes, and your phone bill... However thrifty you are, there’s not a lot else to play with. I would love to have that sense of satisfaction that being paid gives you. That not only have you done something that’s helpful, but someone else thinks so too to the point that they are prepared to give you real hard cash money in reward. That’s never going to happen for me. Yes, it’s shit, but meh. All fed, no one dead. So what can I do? What do I have to offer?

     A fuck of a lot, actually. As do all volunteers. It doesn’t matter if we’re washing pot shards, or making cups of tea, or answering the phone. It doesn’t matter if we’re out in the rain, holding a plastic bucket, hoping passersby will chuck some loose change our way. Or manning the desk at a museum, or offering counselling, or spending hours sticking post it notes to a door. It doesn’t matter if we’re organising a quiz and chips night to raise funds, or crocheting squares to be made into blankets for bereaved families. It doesn’t matter what it is that we’re doing. We are out there, doing this stuff, for nothing, for free, for gratis.

     We are not doing this to get paid, to gain qualifications, to receive approval, to be lauded by our peers. We are not doing this for attention, or for glory, or to get thousands of twitter followers, or so we can write up our findings in an academic paper, or be a keynote speaker at a conference. We’re not doing the stuff we do for any reason other than that we care.

     So when I see professionals express an opinion that volunteers are somehow a bit of a joke, or we can’t be trusted to do stuff properly, or we’re a bit of a pain, or we need to be talked down to, or we’re putting professionals out of a job… Let’s take the last point. It’s not volunteers who are making the huge swinging cuts to the NHS, to benefits, to arts, to education. Funnily enough, we don’t have that kind of power. If your profession is so riven with internecine battles that you can’t organise a piss up in a brewery, never mind a proper campaign to protect yourselves, then you need to think about where you’re going and how you behave. What volunteers are doing is taking up the slack after the axe has fallen. So I’m sorry if that means that the great unwashed, the Great British Public, with their lack of qualifications and expertise, will be the ones offering free tours to other members of the public, or sitting behind the desk at a Citizen’s Advice Bureau, or running a food bank.

     I’m genuinely heartbroken that people, good people, are losing their jobs and are being consigned to the scrapheap where I currently reside. But to blame volunteers for that is wholly wrong, short-sighted, and just plain rude. When I see professionals and academics sneer at volunteers, I have a few questions I want to ask them:
  1.    How many of you got a foothold in your chosen career partly through volunteering?
  2.   Do you think that potential volunteers will be encouraged to fill in the gaps in future when they see the contempt in which you hold them?
  3. If all of the volunteers out there right now fucked off tomorrow, what state would the country be in?
  4. That’s it, really.
  5. Apart from me adding that if you’re going behave twattily to people who are basically on your side, then don’t be sodding surprised if they then refuse to get involved with anything to do with you in future. Huh. Funny that. Turns out you do need volunteers after all…

     And to drag this back to a happier place… my fellow volunteers, out there, doing what you do, making the difference, quietly, unshowily just getting on with it all without any expectation of any kind of reward or praise. You lot are the absolute best. One of the slogans for Volunteers Week is ‘Why do you do it?’ I started because I wanted to make a difference. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. 

     But a lot of other people have certainly made a difference to me. The people I’ve met through the various projects, however I've come across them, either as a fellow volunteer or someone who has relied on their help, go out there every day and they make the difference to so many people, in too many ways to describe. I’m really very proud to know you, and to get to hang out with you. You give your time, your passion, your consideration to people who don’t often appreciate it. But it doesn’t go unnoticed. Just ask yourselves where they’d be without us, eh?

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Spoonfeeding

     I feel I ought to confess something. Before The Boy (and subsequently, The Girl) came along, I was not someone who could ever be described as ‘maternal’. Babies and children were of absolutely no interest to me at all. I knew people had them, I knew there was stuff you had to do stop them crying, and help them grow, and it wasn’t a good idea to drop them, but the whole world of babies, toddlers, and children was pretty damned distant. I didn’t actively dislike them, or anything like that, I just really wasn’t interested.

     Then I found out I was pregnant with The Boy, Alistair and I kind of looked at one another and shrugged and said ‘Why not?’ And became parents.

     I’d read a lot of books and magazines, and online articles, and leaflets, and joined mumsnet and all that jazz. I knew all there was to know. By which I mean I was utterly clueless, had never changed a nappy, or knew anything about the situation I found myself in. Bit like a lot of parents. But we muddled through, and made it up as we went along, and via an awful lot of trial and error, we ended up at the six month stage where things kind of calm down a bit, and you allow yourself the tiniest hope that you’re somehow doing ok.

     And then. Weaning. Back to square one.

     The hours spent cooking, mashing, freezing various organic delicacies. The careful check of temperature. The selection of today’s attractively decorated plastic tableware. The preparation of the dining area, involving bibs, several metres of plastic sheeting, a welding helmet, and evacuation of all sentient creatures. Already exhausted, you gird your loins. And prepare for battle.

     The pursed lips. The refusal to make eye contact. The turn of the head at the last moment, so whatever bright orange food was being offered ends up smeared across the cheek of your Precious Firstborn. The hand that shoots out to bat away the spoon, so the high chair tray ends up streaked with something lumpy and bland, all the better to wash infant hands with. The utter hilarity this induces in one of those present, made all the funnier when carrot puree is applied to hair. The inexplicable blobs of food on the floor that you stand in with bare feet. The open-mouthed puzzlement of noticing that there are odd marks on the ceiling that turns out to be baby rice.

     It should be so simple. Get food. Feed food to baby. Baby fed. Job done. But no, you have to mash it up, and make it FUN and EASY and SIMPLE and do all sorts of undignified cavorting to persuade your child to just eat ‘ Dinner! You don't like that spoon? Try this one. No? Ok... you hold that spoon, and I'll use this one... The bowl is wrong? I'll change it. That bib's annoying you? You want the one with Slomo Turtle on? Ok. Now. Eat. Eat the food I am offering. Here. On this spoon. No, actually it’s an aeroplane/train/boat/rocket/what? Ok, yes it’s a bear going back into his cave…

     I did not enjoy very much of the spoonfeeding years. Once things had progressed to the point where The Blondies could eat finger foods, or even feed themselves, we were all much happier. I was content to sit and help as required, but the patience shredding hours of gamely offering something that was going to be rejected and messy were over.

     Or so I thought…

      Something I’m noticing a lot of lately is people wanting to know things. This is good. Curiosity is a wonderful thing. It might get you into a lot of trouble, but you’ll definitely have fun on the way. But this isn’t motivated curiosity. This isn’t people saying ‘ooh! I’ve just found out this thing! I want to know MORE. I’m going to go out and find out some more thing about this thing.’ No. This is curiosity of the absolute most lazyarsed kind. This is people wanting to be fed spoonfed information, when there is an absolute FEAST of detail already widely available to them. The conversations seem to go something like this:

Person A: X

Person B: What is X?

A: X is blah blah blah, X blah.

B: What does X mean?

A: X means Y.

B. Oh. What is Y? I don’t know anything about this, but it’s fascinating.

A: Y is Y.

B: What does Y mean?

A: Y means blah blah Y blah, blah. Y blah.

B: What do you think Y is?

A: Y. is. Y.

     Or, alternatively,

B: I think, based on no obvious evidence, that X & Y *actually* mean Z.

A: No, Z’s something quite different; see this link that covers A-Z.

B: Is it? What’s X? What’s Y? What’s Z?

A: …

     And then there is, of course,

B: Who knows anything about X?

A: I do. Here’s a link that will tell you more about it.

A: Right. Tell me everything you’ve spent time finding out, and then answer my 30 questions about X, all of which are covered in the FAQs of the link you just provided.

(And in every case, me in the background, just about managing to restrain myself from bellowing ‘LET ME GOOGLE THAT FOR YOU.’)

     I know I’m guilty of it at times, that I do sometimes take the piss with questions, and that I let my embarrassing amount of enthusiasm for certain things get the better of me and bombard people with ‘OH MY GOD THAT’S BRILLIANT AND BLOODY HELL I NEVER KNEW THAT WOAH.’ But… (she said weaselly, attempting to wriggle out a trap of her own making), I’d rather go off, read up on X, and then come back to Person A with ever so slightly more informed questions, if they don’t mind, can they point me to any further reading, please thank you please? Generally, information on most things is out there, fairly easy to find, quite accessible, even to thickos like me. It might take a bit more effort than sitting on your arse firing questions out to the world, but it doesn’t use up too much goodwill.

     And it doesn’t remind me of patiently sitting, plastic spoon in hand, offering up mush to someone who will only accept it if presented a certain way, in a certain style, that suits them. Much better to grab the finger food instead and see how you get on. Someone will be along to wipe your face for you later.*




   *My blog. I can labour an idea until it squeals. No, you piss off.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

That Shitty Thing

     Oh, my loves, I am angry. I am so bloody angry, and I can’t say why, so this is going to be one of those really annoying cryptic posts that are as annoying to read as they are for me to skirt around the issue whilst I try to hammer out some thoughts on this… Not sure that sentence even makes any sense outside of my lava filled brain, so that’s a promising start.

     Ok. Here’s the thing. Someone (let’s call them A) has done something shitty. Or at least I think they have. I’ve asked one other person (let’s call them B) if they think A is guilty of That Shitty Thing. B hasn’t said yes or no. And I don’t know if B is being kind to me whilst secretly thinking ‘You bloody paranoid fuckwit’, or if they just haven’t got round to looking into it further. Matters not helped by me kicking off last night...

     So, what happened was that there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and me going a bit loopy with unresolved tension and anger. I was alone at home when I found out about That Shitty Thing, and for the first time in bloody years I had a panic attack. A full on, heart racing, sweaty, sickmaking panic attack of just the worst fucking grade I can remember (although it probably was little more than a ripple on the Richter Scale of Panic Attacks. The bastarding thing about them is that each one seems so much worse than the ones that went before). I tried to normal out with all the usual tools, breathing, walking, trying to talk myself down from the roof of Anxiety High, texting, turning off the internet so I wasn’t tempted to do anything stupidly public and cringemakingly melodramatic… and yes, eventually it passed, and then the adrenaline went into overdrive, and wine seemed like a good idea which caused more shit (actually, alcohol helps your body process adrenaline faster, so it does help… but only if you step away from interacting with anyone when you are in such a fucking messed up state). This morning, my brain was led away by it’s supervisors, has now been stood down from active duties, and put on gardening leave until a firing squad can be assembled.

     But I can't ignore The Shitty Thing. I just can't. It rankles and I feel clenched and want to shout 'RARRRGGHH' at the world. A lot.To me, it seems really fucking obvious. Could not be more obvious (although my brain is fairly on the huh at the moment, thanks to A CERTAIN BLOODY GP SURGERY AND THEIR PISSING IT SYSTEM UPGRADE). But then there’s that flicker of self-doubt that anyone about to accuse someone else of Committing A Thing Of Shit experiences. What if I’m wrong? What if it’s entirely coincidental? What if I’m guilty of seeing something that isn’t there, a negative hallucination? And then I go back and look at the evidence again and think ‘HOW CAN YOU DOUBT THIS, MY CHILD?’ (for some reason I sort of think that bit in the tones of an Old Testament Prophet from a Biblical Epic) ‘BEHOLD, FOR THE GLORY OF THE ACT OF SHITTINESS SHALL OFFENDETH THINE EYES WITH IT’S HOLY BASTARDNESS’.


     So… without any idea of how real or imagined The Thing That Is Shitty  actually is, I sat down and composed my most formal email for several years (if you’ve been misfortunate enough to receive an email from me lately, you’ll understand just what an undertaking this was). Not to Person A. Definitely not Person B. But to someone else, someone independent who should be in a position to judge whether Person A is indeed guilty of That Shitty Thing. It’s a fairly small thing. It wouldn’t mean much to anyone else. Person A may or may not be guilty of That Shitty thing. I am almost certainly guilty of building it up into a far bigger thing than it really is. But I don’t have much. And it was mine.

#BlameOneNotAll

     Blame one, not all. Blame him, not me. I’m not a lech. I’m not a rapist. I don’t leer at women. I’m not the type of man who says and does things that make women uncomfortable. I’m a Nice Guy. Now congratulate me on pointing out how decent and nice I am. Aren’t you lucky to have men like me in your life?

     See, I could be an absolute bastard. I could do awful things to you. I could make your life a living hell. But I don’t. Isn’t that great of me? Hey, check me out, ladies! Here I am telling you what a Nice Guy I am! Do I get a badge? Aren’t you happy that I’m here? Some kind of recognition of my incredible self control would nice.

     Hey, look, I am a Nice Guy. I’m telling you I’m a Nice Guy. All the ways in which other men in your past have hurt you, all the hassle you get from male strangers, I would never do that. Not all men do that, you know. I mean, I know one man might have done it. Once. Maybe. But no woman I know has ever had anything like that happen to them, ever. Well, I mean, they’ve never told me that they’ve had anything happen to them, ever. So it can’t be that common. See? Not all men are like that.

     Jesus, what is it with you women? I’m letting you know I’m a Nice Guy, and you’re rolling your eyes at me, and telling me I don’t get it, and making sneery ‘Not all men’ jokes. But is true. Not all men are like that. What’s the problem with pointing that out? Perhaps you ought to be a bit more welcoming to Nice Guys like me. You’re kind of hurting my feelings now. I wasn’t expecting much, but I mean, seriously, blame one man, not all men. I’m on your side, remember? You need men like me to remind you that some men understand.

     I don’t believe this. Look. I. Am. A. Nice. Guy. Why can’t you just trust men? Because you don’t know who’s going to end up being a threat or a danger to you? Well, if you go through life with that attitude, I’m hardly surprised you completely misinterpret the mildest of behaviour from blokes. That guy who was chatting to you for twenty minutes was just being polite, why on earth would you feel uncomfortable about that? Huh? Wow, you are so oversensitive. Honestly, most men are Nice Guys. Women like you just don’t give us a chance to prove it.

     Actually, you know what? You might be a sourfaced feminazi, who thinks that all men are rapists, but I bet I can find one women who’ll appreciate the fact that I behave appropriately when she’s alone with me. I bet I can find one woman who’s overwhelmingly grateful to a Nice Guy like me for showing them basic courtesy and respect. I bet I can find one woman who appreciates me telling her that she has just as much right to be somewhere as a man does. Yeah. Huh.


     I’m not having this conversation with you any longer. All I’m trying to do is point out that I’m a Nice Guy, and you know I am, because I have gone out of my way to tell you that I am. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing for you to thank me for. Now where is my badge, my Nice Guy t-shirt, and my Certificate of Nice Guy Attainment? And my cookie. Bring me a cookie for explaining that not all men are completely evil. Jesus. You women really do need us Nice Guys around to get things straight for you. And I'm waiting for my apology. Blame him, not me.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Extract

     We sit next to one another, side by side on a bench. Leaning against one another, shoulders and arms pressed together, thighs touching. Half turning our heads to face one another, we smile, and I, forever awkward, drop my gaze to where your right hand rests on your knee, clenched into a tight fist.

     I take your hand in mine. My short stubby fingers, the skin brown and calloused, hold the pale smooth fist, and I insinuate my right forefinger into where the tension is tightest, pushing outwards, forcing your fingers to uncurl, until your palm is exposed, fingers splayed outwards, facing upwards.

     Lightly, delicately, I trace around the lines, tickling slightly, the smoothness of your skin. I feel, rather than see, you smile and I smile too. I look like I’m focussing intently on your hand, as though I’m not aware of anything else. Untrue.


     I am aware of my heart pounding, my shallow breathing, my blood racing through my veins. I am aware that I quiver in your presence, still.

The girl who

     The thing about shit stuff happening to you when you’re a child is that it doesn’t just fuck up that one thing. It fucks up everything, in variously different ways. Your relationships, how you see yourself, your inability to trust, how you then behave when you become a parent, just... pfft. Everything.

     That’s what it does, see. It’s not so much about what actually happened to you, as what surrounds it. Firstly, the circumstances that allowed a young child to wander off from her siblings whilst on holiday. And then what comes after. In my case, I was never asked what had happened. My parents were annoyed with me. I told them ‘I went looking for you, I got lost, I met a man, but he wasn’t very nice.’ And that was it. I was missing for forty minutes. And they left it at that. As a sign of how seriously they took it, I got accidentally separated from them again a few days later. I got told off.

     Subsequently, years later, I found out that they guessed that something had happened to me. But they didn’t ask. To them, they didn’t ask because they worried about upsetting me. But at the time, I took it as a lesson. They didn’t ask, because they didn’t care. That’s quite a big thing to take in at such a young age. I know I never thought of it like that, children can’t articulate their feelings in that way. But moods, feelings, suggestions have a way of sinking their hooks into your mind, and distorting the way you view the world and your place in it.

     They didn’t ask, because they didn’t care. They didn’t care, so they didn’t notice how I changed. They didn’t make the connection when their loud, stroppy, confident youngest daughter, unfazed by anything, became a girl who cried and clung to her mother every school morning for the next four years. The girl who refused all invitations to play at friend’s houses. The girl who wouldn’t attend sleepovers.

     The girl who, when asked how her day had been, replied ‘don’t worry, I know you’re busy.’ Not accusingly. Just with a shrug and an understanding smile. I was six. Still makes me cry to think of it. I don’t even remember that conversation, that’s how unimportant a moment it was to me. A dagger through my mother’s heart though. The girl who used to get into her parent’s bed every night. The girl who asked her sister two questions. ‘How many months does it take to have a baby? And how many months is it since we were in Tunisia?’ The girl who escaped into reading instead of staying in the real world.


     The thing is, I can look back on all of this now. I can understand that my parents were trying to protect me, in their own way. But by trying to protect me, they reinforced the opposite. I thought they didn’t care. I thought that the people who should have loved me most, who should have protected me, who should have cared, didn’t. And I just accepted it. I wasn’t worth caring about. I’m not worth caring about. And I can be as logical as I like about things, I can tell myself that’s not true, I know it’s not true. I do know it. But it doesn’t change the fact that to the core of my being, I am not worth caring about. That's me, that's how I feel, that's how I've spent most of my life feeling, and that's why I'm not robust, that's why I'm oversensitive, that's why I get so hurt and disappointed when I cautiously trust people and then they let me down, or hurt me, or ignore me. Because it just reinforces that.


      And I’m not writing this for attention, or because I want people to swoop in and shower me with affirming things, because firstly, your words won’t change what’s in my head. And then I’ll have to pretend that you’ve made me feel better when you haven’t, and it’ll get all awkward and you’ll offer to listen if I want to have a chat, and I don’t because there really isn’t any point, but I’ll thank you again, and then we’ll feel a bit uncomfortable, and nothing will have changed. I’m writing this to get it out of my head, where it’s been sitting for a bit too long. I have other, happier, better things to write about. But until this fucker gets fired out there, all’s cheerless, dark, and deadly.