Friday, 27 December 2013

Internal Bleeding - Short Story

     I hermetically sealed my heart when I was 21. A terrible, catastrophic relationship with a narcissistic, vicious older man. One of my university lecturers. I was in love with him – totally, overwhelmingly, head over heels. Hah. Freudian error there. I wrote ‘head over hells’ at first attempt. Truer than I would like to admit.

     It fell apart the day of my graduation. I sought him out in the marquee afterwards, head full of dreams, heart full of hope, that now I was officially A Real Grown Up, no longer under his tutelage, we could present ourselves to the world, no longer a grubby little secret to be concealed. In a few, short, ugly words he quickly disabused me of the notions I had. I was simply one of many, a plaything, to be toyed with, then discarded once I was in a position to be considered something close to an equal.

     It hurt. Of course it did. I was bewildered, and retreated into myself. In the months that followed  I vascillated madly between telling myself I was better off without him, before getting drunk and making tearful, pleading, humiliating phone calls to him. I couldn’t keep up that level of distress forever though, and gradually I came out of the darkness. Oddly, it helped to know I was part of a parade of undergraduates who had been seduced and then thrown aside. It wasn’t me he’d rejected. It was the time I’d reached in my life.

     Nevertheless, I resolved never to become entwined in the strands of someone else ever again. I dated, obviously. Some of them were nice. If I’d not drawn down the blinds over my heart, I could have easily allowed myself to commit to at least one of them. To settle down to a cosy domesticity, two kids, a cat, weekly trips to Sainsbury’s, a fortnight away camping in Wales every summer. No alarms and no surprises. A normal life. But even within my stone cold interior, a little flicker of something else remained. Knowledge that life could be more than that. And maybe that’s why I kept myself aloof, perhaps keeping myself in storage for it.

     And then of course it did happen. It had to. Until then, I could never understand how people could say ‘It just happened.’ Scornfully I would think ‘How? How can anything just happen? You made it happen, you took the decisions, you made your choices. Take some bloody responsibility.’ Harsh, perhaps, but I couldn’t understand how supposedly mature and intelligent people could claim to be swept away by emotion to the point that rationality went on sabbatical.

     But it did just happen. Looking back, it’s impossible to pinpoint the moment where things changed. I can trace the development of it, of course. But there’s no clear crux where things collided. It was an organic development. A few chance meetings at professional events. Helping him out with a few quotes for stories he was working on (he was a journalist, I was working for a PR firm). Exchanging emails. Emails that drifted slowly and imperceptibly from professional to friendly. From friendly to flirtatious. From flirtatious to explicit. With photos.

     Hindsight tells me I could have stopped at any point. Apparently. But at the time I didn’t feel I was capable of putting an end to it. More likely I just didn’t want to. I told myself I was going into it cleareyed, that I knew what I was doing. I told him and myself that I had no claim over him. That this was a purely physical thing, no feelings, no emotional involvement.  I was happy to accept whatever he could spare me. I had no commitments, no one to hurt.

     But he did. He had the cosy domesticity I’d rejected. The wife, the two children, the group of friends they exchanged dinner parties with, the two car insurance policy. They were happy, but it wasn't enough for him. He wasn't going to leave her. I knew it, and accepted it. Uncomplainingly I knew that evenings, weekends and school holidays were off limits, not to expect to hear from him, although sometimes the thrill of a text, sent from his car whilst he waited to pick his daughter up from ballet class, or from the kitchen of his house after everyone else had gone to bed.

     But for the rest of the time, life was full of his stolen moments. His job meant he could claim to be chasing up a story, when in reality he was chasing up the stairs to my flat. We’d have the most passionate and intense sex, then lie wrapped around each other for hours, talking, the lines between a physical fling and a love affair gradually becoming less and less clear. We talked about our work, our lives. Online we shared music, poetry, art. I was less interested in him as a lover, and more as a man. He told me he felt the same. We were heading into dangerous territory.

     Things had changed. Now he did text when he was in the bosom of his family. Throughout every day we exchanged messages. He sneaked away to email me on Christmas Eve, telling me how he thought of me, what he wanted from me. I replied breathlessly. I could see what was happening. I wasn’t in love with him, nor he with me. But I was teetering on the brink of caring about him. He mattered to me. I was missing him.

     Christmas was always hard on my own. No point in dragging a tree three storeys up to my living room. No need for decorations when no one other than he and I would see them. As for special food, pah! Why exhaust myself cooking when I’d only ruin it and end up mindlessly eating a Pot Noodle instead? I was after all, the woman who had once burnt peas (don’t ask). Social media was full of happy families, doing happy Christmas things, and rosy cheeked children opening presents. About as far removed from my life as it was possible to imagine. Normally I’d unplug everything that connected me from the outside world, crack open a pile of books, and dive headfirst into a sea of gin. But this year felt different. If he’d taken the risk of contacting me on Christmas Eve, there would surely be more. Had to be more.

     There was nothing more. I leapt up every time my phone pinged with a new email, text or tweet, frantically stabbing at the screen, heart racing for news from him. It was never him, and I’d subside, feeling foolish. Then I’d tell myself not to be unrealistic, and turn my phone off. Only to put it on again an hour later and to have the audacity to hope that there might be something, then deflate when there wasn’t. I tweeted a few times, hoping he’d see that I was around and respond. I checked his twitter feed, excitement coursing through me when I saw he’d retweeted something. But still nothing to me.

     Despair. Bleak, grey despair. Something wasn’t right, and I didn’t know what. I couldn’t ask him directly. I couldn’t risk him getting behind the façade and seeing that quivering behind the Ice Queen exterior was someone who was tentatively reaching out to him. Instead I got drunk, felt maudlin and listened to music that made me cry. I kept the curtains closed, only going out to buy more gin, then coming home and howling along to John Grant’s GMF:

You think I hate myself, but it’s you I hate
Because you have the nerve to make me feel

     In my own private hell, I entertained my demons, waiting and hoping to be exorcised. Break heart, I prithee, break. A heart that’s broken no longer works, can no longer inflict torment. But a heart that doesn’t love can’t be broken, la tristesse durera.

     And now it’s a year later. I still don’t know what went wrong. I’ll never know what went wrong. Did his wife find out? Did he back off because he knew this was going to end badly? I’ll never know. But I have bruises that won’t heal. And self inflicted wounds always hurt the most.

Work of fiction, obviously. A cheery something for Christmas!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Somewhere Only We Know


     That bloody John Lewis advert is doing my head in. Seriously. It’s given me the mother of all earworms – the original version, not the breathy, which female singer can we get to cover a song for our Christmas advert Lily Allen one – and that song never fails to make me think of one place. Located on a single acre, on the edge of a tiny Fenland village, it’s all just fields now. But I spent half of my first seven years there, and I have very fond memories of it.

     That’s me. The summer of 1982, when I was two years old. We didn’t know the name of the horse, so we just called him ‘Whitey’ (yes, I know, very imaginative). Apparently this would happen every night. My mum would tell me it was time for bed, I’d giggle and run off towards the top of the drive, before being picked up and carried back to the caravan we lived in from April until September.

     Last year, with a few hours to fill before we collected The Blondies from The Out-Laws, Alistair and I drove there. It was a beautiful, crisp December afternoon. Leaving Alistair in the car, I went off for a little walk.

     That’s the entrance. Up a little track, past the cosy looking cottage on the left with a vegetable patch.

     Follow what was once a ‘road’ of sharp stones (the number of times I took chunks out of my knees when I fell over) to the willow tree where I used to play, or sit and read an Enid Blyton book. Always a solitary child.

     Then when I was six, I saw a piece of green and black striped hosepipe at the base of the trunk. I called my sister over to ask her what it was. She told me it was a very, very poisonous snake. I stopped playing under there after that.

     Keep walking. Past where the kitchen & stores used to be. Look across at the square of concrete which once housed a (to my childish eyes) towering barn and six caravans. Every weekend there would be a disco in the barn, and I was allowed to stay up for the first hour of it. International students from all over the world would try to win points with my father by asking me to dance.

     The flatter ground beyond the tufty grass was where the office, TV room and staff accommodation was. There was an oldfashioned telephone system with a buzzer on the wall outside, so if the phone rang when my parents were working in the kitchen, or cleaning rooms, they would hear. I used to think the houses on the far side of the field were hundreds of miles away. The world seems a smaller place now.

     Roman Bank. I wasn’t allowed to walk along it on my own. I had to have either a grown up or one of my siblings with me. Again, to me it seemed terrifyingly high at the time. A vague sense of disappointment now.

     This tree was the boundary marker. I wasn’t allowed to go beyond it on my own. Sometimes gypsies used to camp in the field beyond it. I was fascinated by them, and they were always lovely to me. But my parents weren’t happy about me playing with their children, so the tree boundary rule was enforced. I got around it by sitting next to the tree, and the gypsy girls came and joined me.

     This was the path my brother, sister and I used to take to walk to playgroup/school in the village. Ironically, because we were only around for a few months of the year, the older children thought we were gypsies…

     Then across the Troll Bridge. The dyke is full of water in winter, but in summertime it was dry. Mum used to collect me from playgroup at twelve and we’d walk along the path skirting the school field, and over the bridge. Far too many times, Dad would hide under the bridge and grab my legs as I crossed, making me scream. Ah, sweet innocent terror of childhood!

     And then back up the drive again. Time to go home, back to life as it is now.

     No two year old me. No horse called Whitey. But more than thirty years later, not a lot has changed. The buildings may have gone, but memories remain.

Friday, 13 December 2013

When the Going Gets Tough(ie)

     Being a trembling puddle of no selfconfidence, it’s been an abiding foundation of parenting that I try to equip my children with an inner core of steel. To believe in themselves, to place value upon themselves, to be filled with natural assurance about the world and their place in it. The Boy, despite his quiet and introverted nature, has it. And The Girl definitely has it. Perhaps too much. And then I read this rather lovely post by And then the fun began about the labels we bestow on ourselves and each other, and to beware of doing it too much. Food for thought…

     I know it’s something that all parents say, but The Girl is beautiful. Not just to me as her mother, but by any objective standard. A round face, skin pearlishly toned, a tiny snub nose. Rosebud lips, enormous navy blue eyes, fringed with long, curling black lashes. And to complete the Pears Soap image, a head full of tumbling golden curls (a bloody nightmare to maintain, but that’s by the by. She draws comments from strangers in the street. I’m quite ok with saying she is objectively beautiful because she looks absolutely nothing like me and no one ever thinks I’m her mother.

     But I’m starting to wonder if maybe I’ve told her of her beauty once too often. We were walking home the other day, and a little old lady smiled at The Girl and I. We walked on a few steps and then ‘Why do people smile at me so often?’ The Girl asked, ponderingly. ‘Is it because I am so beautiful?’ Hmm.

     And after we’d put the Christmas tree up last weekend, she stood back to admire our efforts. ‘Wow. Our Christmas tree is beautiful.’ Pause. ‘But it’ll never be as beautiful as me!’ Hmm.

     But it’s not just her physical attributes she’s satisfied with. Since she started school last year, I’ve never had a morning where she’s cried and clung to me. Never. Not once. I’m not boasting about it, just stating it as a fact that has nothing to do with me and anything I've done. The Boy (now nearly nine) still needs gently ushering in every morning with kisses, hugs, declarations of love, sometimes even notes ripped out of my diary, waves through windows etc, but The Girl just skips in without a backward glance. Sometimes I’m the one almost clinging to her. When I went into school in March to have lunch with her, she sat and chatted throughout the meal, then, having finished, took her tray over to the counter and walked out of the hall, to the playground. I had to run after her to say goodbye. The exchange went a little like this:

Me: The Girl! Aren’t you going to say goodbye to me?

The Girl: MUUUUUM! I have to go out to the playground now!

Me: But aren’t you going to say goodbye?

The Girl: MUUUUUUUUUUUUM! You need to go.

Me: [sad tones] Don’t I get a cuddle?

The Girl: [rolls eyes] MUUUUUUUUMMMMM! Go! [makes shooing gesture with hands] GO! [tosses blonde curls over shoulder] C’mon Felix! [takes the hand of her friend and skips off]

Me: Bye darling! Love you! I really enjoyed having lunch with you… [turns and walks slowly off, shoulders drooped]

     Her teachers tell me it’s the same in class. She’ll happily approach anyone else and join in with them, secure in the knowledge that her presence will only be a glorious addition to their day. I can’t remember ever feeling like that in my life, but for her, it’s a permanent state of mind. She believes she’s so fabulous that nothing dents her. Not ever. Not long after starting in Reception I asked her if she’d had a good day? ‘Yep! No one licked mine face today.’ Had someone been licking her face? If she didn’t like someone at school doing something, she should tell them to stop, and if they didn’t she should tell a teacher, your feelings are important, middle class parenting blah blah blah… ‘Nope.’ She snapped. ‘It’s ok. I can sort mine own problems out. Everything’s under control.’ She was four. Four.

     When I had to take her for the usual routine jabs aged three, I’d had a little chat with her about needles and that it might hurt a bit, but not for long. I didn’t want to build it up into A Big Thing, but I didn’t want to spring it on her either (The Boy has a phobia of needles after two meningitis scares and subsequent stays in hospital). We went in to see the nurse, I adopted the position of clamping my arms and legs around every part of her body so she couldn’t move. The nurse mouthed at me that ‘These really do hurt, sorry’, and I gritted my teeth and prepared for screaming. First injection. The Girl didn’t flinch. The nurse mouthed ‘This one’s the worst.’ Second injection. The Girl turned her head to look at the nurse. In tones of withering scorn she asked ‘Was that IT?’. In quivering, stunned tones, I was informed that the nurse had never before given these vaccinations to a child without the child crying. Until now.

     Were it not for the fact that I was present at her (fairly dramatic) entrance into the world, I would seriously start to question if The Girl is in fact a Changeling, left as a replacement by the elves who stole my human child, and gave me this deceptively ethereal looking hard nut with a cackling laugh that could rival that of Sid James. She doesn’t cry very often (usually only when she knows she’s about to get told off, and hoping that tears will soften my parental rebukes), and puts up uncomplainingly when she’s ill, silently furious that she can’t control everything around her. Bumps and bruises are generally shrugged off, ignored even. Her name means ‘delicate’. Never was a child more unsuited to a moniker. As she herself says, ‘I’m a toughie!’

     And then earlier this week, I collected her from school and noticed a grass stain on her dress. Had she fallen over at playtime? ‘Yes.’ Her lip trembled. ‘X pushed me and I felled over. And I cried. Even though I’m a toughie.’ Helpless weeping. Not at the memory of pain. Not at the shock. Not at the realisation that sometimes other children aren't kind. But at the thought that she’d let herself down by crying.

    We’re shelving the toughie label. She’s not anything but herself. Delightful, delicious, delovely.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Happy as a Pig in a Sauna

     I’ll confess. I had been dying to go back to The Pigs for years. We went there for lunch over four years ago, not long after it had opened, when they were still sorting out the loos. Even with that to contend with, I loved it. The food, the children’s playroom, the very relaxed atmosphere, everything. And then of course, having loved it so much first time around, we never quite managed to make a return trip. Either bad timing, lack of funds, other plans… It was just one of those things. So when I had my little brainwave about a trip away, I looked up a few places not too far away from Norwich. Some were nice, some seemed to do good food, but none of them had anything that really made me think ‘Hell, YES.’ And then I discovered that The Pigs now had rooms. And not just any old rooms, oh no. Spa rooms.

     Here’s their website. Here. Gwan, have a look. Lovely, isn’t it? And the spa rooms, oh me, oh my. They had a deal on - £155 for dinner, bed and breakfast. Booked!

     Whatever I was anticipating, the reality was just so much better. A properly decent sized bedroom, an enormous drench shower, thoughtful little touches, like the fresh milk in a fridge in the corridor. And then… Open up the curtains of the room to a conservatory. With a bath at least three feet deep and six feet long. With notches cut out at either end for two people to relax against. And a telly at one end of the bath. And what’s this? Oh, just your own personal sauna. There’s sauna oil in the corridor if you want it. Hang on, let’s open up the doors of the conservatory. Your own little outdoor area, looking out across fields and woodland, complete with sunloungers and a firepit. You can collect logs from the corridor when you stock up on the marshmallows thoughtfully provided in a glass jar.

     It’s fair to say that I squealed. Quite a lot. And Alistair tried to share in my excitement, but mostly he just sniffed up the vats of snot his nose was creating (really starting to get on my wick now, but let’s pretend it’s not annoying, because this is totally the best hotel room EVAH). Totally overcome, I decided that RIGHT NOW, twenty past three on a Thursday afternoon, was the perfect time to have a bath. Unfortunately, I left The Snot Filled One in charge of it, which meant that the water temperature was close to that required to cook pasta by the time it was ready. The Constantly Sniffing Person managed about three seconds in it before announcing, in pained tones, ‘I just don’t feel very well’ and sloping off to lie down on the (in hindsight, ridiculously massive) bed.

     Being a contrary bastard, as I am sometimes wont to be, I stayed in the bath, pink and lightly steaming, listening to 6 music and reading my book, reflecting that on any normal day, I would be trudging slowly home at this time, dragging The Blondies along rainy, leaftrewn streets. This hardened my resolve, and I only got out of the bath once it started to get dark outside. Bouncing into the bedroom I demanded of The Mucus Streaming Person ‘WHAT NOW? WHAT SHALL WE DO?’ He just groaned a bit and looked feeble. I was determined to extract every last moment of fun from our break, so I said (in slightly borderline close to crazy tones)’LET’S GO TO THE PUB!’. He wasn’t up for it.

     But I was. So I took my crochet hook and yarn, ordered a point of zoiderrr and settled into a nice little corner of the pub, no doubt attracting odd glances when I descended into shoulder shaking giggles at the news on North Norfolk Radio that there had been ‘a traffic incident’ outside Briston ‘involving a deer!’. The whole set up was just too Alan Partridge for me, even more so now that I’ve discovered their morning show is called ‘Breakfast with Dick’. I’m not even making that up: ‘Dick wakes you up with great music, the latest travel and fantastic competitions.’ My fist is in my mouth just reading that. Anyway…

     At some point, Alistair decided to rejoin the human race and sat with me for a bit, sighing unhappily to himself (aggravating, but I didn’t let it get to me). And then we retired to our room to get ready for dinner. Because I was still fairly hyper, I decided not just to wear nice things, but to take a full run through my make up bag. I never wear make up, because it’s just courting disaster when you’re as inept as I am. The double take that The Man Who Would Not Just Blow His Bloody Nose did as I emerged made me feel almost pretty. Until he started laughing and said ‘Why have you got lipstick on? You never wear lipstick!’ I smiled sweetly (and probably lipstick on my teethily) and ignored him.

     Dinner. Bloody hell, it was fantastic. When you go to The Pigs, have the potted cheese as a starter. It’s marvellous. And the roast belly of pork. It defeated me in the end, but I relished the battle. I even ate some of the black pudding because the rest of it was so good. Even The Mucus Maker perked up when his burger arrived and he managed to eat it all. Unwisely, he decided he was feeling well enough to attempt to make inroads into a four cheese cheese board. He wasn’t well enough, and nearly suffered a dangerous relapse at the table (he’d ignored my advice that dairy products and a cold do not a happy Alistair make). So, with no thought for my own safety, I had to wade in and polish off the stilton for him.

     We’d sat down to eat at seven, and between our enthusiastic enjoyment of the food and the excellent service, we’d finished all three courses by nine. The Man With The Overproductive Sinuses could take no more. ‘Sorry,’ he honked dispiritedly, ‘I just need to lie down. You can stay in the pub.’ Hmm. Stay in the pub on my own, getting gently sloshed, or bounce along after him to our really rather splendid bedroom, with a very large bed? Room 7 it is.

     I was feeling quite minxy. You can tell from this photo.

     But that face was quickly to change to this face

     When I saw this face

five minutes after we'd got back to our room.

     Leaving me at a dangerously loose end, armed only with my phone. I tried to behave myself. Honestly. I bloody did! I painted my nails. I read my book. I half watched a documentary about Jeremy Bamber. But I was still luxuriating in the thrill of A Night Off, and was, frankly, altogether all too giddy to be sensible and have an early night. So I may have bopped around the conservatory to Camera Obscura. I may have briefly considered having another bath (decided against it). I may have ventured into the sauna for a while, until my face started to melt, like a Nazi at the end of Indiana Jones.

 I thought about setting up the firepit and toasting some marshmallows. But it was raining.

      And then I remembered that the fridge in the corridor, along with the fresh milk, also hosted wine for guests to help themselves to (put your money in the honesty pig on the dresser).  I ducked out of our room in the lovely dressing gown provided, poured out a glass or two, and settled down in bed to watch Question Time, trying quite hard to ignore the droning buzz of the overpopulated nostrils lying next to me.  But at some point, the lure of the duck down pillow and duvet proved too much, and I slept better than I have done for years.

Escape to the Country

     A few weeks ago, Alistair and I had a jaunt. But not any old jaunt, oh no. We actually had a night away from The Blondies. My mum was staying with us, and talk had turned to birthday presents (it’s my misfortune to have a birthday three days before Christmas). I was being my usual helpful self with suggestions – ‘Dunno. Can’t think of anything I want. Umm. Cash?’ – when out of nowhere a thought dropped into my head.

     A night away.

     It was the middle of half term, the house was a tip, The Blondies were being lovely, but seemed permanently hungry and under my feet… A night away. That is exactly what I need. And Alistair too. He’s had all manner of crap to deal with at work lately, not to mention trying to cope with me spectacularly losing the plot for a few weeks. A little break from the daily routine could only be a good thing.

     So we booked a room at The Pigs. And one blustery Thursday morning, having taken The Blondies to school, we set off for North Norfolk, my favourite place in the world. It might not have the dramatic scenery of the Peak District, or the breathtaking vistas of The Lakes. It’s not even as well known as the Norfolk Broads (secret Norfolk insider knowledge – The Broads are actually quite dull, and not many Norfolkers visit them), but it has a quiet, enchanting beauty to it that I adore. Plus, it’s where I spent many happy hours as a child, and that always tends to draw one back to places.

     I say it was blustery. It was a bit more than that. We stopped just outside Sheringham for a walk, and got blown back to the car within three minutes of setting off. Sod it, we decided. Let’s go and sit in a pub for a bit. So we found a pub on the front in Sheringham, Alistair had a pint of shandy and I had a pint of zoiderrrr (something about ordering a pint of Aspall’s never fails to make me break out into a Zummmmerrrrrsett accent). At one point I ventured outside for a cigarette and quickly saw the error of my ways. Just getting the cigarette alight was a major victory. What I hadn’t accounted for was that the wind was now so squally it was able to infiltrate my coat and whip it up over my head – even though it was done up -  along with my skirt so that the (blessedly few) passersby were treated to prolonged views of my underwear. Not to mention that there is nothing, nothing, between North Norfolk and the North Pole, so I was bloody freezing, even without my coat making a break for freedom.

     Sod it, we decided once more. Let’s stay here and have some lunch. And another pint. Or rather, another point of zoiderrr. All very lovely. And then, because we had an hour or so to kill before we could check in at The Pigs, we drove off into the countryside with the intention of completely lost. There is nowhere quite so enchanting to be lost in as rural Norfolk. I know what people like to say about this county – ‘Very flat’. Is it bollocks. In some parts maybe, but not where we were, driving along narrow, twisting country lanes, not another soul in sight, rolling hills and trees decked out in autumnal reds and oranges, me ‘singing’ (caterwauling might be a better description) along to Haim and The National. We drove through villages that even I, a Norfolk native, had never heard of, villages that seemed to have a Brigadoonish quality to them, half glimpsed before being a smudge in the rear view mirror.

     Alistair was uncharacteristically quiet and a bit down in the dumps. Because he had a raging cold which was making him snort up industrial quantities of snot every few seconds (this was getting on my nerves quite a lot). He was also doing that weak eyes, choked voice, and pained face thing that men tend to do when they’re ‘feeling a bit bleurgh’.  I, however, was bouncing off my seat, bopping along in time to the music, giggling and generally feeling marvellous. No school run! No cooking dinner! No refereeing arguments between The Blondies! No torturous bedtime routine! We can legitimately have a late night! No need for a morning alarm clock! Yay!

     And then it was three o’clock. And time for us to arrive at The Pigs.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Adventurous Youth

     Something that’s come up a lot since Ed Balls is people being slightly concerned at my ability to predict the, um, activities of people I’ve never met. To which I can only reply ‘Adventurous youth.’ I may have been with Alistair for over fourteen years, since we were both teenagers, but before we got together, I pretty much got a lifetime’s worth of handling the opposite sex out of my system. And for the most part, I seem to have unfortunately encountered an awful lot of blokes who really just don’t get it.

     So, as an act of selfless public service, I’m going to pass on some tips to the males of our species on what not to do. Some happened to me, some to friends, but trust me, they all happened. Learn from our suffering so that it does not happen again.

     If you’ve been seeing a girl for a few months, and you’re planning on travelling to Central America for four months (without her, obviously), it’s a good idea to tell her before you book your ticket. And not let her find out your plans when she takes a message from your travel agent. And during the four months that you’re away, it might also be a good idea to keep in touch. The odd postcard or letter, say. But don’t turn up on her doorstep after no contact in four months, expecting everything to be as it was before you left. It won’t be, and she won’t be delighted to see you.

     Unless it’s something the two of you decide on together, don’t dress up in her clothes. And keep wearing them when you’re doing something fairly mundane, like watching a film. She may emit a gay trill of laughter when you first waft down the stairs towards her, but after five minutes of this, she will be thinking ‘Please take my dress off, please. It’s one of my favourites. And I’m not too happy about you wearing my stockings either. I feel deeply uncomfortable in this situation, especially because you seem deeply comfortable.’

     Don’t agree with her when she says she dislikes something about her physical appearance. If, for example, she says she’s never liked her hands because her fingers are too short and stubby, for the love of god, do not pick up her hand, examine it and then say ‘Yee-aah, they are a bit baggy, aren’t they?’

     Don’t tell her you fancy other girls. The following is an exchange that took place between an unnamed teenage girl (let’s call her ‘L’) and her then beau (let’s call him ‘T’). T has just told L that he thinks the girlfriend of a mutual friend is ‘massively sexy’ and he once had a wank over her.

     L: I really didn’t need to know that.
     T: It’s true though. She is really sexy.
     L shrinks away inside herself, feeling hugely unsexy and vulnerable, being, as she is, in a state of undress.
     T: It’s just a male thing. All blokes think about having sex with women they met, every woman.
     L [faintly]: Every bloke does it?
     T: Yeah! Of course we do! Any bloke who says he doesn't wonder what it would be like to have sex with you is lying. Trust me.
     L: Every woman? Like, every woman?
     T: Yes! I’ve thought about what it would be like to have sex with your mum. And your sister. And your friends. And that friend of yours that I hang out with quite a lot when you're not around.
     L [even more faintly than before]: I think I’ll go home now.
     T: What? Was it something I said?

     Don’t buy underwear for her, unless she is with you. If you buy it in too small a size, she will feel fat. If you buy it in too big a size, she will think you see her as fat. Even if you have her exact measurements, sizing varies between shops. An M&S size 10 is not the same as a Topshop size 10. And that’s even before we get to the design of it.

     If you’re going to commit the toe-curlingly awful atrocity that is writing poetry for her, then make it about love. Rhyme June with moon. Love with above. Do not, and I cannot emphasise this enough, DO NOT write terribly pretentious non-rhyming, non scanning drivel about the state of the world. Someone did this for me when I was sixteen and the words still BURRRRNNNN in my head.

     There amid the grotesqueries of hallucinacia
     Must lie a truth of some sorts.
     To bestride the wasteland of the ruined cities
     And the raped jungles…

     Two pages of A4 that cannot be unseen. And cannot be forgotten either (although it did make my friends and I cry with laughter until we all felt sick). And please don’t give her your fiction to read either. It might be brilliant. But it’s probably terrible, and will change how she thinks of you (and make her hate you a little for making her read it in your bedroom, whilst you stare at her, waiting for her reaction).

     It’s better to jizz in your pants than to be a Feathery Stroker. No one like a Feathery Stroker. Seriously, it’s really bloody annoying to be in contact with one. A Feathery Stroker is someone who seems to think they are being massively considerate and in touch with their partner by doing lots of feathery, not entirely felt, little touches along the spine, or gently rubbing  a finger up and down the inside of an arm, or placing light little kisses on the collarbone. A bit of feathery strokiness can be appreciated at times. But if it goes on longer than ten minutes, it just becomes really, really irritiating, and may cause your partner to snap ‘Oh just fucking GRAB me, will you?’ It’s hard to feel desired when someone seems able to control themselves to such a degree that all they can do is stroke you feathery style (it also makes them think that you don't fancy them all that much, if you need quite so much time to get in the mood).

     Don’t comment on another man’s tackle. Really, just don’t. If you’ve only been going out with a girl for a week, and she’s up in your bedroom for the first time, don’t point out the poster of a singer and say ‘I love those trousers he’s wearing. Plus they make his bollocks look HUGE.’ She might laugh weakly and point at another poster to avoid answering, but in reality she’s thinking ‘Well, I think this could be a mistake.’ and plotting how to dump you. Especially when…

     …You used to go out with her friend, and you made exactly the same comment to her friend in similar circumstances. Because, and trust me on this, when it all goes tits up between you two, she and her friend will compare notes on things you said and did, such as, but not limited to:

  • Comments you have made on the size of another man’s testicles.
  • The way the bottom half of your face used to go slack when you leaned in for a snog.
  • The number of sexual partners you claim to have had (if applicable)
  • The circumstances under which you lost your virginity (if applicable)
  • How badly you took it when she dumped you.
  • Cringy poems you wrote for her (especially if you used the phrase ‘grotesqueries of hallucinacia’)

     Don’t break up with her via a typed letter. Seriously. This happened to a friend of mine, and the crowning insult was that he signed off with ‘Best wishes’ and then signed his name with a green biro.

     Don’t make inappropriate comments during intimate moments. By which I mean, don’t squeal ‘Jiney!’, or comment that ‘I think my right hand got callouses when you were away’ or say ‘If I had one of these, I’d never leave the house!’. That last one took quite a lot of hard swallowing and blinking to try to forget, thanks to my overactive imagination (I mean, seriously? Did you really want me to imagine you, a currently naked male with… Yeah. It’s been many years, but still I shudder when I remember).

     Don’t ‘forget’ to tell her you’re getting married. Yes, that did really happen. I saw him on Friday night, he said he was going into town the following morning to ‘sort out some visa paperwork’. This ‘paperwork’ was him marrying his best female friend. I found out via gossip at lunchtime, so gave our usual meetup a miss. He arrived at my door. Why was I not where I said I’d be? ‘Sorry. I don’t date married men.’ I wish I’d taken a photo of his face, because it was the very definition of horror.

     Don't make a huge declaration of love to your intended when you are drunk/a bit obsessed. It will not end well. It could quite possibly end up like the chap from the Balkans (whom I viewed as a friend) who appeared at my door late one night, totally off his tits and proceeded to tell me 'I love you, I don't love you, I don't want to fuck you, I don't, oh god, I want to fuck with you, I really do, I don't, I love you, you fucking bitch, please let me fuck you...' for about ten minutes. Or the friend I had at school who loved me sadly from afar. Until Valentines Day 1995, when he threw caution to the winds and sent me a card he'd made, which consisted of an arty photo of my face with an actual razor blade glued to it, and a message:

     Find you
     Fall for you
     Love you
     Scare you
     Hurt you
     Leave you
     Kill for you
     Forget you.

     It could not have been more awkward, as he delivered it, rang the doorbell, then hid. Five minutes later, he turned up on my doorstep. Had I got any Valentines cards? Perhaps from my then boyfriend? oh! That card looks interesting! Who could have sent it? I was alone in the house with him, and it's fair to say I was quaking slightly. Funnily enough, I didn't wrap my arms around his neck and croon 'I second that emotion!'

     And finally, don’t be a twat. Seriously. 100% of break ups are caused by twattishness. In some cases, your beloved might have the patience of a saint, the wisdom of Solomon and the allround jolly good eggness of Claire Balding. But combine any two of the above examples, and she might start to view you less than benignly. Add another or two from the list, and frankly, you deserve to be mocked several years in the future by the girl who endured your twattishness, and now has a blog. So yeah. Don’t be a twat.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Design for Life

     Well that's today's earworm sorted. Incidentally, when that song came out in the spring of 1996, I loved it so much that I straight away bought the cassette single and played it on repeat for a whole weekend. My parents were away, so I had the house to myself and blasted it from my second floor bedroom for hours. The only thing that stopped me playing it was the fact that I blew the speakers on my stereo on the Sunday evening because I'd been playing it at ever increasing volume for far too long. That took some explaining when my parents returned.

     I tend not to have rules to live by, I’m not that well organised. But there are certain guidelines that have served me well over the years (and days, some of these are fairly fresh discoveries), and I thought they might come in handy for other people too.

     Anyone who requests that they want ‘The End’ by The Doors played at their funeral is so tediously unimaginative and selfimportant that their corpse should be reanimated, just so I can flick their ear really, really hard, before allowing them to be dead once more.

     Anything that is described as ‘classy’ automatically ceases to be so.

     Thermal underwear is the work of angels and in a British winter, will improve your quality of life by an immeasurable amount.

     Soundtrack your life. And now I come to think of it, play the Rocky theme tune at my funeral.

     If you have ever written ‘could/should/would of’, please do fuck off right now. It’s HAVE.

     Always carry a paper and pen.

     If you have children you will exist in a permanent state of fear and selfloathing. This is normal. As is The Guilt. But there are downsides to having children too.

     Dance to the music.

     There is only one good thing about Autumn, and that is trying to catch falling leaves before they hit the ground. Try it. It’s really bloody hard, but also far too much fun for something that is free and doesn’t make you feel like shit the following day.

     ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ on facebook are suggestions, not commands.

     Take the tablet, apply the cream, pour the wine. And then drink the wine, obviously. It's not going to do anyone any favours to stare at a glass of wine for days at a time. And if it's white wine, for the love of grapes, chill it properly. Warm white wine makes me feel sick (bad teenage memory).

     There’s always one.

      Look around you. Notice things. Observe people. You will learn more from opening your eyes that you ever will from any book, song or film.

     One word alone can arouse the urge to kill, bring down governments, and set fire to the world. One word. Most dangerous from the mouths of toddlers. A single word. ‘Why?’

     Look at the night sky and watch the stars. Realise that you are simultaneously both the least insignificant thing in the world, and the most important.

     Go for walks in the woods. And if some bloke, covered head to foot in black clothes, including a black scarf wrapped around his face, leaps out of the undergrowth, shouts something incomprehensible, and begins marching towards you, and you're on your own, in the deepest part of the woods, your mobile has no signal, and this man is still shouting and marching towards you, and you haven't seen anyone else for at least twenty minutes and you're terrified and thinking about all the women who've been murdered by strangers out in the countryside, and you want to run away in the other direction, but you're worried that doing so will provoke this strange man dressed all in black, with his face completely covered, into chasing after you and attacking you, so you don't run, but your body courses with adrenaline and you have to force yourself to walk past him on the path, trying not to look at him, maybe he hasn't seen me, maybe with that scarf over his eyes, he can't see me, I'll be really quiet, he doesn't seem to be looking at me, I can get away, I know the quickest route back to open countryside, okay, I'm past him, go down into that path there, oh shit, there are noises behind me, I'm going to have to run, JESUS CHRIST there he is, he's following me, he's coming after me, he just shouted something again, oh god, I'm going to die, he's going to kill me, and every muscle in your body goes into flight mode and you run, run like you haven't run since you were a child, fear adding wings to your feet, and you're shaking, your breath coming in ragged little gasps, your lungs are bursting and finally you're out into the open and you grab your phone, and you bump into a woman and tell her not to go into the woods because there's a man in there who followed you and she looks worried.

     And then she laughs. And explains it's a game played by people from Aylmerton Field Study Centre.

     Should you find yourself in that situation, please do remember that you have my blessing to tell her to fuck off with the laughing.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Your Life is About to Get So Much Better

     I saw my GP yesterday. Not a major appointment, just a review six weeks after she suggested we double my dose of Escitalopram because I clearly wasn’t coping with life. We had a really good talk about depression, counselling, and the stigma attached to depression. She’s trying to organise some sessions with medical students where they can talk to people who have mental health problems and I said I’d be more than happy to participate.

     Then, as I was leaving, she said ‘You seem like a completely different person from the one I saw last month. You’re glowing!’

     And it’s true. I am. Because I have discovered how to make each day of your life seem motivational and empowering. Montage.

     It started out as a joke. My mum was staying with us for a couple of weeks, from when I was really very low until last weekend by which time I was much better. During a conversation with her, I said ‘No! I’m not putting up with that!’ To which she said ‘Just look at you! How you’re standing!’ And I was standing, feet placed apart, fists on hips, shoulders squared, ready to take on the world. I felt strong enough to handle anything. Mum started humming the theme music to Rocky, I joined in, adding a slow motion jog on the spot, and an earworm was born.

     The Rocky music has since been permanently in my head, soundtracking everything I do. So yesterday, when I was striding home after seeing Dr H, it was playing in my head and I was giggling to myself as a result, thinking that this would be the climactic scene in a film where our heroine throws off all that is holding her back to the backing of  a swelling orchestral theme. Then Alistair came home for lunch, and mentioned in passing that he would be working on Saturday.

     And an unholy bastard lovechild was spawned.

     For some reason, I could not stop imagining little ten second snippets of Alistair at work, accompanied by the Rocky theme tune. Typing away at his computer. Making phone calls. Holding a clipboard. Pointing at something. Walking down a corridor. Making coffee. Putting on a hi-vis jacket and hard hat. Arguing with his boss. All with that song playing in the background. I tried to explain it to him, but all I got in response was a very worried look and ‘Do you think maybe they should lower your dose of antidepressants?’

     And after that, I couldn’t stop it. Everything I did became part of a montage. Doing the washing up wasn’t me dispiritedly swiping at a saucepan for ten minutes, but a ten second  flurry of scrubbing instead. Tramping down the long, damp and leafstrewn streets for the fifteen minute walk to school was transformed into a quick flash of me marching along, head held high. Taking The Girl to the park whilst we waited for The Boy to finish cross country training was no longer me being frozen to my very marrow, resignedly pushing her on the swings, and yearning for a cigarette. No, it was a burst of me putting all my energy into making the swing fly up higher, and The Girl throwing her head of blonde curls back and hooting with laughter. It made the whole day seem amazing and uplifting. Seriously.

     I tried explaining it again to Alistair when he came home from work, including speaksinging his actions to the tune of Rocky. ‘Coming home, getting changed, opening a beer, having a fag. Getting sandpaper, ready to paint the stairhehhehhehhairs!’ He still didn’t get it. So I tried again, but this time with the theme from The A-Team. And then he totally got it. Totally. And from then on, everything he did was with a greater sense of purpose and fulfilment.

     So clearly, it does work. You just have to have the right music to set your montage to. Alistair suggested Eye of the Tiger, which I’m unsure of. Partly because I am already prone to earworms and worry that if I invite them in once, they are like vampires and will take up residence in my mind forever. But also because it has words in it, which is best avoided.

      There’s also the Knight Rider theme tune, which really doesn’t work for me. It’s not slowbuilding enough. The thing with Rocky is that it’s much slower than you remember, which is all the better for building up our little friend Maureen Mentum. But then I think Mission Impossible probably could work for some people. It doesn’t do it for me, because it just makes me think of Tom Cruise and shudder a little.

     Beverly Hills Cop? Hmm. Has potential. Star Wars Theme doesn’t work for me, but The Imperial March does, especially if, like me, your day involves a lot of walking (minimum of six miles a day). A really good one I’ve discovered this morning is the Indiana Jones music.

     Try it. Seriously. Stick the cinematic soundtrack of your choice on whilst you arse about on the internet, and suddenly you’re not wasting three hours of your day laughing at videos of people falling over. You are kickarsily spending ten seconds frowning at a computer screen in a way that seems massively important and meaningful. And when you make that fourth cup of coffee, it doesn’t take three minutes whilst you gaze into the middle distance, thinking about that ingrowing hair, waiting for the kettle to boil. No. It’s just a clip of you taking a swig from a steaming cup of caffeine. Trudging around Sainsbury’s isn’t an hour of your life wasted, it’s just ten seconds of you striding down the aisle, your trolley like a chariot in front of you.

     And if you have any suggestions for any other pieces of music to montage your life to, then please do let me know. And it works best if you speak-sing your actions to the music, thusly (to the tune of Rocky): Put kettle on, grab a mug. Pick up spoon, open jar. Put coffee in mug, pour the water overherherherherherHER!

     No need to thank me. It’s just what I do.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Warning for you, yes, you.

     I know you read this.

     I know that, because as I’ve said before, blogs collect an awful lot of information about you when you visit them. So I see when you read it, what you’ve read, how long you spend reading it.

      We’re not talking right now. No, that’s not true. We had a difficult series of exchanges, then we were keeping a wary distance from one another for a while, then you cracked, about thirty seconds before I did.
But now you’ve withdrawn totally. And I’m here to tell you I’m not putting up with that.

     I’ve realised something about myself over the last few weeks. When bad stuff happens, I have a meltdown. I cry, I rant, I throw all sorts of unwise and untrue words up on here, I self-harm, I rage against the world. Then I have a few days of self-pity, before coming out the other side, stronger and more kickarse than I ever was before. If I have a few more really shit things happen to me, then I’ll probably develop a skin of stainless steel and never get damaged again. But it’s not like that for you, is it?

     You internalise everything. I don’t know, can’t know, what’s going on in your head. But I do know, as an outsider, as someone who cares deeply about you, that your life right now seems to be an unrelenting, joyless and flattened way to exist. It’s not your fault. There’s just stuff going on that no one seems to want to confront or change. And that makes me angry. And I’m not putting up with that.

     Because you’re better than that. You are one of the best people I have ever known. You are beautiful, gentle and true. You have so many friends who would be shocked to know what’s going on in your head, who would step in and help out in any way that they could, because you mean so much to them.

     But I understand that you can’t right now, because of how small and helpless you feel. Reaching out is the last thing you feel capable of doing. But right now, I am kickarse. And I can’t stand by and see you sink. That’s what I accused you of doing, and you kind of did, but now I understand why. I thought you were feeling better than you are, so that’s why it hurt. I didn’t know what else you were struggling with when things went tits up between us.

     So this is a warning. I am coming for you, I will chase you down, I will not let you escape my crosshairs. Because you mean so much to me, I will not stand by. I will do everything I can to help you and stop you feeling like this. You don’t deserve this, and you need someone to grab you by the elbows and pull you out of this pit. Luckily for you, I am in a Rocky state of mind, and I am coming after your (not as peachy as mine) arse. My feet are planted apart and pointing outwards. My fists are on my hips. So nur. I'm coming for you.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

We Were Going Out to Dinner

     Mumsnet Bloggers' Network are currently running a competition to win some books. Lot of books. Bookilly, wookilly lots of books. Taking our cue from Lionel Shriver's favourite first line 'We were going out to dinner.', we have to blog something. Anything, just use that first line as our starting point. Here's my attempt.

    We were going out to dinner.


     Bloody facebook.

     I don't know about you, but I don't often hear people say 'Facebook has caused me no end of joy' or 'Facebook has made my life so much less complicated' or 'Do you know, I've never had any problems arise as a result of facebook.'

     My anger with facebook is more than simple annoyance at 'u ok hun lol x' and 'Like and share if you wish bad things didn't happen'. Facebook ended my marriage.

     After two years of long hours, networking and seriously hard work, my husband Nick had been nominated for an award. And not just any award either, an ‘Excellence in Innovation’ award at the regional tourism organisation’s annual ball. I was just a lowly mobile bookkeeper, but apparently being married to a genius like Nick meant that I was allowed to tag along for the evening too, and wear a posh frock.

     I’d got home from work later than I’d planned, tired and sweaty after a panicked drive home in the rain, stopping to pick Serena up from her friend’s house. The friend’s mum cheerfully told me that she hadn’t given Serena any dinner ‘because they were playing so nicely, I didn’t want to interrupt them.’ I seethed inwardly, thanked her for her hospitality, drove home, made beans on toast for Serena’s dinner and let her eat it in front of CBeebies so I could dash upstairs and have a shower. I was frantically drying my hair in front of the mirror when the front door slammed and Nick came upstairs.

     ‘You’re not ready? Jesus, Polly, you know we have to be there for half seven! What have you been doing?’ He shrugged off his suit jacket and began unbuttoning his shirt, becoming annoyed when he realised he’d forgotten to take his tie off first. ‘This evening is so important to me, I can’t believe you’d jeopardise it by not getting ready in time. You’re just piling more pressure on me, you do realise that, don’t you? I don’t need this, not tonight.’

     ‘I’m sorry.’ I said, rummaging in the drawer, looking for a new pair of tights. ‘I had to finish up in the office, and then collect Serena. I thought I’d left enough time, but the traffic was bloody awful, and then I had to make dinner…’

     ‘That’s just a list of excuses.’ Nick kept his back to me as he got dressed. ‘If you really cared about this, and how important it is to me, you’d have made sure you had enough time.’

     ‘I am sorry, I really am!’ I risked putting a conciliatory hand on his shoulder. ‘Honestly, I do understand how important this is for you, and I want to support you.’

     ‘You can start by getting ready.’ Nick kissed my hand to show that he knew he’d been unreasonable, and smiled, slightly shamefacedly. ‘You look beautiful, Pol. I’m going to be the envy of all the other blokes there.’

     I skipped downstairs to grab my evening handbag, and check on Serena, who’d turned off the telly and was playing with her Disney Princess dolls. My heart swelled as I watched her, her face scowling ferociously as she concentrated on whatever story she was acting out with them. Oh, to be five again and be able to lose yourself so wholly in make believe. ‘Sally will be here in ten minutes, darling. Are you going to get your pyjamas on now?’ Serena ignored me, as she tends to do when asked a question that isn’t to her liking. I carried on down the hall, putting my earrings in, hooking my high heels on, and rummaging through my work bag (sturdy, plain, indestructible) for the essentials to transfer to my evening bag (sparkly, pretty, impractical).

     The flashing of the answerphone caught my eye. Strange. Someone must have phoned when I was in the shower. I hit play, and a breathless, squeaky female voice filled my ears.

     ‘Hi Polly, it’s Sally. Um, I’m really sorry and everything, but I can’t babysit toni…’

     Shit. Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. This wasn’t the first time Sally had let us down – she’d done it only a few weeks previously – but it would definitely be the last, I vowed. Nick is going to go absolutely batshit.

     ‘Did we have a message? Is everything ok?’ Nick leant over the bannisters, his short blond hair neatly parted, his blue eyes sparkling.

     ‘Sally.’ I gave him The Look. The Look that said yes, I know. And we have no back up plan for tonight. No one else we can call. No favours we are owed.  Briefly, I considered taking Serena with us to the awards ceremony, and immediately dismissed the idea. ‘You’re going to have to go on your own.’

     ‘Shit.’ Nick took a deep breath. ‘There’s no one else, is there? Of course not.’ He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. ‘I’ll have to. Bugger. I need to get going now, then.’

     ‘I wish I could come.’ I felt terrible, seeing his shoulders slump with disappointment. ‘If I can get hold of anyone else, I could join you later?’ I knew there was no one else to get hold of, but saying it made me feel better.

     ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’ll ring you when I get there.’ Nick kissed me on the cheek and was gone.

     After I’d put Serena to bed, I took off my slinky dress, put my pyjamas on and took a packet of pink wafer biscuits into the family room to scoff whilst I wasted another evening on facebook. The contrast between another evening spent like this and the glamorous, sophisticated evening I should be having could not have been greater. My computer pinged with a notification. And another. And another. Nick had been tagged in some photos people were uploading from the awards ceremony. God, he looked gorgeous, eyes crinkled as he smiled at the camera, white teeth flashing. I clicked through the album, smiling as I saw how handsome he looked, especially compared to the pudgy and pasty local businessmen, in their double breasted jackets with brass buttons. Then I stopped smiling. Who was this woman with a proprietorial arm draped around Nick’s shoulder?

     There she was again, a hand on his chest. And again. Holding his hand? Wait, kissing him? Nick in the background of a photo, his tongue down this woman’s throat? A text message on my phone. Nick. He hadn’t won, but he was drunk. Too drunk to risk driving, and there were no taxis, so he’d stay at the hotel.
A wave of cold came over me. I stared at the screen, feeling as though my world had frozen around me, incapable of thinking, moving, responding. 

     I don't know how long I sat there, but one moment I was chilled to the bone, the next I was quietly and utterly filled with poisonous, burning fury. I channelled it, and I got to work. Systematically, I went through Nick’s facebook account, twitter account, his email addresses. Private messages, photos, plans for various rendezvous, checklists, notes on other women. I checked my diary against the dates, and every overnight business stay corresponded neatly with flurries of activity between my husband and other women.

     I thought again and again of all the cancelled trains, the meetings that went on too long, the conferences that had such early starts that he'd needed to stay the night before. Was any of it true? Any of it? Or had it all been a convenient smokescreen for his other activities? Clearly, he was more of a genius than even I had realised, managing to build up his business and conduct all these affairs at the same time, I thought bitterly.

     How could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so blind? I hadn’t had a glimmer of a scintilla of an inkling that my husband had been sleeping with all of these other women. Was it my fault? Was I such a terrible wife that he needed to seek solace from somewhere else? Had I not supported him? Why wasn’t I good enough? Why wasn't I simply enough?

     I packed his bag for him, left it outside the front door, and called a locksmith. Only after the locks had been changed did I make the call I’d been needing to make since last night, to my best friend Tom.

     ‘I need you to come over.’

     In my kitchen, coffee pot filled to the brim, pink wafer biscuits to hand, ‘Christ, Polly, you look terrible.  What is it? Are you ill?’ Tom’s face was bewildered and full of concern.

     I took a shaky breath and wondered where to start. How to tell someone that your entire life has shattered in every direction? That your world has fallen apart? Where to begin?

     ‘We were going out to dinner.’

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Blogfest 1

     I’m calling this BlogFest 1 because frankly, yesterday was so amazing and thought provoking that ideas are just spilling out of me to the point that I’ve had to start writing them down because I don’t want to forget anything, and I know I’ll be writing more about it soon.

     The absolute standout highlight for me was the afternoon session ‘Cracking yarns and tall tales: how to tell a better story’, chaired by Sarah Crown with a panel  that featured Lionel Shriver, AL Kennedy, Cassandra Parkin and Rosie Fiore. Four incredibly talented and diverse female writers who have a wealth of experience and knowledge that they shared with us, informatively and at times, hilariously.

     AL Kennedy said on the importance of writing a strong beginning to your work ‘What you’re doing is establishing trust between yourself and the reader. You’re saying ‘We’re going to start here. Come along with me (she mimed holding hands), it’s fine.’ Then gave a creepy, disturbing smile and raised eyebrow to the audience that made me howl.

     But mostly it was about finding your voice, about building a bond with your reader, about really caring about and believing in what you’re saying, what you want to express, in whatever form you are writing in – a novel, a blog, an email, even just a tweet. It’s about that connection that you are creating when (hopefully) someone reads your words. Words have power (as we saw demonstrated later on during the ‘Mummy Blogger vs Feminism’ debacle – short recap: Feminist said you can’t be a mummy blogger and a feminist, uproar, a panellist talked about a personal decision, more uproar, heckling from the audience, explanation from the stage, more uproar, surge of anger, more heckling,  Mumsnet break the glass and release the emergency Jo Brand).

     And then AL Kennedy absolutely nailed it. Talking about books, she made the point that ‘Your words might be company for someone in a very dark place, no matter how trivial they are.’ Then talking about totalitarian regimes, she went on ‘They burn books, not shoes, because shoes don’t save lives.’ And I wanted to jump up and down and scream ‘YES! That’s it, EXACTLY!’. When I tried to kill myself nearly four years ago, I was in the middle of reading ‘Saving Grace’ by Ciara Geraghty. And even as I shovelled pills down my gullet, I can remember feeling pissed off that I hadn’t finished reading it before my demise. Not because it’s an especially profound book, but because it was so well written I was head over heels in love with it, and wanted to know what happened next. Of course I didn’t die, and I finished reading the book, so there’s a happy ending right there.

     So of course, that got me thinking about writing (for a change). And why I write this blog. I said last week that writing is my therapy, that it’s a way of releasing whatever’s stuck in my head. It’s more than that though.

      Later in the day, I was chatting to bloggers who make money, serious money, from their blogs because they write reviews for various companies, they have adverts, they host content. I felt a bit awkward when they asked me why I don’t have adverts on here, because I didn’t want to seem as though I thought myself somehow superior for not doing so (I don’t, I just don’t want adverts on here). I just sort of mumbled something about not really writing stuff that would attract advertisers.

     And then I had a bit of an epiphany later on when I was chatting to a woman during a fag break.  She said she didn’t host adverts either, because she blogs in much the same way as I do. Then it hit me. This blog for me, is about readership. I just want to be read, to have my voice heard. To maybe make a difference to the way people think about things, or to develop conversation with people. I’m not writing this to make money. Other people are, and that’s great. One woman I spoke to is a single mum with a young child, and for her, blogging provides for the pair of them, she can do it from home, bring up her son, and make money from it. If you can do that, then why the hell not? And obviously if anyone does want to throw money at me, my paypal account is….

     But this is all about my words, finding people who want to read them, and hopefully us getting to know each other better. This has been an incredible year for me, all because of writing. There have been some really terrible low points in it, but the highs have made it worthwhile. And the biggest difference in it has been what Mumsnet Bloggers Network have done for me in terms of getting this out there, and read, and my voice heard. Not only that, but yesterday. Yesterday, bloody hell. Blogfest was beautiful, wonderful, empowering, infuriating, inspiring and completely surreal. To actually meet so many fellow bloggers and rejoice in the glory of blogging was pretty much transformational. But I do have one regret.

     At lunchtime, I was at the bottom of the stairs, on my way up to outside and a sneaky fag break. Coming down the stairs was Kate Williams, one of the Mumsnet Bloggers team, and an absolute star. We exchanged smiles (hers radiant and warming, mine shy and starstruck) and passed each other. I really wish I’d found the courage to thank her in person.  Because if I didn’t have this blog, if I didn’t have the marvellous tweeps, if the Mumsnet Bloggers hadn’t been such a brilliant support to me, then I would have missed out on blogfest. And I would have missed out on possibly the best day of my life*.

*Usual birth of children etc disclaimer applies.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

As Crafty as They Come

     Today was Reading Café at The Girl’s school. Reading Café? It’s a chance for parents to go into the school for the last hour of the day, do a bit of reading, then make something with their child. The idea is to improve communication between parent and child by getting them to work together on the project.

     So I turned up (damp and short-sighted, my glasses had misted up in the rain), collected The Girl from her classroom then made my way to the school hall. We read to each other, then a teacher read Funnybones to all of us. Every child loves Funnybones, don’t they? Well, every child in this household at least. I dreamily look back on those days when The Boy used to demand I read it over and over again when he was three. Over and over again. Over. And. Over. Again.  Every day. Every. Day. For months. I didn’t even need to look at the book by the end of it, it was like the mantra of a cult that had brainwashed me into the worship of bones. And The Girl! The Girl still loves Funnybones now that she’s five. I am doing everything I can to hasten her reading skills so she can curl up with a book, any book, any book at all, perhaps that one with the yellow border, all by herself.

     This particular teacher was obviously a frustrated performer, because she managed to spin out her rendition of the book to a good twenty-five minutes. Yes, twenty-five minutes. Twenty five minutes. Of. Funnybones. I was sitting in an especially exposed position, so I had no way of discreetly distracting myself from the inept assembly of a skeleton dog by arsing about on twitter. Instead, I let the words wash over me like a grey wave of torture.

     All resistance beaten out of me, it was time to move onto the Craft Project. No, sorry, that’s not quite right. It’s the ‘FUN Craft Project’. FUN. FUN Craft Project.

     I absolutely fucking hate craft.

     I’m crap at it, it takes forever to set up and do, the thing you’re trying to make always comes out wrong and not at all as you expected it to, and then after all that faff, you have to tidy everything away and clean up. Except that stuff involved in your crafting will have scattered itself to all four corners of the house, and for months afterwards you’ll still be finding sequins every time you sweep the kitchen floor, or weird little pools of glitter next to the bathroom sink. Every time I move a large piece of furniture in the house I find at least two beads, a piece of painted pasta and Prittstick lid behind them.

     Everything involved in craft is designed to aggravate and irk me. Every time I buy The Blondies a magazine (Moshi Monters for him, Sparkly Pink Tat for her) there is always a craft project involved in it somewhere, and despite knowing my very firm views on the subject, they pester me to help them assemble something. I start by saying no, then’ I’m not really very good at this sort of thing’, a feeble plea of ‘Wouldn’t it be better to do this kind of thing with Daddy?’, and before I know it, it’s two hours later, I have smears of glue on my forehead, glitter coating my hands and a very wobbly and precarious looking Princess carousel made from the glossy pages of the magazine. I take one step back, panting slightly, one corner sags, the front peels off, the whole fucking thing falls apart, and I get The Rage.

     I do everything possible to avoid craft. But it’s part of the Reading Café thing, and The Girl was excited about it. Also, I reasoned to myself, if it does go as spectacularly tits up as every previous attempt at craft, I can just say that The Girl did it ‘all by herself’ and absolve myself of any responsibility and involvement.
I ended up working on a table with another mum and her daughter whom I’d seen around, but never really spoken to. The little girl had the same name as me, so it sounded a bit like her mum was cheering me on the whole time 'That's great Lucy! Well done Lucy!'. The other mum mouthed at me, perfectly deadpan ‘I hate craft’.

     Ahh, a soulmate.

     Oh god, it was terrible. We had to make a Funnybones skeleton thingy by cutting out various drawings of bones, then put them together with little matchstick sized bits of wood and sellotape. I can’t even use scissors to cut along a straight line, so little detailed things like fingers are best avoided. The Girl was having a logic bypass and kept insisting on sticking sellotape on the bits that didn’t need it, and my namesake swapped the ribcage and pelvis of her skeleton around, so he either had a bowtie on or very pert breasts (depending on the purity of your thoughts). The other mum clearly had her alibi already established, and was constantly solicitously getting drinks for the other parents at the table, a drink for her daughter, offering her chair to others, so that when the monstrosity of the FUN craft project was unveiled, she could deflect blame and legal responsibility entirely on to her daughter. Of course, the other parent at the table had managed to make all three figures of the skeletons (the big skeleton, the little skeleton and the dog) and his daughter was happily colouring them in before we’d even worked out what all the bones were on the one single skeleton we were wrestling with.

     And finally, the end result.

     I fucking hate CRAFT.