Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Mummy's Little Princess

     A few weeks ago I told you about The Boy aka The 8 year old, and said I would induct you into the mysteries of The Girl aka The 5 year old aka The Nutter formerly known as The 4 year old.

     Blimey Charlie, where do I start with that one?

     Let's kick off with her birth. Her 43 minute advance notice of impending arrival that culminated with a naked me lying on the bathroom floor telling a paramedic to 'Stop fucking shouting at me! You're not helping!' as The Girl made her debut, umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, blue, floppy, unresponsive. The first words she heard were 'Oh, bollocks. Breathe! Come on, breathe.', before she and I were whisked off in the ambulance, siren wailing, blue lights flashing, to be pronounced healthy and normal at the hospital.

     Despite the drama, for the first twelve months of her life, she was a quiet, content little being with straight black hair. And then, shortly after her first birthday, something happened. Her hair lightened and became a mass of golden ringlets. And The Voice arrived. The Voice. I thought I had a set of lungs on me. Oh dearie me, The Voice. Accompanied by the force of nature that is The Girl's personality.

     Determined. Forceful. Driven. Focussed. Bonkers. I can remember her, aged 13 months, crawling across the living room floor, intent on some prize she had spotted on top of the bookcase. She couldn't quite reach it, but if she pulled all the books down upon her head in an avalanche of hardbacks, sending her flying back several feet, she would win.So she did this, then cackled delightedly when she achieved her aim, despite the various flesh wounds she'd sustained in the process.

     My initial alarm at just how much of a toughie she was eventually developed into a rueful pride – 'She's definitely not going to be a girly girl' I'd tell people 'Oh, no, she'll be an utter tomboy.' I fondly imagined her as the Jackie Fleming tomboy – big blue eyes, blonde curls, pretty dress, kickarse boots, attitude in spades.

     Which rather neatly proves the first rule of parenting: You will always be wrong. Even when you're right, you will be wrong.

     Because around the age of three, The Girl met the concept of Disney Princesses, which fairly neatly sum up everything I hate. Helpless femininity. Beauty valued over ability. Only ever being validated by a man. Blech. I'd tried, as much as is possible, to keep this world of pink glitter a secret from The Girl, happily encouraging her to play with Lego, cars, and some dolls that I felt weren't too rancid in their presentation. I read her stories about girls who didn't sit around waiting to be rescued but sorted the world out themselves, and encouraged her to believe she could be the same (I needn't have worried on that score. She has the confidence of a battleship, so much so that she frequently tells me 'No, don't need your help. I can sort mine own problems out.'). But at some point a family member (I know who you are. I am biding my time before I come after you. Be afraid) bought her a DVD of some frothy, crappy Disney Princess film. And a Disney Princess dress. And some Disney Princess books. And a Disney Princess cup. And told The Girl 'You are a beautiful princess! Yes you are! A PRINCESS! A BEAUTIFUL PRINCESS!' And thus set in motion the second rule of parenting: Disney Princess tat is more addictive than crack.

     I am not exaggerating. Our house teeters on the verge of a tidal wave of plastic tat. Some of it related to The Boy (Lego, Star Wars figures, Moshi Monsters). But the majority is pink, emblazoned with the hideous caricatures of female 'beauty' as represented by the breed of Disney Princess – eyes that take up at least half their face, teeny tiny nose, wide mouth surrounded by full pink lips, long tumbling hair, slim to the point of anorexia with waists so improbably small that they would surely snap if their owner were to do anything more strenuous than blink and smile vacantly. And of course, the Disney Princess pose. Stand, facing forwards. Extend your upper arms 45 degrees from your body. Bend your arms 45 degrees upwards at the elbow. Then bend your wrists 90 degrees, exposing the palms of your hands. Congratulations! You are now the embodiment of evil helpless, innocent, female grace, charm and beauty.

      The outwardly benign, inwardly malignant gaze of the whole bloody raft of Disney Princesses gazes at me from every corner, making me seethe inwardly and want to say 'The Girl! I am not raising you to believe that love's true kiss will make the world a perfect place! Stop believing in this shite!' Of course I don't say that (not least because I'm sweary enough as it is, without actively cursing at my offspring). My general parenting ethos is to let my kids be themselves. Obviously, I steer them, encourage them, support them, but mostly, I tell them I love them and let them choose for themselves. But in this, I'm very aware that I feel like I'm betraying my own beliefs and feminism. It doesn't sit well with me when family and friends ask what the girl wants for birthdays and Christmas and I, torn between honesty and my own ulterior motives, always sigh 'Oh, just more Disney Princess bollocks.' Yes, it's what she wants, and it makes her happy, but her simulated gasps of 'Oh! It's just so adorable!' make me dry retch a little and wonder if this is just a phase or if it signals something more sinister about the type of women we're teaching our daughters to be. I disapprove of it so inherently, yet I allow it, intolerantly. In my wilder fantasies, I allow myself the luxury of picturing a Disney Princess free house, a vast conflagration of pink plastic burning merrily in the garden whilst I gloatingly look on. I'd never do it of course, it's too Victorian Dad to deprive your child of something they love so much. And yet...

     There are encouraging signs. The Boy is starting to recognise The Girl as a playmate and ally in his mission to convert the world to the cult of Jedi, and cajoles her to play with him with the suggestion 'Girl! Girl! You can be Princess Leia! She has a blaster pistol!'. And then of course I wonder why I'm happy to see her join in with The Boy playing with guns (surely just as bad as the vapidity of Disney Princesses), when I'm trying to get her to reject another traditionally gender specific method of playing.

     And the only weaselly answer I can come up with is attitude. Yes, Princess Leia gets rescued by male heroes. But she also kicks arse, shoots her way out of trouble, and answers back. She fights for a cause, doesn't give in and when Han Solo is frozen in carbon she goes in to rescue him on her own. THAT is the type of princess I want the girl to aspire to being like. If you have any tips on how to achieve this, please let me know. I am getting to my witless end.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

It's not cricket

Soul Limbo by Booker T and theMGs. Play that song at my funeral, or I will return from the grave to haunt you. I LOVE that song, and it never fails to make me leap up and do a shambolic salsa around the kitchen. I've played it so often that the 5yo even has her own little routine that she does when she hears it. It's the ringtone on my mobile, so the 8yo frequently gets confused and shouts 'MUUUM! CRICKET!', when really it's just O2 asking me why my phone bill has remained unpaid.

Most people know it as 'the cricket music', or rather the theme music used by Test Match Special on the BBC. And for me, that is what it really means. Cricket. T20, ODI, and the greatest of all sporting occasions, a Test match.

Like a lot of people, I came to love cricket in the summer of 2005. Prior to that, I was vaguely aware of the rules (throw ball, hit ball, try to catch ball) and precious little else. I was frequently baffled as to why Alistair would choose to sit inside of some of the hottest days of the year, curtains drawn, watching not very much happen for days at a time. In fact 'baffled' is putting it mildly. I was actually quite irritated by it. 'Come on, Ali! It's such a lovely day! Let's sit out in the garden, drink Pimm's and get a little addled before giving ourselves food poisoning with undercooked sausages!' And the response would be a 'Mm.', before he'd wave a distracted hand at me to get out of his way so he could get back to watching thirteen men stand around on a field.

Then of course came the Ashes Summer of 2005. The 8yo was then still a baby and I was at home with him until three o'clock most days before going to work, when Alistair would come home and take over. Ali got into the habit of texting me during the morning to ask what the cricket score was and I'd flick over to Channel 4, text him back, then get on with changing nappies and wiping sick off my shoulder, usually forgetting to turn back to Homes Under the Hammer or A Place in the Sun. And slowly, imperceptibly, I began to fall under the gentle spell of cricket. The thwack of leather on willow, the cries of 'Owzat!' the Aussies greeting every Shane Warne delivery with 'Niiice one Shaaaaane!'. But more than anything else, it was the commentary. The gentle conversation, the lulling, somnolent reassuring tones that certainly erupted into a roar of approval at a catch or a run out. The phrases used that meant absolutely nothing to me. 'He's moved the field up and we have mid off, mid on, two slips, a gully, deep square leg, fine leg, third man and silly point.'


I didn't care that I knew nothing about the laws of the game or the techniques different bowlers used. It was seeing this incredibly tense psychological contest being played out over five test matches, each test match five days in duration. First one side seizing advantage, then the other. Seeing how just moving one fielder to a different position two metres away would have such a subtle yet fatal impact on the opposing batsman. I was hooked. Completely hooked.

From then on, for every match England played, I was there. Test matches? Close the curtains and block out the sunlight. Dead rubber T20? It's important to see how the team play without pressure. ODI in the middle of the night? Hey, I have a young baby. Sleep deprivation is how I roll these days. At weekends, the telly would be tuned to Sky Sports, the radio to TMS, which was a second or two ahead of the TV coverage, so I would hear a run out and be able to watch it as it didn't happen.

When we moved to Norwich, we were stony broke – both of us unemployed, no real assets to fall back on, and so Sky was the first thing to go. I had thought I would miss being able to watch the cricket, actually seeing a disputed ball, hotspot, watching the crackle of snicko, the drawn out drama of seeing what hawkeye predicted. TMS was great, but it's not the same, is it?

No, it's not the same. It's better. Far, far better. Cricket is the best sport in the world to follow on the radio, and TMS is the greatest sports programme. Being a devotee of TMS is like spending time with some of your oldest, closest friends, whose foibles you all know so well that they don't really annoy you anymore, but you pretend they do, because that's the kind of teasing relationship you have. It is genius broadcasting because it convinces the listener that you are the only one listening, that you are almost there with them in the commentary box, admiring today's cake, and having your leg pulled.

Blowers with his love of pigeons and cranes, Aggers pooterish sighing exasperation, Tuffers falling asleep after a massage and missing a book signing. Vaughnie knowing full well that he's leading one of his colleagues into legover territory, whilst Simon Mann tries to get on with it. Boycs being... Geoffrey Boycott (I'm not a fan, I have to admit, but this is A Good Thing. When he's sitting in, I just go off and do something useful for half an hour). The much-missed CMJ. All of them have their own idiosyncracies, that lifts the programme up and beyond simple coverage of cricket. It's never forced, it's just a group of people discussing a sport they love and understand, imparting knowledge and information to the listener without hectoring or ranting (unless they're Geoffrey Boycott. I told you I didn't like him), with excursions into potential cat burglars, the spirit of the game, and a 73 year old man 'rapping'. TMS inspires loyalty in the way that only the truly genuine can, because none of it is forced. It's professional, but also personal, with every member of the TMS team allowed to be themselves. When I have it on in the background when I'm writing, it never distracts me, just gives me a reassurance that TMS is on the radio, all is right with the world.

Also, yes, it gave us this clip, which reduces me to sweaty redfaced giggles every time I hear it. Never gets old.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Sue de Nim

     Shock Horror. Funnily enough, Lucy Benedict is not my real name. For some reason, I prefer to keep my lust for Ed Balls veiled behind the cloak of anonymity I have adopted for the purposes of this blog. Yes, weird, I know. Who amongst us doesn't wish to shout out loud and proud that they would totally do Ed Balls?

     So that's one reason for writing this anonymously.

     The internet is, as we know, a weird and wonderful place, where you can say what you like, indulge in your little whimsies, obsessively stalk and track people, adopt a whole new persona if you want, pretend to be a 14 year old boy, or a mother of twins with terminal cancer. People do create whole new personalities for themselves based on a whole world wide web of lies, sometimes for attention, sometimes for trolling, sometimes because they just can't help themselves. I've been taken in by a few, I'm sure most people have, it's just part of our online education that just because someone says they are something, doesn't mean they are. For the most part, we take people at face/screen value, until things begin to jar a little, and the doubts creep in.

     In my case, I have adopted the name Lucy Benedict because...well, because some of the things I'm posting about on here are fairly personal, and I don't necessarily want my real name to be attached to them, because not everyone in my every day life knows about them. Some people do. But not everyone, and I prefer to keep some things private. For example, I'm fairly sure that none of the parents I chat to at school know that the reason I'm a stay at home mum is because I tried to kill myself. If asked, sympathetically, and by the right person, I would most likely be honest. Or I might not. Depends on my mood. Equally, before I wrote Aftermath of a miscarriage, the only other person I had ever told (ironically, also in writing) was my ex, L. For the most part what I write is pretty true – I have had depression for years, I do have two young children, I'm not ever getting married, but I do sometimes put in a few details that aren't entirely 100% true. I don't, and never have had, a stepfather, especially not one called Hugo, nor have I ever had a friend called Helena. I put in these 'misdirections' (yes, ok, lies) to throw people off the scent. 1) so what I write about doesn't set alarm bells ringing and 2) if asked directly, I can claim it's all fictional, Lucy Benedict is just a character, haha, no, no, I wasn't writing about you, no, it was her thoughts, not mine, oh look over there, another drink?

     It's far, far easier to me to write all this crap under a different name, because then when I share things, it's not really me who's sharing it, if you see what I mean? I don't have to consider other peoples reactions, or feelings. This little corner of blogspot is mine to be as honest in as I choose to be, just like the diary I used to keep. I'd kept this blog a secret from most people, only mentioning it to a few friends. I absolutely had NOT told Alistair (another misdirection, his name ISN'T Alistair!), because... Jesus Christ, have you READ some of what I've written? And then...

     It was a Wednesday morning in June, and I was giddy with the adrenaline rush of Slipping through my fingers being chosen as Mumsnet Bloggers Network Blog of the Day (I am still quite revoltingly conceited about that, sorry) and the joy of going on holiday on Thursday. Alistair had taken the day off and was slightly taken aback by me being exceptionally garrulous and bouncy. In the pride-filled bubble I was inhabiting, I told him, actually no, I blabbed like a blabby blabber: 'I'VE GOT A BLOG AND I WRITE STUFF AND SOME PEOPLE LIKE IT WOO ME I AM SO HAPPY WOO HOLIDAY TOMORROW WOO.' He was touchingly, endearingly proud of me. So much so, that he didn't bother to read it himself or anything like that. No. He just told his mum. Who duly looked it up. And read everything.


And then he told my mum. And I know she's read it all too.

     *Waves to respective parents*

     So I have been struggling for the past ten days or so to apply fingertips to keyboard, because this is no longer the place where I wrote into the void, where I could allow thoughts to spill out onto the screen without worrying how it may come across, or that I may be causing offence or hurt to my nearest and dearest, or that I was unwittingly sharing secrets with people who know me. See, after we got back from holiday, I had planned to write a post about sex. I had a rough idea of it sketched out in my head. Then I had a quick look at my blog stats (if you didn't already know, know it now – blogs collect an awful lot of information about you when you read them) to see where readers had come from. And there were some highly specific locations ohfuckohfuckohfuck they'vereadTHATpost and I sat back on my hands and rocked and keened to myself for a few days seconds.

     And then I thought, right, that's it, no more blogging for me, this is not going to end well. Friendships, family relationships, this is going to go massively awry and cause all sorts of unpleasantness, chestthumping and browbeating angst that I don't want to face.

     But I missed it. I missed writing and clattering away at the keys (weirdly, I can only write this on a computer. Anything fictional has to be written by hand. Don't know why, but there it is). I got annoyed when I had a thought that I could have expanded upon here. I was narky and sniping at Alistair for telling people when he hadn't bothered to find out exactly what he was telling them (he is still blissfully unaware of the contents of this blog because he is Not A Reader). And then I woke up this morning and thought 'Fukkit. You've written about some of the worst experiences in your life already. So now they know, and you know they know. How much worse can it get? Also, Ed Balls.'

      So, real people in my real life, you may want to avert your eyes from here on in. Unfortunately, I am going to continue to mash away the desk and sometimes I will be writing about things you don't want to know, and I don't want you to know. And we may have to do that little conversational dance of 'I know you know' 'I know you know I know' I know you know I know you know' without a word being exchanged. I am waggling my eyebrows at you here as I repeat without a word being exchanged. In other words, if you know me, and you've read this without me providing the link directly to you, I don't want to know you know. You know? I know.