Wednesday, 25 September 2013

I am pitmuff agogo, matey boy

     August 1988. I am 8 years old. My mum & I are going to spend the day on the beach with my cousin. I snap on my swimming costume, haul a summer dress over my head and... oh my Christ, what the absolute fucking HELL? There are thick black HAIRS all over my bastarding legs (Please note, sweariness is reflective of adult self, not eight year old self. I may have been a slightly odd child, but I wasn't that sweary). Urgh. Gross. From ankle to thigh, I appear to have swapped my lower limbs with those of a gorilla. How has this happened? And when? When did my legs develop this hideous affliction? There is no shitting way I am going to bare these hirsute monstrosities to the world. There's only one thing for it.


     Of course, for an eight year old, especially in 1988, tights aren't funkily coloured '30 denier with lycra' flattering accessories, but thick woollen navy jobs with a tendency to bag at the knees and ankles. Sod it. I yanked them on anyway, then shoved my feet into my summer sandals. Perhaps no one would notice my winter tights if the rest of me looked summery enough. My mum gave me an odd look as I bundled into the car, but said nothing throughout the day as I ran around Sheringham beach in just my swimming costume. And tights. Obviously, I coudn't go into the sea as my younger cousin did, so I was fairly hot and sweaty, but hell, no one saw my repulsive hairy legs, so as far as I was concerned, I WIN.

     Until bedtime that night. Unusually, my mum came up to tuck me in (legs safely inside pyjamas and under Pierrot duvet cover) and in a low voice she said 'Darling, I noticed you kept your tights on today.'

     Bugger. Not as inconspicuous as I'd thought.

     'Is it because you've got hair on your legs?' Mute with shame, I flushed scarlet to the roots of my hair (of all varieties) and nodded. 'Ok. I'll buy you a razor. You can just shave it off. Have you checked your armpits?'

     What the holy fuck? ARMPITS?

     'You've probably got hair there too.'


     'Have a look tomorrow. Don't worry, you can shave that off too.'

     OH MY GOD. I AM HAIRY. I have hair on my legs, in my armpits, oh sweet Jesus, on my private parts... What fresh hairy hell awaits me in the future? The following morning, armed with soap, a shaving brush and brittle Bic razor, I hacked away at my legs and armpits (not my private parts, because, well, they're private, and no one is ever going to see them, ever), spending a good half hour checking and double checking that all of this vile and unsightly hair was gone. I took quite a few chunks out of my shins too, and was faintly horrified at just how freely shaving cuts bleed. No matter. Beauty is pain.

     And that became the routine for the next twenty-five years, pretty much. In my midteens, there was a sudden explosion in the ways in which women could deforest themselves – waxing, Immac, sugaring, threading, epilators... but I stayed steadfast and loyal to the trusty razor. I upgraded, obviously, shamelessly tarting around with whatever brand was on special offer, or threw in some kind of freebie, or boasted three, no, four, no, five, no, INFINITE blades that promised the cleanest, smoothest shave possible.

     In winter months, I often let my inner mammoth take over, and would sometimes go as long as TWO WHOLE WEEKS without shaving my legs. But never my pits. No. Hairy pits were beyond the pale. Every two or three days, without fail, swipe swipe, revolting armpit hair gone. My attitude was hardened as a 14 year old, when an older male friend had a Slovakian girlfriend with full on pitmuffs. Blonde, fluffy, luxuriant pitmuffs. Listening to him and his friends talking about it, it was clear that to be considered attractive by men, body hair must die. In fact, it should be obliterated, wiped from history. Women were not hairy. End of discussion. And within a few weeks of taking up with him, the Slovakian girlfriend no longer had pitmuffs. Lesson learned there.

     And that was that. Until August of this year, when Mumsnet Bloggers Network got in touch to ask if I'd heard about Armpits for August? And would I, perhaps, be interested in taking part? And letting them know how I got on? I gave a mental shrug, and thought, pfft, why not? Reverently, I removed my pink lady razor thingy from the shower symbolically and bowed my head at the thought of the challenge that lay ahead. Then I remembered I could still shave my legs and chucked the pink lady razor thingy back.

     'Hey, Alistair! Mumsnet asked me if I'd grow some pitmuffs for the month! Cool, huh?'

     A very, very worried look on his face, followed by the sort of face you involuntarily pull when you see someone vomit in public. 'Seriously?' A slight shudder. 'Well, you needn't think you're getting any for the rest of this month.'

     Something Alistair fails to realise about me, despite fourteen years together. I can be an absolute contrary bastard at times. 'Fine. Don't blame me when you come in your pants with sexual frustration.' Then I took my hair out of its customary ponytail and tucked the tufty ends into my pits. 'I am pitmuff agogo, matey boy.'

     Now, obviously, I had never grown out my pit hair before. But judging by how quickly it sprang back into life after being shaved off, I fully anticipated having armpit hair the size of a baby's head within in a week and people crashing their cars just from seeing me. This conspicuously failed to materialise. In fact, by the end of week one, it was just a bit stubbly. Week two: could be described as 'long stubble'. Week three: 'potential to be described as almost hair'. Week four: 'Very, very, very, very short hair that is surprisingly soft and not unpleasant to the touch.' Reactions from other people: None. I had to repeatedly bark at Alistair 'LOOK AT MY PITMUFFS! TOUCH THEM!', which, sighing and yawning, he did. 'NOW TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK OF ME, QUEEN OF NOT SHAVING MY ARMPITS.' 'It's actually not that big a deal, is it? I thought it'd be gross, but I'm really not bothered.'

     This was unacceptable. I had contravened the basic rule of being female! I was subverting all societal norms! I WAS BEING A HAIRY WOMAN. Why am I not being railed against online? Why are normal, right-thinking people not covering their eyes and whispering at their children to keep away from me? My contrariness reared up once more and I (very deliberately and attempting to be provocative) attended my nephews fourth birthday party at the end of August in my most beautiful and glamorous summer dress, which required armpits to be on display. Standing, not at all comfortably or naturally, with both hands on my hips, I attempted to control the minds of the other parents present 'You will look at my hairy pits, you will look at my hairy pits, you will look and you will be repulsed and I will then publicly take you to task, asking why you are so threatened by a woman in her natural state, upbraiding you for your lack of feminist principles and for conforming to what society believes a woman ought to be, look at my pitmuffs, look at them, you will look, you will... Why the mascara arse is no one looking at my hairy pits, perhaps, I should lift my arm over my head, yep, and NO ONE IS LOOKING!' The only person who commented was my sister who called me a wookie. And she only noticed because I bloody well told her and flashed one hairy armpit at her. This was simply unacceptable. I felt like a teenager all over again. I am rebelling! Look at me rebelling like a rebellious rebel! Isn't it shocking?!? Over here. I'm here. Rebelling. Oh for fucks sake...

     I didn't even manage to have an argument with my children about it. The Girl just said 'Mummy, you are silly. Girls don't have hair.' and went back to dancing around the garden singing about princesses. The Boy sighed, rolled his eyes, and ignored me. 'Boy, look! Mummy's got hair in her armpits, just like Daddy.' 'Yes, Mum.' 'Isn't that strange? But it's totally natural! The hair should be there. Girls can be hairy too! It's completely fine and natural.' 'Okay.' I pursed my lips, hoping someone would challenge me about it. No one did. Bastards.

     But I felt strangely protective towards my pit kittens. Despite the fact that their existence was down to me doing nothing, I felt I had cultivated them, and derived enormous pleasure from charting their growth and development, probably more so than I did with my own children as newborns. I also took a worrying number of armpit selfies that are still lurking on my phone even now. And when it got to September, and I was officially off the hook in terms of Armpits for August, I resisted saying goodbye to my new friends. Until the first day back at school, when it was 30 degrees and I wanted to wear a summery dress.

     And, then, because I'm a contrary bastard at times, I shaved them off without a pang of regret.*

     *Rumours persist in our house that I have, in fact, started a fibroblast with them which is growing day by day in the cellar. Utter tosh, I have done no such thing. That noise? No, didn't hear it, and even if I had, it would have come from outside, and definitely not from...the...cellar... I'll be back in a minute or two...

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Honesty, the best policy

     I read this article yesterday, and found myself agreeing with everything Meg Rosoff wrote. Children are far more intelligent and intuitive than we like to admit, and they know when things are wrong, however much we try to keep the truth from them. And we should be honest with them, because their fertile imaginations are powerful enough to invent monsters under the bed, when really it’s just an old pair of shoes and an abandoned book. One thing all parents say to their children at some point is ‘Tell me the truth’. Why should we hold our children to standards we can’t stick to ourselves?

     Then I had a new and unwelcome thought.

     One day I will have to tell my children that I tried to kill myself.

     Just typing that sends a shudder down my spine. They’re my children. I should try to keep bad things from them, protect them, take the sting from life as much as I can.

     But they’re not stupid. They know that something happened three and a half years ago. The Girl was only 18 months old at the time, so she doesn’t remember. But The Boy does. He was five. He remembers being taken out of bed and bundled in the car by a frantic Alistair. He remembers being told that ‘Mummy is upset’ and that ‘The Police are coming to look after Mummy’. He remembers my blank-eyed stare when he came into the bedroom to see me the following evening, and how he cried because I didn’t look like me.

     And obviously he knows that soon after that, he had to move house, move to a new school, say goodbye to his old life and get used to something utterly foreign. It caused him a lot of unhappiness and that’s what I regret the most. Seeing my confident, happy and blithe son change to a moody, difficult and aggressive child who acted up all the time, refused to go to bed, answered back and cried every morning before school. It didn’t help that I was in such a state myself that I could barely find the will to get up each day, or that Alistair, driven by desperation, was working 15 hour days so I was alone with the children most of the time. I wasn’t a good parent for those months. I just about managed to take care of their more pressing needs, but emotional security and support just weren’t possible.

     I got better, eventually. And The Boy settled down too, once he’d made friends and got used to this new life. He’s more himself now than he ever was before, if that makes sense. You see, in our old life, he was permanently with his cousin who is 25 days older and very much a born leader. The Boy is not. That’s not to say he’s easily led or a pushover. But generally he just fell in with whatever his cousin wanted to do, and I could see that he was very much in his cousin’s shadow, and it worried me that he put himself a firm second.  Being forced to make his own friends and his own way in the world has given him more confidence in himself. And whilst I hate the disruption and confusion that my mental disintegration caused him, I can at least see that something good has come from it.

     But it’s not something I’ve ever felt able to talk to him about, despite the fact that we talk about everything else. Nothing is off limits when we talk. From ancient Egypt to the night sky, periods, love and facebook, it’s all covered. The boy even once kickstarted a chat with ‘There’s a muscle in my willy that makes it stand up and look like a finger, it’s really annoying’. Yet I can’t find it within myself to tell him about my depression. Partly because I worry that he will, for some reason, blame himself. Or that he’ll fear it might happen again, and that he can somehow control whether or not it does.

     Then there’s the question of love. Talking to my mum about it not so long ago, she said she couldn’t forgive me for intending to leave my children, that it made her think I couldn't love my children as much as I should. She instantly corrected what she’d said, saying she couldn’t understand it, but we both knew what she meant. And I tried to explain that, in the fog of misery I was inhabiting, I felt like I was doing what was best for my family. That my presence could only hurt them more, so by killing myself, I was actually doing them a kindness. And she nodded and said ‘Mmm’, but I know she couldn’t get her head around the idea. Perhaps you can’t. It made sense to me at the time. But if an adult can’t grasp that concept, what chance does a child have?

     And really, the thing I don’t want to have to face is The Boy asking me not to do it again. Because I can’t promise I won’t. I hope I don’t, I’ll do everything I can to prevent myself from getting into that terrible state again. But I can’t promise I won’t. Like I’ve said before, depression is insidious, gradual and utterly destroying. It takes away your ability to think rationally, to have perspective and understanding, so that the most stupid ideas gain traction. And if I do become haunted by the black dog (or evil fucking hellhound, as I prefer to think of it), then I might reach that point again. And hopefully, if I do, I will reach out and get the help I need. But if I don’t, if I do fall into that hole again, if I do decide that death is the answer, then it won’t really be me making that decision, it’ll be depression making it. But how do you explain that to a child? And how can they hope to understand?

Monday, 16 September 2013

11 ways in which getting old is not so bad.

     Getting older is, once you're past your teenage years, always presented as a bad thing. 'I feel OLD' means I feel tired, past it, out of touch, dated, aching, no more fun anymore. Whilst that's certainly true for some, I think there are positives in growing old. Positives that maybe we sometimes overlook.

     Everyone you encounter will smilingly tell you 'You're looking well!' What they actually mean is 'You're looking well for your age'. Whatever. A compliment's a compliment and let's face it, at your age you're not going to get many more. Accept the compliment graciously, as it will happen increasingly often.

     As your natural hair colour fades away and is replaced by increasingly more salt than pepper shading, you instantly become easier to spot in a crowd of The Young People thanks to your silvery tresses. This is handy if you're winding up your children by deliberately wandering off in a vague and absentminded fashion during a trip to a busy public space.

     Alternatively, you can take the option of losing all your hair. Just think of all the time you'll save on not having to wash and style it each day! Not to mention the money saved on 'product' that your hairdresser bullies you into buying. Oh hang on! No need for humiliating expensive haircuts ever again! And if you do fancy having hair, there are some awesome wigs available on the internet.

     Your facial muscles will tauten and your eyelids will develop the ability to crack walnut. How? From the amount of squinting you'll do when trying to read something without your glasses on.

     So much modern music is frankly terrible. It's just noise. But soon you won't have to listen to it ever again. Because your hearing will fail. Yay!

     Your memory will cease to be the reliable old friend it's been for so long. Names, dates, events... Nup. All gone. Wiped from your mind. Turn this to your advantage by garnering a reputation for being a warm, loving person by calling everyone 'darling' and 'sweetheart' instead.

     Memory failure has another unexpected positive side. You will find the same jokes and anecdotes absolutely hilarious no matter how many times you hear them. Or how many times you regale friends and family with them. Again. And again. And again. See? Still funny! It's like the first time, every time. For you.

     Once you reach a certain age, you become invisible to certain sections of society. What a bonus! You'll no longer care what anyone thinks of you because no one ever pays you any attention – freedom from the disapproval of society! You can wear your slipper to the shops and not waste ten minutes every morning trying to find a matching pair of socks.

     If there are family members or friends you've never really liked, you can get your revenge by telling them, in excruciating detail, all about your health, whilst they squirm and try to arrange their face into relaying a suitable level of concern. If you want to mention syrup of figs or the benefits of prunes to particularly aggravating people, do so.

     You get congratulated simply for not dying. 'I'm 83 you know!' 'Wow! Well done!'

     Once you reach a certain age, people will be terrified of disagreeing with you in any way, in case you die immediately afterwards and everyone blames them for your death. So you can be as rude and unpleasant as you want, and be called 'cantankerous'. Rather than just a cun...

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Guest Blog

     Morning you lot!

     I've done a guest blog for the rather lovely Cakes, Kids and Other Ramblings today, pondering when I'll finally wash ashore on the island that is the mythical Land of the Grown Ups. Why don't you pop over and have a look? And check out her cakes too, they look fabulous.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Your child is your child.

     A couple of days ago, I was on twitter and the 'Who to follow' suggestions gave me a name I hadn't seen in an awfully long time. Goodness me! It's a a boyfriend I had for about six months as a teenager. How strange! We haven't seen each other for at least fifteen years. I wonder what he's up to now? I had a quick look at his bio. Ahh, sweet. He's got two kids, both quite young. And a blog. Let's have a look at that, shall we? (Oh shut up, like you've never stalked looked up people online from your old life).

     Hmm. Um. His 'blog' (sorry, not meaning to sound bitchy, but...) was about six posts long, written over a year ago in the space of about three weeks. And they were all – and I do mean all – about his then toddler son in some way. From the high chairs they used, to the experience of weaning (not very informative, fairly dull), the best kind of toddler cup, the chugger who came to their door and woke the baby.... It was very much baby bore territory. I didn't think badly of him for this. If you've got kids, every thing they do is fascinating, you feel the need to tell the world, you can't conceive that anyone could be anything other than entranced by your perfect little person, you want to shout from the rooftops about how amazing they are (aside from the times they get you up during the night, puke on you, take off their nappy and poo all over the carpet, pull all the books out of the bookshelves... although love carries you through that). But one sentence, in his introductory blogpost, made me pull a bit of a lemonface.

     It is all about being a Dad. What else do I have to share? My life is centred around my son who is the most amazing little boy and my best friend.(my bold)

     Ok. Um. Ok. You are a 33 year old teacher with a wife and child. That's nice. But your 18 month old son is not, nor will he ever be, your best friend. He's 18 months old for a start. If he could express a preference, his best friend would probably be Bonjela. Or that wooden train. Perhaps a spoon. Your open love for your son is admirable. But you are confusing your love for him with an equal relationship. A parent/child relationship is never an equal one, nor should it be. For the very simple reason that you are the parent. You are not here to be his friend. He may be the centre of your world. He may have taught you more about love than you thought possible. But he is not your best friend. (And to be frank, I am very much judging you for feeling this way).

     But then, you can go the other way...

     Now and again, people I'm friends with on facebook post a picture of some text. The wording varies occasionally, but it's usually something along the following lines:

     My promise to my children. I am not your friend. I am your mom. I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare & hunt you down like a bloodhound when needed because I LOVE YOU! When you understand that, I will know you are a responsible adult. You will NEVER find someone who loves, prays, cares and worries about you more than I do! Re-post if you are a parent and agree.

     Aside from making me dryheave a little that this person feels the need to validate their parenting by 'Liking and Sharing' such a load of twaddle (and also the self-congratulatory 'Ooh, get me, I'm such a great parent' tone), I also know, from what else of their lives on facebook that I see, that they are also the type of person to post status updates along the following lines:

     omg cant believe sum ppl who try to bash me and my hubby for what we do for our kids we love our kids what is wrong with that next time you want to slag my kids off do it to my face and not behind my back!!!!
     Followed by the inevitable response from a friend

     U ok hun x

     Which elicits:
     Yeah just can't understand why some ppl have to be so cruel to my kids lol
     In other words, I will happily say that I am tough on my kids, but if anyone else, ever, dares to suggest my children are not 100% perfect, I will get needlessly defensive, refuse to accept there may be any truth in what they are saying and then post a cryptic passive aggressive status update on facebook.

     I can sort of see where they're coming from. Your children are just that. Your children. Your role in their life is to guide, support and, at times, discipline them. But the whole stalking, worst nightmare, hunt them down thing? No. Refuse to accept that they are not always 100% perfect, defend them to the death even when they're in the wrong? No. You have to allow your children space to make their own decisions, to allow them to make the wrong decisions at times, and be prepared to deal with the fallout. You can advise, certainly. But it is their life, and they have to find their own path through it. If you don't make mistakes, you're not going to learn. And I don't want to raise my children to be blindly unthinkingly following me and my teachings (not least because I am frequently contradictory, hypocritical and irrational). I want them to question me when I seem unreasonable. I want them to stretch the elastic of our relationship until it twangs. Because then, when they're older, they will a) be able to think for themselves and b) if they have children of their own, understand how strong my love for them is that I trust them, and have faith in them that, regardless of the mistakes they make along the way, they will, eventually, do the right thing.

     If I sound a bit judgemental, I don't mean to be. I'm not any kind of parenting expert, as anyone who knows me or the Blondies will attest. I'm making it up as I go along (aren't we all?) and I've made plenty of mistakes along the way, some relatively minor, some fairly catastrophic. The best lessons in parenting usually come about from learning what not to do, rather than sticking unthinkingly to your plan of what a parent should be. I wrote before about The 8yo and I. We're close. I see so much of myself in him, it would be stupid for me not to recognise that. But although I can read his mind, make him giggle like no one else on earth, and he does the same for me, he's not my best friend, nor is he the subject of my stalking, nor will I blindly defend him when he messes up. He's my son. I'm his mother. That's our relationship. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Romance Schmomance

     A few weeks ago I wrote a guest blog for Harper Impulse about the three romantic gestures that have meant more to me than any number of crushed carnations or slightly damaged Terry's chocolate oranges. You can have a look at it here.

     Now, that post was slightly out of character for me, as regular readers may spot. I'm not usually one to dwell on the sweet and fluffy side of life. So, on the flip side, here is my alternative 'Romantic gestures that went totally tits up'

     I'll kick off with the Saturday night that Alistair cooked dinner for us. It was the first time he'd really cooked for me (as opposed to just heating things up) and he slaved his squidgy buttocks off. There was a starter, chicken, roast potatoes, veg, pudding, wine (sadly, he'd bought dessert wine which was grimly undrinkable, but still). The chicken had a slight aftertaste to it, but I thought that was probably the sauce/herbs he'd used.

     The following morning I had a stupidly early start, at half past five or something equally horrific, to receive a delivery. Standing in the office, talking sleepily to the chatty delivery driver, I became aware that I didn't feel quite right, somehow. And as the chatty delivery driver said 'Well, must get on, can't be standing here all day' (but making no attempt to leave) I had the horrifying realisation that I really, really had to get to the toilet NOW. I pretty much bundled the driver out of the office, pelted down the corridor and just, just made it to the loo on time. Within thirty seconds, I knew I was going to be sick. So I grabbed the bin and made use of that. Twenty minutes later, I limped back to our flat (about five seconds from the office) and repeated the experience in our bathroom.

     My efforts were not without a soundtrack, and soon enough Ali appeared in the bathroom doorway. 'You ok?' 'Noooooaararrggghh.' We'd only been together for a few months, but I was feeling so terrible I didn't care that he was seeing me at possibly my lowest point, ever, pebbledashing the loo and dryheaving into a plastic office bin.

     Oh, but it gets worse. Ali was feeling fine, so we put my D&V down to some bug I must have picked up. He was off to do some Christmas shopping with his sister that morning, which was a relief – I could shit out my own sphincter in peace whilst they chose something tasteful for their parents. Until Alistair came home very rapidly, less than an hour after departing, and went straight into the bathroom. He'd been suddenly overcome with feeling unwell in Marks & Spencer. Specifically in the foodhall of Marks & Spencer. In fact, he'd projectile vomited all over the floor in the foodhall of Marks & Spencer, in front of very many horrified Christmas shoppers.

     In between lying delicately on the sofa and vomiting yellow bile into buckets, we weakly wondered what had caused us to get so ill. Ali had cooked the chicken for at least 40 minutes! 'What, did you buy it fresh on Saturday afternoon?' I asked. 'No... the stuff that was in the freezer.' 'Did you defrost it?' I asked slowly. 'No...It just said to cook it for about 30 minutes?'

     Yes. He'd cooked the chicken from frozen. And nearly bastardly killed us in the process. That said, it brought us closer together. You can't hide much from someone who's seen you with food poisoning from both ends.

     I think this next one is my favourite in terms of just how badly wrong a boy can get it. Aged 14, I was in the midst of my summer job (really do need to explain this to you at some point). Surrounded by older people for the majority of my life, I looked and acted older than my years and was sometimes thought to be as old as 16 (even 17! My cup runneth over). I'd been eyeing up a French guy for a week or two, and as these teenage things tend to happen, one night he asked for a light, and within a few seconds we were snogging. No more than that. A tiny bit of conversation, a few snogs, back to our friends. Then later, a few more seconds of discussion, a few more snogs, back to friends. For possibly three nights? Certainly no more than that. Then he went back home to France, and that was that.

     Except it wasn't. A week later, a letter arrived (written on the weird graph paper that all continental Europeans seemed to use as writing paper at the time). It began 'Hello, my pretty little Lucy...' and continued in that vein for four pages. It read as though Pepe le Pew had put pen to paper and needed only a beret and matelot jersey to complete the image. I could not fail to read it in the most ridiculously over the top Frrrrrronchhhhhh accent imaginable. It was full of how much he missed me, how he had told his parents all about me, they wanted to meet me, perhaps I could come out and spend my Christmas holidays with them? Or he could come to the UK and stay with my family? Perhaps he could go to college in the UK? He could not bear to be without me a moment longer, surely I must feel the same?

     I took the only course of action available to me. I didn't reply to his letter. Which was slightly awkward when he turned up the following summer with a group of friends. So we both just ignored each other for the four weeks he was there, and everything was fine.

     A thankfully brief memory – round at the house of a teenage boyfriend. He's fiddling with the CD player in the living room, then gestures to me to come and dance with him. I get up, awkwardly. 'Can you feel the love tonight' comes over the speakers. I burst out laughing raucously at the naffness of it all, and the idea of dancing to a song about shagging lions.

      He gets into a massive huff at my lack of appreciation for his big romantic gesture. End of teenage boyfriend.

     And then, my very, very worst. The lowest of all lows. The moment when I say 'Have you even met me? You have, yes? You have been my boyfriend for four months, right?'. It was my 18th birthday. A milestone, no? My then boyfriend had sodded off to Costa Rica for four months, leaving my birthday present with me, 'to be opened on the day'. Now, I think we've established I'm not a girly girl, right? Aged 17/18, I existed on Britpop, Bob Dylan, Iain Banks and Q magazine. I wore short skirts and kickarse boots, I was studying for A Levels and heavily into poetry, Monty Python and The Fast Show. Emotional, but no space/time for sentimentalism. So you can imagine my face on that hugely significant birthday morning, when I opened his present and found this.

     Yes, that. A teddy bear, on a treasure chest that works as a money box. But wait! There is more!

     A bunch of mascara arse mental looking frogs! For no reason! And just to round it all off with a dose of   random gravy, there was a candle. A single candle. Not scented. Not interestingly made. Just a plain white candle. It was almost as though he had 25 quid to spend on a present, had spent 23.89, so threw in a bonus candle to take him up to to budget. 

     There was not a single thing there that indicated that, at any point, he had actually thought of me as his recipient, and what I might like. It was the type of thing your slightly unhinged great aunt, who hasn't seen you for 20 years decides to send you, having never previously sent you a birthday present before. I can remember ripping the present open, in happy expectation, and then just sitting back on my heels and saying 'What. The. Actual. Fuck.' There was even a brief moment when I thought 'Ha! Has to be a joke! There will be a note inside the moneybox!' There was no note.

     The moneybox did have a happy ending, however. My friends laughed so long and hard at it that it became the honorary 18th birthday present for all of us, and we passed it around, laughing until we felt sick that anyone would ever have considered appropriate for any of us. I can't remember who it ended up with, but it did provide plenty of laughs, so for that, ex-boyfriend, wherever you are, thank you. Your present was memorable in so many ways.