Saturday, 29 March 2014

Things my mother taught me

     To be honest, it’d be easier to title this ‘Things my mother tried to teach me’. My mother is the kind of practical, resourceful person, product of a 1950s childhood in Norfolk, who can tackle pretty much anything. God knows, the poor woman has tried to pass on things to me, but I am utterly cackhanded and irresponsible compared to her.

     She was taught to sew and knit by her mother, and when I was about eight, she decided to pass on her knowledge by teaching me cross stitch. We were both amazed and delighted by how quickly I managed to master it and I undertook my first ‘project’, sitting on the sofa in the living room. It was a success! Right up until the moment I stood up, and realised that I’d managed to sew my project to my stripy Chelsea girl wool leggings.

     Skimming stones. I know I used to be able to do this. I distinctly remember standing on the edge of the lake at UEA with Mum and feeling the joy of seeing my stone bouncing across the surface of the water. Determined to impart my knowledge to The Boy a few months ago, I confidently demonstrated my skill during a walk at Blickling. The first stone sank like…a…stone. The second stone did the same. Third stone, I followed through a bit too much, my front foot skidded forward in the mud, my back foot remained rigidly where it was, I nearly did the splits, fell on my knees, and the fecking stone stubbornly refused to skim. Mum selected a stone, span it across, and it bounced five times before it vanished.

     I would love to know the things my mum does. The names of plants, trees, birds… The kind of information it’s actually useful to know, and good to share with others. She must have told me the same things over and over again for the last 34 years, and yet, nope. None of it ever sticks. It’s as though I expect her to always be there to tell me these things, so my brain tells itself ‘No need to worry, you can rely on Mum to tell you, go into standby mode.’

     I am magnificently lazy. An absolute slut when it comes to housework. It’s not that I’m lavishly messy or grubby, I just can’t be arsed to clean the windows. But my mum doesn’t just do the stuff that has to be done (washing up, laundry, emptying bins etc). She actively seeks out housework to do. Honestly. My house is never cleaner than when she stays with us. Firstly, because I go into a mad cleaning meltdown ahead of her arrival, but mostly because I’ll come back from the school run to find her descaling the iron I never use, or polishing brass. How do you train yourself to be that kind of person? The type of person who doesn’t always have at least one dusty glass of water on the bedside table? It’s a skill she hasn’t managed to transfer to me.

     Or liking sport. She is 62 in six weeks time, and she is healthier and fitter than I have ever been in my adult life. Growing up, if Mum wasn’t at work,  she would be taking an aerobics class, or playing tennis, or having a squash lesson. Now it’s slightly more sedate activities, like golf and going for U3A walks, but still. She tried, again and again, to turn me into an athlete, but it was always doomed to fail. Like the tennis class where I was the oldest by four years, and got soundly thrashed by bloody six year olds every week. The time she tried to get me to go to the gym (pulled a ligament, couldn’t walk properly for weeks). The gymnastics class where I hit my head on the wooden floor, puked with shock, could never face going back. The only thing I was ever any good at was swimming, but that withered up and died when I was a teenager and became very aware of what I looked like in my costume.

     But for all that, she has taught me a lot. And we are more similar than we are different. I am a demon at creating brilliant meals out of sod all, thanks to her. I never go long without laughing, thanks to her. I love to sing, loudly, thanks to her. I dance around the kitchen, thanks to her. I love to go for walks, thanks to her. I’m not, and never have been, a helpless girly girl, thanks to her. I can be hugely bolshy and bloodyminded, thanks to her. I watch people, and notice not just what they say & do, but also why, thanks to her. If I’m faced with a challenge that people think I won’t conquer, I go all out to do it, just to prove them wrong, and prove to myself that I can do it, thanks to her (this is known as her ‘Christmas Tree’ and my ‘High Tor’ mood). I know the lyrics of every Beatle song recorded, thanks to her. I know the history of my parents, their parents, their lives, thanks to her. I know the value of a handmade kangaroo, given to a three year old girl.

     So to a wonderful mother, with wrinkly skin*, thank you Memmy. Thank you for teaching me what is important.



     *There are two people in the world who will get this joke. I am one. You are not the other. Unless you are my mother.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Smothering Sunday

     I have been reliably informed not to expect much on Mothers Day. We have a big summer holiday coming up, and all available funds are being diverted towards that. To be honest, I’m not massively bothered. The things that I want can’t really be bought in any case. Just in case any of the three Blondies are reading this, here’s my handy guide to what I really would like to receive.

     Not a lie in. I don’t want a lie in. Lie ins in this house always end up the same. The Girl tiptoes into our bedroom, whispers in my ear ‘MUMMAY! HUNGRAY!’ Alistair stirs, mumbles. I keep my eyes squeezed closed, and pretend to be asleep. ‘MUMMAY!’ Alistair rolls over, mumbles sleepily ‘THE GIRL! LET MUMMY SLEEP! COME AND GET INTO THE MIDDLE OF THE BED! AND SLEEP FOR A BIT LONGER!’ The Girl delicately replies ‘HUNGGGGRAAAAYYYY!’ Alistair whispers back ‘OK I’LL GET UP IN A MINUTE! JUST BE QUIET SO YOU DON’T WAKE MUMMY UP! SHE’S HAVING A LIE IN!!!!’ By this time I am wide awake and silently, poisonously furious to no longer be sleeping, and get up to feed The Girl. Alistair then says ‘Darling? What are you doing up? Go back to bed, have a lie in.’ My eyes narrow, my lips tighten and I hiss ‘I’m AWAKE now.’ So I don’t want a lie in. I want sleeping pills. Pills that will knock me out for upwards of twelve hours. And perhaps an afternoon nap on the sofa.

     Alcohol. Wine will do the trick nicely.

     Food. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A Pot Noodle and a bag of Mini Cheddars. Just as long as I’m not the one making it, and more pertinently, the one who has to clean up afterwards.

     I know it’s Mothers Day. But can we make it Fathers Day instead? So that if The Boy is sitting next to Alistair in the dining room, and I’m upstairs having a shower, The Boy doesn’t get off the sofa, amble upstairs to me, and say ‘Muuum? Can I have a cup of tea?’ resulting in the inevitable response of ‘You have TWO parents! Ask your father to do it!’

     Alcohol. Gin is good.

     I would quite like, at least once, to be able to have a wee undisturbed, and without having to chat about Moshi Monsters/Monster High/Animal Jam/CBeebies. A small thing, but a distant memory.

     Alcohol. I’m fond of Pimm’s.

     No chocolate. I’m really not a massive fan. I don’t mind it, but I don’t really buy it for myself, and massive slabs of the stuff have never really held any attraction. If you feel you ought to buy me some, then a Double Decker is fine. But really, I’d prefer wine gums.

     Alcohol. I quite like cider.

     I don’t want anything shop bought that in any way references ‘Mum’ ‘Mummy’ or ‘Mother’. I know I am a mother. Believe me, I know. It’s hard to escape knowledge of this, especially when the three of you are at home, and I can’t hear myself think, or walk across a room without standing on a Lego brick, or have a single day when I’m not battling the ever growing washing pile. Even the times when I’m on my own, I know I am a mother. All I have to do is look at the stripy stretchmarks on my boobs, or catch sight of my ‘wobbling and withered tummy’ (thanks to The Boy for that description). I know I am a mother.  I don’t need shop bought cycnically marketed tat to remind me of it.

     Alcohol. Baileys. A Baileys coffee is a good thing.

     No ‘funny’ presents. No ‘novelty’ presents. It’s just more crap to fill the house with, when we’re already teetering under an avalanche of toys and stuff I’m not that keen on in any case. Let’s face it, it’s stupid, it’s pointless, I won’t find it amusing in the slightest, it’ll never get used. And I will resent you massively for frittering away money we don’t have (according to you). A home made card, cuddles, and ‘I love you’ is enough.

    Alcohol. I’m really not fussy.

     Food. Actually, I don’t even mind if you buy the raw ingredients for a meal and I end up cooking it. Really, it’s fine. What I do want is to be able to cook, undisturbed, in my kitchen, without the three of you leaning against cupboards I need access to, moving things I’m about to pick up, and ‘helping’ me by stirring things that don’t need to be stirred, then knocking over the saucepan of sauce I’ve just spent an hour preparing. I enjoy cooking for you. But I cook best when I’m not being asked ‘What are we having? When will it be ready? How long will it take? And how long is an hour? Is it ready yet? What are we having?’

     Alcohol. I’d even settle for a pint in a beer garden. Really.

     I love you three very much. You make me happier than I ever knew it was possible to be. You light up my life, make me cry, make me laugh, and I can’t bear to be away from you. But on Mothers Day, please just give me a little space, please.

     And alcohol. Obviously.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

How are YOUUUU?

     I just had a bit of a weird experience on the way home. Walking with The Blondies, we passed a woman, a bout my age, who seemed familiar. Stop.

     ‘Hi Lucy!’

     ‘Oh, wow! Hi Jane! How are you?’

     ‘Good, thanks. How are YOUUUUU?’ Her head tilted to an improbable angle as she asked me, her eyes taking in The Boy (stuffing his gob with Skittles) and The Girl (inksmudged face, remains of lunch on her dress), before returning to me, in my laddered tights, my rucked up skirt (it's my bloody BAG), my side plait and boots.

     And I knew exactly what she was thinking, with the clarity of many years experience. It's happened a few times in the last four years.

     We were at school together. We weren’t really friends, but we knew each other, and got on reasonably well enough, just different groups of friends. We’re connected on facebook, but haven’t seen each other since Sixth Form. But. Her mum is friends with my mum. So doubtless my mum has told her mum about me spectacularly losing the plot a few years ago. And almost certainly Jane's mum has told her. And Jane has almost certainly told the people we were at school with. ‘Oh my god! Did you hear about Lucy? She had really bad depression and tried to KILL HERSELF! Yes! Even though she has two kids. She must be really fucking MENTAL. I bet she got sectioned or something. Her mum told my mum that the POLICE brought her home a few times. Can you imagine? Well, she always was a bit odd, wasn’t she? Do you remember that time she…’

     I can see them, the simple, straightforward girls, with their swishy hair, having a ‘cheeky glass of wine on a school night’ or even during a hen do, gossiping and picking over the bones of someone they never knew all that well, and know even less now. Speculating about what I did, why I did it. I’m almost certain that one of them would have thought me selfish. Also that they probably think it was ‘a cry for help’, that ‘she didn’t really mean it’. I know that because some of my 'proper' friends have been there on those nights and got into arguments on my behalf.

     And thanks to the eyebrow plunging, fake concern face of Jane, I know full well that the next ‘Ooh, haven’t we done well to all stay friends since Year 8’ Girls Night Out, Jane will be telling them ‘Guess what? I bumped into Lucy a few weeks ago! I think she’s still… a bit… Just felt sorry for her kids, really.’
So, Jane, here’s what I would I would have liked to say to you, had time allowed. If I hadn’t had The Blondies with me. If we hadn’t had to pretend to be polite.

     ‘Nice to see you again. Yes, you’re right, I did spectacularly lose the plot a few years ago. I’m much, much better now, thanks, even though you didn’t ask. But I can tell you want to. I was very ill. For a very long time. But I’m much better now. It scares me that I could have been that ill. Just one thing – yes, I know it’s human nature to gossip. I do it too. But when you’re having your girly chats, and I come up, just remember that it could happen to you too. Depression doesn’t discriminate. I never thought that I would attempt suicide. But having been so mired in utter fucking misery for so long, I am truly happy now. Because I have found something in me that makes me so very happy that it’s infectious. So it’s not just me that’s happy, it’s my family too. Can you say the same? No? Oh.’


    ‘Jane! How are youuuuuuuu?’

Monday, 17 March 2014

What hope?

     Sometimes, you read something that so perfectly expresses itself, that the words become ingrained in your mind for the rest of your life. I had that experience with the following passage from Roald Dahl’s The Twits, read when I was about six.

     If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.

     A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.

     Whenever I think of it, I always, unfailingly, think of the Hard Faced Bitches of high school. Does every comprehensive have them? There was a clique of them in my year at City of Norwich School, who liked to spend breaktimes in the Year 9 toilets, smoking Embassy fags and slagging off most of the other girls in the year. They ignored me for the most part, because I wasn’t competition – as a teenager my own face was magnificently sour and unattractive to boys of my own age – and a few of them were in my formgroup. There was always some enormous drama engulfing one of their number, usually involving someone else's boyfriend, a houseparty and the morning after pill, and they didn’t care who knew about it. Their faces were permanently scowling, lips pursed, eyes narrowed. They existed in a permanent state of pissed off, and by Christ, could you tell.

     Every day they could be found in a haze of cigarette smoke and Impulse bodyspray, shirt unbuttoned almost to the navel, pushup bra on display, skirt rolled up until it barely skimmed their bum, slagging off most other girls in the year and proclaiming that they didn’t give a fackin’ fack (blatantly untrue, they gave lots of fackin’ facks, indiscriminately and often, with no thought for birth control). The rest of the girls in my year were queasily intimidated by them, terrified that one day they would be target of the Hard Faced Bitches. It happened a lot, you see.

     We’d be minding our own business, sitting around the table in Room 9 at lunchtime when one of the Hard Faced Bitches would march in on vertigo-inducing heels and ask the room at large ‘Where’s that fackin’ slaaag Debbie Jones? Ave you fackin’ seen ‘er?’ Debbie would cower, and try to hide under the table. The Hard Faced Bitch (now joined by the rest of her posse) would march over, poke a finger at Debbie’s face and then issue a stream of fackin’ invective at her, usually something or other about she’d heard that James fancied Debbie, and f Debbie knew what was good for her, she wouldn’t touch him, because everyone knew that Hard Faced Bitch #3 was TOTALLY going to have a crack at him in Chapelfield Gardens on Saturday (I avoided these evenings – for some reason, hanging out in a park, drinking cheap cider, puking behind a bush, and then getting fingered by Ian Wilson didn’t appeal).

     When the Hard Faced Bitches left CNS after GCSEs, the rest of the girls heaved a collective sigh of relief and thought our days with them would be over. But for me, it’s turned out to merely have been an interval. The Hard Faced Bitches are back. And it’s impossible to ignore them. Because now they have children at school with The Blondies.

     They’re not the same Hard Faced Bitches, of course. But they share certain characteristics. A love of trowelled on orange make up, larded with aggressive blusher. Cheap knock off boots. Clustering around the school gates to smoke their faaags (I’m a smoker by the way, so I don’t judge them for smoking, just where they choose to do it). An inability to keep their voices down (again, I have a large laugh, but talking is done at normal volume). And their insistence on every other word being fackin’ this and fackin’ that (look, I know I swear A LOT – arsefaced twatboil, anyone? – but not like them, sprinkling every sentence with expletives like confetti). Their faces, always appearing to be itching for a reason to call someone a beeyatch and give them a slap. And most of all, their behaviour.

     Let’s get it out of the way now – I am not an Ace Parent. By nature, I am chronically lazy, disorganised, and I procrastinate. My house is messy, I am very bad at the routine stuff and I definitely do not do the things most parents do as a matter of course. On the other hand, my children are happy, confident, and very secure that I love them. That’s my parenting priority. I might forget to send in dinner money, but I will always go to parent teacher interviews. Maybe forget to check if faces have been washed before we do the school run, but never neglect them when they want to talk to me. There have been some monumental fuckups along the way, which have resulted in tears all round, but emotionally, I am there for them. Unconditional love is an utter bastard at times, but that’s what being a parent is, surely?

     So it angers me when I see how the Hard Faced Bitches treat their children. The mum who has her toddler on reins so short that he dangles like a marionette, toes lightly scuffing the pavement, and she doesn’t notice. The families where despite never speaking to any of them, I know all of the children’s names, because at hometime every day there are bellows of ‘OY! AYNGEL! CHARLIE! GET BACK ‘ERE!’ The mums who are so engrossed in gossiping in the playground they don’t notice that one of their children has escaped onto the pavement of the busy A road, and when they do notice, they tell the child off for wandering. Things like that on a daily basis. I just can’t understand it. Why have children if you, on the surface, seem to care so little for them? Even when they do things that might seem nice, it's not long before the contempt shows itself.

     Like the incident at the ice cream van last summer. I was behind another mother in the queue, and we were chatting. Then we saw something that still chills me. One of the Hard Faced Bitches was handing out ice lollies to her children – a toddler in a pushchair, an older toddler holding onto the pushchair and an older child, perhaps around six. She shoved a lolly towards the toddler in the pushchair, who was unable to reach it. The Hard Faced Bitch tutted, smacked the toddler on the back of the head and then said ‘HERE, shit for brains’, dropped the lolly in its lap and started walking off, briskly. The toddler next to her couldn’t keep up, and fell over, flat on his face. ‘FUCKS SAKE!’ Hard Faced Bitch picked him up, plonked him on his feet, ignored his cries, and carried on walking, her crying toddler now howling, and trotting to try and catch up. The other mother and I stared on in horror, and she said to me ‘What hope do those kids have? Really, what hope?’

     Last week, I was standing with The Girl at the junior school, and one of the Hard Faced Bitches was stganding behind me, having a vigorous conversation on her mobile phone. ‘I’m fackin’ not fackin’ havin’ that, I’m fackin’ done wiv bein’ treated like fackin’ shit’ is a key phrase I remember. A few other parents heard, and we all exchanged significant eyemeets, and then looked down. Next to the Hard Faced Bitch were two of her children, both pupils at the Infant School. Children of that age shouldn’t look as defeated as these two did.

     And then this afternoon. After I’d picked both Blondies up from school, we had to go to the shop to get a few things. A boy I recognised nodded to The Boy and they both said hi. Before they could say anything else, one of the Hard Faced Bitches swept past, grabbed her son by the arm, yanked him over to a car and shoved him inside, slapping his face. ‘I FACKIN’ TOLD YOU TO STAY IN THE FACKIN’ CAR YOU LITTLE PIECE OF SHIT. WHAT THE FACK WERE YOU DOING? I DON’T GIVE A FACKIN’ SHIT. SHUT IT’ There were a few more slaps as she spoke, with the palm of her hand, and the back of it. 

     We stared. Lots of people stared. But not one of us said anything to her. No one intervened. Were we waiting for someone else to do it? Were we too worried that we’d get a volley of abuse back? Were we scared that if we said something to her, it would only make things worse for her children? Whatever it was, it’s not something I’m proud of. Because if no one speaks up, then what hope do those children have? Really, what hope? What kind of adults will they grow up into, when the only lesson they are being taught is that they are a pain, a pest, a nuisance? When there seems to be no love from the people who should love you best? And other people see what's happening, but do nothing? What lesson does that teach them about their importance, and their selfworth?

    I don’t know what to do. But I can’t do nothing about it any longer. This isn’t high school. This isn’t the Hard Faced Bitches scaring off other teenage girls. This has to stop.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

My imaginary friends

     I had an imaginary friend when I was a child. Bored, alone in the living room while my mum did other things, I thought ‘Hmm. I’ve heard some children have imaginary friends to play with. Maybe if I have one, I won’t feel so fed up?’

     I imagined her into life – she had big blue eyes, rosy cheeks and golden ringlets (kind of weird, when I remember her now, I can only think of her as looking exactly like The Girl). She was very naughty, and I called her ‘Guilty’, so that if I was about to be told off for anything, I could pin the blame on her: It wasn’t me, Guilty did it. Perfect.

     I sat on the red carpet of the living room with her, and we started playing with my Star Wars figures. I said ‘Guilty, you can be Princess Leia if you like’ (massive sucking up gesture there, it was my precious Forest of Endor Princess Leia, whom I shared with no one). Then I thought to myself ‘God, this is stupid, Guilty’s not real’, felt hideously embarrassed by the whole thing and killed Guilty off forever. And carried on playing on my own.

     That was over thirty years ago. But, as a sign that my levels of maturity are receding as my age advances, Guilty is back. Not just Guilty, in fact, but a whole cast of characters, about whom I know everything. And I do mean everything. Because I have completely made them up. In my head. 

     It started last summer, and I can remember the exact moment. We were on holiday, the three Blondies and I, and we’d gone to the beach. I HATE going to the beach, unless it’s for a walk. It’s hot, it’s sandy, seawater stings my skin, and that sensation of sand gripping onto your feet is so unbearably awful that my fingers are curling involuntarily just thinking about it and oh my god I can’t stand it and I feel like I’m covered in sand now and urgh. Alistair knows I HATE going to the beach, so he suggested I take myself off to one of the beach bars about ten metres away from where he’d plonked the towels. This sounded like a great idea to me, especially as I could see there was a daybed free, and a cocktail with my name on it about to be ushered into creation.

     So I lounged there, glugging a massivo Pimm's, writing a few things down. Nothing exciting, just observations of people around me, speculating what their relationship might be, what they could be talking about. I’d look over to where The Blondies were every thirty seconds or so, and see them bouncing up and down in the waves (Alistair & The Boy), or playing in the sand (The Girl). And, because my brain can be a twat at times, I looked up, saw The Girl and a terrible, terrifying thought stabbed me. What if I looked up and The Girl was gone?

     Shudder. What if she vanished? What would I do? How would I react? Would I be able to scream and shout and get people to help? Or would I become paralysed with the horror of it? My mind helpfully offered up several film previews of the different scenarios, just to make me feel worse. Then I calmed down, told myself to stop being so idiotic, sipped some more lovely, lovely Pimm's, and calmed down. And stared fixedly at The Girl for the rest of the time we were on the beach.

     But that thought stayed with me. And it irritated me. A lot. I kept thinking about various cases of missing children and what the parents must go through. And to know as well that thanks to the media and the internet, that every other person has a theory about what ‘really’ happened. And that some of them suspect you of being involved and/or responsible for their disappearance. Every person you meet knows who you are and what happened to you.

     And then one night, I was arsing about on facebook, and there was a massively awkward argument going on between a husband and wife in my timeline. And I thought how sometimes social media makes relationships really bloody difficult, or in some cases, falter altogether. Hmm. Facebook. Bloody facebook.

     And then another thought occurred to me, and I was so excited that I had to scribble it down, there and then.

      I know I had that massive RANT the other day about bloody writers boring on about writing and word count and writing and how many words they’ve pissing written and how well it’s going and ooh, I LOVE MY WRITING! I promise I’m not going to turn into a book bore. But something’s happening and it feels like it’s writing itself. And no, I’m not letting anyone see it (in any case, it’s encrypted by virtue of my appalling handwriting. So nur).

Monday, 10 March 2014

All a bit pedestrian

     About a week before I spectacularly Lost The Fucking Plot, I had an unwelcome experience when picking The Boy up from school. This was an unusual event in any case – for the first five years of his life I’d been working long days, seven days a week, so I didn’t really do the school run, or birthday parties, and things like that.

     I waited in the playground for his teacher to call his name so he could come out. And waited. And waited. The rest of the class were reunited with their parents and left. Finally, the teacher said to me ‘Can I help?’ I replied ‘Yes, I’m here to pick up The Boy.’ (I did say his name, don’t worry, I wasn’t that distant a parent in those days). ‘Oh. Sorry, who are you?’ She asked. There was a brief pause as my heart shattered into a million tiny fragments of guilt and remorse, then I managed to pull myself together and say ‘I’m his mother.’

     Another brief pause now, as I gulp at the memory.

     Obviously, things are very different now that I don’t work. I’ve done the school run for the last four years and working it out, I’ll be doing it for at least five years into the future. The Blondies go to schools that are a mile away from our house, so I walk four miles a day, every weekday. I don’t drive, you see, and in any case, it’s good exercise and it gives me time to think about stuff.

     But there is one thing you very quickly realise when you are a pedestrian, and that is that you are SCUM. The lowest of the low. Unworthy of consideration, generosity, and acknowledgement. We all know about drivers vs cyclists and how easily that debate quickly descends into stripped to the waist fist waving in rush hour. Well, I’m here to tell you, that when your mode of transport is nothing more than your feet, WE FUCKING HATE EVERYONE ELSE WE ENCOUNTER WHO USES WHEELS.

     Seriously. I mean it. Cars, lorries, buses, tractors, bikes, scooters, milk floats and pushchairs. All of you. You are all massive fuckers. Where to begin… hmm, where do I even start?

     Let’s go with pushchairs. I relied heavily on the pushchair I had with The Blondies. It was an absolute TANK of a threewheeler and I took it everywhere. But I appreciated that it was a massive, unwieldy thing, and so I took care to keep in to the side of pavements, to check for people around me, to let others overtake. I didn’t take it into school when I was dropping The Boy off. Little things like that. So why the buggery fuck do other parents not do that? If I had a pound for every time my ankles have been clipped, or my shins rammed, or a pushchair has been swung round into my stomach, I wouldn’t be typing this now. No, I would be lying on a beach in the Seychelles, with Rafa Nadal rubbing suntan lotion into my… shoulders? Yes, shoulders. No, lower. Lower... Hmmm. Rafa… Vamos indeed…

     And scooters. Fucking scooters. Those sodding things should come with a bloody great klaxon to warn you that some little shit child is about to smash into the back of your toddler and then sail onwards, their parent jogging to keep up, and seemingly too out of breath to notice that you’re trying to fix the face of your daughter into something you recognise after she was sent flying. The Blondies have scooters. They use them. But they weren’t allowed to use them on the pavements until they’d learnt to control them properly. It’s not that fecking hard, parents. And don’t even get me arsing started about the bastards who let their kids scoot in and out of the school grounds at the beginning and end of the school day. THERE ARE FUCKING SIGNS UP ASKING YOU NOT TO DO THAT BECAUSE THERE ARE A LOT OF CHILDREN AROUND YOU TWATS.

     Bikes. I’m glad a lot of people cycle. It’s much better than driving. And the majority of cyclists seem like decent, honourable people. But some of them are not, and I notice this and it makes me get The Rage. Like the time a teenage boy rode straight into the tank/pushchair (bloody good job it was such a behemoth, or he would have landed on The Girl), picked himself up, shrugged, and rode off. ON THE FUCKING PAVEMENT, NEXT TO A FUCKING CYCLE LANE. Or the arseholes who think that a red light means, yep, you go right ahead matey, sail through that pedestrian crossing, the rules of the road apply only to the drivers you’re overtaking. Or the wankers who ride silently behind you on pavements and zip past with no warning ‘TING’ of a bell or an ‘Excuse me!’, missing The Blondies by millimetres. Or the tossing teenagers who ride three abreast on a buggering pavement and give ME dirty looks for dragging my children out of their way.

     But really, it’s drivers. Fucking car drivers. Oh, yes, you are so important. So very fucking important, aren’t you? It’s far more important that you shave those precious three seconds off your drive to the shop for a pint of milk, instead of slowing down in a 20mph residential area, isn’t it? And of course, red lights at junctions are just for show, aren’t they? Nothing to do with allowing pedestrians to safely cross a major A road. Nope, you’re fine. You keep the flow of traffic moving, you utter bellend. Go on, we’ll wait another five minutes in the rain, waiting for the lights to change again, and hope that this time we’ll encounter a driver that I don’t have to mouth ‘TWATTWATTWATTWATTWATTWAT’ at as they pass us.

      And when you arrive at your destination, don’t worry about the pretty road decorations. Those double yellow lines mean nothing, nothing. They don’t put them in places where there are lots of children for any reason. They’re definitely not there so that people can safely see if there is oncoming traffic – oh no, wait, nobody can see anything,  because outside a certain private school there is a phalanx of thirty black Range Rovers, parked nose to tail on either side of the road, as close as possible to the school entrance so that their precious teenage girls need not walk more than twenty feet to get collected by their parents. And shit it, if there’s no room on the road, just mount the pavement. Who cares if it means that people have to walk on the road to get past? We don’t mind. You. YOU are important. And arse it all to hell, if you manage to park half on, half off the road/pavement, I don’t mind if you open your car door just as I pass you, so it swings into my leg and leaves me bloody and bruised. I get it. I totally get it. You are paramount in this. Those BIG yellow signs saying ‘School entrance. No parking at any time’? They don’t mean YOU, of course they don’t. And when you drive off, I don’t mind if you cut a corner and drive on the pavement! It’s probably my fault for being there in the first place. How careless of me to get in your way! I feel so ashamed for frightening you. Are you ok?

     I’m wound up now. I think I might go for a walk to calm down.


Friday, 7 March 2014

Did you cop a feel?

     I am angry. Really, really angry. I might not make much sense here, because I’ve reached that point of anger where you can only really articulate things like RAAAAARRRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!! And feel the need to push big things over and set fire to the world.

     If you’re a woman and I say ‘cop a feel’ to you, what do you think of? Because to me, I think of being groped by an overfriendly man in a pub. It makes me think of ‘lads’ and ‘banter’ and ‘Alright, darling? Givvus a smile!’ It makes me think of the type of bloke who sits in a pub reading The Sun and commenting, loudly, on the baps of the Page 3 stunnas. It makes me think of blokes bragging that they 'managed to cop a feel of her tits'. 

     And, if you’re a woman, and I say to you ‘Page 3’, what do you think of? Because to me, I think of women being objectified, sexualised, demeaned and being made to feel ashamed because my tits aren’t perfect.  They’ve seen life, my spaniels ears, and now they head south for the winter of my years.

     If I say to you ‘Cop a feel of Page 3’, what do you think of? Because to me, I think of the worst kind of unwanted male attention. I shudder. It sums up so much of what is wrong with the way society feels about women, breasts, and what we teach our children about both.

     I’m not a prude. Trust me, really I’m not. I wear tight skirts, short skirts, low cut tops, and push up bras when I feel like it. I have my bikini area waxed. I’d wear high heels if I could walk in them.  I love having my tits fondled. But crucially, by someone whose attention I welcome, in private. I’m not a yoghurt herding, hemp cultivating, moss-encrusted toenail hippy who sculpts fertility symbols and talks about breasts as being the giver of infant liquid gold. Yes, their primary purpose is to produce breastmilk, but, let’s face it, boobs can be sexy too. That’s why Page 3 exists. To exploit men’s prurience and lechery. To exploit women. To make women out to be nothing more than a pair of tits. Who cares what else she’s got to offer when you look at the tits on that? By having a pair of baps whapped on the first inside page of a national newspaper, we’re being told that our norks are public property, and we should welcome any attention they get. Well, no, actually. My tits belong to me and whomever I choose to share them with. My choice. But because of the existence of Page 3, it seems as though I have to shout a bit louder to get that message across, especially to men.

     Now let’s put ‘cop a feel’, ‘Page 3’ and ‘breast cancer’ together. What do you think of? Because to me, it doesn’t work. The first two go together, in a seedy and unpleasant way. The last one doesn’t fit at all. It’s a medical thing. A terrifying thing. A thing that can and does kill. A thing that requires invasive treatment, that might result in mastectomies. Doesn’t quite chime with ‘Kelly, 23, Essex, 36-22-32’, does it? It doesn’t suggest a glamour model with watermelon tits, grinning, dressed in just her pants, does it?

     So if I were to say to you that this is an actual campaign, that The Sun is promoting a breast cancer campaign called ‘CoppaFeel’ through Page 3… What do you think of that? Because to me, it feels wrong. It feels shabby. It feels exploitative. It feels that The Sun has cynically hijacked an already badly named crusade in order to bolster support for Page 3. How many women, realistically, buy The Sun? And how many of those women, realistically, pay any attention to Page 3? What do you think of that? I know what I think.


     I am an embarrassment.  Not an embarrassment of riches, which is what my name means, but just richly embarrassing.

     According to Alistair, anyway. It was just a relatively normal morning, we’d both overslept, The Girl had been awake for hours, but had entertained herself reading on the landing, The Boy was still dead to the world. Alistair went to work, I took The Blondies to school… I have mixed feelings about the school run. I love taking them to school, no, not because I’m getting rid of them, but because we always talk a lot and giggle the whole way there. This morning was especially full of laughter and I pretty much hooted the whole way to school. So much so, that The Boy said ‘I love your laugh Mum! It starts off deep and throaty and then it goes all high and giggly, and it's REALLY loud!’ I was really rather touched by this – a compliment is always welcome, and especially so when it’s from something as intrinsic to your personality as your laugh.

     Because I do laugh a lot. At anything. Everything. It doesn’t matter how bad things get, nowadays I can always find something to laugh at. Usually something hideously inappropriate. There’s a video on youtube that features a one second clip that makes me laugh so hard that people near me start to fear for the integrity of my internal organs. It’s just the expression on one persons face that KILLS me. I don’t even need to watch it now, the memory of it is enough to set me off… hang on, sorry, I’m gone, talk amongst yourselves for a bit, I just need a bit of time…

     Ok, I’m back. But yes, I do laugh a lot. Especially when things get bad. It’s a personal failing I’m not proud of. But generally, when things are at their most despairing, I make godawful jokes about it and then crease up with laughter. It’s not an endearing habit, and I wish to Christ I didn’t. It has a tendency to piss people off.

     Like Alistair. In the rush to work this morning, he forgot something vital. So he phoned me at nine to ask if I could take it into work for him. Because I am lovely, I did, and stopped to chat with him for a minute or two, filling him in about the walk to school. And of course I got the giggles telling him the ‘twenty foot long tentacles/testicles’ story. And my laugh, as described, was deep and throaty, then high and giggly. And LOUD.

     ‘You’re embarrassing me.’

     Not for the first time. Not for the last. Words like a slap in the face.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Thank you for the music

     Fucking ABBA.

     I think I may have posted, once or twice, a few times maybe, about music being quite important to me. I don’t know why, but I definitely do know why not, and that’s because of CHOIR. Like a fool, in Year 5 at middle school, I thought ‘Choir? Meh, why not?’, passed the audition and signed up for three long years of twice weekly CHOIR. There was no escaping it. Once you were in, you were in. You weren’t allowed to leave. A couple of people cracked and begged Miss Jennings to let them gracefully withdraw. Not a chance. You volunteered for CHOIR. Now Miss Jennings owned your soul, and with it, your voice.

     Part of the never ending torture were the annual visits to the Norfolk Music Festival at St Andrews Hall in the centre of Norwich (like an absolute eejit, I wasn’t just in the CHOIR, I was also in the orchestra, and strings group, so I had to attend at least three events over the course of a week). My memory may be playing slight tricks on me, but I remember each day that I spent there as lasting for at least 148 hours. Norfolk Music Festival was supposed to be a celebration of music on schools curriculums, a chance for us all to rejoice in the power and splendour of our shared music. In reality, it was a bitter, nasty, internecine, drawn out fight to the death, in which there could only be one winner. Oh yeah, sure, every school that took part was politely clapped. But all of us taking part knew what was really going on. Every school choir had to sing two songs – one chosen by the judges, one selected by the school. So this meant an entire fucking DAY of hearing the same song every ten minutes, and then singing it yourself. Quite.

     Miss Jennings, our music teacher, was, frankly, in the wrong job. She should have been working alongside Jack Bauer in 24, because she was IRON that woman. In the weeks leading up to the Festival, she would drill us relentlessly, making us harmonise effectively, hit the top notes, trilling, lalalaing. To this day, one of my fellow detainees and I can still make each other cackle merely by intoning ‘LaIsTheNoteSingIt’ to each other. Now, it wasn’t much fun and effectively drained all the joy and beauty out of singing, but it meant that by the time came for us to perform, we were on top form (it also taught me how to breathe through my diaphragm properly, meaning that when I want to I can make my voice ferociously loud).

     After all the performances, there were various levels of certificates awarded to each choir who participated, along with a few comments from the adjudicators:

     Participated: FUCK OFF AND DIE.
     Promising: What the hell did I ever do to you, that you made my ears bleed?
     Commended: Yeah, we’d prefer it if you didn’t come back next year.
     Highly Commended: You were ok.
     Outstanding: You are YURRRRMAAAAAZING!!!!!

     Of course, with Miss Jennings as Our Glorious Leader, we only ever got ‘Outstanding’. Nevertheless, as the day wore on, children around the hall would become more and more tense, feeling the bitter rivalry between us. The greenclad pupils of Avenue Middle School cheered silently when the soloist of Blackdale hit a duff note. We mocked St Thomas Moore for their crap song choice. We jeered at Magdalen Gates for not even attempting the descant in ‘The Birds’. Bignold didn’t even wear TIES, that’s how crap they were! And we swore lifelong hatred to every last one of the bitches of Old Catton who sneered at us when we were awarded our ‘Outstanding’ certificate, because all they’d got was a crappy ‘Promising’. HA! In your faces, North Norwich!

     Miss Jennings tried her best to pretend she was grown up about us being the best, year in, year out, but for all her talk of ‘It’s a wonderful celebration of music, to inspire you to go on and love it with all your soul, to appreciate the voices of others, to really enjoy other people singing’ we all knew that really she was thinking ‘FUCK, YEAH, MY CHOIR IS THE BITCHTITS.’

     I’d forgotten all about the Norfolk Music Festival (repressed the memory is probably the better phrase), until The Boy came home from Junior School with a letter telling me that he’d be part of the group performing at St Andrews Hall, a few weeks ago. He tried everything he could to get out of it: ‘Mum? Can I be ill that day?’, but in the end he went with minor fuss, and asked me if I could come along.

     Shiiiiiiit. All kind of flashbacks flooded at me. Reading Virginia Andrews during the 13th performance of the same song. Being in Year 7 and flirting with Alex Foxton at the back of the North Aisle. Eating a packed lunch as noisily as possible during Colman Middle’s rendition of ‘Music of the Night’. Pretending to need to go to the loo because I was dying of BORED. But The Boy had asked me to go…

     It was almost exactly as I remembered. The layout, the adjudicators, the placing of various schools around the hall, the magnificent organ (childish snigger). Thankfully, the schools now get to sing two songs of their own choosing, so at least I was spared the agony of hearing the same song again and again. The choirs were ok, mainly small, perhaps thirty kids in each. The Boy’s school were last, and I immediately noticed a difference. This wasn’t a choir. This was the entire year group. And more. Children as old as Year 6. Children from the Infant School. And they weren’t standing on the stage part, but on the steps behind it.

     At this point, I should make a confession. The matter of which school The Boy went to in Norwich was a five second decision, taken when I was drugged off my tits on Mirtrazipine, Zopiclone and Valium. I phoned the council, said I needed a school place for my son, they said ‘School A? Or School B?’ I said B, job done. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realised that the both the infant and junior schools have a local deaf unit attached, and that hearing impaired children from all over Norfolk attend the schools. All the children learn British Sign Language as a matter of course, and it’s quite impressive how easily The Blondies can communicate in it.

     Before The Boy’s school started their performance,  there was a little announcement. ‘We are not a choir. We are Sign Up, the Year 4 of our school, and the deaf units from our infant and junior schools. We will be signing and signing our performance today. There are a number of us who are deaf, and we cannot hear our own voices very well, so we will hit a lot of wrong notes, and our singing might not be very good. But we sing because we love to.’

     Oh god. They’re going to butcher ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’. But they didn’t. They weren’t great. But they were so happy, and signed so perfectly, with such synchronised movements, led by their music teacher who didn’t conduct them, but signed with them. And then, I made a complete tit out of myself.
I’d like you to imagine watching and hearing sixty children, all of them smiling beautifully, radiant with happiness and pride, some of them really profoundly deaf singing:

Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing.
Who can live without it?
I ask in all honesty, what would life be?
Without a song or a dance, what are we?
So I say thank you for the music,
For giving it to me.

     My eyes were brimming with tears, my lip was wobbling, throat set to lumpy. It was so beautiful, so profound, and so moving. Afterwards, they got the longest round of applause of the day, and I had to physically restrain myself from not jumping to my feet, punching the air, and bellowing ‘FUCK YEAH! YOU GUYS JUST FUCKING NAILED IT, YOU FUCKING BRILLIANT BASTARDS!’. So it might have taken me 25 years, but now I finally get what the Norfolk Music Festival is about, and it isn’t gaining an ‘Outstanding’ certificate (The Boy's school only got a 'Highly Commended', but that's because the adjudicator was absolutely shitfaced drunk. I know this because of his 'little chat' at the end of the perfomances. I caught The Boy's eye several times during it, and we both got the giggles, massively).

Monday, 3 March 2014

Helicopters vs Lentils

     The Blondies go to a school described as ‘socially crunchy’. By this, I mean the catchment area covers everything from single bedroom council flats to eight bedroomed fuck off massive houses that come with ‘grounds’ rather than a back garden. There are the usual cliques in the school playground:

     The mums with orange faces, crayoned eyebrows and cheap knock off boots, who smoke at the school gates.

     The posh mums in black Range Rovers who have nice nails, swishy hair and are planning to send little Hugo to private school after year 6.

     The middle class mums who cycle to work after they’ve dropped Millie off, make sure the packed lunch has cereal bars and a pot of olives, and go to the coast at weekends.

     So far, so stereotypical. Except that it isn’t. The middle class mums have subcategories. I hadn't really considered this before. But now I've spotted it, I can no longer dismiss something as SOOO NR2.

     A couple of weeks ago, The Blondies and I went to Norwich Castle Museum on a Saturday afternoon, and had a brilliant time. Apart from the bit where I made them walk there from our house.  And the bit when I realised the RSPB were holding a special family friendly day at the Castle, so every family in Norwich had decided to go to there, and the place was heaving. And the bit when The Girl got bored of the stuffed birds and stomped off, pulling her Bat Face. And the bit where The Boy kept pointing out genitalia and saying really loudly ‘MUUUUMMMMMEEEEE! Look at his WILLLEEEEEE!!!!’ And the bit when The Girl got overheated and started crying in the packed Rotunda, drawing the eye of every single person there. And the bit when The Boy MASSIVELY freaked out on the upper floor of the castle keep because the wooden floor was creaking and he was convinced it was going to collapse, so I ended up carrying him on my back for twenty minutes. And the bit afterwards when I was trying to get hold of Alistair to pick us up and he wasn’t answering his phone and it was raining. And the bit when The Girl dropped her drink on the pavement and it went everywhere and she wailed like a banshee in the middle of a very busy street.

     But apart from that it was great. I realised my ambition of making The Boy laugh when he saw this in the Norfolk landscape dioramas.

     The Girl was beside herself with excitement at seeing  the polar bear in the natural history gallery, especially when I explained how, when I was little, there was blood all over the seal. They’ve cleaned it up now, the spoilsports.

     The Boy went crazy hunting for medieval graffiti on the walls of the keep (not hard, it’s bloody riddled with the stuff).

     And I was stupidly overamused by the way this sign was laid out, as though it was some kind of beatnik style poem.

     And I got to observe the two very different styles of middle class parenting on display – The Competitive Helicopter Performance Parent, and The Lentil Weaving Darling Parent.

     The Competitive Helicopter Performance Parents (let’s just call them the CHPPs) tended to be male, with a four year old child clutching their hand and a toddler in a Phil & Ted buggy or a baby in a sling. Mother not in attendance, so I’m guessing the dad said to her ‘I’ll take the kids out, so you can get on with things (ie, do the housework)’ to which I can only hope she thought ‘Sod you’ and went to a local gastropub and drank three glasses of Pinot grigio with her lunch. The CHPPs did a lot of bending down, talking to the four year old ‘on their level’, with quite a lot of pointing at things and explaining ‘Look, Stan, there’s a statue of St Christopher! It came from a really old building, called a church. Can you remember when we went to that old church? What did we see? Did we see some statues? No, we didn’t see any statues, did we? There weren’t any in that church, were there? But this statue, this came from a  church, a long, long time ago, in a time called the Georgian period. It was called the Georgian period because…’ Meanwhile, Stan is casting longing looks at the play area and dressing up box, downcast face because now he’s being told the story of the nativity as depicted in a medieval painting, and very definitely having An Educational Experience. The CHPP doesn’t release his grip on Stan’s hand throughout their visit, which is certain to include every gallery, especially the art ones, but will definitely miss out the fun bits like the dungeons and the battlements. 

     And all of this is being conducted very LOUDLY AND CLEARLY, every word being clearly en-un-ci-a-ted so that everyone within a ten foot radius can admire what a great, hands on, fully-engaged-with his-child father this dad is. If he happens to encounter another CHPP, they’ll exchange rueful smiles, roll their eyes up amusedly and then read something from one of the information boards to Stan, to make sure they don’t show themselves up by getting something wrong. If Stan is very lucky, he may be permitted to do some brass rubbing when they leave.

     Then there were the Lentil Weaving Darling Parents (LWDPs). These were usually mums, for some reason, so I imagine their exasperated other halves were trying to work from home and begged them to take the children out. Having checked what events were on, they’d clearly seen the family friendly FUN day at the castle and thought ‘Ace! Free childcare!’, then shoved their kids off to do colouring in whilst they had a Fairtrade tea and flapjack in the cafĂ©. And their children were, frankly, little shits. Running, screaming, through the whole building, sending toddlers flying, having sword fights with unarmed children (The Boy hid behind my back, The Girl was squaring up to them) and generally creating mayhem and bloodshed on a city-wide scale. Occasionally, the LWDP would look up and say in proud tones ‘Darling! That’s SO creative! Well done!’ as her nine year old son scribbled all over another child’s drawing to the mute horror of onlooking parents, before turning back to The Guardian. Then, when the howls of a child drew her attention, she’d watch as her six year old son thumped a four year old girl to get the cloak she was dressing up in, before stealthboasting ‘He’s SO determined to get what he wants, nothing really holds him back, does it darling?’.

     You could see other parents passively aggressively trying to needle her by saying to their own offspring ‘No, Libby, we mustn’t snatch. You didn’t like it when that boy snatched your crayon, did you?’. If LWDP heard this she would simply smile sweetly and say ‘It’s a tricky stage, isn’t it? I remember when my eldest was like that.’ Blissfully unaware that behind her, her nine year old was stamping on the toes off the nice man from the RSPB because he wouldn’t give him one of the £5 posters for free. If her children approached her with a request for something, she’d brush them off with a tinkly laugh and tell them to see if they could scale the lift shaft to get to the knight in armour of the third floor. They'd slope off, hands in pockets, and then push each other over.

     This experience left me absolutely shattered for the rest of the day. By half past four, The Blondies and I had had enough of being lectured to by the CHPPs and then having our shins bashed by feral children of the LWDP. We went down to the castle gardens and The Blondies played Star Wars whilst I tried to track down my elusive boyfriend. On the way home I came up with three vows to myself that I intend to stick to, with regards to parenting:

1.       The most valuable thing you can give your child is your time and attention.
2.       Children should enjoy learning, not have information overloaded onto them.
3.       But a bit of benign neglect is a good thing and your child needs some space to indulge their creativity.

     So if anyone asks what I'm doing on twitter when I'm with The Blondies, I am, obviously, applying my parental philosophy of benign neglect. There when they want me, in the background when they don't.