Thursday, 26 June 2014

This is a low

     I feel a bit like I’ve made myself a hostage to fortune this week. Because of writing about happiness being a choice, and not giving a toss about what other people think of me. But I was right when I said I will always be honest. I have a confession.

     I feel rubbish. I have done for nearly two weeks. There’s not obvious reason for it, nothing’s happened, nothing hasn’t happened, I just feel incredibly low. I feel stupid, boring, insignificant and useless. I keep asking myself what am I doing with my life? And the answer really is nothing. I’m doing nothing. Twatty blogging and that’s pretty much it. I’m making no contribution to anything. I’m not working, I’m not studying, I’m not volunteering. I’m just sitting at home. Doing nothing. And all around me, people seem to be achieving so much more, being so much more talented, intelligent, and interesting.

     I’m not fishing for compliments. I don’t want people to swoop in and lovebomb me. Because even if you did, I wouldn’t believe you. It’s not to do with anyone else. It’s just me. I feel rubbish. Writing’s not going well, blogging’s rubbish, and I don’t have much else going for  me. I know this is temporary. I’ve felt like this before, and it will pass. But right now, I feel rubbish. And that’s all there is to say.

Jolly Good Sport

     Friday was mostly rubbish, which is a shame because it started quite promisingly with an event most parents loathe. Sports Day. Except that it was actually Sports Morning, because what a good idea! Get 300 children hot, tired, and sweaty, and then expect them to spend another three hours in school. Genius.

     I wasn’t really looking forward to it. But I went along because The Boy asked me to, and we all know that Other Parents hoik their judgeypants at Absent Parents at school events like this. Slight false start when I realised I’d forgotten my wallet and had to pelt back home to pick up. Then, fortified with a latte and greasy bacon roll from Greggs, I made my way schoolwards.

     Sports Day (I’m going to stick to calling it that, because ‘Sports Morning’ sounds wrong) has changed since I last skived off it by faking various injuries. Now there’s no ‘Year 4 100m race’ in front of the whole school, so that 290 of your peers can watch you cross the line whole minutes after the runners (I am not a natural athlete). Now it’s set up into stations dotted around the school field, where groups of eight children take it in turns to dribble a rugby ball, or throw little beanbags into hula hoops, or jump over a cone ten times. Two minutes at each station, then move onto the next one. Wisely (because it was fairly hot), there were also three rest stations, where the children had to sit, rest, and drink water for the allotted two minutes. Slightly less humiliating than failing to throw a cricket ball more than 3ft in front of the entire school, teachers, and parents.

     For the benefit of parents, in the middle of the field, the school had laid out rows of green plastic chairs, so the parents could sit reasonably comfortably and watch their children making their way round the course. It did look a bit odd though, so I gave that a miss, and looked around me, trying to find The Boy (easy to do. All I had to do was look at feet. The Boy has a very odd habit of pulling his socks up as high as they will go. Not obvious when he’s wearing long trousers, but instantly recognisable in shorts). Spotting him on the far side of the field, I wandered over, plonked myself down on the grass and started noticing things about the people around me. The groups. The individuals. The tribes…

     Competitive Dad

     Cheering, far too loudly, when his son (always a son, never a daughter. He does have a daughter, but she is generally ignored) is on. Pushing other children out of the way to high five the light of his life. Roaring encouragement ‘C’MONNNN!! Get! IN!’ Tutting at other children who aren’t doing so well, eventually descending into making comments on their performance in matey blokey bantering tones. Tells anyone who’ll listen that when a teacher suggested he quieten down little, he told her what he thought of her suggestion, prefacing his response with ‘Listen, love.’ He never does the school run, so is blissfully unaware that the child he’s taking the piss out of is the offspring of the man he’s talking to. The Other Dad nervously jiggles the change in his pocket and silently prays that his child doesn’t come over and create an awkward situation.
As the morning wears on, more and more parents are anxious to avoid him and he ends up with an audience of one, his longsuffering wife, who is under strict instructions to video the entire morning. Presumably for a full play-by-play analysis after school.

     Cossetting Mum

     Her child is the walking definition of Precious First Born. Already considered to be slightly odd by the other children, and his mother does nothing to dispel this, as she follows him from station to station, obsessively checking that suntan lotion is topped up to premium levels, put your hat back on, do you need more water, look, you’re not drinking enough, the bottle’s only half empty, and you’ve been out here for an hour already, I’ve got two more bottles in my bag… If you watch closely enough, you’ll see her trying to slip him anti-histamines, despite no evidence of hayfever or allergies.

     When the children are gathered into their houses at the end of Sports Day, her child very deliberately sits in the middle of the group to avoid her ministrations. She manages to edge ever closer to him as the sitting children fidget, until a woman in her forties is sitting in the middle of a group of ten year olds. She stands, alone and bereft, as the children troop back into school, her child having awarded her the most cursory of waves and a ‘MUUUUMMM!’ when she tries to bestow a goodbye kiss.

     NR2 Mums

     Completely disconcerted by missing their normal latte and Danish pastry on the coffee shop post school run, they clutch a Greggs coffee, making sure that everyone knows they’ve never been to a Greggs before in their life, but ‘Needs must!’. This is followed by a nervous titter, in case the Other NR2 Mums don’t believe them, and suspect them of eating mass produced sausage rolls not from an artisan bakery.

     For the most part in Boden and Joules, there will be a least one mum per group in gym gear, even though there is no possible way they could have gone for a run before Sports Day started. The mums not in gym gear feel needled by this, and make sure they mention their Pilates class that evening.

     Talking about nothing other than their children, as though they have ceased to exist in their own right, delightful verbal skirmishes can be overheard as they pass.

     ‘Joely always kisses me goodbye. I find it rather sweet.’
     ‘Oh? Mine are far too independent for that’
     ‘I suppose I’ve just raised mine to be affectionate’ Patronising smile.
     ‘Theo and Daisy are quite secure. They don’t need much reassurance.’ Patronising smile and head tilt combo.

     The only thing that unites them is their dislike of…

     The Capable Mums

     Factor 50 applied in the kitchen before leaving the house, their children are uncomplainingly clad in plain beige baseball cap, PE kit bought from the PTA shop, and  sipping water from a school branded water bottle (couple of ice cubes added before leaving the house ‘to keep it lovely and cool’). The Capable Mums can be easily identified by their uniform of oatmeal coloured cropped trousers and pastel polo shirts.

     Attaching themselves to whichever group their child is in, they take it upon themselves to shepherd all of the children present, despite the presence of (increasingly irked) Other Parents, tying shoelaces that weren’t undone, tucking in t-shirts, and offering their own water supply to those children whose parents –shockingly- forgot.

     At rest stations they hand out mini boxes of raisins to all, whilst they drink the barista prepared decaff they had the foresight to buy on the way into school, then decant into an insulated mug. The NR2 mums are ashamed not to have thought of this, and are further annoyed when she points out that their child has a hole in their shorts ‘just in case you hadn’t noticed’.

     She means well, but is hated for it, as all Other Parents feel inadequate in comparison.

     The PTA

     Half NR2 Mums, half Capable Mums, they have volunteered to man a station, under the threat of coffee morning ostracisation by Chief PTA Bitch, who blanks anyone that isn’t on the organising committee (but avoids taking a station for herself, because she’s needed to ‘do things’).

     The Capable Mums are aggressively encouraging to every child ‘Oh, rotten luck! Have another go, Charlie!’ to such an extent that casual observers begin to suspect that they may have taken recreational drugs. This suspicion is hardened when the jollity continues, unvarying and unwavering, for three hours.

     The NR2 Mums, by contrast, quickly tire of retrieving stray tennis balls, and start surreptitiously checking facebook on their iPhones. By the halfway point, they have abandoned all pretence of caring, and fail to notice when the children start horsing around, buried instead in an article on the Guardian app about which modern art galleries are best for children, sipping their lukewarm Greggs coffee, and being sure to give a little moue of disgust every time, just in case anyone’s watching, and thinks they might be enjoying it.

      Toddler Wranglers

     They came prepared. Pushchair. Snacks. Drinks. Sunhat. Toys. Sunscreen. Replacement sunhat. Nappy bag. Parasol. Change of clothes. Emergency replacement sunhat.

     Unfortunately, the toddlers prefer to live a life of gay abandon and unfettered spontaneity. Watching an older sibling dribble a rugby ball around a cone is BORING. But that corner of the sports field, 300 metres away from where the action is taking place looks fun! Mum’s busy watching Archie balance a beanbag on his head… and the toddler hares off, Mum in hot pursuit thirty seconds later.

     On return to the pushchair, the toddler will refuse to be restrained again, and Mum will have to abandon any hope of watching Amelia hop ten times inside a hula hoop, in favour of ceaseless toddler vigilance. The toddler will become overtired with fifteen minutes to go, and descend into a screaming redfaced tantrum that means no one can hear which team won. The tantrum will last all the way home, until they abruptly fall asleep.

     The Teachers

     Doing brave battle with a faltering PA system, the laziest teacher gets to observe proceedings, sitting down, sipping iced water. He announces the start and finish of each session, always having to remind the masses that ‘We’re still waiting for a couple of teams to sit down before we can continue.’ By the end of the morning, he’s clearly so fed up with saying the same thing that his mood has passed beyond tetchiness and is now at liquid rage.

     The other teachers, out in the full glare of the sun all morning eye his comfort with ill-disguised resentment, especially if they’re running a rest station and get to say nothing other than ‘Water’ and ‘Sit down’ for three hours. Wearing their normal working clothes, they are hot, sweaty and cross. The children who will be taught by them later that day are apprehensive.

     The Loners

     Fall into two distinct categories.

     The Nervous Loner is starting to regret never chatting to Other Parents in the school playground. She’s wearing a large floppy straw sunhat that she’s not too sure about. But if she takes it off, she’ll have to carry it, and people might laugh at her. It takes her a full circuit of the field before she spots her daughter, adding to sense of social awkwardness. She ends up hovering on the edge of a group of Other Mums, not joining in the conversation, but smiling as if she is. They feel inhibited by this, and stop talking. She feels more awkward, but can’t think of a way of moving on without losing face. So stays. Silence continues.

     The Aggressive Loner

     They want to be supportive of their child. They kind of want to be here. But they can’t bothered with all the social niceties that Other Bloody Parents observe, because what’s the point? You’ve got nothing in common beyond what school your children attend. The Aggressive Loner picks up a green plastic chair from the neatly arranged rows and positions it in the middle of the field, at least six feet away from anyone else on all sides, moving around the field as and when required. Motionless, arms folded, face inscrutable behind sunglasses, radiating ‘Don’t even think of approaching me’ vibes. This attitude is only relaxed when a teacher passes and a grudging nod is performed.

     Supporting Cast

     Of grandparents who are thinking ‘I did all this thirty years ago…’, but are secretly delighted to have been asked to come, the stepmother who takes the morning off work, only to be completely blanked by her stepchild, babies sleeping contentedly in buggies and slings, Community Police Support Officers wandering the field (I didn’t think things were expected to kick off), the teaching assistant helping the girl with Down’s Syndrome, the buzz of conversation and shouts of children cheering their team on…

     All of human life is here.

     And one twatty blogger, sitting on the grass, slightly apart from it all, notebook and pen in hand, watching her son perform ineptly, inelegantly, and industriously, her heart bursting with pride, scribbling down notes about the people around her.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Giving up giving a toss


     ‘You can say that Mum, but I don’t actually care. Because it doesn’t matter what people think of me, as long as I’m happy and I’m not hurting anyone.

     ‘Oh. Ok.’

     ‘Yeah Mum, it doesn’t matter what people think of you, as long as you’re honest.’

     Ok, now The Girl is joining in. I’d thought we were just having a competition to see who could make their mint last longest on the way home from school. But this conversation seems to be… hang on. The Boy’s talking again…

     ‘That’s what you always tell me Mum. To never let other people change me. Just be myself, be honest. You always say that.’

     Ye-es, but I didn’t think it would actually sink in. Mums are supposed to say stuff like that to their children! It’s the Second Law of Parenting. Wait, The Girl has something more to add...

     ‘You don’t care what people think of you, Mum. Why should we?’

     Oh. Ah. Hmm. Hnnnrgggh. Blondies, learn from me. Learn from my mistakes. Hold me up as an example of what not to do and be. Do you really want to end up like me? No, shut up, don’t answer that. And then the next day, sitting in the park after school, I was chatting to Another Mum, and of course she asked why I hadn’t gone back to work. Seeing my hesitation, she rushed to fill the gap.

     ‘Sorry, it’s none of my business, you don’t need to…’

     ‘Oh, I’m fine about it. It’s just a bit uncomfortable for other people when I tell them. Basically, I had a massive nervous breakdown, and haven’t worked for four years.’

     ‘Oh, right.’ A very long pause whilst she clearly tried to think of something to say. ‘But you seem really happy. Whenever I see you with The Blondies, the three of you are always laughing.’

     RUBBISH PARENTING ALERT in other words. Parents aren’t supposed to have fun with their kids, are they? It’s A Bad Thing to laugh with them, isn’t it? I don’t know. Actually, it probably is A Bad Thing if I’m the one doing it. I think that at some point I must have missed the ante-natal seminar on how to be A Parent, as opposed to Me With Added Blondies. I just can’t get my head around it. And so I do stupid things that parents aren’t supposed to do. Like tell The Boy that my nickname for my sister is Biggus Sissus (added black mark for that because he totally got the Monty Python reference). Or roar with laughter at a car registration plate that ends in ‘VAJ’ (they got that one too). Or sing the Lelli Kelly song outside a shoe shop, accompanied by a dance routine with jazz hands, oblivious to passersby…

     But then, like I said earlier, I used to be quiet, well behaved and so very, very nice. My clothes were plain, my hair was left alone, I could be trusted in polite society. I would never have dreamed of doing the Ghostbusters cartoon dance on the way to school to make The Blondies laugh, or shouting STOP!!!! HAMMER TIME! at them to get them to stop bloody whinging at each other. I was as unlike myself as it was possible to be.

     I was so dull. And the thing was that people didn’t like me, because I was so dull and small and placid and so very, very nice. And so I got worse, and they treated me more unkindly, until any semblance of personality had all but withered away. And it’s taken a while for it to come back.

     It was always there, of course. But fearing that people wouldn’t like the real me, I buried it deep down. What brought it back was the discovery of one last act of viciousness on the part of Mortal Enemy number 1. I don’t know why, but I can remember the discovery of it, sitting very still, at the dining room table, teeth clenched, lips thin, staring at the letter and feeling something snap. Bitch. I thought. BITCH. Even now, that I’m far away from you, you can’t help yourself.

     It’s not a pleasant feeling to be hated. Especially when you don’t know what you did to become so loathed. But something fell into place that day, and I realised that it wasn’t my fault. That I’d agonised and fretted for so many years, denying who I really was, to try and make someone like me, when they never would.

     And about a second after that, another thought arrived. Who was this timid little creature? This frumpy, overweight, listless streak of beige, who never laughed, rarely cried, and had stopped listening to music years earlier? Good god almighty, this person is me.

     It wasn’t like in films. I didn’t leave the house half an hour later with a brand new haircut, in a flowery dress, sunglasses on, kickarse attitude in place. It’s taken bloody ages, if I’m honest, to get to the point where I no longer give a toss what people think of me. Obviously, there are people whose opinions I value, and people whom I care about, to varying degrees, but what’s different is that I’m not seeking to gain approval from anyone. Not now.

     Often, when I write something personal, like miscarriage, or ATOS, people say I’m being brave. I don’t see it that way. I’m being honest. I spent ten years being, bluntly, dishonest, and it nearly destroyed me. If I can’t be honest with myself, then how can anyone else trust me? So if that means an impromptu SCHOOL PLAYGROUND DISCO on the way home, so be it. Or having a rant about selfish bloggers on here. Or any number of things that seem like a good idea at the time… My circumstances haven’t changed since I stopped being that repressed, withdrawn, miserable failure 18 months ago. But I am happier. The Blondies are happier. And from this twatty blog and twitter, I’ve found a fair few people who apparently like the real me, and tell me so (which only encourages me to be more me).

     So on balance, I suppose I agree with what I’ve taught The Blondies, without really intending to, blindly parroting the platitudes of parenthood. Always to thine own self be true and that. Don’t let other people change you. Hurt no one. Don’t be the person you think people will like. Be happy. Be yourself. Be honest. 

Fear no more the heat o' the sun

     This has been a funny post to write. There are actually two posts, really. I started writing one, then realised that without the background, it didn’t really make sense, and you perhaps wouldn’t appreciate what I was trying to say. That’s a nice clear introduction, isn’t it?

     Something that seems to happen when I blog about personal stuff is that people tell me that I’m brave. As nice as it is to be told that, I respectfully disagree. I’m not brave (I write this under a pen name, remember?). I’m just honest. I’ve reached the point where I feel I can be.

     I wish I’d got here sooner. Or rather, I wish I’d returned here sooner. Despite being eaten up by insecurity and lack of confidence all my life, I was also fairly gutsy and gobby until I hit my 20s. I didn’t give a toss what other people thought.

     And then, I hit my 20s, I inherited a Serious Career, and became a mother. And everything somehow became dulled. My clothes, my hair, me. Every feeling I had, I muted. Every instinctive reaction I hid. I thought it was because I’d grown up. Instead, I’d grown apart from myself. I didn’t know who I was, so I strived to be liked, to be quiet, passive, pliable. I smiled when people annoyed me. I had unvarying patience with people who wasted my time. When people upset me, I knew that the fault lay with me. When people deliberately hurt me, I wondered what I’d done wrong. I never questioned why they acted the way they did, just accepted that it said something about me.

     I retreated, I made myself small, insubstantial, unobtrusive. I was stoical. I closed down. Fear no more the heat o' the sun… I couldn’t. I was obscured by cloud. No one questioned what had happened to the girl with the big boots, big voice, big chip on her shoulder. There were people I saw on a daily basis who knew absolutely nothing about me.

     And of course, people saw me as weak. And in the situation I was in, they attacked weakness. Every success I had was belittled or ignored. Slowly, friends were prised away from me. Whispering campaigns. Extra work being piled on. Everything being made just that little bit harder than it needed to be. I can see it now of course, with hindsight. But then I just assumed it was me, my failings, my fault. So I tried to be nicer, to paper over the despair and guilt with a blander smile, to be more accepting, to try to make people like me.

     And they saw me as weaker still. And they despised me for it. And stepped up the attacks on me.

     I lost all sense of who I was. I didn’t trust myself. I was told that people didn’t like me because they thought that I was false. I was. But only because I didn’t know how to be me. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

In pursuit of wankiness

     I’m not that bright. I read a lot, write more, I think (too much) about things. But I’m not, and never have been a cleverclogs, an academically inclined kind of person. I’m a twatty blogger. That’s me, right there, titting about on twitter, laughing inappropriately at stupid jokes and being healthily cynical. I don’t have a lot of time for wankiness.

     How do I define wankiness? I should have a snappy answer to that, seeing as I bang on about it enough. Being a thicko, however, I don’t. It’s just a kind of thing. Being pretentious. Intellectual snobbery. Elevating yourself above the commoners like me. Showing off with every interaction that you’re a bit clever, you are. Artisan bakeries. Buying handmade stuff that looks handmade so everyone knows it’s handmade. Being precious. Wankiness.

     The world of clever people is closed to me. I didn’t even go to university. Yeah, you heard me right. I was supposed to. I had my Forensic Psychology & Criminology course all set up and ready to go. \but I met Alistair, I feel into a very well paid job and… I didn’t. Sometimes I wish I had. But then I wouldn’t have met Alistair, I wouldn’t have had The Blondies, I wouldn’t have this life, whatever it is. Anyway, however you look at it, my formal education ended at 18 (aside from the extra A Levels in my early 20s, but they were home study and therefore, Don’t Count).

     But I still want to learn. As a history obsessed moo, I love reading about the past, about people, their lives, their passions. And I know how lucky I am that I’ve ended up living in a city where history isn’t an abstract concept, but all around me. It’s in the cobblestones I tramp, the walls I touch, the building I visit. I still get the same fizz of excitement when I see the Guildhall, or a read a green plaque on the wall, or spot something old I’d previously overlooked. And because of this history all around Norfolk, there are bloody LOADS of people and groups and talks and events celebrating this heritage. I’m still amazed by it.

     But of course, there is a flipside to this. And unfortunately, it’s the people who know this stuff best. The Clever People. I don’t think I know any of them. I certainly don’t interact with any of them. It’s not that I hate them or anything like that. I don’t even dislike them. They just make me do an exaggerated eyeroll and think ‘Wow. You really don’t like sharing, do you?’

     ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’ Albert Einstein said that, just to prove I can be as wanky as the rest of them. I’d add something more to that. ‘Or perhaps you don’t want people to understand something it took you a long time to comprehend. So you’ll bind ideas to jargon, and in-jokes, and  references that the casual reader, the great uneducated won’t understand. To exclude. To infer intellectual inferiority. To create a divide.

     It makes me sad. Actually, it annoys me. In fact, it FUCKS ME ROYALLY OFF. Knowledge, history, heritage, aren’t the preserve of those with a doctorate in snobbery, specialising in wankiness. It belongs to us, to all of us, and to see things that are fascinating, enlightening, and help us to understand human history, obscured by intellectual wankiness and mutual academic masturbation should be a bloody crime.

singular features in landscapes entrain our awareness in orbits of attention and interaction.  Each individual’s orbit, following broadly the same law of cognitive gravity, will ultimately coincide with those of others, overprinting paths of attention and thus amplification of the significance of the feature.

     Yeah, go ahead, google it, you’ll see where I got it from. What is really frustrating is that he has a really good point, but it’s hidden behind some impenetrable prose that anyone who isn’t full of utter wankiness would have their eyes glaze over within the first paragraph.

     Is it fear, do we think? That if a twatty blogger like me can grasp a concept they write about, then maybe - clutch your pearls, ivory tower dwellers – they’re not being clever enough? If someone like me, with no real education can read, understand and appreciate an academic paper, then perhaps… they’re not as clever as they want others to believe they are That perhaps (whisper this bit) the stuff they know… it isn’t so hard to understand?

     And it transfers into other things I see. It’s not enough to prove how clever they are. They have to belittle others. Maybe by ignoring a twatty blogger replying to them. Sneering at someone for being enthusiastic about something they consider non-academic. Not engaging with anyone outside of their special circle, because what could we, the average person, know or understand? Playing a deadly serious game of who can be the most ‘above all that’. I don’t like it. It’s snobbery, pure and simple.

     But maybe I’m equally guilty of reverse snobbery. Perhaps I have a massive chip on my shoulder about not going to university, being a twatty blogger, having to read up on things before I can immediately understand a reference. Perhaps I’m jealous that other people get to live a life defined by their thoughts and interpretations, where they’re admired for their ideas. Where is they venture, just a little into the outside world, they’re seen as unique and special. Perhaps I resent being reminded that I’m nothing much, nothing special, have nothing to offer. Maybe.

     But equally, I have nothing to prove either. I’m just a twatty blogger.

In pursuit of happiness

     I’ve been feeling rubbish about myself lately. No obvious reason. Just frustrated with writing and blogging not going as well as I want it to, feeling dull, flat, insignificant. And when I’m already feeling bleh about myself, I tend to take the most pessimistic interpretation of things happening around me. It’s one of the things I least like about myself. But this lunchtime, I found something I’d written a few days ago, but not blogged because I thought it was rather too aggrandising and wanky. Sod it. If blogging it gets me out of this slough of despond, I’ll take that.

     I like to think when I’m driving,
     I like to daydream a little.
     I like to think about people
     The faces of the young and the old.
     I want to watch the whole story unfold.

     I love to watch people. One of my favourite things to do is to plonk myself on a seat in a public place (often a pub, oddly enough), draw out my notebook and scribble down what I see happening around me. It gets me thinking… About people, about behaviour, what we talk and act the way we do. What people wear, what they eat, what they say, their body language and how it betrays what they really think. It’s a source of constant fascination.

     When we were away in Sheringham, Alistair and I took full advantage of my mum being on hand to provide free wraparound childcare, and found ourselves in a beer garden. It was Bank Holiday Monday, the sun was shining, and the place was heaving. Alistair went off to get drinks; I pounced on a newly vacant table and set myself up in the usual fashion.

     Women in striped tops and cropped trousers
     Knobbers with designer handkerchiefs and sunglasses.
     Sulky looking orange women with blonde hair and tortoiseshell sunglasses, ignoring their spouses.
     Dissatisfied older women with wrinkly lips, highlights, and narked expressions, feeling old compared to the bright young things surrounding them.
     Lots of pointless and yappy small dogs on leads that are too long and getting tangled round legs.
     Children getting excitable/bored, acting up, and being told to ‘ssshhh!’. Parents then carry on talking. Children start acting up again…
     Fat men in tshirts with slogans and cheap polyester shorts.
     Sturdy walkers examining maps.
     Murmur of talk, but no laughter.
     No one is having fun.

     No one. Everyone looked fed up. Maybe because their table was overcrowded, or they were hot, their food was taking too long to arrive, their other half was pissing them off, they were sunburnt… I don’t know. But although there was a buzz of conversation, no one was laughing. Hardly anyone was even smiling.
Except for us. I was hooting with laughter at something (everything), and he was grinning away, asking me what I was twatting on about now in my notebook.

     Cogs started turning (creaking) in my head. About happiness. About laughing. About making a choice.

     I’ve had depression. Whole wasted years of depression, where I barely smiled. Crippling depression. Life-threatening depression. But now, I take the tablets, I had counselling, I’m on an evenish keel. But one thing that fucks me right off is people referring to my daily dose of 20mg of Escitalopram as my ‘happy pills’. They’re SSRIs that balance out my brain chemistry so the darkness fades and doesn’t threaten to overwhelm me. They help my mind stay clear. They don’t make me happy.

     I make myself happy. I make the choice to laugh, easily, loudly, and often. No matter how crap things are, I can force myself not to become weighed down by it. I can laugh, and lift my mood. If all around is sturm and drang, then I will laugh, and whatever it is I’m facing loses some of its power to reduce me.  It becomes a virtuous circle. You laugh, you feel better, things seem funnier, you laugh more, the people around you smile too. One of the nicest things anyone has said to me lately is that the first few times they saw me with The Blondies, they assumed I must be the au pair or childminder. Because we were laughing, always. And that made them smile too.

     Happiness is a choice. Make it. And laugh. LOTS.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Park Life

     Welcome to the park on a weekday afternoon. To ensure that all visitors have a safe, enjoyable and fun!! experience, please ensure you observe the following rules.

     You cannot sit on the pavement side and smoke. Evil Parents Who Smoke MUST sit on the grass.

     It is permissible to share a bench with a stranger, but only if all other benches are in use. It is never acceptable to share a picnic table.

     Pushchairs may be green, black, or red. Only pushchairs with latte holders are permitted within the enclosure.

     People who are taking care of their grandchildren must have one too many children to adequately supervise them all. In the case of toddlers, one is one too many.

     Only children from surrounding schools may use the facilities. It is unacceptable to visit a park that is not the closest one to your school. If you are a private school pupil, you may not enter.

     Never talk directly to other parents or children. Always address your comments via your own child thus: ‘Darling, I think that little boy doesn’t want to get off the slide yet.’ to hide your murderous rage that Other Parents aren’t making sure their own offspring share.

     All of the Other Children will happily play together, despite never having met before this moment. Your children will demand constant interaction with, physical assistance from, and ceaseless vigilance by you.

     One Token Dad is permitted to be in attendance at any given time. His son (it must always be a male child) is required to wear a hat.

     If you bring food with you, it is mandatory for Another Mum From School to join you. She will then hand her beautifully behaved child rice cakes, organic carrot sticks, and mango juice, whilst your children bicker over Ribena and Pom Bears. She will silently judge you, and you will hate her for this.

     At four o’clock every weekday, there will be a sudden influx of teenagers, swearing and insulting members of the opposite sex within their group. At one point, a male teenager will shout ‘OY! Amy! You fucking dickhead!’ as they pass you. You must crisply respond ‘I’ll thank you not to use that language in front of my children.’

     The sense of victory you experience as they hang their heads and mutter an apology will be short-lived, as you realise they think of you as a Proper Grown Up. The feeling of your soul shrivelling into an aged and decrepit husk will last for a long time.

     Your lack of parenting skills will be cruelly highlighted by your nine year old son’s inability to correctly operate a swing, especially in comparison to the 18 month old boy sitting next to him.

     A group of university academics will walk past as you reach your lowest point. They will look smart, pretty, young and well dressed, talking excitedly about a concept you will never understand. You will feel dull, stupid, and insignificant. Sensing this, your children will reassure you of your importance by announcing that they need a wee.

     Despite the acres of green fields surrounding the play area, it is expected that the Token Dad will attempt to start a game of football with his young son, in the middle of the toddler play area. The game may only be abandoned when at least three young children have been hit in the face by the ball.

     Tears are expected upon at least one of these occurrences:  arriving, having no one to play with, no free swings, sand in eyes, being hit by Token Dad’s football, tripping over on soft sand, not being allowed to be Princess Jasmine/a Clone Trooper, leaving. Please note that all children in the group must cry at least once. Parental tears are not considered eligible.

     No adults may use the zipwire, if there is anyone else in the play area. When the play area has been vacated by all other occupants, it is a requirement that the female adult who uses the zipwire must fall off, and land heavily on her buttocks on hard, wet sand. She must then realise that there are still Other People in the play area, and that they have just seen her knickers.

    On your departure, you are obliged to take five kilograms of free sand home with you. Please ensure you store it correctly in your shoes, bags, pockets, underwear, mouth and eyes.

     Thank you for your understanding and co-operation. 

Jehovah Jehovah Jehovah

     Last night, just for a change, I was arsing about on twitter, and @natt suggested that a good way to increase traffic to your blog might be to write a post on why things aren’t entirely bleak for the Lib Dems. Being by nature a pessimistic, nihilistic creature of darkness, I found it surprisingly easy. If anyone at LibDem HQ wants to hire me for PR purposes, they’ll find my rates very reasonable.

1          People don’t actively hate the LibDems. They might find their lack of spine unappealing. They might feel that their vote for the party was won under false promises. They might think that Nick Clegg is a wet fart of a nonleader who found power more appealing than principles. But it’s hard to feel real loathing for something so pathetic and drippy. I think what most people feel is scorn instead.

2           They are fully aware that their lack of popularity is all their own fault. No one else can take the blame. They fucked up, and they know it. There’s no scapegoating going on. That’s kind of refreshing. Lack of arrogance in politicians.

3            Their activists. Their local activists are really nice people. Their MPs might be beneath our contempt for their mindless toeing of the government line, but their party members are, for the most part, quite nice people who don’t mind showing consideration for others.

         Yellow. I’m not a massive fan of the colour yellow (it really doesn’t suit me. Although I’ve just realised I’m wearing a pink and yellow dress as I type this, making me as reliable as a Lib Dem election pledge). But some people like it. And that’s nice.

            They’re facing political annihilation in the 2015 election. Whilst some might see this as a disaster, there’s a positive to be found. Post-election, they can analyse the seats where they got the smallest amount of shit kicked out of them, and concentrate their resources there in the future. No point trying to win votes in university seats ever again, for example.

6            Danny Alexander inspired the phrase ‘slab of albino spam’. I think we can all agree that this gladdens the heart of all who have read it.

7            The militant faction of the LibDems has, in disgust, defected to the Green Party. So party conferences and meetings will be that much nicer, sweeter, and generally more middle class. No arguing over what Fair Trade teabags to use, or which printer paper is most ethical.

8           Infighting. Not content with pissing off a large number of the electorate, they’re turning in on themselves and making it very public over whose fault is this, I said we shouldn’t support that bill, you put in charge of this department and now you’re stopping me doing my job, you’re a fucking disgrace... It’s not great for them as a political force, but for outsiders, it is vastly entertaining.

9            As UKIP, the BNP, the EDL, the Monster Raving Loony Party etc. have shown over the years, there’s always a market for the protest vote. You’ll lose your deposit, be roundly humiliated, and suffer the indignity of seeing a stuffed toy get more votes than you, but hey, someone will mark X next to the picture of the dove. Even if it’s by mistake.

1        It’s not 1987, so they do exist. For how much longer is a valid question, but right here, right now, the Liberal Democrats is still a going concern. Dum spiro spero, and all that.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Love is?

     Love is the sweetest thing
     What else on earth could ever bring
     Such happiness to everything
     As love’s old story?

     It’s The Girl’s sixth birthday today. So I’ve been indulging in some serious memory wallowing.

     There she is, two hours old. If you’re wondering why I’m obviously naked and she’s wrapped in several blankets and towels, it’s because UNPLANNED HOME BIRTH. She was delivered by paramedics on the bathroom floor. And if that wasn’t enough drama, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, twice, her body blue, floppy, and unresponsive. I cried out, as one of the paramedics said ‘Bollocks. PAED RESUSC KIT.’ And began tugging and heaving at the cord, loosening it, then holding a tiny oxygen tube under her nose as he urged ‘Breathe, c’mon, breathe.’ Those few brief moments felt like a lifetime. Had the paramedics not arrived two minutes earlier, those few brief moments would have been The Girl’s lifetime. 

     But her face flickered, she took her first breath, and they handed her to me.

     Love. Pure, unadulterated, overwhelming love. I didn’t even notice it arriving. One moment it wasn’t. The next, it was.  Brimful of adoration, sublimeness of feeling, the connection. My daughter. Exactly the same way it had happened with The Boy, three years earlier. Love isn’t enough of a word to describe it. It would be unthinkable for me to feel any differently about her. And it doesn’t matter to me that The Blondies are poles apart in personality. I don’t love one more than the other. I just love them. Simply. Equally. Unequivocally.

     I’ve mentioned my brother before. I have cut him out of my life, for too many long, expensive and legal reasons. But when the Girl was around six months old, I was sitting with her, my brother, and a few other parents at a child’s birthday party. One of the other parents had a newborn with her, and conversation naturally turned to how she was coping with two children. At which point, my brother said ‘I could never have another child. I really don’t want to. Y’know, I remember when my sisters came along, how it really upset me, like I wasn’t loved, y’know? And I look at my son, and think I just couldn’t love another child. He’s My Boy, y’know? I don’t think it’s fair on the first child to have siblings. Basically, you’re halving your love, aren’t you?’

     There was a slightly awkward pause, which The Girl broke by farting triumphantly, everyone laughed, I made a big fuss of getting up to change her nappy, and conversation resumed on some other innocuous topic like ‘Do you take it up the arse?’ or something.

     But I was livid. Still am, if I’m honest (probably because it was my brother who said it. Any excuse to pile more loathing up). As though love is a finite resource. You’re given your allotted share, and that’s it.  Once you’ve doled it out in life, no more. You can chose where you spend it, but you loves your loves, you take your chances. Waste it on a bad love affair? Sorry squire, we’re all out. Seal your heart up. Love doesn’t live here anymore. We’re not at home to love. Currently experiencing a severe case of love fatigue, therefore any subsequent children will receive watered down gruel love. Diet Love, now with fewer attachments.

     What kind of unutterably stupid bollocks is that? Seriously? Did he not ever stop to consider that before his son was born, he didn’t love him? That it was only at birth that the love he was so precious of, that he wanted to hoard away like a vicious old miser was created by his child? And if it happened once, then surely it would be likely to happen again? Although, it doesn’t even happen, it just IS. It’s there. Intangible, but there is nothing in my life I am more certain of.

     Love empowers and enriches, it doesn’t drain away. It’s self-fulfilling and self-sustaining (I’m not talking about the state of being in love, by the way. That’s a whole other can of worms barrel of eels we can tackle another time). I think I tell The Blondies that I love them at least twenty times a day, and they respond in kind. Why wouldn’t I? How couldn’t I?

     I love and I am loved in return. Is there a finer knowledge to possess? And to sign off with a mawkish, tacky, and naff load of sentimental tosh*, I shall quote The Beatles:

     And in the end,
     The love you take
     Is equal to
     The love you make

Bonus point to anyone who spotted the very, very faint reply in the penultimate photo. 'Unconditional'

*Bugger off. It’s my daughter’s birthday. I can be as drippy as I like.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Haunts of Ancient Peace


   If I were better organised, I would have made sure I had a photo of something in Salthouse to accompany this post. Sadly, and all too predictably, I am not organised, I don’t have a proper photo, so you’re just going to have to imagine it for yourself, with the aid of a different picture. I could try and spin this as my evil cunning plan to get you to visit Salthouse for yourself to see what I’m banging on about, but it’s only just occurred to me that I should totally have done that, and you would have been really impressed by how seductive I make it sound, and thought I was really clever. Bum. Also, here, have this almighty earworm that’s been haunting me for over ten days now. No, you’re WELCOME  (I'd forgotten about the crappy sax solo at the start. God, so much cringe).

     August, 1990. Mum and I were spending the summer in the North Norfolk village of Salthouse, staying in a cottage on a narrow flint lane. I was alone, bored, mooching around the beach and countryside, out of things to entertain myself with, and decided to visit the church. I can’t really say why. Probably because it was there. Perched high on a hill overlooking the village, it dominates the landscape, much like Norwich Castle in my fine city, drawing the eye and intriguing. I wandered around, reading memorial plaques, flicking through the visitor book: ‘Lovely.’ ‘Lovely church.’ ‘We had a lovely visit.’ Not exactly mindblowing and inspirational thoughts. Certainly nothing lifechanging. I carried on exploring, past the pews, the kneelers, the tired flower displays. At the age of ten, I wasn’t much known for my self control (plus ca change) and started clambering over the choir stalls, trailing my fingers along the wood.

     And I felt something.

     Ships. Lots of ships. Initials too, and dates, but what struck my childish mind like a brick were the ships, carved into the wood. Some fairly scrawled, others etched deep into the ancient wood, painstakingly detailed. I traced my pudgy fingers over them slowly, probably with my mouth agape, eyes wide as dinner plates (I have a lot of eye to open), and I experienced a  violent and terrifying connection to the people who hjad taken the time to record their presence, here, in this place, this very spot in which I stood, awestruck and amazed. And history stopped being dry and dusty dates and battles and long dead monarchs. Now it was people. People just like me… ok, maybe not like me, I know you can’t libel the dead, but still, people. People who had lived, died, left nothing behind, but a drawing of a ship, to be discovered by those who came after them, including a bored and lonely girl hundreds of years later.*

     I don’t think I can say I’ve ever forgotten that experience. The memory of it has stayed with me. But the many, many years since have blunted it somewhat. It doesn’t have quite the same acidic sting it did immediately afterwards**. It became an ‘Oh yeah…’ memory, rather than an ‘Oh. WOW.’ one.

     And then, at the start of half term, we had a weekend away in Sheringham.  I am, by nature, an introvert. I need time to myself, every day. Being around other people for too long makes me twitchy, stabby, and an absolute bloody nightmare. So two unrelieved days in the company of Alistair, my mum, my nephew, The Blondies… I NEEDED to take some time away. As a matter of lifesaving urgency (not my life. Theirs). And that’s where the maps came in.

     I fucking love maps. Especially Norfolk maps. Especially old maps. Especially Ordnance Survey maps. So joy was pretty unconfined in my heart when we arrived at the cottage on Saturday and I discovered that the walls of one room were covered in ORDNANCE SURVEY MAPS FROM THE 1930S!!! I think I spent whole hours of the weekend gazing at the walls, reading ‘Roman villa (remains of)’, looking at single dwellings located in the middle of farmland, tracing out obscure little streams and becks. As I rapidly ran out of patience with the world on Sunday evening, I happened to spot ‘Beeston Priory (ruins of)’. Oh, but of course! I’d read about it before, but I’d forgotten it was so close. No more than five minutes away as the booted twatty blogger walks.

     ‘Alistair. Walking.’

     ‘I’m going to bed in that case.’ (He doesn’t do late nights).

     I stalked off, up the road, across the common, onto a street that became a track, became a grassy lane, 

and …

     It’s just there.

 There’s no great showiness. A sign, giving you some of the history***. But for me, it was impossible not to stand, in silent awe of what remains of this building. And despite the fact that it’s a ruin, that the grass is overgrown, that it’s been this way for years, that it’s been patched up in places with modern brick, I couldn’t help but think of all the people who had gone before. The monks, the priors, the schoolboys, the farmers. The people, just like me. People who were born, lived, died, and faded from view, just like I one day will, leaving not a trace, not a wrack behind.

     I walked around the shell of this beautiful skeleton, trying (and failing) to capture some of what I felt, taking photos, drinking in the silence and tranquillity that wrapped itself around me in the smokiness of the twilight.  I looked across to All Saints Church, where my grandmother is buried, which would have been just as visible to all the people who walked this ground before me.

     Over to Beeston Bump, silhouetted against the sky, a few hardy walkers enjoying the sunset over Norfolk, unaware of me capturing the moment, beyond the Priory pond, where fish were kept to feed the inhabitants of the priory.

     The landscape changes, but it stays the same. And the buildings change too, but they remain. But the people are long gone, and we know nothing of them, their hopes, their wishes, their dreams, what they laughed at, cried at, what thoughts they carried. Not a trace of that remains.

     But in one small corner, someone had left a marker of their time here. It’s not much. It was hard to make out as the sun slipped away, and the stars began to emerge. But I traced my pudgy fingers over it, and felt that connection again. To people, just like me.

 *I completely nicked that photo from here. It's not the ships I saw, but it's from the same church. If the photographer/copyright owner wants to sue me, go ahead. You won't get a penny out of me...

**Although, having said that, as I was writing the paragraph above, I had to break off to cry a little bit. I’m such a twat.

*** I’m not even going to attempt to give you any of the history of it, because I’ll only get it wrong and some smartarse  kind, helpful and public spirited person will pop up and correct me. If you want to know more about it, Wikipedia.