Monday, 21 December 2015

Birthday present

     Tomorrow is my 36th birthday. A full lifetime since I roared into the world, annoying the midwife in the process (I was a few days overdue, the designated midwife went on her lunch break assuring Mum that nothing was developing, only to find me, 11 minutes old when she returned at two o’clock. It seems to me that I was a contrary bastard even before I was born).

     I never really look forward to my birthday. It’s in the depths of winter, right before Christmas, everyone’s broke, busy, and beleaguered, and it’s a pain in the arse going out anywhere because of the less than joyful crowds. This year though looks like it’s shaping up to be even more of a belter than usual, as I face up to life on my own. I’m not expecting any presents from anyone, maybe a card or two, no plans with anyone over the age of ten, but even the plans I thought I’d made to do stuff with The Blondies are unravelling a bit because Dad’s quite ill in hospital, and we want to go in and visit him. So I have been feeling a bit selfish and self-pitying.

     But there’s something I have been given lately that might just be the best present I could ever have received. And that’s you lot. ‘You lot’ encompassing the people I know on twitter, facebook, people who read this, even a few of you from that strange and confusing place known as Real Life. You’ve been amazing, so many of you. The emails, messages, texts, comments… all of it. You’ve kept me going on days when just getting The Blondies to school feels like it deserves an award ceremony. You’ve been there with me when I’ve had to go out and kick serious civil servant arse. You’ve made me feel, at times, invincible. You’ve brought me enormous comfort too. 

     And some of you have gone above and beyond anything I feel I deserved. Some of you have made me laugh with silliness. Some of you have been brilliant at distracting me. Some of you have let me rant and rave and leave snot all over the bloody place. All of you have played a part, in your own way. One of you has saved Christmas for The Blondies. One of you just behaves normally, so I feel normal. One of you genuinely saved my life one night, and that’s not something I would ever say lightly.

     I’ve been a bit rubbish at replying and letting people know what’s going on and how I am. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate you, just that sometimes it’s much easier for me to keep my head down and just power through things to get to the other side. I fear that if I allow myself to stop and think I will become overwhelmed. Thinking is when the time for doing is over. There’s no time limit on thoughts.

     But you lot, I wish I could thank you all individually. For what you’ve all given me. You’ve made me realise I am stronger, tougher, braver and more resilient than I knew. That is something for me to hold onto when the darkness feels overwhelming. Because of you, I know I will be ok, because I have to be. And I know it’s clichéd and naff and all the rest of it. But knowing that you’re around… it is a gift, honestly. You’ve all, in your way, given me what I needed. Time, and a place to be myself. Thank you.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Sonnet 66

     I’m still tired. I’m tired with all these.

     I’m tired with endlessly phoning people, and being told that someone will phone me back, but no one does. I’m tired with phoning other people who tell me I shouldn’t be speaking to them; I should be speaking to another department. I’m tired with phoning another department to be told the first department are the people who can provide the information, but no one’s in the office right now. I’m tired with having to leave message after message.

     I’m tired with no one giving me any information. I’m tired with having to find out things from family, instead of the official people who are actually making these decisions. I’m tired with everyone else knowing what’s going on better than I do, and I’m finding out information second or third hand. I’m tired with no one actually sitting me down and telling me what the situation is.

     I’m tired with being unable to not overhear phone conversations that blame me. I’m tired with people subtly, and not so subtly, saying this is my fault. I’m tired with being shouted at in the street. I’m tired with getting phone calls when I’m doing the school run that make hot tears run down my face. I’m tired with making appointments that other people don’t show up to. I’m tired with making appointments that I have to sit in a public place and wait for over an hour to be seen.

     I’m tired with being told it is vitally important that I arrange to see someone from a certain department, walking two miles in the rain to keep our arranged appointment, and the first thing they say is ‘I’ve looked at your file, and there’s no point you being here.’ I’m tired with having to provide information. I’m tired with people saying ‘there are services available to help you, you have been referred’, but then finding out my details have mysteriously vanished. I’m tired with getting angry at people who are so incompetent at their job, they’re actually dangerous.

     I’m tired with feeling scared. I’m tired with feeling hurt. I’m tired with feeling guilty. I’m tired with regret and remorse. I’m tired with people behaving in ways that make things worse.

     I’m tired with trying to protect The Blondies. I’m tired with always having to keep a happy face in front of them. I’m tired of slipping into the downstairs loo to cry for thirty seconds when everything overwhelms me. I’m tired with waiting for them to go to sleep each night so I can lie in bed and silently shake with tears, just like I’m doing now. I’m tired with trying to find distractions so I don’t feel like I do. I’m tired with having no money, and having to tell The Blondies I can’t afford things. I’m tired with worrying about Christmas. I’m tired with the abyss that opens up within me when The Blondies aren’t here, and the gnawing, aching fear that I carry then.

     I’m tired with trying to explain, I’m tired with talking, I’m tired with having no privacy, no secrets, nothing that’s mine anymore. I am tired. I am tired with all of these.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Uncomfortably numb

     I’m tired. I’m so fucking tired. I’m tired of being so fucking tired, of feeling like I’m dragging three people along behind me with every sodding step I take, that everything is just so much of a fucking effort, that I just don’t have any energy. I’m tired of thinking all the time, of constant thoughts just spinning round and round my head, chasing themselves and I have no idea how anything is going to resolve itself. I’m so tired, so fucking unbelievably tired and I can’t fucking sleep. I can’t go to sleep for hours, and when I do I wake up again and again, the same thoughts in my stupid bloody head, and I can’t get back to sleep and I’M JUST SO FUCKING TIRED.

     This is going to be cryptic and annoying. I can’t talk about what happened this week, not yet. I need to. I need to write the fuck out of it, I need to fucking hammer the crap out of every word, of every still life image that’s there in front of my eyes all the time since it happened, I need to try and make some sense out of it, even though I know there is no sense in it, I’m never going to understand it, at least I hope I never do.

     I’m ok, but I’m not ok. I’m scared, I’m hurt, I know I’m not alone, I know I have family and some good friends who have been amazing to me, but I feel alone. I feel like a stupid, stupid, pathetic cliché, a victim, a low and unworthy thing. I feel alone, and I don’t want to be. But it doesn’t matter where I go, or who I surround myself with, I’m going to feel alone, even with those who care about me most.

     When bad things happen, I’ve realised I go into autopilot. I just get my head down, keep on going. It’s easier to worry about The Blondies and their packed lunches. I’m doing the stuff that needs to be done. They’re fed, they’re clothed, I’m holding it together in front of them. That’s where my energy is going. Keep it going for them. They’ve been amazing, both of them. They’re not really asking any question, thank god. I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell them, so far I’ve been as honest as I can be without telling them the truth. But they are going to find out. I don’t want to rip up their world. My world might have just exploded into tiny shards of broken glass across every floor in this house, but I can’t let that happen to them. What I have to do is protect them. I might be broken, damaged, confused, but I won’t let them see that, and I won’t let it happen to them.

     I don’t know where I’m going to go from here. The stupid thing is just how much I find myself thinking about practical stuff, I’m almost horrified by how easily I’m thinking about really basic organisational things. It seems almost callous and as though I deserved what happened. I didn’t, no one deserves it. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. I’m tweeting & posting on facebook like normal, maybe more so than usual. I don’t want people to know, but at the same time I want to scream and scream and just let all this out of me so I don’t have to live with it. I’m not crying either. A few times, over silly things, I’ve found tears in my eyes. But I’m not crying. I can’t cry.

     I’m tired, I’m scared, I can’t cry. I’m scared of being in the house, but I’m scared to leave it. I don’t like being alone, but I don’t want to talk to anyone ever again. I’ve done so much talking this week, have had to answer the fucking terrifying phone so many times every day, never knowing who it’s going to be this time, or whether the news will be welcome or not. I’m so tired of talking about it, but I need to, because I don’t know how I feel, other than numb. 

Sunday, 18 October 2015


     It’s horrible, writing this. We’d had such a nice afternoon, The Boy & I. We’d lounged about at home for a while, slobbing out, then, at his request went down to Norwich cathedral and went graffiti hunting. We ‘found’ loads of things, I chatted to him about who might have made them, the different meanings, why we find some areas with barely a square millimetre uncovered, and other areas where there’s nothing.

     I told him some of the history of the building, of stories, of my favourite inscriptions, and he giggled, and we explored, and wandered. We realised that we were about to walk through the middle of a Big Important Service, and giggled, and then both felt a bit lightheaded from the incense fumes, so went out to the cloisters, and he showed me some of the things he’d found earlier in the week. Then we went to the refectory and had lunch, and chatted, and giggled more, and did silly faces at one another.

     It wasn’t A Grand Day Out, not at all. But it was fun, and we laughed, and he rolled his eyes at me taking photos, and I was deliberately embarrassing, and we both just enjoyed being in each others company for a few hours, and he asked when we could do it again. It was… nice. Fun. But I didn’t want to overdo it with him, so we decided to head for home, still chatting.

     We were on a narrow stretch of pavement, on a quiet residential street, no one else around. And then it happened. I could see a young man, weaving his way along the pavement, coming towards us. He was quite clearly drunk. No. Shitfaced. At about four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, walking towards us. His face was red, eyes unfocussed, limbs loose, a lolling type of walk. I ushered The Boy to walk behind me, the pavement not being wide enough for all three of us to pass.

     The Twat, for that’s what he is, drew level with us. Then stopped, his body rocking back and forth slightly. He peered at us confusedly, then smiled. I was nervous, uncertain, turning back to face The Boy, just when The Twat pulled his arm back, clenched his hand into a fist, and swung his whole body rapidly towards The Boy, stopping only when his fist was within an inch or two of The Boy’s nose, then grinned. I saw The Boy flinch, his body stiffen. I put my hand on his left shoulder, and drew him closer to me, trying to pull him out of the way.


     I didn’t respond, just pulled The Boy closer, and tried to walk away, but not before The Twat put his face in mine.


      We walked away, further shouts echoing in the distance as we tried to put distance between us and The Twat, my arm still around The Boy. In an undertone, I said ‘Don’t look back. Keep walking. Don’t look back, it’s ok, you handled that perfectly, but just keep walking.’ I could hear more shouting, but I ignored it, still talking the whole time to The Boy, until we got round a corner. ‘You ok?’ ‘I’m shaking.’ ‘I know. It’s ok. I won’t ever let anyone hurt you, not ever.’ I gripped his hand, and he let out a shuddering gasp, shaky and scared. I stopped, put both of my hands of his shoulders: ‘I promise you, anyone who ever threatens you has to get through me first. And I won’t let anyone past me.’

     That was a couple of hours ago. The Boy’s cried. I’m close to tears, but I can’t let him see I was scared too. He relies on me. He was scared of the unknown. I’m scared of what might have happened. I’ve hugged him and explained that some people are just Twats. We’ve looked at the photos we took together of the graffiti, trying to remind ourselves of those happy hours we had before The Twat entered out lives.

     This is growing up. This is realising that you will encounter Twats, just because you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is finding out that people will behave like utter cunts towards you, when you’ve done nothing. But this is also me, shaking, feeling sick, and knowing that if anyone, anyfuckingone, dares to scare, threaten, or upset my children, I will kick their fucking arse. Say and do what you like to me, I’m pretty fucking tough. But threaten a single strand of The Blondies, and I will fucking destroy you. Your arse is grass, and I am a motherfucking lawnmower.

     And now, I'm going to walk to the shop to buy milk, bread, various bits needed for packed lunches, and I'm going to fucking howl my fucking eyes out that I know I can't protect my children forever, and that they're growing up in such a fucked up world. 

Friday, 16 October 2015

Review: The School Run

     You’d think, having been blogging for two and a half years, that I’d sort of know how this all works by now. No. I really don’t. Ranting and swearing and banging on and on and on and on about graffiti, writing about bratty kids, and depression, and Ed Balls and all that. But no. I have missed a trick, my loves. Apparently, lifestyle blogging’s a thing. People talking about what they wear, where they eat, places they visit. And fucking get this – they get freebies! I know! They get invited to eat for FREE at local pubs, restaurants, and cafes, and in exchange, they write 300 words about how lovely everything is, and that’s it. There is such a thing as a free lunch.

     With this in mind, I’ve decided to change my approach. No more bastarding arsehole swearing and ALMIGHTY CAPS LOCK RANTING SWEARIFUCKINGNESS. I’m giving lifestyle blogging a go. So here’s my lifestyle blog review of yesterday’s walk to school.

     Disclosure: I was invited to collect my children from school on Thursday afternoon in exchange for sod all. All thoughts are my own.

     I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I left the house at three o’clock, but it seemed like a good idea to make the journey to school! I have to confess I was somewhat surprised by the number of various routes that were presented to me – Mile End Road was a shorter option, with heavier traffic, but in the end I plumped for Christchurch Road, and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed! At first I thought there might be rather too much pavement for one person to handle, but shamefully, I managed to cover it all! I went for the signature ‘1 mile walk each way’ option, but having perused the map, there are definitely plenty of others to choose from, and all tastes are definitely catered for! It also seemed as though you could opt to cycle or drive, if you’re in a bit of a rush.

     There were lots of houses along the way, which gave it a lovely ‘homely’ feel, as well as numerous green wheely bins, a very thoughtful touch which I appreciated, and something that a lot of roads overlook. The concrete was broken up by the addition of fallen leaves, adding a very pretty seasonal flourish to my route. When I reached Unthank Road, I did have to stop, and whilst the pedestrian crossing looked very pleasant, in the end I opted for the rather more traditional dash across the road at the traffic lights.

     Forgive my terrible photography skills – this really doesn’t do the walk justice at all! Once I reached Colman Road, there were lots of cars and lorries around, which gave it a rather buzzy and lively atmosphere – clearly this is a popular spot and I felt reassured I’d come to the right place! There were lots of other walkers there too, of all ages, and it was definitely family and dog friendly, although I didn’t feel out of place being there on my own. I definitely appreciated the grass verges too, which certainly added to the greenness of the experience.

     I started with The Girl, in the lower school playground, sharing it with other parents as I was concerned it might have been a bit too much for me otherwise! I needn’t have worried though; she arrived promptly, considering she’d been freshly educated. Then it was time for the main event – The Boy! This truly was very special, as I had anticipated. First, we stood for eleven minutes in the rain – a very acceptable length of time! Upon greeting me, The Boy realised he’d forgotten his lunchbox, and although I insisted it wasn’t a big deal, he made sure to go back and collect it – a sure sign of quality! The slouching ambling walk he used to achieve this really was very pleasant indeed, and I’d recommend it to everyone.

     I’d enjoyed my experience so much that I was doing my best to extend it as long as possible, and even though it was a school day, I decided to be a bit naughty and go to Greggs! As they do every time, The Blondies were totally overwhelmed by the vast array of delicious mass produced cakes on offer, and spent several (seven in fact!) minutes staring. Needless to say they changed their minds several times too; keen to wring as much enjoyment from it as possible!

     It goes without saying that I didn’t come home empty handed either! In the end I opted for a milk chocolate cookie, which was wonderfully chewy and moist, whilst The Girl had a triple chocolate muffin, which mostly decorated her face, coat and hands. The Boy, who doesn’t have such a sweet tooth, had a steak and cheese bake which caused him to go in raptures!

     There were one or two minor quibbles – a couple of teething problems with cyclists racing along pavements, but I’m sure these will be taken care of by the walkers who seemed very attentive, but unobtrusive, and mostly faded into the background. Unfortunately too, it was raining, but needless to say, I can’t fault the walk to school for that, and needless to say I’m sure it’s very pleasant on sunny days, and needless to say I shall be doing the walk to school again as soon as possible!

     What do you think? Have you done a school run recently? Leave me a comment in the box below – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, 13 October 2015


     Where did I go wrong? What was it I did? Was it something I said? Did I encourage this? I know it’s my fault, but I don’t know what I did. I don’t know how to fix this.

     It’s school trip week. Year 6 are off to the National trust centre at Brancaster for five days. A few children haven’t gone. Some because they’re new to the school, and missed the letter & instalment payments. Some because their parents couldn’t afford the £260. And one because the letter home about the trip came at the wrong time.

     The Boy, of course. Always The Boy. The Letter about the school trip came at a time when he was struggling. When he hated school. When he was so unhappy, every day, that I was crying for him every morning. Thing was, it wasn’t school that was making him unhappy, he was just troubled. Trying to make sense of the world around him. Trying to understand how it was that one of his best friends was going to grow up without his mother. Scared. Scared that if it happened to his friend, it could happen to him too. And of course, with my history, it could have happened to him, although he’s unaware of that. Perhaps that’s why it was such a dagger through my heart, to see him try to process that. Knowing that he came so close to losing his mother too.

     It was a hard time, for me and for him. He was so unhappy. It wasn’t really about school; it was about being away from me. He just wanted to be close to me. The school were brilliant; I can’t speak highly enough of them. They understood exactly what he needed, they supported him, they did so much for him that he got his confidence back, he loves school again, he became my silly, giggly companion once more.

     But of course, there was a hangover. When The Letter arrived, he refused, point blank, to talk about it. ‘I’m not going.’ But all your friends will be there. ‘I’m not going.’ It’ll be a wonderful opportunity. ‘I’m not going.’ Look at all the activities they have. ‘I’m not going.’ You’ve been away from home before. ‘I’m not going.’ Your teachers think it’ll be ideal for you. ‘I’m not going.’ You won’t be far away, and you can phone us. ‘I’m not going.’ Shall we at least pay the deposit, in case you change your mind? ‘I’m not going.’ I’m not going to force you, but at least think about it. ‘I’m not going.’

     The teacher in charge of pastoral care even phoned us to say we needed to encourage him. ‘He’s such a lovely boy, he’s so kind, so thoughtful, this would do so much for his confidence’ But still, ‘I’m not going.’ And because I know him, because I know myself, I knew that if I were to push him into it, it could backfire nastily. The anxiety he’d feel, for months ahead of the trip, would send him into a spiral of misery. So I left it. I told him that whilst I thought he should go, I wasn’t going to make him do something he didn’t want to. I told him that his feelings were important, and I was listening to him. I told him that it was good he was so honest. Are you sure, The Boy? It could be fun. ‘I’m not going.’

     Until about two weeks ago. When it dawned on him that all of his friends were going. When he realised he’d be pretty much alone in the playground. When he’d settled into his new class with unprecedented ease. When he’d gained a huge amount of confidence in himself, from snorkelling every day in Spain. From completing the (frankly, shit scary) Go Ape treetop trail in Thetford forest. From being able to finally ride his bike. From attempting to skateboard. He’d conquered so many fears, physical fears, and he realised he could handle an activity holiday; he wasn’t worried about being away from me anymore.

     We couldn’t really afford it. £260. But we would have found the money, for him. Too late, though. No places left.

     And now… misery. Utter misery. Tears at schooltime, tears during school, tears when he gets home and tells me about his day, tears at bedtime. Tears on the way to school this morning, with ‘I’ll just spend all day CRYING’ thrown in.

     I comfort. I cajole. I distract. I tell him I’m sorry, that I know it’s rubbish, feeling left out of fun things. That it is a horrible feeling, especially because he changed his mind about wanting to go. I say it’s only a week, it’s not that long. I suggest fun things we can do together at the weekend. I spend hours on the sofa, hugging him, listening to his litany of woe. And (this is the bit where I’ll lose any sympathy you had for me) I want to shout at him. I want to say ‘for Christ’s sake. Get some perspective. Stop feeling so sorry for yourself. Nothing terrible has ever happened to you. You have been surrounded by love, comfort and warmth since the day you were born. This situation is of your own making, and YES I’m sorry that you feel so sad, but stop fecking moping about, stop complaining about your life, and realise you could not be more fucking privileged than you already are. Stop being so bloody precious, stop feeling so sorry for yourself, and instead of constantly banging on about how hard done by you are, realise that you are incredibly fucking LUCKY.’

     Of course I can’t. Of course I won’t. Not least because of The Swears. But I’m starting to think this situation is actually because of me. Maybe I’ve been too indulgent. Maybe I’ve been too soft. Maybe, by constantly listening to him, validating his feelings, I’ve made him a bit too self centred. I did it because I saw so much of myself in him, and I didn’t want him to grow up feeling the way that I did, isolated, overlooked, unimportant. I always felt that my feelings were never considered, and I didn’t want him to feel the same. I didn’t want him to feel as crushed as I did.

     Instead, it seems, I’ve gone the other way. I’ve created a child who, whilst loving, sensitive, and affectionate, is also (WRITE IT) a bit of a brat.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015


     We’re all familiar with mansplaining, right? Where a woman talks about something she has had direct personal experience of, only to be interrupted with an unasked for contribution from some bloke, telling her that she’s wrong and it’s not really like that at all, and he is here to explain it all for her. I’ve had it happen to me many times. What I’ve also had happen quite a few times this year is archsplaining.

     I’m not an archaeologist; I have no pretensions towards being one, nor a historian, nor a heritage professional. I’m me, just me, a twatty blogger with a history of mental health problems who has happened to fall under the spell of graffiti (medieval graffiti in particular), and am evangelical/loud/quite annoying and difficult to shut up about it. I don’t lay claim to being an expert on any aspect of archaeology, mental health, or graffiti.

     That’s the disclaimer. What I am, however, is a member of the public who is passionate about history and heritage, about people and their lives, and why it’s important that we study and learn from them. Why it matters that we engage people with what is their history, in whatever form that takes, whichever period of history or aspect of it that appeals to them. I’m very fortunate to live in Norwich, a city that’s filled to the brim with past lives and buildings that reflect that. Perhaps if I lived in Milton Keynes I’d feel differently. Who knows?

     I could bang on for a fair bit about the importance of history and people and so on, but I do that quite a lot, so I’ll just get to my point instead. And from now on, when I type ‘archaeologists’, please take it as a given that I mean ‘some archaeologists/historians/heritage professionals’. I’ve come across quite a few in recent years, and many of them have been utterly lovely, encouraging, helpful and supportive. If you’re on twitter, I suggest you follow Natalie Cohen, Helen J, medieval graffiti, Waveney archaeology, Ian Groves and Andrew Macdonald at the very least. They will bring you happiness, insight, and quite a few giggles too (and apologies to Other Lovely Archaeologists I know I’ve forgotten, add yourself in the comments).

     So. Archsplaining. It takes two forms. The first is quite straightforward. A twatty blogger writes a post about an aspect of archaeology she finds interesting, or her personal experience, solely from her perspective, with no pretensions towards academic glory or even really historical accuracy, because she is but a civilian. Many people enjoy the post, and say so. And then… the archaeologists descend. And don’t talk to her directly, but perhaps say ‘oh dear. She really doesn’t understand what she’s talking about. Let’s sneer at her from a not really very discreet distance at all, or perhaps comment about her mental health.'

     The second type of archsplaining is the one that annoys me most. It is the seemingly limitless ability to find gloom and doom and negativity in even the most beautiful unicorn farting rainbow glitter over a waterfall (sample archaeologist reaction: who’s going to clear that mess up? And I bet it pollutes the water. This is an ancient monument, I don’t think it’s right to add a unicorn to it. It’s all become too commercialised these days. Look at all the people enjoying this sight, they have precisely NO knowledge of unicorns! This really should be closed off before we have too many members of the general public seeing it and not understanding it’s significance, I’m not going to waste my time trying to explain it to anyone who doesn’t have my level of knowledge, and anyway I don’t get paid enough and archaeologists are special and precious and we must not allow anyone in to our exclusive club and and and)

     I don’t mind being sneered at so much (I mean, I do mind, it really fucking pisses me off to be honest, but hey ho, life isn’t a popularity contest and we all end up dead), what infuriates me is the fact that I am giving archaeologists a sodding gold plated opportunity to engage with people like me. If I’m wrong about something, then talk to me about it, don’t talk about me instead. It’s the insular nature of archaeology that winds me up to the point that I could power the bloody Aswan dam. Take last week’s post about me gaining confidence via a community archaeology project. At no point in that did I say ARCHAEOLOGY FOR EVERYONE WITH MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS SHOULD BE MANDATORY. No, I was just relating my experience, in what I think was a fairly honest way, and I was pretty overwhelmed at the response I got, from people like me, people not like me, and the Lovely Archaeologists I’ve mentioned above.

     And you’re already reading ‘BUT’, before I’ve even typed it… god ALMIGHTY the reaction on one facebook page. It wasn’t all negative, not at all, so don’t get huffy. But the gloomy, woe-filled, ‘yeah, but what about US as archaeologists, who cares about our mental health, and I don’t think archaeology should be used as therapy, and loads of projects will exploit mental health patients, and we’re not responsible for people who are ill, and and and’ comments that followed... I mean, seriously, guys? Seriously? From one twatty blogger’s celebratory and joyful post about how one community archaeology project made one of her days wonderful and has given her confidence, hope, and a new passion… and instead it becomes an issue about how archaeologists are so unfairly treated man, it’s just not even funny (there was also a glib remark about ‘being barking mad’ that I may have seriously got The Arse with).

     Jesus wept. I appreciate that there are very real dangers facing archaeology, both as a profession and in terms of physical heritage. But the instinctive behaviour of so many professionals seems to be to huddle inwards into a circle, backs against the world, moaning and sighing that no one outside the circle understands. Well, maybe, and this is just the suggestion of someone who isn’t an archaeologist… perhaps if no one understands, the fault lies not with us, the public, the volunteers, the twatty blogger, but with the way in which you choose to communicate? That’s my little bit of archsplainery advice.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Going public

     I was going to write this post anyway, but yesterday, serendipitously, a new twitter account appeared in my life -    It looks like an absolutely fascinating project, using history and archives to help support people with mental health problems who also face other challenges. Please do visit their website to find out more, and follow what looks to be a very interesting project.

     I know what you think, but trust me, I’m not really like that. I know I come across online as sweary, ranty, outspoken, fierce, and PRONE TO CAPS LOCK. I’m really, really not, not in real life. In real life, I’m desperately shy, quiet, and timid. Meeting new people is utterly terrifying, and to be avoided at all costs, and when I do see people, I tend to be utterly lovely. Or, as one person put it ‘You’re an awful lot nicer in person.’

     It used to confuse people, when I was younger and did a lot of theatre work, that I could be so utterly insignificant and yet never experience a pang of stage fright ahead of a performance. To me, it’s obvious. When I was acting, I wasn’t being myself, wasn’t using my words, wasn’t even falling back on my usual mannerisms, I was playing at being someone else. To stand up and perform someone else’s words? Easy. But standing up in front of two or more people and delivering my own words and thoughts? Not a chance in hell.

     Public speaking does tend to be one of those things that divide people. For some, it’s straightforward, easy, doesn’t ever give them pause for thought. For most though, it’s the kind of thing that makes one want to climb inside a filing cabinet and never, ever come out, not even for oxygen. I’m very much a filing cabinet dweller, and have become even more so over the last few years. I’m not even very good at being sociable in the school playground. Partly I suppose it’s because your character tends to become more fixed as you get older, but also because of the ups and downs of the last ten years. Never confident in any case, I definitely have a tendency to retreat, and hide, silently, not making eye contact, until people have left and the danger of speaking has passed.

     Which is why Saturday was a leetle bit surprising, for any unfortunates who have encountered me in my fully 3D form. I wasn’t just out in public, talking to people. I was giving guided tours of the medieval graffiti at Norwich Cathedral to groups of complete strangers, as part of Heritage Open Days.

     Yes, that’s me, on the right (and yes, I know, my ‘look’ in as much as I have one is best described as windswept and interesting). Me. Standing, torch and laminated A4 photos in hand, gabbling on enthusiastically about medieval graffiti and history and meaning and people and answering questions and attempting to make people laugh (some did!) to groups of people whose ages ranged from three to mid-seventies. And not only was I doing it, but I [drumroll and triumphant fanfare] volunteered to do it. I’d had a day shadowing a fellow guide on Friday, chipping in now and again. But on Saturday, it was me. Just me (with a glamorous assistant on hand to stop me from accidentally dropping all the laminates and having them slither across the floor in every direction).

     I suppose the main question is why/how/what/who/you’re not as brown as I thought you’d be/did no one tell you that you look like you got dressed in the dark? It’s quite straightforward, honest (for me, precious little is straightforward, so cherish this).

     You know I love graffiti, all of it, most especially medieval graffiti. It’s been nearly two years since I was reminded of thatlittle ship up at Salthouse, and   since then… it’s changed my life. It’s become a passion, an addiction, a companion, a quiet little process ticking away in my mind for so much of the time. I feel very connected to it, and to the people who created it. More than that though, I’ve got to know some of the people who are part of the medieval graffiti survey, I’ve started to feel a part of the group, some of those involved have become friends, good friends. And the little contribution that I’ve made has been appreciated. I can’t tell you how much confidence that’s given me, to feel as though I had something to offer to a project I care so much about. In a rare example of a virtuous circle, giving me that confidence has inspired me to want to do more, to share the simple wonder and beauty that I’ve seen on the walls.

     And how do I do more? How do I spread the word, and get more people to want to explore it too? I can blog about it, that’s easy. I can retweet things, and share posts on facebook. But the best way, really, is to lead off a group of ten people and grin goofily at them as I point out ships, and daisywheels, and curses, and faces, and all those faint little etchings on the walls.

     I won’t lie, I was absolutely petrified. My first stop on the tour was this medieval music. Easy enough to point out. Except that it isn’t when your hands are shaking, your throat is dry, you drop your laminates, and when you finally manage to speak your voice has been replaced by that of a boy on the cusp of puberty, and all intelligent thought has vanished. But I did it, and as time went on, I actually started to enjoy it. I felt confident in what I was saying and doing. I doubt I was very good, despite the generosity and goodwill of my audience, but I still did it, I got through it, and best of all, as dear sweet Project Director Matt Champion said to my first group ‘Well done! You…. SURVIVED!’ (Yeah, going to be having words with him about that).    

     I’m still on a bit of a high from it, to be frank. To actually get people involved in something different, something new, have them make connections between then and now, to have the opportunity to share something with people. I know that to a lot of people, it barely merits a shrug or even a second thought. But considering my history of mental health problems, my natural introverted personality, and utter terror of speaking to more than one new person at a time, I’m proud of myself. Not something I allow myself to feel very often, or even to say to anyone. But I am. And I’m even prouder to be a part of a project that’s done so much for so many people. So often, when you have mental health issues, you can feel very isolated. Medieval graffiti has made me feel part of something.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Emailing my brother

I was going to email you. I was going to email you. I knew the words I would use, the carefully selected phrases. I was going to email you, and tell you that Dad was ill.

I was going to email you. I was going to tell you that although you and I would never have a relationship again, that I no longer cared about you, and what you felt about me, that Dad was ill. I was going to tell you that dad is ill, it's scary, and I don't know how much longer he has left.

I was going to email you and ask you something. I was going to ask you to please, just see him again. In a neutral setting, perhaps with others around, perhaps just the two of you. I was going to email you and say please, it's breaking his heart. Dad, who has given us three so much over the years. It breaks his heart daily, knowing that his son won't see him, won't talk to him, seemingly has no interest in him. We know what Dad's like. Argumentative, competitive, but also the softest hearted fool going.

I was going to email you. I was going to say to you that, I'm not asking you to do this for me, Mum, our sister, our children, or anyone else, but for you an him I was going to say that I would do nothing to stop this meeting from taking place. That I don't hold any resentment towards family members who want to maintain a relationship with you, that my feelings towards you have nothing to do with anyone else. That it would no cause no nastiness, no recriminations, nothing, if you were to see our father again. I would be glad, for his sake. I was going to ask you how you would feel if you and your son became estranged, and he refused to contact you when you were ill.

I was going to email you to say all of that.

But then, instead, you met our sister. And you hurled bile, invective, hatred, her way. She didn't deserve that, any of it. She, of all three of us, is the best and brightest of us all. The kindest, gentlest, warmest one. The one who was brave and strong enough to extend a hand to you. And you slapped her down.

I was going to email this to you. But I know now how you would take it. You would say I'm playing the victim, that I play people off against one another, that you don't give a shit. You would repeat what you said to our sister. That you hate Dad. That Dad's cunt. Dad's a psychopath.

You'd say again that you hope Dad dies soon.

You hope that Dad dies soon.

So, instead of emailing and keeping this between us two siblings, I'm blogging it instead. You won't listen to me, our sister, or Dad. But I'm blogging this because I want people to know what an evil, malignant, self centred cunt you are. And one day, maybe, you'll look back on this and wonder how you ever thought it was ok to behave the way you do. I doubt it will ever happen, you're too twisted and fucked up. But I still hold out hope for you, despite every shred of evidence.

You wish Dad would die soon. I wish, considering all the harm and damage you cause, that you had never been born.

I was going to email you. But there really was never any point in hoping to appeal to your better side. You don't have one.

Thursday, 27 August 2015


He's so ill. He's so ill that he can't talk, can't walk, doesn't eat.

He can barely breathe. I watch him. I watch him, when he thinks no one's looking. I see how he pauses, as he turns the kettle on. How twisting a tap causes him to gasp, and then lean against the counter. It takes him over half an hour to shower.

And he grimaces, and makes a joke out of how useless he is.

And I remember my dad. The dad I grew up with. Who played squash twice a week, tennis for two hours on Sunday afternoons. The dad who took me swimming every Sunday morning, who encouraged me to swim 104 laps, to say I'd swum a mile when I was ten years old.

He told me to argue, to question, to be a pain in the arse.

And now he can't even breathe enough to tell me to stop being a twatty blogger.
And I can't stop crying.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Through the looking glass

     Let me get something out of the way. It'll sound like I'm bigging myself up, that I think I'm mighty fine. But it's a fact. I'm good at understanding people. It's just one of those innate things, skills, talents, whatever. I'm not athletic, I can't play a musical instrument. My attempts at anything arty or crafty are... insert the expletive of your choice. I'm inept, ungainly, have no talent for anything practical, and I'm never going to win any prizes. I wouldn't even get an honourable mention in The Annual Ceremony For Failure To Win Prizes. But I do 'get' people. Not always immediately. Some people it takes me a while to understand. But generally, I can see what lies beneath.

     Aaaand sometimes I wish I couldn't. Because it means that I'm fairly good at giving advice. I can see a difficult situation and know what's really going on. I can see what's happening on the surface, but it's as though I have the subtitles switched on. People fascinate me, but more for what they don't say or do, rather than what they think they reveal to the world. When I see someone lash out, I can understand why. I may not agree, or approve, or even like that person very much, but I can see why they're behaving in that way (and yes, there is a part of me that longs to tell them 'Stop being a twat. You're hurt. But you're making the situation worse').

     I've always understood people, although realising it has been a relatively new discovery. Understanding myself... hmm. Very different story. The best way I can describe it was that I was a pane of glass, subject to intense pressure over a long period of time. And when the pressure finally became too much, I shattered, in every possible direction. Tiny broken fragments of glass, splinters of me, scattered over a wide, wide area.

     When you've lost all that holds you together, when every component part of what makes you you, the debris covers such a wide area that you'll never recover all of it. The larger shards are the easiest to find. They don't fly off into the distance, but lie where they fell, and can be more straightforwardly put back together. Daughter, mother, significant other. But those are more labels, not who I am, or was. I picked up more fragments, more pieces, as time past and joined them back together to what I'd already reclaimed, what I knew. But so much was missing. And then I had six months of proper, serious, full on counselling with the incomparable warm, intelligent and encouraging nurse Therapist Zoe.

     And she found pieces I didn't know I'd lost. Pieces I didn't even know had even been part of the glass that had fractured so spectacularly. But she didn't force them back together in a frame. Instead, she handed over each piece to me, each infinitely tiny little glass piece and made me look at it, turning it over, examining it from every angle, observe the reflections. It hurt. Of course it fucking hurt. Drag broken glass over your skin and although it might not always cut you to the bone, it will leave a mark.

     But it gave me insight, granted me understanding. As distorted as the image had been, still was, always will be, I could join up the cracks and see why certain things hurt and upset me. Why I followed certain patterns of behaviour, even as I know it won't end well. Why I behave the way I do. I don't always follow my own advice, or welcome logical, rational thought. I am overemotional, demanding, spontaneous, selfish and a fucking nightmare. But these same qualities give me empathy, enlightenment, consideration, and mean that I laugh loudly, often, easily, and inappropriately. I'm passionate, gobby, and sweary, and simultaneously a quiet, shy, diffident introvert.

     I understand myself, only too well. I don't always like myself. But I will always admit my mistakes, I am honest, I expect honesty fro others, and when I fuck up, I say so. Mainly because I am a fuck up, just like pretty much everyone else. A beautiful, damaged, precious, and destructive fuck up. The liberation I feel from knowing this was worth the pain of going through that process. What I see now is not a broken pane of glass, but a restored mirror. I went through the looking glass, and now I can see myself, with clarity.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Dear delicate Benjamina

     Sometimes, I worry.

     The Blondies know I have this blog. They know I write. They know I write about them, and for the moment, they’re proud of that. I’ve told them that I will never name them, or use recognisable photos of them. I write this under a different name. They can google our names, mine and theirs, and know that nothing will connect them as they appear here to them as they are.

     And yet… One day they will find this. My thoughts, my words on whatever happens to occur to me, the way I use writing as a means of ridding myself of what's occupying my brain. That I confess things on here that I would never allow myself to say aloud. The things that trouble, entertain, fascinate and amuse me. From books to love to graffiti to holidays. It’s all here. But the things I probably write about most are The Blondies.

     My beautiful, wonderful, strange and individual children. I can’t lay claim to any credit for them being as they are. They both arrived, personalities full formed, as distinct and different as they are, as much as they share.  And of the two of them, the one I return to again and again as my muse is The Boy.

     He’s odd. He’s quiet, an introvert who won’t ever stop talking. A Star Wars obsessive whose greatest joy in life at present is My Little Pony. A lazy bugger who drives me insane at times. A night owl. Kind, thoughtful, sensitive. I worry about him. A lot.

     And those worries lead to a new worry. The Girl. How will she feel when she’s old enough to seek out these posts and read them? When she sees how much I write about her brother, but never so much about her? And so, I address these next words to you, my Benjamina. My beautiful, funny, intelligent and roaring girl.

     You are my delight. You are the distillation of spirit that lives in both your mother and grandmother. You face the world and are always undaunted. The light that shines from you brightens every day I spend with you. I am hard, too hard, on you, I know I am. I let your brother get away with murder in comparison. The difference, my tiny dancer, is that I have no fears for your future. You are sharp, clever, quick. You dance like an absolute dream. You bring joy into the lives of everyone who knows you. You are strong, brave, utterly unafraid of anything. No one and nothing will ever dent you, because you know that your presence is a gift.

     I joke sometimes that you were misnamed, the name we chose for you meaning ‘delicate’. But the more you grow, the more you become yourself, facing up to the world, chest raised out, chin up, that defiant look upon your face… I realise that, my wonderful, precious girl, it’s such a simple thing, your confidence, resilience and determination. But it runs through you like an inner core of steel. A thin lightning rod that will always deflect people who don’t understand you. You are you, and the first few moments of your life that nearly wasn’t are always with me. You taught me just how delicate a few moments can be, how delicate life is. And from those first few moments, to watch you shine, in every possible light is a privilege.

     Never, ever change. Keep that fiery temper, your angry batface, your full throttle passion. We, you and I, will fight, and clash, and wind one another up in the years to come, just as we do now. But know that I love you. I trust you and the choices you will make. And if ever you are hurt by little I write about you compared to your Blondie sibling, then know this. You are, and always have been your own person. You don’t need me, or anyone else to guide you. I will watch over you, protect you, love you. But you are the leader of your life. Always have been. Always will be. You dance to your own tune. I will always be with you, here if you need me. But mostly I shall just be watching on, proud, loving, and full of admiration. I have complete faith in you.

     *All the fucking time, about everything, ever.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

More than words

     This is something I’ve been thinking for a while, and started writing a few weeks ago, but the last 24 hours have brought it into sharper relief. Not sure it’ll make any sense to anyone else, but isn’t that always the case?

     I’m honest on here. Perhaps too honest. There was a blogpost not so long ago that prompted one person to ask me if maybe it’d be healthier for me to keep back a little, keep it to myself a bit more, in the interests of self-preservation. To stop laying myself so bare and open to hurt. Thing is, I never see it like that. When I blog, I don’t feel like I’m confiding in anyone, or handing over secrets to people. I never think of a post as being read; only written. Once it’s out there, it’s done, it’s gone. That’s all, folks. I know it means that there are an awful lot of strangers out there who know far too much about me, but I genuinely don’t care.

     Where things get tricky is when people comment on blogs, or reply to tweets, or email, or DM, and say nice things. It means a lot, it really does. That the words of some obscure little blogger may have touched someone, or made them laugh, or made them think, or that they just enjoyed what I had to say. Every time it happens, I’m genuinely, honestly, taken aback and feel a bit stunned that anyone would place any value on what I have to say, and that they've taken the time to tell me so. And I don’t put that in as a piece of self-deprecation to make people rush in and say nice things…

     Because I’ve had enough of people saying nice things. I’ve had enough of people saying I’m important, or I mean something, or I’m worth listening to, or that they love my writing, or that I’m great, or that I’ve helped them in some way.  Because it’s words. Just cobbled together letters and punctuation that in the final analysis means nothing. Anyone can put words together, there’s no great skill or talent in it. Look at me now, sitting at my desk in my bikini, drinking shit coffee from a Peppa Pig mug, hammering the keyboard like the fool that I am. Anyone can do that. I could type that I really fancy you, or that I love your book, or that’s a great photo, or thanks for all your help, or yes I promise I won’t let you down again, or I really care about you, or I love your dress, or I really enjoyed your blogpost. But it means nothing, zero, nil, nada, nothing. It’s just words, on screens, on phones, even words spoken face to face. Empty. Little. Words.

     Just empty little words. People using empty little words to convey something they don’t mean, fake emotions they don’t have, make promises that are as hollow as the words themselves. Words count for nothing, and I'm a gullible idiot for believing them, for clinging to praise and compliments that served no purpose other than to ensure I'd help other people out, at too much of a cost to myself. If you want to make your point, then prove it. Demonstrate it. Convince me. But words are no longer enough.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Dull, dull, dull...

    I am going to have a big old whinge selfish sulking moan And I know I will come across as a petulant little brat, but I’m annoying myself at the moment by not being honest. So I'm going to vomit out a rant, and then we can all pretend I haven’t just had a huge tantrum all over this blog, and carry on as we were.

     I am so fucking sick of reading shit writing. Bland, boring, inoffensive, vanilla, sugar free, low in salt, reduced calorie writing lite. Writing that has no soul, no heart, no real feelings or thought behind it. Just boring ‘My top 10 things to do in summer!’ lists, or ‘what we got up to at the park!’ or ‘here’s today’s outfit!’ boring, shit, crap blogposts and articles, and people doing immensely irritating and self-indulgent and utterly pointless mini tours, or people writing about history they don’t understand, or postulating an opinion based on no evidence whatsoever, I’m fucking bored with reading stupid shitty tourist related guides to Norwich that mention Elm Hill, or ‘what to do in your holidays in Norfolk’, or supposed lifestyle bloggers who write nothing but puff pieces on cafes where everything is lovely and nice. This kind of writing is just everything that pushes my buttons into FULL ON MAD RAGE MELTDOWN. This kind of writing is so boring and sanitised and wipe clean and just so very fucking dull.

     There’s nothing in this type of writing. Nothing. No real opinions, thoughts, feelings, the writing style is plodding, the words are beige, you don’t learn anything from it, or feel anything towards it. Why write such oatmeal bilge? When you have the whole of the English language to choose from, why choose fun! And nice! And lovely! And thoughtful touches! And never offending anyone or anything, or giving anything real and honest, or suggesting that there’s anything to you beyond the most basic and superficial and trivial ideas?

     It’s fucking BORING. Boring for me to read and it can’t be much fun to write either. Hammer it out if you must. Tell me about your trip to some wanky hipster bar in the Norwich Lanes. But fucking hell, can you stop being so bloody Pollyanna about it all? You can’t possibly mean to tell me that every encounter you ever have goes well. That every meal out you have is simply lovely and oh so very nice. If that’s all you’re churning out, really, how believable do you think it is? That nothing goes wrong, and everywhere is great?

     I’m not saying swear and rant if you’re not a sweary and ranty person (I think we both know someone who is though). But give something of a personality to what you’re writing for fuck’s sake. Instead of giving the impression of some dullard wandering through a pretty little field waving at the clouds and flowers, tell me about the time you trod in a cowpat. Life isn’t all sunshine and lollipops, and nothing turns me off more than people who try to pretend it is. And THERE ARE TOO FUCKING MANY OF YOU.

     A whole wave of fucking journalists, bloggers, and writers, churning out the same vapid, dreary, grey BORING AS FUCK writing that makes me feel like I’m swimming in hummus and fecking breadsticks. I know I’m not a your target audience, but there are so fucking many of you and you’re like some mass swathe of clones, all writing the same desperately ordinary prose about the same fucking stuff and not even writing it well, or in a way that’s going to entertain or tell me something I don’t know or make me laugh, or want to share it with anyone.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

Holding my hand

     For some reason, this morning, as I said goodbye to The Boy at the school gates, I was reminded of this old blogpost. And hey, what do you know? I wrote it exactly two years ago today. I can remember writing it, oddly. The strange feeling I had that he was growing up, growing older, and growing away from me.

     Which has turned out to be utter rubbish. He’s not. If anything, we’re closer than ever, me and my boy. He’s taller, broader, he has more questions that I don’t have the answers for, but what seems to be unshakable is the bond between us. It’s not that I love him more than I do The Girl, or that he’s my favourite or anything like that. It’s that we seem to share a soul.

     I can look at him, and know exactly what he’s thinking. I can tell, from the subtlest gesture that there’s something troubling him. I can see, just from the way he stands, that something funny has just occurred to him, and he’s about to share it with me because he knows I’ll laugh too (and then we’ll have to explain it to Alistair and The Girl, who won’t find it as funny).

     Earlier this week, The Girl had an after school club, so The Boy and I decamped to what we both call The Grotty Pub to while away an hour or so. And we were chatting, talking about his day. The following exchange took place:

     The Boy: Imogen asked me if I wanted to go out with Claire this lunchtime

     Me [wildly excited, starts thinking of buying a Mother of The Groom hat] And what did you SAY????

     The Boy: No. Not because of Claire personally, but because I don’t ever want to go out with anyone, ever. I prefer solitude.

     Me: Hmm… but it might be nice when you’re older to have someone special to share things with?

     The Boy: No, not really. I just don’t like being around people. Apart from you. That’s different. And a few of my friends, because they’re like me. But mostly, I just want to be alone.

     I’m still not sure what to make of that. On the one hand, it troubles me that despite being reasonably popular at school, and part of various groups and good at Joining In With Things, he seems to reject the idea of being close to anyone. That spending so much time in his own head can’t be healthy, that he really should be more open to the idea of being around other people, and sharing things with them. And yet… and yet, and yet, and yet… I’m the same. I know I am. I don’t like being around other people too much. Given the choice, I would always choose to be alone, rather than feeling I had to share thoughts and emotions with other people. Too much social interaction and I’m a wreck, totally drained and prone to getting ratty with everyone. And so is he.

     The only exception to the rule is when we’re together. We can sit in companionable silence, or we can talk and talk and talk. And laugh, of course. Being around him is never a chore or a strain. We see the world with the same eyes, and it feels effortless, when you’re with someone who understands you so instinctively. We’re both moody, stroppy, and sarcastic at times, but it never grates on me when he’s in one of Those Moods because I know why, and I know the best way to get him out of it is to leave him alone. Something that not many other people understand. And I wonder how differently my life would have been if I'd been as aware of my introvert nature at the same age. The things I would have done differently, how perhaps things wouldn't have seemed so overwhelming if I knew how to handle them better.

     I do worry, though. I worry that because I see so much of myself in him that I let him get away with too much. That maybe I’m guilty of giving him what he wants and not what he needs. That perhaps I ought to be tougher on him, that in life he’s not going to always have people around who’ll understand him the way I do, and he needs to find ways of dealing with that. But then I look at him again, my beautiful boy with his blond hair, his silly expressions, his thoughtfulness and gentle nature… and I remind myself that he’s still only ten.

     I can’t protect him from life forever. Part of parenting is learning to let go. But while he’s still young, I can be here for him. I can do my best to smooth his path and help him to understand himself better. I worried he was slipping through my fingers. He’s not. He’s still holding my hand.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Give a little bit

     Happy National Volunteers Week!

     What? Ok, yes, I know, alright? Trust me [adopts Sybil Fawlty voice] oh, I know… Every day is National Something Day, or it’s National Something Week, or International Day of Something awareness. Too many bloody Days, Weeks, Months, Years, all wrangled into some kind of Good Cause Promotion, all of which can be filed under These Things Are Important, and Stuff You Should Care About, and If You’re Not Out There Actively Supporting This, Then What Kind Of Callous Monster Are You?

     I sort of care about a lot of them, in a vague and halfarsed way, by which I mean I might tweet about something, or share stuff on facebook, or nod approvingly to myself when something flashes up on my phone. I don’t usually get involved in these campaigns. But this one, volunteering, is very dear to my heart.

     I’m a volunteer. I do stuff, for free. Because it matters to me, because I feel it’s important, because I think other people should care about it too. I have the time, I have the inclination, I have the energy. It’s that simple. There is one volunteer led project that I adore above all others, but there’s other stuff too that I’m kind of on the edges of. If I’m honest, there are an awful lot more causes I could and should help out with too, but I don’t. And if I'm even more honest, it's because the attitude of some people really pisses me right off.

     Because we do it for free. Because we don’t get paid. Because we do it for nothing other than the love of it… the professionals and academics seem to think it’s fine to sneer at us and assume we don’t understand anything more than handing out stickers and badges. I’ve seen a lot of it in the last few days, as volunteering has become a topic of debate on twitter. Actually, debate’s the wrong word. Because it’s only the professionals who are doing it, in their cosy little echo chamber where everyone reinforces each other’s opinions and no one else is allowed in. Professional = valid. Volunteer = invalid.

     Invalid… huh. InVALid, or invullid? I’m sort of both. I can’t work. I would love to work, trust me. I would love to feel I’m making a contribution, I’m helping, I’m doing something of worth. My income last year was a grand total of £5k. Once you’ve bought food for a family of four, and paid for school trips, and dance classes, and your phone bill... However thrifty you are, there’s not a lot else to play with. I would love to have that sense of satisfaction that being paid gives you. That not only have you done something that’s helpful, but someone else thinks so too to the point that they are prepared to give you real hard cash money in reward. That’s never going to happen for me. Yes, it’s shit, but meh. All fed, no one dead. So what can I do? What do I have to offer?

     A fuck of a lot, actually. As do all volunteers. It doesn’t matter if we’re washing pot shards, or making cups of tea, or answering the phone. It doesn’t matter if we’re out in the rain, holding a plastic bucket, hoping passersby will chuck some loose change our way. Or manning the desk at a museum, or offering counselling, or spending hours sticking post it notes to a door. It doesn’t matter if we’re organising a quiz and chips night to raise funds, or crocheting squares to be made into blankets for bereaved families. It doesn’t matter what it is that we’re doing. We are out there, doing this stuff, for nothing, for free, for gratis.

     We are not doing this to get paid, to gain qualifications, to receive approval, to be lauded by our peers. We are not doing this for attention, or for glory, or to get thousands of twitter followers, or so we can write up our findings in an academic paper, or be a keynote speaker at a conference. We’re not doing the stuff we do for any reason other than that we care.

     So when I see professionals express an opinion that volunteers are somehow a bit of a joke, or we can’t be trusted to do stuff properly, or we’re a bit of a pain, or we need to be talked down to, or we’re putting professionals out of a job… Let’s take the last point. It’s not volunteers who are making the huge swinging cuts to the NHS, to benefits, to arts, to education. Funnily enough, we don’t have that kind of power. If your profession is so riven with internecine battles that you can’t organise a piss up in a brewery, never mind a proper campaign to protect yourselves, then you need to think about where you’re going and how you behave. What volunteers are doing is taking up the slack after the axe has fallen. So I’m sorry if that means that the great unwashed, the Great British Public, with their lack of qualifications and expertise, will be the ones offering free tours to other members of the public, or sitting behind the desk at a Citizen’s Advice Bureau, or running a food bank.

     I’m genuinely heartbroken that people, good people, are losing their jobs and are being consigned to the scrapheap where I currently reside. But to blame volunteers for that is wholly wrong, short-sighted, and just plain rude. When I see professionals and academics sneer at volunteers, I have a few questions I want to ask them:
  1.    How many of you got a foothold in your chosen career partly through volunteering?
  2.   Do you think that potential volunteers will be encouraged to fill in the gaps in future when they see the contempt in which you hold them?
  3. If all of the volunteers out there right now fucked off tomorrow, what state would the country be in?
  4. That’s it, really.
  5. Apart from me adding that if you’re going behave twattily to people who are basically on your side, then don’t be sodding surprised if they then refuse to get involved with anything to do with you in future. Huh. Funny that. Turns out you do need volunteers after all…

     And to drag this back to a happier place… my fellow volunteers, out there, doing what you do, making the difference, quietly, unshowily just getting on with it all without any expectation of any kind of reward or praise. You lot are the absolute best. One of the slogans for Volunteers Week is ‘Why do you do it?’ I started because I wanted to make a difference. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. 

     But a lot of other people have certainly made a difference to me. The people I’ve met through the various projects, however I've come across them, either as a fellow volunteer or someone who has relied on their help, go out there every day and they make the difference to so many people, in too many ways to describe. I’m really very proud to know you, and to get to hang out with you. You give your time, your passion, your consideration to people who don’t often appreciate it. But it doesn’t go unnoticed. Just ask yourselves where they’d be without us, eh?

Thursday, 28 May 2015


     I feel I ought to confess something. Before The Boy (and subsequently, The Girl) came along, I was not someone who could ever be described as ‘maternal’. Babies and children were of absolutely no interest to me at all. I knew people had them, I knew there was stuff you had to do stop them crying, and help them grow, and it wasn’t a good idea to drop them, but the whole world of babies, toddlers, and children was pretty damned distant. I didn’t actively dislike them, or anything like that, I just really wasn’t interested.

     Then I found out I was pregnant with The Boy, Alistair and I kind of looked at one another and shrugged and said ‘Why not?’ And became parents.

     I’d read a lot of books and magazines, and online articles, and leaflets, and joined mumsnet and all that jazz. I knew all there was to know. By which I mean I was utterly clueless, had never changed a nappy, or knew anything about the situation I found myself in. Bit like a lot of parents. But we muddled through, and made it up as we went along, and via an awful lot of trial and error, we ended up at the six month stage where things kind of calm down a bit, and you allow yourself the tiniest hope that you’re somehow doing ok.

     And then. Weaning. Back to square one.

     The hours spent cooking, mashing, freezing various organic delicacies. The careful check of temperature. The selection of today’s attractively decorated plastic tableware. The preparation of the dining area, involving bibs, several metres of plastic sheeting, a welding helmet, and evacuation of all sentient creatures. Already exhausted, you gird your loins. And prepare for battle.

     The pursed lips. The refusal to make eye contact. The turn of the head at the last moment, so whatever bright orange food was being offered ends up smeared across the cheek of your Precious Firstborn. The hand that shoots out to bat away the spoon, so the high chair tray ends up streaked with something lumpy and bland, all the better to wash infant hands with. The utter hilarity this induces in one of those present, made all the funnier when carrot puree is applied to hair. The inexplicable blobs of food on the floor that you stand in with bare feet. The open-mouthed puzzlement of noticing that there are odd marks on the ceiling that turns out to be baby rice.

     It should be so simple. Get food. Feed food to baby. Baby fed. Job done. But no, you have to mash it up, and make it FUN and EASY and SIMPLE and do all sorts of undignified cavorting to persuade your child to just eat ‘ Dinner! You don't like that spoon? Try this one. No? Ok... you hold that spoon, and I'll use this one... The bowl is wrong? I'll change it. That bib's annoying you? You want the one with Slomo Turtle on? Ok. Now. Eat. Eat the food I am offering. Here. On this spoon. No, actually it’s an aeroplane/train/boat/rocket/what? Ok, yes it’s a bear going back into his cave…

     I did not enjoy very much of the spoonfeeding years. Once things had progressed to the point where The Blondies could eat finger foods, or even feed themselves, we were all much happier. I was content to sit and help as required, but the patience shredding hours of gamely offering something that was going to be rejected and messy were over.

     Or so I thought…

      Something I’m noticing a lot of lately is people wanting to know things. This is good. Curiosity is a wonderful thing. It might get you into a lot of trouble, but you’ll definitely have fun on the way. But this isn’t motivated curiosity. This isn’t people saying ‘ooh! I’ve just found out this thing! I want to know MORE. I’m going to go out and find out some more thing about this thing.’ No. This is curiosity of the absolute most lazyarsed kind. This is people wanting to be fed spoonfed information, when there is an absolute FEAST of detail already widely available to them. The conversations seem to go something like this:

Person A: X

Person B: What is X?

A: X is blah blah blah, X blah.

B: What does X mean?

A: X means Y.

B. Oh. What is Y? I don’t know anything about this, but it’s fascinating.

A: Y is Y.

B: What does Y mean?

A: Y means blah blah Y blah, blah. Y blah.

B: What do you think Y is?

A: Y. is. Y.

     Or, alternatively,

B: I think, based on no obvious evidence, that X & Y *actually* mean Z.

A: No, Z’s something quite different; see this link that covers A-Z.

B: Is it? What’s X? What’s Y? What’s Z?

A: …

     And then there is, of course,

B: Who knows anything about X?

A: I do. Here’s a link that will tell you more about it.

A: Right. Tell me everything you’ve spent time finding out, and then answer my 30 questions about X, all of which are covered in the FAQs of the link you just provided.

(And in every case, me in the background, just about managing to restrain myself from bellowing ‘LET ME GOOGLE THAT FOR YOU.’)

     I know I’m guilty of it at times, that I do sometimes take the piss with questions, and that I let my embarrassing amount of enthusiasm for certain things get the better of me and bombard people with ‘OH MY GOD THAT’S BRILLIANT AND BLOODY HELL I NEVER KNEW THAT WOAH.’ But… (she said weaselly, attempting to wriggle out a trap of her own making), I’d rather go off, read up on X, and then come back to Person A with ever so slightly more informed questions, if they don’t mind, can they point me to any further reading, please thank you please? Generally, information on most things is out there, fairly easy to find, quite accessible, even to thickos like me. It might take a bit more effort than sitting on your arse firing questions out to the world, but it doesn’t use up too much goodwill.

     And it doesn’t remind me of patiently sitting, plastic spoon in hand, offering up mush to someone who will only accept it if presented a certain way, in a certain style, that suits them. Much better to grab the finger food instead and see how you get on. Someone will be along to wipe your face for you later.*

   *My blog. I can labour an idea until it squeals. No, you piss off.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

That Shitty Thing

     Oh, my loves, I am angry. I am so bloody angry, and I can’t say why, so this is going to be one of those really annoying cryptic posts that are as annoying to read as they are for me to skirt around the issue whilst I try to hammer out some thoughts on this… Not sure that sentence even makes any sense outside of my lava filled brain, so that’s a promising start.

     Ok. Here’s the thing. Someone (let’s call them A) has done something shitty. Or at least I think they have. I’ve asked one other person (let’s call them B) if they think A is guilty of That Shitty Thing. B hasn’t said yes or no. And I don’t know if B is being kind to me whilst secretly thinking ‘You bloody paranoid fuckwit’, or if they just haven’t got round to looking into it further. Matters not helped by me kicking off last night...

     So, what happened was that there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and me going a bit loopy with unresolved tension and anger. I was alone at home when I found out about That Shitty Thing, and for the first time in bloody years I had a panic attack. A full on, heart racing, sweaty, sickmaking panic attack of just the worst fucking grade I can remember (although it probably was little more than a ripple on the Richter Scale of Panic Attacks. The bastarding thing about them is that each one seems so much worse than the ones that went before). I tried to normal out with all the usual tools, breathing, walking, trying to talk myself down from the roof of Anxiety High, texting, turning off the internet so I wasn’t tempted to do anything stupidly public and cringemakingly melodramatic… and yes, eventually it passed, and then the adrenaline went into overdrive, and wine seemed like a good idea which caused more shit (actually, alcohol helps your body process adrenaline faster, so it does help… but only if you step away from interacting with anyone when you are in such a fucking messed up state). This morning, my brain was led away by it’s supervisors, has now been stood down from active duties, and put on gardening leave until a firing squad can be assembled.

     But I can't ignore The Shitty Thing. I just can't. It rankles and I feel clenched and want to shout 'RARRRGGHH' at the world. A lot.To me, it seems really fucking obvious. Could not be more obvious (although my brain is fairly on the huh at the moment, thanks to A CERTAIN BLOODY GP SURGERY AND THEIR PISSING IT SYSTEM UPGRADE). But then there’s that flicker of self-doubt that anyone about to accuse someone else of Committing A Thing Of Shit experiences. What if I’m wrong? What if it’s entirely coincidental? What if I’m guilty of seeing something that isn’t there, a negative hallucination? And then I go back and look at the evidence again and think ‘HOW CAN YOU DOUBT THIS, MY CHILD?’ (for some reason I sort of think that bit in the tones of an Old Testament Prophet from a Biblical Epic) ‘BEHOLD, FOR THE GLORY OF THE ACT OF SHITTINESS SHALL OFFENDETH THINE EYES WITH IT’S HOLY BASTARDNESS’.

     So… without any idea of how real or imagined The Thing That Is Shitty  actually is, I sat down and composed my most formal email for several years (if you’ve been misfortunate enough to receive an email from me lately, you’ll understand just what an undertaking this was). Not to Person A. Definitely not Person B. But to someone else, someone independent who should be in a position to judge whether Person A is indeed guilty of That Shitty Thing. It’s a fairly small thing. It wouldn’t mean much to anyone else. Person A may or may not be guilty of That Shitty thing. I am almost certainly guilty of building it up into a far bigger thing than it really is. But I don’t have much. And it was mine.


     Blame one, not all. Blame him, not me. I’m not a lech. I’m not a rapist. I don’t leer at women. I’m not the type of man who says and does things that make women uncomfortable. I’m a Nice Guy. Now congratulate me on pointing out how decent and nice I am. Aren’t you lucky to have men like me in your life?

     See, I could be an absolute bastard. I could do awful things to you. I could make your life a living hell. But I don’t. Isn’t that great of me? Hey, check me out, ladies! Here I am telling you what a Nice Guy I am! Do I get a badge? Aren’t you happy that I’m here? Some kind of recognition of my incredible self control would nice.

     Hey, look, I am a Nice Guy. I’m telling you I’m a Nice Guy. All the ways in which other men in your past have hurt you, all the hassle you get from male strangers, I would never do that. Not all men do that, you know. I mean, I know one man might have done it. Once. Maybe. But no woman I know has ever had anything like that happen to them, ever. Well, I mean, they’ve never told me that they’ve had anything happen to them, ever. So it can’t be that common. See? Not all men are like that.

     Jesus, what is it with you women? I’m letting you know I’m a Nice Guy, and you’re rolling your eyes at me, and telling me I don’t get it, and making sneery ‘Not all men’ jokes. But is true. Not all men are like that. What’s the problem with pointing that out? Perhaps you ought to be a bit more welcoming to Nice Guys like me. You’re kind of hurting my feelings now. I wasn’t expecting much, but I mean, seriously, blame one man, not all men. I’m on your side, remember? You need men like me to remind you that some men understand.

     I don’t believe this. Look. I. Am. A. Nice. Guy. Why can’t you just trust men? Because you don’t know who’s going to end up being a threat or a danger to you? Well, if you go through life with that attitude, I’m hardly surprised you completely misinterpret the mildest of behaviour from blokes. That guy who was chatting to you for twenty minutes was just being polite, why on earth would you feel uncomfortable about that? Huh? Wow, you are so oversensitive. Honestly, most men are Nice Guys. Women like you just don’t give us a chance to prove it.

     Actually, you know what? You might be a sourfaced feminazi, who thinks that all men are rapists, but I bet I can find one women who’ll appreciate the fact that I behave appropriately when she’s alone with me. I bet I can find one woman who’s overwhelmingly grateful to a Nice Guy like me for showing them basic courtesy and respect. I bet I can find one woman who appreciates me telling her that she has just as much right to be somewhere as a man does. Yeah. Huh.

     I’m not having this conversation with you any longer. All I’m trying to do is point out that I’m a Nice Guy, and you know I am, because I have gone out of my way to tell you that I am. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing for you to thank me for. Now where is my badge, my Nice Guy t-shirt, and my Certificate of Nice Guy Attainment? And my cookie. Bring me a cookie for explaining that not all men are completely evil. Jesus. You women really do need us Nice Guys around to get things straight for you. And I'm waiting for my apology. Blame him, not me.