Monday, 24 December 2007

Festive tidings

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to fellow bloggers. Eat, drink and be merry!!

Back in the New Year

Monday, 10 December 2007


Every time I see my Dad, a little part of me yearns, momentarily, nostalgically, painfully, for the man he once was.

His bent body, skeletal frame, rheumy eyes and gamely shuffling gait, are so far removed from the rampunctious, larger-than-life, tempestuous yet loving man of my childhood .

But this is how I remember him: a distinguished academic, fiercely intelligent yet competitive, with a quick temper, but equally quick to calm down; a fat man - his rounded tummy giving ample evidence of his intense enjoyment of cooking, fine food and drink; a funny man - with a sharp sense of humour and a tendency to make terrible puns; a wise and caring father, always ready with considered advice and respectful of my childish opinions.

His second wife, now back with him as a carer, ensures that his quality of life is as good as it can be. He gets out a lot, meets friends, travels, visits his children. But he can barely write now, he can read -but not long books - he can cook occasionally but is now more or less off the alcohol and can only eat soft food. He still cracks the odd joke and gives advice on my thesis, but his voice is so weak that he is sometimes hard to hear.

Parkinsons has taken so much of my old Dad away from me and although his mind is still the same, what upsets me most is that my children will never know who he used to be. I miss him.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Bah Humbug!

Yesterday my friend Babs dropped by on a whim. I was right in the middle of a very taxing game of Spider Solitaire (when I should have been working) and the house was a tip, so I was a little off my guard.

As we sat at my grubby table, surrounded by my books, nursing hastily-prepared cups of coffee, Babs told me that her family had all suffered from a flu bug that apparently " makes you think everyone hates you" (that's a virus??). I've been really grumpy ( I mean really grumpy) lately, but I'm not sure I can put it down to a virus.

Last Friday, I came away from my second supervision session with the biggest dark cloud over my head. My supervisor had been quite enthusiastic. He could see how I could rework my thesis and had even written out the bones of a structure. On the face of it, that's exactly what I had hoped he would do and I should have been excited. The problem is, my brain is simply not agile enough to cope with new things - like people dropping by unexpectedly or different perspectives being thrown into the mix. I couldn't for the life of me see where he was coming from and it threw me into a panicky state of confusion.

Then, I made the mistake of looking at some of the comments he'd made on the prehistoric draft I'd given him. Simple comments like "what do you mean by this?" or "what is the process of adoption?" sent me into a negative whirl of self-chastisement (why on earth didn't I find that out?) and unnecessary catastrophising ('It's hopeless! The fieldwork is useless, it'll never be good enough').

I've calmed down a little and am coming round to his point of view, but I'm still very crotchety.

The other thing which might account for my churlish gloom is the time of year. I really dislike the run-up to Christmas. For some reason I have a pathological resentment of not only the excessive consumerism, materialism and plain greed that surrounds the 'festive season', but the fact that everyone starts talking about it really really early.

Three weeks ago the checkout girl in Tescos asked me if I'd done all my Christmas shopping. I almost bit her head-off: 'Don't!' I spat 'I refuse to start even thinking about it until at least December and preferably the second week'.

I have a problem with efficiency, booking things early, getting organised in good time and I don't know why. It's something about planning in advance (my mum would always plan far too far in advance and make me commit to things I really didn't want to do) but also something about my particular brain getting easily overloaded.

Despite being a reasonable multi-tasker, my poor noggin cannot take too many things on at once. I do actually physically find it hard to turn my mind to Christmas when it is so far ahead. I like to focus on one immediate and relevant thing at a time. I find the task of picking out good presents and taking the time to trawl the shops really really difficult, so I prefer to dedicate a certain time to do it. - and I'm nearing it now, with dread.

Last night I wrote a scrappy list of possible presents for the ever- burgeoning family of mine including two new nephews and neices and two more birthdays before Christmas. Instead of feeling mildly in control I just sagged in a depressive heap - too little money and too much organising to do. Bah HUMBUG!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Growing up

I watched my son walk up the road to his school this morning, his stride brisk and confident, red rucksack bobbing on his back. I kept watching until he blended in with the crowds around the gate, before I turned away, inwardly infused with motherly pride and - quite frankly - relief.

It's been a bit of a breakthrough. It's not his first day at school or even his first day walking to school, but it is the first Monday for ages that he has gone to school without a fuss: no tears, no tirades, no point-blank refusals to go.

He's ten years old and has always had a bit of an issue about school. Every first day of term or half term we've had a battle with him. But just recently it got to the stage that every Monday was a struggle, if not every day.

We've tried to understand, but it didn't make much sense: he's a good pupil, he does well with his work, has strong friendships, appears to enjoy school while he is there and swears blind that no-one is being nasty to him (pupil or teacher). He simply says that he hates it and that's all.

Wrestling over the problem one night, I began to develop the seeds of a theory. He's a sensitive soul and has always found separation - goodbyes - difficult. He was a very clingy baby, had difficulty going to playgroup when he was two, and often hated being left at a friend's house or a party (so I had to stay) . On the other hand, up until recently, he seemed to adjust to school life quite well - even when we went to Abu Dhabi.

Following this line of thought further, I realised that it might all centre around the separation routine. At Infant school I dropped him right at the door of the class so his teacher could take him off. That was easy, because he was distracted and didn't tend to look back. At Junior school, up until recently, we had adapted into a different routine. I would stand at the gate with him until the whistle blew for them all to file in. Usually, his best friend would arrive after us and would stand with him. My son liked - and needed - this routine. If anything was changed, he became agitated and upset.

But a couple of months ago, his friend began to be dropped at school much earlier and was already running around with the others when we got there. This was when my son started to get upset. And I can understand it now: alone at the gate, with his mum, my son battled with the problem of keeping to a vital routine without the back-up of his friend. His need for me was now exposed and, in his own words he felt 'like a baby' .

We talked about it. I offered advice, techniques, alternate scenarios or possibilities - he didn't want to hear of any of them. But I had a plan. I thought it would help if I dropped him off and he went straight into school - just like he had done in Infants - rather than waiting, tremulously for the whistle to blow and building up to that moment he hated so much. In collusion with his teacher, we engineered it so he would have to go in early to help her set out the chairs.

The first day of chair monitoring was a disaster. He was more upset than ever and I had to walk him right into class with him in floods of tears.

That night, we had a rethink. He told me he hated the idea of seeing me walk away or even leaving me in the school grounds. And then I realised. He might find it easier to say goodbye, as long as the school was not in sight. So we agreed to try a new routine. I would walk him half way to school, over the busy roads and leave him by the corner. He could then walk up the road by himself. If he turned round he wouldn't be able to see me and he wouldn't be saying goodbye anywhere near the school.

The first day was a bit shaky and his bottom lip trembled, but he didn't cry and he didn't turn back. Today, a week or so into this new routine, I know we've cracked it. And even though it wouldn't be a big deal for some kids of his age, I'm so proud of my son.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Toooo busy

Stressy stressy stressy. If I had a swear box, it would be bulging with coins by now.

Nothing is going to plan and my brain has fragmented.

This morning there was 'signals failure' at some unspecified location and the trains were late. Delays on the Northern line meant taking the Bakerloo instead. A cancelled lecture due to staff illness meant an unexpected visit to the library. A broken rail in Wimbledon meant getting home late which meant a trip to the supermarket after school pick-up which meant no lunch until 4.40. A timely reminder from the only son that it's parents' evening tonight meant the rather rushed production of something resembling a children's supper.

Back home again, a quick look at the calendar revealed a forgotten and therefore shocking entry: ''alternative therapy workshop" for tomorrow, which means I'll have to cancel my pre-arranged Homestart volunteer visit at 10 and postpone a much-needed mega-shop at Tescos.... again. At which point, Chloe suddenly announces she has an Inset day on Friday when I have to go to London again to see my supervisor - which means I'll either have to rearrange that or find someone for her to perch with. Then, again prompted by my 'on top of it' son, I realise that the date on his 'movie night' ticket says 16th and not 26th as I had previously myopically surmised, which means that we will not be able to travel to the in-laws in Wiltshire as planned until the movie is over. This has been broken to the husband who is not best pleased.

I don't care what anyone says about middle-class drinking at home or about alcohol induced cancers - I'm going to pour myself a HUGE glass of wine.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Rolling back the years: the punk era

When I was 17 I had black spiky hair - sometimes it was orange, blonde, with a blue streak - but mostly it was black. I used to wear a motley of clothes, mostly from charity shops. My favourite was a pair of skin-tight, drainpipe, turquoise, satiny trousers with a leopard-spot pattern which I had spray-painted on with car paint. Every time they ripped I put in a zip or a multicoloured patch. How I loved those trousers. One day though, I couldn't find them. Years later my mum told me she had thrown them away because she couldn't stand the sight of them.

I loved my life back then. Though I was at school still, most nights I went with a friend to go to one of the London clubs and watch a band - usually with free tickets. Being part of the punk scene was fun, it gave a feeling of belonging - of membership in an exclusive club, and despite the occasional violence, there was a good sense of cameraderie.

At one point I had a boyfriend called Rockabilly Steve. He was cool, and knew it. He kept a machete on top of a cupboard in his room and had a belt with a huge Triumph Motorcycles sign on it. He used to speak to me about ghosts and evil spirits. I was scared, but tried not to show it. Older than me, with great charisma, he'd wait for me outside my school gate and I was so proud.

His ex-girlfriend (whom, I later found was actually still going out with him) was a lardy but scary punkette called Dee. She was best mates with another very scary punk called Tampax, who used to wear a used tampon in her ear (nice!). They spotted me one night in a club in Soho. Tampax kept bitching at me and Dee threatened to beat me up. Sigh, those were the days.

For some reason, I just remembered all of that as I was walking home from taking my son to school and was struck by the contrast. How much has changed.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Someone trying to tell me something?

Let me tell you about Monday last week.

My supervisor has advised me to attend some undergraduate lectures and I'm not complaining. I need all the help I can get.

Enrolment at college the previous week had been fairly disastrous. Inopportune power cuts, awkward registrars, a MASSIVE queue to get library cards and a supervisor running late meant I had to go into London twice. On both days I ended up having to pelt hell-for-leather to catch a train home to collect the kids, only to be late anyway - even more insulting, on one of the days, I actually made it to Waterloo on time, only to find the trains had been delayed due to a security scare. The odds seemed stacked against me.

This week I was determined to get all done in good time with no panicky rush. The lecture was at 10am so I left home early. I was well prepared. I'd set up my bike chain so it didn't keep falling off as it had done the previous week (meaning that I'd arrived at the train station covered in bike grease and sweating profusely). I got to station in good time to find a train waiting on my platform and trotted over the footbridge to catch it.

That's about as far as my luck went though. The train was packed and loads of passengers were still waiting out on the platform. The train seemed in no hurry to move off and I was just debating whether to squeeze on this one or wait for the next when the tannoy told me that a passenger had been taken ill and they were waiting for an ambulance. I scanned my timetable. I could still get there in time, as long as the train went in the next 20 minutes.

We finally left 30 minutes later and proceeded at an agonisingly slow pace. Every watch-check I made, meant I had to recalculate how long I had got before things became really strained time-wise. And it was increasingly close - down to the wire again - so I ended up having to run like a maniac up and down escalators, between underground platforms and on and off tube trains.

By the time I got to King's Cross it was 2 minutes to 10. So I ran up the hill to the building where the lecture was, burst into the room only 1 minute late, bright red in the face and severely out of breath.

Anti-climactically, the room was completely empty. There was no notice or explanation; I checked my handout and I was in the right room. I was just about to embark on an internal rant about wasted train fares and pointless stress, when a young girl arrived looking for the same lecture.

Unphased and unhurried, she checked her email on the nearest available computer and found out that the lecture had been moved to another room, in another building - at least 15 minutes walk away. Thank God she was there - not only did she know where to go, but I had someone else to walk in with when we joined the lecture 30 minutes later.

The room was packed and I slunk to the back. With no chair to speak of and not wishing to disrupt the proceedings any further (let alone pay any attention to myself) I kneeled on the floor while I wrote my notes, my knee resting awkwardly on a plug socket. It had to get better than this, I thought.

Lecture over, I decided to sort out stuff in the library. In an unusual rush of efficiency I found two decent books to take out and started to register for online access when the fire alarm went off. I had to leave my books inside and abandon all hopes of getting much done.

I stood on the street amid a chaotic melee of students, a mixture of fellow fire escapees and strident protesters shouting about soldiers in Iraq. I wanted to laugh. So far, every time I'd gone to London, my efforts had been thwarted by a chain of unforeseen and random incidents. It just seemed ridiculous.

"You'll never guess what.... " I said, catching my husband on his mobile. He suggested that 'someone' might be trying to tell me something. Well, if they are, I'm not listening. I prefer to see it all as just a test of my resolve.

Now very briefly to fulfil my tag from Belle

No. of books I own: masses and masses - too many, must take some to charity shop.

Last book I read (non-academic) Zoo Station (cannot remember author, will fill in later) Quite good, simply written. but a bit bland considering the subject matter of ww2 intrique and spying.

Last book I bought: Women at the Center: life in a modern matriarchy by Peggy Reeves Sanday (academic...but on the people I studied for my PhD)

5 meaningful books: Dune by Frank Herbert (blew my young mind), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (first book I was really affected by), Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (for the amazing prose which totally impressed me when I was writing up my PhD) and Northern Lights (which got me hooked on the trilogy).

Do I have to tag someone now? not sure whose done it already but at random: mother at large, omega mum and debio. Apologies if you've been tagged on this before.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Give us a tena

There's a jolly gaggle of 'older' ladies who frequent the ladies' gym club I go to. One of them obviously lives near me as I see her regularly in Sainsbury's and 'down the town'. She's easy enough to spot as she wears great big sunglasses whatever the weather and always has a smile on her face.

The other day she burst into the 'stretching area' just as I was working on my quads, charged up to one of her cronies and blustered: "Guess what! The incontinence lecture is on my birthday!"

'What a great line!' I chortled to myself immediately wanting to share it with others (well, my mum found it amusing) and wondering how I could work it into a blog.

Hat's off to that lady, I say. There's no way I could be so carefree and public about slack bladder control. In fact there's no way that I would pay the £2 to attend the incontinence lecture. That would be admitting that I have a problem with my pelvic floor.

OK, so I can't go on the trampoline, run or go to my gym without a little protection, but it's only at certain times of the month and that's normal isn't it after having two kids?

In my more sanguine moments I do realise that I should have been more diligent about doing my pelvic floor exercises. In ante-natal classes the midwife suggested that we put red dots all over the house and whenever we saw a red dot, we should give it a quick squeeze. "Red dots!" I mocked, joshing merrily with the other mums. "Imagine explaining all those dots in your house to a guest!" But if I hadn't larked about and quipped about silly routines and bossy midwives, perhaps I wouldn't be paying the price now.

Every now and then, I get a bit worried and embark on a pelvic strengthening campaign, but I can never keep it up. Friends in the same boat are full of helpful suggestions. One told me to squeeze it in whenever I run water, another to do it whenever I'm at a set of traffic lights. I've had a go at all of these - plus trying to 'hold it in' mid-flow - but after a day or so, I forget again.

One day I will probably really regret my feebleness (in both senses of the word) and unless I find some full-proof routine which doesn't leave me feeling a complete nana I'm going to have to take out shares in the feminine hygiene industry.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

I've got the wobbles

I have that feeling in my stomach tonight - a gurgling, writhing, fluttering, slightly slippery feeling. It's one of those gut-turning sensations; the result of a mixture of conflicting emotions - excitement, worry and vague dread . The cause? In a few hours my life is going to change and I don't really know how I feel about it or what it's going to be like.

Tomorrow I'm going to London. I'm going to re-register at the University as a returning postgraduate, coming back after 20 long years to try, once and for all, to complete my PhD.

Up to now, I've been looking forward to it, but now I feel in an ever-so-slight panic. Am I really ready for the work? The commitment? The inevitable stress and the toll that will take on my family? Suddenly I'm not so sure.

I've just been checking last minute arrangements; train timetables, emails, paperwork, checkbooks..but even so I feel thoroughly underprepared. My new supervisor - almost half my age I'm sure - has already suggested a raft of books I should be reading. But I haven't had the time, nor the opportunity, nor the access to the library.

I am only just realising the enormity of the task ahead of me. I've no idea just how it will all work out or how well I will slot it into my life, but one thing's for sure: it's going to be hard hard graft from now on. No more coasting, slacking, relaxing, or indulging.

But I have to do it. It's my last chance to finish this thing , so wish me luck, because (dramatic emphasis) at the moment I don't know whether or when I'll have a chance to post again.

Monday, 24 September 2007


It's been a strange morning.

I was woken by the sound of the wind moaning down our chimneys. In my sleep-befuzzled state, I initially thought it was someone with a very deep voice talking downstairs. The alarm hadn't gone off yet, but I got up anyway.

As I pulled up the blinds downstairs, I saw an unexpected vision outside our window: a perfectly formed frog, looking for all the world like a shiny chocolate, frozen still on our concrete path. My son Max had woken too and we gazed at this miniature marvel for a while.

The wind was picking up and blowing sheets of rain across the garden in heavy gusts: Chloe was going to push me to drive her to school.

And of course I did - soft touch that I am. Traffic was heavier than normal on the school run - I assumed it was because of the rain - and there was the usual mini-flood at the bottom of our street. But as I neared the school it was clear something was really wrong. The traffic had slowed to a standstill and didn't look like it was moving up ahead. I tapped the steering wheel and muttered to Chloe: "What on earth is going on up there?"

I noticed a woman in a car on the opposite side of the road speaking to people in my traffic queue and several cars subsequently doing U-turns in the road. Clearly something had happened up ahead.

"A tree has blown down up there," she said when she got to my car. "The road's closed."

Huffing and puffing a little I struggled to U-turn, only to end up in a queue going back the way I'd come. I swear that the new jam I was in was actually moving slower than the old one.

Having finally reached the roundabout at the end and screeched aggressively in front of a car, I confidently followed road B - an alternative way to Chloe's school, but the traffic was dreadful there too. " A knock-on effect of the tree I expect" I said airily.

But as time ticked on I began to lose my cool; the inertia of the van in front was starting to get to me.

"COME ON!!" I yelled pointlessly. This was serious. Chloe was going to be late and I still had to get home in time to take Max and his friend to their school. "Oh for God's sake!" I exploded as we inched on, "this is like pulling teeth!"

Chloe laughed. "I'm sorry Mum, but your exasperation is really quite funny." I saw her point but didn't feel amused. In my head I thought "Stupid traffic! Bloody ridiculous! MOOOOVE!".

In the end I suggested she walk, it would definitely be quicker. She wasn't convinced and none to happy about it, but she did get out and I'm sure got to school on time. Meanwhile I managed to do another U-turn and got home to find Max agitating about being late.

The boys were excited by the thought of a tree falling down. "Maybe it fell on our school," said Max hopefully. "Cooooool," they both chimed.

We had to go down the same road as before, only this time the traffic jam was moving a bit more and had gone down a little, but just in case I parked the car a little further down the road and walked them in the rest of the way. We were just in time.

Walking back to the car, I looked up the road expecting to see some enormous felled oak blocking the road ...or at least some orange lights flashing. Instead I saw a tiny digger and a red and white barrier on the side. Bumping into a friend who lives up that way, I asked her where the tree was. "No tree," she said cheerfully, "just some temporary traffic lights."

What the..?? why did that woman..?? Oh. I see.


Thanks to debio for two kind awards.

I pass the Blogging Star onto: Mother at Large and Daniele in London

I pass the Awesome Blogger award to: Keir Royale and Diary of a Housewife.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Fighting for right

My thoughts have been troubled of late. The past week I have been haunted by something I heard from my friend Vicky.

It was Tuesday, and I was driving us both to Rock Choir. I asked casually after a mutual friend of ours, not quite expecting to hear that she was in a terrible state because her brother-in-law had been killed last month. According to Vicky, his son had been involved in a fight outside his house; the brother-in-law had gone out to try to stop it and had become involved in what the police called 'an altercation'. It all ended when one of the men involved got into his 4wd and 'ran' the brother-in-law over, reversing back over him again for good measure. The scene was witnessed by the whole street, including his wife and son. The culprit has been arrested of course, but the worst part of it is: the son has been charged with ABH.

This story struck a nerve - not only because of the tragic nature of the events and the seeming pointlessness of the man's death - but because it touched a theme that keeps cropping up in my life lately. We all know that we should intervene if someone is being beaten or picked on, we all know we should stick up for ourselves, our property and our family, we all know we should help someone in distress. But how many of us dare do it?

I know I don't - I didn't stand up to ASBO Ange (see previous post) because I thought I would get clobbered by her; I didn't comment when I saw a woman beating her toddler, because I had my own child with me, I was scared and thought that the woman would only take it out on her kid later. I'm a wimp, and I am ashamed of it. But I'm not alone: a friend of mine who is a nurse, says she has to think carefully before helping someone on the street. She passed by a man having a heart attack the other day and didn't go to help - partly because someone was already calling an ambulance, but also because she knew she could be sued if her resuscitation techniques did not work. It's just not right .

There was a time when 'have-a-go' heroes were celebrated, promoted and applauded in films or stories and highlighted in the media. Now I feel it's gone too far the other way. How many times do we hear or read of people standing up to muggers, burglars, gangs, bullies and getting injured, killed or arrested for their troubles? And how many times do we hear of the stories of those who succeed and the baddie getting their come-uppance?

It's giving us all the wrong message for if none of us dare to do what is right, then what does that mean for society?

Monday, 10 September 2007

Camping neighbours from hell

"I must admit," I said smugly, while slowly unpacking the food, "we've always been very lucky with the campsites we've found." This had been the fourth site we'd tried that day and not only was there loads and loads of space, but in our opinon, it was the best one of the lot. We had pitched our tent in an almost empty field, far enough away from other campers, within earshot of a charming brook bubbling happily beside us, in full view of the mountains and - to the delight of my son - a stone's throw from a series of rope swings which had been strung up in a nearby copse.

It couldn't have been much better. That evening we walked along the local beach - a massive sandbank stretching as far as the horizon - watching the sun set behind Cricciech Castle and after a reasonably restful night, spent the following day glorying in the architectural and natural delights of Portmeirion village.

Planning to have a barbeque on the beach that night we rolled up to our tent in good spirits, only to find an encampment of five tents pitched in a circle, slap bang in front of ours and blocking our view of the hills. The shock no doubt registered visibly on my face. "Great!" I muttered through gritted teeth. Moments later a car drew up and two women came out carrying crates of beer and shouting loudly to a group of corpulent men splayed out on some chairs placed in the middle of their tent corral. One of the women then turned on a child - the only child in the group - a sweet looking girl of about five with blonde curly locks: "WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!" she shrieked in the girl's face. "GIVE ME BACK MY POTS!"

We sighed gently to ourselves in a polite middle-class way - rolling our eyes and silently wondering what the hell we were in for that night. And as expected, by the time we came back from our barbeque on the beach, the 'party' was in full swing. As if to compensate for the noise, we got ready for bed especially quietly, piously whispering to one another and hoping to God that the noise would not go on too late.

10.30 pm: time for quiet according to camp rules. Conversation at the corral was loud and relentless. We learnt that the loudest woman (the one who had screamed at the child) was called Ange and her long-suffering husband was Ian. Ian worked in a factory and Ange - inexplicably - was in customer relations. With almost every sentence punctuated by what my kids refer to as the 'f word', they engaged in the most mind numbingly boring exchanges with their friends, mainly on the subject of food. How to cook and eat f-ing eggs, how Ange and the others like their f-ing bacon, how much one of them loved cheese, but how another had a less favourable view of it: "Cheese is what killed my father!"

Midnight. My daughter had to put in earplugs and the rest of us lay there listening to more of the same lacklustre conversation. "I CAN F-ING SIT BY THE POOL ALL DAY, I CAN," came Ange's dulcet tones. "Oh I can't," contributed another, "I'd get f-ing bored." Then Ange started to complain about the chair she was sitting in and how uncomfortable it was. This threatened to develop into a full scale row as Ian pointed out that she hadn't complained last year - "If you had," he reasoned,"we could have got another one!!" Ange countered by taking a different tack; "AND THE TENT BETTER NOT BE F-ING COLD! THAT HEATER BETTER F-ING WORK!" And we all prayed hard that it would.

Though there were many other characters in the party - Ange was the life and soul. If anyone else on the campsite came out of their tent, Ange would yell out "HOW DO?" almost daring them to answer, and if they said nothing she started swearing at them. "WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE?!" she'd yell in self-righteous fury. "Careful Ange," said a quieter male voice on one such occasion, "You'll get us kicked out again." That set her off. "YOU'D ALL BE BORED IF I WEREN'T HERE! I'M THE ONE THAT KEEPS THE PARTY GOING, YOU ALL LOVE ME! YOU'D ALL BE F-ING BORED!!!" Clever-dick sarcastic responses danced silently over my lips as I shifted position once again to try to drown out her voice. My husband developed a passable technique to mute her out, but I couldn't get it. Instead I just hoped and hoped that she'd just f-ing go to f-ing bed.

2.30 am. The noise of more cans being opened, more coffee being offered around and more brandy with the coffee. At one point, one of the party told Ange to keep the noise down as people were complaining. "WHO COMPLAINED??" Ange yelled so that the entire campsite could hear. "WHO THE F DO THEY THINK THEY ARE?? WHY F-ING GO CAMPING IF YOU CAN'T TAKE A BIT OF NOISE?!! TELL THEM TO COME OVER HERE! F-ING C-S!!" Thankfully the others admitted that no-one had complained and they were winding her up.

3.00 am Ange sounded as if she was going to bed. But that was by no means the last of it. The tent wasn't f-ing warm enough of course and the f-ing bed was flat. "IAN!!! GET OVER HERE - THE F-ING BED IS F-ING FLAT!!" Sounds of a foot pump ensued followed by Ian trying desperately to mollify the outraged Ange. Then: "WHERE'S MY F-ING TOOTHBRUSH?? I DON'T F-ING BELIEVE IT!.....Oh, here it is." We listened as ASBO Ange (as we'd later call her) brushed her teeth and had a wee by our tent - her bum lit up by the torch of a cheeky member of her party: "F OFF!! - NO-ONE WANTS TO SEE MY BUM!!"

Too right Ange.

More complaints about the bed followed, more calls for Ian, more re-pumping of the bed. As Ian slunk off to have yet another beer, dearest Ange took exception. "OOOH STOP PRESS!" she shouted, "IAN WANTS ANOTHER BEER! IAN WANTS ANOTHER F-ING BEER. WHATEVER! F OFF BACK TO F-ING WREXHAM!" Oh if only they would.

Having badgered Ian into complete submission, he finally came to bed - probably around 4.00 am. Silence. Then moaning from Ange. As we lay there listening to Ange and Ian having noisy sex followed by Ange graphically describing how she was wiping her 'doo-dah', I really thought it couldn't get much worse, but that was before Ian started snoring. He had one of those snores that I just cannot get my head around. Periodically he would make a whoop and a snuffle at which point it would be quiet for a second and then Ange would scream at him to shut up. Unbelievably Ange was up, shouting at everyone in sight letting all of us know that she hardly had any sleep thanks to the f-ing bed. "I don't know about you," my husband whispered, "but I'm not staying here another night." We debated whether to move to another part of the site or move site altogether - it was Bank Holiday weekend and we'd be lucky to get a space anywhere else. Luckily, our mind was soon to be made up for us. While I slowly packed up, my husband had gone to the office once it was open, asking if we could move to another pitch because it had been noisy last night. Unfortunately, the campsite owner came and told Ange that someone had complained BEFORE we'd had a chance to move.

As the barrage of abuse poured out of Ange's mouth, we looked studiously at the ground, slowly packing everything up as if butter wouldn't melt. Then as quickly as we could, we put it into the car and drove out of that campsite for good.

Once we had driven a good distance away we shouted: "WHO THE F DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?"

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Unpacking and packing up

Earlier this week, I was half-listening to an interview on Radio 4 as I dozed in bed, gearing myself up for a visit to my mum later that day. I can't remember who was being interviewed or why, but I was struck by the fact that the interviewee - a woman - was talking about her relationship with her mother. Though she found her mum trying and annoying at times she said, she had made a decision a few years ago to make a concerted effort to have some fun and enjoyment when she was with her, so that in later years she would have some good memories to look back on.

While appreciating the laudable altruism of this woman, even in my somnolent state I knew that I wouldn't be able to (or perhaps didn't want to) focus on the good times with my mum - though in truth, there are plenty to choose from. For, as my good friend Vicky so perceptively commented later that morning while discussing this very issue; perhaps I thrive on being annoyed with my mum.

Perhaps I do. The four days (three nights!) I spent with her, found me in an almost permanent state of wariness, irritation, resentment and teenage-style surliness as I deliberately evaded her usual attempts to elicit praise, admiration, appreciation and thanks. Just as I was due to pack up and come home after my stay, we had one of our 'chats' during which - instead of pandering to her emotions like I used to do - I criticised the 'poor little me' attitude that she carries with her wherever she goes and for the first time ever tried to make her see how - thanks to her own neediness - I had been saddled with the burden and pressure of being her only emotional prop when I was in my teens.

She was hurt and upset of course, but I didn't feel sorry, I was too angry at her for that. Stuck in traffic on the way home, I started to unpack some of my feelings about her. Like all mother-daughter relationships, ours is a complex one, the details of which I must leave until later; but the main thing I realised on that tiresome journey home, was that my mid-life anger had still not fully abated yet and most of it was now directed at my mum.

Once back home, I felt a little guilty, remembering how old she had looked and the effort she had made to try to treat me and the children. But as always, we made our apologies and we are 'friends' again for the moment.

Any more thoughts on this will have to wait as I will be off camping and therefore sans internet for a whole two weeks as of tomorrow. So for now, thankfully, my sole focus will have to be air-beds, foot pumps, portable kettles, tinned food and most importantly of all, wine boxes.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Catching up and cutting down.

It's with some degree of satisfaction that I can now write that I have been busy the past week. Keen to counterbalance the social paucity noted in my previous post and anxious to let Chloe have some fun with friends from outside school, I managed to organise one lot of visitors, a trip to Wales to see old friends from our expat days and a barbeque at another friend's house last night.

The visitors consisted of an old childhood friend of mine with her two step-children and young daughter. Thankfully, the children all got on well, inventing a strange, but clearly enjoyable game involving the swing, trampoline, dustbin lids and a range of different kinds of balls. Meanwhile, my friend huddled behind the garden shed smoking an apparently much longed-for cigarette while, beers in hand and crisps in a bowl, we gossiped conspiratorially about our mothers, siblings and mutual friends.

The next day I drove to Wales. After an uneventful journey (during which I revelled in the ease, comfort and superior air conditioning of our new car) I was greeted by my friend's mother who had been minding the children. I was given a weak cup of tea and after what seemed like hours of stilted conversation, my host returned from work. She'd been 'caught' on the way home by her ex-boyfriend with whom she'd had a very unsatisfactory on-off relationship for about two years or so. He'd said he missed her, she was the one for him, he was ready to commit --yadda yadda yadda. It was all too late though, she told him (and me), she'd found a new romance, with an old flame, who she later disclosed had 'really bad teeth'.

That evening, as the children engaged in a noisy game of 'Truth or Dare' upstairs, we curled up on her sofa nursing a glass of cheap wine and she told me how she'd decided to cut down on her drinking. As part of an agreement with the rotten-toothed beau, she could only drink on two days in every week. It was great, she said. She had more energy, slept better and felt much healthier as well. I nodded in admiration - even entertaining the notion that perhaps I too could embark on a similarly sensible, yet patently ambitious, scheme in my own life - though considering she had allocated the two days of my visit as her allowable drinking days, I wasn't likely to start that soon.

In fact, the whole week was already a write-off abstention-wise and even more so because the day after we got back, we were invited by relatively new acquaintances to a barbeque at their house. Being from New Zealand they are consummate barbeque cooks and provided a fantastic array of different kinds of meat, complimented of course by beer, followed by wine. With my husband as designated driver for the night (for once!), I have to admit that I indulged a little on the alcoholic beverage front.

This morning I woke up with someone-else's eyeballs in my head and they have continued to feel alien to my body all day. This has been particularly terrible because I have two families arriving tomorrow to stay and I've had to spend the greater part of the day cleaning the house and digging out my son's bedroom so there's room for another child to sleep on the floor. I've had to have a hair of the dog to get through it all of course.

With the visitors coming, tomorrow will also necessarily be a drinking day - as will the following three days, for I will be visiting my delightful mother who get's angry if I don't have a drink with her.

Sigh - maybe I'll start cutting down the following week when we go camping in the Lakes. Maybe I'll need to by then.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Staying in

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up where I am; working alone at home in a teeny semi-detached house in the suburbs when really I'd have been better off living in a commune.

I'm at my happiest when I'm surrounded by people. My dreams often feature me living in a large house which I share with lots of friends; the door is always open for visitors to drop by and there are usually an assortment of children randomly running in and out at will. Just once, when I lived on a compound in the Middle East, I almost achieved this ideal, but like all dreams, it was not to last.

The reality of my daily life now is so very different. Our house is on a main road and there are no friends nearby. My children are quite happy to lounge around at home and my husband works so late that we rarely meet up with friends except on the odd weekend (which usually takes ages to organise). I try to make up for the potential lack of social contact that my current lifestyle promotes, by getting out of the house at least once a day and meeting up with friends as frequently as possible. The contact, the exchange of ideas, the companionship, boosts me up and keeps me going during the times of social scarcity.

Most of the time, I can just about handle things as they are, but the past week I've been driven almost spare. It's the school holidays and my husband was off work last week. THREE days were spent just kicking around at home. The children were quite happy and showed little desire to see anyone, my husband being less keenly social than I, was also happy pottering and doing very necessary DIY. Meanwhile I champed at the bit. Why didn't they want to go out? DO something fun? Go swimming..ANYTHING. I thought of previous trips we'd had, camping in the desert in huge groups and mourned the loss of those days. What kind of 'sad' family were we, I thought, with nothing better to do than DIY and housework?

But then I thought, what kind of 'sad' person am I who is not simply content to be with her family? I shouldn't need to be busy 'doing things', schmoozing and socialising to feel good about myself; I should be simply enjoying my children's company, while they still want to be in mine.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Old friends

I love the feeling I get when I meet up with friends I haven't seen for ages; it's like putting on an old familiar jumper, slipping your feet into a favourite pair of slippers worn into the shape of your foot or sitting by a cosy fire, curled up with a good book.

The past week I've had several such get-togethers; it's the season when they swoop back to visit the old land, tanned, fresh-faced and full of news from their lives elsewhere - lives we once shared. We 'catch-up', relocate and 'pick-up' again. Just for a moment, a day, it feels as though we have never separated; we remember and enjoy the feeling of being all together again. 'Just like old times,' we say, only it isn't really and can never be the same again.

When they leave, the warmth of their presence remains with me for a while and I feel grounded again, as if their visit has rekindled some part of me I had temporarily lost and reminded me of who I really am.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Who needs enemies?

This won't be one of my ordinary posts. I apologise to readers if this seems boring, trivial or lacking in any humour but I need to get it out. Apologies also if the writing style has gone to pot. (anyone new to this blog - advise you skip it!)

I haven't been able to sleep for the past couple of days. Each morning I wake up, my head spinning, working and fretting endlessly, over the best way to resolve a problem which has haunted me most of this year. I know I'm stressed because my chest has gone tight and my breathing a bit laboured; I know I'm obsessed, because I can't stop mulling it over wherever I am and whoever I'm with. I just can't focus.

So I'm using the therapeutic power of my blog, to put the problem out there and maybe get some insight or idea as to what to do.

So here's the problem - deeeeep breath:

On and off all year, my daughter has been having difficulties at school with one particular child.
From my perspective, this child - call her Janet - has taken against mine (call her Chloe). Chloe and Janet used to be friends because I am friends with the other mother, but they never went to the same school. Last year they were starting seniors together and wanted to be in the same class. Within a month, Janet had started being a bit mean to Chloe, saying she was annoying, telling her to 'go away', criticising her.

Janet is popular and nice to most of the other girls in the class, but snide, critical and undermining to Chloe. She comments on her hair, the faces she pulls, tells her to 'be herself' and stop trying too hard, stop being overconfident, says Chloe cries too much, is too competitive. It goes on.

Chloe is a sensitive child, very self conscious but fun loving. Though she is naturally sociable and has made wonderful friends very easily in the past, she has found settling back into school friendships back in the UK difficult and she feels like an outsider. Chloe is very kind and compassionate, but is also emotional and on occasions can really 'lose control'. During that time she can say horrible things which she regrets later. However, she is a truthful child, she admits when she has done wrong and usually feels quite mortified about it.

It got to the stage when I thought I ought to have a word with the mother as she was a friend of mine. She came to my house with a pad and pencil and took notes on what I was saying. Intimidating to say the least. She suggested I start and I stated the case above.

Then it was her turn. Apparently, Chloe made a personal remark to Janet on several occasions about her appearance and that's why she didn't like her. 'My friend' then went on to list all the ways in which my child was irritating (i.e. tries too hard etc.). I thought this unnecessary. Over the years I have known them I have always thought that Janet is a strong personality, very good at manipulating people and deflecting blame, she is also very prone to playing the victim and I have caught her lying several times. I said none of this to my friend out of respect for her.

We agreed to tell the girls to stop backbiting.

When I got her from school, I tackled Chloe on the personal comment. She told me that Janet had actually said it to her first and when she retaliated with a kind of pot kettle black - you are too kind of thing, Janet took offence (people in glass houses). I have later found this to be a pattern with Janet, she will dish out an insult in a 'jokey' way, but if it's given back to her, she can't take it.

Still smarting at my friend's attack on my child I thought I would at least put Chloe's point of view across. So I sent an email. My mistake. 'Are you calling my child a liar? ' - type thing. I got a tirade of abusive stuff about my child back in the email - most of it completely distorted and manipulated. I withstood the urge to respond like for like again. Apologised for anything my child had done but said that some of the comments had not been fair. I never got an apology back and I felt Chloe had been completely convicted without a trial.

My friend went away for a week and things settled down for a bit. Under strict instructions from me, my daughter ignored most of the snipes from Janet, but then it all blew up again a couple of weeks ago. Chloe made two big mistakes. First, she put slightly sarky and catty (but not personal) comments on Janet's Bebo and second, she was in a bad mood and got wound up in PE; she made a gesture which looked like a kick to Janet. For days afterwards Janet put highly unkind and personal comments on Chloe's Bebo saying she was ugly, she smelled bad, she's weird etc. She tried to cover herself by writing LOL, smiley face or Love you! after them. When asked to stop by Chloe, she said she was paying Chloe back - but anyway - they were a joke. Yup, right.

To complicate matters Chloe's 'best friend' is very very close to Janet and also backbites about Chloe behind her back. Today, the best friend was taking Janet's side arguing that what Chloe wrote was worse than Janet because Janet put LOL on her comments. Chloe lost it with her friend, said she 'hated her and has now done more damage. So her friend comes back and says nobody likes Chloe because she's so mean.

Trying to push my natural bias aside, this is how I see it. Chloe has been the subject of low level bullying from Janet on a consistent basis. Janet has a lot of sway with the others in the class not only because she is extremely persuasive but also nice to them. The only time Chloe has felt really comfortable and able to relax, have fun and be herself at school is when Janet isn't there. Chloe gets on fine and has no problems with any of the other girls.

On the other hand, Chloe is by no means blameless at all. She has undoubtedly been mean on occasion, said tactless and unkind things, however, it is no worse than all of them do and certainly no worse than Janet. Usually with girls, there is a spat, mean things are said and then life goes on, but Janet is bearing a big grudge and she's making Chloe pay. From where I'm sitting, it's one rule for Janet - who seems to be allowed to say almost anything to Chloe - and another for Chloe who get's jumped on for any slip, gesture or word out of turn. It's an impossible situation for her I feel, because even when she's trying her hardest to do nothing wrong, Janet will misinterpret a comment or gesture and condemn her further, when other people are doing far worse. Janet is creating a bad reputation for Chloe by always pointing out what she does wrong.

For me it's a question of fairness. It just doesn't seem fair to me that Janet can be consistently unkind to Chloe and no-one says a word, but Chloe does the mildest thing and she's made to pay for it in spades. I think that someone needs to stick up for Chloe and her point of view, but how do I do this? and am I really being objective here? To be honest, I can't take another five years of this and neither can Chloe.

Do I:

Get together with the mother again - this time holding nothing back and state Chloe's case more persuasively so that she can actually look at what her daughter is doing?

Write the mother a letter?

Avoid the mother and go to the school and talk to them about it?

Back out of the whole thing and let Chloe deal with it? (dangerous with her record!)

Get Chloe moved to a different class, hoping that she will be happier and the same thing won't happen again?

Ask for Janet to be moved?

Get Chloe - or me to confront Janet one on one (don't really want to)?

Move Chloe to another school altogether?.

Find some way of helping Chloe to manage her anger and emotions (if so - what?)

What do any of you think? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill here? Am I getting all stewed up over nothing? If not what do you think I should do? Opinions gratefully received and all suggestions welcomed.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Polls, pictures awards and restaurants

I've FINALLY got a tiny little window of opportunity to write a quick post. I have to fight for access to the computer now the children are off school. My son apparently 'needs' to be on it in order to look up wrestlers on eBay and Amazon (figures - not real ones) to buy with money he really doesn't have, or else to play a weird pc game called Worms 2; my daughter 'needs' to go on Rightmove look up properties which we don't have the money to buy and to chat to her friends on Msn or make comments on Bebo. I could go on my laptop - why is why I bought the thing in the first place - but despite doing everything according to instruction, I can't access the internet via the router we bought.

So, while I was paying attention to my mother, driving her around and about to look for properties to buy so she could be nearer us (yes, it's true) and vying for online time with the rest of my family, several things happened on my blog. First, the poll closed with a majority voting for me to put a less scary picture up. So now I have a new one. It's meant to serve as some kind of corny visual metaphor for my midlife crisis, it's not ideal, but I haven't had time to find another one and it'll do for now.

Second, I got a rockin girl blogger award - hurrah! - from Debio/Land of Sand which I now proudly display. Being new to this whole thing and being short on time lately, I've only become familiar with a handful of other blogspots, some of whom already have the award. But after careful consideration - I'm going to hand it to:
Keir Royale
Mutterings and Meanderings
Norway Nomad

Because I enjoy all of their blogs.

I was also tagged by Debio and am now duty bound to list my favourite restaurants. As we have so few decent ones where I live, I'm going to include eateries from other places we have lived. None of them are upmarket or particularly wonderful, but all hold a firm and nostalgic place in my memory. By some coincidence they are all Chinese or South Asian restaurants.


1. Omar Al Khayyam restaurant in Muscat - also known as Alauddin.

This was one of the very first places I went to eat when I moved to Muscat. It was incredibly busy at the time - mainly full of seasoned expats who all seemed to know eachother, including (unnervingly) my husband who had been out there for a few months before me. I felt so different from them all - pale, white, self-conscious, still wrapped in my London personality. But the food was good and atmosphere great. After that we frequently ordered takeaways from Alauddin's and it was one of the few places I really trusted when I was pregnant. My favourite order was Chicken Tikka Masala takeout/Vegetable Chow Mein.

10 years later we went there with our children on a visit to Muscat. Unbelievably, they remembered us and without any prompting we were welcomed by name as if we had never left.

2. The Chinese Garden, Al Khuwair - next to the Ice Skating Rink in Muscat.

I don't know if it is still there, but it was a funny little restaurant in a weird sort of complex which housed Muscat's only skating rink. The decor was fantastically kitsch with plastic flowers and greenery draped around white trellises which acted as table dividers. We went there often with our flatmates who included a very tall welshman and a diminutive Singaporean nurse who loved the hot and sour soup. My main memory of the place though was of the nurse, in her clipped Southeast Asian accent, ordering Chili Crap(crab) Balls.


3. India Palace

Abu Dhabi is full of fantastic restaurants - rather like Dubai. But I loved going to this one, not only because of the great Indian food, but because of the way it looked. Outside it was clad in a white faux palace, like the Taj Mahal which lit up with hundreds of white lights at night. Inside the tables were laid with shiny golden plates and massive brass lanterns hung from the ceilings. Most nights there was a little stall within the restaurant where you could watch a craftsman making jewellery and trinkets which were also available for sale. The children loved it, and like all places in Abu Dhabi, they were always welcome.

4. The Chinese Restaurant in the Novotel.

My husband used go there on his visits to Abu Dhabi previously when he was staying at the Novotel. He told me he would happily sit there in the evenings with a good book and a huge frosted glass of beer. We went there on the first night out on our own, leaving our children with the wonderful maid.

Though situated next to the disco on an odd kind of mezzanine floor with a strangely low ceiling, I loved the feel of this restaurant. It kind of reminded me of chinese restaurants back home in England, but offered far better food. It always felt like a bit of an escape to be there, plus I also adored the chilled lager which came in massive glasses.


5. The Gurkha Palace, Farnborough

I passed this restaurant many times before I finally went there. For some peculiar reason, it was my daughter's doing; her first choice of a place to go on her birthday. I later found out that she chose it to please me, just because I kept wondering about it and commenting on it as we drove past.

As it turned out, we all loved the place. Situated on a busy main road opposite the town's airport it was a haven of peace and tranquility - another escape. White walls, rich red carpets and chairs, decorated with beautiful pictures of Nepal and Kukri knives/Nepalese paraphanalia, gentle music playing in the background. On Sundays, they have a buffet full of all the things I love to eat and they also serve the obligatory huge glass of Nepalese lager that leaves me feeling all fuzzy. It has been our family choice of venue for a number of important days now - including Mother's Day. I think I particularly like it because it reminds me of our various lives overseas and takes me back there, albeit briefly.

So now to pass the tag on to:
Drunk mummy
At my Kitchen Table
Mother at large
Norway Nomad

Blimey, that took me ages, we haven't had any lunch yet and the kids have fallen into a TV-induced coma.

Friday, 20 July 2007

In the sick of it

My son has just been sick for the third time. I heard him wretching in the next-door room, but instead of rushing to his side, I carried on reading other people's blogs. My daughter screamed for me to come. 'Just a minute!' I shouted back casually, in time to take in a couple more paragraphs.

I'm no monster. There was a time when the merest sniffle would have had me hovering anxiously at my children's side, desperately trying to 'be there' for them in their pain. But years of mothering have hardened me. I'm now about as sympathetic and nurturing as Nurse Ratchet or the infamous 'matron' (ooh matron!) at my school - whose answer to everything was a dash of Witchazel (is that how you spell it?).

I blame it on too many false alarms, too many overreactions and far too many hours wasted in A and E. But I'm beginning to worry that it's pushed me a little too far the other way. When my daughter broke her thumb, I wrote it off as a sprain and took her to football practice (well, she could move it!); when my son announced that he was going to be sick in the car - I shouted "NOT NOW! Hold it in till I get beyond the roundabout!" (he didn't, he caught it in his lap poor lad); when my daughter put her hand through the downstairs window, I 'made' the right noises but cursed under my breath that once again we'd have to grace the corridors of our local hospital; and whenever I hear a scream from the trampoline in the garden I positively ignore it - so far, there's never been a real injury, but one day there might be.

The actual impact of my hard-nosed attitude towards illness in others hit home the other day when my daughter described just how irritated she'd felt towards another child who was crying during PE because her foot hurt. "For goodness sake!" she said "It wasn't even broken!"

What have I done?

I'm posting this blog in a rush, not to tend to my ailing child of course, but because my mother's coming to stay tomorrow and there's no telling whether I'll get a chance to blog in between mopping up the vomit or tending to my demanding guest - that is if I even survive the trauma.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Decaying faculties

Even though I still feel twenty five, there are horribly cliched signs that I really am an 'older woman'. Slowly but surely, insidiously and sneakily, I'm deteriorating. There are the usual markers of decrepitude of course: wrinkles - including some bizarre trench-like ones on my chest (how? why? whose are they?); the increasing need to hold books further and further away before the letters come into focus (but I don't need glasses yet - I really don't); random aches, pains and stiffness, including difficulty getting up after sitting down for too long; and an inability to do things like cartwheels or headstands without doing my back in/straining some body part.

However, the one sign of age I never bargained for quite so early on, was increasing idiocy. I've always been bit of a daydreamer - which sounds more romantic than it actually is (once I jumped into a swimming pool fully clothed for no apparent reason other than my mind was somewhere else). But my mind has always been pretty sharp and I've always fancied that I had a pretty good memory - capable of remembering events, names, phrases from way back, able to pick up a tune, grasp a complicated plot, do a difficult crossword.

For a while now, I've noticed a few minor cracks in my mental faculties. I do the usual things - calling my child by my sister's /husband's/random relative's name etc and referring to common household objects as thingummyjigs/whatsits. That's standard. But lately these slip-ups have become a little more alarming. A few weeks ago I completely forgot to attend a school play even though I had actually written it down (bad mummy - bad,bad mummy) and just yesterday I was sure that the lyrics to a song I had been singing in choir only a week ago with my daughter were 'Pick me up Buttercup' - so sure that to prove my point to her, I looked it up on the internet. There it was in plain print: 'Build me up...' Of course, she was right.

I remember being exasperated and baffled by the inadequacy of adults in this respect. My friend's mum drove us mad by repeatedly singing 'Shaking all over' wrong; wasn't she listening to the same song as us?? And my mum used to irritate me too by getting phrases wrong - we thought deliberately (the most recent wrong-phrase she used was 'eye-cake' instead of 'eye candy'). I would correct her with the utmost scorn, but now I'm having it thrown right back by my own children.

Maybe this is what it is to be truly middle-aged: you're still young enough to remember what it was like to be a child, but old enough to finally see what it was like to be your mother. Now...what was it that I was just about to do?

Monday, 16 July 2007

What goes around...

I remember what it was like to be twelve/thirteen and being made to go somewhere I really didn't want to go to. I can still recall that sense of sullen resentment at being dragged to a classical concert/christmas carols/an adult party/some stranger's house for 'drinks' - whatever my mother had on her calendar - when I would much rather be with my friends, or at the very least indulging in pursuits appropriate for my age.

I must have sat on hundreds chairs, in living rooms all over London, listening to my mother chat to one or other of her friends (all of whom, she would insist, had been 'very good' to us - as if that should make me want to be there) mentally
willing her to finish her (seemingly) trivial conversation and get up to leave. I would stare at her hard to try to make her stand up and go to the door, but naturally she would carry on regardless, oblivious to my presence - let alone my thoughts. Sometimes, tantalisingly, she would get up as if to leave, only to sit down again as a new topic of conversation was broached.

I'm not sure why she took me along on these occasions - presumably I couldn't be left at home - or else she genuinely, but misguidedly, thought I would enjoy myself. What I have never been able to understand is that she didn't seem to recognise, or even acknowledge, that the things which she enjoyed and wanted to do, might not be my idea of fun. If I put on a 'face' or acted 'surly' I would be lectured on how I should enjoy myself, be happy, be grateful etc. And then she would get upset because I had 'spoiled' her enjoyment.

These memories are vivid, because she hasn't changed. She still gets cross or upset if I dare to suggest that what she likes to do, read, eat, believe is not my cup of tea. I think it thoroughly true to say, that this is one of the many but key
issues I have with my mother. And yet, this weekend, to my shame and horror, I did exactly the same to my own daughter.

It was the day of the music festival. I had to be there early to perform in my Rock Choir. It was a big occasion for us oldies - opening act on the main stage, headlined by Madness. We were excited. In my enthusiasm, I'd bought my husband a ticket for the day and the kids got in free.

The performance went well. Surprisingly, there was a big crowd already gathered to watch us amateurs. I spotted my family coming into the festival, but couldn't see where they were sitting. Loads of family and friends of choir members had gathered near the stage, waving, grinning, pointing and supporting, but mine was nowhere to be seen. I spent a lot of time scanning the crowd to locate them - for some reason, I felt I needed to make eye contact, to feel they were with me - but I never saw them.

The performance went well, we gave it our all and we all left on a serious high. When I finally found my family, my hyper-raised spirits were immediately shot down. They had been sitting far away at the back, my husband looked annoyed and there were black looks all around. My daughter clearly didn't want to be there - or anywhere near me in actual fact. She hadn't wanted to come closer to the stage (someone might 'see' her watching a cheesy Rock Choir) and apparently hadn't 'allowed' my husband to even tap a foot or nod his head during the performance, for fear of looking uncool.

I felt hurt and furious. This was the one and probably only time I would ever do anything like this and my daughter had spoilt everyone's enjoyment by her nascent teenage self-consciousness. I had to take off my choir top (embarrassing!!) and she tried to make me promise not to move when the next band came on. 'LOOSEN UP!' I spat, 'I'm here to enjoy myself and I'm damned if you're going to spoil that for me!'

She spent most of the day sitting on the ground, staring at the ground and it seriously wound me up. My son constantly whinged about buying something and my husband was at the end of his rope. All around us there were families really enjoying themselves, but mine all looked as though someone had died. Clearly they would rather be anywhere else and with anyone else. I started to have a go at my daughter for 'spoiling it' and humiliatingly, tears started to gather and drop, despite my best efforts to control them. My husband then pointed out that he hadn't really wanted to stay on at the festival, he'd assumed we would leave soon after my performance. He also said that I was acting just like my mother.

With the hot/cold shiver of realisation, I made myself face the truth. Oh GOD! He was right. Just because I'd wanted to be there I'd assumed everyone else did - just like my mother. And when it was clear that they didn't want to be there - I got upset with them - just like my mother.

As they say, the truth can hurt. I never thought my daughter would feel as embarrassed to be with me as I had been with my mum. I mean my mum really WAS embarrassing and she really DID have a vastly different taste in music/things than me. But taking myself back into my twelve-year-old skin, I began to realise that it's embarrassing to be with your mum at that age full stop - whatever she is like. OF COURSE my daughter feels mortified, she's TWELVE.

It's hard, it really is, but I have to face facts. I'm a mother of a soon-to-be-teenager. Though I truly thought it would be different for me, it won't be. Somehow, I'm going to have to get used to it or else I really will turn into my mum.

Thursday, 12 July 2007


All is quiet - so quiet it's disturbing. After the storm of my meltdown, the fire of my anger, the zest of my determination to reach my goals and the thrill of my successes, I find myself in a lull - a dip - a sleepy hollow.

I'm in-between stages, in middle-land. My volunteer training is over, Rock Choir has finished for the summer (except for our performance on Sunday) and I've more or less finished with writing; not deliberately - but promising leads are drying up, my pitches are half-hearted and no-one is getting back to me. So I sit here, metaphorically twiddling my thumbs, dying to get on with something, eager to get my teeth into some kind of work to regain a sense of purpose and usefulness, but with the schools breaking up next week and my plans to return to academia in September, there seems to be no point.

If I'm honest, there are things I could be doing. Things need to be done around the house, plans need to be made, contacts need to be chased-up, academic books sit on the table waiting to be read, articles (which exist in my head) wait to be pitched and written. Part of me would love to get all fired-up again, tackling each job with gusto and getting the satisfaction from getting something done. But I can't make myself do it; my motivation is about as droopy as an ancient balloon.

That's one of the problems working from home. There's no-one around who can encourage, direct, criticise, chivvy, or generally gee-up. Work colleagues are virtual, the readers of my prose are faceless - if they exist at all - and feedback is limited. It's easy to get dispirited, to sink into the comforting embrace of sloth and idleness and even easier to justify not doing anything.

So .....if there is anyone out there, reading this now, who feels like writing a little comment, I'll know I'm not alone in cyberspace and who knows, I might just be prodded into action.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

A question of value

Lately I've become completely and inexplicably addicted to Spider Solitaire - the 4-suit difficult version of course. Every spare moment I have, I click onto it, trying to raise my win rate, challenging myself to get even the most impossible deals to work out. The sad thing is, as with all addictions, I'm never quite satisfied. Having completed one, I'm then back on it, trying to beat my previous score. Even as I type, I'm sorely tempted to collapse this window and sneak in a quick Spider fix.

Last night, it struck me that there is something deeply metaphorical going on here. This 'ordering' - shuffling the cards around so that they get in their proper place - clearly mirrors my desire to try to set my life in order; to get back to where and who I want to be. The only thing is, the card game is quicker and easier and I have much more control over it. In my real life, truth is, I'm only on the very first metaphorical 'deal' ; most of the cards are still unexposed, the suits are jumbled and I'm sort of stuck.

I've tried to 'big up' my mini-successes as I'm supposed to in self-coaching terms, but just lately as I look at where I am now and where I will be going, I realise just how mini these successes really are. Having felt so pleased with myself - almost nauseatingly so - I've now hit a reality check and I feel despondency lurking, beckoning me into it's embrace (how poetic!).

Yes, I've done lots of training; yes, I've tried things I've never done before; yes, I've lost a lot of weight; yes, I've had a few articles published - but the emphasis is on the 'few'. I've worked very hard, been very busy, but the long and the short of it is - I haven't actually earnt much money and if I pursue the PhD route later this year, I'm not likely to either. I've moved forward, I've set things in train, little openings and opportunities have popped up here and there, but nothing has really come of them. And I still cannot do one of the things I really want to do: make some contribution to the family income.

Money is somehow linked to my sense of worth. I know it shouldn't be, but it is. I can rationalise all I like (and I do), that what I do as a mother, a volunteer, a wife etc - all of the many unpaid roles I perform and the help I give others - is of great value to society, but I can't keep down the feeling that because I can't earn much money or get a 'proper' job, despite all of my training and skills, I am a failure. Rightly or wrongly, I realise that if I am ever going to recover my self-esteem, I will have to earn an income. And I'm not quite sure what that means for my current plans.

Well, back to the solitaire before I start to think too much.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

The way out

Just two messages - two little threads of hope, two little paths to follow - were all that it took. To be precise, one little book in the post and one email link and I was suddenly set back on some kind of track. It was just as they said in the coaching books I'd become morbidly addicted to: baby steps, little changes, mini-successes were the way to go about changing your life.

My first tiny success came in the form of a commission - my first for many months - the result of a contact name I'd been given by a colleague. Writing on my woeful state of unemployability, the article was cathartic to write and what's more, I did it without so much as a mild case of anxiety - let alone a panic attack. I could write without becoming a gibbering wreck/devilwoman/crazed nutcase.

Buoyed by this, I flicked through the Weightwatchers book I'd received. I'd always been dismissive of 'diets' (hmm...could that be why I was so fat?) and I hated the idea of having to turn up every week to be weighed-in (more to the point, I resented the idea of having to pay for the priviledge). But, with the book to hand now, at no cost to myself, I reasoned that I could just look at the principles and try it out - mini step by mini step, no pressure, no obligation, no real expectation.

At first glance, it seemed that I was already doing everything right. 'That figures!' I snorted, self-righteously, stubbornly convinced that nothing would ever stop the incredible expanding woman. Still, I casually added up my 'points' and over the next few days, made a few little half-hearted alterations to my existing dietry habits: I switched to skimmed milk (yuk), had a salad for lunch and cut out little extras like cheese toppings and salad dressing. Baby steps, I thought.

Within one week, I - the enigma woman - the woman who moaned continuously that she could not lose an ounce whatever she did - had lost 4 pounds. Energised by this victory, I put more energy into the enterprise, adding a few further changes - making sure though, that my alcohol quota was sufficient to keep me happy of an evening. Unbelievably, the weight kept dropping off. I began to feel like a complete fraud. All that complaining, all that indignation, all that outrage - for what? I'd been quite capable of losing weight all the time - I just hadn't known how.

As the coaching books say - success builds on success. Over the next few months I got sudden commissions, started writing more prolifically, finally got invited to interview for some jobs, got offered a job (which I turned down), passed my counselling course and discussed the possibility of completing my PhD with someone at my university who at last seemed genuinely interested in my work. I joined a Rock Choir (to fulfil the Wendy Craig, creative-type evening class thing) and I kept on losing weight.

So here I am now: 2 stone five pounds lighter, my jeans hang off me and my t-shirts cling but no longer ride up above my belly. I can walk without waddling, I can run without feeling like a lumberjack and I can wave at someone without flaps of flesh wobbling uncontrollably under my arms. And I'm INCREDIBLY SMUG about it . "Have you lost weight?" people ask me nowadays. "Why yes," I reply with a satisfied grin, "two and a half stone!" (well almost) "It was easy," I add with a patronising flourish, waggling my firm behind for good measure.

I've now become the sort of person I would have envied - if not despised - five months ago: a self-satisfied, slim hipped middle aged woman, who is happy in the knowledge that there is more to life than children and is doing something about it. I'll be starting my PhD in September, I'm performing at Guilford festival with my Rock Choir and I've just finished training to become a volunteer for a charity helping families with small children. Not bad going in half a year.

I'd like to say 'IN YOUR FACE' but I don't really know who to say it to - perhaps I don't have to say it to anyone in particular :

IN YOUR FACE previous life!

Next baby step - to stop being so bleeding full of myself. Goal for this month: that this will be the very last time I will be quite so smug.- promise!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

The turning point

It was the final straw that broke the camel's back.

I'd applied to loads of jobs. All had been carefully selected - I'd made certain that I was well qualified for each and every one:

Research assistant in Southampton
Research officer/editor in Oxford
Assistant tutor Open University
Researcher - Oxford
Part-time proof reader Thompson Local
Receptionist for student services at the Art college in Farnham
Any job: Surrey University
Any Job: Hampshire County Council
the list went on...

Result? The recycling bin every time. I wasn't even called to interview, not once.

Discouraged, but not defeated, I saw an ad for an exam invigilator at my local sixth form college and applied. Though it offered no real prospects, it would place me in an academic environment and would give me a small but steady income while I could continue my freelancing. I had a good chance of getting it; I'd done invigilating before and one of my referees actually worked there. If I didn't get that job, I thought, I'd never get any job.

Weeks later:

Dear midlifer
We had a strong response to our advertisement for this post and the level of application was very high. We regret to inform you that in this instance you were not successful....(or words to that effect).


I was almost apoplectic. If I'd been a cartoon, steam would have been whistling out of my ears, my eyes would be popping on stalks, my face would have turned puce (actually it really might have done), my head would have spun round faster and faster until it finally exploded into many itsy bits.

For goodness sakes - what on earth would it take for me just to get a poxy job? Enough was enough: the line had been firmly drawn in the sand, the gauntlet had been thrown down and I was mad as hell.

To add insult to injury, my other resolutions had taken a nosedive too - despite what I thought were my very best efforts. My attempt to find some way of using my research data had reached a cul de sac and my weightloss/exercise progamme had stalled irrevocably and my attempts at journalism were proving fruitless. The final nail in the coffin was when I had to decide what to wear for my in-laws' Golden Wedding anniversary. I tried on garment after garment only to cast them off, rejected, on my bed. Despite my increasingly vigorous exercise regime, I had become so massive, so voluminous, that nothing - but nothing - would fit my marshmallow of a body anymore. Not even those black satin trousers that had been WAY too big for me only a year or so ago.

I was both outraged and despondent at the same time. For days on end, I railed bitterly against the injustice of it all to my friends, family, associates, neighbours, fellow forumites - anyone in fact. And I successfuly bored the pants off everybody. Some commiserated, some pointed out the positives, others effectively told me to get a grip and stop complaining.

But two people actually offered me what turned out to be a way out. One sent me a Weight Watchers book and the other gave me a lead for an article idea on my experience in the job market. My fortunes were finally about to change.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Setting Goals

September 2006. The end of the summer holidays and the start of a new school year.

The pressure was on to start afresh and get 'active'. I desperately needed to do something about my unsatisfactory life. If not, I'd either be heading for another meltdown or I'd have to book in for an anger management course.

I looked back at the goals I'd scribbled down enthusiastically before the holidays conveniently prevented me from doing anything; I certainly had my work cut out for me.

1. Find a job/ earn some money

A job or income would help to increase my self-esteem and sense of worth, allow me to contribute to the family income and possibly enable us to move to a bigger house so my youngest child didn't have to sleep in a room the size of a shoebox. In my dreams, it would also set me up for a possible later-life career, but I had to act quick, because time was really running out.

I was looking for a part-time job which could fit in with school timings and (ideally) holidays as I have no family locally who have enough energy for childcare and my children have an almost pathological dislike of the thought of a childminder or after-school club.

Bearing this in mind, I had two main options:
*self-employment i.e. journalism/home business
*part-time post in an academic institution/charity/government organisation which offered the possibility of personal development and use of my existing skills and background.

The problem:
* Local part-time, term-time jobs are at a premium where I live and competition is fierce.
* I have not had a regular job since I married 15 years ago and many of my referees have retired, died, moved on.
* My academic qualifications make me over-qualified for local admin jobs and the non-completion of the PhD means I am under-qualified for part-time research jobs at local universities.

I didn't hold out much hope. I'd already been applying for jobs since March and hadn't even got as much as an interview. I felt as though I'd fallen into some sort of holding area for the qualified yet unemployable - people who just don't seem to fit anymore - the 'white elephants' of the job market.

Though I was determinedly pessimistic ('I'll never get a job!' 'No-one in their right mind would hire me!') I set out to try a little harder, sending out speculative applications to likely employers, widening my search, expanding my job criteria and improving my CV either underplaying/overplaying my academic background. At the same time, I decided to persist with the journalism, to see if that got me anywhere, nervously working on a few ideas and pitches to get me back into it.

2. Get another qualification/retrain.

Even though I'd spent much of my life in one form of training or other and even though I'd just finished a journalism course, I could see the logic of getting a decent, vocationally-oriented qualification which would set me up for sure employment.

The problem: I didn't know quite what direction to take or what course to do. What's more, retraining would mean yet more time out of the job market and even less money coming in. It would also mean that my earlier education might be wasted - especially the PhD. I wondered what the point of doing a Master's was when I could always spend that time actually finishing what I started all of those years ago. The unfinished business of the PhD was still a gaping wound.

After some thought, I decided to enrol on an 'introduction to counselling' evening class. I rationalised that this would help with my listening and interviewing skills (valuable for my journalism and social research), but also allow me to see if this might be a direction I would like to take. I also resolved to look into ways in which the data from my postgrad research could be used, so I could reach some sense of 'closure' on that one.


My body image was not good. On the few occasions when I was driven to look at myself in a full-length mirror, I was increasingly horrified by what I saw. I didn't look like me anymore. My tummy, stretched beyond all recognition by my last pregnancy looked like a deflated balloon, my breasts like dried out gourds hanging down to my waist, my legs and thighs huge, wobbling and riddled with new and expanding tracts of cellulite, my upper arms flappy and my elbows saggy. And now, after two weeks in the US over the summer I found myself the heaviest I had EVER been. In theory, losing weight and toning my body would help me feel better about myself and increase my confidence, but I knew it wouldn't be quite that simple.

The problem: My ever-increasing girth was quite frankly, an enigma to me. I didn't get it. I'd always eaten sensibly, I went to the gym three times a week, did lots of walking and swam regularly. I'd tried to 'think myself thin', I'd tried eating out of smaller bowls, chewing my food properly, I'd come off the pill, I'd had my thyroid checked and I'd even entertained the idea that I might be in the menopause, but it seemed that whatever I did, I never actually lost any weight.

Just before the summer holidays I'd joined a gym especially for women, called Curves, which originated in the US. So far, I hadn't been able to go to it much, but I planned to try it out for a few months to see if it helped at all. If not, I'd then take the drastic step of cutting down on food and drink.

So those were my goals for September last year. And I tried - I did - I tried hard to work on all of them, but in late November I hit an all-time low and this proved to be my turning point.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

The reconstruction

My life/me, July last year: 44, overweight, mumsy, unfit, maybe a little bit too partial to a glass or two, unemployed and with a cv like mine (career gaps as wide as the Grand Canyon) almost unemployable. I was a stereotype: an unfulfilled housewife, mother of two, living in a semi-detached house in a provincial town. Thinking bitterly of what might have been - what should have been - I wondered how on earth had I let it get to this.

In a vaguely 'Eureka!' moment I realised that I was not really cross with my husband, I wasn't really angry with life in general or 'fate' which had brought me to this. I was furious with myself for not noticing where my life was headed sooner.

After wallowing and indulging in a healthy bout of self-pity, interspersed with periodic episodes of self chastisement, I finally got to the point of no return. Time was still ticking away and I knew that I had to start taking control. The years of maternal and wifely self-sacrifice were hard to cast off, but I had to start thinking of where I was going, before it was too late. Fired up with the enthusiasm which accompanies a new-found resolve, I stomped around proclaiming childishly, "It's my turn now! I'm going to do stuff for me!"

As I began to look at options, I suddenly felt a little bit like Wendy Craig in one of those 80s mid-life sitcoms when she enrols in a pottery class or something to feel more fulfilled and 'special' . But I knew I wanted to do something with slightly longer term prospects; something which would lead me to somewhere I wanted to be. But where was that? I hadn't a clue.

Sitting in bed, with a pen and paper and a stack of self-help books (a staple diet for lost souls like me) I started to write down my immediate goals.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The aftermath

I fully expected to feel better after my emotional free-fall. Isn't that what usually happens? You 'let it all out' - emotions which have bubbled under the surface get expunged, released and set joyously free? The issue gets air-time and you can start to move on? Isn't that how it works?

Apparently not. For days, weeks, months, my rage stayed with me; lingering, regrouping, clustering and huddling, just waiting for one look, one word, one action to justify another massive explosion. Fragility was written large all over my face. Friends tactfully probed, offering gentle support, the children wrote me comforting and uplifting messages hoping to bring me back to them, while my husband trod quietly and delicately around me, not knowing how to fix things - the ice cracking dangerously with every footfall. I hated being so weak, I hated being out of control and more to the point, I hated everyone noticing, which only stoked my anger more.

Right in the middle of all this, I was dealt a final blow. My first commission for a broadsheet paper suddenly came my way. It's what I had wanted of course, but not now, not just yet. With only one published article under my belt, the learning curve I had to take on would be almost Himalayan. I'd be thrust so far out of my comfort zone I wasn't sure I could find my way back. The timing couldn't have been worse.

Even so, I decided to give it a go. Relying heavily on the advice and guidance of those more experienced, I muddled my way through, making mistake after mistake, worrying and fretting about interviewees, quotes and word counts.
With self-confidence about as wobbly as a jellyfish, my stress levels started to rise, reaching a peak one morning, close to the deadline.

It had been a bad night and I'd barely slept. Dragging myself up to make the breakfast, my body suddenly decided it had had enough and started to take over - alien-like - quite beyond my control.
One minute I was filling the kettle, the next I was struggling for breath and sobbing in spasms. It was as if someone had punched me in the chest, winding me in the process. Was this what I thought it was? Was I really having a panic attack? Over one little article?

People rallied, as they always do. My husband took the kids to school; friends, relatives and mentors, talked to me for hours on the phone, piecing me back together little by little until at last I was back on track - limping and wounded - but back on track.

I finished the article and it was done, but I took no pride in it. Part of me - the part I know well, the 'me' of everyday - had been observing everything from afar, judging and analysing in a detached manner.
I was ashamed and embarrassed by the terrible fuss I had made over it all. Clearly, something big was going on: I needed some time to recover, to rest, to take stock, understand what had happened. In short, I needed to take a long hard look at my life.

Friday, 4 May 2007

The meltdown

I should have started this blog ages ago, when I first hit meltdown. That would have made entertaining reading, but I could barely speak to anyone at the time, let alone share my angst with the blogging public.

So I need to paste in a bit of background here: flashback to almost a year ago - our 15th wedding anniversary. I've been trundling along fairly happily in life. Recently returned from a spell as an expat wife in the Middle East and I've settled in back home fairly well, I think. The kids are doing Ok at school, I've just completed an online journalism course and I'm starting out as a freelance writer. Good, fine. Tra la la.

So, on to the day of the anniversary. For once we're making a bit of a fuss. I've got a nice meal all ready and waiting, the obligatory flowers are on the table and we're sitting down to a glass of wine. My husband tells me he's volunteered to take a trip abroad for a charity he belongs to and BANG! out it comes; a sudden explosion of rage - incandescent, vitriolic, seriously intense. I rant and rant and cry and rant, barely pausing for breath. Years and years of little resentments piled up and buried deep in my subconscious are now pouring out , lava-like, melting my brain. We are both completely blindsided; my husband's face a picture of shock and confusion, my own red, raw, puffed with the intensity of the emotional release.

The day after: with a humdinger of a headache and eyes like dumplings I walk the kids to school, trying to avoid looking at anyone while working out what it's all about. Actually, it's not difficult to understand. 20 years ago I was writing a PhD and applying for jobs in research. Wanting to work together, we both applied to VSO and got a posting in Indonesia - where I did my postgrad work. It was perfect - just what we wanted. We got married, got all the training, left our previous jobs, held a farewell barbie, then 5 days before we were due to leave, the whole thing fell through. I was devastated.

And that was the beginning of the end. A month later, new hubby got a post in the Middle East, I followed and from that moment any possibility of a career for me vanished as we moved about with his work, I had children and became what is gloriously known as a 'trailing spouse'. And there we have it: it wasn't meant to be this way. I once had promise, a future, potential for a fulfilling career - but instead I'm what I never thought I would be in a million years - a bored and frustrated housewife. And I'm really really angry about it. Though it's nobody's fault, I feel like a toddler having a tantrum and I want to shout down the street: 'IT JUST ISN'T FAIR!'.

Well, that was a year ago.