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?"