Wednesday, 17 December 2008

What can I do with her?

I'm in need of a little therapeutic outpouring.

I dread Christmas, and have done for many years. All because of my mum, because it's at Christmas that she can be at her worst.

Not sure where to begin or how to explain about her, but in a very emotional way she is extraordinarily controlling. She always gets her way and this has dominated (and plagued) my life.

It all goes back to her childhood. She had a lovely first six years being spoilt rotten living the life in India. Then she was sent to boarding school in England and forgotten about (at least that's how she sees it). An alcoholic mother who did forget pre-arranged meetings didn't help. My armchair diagnosis is that my mum is in constant need: she needs to feel loved, needed, appreciated and secure and she tries to ensure this by making sure people say things and behave in a way that makes her feel this way.

Myself, my sister, husbands and children are all paying for this aspect of her past and her present personality. We are all railroaded into paying her constant attention, 'thinking of her' at every moment, catering for her every need (woe betide those who put children first), praising her cooking, home, thanking her for her hospitality or help as if we couldn't have done without it...and so on.

For Christmas this year she has made my sister go to Bristol to collect her, take her to Somerset where she will spend five days, then I have to collect her from Somerset, take her to her home in Bristol, then to my house in Hampshire where she will stay for five nights including New Year's Eve. I have not offered this, she just asked and assumed. If I make out it's difficult she gets huffy, pointing out that she's taking us to the theatre (OH WHY did I agree to it?).

My problem is that she expects all this. I would probably happily offer to do some of what she wants, if she didn't always impose it on me. Not once has she noted that it may be a bit much to ask, that maybe my husband would not want his mother-in-law in the house all that time, that maybe we might have made other arrangements.

I have three other people to think of - not least my husband who is very unhappy about this. She will effectively take up most of his leave time and he finds her difficult at best. But once again it is all about her feeling wanted and needed and having the Christmas she wants. Trouble is - it's not what any of us want.

I feel furious that she's put me in this position again (for the nth time in my life), very very sorry for my family who deserve a relaxing break, incredibly resentful for being forced into this, but, as usual, powerless to do anything about it .

If I confront her about this a massive scene will ensue, with lots of tears ('how can you be so hurtful?") on her part. I know, because that's what always happens. I also know that she is 78 and will never change (because after all, it is me who is being 'selfish'). I feel thoroughly depressed and oppressed.

Friday, 12 December 2008



That, was a really hard slog.

Now I can at least think about Christmas shopping, tax returns, Christmas cards and 'sigh' dealing with my mother's visit (she's only invited herself for New Year's Eve!).

Will be back to blog again soon, in the meantime, now to down some wine and have a bath.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The moment my heart stopped still

Last week I drove my daughter to school. I inched along the narrow road opposite the school, tagging along behind the line of other cars dropping off, held up by the usual groups of teenagers pulsing periodically across the road in front. I hovered momentarily as Chloe stood on the pavement ahead of me, wondering when to cross.

Checking in my mirror, I saw one red car waiting behind and flashing my indicator as if I was about to pull out, I beckoned Chloe across. I watched her trotting over the road and then I saw the black car pull out from behind the red car. In the split second it took, I looked on uselessly, flitting from car to child to car to child and as the two seemed sure to collide, a bestial scream escaped from somewhere deep deep inside. The car stopped. Chloe stopped. A cigarette paper's width between the two. I had done nothing to stop it.

Life could have changed in that instant and it would have been my fault.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Chip chip chipping away

I feel like the ants and the rubber plant in that cheesy song.

I finished my first chapter. It was way, way, way too long but my supervisor was impressed. Then again, it was the personal, intimate, small-scale descriptive stuff - the stuff I do best.

Now I'm on the next chapter - the historical background, my hardest one - and I'm struggling again. Its taken five days to write three pages and progress is painfully, painfully slow. I'm pretty sure what I need to say, what sections to have, but - as my old english teacher wrote in my school report 'clarity still eludes her'. I agonise over writing the simplest sentence, finding expression difficult and spending hours finding the correct references and quotes.

Prior to beginning the chapter I spent weeks reading over my old notes, getting to grips with the mass of information I had on the topic, writing notes of notes, drawing out points. Yet I still don't have the facts, references and quotes at my fingertips. Surely, I think to myself, there must be a quicker way to do this?

Each day, I go to bed, desperately disappointed with what I have achieved. Each day I resolve that the next one will be more productive. Each day I try to think that I get a tiny infinitesimal bit closer to completion but the pace is frustrating.

It feels as if I'm trying to carve a stone sculpture with a toothpick.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


My last visit with my supervisor got me all fired up and inspired. It was good stuff he said - definite PhD quality but I needed to up my productivity. We discussed my slow progress and I set out a plan for the holidays. Do some work every day he said and I resolved that I would.

I decided that I'd work in bed every morning for two or three hours. The kids could fend for themselves.

The first week though I had to see my sister and then we went camping. I took some reading and I did a bit of that in the tent. The next week we went to my mum's. I did a little reading one morning but my mum was fragile and offered little opportunity to work. When we got back we had a lazy week, but I was badly distracted by the olympics which were on in the morning and I was seriously hooked. I worked and watched at the same time but got little done. Then - camping again, work was taken but not touched. Now the olympics is over but I got stuck on a Jodi Picoult book and couldn't drag myself away.

I've finished the book, but instead of getting back to my PhD I'm writing this blog. I don't get it. I enjoy doing the work, I need to do the work, I know that I must get on with why don't I do it? What is it that's stopping me?

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

And it was all going so well...

I'm back.

Nine months into my renewed attempt at my PhD. I have felt stronger, more skilled, more knowledgeable and better equipped this time round. Up until this month, I have convinced myself that this would be the time when I would finally get it done. I am confident that my plan is sound and I have a pretty good idea of the chapters and the arguments I'm going to make - though the latter need developing theoretically.

For the past three months I have been working towards starting to rewrite and I have deliberately chosen the easiest one to write - the one light on theory and heavy on description. After delays from other work commitments, holidays and a certain amount of procrastination today was the day I started to write my first page.

And I have really struggled. Words are failing me, expression eludes me, I tinker about with the same paragraph over and over and it all sounds so lame. So weak.

I feel sick, my heart is racing, my mind is whirling, and I'm obsessing on random sentences - I'm right back to the same problems I faced first time around and I'm so disappointed. This time, I really thought it would be different, but the same old demons are coming back to haunt me.

If any of you are out there identify with my plight or have advice to get me out of it - I'd welcome the input.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Back soon...I think

I suddenly realise that it's been ages since I last blogged. I've been busy recently and also, just haven't been able to think of anything to write about that I could write briefly. I toyed with the idea of griping about irritating mothers/in-laws because they've been driving me crazy AGAIN, but that would need at least an hour of ranting - I mean typing.

We're off to Crete next week so I'm unlikely to be back online for a bit. I'm supposed to have started writing my first thesis chapter but still haven't done that, so it could be a while before I'm back blogging.

But until then.....

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

A binge too far

I should have seen the warning signs when Shezza got out the Tesco's Value Gin at 5.30 in the afternoon.

Shezza is a bad influence. One of the last times we got together we ended up drinking the best part of a box of wine and for some reason best known to my drunken brain, I ended up weeping over the kitchen table. The following day, we drove to Crawley. Shez - eyes like pinpricks - had to sit in the back with her 11-year-old daughter illegally on her lap, groaning loudly and threatening to hurl at every roundabout.

'It may be cheap, but it makes me happy!' said Shez brightly, pouring a monster load of gin into several tall glasses. It was drinkable - the tonic probably took some of the edge off it - and by the fourth swig it tasted as good as a Gordons.

Like old pros we eased naturally onto the white wine. Just as the words were beginning to slur and stories were starting to be repeated, dinner of ham, potatoes, peas and parsley sauce came to forestall our descent.

Sparkling wine and toffee cake followed (in deference to my impending birthday) and we were all feeling warm and fuzzy when Shez had the hairbrained idea of 'strolling' down to the beach.

The rain was lashing down hard and in regular gusts. "Come on! This is fun isn't it? I love the sea. Can never be far from it," enthused Shez. Unable to resist in any coherent way, we followed like lambs. Half an hour later we got back to the house, soaked down to our knickers.

That's when we could - should - have stopped, but invigorated by our 'stroll' , Shez opened another bottle of wine. We sat as Shez told of her life and loves, munching through a giant packet of Walkers. At some unspecified time later, I managed to stumble up to bed, just about in control of myself, but Shezza was weaving all over the kitchen.

I got up twice in the night for some water - brain lurching at every turn, head hammering with the mother of all headaches. Unable to get back to sleep, I lay awake, longingly visualising ice cold flannels and huge lozenges of paracetamol. About 7am I resolved to get up and find some. The bathroom had no medical stuff in it at all, but a desperate search through the kitchen cupboards brought success. All that activity proved too much for my poisoned system and barely minutes after downing the painkillers I was bent over the kitchen sink, wretching them all back up again.

Shezza woke up to find herself sprawled over the living room floor, phone off the hook and her address book open at her ex-boyfriend's number. She had no recollection of anything after the packet of crisps.

I've made a resolution. Next time we meet, I'm not going to get drunk. But as I said, she's a bad influence.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Memories of fieldwork

In my build-up to starting writing my thesis once again, I've been looking up information on the city in Sumatra where I did my fieldwork. The other day, I came across a website containing hundreds of photos of that very place some of which I am borrowing for this post, including the one above (source: Palembang daily photo)

I've become fascinated by these images of the tropical metropolis which was my home for thirteen months. Though I can barely recognise many of the locations, brief threads - nuggets of memory - are filtering into my daily consciousness. Slowly but surely I'm being transported back 20 years to an extraordinary time in my life.

I found a picture of the monument (which I can't find again) where I once stood for a photo with the trader I called Young Etek: she done up in her traditional-style sarong from her Minangkabau homeland and me in a thin blue cotton dress down to just below my knees. My face is the usual puce from the heat and humidity, hers deadpan for the important picture - testimony of our friendship. I remember her house now: the wooden walls; the woven, plastic mats on the earthen floor; the simple plastic garden chairs used for guests; her husband cooking for the next day's trade in the rudimentary kitchen at the back; her pregnant daughter selling ice shavings from a stall just outside and the constant but comforting noises of neighbourhood life. I stayed the night there once, sharing a bed with her youngest daughter who gossiped about boys and make-up almost all night. We could hear the neighbours chatting and arguing through the walls - their proximity made me feel the warmth of a community who by necessity have to live cheek-by-jowl.

This picture reminds me of a shop in town where I used to get my photos developed and sparks off a memory of a bizarre time when I went there with my friend Kath who was working with VSO. The shopkeeper had asked me whether I wanted a matt finish on my photos and I hadn't understood so to demonstrate he had brought out another customer's pictures and with a flourish, confronted me with an image so surreal that I was forced to double-take. There I was, in the middle of an Indonesian city in the mid 1980s, staring at a photograph of a bullfrog,wide-mouthed and apparently grinning, dressed up in Elizabethan ruffs, a shirt and puffed up shorts, sitting on a hand-made swing, webbed feet demurely crossed.
Just for info - this is what a normal, nude bullfrog looks like, so imagine it if you will:

Photo: A bullfrog in mid-jump

'Oh yes,' Kath had said casually,' those are Mrs Brennan's.' Mrs Brennan was one of the handful of Western expats in the city - a Kentucky lady whose husband was teaching at the agricultural college. The poor woman, presumably sent doo-lally by the life of a trailing spouse in a Southeast Asian backwater, had developed a hobby of catching bullfrogs, making clothes for them, training them, photographing them and then setting them free.

I had been to her house a couple of times - in fact she had been the first person I met. I had bumped into her in the city's first shopping mall (very like the one above) , a day after my arrival, wandering around and feeling lost. She took me to meet my contact at the university, gave me some tea and offered me the key to their video room, where they kept copies of Cheers and American films and where I would spend a number of happy hours in an air-conditioned place, touching base with my Westernness.

The photo of the river brings back another time with Kath, when we had gone on some boats with some of her students and Kath had split her trousers right up the back and we'd had to find all kinds of ways of preventing her from exposing herself to the boys.

A picture of the local buses reminds me of a terrible journey I took with a newly found Minangkabau friend, with very curly hair and a moony face, who took me with her to her home village over Eid. The seats on the coach were far too small for my massive Western frame and my friend had been sick all over me. Worse, the bus broke down and we were stuck at a truck stop for what seemed like an age (6 hours) while all manner of folk had stared prodded and poked at me, laughing at my pointy nose, thin lips and ghostly skin.

Lastly, a photo of the river Ogan reminds me of Ogan lane and the first family who took me into their home. I had a room to myself while the other girls shared. Four children, a niece and a Javanese boy, plus me and Mr and Mrs C made up the household. There was a chicken farm outside managed by Mrs C which stank to high heaven and contained a MADDENING cockerel who crowed ALL THE TIME. Inside, was the main sitting room with a fantastic faux waterfall as a centrepiece on one wall. Just by my room was the mandi (bathroom) with a tiled concrete square about three feet deep containing water and goldfish from which we washed ourselves using plastic scoops. The toilet was outdoors - a squat toilet into which I secretly smuggled tissues - I never got the hang of using water; it always ended up all over my knickers and dress.

I could go on and on - but perhaps that's enough for now.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Gloom and doom

A wandering bad feeling seems to have settled on our house and I've no idea where it's come from. The husband is snappy, the daughter highly hormonal and the son has started crying about going to school again. As for me I just feel so so tired - my eyes have had overtiredness ticks for about two weeks now - I feel cross and seriously gloomy. Despite my best efforts, nothing seems to be able to lift me or the others out of it.

There seems to be no reason why we are all so suddenly like this. Could it be that I am to blame? Is it because my PhD is not going so well and I'm worrying about starting writing? - or is that just a symptom of my mood? Did one of the others bring the unwelcome feeling into our house and we all caught it, like a virus? Was it the husband with his back problems and work-related gripes? Was it the daughter with an onset of heavy teenage negativity?

Or is it something environmental? Could it be something simple like the lack of sun, after a fabulous February? Have we got some weird virus that just makes us feel plain worn out? Or is there some odd freaky electrical current? Even more paranoid - could it be the wireless router, that's suddenly working now?

Whatever it is, I'd like it to go away. I'm hoping that by writing about it, it might just do that.

(Oh - completely unrelated to the above - does anyone know what happened to Debio from Land of Sand?)

Friday, 29 February 2008

In front of the lens

Let me ask you a question:

Before the husband did his back in we went to the beach for his birthday earlier this month ( was THAT mild). The place was heaving with people; hearty dog-walkers, families with cute kiddies running around in brightly coloured wellies, elderly promenaders donning hats and sticks, some dudey surfers looking to brave the sea and a flock of photographers wielding tripods and zoom lenses obviously on some sort of club outing.

We nestled into an out-of-the-way spot, off the main drag and set up our barbeque bits. Max and Chloe climbed on the groynes and we lit the coals which smoked and smoked and smoked. To our left, a couple were climbing some rocks with two ferrets on leads sniffing around the crevices. To our right an older lady with white hair - probably a member of the photographers' troop - set up a camera on a tripod and trained the lens right on us. A few minutes later a man came and set up his camera right next to her. So there were two - looking directly at us.

They were really quite close and 'in your face'. If they had just been snapping quickly I wouldn't have minded really, but they were all tripodded up and stayed there for ages, taking picture after picture. We began to feel a little under the spotlight and it felt intrusive. Were they taking pictures of us or focusing on the ferrets?

Eventually my husband went up to the old lady and asked. Yes, she was taking pictures of us she said - the smoke from the barbeque looked beautiful apparently. Husband then commented - fairly I think - that he would have preferred that she ask our permission before taking pictures of us at which she acted surprised and mildly defensive, making out it was her right as a photographer to take pictures of whatever and whomsoever she liked.

Did she have a right? I don't think so. I always thought you had to ask permission to take photos of people, whatever country you are in - and especially when there are children involved.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Back problems

My husband 'put his back out' on Sunday. Apparently all he did was stand up a bit too suddenly having been kneeling down to clear out the fireplace.

I came back from football with Chloe (two unbelievably tense matches, in which C got repeatedly whacked in the head by the ball and was herself complaining of backache) to find Max complaining of a headache and husband hobbling around like an old man. I myself had a splitting headache - really honestly I did- but didn't bother to mention it, it would have seemed all too contrived in the circumstances.

So it was an aching rag-tag bunch of us who sat down to watch the rugby that afternoon.

Come the end of the match though, while three of us felt much better, the husband had frozen in place and couldn't move even an inch without sparking off a series of agonisingly painful spasms in his back. Even the most basic thing like turning his head caused him to be racked in extreme pain. I'd never seen anyone in quite such agony (except myself in childbirth - but then again I never actually saw myself).

I bought some Neurofen from the local shop but it did little to help. It just seemed so ludicrous. How could one small action have such a dramatic effect?

Over the course of the evening it got even worse, and we set up a mattress on the floor for him to sleep downstairs. It was a long night, with cries of pain from downstairs requiring my help and attention and two children, for some reason deciding to share my bed and taking up all the room.

The following morning it had become almost farcical. I returned from school drop-off to find him sliding along the dining room floor trying to get to the bathroom. Stronger painkillers which I quickly bought from the chemist did nothing to help. He was stuck on the floor for ages. All sorts of strategies and solutions were mooted, thought up, tried. But he just couldn't get up. The pair of us were getting quite hysterical with it all but, with cruel irony, laughing made it hurt even more.

I spoke to the doctor and she prescribed a pharmacopia of pills - muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, mega-paracetamol. But we had to wait four hours to administer these. When they finally kicked in we managed to get him back on his feet. It was an almost epiphanous moment .

Today, he is much better. We have rigged up the sofa bed, he can get in and out of it and walk to the bathroom. But it's still desperately fragile and he is still in pain.

To top it all it's his birthday: Happy Birthday darling!

Now I've been awarded a couple of awards which I must dutifully pass along.

Maddy has very kindly given me a Bloggers of the World award which I pass to: Swearing Mother, Diary of a Housewife, Too young for a Midlife too old for a tantrum, Manic Mother of Five, Land of Sand, Tomfoolery and anyone I nominated for the other award below who already has it!

Belle has given me the Excellent blogger award which comes with the following instructions:

I love being a part of the blogging community and part of all the friendships that I've formed so I wanted to give a blog award for all of you out there that have Excellent Blogs. By accepting this Excellent Blog Award, you have to award it to 10 more people whose blogs you find Excellent Award worthy. You can give it to as many people as you want but please award at least 10.

I nominate: Tomfoolery, Identity Crisis, She's like the wind, Crystal Jigsaw, 3kidsnojob, Itchy feet at 40, Flowerpot, Witterer on Autism, Land of Sand, The Write Eye and Mother of Shrek.

As I have just found out that most of these already have said award - anyone who does is welcome to take the bloggers of the world award instead. Anyone who I haven't nominated, please feel free to take either!.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Just a common or garden crisis

When I had my major meltdown, I thought it was a product of the way my life had gone, the place I found myself, the frustrated ambitions and pent-up resentments I had harboured for years. I thought it was a totally and utterly unique mid-life, individual and peculiar to me.

Now, I hear on Radio London that scientists have decided that the most typical time for a mid-life crisis -the ultimate nadir in one's life-course - comes at the age of 44. And how old was I when I finally expressed my angst-ridden rage? How old was I when I reached the very lowest point of my adult life?


My very personal descent was after all just a scientifically predictable statistic. Somehow I find that rather disappointing.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Can you credit it?

Everyone's panicking about falling share prices and the fate of the economy this week.

I don't pretend to understand economics. I really can't see how something as ephemeral as the (lack of) 'confidence' of bods on the stockmarket floor can have an impact on the price of veg at Tescos. But I do understand that the greed of US and UK financial companies in dishing out massive amounts of credit and the gullibility, avarice and consumerism of borrowers, has landed us up in a big mess.

You don't need to be a clairvoyant to have seen this coming. Where I live, I'm surrounded by low-income families driving around in BMWs with personalised number plates, sporting 'designer' clothes, trolling off on holidays to Florida, building hot tubs in their gardens and out purchasing the latest HD tv as if it's a life necessity.

It's almost endemic. Last month a friend of mine told me of a lady who comes to clean for her. This lady has 4 children, she cleans for a few hours a week and has a husband on disability benefit. She told my friend how she was having to 'cut back' on Christmas presents for the kids this year and was only spending £100 per child. That's cutting back??

I'm pretty sure that our household income is higher than hers, but there's no way I'd think of spending £100 on each child. I can only think she used the credit card.

I know it sounds a little precious and pompous, but this level of materialism really bothers me. Don't these people realise that they have to pay the money back eventually? Don't they realise that showering their kids with expensive items at Christmas doesn't make them happier, better, more rounded children, but just future victims of shallow consumerism? It's just all wrong.

It's not just low-income families who get in this mess either. On Radio 4 I heard an ex-journalist for the Times describing how his credit borrowing spiralled to such an extent that he ended up without his wife and kids, without his home, out on the streets and without a job.

The sad truth of all this though is that it's not only the borrowers who end up suffering in the long run. Now we are all paying for it.

But in a peverse way, I welcome the 'credit squeeze'. It's about time someone pointed out that you shouldn't buy what you can't afford. Simple as that. (um..except for a house of course!).

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Best laid plans

I got a couple of glossies in my Christmas stocking one of which was Psychologies. As a freebie for the festive season, a little pink journal came with the mag. I'm supposed to use it for goal setting: writing down my weekly/monthly targets and achievements. Though I appreciate the thought, needless to say it's already gathering dust on my bedside table.

I'm not a great one for resolutions, plans or lists. My mother makes daily lists and holds regular 'planning' sessions, which usually involve me having to commit to things I don't want to do or making arrangements way before I'm ready to even think about them. Maybe as a result, I tend to rebel against this level of organisation, preferring to 'live on the fly', make impulsive decisions and strive as hard as I can, not to be too organised.

However, the mid-life meltdown two years ago did see me turning to self-coaching techniques and I went through a phase of target-setting and list writing, during which I acheived some personal results.

Going through a basket of papers the other day, I found a list I had written last January whilst in the first flush of this super-efficient pro-active me. In it I had written down all of things we hoped to achieve that year; things we needed to do to the house, decisions we needed to make as a family, places we wanted to go and actions we needed to take. One year on, I realise, we have hardly got anywhere: the radiators haven't been repainted - though the eggshell paint has been bought, we still haven't put the futon and random stuff on eBay to sell, our doorbell still doesn't work, our porch is still separated from next-door's by a horrid bit of plastic and, more importantly, our house is still bursting at the seams, crammed with stuff we had in Abu Dhabi which we keep tucked away in the belief or vain hope that one day we will finally move to a larger property - or at least make our own large enough to accommodate everything.

This last issue - whether to move or improve - has had us in an impasse for about three years now. Every January I resolve to decide one way or another whether we put all our efforts into moving or whether we pour some money into the house to make it a nicer and roomier place to live. We can never decide and another year goes by without us doing anything at all. But this year I really do want to decide.

The main problem is that my son's room is TINY - and I mean TINY. There's just room for a bed and that's it. He's 10 now and I can't imagine him even fitting in lengthways at 15. Also, we live on a main road and the traffic disturbs my husband who is used to living in the country. On the upside we have a fantastic garden. But come the winter and we're confined indoors we all begin to feel cramped and claustrophobic.

Houses round here are expensive and the choice is pathetic. We have scanned the papers and internet regularly but have never found one we like which we could afford which isn't in a flight path, by a motorway, miles away from schools and work and which has a garden bigger than a dishcloth.

At the end of last year, we had more or less decided to stay put until I finished my PhD, after which, we hope we would have more money. In the meantime we could do up the house and the kid's rooms. But the other day, I realised that by the time I finish, Chloe will be 15 and we'd only have a few more years with her at home before she leaves us. So now we're swinging the other way again. My latest scheme is to find an affordable house, similar but slightly larger than our own, with a decent garden which will not cost much more than ours.

But who knows how long that will last. I feel something major will have to happen to make us take a decision - like winning the lottery or inheriting a fortune, having the road diverted from the front, seeing the perfect house in the perfect location at the perfect price or having a decent architect just happen to drop by, appraise our house and draw up wonderful plans. Otherwise, another year is going to go by and we'll have done nothing.