Sunday 10 November 2019

An imperfect ending...

**The original "ending" to this story was written when things were very raw. And although it still exists on the internet, it lurks behind this post, unreadable to the general public (and more importantly, my kids). But I don't like loose ends. And those books and stories that don't have a proper ending frustrate me, and I wouldn't want to do that to anyone who has stumbled across this blog. So here we go...**

One of the harshest lessons a kid must learn is that their parents aren't perfect.

In fact, this is just one of the two main truths of life that we must come to learn of ourselves. 

The first is that we will die. Accepting our mortality (if you're lucky and not in an accident or somehow realise it sooner) comes through middle age. It sort of creeps up on you and before you know it, you're a bloke in lycra on a bike, or a woman with a face full of Botox, both panicking that you're the wrong side of forty and haven't got your shit together yet.

The second truth is that you WILL make mistakes and you WILL have regrets.

But if the natural order has progressed as it should, before you accept these truths of yourself, you must first accept them of your parents.

Accepting that one day your parents will die is hard, but often far more hurtful is accepting that they also make mistakes. 

To protect them from the sudden shock of "hang on, my parents aren't always right", I have always tried to show my kids my flaws. I am honest about my mistakes daily.

The end of this story was brutal. But there are also shades of grey, light and dark, frustration, and a whole lot of love throughout the whole thing. 

And despite how monumentally devastating the finale was, I wouldn't change any of it. 

I want my children to understand that. 

And when they eventually hear what happened (as no doubt one day they will), I want them to know and understand that no one is ever perfect. And they'll come to accept that of themselves too, just as me and their dad have. There may be no excuse for some behaviour, but people make mistakes for their own reasons, and you can't always know why.

But what they can know, must know, is that while they cannot control others behaviour, and cannot control or undo things that happened in the past, they CAN control their response to it. And if they always chose love, as I have endeavoured to do, they will always have made the right choice. 


Monday 10 December 2012

Mad-vent Calendar

Yep, Christmas is coming. And I don’t just know that because the kids extend their Christmas list during every ad break from Peppa Pig (there is now not a single thing they don’t want for Christmas. In fact, last week Son Two told me he wanted the plane from the Cilit Bang advert, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Christmas lists are kind of limited to things he can find in the Argos book, why shatter his dreams?), or because I have heard “Last Christmas” three times a day on the radio for the past three weeks (and how is it that I never tire of it?). No, there are certain things that, for me at least, mark the beginning of advent far more meaningfully than opening a little cardboard door on a Power Rangers calendar.

Firstly, my list making begins to snowball. I love lists anyway, but as Christmas draws ever nearer the number of lists begins to multiply, present lists, food lists, to do lists, to buy lists, costing lists… In fact my Christmas list making begins in September, when it feels like I have all the time in the world to create a Good Housekeeping worthy Christmas. September lists are full of gorgeously twee ideas, things that I think the kids will really appreciate and show people how much I care:  hand make all presents this year, order polystyrene balls to make funky tree baubles, talk to butcher re: free range turkey (incidentally I have never talked to a butcher in my life, unless you count being chatted up in a bar by some guy who works behind the deli counter in Asda, but it seemed like the kind of thing Kirstie Alsopp would do), felt for calendars. You get the idea.

Then, in November, when I still haven’t managed to tick anything off my September lists, I make a new list, still with the twee ideas, but now fashioned in clipped demands, with added exclamation marks for emphasis on importance: make presents!!!, card blanks!!!, balls!!!

Then we get to mid December, where we are now, and this is when I truly know the festive season is upon us. Because it suddenly dawns on me that I have wildly over estimated the amount of time I have available for all the wholesome stuff that I wanted to do (I don’t have enough time in a normal day to get everything normal done, so on what planet exactly was I on when I thought I could crank out one hundred and fifty handmade cards and matching envelopes?) So things start to slide. In the case of Christmas cards for example, September list: hand make all Christmas cards, (Christmas list making is suspended in October due to the multitude of Halloween lists) November list: buy and write all shop bought Christmas cards, December list: write cards back to people who have given one to me, Mid December list: Dispense with cards all together and plan a nice Christmas day Facebook status apologising for lack of Christmas cards (say it was an eco friendly decision or some other lame excuse) but wishing good will and glad tidings on everyone I know.

Gone also by this time are the other gorgeous but equally insane festive plans. Talk to butcher  becomes go to Tesco two days before Christmas, pick up a frozen Bernard Matthews and curse the damn things for taking up precious fridge space for the next three days as it defrosts. Make all Christmas presents becomes ask everyone what books they want from my free bookshop and make own baubles  turns into pull out the remaining dented three baubles that survived last years month long Bauble Footy Tournament courtesy of Sons One and Two.

The other reason why I know Christmas is upon us is that I am absolutely knackered. I have no idea whose idea it was to call Christmas a “holiday” because it is anything but. I feel exhausted, I look exhausted, I have a cold sore, and I am forever sitting bolt upright in the night shouting “school play tickets!” and scribbling things down on my list which I don’t understand the next day.

The other day I made 71 mince pies for my bakery business, and a fondant Santa cake for Son One’s Christmas Fayre (yet again no bloody certificate for “Best Cake”, when will I learn?), I then realised in sheer panic at 6pm that I had exactly one hour before I was due to leave for my NCT Christmas Dinner and I had to have handed in Son One’s nativity king costume by the following morning. So I went to Tesco, fully prepared to do battle with the other harassed and exhausted “bad mummies” over the last king costume, only to be met with a stripped bare display, the only things left a lame sheep and a suspiciously satiny and bejewelled Mary dress (do we think Mary really had sequins sewn to the waistband of her shiny dress?). I ended up buying a Tesco Value hand towel and manically sewing it onto a red fleece I had in the loft to make an ermine cape (I learned my lesson last year, when my “cleverly constructed costume” consisted of a purple towel with glued on cotton wool and black felt to make the ermine, after a number of school rehearsals the cotton wool had all but fell off and during the actual show poor old Son One was left desperately clinging onto the last remaining strands of it, adversely affecting his arm movements during the performance of “Little Donkey”), in amongst a days worth of washing up and Expensive Cat repeatedly leaping for the spool of cotton.

But just as I was rushing out the door to have the first of many rather badly cooked pub Christmas dinners with friends I wish I had seen more during the year, I kissed Son One on the head good night and he looked up at me and said “You do work really very hard for us Mummy. But you do make us lovely things.” Bugger, he would really have appreciated those handmade Christmas balls. Well there’s always next year (and that goes for the ever elusive “Best Cake” certificate too).

Monday 3 December 2012

Social Hand Grenade

I like to consider myself a fairly social person and have been lucky enough to meet lots of different kinds of people over the years. I never tire of meeting new people, and there are always new opportunities to strike up new friendships. This year in particular has been full of meeting new people and starting new friendships, often without the safety net of having my kids around to blame for any social blunders I make, and that has given me ample opportunity to research how people interact with each other for the first time (oh, the things I do for you, dear readers).

In general, most people are pretty much the same, we all want to be liked and we all want to get on, and a lot of us are quite similar in how we approach a new friendship and how we go about interacting with people we don’t know. There are generally accepted ways of behaving. But meeting new people can be awkward and throw unexpected curveballs, because actually everyone is different, and occasionally someone comes along who doesn’t quite stick to the rules, leaving the rest of us to pick up the social slack

The Over Friendly Over Sharer
I am putting this one first because this is me. I am the person who will, within five minutes of making your acquaintance, discuss something others would consider highly inappropriate eg, the toileting habits of my children (sometimes even my own), religion, politics and money, I hug people on first meeting (see my posts on Social Kissing and over sharing), often getting a stiff as a board “we’re not quite there yet” response. My over friendly, over sharey ways come from an inner discomfort, I want to be comfortable myself and get to that level of ease with someone quickly, completely bypassing the awkward “don’t really know you so I’m on my best behaviour” stages. But more importantly, I want others to feel comfortable in my presence and want them to know early on that it’s ok for them to be themselves around me, and that I am not going to judge them if they accidentally say the wrong thing or a fart slips out (in fact, I often wish we lived in a world where bodily functions were are relaxed as they are to kids, obliviously wandering around with farts and burps falling out of them in an entirely uncontrolled manner (if you have ever been sitting in a lecture or meeting someone for the first time when you feel the urge, you will know the discomfort it causes)).

The Opinionated Debater
I used to be like this when I was in my teens, as I think a lot of people are, although many people grow out of it. I love a good debate, and there is nothing I enjoy more than a healthy discussion on, well, anything at all. I recently met a girl at the bookshop where I was working, and her approach to debate (between two people who barely know each other) was very different to mine. She is highly intelligent and a great conversationist, as she has a huge bank of knowledge on subjects I know little about. That is until our discussion turned into debates over things she didn’t like. She would make sweeping statements over elements of popular culture that she did not approve of (“I hate Big Bang Theory, it is just not humour, and it’s not funny, simple as that”) and this I found hard to swallow. I love that everyone is different, and love hearing other peoples arguments when they are different from my own, but in order for everyone to get along we all need to be conscious of other people’s views. Our debating reached boiling point when we had a heated discussion about Fifty Shades (do NOT slag off my Mr Gray). She said it was drivel, rubbish and badly written. My argument is that it is porn, pure and simple, and discussing it’s literary merits is like a book club hammering out the subtle nuances running through Big Juggs magazine (an argument I put forth when we did discuss Mr Gray at my book club), it doesn’t hold up to literary criticism because it’s not meant to be a literary work. But anyway, whatever the argument, my point to the Opinionated Debater is that sometimes you need to throw in a few “in my opinion”’s in order to help the other side see that you are open to their argument. Otherwise the debate ends too quickly and they come off as an arrogant twat (the girl in question asked me if I found her debates offensive, so, at her request, I made my suggestions and she gallantly took them on the chin).

Harsh Tongue
One of my friends has been affectionately given the nick name “Harsh Tongue” because, in the nicest possible way, she has a habit of saying exactly what she is thinking, and often it can cut like a knife and end a conversation in one fell swoop. She is one of the loveliest people I know, and means no harm to anyone, but her Harsh Tongue (like my over sharing) can be a little disconcerting to the uninitiated.

Underhand Harsh Tongue
These people give with one hand and take away with the other. “Oh my god, that dress is gorgeous, I’d never wear anything from Primark but it looks great on you”. This kind of person I find the hardest to cope with (being stupidly over sensitive and always reading far too much into these things) because I can never tell which side of the fence they are on. I’m sure that 99% of them are well meaning, but there is always an element of doubt as to whether they are friend or foe. And, being the trusting sort of person I am, I often find myself in conversations with people who say “Oh her, she is a right bitch” when I thought they were perfectly lovely. Or maybe I am just gullible.

Embarking on a new relationship means a lot of meeting new people. Once you have got over the initial hurdle of a first date, then comes the endless rounds of meeting, and making a good impression on, their friends, family and so on. And I’m scared. Actually, if the truth be told I am terrified of how I come across to people who aren’t used to my way of doing things, and friends and family are important people to make an impression on. But I know Mr P is a bit nervous too. He tells me his nickname is the Social Hand Grenade, as he is apt to say the wrong thing. But I think we are going to have a lot of fun together. Rocking up at social functions where someone has just died, him saying “hey, who died” and me hugging people I don’t even know. I actually don't think either of us have anything to worry about, as we both must have swerved the saying the wrong thing/over sharing to the point of being offensive or we would not have got to this point. I have a sneaking suspicion we will make a great team :-)

Monday 26 November 2012

Cloud Number Nine

It's funny the expression "falling for someone". It really is like a free fall, jumping off a cliff or out of a plane with no idea where you are going to end up or if you are going to survive it.

In the very early days just after The Dad and I split, it felt like falling. And in some ways it was a nice fall, exciting and refreshing; after the comfort, security and sometimes stuffiness of the airplane of a 12 year relationship. But after a few weeks of free falling I was soon wishing that I could crawl my way back into the safety of the cockpit. But it was too late, my parachute and my reserve had failed me and without them, the crash land broke me into a million pieces. There was nothing left of who I was. I was convinced that I could never truly trust someone again, despite my desperate need to, and that maybe settling for something that seemed right on the surface was the best I could ever hope for. One of my closest friends kept reminding me that time heals, and he was right. Because, with thanks to time, and some interesting new characters (as well as some old faithfuls), I put the pieces of myself back together and ended up feeling happier than ever, and to those people I'll be forever grateful.

I have met nine men through internet dating in the last eight months, and countless more characters just through chatting online. There's enough material there for a whole series of books (with names changed to protect the innocent - and not so much - of course). I wanted to do the “Sex and the City” thing, and I did (as much as you can in a small Hampshire town with two kids in tow, New Look shoes not Jimmy Choo’s, a limited budget of cash, and an even more limited selection of eligibles).

I am very wary not to "kiss and tell" but one day, if only to entertain, thrill (and frankly, warn) some of you of the dramas of the 30+ dating scene, I will write those books. But for those of you clamouring for a sneaky peek, here’s a quick rundown for you.

There was date number one, a fantastic guy that made me realise that yes I can still "pull" and that god gave me these legs to put in short skirts, at least until I'm 40. But that maybe it takes a little longer than six weeks and a lot of laughing to get over a 13 year relationship. Date number one was super special, because I learned that things can start as one thing, and turn into something else, namely a much cherished friendship. Date number two who couldn't wait to tell me that he had my wedding dress ordered and the church booked, before we had even met (Date One had a laugh about that one). Date number three, who was like a recipe gone wrong, all the ingredients were there but they seemed to have been mixed up in the wrong order so the cake rose in the oven but quickly went flat. Date number four, an old flame, and while it was comfy to throw on a pair of old slippers and feel that security you can only get from someone you have known pretty much all your life, you kind of realise there was a reason it didn't work out the first time. Back to date number three for a second try, still no cake. Date number five, a lovely fellow, bad teeth (even worse dress sense). Date number six, one of the nicest guys you would ever meet, shame I just did not fancy him. Date number seven, again a lovely guy, just not very exciting. Date number eight, the Jeremy Kyle guy, high levels of drama and disappointment, very low levels of actual feeling.

By this stage I was becoming rather experienced at the first date thing. I had two first date outfits, one was a "I think I'm going to fancy you and want you to fancy me back" date outfit (high heels, short skirts – oh, I was so naïve), and one was a "really not sure what I'm going to make of you in person so I'll wear this high neck and cover my legs just in case you show up and I don't want to have to do the "sorry no chemistry" text”. I always went to the same pub for the first meeting (leading the bar staff to actually know “my usual”, like some sad old tramp propping up the bar at The Queen Vic) and always seemed to end up with the same taxi driver, who became the highlight of each date. We even had “in” jokes and catch-ups about his family, a bit like an old married couple. In fact, there were a few times I wished I was dating him (now that would make a good book).

Date number eight put me right off men, I thought, possibly, for good. But as much as the whole thing turned into a complete mess, I am very grateful to him, because he made me realise what I didn't want, and that finding someone you want to trust and someone you can trust at the same time is very tricky. The hideousness of date number eight forced me to do what I really needed. Take myself off the meat market, snuggle up on my sofa with a bottle of wine and my cats, to mourn the loss of my old life and get excited about the prospect of a new one.

After my four month man ban, I reluctantly got myself back out there (before I became crazy wine and cat lady), and while I was at it I threw away all my tried and tested first date methods, as they clearly didn’t work so well.

And that brings us to date number nine. The date was different, the approach was different, and from the instant I saw him in the flesh, possibly even from his first message, I knew he was going to be different.

I have been researching the number nine for this post and the number nine turns out to be one of the most interesting numbers there is. Nine is a good number in China because it sounds the same as the word for “longlasting”. There are nine forms of the Chinese dragon, a symbol of magic and power. There are nine major planets in the solar system. Cats have nine lives. Beethoven wrote nine symphonies. Being on “cloud nine” means feeling euphoric and happy. I like number nine.

Having reduced dates 1-8 to playful nicknames; Swindon, London, Crazy Cocktails, Ticks, The Mood Hoover, Farmer Guy, Harold from Neighbours (I refuse to reveal who is who for obvious reasons), I am reluctant to do the same for Number 9, as I desperately hope he turns out to be so much more than a number in my chequered dating history. So, if he becomes a regular character in my life, I will come up with a pseudonym more appropriate to how utterly awesome I think he is.

It’s very, very early days and I’m scared. Maybe I will crash land, and end up broken (and embarrassed for letting my finely crafted guard down), but you can never experience the free fall unless you are willing to jump out of the plane. So for now, let’s just say I’m on Cloud Nine. Free falling and happy to be doing so. 

Monday 19 November 2012

Thanks Mum

There is a story in one of the papers today, stating that the UK is in the grips of a “nutritional recession”. The Guardian suggest that because people are so skint, they are relying on packaged, convenience foods rather than fresh meat and vegetables and as a result consumption of saturated fats and sugars has soared since 2010. I’m not saying the research is wrong, but I think the reasoning behind these statistics is perhaps a little out (probably because it was written by people who have money to burn on M&S ready meals).

I make no secret of the fact I am completely broke right now. And although this can be challenging and traumatic at times, it actually has some benefits, and one of those is that the kids and I eat far healthier than we ever did when we had more money in the bank.

When I was growing up my mum had an absolutely incredible talent which I really didn’t appreciate at the time. My dad was in a job that wasn’t particularly highly paid, but my mum was adamant that she wanted to stay at home to be there for us kids, and be a perfect housewife to my dad (a sacrifice I am so very grateful to her for making). But in order to make this arrangement work financially she had to be incredibly creative with cash. And she was very good at it. Somehow, despite not having a lot of money, we grew up in a lovely home, with absolutely amazing dinners every night (it is thanks to my mum that I had no knowledge of the existence of Crispy Pancakes until I had moved out of home and didn’t taste a Pot Noodle until the ripe old age of 21) and at least one good holiday a year. We may not have had the latest trainers and I didn’t get to go on the school ski trip (probably a good thing in hindsight, what puts me off is the ski lift, given my total lack of coordination I really can’t see myself having any success with something like that whatsoever), but other than that we wanted for nothing, all of the important stuff was there, and we also had our mum whenever we needed her. By today’s standards, it was idyllic.

I now have a paltry £17 a week food budget and a very hectic work schedule, but thanks to my mum’s successful penny pinching and the lessons I learned from her, I am managing that perfectly well. We have no control over the rising costs of gas and electricity, or that extra money is constantly being squeezed from everywhere you turn, but there are ways of buffering all of that, and one of them is in keeping our food costs down.

There was a long running joke in our house that my mum could make a three course dinner out of four left over chips and a tin of tuna. And I never really appreciated this sort of thing. Until now.

The Dad and I have had many conversations recently about having very little money. He was finding that he was over spending at the supermarket. I have stopped panicking about money now, as living in a constant state of terror is not much fun, and having lived for a good few months on my low budget I am still here, happier and probably healthier than ever. But The Dad does not have the benefit of all my mums chip recycling knowledge, so I have been trying to pass on some of the lessons she taught me.

When you are forced to be a little more creative with cash you come up with some amazing results. My kids love ice cream. And despite my tiny budget, I don’t like the thought of them going without anything so I made some of my own, using only four ingredients and found that it was incredibly quick to make, but more importantly cost only about 15% of the price of a tub of the “ice cream” they sell in shops (which mostly don’t even list cream as one of their ingredients, instead thousands of other ingredients which most of us have never even heard of, don’t get me started).

I am not a food nazi. And I allow my kids to have convenience foods as a treat when I can afford it, they get the occasional dinner of fish fingers, and I don’t buy posh sausages, but we eat well and keep it simple. And this is why I object to any research that seems to allude to the fact that poor people are forced to have poor diets. I am, in the financial sense of the word, poor, but we do not tuck into convenience foods on a daily basis, because that is an expensive way of living. And the reason I know that is because of my mum and her shielding me from Crispy Pancakes. Thanks Mum J

Monday 12 November 2012

Junk (e) Mail

I moved into my house well over two years ago and I still get an awful lot of post for the previous owners/tenants. Now I wouldn’t mind this if they ever received anything exciting but it seems as if they obsessively signed themselves up to every mailing list on the planet because I am repeatedly receiving catalogues, “special invitations” and vouchers for places I have never been or products I have never bought.

I don’t need more stuff congregating around my front door for me to slip on thank you very much. There are quite enough things just lying in wait to surf me dramatically from my front door to dining room, usually a discarded piece of Lego or (as this morning) a headless dead rat courtesy of Expensive Cats, followed by a pile of cat sick two footsteps later (rat head obviously a bit rich for greedy Expensive Cat). But aside from the inevitable trip hazard that comes from junk mail it annoys me because it’s such a waste. All of this un-read paper is completely undoing my good work of recycling my Coco-Pops box.

But it’s not so much the paper junk mail that bothers me, I made my peace with paper junk mail years ago, after the Dad had the awesome idea of putting interesting things in the enclosed freepost envelopes and sending them back (an unused teabag may have been quite useful, but I’m not sure the person who opened the marmite sandwich was quite as excited), somehow this helped me feel a little better about junk mail and hopefully provided a smile to some poor work experience student who had to open the post in the office that day. No, what really bothers me these days is emails.

I am not particularly exciting and I don’t get that many interesting emails. And because of this I don’t really keep on top of my inbox and often miss the really good stuff that I do get, like proper emails from friends and invites to get-togethers, because it gets buried amid a sea of “daily deals”.

I thought I was pretty careful about who I give my details out to, but judging by the state of my inbox it seems I am even less discerning than the previous owner of my house. Bonny at Lovehoney is becoming a particular pest. Those of you who have ever ordered anything from Lovehoney and mistakenly signed up to their mailing list so they can order things using their loyalty scheme (guilty) will know that the amount of emails you get from Bonny after ordering one thing about two years ago, is verging on stalking (for those of you that don’t know (hi Mum) Lovehoney is like Toys R Us for grown ups). Anyway, Bonny (and I’m not convinced that’s her real name) sends me daily, sometimes twice daily emails alerting me to daily deals or special offers. And while I quite like a bit of a browse round Lovehoney’s virtual shelves, it’s not the kind of place I drop into daily, like Tesco. Tesco don’t send me daily deals coupons and special offers, I might get one a month offering me special deals on my holiday insurance, which would be great if I actually ever went on holiday.

As well as Bonny I also get daily offers from Heather at Printer Inks. I often feel a bit sorry for poor old Heath, because she shows up in my inbox with her boring old printer inks right next to Bonny with her all singing, all dancing pink glitter vibrators, and I think this, rather unfairly, makes Heather come across as far more boring than she actually is in real life (not that I know either of them personally of course).

Ok, so I could unsubscribe, and some thoughtful companies have a miniscule “unsubscribe” button buried somewhere amongst the text of the email, which actually does unsubscribe you with one click. But some of them (and I suspect Bonny might be one of them) take you to a page that is wholly designed to prey on the unsure of themselves, like myself. “Are you sure you want to unsubscribe” so I click yes, “but if you unsubscribe you won’t have access to our daily deals! Are you sure you want to unsubscribe?” Resolve is now weakening slightly and hesitatingly click yes. “We also send you occasional very special offers only available to our subscribers, are you absolutely, one hundred percent, stake your life on it, POSITIVE that you don’t want access to these once in a lifetime offers?” Oh, go on then. And that is the very reason why my inbox is so full and why I completely sympathise with the previous owners of my house. Besides, my inbox wouldn’t be the same without Heather and Bonny, in fact I think I would feel rather lost and forlorn without them. 

Monday 5 November 2012

The end is nigh...

I’m only thirty four (yes, only) and I have been told that I look at least five, if not ten, years younger than my age. So why then, did a carpet salesman, who I would guess at being in his mid-fifties, think it was ok to ask me out while I was pondering the differences between “twist” and “berber”? Listen, I realise I am no spring chicken, and I have made my peace with the fact that I may never get to throw an amazing fortieth birthday party for the love of my life. But honestly, this guy was a good twenty years older than me, and this is what made me feel a bit icky and sleazed over. I understand that being slightly sleazy and overly flirtatious is an occupational hazard as a salesman (I speak from experience having been in sales myself), but it is far more easy and pleasurable to take from a twenty two year old. Coming from someone twenty years older wearing a Dad jumper for crying out loud (it was a nice Dad jumper, so nice in fact that I thought of asking him where he got it so I could buy it as a Christmas gift for my dad), it suddenly made my cool single life seem a little sad and depressing. Is this really what my life has come to?

Don’t get me wrong, this carpet guy was a perfectly nice chap, and I’m sure he’d make a great boyfriend, for my mum or one of her friends. But it was me he asked for coffee, then for lunch, then coffee again. I have a feeling I may have visibly recoiled with horror when he first suggested it, before recovering with a cheery giggle and a “ah thanks but no. So does this one come with free underlay?” but by the third ask I was getting less convinced that he was joking and/or trying to make a sale and more frustrated at not being able to use the “I’m spoken for” technique without being a big, fat liar. But fending off unwanted attention from men twice my age is actually only one of the reasons that I think it might be time to end my three and a half month long man ban.

I am incredibly comfortable on my own. Maybe a little too comfortable if I’m honest. I have lost all interest in keeping my body hair free, in fact I am actually using the cold weather as an excuse when my waxing lady asks me to remove my tights when I go in for a wax. “Those aren’t tights,” I say “they are my natural defences against the elements. So I am going to be cold after this, I hope you’re happy.”

I have just painted my room a gorgeous shade of pink, it’s like sleeping in a massive ballet slipper. It’s a proper girls room. And one of the excuses against getting a new man is the whole décor thing. I go to Homebase on a Sunday and see couples bickering in the paint aisle, while I sweep past and breezily pick up a pot of matt Pink Bunting, inwardly smug that I don’t have to deal with those trips anymore. I can go to Ikea and know that no longer does it mean massive rows, I can merrily pick up as many yellow bags and fill them with odd shaped kitchen implements that I will never use and thousands of tea lights, safe in the knowledge that it’s up to me and only me that decides what goes in my house.

But staying single just so I can have a pink bedroom is really missing the point of finding a soul mate. And the real clincher, the thing that made me decide that the man ban absolutely must end, was that the other day I seriously considered getting a dog. Not that much of a shocker on the surface, but I am not a dog person, at all. I get fed up with having to feed my cats, let alone taking a dog for a walk and spending half an hour each morning on a dog egg hunt in the garden. I have sort of the opposite feeling for dogs as I do for kids. Other peoples dogs are fine, and I enjoy spending time with them, but as for one of my own? No way. However, I had this thought that maybe a dog might be nice company for me in the evenings after the kids go to bed. And that is what did it.

So I am finally at the point where I’d be meeting someone new not because I don’t like being alone, and not because I need someone. Which makes me think I must be ready. But, given how busy I am, and knowing that the whole hands touching over the last pain de campagne in Waitrose is a complete fantasy dreamed up by myself in a time when I was less cynical of the mid-thirties dating scene, it does, unfortunately, mean going back to online dating. Which fills me with horror having learnt from experience that there are an awful lot of yucky men on there just out for a bit of excitement. So I set up a new profile (this one without any pictures) totally designed to stamp out any unwanted attention from marrieds, lying fuckwits or oddballs. My user name is of the Star Wars persuasion (obviously) and of course the first message I got was from a guy offering to show me his light sabre. Great. The internet is not immune to sleazebags. On the plus side, I am feeling optimistic, light sabre man may well have been a one off, as I have had a couple of nice messages from some really normal seeming guys, who have not mentioned their light sabres once, and there is not a Dad jumper in sight in any of their photos. Watch this space…

Monday 29 October 2012

Time Simplification Programme (TSP)

With the clocks going back it is officially the end of British Summer Time, ha. Blink and you’d miss it. I totally get why we do the daylight saving thing. It makes so much more sense to have longer summer evenings. In theory. But in practise what is the point? It's not like we even get a summer anymore. Not like the summers I remember as a child which seemed to last for ages and you could actually wear a summer dress and not need to have a coat and gloves with you at all times. Why don't we just accept that it's winter all year round and be done with it? Spring is really just an afterthought of winter after all, tacked on to the last two weeks, the only difference being the trees are starting to grow their leaves back and we occasionally see the sun for five minutes before it pisses down again (or sometimes even snows, remember when it snowed in March a few years ago? See? It is still winter in March). And autumn, well it's just winter but people are still trying to prove a point by sloshing around blue lipped in wet flip flops and dripping maxi dresses. Even summer is never really Summer, all of us shivering in the garden, showing maximum goose pimpled flesh, determinedly drinking Pinot Grigio and eating burnt barbeque sausages in Baltic conditions, trying to pretend we have some semblance of Summer like southern Europe. But it's all just a fallacy, winter lasts all year long, deal with it.

Benjamin Franklin came up with the idea of daylight saving in order to switch an extra light hour from the morning, which we all miss because we are sleeping (unless you have children who decide it’s morning at around 3am), to the evening, so we would save electricity as well as have more light hours to do fun things (presumably in his day he was thinking of society balls and mixers, he clearly had never visited my town where the only choice of evening entertainment is a criminally expensive cinema, great if you want to spend two weeks wages on a single night out, and twenty five Chinese restaurants, each offering amazing deals on all you can eat buffets but charge a small fortune for drinks). So if I had more to do in the evenings maybe having that extra hour would be worth the havoc it plays with my body clock each time it changes.

Gaining an extra hour this weekend was wonderful, or it should have been, as I laid in until 8am, great normally but technically it was still only 7am. Last week waking up at 7am meant that it was pitch dark and reminded me of those times as a child when we used to get woken up at 3am because we were going on holiday. I quite liked it really, it felt very exciting, and you get to enjoy the sunrise which is one of the best times of day. This morning I woke up and jumped out of bed so fast I banged my knee on the wall because I was convinced I had overslept. Then I go and confuse my body even more by eating random things at different times of day (not Daylight Savings fault admittedly but the confusion my body feels at having toast and marmalade for dinner is certainly exacerbated by the fact that one day it's dark at six and the next it's dark at five). It feels like everything is mixed up.

Even Son Two, who is three years old and at that age where he kind of accepts everything with a shrug, is confused. Last week he was waking up every day in the dark, finding me in the shower at seven fifteen and saying "mummy is it bedtime?" "No mate, it's morning, see you're still in your pyjamas" "Ok" and he'd toddle off to play with his Lego (a pastime that cares not what time of day it is, is there anything more ear ripping than being woken up at 3am by a child sorting through Lego?).

I just think that life is complicated enough and the daylight saving just adds to the confusion. Is there anyone actually organised enough to go round every clock in their house and change them all at exactly the right time? Maybe I'm the only one that spreads the changeover over a period of weeks, constantly having to remind myself that the kitchen clock is now on new time but my car clock still thinks it's last week so I need to be at work at 1045am instead of 945am, unless I am going by my bedroom clock which I did put back to remind myself that I could get up an hour later (didn’t help me this morning).

No, I think we should just simplify. Have one season a year (winter) and keep the clocks the same all year round. It's certainly not worth all this hassle. I am perfectly happy with it getting dark early, it means I can get the kids to bed earlier so I am well prepared for middle of the night Lego missions and I wouldn’t constantly be wandering around mumbling to myself Rainman style "kitchen clock is an hour forward, car clock is an hour backward, kitchen clock is right, car wrong". Or is it the other way around? See? Confusion. I vote for my time simplification programme.

Friday 26 October 2012


I was really struggling with what to write today. But, totally determined not to leave it til the last minute as I have so often done these last few weeks and not at all procrastinating (honest), I started googling what to write in a blog post and came across something called Zen writers. Totally intrigued, I delved further and decide to download one called Ohmwriter. I installed it, not really knowing what it was (Big Bro often complains when he goes on my laptop that its full of all manner of tat, extra search bars, random programmes making the whole system struggle, I do get a bit one click download happy). So anyway, I downloaded it, clicked to open the program and all of a sudden my entire desktop was gone, replaced with a snowy scene, plinky music and nothing but a simple blinking cursor. Wow, what a revelation. No distracting Chrome icon at the bottom of my screen just begging me to check Facebook, no myriad of buttons on Word whispering silently  "click me click me, you know you want to know what I do" (invariably drawing a massive arrow on the screen or deleting everything), and no clock at the bottom of the screen reminding you of what you should be doing right now (or worse still that it's 745pm in the evening, you're 34 and watching the Crystal Maze with more than a touch of nostalgia, you're 34 for chrissake, and this is 2012 not 1991). Word has much improved since it got rid of that annoying paper clip popping up every five minutes to say "Hey! It looks like you're writing a letter, can I help you with that?" Well yes I am and no thank you I'm not a moron, now eff off. But still there are things about it that are distracting. Bright red lines alerting me to typos, and green ones that say a sentence doesn't make sense, when clearly it does (argue all you like but grammar is subjective, I am allowed to use colloquialisms, ok?). I would rather just be able to get on with the job in hand rather than be repeatedly alerted to my shortcomings. Word can be rather judgemental. So I am loving my new Zen Writer, it could be a new thing for me (just need to force myself to switch off The Crystal Maze and I'd be all set). But I really wish we could get a similar thing for all other areas of life...

Zen Driver, totally capable of wiping out all noise and movement from the backseat, as well as the distractions of other drivers. No kicking seat backs, no "are we there yet?", no annoying twats driving so far up your bum they may as well hitch themselves directly to your tow bar and definitely no "Mummy, he looked at meeeeeeeee!" . Just a nice peaceful driving environment, bliss.

Zen School Run, available for both morning and afternoon runs, attaches all necessary bags and boomf to each relevant child before leaving the house in the morning (thereby avoiding the “Mummy you forgot my kit and I had to do football in my plimsolls” whine), and extricates random sticks and weapons without said child noticing and therefore avoiding an entire school run of "but I neeeeeeeed my light sabeeeeeeeeeeer". Similarly Zen School Run would also be capable of unpacking the two week holidays worth of luggage at the end of the day, while simultaneously dealing with stereo cries of "I need a drink",  "I need to make something",  "My foot hurts" and the ever present "he looked at me". Just allowing you sixty seconds of peace in which to have a wee and stick the kettle on.

Zen "it may look like I'm listening to you but really I'm replaying Friends The One With The Candy Hearts in my head" complete with automatic "mmmhmmmms", head nods and serious face where appropriate.

Zen Life, only for hardcore Zenists. Completely and entirely wipes out all of life’s extra "noise" as in news we don't need to hear about, things we don't need to know about but invariably are told, but more importantly random thoughts that plague our every waking moment, usually about things we don't need to be told and news we don't need to know about. I have had been suffering more than a few mental wrangles in recent weeks over the Jimmy Savile saga, do I really need to know every detail? Why does news really exist? Do we really need to know all this? Does it help the victims that I know about it? Does it help me? If I don't need to know about it why is it all over the news and why am I listening to it? I have spent many a long night recently thinking about this very question. Surely I should really be asleep, or the very least worrying about things that really do affect me such as what I am going to feed the kids tomorrow and I really need to buy more toilet paper or we're back on the kitchen roll again.

There is so much noise in our daily lives, and it comes at us from all angles. Our kids, the media, family, friends, if only there was a way to get peace when we need it and only focus on the stuff that really mattered, maybe we would all be a little less stressed.

Yep I'm loving my new Zen Writer, I just wish I could flip a switch and have some peace in other areas of my life; when the kids are driving me insane, be able to have them curled into me all sleepy and sweaty, not caring about the news or the lack of bog roll, just focussing on how gorgeous they are.

Final edit: having written this post completely on my new Ohmwriter, I am convinced. Although there is a sound of a drip at every keystroke which initially was enjoyable but has made me need a wee, and I have got so into writing that the Crystal Maze has now finished. Bugger. 

Monday 22 October 2012

Commitment Phobe

So I’ve been checking my finances and I’m at the point where literally every penny counts. The last time things were this tight there were just the two of us, living mortgage and virtually bill free in Spain and happy to live off the free vodka we got at work and the odd baguette. Clearly I cannot feed my kids on free vodka (even if I could get my hands on it) and bread, and I no longer live mortgage free, so I need to find some way to add to the funds or me and the dudes will be eating out (and by out I mean out of the in-laws freezer) for the foreseeable future.

Before someone pipes up with “why not just get a job?” I have two arguments against that in my circumstances. One, the job market is bad enough for those who have been in employment constantly, and this does not bode well for a graduate who has been technically unemployed for ten years. Two, and most importantly, if I wanted a boring old job where I did the same thing every day I’d be doing it right now. (Besides, I don’t want anything interfering with my volunteering at the bookshop, I have found something that really means something to me and when you find something that enriches your life to that extent, no matter that you don’t get paid, you don’t let it go. Kinda like this blog I suppose).

I have known I wanted to write since I was five years old and I found the tiny wing of some poor deceased creature (probably a fly, but I believed it came from a fairy) in a bunch of grapes and wrote a book about it. By book I mean five pages of an old exercise book, self illustrated, with finger spaces. But I have also always known that until I do a JK Rowling or EL James (which will happen one day I am sure of it) I need to make money some other way.

The trouble is, I’m not short of ideas. There was the spray on bra idea that I came up with The Dad about ten years ago, after I’d spent yet another fruitless shopping expedition looking for the perfect strapless and backless bra to go with a dress I had planned to wear. The idea is you put your arms in the air (or stand on your head or lie down depending on which way your boobs look best), someone sprays the stuff on you, which dries like a firm second skin, when you put your arms down your boobs stay in place, then when you have finished with it you simply peel it off and throw it away. A genius idea in theory, the answer to the prayers of many women all over the world, but we had no idea how to go about formulating the stuff (funnily enough neither of us have any knowledge or experience in chemical plastics or textiles) and didn’t know where to go to get it started. So we got as far as handwriting a non-disclosure contract (a contract which I am technically now breaking I suppose, whoops), before going back to our normal lives. For the record, if someone now brings out a spray on bra, I want it to be noted that you heard it here first.

Then there was the lottery. A three way syndicate where we each put in fifty quid and asked for one hundred and fifty lucky dip tickets from the bemused lottery assistant. We had a big envelope stuffed as full of hopes and dreams as it was lottery tickets. The big night arrived and our numbers came up to the tune of one hundred and ten pounds. Refusing to cut our losses and run, we “reinvested” our winnings and lost the lot. It was a washout, but had we won, we’d have been very smug millionaires (to be fair, I expect all millionaires are pretty smug).

These were just two (of the tamest) ideas I have come up with over the years to make money. I don’t want much. I don’t want big cars, and I love the house I have. I don’t need expensive holidays and I like getting stuff second hand, there is nothing like the buzz of a bargain. But what I do need is time. I just need enough money to buy myself time to write and bring up my kids. I don’t even care about being famous, I just want enough money to give me the time to do what I believe I was put here to do.

So anyway, despite my creative cup runneth over with ideas that I have no doubt could make money in theory, I have never followed through with any of them (except the lottery, which had a one in 14 million chance of winning, I don’t have the maths to say how much we upped our odds by buying 150 tickets, but I’d say not enough to make it a safe bet). And the reason why I never followed through with them is because I am a commitment phobic.

I just never had the guts to take one idea, just one, and run with it. Because I always worry that a better idea may come along. On top of that, there are always plenty of people to say “Oh that’s impossible”, “normal people don’t do things like that”, “you couldn’t do that”, “you’ll change your mind and have another idea in two days” or (and here’s the biggie) “It’s destined to fail”.

But I can argue against every one of their reasons: I like a challenge, I’m not normal, I can do anything I set my mind to thank you very much (except maybe win the lottery), yes I will have another idea and there is nothing stopping me doing that one too, and none of us like failure. But I would far rather be the person who tries and fails than the one who never tried at all. So why am I not a millionaire by now?

Fortune favours the brave, and my commitment phobia stems from a simple lack of balls. And I can't afford to stay ball-less any more, it’s time I grew a pair. So I am going to start committing to some of my ideas and you never know, one or two of them may well take off. If anyone wants to develop a spray on bra, get your people to call my people, I’ll commit.