Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year

I'm not usually an embracer of New Year.  Don't get me wrong, I don't hide away with a multipack of cheese n onion, but I've never got excited about it.

I've certainly had some fun times. The year of the garlic with K and Sister was good, but by god Blackpool is cold at New Year! There were a few good Blackpool New Years, although the one I was told I looked like Monica Lewinsky could have been better - a thought that C no doubt echoes seeing she was told she looked like Cilla Black! I'm sure she was the only red head that sprang to mind. And the millennium was good. Despite my disaster haircut, the one that someone said made me look like Viv Windsor from Emmerdale, the photos of C dancing on the bar are some of my favourites!

And of course there were some rubbish nights, where the over inflated promise of New Year deflated like an old party balloon. But I always gave it a go, some years picking up some good memories, some years picking up sore feet and an empty purse. All part of life's rich tapestry.

One of my favourite single gal New Year activities was when me and L would go off for some bracing Albert Dock air, armed with empty note books and while away the first part of New Year's Day drinking lattes and juice and setting some goals for the next 12 months. I can't remember if we ever achieved them, but the act of committing them to paper was motivating.

I think that being in education, I think of September as the start of a new year, and as good a time as any for making plans.  I know I'm in the minority, but I struggle to get the whole 'new' thing just because the calendar has run out of pages. Maybe if New Year was always on a Sunday, I'd be more comfortable with a Monday fresh start!

But I understand that it's a good time to take stock, review, recognise where change would be good. It's a state of mind. And there is something symbolic about seeing the final day of a year that hasn't been the kindest.

So, having had a pretty rough year and a half including a miscarriage, forced change of job and job loss, I'm going to wave a firm goodbye to 2013 and welcome in 2014.  My blessings are well and truly counted; a wonderful family, good friends, our health (with the exception of my ever crunching knees) and a warm home. It would be greedy to ask for more. But there is the opportunity to make a request, I'd like to be writing this time next year saying 'I'll miss you 2014, you were fab!'.

Happy New Year, friends. May it be what you want it to be.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Christmas Past and Christmas Present

I bought sparkly shoe decorations for the tree. Daughter and I chose them. Husband said there was nothing Christmassy about shoes, and I said quite the opposite.  I said I always used to buy new shoes for Christmas. And a new bag. And a new dress. And...
 
Because Christmas used to be completely different. It used to be all about me! For me at least. It was about the nights out and the clothes, and new stuff and fun.
 
And now it's all about daughter.  And of course it should be, because she's small and full of wonder and delightful to buy dresses and shoes and hair things for, and of course give Santa a helping hand. I wouldn't trade all the fun we had in the old days for a single second of watching her beautiful face shine with delight when she sees her pile of presents.  None of it. Not the carefree single days, not the early days of romance, not a thing. We get more excited than her. At five and a half, she's still never woken before us on Christmas morning. We have to tell her he's been! And it's all wonderful, because she is wonderful, and there's no time like Christmas to count your blessings.
 
But it is a far cry from Christmas past. I don't mean as a child, because they were wonderful. The slide in the living room year was a particular favourite, and I think very fondly of the year I got a plastic hob and pans, obviously where my culinary prowess stems from! Like everyone, I grew up and Christmas became all about the socialising, and buying clothes for the socialising. I don't know how I afforded it. The first outfit was for my early December birthday. Then Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Christmas Day night, Boxing night, New Year's Eve and finally New Year’s night.  And there could be no repetition, not in that short time frame. I was talking about it with my friends at the weekend and we all remembered just how much more Christmassy it seemed. The local on Christmas Eve, where we knew everyone and everyone knew us. Some years on to a club, some years back to a house party. It's probably the old rose tinted specs, but I can't remember a bad Christmas Eve. I still really like Christmas Eve, even though it all seems like a rush and it generates its own to do list. Last year the iron blew up and I had to brave a well-known catalogue style retailer so Husband could go out looking respectable.  There's usually a family meal, and then later on the getting ready for Santa ritual; the sprinkling of the glittery reindeer food, the carrot, the mince pie and Husbands convincing argument that Santa likes Jack Daniels.
 
Then comes the big day itself.  What's not to get excited about? I used to enjoy getting ready while Christmas Top of the Pops was on, and then Father, Sister and I would head off for a festive drink while Mother got on with the serious business of the dinner. We always went to the same pub and used to bet whether it would be a jumper or a tie year for the men. Now, me and husband are awake early, wondering whether we can wake her, trying to make that call on whether seeing her open her presents now will be worth the tired grump later. Then the joy of watching her open her gifts, which seems to take forever. Then it's action stations, either visiting or getting ready for visitors, and making sure the Sky box is set up. In my single youth, I used to go out on Christmas night. It was invitation only to the local, and of course we were invited. Some years we even had tickets for a club! On Christmas night! Now all I can think about is the new pjs and book and lying on the couch!
 
Boxing Day is always a bit less structured, I think. It used to be good recuperating time, before the onslaught of the night, but now it’s family time and involves more visiting/ visitor activities, which are usually good, especially if Daughter and Niece can be together. But Boxing night used to be a really good night out. It was as though everyone had had their fill of family time and needed to let their hair down. Pub, club, or in my ballroom days, dancing, and it's another one I don't think was ever rubbish. ( don't think I've got a selective memory here, I do remember loads of the Christmas nights finishing with 'I should have stayed in' and every single New Year’s night being absolutely rubbish). Boxing night was usually finished off with a pick from Mother’s Boxing Night Buffet. (When I say a pick, I obviously mean heaving plateful) and then it was time to take a breather until New Year’s Eve.
 
So things are very different now from 15 years ago. I haven't bought any new shoes for my own feet. Yes, I did buy a dress for the girls night but it was an absolute steal....I don't know that I miss those days, but I do look back at them fondly. I certainly look back very fondly on being provided with a feast without lifting a finger or spending a penny! But at 6am (or whatever time we wake her, not able to wait a minute more) and our sleepy eyed girl will get it the middle of us to open her stocking, not sure whether she wants to go back to sleep or press on with the swag more, there will be no better time. One thing hasn't changed though. The first thing I will eat will be chocolate. It's Christmas, why not!
 
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

If life begins at 40, what happens at 39?


I’m 39 today.  39!  How can that be?  It’s so…mature sounding.  And altogether all too near to (whisper it) 40.  How can I be nearly 40?!  It’s so grown up, so responsible. 

I don’t remember setting myself any ‘by I’m 40’ goals, and isn’t that a good job with only 364 days to achieve them if I did.  I’ve only just got my head round a fake date of birth to give if I was asked my (under 18) age in the pub, and now I’ve got a year left to be in my thirties.

I was 13 when Mother turned 40, and it seemed like a terribly old age.  She didn’t seem terribly old, although I do remember giving some grief about all my friends having younger mums (I was the youngest and they were all the oldest), but it seemed like a ripe old age to me.  And here I am, one year away from it with a five year old, and not feeling any kind of ripe old age at all.

I suppose I shouldn’t declare my age publicly.  What if I want to pretend I‘m actually only 35?  Or better still, 25?  I think I’d be pushing it there!  But it’s just that 39 sounds like I should be so capable and experienced, and the truth is that at times I’m neither.  Although sometimes I think I’m the oldest old biddy there is.  I’ve been trying to come up with a list to see whether I’m 19 or 90 at heart…

My last clothes shop was in Primark

…but I’ve bought in BHS recently

I wear sparkly nail varnish

…but I moan about how difficult it is to take off

I listen to Radio Two

…every day

I took a neatly folded bag for life out with me on my sisterly Christmas shopping day

…but I did have two glasses of wine with lunch

I wore my first false eyelashes this week

…but had a ‘malfunction’ halfway through the night

I appear to be obsessed with reed room fragrancers

I bought a loose bottomed cake tin on a whim

I embarrassed Daughter by falling out of a sleigh (completely sober)

I bought a bottle of pink fizz to drink while I was getting ready to go out on my birthday night out

…it’s still in the fridge

I try and keep boxes, tins and various other containers ‘in case they come in handy’

…but Husband doesn’t let me

 

Oh my.  I’ve answered my own question.  I’ve the mind of a 90 year old trapped in a 39 year old body!

Right, you’ll have to excuse me.  I’m just nipping out to Our Price to buy the latest tunes and I might pop into Chelsea Girl for a new outfit.  What’s that you say..?!

Friday, 22 November 2013

School Gates


There was a programme on last year called ‘Gates’.  It was a comedy about a set of parents who knew each other from the school gates.  Daughter had only just started school and I was able to take her and experience the gates for myself, and that programme terrified me.  I was off work under unpleasant circumstances and not my usual robust self, but I was terrified of meeting some of these characters.  One- up-manship, trying to run off with husbands…what was I letting myself in for?!

But in actual fact, I’ve made some lovely school gate friends, and I don’t even do the school gates now. What’s lovely is that between us, we manage to piece together the goings on at school.  She said what?  He did what?  Our children have us like amateur Miss Marple’s on our own, imagining the worst, but a couple of well- placed texts, Facebook messages or if it’s possible, get togethers, and we work out a more likely version of the truth.

I rely on a couple of mums who are able to do both end of the school day, who are generally In The Know.  I tried to do the whole PTA thing but work commitments got in the way.  Maybe one day.  Because what I’ve found out for definite is that you can’t rely on a five year old for accurate information, especially when Daughter’s intel is usually coloured by her interpretation that everyone else can do something she can’t, or has something she hasn’t. Or there’s some underlying hint that she’s been left out or ignored, quite often by the teacher.  It’s a good job I have my mum friends as jigsaw piecers, or I’d be up on the bounce at least once a week.  And being the clever little minx that she is, she knows exactly what pushes my panic button, leading to some kind of indulgence for her.  One of her favourites is that she either sat on the bench or walked round the playground ‘alone and lonely’.  It’s enough to make me pack in work and home school, just so she never has to go through the agony of being left out.  And then she’ll forget and tell me some jolly jape her and R have got up to.

It’s great to have a set of friends with children the same age, and most of the girls Daughter knows are the oldest, so we’re all feeling our way.  I’m convinced they’re all getting it more right than me, especially those who send their children in with a different lunch every day (Daughter has the same every single day) and I’ve even heard tell of cous-cous.  But nutritional values notwithstanding, there’s something wonderful about knowing you’re not the only one who doesn’t know this, that or the other.  And they’re a lovely set of little girls.  Not sure which one told Daughter that babies can come out of your bum, so hands up if that was your little cherub!  And what’s even nicer are those odd occasions where we get to meet up and we’re J, or J, or J (plenty of J’s at our school gates!), or R or H or whoever and not just someone’s mummy.  Because despite our little angel’s solid beliefs that our only purpose in life is to be their mummy, sometimes we do like to go out without spare socks and hand wipes in our bags.  Although revelations of recent times show that even on child-free occasions, some of us carry Rapunzel hair pieces round in our bags.  You know who you are..!

Friday, 15 November 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...but it's November!


There’s a Christmassy chill about today.  Something in the air on my lunchtime dash about town made me feel festive for a passing minute.

When can one start to feel festive?  I think not until December.  This may well be because I have a December birthday and when I was a child there was no Christmas activity until my birthday cards had come down.  That served me well until I had Daughter, and then suddenly that didn’t leave enough time to get it all done.

Husband and I had a Christmas shopping day on Wednesday.  We hit the big city (Liverpool) and we hit it hard.  I shopped like it was Christmas Eve, and with a couple of exceptions, pretty much ticked off the list.  We were the couple people didn’t want to sit next to on the train, so surrounded by bags were we.  And I have to admit, I feel a bit smug.  No horrendous Saturday shopping for us, we can relax, fill the house with festive smells like mulled wine and watch Christmas films.  Daughter and I will do festive craft, wrap the gifts creatively and we’ll do all this wearing festive jumpers and through a blurred Hallmark focus.  Ha!

What will really happen?  The remaining presents will no doubt be elusive and cause more worry than the rest of the list put together.  I’ll leave the wrapping, thinking there’s plenty of time, and undoubtedly be wrapping on Christmas Eve.  And I’m not even acknowledging the fact that I haven’t got a clue what to buy Husband (what do you get the man who has everything?!)

I’m on Christmas dinner duty this year, thus establishing it as a biannual tradition (eek!) and the thought of it makes my hair frizz.  So many things at once!  But I think cold pigs in blankets add a certain frisson of excitement to the meal.  Maybe not the cold peas though.

I am planning the table though, because that’s much more fun to waste thinking time on than militarily planning how long I can take to peel each potato (what?  You can buy them ready peeled?  Put me down for some!)  I’ve got some ambitious plans for chair decorations and a permanent tab open on my iPad about making a giant decorative bow.

But the old curmudgeon in me thinks ‘It’s mid-November!’, so I’m going to pretend I can’t see the decorations that are going up, close my ears to the Christmas music that’s playing and come 1st December I shall pretend I see it all for the first time and embrace the festivity.  Unless I can’t find these last presents or run out of sticky tape, and then I’ll be saying Bah Humbug!

Ho ho ho!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Turning into my Mother


There was a news article in the summer suggesting that we begin turning into our parents at 32.  I’m 38 now, so it got me wondering if I’ve well and truly become my mother.

The thing that started me wondering was when I signed the slip volunteering to send homemade cakes into school for the school fair.  I had flashes of the scene in ‘I Don’t Know How She Does it!’ where the mother ‘distresses’ some shop-bought mince pies for the daughter to take to school as her contribution to the cake stall.  I can bake a nice enough cake, but I know already that the night before I’ll be up until all hours finishing it.

How does that suggest I’ve become my mother?  It doesn’t, to be honest, because my mum would have also ticked all the ‘I can help out’ boxes that accompanied the notes.  Parties, Christmas Fairs, trips, reading, embroidery…my mum helped out at them all.

Daughter would be lucky if I turned into my mother.  Without doubt, she was (is!) a better mother to me than I can ever hope to be to Daughter, and I really do try.  She was a stay-at-home Mum, and Sister and I never batted an eyelid to that, because most mums were then.  I don’t think we ever even considered that she might have had any other interests than us.  We never couldn’t wear our favourite dress because it was languishing in the ironing, (which is exactly where Daughter’s favourite school dress was when she wanted to wear it last week).  We never had to wait to wear our new pyjamas because they’d gone to my Nan’s to be taken it (which is exactly where Daughter’s new bought-especially-for-wear-pyjamas-to-school (again) –day are).  My pump bag had a hand embroidered name on it.

Imagine now, someone doing everything in their power to tend to your needs.  Before you even realised it was a need.  I don’t think that Sister and I were spoilt, but Mother’s number one purpose was making sure we were happy.  And we guzzled it up, not thinking twice.

It’s not even just the doing, which I like to think I would do if only I didn’t have to go to work.  The other overwhelming memory is that our mum was always, always interested.  And that’s where I fall way short of the example.  I famously have No Patience, and I wonder what Daughter misses out on because of that.  No wonder Daughter always wants to go to Nanny’s.  The only time I really remember Mother having no patience with me was when I had just learnt to sew and I sewed my bit of fabric to my tights.

I wouldn’t like you to think that Mother is some kind of apron wearing wet nelly, not at all.  But she is an example of a woman who sacrificed her own list for ours, and without a word of complaint to us (can’t guarantee that Father didn’t get the occasional ear bashing!).  So on that front, no; I haven’t turned into my mother because whether it’s choice or circumstance, Daughter’s list runs alongside mine.

But there are a myriad of ways in which I have turned into her, such as…

·         Airport stress and panic

·         Finishing people’s sentences

·         Talking to checkout operators

·         Forcing medication on people

·         Wanting to buy gifts as soon as people indicate they want them

·         Pressing food on people

·         Stocking up on a particular food once Husband has said he liked it once

·         Pulling a pursed-lipped face (po-face, we used to call it) when I disagree with something or pretend that I don’t think (scratch that, know) I’m right

Not too traumatic a list, I suppose.  But it’s interesting that it’s me that’s turning into Mother and not Sister.  Ah, that’s because she’s turned into Father!  That probably warrants a new post of its’ own!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Lost


I get lost all the time.  You wouldn’t believe how lost I can get.  It’s like I lack any kind of internal compass.  It surprises me, because Father knows how to get everywhere, and equipped me in all my pre sat nav travelling with clear directions, generally punctuated by pub landmarks.  Sister is relatively savvy in a local way.  Mother is quietly skilled, but me – blindfold me and spin me around in the living room and I’d get lost on the way to the kitchen.

It’s so bad that I have actually relied on Daughter (who’s 5, remember), to point out the way.  We were off on a family day trip and were setting the sat nav up, and she asked why we needed it.  So as not to get lost, I told her.  She looked at me with wide eyed incredulity.  ‘But we’ve been before!’.  So you see how challenged I am.

I’ve had a couple of corkers in the space of a week.  They were both on a Thursday, and so I will be driving straight home from work next Thursday (one of the few journeys I manage without a hitch).  Last week, I was heading to a Halloween party straight from work.  Husband had gone to Sister’s house, and they and Brother-in-Law were taking Daughter and Niece off to a party at a cricket club.  Sister gave me a couple of landmarks, and I set off reasonably confidently.  It took me three quarters of an hour.  It should have taken me ten minutes.  What I didn’t realise was that I’d been right by it three times but each time had turned right instead of left.  In my defence, it was dark and not signposted at all.

Then yesterday I had to go an event at a local school for work.  I’d forgotten the sat nav, but the route planner I’d looked at told me 9 minutes.  The directions seemed straight forward enough.  Over an hour later, with the car running on fumes, I decided to try and head home.

I need The Knowledge.  Maybe I should sign up to some kind of taxi drivers course.  I thought it was an age thing, because I used to think nothing of driving into the city centre every Saturday (cheaper petrol and free parking), but while I took my eye off the ball and had a baby, they rebuilt the city and suddenly half the roads I used to use had disappeared, and it was all unfathomable.

I’ve got a couple of even worse examples.  Pre husbands, Sister and I went off to a wedding in Sheffield, me at the wheel.  We’d booked in to a hotel and the plan should have given us time to arrive, have a leisurely lunch and get changed.  When we saw a sign for Hull, we rang Father.  Apparently we had gone too far!  We begged the hotel to make us a sandwich and took hurried bites in between hair and makeup.  Father directed us home via a phone call every 15 minutes.

And then there was the year that me, Sister and C went to Blackpool for New Year.  This time C was driving.  We set off on the return journey (having arrived unscathed) and at some point one of us commented it seemed to be taking forever – a very long hour indeed.  The reason for that was because we had completely missed our Liverpool exit and were nearly in Birmingham.

So if I ever offer you a lift, be certain that you know the way, because there’s no guarantee that I do!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Little Miss Poorly


Daughter is poorly.  I should have realised she was under the weather when she didn’t join in at the party we went to on Saturday afternoon at all, but being the unsociable flower she can be, I just thought it was par for the course .  Then Auntie T and Big Cousin C visited, and she was on top form, impressing them with her interpretative dance routines.

On Sunday, she woke up at a time that should be illegal at the weekend.  Surely 7.20am is still the middle of the night on Sunday?  And why is it that I have to drag her out of (our) bed on a school day?  By 9.30am she was asleep again and our suspicions were roused.  She had a brief spell of cheerful wakefulness an hour later and then bam!  Asleep again.  She missed her new ballet class, much to the apparent distress of her Little Cousin E, who has been going to the class for an age.  And that was the hope of a pleasant Sunday gone.  She spent the day crying or sleeping.  She chose me as her cushion, and I caught up with some TV.  Even though she was poorly and I was trapped, a little part of me quite enjoyed it.  It’s been a long time since she’s had a sleep on me in the middle of the day, and a sleepy snuggle is right up there in my top five.  Her little baby face was so cute and peaceful, and just so lovely.  I did manage to make a roast dinner in between tears and snores, although I did forget the peas and the potatoes were extra crispy.

She slept with me, and Husband retreated to the spare room.  It was like sleeping with a ball of fire.  The morning brought a complaint that the light was too bright and off we went to the doctors.  Tonsillitis again.  She is definitely her Mummy’s daughter on this one.  Feeling like a bad Mummy, I organised a relay of Husband and Mother childcare and went to work, costing me £6.50 because the car park was full (the early bird catches the parking space where I work) and I had to park elsewhere.  I got in, and within half an hour she was sleeping on me again, which of course lead to a nightmare bedtime.

She slept with me again, and despite having half a double bed to herself, I still found myself hanging off the edge.  I’m surprised I didn’t wake up bald, because she pulled my hair like a caveman would to a prospective wife.  And then at 5am, a little cry of ‘Mummy, I feel really poorly’.  Cue soothing and offers of water.  Cue ‘Mummy, I think I‘m going to be…’.   And I learnt once more that tiny stomachs actually do hold an awful lot when one considers it splattered across the bedclothes.  There’s probably no worse chore than changing the bed at 5am.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, she started to cry again.  ‘Mummy, Fluff has got sick on him!’.  I could have wept.  I’ve never been allowed to put Fluff in the washing machine, but there was no escape this time.  I gathered the sicky clothes and surreptitiously picked up Fluff.  But nothing gets past Eagle Eye.  I fobbed her off with some story about putting him on the radiator to dry.  Off I went to put on my dawn wash.  As if to punish me for lying to my little innocent, a greater force got its back on me and pushed me down the last four stairs.  Yes, I did hurt myself.  But more importantly Fluff survived the wash and she was none the wiser.

Motherhood.  Imagine the job description!  But vomiting and falling down the stairs notwithstanding, it really is the best job ever.  I’ll consider my vomit stained PJs a badge of honour, and my salary is paid in cuddles.  If only I could get the mortgage company to accept that kind of currency!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Old Cover, Young Book


I went to see Peter Gabriel on Friday. Those of you who know me will know that he’s not my musical cup of tea, but he is Husband’s, and as he’s sat through his fair share of Morrissey gigs for me (apart from the one where he walked off stage, and no one got to sit through that, reluctantly or otherwise!) I braced my knees for being squashed by the seat in front and wondered how many songs I’d know.

The concert was a 25th anniversary concert – it’s 25 years since the album ‘So’ was released , and yes, for those who remember it being released, hasn’t the time flown!  But this silver anniversary celebration meant that the audience was very… middle aged.  I like to think I was one of the youngest people there (even though I know I wasn’t!).    If you’d wandered into the arena by mistake, you could have been forgiven for thinking the event was actually the Specsavers convention, so many pairs of rimless glasses were in attendance.  The lighting technicians must have had quite a job, as there were so many bald heads, the lights were at risk of bouncing off one and blinding someone.  There were matronly bosoms aplenty, and a disproportionate amount of outfits that looked like they’d been ordered from the back of a Sunday supplement.  I’ve no doubt that more than one handbag had a Lakeland plastic banana guard in it.

And then the music started…

Suddenly, the venue was full of young, enthusiastic Peter Gabriel fans who just happened to be wearing a more mature and worn in body than they had been wearing 25 years ago.  Bingo wings rippled and there was dad dancing at an intensive level, but these people were enjoying themselves.  There was a couple in front of us, in their mid to late forties, and they danced with abandon.  They even had a routine for a couple of songs (nothing Strictly style, just some co-ordinated clapping and hip bumping.  But they had definitely done it before).

It all made me think.  How often do we judge the book by the cover?  We make our assessments of people in less than ten seconds, we’re hard wired to do it.  How often are we right?  We can’t avoid getting older, but I’m beginning to think we might all need to let our inner 20 year old out more often and not worry about what other people think, because the reality is that there will always be someone ten or twenty years younger than us who thinks ‘blimey, look at the old girl go’.

I can guarantee that I will never, ever buy a banana cover though.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Get Packing


Holidays, breaks, mini-breaks, even days out imply happy times, relaxation, a break from the old routine.  And eventually they are, but first you have to overcome a big hurdle…packing.

I used to holiday in sunny climes with Sister and various friends, usually for a fortnight, and it wasn’t a success if the suitcase wasn’t labelled ‘Caution – heavy’ at the departure airport.  14 days and nights away takes a lot of clothes when you’re in your twenties.  But never once did any of us face excess charges, or spend time packing and unpacking.  In it went, off it went and happy holidays.  Alas, Family Packing has a completely different strategy.

Budget airlines have a lot to answer for.  Holidaying in my twenties was different full stop.  Off we’d go to our local Lunn Poly or Going Places and book our package.  Not now.  We’re all independent travellers these days, and half the time that involves a budget airline who really just want you to travel in the clothes you’re wearing.  In the old package days, the hand luggage limit was always 5kg, because they said that any more would be dangerous if it fell on your from the overhead locker.  Seems like we’ve all grown tougher heads now, because it’s ok to take 10kg.  And then you do start to wonder whether you really do need to check in hold luggage at all…

But of course I do.  I take two bags to work, so I’ve no chance of getting any further with just hand luggage.  How do people manage it?  I don’t buy into this idea of the capsule wardrobe.  Who are these women who can wear the same floaty dress at the beach and then dress it up for a night out?  Do they not sweat?  They certainly must not travel with an extra set of hands who, in the absence of a tissue or napkin think nothing of wiping hands/face/nose on a bit of maternal clothing.  So therein lies part of the problem – it is a massive gamble to plan to wear anything twice (sweating aside) when you travel with children.  And not just your own.  Mother has many a chocolaty hand wiped on her, and Sister suffered at a recent meal out when she sat by Daughter.  I wonder if it was coincidence when Niece spilt a drink on Husband last week or whether she’d been put up to it.  And I’ve got a super clean child, bar the odd spill on a family member, but a risk nonetheless.

I get to be In Charge of packing, because I’m apparently Better At It.  Hmm.  That means remembering anything that could be classed as a common family item; toothpaste, sun lotion, first aid, Daughter.  Then I have to fit the packing pint in the suitcase half-pint pot.  I can fill a 15kg suitcase with my own gear, no problem.  So what’s got to give when I’m faced with the holiday needs of a three person family?  I must point out here I’m only talking about a short break here, for a week or more the extortionate price per case is cheaper than the cost of my sanity!

At this point, I try my best to action all of the magazine articles I’ve read over the years about multi-tasking products and accessorizing outfits to make them look different, but it all goes against my inherent need for spares.  Being a bit of a worst case scenario person, I think that I need lots of spare things.  Some of them are sensible, like a spare pair of contact lenses (despite the fact I’ve never actually used a spare pair when on holiday), but when we went to Greece this summer I was stung with a £60 excess luggage fee and brought home two unworn dresses, six unworn pairs of knickers and about five outfits that Daughter hadn’t worn.  I need to get more packing savvy, but it’s hard when you like to live a life with excessive amounts of stuff.  It distresses me that I wear the same perfume every day on holiday, but who has the weight allowance for more than one bottle?!  Uncle used to talk about taking two t-shirts on holiday, wear one and doby the other (apparently this means wash), and we used to laugh about it, squeezing our curling tongs and another pair of sandals in our bulging cases, but not now.  If only I had some of Uncle’s minimalism skills (which Aunty used to say didn’t exist, by the way).

Now Daughter is five, I like to involve her with some of the packing decisions, but it seems she has my excess genes:

Me:  Which cuddly do you want to take?

Her:  Fluff

Me:  Ok

Her:  And Disney

Me:  Ok

Her:  And Aslan.  And Shelley.  And Chococat.  And…

And so the Krypton Factor game continues.  Or maybe it’s the hokey cokey – in, out, in, out, throw it on the floor in a fit of frustration… And then just when I think I’m done, Husband will present his actual capsule wardrobe, which will get pride of place on the top of the case whilst my stuff is scrunched up in a corner because it’s been in and out the case so many times.

All very stressful.  But the thought of some sun on my face and an escape from the pressures of day to day life makes it all worthwhile.  Even the thought of packing to go home again doesn’t take the shine off a holiday; after all, if it wasn’t in the room when you arrived, the likelihood is that you need to pack it up again.  What I wonder though, is why, when you’ve used all your sun lotion, shampoo, shower gel etc. and not actually bought any holiday tat, is why your case is never any lighter on the way home!



Monday, 14 October 2013

As Time Goes By


L asked me a (presumably rhetorical) question last week.  She asked me, ‘Where has the time gone?’.  If anyone should be able to answer that, I should, given that we’ve known each other since we were 11 and now I’m staring down the barrel of 39 (L would require me to note at this point that she is six months younger than me and not 39 until 2014).

But it did start me wondering.  Sometimes I’m shocked by the face that looks back at me from the mirror.  Where did those dark circles come from (5 years without an uninterrupted nights’ sleep probably, thanks Daughter)?  And the lines!  My new office has the cruellest light.  I sit side on to a big window and have the reality check of my wrinkles in natural daylight every time I look in the mirror to refresh  my lipstick.  You know when you’re looking rough when your 5 year old suggests putting some makeup on.  I was driving Daughter to her 9am ballet class and hadn’t had time to put the slap on.  The conversation went like this:

Daughter:  Mummy, why haven’t you got any makeup on?

Me:  I’ve decided to stop wearing it.  Why, I’m still beautiful aren’t I?

Daughter:  Yeees, but you look a bit…pale.  I wouldn’t stop wearing it if I were you.

Charming.

Sometimes, when I’m driving, I look at my hands on the wheel and wonder who they belong to.  I have hand cream in the car now, ready to top up at a slow changing set of traffic lights.  They’re not my hands, surely.  That feint hint of an age spot can’t belong to me.

I’ve noticed getting up (or down, for that matter) from a chair is often accompanied by an ‘oof’.  The knees aren’t what they were, that’s for sure.  They used to do their business silently, now they make their presence heard with a crack.

I’ve noticed that I visit Marks and Spencers more often, and even more scarily covet things that I see in there, particularly shoes.  I don’t think I’d ever made an non-underwear clothing purchase in M&S until six months ago.  There’s a BHS nearby and L has told me in no uncertain terms to stay out.  But sometimes I do feel a pull…

I haven’t noticed policemen getting younger, but I have noticed celebrities getting younger.  My memory must be going too, because I could have sworn some of them used to be older than me and are now younger.  There’s a particular film star that used to be the same age as my older sister, and you’d have definitely said she looked good for her age.  I read an interview with her recently and she’s now younger than me, and not looking quite as good for that age.  I was very pleased on my recent night out to have my age guessed at 30 though (not as pleased as Sister though, who had already declared truthfully that she’s four years older than me), but I haven’t got the guts to knock off nearly nine years when asked my age.  I think I’d cry if someone said ‘blimey, you’ve had a hard life!’

It’s not just the hands, face and cracking knees though.  It’s the expectation that I’m to behave like a Grown Up.  Sometimes I want to ask people why they’re demanding these things from me.  What kind of irresponsible world lets a 19 year old make decisions about people, money, systems and strategies.  What’s that you say, it’s twenty years since I was 19?!  You must be mistaken, because I still feel like a 19 year old.  I still take buttons home to Mother to have them sewn back on.  And see I called it home, when I’ve had my own home for many years.  Father still gives me lifts to places.  If I ever have to go to B&Q I drag my feet and scowl.  I use three out of twelve cycles on the washing machine and couldn’t answer Father-in-Law’s question about the best wash for his jumper.  Mother gave me a new cardigan she had knitted for Daughter without washing it, saying I’d probably have a delicate wash on before she did.  Yeah right.  What’s a delicate wash?  It’s light, dark, 30 or 40 or towels.  But if Mother is reading this, I hand washed said cardi.

It’s weird at my relatively new job, because I arrived at it a professional woman in my thirties, with wife and mother on my cv, and they treat me as such.  Where I used to work (remember, where I voluntarily left and wasn’t ousted in a new face fitting regime), some people had known me since I was 23 and regaled them with tales of nights out, and some of them still treated me like that.

So maybe it is time to put a post-it note on the mirror that says ‘You are in your late thirties’ and embrace Marks & Spencer, delicate washes and start sewing my own buttons on.  I was embracing my inner child yesterday and put on a pair of Father’s 1980’s glasses that were lying around for some reason and turned around to Daughter and  Niece, saying ‘What do you think of my new glasses girls?’ and they both looked at me with distain.  Sister was cracking up though.  So maybe not.  There’s plenty of time to be mature.  Although when I was looking in to local WI meetings for Mother to attend, I did fancy putting my name down myself.  Maybe the child in me just wants to get her buns out!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Reverse Ambition


I wasn’t pushed as a child.  Encouraged, supported, but never pushed.  So, in that supportive environment I got myself a decent set of qualifications and along the way picked up a fair bit of ambition.  I wanted to be good at what I did, and I wanted to be more.  I think there are a few ex-students who would say I was good at what I did, and I loved teaching.  Then I got into management, and the plan was fairly clear; I was groomed to be the next Director, with a longer term view of Assistant or Vice Principal, and maybe one day Principal.  Then things changed.

The first change came in a little pink bundle weighing 7lb 7oz.  The second change came much later in a far less attractive form, and changed the plans and directions of lot of people.  But they don’t deserve space in my blog, and my legal training reins me in from saying any more!

So, the pink bundle.  She took my plans and ambition, slobbered on it and gave it back to me in a different form completely, and I’m not sure it’s ever dried out.

Maternity leave was the first time I’d ever been off work without being either on holiday or off sick.  I only took six months; financial circumstances forced me back far more quickly than I would have chosen.  But what a different world.  Out went the suits, in came the flat shoes.  I never ever spent the day in my pyjamas, and nor did Daughter, but the challenge of a new baby was different to one I’d ever faced before.  Arrogant, attitude poor teenagers – check.  Irate colleagues – check.  Unhelpful parents (theirs, not mine) – check.  Deadlines – check.  And being a control freak, I’d planned on Routine with a capital R.  But what I really did was held this gorgeous bundle for most of the day, not because she needed it but because why wouldn’t I?!  We’d go for walks with herculean effort (very difficult getting a big pram out of a tiny terraced house!) and I’d celebrate with a cake.  No cottage industry for me, although I did usually manage to keep the ironing pile down.

Eventually I had to go back to work.  Yes, I cried.  I went to see her at lunchtime on the first day and cried more.  What a bad mummy I was.  I’d always known I’d have to go back to work, having married a wonderful man with an ordinary job and not the celebrity wage packet one really needs to stay at home these days, but I hadn’t realised I absolutely wouldn’t want to.  I loved my job.  I’d worked hard to get where I was, and I was paving the way for more.  But it was no competition for this little bundle of joy.  And so without a word of warning, my ambition lost its elbows and adopted a que cera attitude.  I still worked hard, I still worked late, but none of it was as appealing any more.

As any working parent will tell you, it all gets done.  The parenting, the work, the house.  Maybe not as well as you’d like it, but it gets done.  If anything has to give, it will be something of yours – getting your roots done, going out after dark, watching TV – whatever your own thing is.  But I’ve discovered what life is like on the other side.  I have experience of being a parent who doesn’t work outside the home.  I refuse to call it being a full time mother – I am a full time mother regardless of what I do or where I am.  If you can find a thought in my head that comes before Daughter, I’ll give you a tenner.  A ‘friend’ told my recently returned to work after maternity leave sister that she wasn’t going back to work as she wanted to be a ‘proper mum’.  I don’t think I’ve spoken to that person since.  Being a working mother and a proper mother are not mutually exclusive.

Anyway, my spell of not working.  Last year, following a miscarriage, I had about 8 weeks off work.  Clearly not happy times, but regardless of that, I experienced life on the other side.  Daughter had just started school and so I had the absolute joy of taking and picking her up.  Taking her wasn’t always fun, she wasn’t so keen and it was a bit of a trauma.  But picking her up!  Joyous.  We did fun stuff that the working day doesn’t allow.  We went to places, we did craft.  We baked. We cozied up and watched films.  And despite the reason I was off, that time with her was precious.  I also discovered that the supermarket is pretty empty at 9am, straight from the school run.  I saw the bottom of the ironing basket, and if there was more than a couple of things in the washing basket, I’d let things slide.  The windows got cleaned.  Cupboards got sorted.  I was busy, busy, busy.  I had to be, otherwise I was a gibbering wreck, but between 9am and 3pm I became a super wife, mother, home maker. I had the luxury of being paid from work, so no money worries attached to my time off (I think I had enough to worry about), and I’m sure that if that wasn’t the case I wouldn’t have such a rosy view.  But eventually I thought I should go back to work and it was back on the treadmill of working parenting again.  And this time it wasn’t like going back after maternity leave, where I was wracked with guilt at deserting my tiny human (with her devoted grandfather, who I suspect did a far better job than I would have done!).  This time I’d seen how much easier day-to-day life could be if you have all day to do it.

Fast-forward six months, and I found myself off again, this time waiting to start a new job, having left my job of over thirteen years , apparently voluntarily.  Those who suggest many long-serving employees were squeezed out by a new regime of face-fitting would surely be wrong.   Again, not the happiest of circumstances, but certainly better than my previous time off.  The supermarkets were still empty at 9am, and this time it was summer and so I was able to indulge my obsession with hanging the washing out (sunny day at 18 – hooray, let’s go to the pub.  Sunny day at 28 – hooray, let’s got to the pub.  Sunny day at 38 – hooray, let’s get the washing out!).

And so to my reverse ambition.  I’ve climbed the career ladder, and suffered a couple of injuries where someone tried to step on my fingers.  I’ve contributed handsomely to Mr Osborne’s coffers.  Now, I’d like to invest a bit of time in me and my family.  I can’t, because I don’t think the mortgage company would be keen, but I’d like to.  Am I a disgrace to feminism?  Is it a waste of my education?  Were the sacrifices my wonderful parents made for nothing?  The job I’ve got now is ok, there’s potential, but I still get a pang at 3.15pm when I know someone else is picking up Daughter from school, and by the time I get home she will have deleted the detail of the day.  I don’t know.  I do know that I’m not greedy about fantasy lottery wins now – I think just enough to cover my current earnings would do me, as long as I could wait for that smiley face to come out from school.

Will I ever get there?  Probably not.  Help me out by sharing my blog and maybe one day someone will pay me to sit at home and write my thoughts for the day!  Until then, I’ll keep cleaning the bathroom at 10pm and hoping that Daughter remembers to tell me something she’s done that day.  And I’ll try not to be too upset about the prize giving I’m missing on Thursday…

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Big Night Out


I’m going out with the girls on Saturday.  We haven’t been out for months, and the last time we did it was a civilised affair with cars and a distinct absence of wine.  This time though, we’re out on the town.  New dresses have been bought (what, this old thing?!) and I hear that Z has already started her beautification.  I won’t be far behind her, with a home manicure planned for this evening after Daughter has gone to bed, Husband has gone for his weekly cerebral challenge at the pub quiz with Father, and all is quiet.

I think any thirty-something working mother will agree that sometimes a night out can be more effort than it might seem worth.  Our night out was planned by strategic facebook discussion and put down on the calendar (pen, not pencil).  By our standards, it was fairly easy, and essential that we all get together now to sort out the biggie – the Christmas Night Out.  Husbands have all been instructed they will be staying in, or baby sitters booked.  Bribery chocolate has been bought – ‘I know you don’t want Mummy to go out, but look!  Chocolate orange segments!  And yes, of course you can have a new game on my Kindle.  No, you can’t have Happy Poo Jump.’ – and travel plans are being devised (to the city centre 10  miles away, hardly need the use routeplanner).  Shoes have been tried on, curling tongs dug out.  But it made me think of another life, when nights out just happened.

The weekend used to start on Thursday.  ‘Just for a drink’ usually turned into going to the local nightclub.  A nightclub!  On a Thursday!  And quite often we’d do it on a fiver.  A load of us would pile into L’s ancient estate and off we’d go.  That car was as good as a limousine to us, rolling us up to the door of every club around.  Then it would be Friday, and of course we’d be out that bit later with no work to go to the next day.  And then Saturday!  Pub and club again.  No arrangements were ever really made outside of our small circle, everyone just knew where the rest of the crowd would be.  Sunday was recovery day, sleeping until after midday.  A fortifying roast dinner later, and it would be back out for an intended quiet one.  There was always someone to go out with, always something to wear and always money in our purses.  There was no negotiating of dates, no staring at wardrobes that had nothing suitable in them (despite dramatic cries of ‘I’ve got nothing to wear!’) and always just enough for that last round.

How times have changed.  But one thing has stayed the same.  Nights out with your best girlfriends are like a battery charge.  We’re all mothers of young children, wives, workers, chief cook and bottle washers, and our Saturday daytime events will include children’s parties, the supermarket run, work, several ‘don’t go Mummy!’s and probably all manner of unglamorous tasks that our younger selves would never have ever thought about.  The mirror will reveal creases that didn’t used to be there and maybe even the odd grey hair.  But after that first glass of wine, and when all the child/husband/work/parents/fortnightly bin collection moans are drowned in the second glass,  onlookers won’t see an exhausted group of women in their thirties and forties.  They’ll see a group of friends who might as well be 22 again, because they’re having just as much fun as they did then.  If only L’s estate was still on the road..!

Friday, 20 September 2013

When...

When  I've lost some weight, I'll buy some new clothes.

When Daughter is a bit older, she'll stop sneaking in our bed at night.

...and will eat the same food as us

...and will stop following me to the toilet.

When I've organised those drawers, I won't let them get messy again.

When I've paid off my credit card, I'll never use it again.

When...

More lists.  One of my favourite time wastes is the 'when I win the lottery' game.  Best played in particularly boring meetings when you're very certain you won't be called on to contribute.  At your own peril, of course.  When I win the lottery (and I don't mean one of those measly £2.80 wins you can get on the Euromillions - how do they even work that out?!) won't life be grand.  I'll never cook another meal again.  Ironing - I laugh at creases as someone else magics them away.  I'll do each end of the school day, apart from when I'm off having a spa day, of course.  I'll be the volunteering mummy at school.  I'll get a gym membership and go every day.  I'll single handedly boost the economy with my shopping expeditions.  Imagine.  What did the advert used to say...it could be you!  Except in all the years the lottery has been around I've never won more than a tenner.  So maybe it's time for plan B just in case.  Because you can't live your life waiting for when.  So...

I'll buy some clothes next time I see something I fancy.

I'll appreciate Daughter wanting to be close to me while she does.  One day I'll be a horrendous embarrassment to her and she won't acknowledge me in public.

I'll be glad that she has something to eat regardless of what it is.

I'll be glad of the company while I'm on the toilet.  No I won't, I can't pretend.  One day, I'll manage to lock the door before she sneaks in.

So what if the drawers get messy?  I'll tidy them again.

I really will try to avoid using my credit card.  But no promises.

Sometimes you plan and plan and life kicks you in the teeth and all your plans disappear in a puff of smoke.  And if the kick was a big enough one, you realise that some stuff just doesn't matter in the grand scheme of life, like tidy drawers.  It doesn't hurt to plan.  I'm in education - I know that I've spouted the old 'fail to plan, plan to fail!' patter to students, and I believe that in education.  And you know that I enjoy a list.  But sometimes, as alien as it might feel, dip your toe in the flow and see if you can go with it.  Or, keep waiting for when and risk missing out on some fun along the way.  I'm going to try, andI'm not even going to put it on my list!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

First ever blog

I've never thought about blogging before.  If I'm honest, I'm not the most tech-savvy person around.  But I was shown how to do it in work and thought - why not!  I can't imagine that anyone would want to read my blog, but then again I read other people's.

I'm still not entirely sure how to reach the world, but I think I've made it look pretty and so there's something ticked off the list.

My question is 'will I ever make it to the top of my own list?'.  When I was young and single, I was always top of my list.  Then I got married, and I had someone else to put on the list.  I still made it in the top quarter of my list though.  Then I got a more important job, and work things started creeping on the list.  To have separate home and work lists or not?  Can I manage two lists?  I can never manage two bingo cards (eyes down!).  And then came the addition.  My beautiful girl.  She didn't intrude on the list too much when she was a baby - 'buy nappies', 'take baby for jabs', 'sleep when baby is sleeping' (the most hilariously unattainable piece of parenting advise doled out to new mothers), but otherwise she was a list minimalist.  And being the good daytime sleeper that she was, maternity leave brought a new opportunity to achieve the list.  But then eventually I was catapulted into this new world of The Working Mother.  And boy, it's tough out there.

Have you got a to-do list?  What's at the top?  For me, top two places are occupied by 'clean the couches' and 'sort out airing cupboard'.  I'd like to tell you that the next item is 'book mini-break to Paris', but alas not. I won't bore you with the rest of my domestic needs, but you get my point.  Should I set myself a weekly challenge to include something for me in the top five items?  Is that a list item in itself?!  I'm ahead of the game there as I've booked an indulgent post-work spa treatment next week.

On that note, I'm off to tackle some of the things on the list.  Maybe I should start a wish list rather than a to-do list.  And somewhere on it will be 'escape the rat race and find a lovely way to earn a crust by being self-employed'.  Surely that would generate it's own list entirely!