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.


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…