Friday, 25 July 2014

Gardening can be food for the soul

This is NOT a proper gardening post. Let's get this straight - I am shite at gardening. Beautiful flowers weep and wilt when I come near them. Bountiful vegetables shrivel and die. Lawns go yellow and curl up at the edges.

I am lazy. I have little vision. Weeds grow too fast. Foreign objects appear from nowhere. All the good stuff is very small, and the bad stuff is very big. It is overwhelming.

But, despite being genetically programmed to smell flowers, not plant them, I do love my garden. It gets to this point, late July, every year, when I make the gardening pledge: I Shalt Water My Pots. I Shalt Buy Plants, and Actually Plant Them. I Shalt Weed. I Shalt Do Some Cutting Back. And On Occasion, I Shalt Flick Cat Poo To Next Door But One's With The Three Cats.

And See How They Like It.

I tend to buy plants that I like the look of, like the colour of, or like the scent of. It's only when I get them home that I read the label: "Only plant in the subtropics" or "Grows (and looks) like a weed." Or, more commonly, they get eaten by something slimy within a nanosecond of bringing them home.

Here are some photos of survivors. I don't know the names of some of them, and would love to - can you help?

This is a great plant. I think it's some sort of bamboo, as the stems are hollow. And the bees love it!


Here's my herby pot. I've had it for years, and the thyme keeps on going (although it's a bit woody now). Two types of parsley which are a bit small because we, greedy buggers, keep eating it.



Now this, I think, is Lavatera. Am I right? I grew it in my last garden and it goes like a train. Now a huge plant, so need to cut it back - but will wait til after it's flowered.


 And this, believe it or not, is a cucumber plant! I know!Too cute! I picked it up at a church - someone had left it in a box with a 'please take' sign. Well, someone is watching over this plant because the bastard snails have tried to have their way with it. Despite having few leaves left, it's still squeezing out fruits in a rather desperate and unseemly way.
This plant is orange. And that's all I know.


And this plant is like a multi-headed pom-pom. Is it some sort of hydrangea? I don't know. It made me smile, so I bought it.


Even I know what these are. We've got raspberries too, but I've just cut them down so they look like a pile of twigs with some snail shells scattered about. And the occasional cat poo (pre-fence-flick).

They were tasty though. (The raspberries, not the snails. Or the cat poo.)


And finally. Here are some red flowers. They are nice (that's all I know). And the last photo is of a furry black and white flower that, on occasion (and where there's meat involved) moves very fast indeed.


Dedicated to my Twitter friend Kenny, who know a thing or two about plants. And if he doesn't comment on this then there will be trouble at mill.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Cocking things up

I am spectacular at cocking things up. Don't try and be nice to me and tell me that we all do it, because quite a lot of us don't - at least not in such a calamitous way. If putting your foot in it were part of the Commonwealth Games, I would be on that podium blubbling at the National Anthem.

I think it works like this. If something needs to be done, however big or small, we all make a plan in our heads. Even if it's, say, having a biscuit. The plan goes something like this:

- walk to kitchen
- open cupboard
- open biscuit tin
- eat biscuit.

Simple! So I, like you, would make that plan in my head, but what would actually happen would be something like:

- walk to kitchen
- fall down step and scrape knee
- open biscuit cupboard
- notice blood dripping on floor
- attempt to stop blood with one hand whilst opening biscuit cupboard with other
- overbalance and put blood soaked hand out to steady myself, thereby covering white kitchen with bloody handprints
- temporarily forget what I was doing
- remember, then find that the biscuit tin is empty as Tween scoffed the lot yesterday.

The plan that I make in my head is often at fault. In very general terms, I think I'm making a plan, but really, I'm making an origami hat. As useful as a solid sieve.

Take my most recent failure. Tuesday was Tween's last day at school. Some bright spark thought it would be a great idea to take individual photos of the whole class, put together a montage, print it on card and present it to the teacher.

I said - "I'll do it!"

WHAT WAS I THINKING?? I knew my history of cock-ups, and this was important. Had I taken too much mint tea that morning?

Anyway. Photos were taken (thumbs up) and I took time to put the montage together, making sure that all 31 children were on it.

YOU FOOL! YOU IMMENSE PIECE OF IDIOCY! This is where the plan fails because there are actually THIRTY TWO children in the class!

But blindly, I carried on, mentally patting myself on the back for doing such a wonderful piece of work. Oh, how the teacher will swoon! And oh, how clever she will think I am!

And so it was printed and presented and everyone smiled and said 'thank you' a lot...until - until - the whispers started. "Bella's not there". Bella is the most beautiful, sensitive, caring child. And I had missed her off. Because I am a fuckwit.

And so, rounds and rounds of apologies followed; to Bella, of course, who was much more grown up and philosophical than me about the whole thing. To Bella's mum, who was so lovely and reasonable that I immediately wanted to give her everything I owned. And to our lovely teacher, who was obviously so relieved that the teaching year was over, and was happy just to have survived, couldn't really give a flying f*ck.

I keep telling myself that everyone makes mistakes, and it's just how we recover from them that sorts the wheat from the chaff. So I've done another montage, of course, and took an extra, rather lovely, photo of Bella at the leavers' party, which I've sent to her.

And now, I need to be firm with myself and move on.  Learn from it, and plan more carefully next time.

Or alternatively, forget all about it within a week or so and continue cocking up merrily until I die.



Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Going Grey

I am not blessed, physically, with wondrous things. God did not intervene at my conception and say, "THAT BABY THERE, THAT ONE, YES YOU, YOU WILL HAVE LONG LEGS, EYES LIKE POOLS AND A TINY NOSE LIKE THAT WITCH PERSON (who I admit probably wasn't very godly but I liked what she did with her nose when she cast a spell) YES JUST LIKE HER".

In fact, He didn't do bugger all. So I was born and my face was roughly in the right order. As I grew, it was clear that my arse was too big and my legs were too short and my boobs were too small.

But at least I looked marginally human.

Anyway. Luckily, they don't kill fairly plain people so I've managed to survive this long on the strength of my shoulders - which are broad - and my ability to touch my nose with my tongue (always good to bring out at parties). But one thing that is also running in my favour - currently - is that I'm not going grey. YET.

I'm 43, and actually, what I said just then isn't true. For about a year after I'd decided to leave my husband, the grey hairs started coming. I was pulling them out apace, wondering if I'd soon have bald patches at my temples, but in the end I gave up. That's it, I thought - it's happening. I should just accept it with good grace. I am, after all, getting on.

But bizarrely, after about a year, I stopped going grey. No new silver hairs - just the normal mousey brown colour that I've always had and always ignored. And this seemed to coincide with getting settled, finalising the divorce, and moving on.

I seem to have been given a second chance.

Which is lovely, of course (and I'm now going to grow my hair as long as possible in celebration, possibly interweaving loom bands, bits of ribbon and post-it notes as decoration) but it did get me wondering; do we really go grey when we're stressed? And if so, why?

I have researched long and hard into this (15 minutes). And my conclusion is this.

NOBODY KNOWS.

There's been some fairly recent research done on mice who, as far as I know, don't generally get divorced - but may get stressed in other ways, such as falling off wheels, or getting scared by giants in white coats - and conclusions are mixed. Details on the experiment here: the researchers seem to conclude that there IS a link between stress and skin pigmentation/greying hair. The NHS says that the evidence is still uncertain. But I'm sure there must be a link; one look at Tony Blair after five years in office and it's obvious to everyone.

So. My face might be lined and speckled with brown spots. My legs covered in thread veins. My eyes rheumy and red. But my hair remains resolutely brown and I'm enjoying it while I can.

From the back, if I'm wearing trousers, I look 26. From the front, I look 60.

Average age: 43. I'll settle for that.





Thursday, 3 July 2014

Divorce Does Not Destroy Your Children

I was rifling through Tween's rucksack this evening in the vain hope that I might find some - any - crumpled up information about a cricket tournament that he is in tomorrow.

Instead, I found a brown envelope with his school report in.

Wondering how long it had been festering in there, and why Tween hadn't told me about it, I opened it up. In all honesty, I knew it would be ok; he's bright, happy, sociable - no issues to speak of.

But as I ripped it open, and saw a glimpse of the glorious adjectives within, it was like I was Charlie opening my Golden Ticket. Sunshine literally burst forth. Violins played. There were key changes, and boy bands standing up and stepping forward.

100% attendance. Words like "gifted at literacy", "wonderful mathematician" and from the head teacher, "an amazing report." His class teacher said, "he is one of the kindest and most polite boys that I have ever met."

You're sick of this now. I would be. Another showy-offy mum, using her own son's achievements to bolster her own self esteem. Obviously you're right, but I do have a point to make, which is this:

When you announce to the world that you are getting a divorce, the question on everybody's lips is, "But have you thought of the children?" The inference being that divorce destroys children.

There are stats coming out of our ears that seem to back up this theory. This article from the Telegraph says that divorcing parents tend to play down the effects that their divorce is having on their children. And this article talks about a Relate survey which showed that 60% of parents thought that divorce had had a negative effect on their children.

Statistics don't relate to you, personally

I say PAH to statistics. Pah and botty burp and turdy breath. Because (and I'm sorry to sound a bit Woodstock about this) it's not really about numbers, but it's about our own circumstances, our own lives, and how we communicate with our kids.

For all the articles about how appalling divorce is for children, there are equal numbers throwing advice at us on how to treat our kids during a break-up. Some are bollocks, but this article from Help Guide is good. It's all down to communication. Tell the truth (without crossing The Line - more about The Line below). Say 'I love you'. Don't criticise your ex partner in front of them. Listen to them. Tell them it will be ok.

The Line

Divorcing with children forces you to be a grown up. Suddenly, your parenting skills have to shift up a gear to deal with this scary hurdle of complex communication which you need to negotiate with your kids.

Telling the truth to your children is right - but not warts and all. There is a line drawn in the sand, and it's not to be stepped over. "It's really sad, but Daddy and I don't love each other any more" is a bit different to, "Daddy put spyware on my PC so he could watch my every move because he thought I was having an affair (that means sleeping with another man). I wasn't then, but his suspicion and other events, including my own stupidity, eventually did drive me into the arms of another man..."

Filtering is key. Don't cross The Line.

The safe side of The Line probably includes:

- Objective, factual stuff. For example, plans for where everyone will live, how Daddy and Mummy will look after them. Even explaining that money will be tight, so there might be fewer trips, and xbox games. Less meat, more baked beans. But reassuring them that everything will be ok.

- Explanatory stuff. Why are you splitting up? Maybe: I fell out of love with Daddy because I felt unloved. Daddy and I didn't talk enough. It was my decision, but it was nobody's direct fault. I was becoming very unhappy and I was worried that, if I didn't leave, I would get very ill.

- Feelings. Initially, I talked about how sorry I was. How, although their Daddy and I weren't in love any more, we both loved them MORE THAN ANYTHING in the whole world. How special they were (are) to both of us. How we will always love them. How absolutely none of this was their fault.

What is the other side of The Line? The stuff that you shouldn't mention to your children?

- Derogatory stuff about Daddy. He won't pay for what he's promised to pay for. He never turns up to school events. He doesn't pull his weight in terms of childcare.

It's so tempting to mouth off in front of your children. My mum used to do this in front of me - and still does it occasionally. It still hurts me. Now that I'm in my 40s, I stick up for Dad, but when I was younger, it was confusing and hurtful. I've remembered every single word - and I hold it against her.

- A new relationship. Boyf is reticent to get involved with the boys and initially, I was very unhappy about this. I really wanted a live-in partner for all sorts of reasons; love, sex, warmth, practical help, fun, adult conversation... but in fact, in retrospect, it's been much better for the boys to have just us three grow as a family unit. We are close, and it is lovely.

And guess what? I remember my mum having loud, noisy sex with her new partner, in the next room. I remember it vividly even today. Every detail. And yes, it screwed me up. In fact, it's only very recently, since I've been writing this blog, that I've realised quite how much.

Be a proper parent

And what else? All the other stuff that you would never talk to your kids about anyway; real money worries; security concerns; problems at work. Don't treat them like friends. Don't just dump on them, however low you are, however lonely. Remember that you are still their parent, now more than ever, and not their mate. They are not your sounding board.

Show them and tell them you love them. Laugh with them. Tell them how proud you are of them.

But what if you did not choose this divorce, and you are in the midst of misery yourself? What if you can barely pull yourself out of bed in the morning, never mind think about the mental well-being of your children?

There will probably be a period of recovery time when you'll not be the best parent. Don't worry. Do your best with your children - they will see that you are struggling and will want to help. Get medical help if you feel it is out of control, or if this period of 'grief' (because that's what it feels like) lasts for too long. Pull on the good will of friends and family; at times like this, people will want to step in and prop you up. But above all else, make sure your children know that you love them, and that none of this is their fault. That you will be better soon. That everything will be ok.

Divorce makes you pull your parenting socks up. It forces you to take a good, long look at how you interact with your children. There will be a lot of biting your tongue, of thinking before speaking, of suppressed crossness with your ex. But there will also be wonderful times which only lone parenting can produce; adventures with just you and the children that you've all planned together; successes at school that you've helped bring about; and silly things like growth charts on the wall.

Divorce does not destroy children. Bad parenting probably doesn't help - but bad parents are not exclusively single parents. With your support - and the support of your ex - they will achieve exactly what they were going to achieve when you were together. Who knows? The experience they've had might make them even more resilient; what they have learned about change and loss and love might have a positive effect on their future. We just don't know.

But I can tell you this. You - and your kids -

Will. Be. Fine.




Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Scummy Mummy

When I separated from my husband, one of the great reliefs was that finally - finally - I could keep a tidy home, without boxers and odd socks and bits of toenail littered about the house. My new place would be straight out of Homes and Gardens; all cream sofas and alphabetised books and a perfectly manicured rug with a roaring fire (even in Summer). There might be a cat. There would probably be modern art.

But one thing's for sure; there would be no man mess.

I've been in my home for about a year now - and let me paint a charming picture for you. I'm writing this in bed (not made). The bed linen is cream and fresh but the cat has been lying on it today, and if I scooped up all the cat hairs, I could probably make another (albeit somewhat smaller) cat.

The washing is hanging up on the rack next to the bed. There is bra carnage everywhere. There are bags littered around the place, some half full of shit that I once thought important; some completely empty and just waiting to be put somewhere. Anywhere. Out of the way.

A towel is hanging over the bed frame.

My 'lady items' are cluttering up the mantel, along with pens, coins, and dust.

And if I looked hard enough, I would probably discover toenails. Going back months.

Listen, I know it sounds revolting. I would dearly love to be a tidy person. I'd love to be able to walk into my house, back from work, and smell the smell of just-washed-floors; to see an empty sink rather than this morning's porridge saucepan leering at me; to use a sparkling bathroom that doesn't smell of teenage turds.

But the truth is, I can't see the point of being tidy. I would much rather be writing, or fiddling around on Twitter, or on the phone to someone, or even doing dreaded admin stuff - than cleaning out the bath, or putting my pants away.

I truly am a Scummy Mummy.

Being a Scummy Mummy is ok until you invite someone round. You have to book a whole day off work beforehand to fumigate the house (probably downstairs only - you'll run out of time to do upstairs) and you'll end up with a least seven rubbish bags which have to be hidden from view at the bottom of the garden until said guest has left.

The worst thing in the world is when someone turns up unexpectedly. This makes me feel hugely uncomfortable. While they are trying to talk to me, ("Lottie, my grandfather's just died. Please can you just stop and listen..."), I'll be concentrating not on them, but on the piles of laundry in the front room that I'm surreptitiously trying to hide with my coat/a throw/my entire body.

It is ridiculous. I know that, logically, they are not judging me on tidiness. They are probably just wondering why I haven't offered them anything to drink. Or taken their coat. But I know how their house looks when I go round (sodding immaculate! HOW DO THEY DO THAT??) and so I am all too aware that my house...um...gives off a different vibe. Or odour.

So. Yes, my husband did leave his pants and socks and toenails around. But it was me who was making all the other guff and not bothering to put it away - and guess what? It actually takes EFFORT to be tidy! Which I think I need to work on, as I'm rapidly becoming a candidate for Britain's Worst Hoarders. (West Country's Scummiest Mummies? It's the local news equivalent, maybe).

I want the sort of home where visitors can come, any time, and sit down without fear of walking away with something unrecognisable stuck to their bum. Where they have somewhere not covered in yesterday's crumbs to put their mug down. Where they can say, "Where's your loo?" and I don't have to make them wait for five minutes whilst I bleach the bog as best I can.

Clean people of the blogging community! Help me, please! Do you have some advice?




Sunday, 29 June 2014

Paying the price for being a non-nuclear family

I took part in a wonderful organised bike ride yesterday with my boys - a twenty mile route in and out of Bath. It was special for lots of reasons; but mostly because I love cycling, and this was the first decent length route that we had done together, as a family. A wonky, one adult, two children family - but a family nonetheless.

The boys, Teen and Tween, loved it. I'm not ashamed to say that, when I heard their whoops and screams whilst freewheeling down the hills, and laughs when puddles got bigger and deeper - I had a little cry. This, I thought, is what being a family is about.

But British Cycling, the people who put the rules in place for this sort of event, don't make it easy for families like us to take part. In fact, because of their rules, we had to go in covertly, 'under the radar'. Because they have a one adult to one child rule, a 1:1 ratio which meant that, really, we shouldn't have entered.

I understand about Health and Safety, and that we live in a litigious society, but my Teen is a highly competent cyclist. He is not a seven year old who will cycle into the canal at the earliest opportunity. He slows down for dogs and old people. He rings his bell before bridges and corners. And more importantly, he loves cycling.

And yet he had to 'ghost ride' the course with us. When we crossed the finish line, an extremely loud voice came across the tannoy, "Well done Lottie and Tween and ...um... someone who doesn't seem to be on my screen." Which of course made Teen, who has enough teenage angst to last him a lifetime already, curl up into a ball.

Which takes some skill to do when you're riding a bike.

I'm not having a go at British Cycling. My point is a wider one, really. You often see the 'two adults, two children' family discount (Odeon cinemas, please note) which is ironic, because it is single parents, often with more than one child to look after, who could really do with those valuable discounts. They would make such a huge difference.

Booking a holiday is source of frustration and despair. Little seems to have changed since this article was published in The Independent in 1996, certainly amongst the large tour operators. I got excited initially when I looked at Thompson's website, seemingly offering single parent discounts, but the phrase "Single parents offers are available on selected holidays, for a child sharing with one full-fair-paying adult" seems to imply that, if you've got two kids, you're stuffed. Also, it tells you to call them to find out more. At 10p a minute.

No thanks.

There are some holiday companies now offering exclusively single parent holidays, but the thought of this makes me heave. A sort of combined holiday come week-long-blind-date. *shudder*  I appreciate what they're doing, but I'd rather spend a week in Fargo.

The one light in the darkness is the organisation that I put above all others. The jewel in the crown. The cherry on the cake.  The cat's whiskers.

The National Trust. Oh, I know. I bang on and on about them. But they offer a single parent membership, because - well, basically, because they are extremely lovely. And perhaps they realise that kids from single parent families could really do with a run around in beautiful, wind-swept surroundings. Rolling down hills and getting grass in their hair. Poking about in mansions and castles and caves and beaches. Getting muddy.

So well done to The National Trust. And others, particularly holiday companies - please take note. Society is changing apace.  You'll need to find new ways of offering us what we need, or you may find yourselves caught out.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

My friend, the beauty, who doesn't need make-up

A friend of mine, K, is a divorced mum just like me. I work with her. We earn similar amounts of money, we go through the same trials with our ex husbands, we struggle sometimes with our kids.

We are sisters in the sisterhood.

But the thing about K is this: she is beautiful. She has glorious long, dark, straight hair which she sometimes piles up, or pony-tails, or just leaves to frame her face. She has warm olive skin, dark eyes and a perfect mouth.

She has a voluptuous figure and wears dresses that show it off. And rightly so.

But what makes her complete is her smile and her warmth and her ability to communicate with everybody, on every level.

The tragedy is that, due to years of put downs and snubs and insults by her husband, she can't see it. Her self confidence, at rock bottom a couple of years ago, is being built up slowly by her current, loving partner. Eye make up is her 'mask' with which she faces the world; without it, she feels uncomfortable, small, unattractive. She's considering having her eye lashes dyed black (even though they are black already).

She doesn't need any make-up. She is beautiful.

So I wrote this for her. I am shit at poetry, but I thought I'd have a stab.

Poem for K

We are all born beautiful.
We may have jug ears, or crooked noses, or squinty eyes
But as babies
Our beauty is in our naturalness
Unfettered with make-up or surgery
Or even clothing.

But as we grow
As women
We feel that we need to do more
To maintain our beauty.
Our cosmetics mountains grow at home,
Eyeliners rolling off windowsills
Bright mascara bottles litter our drawers
Hair removing cream stinks in our bathrooms.

Some people, devils, feed our need for masking
Our natural beauty.
Cosmetics companies, magazines, insecure boyfriends.
Dye your eyelashes black!
(Even though they are black already.)

Stop.

Because you're worth it.

We don't need you,
Mineralized Charged Water,
Blot Film
Kate Moss Idol Eyes
Fake tan
Whipped creme foundation.

We might like some eye liner.

But the rest of you
Can fuck right off.