Tuesday, 19 August 2014

24 hours

In the past 24 hours, I've gone from loved one to singleton. I've called the police. I've been to the dump to get rid of mouldy confidential files and a rat's skeleton.

What a difference a day makes.

You may remember that my ex's wife has some issues with me (this is an understatement). Their break-up two years ago was messy; he told me his marriage was over, and we started seeing each other; unfortunately he hadn't let his wife in on the deal, so when she found my texts on his phone, she chucked him out.

All very understandable.

He told her at the time that he was going to 'find himself' and try to make it as an artist, on his own. What he actually did was take a quick trip to Paris, take some photos, then came back and carried on with life as usual. Seeing me.

This did not go down too well with his wife who still - for some unexplainable reason - still loves him. She refuses to admit that he has done wrong, preferring to believe that I cast a witchery spell over him, Morgana-stylee, and lured him into my arms with my mermaid's lyrical singing. And fishy smell.

Her hatred of me is immense, and she goes through spates of texting me poisonous nuggets; some of which are filled to the brim with astonishingly crude swear words, some refer to me as 'it', some make no sense whatsoever, some are threatening and - once - an apology. Her last crop of texts winged their way to me last week, whilst I was camping with the kids.

I feel a whole range of emotions for this woman. Guilt, obviously, for the part that I have played in the break up of their relationship. Pity too, for a woman so in love with a man that she can't see he has treated her like shit for years (I am not the first affair). I feel like shaking her, trying to open her eyes to what he has done to her.

But she won't see it.

The empathy I feel for her has stopped me from responding to any of her texts, because I feel, in a way, I deserve them. It is a whipping, a punishment. But recently she overstepped the mark by threatening me, and after that one, I texted her telling her that, if she did it again, I would approach my solicitor or the police.

She did it again. So I had the conundrum of what to do when a naughty child oversteps the mark again and again - do you follow up on your threats? Of course. You have to.

My solicitor recommended I approach the police and so, with some trepidation, I completed the '101' form online. Within half an hour, I had a response asking me to book an appointment with an officer, or come into the station. The nice lady said it sounded like harassment, or 'malicious communication'. Within another hour, I had a text saying the same thing.

Blimey, I thought. They were certainly taking this seriously.

And then the phone went, and it was the boyf. And in a nutshell, he said he wanted a break from me until Christmas, because he's realised that he needs to 'find himself' like he said he was going to, a couple of years ago.

I thought: Fuck You. I said: I'm not waiting for you.

I didn't sleep very well. I rolled around and thought of all the effort I've put into boyf, into managing his depression, into keeping our long distance relationship alive, into punishing myself with his wife's texts. And increasingly I thought: You Utter Shit.

At 8am this morning, my local beat PC called. He was concerned, he said, and would like to come and see me. I explained that I had just been chucked, and that I thought this would mean the texts would stop.

Oh dear, he said, you've not had a great 24 hours, have you?

He made me laugh. And cry. I just about stopped myself from asking if he was single (that bit was hard).

And my day was topped off by work. I'd been tasked to clean out the 'corridor of doom' (such is the importance of my job) and I found such delights as a rat skeleton, many hairy spiders, pigeon poo by the gallon and several extremely long worms. As well as kilos of mouldy financial material.

And now I'm sitting here, knowing logically that splitting from the boyf is right, good and proper, but feeling that my heart is breaking.

It is a bit shit.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Top five tips for holidaying as a single parent


We've just come back from a week's camping in Wales. Well, I say camping - we stayed in a yurt and it was as luxurious as camping can get. A proper bed for me, a stove and a grill, a log burner and a compost loo, too.

I took the boys there last year - my first outing as a single parent - and the welcome couldn't have been warmer. Not only from the campsite owners, but from the other camper families who took pity on me the minute they saw my ashen face.

We had an unexpectedly glorious week then, and our repeat visit was just as enjoyable. I'm learning as I go, though; the first trip held some unexpected challenges (extremely cold nights, essentials left behind, the issues of all us of living in a confined space) which I'm almost getting to grips with now.

Here are my Top Five Tips for holidaying as a single parent.

1. Pick somewhere low-stress. For me, this means staying in the UK. I cannot be faffed with going to the airport with the kids at 3am, then stressing at the other end about buses or hire cars or making myself understood. I am a worrier, and I know my limits - but if you're laid back, and can enjoy the journey as part of the holiday (lucky bastard), then by all means, travel far afield with the kids. If you go abroad, consider going 'All Inclusive' so there's no cooking or washing up needed.

2. You'll be madly packing for your children, like you always do. But don't forget that this holiday is for you, too. Pack items that YOU will find useful, even luxurious. My tip for this year: a camping chair to take to the beach. Previously I'd have been happy to sit on the wet sand and watch the kids in the sea, but this chair - plus the addition of a five pound wind break - made going to the beach an absolute pleasure.

And while we're on the subject, don't just make packed lunches that the kids like; treat yourself, too. A really nice soft drink for you, or a proper coffee from the beach shack. If you like to read a paper, then buy yourself a blummin paper. Get the kids involved with the Codeword puzzle towards the back.  And then, when it's been read, get the children to scrumple it up, and burn it on the camp fire.

3. Go somewhere where you'll meet other families. You might love the thought of being in total isolation with your children (quick question - are you mad?) but I would advise picking a place where your kids will find friends to play with. It's a balance though, isn't it, because my worst nightmare would be to end up in a crowded hotel and surrounded by screaming children. *shudder* 

Choose well, Yoda, because you are going to be stuck there for a week or more.

4. Do things with your kids, but if you need some separation from them, don't be afraid of seeking out things that they would enjoy doing (whilst you have a snooze). Last week, I booked the boys onto a bushcraft course for a morning. They did a similar thing last year and, to be honest, they were a bit moany about going. But I knew that, if they didn't go, the probability that I would melt down through lack of sleep and space was high. So I twisted their arms a little and actually, that time apart did us all the world of good. (And they enjoyed it too.)

Conversely, book activities that you can do together. I booked Coasteering last week. If you haven't heard of it before - it is not really a suitable activity for a 43 year old woman. It is three days on and I still can't really move.

It's all about exploring the coastline - by climbing up craggy bits and jumping in, bobbing about in caves, clambering over barnacled columns and eating seaweed that tastes like Pizza Express doughballs (TRUE STORY). I absolutely loved the thought of it, but hadn't really realised how physical it was - the jumping in was fine but you had to climb out and back up again and that, ladies and gentlemen, is hard work for someone with a bigger than average bottom.

Anyway, the point is, we did it together, cheered each other when we'd done something brave and helped each other when we were struggling. I even saw my teenager (13) being chatted up by a group of 17 year old girls. Which was an odd feeling - pride and horror and joy and sadness all in one roly poly lump.

5. If you're holidaying in the UK, plan for wet weather. And the cold. Seems obvious, but the first year we went I had been led astray by a particularly good batch of weather beforehand, only to be pelted with a full day's rain when we arrived. This year, we packed lots of board games - but they were board games that we all liked to play. Our particular favourites are Dominion and Ticket To Ride - but we also like Settlers and Carcassonne, too. I'm afraid I won't let them take Monopoly or Risk (suppresses screams). I'm talking boys here: take balls. All sorts of balls - tennis, foot, soft, bouncy - whatever you can lay your hands on. Plus bats, rackets, stumps, frisbees.

And hoodies. As many hoodies as you can shake a stick at. Or something.

If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be this: don't put unnecessary strain on yourself. If you are cooking, take lots of packet rice, pasta and sausages. This is not haute cuisine week. They will survive if they don't get their quota of organic artichokes for a few days. Get the kids to share in the chores, and if they're old enough, show them how to make you a proper cup of coffee in the morning (I'm not joking). Keep your sanity through any means.

If you can do this, you and your children will have a fabulous time, wherever you are.


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A mother of no one

And as I sit in my church on Remembrance Day, listening to the roll call of the dead, the same surname is read out. Twice. Brothers. And suddenly I have become their mother, on the doorstep, with my hand out, accepting the telegram from a boy on a red bike.

I am shaking.

Other mothers in the street have opened their doors, solemnly. Children have stopped playing. I cannot stop crying. Part of me has been ripped away.

And as a solemn trumpeter plays the first two notes of The Last Post, there I am again, 100 years ago, opening the same door, to the same messenger, and a very similar telegram.

I am walking to the kitchen and notice how the dust shimmers in the sunlight. The clock appears to have stopped.

I cannot believe that a God I trusted has taken away my beautiful boys. That a King I serve has sent them to their deaths. That my youngest, barely a man, was hit by friendly fire, killed by his own men. And that my eldest, so tall and proud, lay now in pieces on barbed wire somewhere in Belgium.

I am not allowed to shriek and wail, because other women in this town have suffered too, and they have born their pain with dignity and silence. But I want to die. I want to be with my little boys. I want to touch them again in what I think is heaven, feel their sweet cheeks on mine just once more.

I am still a mother. But a mother of no one.

God save the King.




Monday, 4 August 2014

Dealing with anger

The boyf and I have just come back from a long weekend in Wales. We stay in his campervan; it's cosy and kitted out with everything we need, but as everyone who's ever been in a campervan knows, they're not the most spacious of living spaces. Room to swing a cat, there is not.

This doesn't help things when the mood turns sour.

When boyf is 'up', there is no one quite like him in the world. He is funny and loving and witty. His self effacement makes him all the more appealing. His jaw is somehow squarer, his being more...well, just more. The sex is passionate, experimental. I find him magnetic.

When he is down, things are still just about ok. He is like an injured animal; quiet, docile - and mainly asleep. If I have enough energy, I can (almost physically) pull him out of it; cuddles, slapstick humour, even reading out loud. If I am too tired, we sleep it off together; and the outlook is generally brighter in the morning.

But it is his short fuse, his likelihood to snap, that I find so difficult to deal with. One day, it will mean the death of us - perhaps literally. This angry demon inside him can be triggered so quickly that sometimes I won't even recognise what's done it. This holiday, we've had ridiculously dangerous driving through some sort of testosterone fuelled racing from the lights with some lads in a suped-up Fiesta, followed by them trying to run us off the road and overtaking/undertaking us, shouting expletives out of the window and using the whole gamut of hand signals in their portfolio.

All the while, boyf is shouting back, grinning like a loon, and I am curled up in the passenger seat like a dead leaf.

We've also had a meltdown when some other twat pulled into our pitch (which we'd paid for, marked 'reserved' and left our bikes there) on the campsite and then disappeared to the pub. They came back after two pints and proceeded to have a long argument with the site owner. When they eventually moved, boyf started the engine to park in the space, missed the right gear and ran into a boulder, making a terrible crunching sound and shattering something indeterminable under the van.

Horrendous expletives were loud, in front of children, and unstoppable.

I find this very difficult to deal with. The crux of it is that I am totally embarrassed, to the point of humiliation - and if I could have left the site, there and then, I would have done. (Sadly, I was wearing a towel and not much else.) I was brought up to be polite, to swallow your anger, to be totally non-confrontational. Now this, I know, is not good either; but there has to be a happy balance, where you can allow yourself to be angry (this guy was a twat, after all), but to make your anger felt in a non- confrontational way. To be assertive but not overly aggressive. And afterwards, when all is fixed and the situation has melted into memory, to have a good laugh at the guy's expense and to vow to kick his van next time your passing. (Also soon forgotten.)

It sometimes takes a day for the 'seeing red', The Magic Finger to Roald Dahl fiends, to go away.

And then boyf is worried that I do not love him any more. He is right in a sense; some of the love has rubbed away. Particularly if his anger is directed at me, because I am a wooden doll, a passive child, taking the blast of his aggression. I am blank. I don't know how to react.

Usually, I run away.




Monday, 28 July 2014

A love letter to a rich man (Ken Griffin)

Dear Ken

I saw you in the news today. Apparently, you're an American multi billionaire hedge fund manager, who's getting divorced.

Now, granted, I don't really know what a Hedge Fund Manager does. Even Wikipedia (usually my failsafe) didn't help, leading me down a path of Endowments and Foundations - but I'm sure that, if you explained it to me, I would find it very interesting indeed.

The thing is, Ken - I love you. I've loved you from the first moment I set eyes on you (about seven minutes ago). And I think, given a chance, you might also love me.  This is why.

- I am English. All Americans love the English. Monty Python, The Queen, old buildings, Shakespeare, Benedict Cumberbatch...I'm friends with them all. You might not know this, but the English all live in one big house. We all know each other and are very friendly.

I am particularly good friends with Michael Palin and Prince George. And, if you married me, you could be too.

- I have all my own teeth and they are pretty straight and not too yellow. The Americans, I gather, think that we Brits all have wonky, yellow teeth but it's not true. I don't. Granted - some are missing, but those that I have are not bad at all.

- I am cultured. Yes, the British are ALL cultured as we have grown up amongst the rubble of Georgian buildings and are forced to play either the piano or the buglehorn until the age of 7 - but I have achieved even more than this. I have a music degree and  - get this - have sung on telly. Even if it was just on the local news. And I was out of tune.

- I have a sense of humour. I am British, after all, and we need to have one with the tiny house that we all live in, and our wonky teeth. It can get a bit wearing, sometimes.

- I have two sons already so would not be looking to start a new family all over again. You would love my children. They eat hot dogs and say 'butt' a lot so are practically American citizens already.

- Looks-wise, I'm afraid I can't match up to your ex-wife (BITCH!). Sorry, that just slipped out. I've had no work done. I don't wear much make up. I don't go to the gym. I have veins. BUT for you, I am prepared to have my hair cut on occasion and to invest in some moisturiser. And possibly some vaseline. Only for you, my darling.

Ken, honey, some people might tell you that I'm just after your money. HOW COULD THEY? It isn't true. I have my own house which is two hundred years old. In England, every house which is over a hundred years old is automatically worth a million pounds. That's the law. As well as this, I have what we call Tax Credits. That's when you're earning so much, and paying so much tax, that the Government feel obliged to start giving some of the money back. And finally, I have my own car. Only 0.01% of people in England own a car because it's such a tiny island; quite frankly, why would you need one? Generally people travel around by horse and cart, or penny farthing.

Please do get in touch. I'm at secretdivorcee@gmail.com and my favourite stone is emerald.

Don't break my heart. xxx






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.