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.


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 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 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.)


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.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Being Spied on by your Spouse

When I was married, I had a pretty sticky time when my husband had hacked into my Facebook account. He left a comment on a discussion that I was having with 'the girls'; unfortunately, I'd been pretty rude about him and how bleak my sex life was. It was the sort of chit chat that you might have on a rowdy night out with a couple of vodkas down your neck. The sort of conflab where 'what's said on a girls' night out, stays on a girls' night out' is the unsaid rule.

Except that I was mouthing off online. And my husband was watching every word.

He left a message on the end of the thread saying that I had gone to bed and left my Facebook account open (I never did this). That he was my husband and that he was very unhappy with what had been said (I may have taken out a few swears, there).

The following morning, I received a text at work from my girlfriend, telling me what had happened, but that he'd since deleted the comment. It was one of those stomach churning moments when time stands still and you suddenly find breathing a bit tricky.


So when I got home, I asked my husband what it was all about, Alfie. And this is what he came up with.

Listen carefully. See if you swallow it.

He didn't leave that message. But he had been sent an email from an anonymous email account with that whole thread pasted into it, with some introductory text saying "I thought you should see this". In other words, someone else had hacked into my account, and told him about it. Without revealing who they were. Zorro-style.

Bear in mind that my ex husband works with computers. If I'd have been of sound mind, I'd have called him a lying fangle dangle and done some gooly damage, there and then. But he was an amazingly good story teller (liar) - perhaps even better than I was. So I apologised, and let it drift.

Until, that is, an error message popped up on my screen one day. "Warning! Key Logger cannot load."

Long story short: My husband had my Facebook login, presumably through a Key Logger, which he'd installed without my knowledge. He was tracking every single word I typed.

We had it out. He denied putting it there. I couldn't prove it. Still can't. But he had the motive and the capability and the desire. Hercule Poirot would have him banged to rights.

Fast forward to a week ago. My husband and I are long since divorced, but I am still using the old family computer. In the evening, I post something up on Facebook - a fundraiser that I'm doing with my kids. The next morning, I see my ex to get some kids' clothes and tell him about the charity thing. "Oh yes, I know," he says. "" says I, knowing that my Facebook account is in lockdown after the awful events of before.

His face remains impassive but get this - he farts. I can smell the fear. He has made a terrible mistake, and revealed his hand.

"Oh, I just see bits and pieces."

I try not to look interested but FUCK FUCK FUCK! He still has a key logger or something similar on my machine. He's been tracking everything; emails, Facebook, Twitter and, worst of all, this blog.

I go straight home and check my Facebook settings. We do have some mutual friends - perhaps they could have told him? But if they did, why didn't he just say that? Perhaps he saw someone else commenting on the post? But no - there were no comments at all.

I order a new computer. I get an IT guy to come and install it for me. He 'sweeps' my old computer and finds over 200 errors; if I have the patience, I should go through them all and check for spyware.

Maybe I will, and maybe I won't. Because, if I find something, what will I do? Shout at my ex? Approach the police? Shut down the blog?

I'm not sure I want to know. Or deal with the consequences.

I think I'm going to take a few days. Be grown up. Consider.

So...A message to my ex:

If you're reading this, don't think you've got away with it. You have invaded my privacy and broken the law. (Unless you're GCHQ. I don't think you are. Last time I looked, you didn't look like a doughnut - although you behave like one [snigger].) I suggest you destroy what information you have gathered swiftly. Before the boys in blue come knocking.

And if you're not reading this, I'll let you off. My mistake.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

In Praise and Awe of The National Trust

I love a good day out, I do. When the kids were littlies, and we had a free day, we would drive somewhere - an hour was pretty much my limit - for an adventure. The Famous Three, all sandwiched up, with rain macs and wet wipes stashed in the hold (or boot, if you want to be break the magic spell).

We visited beaches, towns, woods, parks, pools, rivers... and it felt like we were doing our own mini gap year inter-railing; venturing to far flung places - but making sure we were back in time for tea.

Many of the places we visited - and continue to visit - are owned by The National Trust. Let me start by saying this; I am so proud of The National Trust, that I am feeling a tiny bit teary as I write. This, I know, is pathetic. Stupid woman. But they deserve so much praise. They need people to shout from the (Lakeland) hills about them because what they do is so EFFINGLY GOOD.

See if these facts make you eye leak a bit:

1. Gravity was discovered ON THEIR LAND! The apple tree is RIGHT HERE!
2. They are the Nation's largest farmers, owning over 600,000 acres of land.
3. They are HUGE. The only organisation to have a larger membership in the UK is the AA. (I know! Weird!)
4. They have over 60,000 volunteers, including firefighters, pilots, bee keepers and shepherds. Pilots!
5. They do fabulous conservation projects - including re-introducing the Large Blue butterfly to the UK, which was pronounced extinct in 1979.
6. One of their wardens LIVES IN A CAVE!

And 7. On a personal note, they offer a 'single parent family' membership. Now most organisations will offer a 2 adults, 2 children type deal - which is great. But ironically, when you're a single parent and money is tight, it is very rare to be offered any sort of money-saving deal. The National Trust do this, and by gum by jimminy, it really means a lot.

So thank you.

I am lucky enough to live in The West Country, a National Trust stronghold. On my doorstep are the lovely Lacock, where some of the Harry Potter films were shot;

Dyrham Park, a fabulous place for a blowy walk on the tops, a run around, picnic, or a deer spot if you're lucky.

Then there's Stourhead, the place that inspired Lady Penelope's residence in Thunderbirds.
Also the quirky Prior Park - beautifully restored gardens and a fabulous place for a great view of Bath and a peer at some Georgian graffiti on their palladian bridge.

You know when you watch a film that works on many levels, and can keep adults and children transfixed at the same time? National Trust properties are like that. They are the Despicable Me of the 'day trip' world. They provide the perfect antidote to playing with lego and trains and Sylvanian families; you all have a good time. Adults can admire the architecture, the planting, the views, the culture, the history - kids can run around and eat ice cream. And fall asleep in the car on the way home, dribbling.

Well done, The National Trust. We are lucky to have you.