Wednesday, 26 August 2015

An Open Begging Letter to Banksy

Dear Banksy,

I need to be upfront with you. This is purely a begging letter for tickets to Dismaland. I know it won't work, but if there's the tiniest chance that you'll see how dismal my life has been over the last few months, I thought you might take pity, and shower me with free tickets to the exhibition.

My run of dismality started three months ago, when my youngest son ran into an iron bar. His brain leeched a bit through his skull and that meant that, rather selfishly, it's taken him a long time to recover. I had to give up work temporarily which was a bit of a bother, as I'm a single parent.

A few weeks ago, I decided to take both my boys to Wales, camping. A bit of a treat. On the first night, my eldest son was hit in the face by flying stones, so we spent a jolly night in Haverfordwest A&E, waiting for him to be glued back together.

There was a lot of blood, and therefore a lot of washing.

My step mother died a year ago, my Dad has a brain tumour, and my partner had his hip replaced at the weekend.
And today, I took my boys to the Orthodontics department at the local hospital, where we were greeted by this.

Dismal.

We have tried to get tickets to Dismaland but have so far failed. I've got a feeling it would cheer us all up immensely.

And so, I wondered... is there anything you could do to sort of... shoe horn us in?

Here's hoping.

Lottie

secretdivorcee@gmail.com


Wednesday, 19 August 2015

How not to be a cool mum of teenagers

I always thought I would be a cool mum.  My rock solid foundation for this is:

a) I've met Steven Spielberg
b) I've met Rhydian
c) I've had a letter from the Queen about stamps

and d), the trump card: I can fly a plane. Yes, just like Carol Vorderman. But not in tight white trousers.

I mean, really - can there be anyone cooler?

Apparently, there can. According to my children, if there was a Cool Chart, I would be at minus infinity. It appears that my cool 'pilot points' are swiftly cancelled out by my inability to stop myself whooping loudly when excited. And by adding the suffix 'ie' to both my sons' names. And by far the worst - forcing them to explain what their teenage speak means, and then using it in public. Example:

Teenagers: *mutter mutter mutter* BAY *mutter mutter mutter*
Me: Oh, hello! That sounds like an interesting conversation. What does B-A-Y mean? Bay tree? Bay Watch?
Teenagers: *mutter effoff mutter* It's BAE, not BAY.
Teenagers: *stare*
Me: Well, anyway *shuffles uncomfortably* what does it mean?
Teenagers, looking sideways at each other: It means Before Anyone Else.
Me: Oh, super! So you're my BAEs? You really are! *sings* You're my BAEs, my lovely son BAEs, fa-la-la...*attempts to give them both a kiss*
Teenagers, escaping: OH MY GOD MUM YOU ARE SO UNCOOL!

I'm also an enthusiastic fan of regional accents. As I grew up in Birmingham, the Brummie is always a good one to bring out, as is the Sheffield, plus the West Country. Til the age of about 10, this vaguely amused the kids - or at least they pretended to laugh - but now, when I bring out my 'Brummie', eyes roll and the stock phrase comes out.

GOD MUM, YOU ARE SO RACIST!

This has confused me. I didn't think that putting on a funny accent was racist. But now my children, who are from an uberly politically correct world, have put me at a vague unease. So I now do fewer accents, and when they come out, they are only whispered. To the cat.

I can control the accents (to a point), but one thing I have no control over is crying when watching a film. Or the telly. Or hearing a sad piece of music. If we're in the cinema, and something sad happens, I can see them physically tense up next to me. I try to stop the tears and the sniffling and, sometimes, the choking sobs, but the more I try, the worse it becomes.

Occasionally they have moved seats to be rid of me. Taking the sodding popcorn with them.

Other uncool elements to my parenting: forcing them to text me when they're out and about; turning the WiFi off at 10pm and not letting them play Call of Duty; not upgrading their phones (because I can't afford it); inviting myself on trips to Alton Towers with them.

I understand what's happening. They are pulling at the elastic. They don't really need me anymore. Or rather, they don't want me. I am the boring authority figure, who doesn't understand what they are saying, who forces them to bed at a reasonable time, who was never young and who just doesn't understand.

I, on the other hand, can see them slipping away from me, and am trying to suppress the panic that is rising up inside me. Perhaps it is more pronounced because I am a single parent? Who knows. But I recognise that this is all part of them growing up, and getting on. I've got to gradually let go of the controls and give them more space. More responsibility. Freedom to cock up and find ways to get out of tight scrapes.

In the hope that, one day, they might laugh again at my jokes. Or say, "Hey mum - tell us about the time you met Rhydian. That's such a great story!" Or even, if I'm very lucky, ask for the 'Brummie' to be let out of its drawer.

And then the fun began...

Monday, 17 August 2015

Going glamping as a single parent - and enjoying it

It's bloody scary taking your kids away on holiday when you're a single parent. The weight of responsibility, which normally sits in balance on your shoulders, suddenly becomes crushing when you realise you are taking them to a place with none of your usual comfort blankets or safety nets.

So, for the last three years, I have taken Teen and Tween to the same place. It's a campsite in South Wales. A really special place, with only five pitches for tents, and four yurts.  Each pitch has a covered kitchen area - better equipped that my kitchen at home - and a place for a camp fire.
Our camp kitchen
Oh, and each yurt has a compost loo (you can see it in the background) which they refer to as 'en suite'. When you're falling into the nettles frantically trying to reach it in the night, I wouldn't necessarily call it an 'en suite'. But still, it's a hell of a lot better than making the trek up to the shower block at 4am with your middle-aged pelvic floor sagging under the weight of half a bottle of wine and some left over limoncello you found in the bottom of your bag.

The owners of the campsite have become friends. From the start, they were welcoming and warm, never asked about my personal situation, but always ready to help. As bushcraft experts, they encouraged my boys to have a go at fire building, den-making and knife work, while I looked on with half a brain's interest - the other half wondering how the eff I was going to make dinner without a grill.

Both boys loved making fires. At first, I was concerned that I had raised two startlingly large pyromaniacs, but no - they weren't interested in watching the fire, necessarily; it was more about building the fire structure properly, and the challenge of lighting it without firelighters. Sitting around a campfire in the dark is magical. We made popcorn on a makeshift grill thing. We told stories. And of course, we toasted many, many marshmallows.
Our roaring campfire

This year, we ordered a lobster from the owner's son, who worked with a fisherman some mornings. I'd never had lobster before; it's bloody expensive (£16 for a smallish one) and I'd heard it was fiddly to eat; in previous years a ridiculous luxury I couldn't afford. This year - it was still a ridiculous luxury I couldn't afford, but I ordered one anyway. Bollocks to it.

Lobster evening came. I left the boys constructing the Jenga fire, and went to collect the little fella. He was brought out of his tank, and cleanly 'dispatched' outside the toilet block (that's a knife through the head to you and me), goggle-eyed children (and adults) stopping to stare. I'm a meat eater, and I think it's important to know where our food comes from - but even I was a bit squeamish when his legs and claws were still pumping even after he'd been sliced in two.

We cooked it on the campfire (claws still opening and shutting) and, after ten minutes, we sat down to our king's feast.

After a lot of fannying about with nutcrackers and some resorting to the blunt end of the axe, I reckon we got less than a sausage amount of meat from the poor creature. It was a good job I'd cooked A LOT of potatoes. And I wondered to myself - is it all a bit 'Emperor's New Clothes'? I mean, it was tasty and all, but I'd have just as soon as had a couple of Gregg's sausage rolls for a fraction of the price.
Me, basking the Welsh sunshine on the beach

Anyway, we can now say that we've eaten - and cooked - lobster. And the experience - from live animal to meat in our stomachs in thirty minutes - was very Bear Grylls. Eye opening too, and probably more so to me (a product of Findus Crispy Pancakes and Lean Cuisine) than to the boys.

But it's not all campfires and carnivores. The site is close to White Sands - a beautiful bay near St David's, where surf is almost always 'up'. The boys love it, so I don my South Wales Summer Weather Gear, and watch with extreme trepidation, occasionally shrieking at them to stay in their depth.

One of these days, the stress of wrapping them in cotton wool is going to kill me.

And talking of stress, we did have an 'incident' this year which almost pushed my heart out of its ribcage. The boys had hooked up with some other (lovely) children and were playing Kick the Can in the dark one night. (Kick the Can is a bit like Ackee 1, 2, 3 to all those 80's parents. Ackee 1, 2, 3 is a bit like Hide and Seek to everyone else.)  Anyway, stones were thrown as decoys and one hit Teen just above the eye. Tween ran down to our yurt with the line, "MUM! J IS BLEEDING AND WE CAN'T STOP IT!"

Cue abandonment of everything sane and start running in vague direction of bleeding son, in total darkness, without a torch.

Head injury info in Welsh, anyone?
When I eventually reached Teen, at the top of the campsite, he was being looked after by other parents and had the most ENORMOUS zombie/mummy-type bandage around his head. Fuck, I thought, another sodding head injury. I fucking hate you, God of head injuries. Go and piss on someone else's family for a while.

What followed was a blur of loveliness from the adults ('are you on your own?' 'let me phone the hospital' 'I'll come with you') and a five hour wait in Haverfordwest A&E department. At 4.30am, after a ten minute gluing-together session, Teen, Tween, a lovely lady called Alice who I'd met 6 hours before, and me, drove back through the misty darkness together with the window open to keep me awake.

Although the weight of responsibility is sometimes crippling when you're a loan parent, when the shit hits the fan, people will help you. And you don't have to ask; there are good people out there - total strangers - who will see that you're struggling and will gladly offer what they can. So don't let that fear cripple you, as it sometimes does to me. Have faith that it will be ok. Because it will.

I booked an afternoon's kayaking. As Tween is twelve, I had to do it, too. And I was dreading it. What if I fell in and couldn't get back in the boat? What if I crashed into the rocks and died? What if? What if?

What a tit. Honestly - I had the best time. And actually, as the boys had been kayaking in sodding Turkey with my ex two weeks before (unbeknownst to be until afterwards), I think I enjoyed it more than them. I felt powerful, and in control. Mostly. We kayaked through gulleys and into caves. The sky was blue and the sea was azure. I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that I was unconsciously and loudly whooping, and making Tween in particular horribly embarrassed. He wouldn't talk to me for a while which upset me for a bit.

And then I thought, 'fuck it'. And whooped some more.

Holidays like this, where you live in each other's pockets, can be tricky. We got on each other's nerves. I felt ganged up on at times. They felt barked at occasionally. But we had some glorious times, too. Fabulous sunsets. Amazing starlit nights (including THREE shooting stars). Made new friends. Heard some wonderful stories. Played an awful lot of cards.

I've already booked for next year.









Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Facebook v Twitter

I was always a Facebook girl. Ooo, look at my wonderful children covered in spaghetti juice! Look at my vegetable that looks like a willy! Look at my new profile pic staring off to the side! Look! Look! Look!

The beauty of it is that people do generally look. And Like. And even comment. Because they all know you, and therefore put up with you. They're your real-life-friend, or have been in the past. Or they're your colleague, past or present. Or perhaps an old school chum. Whatever their relationship to you, you've invited them in because you're comfortable with them.

Being on Facebook is like sitting in your front room with all your bezzies and a few weirdos you've picked up along the way. In the corner, cousin Kevin is showing a few people his holiday slides. Over there, your boss is showing off a cake smothered in chocolate fingers that she's made for her son's 5th birthday. And lying on the sofa, half naked, is your best friend showing her newly flat stomach. It's friendly, warm... and safe.

Twitter, on the other hand, is an enormous room of darkness. As an anonymous blogger, I started on Twitter with no known contacts - so my room was empty and sodding scary. I was the new girl in the playground, and attempted to join in on the odd conversation - but the trouble was, as I had ZERO followers, it was assumed that I had nothing to say. (And actually, they were right. I was shit at it.)

I started by blasting on about my blog in a very Facebook way. LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT MY BLOG! ISN'T IT GREAT! Sounding very much like Rik from The Young Ones. Funnily enough, no one took any notice, because I was sodding irritating. It took me a while to realise that on Twitter, you either need to make friends by being yourself, in an honest, quirky way; OR you model yourself as an expert in your chosen field and tweet about that all day long. Well, there was no bleedin way I was tweeting about Divorce till kingdom come (I'd run out of things to say at midday, Day 1), so I had to learn to tweet about stuff in my life.

Gradually, the dark cavern started to populate. People brought in comfy chairs and stuck around for a while. I even (get this) properly MET some virtual Twitter people at Blogfest who turned out to be utterly lovely. And then, to cap it all, I WENT OUT with a virtual someone, too. So Twitter became my favourite thing in the world. I still didn't tweet enough to feel like I was a bona fide club member, but at least I felt like I'd done enough to know the rules.

But Twitter's a cold place when things go wrong. The relationship I was having broke down - we always knew it would eventually - and because of my own lack of self belief, it really, really hurt when I saw him flirting with others. Because that had been 'our' thing. It felt like every single Twitter user was standing in the room, and he was telling everyone how astonishingly attractive this lady was... and they were all looking at me, saying, 'so how do you feel about that?'.

This I suspect says more about me than it does about Twitter. And the ridiculous thing is that I had gone back to boyf by that point. So I felt loved; it's just that I also felt stupid, and small. Unpick that one if you will.

In an illogical womanly rage I removed the Twitter app from my phone and cursed it from high for all of 48 hours. I ran back over to Facebook, my faithful friend, and posted pictures of Italian waiters and vending machines that said 'Titti' on them. And sunsets. And the comments came flooding in and everything was suddenly ok.

I feel like I've gone a bit social media loopy. The good thing is that I'm off camping with Teen and Tween next week. There is no WiFi in that Welsh wood. So it's an enforced break from the virtual nonsense that messes with my head - although I suspect that I will be seeking out cafes to get my intense internet hit.

Coffee, anyone?

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Blame

It was my first office job. I was fresh out of university, and thought I knew everything.

What a twit.

My first challenge - and one that I've never succeeded in, by the way - was folding a letter so that it fitted into a window envelope, address showing. Two folds. Should be simple, with my background in origami flapping birds, but either the top, or the bottom, or perhaps none of the address showed in any of the letters. Occasionally I would rip open the envelope and start folding all over again, but this of course increased the creasage in each letter, proving that I was, in fact, an imbecile.

I blamed the Royal Mail for all the undelivered letters. I'd like to publicly apologise about that.


And then there was the forgetfulness. Sometimes, I would forget to post the letters, realising only a couple of days later, whereupon I would apply my franking machine expertise (self-taught) to turn back the date. Simple. Letter late? Royal Mail at fault. Again.

(They weren't.)

Even if you are never caught, everyone can tell that you're a blame-ducker. It's not a good thing to be. People can sniff you out. And the thing is, you'll never really get on. You won't be trusted. You won't be happy with yourself. You carry the blame like bricks in an invisible rucksack, and it will weigh you down.

I realised this after two or three years of working there. I can't really remember why - someone had caught me out, perhaps, and had just raised an eyebrow. Whatever it was, it was enough. I changed overnight. Decided that honesty was the best policy. Admitted that I didn't know everything (anything). Asked for help. Owned up when things go wrong. Suggested solutions. All of that.

And it's served me well at work. I've learned much, much more as I've been more open. I will take the blame where appropriate and will try harder next time. I understand that people fail - it's human nature - and so when it happens to someone on my team, I am more understanding. Most of the time.

Fast forward then, to Tween's recent accident in the playground. I've lost count of the parents who have said, "Are you going to sue?" SUE? That door frame had been in situ for at least 20 years. My idiot son was the first child to bang his head on it, and guess what? IT WAS HIS FAULT.

It wasn't the fault of the school. It wasn't the fault of the teacher. And I'm sure it wasn't my fault. It was HIS fault, because he mis-judged his own height - huge as it is - before he leapt upwards. It was an accident. Nobody else should pay for my son's split second error of judgement.

The US-led madness of our increasing blame culture is saddening. Britain has become the Compensation Culture Capital of Europe (whiplash claim, anyone? And not in a kinky way) and we need to step away from it. Now.

This article in the Daily Mail troubles me. We don't really know the ins and outs of what has gone on here but it just seems wrong that this guy is suing his friends for allowing him to sleep in THEIR house next to an open window. I know he's been through shit...but still.

I understand. Not all accidents are the same. There are degrees. If Tween had been paralysed by his accident, I might not be being so cocky now.

But this is more of a general statement about blame. We need to man-, or woman- up. We need to be honest and say, "Ah. I didn't see that slightly elevated slab in the pavement. I should have been watching. My mistake." There should be more of, "I know you crashed into the back of me. My neck did hurt like buggery and it was sore for a while after that. But actually, it's ok now and I suppose I did stop very quickly to avoid that cowpat in the road.."

We should just be nicer to each other. Accept that we all make mistakes. Take risks, but don't blame others if things go tits up. Admit that, sometimes, we are just being greedy.

Ease our own consciences.  Be better people.

Christ, I'm turning into a hippy.



Friday, 17 July 2015

Guiding our children

Teen has just made his GCSE choices for next year. Much to my chagrin, he has dropped all foreign languages. I did everything in my power to make him change his mind: sulk, stare, refuse to make cakes, undo all the bolts in his bed so it fell apart when he got in...but actually, after some rather pathetic standoffs which I was never going to win, I grudgingly backed down.

He is never going to be a linguist. He is painfully shy, so even if he went to Spain, he wouldn't utter a single palabra in Spanish (I looked that up). He'd rather stuff paella up his nose. And so, Computer Science is by far the better option. Because that's his calling. It's been obvious since he was two, when he beat me at Pac Man.

Git.

As a parent, I find it hard not to live vicariously through my children. Teen in particular is very different to me; the Arts are a foreign land to him, so why should he sit through countless piano lessons if he doesn't enjoy them? Even if he is damn good at playing (*bites knuckles with frustration*).

I need to learn from my own parents' mistakes. I come from a Science-based stable; Oxford Maths scholar for a brother (I know! No wonder I have issues), a 1st class Physicist for a Dad, Uncles and Aunts from Finance and other unpalatable - to me - numerical worlds. My mum, the arty one, was sadly absent from my life from the age of 14.  And so, although I was allowed to indulge in music - and even joined the National Youth Theatre for a year - my Dad always advised me to get a proper job. I desperately wanted to do something with the Arts, but I didn't know what, and I was scared of not making enough money. Of not having a place to live. Of living in a squat (because that's what all artists do, obviously).

And so, after university, I went to work in an IT company, qualified in HR, married a software developer.

It was fine for a while. But I wish I'd been braver. I wish I'd had the balls to say, "Fuck it! I'm going to live in a squat because I'm not going to die (although I might get a minor fungal infection), and I might have a chance at making it in whatever I want to fucking do in life. FUCK!'

And in fact, funnelling myself into a life expected of me did me no favours at all. In the end, aged 41, it all crumbled around me; I left my husband, became a pilot (a pilot!), changed my job, started writing, started taking photos. I don't live a traditional life now - and it suits me. But the change came at a cost to my family - my wonderful children - and I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

So I need to learn from my mistakes. I need to concentrate on what makes my sons tick and help them however I can. If this means finding work experience for Teen in some techie place where he can sit in a cubical and solve quadratic equations all day long - so be it. My life shouldn't seep into theirs.

I'm just the taxi driver.

And then the fun began...


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Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Banning the technology

It's felt like we've been living in the half light recently. Neither of my kids have made it to school this week; Tween with his head injury (I'm still unable to rouse him in the mornings), and Teen got some viral thing which gave him headaches and the occasional vom bout. So days have been whiled away on phones, tablets, PCs... And it's not just the boys; I too have been guilty of wasting hours online. My particular area of expertise is stalking ex boyfriends on Twitter, daydreaming about what could have been, searching for signs of new girlfriends.

By yesterday lunchtime, I'd managed to rouse myself from my electronic fug. CRAP, I thought: it's like we've all eaten the apple, and have been drugged for 100 years. (Bit over the top, I grant you.) So I walked into the front room and made this announcement:

TONIGHT, FROM 5PM, WE WILL HAVE A NO SCREEN EVENING. NOSE FOR SHORT.

AT 9PM, WE WILL WATCH SOMETHING TELEVISUAL TOGETHER. AT 10PM, THERE SHALL BE BEDTIME. *END*

I was prepped for a barrage of abuse. I had my best steely glare at hand, in case of mutiny.

But, as it happens, it wasn't needed. Both boys glanced up from their porn viewing (or whatever). "OK," they said, in unison.

Bloody. Effing. Nora. What the actual??? Was that all it took? Just a firm 'no', and they would capitulate? Why have I been so frightened of doing this before?

So. 5pm came and the tech was turned off. I made scones. Tween read. Teen - wait for it - tidied his room. I KNOW. Then we all played cards together. We made tea together. We ate tea together and complained about anchovies. We played cards again. Teen did his homework. We all sat down at 9pm and watched Child Genius. I had a little cry.

And then, at 10pm, the boys went to bed, with less than the usual grumbling.

This morning, I feel much better than I have done for a long time. I had a good night's sleep, and was woken by my alarm (unusual). Teen is also better, and has gone to school. Not so miraculous for Tween, who needs a bit more than a night without tech to recover - I couldn't wake him up for school. Still - tiny steps forward and eventually battles will be won. Probably.

They don't know this yet, but NOSE will be a regular thing. It showed me that I've lost it a bit, as a parent. I've lost that sense of family that I remember having, in bursts - usually on caravanning holidays - when I was a child. I'd assumed that, when your children become teenagers, they don't need you anymore. But that's not true. In fact, you all need each other. Just as much as before.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com