Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 - A Year of Regeneration

We-ellll.... Doctor Who's done it, so why can't I?

I am blatantly jumping on the '2013 Summary' bandwagon, and I wouldn't blame you if you just skipped over this piece, thinking 'nothing to see here'.  You'd probably be right.  I'm about to embark on a self absorbed journey into the last 12 months, nodding occasionally to world events, but mostly just revelling in my own doings.

It has been quite a year for me.  Last Christmas was my first as a single person for...well, for ever...and it felt good.  NYE was fine too, although that awkward bit at 12am - when everyone else was kissing their partner - was a bit sad.  Cold hearted January rolled in and I don't remember much about it, other than I was desperately trying to finish off my pilot exams before I ran out of money.  I had passed my written exams and just had the dreaded practical flight test to go.

I've written about the test before so won't bore you with the details; suffice to say that it took two attempts and a whole load of toughening up before I passed, with whoops of joy, on 8th February.  The day before I moved house.

My blood pressure must have been through the roof.  What the fuckity fuck was I thinking?  Moving house is stressful.  Moving house on your own, having just separated, is more stressful.  Moving house on your own combined with taking your effing NPPL is just crazy talk.

It all got done, of course.  The irony is that, now I am not part of the marriage machine, I cannot afford to go flying.  It is hideously expensive.  And in fact, part of me is glad that I have an excuse not to go up; I'm really not very good.  I get lost easily.  I don't take much notice of what's going on in the air, preferring instead to look at the prettiness on the ground.  I'm not great with the nobs and buttons in the cockpit.  I have the confidence of a squirrel.

The Luxor air balloon crash on February 26th had a particular resonance with me.  Nineteen people were killed.  Being a pilot holds a ridiculous amount of responsibility.

March came and went without much fanfare.  I was unpacking, probably, and painting my house white.  I don't remember much about it.  Maybe I was in some sort of zone.

April is a great month.  It's Springy.  Life starts appearing everywhere, properly.  It gets a bit warmer and generally everyone starts to feel a bit more lively.  Apart from Margaret Thatcher, that is, who died.

In May, the boyf and I went off in the campervan to the Gower and, in general, we had a ball.  Apart from that HUGE row we had on the beach, that is.  Oh.  I'd forgotten about that.

And while we were away, Andy Murray won Wimbledon.  Yes he bloody did!  Still pinching myself.  And here's a great pic to prove it.

July and August were surprising in that we had some genuinely glorious weather.  We went to Sidmouth with my Dad and his wife and we spent EVERY DAY in the outside pool.  We went camping to Wales and we had just ONE day of rain.  In fact, generally - it was hot.  We had a summer.

Added to which, a Prince was born, and I won the work sweepstake on his name (it was going to be George all the way).

Apart from the holidays, I remember most of the summer was spent in agonising negotiation with my ex, causing extreme money seepage to my solicitor.  By September we had knocked out an agreement, but not signed it.  Although I held my side of the bargain, it took another month for my ex to pay any maintenance.  I am still bitter.

Schools were back in September and the new agreement meant that I had the kids most of the time.  It was better - but exhausting.

As an aside, the most spectacular building opened - the largest public library in the UK, in my home town of Birmingham.  Ah...Birmingham, much maligned and infrequently visited, but full to the brim of the kindest, most honest and funniest people in our peculiar country.  Please go there, and see the library.  It is lovely.

In October I took my first photography commission.  A friend has an all-girl singing group, and she wanted me to take some photos.  I did, and by complete fluke, they were quite good.  On the back of this, I got two more commissions.  I've done one of them.  I was shit.

You win some, you lose some.

October and November are fogged up by kids' birthdays.  These are complicated when you're separated and barely speaking to their father.  Who arranges and pays for the parties (me, it seems), how do we buy the presents (oh, wait, I buy them) and the like.  Sitting with my ex at my boys' birthday parties, and pretending to be happy, was very hard.

Still, as a general rule, I quite enjoy November.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it may be my favourite month of the year.  Christmas is on the horizon, and my birthday is looming, too.  Bonfire night is always good craic.  All the good telly is in full swing and this year, the smell of a new Sherlock gives us all hope for the long, dark days ahead.

But on November 29th, a police helicopter came down in Glasgow and killed 8 people.  No one knows what happened.  No mayday call was heard, meaning that the pilot didn't have enough time to call in.  Too busy trying to save some lives.

And now, we're still just about in December.  The month catapulted away from us at some speed, like it always does.

I had a birthday, Nelson Mandela died.

I got divorced.

It was Christmas.

That just about sums it all up.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Ten Great Things About Being a Single Mum

Google 'Single Mum'.  Go on.  Actually, don't bother, because I can tell you exactly what results you'll get:

- First off, sponsored results: Dating sites specifically for single mums.  Cynical implication: we can't survive on our own.

- Second, a ream of financial advice sites.  Cynical implication: we're all broke, and can't manage our own budgets (which by the way, is blown to pieces in this ridiculous piece which implies that we're all on £70k a year.  We're not. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/8049211/The-benefit-of-being-a-single-mother.html)

- Third, a couple of single mum blog sites (I like this one:http://www.oldersinglemum.com/)

- And a whole stack of articles on JK Rowling, our poster girl and saviour, and proof that, even when you fall in this most heinous section of society, you can pull yourself up by the fingernails and become phenomenally rich.  And have your hair done properly.

This woman - yes you, Katie from Wiltshire - compelled me to write this piece.  She sums up the whole Daily Mail ethos of single mums.  In case you lose the will to live before reading the entire piece, the nuts and bolts of it is this; single mum on benefits, ensnared by the pressure of The Christmas Cosmos, felt like she had to spend money she didn't have on her children.  Took out 8 'payday loans' and now can't pay back the money.

She's been a bit of an eejit.

Katie overspent beyond her means - as many of us do, particularly at Christmas.  I bet she is a good mum, but is under the misguided impression that she needs to give her children things to make them happy, rather than telling them the cold hard truth that, actually, she doesn't have the money to buy them a huge amount and they'll have to make do with a bat, a ball, an orange and a £10 iTunes voucher this Christmas.  As well as some boxes and a whole heap of wrapping paper to play with.

I bet they'd have as good a time.

But I'm getting off the point a bit.  My point being that, according to the Daily Mail, 'Single Mum' = stupid and poor.  'Single Mum' also = pitiable.  And finally, 'Single Mum' = lowest echelon of society.

Which is a pile of poo and one of the reasons why I don't write for The Daily Mail.  (Not that I've ever been asked.  Which might be the main reason.  Harrumph.)

Anyway, I feel compelled to write a list of ten points on why us Single Mums should not be pitied, thought of as stupid, seen as benefits scroungers, or banned from couples-only dinner parties.  Here goes.

1. As a single parent, I've seen the bond with my children strengthen.  To be honest, when I was married, I felt like I wasn't a very good parent.  I thought that my unhappiness was because of my parental shortcomings; in fact, it was because of an unhappy marriage.  I'm not saying that now I'm a single parent, I'm the best mum in the world, but my parenting is more relaxed and - um - holistic.  I feel responsible and sometimes this weighs heavy - yet I roll with the good times too, and bask in the reflective glory of my kids.  Every time they make me laugh, are polite, try their hardest, are kind, say sorry, are clever, are brave...or sometimes just look lovely -  I am proud. Because I helped to shape that.

2. Being a single parent means that you are forced to develop a 'have-a-go' attitude.  Or at least, find help if the problem defeats you.  In other words; that drain isn't going to be unblocked by the man of the house - it's down to you to don the rubber gloves and get stuck in.  The Internet has become my best friend; YouTube tutorials exist about practically everything in the universe.  And as a back-up plan, I suggest making friends with a plumber.

3. Having a job as a single parent is a good thing.  Admittedly, it squeezes you - 99.6% of your time is either work or kids related - but your job gives you a welcome valve for letting off steam about your home life (and vice versa, of course).

I get very tired.  But I feel that I am supporting my family.  No one else.  Just. Me.

4. Money.  The first article which burbles on about a single mum earning £75k, and implying that most of this is through benefits - is complete hogwash.  I earn a pittance at work, compared to my salary pre-kids, so I do get some Child Tax Credit, equivalent to £400 per month - and very grateful I am for it.  I also get child benefit (£113 per month) and some child maintenance from my ex.  I am NOT swanning about buying Ted Baker dresses; I do have a summer holiday, but it is camping in Wales and staying at my mum's.  Christmas was mostly courtesy of The Pound Shop (and quite marvellous it was too).  I get my kids' clothes in the sales - and mine too, come to that.  I rely on birthdays to get vouchers to replace any white goods.

I am certainly not complaining though.  Having less money is not an issue, because now I am in control of precisely what I spend.  I can switch broadband providers if I am unhappy.  I choose my own car insurance.  I do not have to go cap in hand to my husband if my phone has broken and I want another one.  I just save up, and sort it out myself.

It doesn't sound exciting, but being in control of your own finances fills you with a sense of power.  You just need to be sensible and a bit boring - unlike Katie from Devizes, who has sadly learned her lesson the hard way.

5. It's peaceful at home.  I am under less stress.  I don't feel like I have to hide from my husband, and that actually, it's ok to spend time with my kids playing board games or the xBox or watching The Big Bang Theory - but it's also ok to say 'no thanks boys, I'm tired, so I'm just having a rest in my room for a bit'.  They get it.  My husband didn't.

6. Raising kids alone gives you a massive sense of fulfilment, and achievement.  They will pretty much always follow their own path but your advice and mentoring will have constant effects on the decisions they make.  Of course, it's not just you that they look up to - they are surrounded by all sorts of adults in their daily lives - but you are their rock solid foundation.  And it feels like that.  And that is good.

7. I am happier as a single parent.  The boys pick up on it.  I can honestly say that they are happier too.  Don't believe people when they say that splitting up a marriage is harmful to the children; if you are loving and honest with them, and act like a grown-up, they will be fine.

8. I don't have to see any in-laws any more.  I know. I am a bad person.

9. Holidays.  I admit it - I was scared of going on holiday at first, with the kids in tow.  The sense of responsibility was all-engulfing; so many things could go wrong, and I imagined them all.  And we were only going to Wales.

But we had a fantastic time.  Yes, it was tiring - physically and mentally - but my mindset was that, if they were happy, then I was happy.  So we just did what they wanted to do, which was pretty much constant body-boarding.  And making fires.  And playing hide and seek.  And reading.  And digging holes.

It works because you love everyone that you're with.  There's no tension because you agree to do what they want during the day - as long as they help you with the evening meal and the washing up.  That's the deal and everyone knows it.  Add to this the odd hot chocolate and marshmallows round the camp fire, and you've got the perfect holiday.

10. A sense of personal success.   Of course, it doesn't go as smoothly as I've suggested in all of the points above.  There are arguments, sticking points, sad times and illness.  But overcoming these, finding solutions yourself and generally muddling through, is ultimately hugely satisfying.  If there were a single mum's badge, it would say "I've had a go and mostly succeeded.  My kids are everything to me.  I work hard, am shattered, but am proud.  And I don't have to see my in-laws any more."

Obviously it would have to be a big badge.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Christmas Message to the Airlines

Yesterday, Christmas Eve, was not a good day for the airlines.  Flooding at Gatwick airport meant that they had to contend with a power failure, as well as the adverse weather, and delays morphed into cancellations.  By 2pm, 54 Easyjet flights had been cancelled.  If we put a finger in the air and say that each flight had around 150 people on it, that's 8,100 adults and children who didn't make it to their Christmas destinations.

Now.  We all know that these things happen.  We are unlucky if we're caught up in it, but the lives of those people sent away yesterday probably won't be significantly altered in the long term.  They will probably get some form of compensation somewhere down the line.  They might have a chicken in the freezer that they can defrost, or some nice neighbours who will take pity on them.  Come Boxing Day, they might reflect that actually, they didn't have such a bad time after all.

Except.  Except...if the airlines had been upfront with their customers, using honest and accurate lines of communication, and sending them home the minute that they knew things were going to go tits up - then that's ok.  Annoying, yes, but in the end - there's nothing to be done.  Everyone can see it's been chucking it down and there's no leccie.  It's pants - but at least there's Dr Who on the telly.

But they don't.  They never do.  I haven't quite worked out why this is, but it must be to do with the financials.  My guess is that they are struggling to keep the flight 'live', even if it's delayed, because cancelling a flight probably means that they have to pay a whopping fine to - somebody.  So behind the scenes they try all means possible to find a plane that can take off within a couple of hours of its allotted time.

Imagine this.  OneWing Airlines is in the shit.  The flooding has meant that its flight schedule is up the swollen creek without a paddle.  Its three Customer Service advisors are being paid time and a half (possibly up to £9 per hour) to deal with the increasingly angry hoards, braying at the front desk.  Behind the scenes, they draw straws to see who has to go out and face them.  They don't know the full story or what's happening, or worse, have been misinformed, and have to deliver the bad news that - well - they don't really know when the flights will leave.  They are poorly trained.  They are not paid enough.  They are overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, the passengers are staging a revolt.  Their initial annoyance has turned to anger. They want - need - to get to Newcastle/Paris/Malaga for Christmas.  They have been waiting for hours.  Probably with small braying children.  They haven't had anything to drink.  They are afraid to go to the toilet in case they miss their flight.  The crush is hideous.  Things start to turn ugly.

The three Customer Service advisors are scared.  Instead of apologising, they are defensive, and start shouting.  One of them takes the decision to call in the police.

And now suddenly, an airport check-in area on Christmas Eve has become a military-like zone, controlled by men with guns.

Merry Christmas.

And so here is a thought for all airlines, whether cut-price or full-price.  Why not set yourself apart from the others by becoming the 'John Lewis' of your type?  Be the airline which prides itself in communication.  Make sure that, at pinch point times like yesterday (adverse weather, strikes and the like), you have one person who knows what the bloody hell is going on, and is trained to deliver the news to your customers swiftly and honestly.  Make sure you pay them well.  And to all your waiting customers - from the off, give them free drinks, maybe a mine pie or two at Christmas.  Hire more staff and tell them to smile.  If you pay them properly, maybe they will smile anyway.  Yes, it will cost you more.  But if you get a good name for customer service, you can put flight prices up a little bit and people will still book with you.  I know!  It's amazing!  Because - get this - good customer service is still important to us all.

Be honest, and communicate.  We all know that shit happens.  But if you treat us like human beings, we tend to make the best of it.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Merry Christmas! You are now divorced.

On Thursday I received my decree absolute.

This is one sheet of A4 which says, in a nutshell, you've buggered everything up and are now single.  Some people, I know, celebrate when this comes through (Absolut Vodka party, anyone?) but I feel sad.  Just sad.

This wasn't meant to happen in my life.  I didn't sit at my desk at school and think "Yes!  I'm going to be a famous singer in Madonna's backing troupe, get married, and then GET A DIVORCE!  It will be FAB!"  I thought I'd select a handsome, funny and kind husband, have two children, who will then have many grandchildren, and we would all have marvellously chaotic and colourful Christmases with overdone sprouts and too many Quality Street.   We would all sing carols around the much loved but slightly out-of-tune piano  There would be candles.  And snow.  Lots of snow.

Well.  Perhaps that will happen one day - to a point at least.  But there will never be that core family that you see in films; from It's a Wonderful Life to Home Alone - the nuclear family rules at Christmas.  They argue and shout and pull crackers and cry with happiness and watch telly and get in each other's way and snore and occasionally dribble.  I would like to be in that family.

My ex has said that he doesn't want to see the kids this Christmas.  He has not decided to to this because he doesn't want to see the boys; no.  He has done this because, taking them for a day means, in his eyes, that I get an extra 'day off'.  And I cannot be having that, can I.  So, in the true meaning of 'cutting your nose off to spite your face', he is not seeing them at all.

So.  My boys and I will spend Christmas Day with my Dad and his wife, my uncle, and a family friend.  We are all going out for a posh meal and no doubt the boys will be made a right royal fuss of.  On Boxing Day we are off to a friend's house for mulled wine and rounds of Stille Nacht (she's German, innit).  And then follows several days of Xbox, DVDs, walks, board (bored) games, friends, lie ins, late nights.  Topped off by NYE at a friend's house with boys the same age.

I hope the boys enjoy themselves.  I remember Christmas being a magical time.  So magical in fact, that I refuse to desist trying to keep it alive by making reindeer food, leaving something for Santa and trailing as many fairy lights as I can inside and outside the house.  I have stockings, sacks, hats, crackers, cake, mince pies, stollen, panetone (don't even know what that is), and Baileys.  I sing carols until I'm blue in the face.

I try too hard.

Tomorrow is my last working day and then I'm free as a bird until January 3rd.  So let me take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, whether married, single, divorced, poorly, sad, or full or life and laughter.  I hope you have a fantastic time with your loved ones.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The weight of responsibility for a single parent

I took my youngest son, 11, to rugby practice today.  It was his last session; although he's a tall and broad boy, so apt and seemingly perfect for the sport, he hates it.  He hates getting dirty, hates the shouting and the testosterone, hates the prospect of getting hurt.

And so I stood on the sidelines in the rain watching him and his team mates playing against a side that were so rough and dirty, they made me want to stride onto the pitch and punch the lights out of every single one of them.

I am not given to hurting little boys, but when an eleven year old punches another eleven year old in the face, breaks his nose, laughs and walks off - your whole body screams with revenge.

And when a scrum falls over and you see a boy from the opposing team stamping with full on studs on another boy's twisted knee, and then you hear this boy's shrieks that he cannot cope with the pain, that his knee is on fire, and he is writhing in agony - you feel the desperate need to impale Stud Boy with the tip of your umbrella.

My son was also at the bottom of this scrum and at first I thought the shrieks were his.  I wanted to step in and throw all the boys off, to see if I could literally get to the bottom of it, to uncover my boy, to comfort him and shield him and somehow make him better.

It wasn't him.  But seeing the pain in this boy's eyes, and the shock and hurt in his father's eyes, made me cry.

And tonight.  I have put my boys to bed.  But my youngest has a bad headache; he never has a headache, so surely this means that he got a knock in the match, and now has a blood clot?  Or perhaps he has meningitis?  Or a tumour?

The weight of responsibility, when you are the lone adult, weights heavy.

It is 11.30pm.  I will go and check that he is still breathing.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Friday the 13th

Remember this date.  The 13th December.  It is on this day, every single year, that I officially lose the plot.

I look back at the last blog post ('I Love December') - full of talk of log fires and tinsel and sodding Christmas cheer - and I think that I must have been on drugs.  (I wasn't.)  Now, just a few days later, the outpouring of Nativity Plays, Christmas parties, end of term exams, snot, tiredness, shopping, traffic, cards to write, phone calls to make, food to make/buy/plan for - coupled with a new cat and failing car tyres - added to the pressure of Christmas carol concerts and attempting to ward off voice-damaging colds with multiple sachets of God awful Fisherman's Friends... means that I've had enough.

It's the same every year.  The beginning of the December laughs and bounces its way into my life, with a birthday and the promise of something magical about to occur.  The John Lewis advert appears and it reminds me of all the good in the world, or Watership Down, or something.

But then, around 10th December, something odd starts happening.  I suddenly find it difficult to finish sentences.  Or even start them.  And multi-tasking becomes a thing of the past - a thing of November in fact - and the small tasks in life take longer and longer to complete.  I'm still doing washing up from three days ago, for example.

If I find I have a spare ten minutes, I treasure it like Smeagol with The Ring; I take to my bed, shut the door, and hide.  I have stopped chastising the boys for fighting.  I don't have the energy.  Instead, I have started to just move away into another room, put the radio on, and pretend I can't hear what they're doing.

This is bad parenting.

I'm wondering if what I really need is to hibernate.  I may be spinning off the John Lewis advert again, but that bear - is anyone else jealous that he can just sleep all the way up to Christmas?  And that the hare seems to have organised everything whilst he was snoring?

I would like a hare in my life.

It will pass.  There is a week of the school term left.  And then we are all on holiday.  There will be much jollity, mess, fighting, laughter.  I will force the boys to come on long, cold walks with me.  There will be family visits.  We will all catch up on sleep.  And before we know it, the gorging of Christmas will be over and January will be upon us, with its bleakness and blackness and Puritan resolutions, diets and sodding pilates.

So let's enjoy it while we can.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

I Love December

I was just about to publish yet another post complaining about my ex.  Bla bla bla selfish bastard....bla bla bla doesn't want to see his own kids.... bla bla bla communicates like a doorstop...bla bla bla...

But no, I thought.  Sod that for a game of soldiers.  It is December, and that means two things.  1 - it'll be Christmas shortly.  And 2 - even more shortly, it will be my birthday.

When I was growing up, birthdays were magical times to me; one day in an entire year which is yours for breakfast in bed, slobbing and slobbering, eating, drinking, seeing friends if you like or not if you prefer, and unwrapping presents which, although not particularly expensive, have been carefully thought about and are always a wonderful surprise.

My husband was shit at this.  His piece de resistance was buying me a singing ice cream scoop for my 30th birthday.  It had broken in transit, and didn't even sing.

I really should have divorced him then.

At Christmas time, when the kids were little, I would insist on travelling up and down the country to see my relatives.  I loved it.  I loved all of my family, particularly my Granny, who would always sit with me and play the piano and sing.  I even loved the travelling, particularly at night and off the motorway, when we could peer into people's windows and watch their Christmas family tableaux, laugh at inflatable snowmen on garage roofs and stop in awe at houses lit up from floor to roof with thousands of multicoloured, flashing bulbs.

I have to admit being less enthused in visiting my husband's parents, who I found difficult to talk to.  I felt mean for allowing myself to be like this and would spend the entire visit in a tussle with myself, telling myself to be a better person.  Until it was time to go home, and the relief would suddenly make me into a nicer, more generous person again.

And the whole present thing reared it's ugly head again.  I would try hard to come up with an imaginative present that my husband would actually find useful; he used to either buy something inappropriate, or something I'd specifically asked for - or just told me to buy it myself.

I know I sound selfish, spoilt.  And I probably am, a bit.  But it wasn't the physical lack of present that I missed - it was the lack of thought that he'd spent on me.  Every year I would drop hints - eternity rings, flowers, leather boots - and every year I would get a pair of gloves, a bath bomb, a bottle of perfume I'd never heard of.

So my point is this.  Now I am, in effect, alone, then my expectations are zero.  Which means that Christmas is a very happy time indeed.  The kids and I will see family.  We'll watch an awful lot of crap TV with the log fire blazing.  We'll go on walks.  The boyf might pop round.  An awful lot of food will be consumed.

And this year we will have a cat to keep us company.  She is coming from the local rescue centre and we love her already.

I cannot wait.  Merry Christmas everyone.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Confronting the inevitable

Last night, I was waiting outside a theatre for my friend to turn up.  I'd bought tickets to say a tiny token of thank you for the support she'd shown me over the past year.  I was really looking forward to it.  And bloody early.

I flapped about in the cold, trying to keep warm, and took a glance into the theatre foyer where all were enjoying a mulled wine or three.  Then suddenly - fuck me! - it's my ex!  What is he effing doing here?  He HATES the theatre!  He was heavily involved in a conversation with a much shorter being, who was being shielded by the masses.  Bloody hell, thought I.  This is awkward.  What do I do?

And so, lacking in the knowledge of Ex's Etiquette, I sent him a text to say that I was here, too.

After a couple of minutes, my friend turned up and we went inside.  My ex had by this time magically disappeared (a bit like the shop owner in Mr Ben), and my friend and I agreed that the five minutes before kick-off could be pleasantly spent at the bar.

I'd just got my drink when I spotted him again.  The multitudes had thinned out by this point and it was very easy to see his companion; a short, slim, blonde lady, mid 40s, quite attractive, bit posh looking.  Holy shit.  A date.

Now, first let me say this.  My ex is allowed to date.  I'd go so far as to say that I'm pleased he's dating.  For me to get the willies about it would be hypocritical.  But my reaction was odd.  I grabbed my friend by both arms and span her round like some manical morris dancer, making sure that my back was to him.  What was I doing?

"What's he doing?" I hissed to my friend.  "What's she like?" "How old is she?" I couldn't contain myself.  I was excited.  It was the strangest reaction; I wasn't unhappy (why should I be?), I didn't feel an ounce of jealousy or regret or anything like that.  I did feel a bit odd.  And I remember doing a lot of hopping about from foot to foot.

After five long minutes of glorious spying, my ex disappeared up the steps to the cheap seats whilst we made our way to the stalls.  The realisation that we were in the front row (hallelujah!) obliterated all thoughts of my ex and sent us both into happy swoons for the rest of the evening.

My one overriding thought from the experience was that she looked like a nice person; which meant that she would be kind to my kids, should things go well for my ex and her over the coming weeks.

And I hope they do.  For all our sakes.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

My 100th Post

I can't quite believe that I've had one hundred spoutings.  Some nonsensical, some practical, most pretty much 'of the moment' and just reflecting what I was feeling at that particular time of that particular day.

But perhaps that's what blogging is all about?  An instantly shareable diary of our feelings, a way to offload the crap and a way to spread the joy of what's happening in our lives.  Sometimes people are interested and sometimes not, and we watch the stats bounce up and down with elation and deflation.  Occasionally a post is picked up by Mumsnet or Britmums, and a huge peak in that all important readership graph makes us feel like real writers - we could write books, for God's sakes; we're not writing bollocks after all!

Well.  If we are or if we aren't writing bollocks, for me, this blog has helped me get my thoughts in order.  It's found me friends - talented bloggers in similar situations, or who are writing about different issues and problems in a sensitive and funny and engaging way.  It's got me in hot water (remember hot flying examiner who found me out?  Yowch...), and it's made me re-consider what I do for a job.  I'd love to be a writer.  One day.  When I'm a grown up.

This blog started as a pure 'How I got divorced' blog, but it soon morphed into a reflection of my real life, which wasn't all lawyers and arguments and spreadsheets.  It was kids and boyfriends and hangovers and work and family and sadness and friendships and vodka.  As all lives are.  Which I think is a healthy thing; you can't bang on about how horrible your husband is ALL the time.

So I just wanted to say a big thank you for reading, for taking interest, and a huge sloppy kiss to anyone who has left a comment on here over the last few months.  And just because I can, here's a photo of some focaccia bread (which I truly only made because it sounded rude) which came out of my half working oven today.  It didn't taste very nice - Paul Hollywood would have spat it out - but it looks ok in the pic.

Night all.  I'm off to enjoy I'm a Celebrity because I'm that way inclined. xxx

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The joys of single parenting

You know, I don't for a second regret leaving my husband.  Not for a second.  But I have to admit that this single parenting malarky is a lot harder than I expected.

After a while, you feel a sort of grinding, perpetual tiredness that comes with the responsibility of being the grown up ALL THE TIME.  You're always 'on', even when you've snuck away to bed for 15 minutes - in theory, to 'power nap', in practice, to listen to the kids bang eight bells out of each other downstairs.  There's always something sodding domestic to do, and of course you need to be in a state of readiness to turn on your sympathetic/joyful/pleased/shocked/stern face for the kids at any given time.

This week has been tough.  Saturday was a visit to my Dad and his partner, who has Motor Neurone Disease.  My brother was there too, with his family (see previous post).  Added to this was the complication that the boyf had to go to hospital for an operation, and needed some looking after.  As I was unable to get there, I had to text his ex wife to ask her for help.

I found this stressful.

The boys objected to going out on Sunday, so it was proclaimed a day of rest - which of course means a day of fighting, arguing, shouting, hitting, crying.  My period was a day late.

I found this stressful too.

Monday was the school run and a full day at work, followed by a lovely choir rehearsal.  The kids were at their dad's.  This was NOT stressful, but the sleepless night that followed was.  My period was two days late.

Tuesday - work, followed by endless scurrying around dropping the kids off at cricket, swimming, sock darning...  Period now three days late.  Woke at 4am and took a pregnancy test in the half light of my digital clock.  Negative.  Thank fuck.

Wednesday - school run followed by work, followed by school run and parents' evening (my ex didn't bother turning up, obviously).  Period came on with a tsunami-like rush, soaking through my knickers and leggings.  I left a red buttock imprint on the school chair.

I'm now lying in bed having had a discussion with my 13 year old about the merits of homework, how to build a model of a Maglev train, how he hates his brain, how nobody gives him any attention at school.  My back hurts.  The washing up is waiting for me downstairs.  Boyf's wife is at his house making him tea.

I am too tired to be stressed.  In a minute, I'm going to pour out a vodka and send the kids to bed.  Then, dressed in my old scummy but glorious dressing gown, I'll sip my drink, wish I had some Maltesers, and watch some shit telly until sleep overwhelms me and I wake myself up with an enormous snore.

Welcome to the life of a single parent.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Wake up! I'm texting to tell you that you're chucked!

I was half awake at 6.45am this morning, enjoying the thought of another twenty minutes of snooze time before having to get up and make some sort of forced smiley contact with my boys over Shreddies and tepid coffee.

Anyway, my phone lit up silently for a few seconds, heralding an announcement from the boyf.  This is what it said (stet throughout):

I can't do this Lottie - I'll talk later if you want but I can't do this on am own you can't help me and I can't help you / you need to find seone better. Sorry

This man is usually articulate and grammatical.  He frequently moans but this seemed like...something else.

I didn't know what to do.  I felt like I wanted to go to him but I live over 100 miles away, have two children to look after and work to go to.  Also, his text said (I think) that he didn't want to see me. And we all know that he doesn't want to see my kids.

A bit of background: the boyf had a retinal detachment a few weeks ago, had it sewn back on, then went to Paris with his daughter this week.  While he was there, it became dis-attached again.  He spent £700 getting back to the UK to go to Moorfields Eye Hospital, arriving there at 11pm.  They looked at him and said they couldn't operate until the following day, so, instead of spending another £200 on a room at the local Premier Inn (half term price hike), he wandered the streets all night with his massive backpack and one working eye.  He turned up as instructed at 6.30am at Moorfields, waited all day for his op, but was sent away at 6pm.  No dice.

When he got home he had an 'episode' or, as we used to say in the Midlands, he went mental.  He texted me yesterday and used the 'C' word 7 times.  He said he had punched holes through doors and walls, smashed things, pull shelves down.

He has depression.  He has been on a wrecking crusade before, but the text this morning made me worried.
So worried that - dramatic pause - I texted his ex wife.

This is the first time I've ever made contact with her.  She has made plenty of contact with me (see previous posts) but I'd never texted back.  But I know that she loves him, would do anything for him, and I wondered if either she or his daughter would phone him to check he was ok.

She came back to me within minutes, simply saying:

I too am deeply concerned.  He's not good around people when he's in a crisis but we'll go over now and do what we can.

And that's exactly what she did.  She and her daughter went round, got him out of bed, made him a cup of tea and tidied up as best they could.  She sent me two more texts, telling me that she was there, and that he was well rested, and that they would go to hospital with him if necessary.

I've spoken to boyf since and she did go with him to the hospital today and waited with him for hours - until he was sent away again.

She is a good woman and loves her husband, despite everything he has done to her, without any sort of edge.  He is a very, very lucky man to have her.

On the phone tonight, the boyf has said that he doesn't want to be the sort of person who needs help, and that I should look for someone else.  (Obviously, I have been looking for someone else.  For quite a while.  But no one seems to be popping up.)  The irony is that I would actually delight in helping him.  If only I didn't live so far away, with two little beings to look after.

He may have his op tomorrow and his wife may be back, holding his hand.  This is weirding me out somewhat but he needs someone and I am not prepared to chuck everything up in the air and run to his aid.

Tomorrow I'm half expecting a text saying he's back with his wife.  It'd the best thing for him.  And I will shrug and move along, searching for the next unsuitable man in my life.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Being Courageous

For 39 years, I lived a simple, middle class life.  I rarely stepped out of my comfort zone.  I did as I was told.  An adventure for me was asking a waiter for a coffee in France, or doing a presentation at work, or perhaps buying a red coat.

But then, everything started to go a bit twonk.  I gradually broke free of sensible living and become a risk taker, a trier of new things, a bit 'devil may care'.  I had an affair. (Stupid and dangerous.)  I learned how to fly.  (Stupid, dangerous AND expensive.)  I cycled and cycled for miles and miles.  (Actually quite sensible and jolly good for firming the thighs.)

When I turned 40 I decided that I would have a year of saying 'yes' to everything.  This got me in some deep water, but also meant that I tried Ceroc, went to gigs on my own, met lots of interesting people, and tried some interesting sexual positions.

I had one day off in the week and I decided that it would be my adventure day.  I would fly or go somewhere or do something entirely different.  I would scare myself on purpose.

Looking back, it is obvious now that I was looking for an escape to my depressing married life.  Instead of finding the motivation to unpick what was going wrong at home, I'd rather throw myself off a cliff with a piece of cloth on my back.  Some might say this is called 'running away'.  I think they might be right.

The bravest thing I have ever done is make that decision to leave my husband.  I'm not saying it was right, or that I handled it well, or anything like that - but when your future is now a yawning void and not the lovely safe middle class bubble that you envisaged, you feel like your safety net has been whipped away and there's the very real possibility that you may be spending next Christmas round a bin on fire outside Sainsburys.

Or Aldi.

This article by the Huffington Post made me smile.  Facing your fears is sodding hard.  It's frightening.  But it makes you feel alive.  And if you do it again and again, it gives you building blocks of confidence that you can use in your daily life.

Do you know, I never went inter-railing as a teenager?  I never travelled on my own. Also - I never asked questions in class - at school and university - because I was afraid of looking a fool.

I regret these things.  So when my kids are old enough to be left alone, I'm going to sodding well travel the world.  And I'm going to ask lots of questions along the way.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Illness and Families

My stepmother has motor neurone disease.  It's a disease that attacks the nerves in the brain and the spinal cord, and makes everything a bit shit, then a lot shit, and then you die.

There is really no good news.

There are four different types of the disease and Stephen Hawking has one of them.  He is being kept alive by God knows what - it just shows how unpredictable the disease is.

My stepmother, Anne, has Progressive Bulbar Palsey (PBP).  The first signs were that she was slurring her speech.  My sister in law (more on her later) phoned me to say she thought she had a drinking problem.  I thought that perhaps she wore false teeth and they were giving her some gip.  She also started to have problems swallowing and weirdly, found that she was struggling to get out of the swimming pool, but couldn't quite work out why.

After tests, tests and more tests, she was diagnosed with MND.  Prognosis: three year.  How do you come to terms with that?  Still in your 60s, recently retired to enjoy a well earned rest in life, fit and, until now, well.  It beggars belief.  Whatever that means.

So after talk of Dignitas my Dad and Anne started the long road of getting on with life.  Now about 18 months from diagnosis, Anne's tongue function has pretty much given up the ghost.  She can't swallow much at all, and that includes her own saliva, which constantly drips from her lips.  She chokes regularly on food and spittle.  She cannot talk at all.  She has had a PEG operation - has had a tube put into her stomach through her belly button - which she can fix to bags of nutrients which keep her going.  She uses a ventilator at night to help her breathe.  She can just about still walk with a stick, but she clings onto my Dad as her balance is terrible.  About 50 metres is her lot.  Just keeping alive is exhausting, and she sleeps during the day,

It will just get worse.

She, amazingly, still laughs with my Dad about the things we all laugh about in life.  She uses an iPad to talk, Stephen Hawking stylee, and is the faster 'dibber' in the west.  (The dibber is the pen thing you use with the iPad.  Not sure if this is a real word or if I've just made it up.)  She has lost weight and looks ill, but she still has her hair done every week, wears full make up, dresses beautifully - and she and my Dad play bridge three times a week.

The physical symptoms are sodding awful, but the onset is slow, and Anne seems to cope with each new challenge thrown at her.  But it's not just the physical stuff that she is expected to overcome.

A family occasion

My Dad and Anne met up with my brother, his wife and their two children for a meal some months back.  There was no one else in the restaurant.  Anne started to choke.  My Dad, used to this, carried on regardless, talking about someorother.  Anne continues to choke.  My brother and his wife start to get concerned.  My niece starts to cry.  My nephew runs to the toilet.  Anne's colour changes.  My Dad carries on talking.

Eventually Anne recovers and conversation returns to the table.  My Dad doesn't refer to it, appears not to have noticed.

My brother and his wife, instead of feeling compassion for Anne, choose to feel upset that their children have been put through this episode.  After a few days discussing it, my brother phones my Dad and tells him that Anne 'frightened the children' and the whole episode was 'horrific', so they did not want to eat a meal with her again.

My Dad, so upset by this, temporarily loses his powers of tact and logic, and instead tells Anne exactly what was said.

Can you imagine how absolutely fucking shit this must have been?  My brother might as well have spat in Anne's face.  She not only has MND, and has to cope with all that entails, but is now an object that frightens children.  She is horrific.  A monster.

My brother, an Oxford graduate with two houses, a great job and supposedly a perfect family, is a twat.  Anne is a wonderful woman, has been more of a mother to me than my own mother, is kind and generous to my boys, and is going through a world of shit.  And my brother, the selfish tit, has in a moment shown that he lacks the humanity of a dung beetle.  I am crying as I write this, because I am ashamed of him.

I don't know where our family goes from here.  My brother has realised his mistake and, although he's not actually apologised, is phoning my Dad regularly.  Which is something.  But Anne never wants to see him or his family again.

The sad thing is that 'never' will probably be less than a year.

To find out more about motor neurone disease, visit the excellent website of the MND Association: http://www.mndassociation.org/

Follow me on Twitter: @secretdivorcee

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Ten things to consider before separating

Are you ready to leave?

All relationships go through ups and downs.  You're cross because he hasn't put the bins out AGAIN.  He's cross because you're talking over the football.  You both don't talk to each other for a while.

But usually, time - the great and ancient healer, just like TCP - knits everything up nicely and you forgive, he forgets, and you slowly slide from your parallel living to a joint relationship again.

In some relationships, time doesn't heal.  Instead of rubbing along with each other, you end up giving each other friction burns with your constant arguing.   Or worse - not speaking at all.

You've heard it all before, so I won't go on.  If you are in this type of relationship, there may come a point where you say to yourself, "I can't go on.  I need to leave."  And it really does feel like a breaking point, a tipping point.  It feels like you're at the pinnacle of a mountain, and you have nowhere to go.  You need to jump off.

Before you boldly step into the blue, just pause for a minute.  Have you done everything you possibly can to save this marriage?

Unless you're in an abusive relationship (in which case, just get the hell out of there), consider the following before making any rash moves.

1. Do you love him?

If you don't love him, but choose to stay, things are going to be difficult from now on.  You might be a better person than me and be able to grit your teeth and get on with it.  I refused to consider being with someone who I didn't love for the rest of my life.  Think about this question hard before moving onto the next, as love and respect and all that jazz are the fundamental building blocks of any relationship.  Without them, unless you find a way around it, your marriage will crumble.

2. Communicate

Let's say, when all the shit is stripped away, you love him.  Really try and talk to him about your problems.  Encourage him to open up to you.  Get a babysitter, go out for a nice meal (but don't get hammered).  See if, between you, you can build an action plan to get you back on the right track.

3. Seek relationship counselling

Didn't work?  Consider going to marriage counselling.  We didn't do it because my ex didn't want to, but I know others sing its praises.  It depends heavily on how good your counsellor is.  If you can get a personal recommendation, all the better.

4. Check your finances

No good?  Still unhappy and about to jump?  Wait.  Check your finances.  Can you afford to leave?  Check his finances, too.  If you are serious, and he is the main earner, be a bit underhand and make copies of statements, P60s and pay slips.  If you have children, check whether you'll be eligible for any benefits as a single parent.  If you think you will be the main custodian of the children, use the Child Maintenance Calculator to work out how much he will pay you per month.  Make sure that Child Benefit is paid into your account.

Consider cobbling together an Escape Fund.  If things go totally tits up (see no. 7), you might be glad of it.

5. Find a good solicitor and use your free half hour

If you leave, your solicitor will become your best friend for MONTHS.  He or she will also suck up a vast amount of your money.  So choose wisely.  Get a recommendation if you can.  Most solicitors offer at least half an hour for free.  There is nothing to stop you from seeing every damn solicitor in your town and getting a large amount of free advice, before choosing the one you feel most comfortable with.

6. Tell your close family or a friend

If you're going to do this, you'll need emotional - and possibly financial - support.  Tell someone you trust and respect, if you haven't already.  Talk through the whole thing with them.  Tell them how you feel.  Be brutally honest - and then ask them what they think.  If they come back saying you are a fool, think very carefully before carrying on to number 7.

If you are still sure you want to leave...

7. Imagine the worst case scenario

Think through what will or might happen once you drop the bomb.  Imagine it as a chess game, with a whole load of possible futures.  From 'oh yes, he was quite happy, turns out it was what he wanted too', to 'oh no, he actually wants to throw me out of the house with nothing, keep the kids and never allow me to see them again'.

Remember that people under stress or who feel humiliated, can act in uncharacteristic ways.  You'll need to cover all possibilities.  Or as many as you can.  If you think you can cope with them all, move on to number 8.

8. Hide anything sentimental

See number 7.  You might announce that you are leaving; next day, all of your Granny's jewellery has been flushed down the toilet.  Hide anything that you really care about.  We're not talking about wads of cash here - but anything sentimental that you cannot replace.  Hide it for now, or even better, give it to a relative to look after, until the dust has settled.

9. Have a plan for the children

I don't mean have a long term plan - you'll work this out with your partner.  Rather, think about how you will tell them.  In my case, I had to tell mine why I wanted to leave, and it was the worst part, by far, of the whole process.  Making your own children cry makes you feel like a monster.

But let me tell you this.  My children are happier now, a year on, than they were before the split.  When we were together, my ex and I thought that we were shielding them from our unhappiness, but far from it; kids will pick up on emotions, unsaid words, lack of love, separate beds...They will overhear arguments when you think they are asleep.  They will not want to ask about it in case it makes it worse.

And so in the end, admitting to it, voicing it, was ok.  Don't get me wrong - I'd have loved them to had had an idyllic childhood, ensconced in a family with a mum and dad who loved each other - but it was not to be.

10. Prepare yourself for a tough road

Bloody hell.  There will be shit times.  You will feel lower than you do now.  There will be money worries, stress, arguments, tears.  No matter what is thrown at you, try to be dignified.  Try to be fair.  But don't be tempted to do what I did; don't feel that it was all your fault and let this guilt cloud your judgement when it comes to money.  Remember that it takes two to make a marriage work.  Your circumstances will be different from mine, but when agreeing a settlement, fight for a fair (not greedy) slice.

It will be ok.  There will be good times too.  In a year's time, you will look back and feel like you've been in a washing machine, or a concrete mixer, or both at the same time (think of the mess) - but will be happier.  Just think carefully before making the leap.  Because once that's done, there's no going back.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Ten things I wish I'd known before leaving my husband

A lovely Twitter friend of mine suggested I write this.  Leaving my husband was really like stepping off a precipice for me; everything was completely unknown and I felt extremely vulnerable for a very long time.  All I knew for sure was that I was so unhappy I couldn't stay where I was for any longer.

It's been a bit of a wobbly path but it's coming right in the end.  This is what I've learnt along the way.

1. Everything takes ten times longer than you think.

Getting divorced is a waiting game.  Actually, the getting divorced bit is quite straightforward.  It's a legal process which takes a set amount of time, if you're both on board with it.

It's the financial settlement that took the time.  We tried to agree it between ourselves and it was mostly me who held it all up.  I couldn't stand it.  I just couldn't stand the intensity of our negotiations, and the rude way in which he addressed me.  Found it hard to get past his tone, to see what he was really wanting.  Always assumed he was being unfair or underhand.  So I would delay even opening his emails because I didn't have the energy to read them.

That was hard.

I ended up using a solicitor quite a lot because it was me trying to lever money out of him.  It takes money to get money, of course.

And there were 'pinchpoint' times when I needed my solicitor to do something quickly and she wasn't available.  I got very stressed and I really shouldn't have.  Because everything - everything - takes ten times longer than you think it will.

2. Rejection makes people unreasonable and act out of character

When I left my husband, I was of the (as it turns out, misguided) opinion that he was keen for the split too.  In actual fact, things couldn't have been further from the truth.  He couldn't speak to me.  Couldn't look at me.  Didn't want to pay me any maintenance.  Wanted his surname back.

I thought that time would mend things.  But still, a year on, he refuses to cross the threshold of my door.  When he drops the kids off, he stays in the car.

My parents have tried writing to him but he ignores them.  (I still write to his parents - and his aunt - and his cousin.)  He is currently stinging me for every penny I have.  He is behaving like a moron when, in reality, I know he is a reasonable, logical person.

He has been hideously hurt and does not know how to react, so he has closed down from me.  Which is a shame because I am still the mother of his children.  In fact, scrape away all the shit and I still like him.  But the trouble lies with the fact that, under it all, he still loves me - and I have shoved that into his face and ground it into his eyes.

3. Children are resilient

Before I had decided to leave, the children were what I worried about most.  Of course they were.  The kids are at the centre of your life.  Hearsay tells you that children from broken homes will end up as crack heads, dope fiends, drop outs, journalists...They will be constantly unhappy.  And it will be all your fault.

Being a product of a broken home myself, I knew this wasn't true.  I'm not a junkie.  I've done ok.  And my children were upset at first, but they very quickly, miraculously get used to the idea.  Having a separated mum and dad is no longer the unusual thing it once was.  At least five out of the 30 kids in my youngest's class have one main carer. And so it's less unusual than being left handed.  (Which I am, by the way.)

My view is this; if you're happy, you feel like you have more air to breathe, more space to live, more love to give.  Your children feel it - and so they're happy too.

4. You will not realise how stressed you are until something tiny goes wrong and you lose the plot

Divorce is stressful - supposedly the most stressful live event after a spouse dying.  Look at the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale :  divorce scores 73.  Add to this the fact that you may be moving house (a measly 20 on this scale but should score more if you're giving up the family home), change in financial state (38), change in frequency of arguments (35), and probably a change in sleeping (16) and eating (15) habits - means that you score 197.  The same as having two spouses die at once (now that would be bad luck).  You are at risk of illness - although it doesn't say what sort of illness, but I'm assuming it means stress-related stuff rather than Yellow Fever.

I don't think divorce causes Yellow Fever.

Anyway, my point is, it's sodding stressful.  And everyone reacts to stress in different ways.  With me, I handle it, handle it, handle it - oops, I've dropped some gravy on the kitchen floor and suddenly MELTDOWN.  Full out, racking sobs.  Kneeling on the floor.  Snot and drool.  Feeling sorry for myself does not cover it.

After several of these episodes I started to be easier on myself.  I recognised that, perhaps it wasn't actually the fact that my son was five minutes late that was at the centre of my breakdown.  Perhaps it was, in fact, the ten months of steamingly hard negotiations, the worry of having no money, the frustration of getting nowhere, that was at the heart of the trouble.  And so I became my own internal therapist and 'allowed' myself to be sad.  It sounds a bit psychobabbly, but that's exactly what I did.  I told myself I was doing quite well, considering, and well done you.  Patted myself on the back.  Asked myself if I wanted to go out for a drink with me sometime.

Actually not that last one because that would be odd.  But you know, just taking a breather to look back at how far you've come.

5. Someone you do not know, have never met, takes the decision on whether you can get divorced or not

Isn't this amazing, in this day and age, that a man (probably) whom you've never met gets to judge whether you can divorce or not.  You and your ex have to write out your argument for divorce and it gets sent to this v important person, like the sheriff in medieval times, who ticks the box to say 'you're allowed'.


6. Everything is more expensive than you think

Getting divorced is a bit like getting married in this respect.  Everyone involved tends to put their prices up.  I'm thinking mainly of the solicitors here; my divorce solicitor is way, way more expensive than my house move solicitor.  And yet really, she has done no more work than him.  And when I get my monthly bill from her my heart always sinks.  £200 per hour, plus VAT, is a shed load of money (especially when you haven't got any money to spend).

I think I have spent about £3,000 on solicitor's fees so far.  But if you go to court, be prepared for this to rocket.

7. People will look at you differently

Your closest friends will probably be totally au fait with what's been going on in your life, so they won't be surprised when you finally call time.  Other people though will see you in a new light, and may blindside you with the strength of their reaction.  I got, on the one hand, a mum in the playground telling me that I obviously hadn't considered my children, because who in their right mind would destroy the family unit?  And on the other hand, I had other mums sidling up to me and asking for advice on how I did it.  Some people will think that you are selfish.  Others will think you are brave.  My advice is to just let them get on with it; they have no idea what's been going on in your life and if they judge you, they are not worthy of a second glance.

8. Dating post divorce is exciting but exhausting

My God, I've had some fun in this last year.  I've also had plenty of down days too; catapulting yourself back into the dating game is a bit like going back to the 1980s for me but without the raging hormones or Wham.   Or perms.

I've tried internet dating and liked it.  There are some good guys online but it is a bit like fishing; you'll need to dangle your hook in for a good while before you find one.

The most surprising thing I found about dating is that men still expect to pay.  Hallelujah!  Call me a noncy-non-feminist-victorian-traditional-user-of-men, but I find it all rather charming and manly.  That and the fact that I have no money anyway so if I paid, we'd just be hanging about outside McDonalds.

My advice on dating is - you have to be brave.  You might be lucky and meet your perfect man in Sainsburys, but it is not highly likely.  Don't bank on it.  Put on a frock and get out there.  Follow all the safety rules and apply tons of mascara.  Heels.  Smile.  Condoms.

9. If you share custody of the kids, you still have to maintain a relationship with your ex

I thought that, if I divorced my husband, I'd never have to see him again.  Get rid.  Job done.

You idiot Lottie!  Of course I see him.  And we will have to have some sort of relationship as long as we share custody of the children.  So all the things that annoyed me when we were married STILL annoy me now; his inability to do any washing (all the kids' clothes come back smelly), his refusal to have anything to do with school admin (I go to all the parents' evenings on my own), his disorganisation (always some important piece of kit missing in the boys' transfer bag).  I even find his socks mixed up with the boys' socks, and end up washing them. GAH!

10. Life will be better and sunnier, but it will be harder work

I am much happier post separation.  But sometimes life seems too full.  There is an awful lot to do, particularly if you have the lion's share of custody.  I am always ferrying the kids about, cooking, organising, washing up, worrying.  When you work too there's not much space left in your life for anything else.  (I must admit to having one of my sobbing sessions just this week.  Everything was going bananas and I had lost any sense of perspective.  And I was on the blob.  Funnily enough, I felt much better the next day after a bath and a good sleep.)

But I do have every other weekend off, when the boys are at their Dad's, and that is precious space for getting some air. And having fun as an adult.

Which is good, because if I was not having fun, I would have flung my family's lives in the air for nothing.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Saturday is Caption Day!

Found these three on my windowsill on Friday 13th!  What's a suitable caption?

Pop over to Mammasaurus for some more Saturday Caption Action!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Do my children make me happy?

I had a bit of a moment whilst walking home from work today.  It went like this: I phoned the 12 year old to make sure he'd got home safely from school, and to tell him I was on my way.  We had a normal conversation, but he said something at the end that made me smile.  I can't even tell you what it was; something innocuous, but in his boy's-not-man's voice, with a hint of cheek, and a lot of love.  And for a split second, it made me happy.  Which, after the couple of days I've had, was no mean feat.

But then, as I heaved myself up the hill, I thought: have my children made me happy?  Do any of our children make us happy?  And if not, why are we programmed to have them?

Because the burden of having them both, particularly now I am a single mum, can sometimes weigh heavy.  Sometimes, they argue and fight so much that I feel like taking myself out of the house and walking away.   Very occasionally, they send me over the top so I feel like I've lost control.  In my Granny's day, this is when the stick or the belt would be used; these days, I shout like I'm rabid, then go ominously quiet.  Occasionally I slam doors.

But mostly days pass with the usual rubbing-along-ness that all families have.  Homework nagging. Tea making.  Some jokes.  A little bit of thoughtful conversation.  Moaning.  Arguments.  Music.  Lots and lots of Minecraft.  More nagging.  Occasional dancing.  Laughter.

And all the time, in the background, I worry about them.  I'm anxious on all levels, from the tiny (homework, spots) to the medium (eating healthily, school, friendships) to the humungous (can I afford to feed them?  Are they safe?).

Having children has given me purpose in life.  No doubt about it.  Without children, I would be looking for something else; adventure, charity, business - something to give me direction and clarity.  I would not be without them, I am proud of them, I would die for them.

And my children DO make me happy, sometimes.  But then so does cake.  And sex.  And my birthday.

I'd argue that happiness is not the same thing as fulfilment.  Because although I feel fulfilled, the stress levels I feel at the responsibility I have, can negate some of that happiness.

Having just read this back, I'm shocked at the selfishness of my own post.  Aren't we all supposed to be Earth Mothers, and isn't simply having children supposed to make us beamingly happy?  So happy that we live for our kids?  I wish I was like that.  I really do.

But for me, happiness is a mixture of life's rich tapestry (or some such bollocks) and it doesn't, I'm afraid, rain down out of my kids' arses.

Perhaps my attitude has got skewed?  I'd love to hear your views on this one.

Follow me on Twitter: @secretdivorcee  [two 'e's!]

Friday, 20 September 2013

Out of the ashes...

Phew.  That was a bit like falling into a vortex in The Adventure Game with a sandwich (do you remember that?) and coming out the other side with your hair and knickers all akimbo.  Are you still with me?

Thank you.

I guess I've lost a lot of readers, but part of the fun of blogging is building up your reading base.  I think.  At least, that's what I'm telling myself to make sure I don't become too glum.

Anyhoo, it all started when Hot Examiner asked me to edit a children's story he'd written.  I said yes, of course, because he's hot.  But oh my.  When it came to me, I was stunned by its...shitness.

I am being unfair of course.  It was a not very well written story about a pixie.  Do I need to go on?  And this put me off him slightly.

So I spent quite a long time editing the thing and did 'Send as an email attachment' thang.  Little did I know that the email account I was sending it from was the one from my blog, so when it arrived in his Inbox, it had Ava Piaf all over it.  I realised my mistake immediately, and sent him another email from my usual account asking him to ignore the last one.

He didn't ignore it.  He did what anyone would do - especially me - and googled away.  In twenty seconds he had found my Twitter feed and, most crucially, my blog, which talked all about him, how hot he was, how I felt about sex, how I'd had affairs - bla, bla bla.

I suppose it's enough to put anybody off.

To his credit, a few days later, he told me what he'd done.  In an email.  It simply said, "I have to tell you that I have read your blog."  After I'd read it, everything went a bit swimmy for a while and I felt like I had a small mouse, or possibly a vole, in my throat.  In an instant I felt like I had lost him, and lost my blog.  He and my blog were running off into the sunset together.  Without me.

A weird set of emails followed back and forth; he quoted Hamlet and some old folk singer, intimating that I was living a lie.  I was apologetic at first, then got really cross and told him to stop quoting literature because I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK HE WAS ON ABOUT.

I got a very formal response after that.  In a nutshell: have a nice life.

So.  The good things to come of this incident of the blog in the night time are...

1. I've realised that I really do love the boyf.  Lots of men do not have a sense of humour.  Boyf does.  This is worth a barrel of gold.
2. Although the old blog is dead, which I am sad about, I made a shedload of mistakes in it.  Here is a chance to start afresh!
3. I think that's it.

Welcome back, everybody!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Open for business!

New name, new template, new me!

Welcome back - and thanks so much for sticking with me.  You have been utterly brilliant.  And I promise to be more technically savvy this time to try to keep the blog in the same hidey hole.  I feel a bit like Matt Damon in the Bourne films where he gets a snifter of someone tracking him down, gathers up his multiple passports and a rucksack (full of Kendal Mint Cake, no doubt, to keep him going in tricky situations), and legs it.

This particular passport is for The Secret Divorcee.  What do you think?  I quite like it, although couldn't work out how to do the whole acute accent thing on this keyboard.  I hope it works out ok.

Will finish widgeting and fannying about and then post again soon.  And thanks again, so much, for staying with me.


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Time to close down the blog

Well.  I am officially shit at this.  It has taken just five months of anonymous blogging for me to be outed, and it's my own stupid fault.

I did a bit of editing for someone as a favour, and sent his copy back using my blog's email address.  Realised my mistake, told him to ignore it.  Of course, he didn't.  Instead, he Googled 'Ava Piaf' and found this blog and my Twitter account.

And I had talked about him on this blog in glowing terms.  And now I feel sad and embarrassed and cross at him and myself.

So, after five months of indelicate blogging, it's time to say so long, and thanks for all the fish.  But most importantly - I will start a blog up elsewhere and I'd really love you to come along with me.  Will you?

Don't make me beg.

If you'd like to accompany me on my new venture, please mail me at sparklyfuture@gmail.com, or tweet @avapiaf1 (or send me a pm, dm, or whatever it's called).  And let's keep in touch.

Ava xxx

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Photography as Therapy

About a year ago, I bought a DSLR.  I had seen some photos that the boyf had taken and thought 'I want to learn how to do that'.

I was a bit shit at first.  I would take photos of anything and anyone, pretending that they were interesting (when really they were just in focus.  And some not even that).  But gradually, gradually, I'm learning.  Not only about what makes a good picture, but ISO levels and aperture and what that wheely thing does.

Photography is a great therapy.  If you have a few hours, you can take your camera and yourself away somewhere - anywhere, but preferably somewhere interesting, or where the light is good - and you have a purpose.  To take some bloody good, creative photos.  You can get lost in it.  I have stood in the centre of my home city and observed and listened to and watched and sometimes spoken to a huge number of people, or situations, of cameos.  Here's one:

What do you think is going on?

I've been lucky enough to go to the seaside quite a lot this summer - to Wales and to Devon.  I have never noticed how the sea changes depending on the weather and the time of day.  Here's an example:

This was taken in North Devon on a sunny day.  The sea is BROWN, sandy coloured.  Thing is, it wasn't actually brown, but it just looked it because of how the sun was reflecting off it.  Magic, eh?  It looks like a painting.  But now look at this one:

Argh!  The sea has turned GREEN!  And the sky is sort of...whitey grey!

I could bore you silly with sea photos (I won't), but it's - um - exhilarating to be on a beach when the light is so good that the scene before you looks unreal, almost computer generated.  Awe inspiring.

And talking of awe inspiring... I happened to be on the beach when a landslip came down on the beach next door.  Gulp.

So get yourselves out there, snap away, get lost in people, in places, in light.  Sounds pretentious, and it is.  But it is wonderfully so.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

My Granny

I hesitated before writing this post.  My Granny was not involved in my divorce, nor my relationships since; she is not my child (obviously) and, very sadly, not part of my day-to-day life.

And yet she shaped me.

And although she has been dead for nearly two years now, I often think about her.  I miss her.

Granny wrote a book about her life when she was 70.  It's a big book.  But instead of regaling you with her entire life history, I just wanted to talk a little bit about why she was so special - and how her upbringing influenced her character.

As a Derbyshire farmer's daughter, she was not impressed with money, frills and spills (she said she thought my wedding was too posh - she'd rather have gone to the pub.  She was right.)  She 'spoke as she saw', but always with a sense of humour.  When I was at University and hadn't written for a while, she sent me a postcard.  It said, simply, "Have you died?  Love Granny xxx".  And if she didn't like the look of you in a photo, she would cut you out and request another.

And yet she wasn't someone who blarted at every opportunity; she was the most emotionally intelligent person I ever knew.  She would know exactly how you were feeling before you even realised yourself.

She stuck up for the underdog and, of her grandchildren, had a soft spot for the quietest, most shy.  Always encouraging them.  And although she had little money, she would scavenge the pound shops of Sheffield every Christmas and birthday to buy them little things that they would love.

She would talk openly about her illnesses, embarrassing or not, and wouldn't be afraid of discussing the amount of sex she had with Grandpa.  I would nod sagely and then run away, shaking.

Granny was a good Christian.  I'm sure that all Christians are good, but what I mean is, she was a true Christian, would help anyone, would talk to anyone, would trust everyone.  She was Christian Aid's regional secretary and quite often would take in African missionaries to their small semi in Sheffield.  I remember as a little girl being amazed by this 10 foot tall ebony man sitting at their dinner table on one visit.  I followed him around for the entire week; he seemed god-like to me, unearthly.

But here's the main thing.  Granny was a manic depressive; perhaps triggered by post-natal depression, perhaps by the birth of her stillborn daugther, certainly in her genes (as her mother was a depressive, too).  She had electric shock treatment ("best thing that ever happened to me") and was on lithium for most of her life.  She battled with demons and frequently told me that she had been a bad mother (my dad remembers nothing of the sort).

She was also left handed - forced to use her right; was offered a teaching assistant position at 14 but had to work on the farm; felt a poor second compared to her younger brother; suffered from migraines; lost her second son when he was just 40.

And I think that all these hardships contributed to the wonderful, caring, warm and big-hearted woman that she was.

She developed dementia in her last couple of years and became angry at times with her carers ("GET OFF, YOU BUGGER").  I felt ashamed because I didn't know how to calm her, soothe her.  Dementia is an awful disease and eventually, when she died, we were sad but relieved.

I love my Granny.  She was an inspiration to me and so many others.  I am left handed, I get migraines, and I try try try to be as wonderful as she was.  But I am nowhere near.   Not even close.

I wish she was still here.

* The word 'left' comes from the Anglo Saxon word 'lyft', meaning weak or broken.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Why This Summer has Been Totally Brilliant

I'll be honest.  I was worried about the school summer holidays.  Six and a bit weeks of anxious what-to-do-with-the-children.  First summer as a single parent.  Money tight.  Staycations planned, slotted in with work and therefore kids' clubs.  Fraught, I thought, caught short, chicken bought, starboard port (gone slightly mad now) with potential problems, anxieties, stress, boredom.

But, to my (and my kids') absolute bleedin' amazement, this summer has been the best we can remember.  And here's why.

1. The weather.  This, I admit, is total luck.  But by jimminy, it has been splendid.  A proper summer, with proper blue skies and burnt shoulders and ice creams and light breezes and barely any rain.  A summer when the waterproofs only came out once.  When hoodies were used but only for night time in the tent.  When almost every day was a beach or a pool day, clouds were light and fluffy but certainly not monstrous and threatening.  When cream teas were had outside, and only brought inside due to the threat of wasps.

When the lilo was actually used.  When we went in the sea without wet suits.

It was the 1970s all over again.

2. My Mum and Dad have been brilliant.  They have been divorced for 187 years, but this summer- by gum - they both came out of the woodwork and helped me out hugely.  Once a parent, always a parent, I guess.  My Dad took me and the boys away for a few days in Sidmouth (old people's-ville but we had a good time - see point 1).  Then we went to my Mum's, where I am writing this, whilst my Mum is playing Cribbage with the boys.  A bit of childcare makes the world go round.

3. My skin actually went a different colour without leaving the country.  My shoulders went properly brown, nut brown, with age spots too, and even my legs changed from blue to off-white.  Magic.  Quite literally, magic.

4.  My relationship with my boys has matured.  To be fair, when you spend a week stuffed into a tent together, and then a week all sleeping in the same small, sweaty hotel room, your relationship has to go somewhere.  Ours, luckily, didn't go down the toilet.  I'm not saying it was all smooth as..umm...a slide in a Mediterranean waterpark, but in general, we rubbed along, made each other laugh, and had fun.  There was an awful lot of boy laughter.  Which in turn, made me happy.

5. As well as child-centric holidays, I managed to get away for a few days with the boyf.  In his van.  This was generally lovely and recharging and sex-making and sticky, and just what the doctor ordered.

6.  And finally - I saw four shooting stars.  I have never seen a shooting star before, ever.  They were the most magnificent things I have ever seen - perhaps beaten only by the time when I walked into the men's changing room in the sports centre by mistake.

And so we've come to the end of the summer holidays and are frantically preparing for school.  I'm shattered,  the kids are shattered, my parents are shattered - but the summer has been all bonfires, marshmallows, swimming and family.  Cards have been played in the twilight, pockets filled with quartz-seamed pebbles and crabbing bait discussed with fervour.

It has been magical summer.


Follow me on Twitter: @avapiaf1

Friday, 23 August 2013

My Tweens

I have to confess.  I didn't know what a 'tween' was until just now when I employed the services of Captain Google.  So now I realise that I have not one tween but two; I am in fact beset with them.

Here are some facts about my boy tweens:

1. One is 10, the other is 12.

2. They are very different.

3. My eldest tween causes me inexplicable angst; my youngest tween radiates happiness.  The result is that I have better times with my youngest.  This makes me feel Extremely Guilty.

4.  Eldest has been moody from the year dot.  He didn't smile 'til he was three.  When I took him out of the house as a baby, he would shut down and pretend to be asleep, rather than have to look anyone in the eye.  He is hard work, still.  Youngest is always cheery.  From a young age, he somehow fundamentally knew how to make people smile at him.  With him.  Lucky bugger.

5. Eldest has a hard time making friends.  I have tried helping him, but have failed.  Youngest has a wide network of friends.  He rubs this in the face of Eldest.  This does not help matters.

6. Eldest has headaches and it looks like he may be prone to depression - just like my family.  Youngest is fit and well.  Guilt.

7. Eldest needs me.  He needs me to be around.  I find it stifling.  My youngest is more independent, even at the tender age of 10.  He would live down the road with his mates if he could.  Playing loud music.  And cruising up and down on their bikes.  Nodding at girls.

Before I had kids, I thought that if I had two of the same sex, they'd be roughly similar.  I didn't factor in the bazookons of gene combinations that go into making up a tiny person; didn't realise that my tiny people would be turn out to be Mr Bean and Mr Darcy.

It is not, of course, as bad as all that.  Eldest tween is fabulously practical, can wield an axe, loves bushcraft, likes to be in charge, has a great sense of humour, and is widely academic; I am biased of course, but he is a wonderful mathematician, writes beautifully and his art is stunning (this from one who can draw a damn good stick man and not much else).  Youngest cannot keep up with that.

But academia is not everything.  Indeed, at this stage in life, it is not much at all.  I just want Eldest to be happy.  To be more confident, to have at least one good friend, to never feel afraid.  To enjoy school.  To be a bit naughty.  To not try so hard.

And so we go into another school year with Eldest worrying about friendships, added to which, puberty is knocking at his door.  I always tell him I love him.  Always hug him.  Am always there for him.

But I know that this is not enough.  It will not do.

I just don't know how else to make him happy.


Follow me on Twitter: @avapiaf1

Thursday, 22 August 2013

I'm an Introvert in Disguise

Imagine this: it's 6pm.  You're going to a party at 7.30pm.  The babysitter's due at 7.15pm.  You haven't been to a party in ages.  You're about to start to get ready.

How do you feel?  Excited?  

I would love to be one of those people who feel excited.  Who just want to get out there and see people and get squiffy and dance like an eejit and generally have a brilliant time.

In fact, I generally just feel a bit anxious.  Little bit nervous.  Little bit - oh god, I'm tired, and in fact, I'd much rather just watch telly or write a bit and then go to bed.  Can't I see these people one by one over the next few weeks?

I don't like noise.  I don't like crowds.  I hate making small talk.  In meetings at work, I get incredibly stressed when the conversation goes round and round and the same things are being said.  It's an effing waste of time and sodding exhausting.  Art galleries are fine if they're not busy (ie, crap) but if there are lots of people there (ie, if they're any good at all), I whizz round at top speed and learn and see nothing.  Just a fuzzy art blur.

I hate external business meetings where there's that mingling thing beforehand.  If I'm forced to go, I sit in the toilet for 20 minutes until the meeting starts.  At one awful event I was forced to talk to someone fairly important and all I could do was comment on his tie.  Bridget Jones comes to mind.

I know - I sound like a right old crabby hag.  I'm not, I promise.  Well, I am a bit.  But if we met I think you'd think I was ok.  I smile a lot.  I ask a lot of questions, generally to hide the fact that I have nothing to say about myself.  It's not that I don't like people - I just don't like them all together.  One by one, or in pairs even, is fine.  As long as they're quiet.  And move slowly.

I'm pinned as an extrovert by others, which is the weird thing.  It may be because, in a situation where I'm comfortable with everyone, I don't mind being a bit odd.  Speaking out of turn.  Piping up.  Being silly.  But put me in a crowd and I fade miserably away.

The Huffington Post did a great article on this (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/introverts-signs-am-i-introverted_n_3721431.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular),  Number 10 - the shutting down one - is the one that I'd most like to change.  It's irritating when my brain has plainly switched off and everyone else's is ticking along nicely, thank you.  But if there's too much to take in all at once, it just...drowns.  

And how is all this related to my divorce?  That's a bloody good question.  My ex husband is also an introvert.  But because I was the more 'extrovert looking' introvert, I had to do all the extroverty things - like speaking French in France (UGH!), talking to the builder (ARGH!), and even paying the babysitter (GAH!) which he pointblank refused to do because he is a scaredy cat ninny, and he thought that it would be easier to shuffle the responsibility onto me.

I hated it.  And he knew it.  But he did it anyway.

And that, my dear reader, is one of the reasons I left him.  Sucks boo.


Follow me on Twitter and I'll love you forever: @avapiaf1