Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Eleven years isn't long enough

A boy in Tween's year died this weekend. He was eleven.

We don't know how he died, but there are rumours of bullying and suicide. The school is in shock, parents are holding their own children closer. We are all waiting for news.

And while we are waiting, we are thinking in layers. At the top: we try to put ourselves in the shoes of his parents and we can't breathe. It is too painful, and we withdraw from our empathy, glad that it has not happened to us. We have the advantage of being able to dip in and out of the terror that comes from the death of a child. Not so his parents, his siblings, his grandparents. We allow ourselves a minute to think: what if?

It would be hard to keep living.

And then, a layer below. Thank God our own children are alive. We hold them close. We talk to them about sadness, about the importance of sharing, of talking. Because we know it could still be them. We look at them in a different light; with a love that doesn't often come on a Tuesday tea time. Seeing clearly their young skin, their innocence, their potential for life. We feel lucky.

So lucky.

And then. The concern for the school, for the staff. If the poor boy was being bullied, and he did take his own life, there will be enquiries, fingers pointed. The school is a good school and the pastoral care is excellent, so what happened? Guilt will claw at the teachers - should they have done something more? But for now, there are too many ifs and buts. We may find out that the rumours are false.

And the last layer. A realisation, or a reminder more like, that life is finite. That we all end, one way or another. But we hope that we end in a certain order, with the eldest dying first, and the youngest last. We are all owed a good go at life.

Eleven years isn't long enough.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Internet Dating

So here I am, back on the internet, searching for love.

However you look at it, internet dating is an odd thing. I know it is practical, I know that everyone's doing it, I know that it doesn't carry the social stigma that it maybe once did. Even young people do it, for God's sake! But looking at pictures of people, like jars of sweets, and picking the ones that you fancy (literally) off the shelf - it all makes me feel a bit....shifty. A bit wrong. Sort of - on the wonk.

Surely I should be able to meet someone at work and fall in love? Oh, no, hang on - everyone is a woman where I work, apart from the MD (whose wife is a friend of mine) and a 26 year old man who thinks I'm his mother.

So not at work, then. Ok, so I should be able to go out to a bar and meet someone there! Shouldn't !? Ye-essss...except that the men you meet in bars in the over 40 bracket are of a certain type. Very lovely, I'm sure, in the dark and with their mouths surgically sealed.

That last bit was catty. Sorry.

Anyhoo, where does that leave me? Chatting up men in Sainsburys? (I've been tempted.) Joining the cycling club? (Yes, if I wanted a sudden heart attack.) Standing in the street with a 'lonely and desperate' sign? (Don't tempt me.)

So internet dating it is. Round one of my on-line dating experience was not a huge success; I met two guys - one was an accountant who lives with his cats in a mansion on the edge of a forest (bodies under the patio, anyone?), the other seemed perfect but texted after the date saying that he 'wasn't ready for a relationship' yet - having said that, he's still on the dating site 18 months later. And then he texted me looking for a job.


And then the boyf came along so that knocked things on the head for a while.

But now, boyf has told me that I shouldn't put all my eggs in his basket. I didn't really understand what this meant, as I only have one egg to put in one basket. I can't go round falling in love with multiple men (sadly), putting multiple eggs in multiple baskets - my thingy (psyche, feeling-maching-thingy) just doesn't work that way. So I've been extracting my egg from his basket and, now it's nearly all of the way out, I'm ready to re-house it. *shudders*

So far, so good. I've got a date tonight with a man who is good with words and lives fairly locally. Two big ticks. I have a mental list of questions to ask; 1. Are you an axe murderer? 2. You've never been married - what's the matter with you? 3. Why have you got a picture of yourself with a herd of alpacas on the site? etc.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

To the Scots

Firstly, let me say this. I am not Scottish. I do not have any Scottish heritage. I have a vague handle on how some of the Scots feel about the English, but only because I watched Braveheart and half listened in History lessons at school.

I do though, get that you're pissed off by being governed by a third party. And that you want to run things yourselves. For God's sakes, what's wrong with that? You are your own people, your own country. You are a proud race with a wealth of history and culture, and a strong financial centre that I'm in no doubt will weather any approaching storm.

But, oh God. I don't want you to go. Yes, I'm English and yes, I have absolutely no right to ask you to stay, but please - stay. I want to feel proud of your achievements like I do now; I want to shout and scream and celebrate when Andy Murray wins Wimbledon again (which he no doubt will). I want to revel in the Edinburgh festival, the best of its kind in the world. I want to be able to climb Ben Nevis, like I did when I was eight, and not feel like a visitor, an alien, in your wonderful country.

I want to feel part of you.

And I want you to feel part of England, Wales and Northern Ireland too. I know that it's a huge ask, given the shedloads of baggage that has come with the union and our past, but I want you to come down south - yes, to London - and revel in its fabulous side (because it's yours too). To show at least a flicker of contentment when Wales wins the Six Nations (it will). To celebrate in our joint successes in the Arts and Sciences. To share in our innovations and inventions, To help us keep our heads as joint Nations, when all around are losing theirs.

And finally. I bought this yesterday. Even though I recently learned that tartan does not come from Scotland, this to me is a little bit of the Highlands, in a bag. I mean, not 'in a bag', but just - 'a bag'. You know.

I love this bag. But if you leave, I won't be able to look at it for a while.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Last night was like a Miranda sketch

Looking back, perhaps I shouldn't have gone out and eaten alone. It was a decision influenced by my gut rather than careful planning. It was bound to go tits up.

Yesterday was odd, in that I had a blind date in the morning (I thought it went well, but he later texted to say he was seeing someone else. Fucker.). A lady came all the way from Birmingham to pick up some beads.

I watched Skyfall. That wasn't odd. That was bloody great.

By 6pm, I was hungry. After much discussion with myself, I decided I'd earned a takeaway, so ordered a Wagamama takeout. (I have never done this before.)

Off I went to Wagamama. When I got there, it looked so inviting that I asked the waitress if I could eat in. (I have never eaten on my own before. I don't know what came over me.) I was sat at the tiniest of tiny tables, flanked by single women pretending to work on laptops. I didn't have a laptop, or a paper - or anything, except my phone, which I immediately scrabbled out of my bag and started texting furiously. To no one, of course.

My food came and I thought how I brave I was to do this. How grown up I was. Look how I use my chopsticks, as if I really was Japanese. How....


Now, picture, if you will, the scene. I have noodle juice all over my face, eating alone. My ex is chatting happily to his girlfriend and I thank my lucky stars that a) she doesn't know who the bloody hell I am from Adam, and b) he is as blind as a bat and, even though he is standing but a few feet away, cannot tell the difference between me and the seven foot tall hairy waiter standing next to me. (Although this might be more to do with my lack of recent Immac-ing.)

Tween is always in his own world, has spied the menu and his thoughts are on food. But Teen has seen me. Teen's eyes get so huge that the encompass his whole face. His jaw slackens.

I go white.

He makes a little smile with his mouth, and the whole party sit down at the next table. My boys face away, my ex and his squeeze face towards me.

I slide a little bit under the table. I might have had a little wee.

My brain is overrun by parallel thoughts, by far the loudest being HOW THE FUCK DO I GET OUT OF HERE? But also in the mix is: Jesus, the boys must be embarrassed. This is the first time they've been introduced to her, and now they've got to deal with their Norman No Mates mother sitting behind them. And also, this: God, she's young. How must she be feeling? That's a tough gig. And: What in the mother of Mary does she see in him?


I text my friend. She doesn't answer in a nanosecond, so I give up on her, cussing. SOME FRIEND.

I decide to get up, nonchalantly, hoping against hope that I don't slip up, trip, fart, belch or cause any disturbance that would draw attention to me. I slide myself against the wall around the restaurant until I come to a halt next to a waiter. The manager, I think.

"Please." I hiss. "My ex husband has just come in with his girlfriend who is TWENTY YEARS YOUNGER THAN HIM and MY kids." A bead of sweat falls off my nose. "Please." Tears form in my eyes. "Help me."

The manager looks at me with pity. Thinking about it, he might have been studying my noodle juice. He takes me by the elbow. "I understand," he murmurs, "let's sit you at the back." And he pulls me to the back of the restaurant, sweeping up the remnants of my food as he does so and settling them back down in front of me.

I sit next to a couple who aren't talking to each other. I am desperate to tell them what's going on, but manage to pin my mouth shut.

"Would you like some water?" the manager asks. I nod weakly.

From my new position at the back, I have a good view of the merry party. My ex and his girlfriend are still oblivious to my little cameo performance, but Teen has told Tween, and Tween keeps leaning back and staring at me. I wave and smile, but he can't make me out against all the happy noddle-eating visitors.

It is better here, at the back, but now I am trapped, and daren't walk past them to leave. So I keep ordering more food in the hope that they will finish. Noodles, gyoza, cheesecake, coffee  - and still they were there.

I needed back up.

I texted my plumber friend who I'd enjoyed a small dalliance with some time back. I was supposed to meet him later but PLEASE could he come and rescue me? I gave him a potted explanation and sat back to wait for a response.

It came quickly. 'I'll be there in 5 minutes.'

My God. Six words have never been so gratefully received. And lo, after some more nervous phone-fiddling and cheesecake eating, he was there. Liked a much smaller, more Irish and less attractive 007. At that point, I truly loved him.

We laughed (O how we laughed!) about the situation and drank an awful lot of coffee, waiting for them to leave. They didn't leave. And he needed the toilet (I, dear reader, had gone earlier by mistake, if you remember).

He said, "Hide behind me", forgetting that he is two inches shorter than me and built like a twiglet.

It was never going to work.

So he went in front and I attempted to walk, camouflaged, behind him. He managed to hide about a fifth of my body behind his athletic (but miniscule) form. As we were leaving he stared at the girlfriend. Stared and stared. And he said:

"You are better than her."

And suddenly, it wasn't 'what I call' such a bad night, after all.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Writing a eulogy and having a burning new business idea

I haven't been able to write posts for a while. I haven't even been able to look at my blog - the stats, the comments, the 'Google shares' that I usually get so excited (or disappointed) about. I haven't been able to do much at all, really. Because this week, I've been writing my step mum's eulogy.

When I offered to write (and read) it, I had no idea of the time it would take. The emotions it would spark. The sleepless early hours, anxious that everybody who should be included. The crafting of emails to other grieving relatives, gathering in as much information as possible, from every part of her life.

And the gnawing sensation in the stomach, a reminder that you'll be reading this out, in front of your step mum's coffin, in front of everyone who loved her.

It is the most difficult thing that I have ever had to write.

It started like a wraith, a transparent, untouchable, uncontrollable concept that I couldn't pin down.

After hours of writing and scribbling out and scrunching up, it eventually became more tenable, workable, visible.  I eventually settled on a tone that I thought was appropriate to her, and my 'audience.' I felt that, when it came to the crunch, I just wouldn't be able to read out a mournful saga of how much we all missed her, what a cruel disease MND is, how unlucky she was to have had it - so I made it light hearted. I chucked a few jokes in. I talked about her sports car which constantly broke down - so much so that she became friendly with the local guys from the AA; about her disastrous first date with my dad, who only saved the day by sending her flowers afterwards; about how most recently she liked to join in the conversations of my disastrous love life, tapping out advice on her iPad 'text to speech' app, laughing.

I gathered in stories from her teaching friends about dancing the can-can at the Year 12 review, and going on the Big Dipper at Blackpool with her Year 7s.  About how, despite not being able to move anything apart from her hands, she ALWAYS beat us at cards.

It was only at the last paragraph, when I knew it was safe for me to break down, to blubber uncontrollably, that I could talk more emotionally:

Motor Neurone Disease is perhaps one of the cruellest ways to end a life, but A bore the disease with courage and spirit. She must have had dark days, but whenever we saw her, she was just ‘A’ - always bright-eyed, smiling, immaculately dressed. And when we remember her, we will think not of MND, but about that elegant woman with the fur collar and the long legs. The talented teacher. The card sharp. The do-er of crosswords and sudokus. The linguist. The lover of sea and sunshine.

We will all miss her.

Her funeral was yesterday, I read it, I cried, it's done.

And I got this from my Dad today, which made me cry again.

I was so proud of you yesterday.
I know how you were feeling, but you held it together brilliantly.
I had to keep my eyes closed – I daren’t look at you.
But everyone loved the Eulogy itself and the brave way you delivered it.
The catch in your voice at the end was noticed by the audience, and that for many was the crowning touch.
I was surprised but so pleased when D called for the congregation to applaud.
You deserved it.
Lots and lots of love

PS (Post Crypt): Crematoriums on Trip Advisor

On a different note: I've been to a few crematoriums in recent years and, by jove, they vary tremendously. Yesterday's - Lodge Hill in Birmingham - comes highly recommended. If they reviewed crematoriums on Trip Advisor, I'd give it 5 stars. The chapel really was like a little church - clean and bright and intimate. It's an enormous place with a lot of dead people rolling up, but we didn't feel pressured to get out or move on before we were ready. The graves and memorials were well tended.

In short, even though it was a place for dead people to come - it was very much alive.

The worst crematorium I've ever been to was in Luton. It was like sitting in a dusty school gym; cobwebs all over the ceiling, sparse, unloved. We might as well have been in an empty warehouse, sitting on crates. I thought: this is appalling. We are saying goodbye to someone who died in tragic circumstances, loved by so many - and the curtain that surrounds her coffin is stained by God knows what.

The deal is this, I guess. If you choose to go down the cremation route, you are funnelled to whichever crematorium your funeral directors work with. The local one. It makes perfect sense - except that, with other big events (weddings, for example), you can choose where you get married. The world is your oyster. And think about schools - you have carte blanche (almost) to choose which school your child goes to.

So why are crematoriums not reviewed somewhere? Why can't we choose where we're burnt? After all, most of us will end up in a crematorium sooner or later. I can see it now - "www.cryptadvisor.com - plan your perfect goodbye".

Who's in?