Thursday, 27 February 2014

Becoming Adults

My boys are becoming men.  I cannot ignore it any more.  That dark smudge above their top lips really isn't dirt.  The smell that sits in the front room isn't something to do with the cat.  The voices wobbling are not to do with emotion, or colds.

They are changing beasts, and I can't stop it.

When they were little, I wished the time away.  It was just all so exhausting.  I wanted to have a proper conversation with them, to talk about - well, anything really - just so long as it didn't involve barking orders at them to "STAY ON THE PAVEMENT!" or "NO!  YOU CAN'T HAVE IT!"  And now I have it - that ability to talk to them about anything at all.  Their openness is incredible, their appetite for knowledge astounding; their young memories like sponges, or mashed potato, sopping up any crumb they find remotely interesting.

In recent times, we have talked about saving the world, saving whales, saving money, saving water; we have discussed Scottish independence.  We have also talked about marriage (lots), relationships, friends, cooking, cars...I won't go on, because even I can see that I'm being boring.

The point is, we talk.  And it's a two way thing.  And yet - I can see it's all about to disappear down the razor-blade of life.  My 13 year old is already using way too much Lynx ("What is that burning smell?  Oh, it's your armpits.") and, increasingly, feels that all the world is against him.  My 11 year old is being pulled along by this rocket-fuelled lump of teenageness, and is fast approaching the Lynx stage of doom.  So I know that, in about six months, our fairly random but always delightful discussions will be replaced by grunts, refusals, constant eating and - horror of horrors - wet dreams.

I feel a bit sick.

I'm having to be a bit stiff upper lipped about the whole sexual thing.  A bit, come on now Lottie, you can do it, it's a perfectly natural thing - your sons are just turning into men.  That's all.  It was bound to happen.

But knowing that your little boys are going to turn into sexual beings is not the same as being confronted by their PUBIC HAIR in the bathroom.  Or their pricked up (sorry) interest in girls.  Or their PUBIC HAIR (did I mention this?) - which is having a big effect on me.  As a single parent, there's no one to share the horror with.  I can't ask their father to have a 'talk' with them because a) I'm not talking to him and b) he wouldn't do it anyway because he's an arse.

PUBIC HAIR!  (sorry)

But luckily, the boys are remarkably at ease with it all.  Their sex education at school (PSHEFHGGGH or some other random collection of letters) has been magnificent and they treat each newly appearing thing as a completely expected and almost welcome badge of honour.  This is a huge change from when I was that age.  Aged 12 and still clothed in pinafore dresses, I remember being horrified when I saw blood in my knickers, thinking that I'd cut myself.

My mum's response was to say "Congratulations Lottie!  You're a woman now!" and she cracked open a bottle of sweet Martini.  We had a glass each - with ice and lemon - and I felt an awful lot better after that.

So, the bottom line is this.  They are prepared.  I am not.  But I refuse to be cowed by it, this metamorphosis of my two little boys, and I will learn to embrace their new independence, smelliness, sleepiness and ingratitude.

And, if ever I'm struggling with the new testosterone zone, I've got a MAHOOSIVE bottle of sweet Martini in the cupboard with my name all over it.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Saturday Mornings with My Boys

I remember what it was like to have young children.  I remember what Saturday mornings were like.

They were shit.

I'd get woken up at something beginning with 5, with a pathetic 'Mum....', then a silence, then a slightly more aggressive 'MUM...', then a shorter silence, then a thump and the pattering of ever-growing feet until our bedroom door creaked open.

'Time to get up,' the voice would say.

It wasn't effing time to effing get up.  And it wouldn't be effing time for another three hours.  At least.

But one of us duly did get up and go downstairs, make some cereal and turn the telly on.  And usually, because our bleary, tear-stained eyes had been forced awake, we would stay downstairs pretending to watch endless episodes of Thomas the Tank on loop.

The other parent, the one who's turn it was to stay in bed, would feel full of smugness, turn over and be just about to drop off again when... 'Mu-uuumm' - the other little horror would wake up.

Yes.  I remember.

But let me tell you now, parents of young children - it does get better.  In fact, Saturday mornings are now to be looked forward to as small oasis's of contentment and pottering and doing whatever you bleedin' want to do, thank you very much.

I am a single parent now but my Saturday mornings with an 11 and 13 year old are full of personal joy.  Here's why.

1)  They get up later.  I thought it would never happen, but their body clocks seem to have become more human, less robot.

2) I would tell you what time they get up but, to be honest, I'm not sure - because they leave you alone.  They just go downstairs and turn the xbox on.  That's all they want to do.  They even feed the cat.

3) They don't make their own breakfasts because they are a-waiting pancakes.  This has become a Saturday morning tradition.  But they know that if they wake me up too early, I will be like a savage dog, and pancakes will not be forthcoming.  So when I slouch downstairs at about 10am, we are all pancake-ready.  I make, they eat.  It works well.

4) It is at this point that I warn them that we will be doing something outside that afternoon.  Groans are followed by reluctant acceptance.

5) After pancakes, they want to be left alone again, so I make a pot of real coffee (oh, the luxury) and scoot back upstairs to my 'office' (aka bed) to do some writing (aka fiddling about on Twitter).  For at least an hour.

Readers with small children - imagine that.  An hour's Twittering with no interruptions.  It is almost unbelievable, isn't it?  But it will come to you.

It is now midday.  To all those parents who've been up for 6-and-a-half hours, I salute you.  You will have the last laugh, of course - when you get to my stage, I will be a lonely worn-out husk because my kids will have left home.

But for now, I am revelling in my lazy day pancake filled Saturday mornings.  May they arrive with you sooner than you think.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Granny has left the building

I've written about my Granny before.  She died two years ago, riddled with Alzheimers, her old self long since gone.

Every time I think of her, I cry.  I miss her.  This is, quite frankly, a ridiculous thing to say, as I only saw her two or three times a year.  She lived 200 miles away, and I didn't see her as often as I should.  I somehow thought she'd always be there.

She had five children.  Her four boys survived, but the girl that she had (who I was named after) died soon after birth.  This triggered her manic depression, or bipolar, and from there on she was given lithium for the rest of her life.  (And in fact, was almost killed by the drug when her GP mistakenly over-prescribed it for months.)  She also had bouts of electric shock therapy, which she said helped her enormously (but 'stung a bit').

She was such a good person.  A farmer's daughter who had struggled, she could seemingly see inside you, understand your emotions before you could yourself.  Her empathy was astounding.  As was her honesty.  She would tell you how she felt about things, if she was cross with you, if she didn't like a present you'd sent.  She would brazenly cut people out of photos if she didn't like the look of them and frame what was left on her mantelpiece.

But you would forgive her anything.  A staunch Christian, she was the secretary to Christian Aid.  She would collect door-to-door in the roughest areas of the city.  She much preferred the poor to the rich, feeling that any display of unnecessary spending was a ridiculous waste of money.

I think of her often, usually guiltily, as I wonder what she would have made of my current situation.  But my sister-in-law phoned last night to tell me that her old house, bought eventually by a builder, was back on the market.  I stalked it on Rightmove and immediately wished I hadn't.  The dark wood furniture, the ticking clocks, the green carpet, the ramshackle kitchen with her knickers hanging from the rafters - all gone.  Replaced by swish wooden floors, knocked through kitchen-diner, glossy white kitchen cupboards.  The random toilet in the middle of the room upstairs replaced by a wet room.

Her bed, the highest bed I had ever seen, gone.

It seems like desecration to me, but of course it isn't.  People die, houses are done up and sold on.  It happens all the time, and so it should.  Houses can't be kept as monuments to those whom we miss.

I still have her eiderdown that she half finished, on my bed.  One day I'll finish what she started.  I also have a copy of the book that she wrote about her childhood, and a couple of samplers from her wall.

And somewhere, I think, I have the postcard that she wrote to me when I was at University, and I hadn't contacted her for a while.  It simply said,

"Have you died?  Love Granny xxx"

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Sharing the Road

This is a post about cycling.  Before you groan ("another leftie-green-antiTopGear-twatty eejit") I would like to say, in my defence, that although I cycle quite a bit, I also drive lots too.

So that makes me balanced.

Which is good, if you're on a bike.

Any road up, a quick potted history of my dorky love of cycling.  I wasn't always a fan - by jove, no - but three years ago, a friend and I decided that we would cycle 120 miles over two days for a local cancer charity.  This sounds like no biggie - I mean Eddie Izzard ran 43 marathons in 56 days, so cycling 60 miles a day for just two days?  Pah!  C'est rien!

Well, to us, mums of small children who were a bit blobby of bum who and couldn't plan a route to Homebase and back - it was like specking out the ascent up the Western Reach of Kilimanjaro.  Hard.

Cut a long story short; we were shit at first but then we got quite good.  We live in a city surrounded by hills, which we convinced ourselves was a GOOD THING, as when we eventually climbed our first hill without stopping/swearing/suffering something life-threatening, we felt like Queens of the World.  And in fact, when we came back down the hill, the wind in our hair, (and freezing our hands which were glued to our brakes) we let out teenage whoops and put our legs out, parading our lycra gussets for all to see.

It was magic.

I loved cycling with my mate.  We weren't the fastest.  We didn't peddle the hardest.  When it rained, we generally stopped, found cover, and ate cake.

And after our big 120 mile ride, we carried on cycling, every week.  We would plan a route of around 20 miles - country lanes and tracks and tow paths and some main roads - and it would feel like our adventure.  I would complain about my then husband and she would listen patiently.  She would beat me up hills and I would beat her down them again.  She could run on empty and I would have to constantly eat.  We never fell off when we were together.

We still occasionally cycle but my single-mumness has made it difficult to spend a whole morning out.  I miss it.  Apart from anything, my bum is now HUGE.

So, hoping I haven't gone on about it too much, I love cycling.  Makes you feel alive, keeps you fit, can be very sociable, gives you challenges and thrills and potentially, if you're using it to travel from A to B, keeps your car off the road.

Which brings me a bit closer to the point of this post.

A fellow blogger wrote a post recently about how cyclists are frequently seen by drivers as 'rats of the road'.  Cycling without helmets, running red lights, gesticulating at drivers.  Generally behaving like arses.  My Physio said that, as she was driving past a cyclist on a country road, he put his foot out and kicked her car.  'What were you driving?' I asked.  A Landrover.  'So.' I said. 'You overtook this guy in your huge 4x4 on a country road, close enough for him to touch your car with his foot?'  'Yes', she said, 'And I pulled up and said, "What's the problem?  Nobody died!"'

I didn't know how to react to this.  She is a nice person.  A woman of some medical prowess.  And yet she thought that the cyclist was an unreasonable shit.  In my mind, he was probably just frightened that she was going to kill him.

I was overtaken by an articulated lorry on an A road with a 30mph limit.  The driver got too close to me (I could have kicked it easily had I not thought I was about to die) and I literally got blown off my bike as it passed.  The driver wasn't even aware of what he'd done.

What I'd really like to promote is an ethos of Sharing The Road.  Did you know that cyclists paved the way for modern roads?  Car drivers assume that the roads were built for them, but it was actually cyclists who first lobbied for flat roads 100 years ago.  (Fabulous article about this in The Guardian here.)  I would like motorists to slow down when they see a cyclist, don't rush to overtake, give them plenty of room.  Show them a little respect - it's sodding hard work riding a bike and scary too.  As a car driver, you might get fed up when you're stuck behind a cyclist slowly plodding up a hill, but think how she or he feels.  Thigh burn, lungs on fire, and worst of all - the knowledge that a huge queue of impatient drivers is building up behind you.

There are some idiotic cyclists around but I'm afraid that it's the car drivers who need to take the moral high ground on this one.  Because it's the cyclists who are the vulnerable ones, the ones at risk.

I read this recently, about Emma Way, a driver who had just been found guilty of failing to stop after a collision and failing to report an accident.  Soon after the accident, she tweeted: “Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier,” she wrote cheerily. “I have right of way – he doesn’t even pay road tax!”

Absolutely unbelievable.

So as car drivers, let's stop believing that we own the road, because we don't.  We share it.   And as cyclists, let's keep ourselves as safe as we can by high vizzing to the max, lighting up like Blackpool Tower at night and not being afraid to cycling in the middle of our lane.  Especially you, ladies, as apparently it is us who feel most intimated by car drivers on the road.

But the more people who cycle, the safer it will become.

Cyclists, be brave.  Car drivers, be nice.  Don't squabble.  Share the road.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Not Going Out

If I'm honest, I've never been very good at going out.  I'm a closet introvert, and all that shouting at each other in bars doesn't really appeal.  Add this to the fact that I get regular, debilitating migraines - which means I don't drink much - and you'll understand why I'm the one at a party with a fixed grin on my face, regularly looking at my watch.

This only got worse when we had kids, because then I had the perfect excuse not to go out.  Sorry - can't find a babysitter.  (Truth - hadn't bothered looking.)  It makes me sound like a miserable eejit - and perhaps I am - but it's not the fact that I don't like people, it's just that I don't like people when they're drunk and shouty.  That's all.

I envy people who like going out.  I would love to look forward to a night out, with the excitement that we used to have as teenagers getting ready for a big date.  To make sure the whole look was right, from hair and make-up to stockings and shoes.  To really care about it.  And to look forward to shrieking at people for hours upon hours, until I was hoarse.

Instead, I dread big evenings out.  I'm not talking about going round to a friend's for dinner - I like eating, for God's sakes - more about the big parties where all the women seem to be wearing leopard print and towering heels and the men are either slightly fed up or rip roaring drunk.  And everyone seems to be shouting.  There's laughter.  Jokes.  Silly faces.  And I grin like a loon, but at the same time survey the room for possible escape routes.

If it weren't for the dancing, I wouldn't go out at all.  Now dancing, I like.  I can forget I'm sober; forget I look less Beyonce, more tea tray; forget I'm not one of the girls in my non-leopard outfit and flat pumps.  I can just about scrape a dance together for some modern 'toons' (see how down wiv the kids I am?), but if anything between the narrow window of 1983 - 1989 comes on, I am away.  Rhythm is a dancer, and that dancer is me.  I can do a mean Kate Bush, morph into George Michael and end quite happily with Yazz.

But if the music stops, and I'm forced to talk to someone, I get my coat and leave.

There's a point to this story, and here it is.  I'm now a single mum, so I have a whole list of perfect excuses not to go out.  Top of the list is: I can't afford it.  Followed closely by: I can't get a babysitter.  And then: I'm just too tired.

But truth be told, top of the list is this.  I want to spend time with my kids.  They are good company.  They make me laugh (sometimes).  I like looking after them.

They make me feel whole.

Which in my book is better than losing your voice, and 50 quid, on a night out with lots of drunk people who started the evening being very lovely and amusing, but ended it being sick on your shoes.

Having said all of that, I've literally had to separate my children as they are knocking six bells out of each other.  One has a lump the size of Ben Nevis on his head.  The other is slamming doors.

Change of heart.  Pass me my stilettos, please.  

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Women Realise It's Not Worth Buying a Pig, Just to Get a Little Sausage

I am ashamed to say that I didn't know who Andy Rooney was until I read his words in a Facebook post of a friend today.  He was an American journalist, then radio and television writer.  You can find his biog here, but it was what he wrote about women over 40 that made me sit up, wide eyed, and suddenly fall in love with him.

If he were alive today I would very happily marry him.

This is what he said.  Please read it and tell me what you think.

"As I grow in age, I value women who are over forty most of all. Here are just a few reasons why: A woman over forty will never wake you in the middle of the night to ask, “What are you thinking?” She doesn’t care what you think.

If a woman over forty doesn’t want to watch the game, she doesn’t sit around whining about it. She does something she wants to do. And, it’s usually something more interesting.

A woman over forty knows herself well enough to be assured in who she is, what she is, what she wants and from whom. Few women past the age of forty give a hoot what you might think about her or what she’s doing.

Women over forty are dignified. They seldom have a screaming match with you at the opera or in the middle of an expensive restaurant. Of course, if you deserve it, they won’t hesitate to shoot you, if they think they can get away with it.

Older women are generous with praise, often undeserved. They know what it’s like to be unappreciated.

A woman over forty has the self-assurance to introduce you to her women friends. A younger woman with a man will often ignore even her best friend because she doesn’t trust the guy with other women. Women over forty couldn’t care less if you’re attracted to her friends because she knows her friends won’t betray her.

Women get psychic as they age. You never have to confess your sins to a woman over forty. They always know.

A woman over forty looks good wearing bright red lipstick. This is not true of younger women. Once you get past a wrinkle or two, a woman over forty is far sexier than her younger counterpart.

Older women are forthright and honest. They’ll tell you right off if you are a jerk, if you are acting like one! You don’t ever have to wonder where you stand with her.

Yes, we praise women over forty for a multitude of reasons. Unfortunately, it’s not reciprocal. For every stunning, smart, well-coiffed hot woman of forty-plus, there is a bald, paunchy relic in yellow pants making a fool of himself with some twenty-two-year-old waitress. Ladies, I apologize.For all those men who say, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free,” here’s an update for you. Now 80 percent of women are against marriage, why? 

Because women realize it’s not worth buying an entire pig, just to get a little sausage."