Sunday, 29 June 2014

Paying the price for being a non-nuclear family

I took part in a wonderful organised bike ride yesterday with my boys - a twenty mile route in and out of Bath. It was special for lots of reasons; but mostly because I love cycling, and this was the first decent length route that we had done together, as a family. A wonky, one adult, two children family - but a family nonetheless.

The boys, Teen and Tween, loved it. I'm not ashamed to say that, when I heard their whoops and screams whilst freewheeling down the hills, and laughs when puddles got bigger and deeper - I had a little cry. This, I thought, is what being a family is about.

But British Cycling, the people who put the rules in place for this sort of event, don't make it easy for families like us to take part. In fact, because of their rules, we had to go in covertly, 'under the radar'. Because they have a one adult to one child rule, a 1:1 ratio which meant that, really, we shouldn't have entered.

I understand about Health and Safety, and that we live in a litigious society, but my Teen is a highly competent cyclist. He is not a seven year old who will cycle into the canal at the earliest opportunity. He slows down for dogs and old people. He rings his bell before bridges and corners. And more importantly, he loves cycling.

And yet he had to 'ghost ride' the course with us. When we crossed the finish line, an extremely loud voice came across the tannoy, "Well done Lottie and Tween and ...um... someone who doesn't seem to be on my screen." Which of course made Teen, who has enough teenage angst to last him a lifetime already, curl up into a ball.

Which takes some skill to do when you're riding a bike.

I'm not having a go at British Cycling. My point is a wider one, really. You often see the 'two adults, two children' family discount (Odeon cinemas, please note) which is ironic, because it is single parents, often with more than one child to look after, who could really do with those valuable discounts. They would make such a huge difference.

Booking a holiday is source of frustration and despair. Little seems to have changed since this article was published in The Independent in 1996, certainly amongst the large tour operators. I got excited initially when I looked at Thompson's website, seemingly offering single parent discounts, but the phrase "Single parents offers are available on selected holidays, for a child sharing with one full-fair-paying adult" seems to imply that, if you've got two kids, you're stuffed. Also, it tells you to call them to find out more. At 10p a minute.

No thanks.

There are some holiday companies now offering exclusively single parent holidays, but the thought of this makes me heave. A sort of combined holiday come week-long-blind-date. *shudder*  I appreciate what they're doing, but I'd rather spend a week in Fargo.

The one light in the darkness is the organisation that I put above all others. The jewel in the crown. The cherry on the cake.  The cat's whiskers.

The National Trust. Oh, I know. I bang on and on about them. But they offer a single parent membership, because - well, basically, because they are extremely lovely. And perhaps they realise that kids from single parent families could really do with a run around in beautiful, wind-swept surroundings. Rolling down hills and getting grass in their hair. Poking about in mansions and castles and caves and beaches. Getting muddy.

So well done to The National Trust. And others, particularly holiday companies - please take note. Society is changing apace.  You'll need to find new ways of offering us what we need, or you may find yourselves caught out.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

My friend, the beauty, who doesn't need make-up

A friend of mine, K, is a divorced mum just like me. I work with her. We earn similar amounts of money, we go through the same trials with our ex husbands, we struggle sometimes with our kids.

We are sisters in the sisterhood.

But the thing about K is this: she is beautiful. She has glorious long, dark, straight hair which she sometimes piles up, or pony-tails, or just leaves to frame her face. She has warm olive skin, dark eyes and a perfect mouth.

She has a voluptuous figure and wears dresses that show it off. And rightly so.

But what makes her complete is her smile and her warmth and her ability to communicate with everybody, on every level.

The tragedy is that, due to years of put downs and snubs and insults by her husband, she can't see it. Her self confidence, at rock bottom a couple of years ago, is being built up slowly by her current, loving partner. Eye make up is her 'mask' with which she faces the world; without it, she feels uncomfortable, small, unattractive. She's considering having her eye lashes dyed black (even though they are black already).

She doesn't need any make-up. She is beautiful.

So I wrote this for her. I am shit at poetry, but I thought I'd have a stab.

Poem for K

We are all born beautiful.
We may have jug ears, or crooked noses, or squinty eyes
But as babies
Our beauty is in our naturalness
Unfettered with make-up or surgery
Or even clothing.

But as we grow
As women
We feel that we need to do more
To maintain our beauty.
Our cosmetics mountains grow at home,
Eyeliners rolling off windowsills
Bright mascara bottles litter our drawers
Hair removing cream stinks in our bathrooms.

Some people, devils, feed our need for masking
Our natural beauty.
Cosmetics companies, magazines, insecure boyfriends.
Dye your eyelashes black!
(Even though they are black already.)

Stop.

Because you're worth it.

We don't need you,
Mineralized Charged Water,
Blot Film
Kate Moss Idol Eyes
Fake tan
Whipped creme foundation.

We might like some eye liner.

But the rest of you
Can fuck right off.


Sunday, 15 June 2014

In Praise and Awe of The National Trust

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

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

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

See if these facts make you eye leak a bit:

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

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

So thank you.

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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Coming through a midlife crisis

Men can get them. Women can get them. Apparently men's last longer - up to ten years - whilst women's go on for a maximum of three. Mens' are triggered by lost accomplishments, lost hair, lost youth, loss of health, loss of a spouse, loss of family or friends, or the loss of a job.

Womens' are caused by men.

Ah yes, as usual, I'm being flippant and silly. A midlife crisis can come to any of us for a whole host of reasons, and are most likely, apparently, to hit in our early 40s.

But what is a 'midlife crisis'? Until a few years ago, they were talked of in exclusively male terms. (In fact, take a look at the NHS website and Midlife Crisis (MC) only appears on the male pages. Still. Odd, don't you think?) The stereotype of an MC would be a bald guy - probably with an earring - with a blonde girlfriend driving a red sports car. Fast. And having a bloody good time.

MC's seemed to be linked mostly to re-evaluating one's career. A time of assessment, with the inevitable conclusion that something went wrong, somewhere, and time's ticking on - so you'd better make some swift changes NOW. It could make you feel a bit shit about life. Or - it could do the reverse, forcing you to take a step back and live life with a bit more va va voom.

There's been some talk about the rise of the female midlife crisis, but the root causes seem to be more complex. It could be as a result of work (too stressful, not stressful enough, not the right career, juggling work and children, guilt, frustration about a glass ceiling...) or children (putting your life on hold to look after them, wanting them and not being able to have them, feeling overwhelmed, guilt, guilt guilt....).

I had a mini midlife crisis. It all seems to have settled down now, but for a while, I was living in a sort of parallel universe.

I quite liked it.

Mine was definitely a re-evaluation of my life. My children had got to an age - nine and eleven - when it felt like I was beginning to stick my head above the parapet. Gone were the sleepless nights. Gone were the constant trips to the park with them, the worries about choking hazards, the tying up of shoelaces...they were more independent, and that meant more head space for me.

Which turned out to be dangerous.

I found I had the energy and enthusiasm to lose weight. And to join a choir. I went back to work, part time, and worked as an extra for a while. I met new people. I felt like I was breaking out of my mundane existence, doing something exciting and real. I suddenly had a burning ambition to learn how to fly. The adrenalin played havoc with my hormones and my sex drive went through the roof; the trouble is, I'd fallen out of love with my husband, who was still engulfed in the bubble I'd left behind.

Bugger.

So my midlife crisis spelt the end of my marriage. I evaluated my life so far and thought; arse. I've made a wrong turn, somewhere.

It hasn't turned out so bad. In fact, the fact that MCs are generally portrayed as negative events is generally wrong, I think. This article in the Telegraph lists the top 40 signs of a midlife crisis - most of which seem to be very jolly. Go to Glastonbury? Yes please. Splash out on an expensive bike? Why not? Keep fit, lose weight AND save the earth! Go to reunion tours of 70s and 80s bands? WHAT IS NOT TO LIKE?

My midlife crisis took me to places I never dreamed I'd go. So if it creeps up on you, my advice is - look it in the eye, take it by the hand - and jump off that precipice.

And don't look back.




Tuesday, 3 June 2014

What's in a title?

As a divorced woman, you think about your name a lot.

Probably the first thing to address is whether, if you took your husband's surname when married, you want to revert back to your maiden name. Or kick both to the curb and come up with something else entirely (Fruitcakecumberbatch springs to mind).

But then there's the pesky problem of whether you are now Mrs, Miss or Ms.

Let's take a step back for a minute. I've often baulked at the historical shoddiness that forces women to either make public their marriage status, or plump for the middle-ground 'Ms' which makes just a bit too strong a point to be pleasant (IMHO). Men get to be Mr, whether they are married, divorced, ever-single, king or pauper. No one forces them to change. Ever.

So why should it be so for women? We have relatively recently started to baulk at changing our surnames when getting married; why has no one made a fuss about the whole Miss/Mrs/Ms thang? Why can't we just be Miss all our lives (and be forever young)?

'Mrs' was originally the abbreviation for 'Mistress' - the title prefixed to the name of a married woman - dating back to the 15th century (more about the history here). 'Ms' was first introduced in 1901 as a 'feminist proposal', and its popularity grew until, in 1974, the Passport Office conceded that we could use it as a formal part of our identity. How generous of them.

'Ms' is still a bit shit though. Why should we have to change our title at all?

Back to business. What is a Divorced Woman? She really isn't a 'Mrs' anymore - she's not married. And let's be honest, she's a bit long in the tooth to be a 'Miss'. Sad but true. And you know how I feel about the whole 'Ms' thing.

So. I have resolved to be 'Captain'. That's right - Captain. I have to admit, I'm not 100% sure of the legalities of the situation, but I have my pilot's licence - and it says Captain on there somewhere, I'm sure - so I assume I'm ok.

I'm not joking. I am currently the proud owner of a Friends and Family Railcard in the name of Captain Lomas. I am either a complete dickhead or the coolest Mum on the planet. Probably the former.

I mentioned this to a couple of friends and we wondered how far we could push it. Someone suggested that I could be 'Sister'; although wholly inappropriate, possibly illegal and probably a straight red card from being allowed into heaven - we all laughed wildly and I did consider it for a while. I'm sure I could explain the whole situation to St Peter over a small vodka or two.

And what if you signed up to the Seasalt mailing list as Lady Lomas? Duchess? Or even - and I'm tempted - HRH? Would I be pounced on by MI5?

Actually, that sounds a bit tempting. Yes please.

My next challenge will be to write to the DVLA and get 'Captain' on my driver's licence. And then, Passport Office, here we come. If you can accept Ms, two letters that mean diddly squat, you can bloody well make me a Captain.

Over and out.

Captain Lomas