Thursday, 5 November 2015

It's time...

...to close down the blog.

I've fallen out of love with blogging. It was wonderful at first; a huge help to me through the madness of separation and divorce, and a catalyst to meeting lots of new friends. You guys...you've been such a huge support. Thank you so much.

At first, I blogged only about divorce. Those months were sometimes dark and other times immensely happy, and the see-sawing of miserable/manic writing was therapeutic. (To me, anyway. Sorry if nothing made any sense to you.) But after a while I literally ran out of things to say about divorce. I mean, you can only bang on about it for so long. People move on, arguments are forgotten, finances are ironed out. There's no point going round and round moaning about things. So I started to write about issues that affected me; children, work, relationships... the normality of crappy and not-so-crappy life. And was very grateful indeed that anyone read it all.

But recently, things have changed. I was asked to write for a national paper (woo-hoo!) but they then withdrew as I wanted to hold on to my anonymity. Being anonymous has worked for me but even that is crumbling; my ex husband's best friend started following me on Twitter recently - a sure sign that my ex has been watching me for a while.

Occasionally my writing has been picked up by larger organisations (Mumsnet - thank you  - and also the Australian News Agency, who took a particular fancy to my post about my vagina) but generally, my writing hasn't taken off in the way I'd hoped it would. I haven't invested enough time or money into the blog to make it stand out. And I've come to the conclusion that, if I haven't done it by now, I never will.

But instead of skulking off into a cave for ever, the plan is to open a new blog under my real name. No hiding. Because when I'm feeling it, I love writing. Of course, when I'm knackered - having just cycled home in the rain from work, surrounded in onion peelings whilst preparing tea and listening to the kids beating each other up in the room next door - you can stuff your sodding writing up your effing jacksy.  In my dreams, however, I'm writing in a summer house surrounded by rambling roses, or across from a log fire in early December.

This will happen one day.

But for now, adieu to yeu and yeu and yeu. Thanks so much for listening.

Lottie xxx


Thursday, 22 October 2015

Absence from school - a parent's perspective

You might remember that Tween sustained a significant head injury, with a brain bleed, on his school premises n May. He seemed to make a decent recovery so after two weeks, we sent him back to school. Unfortunately, we soon learned that he had Post Concussion Syndrome, which has a wide variety of symptoms. Tween's were: severe headache, sleep disruption, weakness in arms and legs, inability to concentrate for anything other than short periods.

His attendance in the summer term was erratic, and in the end, things got so bad that I chucked in work and kept him off school for the last three weeks of term. I kept the school informed with regular emails and phone calls, and they were supportive.

This term, he has picked up every bug under the sun, and has been off for a total of two weeks. The GP tells us that, after a brain injury, the immune system can be weakened. Again, the school were informed.

This week, however, I got a letter from Tween's school. It started like this:

I am writing to make you aware that D continues to have significant absence from school with no reason/s yet provided, and their attendance has now fallen below 80% on his individual attendance record. Consequently, D has now been placed onto Stage 3 of the school's Attendance Stage System. This is the stage were the school formally requests a meeting with the parents because their child's level of attendance had (sic) still not improved, or has subsequently deteriorated following Stage 2.

...

I need to remind you that under the Education Act 1996 it is the duty of parent(s) to ensure the regular attendance of their children at school...

I went ballistic. How could this happen? My child was injured IN YOUR SCHOOL. YOU SAW THE WHOLE THING. YOU CALLED THE AMBULANCE. AND I HAVE KEPT YOU UP-TO-DATE EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.

I felt let down, and worse - I felt accused of failing my child. So after scatter-gunning the school with an outraged email, I said 'yes please' to the offer of a meeting- if only to find out how this could happen.

The meeting was ok. The school admitted that they had made a mistake and apologised. But they also said that, at times, the rules passed on to them by the Government puts them between a rock and a hard place. If attendance slips, they are obliged to send letters. If they do not, they could find themselves on the end of a lawsuit (and in fact had a lawyer phone yesterday claiming just that). Schools, and particularly academies, are finding themselves - as in the commercial world - laid bare to potential litigious claims every day. The Government are prosecuting parents who do not ensure that their child attends school, and so the school needs to make sure that they have followed the required process to the letter.

I left the meeting with an overwhelming sadness that a school's focus is no longer simply to teach students well. It is to manage, accuse, support, be afraid, tick boxes, understand Government rules, be flexible when the rules change, keep up. They need to choose carefully between stick and carrot - not just for the children, but for the parents too. And the consequences of choosing the wrong one could potentially be huge.

Good teachers - great teachers - are being sucked into this red tape nightmare and are losing touch with the reason they went into teaching. My boys are seeing less of these wonderful role models, because they are stuck behind a desk, talking to lawyers or Government officials, or filling in forms. And the administration goes on into the evening; whenever they call me, it's always past 6.30pm.

For goodness sakes. Something needs to be done. The whole system is cracking; four in ten teachers leave the profession within a year. Teachers do not have the status in society they once had; they are frequently portrayed as lazy and moaning. In my experience, as someone who works daily with teachers, it just isn't true. They frequently have little work/life balance. In theory, they have long holidays, but in practice, they work six-day weeks and have to deal with huge amounts of pressure. Michael Gove has fucked things up, and change needs to come. Quickly.

So, my little story about a letter that should never have been sent is just a cog in a machine that is rapidly spinning out of control. The school has learned that it can't handle every absence issue in the same way. I have learned that teachers are sorely stretched and at times, simply don't have the capacity to be thoughtful and supportive.

And meanwhile, Tween lies in bed, off school again today, because he can't feel his arms and legs.




Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Being the wicked stepmother

We are all brought up on literary tales of wicked stepmothers. There's Hansel and Gretel - perfectly happy children until their mother died and their father re-married, whereupon, in a famine, their new stepmother convinced their dad to leave them in the forest to die.

Nice.

Then, of course, there's Cinderella; her stepmother treated her like Mrs Patmore.
But at least she didn't want to kill her, like Snow White's beeatch of a stepmother did; the epitome of raging, rabid evil, driven mad through raging jealousy.

The Brothers' Grimm didn't invent the evil stepmother. My unquestionable knowledge of the Tudors, imparted to me by the brilliant Horrible Histories, means that I know that Mary Tudor hated Ann Bolyn, her stepmother. Mary blamed Ann for her parents' divorce, and was convinced that Ann had somehow bewitched her father. And further back in time, the Greeks saw it too; Hesiod saying rather marvellously, "a day is sometimes our mother, sometimes our stepmother". In other words, if you are having a stepmother of a day, you might as well go to bed, shut your eyes, and hope tomorrow comes soon.

I'm banging on about wicked stepmothers because I have just become one. I didn't plan to be wicked; I planned to be chatty and funny and supportive. Not a stepmother, or even a cool 'stepmom'. I was just going to be 'Lottie'.

It was clear though that, when I met boyf's son - who's 24 -  for the first time this weekend, he hated me with a passion. He shook my hand and started at me with eyes so cold that I thought he must have mistaken me for someone else. Hitler, perhaps. "Errrrrrr" *tiny scared belch hiccup* "I'm Lottie. Hi."

"Yes. I know," he said.

He sat down and didn't look at me at first. He spoke to his dad, and I sat back, injured. I had thoroughly misjudged the situation. I'd thought that, because he'd said he wanted to meet me, that he actually wanted to meet me.

YOU TWIT! Of course he didn't want to meet me! He didn't even want me to exist!

In those few short seconds of The Handshake, I saw that, to him, I was the woman who had figuratively thrust a knife into his own mother and torn apart his family. I was the whore who had bewitched his father and taken him away.

Which was upsetting, because to me, he was the boy I'd wanted to get to know for three years. I'd wanted to welcome him into my home, wanted him to meet my own sons and inspire them about the Arts. I'd heard so much about him. I just wanted to be his friend. (I know, right? Bellend.)

As my parents split up when I was 14, I have some experience of step families. I know how difficult and complex it is to meet someone who is intimate with your parent. Who is not your other parent.

It's weird shit. And you need to be properly adult to deal with it.

They talked for a while, son and father. I gave myself a talking to and leaned forward. Took a deep breath and launched my best effort-charm offensive. I scraped up every single fact I'd learned about him over the years, and asked him related questions. I pretended to know not much at all about stuff that he was interested in. I even offered him some of my food, for Christ's sakes. I smiled A LOT. And after a while, he softened, his stare become less accusatory, more...well, more like you'd look at a hippo in the zoo. With interest, and a little fear.

In the end, I ran out of questions. There was a silence, and I made a little puffing noise, saying 'Well then, isn't it time....?' and looked pointedly at boyf. I was exhausted. I think everyone was.

We shook hands outside and I said how nice it was to meet him. He didn't respond - but at least he didn't look like he was going to machete me into a thousand pieces.

I hope I can bring him round. I would love to talk to him, properly, naturally.

I wonder when that will come.


Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Lump - part 2

Sometimes, I am an absolute tit.

I was going to write a post about going back to the breast clinic, and finding out that everything's totally normal, and WHOOPEEE FOR ME!

But a few seconds after I'd tweeted that my news was good, a lady replied saying, "I wish mine was."

This lady has breast cancer. She went on to explain, kindly, that she had already had chemo and is facing a round of radiotherapy.

And here I was, dancing around, getting my healthy baps out and giving myself an extra big cheer. Nobber. Nobber. Nobber.

This made me think more carefully about my time in the clinic, and about the other ladies waiting with me. As I had lots of tests pencilled in, I was there for hours, and got settled in with a very bad book and an enormous bag of rice cakes. One by one we were led away into a room to have our breasts fondled, and one by one we came back, awaiting the next round. I'd noticed that the woman next to me had been gone for a while, and I'd assumed that she'd already slipped out unnoticed. But a little while later, out of the corner of my eye I saw her return, red eyed. She sat down next to me and turned to her friend. "It's cancer." she said. Her friend let out a creaking noise.

I looked away.

90% of breast lumps are not cancerous. But there were 20 people in that clinic. Which meant that, statistically speaking, my neighbour was probably not the only one to be diagnosed that day.

I imagined that the 'other' person in the room was going to me. I forced myself to live the moment of telling, the moment the doctor revealed the bad news, in my head. I thought about how I would react, what I would say. I imagined the terror of telling my children. And my ex husband. And of course, like the complete twat I am, I started to cry too.

The lady who had just been diagnosed turned and gave me a sympathetic look. I felt like a dick.

I was lucky, of course. This time, at least. But 50,000 people, mostly women, are fighting breast cancer every year. So all that trauma - the telling everyone, the coming to terms with it, the treatment, the emotional sledgehammering, the issues with work...not to mention your sodding health - is happening right now. In fact, more than 130 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every day. But...78% of breast cancer sufferers survive, and there's a strong desire to make this 100% by 2050.

So. If you don't mind me being matron for a moment:

  • Check your breasts regularly. Up-to-the-minute guidance is here: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Breastcancer/Pages/Breastcancersymptoms.aspx. If you find a lump, don't worry - it is most likely to be benign. But DO have it checked.
  • If you are offered a mammogram, take it with open arms. Well, arms above your head, anyway (mammogram joke). People told me some mammo stories that made me jumpy, but I can honestly say that it didn't hurt at all. 
  • If you find a lump, don't imagine yourself dying, like I did. It just makes you look like a nob. Just get to your GP and let him or her cop a feel.
  • There is a wealth of information on breast cancer out there on the internet, but don't over-Google. You might do what I did and assume the worst. Leave it to the NHS; my experience was that they were swift, knowledgeable and caring.

Last time I went to the clinic, they were selling knitted tits. This time, it was knitted cupcakes, in support of Macmillan's World's Biggest Coffee Morning.  I bought a knitted cake, although if I'm honest, I'd have preferred a knitted tit.

And here it is. Glittery and everything. It could actually be a tit if you squinted at it in the half light.


Good luck to everyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer this week. That's 520 people already. I am with you, as are all the women in the country. As for the rest of us - let's get knitting, or baking, or running, or spreading the word.... or something.

Because we all know someone who's lived or died with breast cancer.
___________

It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Give your boobs the once over. This month and every month.

And then the fun began...

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Lump

Until about a month ago, I had been ignoring the lump in my breast. I pretended it wasn't there. Or I justified it; 90% of lumps are cysts. It's a cyst. Just a cyst. Sometimes I spoke harshly to it. "FUCK OFF! I HAVEN'T GOT TIME FOR YOU!"

But it was resolute. It stayed. And so, after Googling the absolute arse out of it, I went to the GP.

My GP is a lady. It is odd, but not unpleasant, having a lady wobble your tits about. In fact, if the surroundings had been a bit more conducive, I might have got a bit too comfortable. But as it was, I just looked out of the window, and wished I was elsewhere.

She was lovely, and sensitive, and said it was probably nothing, and certainly probably very likely not to be Cancer. I liked that she'd said 'Cancer'. It's now out in the open, and makes it a shed load easier to both vocalise and think about.

The Government line is that breast clinics have to see you within two weeks of referral. Where I live, it's like a sort of triage appointment, when they decide if you properly might have Cancer, or if you've just got lumpy tits.

The waiting room for the breast clinic is one of the most remarkable places. The appointments were running late, so it was choc-a-bloc with women. All sorts of women; young, old, middling. Some in work-attire, some in joggers. Some on their own, some with mothers and daughters - and one girl with her entire circle of friends around her. The sense of camaraderie or... togetherness, was palpable. I liked it. If I hadn't been so effing worried, I might have stayed all day.

I got called in by a lovely nurse ("So, so sorry for the delay") and did the usual drill for the young, male doctor. Questions answered, top off, bra off.

It's a very strange thing having a man you've never met before feel your tits - in such depth. Imagine the scene. The nurse is standing up by the wall, smiling at you. You are sitting on the trolley, legs dangling, naked from the waist up. A man is crouching in front of you, squashing and touching and squeezing every bit of your mammaries that he can lay his hands on. And yet, you're talking about the weather, your children, the fact that you've had a cold since July, what music you like. You can't look at the man, because somehow that would create intimacy, so you look at the wall on the left. And when he's focusing on the left breast, you look at the wall on the right.

I will probably never see this man again, this man who has fondled my breasts so rigorously.

Clothes on, and more talking. More vocalising the word 'Cancer'. "I don't think it's cancer," he said, "but just to cross the T's and dot the I's, we'll get you in for a mammogram, a scan and a biopsy."

"GOOD-O!" I shouted, suddenly, it seemed, one of The Famous Five.

And I was pleased, in part. Pleased that the ball was rolling, and that at least I was now in the system. I felt looked after. I felt like I'd fallen off the high wire, only to be caught in the safety net. And by that, I don't mean that I felt well - I just felt like I had handed the weight of responsibility for my own health over to these doctors and nurses. And that was comforting.

So, on Tuesday, I'm off again to the breast clinic to have my already, frankly, tiny breasts squeezed and sliced. I have told a handful of people, and they have all offered to come with me. They are very kind, but I feel that there is enough support there - in the wonderful NHS staff of course, and all the ladies in that waiting room who share the same worries as me.

_______________

Follow me on Twitter: @secretdivorcee

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Cutting Tax Credits - What it Means to me

Dear Mr Cameron,

You and your party have been brilliant at supporting me and my children over the past few years. As a single parent, I have drawn on the wonderful NHS many times (brain injury, cut to the face, lump in breast, plus numerous trips to the dentist and trolley-loads of contraceptive pills) - thanks for that. We’ve been regular visitors to the library, to try to satisfy my younger son’s reading habit. As a single parent, I get a 25% reduction off my council tax. My children’s schooling is rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted (but actually, I think it’s outstanding). And that’s all brilliant.

But by far the greatest help that I have received from the Government since being a single parent are Tax Credits. And you have just cut them. So now I’ll be about £1000 worse off every year.

I heard you on the radio today, saying that you have cut them because you want to encourage people into work. I don’t understand. I work. I work bloody hard at my job. And then I come home, and work bloody hard at being a mum.

I’m have pretty average responsibilities at work, and am on a pretty average wage. I work school hours. And all of this is by choice. Yes, I am one of your simpering scroungers who chooses not to earn more money. I choose to work locally, and I choose to be home very soon after my boys come home from school. I choose not to have a job which will call me away.

Why?

It’s to do with family values, Mr Cameron. I think the Tories were belting on about them not so long ago. In fact, in 2009, you said that they were the key to building a responsible society.

As a teenager, I had absent parents. I remember letting myself into my house with my key, and making Findus Crispy Pancakes with oven chips. You probably don’t know what Crispy Pancakes are; all you need to know is - they’re not crispy, and they’re not pancakes.

My Mum arrived home at 6pm, well after The Wombles had finished. And my Dad - well, sometimes I was in bed when he got back from work.  Parental absence like this is not good for a child. Did you know that, statistically, a teenage pregnancy is most likely to happen in that hour, or hour and a half, between the children getting home from school, and the parent coming in from work?

There are all sorts of reasons why I want to be there for my children. As teenagers, they need me just as much as they did when they were little. They are going through so many changes, and I want to be there to support them. And the Government should support me in this. Because it is in your interest for me to raise two bright, motivated, happy and healthy men.

Why then, are you cutting my Child Tax Credits, and forcing me to work longer hours? Why are you insisting that I become an absent parent? A parent already stressed and guilt-ridden about working too much, forgetting appointments and arriving late? Surely you can see that, by closing down your support, you are undermining all the hard work that I have put in over the past few years. By cutting tax credits, you are dismantling my family values, not supporting me in building them.

“The goal of welfare reform should be to reward hard work and protect the vulnerable.” So says your 2015 manifesto. Well I work bloody hard. And now I’m vulnerable.

You haven’t thought this through, Mr Cameron. And neither have your chums who voted ‘yes’ today.


Saturday, 5 September 2015

The importance of telling people that they matter

I can’t remember exactly when I realised that I needed to tell people what they meant to me. It may have been triggered by my Dad’s stroke, a day of near-loss. The day after, I remember thinking: I almost didn’t tell him how much I love him. He almost died without hearing it from me.

And so, when he was sufficiently recovered, I picked up the phone and dialled his number. I knew that, as a Yorkshireman, he would be excruciatingly embarrassed. But I hoped that, when the call had finished, he would be left with a warmth, a sense of achievement perhaps, as a parent, and of love.

As it happened, his stroke had made him surprisingly receptive to touchy-feeliness, and he not only soaked up my compliments (how much I loved him, how much I appreciate what he does for me, what he means to me), but also handed them back to me in good measure. The phone call brought us closer together and we have both never forgotten it.

I left it too late for my Granny. It was only when she was in the dark depths of dementia that I realised I had never told her how important she had been in my life. How she had been my female role model. How her kindness and humour had, in part, formed me. But mostly, just to say thank you. I missed telling her, a bit like missing a bus – the difference being that there were no more buses due.

So from then, I have tried to tell people when they have enriched my life. This has meant that I’ve written many thank you letters, or emails, to customer service employees when they’ve done a great job. (I also complain too, by the way, when they haven’t – I’m not a bleedin’ saint.) It occasionally means that I approach strangers in the street if they’re wearing something that’s made me smile – a great hat, perhaps. Or some wonderful shoes.

And it also took me to an awkward place today, with my GP. I’d only seen this lady once before. It was when Tween seemingly wasn’t improving after his head injury. I had given up work to care for him, and we were all very low. Dr G was the first, and the only, medical professional to say, “He will get better.” Her words gave us hope. That little phrase turned my life up from a 3 to an 8; she made us smile again. And she was right, too – he did get better.

I saw her again today about a ‘lady issue’, which she handled kindly and professionally. She was late, her computer wasn’t working, and she was obviously stretched. And yet the voice in my head was saying, “You’ve got to tell her. DO IT DO IT DO IT.” So just as I was getting my stuff together, I blurted out something along the lines of, “youweretheonlyonetotellusandyoumadeahugedifference, andhedidgetbetterandsomeofthatI’msureisdowntoyou.” She smiled and told me it was a lovely thing to hear on a Saturday morning.

And suddenly I couldn’t talk anymore, because I was crying.


I gave her an apologetic smile, and left. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

An Open Begging Letter to Banksy

Dear Banksy,

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

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

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

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

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

Dismal.

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

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

Here's hoping.

Lottie

secretdivorcee@gmail.com


Wednesday, 19 August 2015

How not to be a cool mum of teenagers

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

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

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

I mean, really - can there be anyone cooler?

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

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

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

GOD MUM, YOU ARE SO RACIST!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the fun began...

Monday, 17 August 2015

Going glamping as a single parent - and enjoying it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I've already booked for next year.









Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Facebook v Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coffee, anyone?

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Blame

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

What a twit.

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

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


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

(They weren't.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ease our own consciences.  Be better people.

Christ, I'm turning into a hippy.



Friday, 17 July 2015

Guiding our children

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

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

Git.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm just the taxi driver.

And then the fun began...


Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Banning the technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

A post for my ex husband

So. You've found it. I'm not sure how - through a friend, perhaps, or through Twitter - but I know you're there. And that you've been through all the old posts; the ones where I used the blog as a diary, a place to dump all my bitter, angry thoughts after we'd separated.

You have as much right as the next person to be here. After all, the blog's out in the public domain. I knew you would find it, one day - although hoped that you wouldn't.

We have been through a lot, you and I. That blind hate that I felt for you, two or three years ago, when you were doing everything in your power to trip me up - some of that got poured into the blog. I'm sorry you read it now, at a point where perhaps we are beginning to rebuild our relationship. I hope that you can see that it was a different time. We were both miles away from where we are today.

Ironically, it took something terrible to bring us together. Tween's accident, and recovery, has forced us to talk again. I will never, ever forget that quiet time that we had, the first night that he was in hospital. The two of us sat by his bedside, quietly talking in the early hours, about all sorts of things. Personal things. We hadn't done that for years. I felt closer to you then than I had for much of our married life.

I'm crying now.

When I can't rouse Tween, and you come to my house to look after him so I can go to work - I like that. A lot. I mean, I hate it that Tween is ill, and I worry, like you do. But I like it that we have come together, as mum and dad, to help him. He needs that. When he said to me, "I'm really glad that you and dad are getting on better now", I cried.

I'm doing a lot of crying, recently.

So I wish you well. I can't tell you that, face to face, at the moment - but I hope to be able to, one day. I hope that in the future, we will be able to sit down, and laugh together, and have family celebrations with everybody we love around us.

Not just for the kids.

But for us.

And then the fun began...

Sunday, 5 July 2015

A visit to Norfolk

This blog isn't really about pictures (words, words, words) but I love photography too. I've just come back from north Norfolk and managed to take, by some freak of chance, some decent photos. Street photography is my thing, but I would love to be a really good landscape photographer - and so my style is probably a mess of the two.

I'm a West Country girl and so, by nature, highly suspicious of anything east of Heathrow. But Norfolk was a surprise; it wasn't too flat, nor too windy. It has some amazing beaches. And an awful lot of tractors.

First of all: Cromer. Old fashioned, colourful, teenagers on the beach, old people waiting for the show on the pier. (Pier of the Year 2015, by the way.) Cracking.

Legs

On the strand

Gulls

Running

Roy Orbison

Sarah's

Stairs


There are many stunning beaches in Norfolk. It pains me to say that they eclipse many of Devon's beaches and, the best part is, there are relatively few people there. Here are a few of Weybourne beach.




Window
Sky
Escape

Suncream


And from that coast, you can just about make out a HUGE wind farm out at sea.
Ghost wind farm


Finally, I popped to Norwich Cathedral on the way back. The building is beautiful, obviously, but I wanted to share a couple of photos that are a bit different.


There was an exhibition of life-sized religious characters, made by local primary schools. They were incredible. This fella scared the bejaysus out of me, mind.


And lastly, I caught sight of a homeless lady, who walked right in front of the main doors of the cathedral, and started scavenging in a huge pile of bin bags about twenty feet away. It was Sunday. It struck me as ironic that she didn't go into the church for support; and nor did anyone come out to help.




***If you'd like to use or share any of these photographs, please do get in touch first, as I own the copyright. Thanks.***

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The power of HR

I never, ever, EVER thought I would write a blog post about Human Resources. I worked in HR for 10 years and we were thought of as the fag end of the business; generally, a waste of space and an unnecessary pull on already tight finances. I didn't find working in HR much fun, either. It was great when people behaved, but when there were fallings out (grievances) or redundancies, or something else that was bleak - it was bloody horrible.

Someone once said to me that to work in HR, you really need to dislike people. (That's not true, by the way.)

But today I find myself on the other side of the HR fence. Now, I work in publishing. Our small company has been swallowed up by a much larger one, with a proper HR department (this is important to the story, as you'll see, later on).

You know the background to The Accident. And you know that I've been struggling to cope with Tween's recovery, alongside work, and Teen, and all that. So after a few weeks of trying my best, I approached my boss to ask for a chunk of time off in the summer. I already had two weeks booked, and wanted another two weeks. I was about to pop, I said, and I needed some time to look after my boy.

Yes, she said, but four weeks is a long time. Can you do some Keeping in Touch days? Work from home a couple of afternoons a week? And also, I'll need a full handover plan in place before you go. I found myself saying 'maybe' - but inside I was thinking, 'Why aren't you listening to me? I haven't got the mental space to do this.'

I remember flexing my fingers a lot. Tense.

On Monday, after a weekend of no sleep with Tween, I rolled into work red eyed and harridan-looking. I was tearful and stressed. My boss barked at me for something. I cried in the toilets.

A friend took me to one side. 'Just walk out', she said. 'Other things are more important'. I couldn't do that, but I asked to see my boss. Again, I tried to explain that I was failing, losing control, and I needed to go home. 'Yes', she said, 'but we need you to ....'

I was overcome with a powerful urge to do something ridiculous. Why was she unable to understand? Why could she not look at my situation and say JUST GO HOME?

That was when I asked her to phone HR. Please, I said, ask their advice. They will know what to do.

A couple of hours later and my boss tapped me on the shoulder. In a meeting room, she told me that I had been granted a week's compassionate leave, and two weeks' off on full sick pay. From there, I could take a block of annual leave. And from then, if needed, I could reduce my contracted hours temporarily, until Tween gets back on his feet.

I don't like crying at work, but the relief was so huge that I burst into tears. My boss gave me a stiff hug. I could tell she was thinking, 'how the fuck am I going to manage this?' What she didn't realise, I think, was quite how close to a breakdown I was. It wasn't her fault; some people see it naturally, but she just hadn't been trained to see the signs.

So thank you, HR. You get a lot of flack in life. But yesterday you saved me.


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Single parenting when things go wrong

I don't like to admit it, but life is hard at the moment.

In general, you know that I'm an advocate of single parenting. I don't mean just for the sake of it - I'm definitely not saying "HEY! LEAVE YOUR PARTNERS! IT'S ACE OVER HERE IN THE SINGLEPARENTDOM DEEP END!"  Just that, it's possible to be happy, and a good parent, and bring your children up well, if you're on your own.

But. When things go awry - when something unexpected happens - then life suddenly goes tits up and can become extremely stressful.

You may remember that Tween had his accident six weeks ago.  My ex and I thought that, as the docs had said he could return to school after two weeks, then that would be that. All better. Job done.

In fact, we have learnt that you can't predict how head injuries will heal. Unfortunately, as we were crowbarred out of hospital with such speed, we didn't get any follow-up information on what to expect. Actually, that's a lie - I was handed a faded, photocopied leaflet advising me to go to hospital in my child's head exploded (or something), but it was about as useful as a holey bucket.

So when, a couple of weeks later, I couldn't wake Tween up for school, I was worried. It happened again two days later. And then the following week, he woke up not being able to feel his arms.

I phoned the Ward number I had been given, but it was constantly engaged. So I made an emergency appointment with the GP, who then referred us back to hospital. Multiple hours and tests later, we were released, none the wiser.

Well, actually, a bit 'the wiser', because now I know that there are no answers, and that I need to give Tween time to sleep. To recover at his own pace. Something that I had not been allowing him - not due to the pressure of school, who have been wonderful - but because I have to work.

The pressure of having to work is all-consuming. Initially, they were great, giving me a week's compassionate leave and telling me that 'family comes first'. But as the weeks have unravelled, and I have been forced to change my days at short notice due to Tween's erratic sleeping, their patience is thinning. And my stress level is mounting.

Last week I had an epiphany. The summer holidays are coming, and there is no way that I will be able to (and should) send Tween to his usual holiday club while I'm at work. So I decided to ask for four weeks off.

No, was the answer. It's too long. We want you to come in for 'Keeping In Touch' days, to work from home. You'll need to do at least two days' work each week. And you'll have to plan for the time off you have, in detail. 'But how?' I asked, 'I'm already pushed to bursting.' 'Make time,' was the response.

Listen, I don't like to moan. But employers need to realise something. In situations like these - personal emergencies - if you don't support your employees, then they are going to pop. I can see myself being signed off from work by the docs through stress. They have said that I can apply for unpaid time off, which is my best option it seems, but I am still being put under pressure to work extra time to plan for the leave, which will involve additional time away from my children and more stress (and no extra money, of course).

I would love my employer to take a more holistic, long term approach. I want them to say, "Take as long as you need. We'll shuffle some of next year's holiday over for you. We'll organise extra resource for you to take the pressure off. We'll tell some people what you're going through. We'll help you get through this."

But they aren't saying that. And as a single parent, I don't have the support of another adult who can share my load. My ex has provided some help, but asking him feels like I am asking for a favour, and it should never be like that. Ever.

And so, I battle on with my employer and, in the process, try not to go stark raving bonkers.

Friday, 12 June 2015

My vagina is noisy - the underground world of fanny farts (or queefs)

Since having children, I've noticed that my vagina has taken on a duel persona. Persona #1: a normal vagina. Persona #2: a flaccid balloon.

Let me explain. Making love with an attractive man is generally a pleasant experience, is it not, ladies (or gents)? Most of the time, the only noises emanating from the whole experience are the 'oos' and 'aahs' from the mouth hole, and some general slurping from the lady bottom area. The vagina is behaving as a vagina should, and all is marvellous.

Until of course your gentleman friend approaches from behind. And then vagina #2 takes over. As well as this, the man's gentleman stick takes on its own persona #2a - that of a balloon pump - and the inflating begins.

At first it's hardly noticeable. But soon, the uncomfortable bloating sensation starts and you know that the #2 flaccid balloon is being slowly inflated. At this point, you are hoping for a quick finish, because if it continues, the balloon soon gets to fully-stretched, and a rather unnerving 'I'm about to explode' feeling comes over you (no pun intended).
The bleedin' balloon pump now feels like a screwdriver (no pun intended) and there's no choice but to tell the balloon pump operative to evacuate swiftly.

Which he does. Because you're screaming at him to GET THE F*CK OFF.

Now here, you have two post coital choices. 1: to tighten everything up in your nether regions and never relax, ever again. Even talking is out. And possibly breathing. Or 2: Let riiiiiiiiiiip with the initial queef*. And the minute it surfaces, you will laugh. And when you laugh, you've opened the flood gates. You've let the inflated balloon off, and it's metaphorically flying round the room with a very noisy PPPPRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRTTTTTTTTTTT. The fanny farts are loud, they're strong, and they seem never ending. You can kiss your love-making goodbye, because by this stage, the balloon pump will have shriveled to a piece of blu tac.

If there are funnier things in this world than a vaginal fart, I have yet to find them. It's something to do with their context, I think; love making is generally a serious exercise, particularly from behind. There's focused work to be done and you're both in the sexy zone. So when a massive, uncontrollable trump punctuates the Marvin Gayeness of it all, laughter (at yourself) is the only choice open to you. Which is a shame, because laughter promotes further, uncontrollable queefing (see above). Meaning more laughter, more farting...and so on.

The good news about fanny farts is that, although loud, they don't smell. The ejected air has only been in there for a few seconds, probably, and unlike your botty trumps, hasn't travelled through your colon, picking up poo smells en route. Presumably then, unlike proper farts, you can't set light to them either. So don't try that at home.

Whilst 'researching' this post I came across two amazing things. One is this article from the Telegraph published this January, in response to a poor woman whose noisy vagina was troubling her.

I started reading it 4 hours ago and have only just stopped laughing. (Not very grown up.)

But the best the -THE BEST THING - is this video. Put down your tea. Turn off the telly. Stop having family time.

Because, as a fitting end to this post, I give you three golden minutes of: The World Queefing Championships.

Altogether now: "Don't shit yourself, Debbie!"

Until the next time, then.



*Queef - a vaginal fart

And then the fun began...


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

My Favourite Place

Bath, from Prior Park

Having lived in Birmingham, Brighton, and London, I find myself bringing up my children in Bath. When I moved here 12 years ago, I felt it was like a working museum; the buildings are so homogenous, they almost feel unreal. (Even now, planning is so strict in the city that all construction has to be in (or at least 'faced' with) Bath stone.) There is a Georgian festival every year where people parade through the city, dressed as Mrs Bennett or Mr Darcy. There are the Roman Baths, of course, attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. The Arts flourish here; there's a literature and a music festival, a fringe, and three wonderful theatres. There are supposedly more choirs here per capita than anywhere else.

To temper the toffee-nosed middle-class-ness of it all, there are two universities and, in the summer, numerous language schools which flood the city with Italian and French students.

But the best thing about Bath - the BEST thing - is the fact that it's surrounded by hills. And so, if you climb to the top of pretty much anywhere, you get an amazing view of the city.

I took this photo in the winter from Prior Park, a landscape garden in the safe hands of the National Trust. It's 18th century (of course it is!) and is an absolute gem. The wonderful Palladian bridge - at the bottom of the photo - has 18th century graffiti scratched into its fabric. The sweeping valley has cows grazing on it from time to time, and the lake at the bottom is filled with fish. Oh, and there's a tea hut. With lit braziers (not brassieres, mind) to keep you warm in winter.

And five minutes' walk from Prior Park is the Bath Skyline, a six mile circular route around Bath with unbelievable views. It's apparently the most downloaded walk from the NT's website. More info here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bath-skyline/

If you visit Bath and come to Prior Park, don't bring the car. There's no parking available (which makes it relatively quiet); best to catch the red sightseeing bus or the No.1 - or get your walking shoes on and hoof it up the hill.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Teen and Tween Special: Leaving your children home alone

My boys are 12 and 14. I am a single parent. There are times, unfortunately, when I have to leave them on their own.

Even though my 14 year old is more mature than his own grandpa (oh - is it 6pm, mum? Time for PJs and cocoa!), I worry about doing this. The law is woolly, with the guidelines being

- children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
- children under 16 shouldn't be left alone overnight
- babies, toddlers and young children should never be left alone.

We all know that the law is there to remind us of what should be common sense; of course babies should never be left alone. Of course you'd never leave your children overnight.

But can I leave my boys together for an afternoon in the school holidays, while I work? Sometimes I have to. And particularly now, as Tween's accident means he can't play sports for three months, which means his holiday club is out.

I feel very uncomfortable about it.

This, quite frankly, spells a pile of old bollocks for the summer holidays. It means that either a) I lean very heavily on the goodwill of other parents, unable to pay them back, because I'm always at work, b) leave the boys at home whilst I work, and risk them tearing each other to pieces over time allocation on the Xbox, or c) take unpaid leave. Which I can't afford. And honestly - work frowns on anyway (because we don't live in Sweden).

My boys beg me to leave them on their own. "You don't trust us," they wail. "Not like Freddie's mum - she leaves Freddie outside for DAYS." (He is left to his own devices A LOT.)  And I try to explain to them that it's not that I don't trust them (although obviously it is) - it's just that, I don't trust ANYONE ELSE IN THIS GOD FORSAKEN WORLD. Without me there, they could step out into the road (dead), fall down a cliff (dead), put their heads in the oven (extremely uncomfortably hot). They could get picked up by a stranger (dead), fall into a man trap (dead), or drown in the bath. Dead.

And that, I try to explain to them, is why they need me. Because I am their life-support machine. I keep them alive.

Obviously I'm joking. A bit. I never say these things out loud. But I do say them in my head. And I know that they're not 4 and 2 anymore and I know that, if this were the 1970s, they'd both be out on their bikes everyday, climbing trees, playing chicken - and I would only see them at teatime. And they'd very probably be very much ok.

Where are the Yoof Clubs of old? The places where our teenagers could go, shoot some pool, put some tunes on the jukebox and rot their teeth by drinking too much pop? If your child is sporty, all well and good - there are clubs galore - but if they're on the nerdy side, the pull of the online monster is too much, and they're all tempted to spend the whole day with the curtains shut playing Shoot My Fucking Head Off. To death. And what's worse is - they think it's OK. (It isn't.)
Teenagers. Not dead, but doing a YOOF drama project

We don't have a Yoof Club round here. I'm not sure if they even exist anymore. Sodding arsing Government cuts.

So this summer will be spent stressing that I'm not being a good mum (as usual). Leaving my children at home to play with knives or browse GodKnowsWhat on the internet, whilst I chew my nails at work and try to stop myself from phoning them every quarter of an hour.

Parents of Teens and Tweens - how do you cope with the holidays? I would really appreciate your advice.

_______________
@secretdivorcee

Ref: Gov website advice on leaving your child at home: https://www.gov.uk/law-on-leaving-your-child-home-alone

And then the fun began...
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