Thursday, 17 April 2014

Whyyyy are weeeeee waiiiiiiting?

     I’ve just found this – I was supposed to post it back in December, after Happy as a pig in a sauna. I’ve no idea why I didn’t. Probably running late for the school run, and then completely forgot all about it. I’m really organised like that.

     After all that excitement, you might think I would be a bit tired on Friday morning. Not a bit of it. I woke up at eight to a freshly made cafetiere of brilliantly strong coffee, and a pink Alistair. A very pink Alistair. A seriously pink Alistair, who had suddenly lost all the snot that had caused him to be such a wet blanket the day before. He had been cured by the sauna, and spent such a long time in there that when we went outside for a cigarette, he was steaming from every inch of his body. I was in such rollicking good spirits that this struck me as hilarious and I could barely inhale anything at all as a result.

     I did manage to eat a  fair bit of my 15 mile Norfolk breakfast (and a bloody good job I did, considering what was to transpire that afternoon), which was blimming delicious. But soon, too soon, it was time for us to get back in the car and wave a fond farewell to The Pigs (with me mouthing sadly ‘I’ll never forget you. I love you’ as we drove out of the car park).

     My mum had been very clear that we didn’t need to come home too early. In fact, she had actually been quite insistent that we didn’t come home before five. She really didn’t want us to come home. Curious. Can’t think why. So we had a few more hours to wring some fun out of, I was in worryingly high spirits, and Alistair had been restored to his full fighting weight now that the snot had melted away. It was a beautiful day, the sun was high in the big blue sky and the howling gale of the day before had vanished. Onwards! To Sheringham!

     I say I was in worryingly high spirits. This generally means that I will find absolutely everything pants wettingly funny, and Sheringham certainly did not disappoint. First of all was the cheery sign:

     I see what they’ve tried to do there. Someone’s thought ‘All that grey, stained concrete looks a bit bleak. Let’s add a nice little motto to it instead, in a nice bright blue.’ Instead, the zinginess of the blue just makes the unrelenting grey seem even bleaker and depressing. Job done.

     Further on, at some point, someone commissioned a local artist to paint a mural of beach life on the concrete. Look, I’m not artistic. I can barely draw a straight line with a ruler. But this mural was very much of the half-arsed variety, and I could only conclude that halfway through it being made, the funding ran out and the artist buggered off. The first painting we saw had me convulsed with giggles. I think the woman is supposed to be taking a photo. But it’s certainly open to interpretation.

     Then there’s the ice cream van lady. I don’t think it was modelled on John Bird, but I can’t be sure.

     And here we see Ed Balls smirking that Iain Duncan Smith fell for the old ‘Death by Cyanide Sandwich’ trick.

     They’re definitely very welcoming in Sheringham though. Just look at this sign:

     Welcome to Sheringham! Here are all the interesting ways in which you might die, injure yourself, or otherwise come a cropper!

     They’re also very helpful. Most dog poo bins just settle for a jaunty drawing of a dog out for a walk. Sheringham pours scorn on these misleading and confusing images. Why do that when you can actually show a dog having a crap? No room for misinterpretation there.

     But it was a beautiful day. Looking further up the coast, we could see where Blakeney Point juts out into the North Sea, and the sunniness of the day was reflected in our mood.

     Clearly, something had to be done. And we made the fateful decision to go to Cromer.

     If my mum had known of this, she would have disowned me. She grew up in Sheringham you see, so I’m Not Allowed To Go To Cromer. It’s a bloody nightmare to navigate, it’s always windy and the seagulls are vicious. But Alistair wanted to go, and now that he was snotfree, I was happy to indulge him. Also, he was driving, so I didn’t really have a say in the matter. It took us about an hour to find a place to park (trust me, Cromer town centre is a fecking one way system nightmare) and we walked along the pier (or Croomer Pear as locals call it), and then back up to the prom. Hmm, this pub looks nice. Lunch? Yes.

     I wasn’t really hungry after my mammoth breakfast at The Pigs, but we went in anyway. A lovely smiley blonde barmaid handed over some menus and we decided what to order. Alistair asked if we could order – Take a table and someone will be with you. So we did that. After twenty minutes, no one had come over. So Alistair nipped up to the bar again – Yep, John’ll be with you in a minute. So we waited, noticing that people who’d come in after us were ordering their food. Time passed. Now people who’d come in twenty minutes after us were being served their food.

     I went up to the bar to order another drink. And chase up the elusive John. Yep, John would be with us shortly, return to your table! Waited. Waited… w-a-i-t-e-d… We had been in the pub for over an hour now. It was after two. On a weekday afternoon in November. In north Norfolk. Chances of many places still serving food at this hour? Slim. Alistair went up to the bar again, and was slightly more firm this time. Still no sign of John. Was he real? Or just on a very long fag break?

     In addition to being embarrassingly prone to giggles when in a good mood, I also start finding things hysterically shouldershakingly funny when a disaster is unfolding. So I started titting about, singing ‘WHYYYYY are we WAITING?’ in loud, nasal tones. Alistair tried to ignore me. This amused me.
So I took a photo of him.

     He ignored me harder. I took another photo of him, slightly closer this time.

     He resolutely refused to acknowledge that he was aware of my presence. So I took another photo of him.

     Yay! Success! Then I turned my attention to twitter. Changing my name to ‘Table 3 at...’, I began tweeting at the establishment we were sitting in. Passive aggressive, snidey little comments about how crap their service was, how bored we were, how rubbish they were… We really should have just cut our losses and left, found a Tesco and bought some sandwiches. But this felt like a battle, dammit! I wasn’t going to admit defeat. For whatever reason, they didn’t want to take our order and feed us in exchange for our money. I would not back down until I had paid them for the privilege of being pissed off and ignored.

     The barmaid was out amongst the tables, taking orders from other customers. Other customers who had come in after us. The subtle approach clearly wasn’t working. I sprang to my feet as she passed ‘HEELLLLOOOO! HIIIIII THERE!!!’ Alistair, mortified at sitting next to this mad, hungry, woman, grabbed my arm and tried to pull me back into my chair. With the deftness of someone driven beyond endurance, I wriggled free and continued booming ‘WE ARE TABLE THREEEE! WE WOULD LIIIKE TO ORDER SOME FOOOOOD! WE’VE BEEN WAITING QUIIIITE SOME TIIIIME!’ Finally, finally, the barmaid came over. No apology for the delay of over an hour in taking our order. No explanation as to the continuing lack of John. She took our order (Ploughman's for me, burger for him), vanished.

     I was beyond pissed off now. Going through their twitter account, I started replying to their tweets. Bandying around phrases like ‘tardy and inept tossers’. ‘Order your Sunday roast in time for Tuesday!’ ‘Coffee morning – take it up to bed with you!’ I didn’t care that I was behaving like a spectacular twat, I was finding myself hilarious. Every time another customer was served within less than five minutes, I remarked on it to the room at large. I was being such an utter brat, and I could not stop laughing about it. Something very liberating at being so narked that you no longer feel constrained by manners. Also, if you are me, something that will make you cry and whoop with laughter

     With unprecedented punctuality, our food arrived forty minutes after ordering. Let’s just recap. A burger & chips, a Ploughman’s. I could pretty much rustle that up at home within twenty minutes, and I’m not a professional. My lunch was described thus:  Selection of Cold Meats, Cheeses, Pickles. Sliced Apple, Red Lion Chutney, Chips, Coleslaw and Bread. Mmm. Yummy! Except… No apple. A few chips. One teeny tiny end slice of bread. No cold meat… but the unexpected bonus was a hot, freshly cooked chicken breast! Woo!

     I looked at the wooden platter thingy, looked at Alistair, looked back at the plate, and then exploded into a paroxysm of giggles. I’m fairly sure I added my own ‘special relish’ of snot to the food before me. I was uncontrollable. There were NO WORDS. No words to describe just how funny I thought this situation was. Not only had we been in the pub for two hours now, but they had given me nothing like what I’d ordered. Everyone else around us was having the most lovely time, and we were like a little corner of catastrophe. I didn’t even think of asking just what the buggery fuck was going on. If I’d tried to send the food back, they probably would have sent out a cup-a-soup as a replacement. In August 2017.

     Being British, of course, we ate it, made no complaint, and paid in full. But the thing that is still making me laugh, even now, five months later, having just discovered this unposted, lurking in my documents, is that the Red LionCromer have never replied to, or acknowledged in any way, any of my tweets. I'll give them a few more months. Wouldn't want to rush them...

Monday, 14 April 2014

Strange Day at Strangers' Hall

     If you are a parent, then you will have been there. The day that dawns so brightly, so full of promise, your family bubbly and excited, ready for your day out… that quickly descends into A Bad Day Out. Just off the top of my head, there was the afternoon at Norwich Cathedral that The Boy was an unrelenting arse for. The day we spent at the Muckleburgh Collection, Alistair and The Boy in heaven, drooling over tanks and military displays, whilst I lagged behind, cold, grumpy, and yearning for gin, The Girl not yet a year old and not happy about being confined to her pushchair. The trip to a museum a few weeks ago that was overrun with a group of Swedish schoolchildren seemingly off their tits on sugar.

     You know you should just give up. Cut your losses and say ‘Ok, this isn’t working, no one is having fun, let’s go and have a drink and some cake, then go home.’ But you never do. Instead, you grit your teeth, gird your loins and determinedly drag the children along behind you, hellbent on Having Fun and Learning New Things. This will be fun, because I said it would be several hours ago! The children whine and dawdle, you run out of patience, and if you happen to be with your other half, there is guaranteed to be an argument over whose stupid idea was this anyway, you said it would be fun, for god’s sake, don’t speak to the children like that, FINE, have it your way then…

     Last Wednesday had all the hallmarks of looming disaster. A beautiful sunny day, me and The Blondies off on a jaunt to Strangers' Hallmuseum. I was excited to the point of hyperventilation when I found out there was a free craft activity happening – Middle Class Parenting Observation Opportunity! Be still, my beating heart! It started  well, as things tend to. We caught the bus in – still considered a charming novelty by The Blondies – and I suggested that, as we’d arrived later than planned, we had lunch first. Another massive treat – let’s have chips from the market! Ooh, no, wait, there’s a fish and chip shop nearby, we can get food there, then eat it outside on the grass outside St Gregory. We pointed ourselves in the direction of the Norwich Lanes and set off, except that I was immediately grabbed by a chugger, who seemed oblivious to the fact that I had two young children with me and suggested he might ‘grab hold of me, you look like you’d give good grab, know what I mean?’

     After I’d stepped over his cooling corpse, my mood had darkened somewhat. But, no! This is going to to be fun! In fact, it’s going to be FUN!! And then we got to the chippy. At lunchtime. No obvious method of queuing, just a press of customers shouting to make themselves heard over the radio and everyone else. The Blondies shrank into themselves, silenced by such high volumes that they hadn’t created. I parked them in a corner, ordered… and waited. And waited. And w-a-i-t-e-d… Twenty minutes later, we were handed the wrong food, I grabbed it, and we made good our escape.

     Bitter experience warned me that this was shaping up to be An Absolute Horror Of A Bad Day Out. Both Blondies were now quiet, withdrawn, all excitement wrung out of them. They picked at their chips without interest. I tried, too hard, to be happy! And excited! And inspiring! Isn’t this lovely?! Sitting on the grass with chips! In the sunshine! And isn’t the church beautiful?! Aren’t we lucky to live in such a wonderful city like Norwich?! I managed to get a few halfhearted smiles in response, but the mood of happy expectation had evaporated. I dickered with myself over whether or not to proceed. Sod it, we’ve made it this far. And besides, I hadn’t been to Strangers' Hall for at least 25 years. I was curious.

     Approaching the entrance, The Girl made a sudden diversion into the toilet. Whispering, I managed to elicit from her that she was feeling scared. The Boy confirmed that he seconded this emotion. Oh god, this is going to be awful… Nevertheless, I pushed open the door… and there we were, in the Great Hall of a Tudor merchants house. Actual gasps of awe from The Blondies. And within three seconds, they fell in love. So did I.

     It is such a perfect museum, and for the ages of The Blondies (nine and five) just ideal. Each room is set up so you can see how the house would have looked at various times in history, the people who lived there, worked there, what they filled their lives with… The guides in the rooms who were full of interesting facts about the things to look out for, from the details of a cushion to initials on a fireplace to where the word penknife comes from. The Boy giggled until he nearly fell over when he heard me squeal ‘An UNDERCROFT! I’d forgotten about the 14th century UNDERCROFT!’. The Girl was in raptures over the dolls houses in the toy room (bit of a long pause in that room, so they could play with the big box of toys provided by the museum, and I could sit down). 

     Then the final part of the day… The garden. I didn’t even know that Strangers' Hall had a garden. But it does. A beautiful, tranquil oasis in the heart of medieval Norwich, part of it laid out as a knot garden, the rest lawn. And a basket of toys – traditional toys like quoits, diablos, bilbos, with laminated cards telling you a little about the history of various games. The Blondies went loopy. I did a fair amount of loopiness too. Not only had we discovered Our New Favourite Place, but we had wrested victory from the jaws of Bad Day Out defeat. I should have taken a lot more photos of our visit than I did, but to be honest we were so into everything, that I just didn't think to. Also, if you are ever in Norwich or Norfolk, then you must visit Strangers' Hall yourself, and I don't want to spoil the surprise by telling you too much about what you'll find there. And if I haven't convinced you with that explanation, I have at least convinced myself. I did get this shot though. Yeah, just your average garden wall, really.

     And then… I had an experience so unprecedented that I know I will never do it again. I outmummed another middle class mum. Yeah. I know. The Blondies decided they wanted to play Grandmas Footsteps and roped me in. It was a stupid amount of fun, especially because The Girl was being bonkersly competitive, and every time I turned round, she was sneaking up, looking like this.

But unable to hide her delight and high spirits. We giggled like we’ve never giggled before. Giggled so much in fact, that we drew the attention of two other children in the garden, a boy and a girl. They were a few years younger than The Blondies respectively, probably seven and three. I was just about to ask them if they wanted to play with us, when they asked their mum if she would play the same game with them, right next to us. Errr… it got a bit awkward. I think her children were just a bit too young to play. The 7yo boy refused to let anyone else win. The 3yo girl started crying because she wasn’t winning. The mum tried to mediate between them. No budging from either side. Meanwhile, the three of us were romping and giggling and chasing and generally behaving like a family on a National Trust poster (minus the Boden outfits, obviously). We projected wholesome family fun like an aura, whilst she dealt with the fallout of A Bad Day Out. It was the one and only time I’ve felt like I was kicking the arse of parenting.

     But I felt so very awkward. If I were her, I would hate me. So we made a diplomatic exit, bought ice creams from the market, and sat up at the top, looking at the landmarks of this fine city. Then rounded it off with a purchase of soft fruit from a stall. Turning homewards, The Boy commented ‘I smell quiche.’ Bugger me, we were every cliché ticked. Perhaps... perhaps this marks a change in our lives as a family. Perhaps... I might be learning how to be like Other Parents.

     Right up until we walked through a churchyard and I had to bellow at them ‘NO, WE DON’T STEP ON THE DEAD PEOPLE, THE BOY! THE GIRL! STOP SAYING ‘DAMMIT’! ’ That’s better. Back to normal. Normal for Norfolk. Normal for us.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

To Sir, with love.

     Mr Burns. No, not the one from The Simpsons.

     Although if you do want to see a really freaky picture of Mr Burns, I have a photo of The Boy, aged about five days old... Not helped by the fact that he had jaundice, so was bright yellow at the time. ‘I GAVE BIRTH TO MR BURNS’ screams my brain whenever it’s confronted with this. Anyhoo, I’m not talking about The Boy, or The Simpsons…

     When I started high school, it’s fair to say it was something of a shock to me. I’d gone from a very ‘naice’ middle school, all music lessons, sensible shoes, and choir practice, to a melding together of children from all over the city. Somehow, the powers that be managed to combine all of the worst behaving troublemakers from each school and plonk them in one class. That was us. 8HP.

     We were awful, truly. We were the first ever class to be put on class report. The first ever class to have a week long class detention. It wasn’t me, or a small number of the others, but as a whole, we were infamous.  There were genuine arseholes, children with terrible home lives, mouthy little shits, gobby twats, kids who should have been given far more educational support than they were. For the most part, I just tried to keep my head down and not get involved, but even that didn’t work. If anything happened, anywhere, as a member of 8HP, you were automatically under suspicion (And if Mr Stone si reading this, then you are a hateful and despicable bully, and yes, I still remember getting into all kinds of shit because you blamed me for opening a fire exit when I didn’t, you bastard).

     It didn’t help matters that our form tutor, Mr Hampshire, was weedy, wet, and completely ineffectual at attempting to discipline us. He hadn’t been teaching long in any case, and trying to handle this unruly mob of thieves, liars and crooks was far beyond his capabilities. It wasn’t really much of a surprise when, at the end of the summer term, it was announced that he had been chosen to take over another form. And our new form tutor would be… Mr Burns.

     An actual tremor ran through the class. Mr Burns? Mr. Burns. MR. BURNS. Oh shit.

     He hadn’t taught any of us. But we all knew who he was. He was short, fat, not blessed with good looks, scruffy. A witheringly sarcastic Liverpudlian, the type of teacher who, just by pausing in his writing, could make an entire class shrink together in terror. This was no coincidence. He had been selected to sort us out. 8HP was going to change. To 9BZ, obviously, yes, but what I mean is, we no longer were going to get away with covering the form tutors desk with silly string, or breaking into the sheds behind our mobile to set fire to things.

     The first morning of Year 9, we were uncharacteristically quiet and well behaved. We called him ‘Sir’ a lot, as we wrote out our timetables. At no point did anyone fart, deliberately loudly, to create uproar. No one flicked spit balls from their rulers. I was bloody delighted when I realised that we’d been streamed into classes now, and I could leave the miscreants of 8HP behind me, along with two other friends who had survived the baptism of fire in 1992/93.

     The spell was never broken. 8HP was obliterated. 9BZ stood instead, still slightly naughty, still winking, still mischevious. But the anarchy of that first year never returned. Mr Burns ruled us by fear, an iron fist in a steel glove,  clutching lead piping. Any hint of rebellion was crushed instantaneously.

     And then, at the start of 1994, a lot of things happened in my life. My grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She came to stay with us for four weeks, then decided to move back to her own home, just ten minutes away. She died a week later. My parents, whose marriage was always rocky, argued constantly. My dad’s business nearly went to the wall, meaning we would have lost our home too. Then, about six weeks after Gran died, I came home one afternoon to find that my mother had left my father, and was taking me with her, to stay with a friend of hers.

     I know that plenty of worse things happen to people, but it was a lot to take in, especially at the age of 14. Then Dad had a nervous breakdown. So I moved back home to make sure he was ok (my siblings weren’t living at home). Finally, to top it all off, I was told that it was my decision who to live with, and that whoever I chose, would be the one to live with me at the ‘family’ home. The other parent would live elsewhere. There was no mention of visitation rights. Essentially, I would have to choose which parent to keep, and which one to throw away. I chose Dad.

     And then, one Monday morning, after a difficult and emotionally fraught weekend, I was standing in line for Mr Burns to sign my homework diary. I’d had to forge Dad’s signature, and the worry of this deception suddenly became overwhelming. I burst into tears. Everyone else in the class rubbernecked like mad as I howled like a wolf, completely inconsolable, sinking to the floor, making strange and incomprehensible sounds (I think I was saying something about ‘it all being too much’). Mr Burns sent the class out early, cancelled his lessons for the morning and sat with me, as I slowly calmed down and explained everything that had happened over the last few weeks. He was kind, understanding, a good listener. Then he suggested I go home for the day, that there was no point being at school when I was in such a state.

     The next day, he checked on me at morning and break registration, saw that I was coping, let me know that the school had support systems in place for people like me.

     But that wasn’t the end of it. No, no. I think this was probably the first time in my life I experienced depression. Not ‘oh my god, I hate you, my life is so terrible, why are you doing this to me, I didn’t ask to be born’ teenage angst, but true depression. I couldn’t sleep, eat, took no pleasure in anything. I avoided my friends. And I developed a terrible, crippling phobia of school. It was a genuine phobia. I couldn’t bear to leave the house. I cried at the thought of it. The thought of going to school make me physically retch, shake, fear gripped me like nothing I’d ever known before.

     So I stopped going. Sometimes I managed to get Dad to agree to me staying home (usually by crying). But on the rare occasions he insisted, I’d leave the house, hide in one of the little alleyways nearby for half an hour or so, then go back home, sit up in my second floor bedroom, smoke Marlboro Lights and read. There was one month where I think I went to school a grand total of two days.

     School noticed of course. But, and I don’t know how or why, buy Mr Burns saved my unworthy arse. He looked up my classes, got the lesson plans from the various teachers, and sent them to my house. So I did the work, just not in class. I’d drop it off to him after the school day had finished, he’d give it to the teachers. He arranged meetings with my dad, and got Dad to sign something saying that he was home educating me, so we didn’t get in trouble. When it was exam time, he had the exam papers sent to me, and I, respecting the trust he’d placed in me, sat the papers at home, under exam conditions (let’s ignore the glass of Ribena I had on the kitchen table). Finally, I asked my dad if I could abandon school altogether until the start of Year 10. I don’t know what strings got pulled there, but aside from the exams in June, I had my last formal day of Year 9 in the middle of May.

     And by September, I was ok again. And I slotted straight back into school, with my friends, as if nothing had ever happened. 1995 brought more problems. But outwardly, at least, I held it together. And I always knew that Mr Burns kept an eye on me.

     He was still strict, still sarcastic, still capable of reducing a class of gobby 15 year olds to awed and respectful silence. But he saved school for me. Without him, I would have failed Year 9, failed my GCSEs, probably never have sat A Levels.

     And I never thanked him for it. With the callousness of teenage youth, I moved on, into Sixth Form, and forgot all about Mr Burns, and what he did for me, without ever being asked. He would have got himself into a stupid amount of trouble for colluding with my truancy, and I didn’t appreciate it until so many years later. I’ve tried to look him up a few times online, but nup, nothing. I don’t think he teaches at the same school anymore. Then today, I saw a man. A familiar man. But he didn’t seem to look as old as I thought he would.

     ‘Excuse me, you’re Mr Burns, aren’t you? You won’t remember me, but you were my form tutor a long time ago, my name’s…’

     ‘Lucy Benedict.’

     And we chatted for a few minutes, he remembered all too clearly that awful time in 1994, and what had gone on. He was impressively stunned that I have children of my own now (trust me, if you’d known me as a teenager, you’d be pretty stunned too), and it was great to see him. But more importantly, I got to thank him. To let him know that I hadn’t forgotten what he did for me, that I appreciated it, and that he made a big difference to my life. And that sometimes, the best teachers aren’t the ones you have lessons with. They are the people you learn the important things from.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Thank you

     A short one. Just a thank you really, to anyone who’s ever taken a few minutes of time to read the rambling and confused thoughts of an unemployable twatty blogger who is trying to make sense of things with two Blondies in tow. The blog passed something of a milestone overnight, and I’m still quite stunned to think that so much has changed in less than a year, just from one small thing.

     I’d like to say more than that, I’d like to be more eloquent and articulate, and let you know how touched I am whenever someone gets in touch to say they enjoyed reading something on here. It means more than I can say. Unfortunately, a mix up between GP and chemist means I’ve had a pretty rough week. A fucking horrific week, actually, involving cold turkey withdrawal from anti-depressants. I do not recommend this. But it has reminded me that in the same way that someone can be an alcoholic despite not drinking for twenty years, I have depression, BUT  I’m not depressed now. So I have two things to be thankful for. This blog, and a mind that’s no longer mired in misery.

     And you guys, of course. You don’t know the difference you’ve made. I'll shut up now before I make myself cry.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Things my mother taught me

     To be honest, it’d be easier to title this ‘Things my mother tried to teach me’. My mother is the kind of practical, resourceful person, product of a 1950s childhood in Norfolk, who can tackle pretty much anything. God knows, the poor woman has tried to pass on things to me, but I am utterly cackhanded and irresponsible compared to her.

     She was taught to sew and knit by her mother, and when I was about eight, she decided to pass on her knowledge by teaching me cross stitch. We were both amazed and delighted by how quickly I managed to master it and I undertook my first ‘project’, sitting on the sofa in the living room. It was a success! Right up until the moment I stood up, and realised that I’d managed to sew my project to my stripy Chelsea girl wool leggings.

     Skimming stones. I know I used to be able to do this. I distinctly remember standing on the edge of the lake at UEA with Mum and feeling the joy of seeing my stone bouncing across the surface of the water. Determined to impart my knowledge to The Boy a few months ago, I confidently demonstrated my skill during a walk at Blickling. The first stone sank like…a…stone. The second stone did the same. Third stone, I followed through a bit too much, my front foot skidded forward in the mud, my back foot remained rigidly where it was, I nearly did the splits, fell on my knees, and the fecking stone stubbornly refused to skim. Mum selected a stone, span it across, and it bounced five times before it vanished.

     I would love to know the things my mum does. The names of plants, trees, birds… The kind of information it’s actually useful to know, and good to share with others. She must have told me the same things over and over again for the last 34 years, and yet, nope. None of it ever sticks. It’s as though I expect her to always be there to tell me these things, so my brain tells itself ‘No need to worry, you can rely on Mum to tell you, go into standby mode.’

     I am magnificently lazy. An absolute slut when it comes to housework. It’s not that I’m lavishly messy or grubby, I just can’t be arsed to clean the windows. But my mum doesn’t just do the stuff that has to be done (washing up, laundry, emptying bins etc). She actively seeks out housework to do. Honestly. My house is never cleaner than when she stays with us. Firstly, because I go into a mad cleaning meltdown ahead of her arrival, but mostly because I’ll come back from the school run to find her descaling the iron I never use, or polishing brass. How do you train yourself to be that kind of person? The type of person who doesn’t always have at least one dusty glass of water on the bedside table? It’s a skill she hasn’t managed to transfer to me.

     Or liking sport. She is 62 in six weeks time, and she is healthier and fitter than I have ever been in my adult life. Growing up, if Mum wasn’t at work,  she would be taking an aerobics class, or playing tennis, or having a squash lesson. Now it’s slightly more sedate activities, like golf and going for U3A walks, but still. She tried, again and again, to turn me into an athlete, but it was always doomed to fail. Like the tennis class where I was the oldest by four years, and got soundly thrashed by bloody six year olds every week. The time she tried to get me to go to the gym (pulled a ligament, couldn’t walk properly for weeks). The gymnastics class where I hit my head on the wooden floor, puked with shock, could never face going back. The only thing I was ever any good at was swimming, but that withered up and died when I was a teenager and became very aware of what I looked like in my costume.

     But for all that, she has taught me a lot. And we are more similar than we are different. I am a demon at creating brilliant meals out of sod all, thanks to her. I never go long without laughing, thanks to her. I love to sing, loudly, thanks to her. I dance around the kitchen, thanks to her. I love to go for walks, thanks to her. I’m not, and never have been, a helpless girly girl, thanks to her. I can be hugely bolshy and bloodyminded, thanks to her. I watch people, and notice not just what they say & do, but also why, thanks to her. If I’m faced with a challenge that people think I won’t conquer, I go all out to do it, just to prove them wrong, and prove to myself that I can do it, thanks to her (this is known as her ‘Christmas Tree’ and my ‘High Tor’ mood). I know the lyrics of every Beatle song recorded, thanks to her. I know the history of my parents, their parents, their lives, thanks to her. I know the value of a handmade kangaroo, given to a three year old girl.

     So to a wonderful mother, with wrinkly skin*, thank you Memmy. Thank you for teaching me what is important.



     *There are two people in the world who will get this joke. I am one. You are not the other. Unless you are my mother.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Smothering Sunday

     I have been reliably informed not to expect much on Mothers Day. We have a big summer holiday coming up, and all available funds are being diverted towards that. To be honest, I’m not massively bothered. The things that I want can’t really be bought in any case. Just in case any of the three Blondies are reading this, here’s my handy guide to what I really would like to receive.

     Not a lie in. I don’t want a lie in. Lie ins in this house always end up the same. The Girl tiptoes into our bedroom, whispers in my ear ‘MUMMAY! HUNGRAY!’ Alistair stirs, mumbles. I keep my eyes squeezed closed, and pretend to be asleep. ‘MUMMAY!’ Alistair rolls over, mumbles sleepily ‘THE GIRL! LET MUMMY SLEEP! COME AND GET INTO THE MIDDLE OF THE BED! AND SLEEP FOR A BIT LONGER!’ The Girl delicately replies ‘HUNGGGGRAAAAYYYY!’ Alistair whispers back ‘OK I’LL GET UP IN A MINUTE! JUST BE QUIET SO YOU DON’T WAKE MUMMY UP! SHE’S HAVING A LIE IN!!!!’ By this time I am wide awake and silently, poisonously furious to no longer be sleeping, and get up to feed The Girl. Alistair then says ‘Darling? What are you doing up? Go back to bed, have a lie in.’ My eyes narrow, my lips tighten and I hiss ‘I’m AWAKE now.’ So I don’t want a lie in. I want sleeping pills. Pills that will knock me out for upwards of twelve hours. And perhaps an afternoon nap on the sofa.

     Alcohol. Wine will do the trick nicely.

     Food. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A Pot Noodle and a bag of Mini Cheddars. Just as long as I’m not the one making it, and more pertinently, the one who has to clean up afterwards.

     I know it’s Mothers Day. But can we make it Fathers Day instead? So that if The Boy is sitting next to Alistair in the dining room, and I’m upstairs having a shower, The Boy doesn’t get off the sofa, amble upstairs to me, and say ‘Muuum? Can I have a cup of tea?’ resulting in the inevitable response of ‘You have TWO parents! Ask your father to do it!’

     Alcohol. Gin is good.

     I would quite like, at least once, to be able to have a wee undisturbed, and without having to chat about Moshi Monsters/Monster High/Animal Jam/CBeebies. A small thing, but a distant memory.

     Alcohol. I’m fond of Pimm’s.

     No chocolate. I’m really not a massive fan. I don’t mind it, but I don’t really buy it for myself, and massive slabs of the stuff have never really held any attraction. If you feel you ought to buy me some, then a Double Decker is fine. But really, I’d prefer wine gums.

     Alcohol. I quite like cider.

     I don’t want anything shop bought that in any way references ‘Mum’ ‘Mummy’ or ‘Mother’. I know I am a mother. Believe me, I know. It’s hard to escape knowledge of this, especially when the three of you are at home, and I can’t hear myself think, or walk across a room without standing on a Lego brick, or have a single day when I’m not battling the ever growing washing pile. Even the times when I’m on my own, I know I am a mother. All I have to do is look at the stripy stretchmarks on my boobs, or catch sight of my ‘wobbling and withered tummy’ (thanks to The Boy for that description). I know I am a mother.  I don’t need shop bought cycnically marketed tat to remind me of it.

     Alcohol. Baileys. A Baileys coffee is a good thing.

     No ‘funny’ presents. No ‘novelty’ presents. It’s just more crap to fill the house with, when we’re already teetering under an avalanche of toys and stuff I’m not that keen on in any case. Let’s face it, it’s stupid, it’s pointless, I won’t find it amusing in the slightest, it’ll never get used. And I will resent you massively for frittering away money we don’t have (according to you). A home made card, cuddles, and ‘I love you’ is enough.

    Alcohol. I’m really not fussy.

     Food. Actually, I don’t even mind if you buy the raw ingredients for a meal and I end up cooking it. Really, it’s fine. What I do want is to be able to cook, undisturbed, in my kitchen, without the three of you leaning against cupboards I need access to, moving things I’m about to pick up, and ‘helping’ me by stirring things that don’t need to be stirred, then knocking over the saucepan of sauce I’ve just spent an hour preparing. I enjoy cooking for you. But I cook best when I’m not being asked ‘What are we having? When will it be ready? How long will it take? And how long is an hour? Is it ready yet? What are we having?’

     Alcohol. I’d even settle for a pint in a beer garden. Really.

     I love you three very much. You make me happier than I ever knew it was possible to be. You light up my life, make me cry, make me laugh, and I can’t bear to be away from you. But on Mothers Day, please just give me a little space, please.

     And alcohol. Obviously.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

How are YOUUUU?

     I just had a bit of a weird experience on the way home. Walking with The Blondies, we passed a woman, a bout my age, who seemed familiar. Stop.

     ‘Hi Lucy!’

     ‘Oh, wow! Hi Jane! How are you?’

     ‘Good, thanks. How are YOUUUUU?’ Her head tilted to an improbable angle as she asked me, her eyes taking in The Boy (stuffing his gob with Skittles) and The Girl (inksmudged face, remains of lunch on her dress), before returning to me, in my laddered tights, my rucked up skirt (it's my bloody BAG), my side plait and boots.

     And I knew exactly what she was thinking, with the clarity of many years experience. It's happened a few times in the last four years.

     We were at school together. We weren’t really friends, but we knew each other, and got on reasonably well enough, just different groups of friends. We’re connected on facebook, but haven’t seen each other since Sixth Form. But. Her mum is friends with my mum. So doubtless my mum has told her mum about me spectacularly losing the plot a few years ago. And almost certainly Jane's mum has told her. And Jane has almost certainly told the people we were at school with. ‘Oh my god! Did you hear about Lucy? She had really bad depression and tried to KILL HERSELF! Yes! Even though she has two kids. She must be really fucking MENTAL. I bet she got sectioned or something. Her mum told my mum that the POLICE brought her home a few times. Can you imagine? Well, she always was a bit odd, wasn’t she? Do you remember that time she…’

     I can see them, the simple, straightforward girls, with their swishy hair, having a ‘cheeky glass of wine on a school night’ or even during a hen do, gossiping and picking over the bones of someone they never knew all that well, and know even less now. Speculating about what I did, why I did it. I’m almost certain that one of them would have thought me selfish. Also that they probably think it was ‘a cry for help’, that ‘she didn’t really mean it’. I know that because some of my 'proper' friends have been there on those nights and got into arguments on my behalf.

     And thanks to the eyebrow plunging, fake concern face of Jane, I know full well that the next ‘Ooh, haven’t we done well to all stay friends since Year 8’ Girls Night Out, Jane will be telling them ‘Guess what? I bumped into Lucy a few weeks ago! I think she’s still… a bit… Just felt sorry for her kids, really.’
So, Jane, here’s what I would I would have liked to say to you, had time allowed. If I hadn’t had The Blondies with me. If we hadn’t had to pretend to be polite.

     ‘Nice to see you again. Yes, you’re right, I did spectacularly lose the plot a few years ago. I’m much, much better now, thanks, even though you didn’t ask. But I can tell you want to. I was very ill. For a very long time. But I’m much better now. It scares me that I could have been that ill. Just one thing – yes, I know it’s human nature to gossip. I do it too. But when you’re having your girly chats, and I come up, just remember that it could happen to you too. Depression doesn’t discriminate. I never thought that I would attempt suicide. But having been so mired in utter fucking misery for so long, I am truly happy now. Because I have found something in me that makes me so very happy that it’s infectious. So it’s not just me that’s happy, it’s my family too. Can you say the same? No? Oh.’


    ‘Jane! How are youuuuuuuu?’