Monday, 21 July 2014

In every home a heartache

     I used to spend a lot of time on the bus. About six hours a week. Every Friday, after school, down to Norwich bus station, pay £7.10 for my return ticket on the 97 bus, clamber aboard the ancient, smelly, sticky-floored double decker with scratchy seats, and find my place at the back of the top deck. Reading or writing made me feel sick on that two and a half hour journey, so instead I would watch the people around me. Usually I’d end up getting drawn into a conversation with someone, and because I was bored and a teenager, I’d make up some outlandish story about myself.

     I was studying Creative Writing at UEA. I was South African (my accent was impeccable; I can still say ‘chull aht rum’ with the best of them). I was 19 (actually I was between 14-18). I was visiting friends. I was about to go backpacking around the world. I was an actress (hmm…). I didn’t make up these stories to make strangers look stupid (although I undoubtedly was a massive idiot myself). I did it because I was bored, I wanted to fill the time, and simply, because I loved it. I loved not knowing what character I would create that afternoon. I loved thinking on my feet and pencilling a rough outline of a person, before filling in the little details and lies that created a new persona. And once the person I was talking to had got off the bus (few people travelled as far I did) I’d lose myself in thoughts of this shadowy female I’d made up.

     Sometimes though, I wouldn’t fall into conversation. On those journeys instead, I’d watch the people around me, wondering what combination of events had meant that their destiny was to be on the same uncomfortable bus as I was. Sometimes it was obvious. The kids from out in the sticks on their way home after a day at City College. The two women who’d gone shopping ‘up the city’ for the day. The mum and toddler chatting about their visit to Nan. But for everyone I could identify, there would be mysteries, people who weren’t so easy to read. The crying girl, staring out of the window. The man in a smart suit, reading papers on top of his briefcase. The young couple. What was going on in their lives?

     Same with the houses. The 97 used to wind and wend in and out of every village that studs the A47 as it heads west, every town too. In places like Dereham and Swaffham, it would squeeze down narrow streets, onto market squares now long redundant, before picking up pace again on housing estates. I’d gaze out of the windows at the identikit 1980s 3 bedroomed  red brick houses and wonder about the people who lived in them, their lives, their stories, their secret heartaches, their troubles, the pleasures that gave them joy. Who could really know what went on once the front door was closed?

     Think of your own life. Think of all the complexities, the battles, the hurts, the laughter. We only ever reveal a fraction of that to the outside world. When I'm logged out of twitter, when the door is locked, when the three Blondies are in bed, or at work or school... Who knows the innermost workings of my head, or yours? Who knows what's really going on in other peoples lives? I don't, but I want to. I want to watch every human life and understand it, why we do the things we do, feel the way we do, break down the way we do.

       I don’t go on the bus so much these days. No need or wish to visit the Fens. So I content myself instead with people in cafes, pubs, on the streets, picking up less on what people are saying, and more on what they’re unknowingly telling me. The nervous movements. The forced laughter. The protective body language.
And from that, I can build up a picture of who they really are. Know the secrets behind the smiles. In every home a heartache.

Just words

     It’s just words. Just words on a screen, on a page, in our heads. Just words. That’s what people say isn’t it? Stupid annoying playground chanting of ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!’

     What a load of nonsense. Complete and utter tosh. If I say to you ‘Wow! You look lovely today!’ you’ll smile, and pshaw, and make a dismissive hand gesture. But it’ll make you feel happy. Equally, if a teenage boy says to a teenage girl one Tuesday morning in geography ‘You look FATTER and UGLIER than normal today, Lucy’ then those words will stay with their recipient for ooh, a good twenty years at least.

     They’re just words, only words, just consonants and vowels strung together, twisting and sliding around one another to make sounds, to communicate to one another. Just words. If you really believe that, then tell me this, honestly. Have you ever been moved to tears by a book? A film? A song? By things that people have said to you? By things you’ve read online? By a conversation? And what was it that made you cry? Was it the light around you? Was it because you got cramp in your left foot? Or was it the words?

     Just words. People don’t always realise their power. A chance remark, an overheard conversation, a tweet not directed at you. But you see it, and your mood changes. It stops being just words. It hits you with full force, squarely in the stomach, and leaves you reeling. Sometimes the effect is deliberate. Death scenes, poetry, mawkish love songs, abuse. But very often the writer, speaker, singer may not have intended it to make you feel that way at all. They may just have been making an observation about something. They may not have been directing their words at you. They may have chosen the wrong word. But still. It stops being just words.

     Just words. It never is. It’s never just words. If that were true, then why do we encourage our children to speak? If it’s just words, why do we still communicate in the vast number of ways we do? If it’s just words, why do words stay with us? Why does our vocabulary shape how we see the world, and the world sees us? The words I see you using tell me more about you than merely the idea you are conveying. It tells me who you are. Or perhaps, who you’d like to be. Who you would like me to think of you as being.

     Just words. If that were true, why do we read for pleasure? Why do we have conversations about anything that isn’t purely functional? Why do we sing, why do we make jokes, why do we shout? Why do we write? We take the words and we use them, perhaps too much, perhaps too little.
   

     We build walls around ourselves with words. We interpret the world around us, navigating our way along with the limited tools of 26 letters and a handful of punctuation. It’s not just words. It’s never just words. It’s more than words.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Darker Arts of Child Wrangling

     Some days, not every day, but some days, The Blondies are absolute bastards. There. I’ve said it. They bicker, they squabble, they nitpick, they irritate annoy annoy irritate each other to infuriated screeching meltdowns and then there are furious tears (The Boy) or banshee-esque wailing (The Girl) and one exasperated mother (me). They especially like to fall into petty, mindless, kvetching at each other when we’re out and about, so that passersby are treated to the sight of it too. It’s not just that they get into these snarky, snippy little exchanges; it’s the fact that nothing bloody stops them once they get going.

     Telling off doesn’t work.

      Asking nicely doesn’t work.

     Pleading doesn’t work.

     Appealing to their better nature (ha!) doesn’t work.

     Shouting doesn’t work.

     Bribery doesn’t work.

     Muttering doesn’t work.

     Hissing at them doesn’t work.

     Separating them doesn’t work (see Proverbs 26:11)

     Threatening them with direr consequences doesn’t work.

     But humiliation… Humiliation works. Every. Single. Time.

     And I can teach you the darker arts of child humiliation, dear reader. Follow…

     Essentially, what you’re relying on is that their feeling of mortification is more heightened than yours. You have to behave in such a way that they want the ground to open up and swallow them down without a burp. It’s the only way to get them to stop sniping away at each other. Unfortunately, you have to make sacrifices too.

     You’re going to have to hang your dignity on a peg, close the door of the wardrobe, leave the room, walk out of the house, set the building on fire, and then scatter the ashes at sea. You can’t afford to be halfhearted about this. You’re going to have to throw yourself into it, and be completely convincing.

      You have to be loud. I said LOUD. No, LOUDER. LOUDER. That’s better. And then you have to behave in a way that draws as much attention to yourself as possible. Your decision as to how you do this. My weapon of choice is singing. And dancing. So, for  example, last week, The Blondies were  acting up on the way home, The Boy was doing some kind of niggling at The Girl who was squealing aggravatingly, so The Boy was shouting at her, so she was refusing to take another step. Next to us was a row of parked cars, the drivers and passengers quietly minding their own business, waiting to pick their children up from school…

BRING ME SUNSHINE IN YOUR SMILE I yodelled. BRING ME LAUGHTER ALL THE WHILE
IN THIS WORLD WHERE WE LIVE THERE SHOULD BE MORE HAPPINESS
SO MUCH JOY YOU CAN GIVE TO EACH BRAND NEW BRIGHT TOMORROW

     I have quite a load voice when required, and so my serenading didn’t go unnoticed. Especially because I was accompanying it with a very energetic dance routine that relied quite heavily on twirling round with arms outstretched, a bit like Julie Andrews at the start of Sound of Music (incidentally, that’s another good song to use. The level of volume required for ‘The HILLLLLS are ALIIIIIIVE’ means I don’t have to go much further than the first line).

     And all around me, a little miracle unfolded on the streets of NR2. Silence from The Blondies. Their irritate annoy annoy irritate mood evaporated, and instead, they wordlessly took hold of my hands, and continued the walk home.

     Like I said, you really have to make your children believe that you are capable and committed enough to maintain this for the rest of their natural lives. Under no circumstances can you tone it down when heads snap round to look at the madwoman belting out the Banana Boat Song. You have to give the performance of your life. Take that song, and make it your own, just like they say on talent shows.
  
      It’s a sacrifice, sure. People will notice you behaving like a stage school brat. But in my case, although I am shy, an introvert, a loner (or ‘lone wolf’ as The Boy insists on saying), I also don’t give a toss what people think of me. I’d rather have people stare than endure any more sodding bickering.



     You can do other things of course. Performing a silent foxtrot in the aisles of Sainsbury’s works quite well. Or trying on ever larger hats in a department store and posing in exaggerated fashion. You can also try being stupidly over affectionate with them, slobbering wet kisses and endearments over them. Usually has the same result.

     The joy of it is that it cheers me up and it stops them from getting us into a Mexican standoff of annoyance. But best of all, absolutely the best thing, is what I say when they start giggling after I’ve stopped making a twat of myself.


     ‘I can’t wait until you two are teenagers. I am going to have so much FUN.’

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Vile Bodies


     We've been out for dinner, and are ambling slowly home, Alistair, The Blondies, and I. Alistair spots a white Range Rover, nudges The Boy and...

     ‘See that? That’s a girl’s car, that is.’ A snort.

     ‘Why? Do you drive it with your vagina?’

     ‘LU-CEEE!!’

     ‘What?’

     The Blondies are falling about laughing, Alistair is looking outraged, and I’m grinning. ‘I didn’t know a penis disqualifies you from owning certain types of car.’  Alistair shoots me a look of panicked ‘Not in front of The Blondies!’ fear. Because I’m a contrary bastard, I reply. ‘Penis. Vagina.’ I get a warning glance in return. ‘PEE-NISSS. VAG-IIINA.’

     ‘They’re just words, Daddy.’ The Boy.

     ‘Yes, I know, but…’

     ‘They’re not swears, Daddy.’ The Girl.
  
     ‘No, of course not, I…’ Alistair is floundering. Caught out by my lefty liberal permissiveness which means nothing’s off limits for The Blondies. His mouth flaps open a few times, but he’s no match for us. I take pity on him, and challenge The Blondies to a race home.

     Really, nothing is off limits when we talk. It’s led to some tricky conversations at times (which I shall not be repeating for your amusement, sorry), but it means that penis and vagina aren’t words that are generally giggled at.  Apart from when I’m titting about, obviously. And it’s not just words, either. It’s being comfortable with their bodies too.

     After years of fretting, I’m mildly confident in my (stretchmarked, withered, wobbly) skin. If the surrounding households aren’t at home, I’m happy to drift about the garden in only bikini bottoms and sunglasses (and then have to dart inside when Mr Nice Neighbour calls ‘hello!’ over the fence). And The Blondies are much the same. I find myself asking The Girl ‘What happened to your clothes?’ more often than I thought was possible. And last night, The Boy passed me on the stairs, arms full of Star Wars figures, en route to the bath, naked as the day he was born, and not showing the slightest sign of being self-conscious.

     It’s made me quite proud. Because as far back as I can remember, I was mortified by my body. No skipping around the house in just my pants, no way. I still cringe at the memory of having to sit on swimming pool steps, in the nuddy, on a family holiday when I was aged four. Which is ridiculous, because my parents were naturists and used to drag us off to Cap d’Agde, and Formentera so they could cause maximum awkwardness by sunbathing naked. Negotiations over spending money were always conducted with my eyes determinedly fixed on the far horizon. The Third Law of Parenting – your child will rebel against the things you hold most dear – held true and strong.

     So apart from the garden, I’ve never sunbathed topless. I won’t even sit in my bikini in public. Not because I worry about being ogled (I’ve had two kids, so the likely reaction to any public unveiling is more likely to be horror and mass vomiting), but because I’m just not comfortable with people I don’t know seeing my body. Yet I’m not a prude, or have hang ups about being naked. I sleep naked, always have done. I’m matter of fact with The Blondies about things. And in return, they seem fairly relaxed too, about their bodies, my body, Alistair’s body (although the ‘Have you seen Daddy’s willy? No, but Mum, have you SEEN it? It’s MASSIVE!’ conversation still causes my toes to curl).

     I was quite chuffed about how easy going they were about bodies. Yep. Totally got this parenting thing SORTED. They don’t have any of the hang ups I had when I was even younger than they are now. Obviously, there are still a lot of years to come, and I know the pressures of teenagehood, especially for girls. But still. Doing alright so far.

     Remind me again of the First Law of Parenting? Oh yes. Even when you are right, you will be wrong.

     The Boy brought home a letter from school last week. Year 4 are starting Sex Education, if you are Victorian Dad, you have the option of withdrawing your child from these lessons… Standard stuff. I mentioned it on the way home. Instantly, The Boy’s shoulders shot up to his ears, his chin tucked into his neck, he scowled furiously and didn’t answer.

     ‘The Boy? Did you hear me?’

     ‘Mmmmfff.’

     ‘So you’re starting sex education soon? Do you know what sort of thing you’ll be learning about?’ Helpful, interested, bright tone of voice.

     ‘Mmmmfff.’

     ‘Sorry darling, what did you say?’

     ‘I don’t want to go to the lessons.’ The Boy muttered into his chest.

      ‘Why? Are you worried it’ll be a bit embarrassing, talking about that kind of thing with everyone else?’ I was a bit puzzled, but he is getting older, more aware of girls…
   
     ‘No, because it’s DISGUSTING!’ A thought occurred to him, and he brightened up. ‘Can I be ill that day?’

     So if someone, anyone, can explain to me how The Boy will happily skip around the garden wearing nothing but a bucket on his head, how he’ll wander into the bathroom for a chat when I’m having a shower, how he’ll fidget and say he’s got an itchy scrotum… All that, but having puberty (which he already knows about) explained again to him in a classroom… that’s ‘DISGUSTING’?


     I thought I’d got it right. But I forgot. A parent’s place is in the wrong.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Not all men

     Ok, men. We need to talk. It seems to me that you broadly fall into three categories. Twats, ‘Not all men’ men, and decent blokes. Decent blokes, you can go now, but I need you to come back in about five minutes, ok? Most of this won’t be relevant to you.

     Right. Twats. I’m going to be blunt, because that seems the only way to get through to you. Fuck. Off. Don’t approach me in a pub, because I’m a woman on my own. Don’t try to read my notebook when I go to the loo. Don’t nick my phone and refuse to give it back until I give you my number. Don’t hassle me with texts and late night phone calls. Don’t lean out of your car windows and wink, gesture, or shout at me. Don’t grope me. I have a boyfriend, we’ve been together for fifteen years, I’m not interested, ok? And yes, it applies to all women, not just me, if you’re trying to be clever about it. We’re just getting on with our lives. We don’t need, want, or welcome your approval, your judgement, or your attention. So FUCK OFF.

     Right. That’s that cleared up. Now the trickier part. The ‘not all men’ men. Back when I wrote ‘You don’t get it’ I had some comments that made me just about incandescent with age (yeah, quelle surprise…). One of those was from a man. Who read about a lifetime of harassment and said ‘Some men get it. I had unwelcome female attention. Once.’

     And that response really isn’t all that unusual. It’s known as ‘not all men’. A woman recounts an unpleasant experience of male attention. And rather than respond to what she’s telling them, a man will pipe up with ‘Not all men are like that.’ It’s their way of trying to say ‘Hey, I’m a Nice Guy! Don’t blame me for what he did!’

     To which the only possible response is ‘Excuse me? Were you listening to what I told you? Your response to some bloke being an arsehole is to tell me that YOU’RE a Nice Guy?’ Not ‘God, I’m so sorry that happened to you.’ Not ‘Fucking hell, some blokes are awful.’ Not ‘I just can’t understand why some men behave like that.’ But ‘Not all men!’

     When you ‘not all men’ you’re belittling, you’re dismissing, you’re almost disbelieving. You’re saying ‘Not all men’ do this, so this experience is unusual, a blip, an aberration. Guess what? It’s not. It’s my life. I live it. I experience a lot of rubbish. I might not experience all men, but I do seem to come across plenty of twats.

     I know it’s not all men. I. KNOW. I have a boyfriend, a father, two brothers, male friends. I KNOW IT’S NOT ALL MEN. But it is some men. Too many men. Too many men viewing women as public property. Too many men forcing women to interact with them when they don’t want to. Too many men thinking that they get to dictate what experiences women have. Too many men. Not all men. Some men. Not all men. But it’s still too many. And instead of becoming defensive and cross when women talk about some men, perhaps you should think about what these women are telling you. Perhaps you should realise it’s some men, instead of being offended and needing to establish you’re a Nice Guy.

     And some women should listen up too. Just because you’ve not had the same experiences as me, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. And no, I don’t write about these things to stealthboast about how attractive I am, and have to beat men off with a shitty stick. I write about them because this is my life. And I only ever get hassled when I’m on my own. Never with other people. Because the twats see a woman on her own as vulnerable and easy prey. It's not because I'm attractive (I have a massive face for a start). It's because some men think they have the right to impose themselves on all women. And I’ve had enough.

      And Decent Men, can you come back in now please? Right. You’re decent blokes, aren’t you? I mean, I like you. I like you very much. When you hear about bad things done by some men, you don’t instinctively preface your response with ‘Not all men’. You listen, you’re horrified, you express outrage on our behalf. But. Sometimes you let yourselves down a little. When you ask women if we’re flattered by the attention. When you make jokey responses to women talking seriously. When a woman tells you about being hassled, and you ask ‘Why didn’t you just tell him to fuck off?’ Shall I explain?

     Firstly, it’s not her fault she attracted the attention, and the blame lies with the twat, not her. Perhaps she didn’t want make a scene. Perhaps she didn’t want to cause a fuss. Perhaps she wasn’t sure if she was overreacting by feeling threatened. Perhaps she was worried that if she did tell the twat to fuck off, he might turn nasty. Perhaps she felt intimidated by a bigger, stronger stranger. But asking her about her behaviour isn’t helpful, and reinforces the idea that she is in some way to blame. She isn’t.

     That’s point  1. Point 2. When you see another man ‘Not all men’ing, CHALLENGE HIM. Because, Decent Blokes, it gets wearying, being told that we think a certain way because we own a vagina. Last time I checked, I think with my brain. It’d be nice if the Decent Blokes – and I think you’re probably a silent majority – could wade into the discussion every now and then. And if you’re not sure what to say, then say so. We’ll value your honesty. Let the ‘not all men’ men know that it’s not just women that feel like this. That it’s possible to have a ball sack and not feel the need to automatically defend other penis owners all the time. Truly.

     And to the men who responded to me with ‘How was Friday your fault? FFS!’ I kiss you on both cheeks. YOU are the Decent Blokes. I am proud to know you and have you as my friends.


     Now get out there and prove that not all men are ‘not all men’ men. 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

This is a low

     I feel a bit like I’ve made myself a hostage to fortune this week. Because of writing about happiness being a choice, and not giving a toss about what other people think of me. But I was right when I said I will always be honest. I have a confession.

     I feel rubbish. I have done for nearly two weeks. There’s not obvious reason for it, nothing’s happened, nothing hasn’t happened, I just feel incredibly low. I feel stupid, boring, insignificant and useless. I keep asking myself what am I doing with my life? And the answer really is nothing. I’m doing nothing. Twatty blogging and that’s pretty much it. I’m making no contribution to anything. I’m not working, I’m not studying, I’m not volunteering. I’m just sitting at home. Doing nothing. And all around me, people seem to be achieving so much more, being so much more talented, intelligent, and interesting.


     I’m not fishing for compliments. I don’t want people to swoop in and lovebomb me. Because even if you did, I wouldn’t believe you. It’s not to do with anyone else. It’s just me. I feel rubbish. Writing’s not going well, blogging’s rubbish, and I don’t have much else going for  me. I know this is temporary. I’ve felt like this before, and it will pass. But right now, I feel rubbish. And that’s all there is to say.

Jolly Good Sport

     Friday was mostly rubbish, which is a shame because it started quite promisingly with an event most parents loathe. Sports Day. Except that it was actually Sports Morning, because what a good idea! Get 300 children hot, tired, and sweaty, and then expect them to spend another three hours in school. Genius.

     I wasn’t really looking forward to it. But I went along because The Boy asked me to, and we all know that Other Parents hoik their judgeypants at Absent Parents at school events like this. Slight false start when I realised I’d forgotten my wallet and had to pelt back home to pick up. Then, fortified with a latte and greasy bacon roll from Greggs, I made my way schoolwards.

     Sports Day (I’m going to stick to calling it that, because ‘Sports Morning’ sounds wrong) has changed since I last skived off it by faking various injuries. Now there’s no ‘Year 4 100m race’ in front of the whole school, so that 290 of your peers can watch you cross the line whole minutes after the runners (I am not a natural athlete). Now it’s set up into stations dotted around the school field, where groups of eight children take it in turns to dribble a rugby ball, or throw little beanbags into hula hoops, or jump over a cone ten times. Two minutes at each station, then move onto the next one. Wisely (because it was fairly hot), there were also three rest stations, where the children had to sit, rest, and drink water for the allotted two minutes. Slightly less humiliating than failing to throw a cricket ball more than 3ft in front of the entire school, teachers, and parents.

     For the benefit of parents, in the middle of the field, the school had laid out rows of green plastic chairs, so the parents could sit reasonably comfortably and watch their children making their way round the course. It did look a bit odd though, so I gave that a miss, and looked around me, trying to find The Boy (easy to do. All I had to do was look at feet. The Boy has a very odd habit of pulling his socks up as high as they will go. Not obvious when he’s wearing long trousers, but instantly recognisable in shorts). Spotting him on the far side of the field, I wandered over, plonked myself down on the grass and started noticing things about the people around me. The groups. The individuals. The tribes…

     Competitive Dad

     Cheering, far too loudly, when his son (always a son, never a daughter. He does have a daughter, but she is generally ignored) is on. Pushing other children out of the way to high five the light of his life. Roaring encouragement ‘C’MONNNN!! Get! IN!’ Tutting at other children who aren’t doing so well, eventually descending into making comments on their performance in matey blokey bantering tones. Tells anyone who’ll listen that when a teacher suggested he quieten down little, he told her what he thought of her suggestion, prefacing his response with ‘Listen, love.’ He never does the school run, so is blissfully unaware that the child he’s taking the piss out of is the offspring of the man he’s talking to. The Other Dad nervously jiggles the change in his pocket and silently prays that his child doesn’t come over and create an awkward situation.
As the morning wears on, more and more parents are anxious to avoid him and he ends up with an audience of one, his longsuffering wife, who is under strict instructions to video the entire morning. Presumably for a full play-by-play analysis after school.

     Cossetting Mum

     Her child is the walking definition of Precious First Born. Already considered to be slightly odd by the other children, and his mother does nothing to dispel this, as she follows him from station to station, obsessively checking that suntan lotion is topped up to premium levels, put your hat back on, do you need more water, look, you’re not drinking enough, the bottle’s only half empty, and you’ve been out here for an hour already, I’ve got two more bottles in my bag… If you watch closely enough, you’ll see her trying to slip him anti-histamines, despite no evidence of hayfever or allergies.

     When the children are gathered into their houses at the end of Sports Day, her child very deliberately sits in the middle of the group to avoid her ministrations. She manages to edge ever closer to him as the sitting children fidget, until a woman in her forties is sitting in the middle of a group of ten year olds. She stands, alone and bereft, as the children troop back into school, her child having awarded her the most cursory of waves and a ‘MUUUUMMM!’ when she tries to bestow a goodbye kiss.


     NR2 Mums

     Completely disconcerted by missing their normal latte and Danish pastry on the coffee shop post school run, they clutch a Greggs coffee, making sure that everyone knows they’ve never been to a Greggs before in their life, but ‘Needs must!’. This is followed by a nervous titter, in case the Other NR2 Mums don’t believe them, and suspect them of eating mass produced sausage rolls not from an artisan bakery.

     For the most part in Boden and Joules, there will be a least one mum per group in gym gear, even though there is no possible way they could have gone for a run before Sports Day started. The mums not in gym gear feel needled by this, and make sure they mention their Pilates class that evening.

     Talking about nothing other than their children, as though they have ceased to exist in their own right, delightful verbal skirmishes can be overheard as they pass.

     ‘Joely always kisses me goodbye. I find it rather sweet.’
     ‘Oh? Mine are far too independent for that’
     ‘I suppose I’ve just raised mine to be affectionate’ Patronising smile.
     ‘Theo and Daisy are quite secure. They don’t need much reassurance.’ Patronising smile and head tilt combo.

     The only thing that unites them is their dislike of…

     The Capable Mums

     Factor 50 applied in the kitchen before leaving the house, their children are uncomplainingly clad in plain beige baseball cap, PE kit bought from the PTA shop, and  sipping water from a school branded water bottle (couple of ice cubes added before leaving the house ‘to keep it lovely and cool’). The Capable Mums can be easily identified by their uniform of oatmeal coloured cropped trousers and pastel polo shirts.

     Attaching themselves to whichever group their child is in, they take it upon themselves to shepherd all of the children present, despite the presence of (increasingly irked) Other Parents, tying shoelaces that weren’t undone, tucking in t-shirts, and offering their own water supply to those children whose parents –shockingly- forgot.

     At rest stations they hand out mini boxes of raisins to all, whilst they drink the barista prepared decaff they had the foresight to buy on the way into school, then decant into an insulated mug. The NR2 mums are ashamed not to have thought of this, and are further annoyed when she points out that their child has a hole in their shorts ‘just in case you hadn’t noticed’.

     She means well, but is hated for it, as all Other Parents feel inadequate in comparison.

     The PTA

     Half NR2 Mums, half Capable Mums, they have volunteered to man a station, under the threat of coffee morning ostracisation by Chief PTA Bitch, who blanks anyone that isn’t on the organising committee (but avoids taking a station for herself, because she’s needed to ‘do things’).

     The Capable Mums are aggressively encouraging to every child ‘Oh, rotten luck! Have another go, Charlie!’ to such an extent that casual observers begin to suspect that they may have taken recreational drugs. This suspicion is hardened when the jollity continues, unvarying and unwavering, for three hours.

     The NR2 Mums, by contrast, quickly tire of retrieving stray tennis balls, and start surreptitiously checking facebook on their iPhones. By the halfway point, they have abandoned all pretence of caring, and fail to notice when the children start horsing around, buried instead in an article on the Guardian app about which modern art galleries are best for children, sipping their lukewarm Greggs coffee, and being sure to give a little moue of disgust every time, just in case anyone’s watching, and thinks they might be enjoying it.

      Toddler Wranglers

     They came prepared. Pushchair. Snacks. Drinks. Sunhat. Toys. Sunscreen. Replacement sunhat. Nappy bag. Parasol. Change of clothes. Emergency replacement sunhat.

     Unfortunately, the toddlers prefer to live a life of gay abandon and unfettered spontaneity. Watching an older sibling dribble a rugby ball around a cone is BORING. But that corner of the sports field, 300 metres away from where the action is taking place looks fun! Mum’s busy watching Archie balance a beanbag on his head… and the toddler hares off, Mum in hot pursuit thirty seconds later.

     On return to the pushchair, the toddler will refuse to be restrained again, and Mum will have to abandon any hope of watching Amelia hop ten times inside a hula hoop, in favour of ceaseless toddler vigilance. The toddler will become overtired with fifteen minutes to go, and descend into a screaming redfaced tantrum that means no one can hear which team won. The tantrum will last all the way home, until they abruptly fall asleep.

     The Teachers

     Doing brave battle with a faltering PA system, the laziest teacher gets to observe proceedings, sitting down, sipping iced water. He announces the start and finish of each session, always having to remind the masses that ‘We’re still waiting for a couple of teams to sit down before we can continue.’ By the end of the morning, he’s clearly so fed up with saying the same thing that his mood has passed beyond tetchiness and is now at liquid rage.

     The other teachers, out in the full glare of the sun all morning eye his comfort with ill-disguised resentment, especially if they’re running a rest station and get to say nothing other than ‘Water’ and ‘Sit down’ for three hours. Wearing their normal working clothes, they are hot, sweaty and cross. The children who will be taught by them later that day are apprehensive.

     The Loners

     Fall into two distinct categories.

     The Nervous Loner is starting to regret never chatting to Other Parents in the school playground. She’s wearing a large floppy straw sunhat that she’s not too sure about. But if she takes it off, she’ll have to carry it, and people might laugh at her. It takes her a full circuit of the field before she spots her daughter, adding to sense of social awkwardness. She ends up hovering on the edge of a group of Other Mums, not joining in the conversation, but smiling as if she is. They feel inhibited by this, and stop talking. She feels more awkward, but can’t think of a way of moving on without losing face. So stays. Silence continues.

     The Aggressive Loner

     They want to be supportive of their child. They kind of want to be here. But they can’t bothered with all the social niceties that Other Bloody Parents observe, because what’s the point? You’ve got nothing in common beyond what school your children attend. The Aggressive Loner picks up a green plastic chair from the neatly arranged rows and positions it in the middle of the field, at least six feet away from anyone else on all sides, moving around the field as and when required. Motionless, arms folded, face inscrutable behind sunglasses, radiating ‘Don’t even think of approaching me’ vibes. This attitude is only relaxed when a teacher passes and a grudging nod is performed.

     Supporting Cast

     Of grandparents who are thinking ‘I did all this thirty years ago…’, but are secretly delighted to have been asked to come, the stepmother who takes the morning off work, only to be completely blanked by her stepchild, babies sleeping contentedly in buggies and slings, Community Police Support Officers wandering the field (I didn’t think things were expected to kick off), the teaching assistant helping the girl with Down’s Syndrome, the buzz of conversation and shouts of children cheering their team on…

     All of human life is here.


     And one twatty blogger, sitting on the grass, slightly apart from it all, notebook and pen in hand, watching her son perform ineptly, inelegantly, and industriously, her heart bursting with pride, scribbling down notes about the people around her.