Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Blog RANTING (with swears)

     Before I embark on a rant I’ve been frothing about for bloody months, I feel I ought to add a disclaimer. I’m not a writer. Shick, herrer! I blog. I’m a twatty, unemployable, stay at home mum (with both children at school), who blogs infrequently and fragmentedly, when I need to clear some stuff out of my head. It’s a form of mental tidying. Thoughts build, get blogged, mind clears, job done. That’s why I blog.

     I was a blog snob. Yep, there, I’ve said it. I was a massive snob about blogging, bloggers, and blogs. To me, they were wanky self indulgent online diaries. If you don’t believe me, go back, read one of my very first posts on here, from years ago (seriously, though, don’t. I like you too much to inflict that sort of pain on you). It’s PAINFUL. Like rereading one’s teenage diaries. I was just spilling my guts out in the most selfcentred and mastubatory way possible. Bleeurgh. I could try and defend myself by saying that I was obviously in the grip of lifethreatening depression at the time, but really, that's no excuse. I was the archetypal blogger who gives bloggers a bad name. I cringe now to think of it. And I probably would have started blogging properly sooner, had I had a better opinion of bloggers (self included).

     And then… About 18 months ago, I read a blogpost that changed everything. Here. I laughed until I was sick. This crazy, relatable, and absolutely fucking hilarious story of a girl driven to despair by her need to consume cake, complete with deliberately shit MS Paint drawings, was everything I love to read. It was written in such a strong voice, I felt like I knew everything about Ally, even though I’d never heard of her before. I even read it aloud to The Boy (minus the swears), and he cried laughing too. And I started to think ‘Hmm, maybe blogging isn’t so wanky…’

     And then a few other things happened. I was already writing – short stories, an appallingly piss poor attempt at a book that I wince to think of, things that have happened to me over the years – but it never occurred to me to do anything with them. I just wrote because I loved to. Then, at a family gathering, one of my uncles asked me ‘Do you write? Because your facebook posts are good.’ And then my dad, never knowingly missing a backhanded compliment said ‘I agree! You do write quite well. I mean, conversationally, you’re nothing special at all, but you do write quite well.’

     Thanks Dad.

     So the thought was there. And I started dipping into the posts on Mumsnet Bloggers Network. I was, frankly, stunned. The quality of the writing, the ferocious rants, the heartbreaking chapters in lives, the pissing myself laughing posts… And they were from people, like me, who were nothing special. Just normal people. Not writers. But they wrote honestly, and beautifully, and engagingly, and inspirationally. So I started blogging too. And I joined Mumsnet Bloggers Network, and I wrote stuff that some people liked, and I titted about on twitter, and got to know hundreds of people who blog, and I went to Harper Collins, and Blogfest, and… I thank fuck for my blog. It has genuinely saved my sanity at times.

     And the funny thing about the world of bloggers, is that once you get into it, you are constantly amazed by people. Because there is such an amazing abundance of unknown, overlooked and undiscovered writing talent, and so often, the best blogging is done by hassled, overwrought people who already have too much to do, yet still find time to blog.

     And then… And then there are the Other Bloggers. Oh, yeah baby. The ones who so neatly tick every box on my outdated checklist of What Bloggers Do. The self absorbed, inward looking, wanky SHIT WRITERS. Bloggers who think that the very act of writing deserves applause. That because they write, it deserves to be read. Bloggers who write, and then sit back, waiting for the crowd to cheer. Bloggers who write, and think that because they’ve written about how they spent their Tuesday morning (shopping, cup of tea, then home), we will be fascinated by them because they WRITE.

     Ok. Here’s the thing. I have some bloggers who I just fucking LOVE. I really do. I can guarantee that even if I violently disagree with them about what they’ve written, I will really enjoy reading their blog, I will share it, I will comment on it, I will tell people in real life about it and urge them to read it too. I have bugger all self control, and when I like something, I am passionately evangelical about it. I regularly follow Alistair around the house, lecturing him about something or other I’ve just read and isn’t that amazing, oh my god, you so need to read this, I think you would love it, it’s just incredible, what a brilliant piece of writing and I had no idea about that and don’t you think they just totally nail that and look, here, read it on my phone, Alistair, ALISTAIR… It’s a very good job he’s partially deaf, dyslexic, and has Attention Deficit Disorder, or he would be a broken man by now. But the reason I love these bloggers, is that when they blog, they are writing for themselves. No one else. They’re not consciously courting a readership. They’re not tagging their posts in the hope of gaining the widest possible audience. Yes, they are giving life to their thoughts, findings, photography, whatever. But they are writing as they would speak, honestly, unashamedly, and in a way that bypasses my instinctive cynicism.

     But with the SHIT WRITERS, you can tell, from the very opening line that they are very deliberately playing to the crowd. They self censor, they say things like ‘I won’t go on about myself’ and then proceed to do EXACTLY THAT FUCKING THING. Why the fuck should I care about the fact that you’re blogging to say that you’ve blogged twice this week? Or that you’ve just bought a new bag? No one fucking cares, you massive bloggy twat.  Seriously. Why the fuck do you think anyone other than yourself gives the tiniest little shit that you’ve written a short story that you’re not even linking to? Do you really think that telling us that is going to make us hunger for more of your crappy, pedestrian, dull as fuck and predictable sodding writing? Nothing you write is in any way interesting, because you’re just projecting this fucking dull as all crap façade that is about as relatable as baking parchment.

     I just don’t get it! I don’t fucking get it! Why waste your time and mine writing a blog that’s so sanitised and impersonal that it feels like I’m mentally chewing cardboard? A blog is supposed to be about you, your thoughts, your words, your photos, your little corner of the internet to write about what makes you, you. Anything you like. Really anything. You don’t have to think about what YOU think people want to hear. You can just say it. And if people like it, great. If they don’t fine. They’ll move on. But it’s this deliberate rounding off of the edges, this infuriating NEED to project something to the world, this bloody falseness… It makes me swear lots and storm around the house chuntering to myself. Because it’s these bloggers, who write to be read, not because they have anything to say that make me fucking FUME. And they pop up all over twitter, with their SHIT WRITING.

     ‘Hi! New blog. http//myboringasfuckblog’ WHAT THE FUCK? Is that really the contempt in which you hold your potential readers? Seriously? You can’t even be fucking arsed to tell us what you’ve written about, why you’ve written it, the type of mood you were in when you wrote it, why you think it might appeal to us? In fact, you’re not even linking to the actual post, are you? That is how fucking lazy you are, and how inflated your view of your writing is. You do genuinely think that, don’t you, SHIT WRITERS? You think that we are sitting, hand pressed against our screens, waiting, hoping, yearning, for that moment… That moment when the church bells ring, the children sing, what is this great and beautiful thing? It’s a NEW BLOG POST FROM A SHIT WRITER! A SHIT WRITER who never reads any other blogs, never engages with anyone else on twitter, never replies to comments on their blog (assuming they get any), and is the type of blogger I despise most (Almost certainly a wordcounter too. Wordcounters fuck me right off. Here’s a tip for you, SHIT WRITERS. When I’m intrigued by writing, the number of words in my intended read is not a factor. I don’t think ‘Only 500 words. That is unworthy of my attention.’ Or ‘A novel that is but 77,312 words long? They have failed the 80,000 word test. I deem them unworthy. Kill them.’ What I care about is the actual fucking words themselves, you TWAT).

     SHIT WRITERS, you give the rest of us a bad name. Stop tailoring your words, stop blogging to ‘reach your audience’, stop writing thinking about how your words will be read. JUST FUCKING WRITE HONESTLY. And behave like a normal fucking human being. The act of blogging, writing, whatever the fucking, doesn’t elevate you above all others. You’re just as human as the rest of us (kind of have my doubts about one or two bloggers though, to be honest. No one is that bland without some kind of illegal drugs).

     I feel a bit dirty now. So I’ll tell you about some FUCKING AWESOME BLOGS before I scrub myself clean in the shower.

     The Secret Divorcee – I bastarding love this woman. I think we joined Mumsnet Blogggers at about the same time, and the first post of hers I read was her ‘learning to fly’ one. Brutally honest, touching, heartbreaking, genuinely hilarious… I never want to meet her, in case we hate each other, which would ruin my life.

     Kenny – he’s an absolute bellend, so of course, he has two blogs. Read his post on drinkingingingingnn. Sparse, uncluttered, but a punch in the stomach.

     Invisible Works – He loves to pretend to be a grumpy old git. Read a single paragraph of his blog, and you’ll see he’s actually a brilliant, haunting, evocative writer with an absolute genius for capturing the details of people long gone and long forgotten. Also breathtaking photography.  I owe him a pint.

     And then the fun began – My muse. She writes about everything. Parenting, cooking, what we mean by home, psychology… Every post of hers sparks a reaction in my blogging mind. I have too many things I NEED to write about because of her.

     Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey – No, wait, come baaaack! You need to read this. It is so addictive, and fascinating, and really accessible, even if you’re a thicko like me. It’s not really about history, or archaeology, or academic bollocks. It’s about people.  Added bonus of making you feel very clever after you’ve read it.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Normal for Norfolk

     I am a Norfolk woman, and Glory in being so (sorry, Horatio).

     I’m from Norfolk. Go on. You know you want to. Yes. I have six fingers. And webbed toes. Gills, too, if you want to have a look? My sister is my mother, my aunt and my daughter. I wave at passing aeroplanes. Norwich is ‘THE City’. I’ve been as far away from home as Diss. Once. I do not communicate but in grunts. Grunts in dialect, bor. I regard anyone not born to triple generation Norfolk stock as an outsider, and refuse to engage with them. I shun anyone not from my village. I get dizzy when I stand on a molehill. Delia is our queen. Alan Partridge is a god. A-ha.

     Trust me, if you’re from Norfolk, you get used to the jokes. Very quickly. And, if I’m honest, if you’re from Norfolk, then you smile inwardly to yourself. Because we’re in on the joke. I think we make some of them up ourselves, just to dissuade people from coming here, because ‘Norfolk is like that’.

     ‘Norfolk is like that.’ I heard someone (not from Norfolk) say to someone else (also not from Norfolk). By ‘like that’ they meant that Norfolk people are petty, suspicious, mistrustful of outsiders, liable to bear a grudge for generations. Unwelcoming. Unwelcoming? You can fuck right off there mate.

'You either get Norfolk, with its wild roughness and uncultivated oddities, or you don't. It's not all soft and lovely. It doesn't ask to be loved.'
Stephen Fry

     Nailed it, Mr Fry. Fucking. Nailed. It. We don’t ask to be loved. We’re content. Happy. Secure in the knowledge that, despite what anyone else may think, we live in one of the most jewelled corners of England. Someone far wiser than I once told me ‘Norfolk’s a special place. If you end up here, it’s because you’re supposed to.’ Geographically, this is true. We are on a road to nowhere. No motorways in Nelson’s county, and the A11 and A47 are often stretches of single carriageway. The A149 – the coast road – could at times be mistaken for a country lane. We are off the beaten track in more ways than one. Psychologically, we are apart.

 'If the rest of Britain sank beneath the waves, and Norfolk was left alone, islanded in the turmoil of the seas, it would, I think, survive without too much trouble.... Norfolk has always stood alone and aloof from the rest of England.'
James Wentworth Day

     Aside from the tiny city of Norwich, there’s no urban sprawl here. No great new architectural wonders. Our landscape isn’t dramatic like the Peak District. No stunning panoramas like you’ll see in The Lakes. Not chocolate box pretty like the Cotswolds. Norfolk is flinty, rolling, remote, and yes, in places, it is flat. But flat (ish) lands make for big skies. And big skies give perspective, open minds, let you see all that is before you. And as a result, there’s not much that is private in Norfolk. So what privacy we do have, we hoard and guard obsessively. That might make us seem taciturn, and uninterested in you. Actually, it’s a form of respect. Honest.

 '...this corner of England which once it holds your heart is more lovely than any place on earth. Beautiful with a hint of secrecy which haunts it, as the memory of a dark and tender sadness clouds the brilliance of a summer day.'
Lilias Rider Haggard (Norfolk Notebook)

     Norfolk people won’t seek you out, or jolly you along if we don’t know you. It’s not what we do. Marooned, as we are, jutting out into the North Sea, we don’t do introspection. We don’t really give a toss if that makes us seem unfriendly, either. It’s more that we can’t be arsed to find out if you’re interesting or not. If you are, we’ll find out soon enough. If you’re dull, we’re not going to waste our time being bored. In such a rural environment, it’s impossible not to be aware of the changing seasons and the passing of time. And nowhere is this more neatly illustrated than with our churches.

 'For the traveller in search of the English Heritage, the county is a paradise. It has great cliffs and chalk downs, a history far older than any written documents, delightful rivers, unique still waters, low-lying fens, captivating towns, a historic roll of famous folk and a group of Saxon, Norman, and medieval churches crammed with beauty that makes England the matchless country in the world.'
Arthur Mee

     Norfolk has over 650 medieval churches. I’ll say that again, just in case you’re speedreading. Every town, village, green verged hamlet seems to be studded with them. Some small, some obscure, some glorious and soaring, majestic above yellow fields. There’s no escaping them on the Norfolk horizon. And these churches are what make Norfolk so special to me. Because they tell their own story. Norfolk wasn’t always a hidden little secret. It was once rich and important, Norwich was second only in size to London, and the people of those times reflected their wealth in these buildings.

     That’s why Norfolk is as it is. This breathtaking kaleidoscope of buildings, landscape and sky survived, because Norfolk rose to prominence, bedecked itself in the fashions of the time and then… the world moved on. Moved north, to the industrial revolution, far away from our bucolic splendour. Can you blame us for being a bit chippy? Bit reticent when people spring forward to embrace us. We’ve been down that road before. We’re not going to risk getting our heart broken again.

     We do aloof really well. But don’t mistake aloofness for disdain. We don’t dislike you*. Don’t mistake a certain kind of  bolshiness for for dislike. We’re just suspicious of pretentiousness (IRONY ALERT). Don’t think we begrudge privilege. We just prefer to focus on what a person is, rather than what they have**. Don’t mistake our instinctive respect of your privacy as rudeness. Just accept us as we are. We are Norfolk. You won’t change us. But hang around long enough and Norfolk might change you. And encourage you to do different too.

     *Unless you drive a Chelsea tractor and have a second home in the Burnhams.

     **Unless you drive a Chelsea tractor and have a second home in the Burnhams.

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.