Saturday, 3 October 2009

Priscilla


One of my oldest and  dearest friends (we met aged eight, three decades + more ago) has been in London this week, on holiday from Cape Town with her gorgeous husband.  On Monday night we went to see 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' at The Palace Theatre.  It was completely fantastic.  The cast consists (almost entirely) of deeply sexy men who spend much of the show leaping about in sequins and feathers and spectacularly glittery frocks.   The least sexy amongst them was Jason Donovan, who looked like this:



And like this:





Bless.  He put on a fine show (in fact, having never been much of a fan, I was really impressed).  He was endearingly sweet/frequently funny/sang beautifully, as you'd expect  .... but he just wasn't sexy.  It was weird seeing him in the role of Tick/Mitzi.  It seems like only yesterday when he was Scott Robinson, and looked like this:



In my opinion he wasn't sexy back then, either.  (There are just so many things that I want to say about this photo like What in God's name are they wearing? Isn't Australia meant to be a hot country? but I'm not going to allow myself to go there...)

And so there we all were on Monday night: Oldest Friend & Gorgeous Husband plus Johnnie & Rich plus Alaister & Dave ... plus me.  Perhaps because I was the only one there not part of a 'couple' or perhaps because I just knew that Brixton Man would have loved the show, I kept thinking of him on and off all evening.  As I've managed to not think of him for some time (good girl) I felt annoyed with myself for allowing thoughts of him to intrude on my evening.   Perhaps it was the sight of all that sexy-half-naked-ultra-fit-male-flesh that reminded me of him (and of all that I'm missing).

There was one dancer in particular (bald as a boiled egg, extremely attractive thighs) who looked so much like Brixton Man that when he first shimmied onto the stage I leaned forward in my seat and thought for a moment that it might actually be him.

This is that same man, cleverly disguising his baldness later in the show:



Being reminded of Brixton Man wasn't the only thing that annoyed me on Monday night. 

Before I launch ino a whinge about that, a little bit of background. Oldest Friend's husband is in a wheelchair.  Nine years ago his car left a pitch-dark, deserted road and disappeared into a ditch; twelve hours later he was found, car upside down, his back irrevocably broken.   Many moons before, he and Oldest Friend had been an item.  He was then a 6ft 4"  Adonis: a surfer, tri-athlete, Navy scuba diver and submariner. The ultimate Action Man and (by his own admission) a bit of a shit.  She was madly in love with him.  When he dumped her, she was heartbroken.  After the accident, he was unconscious for several days. When he came round, and not having seen her for years, the first person he asked for was Oldest Friend.

Fast forward one marriage and several years and they're in London and we're all at the Palace Theatre, happily seated in the back row of the stalls where Gorgeous Husband's wheelchair can be accommodated. We're loving the show.  But half-way through, when things start getting truly spectacular, much of the fabulousness takes place on the roof of Priscilla, the dressing-room-on-wheels which Mitzi, Bernadette and Felicia are driving to Alice Springs.  And we can't see a thing because we're so far back that our view of the top of the bus is completely obscured by the overhang of the dress circle.  We can see a variety of feet in a range of breath-taking footwear ... but that's all we can see.

The show's producers have thoughtfully provided TV monitors on either side of the stage for those of us with a restricted view. The monitors are so far away and so terribly small that we can only see enough to know that we're missing out on some prolonged, seriously fantastic action on the roof of the bus.  Actually, it wasn't just annoying; it was a little bit heart-breaking.  Poor Gorgeous Husband felt acutely self-conscious that we were sitting where we were in order to be with him in his wheelchair ... which meant not being able to see the best bits of the show.

No doubt there are all sorts of ridiculous 'health and safety' reasons why he/we couldn't be better accommodated elsewhere in the theatre but whatever they may be, it's just not on.  Of course, none of us minded too much about where we were sitting or what we were missing (we were just happy to be spending precious time with our beloved friends) but Gorgeous Husband clearly minded terribly on our behalf.   He felt personally responsible. And so, despite the show's feel-good happy ending, Gorgeous Husband looked really, really sad when we went around the corner to The Coach & Horses for a post-theatre pint (or, in my case, a large glass of Pinot Grigio).

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Oh shit.

I've received an email from Ruby's mother.  Shit shit shit.  Ruby (not her real name) was the little girl we met on holiday in Malta.   After we arrived home, I rang the NSPCC to voice my concerns about her welfare.  I wrote about it in an earlier post, here.    God knows how her mother found my email address??!!

She sounds completely deranged.  I am genuinely freaked out.  Without sounding like a complete drama queen (and a doom-mongerer) I read her email and felt utterly chilled. 

This is what she wrote.  I haven't changed a single comma or full stop or added/removed anything, apart from a couple of names.  In several places, I don't even know what she's talking about.  Weirdly, she didn't address the email to me (though she obviously knows my name) but instead began with my initial and surname (which I, too, have changed, for obvious reasons).   She wrote:

J. SMITH

What you heard on that night was not me, slapping her around. "I do not hit my daughter and never have.!!!!"


What you heard was, me really losing my temper with a girl who wanted to act like a teenager,rather than her ten years,and my concerns that she was not eating, properly on holiday. And that maybe she should reside with her Father,if she was not ging to listen or take direction from myself. Your assumption that her behaviour was that of a child frightened is ridiculous, she is a very clever girl, who is very apt at manipulation! Her actions are that of a sulky moody girl, going through a difficult phase in her life, not due to me, but the drug raids we have had with a neighbour for the past 5 years or so. She was saying stop it, because,obviously she wanted me to calm down! Yes taking the Norethiserone,to stop my period, whilst travelling, obviously didnt agree with me, and in hindsight should have read side affects! With an Under active thyroid, I didnt know, I would be more irritated and snappy. But as I say again. " I Did Not Hit My Daughter"


Well J.Smith, I have to say one of your daughters didnt look particulary happy herself.  XXXX was around her age?... Was there some reason why they could not mix? Strange! Was that due to her own chioce? Why would you let your daughter wear a political t. shirt in this World Climate.
Oh the Bruises, nearly forgot, she is an extremely picky eater as I have mentioned. This is due to a lack of "Iron" We had the photo to show the lady on my camera she got from, the game machine, ask XXXX and XXXX!....The other faint "BRUISES" were from school.
I was completely exonerated as my capacity to be a parent. From her School, Doctor, Mother and everyone else that knows us!!!
I have to say you broke my writers block, my book back on track! So hopefully it will soon be accepted by an agent to go with my published article and published photographs. Thank you for the experience. I actually find controlled people far more worrying than, those who can let it out. Perhaps you should look into this for your daughters sake! Shame you didn't live next door to Baby P!
I am now considering seeing my solicitor about your accusations...

P.S Your daughters can only "Share" a choclate bar on holiday, because of Gluttony.


WTF????!!!!   

Don't know what to say.  Obviously, I'm not going to respond, although I would like to ask her - amongst other things - what the hell that loopy 'PS' is all about??!!  

And I'm also tempted to write back and say that I would love for her to talk to her solicitor and for her solicitor to get in touch with me asap because I would welcome the opportunity to tell her/him what Eldest and Youngest Daughter and I heard that night.   But I think it's best that I stay schtumm.  And hope that she goes away. Hope hope hope.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

I climbed, I soared, I conquered!!

Well, can you believe it?   I had an absolutely fabulous time at Go Ape this afternoon.  Who would have thought it?  Not me, that's for sure.  I was totally and utterly petrified.  I barely slept a wink last night, so afraid was I of the zip wires and the other scary obstacles that lay head.  Things like this:





But it was a blast and I would recommend it to anyone, even the most scaredy-of-scaredy-cats out there.  It was (and I never, ever thought I would say this)... GREAT FUN.  I LOVED IT!!!

There's a lot to be said  (in the words of Susan Jeffers) for 'Feeling the Fear and Doing It Anyway' and an awful lot to be said for 'doing it'  in the company of an Ex-Husband, a Much Younger Fiancee and a bunch of entirely fearless fourteen year-olds.  Wimping out was not an option.

So, this is me attempting a graceful landing (at the end of a 100ft zip wire).  I think I look pretty good.  I did slam into the green buffer thingummy seconds after this photo was taken and ended up in a bit of a tangle but who cares?  No one took a photo of that.





Needless to say, I'm now feeling absolutely exhausted.  It's bloody tiring being brave all afternoon.  So I'm off to bed.  But before I go, a few pics of Ex-Husband who (as I predicted in my earlier post) was much much much more terrified than I was.

Illustration One: Ex-Husband mid-air, travelling at speed, and screaming.




Illustration Two: Ex-Husband slamming into net, and screaming.




Illustration Three: Ex-Husband showing how not to land at the end of a 100ft zip wire, and screaming.




Seconds after this photo was taken, it became apparent that Ex-Husband had, in fact, pulled a thigh muscle which required immediate and urgent intervention by the lovely Go Ape medical staff.  Which also meant he didn't get a certificate for successfully completing the course, as I did.





So, hooray for me, and hooray for all the other girls who were so very, very  brave today.  And (to give credit where credit is due) hooray for Ex-Husband, who was brave despite his fear of heights and even braver after his idiotic and extremely painful crash-landing.

(With heartfelt and grateful thanks to Elaine for her kind explanation re. how to post and order multiple photos, a talent which had previously eluded me.)

Friday, 18 September 2009

Moi

And now I have to write seven things about myself, following the receipt, earlier today, of a lovely award from the kind (but perhaps not terribly discerning) Looking Fab in your Forties.  Many thanks, Fab. You have made me (needy, with obvious self-esteem issues) terribly, terribly happy.

So here they are, seven facts, in no particular order and very much in a 'stream-of-consciousness' kind of way (before I head for bed. Am planning an early night in preparation for tomorrow's nightmarish experience in Swinley Forest):

1. My mum died almost 10 years ago. I still miss absolutely everything about her.

2. My one and only party trick: I can touch the tip of my nose with my tongue (and no, I don't have an especially large nose...)

3. Spitalfields Market/Brick Lane is (currently) my most favourite part of London.

4. I had lunch just off Coldharbour Lane yesterday with an old colleague. On the way there, I sneaked past Brixton Man's house and saw his motorbike parked outside. (I have not seen/heard from him since June, when I told him that I no longer wanted to see him/hear from him again).  I felt a bit weird and panicky.

5. I was at University in Cape Town.  I did a degree in English & Psychology.  I can't remember a single thing.

6. I think - after years of reflection (and a not inconsiderable amount of post-divorce therapy) that I (partly) married Ex-Husband because I didn't have the courage to call it off....

7. My electrical appliances have it in for me.  A month ago, my washing machine packed up.  Last week my dishwasher door snapped its hinges.  This morning, my hairdryer stopped working.  What's next, I wonder?

By the way, I just have to say: my lunch was absolutely awesome (the food, not the company so much) which is why I'm posting a link here to a review of the restaurant, in case you should find yourself in Brixton and in urgent need of a pizza.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Going Ape



This Saturday we are celebrating Eldest Daughter's fourteenth birthday. She was born in April and yes, it's September which means her party is five months late. Given that Eldest Daughter is always late for everything, I don't feel too bad about having taken so long to organise her party. (The only time Eldest Daughter has not been late was back in 1995, when she arrived, uncharacteristically, ten days early).

As I write this, it is raining. I am hoping it will be fine and dry on Saturday as we will be spending the afternoon in Swinley Forest, staggering along bendy rope bridges and swinging from tree to tree, fifty feet above ground. Yes, we're going to Go Ape (why oh why did I ever agree to this?) where, for three ghastly hours, we will be attempting to emulate our prehensile primate friends.

And when I say 'we', I mean Eldest & Youngest Daughters, assorted fourteen year-old friends, Ex-Husband & Much Younger Fiancee ... and me.

I am terrified of heights. I am not particularly agile. I don't even own a tracksuit. I do know how to ride a bicycle but I don't think this is a skill which will come in handy on Saturday afternoon. If it rains on Saturday and my hair gets wet, I am going to look like shit. I am forty-five.

Much Younger Fiancee is thirty. She has been to Go Ape before, as part of a work team-building exercise thingy and she 'love love loved it!!' I'm fairly confident that it was she who first planted the idea of a Go Ape birthday party in Eldest Daughter's mind. On a recent trip (with Ex-Husband) to New York, MYF attended a Circus Skills Day and learned the art of trapeze. She liked it so much that last weekend she arranged a similar day out in North London for Eldest & Youngest Daughters and herself (Ex-Husband went along, but only to read the Sunday Times). She is clearly a bit of an adrenalin-junkie. And oh, I forgot to mention: she's also an Olympian. Yes, honestly. She has represented her country at the Olympics. (I have to admit to having always been a bit suspicious of people who are too sporty.)

Don't get me wrong. I'm really glad MYF is such a fun gal. Weekends with Dad are way more fun for my girls now that she's around. Before MYF appeared, an episode of X-Factor on Saturday night used to be the highlight of their weekend. Now they actually go out and do stuff, which is largely a result of MYF's youth and enthusiasm. Good for her, I reckon. And I do really like her, apart from the fact that she once tried to steal my hairdresser (about which I have written previously here). She has only ever been lovely to my girls, for which I am grateful.

But really, I'm so wishing that she hadn't ever mentioned Go Ape. Now that the day is almost upon us (and my daughters are almost delirious with excitement) I'm starting to dread it. And I'm trying hard not to think evil, paranoid thoughts about how MYF might have manipulated the situation to her advantage ie. she will be whizzing between the trees at 100 mph, whooping and hollering joyfully with my daughters and their friends, looking beautiful and athletic, while I stand, rooted to the spot and paralytic with fear on some wooden platform 50ft up a trunk, unable to open my eyes and very possibly wetting myself (in which case it might be better if it does rain).

My only comfort (which has only just occurred to me) is the thought that Ex-Husband will, in all likelihood, be rooted to the spot, even more rigid with fear, right next to me. He is a much bigger woes than I am, and far, far more afraid of heights. Right now, he has absolutely no idea that he is actually required to participate (Go Ape specify x no. of adults per children taking part). So if he (or I) don't pluck up the courage to give it a go, then some of the girls will have to sit out. Which would be unthinkable, of course.

It's not that I've purposefully withheld this information from him: it's just that he's never asked for details (which is fairly typical) and I know (knowing him as I do) that he will have assumed that he'll be doing the bare minimum. Right now, he's expecting to sit under a tree somewhere (or inside a cosy canteen, if it's raining) with a hot, frothy latte and a copy of the Saturday Telegraph. Hahahahahahahahahaha. Little does he know ......




Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The one about the elephant ...

I'm in a terrible 'flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-and-only-just-managing-to hold-it-together' breathless rush at the moment, so no time for anything, other than this:

An elephant met a mouse in the jungle. The mouse said, 'Bloody hell, you're absolutely enormous.'

And the elephant said, 'Well, you're really, really little.'

And the mouse said, 'Yes, but I haven't been very well lately.'

This always, always makes me smile.

Monday, 7 September 2009

How NOT to sunbathe

My friend took this photo a few sunny Saturdays ago when we were in Embankment Gardens, down by the Thames.

Check Spelling

Honey. Sweetheart. Lovely girl. If, by some bizarre, freakish, cosmically crazy coincidence, you happen to be one of my nine* followers, you need to know:

1. This is not a good look. Vertical: maybe. Horizontal: categorically, no. If your mum wasn't all the way back in Australia, I know she'd tell you the same.

2. When you lie down in a short skirt, your bottom will always find a way to crawl out from underneath. However much you may want to read your book while lying on the grass in the warm sunshine (I know, I know, we all love to do that!) do not succumb to temptation. You really need to stay standing up.

And that's all really.
* including ME, since I'm following my own blog inadvertently.

Friday, 4 September 2009

A really bad thing

A really bad thing happened on our recent holiday to Malta.

I wasn't able to write about it in my previous post because it felt inappropriate. In that post, I was trying to make light of the awfulness of Week 1 (ie. the monosyllabic other single mums I found myself with, the hideousness of our grotty hotel, etc). Consequently, mentioning What Happened on Night Six just didn't seem right. There was nothing funny about what happened that night and I felt that I couldn't make mention of it in a post in which I was trying to be light-hearted.

What Happened on Night Six (all names have been changed):

After dinner and a lovely walk along the seafront to Bugibba and back, my girls and I spent the rest of our evening in a lovely little cafe near our hotel, eating banoffee pie (Eldest Daughter's favourite 'food') and playing Gin Rummy. At about 11 o'clock we headed back to our too-tiny room. We tiptoed along the empty corridor and stopped outside our door. Just as I was inserting key into lock, we heard raised voices coming from the room opposite. We knew that two of our group - mum Vonya and 10 year-old daughter, Ruby - were staying in this room.

Vonya and I had spoken only briefly since the start of our holiday. She kept herself to herself, was always very brusque with her replies (to the point of being irascible). She spent a lot of time during the day sitting, alone and unsmiling, in the hotel lobby which struck me as more than a bit odd. She was, if I'm honest, a bit scary. She seemed angry all the time, in a weird, low-key, repressed kind of way. When we all met up for dinner in the evenings, Vonya often never came. On more than one occasion, daughter Ruby joined Eldest Daughter, Youngest Daughter and I at dinner. Ruby said things like 'My mum isn't feeling well' or 'My mum is having a nap', by way of explanation.

My girls and I felt sorry for Ruby: she was very timid, seemed afraid of everything (the sea, the swimming pool, the hotel food) and she spoke in a peculiar breathless, hurried kind of way. As if she had to get her sentences out very quickly. As if we were suddenly going to stop listening to her. She had a very short attention span and was unable to sit still for long. She was forever peering about nervously, constantly sitting down and getting up again, endlessly fiddling with her long blonde hair. It was clear that she was not a happy little girl.

As I was turning the key in our lock, we heard raised voices. Vonya said, angrily, 'Just do it!' Ruby replied, 'I'm going to!' She sounded angry, too. There was a short silence. Then we heard it. Thwack thwack thwack. The sound of Vonya hitting Ruby. Thwack thwack thwack. It seemed to go on for a long time. At first Ruby was shouting, then she started to cry. Then she was crying, really hard. And still it went on. Thwack thwack thwack.

I froze, completely shocked. Eldest and Youngest Daughters were staring at me, their eyes round and enormous. I recall looking at Eldest Daughter and whispering, 'What shall I do?!' I felt completely confused. I didn't know what to do. Next thing, I was banging on Vonya's door.

'Is everything okay in there?' I said, very loudly.

Silence. Ruby was still crying.

'Is everything okay?' I repeated.

Silence. Ruby stopped crying.

'Vonya, it's me,' I said, saying my name. 'The girls and I are here,' I continued. (In retrospect, I think that perhaps I thought mentioning my daughters' names might somehow make Ruby feel better?) 'Do you need some help?' I said through the door.

Silence.

'We're fine,' Vonya replied, eventually. She sounded furious. 'Everything's fine.'

'Okay,' I said.

My girls and I let ourselves into our room. I was shaking like a leaf. Eldest Daughter was still staring at me, ashen-faced. Youngest Daughter promptly burst into tears. 'Poor Ruby,' she sobbed, 'Is she going to be okay?' I didn't know what to say. We all felt absolutely awful. About ten minutes later, I opened our door (very quietly) and leaned out into the corridor. All quiet, thank God.

We spent the rest of our holiday avoiding Vonya, which wasn't difficult as she didn't once come anywhere near us. When we did find ourselves in a group situation (which wasn't often, as she continued to skip dinner every evening and only took one other day trip that we did) she didn't so much as look in our direction. Had she done, I was ready with my most withering look of disgust/disdain/disapproval. But I wasn't even able to catch her eye. Ruby, however, continued to gravitate towards us whenever she could (ie. whenever Vonya wasn't around) and although we never discussed the events of that night with her (what do you say?: is your mum abusing you? Does she do it often? Do you want to come and live with us?) we knew that she knew that we knew. And I kept hoping that, somehow, that might be of some comfort to her.

I agonised over what else I could do/should do. Should I confront Vonya? What would that achieve? Would it make things any better for Ruby? The next day, I told Lorraine, our Maltese chaperone/guide, what the girls and I had overheard. She looked horrified and said that Vonya had approached her that very morning and had mentioned, quite randomly, that she was taking a certain prescription medication which sometimes made her 'lose it'. At the time, Lorraine said, she'd wondered why on earth Vonya was sharing this information with her. In light of what I was telling her, it suddenly sounded quite sinister. I asked whether Lorraine could do anything in her capacity as company rep (me being a total wimp, clutching at straws, not feeling brave enough to do anything ie. confront Vonya myself). Lorraine said that there was nothing that she could do except 'keep an eye on things' for the remainder of the holiday and report the incident to the UK office. And so we all just carried on into Week 2 which (mercifully) included the arrival of The New Lot - single mums and children who were friendly and fun.

When we arrived back home, I continued to agonise over what the HELL to do next. Should I have said something to Ruby before we all went our separate ways? Was I a coward for not having 'had words' with Vonya? Could I possibly ignore what had happened and just carry on as usual? Should I consign the events of Night Six to the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind and hope that my daughters could, too? Should I report it to someone? If so, to whom should I report it? ... and what would they actually do about it? What train of events might I be setting in motion if I picked up the phone? Had my daughters and I perhaps 'witnessed' a one-off event? - in which case perhaps it was okay to do nothing?

We all fly off the handle, sometimes, I told myself. (I certainly have done, on umpteen occasions. When I do, I tend to get VERY S-H-O-U-T-Y but yes, I have smacked my girls, though only rarely and never more than once. And I've always felt absolutely horrendous afterwards). Life is tough. Being a parent is very tough. Being a single parent can be very tough. Did I have any right to meddle in Vonya and Ruby's lives? Was I just being a busybody? Was my over-active imagination running away with me?

I spent two days thinkingthinkingthinking.

I remembered Eldest Daughter's (at the time quite innocent) comment re. how Ruby only ever wore a full swimsuit (one of those 'Aussie-type' sunblocker things which cover arms to the elbow and legs to the knee). I recalled how, in the evenings, when all the other girls (and their mums) wore shorts or skirts or sundresses, Ruby wore long trousers and long sleeves.

I remembered how we'd seen Ruby wandering around the hotel late at night, all by herself. More than once, she'd joined us and asked whether we knew where her mum was.

I thought about how, on the few occasions that Vonya and Ruby had participated in group activities, Ruby never, ever stood with or sat next to her mum. Whenever she had the opportunity to be somewhere else, with someone else, she took it. She moved away from Vonya as often as she could. I never saw them hug or cuddle or hold hands. They hardly even spoke to each other.

I also recalled how Ruby had said over dinner one evening (in response to a question from Youngest Daughter) that she 'didn't have a Dad'. She did, however, have a Nan, who often sent her texts. She seemed very lonely, very alone in the world.

And I thought of Victoria Climbie and Baby Peter. How alone and lonely they must have been, too. And then I decided to stop being a wimp. I knew that I couldn't ignore what had happened. I couldn't possibly do nothing. That I had to trust my instincts. So I picked up the phone and called the NSPCC.

I was put straight through to a wonderful woman who listened quietly while I told her the whole sorry story. I told her how guilty I felt for not having done anything while on holiday (apart from tell Lorraine what we'd heard) and how guilty I felt, right now, for making the call. She was very kind and reassuring. She told me that that I had done the right thing then and that I was doing the right thing now. She was so kind and lovely that I almost started to cry.

I have no idea what has happened since. Nor will I, ever, as the NSPCC (and police child protection services to whom my call will have been referred) do not feed back. Apparently (according to lovely NSPCC lady) the first thing they will have done (following my call) is check various databases to see whether Ruby's name is already on a list somewhere. In a weird way, it would actually be a good thing if it was because then the wheels would turn more quickly. If not, they apparently make initial confidential enquiries via Ruby's school and/or GP (if she's registered) before eventually paying a visit to Vonya herself. But I can't help wondering (given the repeated cock-ups in both Victoria Climbie and Baby Peter's cases) whether anything will come of anything, anyway.

I find myself thinking of Ruby all the time. I hope that she's okay. I so hope I won't have made things worse for her by doing what I have done. I also hope, if anyone ever does knock on Vonya's door, that she doesn't connect me with the fact. I know it sounds wimpish in the extreme (and I'm totally ashamed to admit this) but I'd be afraid if she did. (A couple of weeks before our trip, the travel company sent a full list of parents and children who would be holidaying together on Malta: names, ages and where we all came from eg. Wimbledon, Weston-super-Mare, etc). The irony is, of all the mums on our holiday, she lives by far the closest. Uncomfortably close. As the crow flies, Vonya and Ruby live less than half an hour from our front door. And she really is a scary woman. Which is why I know that I've done the right thing.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Notting Hill Carnival



So I went along on Sunday. By myself.

Walking up from Holland Park Road in the direction of Portobello (and, to be honest, feeling a teeny weeny bit sorry for myself since everywhere I looked  people seemed to be holding hands/snogging/staring into someone else's eyes) I noticed two tall, very fit (in the 21st century sense of the word) young guys walking towards me. In a straight line ie. they were clearly sober, which is a very important point.

As they drew closer, the taller, fitter, more handsome one (yes, really) caught my eye, smiled broadly and shouted - yes, shouted!! - at me!! - from right across the road!! - in a really cheerful, friendly, non-creepy kind of way:

'Hello, sexy older woman!'

I felt ridiculously chuffed. I smiled back at him and (in a fit of carnival-induced bonhomie) I blew him a kiss. He smiled and blew it right back. And I thought, 'I bet he's got a really nice mum. '





Sunday, 30 August 2009

A Cautionary Tale


Sorry. This is much too long. I have been away from my blog for almost a month and it appears that I now have verbal (non-verbal?) diarrhoea as a result. But having spent absolute ages trying to get it 'right' (and I still don't feel that I have), I simply can't bring myself to edit it down. Sorry.

It has been more than two weeks since my girls and I arrived back from Malta. Until now, I have been completely unable to write a word about our experience. As holidays go, it wasn't the best. I ended my last post by saying 'Please God, don't let it be a disaster of epic proportions'. While it would be an exaggeration to say that it was a disaster (no luggage or children went astray, the plane stayed aloft, no one drowned) the truth is, it wasn't far off.

To recap: in a fit of Pinot Grigio-induced, late-night panic, facing a complete dearth of holiday plans (after Brixton Man and I parted company in June) I had gone online and booked a Single Parent Holiday at the Qawra Palace Hotel, St Paul's Bay.

Lesson #1: Never, ever stay anywhere that has the word 'palace' in its name. Unless of course it is a proper palace and you know the maharajah.

Lesson #2: Never, ever make online arrangements after midnight, unless you are completely sober and can recall your credit card limit/bank overdraft without a moment's hesitation.

To be honest, I did feel slightly wary about the prospect of holidaying with a bunch of complete strangers. What if they all came from Up North and I couldn't understand their accents? What if they were just plain weird? But I assumed that amongst the motley crew of single parents there would surely be at least one adult with whom I could have a fascinating conversation (along the lines of 'Just when exactly did Tom Cruise stop being sexy?) of a balmy evening, beside a sparkling sea, sipping on a tall, minty mojito. And I was quite sure, even if I only made one friend, that my gregarious, gorgeous girls would make friends with all the other kids in no time and that they would then spend the rest of the holiday frolicking in the sparkling sea/swimming pool with their lovely new mates.

Lesson #3: Never, ever assume anything.


THE HOTEL (briefly: I'm not even going to mention the cockroach...)

I am not a wimp. Really, I'm not. I love camping (though my daughters do not) and I have roughed it quite happily in some pretty dodgy places around the world. But after we arrived at our (so-called) four star hotel and had found our way up to our room, I felt like crying. It was nothing (and I mean, nothing) like in the photographs.

Lesson #4: Photographs lie.

The hotel was situated on a busy main road. And I mean busy - all day and all night. On the other side of the busy main road ... WTF?! ... was the hotel's teeny weeny swimming pool (albeit with an underground tunnel, linking the two). From our third floor balcony we could see, lolling in and around the too-tiny pool, what appeared to be hundreds of extras from a Mad Max movie. Most of the men had skinny little ponytails and enormous beer bellies and tattoos. Most of the women looked miserable or angry (or both) and had beer bellies and tattoos, too. Some of the children had beer bellies. And tattoos. It was not a pretty sight.

The view inside our room was hardly better. The bathroom was miniscule, with chipped tiles, mouldy grouting and a constantly dripping tap. Our bedroom was only a tad bigger. Someone had squeezed an ugly little Z-bed between two single beds and the balcony door. There was hardly any space for the three of us and our three small pull-along suitcases. Looking at that Z-bed I was overwhelmed with sadness. It seemed to shriek 'single parent holiday'... and made me long for home.

Eldest Daughter gamely volunteered to take the Z-bed (bless her) and sat down. The Z-bed snapped shut with a terrible crunch and Eldest Daughter disappeared. At this point, I burst into tears. Fortunately, Youngest Daughter started to laugh, as did Eldest Daughter from somewhere inside the Z-bed. Bless them both. I managed to pull myself together and laughed too, although I suspect I sounded hysterical. We took a few photos of Eldest Daughter fighting her way out from inside the folded mattress and decided to go for a swim. Ten minutes later, bobbing about in a deliciously warm Mediterranean Sea (we made the decision to avoid the pool completely) things started to look up. We resolved to make the best of things. As Youngest Daughter said, 'It could waaaaay worse. At least it's nice and hot and we're not camping in a muddy field in Devon.'


THE OTHER PEOPLE (Week 1) - all names have been changed

Later that evening, with great excitement and hope in our hearts, we met up with The Other People. Some had arrived on the same Heathrow plane as we had, others had flown in from Gatwick, Manchester and Bristol. We eyed each other warily, children and adults alike. No doubt we were all thinking the same thing: who are we going to be friends with? Lorraine (our lovely Maltese tour guide/holiday rep, whose job it was to chaperone us for the duration of our stay) explained what was on offer in the days ahead: day trips to sandy beaches, a bus journey to the capital city of Valletta, a ferry ride to the island of Gozo. We were free to do as much - or as little - as we liked. Since the girls and I had decided we loathed our hotel so completely, we signed up for absolutely everything.

But OH! it was heavy going.

All the mums in our little group (with one exception) were just so very... sad. There was so little laughter, such an absence of joy. Here we were, on holiday - supposedly here to have a good time!? - and yet everyone seemed inexplicably miserable. Our group comprised entirely of single mums, seven in all. Almost all, bar sweet Jenny from Bristol, seemed depressed to a greater or lesser degree. Between us, we had nine daughters and two sons. Our children's ages ranged from fifteen down to two. We got together each morning over breakfast, spent our days together (though not all day, every day) and re-assembled at dinner time. It was excruciating, every time. No one had anything to say. The other mums sat in silence, as if in detention. Some hardly spoke to their children. One or two didn't even seem to like their children. And this is how it was, day in, day out. It made me so sad. No one wanted to talk about Tom Cruise or Brangelina. Or Plato. It made me so grateful that I have two articulate children with whom I could have an interesting conversation. Apart from a few chats with sweet Jenny and her equally sweet little Olivia, I spent the whole week talking with my girls.

I hadn't gone on holiday expecting to meet other single parents who would immediately open up about their lives (though that would have been interesting) but I did think that, as we all had single parenthood in common, we might knock along merrily in a kindred-spirit, 'we're-all-in-this-together' kind of way. But no.

Every single mum (bar Jenny) was relentlessly uncommunicative, monosyllabic and miserable. Initially I thought that perhaps they were just a bit shy (or perhaps rendered speechless, as I had been, by the awfulness of our hotel) but as the days ticked by, it became clear that each and every one was ... how can I put this, without sounding horribly patronizing and hideously judgemental?!?... socially inept. I can't think of any other way to describe it. They didn't appear to know how to start a conversation, or even how to continue with one when asked a simple leading question. A few of them had difficulty making eye contact.

It was a shock. It was also frustrating and heart-breaking, too. And it got me thinking: does being single for too long (most of the other mums had been on their own for years) gradually erode your social skills? Can being a single parent make you so completely dispirited that you can't even crack a smile when on holiday? Does it make you uninterested - and uninteresting? Can it make you feel ashamed?

They all seemed to be so defeated, so lacking in optimism, so hopeless.

Fortunately, the children were a bit better. At least they all spoke to each other. But so many of them seemed sad, too. And terribly, terribly serious. They didn't seem like 'other children' - they were too subdued, too humourless. Too grown up. One little girl, Ruby, was especially subdued (and even seemed afraid of her mother). My girls did their best to make friends but it was heavy going for them, too. In the end, they just stuck together. By the end of the first week, all three of us had given up trying to 'make friends'. We held our breath and awaited the arrival of The New Lot, who swept in at the beginning of our second week...


THE NEW LOT (Week 2) - all names have been changed

Oh joy!!!! The New Lot were quite the opposite!!! Feisty, funny, garrulous and good fun.

On the day of their arrival (thank you, God!) a few of The Other People left. Those that remained from Week 1 kept themselves to themselves and stayed silent.

But happily, the four 'new' single mums (and one adorable dad from Kent) who breezed in for Week 2 with their happy, smiley assortment of seven children (six girls and a boy) were exactly what we'd hoped for all along.

Needless to say, it utterly transformed our holiday.

My girls made a few proper friends, who they gleefully snorkelled and swam with for the remainder of our stay; I sat beside the pool of a balmy evening and finally had my 'Tom Cruise' conversation.* And instead of avoiding talking about ourselves and our lives and our reasons for being on a Single Parent Holiday (as had been the case throughout the first week) the single parents of Week 2 shared their stories, laughed, cried, swapped hilarious anecdotes, laughed some more. No one appeared to be embarrassed about the fact that they were single. One lovely mum, Sarah from Surrey, who had a fabulous sense of humour and two delightfully confident daughters, was actually proud of having escaped a miserable marriage

All of their children laughed, often.

Lesson #5: Things can only get better.


* A few of us agreed that he had never been sexy. Others felt that it was immediately after 'Top Gun', when he hooked up with Nicole Kidman to do the ridiculous 'Days of Thunder'.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Maltesers

My gorgeous girls and I are heading off into the sunshine (and it's guaranteed! How very brilliant is that)?

On Monday morning, bright and early, we're flying to Malta.

Youngest Daughter, when I announced the happy news of our very last-minute holiday booking, said, 'So, does that mean we'll be Maltesers for the next two weeks?' ... which made the ludicrous amount of money that I'd just put onto my already over-burdened credit card entirely worth it.

But I am filled with trepidation.

I had contemplated (briefly) being brave and intrepid. I had thought (briefly) about going to Heathrow with miniscule suitcases and getting onto whichever flight still had three seats available and simply going to wherever the plane happened to be going and then, when we got there, simply making things up as we went along.

But then I realised that I just don't have it in me. I don't feel brave enough. Right now, I need to be somewhere friendly and warm, somewhere close to water, somewhere that I know my girls will be able to swim and tan and read and make friends easily. I don't want to have to search every night for a place to rest our heads, or drag them off one aeroplane or ferry and onto the next. I want to enjoy myself. And I'm hoping that, if I do, they will too.

And so I have opted for the Single Parent Holiday, with a company that specialises in 'group holidays designed especially and exclusively for single parent families' - which might prove to be 'the very best decision that I have ever made' (according to the blurb on their brochure).... or, possibly the very worst. Please God, let there be at least one kindred spirit. Please God, let it not be a disaster of epic proportions. Ho hum.

The next two weeks will tell, of course ... and so will I, when I get back.

'Bye for now!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Brixton Man: the back story

There's a column in the Family section of the Saturday Guardian with the title 'A letter to ... ' which I absolutely love. It's written by readers, often anonymously, and almost always makes me cry. Most letters are about love and loss - written by mothers to disappeared sons, unloved daughters to unloving fathers, and so on - though occasionally there are contributions which are hilariously funny, too.

When I first met Brixton Man, almost two years ago, I wrote a letter to him. Not with the intention of ever sending it to him, or to The Guardian, of course. Rather, I wrote it in an attempt to clarify my thoughts, to give voice to my fears.

I called it 'A Letter to a Prospective Lover' ... but really, it was just a letter to myself.

This is what I wrote:

"We met recently on a blind date. My first ever blind date. I was absolutely petrified, waiting for you near Putney Bridge. I've been on my own for a while now. You, never married, single for some time, confided to a mutual friend that you were lonely. She gave you my mobile no. (after asking me first) because she thought we'd get along ... and a few days later, you rang. I wasn't sure that you would but I was ridiculously pleased when you did.

You sounded friendly: very cheerful and upbeat and possibly a bit posh. In my mind's eye, I pictured someone small and soft and jolly, with a foppish fringe and delicate hands. I imagined you'd been educated at some fancy public school. I felt slightly hesitant. But when we finally met up (after weeks of missed calls and voice mail messages) you were, to my enormous relief, the polar opposite. You were, basically, a builder - although you preferred calling yourself a 'property developer' which I found rather endearing.

I liked you immediately. You were funny and confident and seemed so comfortable in your own skin. Unconventional. Bald, but wonderfully so. You arrived on a motorbike. You wore a
necklace that could only have come from Africa. You were so very different from my Ex-Husband. You told a hilarious story about an under-rehearsed magician who you'd seen the
previous evening and I loved the way you leaped up to illustrate your point. You didn't take yourself too seriously. I thought you were interesting. You made me feel interesting, too.

And so we saw each other again a few weeks later, after you'd been to Spain and back, rock-climbing. A lovely, lazy picnic in Kew Gardens, after weeks of rain. I was touched by the effort you'd made: excellent wine, picnic rug, bats and ball, delicious food (so much of it!) and a truly terrific homemade salad dressing. We talked about our mums (how yours had died too suddenly after a catastrophic stroke, how mine had died too slowly of ovarian cancer, how both had been far too young to die). I got a bit tearful and knocked over my glass of wine. You then told a funny story about a lost rugby game and you made me laugh.

I think we were flirting but I'm so out of practice I couldn't be sure. You took your shirt off in the heat (I was genuinely touched by how you asked first. What would you have done if I'd said 'no'?) and I felt giddy at the sight of you. You have a beautiful body: tanned and hard. I like your shoulders. And your hands. Proper hands. Builder's hands. Rock-climber's hands. I've been thinking about them a lot.

We had fun that day but we never kissed. We still haven't ... though I've seen you once more since then and I've decided that I would like to.

The truth is, I have decided that I would most definitely like to make love with you ... but I'm genuinely terrified at the prospect of being with someone new. My body has carried and born two children and I have the scars and stretch-marks to prove it. The very thought of being naked and vulnerable with you makes me feel faint. Your body is beautiful and hard. Mine is most definitely neither. I now totally regret cancelling my gym membership.

What if we did decide to get naked? What if I start laughing hysterically? Even worse: what if you do?

After my marriage ended, my heart was shattered - and my confidence equally so. I really expected to be married forever but after years of bitter silence and not nearly enough love, I decided it had to end. It was, without doubt, the hardest decision that I have ever made. And I would have made it sooner, were it not for my two gorgeous girls. In the end, I couldn't bear feeling so isolated, so unloved, for one minute more. A beloved friend suggested that I make a list (reasons to stay vs reasons to go) and I couldn't think of a single reason why I should stay.
Worst of all, I realised that my unhappiness was starting to affect my children. That's really what decided it for me. I woke up one morning (after then-Husband had failed to return home for the night, yet again) and I realised that enduring an unspeakably bad marriage was setting the very worst example to my two daughters. I called a lawyer that same morning.

And I've never regretted my decision, although it meant enormous upheaval. My gorgeous girls and I left behind a huge house in a smart street and moved instead into a complete wreck of a place that needed rebuilding, entirely. It has taken years to make it habitable. I've only recently hung the last few pictures and we still need more furniture. But it's near the river and it's beautiful. And it's a happy home. I'm proud of it ... and I'm also proud of the fact that my daughters enjoy a loving relationship with their Dad who is, ironically, less absent and a far better parent than when we were married.

And now that my house is in order - literally & figuratively! - I feel ready to embark on a new journey of my own. Isn't it funny? The truth is, I simply could not have contemplated a relationship while a skip was parked outside my front door and a cement-mixer stood in my kitchen.

But now that they've gone, I feel ready. I know what I want. The problem is, I have no idea what you want. And I'm not at all sure that you do?

A mutual friend who has known you for a long time emailed me recently and described you as 'compelling ... but complicated'.

This has made me a little nervous. Perhaps I shouldn't over-analyse things. It's not like I'm contemplating losing my virginity. Perhaps it doesn't matter whether you're after a quick shag or a proper relationship. Perhaps it doesn't matter what you want? But the Capricorn in me can't help thinking that it does."

Hmmmmm. Needless to say, so much has happened since I wrote this, nearly two years ago. A big part of me wishes that I'd listened to my 'inner voice' back then. It would have saved me a whole bucket-load of heartache. But, had I done so, I also would have missed out on some of the happiest times of my life. Since then, Brixton Man has been & gone and been & gone ... but after every 'going' he has always re-surfaced, weeks or months later, with apologies and protestations of adoration (if not love). But he 'went' last month - with tears in his eyes, standing on my front doorstep, clutching his spare helmet and 'Perfume' which he'd loaned me - with his gorgeous mouth opening and closing like a hooked fish, looking stricken.

And I just knew that this time, he wouldn't be back. And, needless to say, he hasn't been.

Badly behaved photographs

I'm trying to be clever and am attempting to write a post which will include more than one photo. But every time I do the 'upload' thing, Photo No. 2 appears right up at the top next to Photo No. 1 ... despite the fact that my cursor is blinking helpfully further down the page, where I want Photo No. 2 to appear.

I would like the photos to appear at various points throughout the post .... not all squished up together right at the beginning.

Can anyone out there please tell me how to do this? I have spent the past few hours scouring settings/layout/help etc. but to no avail. It's driving me crazy. Is there an easy way? I assume there must be, because I've seen it done.

But ...... how????

Please put me out of my misery. I would be so grateful. Otherwise I'm going to have to dash out and buy a bottle of Pinot Grigio in the vain hope that a few glasses will unlock the part of my brain that clearly isn't doing its job properly.

Thank you, in anticipation. (In the meantime, I shall keep trying ....)

Friday, 24 July 2009

The horror, the horror

And so, off we skipped to Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. All very merry, my two girls and I, with hope in our hearts and feeling fine about what lay ahead. And looking forward to Topshop afterwards.

Bless them. Both Eldest and Youngest Daughter were being so brave and optimistic, despite our appalling track record when it comes to blood tests. On the No. 14 bus, Eldest Daughter said cheerily, 'Mum, I soooo promise you that I'm not going to pass out this time!' Youngest Daughter, not to be outdone, added, 'I'm actually really looking forward to it. I'm not going to cry. Only babies and losers cry!'

In the Phlebotomy Department, we waited just under an hour for our number to come up (I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't longer). Eldest revised Spanish GCSE vocabulary (typical first born) and Youngest tucked into Malorie Blackman's 'Noughts & Crosses'. I read someone's discarded Daily Mail (why?! it only ever infuriates me) and drank a Starbucks skinny latte and fretted about the prevalence of Swine Flu (couldn't help but notice that everyone around us looked terribly unwell and all seemed to be coughing and sweating profusely).

And then, all of a sudden, it was our turn.

Eldest Daughter elected to go first (being older and that little bit bolder). She sat down in the chair, made very grown-up small talk about our imminent trip to Malta (which made me feel ridiculously proud of her) with the lovely, diminutive phlebotomist (who looked just like a Sylvanian, only cuter) while he proceeded to strap her arm with what looked like the inner tube of a bicycle tyre. And through it all, Eldest Daughter kept smiling (with her eyes tightly shut): needle in, several phials of blood taken, needle out. Plaster on. Job done.

'Phew,' I thought. 'One down, one to go.'

Then Eldest Daughter looked at me and said, 'Ummm. Sorry, Mum. But I think I need to lie down,' and pulled her knees up to her chest.

Next thing, Eldest Daughter was gone. Utterly and completely gone, it seemed. Her eyes rolled back in their sockets and, ashen-faced, she slumped forward in her chair. I caught her and held her face between my hands, unable to think. I looked around. The room was full. Absolutely everyone was staring at us.

Three minutes later the room was empty. Someone had shut the door. Eldest Daughter was still slumped in her chair, unresponsive. Little Sylvanian Phlebotomist was holding an ice-pack against my daughter's neck. Chief Phlebotomist was slapping Eldest Daughter's beautiful, pale face (don't do that!!) and shouting, 'What is your name? How old are you?', while I watched in horror and disbelief, thinking, 'This is how easy it is to lose a child.'

In the background, someone else was on the phone to A&E, requesting immediate assistance. I heard them say, 'It has been more than three minutes and she's not come back.'

I thought her heart had stopped.

It was surreal. I felt as if I'd stumbled into an episode of ER.

No, much worse than that. I felt like I was in a Tarantino movie.

I heard myself saying, 'Is she still breathing?' No one replied. I asked, 'Is her heart beating?' Still, no one replied. I tried finding her heartbeat myself. I couldn't feel anything beneath her little chest and I could feel the hysteria rising in mine. Eldest Daughter looked really, really dead. She hadn't made a sound - not a moan, not a groan. Nothing. The last time I'd seen anyone as pale and inert and dead-looking was when my Mum died. I suddenly thought of Youngest Daughter outside, nose in book, innocently awaiting her turn. Would she have noticed how long things were taking? Would she have noticed the shut door? Could I possibly leave Eldest Daughter and go to her? I tried to remember where in the world Ex-Husband was. From some dark corner of my mind, I dredged up that he was in New York with Much Younger Fiancee. 'How quickly could he get here?', I wondered.

I also wondered whether or not, under the circumstances, it would be appropriate for me to call Brixton Man.

And then the door flew open and there was a Very Little Consultant in the room. She was absolutely tiny and very blonde and dressed in scrubs (had she been hauled out of an operating theatre?) and she was immediately in charge (although she looked about sixteen). She took Eldest Daughter by the shoulders, shook her gently, spoke to her in a calm, soft voice.

She said, 'Who are you here with?' and, as if by some miracle, Eldest Daughter opened her eyes and replied, 'My little sister.'

In the end, we didn't go to Topshop. Youngest Daughter (miracle of miracles) allowed herself to be subjected to a blood test too, blissfully unaware of the drama that had unfolded just a few feet from where she sat (thank you, Malorie Blackman). When I ushered her in (feeling light-headed and nauseous but putting on an Oscar-worthy performance of Calm, Happy Mum) I could see all the phlebotomists recoil in horror at the prospect of a repeat performance. Youngest Daughter cried a bit ... but remained conscious before, during and after. Only then did we regale her with the full horror story. We stayed at the hospital for another two hours, so that Eldest Daughter's recovery could be monitored.

And then we went home.

Me to weep, Eldest Daughter to sleep, Youngest Daughter to continue 'Noughts & Crosses' from the comfort of our very comfy sofa.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Bloody blood tests

I'm off in the morning to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. Oh lucky, lucky me. My gorgeous girls have suspected Glandular Fever (we don't do Swine Flu in this house ... oh no ... sooooooo last year, so very, very ordinary) and blood tests are in order, to establish whether or not their on-going early morning sore throats/day-long swollen neck glands/persistent lethargy, are indeed a consequence of this particular 'lergy.

Me, I'm pretty sceptical. Needless to say, I've been telling them for weeks now that they should get a grip. Pull themselves together. Stop whingeing. Enough already with the sore throats. I mean, nobody ever died of a sore throat, did they? Like I've said before: I am a Very Bad Mum.

I tried explaining to my GP that the fact that Eldest Daughter, being fourteen and finally on holiday and ONLY interested in watching re-runs of 'Friends' and 'Family Guy' from the comfort of our very comfy sofa, did not mean necessarily mean that she had a nasty viral infection... but he remained adamant. Blood tests, for both girls, are in his opinion the only way forward.

Youngest Daughter has very obvious dark rings beneath her beautiful brown eyes. And she is underweight. And she has absolutely NO appetite. Eldest Daughter has no energy for anything, whatsoever (apart from picking up the remote). Apparently (says GP) glandular fever is very much in our midst and is wreaking silent havoc ... but, being non-fatal, is not getting the press mileage that Swine Flu currently commands.

What lovely GP doesn't know is that, when confronted with a needle, both my girls become utterly deranged. Eldest Daughter last had a blood test three years ago and immediately passed out. When she came round, she spoke fluent Spanish for fifteen minutes (a language she hadn't, to my knoweldge, yet encountered). Youngest Daughter had a blood test last February. She also passed out, immediately. After oxygen and the urgent summonsing of a senior consultant, they finally brought her round. She then proceeded to vomit, spectacularly, and said (in perfect English), 'I will kill the next person who touches me.'

I'm so looking forward to tomorrow.

And all this has got me thinking.

Ex-Husband has never seen either of our daughters vomit. Not ever. Not in almost fifteen years. Ex-Husband has never witnessed our delightful daughters' mutual fear of needles .... or watched them slip into unconsciousness as a consequence of that fear. Ex-Husband has never agonised over whether Yongest Daughter's bleeding finger (bitten almost in half - really! - by a neighbour's rampant hampster) warranted a 999 call. And he was in Istanbul when Eldest Daughter fell down the stairs and broke her arm in two places. Ex-Husband has no absolutey no idea.

There's a very BIG part of me that SO wishes that I could delegate tomorrow's responsibility to him. Surely it's about time? I so wish that I could say, 'Sorry, you'll have to do it. It's just that I'm in a meeting all day' or 'I'm on a conference call with KL and Houston and Jo'burg from 10am. I'd really love to, but it's completely impossible.'

But I know that if I did delegate, Ex-Husband would be entirely & uttery hopeless. And I know that I would be letting my gorgeous girls down. Ex-Husband, at the first sight of a needle, would himself become immediately unconscious, start vomitting, need oxygen and then require the ministrations of a (preferably sexy) senior (female) consultant. I know, of course, that it's far better for me - and my gorgeous girls - that I go along with them tomorrow, and not him.

And so I will go along, hold their hands, smile determinedly through gritted teeth, tell them that it doesn't hurt AT ALL and promise them that when it's all over we'll go straight to Top Shop. And everything will be just fine.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Clueless

I seem to have become a follower of my own blog.

Proof, if any were needed, that I don't know what I'm doing.

And now I can't work out how to 'un-follow' myself ... and am fretting that people will think that I'm a complete loser and that I'm only following my own blog in order to increase my number of 'followers'.

Insecure, moi?

Hell, yes.

Please bear with me while I try to figure this out ....

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Hands off, he's MY hairdresser

So, Ex-Husband will be marrying Much Younger Fiancee sometime next year.

Let me start by saying that she is really, really nice. She has only ever been lovely to my two gorgeous girls (which, in my book, is all that really matters) and consequently they both think that she's wonderful. She is fifteen years younger than me (lucky her) which also makes her fifteen years younger than Ex-Husband (lucky him, which is what all his married male friends have been whispering under their breath and out of earshot of their wives, ever since they got it together).

She's slim and trim, slightly toothy and terribly sweet. I've met her loads of times. While she's clearly a wee bit buttoned-up and has a penchant for matching shoes and handbags (which I find deeply unnerving) and likes arranging her books in alphabetical order, I'm very grateful that it is she (and not any of the Previous Unsuitable Girlfriends) that Ex-Husband has chosen to spend the rest of his life with. Perhaps I'll write about the Previous Unsuitable Girlfriends one day (and yes, there were a few) but for now, suffice it to say, MYF seems like an excellent choice. Even if 'Love, Actually' is her favourite movie of all time and 'Lost in Translation' is her like, absolute worst.

But (and there's always a but, isn't there?) I was slightly disconcerted to learn from Eldest Daughter a few weeks back that MYF had been asking after my hairdresser. Fast forward two weekends and Eldest Daughter came home with the news that MYF had acquired a brand new hairstyle, courtesy of my lovely Andrew.

WTF?!?!?!?!?

I wasn't sure whether to be flattered or outraged. There are 310,000 hairdressers in London (seems a bit high, but I googled it and that's what it said) and yet Much Younger Fiancee felt it necessary to go to MINE???

Needless to say, I rang Andrew immediately. This is the man who has sat through (well, stood through, bless him) almost eight years of my banging on about Ex-Husband's many flaws, about the horrors of lawyers and divorce courts and Financial Dispute Resolutions, about Unsuitable Girlfriends and my worries about my daughters' happiness, about the complexities of my on-off relationship with Brixton Man. Clearly, he is much more than just a hairdresser. The man is a saint (and a brilliant colourist/stylist too). He knows more about me and my ridiculous, chaotic life than some of my closest girlfriends. Happily, after much humming and hawwing, he assured me that he couldn't even remember her.

Initially, I felt incredibly gratified (not least because it confirmed my suspicions that Much Younger Fiancee is, essentially, not very memorable) but later that night, lying in bed, I began to feel paranoid. What if they had had a conversation about me? Andrew wasn't about to admit it, now was he? Being a haidresser is like being a therapist: when it comes to client confidentiality, don't both professions operate by the same rules?

Anyway, I decided to be grown-up about it. Be happy for Andrew that he'd acquired a new client in these difficult, recessionary times. Not let it bother me. Let it go.

But I couldn't help feeling secretly thrilled when I saw Much Younger Fiancee a few days ago sporting what is (in my very humble opinion) a deeply unflattering new hairstyle.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Amsterdam

Ex-Husband and Much Younger Girlfriend (who must henceforth be referred to as Much Younger Fiancee since they got engaged a few weeks ago) are away this weekend with our two gorgeous girls.

It feels all a bit wierd, as they are staying with friends in the country with whom Ex-Husband and I have been friends for almost twenty years. I first met G & E within a month of arriving in London from South Africa, way back in the late 1980's. So long ago that Nelson Mandela was still on Robben Island.

Ex-Husband is playing in a cricket match today, organised annually by G. It's strange to think that had we not got divorced, I might be sitting on the boundary of a West Berkshire cricket field right this very minute. Instead, it's Much Younger Fiancee who is sitting on the boundary and here I am, blogging about it.

The good news is, I'd much rather be here than there. Actually, that's not true. I'd much, much rather be in Amsterdam.

And Amsterdam is where I would be if Brixton Man had not shattered my heart by calling time on our relationship recently. Right now, we'd both be on bicycles crossing some quaint little bridge over some sparkling canal on our way to the van Gogh Museum. Or back in our hotel room, having filthy sex.

In May we had decided that a weekend away would be fun. We chose this weekend because Eldest and Youngest Daughter would be with their father. I chose Amsterdam because I once lived in Holland a long, long time ago (I was the same age as Eldest Daughter is now) and I haven't been back since. And I have always wanted to visit the Red Light District. So I duly went ahead and booked our flights, using the few remaining BA airmiles that I had to my name (acquired while still married to Ex-Husband, back when we still had lots of money and would fly merrily hither thither and yon, not giving a damn about our collective carbon footprint, as we hadn't yet heard of the term.).

A few weeks later, Brixton Man decided that 'things were just not going to work out'.
'But what about Amsterdam?' said I, plaintively, trying hard not to cry.
'We could still go, I suppose,' said Brixton Man. 'I could come along and carry your luggage.'

Many years ago, I attended another cricket match. Towards the end of the day, when the opposition were batting, Eldest Daughter (almost five, whiney & very, very bored) asked how much longer before daddy came off the field and we all went home. Minutes earlier, I'd overheard someone say that the game was almost over, given our team's brilliant bowling and the fact that the last remaining opposition batsmen were completely crap.

Armed with this knowledge, I informed Eldest Daughter that we would be going home very soon 'because the rest of the batsmen are all completely rubbish, darling'. And who should be standing right next to me but the next batsmen himself, donning his pads and preparing to go out onto the field and (I can barely bring myself to write this) .... HE ONLY HAD ONE ARM!!!!!

Have just received a text from Eldest Daughter. They're on their way home. Ex-Husband pulled a hamstring and had to be carried off the field (that'll teach him; I bet he was showing off in front of Much Younger Fiancee). They should be here in about twenty-five minutes. So, time for me to hide the Marlboro Lights, brush my teeth and prepare to welcome home my two little darlings.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The Consequences of Death

Eldest Daughter has won a poetry competition.

While I realise that (1.) I run the risk of sounding like a overly-proud, pushy-mum type of mum (and we don't like them, do we?) plus (2.) I may be committing some sort of copyright crime (I haven't asked Eldest Daughter's permission) I've nevertheless decided to share her poem with the world (or, more accurately, with the one or two fellow bloggers who've stumbled across my blog recently) because I am so proud of her and I think it's a beautiful poem.

It's about her grandma, my beloved mum, who died of ovarian cancer when Eldest Daughter was five. She's now fourteen. The competition 'brief' was to use another poem as inspiration/a starting point ... and then develop an 'opposite'.

The poem Eldest Daughter chose was written by Henry Scott-Holland, Canon of St Paul's
Cathedral (1847-1918) - 'Death is nothing at all'. This was her response.


Consequences of Death

Death is cruel and selfish.
Because now you've slipped too far away
We can no longer be
What we were to each other
Life means all it ever meant
To most people.
To the people who didn't know you.
But not to me.

It will continue, yes
But with a tint of blue
No, it will continue with a tint of grey
In my eyes
Because blue is too bright
And the sky is blue
And you loved the sky.

With the thought of you
Comes a shadow.
And it lingers in my mind
And I dodge it.
And I push it backwards
So that I don't have to see it clearly.

With a glance at a picture of you
And of me
Laughing
I laugh.
That was a happy day
Then I cry.
I hate that picture now.

It is hidden behind a bookcase
Of your books
And of the stories you read
And the poems that you laughed over
And the poems that you cried over.

And now I hate that bookshelf.
I have locked the door of the room it is in.
And I have closed the curtains in that room
So that nobody can see into it.

Because now you've slipped too far away
We can no longer be
What we were to each other
And I'll carry on life
In a shadow
The shape of you.

I'm so proud of her. She's a beautiful, old soul, my Eldest Daughter. When she was very little, she regularly displayed a sensitivity which was astounding. She was a sweet, gentle child. Now, more often than not, she's a ranting, raving, hormonal maniac who wears waaaaaaaay too much eyeliner and shorts that are far too short. She is incapable of taking a shower unless accompanied by Florence and the Machine on full volume. On occasion, she is hideously unkind to her little sister, who's just starting to get hormonal herself (lucky me) and sometimes she's unkind to me, too.

But clearly, beneath that brittle exterior, there still lurks the same sweet, sensitive soul ....

Thorpe Park

Spent yesterday at Thorpe Park.

Was woken by the planes at 5.30am and lay in bed for the next hour-and-a-half unable to sleep, contemplating the horrors that lay ahead: queues a million miles long; eight over-heated, over-excited eleven-year-olds whingeing about long queues and begging for expensive treats; uncouth, queue-jumping, day-glo wearing theme-park regulars jostling with us for pole position; mindless day-long banter with RC, the other mum who'd gamely volunteered to chaperone our daughters and friends on an end-of-year treat.

I have always hated visiting theme parks with my children. Given the choice, I'd rather stick pins in my eyes. When my gorgeous girls were little, we used to visit Legoland occasionally. As they grew older, the Legoland rides seemed to shrink and Chessington World of Adventures became their preferred destination. Sadly, it proved even more nightmare-ish than Legoland: bigger, uglier kids having louder tantrums, more strenuous pushing and shoving, lots of swearing (mostly the mums, myself included), much longer queues.

So it was with a heavy heart that I headed for Thorpe Park on our first ever visit. Youngest Daughter was so excited that she actually started to hyper-ventilate on the M25. I tried to be happy for her.

But as it turned out I needn't have worried. It was fantastic! I think it helped that not all London schools have broken up, so it wasn't as full as it might have been. Also, we'd been advised by a friend to buy Fast Passes. Initially, I'd felt really resentful about doing this: yet more expenditure on top of the already expensive entry price ... plus surely it's morally wrong for more affluent people (who can afford to pay an extra £9.00) to get straight to the front of the queue, ahead of others who simply can't afford it?

But having been there and done that, I can say with no qualms whatsoever: the Fast Pass route is the only way to do it. The girls made it onto every ride, really fast. They had the time of their lives. There was no whingeing. And even the other park-goers were a delight: shiny, happy teenagers everywhere, whooping with joy on the huge rollercoasters, smiling and laughing as if their lives depended on it. It was actually very heart-warming and life-affirming, in an entirely unexpected way.

Another unexpected surprise was RC. Although our daughters have been in the same class for years and great friends to boot, we have never really 'connected'. We have many friends in common (other school mums) but she and I have always kept our distance. Whenever we found ourselves in the same room, it always felt to me that she was actively avoiding me. I used to wonder whether, as a staunch Catholic and happily married full-time mother of four, she disapproved of the fact that I am divorced. If I'm honest, I was dreading spending the day with her every bit as much as I was dreading the Thorpe Park experience itself.

But guess what? We had the best time. She has the driest, most fabulous sense of humour. Several times during the day we laughed so hard that we both actually cried (I can't remember the last time I did that). We swopped stories about child-birth, post-natal depression, head lice (!!) and redundancy (my ex lost his job a year after our divorce but happily for him - and for me and our girls - he found another one very quickly; RC's husband was at Lehmans until last September, when it all went horribly pear-shaped). Needless to say, things are very tough for them right now and I really felt for her.

We also discovered that we both subscribed to 'Pink' magazine in the mid-70's and had a crush on Donny Osmond at the same time. Now we both have a crush on Brandon Flowers. Plus ca change.

And it turns out that RC has a PhD. I'm ashamed to admit that I'd made all sorts of assumptions about her: that she was a little bit boring, that her four children were all she could talk about, that she was, essentially, quite bland and gormless. Well, shame on me. She's anything but. This realisation got me thinking about how readily us mums (well, me at least!) are far too quick to pigeon-hole one another, and not in a good way. Without the advantage of having known eachother in our 'previous' lives - before marriage and children came along to shift the focus of our lives, before we quit our full-time careers for less interesting part-time jobs - it's all too easy to arrive at the wrong conclusions.

And so, in the end, Thorpe Park was a revelation. I learned a great deal about RC and I learned something about myself. Despite my reservations, I had as much fun as Youngest Daughter and her delightful little friends. It was terrific to see so many happy faces everywhere. I never, ever thought I would say this but ... I can't wait for next time.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Very, very last word on head lice

I wrote this little poem almost two years ago, after meeting Brixton Man on a blind date near Putney Bridge (orchestrated by well-intentioned mutual friends). He was (and still is) follicly-challenged, rugby-obsessed and utterly fascinating. We got it together (during the Rugby World Cup which, happily for me, South Africa won) but only a few months later, things fell quite spectacularly apart. We've been getting it together and falling apart ever since. Youngest Daughter's recent head lice infestation reminded me of it.

New man

I have met a new man
He seems very nice
He doesn't have hair
So can't possibly have lice.

Now my new man has gone
He has been very silly
He has broken my heart
But still has a small willy.

Needless to say, the bit about his willy isn't true. It's not that small. It's just that I felt bitter and twisted and heartsore. Being unkind and uncomplimentary felt completely appropriate at the time.

Things could be worse


Head lice are one thing. Pubic lice are another. A whole different kettle of fish, as my Granny M. used to say. As I've been doing battle all week with Youngest Daughter's head lice, I've consoled myself with the thought that pubic lice are waaaaaaaaay scarier looking and (apparently) much harder to shift. I know this because I've made it my business to find out as much as I can about human parasites in general (as Chandler from 'Friends' would say, 'Could my life be any more exciting?') and yes, pubic lice are much, much worse. They make head lice look positively friendly (see above vs below). Pubic lice are the Schwarzeneggers of the parasitic world.
If you're ever unlucky enough to become host to these little nasties, informed advice is as follows: 'Apply insecticide to the WHOLE BODY (including the eyebrows, if recently engaged in oral sex) but be careful to avoid the eyes. Two full-body applications, seven days apart, repeated again after two weeks should do the trick.'
So that's alright then.

Lice, damn lice and statistics

Youngest Daughter has head lice. This is not good. Have spent the last several nights running a nit comb through her lovely long hair, horrified and weirdly fascinated in equal measure by the number of extremely large critters that have been living on her head for the last God-knows-how-many weeks.

Apparently 12 million children suffer from head lice infestations in the UK each year. At our end-of-year Pizza Express lunch on Wednesday (almost as bad as a day at Thorpe Park) the number of little people scratching their heads made me realise that our small corner of south-west London must account for a fairly large percentage of this amount.

Apparently, it takes a minimum of three months for an itch to develop. Which means that my poor itchy-headed daughter has been home to these six-legged horrors for at least twelve weeks. Proof, if any were needed, that I am Not A Good Mum. It's no coincidence that while I've been ridiculously preoccupied with Brixton Man and the complexities of our ridiculous on-off on-off relationship, parasites have been colonising Youngest Daughter's beautiful head.

She's been very brave about it. On the first night, after I'd removed a grand total of forty-seven (according to my sources, fifteen is the 'average' amount) she said, good-naturedly, 'Could I keep the biggest ones in a jar, instead of getting a hamster?'

Sunday, 5 July 2009

I have been away

No, not literally. (I wish). Just away from my blog. I feel peculiarly guilt-ridden not to have written a single sentence for several weeks (to add to the long, long list of things I already feel guilty about) and I feel equally guilt-ridden (no, actually more so) not to have read/commented on the blogs that I follow and care about. It has been an impossibly busy few weeks. I don't understand how other bloggers do it: they manage to sound so wonderfully well-informed about world affairs etc. and are also so wonderfully articulate about their own lives, too. Plus they find the time to read/post comments on eachothers blogs. How do they do it?

I never seem to have a minute to spare (and I'm not even working full-time). I guess I just have to face the fact that my time-management skills are pretty rubbish and perhaps I'm just not as switched-on or efficient as I like to think I am. I often don't know which day of the week it is and, a few days ago, when attempting to book a single-parent holiday for my girls and I (perhaps more of which later) I was unable to remember whether Youngest Daughter was eleven or twelve. How bad is that?

Have had my Sad South African Brother visiting for the past three weeks which has meant:

1. Ludicrous amounts of adult beverages consumed on a daily basis
2. Late-night conversations re. what a sh*t our father was/is/always will be (emotionally repressed, distant, unable to parent us in a way that we BOTH still need/want him to ... even though SSAB and I are in our forties and should by now - as parents ourselves - have outgrown the need for parenting, surely?)
3. ACDC at Wembley (too loud)
4. Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park (incredibly good)
5. Madonna at the O2 (impressively energetic but sooooo out of tune)
6. Late-late-night conversations re. why both our lives are such a mess/whether we can really blame our father for absolutely everything/the best way to peel a mango/if you could only ever shag one more person in your life, who would it be?

So, I have been otherwise occupied. But SSAB departs for Johannesburg tomorrow (I will be both heartsore and happy to see him go) and then my intention is to write more. Hopefully.

The good thing is, I've been so, so busy that I've barely had time to think about Brixton Man.

I only thought about him a few weeks ago, when we both should have been at a friend's engagement party at a pub in Wandsworth. He went, I didn't. Well, not technically anyway. I did, however, end up outside the pub just before closing time (having had dinner dangerously nearby with my gorgeous girlfriends and having consumed an above-average amount of Pinot Grigio) and I watched his bald head and pink t-shirt through the upstairs window. (Which technically makes me a stalker. I know, I know. I'm not proud.)

I lurked in the shadows, smoked a Marlboro Light and felt like a lovesick fifteen-year-old. I questioned my sanity (not for the first time). I deliberated over whether or not I should make a dramatic last-minute appearance. But I'm happy to say (there is a God!) that I managed to restrain myself. At closing time, I watched him leave and it broke my heart. He exited the pub in a group and for one dreadful, horrible moment I thought that a girl, barefoot and in a black dress, was going to leave with him. But he walked alone to his motorbike, put on his helmet, climbed on and roared off right past me, without her.

I only thought about him the other day when I heard the news that Michael Jackson had died and I wondered what he would make of it and whether he would be sad (not likely).

And I only thought about him again last night at the O2 as I watched a bald man dancing (terribly, terribly badly) to the tuneless ex-Mrs Ritchie, just a few rows in front of me. Although I knew it couldn't possibly be him (too tall, plus Brixton Man knows how to throw some mean shapes, plus he wouln't be seen dead at a Madonna concert) my heart still skipped a beat.

I miss him. I don't want to miss him. It's making me crazy.