Friday, 31 July 2009


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


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.


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


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
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.