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:


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.


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


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.


'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. '