September Stocktake

I’m going to be 45 next month, and the weather has changed, the first kid goes back to school tomorrow, and so it feels like high time for a September Stocktake. That’s a thing I just made up so that I can do a bit of an introduction for any new readers*/readers who are forgetful/readers who haven’t been paying any attention and then segue seamlessly into the story of why I cried last week quite so much at a restaurant in Turkey.

*there are never any new readers

The Inventory

Perhaps The Manifest? I don’t know. Anyway:

Me: I’m middle-aged but I’m also well, apparently. This is something I know because the doctor confirmed it after I asked for a series of tests in case I was perimenopausal and therefore in some need of those wonderful-sounding HRT patches. I thought I was menopausal because I don’t sleep that well and I often get worried about stuff that used to not bother me in the slightest. I have also been getting hot. The bloods came back; I’m grossly healthy. The sleeping thing is most likely because I lay my weary head next to a consistently loud snorer (and I’m fond of a glass or two of whatever’s going of an evening), and my anxiety has, upon reflection, settled down now that I’ve started work properly. The ‘getting hot’ thing was just…summer. The GP said all is well. My new job has some sort of health check component and I did a questionnaire and the algorithm said I was a bit too fat but I think that algorithm was probably not accounting for my new heavy muscles acquired through my once-weekly self defence classes.

Exercise: As well as self defence class, I do a weekly yoga class and run 20km every week. So there, cruel and judgey algorithm.

Kids: My children are getting old. They are 17, 16, 14, 12, 8 and 3. The Baby is still called The Baby but this is patently wrong. I have to start taking the small baby clothes that sometimes appear under a stack of old towels to the clothing bins. That part of my life is over and this grieves me greatly.*

*more on that later

Schools: From this week, the children will be attending five different schools – in Islington, Bayswater, and Pimlico. Luckily I am not a very engaged parent because if I thought I had to be involved in these different institutions I might have a total breakdown. Everyone except the younger two has to sort themselves out – they have to get there on their own, figure out timetables, sort out their clothes and books. Mostly this system works – but we shall find out this week for sure.

Holidays: We’ve just been away for two weeks to a glorious spot on the Turkish coast. We have one holiday like that per year and one week at Christmas in Devon with an indoor pool. The Christmas holidays are cosy and not much happens other than lots of swimming, films, trips to odd market towns and windy walks on deserted beaches. The Turkish holiday always involves high drama, intense heat, pools and beaches and private boats, restaurants and precarious drives over mountains and throwing ourselves into the sea from volcanic cliffs. The children think the Devon trip is just as nice which is great but makes me wonder about the cost-saving implications of this data.

Marriage: Mark and I have been married for nearly 25 years. This happened quickly. It turns out he is what you might call ‘A Good’Un’. Kind and fun though not keen on domestic duties. Luckily we have someone come in and do a giant amount of the domestic duties, because other than cooking, I don’t like it either. And we are both what we like to call ‘collectors of things’, though others might less kindly call us ‘slight hoarders’. In a pretty small flat.

Sometimes, of course, we don’t like each other and then when that happens we go along to marriage counselling. That hasn’t happened for a long time. I like him very much overall and would rather watch The Goldbergs with him on the couch that anything in the world, except maybe for going away on holiday with him. He reads, loves hanging out with our friends, makes a very nice G&T, looks after us all pretty well, does helpful manly stuff (like he got the glass stopper unstuck from my Chanel No. 5 bottle yesterday using a vice) and he never ever says anything about me buying clothes except for ‘that’s a nice dress’. He really loves my cooking and is not afraid to say so.

Jobs: Mark runs a property renovation company and I have just started fulltime as a content manager for KPMG. This is exciting and so far, so good. The work seems to be right up my alley as it were, and the boss is supportive and kind. It feels surprising to be working as a grownup might after years of freelance graft where you’re either working too much or not at all, and nothing ever feels particularly ‘safe’. I’m going into the office on Tuesday for the first time where I will have to wear an actual lanyard and book an actual hotdesk and WEAR A PROPER OUTFIT! I am a little worried about my nails and hair as these are not tidy aspects of myself, and also shoes are perplexing because I only really want to wear trainers but will probably settle for ankle boots so as not to look like I don’t care that I am working in the London office of one of the Big 4 accountancy practices IN THE WORLD. No idea how this has happened.

Housing: Ah yes, the flat. The flat is a biggish flat for London standards because it is in the basement of a Victorian building in a very, very lovely communal square. We have lived here since our third kid was six months old. The rent has only gone up twice. While it is biggish, it only has two bedrooms, so we have had to add bunks to the walls as our family has grown. We are at a kind of weird critical mass kind of point right now, where it is unlikely any more babies will arrive (I live in hope) but the existing oldest four children are all as big as weedy men. They share a room and while the staggered bedtimes mostly work, sometimes it doesn’t and they all kick off. They sort of hate each other quite a lot too, which is awkward. But we are stuck really – there’s no chance of affording a house or flat that would fit us properly, and anything we could afford would be so far away as to necessitate new schools, new working practices, new commutes, new social lives. And they will soon empty out, one at a time, so the crisis point just has to be endured. Which brings me to:

Crying in a Turkish Restaurant

It was the sixth night of our two-week holiday and our dear friends had arrived. We were all giddy with excitement to see them and ordered too many bottles of Turkish red wine. We were feasting on 24-hour lamb and crunchy lemony salads and crusty bread and Mark was tending to the charcoal BBQ, the kids all running around under the grapes and in the heat. My darling friend Joan and I were talking about our housing situation and specifically about how the 17 year old had mentioned to me his plan to move out a year earlier than he needs to so he could ‘get away from his brothers’. The plan, he carefully explained, was to live at the hotel where he works, and his wages would go towards his room. The hotel apparently does do this for staff, as well as feed them and do their washing. When he had originally told me this, I was pierced in the heart from the sadness. He seemed to quite enjoy his piercing of my heart at the time, (I remember his eyes glittered with the power of it all) and so I just kind of gave my pierced-heart sad smile and took the news into my bleeding inner ribcage and sat with it. Mark thought it was a brilliant plan and pretty much everyone I have told this plan to agrees that it is clever and would work very well considering our small flat, the brother situation, etc. The hotel is only one street away and he would presumably come home sometimes. How brilliant. How resourceful and practical.

So we were discussing all this and I feel the pierced-heart get all freshly activated and then the red wine-related tears came. And they came and they spilled and they came and they spilled some more, as I snottily and incoherently tried to explain that I am so sad to be at the beginning of the end of my mothering because I have loved it so much, and the moving out stuff just feels too sad and too awful. The next point that I tried to express through the noisy tears was that I feel like everyone leaves and never returns, basing this, I think, on my family history because my father’s four brothers all took off early on and never came back ‘home’, living in places such as Papua New Guinea, Canada and different ends of Australia, while my mother’s sisters spread out throughout New Zealand, and now me and my own siblings live very far from ‘home’ both geographically and emotionally. I left home at 18 and never really returned. My brothers and sister and their kids all live abroad, far away from my parents. We don’t get together as a whole family and probably won’t ever again. I haven’t been back home to New Zealand in 12 years and can’t see a time when I will. Meanwhile, everyone is getting older and more entrenched in their lives and there is very little holding any of us together and it is really, really sad.

Luckily Joan is a psychotherapist and she patted my arm and said “I didn’t realise you have abandonment issues” which made me cry even more. Then my big boy came over (surely mortified but also kind) and patted my arm and said he would come back. That he would always be a part of our lives, that he didn’t hate our home, that he just needed some sort of space. All of which was entirely reasonable but in my addled state I wasn’t having any of it.

“But you’ll never come home!” “I’ll lose you!” “I’ll miss you so much!” “I just want to be your mum!” “Everyone leaves me!” “You’ll get married and your wife will hate me!” “I’ll probably hate her!” etc etc

waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah sniff choke sob cry eat some lamb wipe tears waaaaaaaaaaaah blow nose start crying again ignore waiters sip wine try some bbq’ed lamb chop cry sniff feel tired go home get embarrassed send whatsapp messages the next morning apologising for breakdown but still feel sad

That’s why I cried in a Turkish restaurant.

Here’s me jumping from a cliff`:

Here’s my heart-breaking kid who I love so much that I might die:

These two now hate each other:

Here’s me jumping from a boat:

Youngest and oldest loving each other (actually wading through water and probably concentrating more on feet placement rather than familial love but bear with me):

Otis crab-hunting:

A fig:

I’ve worked myself up into another weepy state but this too shall pass. Any questions for the imaginary new readers? Did I leave anything out of the Inventory? Is this weeping part of the imaginary perimenopause?

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Spectacular Ruination

Last Saturday night we had a resident’s party in the garden. I was on the organising committee and did a spectacular job of almost ruining it all. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ against numbers – I find them a bit stressful and confusing. For context, I’ve specifically come to find the month of July hard to see as the 7th month, because Noah’s birthday is on the 18th of July and so July ‘feels’ like an ‘8’. It doesn’t feel like a ‘7’. You get me? No, probably not. That’s fair.

But anyway, I was in charge of booking a caterer and there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing about what we/the committee wanted (a bbq, obvs), and what price and would there be halal and vegan options and was that excluding VAT and would there be pudding, etc etc., on and on which is hard for me because I like a quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Details are a bit boring and conversations about costs are particularly painful. But we found a place that promised the right amount of meats and salads and dips and crucially could do the following Saturday because it is peak season and by this time any real choice of caterer was pretty much nonexistent.

But then we discovered that my numbers problem meant they were booked for August, not July. I booked them for the 8th month, which is what July should really be known as by caterers and party-organisers alike. As a solution/explanation this really didn’t fly, and with a week to go, after sending out polls and a series of emails enticing the 350-strong neighbourhood households to buy tickets and after giving them an actual menu, we were stuck with no caterers at all. So I apologised, died a little bit, hit myself on the forehead muttering ‘sort this numbers thing out, you adorable dimwit’, put on some lipstick and found another bbq company. And no one really knew how close it had all come to being Mark and I burning sausages for 150 people on a balmy Saturday night.

It turned out to be not just balmy but also magical. This was less about the (perfectly nice) food (phew) and more about the people, the lights, the music. We had on decks the saxophonist and songwriter from Sade. I mean. Sade! We also had, amongst the assorted guests, Amy Winehouse’s old manager.

Here’s me and the most softest, fluffiest Amanda:

Mark and Joan under the lights:

A little Fleetwood Mac:

What else? Only that I have a proper fulltime job as a Content Manager for KPMG Law starting in a few weeks which feels mostly wonderfully exciting with only a slivery wedge of terrifying.

SCREAM!

I feel like maybe my time is now, in a careery-kind of way, and eternally grateful to the succession of women who have championed me and said ‘yes, you adorable number-illiterate dimwit, you can do it’. As much as that sounds like a bad Oscar acceptance speech, it is entirely true that I’ve been helped and supported by women bosses, colleagues, and friends and that is an entirely humbling, wonderful thing.

By September, the adorable baby will be fulltime in nursery and things should be firmly on the road, as it were. I will be managing content like a content managerial superstar and might have overcome some of the imposter syndrome that dogs me pretty much constantly. Here’s to finding a proper job in your mid-40s!

I’ve also been to a filming of Antiques Roadshow which was sunny and nice in Clissold Park, a glorious East London place full of well-dressed people and genteel cycling. Charlotte, her husband and I were there to discuss the painting that Charlotte bought on Friday morning from a dealer in Portobello Road. It’s a sexy kitschy 70s portrait of a naked starlet in a beige linen mount, covered in glass. A big old thing, difficult to sneak into the house, bypassing husbands who are wary of their wives bringing in more household clearance items of junky joy. Charlotte tried to get the painting in and tucked away safely for a few months so that when she did finally stick it onto the wall she could confidently say ‘Oh, this old thing? I’ve had it for ages’ but her husband met her at the door, portrait as tall and as heavy as a ten year old child, and he busted her. He liked it, luckily, as did I, especially when Charlotte did some rudimentary googling and discovered it was by a Czechoslovakian count, strapped for cash but good at portraits, and the painting is of a young Helen Mirren.

DOUBLE SCREAM!

I then really wanted it for myself, but Charlotte has a whole house with actual wallspace (plus, it was actually hers) so I had to make do with stalker-buying one of his paintings of an anonymous person at auction, just to lessen the FOMO.

Here’s a funny story. The producers at Antiques Roadshow tried to get Helen Mirren to come along to see the portrait of her in her nipply Bardot-esque youth, but she wasn’t in the country and so we had no surprises awaiting us. BUT, while we were nattering away on camera, a woman passed us and the painting which she recognised because she had been the artist’s girlfriend for 10 whole years. Oh yes. And so she told us all about Count Nicholas Egon and his mad portrait-making, his nice face and his way of paying people with his work. Here they are, reunited all, in the tiniest photograph known to humankind:

Here’s me and Charlotte and an Antiques Roadshow superstar whose specialist category is apparently “Miscellaneous”:

Barnaby and his glorious girlfriend at our party. If he sees this he will kill me with his angry betrayed eyes/a hammer so if I soon don’t respond to whatssapp/texts, that’ll be why. But it’s so worth it – look at them! The youth! The hair! The eyeliner! LOVE LOVE LOVE:

The neighbours have bought up a massive old two-storied flat and the builders knocked through a sealed-up room under the road and found an 18th century toilet for the guy who powered the electrics. I am mesmerised by this:

And finally, because it is sunny outside and I have wasted too much time trying and failing to make Charlotte and the Young Helen portrait download in a bigger size, here’s your last shot. The baby, no longer a baby, in his sunglasses collection:

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The Strange Melancholy of Middle Age

Here’s a thing from today that has blown my mind. Apparently, when you say the phrase ‘social mores’, you pronounce it like this:

‘Social MORAYS

Is this too tricky to even imagine? If so, do as I do and picture a bunch of moray eels hanging out. Of course, the correct pronunciation of this odd word may well be obvious to you all, but not to me. It turns out I’ve been uttering the occasional ‘xx mores’ in this kind of situation like, well, ‘s’mores’ without the first bit. How many times must I have been at a party or in a work situation and I’ve bemoaned other people’s lack of ‘social MORZ’? I am dying. If I’ve been wrong about that, what else have I been wrong about? I have a friend who cannot say ‘menstruation’ correctly and I’ve never corrected them, and Mark, as you may well have been informed last blog post, cannot pronounce the word ‘wasps’, so it isn’t just me.

But what else do I say that has other people cringing? I need to know, painful as it is. Please feel free to give me a little tap’o’the shoulder and a whisper’o’the ear if you are ever in earshot and I do it again. This linguistic mishap-laden road is leading to quite a bit of paranoia, I tell you.

And where does this end? How many things can a person continue to get wrong as they surpass youth and head, sun-spotted nose and creased-forehead first, into the middle age? I would imagine quite a few. Entirely wrong song lyrics, an inability to manage simple maths, no understanding at all of geography, not being entirely sure if badgers are real, inexplicably confusing the words ‘sausages’ with ‘potatoes’ if overtired…is all of this normal? Is it just the kind of charming thing that makes up the patchwork of one’s life, or did that term I missed in primary school with a terrifically bad bout of glandular fever make me dumber than I thought?

It could be the peri-menopausal brain fog I keep hearing about. And if it is all to be traced back to my hormones (or lack of, or an uneven mix of them, or whatever it is that happens to women right about my age) then this would make sense because, as well as suddenly a bit thick, I seem to be cripplingly tired all the time. This Platinum Jubilee weekend, with all the parties and drinks and cakes and BBQs and things, was remarkable less for the jolly Union Jack and prosecco-fuelled japes and more for the constant desire I felt for lying down and fully surrendering to sleep. Which makes me worried: is it that I am not so much tired as ready to die, because what is the desire for constant sleep, really? It’s just being dead. Which feels entirely premature because I am in good health, my family is nice, my joints, though cracking and stiff, tend to work fairly well. I’m not yet 45. I am still breastfeeding, even.

So. I am defeated by sleepiness and am becoming melancholy about my lost youth and former effortless ability to manage wakefulness for a decent period of time. I’m also melancholy because I went to Waitrose this afternoon for frankfurters, brioche buns and something to whiten my whites (not a euphemism) and the lady there asked me how old my eldest son was.

“He’s 17,” I said, as I packed my things into my 50p Waitrose bag, the thicker plastic-woven kind of which I have about 25 sitting at home, thickly taking up room and forever being forgotten about because I only ever pop into Waitrose for a packet of strawberries and come out surprised by the sheer volume of stuff that suddenly feels crucial.

“Oh.” She said. “He’s going to leave you soon then. When my daughter left I was sad for two months. I cried every day. It’s terrible. I had to leave work one day because I was crying so much. I’m only telling you this so you can be prepared. I’m sorry. Do you have your Waitrose card?”

I didn’t, as it happened, so I missed out on there being 20% off some weekly items. This made me a little sad, but not as sad as the whole “YOU WILL LITERALLY WANT TO CEASE LIVING WHEN YOUR BOYS LEAVE YOU” thing. Which I know will happen, because I already feel sad about them leaving one day. It’s another layer to my middle-aged melancholy. I am sad about the fact that they aren’t small, and that they don’t hug me much anymore, and that their hair smells oily rather than like yeasty magical biscuits. I’ve ruined one set of teeth (well, Noah did that himself, but still), and they have scars and curved spines and a therapist and no one needs me much anymore. Remi is starting fulltime nursery in September and from late June I will have a job that takes me away, physically (Canary Wharf, even) and mentally. I won’t really be around to cook frankfurters for them. No one will be able to scan my groceries while regaling me with terrible tales of impending motherhood-related grief as I purchase a family-sized container of Vanish and pretend not to feel like weeping alongside them.

I will miss the tiny bits of family life that I didn’t take much notice of anyway. The ones I can – and the ones I can’t – remember. The moments maybe I wished away. There aren’t enough photos or videos on my phone of them being small and now I feel regretful and panicked. I was too busy getting annoyed or thinking I should be doing something else. AND NOW WHAT? I’m about to enter a world of reverse mothering; once they kept entering the flat, needing cots and beds, taking up space, adding to crockery and cutlery needs. Pretty soon, they will leave the way they came. Out the door. Bigger though, and more sweary.

I spoke to my mum and dad about this and they were like YES IT IS TERRIBLE. They don’t even have any of their kids or grandchildren in the same country, even. They say it hurts – and I am getting it now.

Still. I have a three year old and we are trying to remember to do fun stuff before the moment/months/years pass. Here is Remi after we spent £9 on two ice creams and then he said he doesn’t like cold things:

Luckily Casper was there and he ate them both:

Here’s the divine, gentle, handsome Noah in his charity shop prom night ensemble with a needy clingy mother. Remi is making some kind of inappropriate salute:

My bruise from our family self defence classes. Luke did some defensive kicks and I didn’t take my watch off. I have been ridiculously proud of this bruise and have shown everyone:

Adorable baby and his Mirka tools freebie sunglasses from his dad on a Queensway saunter:

A little Platinum Jubilee garden marshmallow BBQ action. I was probably asleep under a table:

We went to Wales and had a marvelous time with the best family who also stretch to being oversized – seven kids at their place in all, though not everyone was at home. Our kids were housed in a massive bell tent and we bbq’ed, played piano, split apple juice on the glorious wooden floors and ate all the available pizza. It was a triumph!

We also enjoyed the sheep, frogs, dogs, horses, badger tracks and bird watching:

I start my new job in a few weeks so I am planning on spending my remaining time not taking naps. I will chat to my children and take them out and read to them without one eye on my phone. I will feed them alfresco and actually try to listen to them instead of muttering a lot of inauthentic ‘mmmmm hmmmmms’ while they tell me stories I don’t understand. I will try to capture this mothering thing which is disappearing a little more each day.

How did it come to this?

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France and Worrying

At 44 and a half, I feel I have reached peak adult. Not for the money-stuff, of course – my eyes prick with panicky unspilled tears and my heart-rate quickens every time Mark suggests we ‘do a budget’ or ‘speak with the accountant’ or ‘go through the bank statements’, but for all sorts of the other things.

I remember fondly the days of battling with toddlers and dogs and pregnancies and school runs – what larks! I may have whinged about those pressures then, but they were much more fun than this new world of worry. Admittedly it did sometimes feel overwhelming when I was doing my factory-line of babies thing, and I remember longing for sleep-ins and some time off on a Saturday on my own for a bit to clear my head, but now the children are all old and distancing themselves from me and I can only barely recall those days where everyone around me had a mouthful of missing teeth, tiny clothes, unmarked skin and speech impediments. Mark cannot say ‘wasps’ properly, but that’s just not the same thing at all.

The list of grownup worries now looks like this:

  1. Housing. Apparently the council would like to crack down on bad landlords who overcrowd flats with too many people. Now, you don’t have to know much about me to know that we have ourselves overcrowded our flat with too many people. We only have ourselves to blame for doubling our number of kids since we moved into our flat many years ago. To be fair, though it lacks rooms, it is still a big Victorian basement with square footage that might well make your eyes water. Probably not, but it is certainly bigger than many other flats we have thought about relocating to over the years just because they have more bedrooms than we do here. So word on the street is that, if the council follow through on its crackdown of greedy landlords, we might have to find somewhere else to live. This is not a lovely predicament because we are a part of our community here; we have a lot of square feet, we have a massive communal garden out the door, the kids all *walk (that’s code for ‘take the bus’) to their local schools, the rent is pretty cheap, and it is Home. So we wait, we panic, and we try to think of alternatives.
  2. Like trying (and failing) to get a Mortgage. This has been a recurring problem because we are both self-employed. We have a house in New Zealand but that’s irrelevant when you speak to a broker here. Even though I am one interview away from getting a real job at a Proper Company with a good salary, benefits an’ all (probably, fingers crossed, who knows, yikes, wish me luck, etc etc), we look terrible on paper. But we have found a house that I cannot stop thinking about. It is in Wembley which requires some thinking, because I only know Wembley for the IKEA there and it isn’t a very pretty drive. But apparently it’s not all motorways and industrial roundabouts – there’s a whole lot of big lovely ’30s houses just waiting for me to sandwich my boys into. And affordable IF we can use the collateral from NZ. But I don’t know how, and if it is possible, or who to talk to, and so we are in a housing funk.
  3. Mattress Woes. Mark decided a long time ago that our delightful warm, sinky-inny soft, cuddling memory foam mattress must go because it hurts his back. I said no, dude, it’s not the mattress! Don’t take my mattress! But he did anyway. We had to go into a showroom and lie down on a lot of what seemed like identical beds, and Mark played along, turning over and bunching up his pillows and I was like ‘this is embarrassing and they all feel the same – aka HARD like a hospital trolley’ but I had to pretend I was feeling something. Anything. So I said I like soft, but Mark said he liked hard. Meanwhile, Remi wet his trousers on the floor of the showroom from too much complimentary apple juice and I had to clean it up without making too much of a fuss. I told the salesgirls that baby pee was ‘practically water’. I had to strip him of his pants entirely and he wandered around the showroom, bottom half out on display, surrounded by soft expensive furnishings. And so whaddya know, Mark last week came home with a sharp knife and cut up our Old Faithful memory foam dreamy lovely comfortable mattress into squares and got his rubbish guy to get rid of the bits. Oh, how I hugged those mattress foam squares tight! (I didn’t, because they actually had taken on some odd discolouration and a crumbly texture near the edges which may have been years of bodily fluid which turned my stomach) but I was sorry to see them go. And now we have some sort of Terminator Mattress. Agressively organic, with too many springs (2200, apparently) and made up of layer upon layer of hemp and cashmere and something else and something else and it is high. Too high. It does not suck me into its embrace like the old mattress. It rejects me with its hard bigness. I lie on it and feel no give. No loving me back. Meanwhile, Ding Dong scrunches up his pillow like he did at the practice showroom, turns over and snores just as loudly as he ever did.

France

I went to France! I went to France, drank rose outside cafes in village squares, ate cheese, went on a cooking course, bought light blue faded mongrammed linen napkins, and watched the Jimmy Saville documentary on our last night. The flea markets were cheap and unbelievable – see below for a little vintage tablecloth action – the shutters pretty, the wisteria purple and fragrant. It was a Francophile’s dream:

And More

Here’s a photograph of me and my new lady love, Angelica G Lamour. A beautiful burlesque artist from Prague with a truly magnificent embonpoint who happens to be my cousin’s lady love too:

Otis hunting for easter eggs in ripped trou:

Remi on the way back from a party in the park. he peed his pants but we had no backup, and so opted for the old ‘t-shirt tied up like a part of shorts’ trick:

And lastly, a photograph of that curly-headed fluff ball Remi after falling asleep on the swing:

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Love in a Supermarket Kind of Climate

Something is afoot in the Waitrose self-checkout section and I am ill-equipped to know how to deal with it.

Last week, when that fake summer situation came by to bewitch us all into thinking our coats could be packed away and our legs could be revealed again, I wore a waisted shirtdress to the supermarket.

As anyone who lives here knows, after winter when the ladies bring their dresses out, everyone gets all a-flustered. Men get starey, women get worried about their unpolished horny toenails. A woman wafting around in a flowery print speaks of potential. Of holidays. Straw totes. Sunglasses and strapless bras. Sandals and cracked heels; freckles and naturally-lightened hair. Of drinking Pimms in a beer garden, of camping and wild swimming and late evenings sitting in someone’s garden.

The guy in Waitrose was no exception – helpless in the face of a warm few days and somebody’s belted torso. I was at the checkout with my reusable plastic bag shoved full of cheese and cremant, all summer-like, and he came up to let the booze sale go through. He looked at me and said this:

“Can I ask you something? You’ve got four or five kids, right?”

“I’ve got six,” I say. I love this line of questioning. It pretty much only goes to a good place. Well, a good place or someone will tell me that I’ve missed a kid in headcount and one of them is still waiting to be picked up from school or something. Anyway.

“Well.” Nods approvingly. “How come you look so good?”

BINGO! SCREAM! Someone noticed me! NOT INVISIBLE! The summery dress worked its mystery once again! I STILL GOT IT!

“Well,” I say, giving him the Lady Di eye. “I pretty much don’t eat much anymore, and the light in here is surprisingly great. Thank you!”. He politely chuckles a little, and I FLOAT out of there with my processed snacks, probably mincing a tiny bit.

This was all a most welcome little conversation. But now? Now I have begun acting really oddly when I go back in. The first thing I do, currently less alluringly dressed, wrapped in my layers to avoid the distressing cold snap, waist hidden, dirty wool coat greying at the cuffs, is look for him. I search him out among the reduced bread trolley and chilled ready-meal aisle as soon as the escalator deposits me on the grocery floor.

I search him out because how can we NOT acknowledge each other now that he has professed his feelings? My eyes dart eagerly around for him (also scanning the weekly specials wall) and when I see him, we say “hi”. It is so awkward. My near-daily shop is becoming dominated by our wordless dance. Led entirely by me. It’s my eyes that greedily seek him out. My hair that I hastily rearrange once I see the back of his Waitrose green uniform and his jauntily placed headset. I wonder now, post-fake-summer, post-surprise Zara frock, if he still thinks I look good. What can I do to get that floaty feeling back? How can I find the sweet spot of being many-childrened and heavily-burdened by such things as whether I have remembered to bring enough reusable bags but also, hot enough to have the checkout guy come up to me and tell me a kind thing?

This is simply an exquisite pain; one I am very happy to have to endure. I hope my Waitrose man feels the same and is not kicking himself he got a middle-aged lady all over-excited.

In Other News

I fear I am becoming menopausal because I cannot sleep anymore. For the past three nights I have lain in bed, ever-so-slightly itchy, with my hip feeling all arthritic on my right-hand side. The hours have ticked by slowly, and I have been in and out of sleep but mostly out. Is it time yet for HRT? Will HRT make my hair thicken up? Will my neck bloom out in a puffy youthful way to hide the crepeing? Will HRT let me sleep once more – snore-compromised, sure, but still. This new middle-age is a myriad of fresh horror, and I fear it has only just begun.

I went to the hairdressers on Saturday and asked for ‘something to cover the greys and some kind of cut that might help get rid of the afghan hound effect’ and the colourist asked me very confusing questions about tints and ashiness and whether I wanted a warm brown or an ashy blonde. It was tied up with what would happen when the regrowth came through and it was just one of those times when you wished the expert would just do the thing, whatever that thing was. So then she suggested I drink a bellini, which I did, and things felt quite cosy and comfortable and when she found out I had so many children she said I really deserved a second, which turned into a third, and ended with a forth. When they were finishing up (by this time I had white hair which has since settled into a peachy orange white) I asked how many people took advantage of the free cocktails and drank too much, and they said hardly anyone. I tried to look sober and made a quick exit. Lessons? Grownups don’t think getting a haircut is actually a party thrown just for them.

I’ve made a new friend. Like when Anne of Green Gables met Diana, and they both knew they had found their bosom buddy, I think I have found my new bosom. It’s really fun, a little like being in love all over again. There are texts and laffs and visits. It’s actually rather wonderful to know that that part of you, even when you are crepey and you thought you had completed your tribe, is just as ready to find and adore a new person as it ever was. As I have oft said before, the joy of female friendship is a wonderful, expansive, deeply satisfying thing. One day I shall grow old in a women’s only commune like Holly Hunter in that Jane Campion show Top of the Lake, with long grey hair (thick, prob through the HRT) and everyone sharing cooking duties and doing crafting and drinking as many bellinis as they like without feeling weird about it after.

Here’s Casper turning 13. This was a staged photo because the first lot had shadows that did not show my aged face to its best advantage. See how enthused everyone is to have to do it all over again. We didn’t bother relighting the candles, either:

This is Friday night at a Spring Ceilidh (barn dancing for Celts) to celebrate the birth of the adorable Chris. See here the adorable local Hot Priest also:

The baby eating a sausage roll on a freezing picnic situation he insisted we pursue:

Me, the dog, and a bunch of other parents in our new roles as Campaigners Against Multi-Academy Trusts. (‘Twas in the Evening Standard and all.) Note distinct lack of waist:

And to nearly end things, it’s your Annual Reminder I Was Once In An Ad for Mother’s Day. Never forget. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RFsCzBX3kg

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Becoming Better At Some Stuff

I’m all for normalising things – bringing things out into the open. Longtime readers may remember when we went to marriage counselling and I wrote about it? And no lightning struck me down. In fact, Marriage Care got in touch to ask me to be their literal poster girl for newsletter fundraising efforts. Quite the proud moment as my Linkedin profile photo went out into households to ask for donations. I hope it worked.

In that spirit then, I can say that one of the kids is now seeing a therapist. I fought against this for so long, thinking if I asked for proper help, I would have failed. I would be admitting I was a bit of a shit parent. I really hate showing any sign of weakness, and this has felt a little like one. I like to be bold and brave and insist on things being under control. But we had a small incident, after many other small incidents, and these add up to one little kid being not very happy, but not really knowing how to say so, in this small flat of relentless noise and people and stuff.

I can see I haven’t been very good about accepting feelings that don’t fit with my overarching view of stoicism and optimism. I thought you were supposed to give no airtime to bad behaviour and I think I’ve extended that to giving no airtime to anything that is a bit hard. I am the Queen of Ignoring. Of the Middle Distance Stare, of Disengagement. Ugh, I must be a cold, cold mother to kids who need reassurance. Kids who are needier than I would like them to be. Ugh.

Anyway, it’s early days but it seems that giving this one kid a space to talk, without us in the actual or psychological room, is at least a start. It shows this wee kid that his parents might learn to listen better, and that we acknowledge there are other ways of feeling about things, and that that’s ok. And he gets someone to himself who has some space for him, finally.

To cheer me out of my regret-induced melancholy, here’s a kid I haven’t yet shut down, although arguably it looks like it:

The job-front has been great from a freelance point of view – there hasn’t been a week where I haven’t had something due, and quite a bit of it has been properly well-paid. As for the other jobs that might or might not happen – the full-timey ones – well, I am waiting and waiting and waiting and trying to stay enthused. The world of full-timey work, working for proper corporate places, seems to move at a glacial pace. I am hoping that’s what’s going on, anyway. It’s either that, or I am just too rubbish to bother replying back to. Argh – job hunting is a true test of character, is it not? Putting yourself out there, hoping to attract some talent acquisition person/algorthim with the right set of words in your CV? Thinking of ways to make your bitsy nichey ‘portfolio’ career look like you planned it that way. It’s enough to turn a person into a 4pm negroni-swizzling lush. Erm….

So my days have been partly working, partly hanging out with the smallest baby Remi who is actually not a baby anymore. He is a big three year old who likes hummus, chips and apple juice. He doesn’t meed me for anything really, although he is still having breastmilk of an evening and a morning. Bit weird I know, and the nipples are well and truely shredded, but he’s the last baby, etc etc. I cannot let go of the last baby thing. Though I may well very soon(ish) if these nips don’t heal up. It strikes me that even if you keep having baby after baby, they still grow up and away. It cannot last.

Here’s Remi at Comptoir Libanais this week on a drizzling day out with his mother. We scootered through Kensington Gardens, stopped to look intently at worms, puddles and rubbish bins, and ate lunch. He very much likes pickles, so that’s how I got him to agree to Comptoir Libanais. It was the pickles. He calls them ‘pinecones’ and that’s reason enough to take him out to eat them.

Then we went to the Natural History Museum to get thrillingly scared by the T-Rex. It was a magnificent day, topped off by pancakes for dinner. I mean – what is not to like?

I also attended my first poker game night on Sunday. There was an actual croupier there who was excellent at shuffling, dealing, following conversations while watching the game, working out the bets and helping me not make a total dick of myself. I had some Larazus moments, she said, and was the second person out of the game. Could have been worse, all told. I also misread the vibe a little – one of the players had made stem ginger and chili brownie and I just munched through three pieces of it, one after the other. It turns out some of the other players may have liked a piece too.

I think that’s one of the many things about living with and in a big family. You have these rules, ill-defined maybe – and they relate to managing yourself in a group of people. With food, you have to at least call everyone to the table, but once that’s done, you better get in quick. So I see a plate of really great gooey-but-crunchy brownies and it’s been about half an hour and no one is polishing them off, so I do. It seems obvious to me. But the other players may have wanted to stagger their culinary experiences. They may have wanted to wait. Anyway, it was a sharp reminder not to be greedy and to read the room. READ THE ROOM, LADY!

Here we are, admiring a very nicely-executed card sweep. A proper card table and everything. Everyone concentrating on the game and behaving like restrained grownups. Me with chocolately fingers and shamed eyes.

For the record, I’m intending on becoming a better poker player and a better guest. Perhaps a better mother too. Baby steps.

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Things I Do Now

  1. Search auctions for ‘9ct albert chain’, ‘9ct gold chain’, ‘9ct puffy heart pendant’, and ‘vintage pearls’ on thesaleroom.com. Sometimes I accidentally ‘win’ these, and find I have two days to pay the invoice plus 34% hammer price and VAT, plus another £15 for postage and packing. I am literally dripping in vintage jewellery and I am finding it all a bit of a problem. The pearls are lovely, but I will wreck them and their lustre very soon because of my lavish application of handcreams and perfumes. Take them off, I hear you say. But I desire to be permanently dripping in jewels, especially as I get older and wrinklier and my finger joints get increasingly misshapen, because I think that’s a better look than restraint. I like the more-is-more approach of Iris Apfel, with a touch of Miss Havisham and maybe the ladies from Grey Gardens. So the jewellery must fit my lifestyle, rather than the other way around. The time for ’90s Carolyn Bessette Kennedy-esque minimalism is not now.
  2. I have also dipped my toes into the matchesfashion and net-a-porter sale for a Pat McGrath eyeshadow compact in pink (though disappointingly Mark says the rosey hues make me look extremely tired/pink eye-ish), two mini Tom Ford lipsticks, another pair of adidas trainers and a Batsheva pearl button ruffle neck puffed sleeve blouse which is part chef, part Lady Di, which is amazing and was only £51. Both sites entice me daily with more reductions and I scroll through like a good consumer but really, that wardrobe of mine is shamefully overstuffed with odd sale buys and so, I should really stop.
  3. I have been working, so can sort-of pay for these daily packages left under our stairs. I say ‘sort-of’, because freelancers never actually know when they will be paid, and they (if they are me), don’t know quite how much money to expect, and they may also forget that a persistent and by-now utterly mysterious tax bill comes out of their account every 28th which turns the account into a whimpering overdrawn empty online sack of shame. Which means that I can’t actually pay for my precious jewels and ’80s blouse revivals. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?
  4. I have been babysitting Noah, who has been suspended from school for kicking through a wall at school on a dare. I am very happy to blog-shame him about this little incident because kicking a hole in the wall at your school is dumb and vandal-ly. So for the past two days I have been sitting across the kitchen table from him during school hours, sternly bringing him back in line when his attention wanders from his set schoolwork, which is constantly. He has been grounded indefinitely, his phone has gone, he had to have his long fringe cut off because it was enabling his retreat into the world of Floppy Hair I Don’t Care, and he cannot do anything nice ever again, such as sleep-in, which he likes to do moe than anything else in the entire universe. I got him up at 6am this morning to walk the dog while I went into the park for a run, but the bugger didn’t even make it into the park gates before he swanned off back home. He is as motivated as an old wax candle. Which isn’t much. Nice, though, but still.
  5. Eating out a lot, because when you aren’t working, mealtimes take on a special kind of quality. Lunch feels full of potential – I am in London! I could go anywhere now that I am not chained to my boffice desk and hurting my thigh against the sharp metal bits of the desk! There are restaurants of all kinds right outside my doorstep which is much more fun than a bit of old leftover felafel that has already been refried and represented seven diferent ways! Also, when you bring the baby with you, it is a sensory experience for him, right? so he learns about the world, gets to chat to people who aren’t me, and we get to gobble pizza from Franco Manca or an excellent shakshuka from Cafe Beam – ALL SOLID WINS. I tell myself I must not feel guilty about these frequent culinary adventures because who knows when someone will employ me to do a proper job again? And soon that baby will start nursery and I will lose him forever to the world of Out There.
  6. Birthday season is upon us, so I have been making cakes (coconut and almond, and butternut squash and chocolate), accepting a stream of Amazon packages, and blowing up balloons. The baby turned three last week, this weekend the eldest turns 17, and next weekend one of the Middles turns 12. We took the baby to an indoor softplay area where he disappeared for two hours, and brought him back to the flat to eat pizza again.
  7. Attending parent teacher interviews for three kids and only feeling sad about two of them. Which is 33% good news (one of the Middles turns out to be a genius in all subjects and we just never noticed before) while the other two Middles are barely managing to hold a pen. Needless to say, perhaps, that one of these disappointing Middles also finds kicking walls in to be amusing. So there’s a whole load of murky parental guilt and fury around these parts.
  8. Not applying for jobs because there are two potential ones on the hazy periphery if I play my cards right, etc etc. I did apply for some – features writer jobs, an editorship, a script writer job – but I think I am too old for the cool lifestyle writing positions and too inexperienced for the terrifying ones. Also, my CV is utterly questionable and I am not very strtegic when asked those playbook interview questions. I have a self-righteous and misguided idea that I should be able to just be ‘me’ and answer from my gut rather than learn the rules to this job stuff. Like, can’t you tell I am fun and smart from my chatty, informal approach? Apparently not, according to the one rejection email and the deafening silence from the other applications. Just as well I have a whole list of restaurants to try in my ‘in-between-roles’ time.
  9. Planning a party. This party will have lots of friends, a big roasted beef rib, goose fat potatoes, a cake or two, and cremant (we are too good for prosecco now but too tight to buy champagne). It shall be on a Saturday and I shall wear something very celebratory. There will be children running around, popcorn everywhere, a few tears and hopefully everyone will leave by 11pm.
  10. Reading Joan Didion’s ‘Play It As It Lays’, wearing The Perfumer’s Story ‘After Hours’ and ‘Old Books’ (Old Books smells like stale cigarettes, old leather and an unwashed man), pearls (obviously), watching Ozark, Ted Lasso (terrible but oh, so good!), eating felafel (still – they are like the triffids, clearly multiplying in the fridge), listening to the Roberts Radio and finally learning how to stream (mostly Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Dave Dobyn, Cat Stevens and the Moulin Rouge sountrack), drinking negronis and espresso martinis, and selling stuff on ebay to help out the paypal situation. Also booking Margaret Atwood at the Southbank Centre and a little trip to Carcassonne with the ladies.

Example of lunchtime restaurant outings featuring Remi and one enormously amused Amanda, because lunchtime adventures are the BEST:

Happy third birthday to my sweet baby:

An example of over-zealous Murano glass auction buying:

An attempt at corner-scaping (please ignore the phone and charger because they do not fit the colour scheme AT ALL):

The rest of the month I will be hoping beyond hope that I get paid, somehow, and that Noah becomes less vandal-ly and better at handing his homework in. I will be hoping for good job news, a smoother forehead, and less felafel to wade through in my rare lunchtimes spent at home. Wish me luck.

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Erm, An Extended Holiday Break

This is a little awkward. You know my recent posts where I have been a tiny bit whingy about having a real job – one where I have to work at a desk that is shared by my husband and it is really just a cobbled-together table at the end of my bed? A ‘boffice’, I think I termed it? And that the baby comes into this boffice, often, when perhaps I should be concentrating fully on the Teams meeting rather than having to find him helicopter cartoons to watch to keep him from screeching, all while taking notes and not breaking the Teams eye contact thing? You remember those halycon days – days which added up to ten whole months of fulltime employment?

Well, on Dec 1, on an otherwise ordinary Thursday afternoon, that all came to an end. My particular skills, mutually agreed to have been useful up to launch, were decided not to be quite right for the project going into Phase Two and so it was decreed that I would leave, effective the following day after handover.

This has been a funny old time. It occurs to me that I have now been made redundant a dazzling four times over my career; once, because I was brought onto a magazine to fulfill a role for a project that didn’t end up getting the go-ahead (and I had instead been ‘given’ to the editorial team who weren’t ever quite sure what to do with me – and then I got pregnant and six months later it was ‘BYEEEEE’), another time because the project ended (fair dues, I guess), and another time to cut my part-time lowest-hanging-fruit costs. This time, a job spec rewrite. So I kind of sat there for a bit, wondering what to do about the nanny and her job, also suddenly made redundant (although not redundant really, because who is actually willing, six kids later, to go to four playgroup sessions a week without literally plunging their head down the small person’s loos?) and wondering, more existentially, about my career and where it all went funny. And not ‘funny haha’, either.

Sit with the sadness, friends told me. Sit with feeling embarrassed and unemployable and small. Cry a bit for a few days, if you must. Go to a daytime movie and drink some wine and then start looking for a new job. You’ll have all of December to find one, they encouraged. January will be fizzing with employment possibilities and, and….don’t forget, there’s a talent war out there! A virtual battleground with young people flinging uncompromising flexible terms like pointy paper-cutting darts into the inboxes of companies everywhere! You’ll be the voice of reason, of experience, compared to those teaming hoards of brilliant digitally-savvy youngsters! They’ll like you because you are old and don’t demand anything! YOUR TIME IS NOW! Just imagine.

Well, so far, I’ve pitched for freelance work, written some stuff for the Americans, applied for four jobs, been sad about the pay rates, drank a fair bit of wine, and cried twice. I have worn my sadness like a fairly heavy woollen poncho – the kind of poncho that restricts the arms and makes me just kind of sit still for a bit, leaden and trapped.

I have sighed audibly – OH, how I have sighed! I have to figure out what to tell my lovely nanny who, only ten months ago, gave up all of her jobs and rearranged her life to help us out. Awkward doesn’t begin to cover it.

Anyway, it has meant that December has been less difficult than usual – I could actually attend the nativity service and could sneak out to buy stuff and met up with quite a few people at Cafe Beam for their excellent shakshuka. Gardening leave (oh, what a term!) was, in retrospect, quite a grand thing, though it runs out in a week and so there will be less brunching and more fretting over endless CV versions and tweaking the old Linkedin profile. My profile photo currently has that badge that says ‘#Open To Work’ and every time I see it garlanding my photoshopped sweet trusting face, I feel like I am wearing a conspicuous dunce’s cap. It may as well say ‘#Unemployed Loser’. That badge says what I need to say, but, like, do employers want to see that I am ‘in-between jobs’? Or does that just make me look recently fired? There’s a line here, and I’m not quite sure where to draw it.

We could just shortcut this pain if anyone of you want to hire me. I’m mostly great with words, though have been known to make terrible decisions over capitalisation. I’m pretty good at work events and will talk to anyone. I get my copy in on time and always reply to emails. I love Teams. I love a good bit of gif banter. I’ll definitely bake for the office every now and then.

Argh, all this makes me feel like a red light district working girl with my boobs out. Words! Boobs! Take me, please! Shimmy shimmy wink toss of the hair – here’s my latest piece of writing – suggestive lick of the lips. URGH.

In Other News

We are in Devon again and this week, I am mostly concentrating on fitting excess meat into the small cottage fridge. Mark gets extremely excited by farm shops and begins to build a small butchery for us. We have a big ham, two ducks, two rib roasts, two massive packets of sausages (venison and cracked pepper) and a turkey. I said:

“I really don’t like turkey, mate” which is something he should know because we have had Christmases together for thirty years but he assured me that I would like this one because ‘we’ (read ‘Jodi’) would create some sort of cranberry thing to drown it in so it wouldn’t taste like protein-y nothing. Meanwhile my eyes shift to the ham, my one true meat love, and I wonder why we need to even have this conversation. Ham requires nothing but butter and crusty bread. Ham is Christmas. Turkey is a pallid big dino bird with red warty things on its face.

So far we have gone into Barnstaple twice to raid the charity shops which are both a’plenty, and smokin’. I bought myself Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow, Abigail Dean’s Girl A, and Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women, all for £3. We discovered the Lidl and marvelled at its £3.50 pandoro and Mark choked on its £7 ducks, hence why we have two of the buggers jamming up the fridge airflow. Each time we open the fridge door, something flies out – twice now the uncorked prosecco which hasn’t yet seen me on all fours slurping the spilled contents, but may well if it keeps happening.

Today we are headed towards Woolacombe for some bracing wind and enormous sand dunes to sustain us through another evening of Christmas movies. We have seen them all. Last night it was National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and let me just say, Beverly D’Angelo is a fox. That Christmas evening outfit of green silk ice skating skirt teamed with a high necked plunging keyhole blouse was pure perfection. Tonight, it’s a toss up between Love Actually and The Family Stone, although Mark just keeps trying to watch back-to-back violent TV shows whenever there is a lull in proceedings, even if he has a small innocent two year old on his lap. It breaks me.

Here are some photos of the joyful beachy outing:

Before we got to the beach we had roared around Ilfracombe, looking for somewhere to eat and finding nothing, really. We settled on a big ugly pub at the harbour, but not a ‘pub’ pub – more a Wetherspoons big ’80s building which was full of the entire town and about one thousand sticky menu options. I was all snooty about it, being the cultured London lady that I am, and audibly despaired at the myriad food genres on offer. Why not keep to a theme, I wondered? A simple green or red shakshuka choice, perhaps? But the children were nonplussed about the horrible burgers and fat pasty chips and, in fact, became very happy. The eldest looked around the place and said:

“I love it here. It’s so Christmassy.”

I gave him a pained look and he told me to stop being such a Debbie Downer. Fair enough, really. This is neither the time or the physical or emotional place to begin being a gastro-bore.

Here is our cottage:

It occurs to me that the kids will now and forevermore associate Christmas with holidaying in Devon. This is very different from my own Christmassy memories. We obviously had a very different climate in New Zealand in December – everything was warm and sunny and beachy, in a non-windswept, jackets and scarfs kind of way. But my memories are more about the coming together of the aunties and the cousins, people turning up to camping sites and unloading the cars, setting up the caravans and bring out the Scrabble. Christmas is really about Scrabble – Jesus, yes, but really Scrabble.

My three aunties, one who has now died, another who is now in a home, the other one I haven’t seen for perhaps twenty-something years, and my mother would come together from different parts of the North Island and would get serious about Scrabble. I remember sleeping on stretchers in the caravan awning as a kid while the aunties and my mother would play into what felt like the early hours, the weak caravan light just enough for them to thumb through the Scrabble dictionary checking each other’s words, and their own ambitious attempts. Is ‘Mi’ a word? What can I do with this ‘X’? I feel like they stripped to their bras while they played, but that might have been me confusing the Shuggie Bain aunties with my own. I know the husband-uncles were elsewhere, perhaps in another caravan, but not drinking or eating crisps or posh cheeses, because that’s what I would do – that’s not what the post-war Salavation Army husband-uncles would do. Possibly fishing on a small aluminium dinghy that would likely make my dad seasick. The next day we might dig for cockles or pipis and then soak them in buckets to cook up later.

Anyway. We’ve substituted those traditions for a cottage, movies, beaches and North Devon pannier markets, and all is good with the world. Until we get back and I face the Job Problem. Merry Christmas to you all!

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Latest Favourite Things

It’s time for a round up off the things that make me feel that, on balance, ’tis a lovely life and I’m a lucky lady who has, so far, had things work out pretty well.

The Children

I think that they are my all-time favourite things, particularly so now that the nights are darker and colder; when I clock off for the evening and exit the boffice (that’s ‘bedroom/office’ to you) and see them all cosy under the lamplight, silently watching youtube reels and questionable manga cartoons, still in their uniforms and with their dirty shoes tucked up underneath them on the couch, no chores or homework done but still all calm and familial, well, it’s life-affirming.

They are still cute, but not in the way they used to be. I only really remember what those days were like – the days of double buggies and nappies and changes of clothing and high chairs and uncompromised routine – because my phone throws up slightly mad photo compilations every now and then and I get to see them all snotty and fat-fingered, with dirty faces and wild toddler hair and I just want to weep into my new Vilshenko wool jumper because they are now into their girlfriends and pot noodles and hoodies and unconfirmed but suspected flirtations with vapes. I miss those babies terribly.

The eldest has begun a love affair with books, which brings me unbridled happiness. I let the children buy books whenever they want as a rule and so now we have quite the steady stream of Sylvia Plath, Camus, Dostoyevsky, Joseph Conrad, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams and Charlotte Bronte arriving down our rickety leaf-strewn staircase. There’s a growing little library in one of the alcove spaces in the boys’ bedroom that is constantly being arranged and rearranged by its proud owner, and a glance at the stacked spines gives me a bit of a psychological parental golden star every time I brave entering their room. That little open-shelved square is an oasis of calm and escapism, an ordered outward sign of what it is to feel grown-up, connected to the world and to imagining across cultures, continents, and class. He’s saying something about himself in displaying these new-found treasures like this, rising up from the sea of discarded clothes and sweat-hardened socks and towels with varying degrees of dampness. It is lovely to be a part of it, even if I only get to pay for them.

The baby is, obviously, still able to meet me where I am at – a small-child glutton. He says funny things and his wispy hair still has that warm biscuity smell and his body is unsullied and unscarred, still with the soft roundness of a toddler, but that is stripped back a little more each morning. He has given up nappies at night and takes himself off to the loo like a child genius. Pleasingly, he drew all over himself this morning with the letter ‘M’ – “for Remi”, he said – and then drew all over the bathroom walls. I thought it was quite cute and considered the energetic scrubbing off that I had to do a bit of a welcome workout for the upper arms. He calls his trousers ‘leg jammies’ and everything from the past is referred to as ‘last day’ which is a very endearing mashup of ‘last night’ and ‘yesterday’. He likes stories about dinosaurs and monkeys and his very favourite things are hammers, eggs and his tiny shiny converse sneakers. He won’t wear socks under any circumstance.

The Middle Others

How terrible that the middle children get lost in the bookends of my first and last. This will be one of the many kinds of things they will bring up with therapy professionals. But there’s a younger middle who has begun to practice magic tricks and he is good, although his preferred thing to make disappear is my engagement ring. So far, it has been returned unscathed. He is also starting to talk to us about his day and his beloved history class, and when he does that, we realise that this feels different because he has never opened up. In the constant noise and drama of our big family, he has quietly observed and saved up his stories. Now, when he turns to us and begins a quiet little tale, we are trying to remember to put down our screens or close the laptop and really, actually listen.

The eight year old has huge trouble getting the tooth fairy to pay up because she or he never has coins anymore and she or he can only remember about the increasing tab in the cold light of day. The troublesome most middle kid is both mouthy and tricky, and hugely receptive to hugs and kind words. But the tricky mouthiness means we forget to hug and be kind. It’s a vicious cycle, hampered by phone calls home from teachers addressing disruptive behaviour, emails saying he didn’t get to school on time, and attention-grabbing pronouncements that he’s spending his afterschool hours asking strangers for money which he then spends on overpriced spicy packets of crisps from the American sweet shop and then resells to gormless and easily-impressed younger kids with pocket money and a high threshold for e-numbers. But they are all amazing and when they leave me, I will need to get a kitten or I shall surely choke on my own sadness.

Shopping, But Discounted

I am cyclical with this stuff – I don’t buy anything for ages, I sell stuff on eBay and feel proud of the pruned wardrobe and the better paypal balance, then I emerge out of my smugness and start buying things again. I’ve recently become the owner of a new-with-tags Erdem wedding dress which was £3220 but which I cannily bought for £170, and two Vilshenko silk 70’s dresses which were £1000-ish but I got them for the tiniest £120 each, and a wool jumper (see somewhere above) for a miniscule £50. I think these represent real bargains – bargains of the century – but then, sometimes, when I say this stuff out loud, people look at me a bit funny. A wedding dress, you say? A silk dress that makes you look a little like a Soviet newsreader with buttons that pop open over your stomach and you don’t notice until much, much later in the evening, you say? Hmmmm. And obviously, buying bargain after bargain can add up. Which might be why saving for a house deposit seems to be an impossible task.

Cocktails

I cannot help myself. These are joy-inducing inventions, buzz-feeding, expensive and always, always very elegant in this London-town. Now we’ve begun to go out again, it’s a ‘passionfruity-freezing martini kind of thing for the lady in the dress with the buttons wide open, please’ kind of sitch.

Bafta Season

The free movies are back on, biatches! I’ve been to The Lost Daughter (loved it, and there were canapes and wine in the foyer first) and Licorice Pizza (indulgent and too long but we did get to watch Alannah Haim – lead singer from Haim – do a q&a with Paul Thomas Anderson) and going back into the cinema is just the most gorgeous thing. Particularly if there are cocktails after.

Parents

Mine just celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary and they really love each other and they are still healthy-ish and it would be great to see them but Jacinda won’t really let us into the country. Also, Mark has discovered that she’s not going to give him a pension unless we live back there for ten years first. He’s bummed out because he values loyalty above all else and he feels like he should be able to get something back after he paid taxes there for 25 years. But then I said ‘what about all the capital gains we got from owning property there’ and launched into a badly-understood and ill-equipped rant about socialism and asset wealth and poverty divides and then I ran out of steam and sat there for a bit, wishing I had listened during 5th form economics better. But my parents are pretty great.

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On Service

What a thing to neglect your writing. Better than neglecting a child or a dog I suppose, but still. It’s something of a shame. Partly this has to do with me being a working lady, partly to do with hours spent on my phone looking at various passing fancies such as my recent Victorian fob necklace mania (auction houses, eBay – 9ct gold albert chain searches gone mad, that kind of thing) and a little to do with the fact that the children have broken the laptop by watching too many youtube videos containing fake facts. For instance, Otis told me this morning that, if you put a spoonful of sugar into your tea but you decide you don’t want it in there anymore, you just stir it anticlockwise and the sugar separates and you can…scoop it out, I think he said. He has facts about nostril hair and WW1 and polar bears and gemstones, all patently rubbish and all from youtube Shorts.

Anyway, the laptop opens up onto a navy blue screen, and nothing else. We had a little laptop drama a few months ago (which I may have written about) where the manuscript of the novel that was going to save Waterstones got erased, and then every single photograph that I had ever taken and saved was displayed all over the desktop like some sort of nightmarish bespoke family wallpaper, and then all of the desktop files went away – hopefully into the cloud, but I do not understand the cloud and really doubt anything has been saved – and so this new navy screen was kind of on the cards. I decided to take the bull by the horns and go to the Apple store to sort it all out once and for all. Because I am such a busy working lady and must do all my chores at once, I also booked a bra fitting appointment at M&S because one of my friends quite often hints that my boobs are hanging too low and need some sort of proper scaffolding. Some hiking up from the mid ribcage area back to where they once stood. Stood? Protruded? Grew? So I took the hint and last Sunday, tried to sort myself out.

First stop was the M&S at Westfield. I took some kids with me and they went off with £7 each for lunch. I was free for a few minutes, and found my way into the lingerie department and felt a little excited about the new, probably bigger, yet tighter and lacier new bras I would be soon wearing. I was imagining my boobs would be finally at their best – with a bit of middle-aged fat to plump them out, but now, with added up-ness, like younger women or women who haven’t breastfed six kids might have.

Into the changing room, where some other poor lady had apparently taken my bosom-measuring slot – she was shown out the door and told to make another online appointment for another day, which seemed mad, being at there were only about three customers in the massive shop. A very young lady came in and chucked a tape measure around my ribcage, under my drooping boobs still optimistically cased in one of my now-non-elasticated bras, and then left to get me some merch. I was imagining Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley’s bras, or a middle-England version of sexy/pretty/functional kind of bra that would fit me so spectacularly that all my clothes would look different and I would look thin and high and young and amazing. But the girl came back in and gave me a white matronly bra, size 34 D and another beige bra which was my usual size. I tried the 34 D one on, because if I fitted that one, it might mean I was narrower that I thought, and all that extra weight around my back and arms was probably just glorious (though spreading) breast tissue after all. But no – the 34 D made big dents in my torso and squashed everything back out in little lumps. So the M&S salesgirl told me to try the other one on, which is my usual size. I did, and she came in and told me it was correct, and then left me to get changed and to leave the store. No selling, nothing else, no advice, no nice bras to entice me to refresh the lingerie drawer.

Apparently, through all those babies, up dress sizes and down, while still breastfeeding (yes, I am, and no, the baby is not really a baby anymore, but think of the antibodies! And the fact that I cannot let go!) my boobs have stayed the same size. What kind of fleshy madness is that? So I was massively bummed out, and wandered the lingerie section with my old crappy bra back on, boobs ten centimetres lower than they probably should have been, and I bought knickers that hold your stomach in instead. WHAT GLAMOUR.

Then, I found the children but they were crying because they had lost half of their lunch money and the eldest had mysteriously spent £9 on manga posters with mysterious money that he ‘found’. BIG scratching head moment right there, I tell ya. Then I went to Apple to sort out my navy screened laptop and opened it up and it worked perfectly. Screen back on. It even looked clean. The guy ran a diagnostics test and told me that everything was fine but the battery was rooted and needed replacing for £200, and perhaps the screen, bringing the replacement up to £680. Or I could get a reconditioned laptop for £850, or just a new one for a million pounds. I thought, all and all, once everything was said and done and weighed up and cooked, that I was better off to have a struggling laptop that would mostly work, but one day just never turn on again. So we went back home after finding that no one wanted to fix my boobs issue and no one wanted to fix my laptop issue and no one had eaten properly and I thought – what, really, was the point of all that? You could say that I did get new knickers but they are tight in that way that your organs hurt after a full day of wearing them, and if you angle your leg wrong, the muscles in your upper thighs get fatigued.

So this morning I tried the laptop again and guess what? It’s a navy screen. It probably died on the bus ride back home. That’s really why I haven’t been writing my blog much.

Photos of the Posh Hotel Weekend

Something amazing happened the weekend after my 44th birthday. We had booked a posh staycation weekend at a hotel near Birmingham for Mark’s birthday but then lockdown, etc etc, etc…and so we delayed it and went a few weekends ago. We are not hotel people, having grown up never hoteling anywhere, and then never doing it as adults because it’s a rich person’s thing to do, and definitely something to do without kids. But now our kids are old and we have a handy nephew who can help out every now and then.

We took off Friday and drove there, stopping at Leamington Spa and buying crystal decanters and Tam pottery from the local charity chops from Kenilworth, and then turned up at Hampton Manor for the best three days of probably our whole sorry lives. How does one go back to being ‘not really a hotel-kind-of-person’, I ask you? It was all excellent wallpaper and wonderful food and wine tastings and freshly baked sourdough and their own salted butter and hand-ground coffee and double ended baths and fire pits and record players and William Morris prints and reading the papers and early Autumn sun traps and kind ness and whispered voices and JOY. PURE JOY. Weird photos, but joyful, all the same.

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