Accidentally A Relationship Column

We’ve been in Devon again, colonising the pool and hot tub, making too much noise during the Christmas Day prayers at the Tawstock church, spending all our money buying three types of Christmas bird and two hams and pretty much just lying down for extended unhealthy hours on separate couches, spurning the massive play area (ft. tennis courts and life-sized tin giraffe) and fighting over what to watch on the telly. So far, so everyone’s Christmas, right?

There was a bit of musical-bed-chairs thing because Mark and I are simply TOO MASSIVE to sleep together in a double bed…he turns to face me in the night and *actually dares* to mouth breathe in my direction and I am overcome with rage and disgust, or he places a crooked elbow under my pillow citing his preference for my pillow’s cooler temperature, but my head then rises up on an angle and I am similarly filled with rage and disgust, and so we had to rearrange things – by that I mean children – so that we could sleep and not hate each other in the groggy waking hours. So we had turns sleeping underneath Ned in a tiny kid’s bunk, the kind where you sit up and bash your head on the rails above you when you hear some little kid (that would be Otis) coming to find you at 2am and wailing softly about how he just fell out of his shared double bed with Barnaby and that his arm hurt. It was a dry-eyed slump-jawed aching-limbs and bruised-forehead kind of week. But then CHRISTMAS!

A false 4am start, a second false 4:40 start, then we were all go at 8am to open presents and mostly be very gracious, except for Noah who was a little underwhelmed to find that Santa had given him identical presents for two years. In his defence, I think that Santa is quite busy, and perhaps forgot to notice Noah a little, because he is quite well-behaved (except for shoegate and for the whole bunking off at school pretending he has some chronic illness to do with symptomless stomachaches and unwitnessed ‘vomiting’ thing) and so Santa kind of shopped Noah out for an obvious but actually quite thoughtless doubled-up present. I feel sorry for Santa, really – he has a lot on his plate. So I took Noah’s crestfallen little betrayed face in my wizened horny fingers and told him not to worry – I would give him a fiver and buy the Ten Ways To Prank Your Friends tin off him. Crisis averted, but perhaps the wound runs deep.

So we then went to church and asked the children not to be dickheads but they couldn’t help themselves, especially Otis, who did very loud mock high-pitched nonsense singing to go along with the carols and then just filled in the spaces when everyone was quietly praying or contemplating the Savour’s birth. He then went through the pews and made a tower of those lovingly crocheted kneeling cushions, and then song books, and, obviously feeling very comfortable at this point just sashayed up and down the aisle telling everyone who gave him a look to ‘SHHHHHHHHHHH’. I had to ask Barnaby to take him out to run around the graveyard and look for zombies. Here they are contributing to the service before things got too bad, and then outside running around in total glee, making up violent stories about mummified people exiting the graves and chasing them:

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You can’t help but notice that *someone* has gotten all puberty-ish and now dons a leather jacket everywhere he goes. He makes no eye contact, talks in a low dismissive whisper because PEOPLE ARE SO EXASPERATING to him that he just can’t summon up any sound, and he punches smaller people as he walks past them. He listens to music constantly, spends a lot of  time (and waxy product) on his hair, and he needs deodorant. All of this is new, and quite sweet, if it wasn’t so awful.

We went to the beach twice – once when it was raining and cold and they all just whined and moaned and touched rotten bits of crab and then chased each other around with the Rotten Fish Touch. Notice, too, Casper wearing his mother’s leather jacket in a sad, sweet homage to Barnaby. He hates him, but he loves him, and anything Barnaby does he will do too, but pretends he came up with the idea.

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More beach here, but better:

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And then we drove home.

New Years Eve

We had a party, but only about half the people we invited actually turned up which made playing our shit parlour games a lot easier but I felt a bit sad and rejected. The preparation for our parties is immense – I did my usual ‘bake all day, shout in a grandiose manner at the children to get out of the kitchen/walk the dog/move the furniture around’ overachieving thing from the morning until right before people were supposed to turn up, and while I fuss about in the kitchen getting upset because we have no Nigella seeds, everyone just lolls about not helping. Mark became a weird day-long absentee whereby he urgently needed to get a haircut and he suddenly took an interest in setting up his previously-ignored electronic Christmas presents which meant various trips to Maplins for HDMI cables instead of supervising the shoving of things into cupboards and hasty toilet-seat wiping. It was a trial, I tell you. And now we have to try to get through another bloody leftover turkey in a creative way, because food waste is for Bad People.

Wedding Anniversary

In the flash of an eye, we will have been married for 20 years tomorrow. We are going to the movies to watch that one about the circus, and I will drink three cocktails and probably eat some curry. It will be tres romantique.

These are my words of marital advice for the young and unjaded on this auspicious eve:

  1. Don’t get married too young, obviously. Do what my dad said to do – hang out with a little bit of everyone. I don’t think he meant ‘try everyone out’ but I’m going to extend his message to just that. Try everyone out, a little bit.
  2. When they say marriage is hard work, I don’t think they mean like ploughing a field or being homeless or doing extreme sports. I think they mean that it isn’t always much fun and it wears you down. It gets a bit boring and disappointing sometimes, although it is fun and comforting when it works. People will turn out a bit differently to how you thought they would – and this includes you. The hanging on despite this is perhaps part of the hard work.
  3. Recalibrate often. That’s what Esther Perel says, and she is spot-on about everything, so she’s probably right about this one too. The marriage will change as well as the people inside it, so be open to that.
  4. Find out what your love language is. I know it sounds kooky but everyone has different ways to both feel love and to show it, so find out which of the five broad ways that works for you (I think they are: touch, gifts, time spent, words, acts of kindness) and whoever you are going to hitch your wagon to. It is weirdly good and explains a lot.
  5. Go out together every week and don’t forget to have sex frequently, even if you cannot be arsed.
  6. Be kind, and sometimes don’t say the thing you want to say. Tell it to the bottom of a wine glass, or your friends. Don’t say mean stuff to each other because it doesn’t actually go away, but hangs around like a bad fairy.
  7. You won’t get everything you need from your partner, so go fill the gaps wisely with  friends. Ideally clever, book-reading, food-appreciating, joyful, generous, kind women. When you find them, weave them into your life and look after them. Kids grow up and leave, husbands/wives/marriages end or morph into something else entirely but friends remain (er, I ripped that off Jo Brand in her Desert Island Disc thing, but she’s right), like that wooly-headed darling in the photo below. Get yourself more of these:

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That’s it. I’m off to fashion the turkey into something jazzy. Wish me luck and happy new year!

 

 

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Advent Confessions

I’ve eaten all of the cooking chocolate over two days.

I don’t buy chocolate anymore, because obviously then I would just eat it, but I do buy the Green & Blacks cooking chocolate for those times in my infrequent baking life where I need to make double batches of Nigella’s brownie. So there is usually one or two slightly dusty and bloomed packets of cooking chocolate up there, up in the far recesses of the Sweet Cupboard (so named by Otis who spends a lot of time investigating it, usually having perilously climbed up badly-attached cupboard door handles and narrowly missing his little thighs getting branded by the red hot La Pavoni coffee machine to stand up on the bench and open the door and attempt to steal anything in there whenever I’m not looking/engaged with my phone*).

*that’s quite often

The Sweet Cupboard is mainly populated by old M&S biscuit tins carrying the gross leftover slightly  weeping sweets from Halloween hauls, and chocolate coins which are neither white chocolate or milk chocolate anymore but straddling hues of worrying grey, as well as unexplained single broken crackers and ten year old packets of lentils. Additionally I have noticed an ironically posh bag of pork scratchings that someone gave us in a Christmas Hamper one year squeezed between the tins and the cupboard walls and because I cannot find the right time or occasion to eat them they just stay there, getting greasier and more rancid as each new year comes and goes.  And so the cooking chocolate has latterly been shouting out my name from about 7:30pm until late. And so I’ve eaten it, and I feel bad about it.

I’ve totally misunderstood how to make money from the internet.

After last week’s succulent-wreath/blogger-event situation, I have become more active on social media than usual because I thought that I would do as those other women do and try my hand at becoming so popular that they’d (‘they’ being people who sell scented candles, who might own a restaurant or two, or a clothing line or a place that sells chairs or personalised stationery) simply HAVE to pay me for withering on and taking bad photographs from my oblivious kids, and so that would become my job, and I would be able to get a mortgage as well as filling the house with trinkets of utter uselessness while people freeze in Calais. #goals

So, I thought the first step was to follow people who have lots of followers so that I could figure out what magic and wizardry it takes to be popular on the interweb and not a total mother truckin’ narcissistic bore. To that end, I have spent time watching other people and liking them and I have even made my own instagram stories about cooking dinner and running at 6am and bad hair (more on that later) and the end result is this: I have gained five more followers and am now 84 quid in the red.

Let me break that down.

Influencers are not called influencers for nothing. In my pursuit of infiltrating the world of women who blog successfully, I found a few who have entered my consciousness and have not left. I shamelessly copied @catwalkschoolgates by buying a jumper she was championing from H&M (it’s a 24 quid Ganni knockoff, she said), which was the first of many strategic stumbles:

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See the appeal? I’m wearing it now and it feels a bit Christmas Jumper Without The Christmas Bits.

And then I went all the way to St Johns Wood to infiltrate the charity shops there because she said @chanelofficial had dropped some clothes there. I kept trying to ‘use the lingo’ of the Women Of The Discounted Clothing Blogosphere by phrasing my request like this:

‘Excuse me, has Chanel dropped some clothes here?’ and the charity shop people pretty much uniformly didn’t understand what it was that I was trying to say, instead walking away to ask someone in the back office if there were any ‘drops’ in the store.

Are they like capes? they asked, confused.

No, not like capes. And no, Chanel hadn’t dropped anything. So I had to buy this Chloe cardigan for 60 pounds because it was a long way to go to return empty-handed. I KNOW IT’S A BIT GRANDMA-ISH. I know. Also, chins:

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I am apparently balding.

I have been having some hair issues and I thought it was just that I am getting a bit old and my babies have pretty much sucked a lot of life and moisture and youthful chemicals out of me. I had heard that babies ruin your hair as well as your boobs and your teeth and your skin and your waist, so I was expecting and accepting that the curls which once sat atop my head all unruly and fun have begun to thin out and straighten in a mean and scanty way.  But it got worse than that – it’s gotten weird and bumpy at the crown and almost looks as if I have on purpose made a cool bouffant as a statement, but it is actually a short, uneven MULLETY bouffant which makes no sense at all.

So I went to see Ronan at Aveda and as soon as I sat down he told me I needed to go to the GP AT ONCE to sort out my work-shy follicles. He was kind, but there was a bit of urgency (call your GP NOW, he said) and so I tried to be cool about my hair loss while telling entertaining stories and generally trying not to look into the mirror at the sad state of the top of my head, and then he styled it differently by effectively giving me a forehead combover and dried it flat and I looked very odd, in a slick newsreader kind of way. He told me I probably lacked iron and zinc, and then he said that I must never go to a job interview without flattening my hair into sheets of shiny nothingness, like he was doing. And I was like:

HOW DO I DO THAT? How do I become the type of woman who knows how to do her own hair? And he just shrugged.

I tried to go to the GP this morning to sort out the impending badness but I can’t get in until Jan 2. WILL IT ALL HAVE FALLEN OUT BY THEN? You’ll have to wait and see. Here’s my instastory once the rain and wind had gotten deep into the blow dry. I look like Rhys Ifans in ‘Notting Hill’. Imagine going into a job interview looking like this:

 

Anyway, does anyone else have anything to confess? It can’t just be me.

 

 

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Crafting Isn’t My Bag

Nope. I wrote a little about it here:

Because I think it is best to confront your inabilities sometimes, especially at this time of year when it feels that polished, seasonally-appropriate, lovingly and beautifully decorated homes that smell of baking and mittens and washed dogs and pine, with nice mantlepieces and remote-controlled Christmas tree lights that don’t get stuck on the Pulsate Setting giving the geckos tiny little lizard seizures, should be the norm. Because that’s a MARKETING LIE! Some of us can barely manage showering, AmIRight?

[And all that preface, my virtual buddies, is a perfect metaphor for this whole parenting, adulating gig. Let’s have fun with it, but don’t be sad if you find you’re a bit rubbish in bits. Perfection is a bore, chaos is exciting, and mediocrity is entirely underrated.] 

On that note, yesterday I bravely acknowledged my crafty skill-less-ness and yet forged on like a mighty Garden Centre Warrior all the way to Richmond to a succulent wreath-making session with the kind and patient people at NotOnTheHighStreet HQ. To make, on my own (with quite a lot of help) an actual wreath with little repotted succulent plants that would embed into the sphagnum moss and start to grow, living on as a reminder of the time I made something that was good and partly Christmassy, partly New Mexican.

My wreath started out well, a tightly bound very pink sphagnum moss base which turned out to be making the other ladies *quite* jelly, because their sphagnum moss was more green and browny. Then we shoved in the succulents and it looked like this:

 

There was superfood hot chocolates on constant supply and tiny sphagnum moss-covered squares of brownie for us to break our fast over (I just flicked those little muddy planty bits off like nobodies’ business because I’m no slouch when it comes to free brownie) and – GET THIS – personalised presents rooted out by kind NotOnTheHighStreet staffers who had insta-stalked our accounts to find out what kind of things we liked. That level of loving and personal attention has never been applied to me, I tell ya.

Here it is, all filtered and nice-looking – I would go so far as to call it a seasonal crafting success:

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But It Wasn’t All Green-Fingered Christmas Joy

No.

There was a little bit of social awkwardness when a quite famous-ish mother blogger turn up and I got a bit swoony and tried to make her be my friend by sitting next to her and dazzling her with my witty conversation but it just didn’t work at all. She looked a little bit jaded, and also a bit tired, and you could see she really probably had enough friends and she just wanted to make her wreath and then get home to brush the stray sphagnum moss strands from her jumpsuit and hair without having to chat to me, the excitable newby who didn’t quite know what the rules were. Did I stop trying to make her be my new friend at these quite clear contraventions of friendship/blogger-event etiquette signs?

No. I DID NOT.

I tried again. I went back to try to save her from her table of wreath-making blogger ladies, because I felt I was clearly a Very Interesting New Person Who Would Be So Fun To Talk To, but her polite-yet-not-really-interested small talk made me lose my nerve and then I just kind of stalled and got shy and averted her gaze and started out into middle distance and eventual silence, hovering over her in a conspiratorial hunch while she breastfed her baby and probably willed me to piss off back to my own wreath-making posse. She was kind, but I really needed to leave her alone.

I realised an urge to tell her I had five sons, as though that might impress her or interest her or even just give us something to talk about, but I later discovered that the blogger next to me also had five sons, two of which were baby twins (which clearly – if this was a competition – would beat me hands down) and so my usual USP was not even a USP in this little alternate universe of blogger eventing. It was a social fail of epic proportions. I skulked out of there quite fast but not before I hung my wreath up on this charming fake mantlepiece:

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where it hung for just long enough to photograph before crashing to the ground and squashing a lot of pert succulent leaves and making a mess on the NOTHS shop reception floor.

My wreath and I thanked everyone, and took our many, many gifts, and left our broken bits for someone else to sweep up (I’ll include a little piece of my dignity in that mental imagery) and on the way home, I realised that my wreath was lying succulent-plant-face-down on the tube floor and so further nubbly bits broke off. A little like my self-respect, TBH.

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Foolish Things

So we are spring cleaning in the middle of an unseasonably cold autumn because we have no room and people who live like hoarders are a bit, well, cramped and perhaps a little ill. You may or may not know that Mark has a habit of dragging things into the flat that are, on paper, very good/new/nicer than the stuff we have, but then he is less good at getting rid of the things that we already have, and there suddenly becomes some sort of cosmic crisis because I go mental and hyperventilate at the sight of all the extra furniture and the lack of visible flooring, and he gets mad because I am ungrateful and naggy.  The children, however, are delighted because the flat becomes some sort of fantastical multi-layered soft play area, enabling them to bounce from couch to extra couch, onto various vintage marine wooden boxes, back onto and under a spare study desk, back to couch, and so on, until I have to leave the flat for fear of hitting someone. There was a brief period two weeks ago when Mark dismantled and then dragged in a massive grey couch but hadn’t yet gotten rid of (or even thought about HOW to get rid of) the OTHER extra couch, and the living room became one large bed. It was awful.

Then we freecycled the first extra couch and suddenly the flat felt HUGE again. Here I am, post-cleaner-visit, marvelling at all the floor I can see:

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Do you see why I get very scratchy around the neck when more stuff gets shoved in? A bit sweaty and full of the blind rage? It’s a fine balancing act housing five children, me, Mark, the dog, the geckos, the office, totally unused guitars (three), a keyboard (?), more vintage brass marine equipment than an actual naval base might have, recipe books, lego, and my lipsticks in a two-bedroomed flat.

So I am getting rid of more stuff, mostly on eBay. Today, the first auction of six things came to an end, and only one thing sold. Now I am battling hurt feelings. The eBay community, apparently, has viewed my clothes, some have even *watched* my clothes, but then they haven’t bought them, and now I feel inherent rejection from the virtual world for my taste in Erdem silk dresses and Mary Katrantzou lilac sheer cardigans. DOES EVERYONE THINK I DRESS FUNNY? It is humbling, I tell you. Also, it is not a very efficient way to make money. I’ve made 60 quid and used a LOT of my emotional energy writing exciting clothing descriptions, ironing things and assembling cot furniture. I could make more money not buying stuff in the first place – but I suspect everyone knows this already.

A Seemingly Reasonable Idea That Turned Out To Be Very Wounding For The Spirit

So the other thing about having not a lot of space here in this flat is the fact that we should really somehow grow another bedroom for the burgeoning young-man-ness of our biggest kid (soon to be followed by his brothers like hairy pubescent testosterone-rich dominos). But you can’t grow it, or carve up the living room or burrow deep down under the road or extend the loft when you live in a rented basement flat, and so Mark and I had a tiny, tiny, joyful, exciting little moment last week where we thought we could – just – afford to buy a house here, because there are some savings in the bank for once.

Not ‘here’ here, but up the A40 behind the Hoover Building  in a little place called Perivale, near the Central Line station so that the bigger boys could still get to their school in about 18 minutes, Mark could still get to work and to his suppliers, I could still do whatever it is that I do (I realise that no one is entirely clear on this point, least of all me). And Mark could do up a house and put in an extension and we could have some space and extra bedrooms with a little garden and a shed to put his guitars and arm weights into. It seemed like it would be the same monthly repayments as our rent, pretty much. So I scheduled in a few viewings on Tuesday and I had visions of staying here a little longer, with Mark involved in his own project after years of doing it for everyone else, using his knowledge and contacts and some of the stuff he has squirrelled away over the years (massive shower head, anyone?) and the kids having a little space to themselves. But as we drove there, Mark spoke quickly to a mortgage broker who said there is no way anyone would give us a mortgage.

Is this too depressing? I am depressed just writing it.

It’s because we are self-employed, and Mark is getting a little bit old, and we have SO MANY KIDS and I have no proper job and we don’t have a borrowing history. Our house in New Zealand doesn’t count and our 15 years of renting also doesn’t count. So we are a terrible risk. THANKS BANKERS FOR CREATING THAT GLOBAL BLOODY CRISIS WHERE YOU RUINED EVERYTHING FOR NORMAL PEOPLE.

In Other News

Mark was in Wales on the weekend and I was in the shower on Saturday morning and the children thought it would be a marvellous idea to set fire to a wad of paper towels. They went outside in the freezing cold with some tiny plastic cups filled with water in case things got messy, lit the wad, whooped like little unsupervised savages, got sprung by the postman who told them off, chucked on the water and then ran away and hid. I *was* in the shower but then got waylaid very briefly by The Outnet clearance sale, so missed all the drama. I noticed a bit of a kerfuffle and a smokey smell, and ran out in my towel to meet the postman who brought me up to speed and told me to put some clothes on.

I really hope your November has been kinder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Counselling for Dummies

I am not sure if I will get summarily divorced if I say anything about the marriage counselling sessions we just had, but I would like to, and Mark doesn’t read anything I write, so just don’t tell him, ok? No sneaky little whatsapp messages or little texts on his phone to dob me in, because I always check his phone so I will know, and you will be a bit dead to me. Anyway, I don’t really know why it feels weirdly shameful to go to counselling – after all, you send your 25 year old Landrover in for a service with a mechanic at least once every year, and he fiddles with it and fixes up the rusted parts and gets it all nice and safe again, so really, what’s the difference?

So. We had six sessions with a volunteer counsellor at Marriage Care, which, importantly, costs whatever you can afford to pay. It was down the road in Notting Hill Gate, next to a bank and through some rickety wooden Doors Of Shame (as Mark liked to call them). We turned up the first time and went into a shabby but nice-smelling room with chairs and a tiny pencil print on the wall which I studied quite a lot and a big box of tissues. We told the lady right off that while we love each other and actually, crucially, still like each other, we had a big problem because we can’t agree on where to live. In fact, we told her, we couldn’t even mention the words ‘New Zealand’ without one of us getting constricted airwaves, red hivey skin and usually a nasty fight that might well send one of us running out into the night or into a silence that could last for days and days, one that left a kind of residual distance that makes it hard to trust each other. We said it was becoming hard to find the kindness, tolerance, patience, humour and companionship between us. Without those things, she said, you don’t really have a marriage that works anymore.

So we went into it all a bit, and she told us after the first session that one of us was holding all the nostalgia and the other was in a vacuum, and that our stubborn, desperate opposing stances were really a fight for our own mental health. She said we did have a good marriage, but a very serious problem, and so by looking into why the both of us held our positions so tightly she might be able to loosen them a bit so we could talk properly and fairly about it. Over the next five weeks she poked into our childhoods and looked at death, faith and the different kinds of love that you experience over a lifetime. She challenged us about the compromises we might each be able to make and forced Mark to weigh up the longing for extended family over the one that is right here, now.

There were some deeply awkward moments when she looked at why and how we were together in the first place and our age gap – I said I thought it had never really been a problem, but she said that actually, lady, it is now. She said that our roles have been of parent and adolescent and that if we couldn’t change that dynamic, the marriage wasn’t going to stand a chance. It was exposing and brutal, and she helped us see things in very different ways. She told us how to talk to each other better, and to recognise the patterns we keep slipping into, and she gave me ideas of how to start becoming an autonomous equal. She also kind of told me to grow up.

As for the New Zealand problem? Well, I would have liked her to sit us down and tell us what to do, but she didn’t. She said we had to consider everything, and think about who had what to lose, and how much of a sacrifice we could both stand. I like a clean ending, so I said we could go and I would give up my fight, but only if Mark would stop trying to drag me by the hair and instead start having a sensible conversation with me like I was an intelligent 40 year old woman with opinions that need to be considered fairly rather than someone who is a complete idiot with grandiose delusions of herself. Or, you know, I would happily decamp to Dollis Hill, but he wasn’t having any of that.

So it helped, it really did. I think the counsellor was brave and brilliant and even Mark said she was good, even though when she asked him scary questions he just got louder and laughed at the end of every sentence even though it wasn’t funny and he stuck his hands over his mouth as though he really just wanted to die. Awkward? Yes, but maybe you need that, you know? Poking under the bonnet, ripping out the spark plugs and changing the oil?

IN OTHER FAMILY NEWS

I went to Noah’s first parent teacher interview, and it was dire. That kid has somehow hoodwinked the school into thinking he is sickly, because he runs off to the sick bay as often as he can, citing ‘nausea’ and ‘stomach aches’. This means he misses schoolwork, and sometimes, for a few weeks there, he convinced them to send him home so he could show me his pained look for about seven minutes before declaring that a round of Minecraft would do his headache the world of good. This propensity to feign illness I was aware of and I told the school not to be swayed by his convincing and dramatic monologues of symptomless aches and pains, but I wasn’t aware that additionally he simply hasn’t been doing any work. So, I was getting more and more hatchet-faced as the interviews went on, with the same message (Lovely boy, bright, but won’t focus, is very slow, likes to spin his ruler around for the entire lesson, etc etc) until I was finally taken into the black-suited Head of Behaviour’s office with Noah, sat down, and was told the tale of that mornings’ Shoe Incident.

The Head addressed Noah and told him not to bother trying to explain to me what had happened, because when asked earlier that day to explain to the Senior Leadership Team he had apparently just lied. The Head said he wouldn’t want Noah lying again to his mother, so instead, he said, let’s just watch the CCTV footage, shall we?

So I was dying. Just dying. And we all had to endure the crystal-clear footage of Noah doing some clumsy mock-ninja fighting with another messy little chap at the top of the glass-interiored-very-seriously-architectured expensive school with Noah responding to a slow cartoon kick with his own balletic spin, which sent his untied shoe over the glass bannister and down four flights of stairs into the central atrium, narrowly missing the 70 year old SENCO teacher.

This kind of incident, the Head explained, was forbidden, even though it was clear that Noah hadn’t intended to hurt anyone or to cause an accident. Had he had his uniform on correctly, had he refrained from moronic Karate-Kidding, it wouldn’t have happened. So Noah was excluded for a day, and we took him home and went over his missed work and write a very solemn letter to the Senior Leadership Team which took seven drafts to get right, and he was allowed back a day later with promises that no longer would Noah be King Of Dangerously Flung Shoes And Under The Radar Shit Work Ethics And Fake Illnesses.

It has been tough. Here is me drinking my lunch on a Friday with Vicky while we both ran away for a day. Whatever gets you through, right?

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Break Fast

Oh October, you little fast-moving, autumnal minx! I haven’t written here for the whole month, mostly because I’ve been writing for other things, which of course is good because

  1. I will get paid
  2. It keeps me away from sample sales*
  3. It looks to the objective person that I sort-of kind-of have a freelance-y job.

*It doesn’t entirely keep me away from sample sales, though, because I did manage to go to the Mary Katrantzou one, the Mulberry one, the Bella Freud one and tomorrow I will go to the Erdem one, so let’s just scrap point 2, eh?

And in between all that literary output, I’ve been fasting. Yes, I’ve cut breakfast out so that there’s a 16-hour period from after dinner until lunch the next day where my temple of a body will starve and my insides will eat themselves up and I will do the scrambling, sweaty school run alternating between feeling a bit vomity and then becoming all sharply-minded, like the dying probably do just before some celestial lifts them into the tunnel of everlasting light. My stomach makes loud embarrassing noises of protest and shock and I think I probably stink.  You know that thing when people miss breakfast and they talk to you in a breathy way and you nearly pass out from the gut-rotting stinkiness? That person is now me. I am doing a lot of extra brushing to combat this, concentrating on the lesser-considered areas like the tongue, and drinking water and masses of tea, and talking in a low way so that no one gets a wash of the inside air conditioning, but still. It’s a little worrying.

And why am I fasting, I hear you ask? Well, it’s mostly because even though I get up at 5:40am twice a week (and once on the weekend) to run around half of Hyde Park, and I do a bit of yoga, and I walk for two hours every day to school and back, and even though I recognise carbs for the devil that they are and only eat them if the bread is crusty and expensive enough, and though my portion sizes are now no longer the same amount as a youthful farm worker who has been up since dawn herding sheep would have,  I can’t fit about a third of my clothes. It’s an upper arms/spilling stomach/girthy thighs kind of thing. Where once I thought my tight jeans once made me look a bit Kardashian – curvy and, yes, jutting out at weird angles but in a way that seemed to work, now they take five wearying minutes to get the button done up and then they leave me with red slashes across my midriff for hours and hours. And in those jeans I have to kind of ‘perch’ on a seat, rather than actually ‘sit’. So I figure that fasting will fix everything, although I do wonder about the milk in coffee and what about minty gum to fix the Undigested Food Breath? And eating my fingernails – will all this make the effort null and void?

I was mulling all this over on Saturday when I was at the Soho Hotel for a press screening of Paddington 2 (see how I just casually chucked that in there? Thanks, The London Mother) while I ate all the biscuits in sight and drank all the tea and coffee and then moved on to the marmalade sandwiches in the shape of a 2 (see below) even though I don’t like marmalade:

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And then Mark and I found the chocolate croissants and we laid into them. It *was* breakfast, but my fasting thing is only for the weekdays, because that seems to be perfectly scientific and fair. So I was hoovering the children’s food up, and then a whole posse of tidy, groomed women who write style blogs about being a mother AND being stylish AND about buying red jumpers AND about coming along to these things with their two kids AND with their husbands who dress well with elegant beards AND with hair that kind of sits, all blondly, all tonged, with lovely skin and lipstick that didn’t make their noses look even redder around the nostrils, well, they came in and they weren’t at all tubby and they were about ten years younger than me (I know, because I got all stalkery later). And so one of them had two kids and they were being annoying, as mine were, actually being annoying together, and she didn’t seem to notice, and nor did her silver foxy husband. I was very glad that someone else had obnoxious sons who were also sprawling over the Kit Kemp-sourced ‘eclectic’ sofas and smashing the brownie into the ‘edgy’ rugs. But I did also notice that she was wearing a nonchalant t-shirt that her arms and torso didn’t fill up – the t-shirt hung on her and I thought I WANT THAT. I was moaning about this to my running buddy Sarah and she said (and I massively paraphrase to the point of total inaccuracy here:)

‘Yes, we all know those women but groomed t-shirt-wearing and tidiness with the tonging and the correctly-toned lipstick and clean trainers just aren’t your thing. Your thing is different. It is fine and, well, you.’ And I really liked that. What a bloody relief to be me. In fact, here’s me being me in an Uber, photographed by Rebecca, an actual photographer who also takes portraits of models and people like Edward Enninful:

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Here are the children at Portobello after massive burgers and chips:

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And mid-term break, with the leaves and the nearly-teen, who miraculously doesn’t have his big headphones on so he can pretend we are all dead – instead, he’s playing with his brother and that, my friends, makes me forgive him for being a total hormonal pest:

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Pumpkin gathering and hay bale sliding at Crockford Bridge Farm:

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And a triumphant photo of the return of Magic after he got out and went missing for a night. We searched and searched and put up posters and fretted and told the world to look out for him, and we missed him and we worried and the next day, we got a call from a vet in Hendon 12 miles away to say they had him. It turns out his penchant for sneaking out the front gate when the kids are otherwise engaged (putting cobwebs up on our front door and displaying their pumpkins) got him all the way around the block, to the rubbish bins, out onto the road, and then into the van of someone who didn’t want to see him squashed.

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He was a little bit off with us when he got home. Perhaps he had tasted the freedom of the open road and preferred it to a life on the couch? Perhaps the guy in Hendon was nicer with bigger portion sizes? Anyway, he’s back and things are back to normal – no one wants to walk him and the kids still cry if I ask them to pick up his poo.

 

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HB 2 MOI

Last week I had a birthday – the big one, the big ol’ lady one, the one that features patches of coarse grey hair and frankly startling lines between the eyebrows that make you endlessly retake photographs in a fruitless effort to erase them, trying out new angles and working those forehead muscles again and again, when you should really just be enjoying yourself – kind of like this:

And now I am trying to make peace with the fact that I have left my thirties behind. I am metaphorically setting sail into the dank, murky waters of Middle Age and waving to Mark who is firmly out on that sea, having a good old time, catching fish with some red-faced bald mates and drinking beer. I’m still on the shore ATM, and the water isn’t deep yet, just kind of pooling around my dry, cracked feet and horny toenails (one of which actually came off a few weeks ago in that way that signals to you that your body is breaking down – crumbling into dust). It feels ok, certainly better than dead, though I fear imminent, whispery things like The Mysterious Peri-Menopause, becoming invisible to all men, skin tags and wiry hairs coming out of the side of your face that you don’t notice until the Important Social Event was over. Here are my top tips for getting over yourself when you turn 40:

Go On Holidays 

This is a brilliant tip, because you cannot have a bad time going on holidays. You don’t have to do your usual domestic shit and you can drink daytime cocktails and read a lot. As Faithful Readers will know, in August we were in Puglia (see above forehead-concern photos), in September I had that little Alpine Yoga situation, and this weekend, Mark took me to Portugal for my birthday present.

STOP THE PRESS

It was all kept a secret, kind of, which suited me fine, because I am usually the one researching the flights, scouring for the best villa at the cheapest price, agonising over car rental as opposed to local taxis, wondering if the photos of the pool are fake, etc etc. This time, I was told to keep the weekend free, and that we would go somewhere, and that the kids were going to be farmed out. What a bloody dream it all was – although upon a bit of quizzing, there were gaps in the schedule which meant that no one was going to be looking after the dog or picking up the kids from school, so I had to pull rank and do a bit of last minute mama-control-freakery to plug those gaps which may have involved the Social Services/RSPCA. But mostly I just tagged along and hoped for sunshine.

So on Friday morning we got to Gatwick and I averted my eyes from the boarding passes – it wasn’t until we were actually boarding the plane that someone said

something something something FARO something something” and then I knew we were off to the Algarve. It might have also been a surprise for Mark – he’d been telling everyone that we were going to the Amalfi Coast – so who knows *quite* what was going on there. Amalfi, Algarve – it’s all a bit ‘letter A’, isn’t it? Anyway, it all comes highly recommended for feeling better about becoming old.

Where to? Where could we possibly be going to? There are many places that start with ‘A’:

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This is the marina at Vilamoura. Mark is battling a Screaming Orgasm. I am not:

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So Portugal is quite full of seafood. This isn’t great for someone seafood phobic:

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Thank the Portuguese saints for these then! Pastels de nada! Properly cinnamony and about 1 euro:

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This is us after we discovered you could flee the Hilton complex;

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And little half-sized bottle of vinho verde – what a gift to give to the world, Portugal!

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Have more than one celebration

In early summer, as I was moaning to a friend about becoming 40, she told me that there was a surefire way to overcome the anguish – in her case, it was to throw THREE PARTIES. She said that by the third, you are so bored by it all, and used to the idea, that you don’t really care any more. This, I think, is very smart. I had one party, but with the mystery weekend away, it felt like three parties. My party was on a Tuesday night, and the invite email was a bit off-hand, like:

‘If you want to, please come over for some food and drinks for my birthday. But you don’t have to come, you really don’t. It’s a Tuesday, everyone’s probably busy. I understand. Don’t worry, really.’

Now, this works as a kind of reverse psychology. Everyone thinks – yeah, ok, maybe – we will see how we go. Then, at 6pm on a Tuesday, they think, ah well, it won’t hurt to pop in, will it? And 56 people turn up to eat salted beef/ham/lamb with warm ciabatta, kale salad, aubergines with tahini, tomato and pomegranate salad, cheeses, chocolate mousse and a cake made by Honey & Co, bought by your wee mate Amanda. I wore a golden frock that was said to be the most beautiful altar curtain anyone had ever seen:

Also, my arms look very pumped in that first photo, and I would like to say that this is how they look, but it was just a marvellous (birthday presenty) trick of the light.

Collagen

Collagen would be the best present for a newly 40 year old, because it leaves your face and neck, slowly but surely, to sink down, down, down into the earth from whence we all came. It is why my face and shrivel neck is beginning to look so droopy:

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Droopy like a well-made-but-seen-better-days weather-beaten house from the late 70’s that has been in the rain and the wind and the sun a little too much, and things are bulging and sagging because no one bothers with maintenance and repair. The kind of house that has rusted stuff on the front lawn and no real garden. Come back, cheeks! Neck, please stop that crepey thing you do!

So I invested in a derma roller – one of those tiny things that look like Decorator Barbie would use to roll paint onto her DreamHouse – but with added needles. I had a conversation with one of my yoga buddies who said she goes to a lady to get it done, where the skin gets pierced a bit, bleeds a bit, then the skin repairs itself by flooding with collagen. Though it sounded a bit gross, I ordered one on Amazon because I am a little bit cheap. After intensive use, I now look like this:

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I also discovered that Otis was using it to make tiny holes in the bathroom wall, which annoyed me greatly. So my poor little pock-marked skin now has tiny flecks of paint embedded in it. But…collagen! I’ll take a bit of accidental Dulux for the soft pillowy-ness of a frightening baby!

So anyway, it’s all over and I won’t go on about being 40 any more. I’ll find something else to whinge about. But not about my lovely friends, or my most excellent husband who listened and who planned and who cooked and who tried his best to make me happy on my birthday. And that, frankly, is present enough in itself (although Portugal *was* a good call).

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