Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Sound of .............

These gentlemen have all got the horn
This week the sunshine has put in a proper appearance and brought happiness in many forms; children leaping into paddling pools or with hands held high like little chimps as mummy and daddy help them take their first steps into the sea, and everyone consuming more ice cream than seems sensible.  The evening light becomes magical to run and cycle in, and convertible owners have 'got their tops off' to treat themselves to the sun on their shoulders, and pedestrians to the benefit of their musical tastes.   Note to the gentleman in the Volvo C70 driving through the village:  'Lady in Red' does not count as a summer song.

The weather has also meant Al Fresco dining, cheeky early evening drinks at the pub and noise....lots of noise.

Some of the noise is welcome, like the sound of children playing, cockerels crowing, lawn mowers and the like, but some of it is less so.  The conversation between the builders at the bottom of our road is very funny for me, but I don't necessarily want the children to hear that by the time 'Dave' has 'finished the xxxxing chimney' someone 'will have already moved in and lit a fire at the bottom of it'.

On particularly fine evenings we have quad bikes steaming past our house and up towards the Ridgeway.  After the initial trip down memory lane to holidays spent zipping around the Greek islands on a scooter, it becomes very annoying and keeps us awake.  Then it stops and just as you are about to fall asleep a mosquito sets up a one-man-band next to your ear - how can something so miniscule be so loud?!

This however was put into perspective by a friend who posted on Facebook that he was being included in his neighbour's bedroom antics by virtue of them flinging open the windows to let some air in whilst forgetting that it also let her yodelling all the way out of their window, down the road, and into other people's houses.  She was evidently enjoying herself or was perhaps, we speculated, under the tuition of a vocal coach seeking to eke out her inner Mariah Carey.   Much online hilarity ensued with suggestions that they should be given some competition or a hearty round of applause when it ended or perhaps everyone on the thread should feel inspired to shut down their computer and find their loved one.  It's good to know your neighbours are still getting their rocks off but you don't neccessarily want the aural proof slipping through your window and into the lounge (or, as it sounded in this instance, slamming your front door open, charging down the hall, and rattling the glassware).

Funny as it was to read about my friend's noisy interlude, I realised two things.

1: I was glad the only noise I had to contend with that evening was my neighbour's children shouting with delight as you do when you're 9 and allowed to stay up late.

2: I can live with the quad bikes.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Absolutely Flawless

Here are some things that, to the best of my knowledge, the skin around my eyes has not been responsible for (and no, I'm not going to explain the dog yet):

  • Passing my driving test
  • Securing our mortgage
  • Prompting my move from employee to freelancer
  • Our decision to get married
  • Brilliant moments with lifelong friends
I know this, but spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about what I can do to reduce the appearance of the 'sunburst' that emanates from around my eyes and is somewhat disturbingly working its way outwards until it reaches my hairline or falls of the edge of my jaw.

Given the amount that I smile and the extent to which these lines appear throughout my family, this is a ridiculous thought; I am genetically predisposed to have them.  It's not going to get any better either so why the hell am I worrying about it now?  Perhaps instead I should be looking forward to 30 years time when I will be able to use origami techniques to fold my face into new and interesting shapes!

It is a vain and fruitless worry and yet so many smart women are equally concerned with their breasts, legs, bottoms, necks, hands.....  We are too wobbly, wrinkly, not brown enough or pouty enough to make it in today's world and don't get me started on hair (check out this post for more on that topic).  Why else would such a massive beauty industry exist without these insecurities and what on earth are they going to focus on next?  Our elbows?

Don't get me wrong - I love wearing make up and being pampered at the spa, but ads that focus on 'turning back the clock' or preventing the march of nature on a woman's body unsettle me.  These help reinforce the view that women must not appear older than 25 and if your body changes after having children you have 'failed'.  So we spend time and more money per ounce for some products than you would for gold chasing a version of perfection that can't be achieved.  Brilliant, clever women worrying about something that is not within their power to change unless you're up for a lifetime of tweaks, nips and tucks until you finally give in to the realisation that no surgery or technology is going to make you look convincingly the same as a dewy skinned teenager.  

The weird thing is that we do this to ourselves but generally not those that we care about.  When was the last time you didn't accept a phone call from a friend on the basis that one of her boobs is a bit bigger than the other or she can no longer balance a tea tray on her booty?  We see the people we love for who they are; their achievements and idiosyncrasies, the things that delight us about them and those that make them bloody annoying.  We engage with them on the basis of their minds and spirit - not how physically 'flawless' they are.

And this is where the dog comes in.  If, like me, you find yourself wavering when it comes to accepting the things about yourself that you cannot change, just take a look at my friend's puppy - Lily.  Living proof that you can have wrinkles and be gorgeous!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Love is Contagious

After the Olympic torch relay tweet mentioned in No Sex Please, a few people have asked me what prompted it, so here goes.

I was waiting with the children at a mini-roundabout by the Travelodge in Newbury (glamorous - n'est ce pas?), for the spectacle to arrive.  We'd chosen the spot because a group of people had set up camp there hours earlier so we reckoned it must be a good viewing place.  Not for nothing do people risk catching their fingers in collapsible seating, fill flasks and don kagouls....  As we waited, a lovely couple explained that everyone was there for one torch bearer - Emma Cope, a  16 year old local girl who had chosen to respond to her incurable kidney disease by fundraising for research.  Her current total stands just shy of £38,000 and people were looking forward to publicly celebrating her incredible achievement.

The crowd got deeper and whilst I usually pride myself on my strength:size ratio, I couldn't lift both of my children at once without risking injury to one or all of us, and was struggling to give them a good view.  This was picked up on by the 'lovely couple' who offered to move out of the way so the children could stand at the front.  This little display of generosity sparked further gestures as other members of Emma's party handed the children flags and braved the throngs of people reaching for giveaways to collect gymnastics ribbons and other goodies.

When Emma did arrive, her torch was not lit.  She had been dropped off to await the 'mother flame', and stood for a second like she had been teleported from another dimension  - wide-eyed in a space age tracksuit complete with mystical symbol (or golden cheesegrater, take your pick) in hand.  A moment later her mum raced to her side and hugged her, which made everyone hug each other, which made us all a bit teary eyed.

From having Thames Valley Police as a 'warm-up act' (I can't imagine I will see a policeman on a motorbike conduct a cheering competition then high-five spectators again), to the kindness of strangers, to a mother's hug setting everyone off it was a fantastic and memorable couple of hours of people being really happy together.  It had the flashing lights and whistles - all it would have needed was some techno and people massaging each others shoulders to have made it feel like a rave c.1991.  That and people off their faces - but it was the middle of the day in Newbury, so maybe like a rave held by a church group and the WI.  Anyway, I digress - back to the point:

The feeling seemed to permeate the whole of the town.  It even reached the man behind the voice that floated out of the parking payment machine - I had lost my ticket in the crowd and instead of charging me the £12 he should have for a lost ticket, he let me off.  The good vibes of that day must have been contagious, I hope that it lasts way beyond the end of the Olympics.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Because You're Worth it

Mmmm, shiny.....
It is about time that L'Oreal gave up on 'Because You're Worth it'.  Memorable strapline that it is, I do find it just the tiniest bit patronising.  For that reason, I would like to offer up an alternative to their view that all women want is glossy tresses and 'Volume Milllion' (what?!) eyelashes - even if they are rather nice.

This was prompted by the fantastic lunch that I had with a friend yesterday.  She is fun, feisty, and someone who can count photographer, film crew member, financial controller, horse-rider, graduate, artist and boxer among her many talents.  To that I would add adventuress, raconteur and mentor, someone I could happily discuss everything with from libraries to libido.  She also happens to be just over 10 years older than me but she is all of the above before her age.  As it goes, our conversation covered our own experiences as women, the right for girls to be properly educated, how to make sure you are paid what you are worth, and for women to have (and expect) boardroom and bedroom equality.

She is a strong, inspirational woman and someone that I am excited to have made a connection with as this could not have come at a better time for me.  I careered (quite literally) through my teenage years in a haze of cheap alcohol, dedicated my twenties and early thirties to pursuing a career with gusto whilst building a family and now, in my late 30's, am reaching for financial freedom and using my talents and abilities to benefit those around me in a more meaningful way.  You can try to do these things on your own but it works so much better if you have a great coach - where would Daniel-san have been without Mr Miyagi?  Billy Elliot without Mrs Wilkinson?  We need these people in our lives and we need to be them to other people on the way up.

I think that there are a lot of women of my generation who are seeking this.  Women who have achieved a degree of success at work but are finding it unfulfilling, or those who would like to be seen for who they are first and foremost rather than being defined solely as a mother.  Depending on what environment you were last in, or are still in, it can seem hard to get to know a woman who has achieved the things that you are seeking and could give you good advice on how to get there.   Don't feel too shy to ask a woman you admire for her help - without fail I have found that successful women will offer some of their time to help another woman find her version of success.  If you don't feel you have the opportunity to meet other women in your workplace or where you live, make the time to meet.  Find any excuse - coffee, bookclub, playdate, night on the tiles - whatever it is, bring people together.

We had a pub-based gathering recently of women in our village under the auspices of the fact we all have children at school.  It only takes a little bit of talking to get past the stuff about the kids and onto the real things - what people really want to do and what's frustrating them at work or at home, which then brings out what we might be able to offer one another.  There was a rich pool of interesting and talented women, right there, and hopefully some connections have been made which means that we can start to help each other out, outside of the school run.  That is if we can remember all the things we spoke about....there was a lot of wine...

This is not to say that I am anti-men.  Completely the opposite, I am a big believer when it comes to our menfolk, a 'man-fan' if you like, but I do think that there is a lack of support for us ladies and it needs to start with us - we have to make sure we're helping each other and I am grateful to have found some inspirational women who have helped me so far, and some who will help me navigate this next chapter in my life.

So L'Oreal, with your lovely, shiny-haired ladies, thank you for paying Cheryl Cole enormous amounts of money to tell us that we're worth the £6.49 that it costs for your hair dye but I happen to think we women are worth one hell of a lot more.

Postcript:  Whilst you're summoning up the courage to speak to the female VP of Sales or the time to arrange a drinks night for the mums, you might be interested in the following:
Worth every (money) penny! - A brilliant, practical, guide to combining motherhood with a fulfilling career; written by a woman who has done just that.  It also has the best closing line of any book I have ever read.  Thank you Mrs Moneypenny! - Reading 'How to be a Woman' gave me the kick up the arse I needed to get writing properly. - Jessica Hagy manages to combine words and pictures to inspirational effect.

Monday, 16 July 2012

We Don't Need No Education?

Our daughter is about to finish her second year of Primary school and we are in awe of what the teachers have helped her to achieve.  There are so many moments that we want to wrap up and hold on to: stories written with the most hilarious spellings (and mostly involving wolves having their stomachs cut open to allow villagers to escape...), drawings of us all holding hands and early attempts at times tables.  She is in her element and we are loving watching her learn.  This is rubbing off on our son - he loves the fact he has 'lessons' at pre-school and can't wait to join his sister so that he can have his own book bag and uniform.

In my last years at senior school it would be fair to say that I didn't care too much for education.  I left with a couple of A's but also a couple of F's and a few other letters inbetween.  I started work on my 16th birthday in a fruit and veg shop that paid £68 a week cash in hand.  I thought I was loaded and very much enjoyed attempting to pay for half a lager & lime with a £50 note at the local pub.  The landlord did not share my hilarity but liked the money me and my friends brought in so we were tolerated.   It didn't take long however for me to realise that spending my days in a green and white tabard serving bananas to bodybuilders and potatoes to pensioners was not going to get me very far.  This was further underlined by friends popping in during my shift and bellowing "Have you got any caulies?!" much to the dismay of my manager.  There's nothing like shrieking 16 year olds to scare away the high-spending old ladies.
BCoT and its beautiful, big purple sign!

So I enrolled at college where I was completely won over.  Not only could I choose subjects based on what I thought I'd like to study but you were also allowed to call the teachers by their first names - winner.  The most important thing for me though was that it gave me a chance to enjoy learning again.  Sitting in a class with a group of people who have chosen to attend is a very different sensation to being in a class 'because you have to'.  There was a slight hiccup though, in that having completed my 'A' Levels (and re-sat my Maths GCSE), I asked the careers advisor what I could do next.  Her response was 'you can apply for university'.  This was not an option as I needed to earn some money but fortunately she enrolled me on a secretarial course where I learned how to turn up on time and touch-type and before the end of the first year I had my first 'proper' job.

Because of the teachers at Basingstoke College of Technology, I rediscovered the pleasure of learning, and gained practical skills that set me on a path to opportunities and experiences I couldn't have imagined as a sullen 16 year old.  I thank them for setting me right.

Our children are at the very beginning of their journey.  I know that there will be ups and downs in their time at school, and whether they choose to become academics or apprentices, roofers or rockstars, I will work my hardest to keep and encourage the love of learning that they have today for the rest of their lives.

Friday, 13 July 2012

No Sex Please.....

One of my tweets appeared on South Today recently.  Oh yes, I am a legend in my mother's living room.  It was celebrating the kindness of a couple who let my children stand in front of them at the Olympic Torch relay so they could really enjoy taking part in a moment of history rather than being stuck behind a load of grown-ups.  Lovely.

I had a couple of messages from friends amused that they had seen me, but also something that I wasn't expecting - a return tweet from a woman who for some reason thought I would be interested in her breasts.  I am unsure quite how the hashtags #newbury and #generosity translated into #getyert*tsout, but for her it did, and so she thought it would be fine to drop me a line.  I blocked her and thought no more of it, but then a follower of hers who was particularly frank about what parts of a woman he likes to see tried to follow me. Blocked and reported.

Porn is of course no new thing - if you want to acquire some there are plenty of ways to get your hands on it...ahem...but what has started happening more and more is that porn can now come looking for you whether you're interested or not.  Now I am no prude and can hit the 'delete' button with the speed of a touch typist but I do take issue with cyber-genitals getting between me and whatever else it is I'm trying to do.   It is one thing to receive a Blue X Event email from Debenhams when you're eating a ham sandwich, quite another to get a Triple-X tweet - put me right off!

So for now, if they look even remotely dodgy (41 Followers 13000 Following, being called '@ChestyMcSlaptickle' etc...)  I'm not going to look through their tweet history and I will cross my fingers that I stay off the local news radar from now on!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Dance Little Sister

My Dancing Shoes
I have a little sister.  Well when I say 'little', she is 19, but that's 18 years younger than I am.  Which makes her little.  To me.

Having a sister so much younger than me is not only a great way to keep vaguely connected with fashion (which I wore 20 years ago - tribal prints anyone?) and music (I can't go there without sounding like my mum) but it also makes me consider what I might have wished I knew before embarking on some of my more 'interesting' teenage adventures.

Of course, my sister does not wish for me to give her advice because that would be, like, majorly embarrassing.  So instead, here are the things my teenage self would tell her, from one 19 year old to another (with just a little hindsight thrown in......). 

1. Dance, dance, and dance some more!  Go to clubs, gigs, festivals and house parties.  Throw yourself about with abandon and enjoy the agony that is your feet hurting from 3 hours on the dancefloor.  Get dizzy in the moshpit; it will leave you beer-soaked and exhausted but it is exhilirating.

2. Be your own person.  Trust your instincts and do what makes you happy, no one knows you better than you do, don't let other people make your decisions.  Be it on boys, what dress to wear or whether Dappy would win in a fight against Plan B - make the choice your own.   

3. Don't dumb down your life.  Is Kerry Katona's 'new body' really important to you?  Fancy spending your days watching people arguing about the paternity of their children?  I didn't think so.  Stop watching Jeremy Kyle and reading Heat magazine immediately.  

4. Dream big.  Make your ambitions massive ones, they will inspire you to achieve more.  That said, I did start out my first half marathon thinking "what if I won it?"  Now, that's just bloody ridiculous, of course I was never going to win but it did give me the boost I needed to get to the end.  After which I felt elated, then crippled and sick, and I cried because I couldn't find Mr K.  Sometimes getting what you want feels weird.  But that's not a reason not to do it - go after the big stuff!

5. Wear a bikini.  That flat stomach of yours is amazing, it won't look like that once your children have finished with it.

So that's it.  I'm sure there's more, but my 19 year old self is busy figuring out how she's going to get to a house party that's 10 miles away when she can't drive and has no money for a taxi.........

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Human Racing

There are no 'for best' trainers in our house...
Today I took part in a race across 9k of rain-soaked farmland.  It's part of our annual Village Fete and attracts a range of people from casual runners to athletes in training for big events.

At the start I saw a neighbour who is one of those athletes; super fit and frequently first in the races she takes part in. We had a chat during the warm up and she said that regardless of her placing, her main focus was to enjoy it.  It was exactly the pep-talk I needed to get into the mindset of finding fun in every sodden, boggy stride.

With the amount of club vests on display you could tell there were many people here trying to ace their Personal Best or secure a top 3 placing, but twice during the run, I saw people stop to check-up on fellow club members who had slowed or looked like they were in trouble.  Friendship had taken priority over finish time.

8k down with a hill climbed and a field of maize crossed in my waterlogged trainers (it was like being in a low budget horror film - running through waist-high crops with the sound of someone else's footsteps and heavy breathing behind you) a lady began to keep pace with me.  We ran together for most of the last 1k, keeping each other going, as by that point we were both bright red in the face and the 'tired legs' feeling had well and truly kicked in.  At the last 200m she put her hand on my shoulder and said "go on, off you go" - she knew I'd seen my children which had given me the extra boost required to sprint for the finish.

I spoke to her afterwards to say thank you, and to my surprised she thanked me for giving her a pace to aim for - she had been following me from the start.  It was great to think that in a race I had entered on my own, someone had been running 'with' me the whole way. 

During the time that it had taken me to complete the run (time tbc - but let's just say I won't be in the top 15%), I had seen in this competition kindness, compassion, friendship and acknowledgement of your fellow man.  It was truly a Human Race :)

Postscript: If you're wondering about my neighbour who took time out of her warm-up to motivate me - she did (of course) finish first! 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Labelled with Love?

So the Olympics is almost upon us and the excitement levels are ratcheting up every day as the clock counts down and the media coverage increases.  At our daughter's school the project for this term is, naturally, The Olympics and we've been having great fun completing and documenting mini sporting tasks and learning facts and figures about Team GB - I hadn't anticipated how much her homework would be a means for us to do things together so it is a welcome bonus!  In class they are being taught about the Olympic and Paralympic values of respect, excellence, friendship, courage, determination, inspiration and equality which is giving them a fantastic opportunity to tackle some fairly big and important subjects.

What I hadn't anticipated was a discussion that included the assertion that "Cerrie on CBeebies would be in the Paralympics because she is disabled".  I don't yet know in what context the word was introduced but it for me it is too early.

We have been CBeebies fans in our house for years and whilst the children have noticed that Cerrie has one hand, we have never called her disabled because the straightforward explanation that we are all made differently was enough.  My brother has Down's Syndrome and to date we have not discussed his condition with the children because they quite simply do not see a difference that is worth remarking on at this point in time.  The children just see their uncle and it had not occurred to me until recently how important it is for that to remain the case for as long as possible - unlike others, they view him without preconception or prejudice.

I understand that we need a common language to explain, organise, and make sense of things.  But now my daughter has a concept of difference that many people would term a 'label' and for what purpose?  This is something that we did not introduce and may not have been necessary for a little while yet.  So what to do?  We've decided to deal with the questions as they come, but for as long as we can, we'll be keeping our house label-free.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

All the Small Things

Why is choosing this so hard?!
Here are some things that have been the cause of bickering and exasperated cries in our house over the years: 

Leaving a light on
Not loading the dishwasher 'correctly'
Not replacing the toilet roll
Leaving clothes on the floor
Choosing wallpaper

Why is it that these inconsequential things can be the cause of such frustration?  How is it that a dropped plate can be the catalyst for actual tears?  Why does stubbing your toe provoke a response more suited to a footballer feigning an injury?

Sometimes the little things can cause big outbursts and being an emotional type who wants life to be an endless festival of amusing distractions, I know I am guilty of over-reacting and sometimes having unrealistic expectations.

Thankfully, however, I have great friends that are happy to discuss life without putting up a wall of pretence.  During a particularly fruitful wine-assisted conversation we gave each other a good talking to on the fact that if you're in agreement on the massive stuff like marriage and raising the children then in the grand scheme of things the occasional expression of annoyance really is small fry.  It would be unrealistic to expect to live with the same person for the rest of your life without ever having raised your voice or disagreed about who's turn it is to put the bins out.  

So whilst one of us buying the 'wrong' type of crisps or forgetting to put Parent's Evening on the calendar may still cause a childish outburst or an 'argh!' of frustration I will take it in context and move on.  I will try not to sweat the small stuff.