Tuesday, 25 September 2012

I Think We're Alone Now

It's definitely just the
two of us here - right?
First Harry, then Kate and William, and now The Queen.  You think 'what goes on tour, stays on tour' and your mates take a picture of you with your tadger out and send it to everyone.  You think that you're on a private balcony and someone takes a photo with a long lens and sells it to the papers.  You think you're having a private conversation and it gets reported.

What a nightmare it must be.  Imagine that you can't enjoy the sun on your skin or perhaps feel a little frisky in the sun with your loved one without someone desperate to take a photo and make money out of it.  Imagine not feeling totally sure that your conversation is not going to be shared with the rest of the world.  I was going to say imagine not being able to get your tackle out for the enjoyment of your mates but I don't feel I'm qualified to comment on how wonderful that appears to feel for vast swathes of men.  The stories I have heard from friends who played club cricket and rugby about how waving your willy about, or tucking it between your legs, for the entertainment of others is so marvellously amusing still mystify me.....  Instead I would say imagine not being able to enjoy a night out without fear of it being broadcast to a waiting world.

We are all at risk of this to a much lesser degree - most of us probably have pictures published on Facebook that we'd rather the world didn't see, have said things that have gone on to be told to others that we would have preferred to keep private, or have been caught out in more - ahem - intimate moments (see The Sound Of.....).  

The guidance to avoid all of this of course is to not do anything that could possibly get us into trouble or be misconstrued.  Therefore Kate and William should not be a young couple on holiday, Harry not a bloke having a laugh with his mates and the Queen should not ask a question.  

I'm not a subscriber to 'Majesty Magazine', but I do imagine what this must feel like for them as people.  Watching what has gone on over the past few weeks has made me very grateful for the freedom to cock-up, trip-over, and have fun that I have.  I intend to do more of it.

Soundtrack: I Think We're Alone Now - Tiffany (you need to watch this video!)

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Who you Gonna Call?

Would you mind awfully picking my children up?
I've glued a massive phone to my head.
When I was 18, I packed my belongings into my Auntie's car (she of the 'The Future's Orange' post) and she transported me a couple of miles away to where I was to rent a room in a big house.  Oh the freedom, the excitement, the being skint because all of my wages went on rent and the train fare to Reading.  It was pants, and walking two miles to ask my mum for a week's supply of baked beans was a joke so I decided that I would move  to the town that is almost a city (you've got to admire the optimism of Reading Borough Council who have decreed that the buses shall say 'city' in the belief that one day the Queen will bestow that honour).

Anyhow, to Reading I went and if I thought that living in a rented room two miles from home was bad then living 25 miles away was in many regards worse.  I had more money but I was now a long way from my family and the friends that I had grown up with. I didn't bump into people I knew any more, we didn't have mobile phones and so, as often happens, we started to lose touch.  I regularly went back 'home' for full-on weekends of merriment which made the weeks feel even more lonely.  It was during that period that I realised that making truly good friends (you know, the ones you can call at 2am through a haze of tears and snot and they wouldn't disown you) takes a lot of time and shared history.

Happily I stuck it out, more of those friendships came (and still endure), and it's because of that move that I met my husband so I have much to thank my teenage determination for.  It also meant that I came to value those good friendships even more.

What is interesting to me now is how this works when you are a parent without those strong friendships in place where you live.  For many of the parents at my daughter's school, this village is the second or third place we've lived so lots of us are away from the traditional friend and family networks we may have enjoyed if we'd stayed where we were born.  What was so lovely when my daughter started school was that within the first term phone numbers were exchanged in case anyone needed a hand in an emergency.  We all knew how stressful things can become when you're trying to run a family, manage your career and make an attempt at a social life.  We all understood that mornings do not run smoothly and that the A34 is a magnet for jack-knifed lorries that prevent us from making pick-up.  We all appreciated that not everyone can make time for sports day / harvest festival / assembly.  I have been the person to take the "Sh*t! I'm stuck in a 12 mile traffic jam, can you pick my kids up please?" call and I have been the person that has made it.  

Whether deepest, closest friends or not much more than acquaintances, everyone is up for helping each other out at a moment's notice when it comes to the children and that has an incredibly positive impact on everyone's experience of school.  There are no tallys to be kept or expected favours - it's just how the village works.  As long as we remember the right number to call when drunk and emotional and feeling like someone to talk to....... 

Soundtrack: Ghostbusters by Ray Parker Jr.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Things we do for Love

Nothing will put me off finishing one of these
We are at lunch one Sunday.  There's me, my husband, the two kiddlies (aged 4 and 2 at the time) and our friends with their little boy who's 6 months old.  We are chatting, reminiscing, laughing at how our life stages can be mapped by the changes to the ways in which we socialise together.

Singletons: Pub straight after work then out clubbing until someone realises that it is the next day, we're still in yesterday's clothes, and we really ought to go home.
Established / Married Couples: Pub, followed by a restaurant, then back to someone's for more drinks until someone remembers that sleeping on the floor is really bloody uncomfortable and that we have got a comfy bed at home.
Babies: Sunday lunch.  Sod the pub, we're too tired and can't find a babysitter. 

We elected to eat at our friends house this time as while taking a baby to a pub can work, taking mobile, extremely noisy children is a risky and expensive business.  That, and our friends had access to CBeebies, which is guaranteed to buy you at least 30 minutes of peace to try to vaguely catch up on each other's lives.

The dinner is delish and the children are behaving nicely.  It feels civilised, relaxed, really enjoyable.  And then the baby pukes all over his highchair, down himself, and a little bit onto his dad's sleeve.  Forks are lowered, conversation stops.  Nobody puts food in their mouth for we are in the presence of hot baby sick.  

Dad picks his son up, wipes him clean, cleans the highchair, wipes his sleeve and we all carry on eating.  Parenting makes you properly hardcore like that.  No expulsion, explosion, stink or stench stops a meal for longer than it takes to clean up said mess.

We eat some more, laugh some more and agree that we have to do some pretty grim things as part of loving and caring for our children.  And then, just as we've started on the pudding, my son's voice comes loud and clear from the downstairs loo:  "Mu-um, I've fi-niiiiiiiished."  I sigh, put down my spoon and head to my smelly destiny.   Now that's love.


Soundtrack: The Things we do for Love - 10cc

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Not Forgotten

Last year I went to the funeral of a friend who had died, suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving behind three beautiful young children, a heartbroken husband and countless friends who struggled to believe that she was no longer there.  At the service her husband and children showed incredible strength as they told us about her life, how rich she had made their lives and how positively she touched the people around her.  It was a humbling experience.  

As part of the service, each of us had been given a card to write down our memories of her for the family to keep as a tribute.  It caused us all to reflect on our shared histories, the great times that we'd had, and in writing them down, we turned them into a permanent record.  When speaking to her husband a few months later, he said that these cards, and the letters that he had received from friends that spoke of picnics, pub trips, chaotic days out with the children and dancing on chairs to 'Sunshine Mountain', had brought him great comfort and some happiness because it proved what he always knew.  His wife was beautiful, kind hearted, fun-loving, thoughtful and someone that will never be forgotten.  These letters and cards will help the children know more about their mum, give them an insight into the girl and woman that she was, and hopefully along the way provide them with stories that they find hilarious, awe-inspiring and comforting.   

I hadn't appreciated the impact of this type of remembrance until very recently.  After putting a picture of my dad in the previous blog post, a friend left a comment on my Facebook page that read "Bless your dad Toni...so remember him xx".  It's just seven words, but they made my day.  22 years on, that acknowledgement of his life is still a meaningful and powerful thing.  So if you know somebody that has lost someone they love - let them know that you remember too.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Will you Recognise me?

Wise words indeed!
How often do you get a 'thank you' for doing the hoovering?  The washing?  Changing the beds?  

A friend of mine refers to these domestic tasks as the 'silent' jobs.  The boring, necessary stuff that has to happen to make a household run but for which you rarely get a 'thank you'.  In most instances it doesn't matter and expecting a round of applause for cleaning the barbeque is taking it a bit far.  But how about for doing the lion's share of bringing up the children?  Surely that's worthy of major recognition.

At work, unless you have a particularly disengaged boss, or your customers are never happy, you're likely to be thanked or rewarded on a fairly regular basis (see 'Paid in Full' for more on that topic).  If you've made (or are planning to make) the switch from working full-time to being at home with the children full-time then this is a significant change and one that I hadn't given any thought to before going on my first period of maternity leave.

Going from an environment where you are encouraged to pursue plaudits and are paid based on your performance, to one where you do something that is arguably more significant but receives less overt recognition is very difficult and wasn't something that was mentioned during the ante-natal classes that I attended.  I think it should be.

It is viewed as the 'right thing to do' to see parents as entirely equal in the upbringing of their children but it would be fairer (and more accurate) to say that the one who stays at home / is at home more, should be given greater credit.  It is a brave man or woman who says to their wife or husband that they have had more influence on the development of their children, but you would never get such daintiness were it two colleagues discussing who had contributed more to a particular project.

Someone who got it right is a very enlightened friend of mine; Nicky.  She saw this coming as she left a successful sales job to have her daughter, and planned to take at least a year off.  She explained to her husband that if he wanted a happy wife, then he needed to make sure he recognised her efforts and achievements, and acknowledged that what she did was just as valid as him dedicating his day to generating the household income.  The net result was as well as the joy that comes with being so involved in your child's early years, she also received acknowledgement and reassurance from the person that she loves that she was (and still is!) doing a brilliant job.

I thought this was such a smart thing to do, and not something that should be restricted to people that are leaving, or putting on hold, a big career.  I think it should be discussed amongst all parents and potential parents.  Our children don't morph into the fantastical people that they become on their own; so why aren't we patting ourselves, and each other, on the back more often?
Soundtrack: Taken from 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' by Simple Minds

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Kids are Alright

I'm on the left, rocking the 90's 'baggy' look.
On the swings.  Not cool.
Sullen, unruly, unpredictable, disrespectful, angry, smelly, noisy, reckless.  Full of rage, passion, wanting everything for nothing but most of all wanting to be LEFT ALONE!  Ah the life of a teenager.   Tricky years for everyone involved and I did apologise to my mum for mine.  She said "It's ok, I knew you'd get it out of your system eventually."  One very forgiving mother.  

Confidence boosted, I apologised to a teacher at our official 10-Year school reunion as it had occurred to me that I might not have been a joy to teach.  Her reply was "It's a bit late for that."  In hindsight, I think she was biting her tongue and just about resisting the urge to put me in a headlock and knuckle-rub my scalp for being such a pain in the arse.  Sorry (again) Mrs C and the rest of the teaching staff for my conduct during those final two years.

But hang on a minute, this is in defence of teenagers and so what I really want to say is this: 

For all of the above, and for the graffiti, shouting, swearing, pocketing of Mars Bars, staying out all night, lying about where you are / have been / are going, failing to call home, hanging about on the street with your mates and the poor choice of boyfriends / girlfriends / clothes - "Call that a skirt?!!".  For all the under-age drinking, smoking and for all the stuff you would rather not know about I do know this:

As a teenager, despite stating loudly (and frequently) "I'm fine", I remember being pretty ill-equipped to deal with some of the 'grown up shit' that tends to happen in life like serious illness, death, disability, and having to decide precisely what I was going to do once free of school, so my outlet was sometimes at odds with what most people would deem as 'acceptable' behaviour. 

But eventually, like most of my friends, I worked it out, grew up, moved on, and hoped that nobody took photos of the really embarrassing stuff (I am forever grateful that my generation enjoyed its youth before the advent of phones with cameras, and the only people that took pictures were the ones interested in photography - lovely composition on that pic Stacey!).  

It is easy to criticise the behaviour of teenagers, to look down on them and to conveniently gloss over our own misspent youth.  For those who did just that to the group of teenagers I was part of, I hope they would be pleased to know we have grown up to become artists, teachers, photographers, housing officers, fundraisers, chefs, business owners, volunteers, and parents that would, and do, set their own needs aside for those of their children.  It was just a phase and we did alright in the end.

I have quite a few years to go until I have the 'pleasure' of being a parent to teenage children, but I hope that when the time comes I will be mindful of my own journey in supporting them to make theirs.  That, and that they're model teen's who do the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, play music that I like, and never get into trouble.  If not, I'd better brace myself.....

Soundtrack: Today's title is inspired by The Kids are Alright by The Who

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Everyone's a Winner Baby

What I'd like to win

Here are the things I have won in my life so far:

1. An oven-ready chicken, at the Wellington Social Club, for telling the following joke when I was eight:

"How do you make a snooker table laugh?....Put your hand down its pocket and tickle its balls."  A bit saucy for an eight year old perhaps, but whether out of genuine mirth or shock, the audience applauded heartily.

What I actually won
2. A crate of small bottles of Corona lemonade, also at the 'Welly' and also when I was eight, for dancing to the Can-Can by Bad Manners.  Winning two prizes in one afternoon led to cries of "Fix!!!" which is par for the course at a local social club.  If you've ever been in such a place when someone has won more than two prizes in a meat raffle, especially if they're not a member, you'll know what I mean.

3. Tickets to watch England vs Cameroon at Wembley by ringing the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show and guessing correctly whether it was Mrs Merton or Stavros who would choose the items she read to me off a list - a strange and yet fruitful 5 minutes!

and that's it....but there might be one more.

As you'll know I'm in the final twelve of the Cosmo Blog Awards 2012 in the Next sponsored Best Newcomer Category.  The awards date has been set for 4th October in London and so begins my quest to find a fabulous outfit and try not to gnaw my fingernails into a ragged mess.  My head swims at the thought of the opportunities that winning might present and much as I try not to be carried away there is nothing I'd like more than to grab that trophy on the night.

But even if I don't, and even if I momentarily feel crushing defeat and foolish at dreaming I could win (I am so optimistic that I used 'what if I actually won' as a means to get me round the Reading Half Marathon....) I will remember the following things about this past few months:

* Opportunities that I wouldn't have thought existed for me have become available

* I have met some brilliant people that I am excited about getting to know and spending more time with

* It's brought me back into touch with old friends

* I have made my mum proud

Add that to the fact that my children tell their friends that 'mummy is a writer' and I already feel like a winner - but just in case you're reading this lovely Cosmo & Next judging panel, I'd still like that prize :)

Sleevenotes:  Today's title song is, of course:  Everyone's a Winner by Hot Chocolate