2011

January Begin Blogging 

Last week a friend of mine was told she was most likely dying. Not dying in some long distance,” fuck off, teenage child” kind of fashion but rather dying in the “we can see a large lesion on your lungs” cancer kind of fashion.

She’s fifty years old.

And all I can think of are eulogies. She isn’t dead yet. She may not even have cancer (though a 70% chance makes it unlikely that she doesn’t). Doctors do get it wrong don’t they? And though I know lung cancer is brutally quick. And if it’s a secondary cancer then probably even quicker… When did I learn so much about cancer?

She has a 17 year old boy and a 12 year old girl. My God, what happens now? All I can think about are things to say at a funeral, markers for a life not yet lived.

My friend likes to talk, to chat, never ending words that sparkle and spill from her mind. There’s never any silence, any still quiet space with her, almost as if her mind is working too quickly, burning her up, burning her out. But now she doesn’t want to talk. She wants quiet. She wants it all to go away. We swap text messages: a very modern grieving process. Inadequate.

I miss my friend. I’m thinking of what to say when we meet, wondering when we’ll meet and wishing it all a long way away. Not her. The cancer.

What do you tell your children when you think that you’re going to die? What can you leave behind to hold them, protect them, keep them safe from the world? We all need somewhere safe to be brave from, a place where we will always be loved. What if you can’t be that place for your baby any more. And they are always your baby. Always. Let’s not fool ourselves that when they grow up, they can look after themselves. You will always throw yourself infront of the bus for them. You will never watch them suffer and not wish it down on yourself in their place.

You tell them that you love them. You tell them why.  Who will pick them up and wipe their tears away when you’re gone.

And at the back of my mind, at the end of all of these tears for my friend is the fear. Who will love my baby when I’m gone? Who will hold them close and cherish them?

Pet Hazard

My cat is sick, not to mention very smelly. As I type, she’s hiding under the bed wheezing and sneezing and stinking to high heaven. Reeky cat.

Of my two first babies, the youngest Min Cat has always been a bit of a disaster. They came from the RSPCA Mayhew centre and were a little older than reasonable for kittens. At 12 weeks they had been abandoned and were rescued from a house of neglect. I chose 2 ginger queens from a litter of ginger cats (unusual) and the guy had to use gauntlets to get them out. Max came out relatively easily and was probably the first cat in the litter. Min was dragged out spitting.

Max has always been the fat calm cat, sleeping beside me as I type. Her sister has been nervous and twitchy forever. About ten years ago she caught kennel cough from a cattery/kennels and since we’ve kept them home. Every year since she catches a cold or flu either at the beginning or end of Winter.

She started looking manky about Wednesday but I’ve waited until my lover came home to try to catch her and get her to the vet. She wouldn’t come into the house on Staurday so we had to wait until Sunday and pay the vet’s premium accordingly. She has problems breathing but doesn’t have a temperature. The vet gave her three or four injections, antibiotics, anti-inflamatories, decongestions etc. She still looks rough but at least we have some comfort that she isn’t dying. We need to wait and see how she recovers over the next 24 – 48 hours, keeping her fed and watered as we go.

The bigger question is how much money and effort should we put in to keeping an elderly, smelly cat alive. Add into the mix, a tendancy to pee and poop around the house if allowed and we’re coming to the stage of transfer onto a “do not resuscitate” listing.

We’re already clear now that we won’t ask for tests for terminal illnesses but only test for things that can be fixed. All else will be treated on a symptomatic basis. The last serious illness cost us more than £3000 because of the vet suggesting (and us ignorantly accepting) the idea of tests for all sorts of things only to find that normal run of the mill antibiotics eventually worked.

We don’t have health insurance for the cats and overall I think it’s probably proved financially the right decision. Vets work on the basis of insurance and a customer base who won’t question the cost. I begin to understand how healthcare costs in America have spiralled out of control.

February

Beloved

I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you.

When you were born, the world was silent, waiting.

You looked around, not quite understanding this bright, brash place that had suddenly appeared. I love your curiosity, your ability to live in the moment to hold no regrets on what has passed. And though as you grow older, regrets may appear, I hope that you will never be overwhelmed by them. Looking forwards and outwards is a gift. I have never been able to quite let go of my mistakes. I would wish for you to have the ability to learn and move on.

We waited to discover you, born for us to cherish not to bind. How surprisingly complete you were. Every year since you have simply become more and more the person that you were meant to be. Where mistakes were made, it was always where we tried to change you. Never try to be anyone other than yourself. You are the perfect you. It takes time to work out who we are meant to be, our strengths and challenges, but it is time well spent. Value yourself highly and require others to value you also. You are special.  Sharing my life with you has been a gift: I have always loved you.

I love your competence, your ability to get things done with focus and drive. You have a stoicism, an ability to get on with life, however it changes and whatever is demanded.Life is so rarely perfect and people never so. As I grow older, I find that it is the imperfections in people that make them more interesting, more sympathetic, even more beautiful. This continual striving for physical perfection, the cult of youth seems to be built on a false premise. Life is a zero sum game. We all die, even the beautiful and most sadly the young.

You will not remember me because I am beautiful: I’m not. Remember me because I held you when you cried and wiped away your tears. Remember my temper and my passion. Remember that I tried. Allow yourself to be less than perfect, to be good-enough. Try your best to live your life to the full, to enjoy the journey.

You are beautiful. You have green eyes that change with your temper. Calm grey green or dark and stormy. You are too slender. I worry. Mothers always do. Thank you for being kind and not picking those battles too often. Your smile lights up my world and makes it a better place.

You get so indignant when challenged. Do try to be honest in your dealings with people. Try to be fair. You are a good person and that carries a responsibility. The burden of regret for succesful cheating is heavier than regrets for honest failures. You won’t believe me but it remains true. Trust lost is difficult to regain. I know that you fear failure. Sometime soon, you will find something that can’t be done, some challenge that despite your intellect and hard work cannot be met. Life will go on. A new day will arrive and you will still be loved. Find another way or find another challenge, only you can decide which.

I love your cleverness, the way you think quick and hard. When you grow, you will soften just a little. Take some time to enjoy being smart, to enjoy the new discoveries that life will bring you. Find something or someone to share your delight with because life however clever should never be spent alone.

I trust that in God’s mercy there is a place for me when I am gone from here. I will look for you. My arms will be around you, holding you through the long nights. In your memories, in the strength of your character and the gentleness of your heart, you will find me loving you.

I will always love you.

Success

“Daddy, how can I be a success? What can I do to keep it going? You started with nothing but you’ve made something. You’re a success. Compared to your brothers and sisters you’ve done well. Uncle J is a fireman. That’s great and all but he isn’t as successful as you…”

 

Is being a success just about money? Is it enough to be happy, to be content with one’s life. Isn’t success more about doing a useful job? Saving lives should be worth so much more than saving money.

What do we tell our children is important in life and despite what we say, what message do we give them through the lives we choose to lead. Is it our fault that bankers earn more than priests?

I should but I don’t want my children to be priests or social workers or a thousand other worthwhile but under-valued professions. I can’t even say I’d be keen on a hairdresser in the family and that’s despite spending thousands on cuts and blows over the years. I want them to be safe.

How do I tell them that my own fears and repressions shouldn’t stop them living their lives for better reasons.

My friend who is very wise tells me that being rich equals  being able to walk into John Lewis and order a replacement the moment something breaks, without worry or stress. Something is needed. Something is bought. It’s a good definition. It’s the reference to John Lewis that makes me laugh.

My daughters don’t think we’re rich. We live in a semi not a castle. We go to holiday in Wales not the Caribbean. We don’t ski. We drive a twelve year old Saab. The odd trip to strange a far-flung places (Bhutan, Laos) are just what people do when the cottage in Wales is booked up. The private schools are full of people much wealthier and also much poorer (but smarter obviously). Everyone is middle-class these days.

How do I explain that just holding my investments steady  has earned more than most families will see in an average year, for no reason, with no skill or innate virtue. How do I explain that Daddy doesn’t begrudge the extra tax because Daddy takes home more money than all four brothers and sisters put together.  Given these facts, how can I explain that success is about more than money without sounding ridiculous or condescending. Do I even believe that it is true?

I want my children to have choices. We have quite deliberately advantaged them (and consequently disadvantaged their peers) by sending them to private schools. Chances are that they will go to university, get a good profession, be successful. Their lives will be made easier because of our money.

Because of this they could take more risks with their lives, make more altruistic choices yet the first question she asks is not how can I lead a good life, but how can a lead a successful life.

Be careful what you ask for – you may get it.

 Text or not to Text?

What do you do when the text doesn’t arrive? She was going to the hospital on Tuesday. Surely she would find out the results of the tests, cancer or not cancer. Tuesday comes and goes. No text. No phone call. Wednesday comes and goes. Thursday. Friday. No text. No phone call.

I know at some level that it has to be bad news. I know that talking about it or writing it down might be the last thing my friend wants to do. It makes it real. We don’t want it to be real. Despite all of this logic, I’m cross. I’m cross that no text has arrived. I don’t know what to be feeling or thinking or doing. I’m cross. I have a friend probably in shock having been told she’s about to die and still I manage to make it all about me.

I’m cross. I’m guilty about being cross.

Eventually a note arrives from my friend.

“Got CT results. Completely fallen apart. Sister down.Can’t stop crying.Lili loved playdate with Beloved. Hugs. xxx”

I want to scream. Hugs and kisses? Playdates? What’s with the hugs and kisses? I’m so cross I’m scared. I don’t want this to be real. How can my lovely loud, larger than life friend be dying? How can death be so tragic and so mundane all at the same time? There seems to be no place in my mind for day to day death.

Still feeling cross, I am even more scared. I don’t want my friend to die. I don’t want to die.

Hero,

I love the fact that you are mine. This is not a good reason, it speaks to my greed and selfishness but it is a true reason. When I look at you I see the best of me and my failings too and love you for both of them. Born of me and part of me from the day you were born until the day you die.

I cannot separate out the person you are from the person I am and this is my weakness that I must ask you to forgive, loaded up as it is with unreasonable expectations and exhortations to be other than yourself. You are as you were born, a gift from God and a privilege to know and love. When I have asked you to change, I have been wrong to do so.  I am sorry for not being better at this mother-thing. I hope that I am good-enough.

I love you because of your passion, your out-of-control delight in life and living, heart on sleeve and heading straight toward the excitement. I am cautious and careful. Be brave and daring! Know that I will love you whatever happens. In my love there will always be a safe haven. You are always welcome. Know that you are valuable and precious to me and believe in yourself. You are my delight in life, the fizz and sparkle.

I love the clever quickness of your mind, the nimble working through of problems and issues. You seem ridden by a fearsome logic, a purity of order that vies with passion to bring structure to your thoughts. Think things through. Take some time to be certain of your arguments, to be certain of your feelings and your thoughts. Rule yourself. Use your mind to bring structure to the chaos. With certainty ride out the storm and passion to make it purposeful.

I love your honesty. Remember “Calon honest, calon lan”? There is no value to a life lived for the superficial, for success, money or glory. You live your life with an honest heart, a gentle heart. There may be serious disadvantages to not being able to tell lies – you can’t – but there are even worse consequences to being the kind of person who tells lies all too easily. Stay honest!

You work hard and this makes you special. Things are not always easy and not always right. There is no fairness in the world that we do not create through our own actions and efforts. I love the way in which you persevere, you keep on trying and make something good out of whatever life throws at you. It is enough to be as good as you can be. There is no need to be any better. You are sufficient to the task at hand. You are a good person, a worthwhile person.

I love your sense of faith, your belief in God and his many miracles. Hold close to your belief, clothe yourself and comfort yourself in the love of God. I do believe that there is a place in heaven for you.We cannot see the reasons, the whole truth of life and our creation. We must trust to God, to his wisdom and power. We must hold to the truth that our God is a God of mercy, of hope for the downtrodden and peace for the troubled. We may fail Him but He will not fail us.

I love your sense of fairness, your willingness to take your share of responsibility, to call into question advantages you are given but cannot share. Stay true to your ideals. Work towards a better world, a fairer sharing out of advantage. You have so many gifts but with them comes a clear responsibility to make something better for those around you.

Your smile makes me smile. Your tears make me cry. Oh my love, I would cry all of my tears and break my heart a thousand times over to prevent a single tear of yours. I was once told that in order to experience the true heights one must reach the real depths – ignore any such rubbish! Being happy is not something to be earned or paid for. It cannot be deserved. Be happy! Choose to be happy – be careful in your choices but not fearful because there is always more love in the world. I want you to smile because smiling, you light up the world which is my life. I know that there will be tears, but I pray they will always lead towards a better place, towards the light and happiness.

You are beautiful and don’t know it, don’t trust it. Enjoy the body you have been given. Learn to take delight in your strength and elegance. You move through the world with an energy, a vibrancy that puts others into shadow.

Have confidence to make mistakes. Don’t let yourself be limited by what might happen, what might go wrong. I love your bravery. Be brave my daughter, be bright as the sun shining into a new day.

When you are tired or sad or downhearted, be as kind to yourself as you are to other people. You are a kind girl. Grow up to be a kind woman, generous and warm-hearted. Allow yourself the same tolerance. Find friends with the same good nature.

Life is sometimes easy but often hard. How you choose to live your life through the good and the bad will be, in the end, how you define yourself. You can choose to be successful because in the end you are the only one who can decide what success mean. I love you now. I have always loved you. I will always love you.

Delete Text

Scan shows abnormalities in several areas, liver, adrenal glands etc. Suspect primary site gynae. Hospital Monday for biopsy. If not benign, limited options.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

March

My Hero: 10 reasons I love you

Hero, I love the fact that you are mine. This is not a good reason, it speaks to my greed and selfishness but it is a true reason. When I look at you I see the best of me and my failings too and love you for both of them. Born of me and part of me from the day you were born until the day you die.

I cannot separate out the person you are from the person I am and this is my weakness that I must ask you to forgive, loaded up as it is with unreasonable expectations and exhortations to be other than yourself. You are as you were born, a gift from God and a privilege to know and love. When I have asked you to change, I have been wrong to do so.  I am sorry for not being better at this mother-thing. I hope that I am good-enough.

I love you because of your passion, your out-of-control delight in life and living, heart on sleeve and heading straight toward the excitement. I am cautious and careful. Be brave and daring! Know that I will love you whatever happens. In my love there will always be a safe haven. You are always welcome. Know that you are valuable and precious to me and believe in yourself. You are my delight in life, the fizz and sparkle.

I love the clever quickness of your mind, the nimble working through of problems and issues. You seem ridden by a fearsome logic, a purity of order that vies with passion to bring structure to your thoughts. Think things through. Take some time to be certain of your arguments, to be certain of your feelings and your thoughts. Rule yourself. Use your mind to bring structure to the chaos. With certainty ride out the storm and passion to make it purposeful.

I love your honesty. Remember “Calon honest, calon lan”? There is no value to a life lived for the superficial, for success, money or glory. You live your life with an honest heart, a gentle heart. There may be serious disadvantages to not being able to tell lies – you can’t – but there are even worse consequences to being the kind of person who tells lies all too easily. Stay honest!

You work hard and this makes you special. Things are not always easy and not always right. There is no fairness in the world that we do not create through our own actions and efforts. I love the way in which you persevere, you keep on trying and make something good out of whatever life throws at you. It is enough to be as good as you can be. There is no need to be any better. You are sufficient to the task at hand. You are a good person, a worthwhile person.

I love your sense of faith, your belief in God and his many miracles. Hold close to your belief, clothe yourself and comfort yourself in the love of God. I do believe that there is a place in heaven for you.We cannot see the reasons, the whole truth of life and our creation. We must trust to God, to his wisdom and power. We must hold to the truth that our God is a God of mercy, of hope for the downtrodden and peace for the troubled. We may fail Him but He will not fail us.

I love your sense of fairness, your willingness to take your share of responsibility, to call into question advantages you are given but cannot share. Stay true to your ideals. Work towards a better world, a fairer sharing out of advantage. You have so many gifts but with them comes a clear responsibility to make something better for those around you.

Your smile makes me smile. Your tears make me cry. Oh my love, I would cry all of my tears and break my heart a thousand times over to prevent a single tear of yours. I was once told that in order to experience the true heights one must reach the real depths – ignore any such rubbish! Being happy is not something to be earned or paid for. It cannot be deserved. Be happy! Choose to be happy – be careful in your choices but not fearful because there is always more love in the world. I want you to smile because smiling, you light up the world which is my life. I know that there will be tears, but I pray they will always lead towards a better place, towards the light and happiness.

You are beautiful and don’t know it, don’t trust it. Enjoy the body you have been given. Learn to take delight in your strength and elegance. You move through the world with an energy, a vibrancy that puts others into shadow.

Have confidence to make mistakes. Don’t let yourself be limited by what might happen, what might go wrong. I love your bravery. Be brave my daughter, be bright as the sun shining into a new day.

When you are tired or sad or downhearted, be as kind to yourself as you are to other people. You are a kind girl. Grow up to be a kind woman, generous and warm-hearted. Allow yourself the same tolerance. Find friends with the same good nature.

Life is sometimes easy but often hard. How you choose to live your life through the good and the bad will be, in the end, how you define yourself. You can choose to be successful because in the end you are the only one who can decide what success mean. I love you now. I have always loved you. I will always love you.

A Meaningful Death

Most people are more concerned about a meaningful life but what about a more meaningful death.

At some level all death is useful: it makes space for those to come, it nourishes the soil and supports the whole ecosystem, Gaian, contained experiment idea of the world, but what a cold world view that would be; too cold for me. I look for meaning in the connections I’ve made in life, it’s all about the people stupid!

According to Frankl, looking for meaning internally, within our own soul or psyche, is pointless. We are not born with a purpose but need to find one. He suggested that there are three ways for developing a meaningful life:
Getting involved with a project, creating work or doing a deed;
Experiencing something or encountering someone whether nature art or a loving relationship; and
Finally, there is the idea of dealing with the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering, being constructive.

So start looking for a project to help us cope with our own mortality. What can we do? Forget about the big questions, the real value-for-money projects here are administrative. Death is not easy from a logistical point of view. There’s a load of shit that you don’t want to leave lying around for your nearest and dearest. There is an endless to-do list of stuff that no one ever wants to talk about until it’s too late.

Start with the will: who will get the kids, what if your partner dies when they’re still young, talk about re-marriage with him and the kids. Who gets the dosh? What if he remarries and it all gets left to the second family? There are at least a couple of days of fights and arguments to be had working through all of the tantrums that this stuff will throw up. At least if you’re there and dying, they’ll have to keep it semi-polite.

Move on to the list of people that you need to say goodbye to and the things that you need to get done before you die. People linger. People in hospices hang-on for years past any arbitrary doctors life-expectancy schedule. Partly people hold on for themselves, for the sake of their loved ones but also because they have unfinished business. I don’t mind unfinished delights – my child’s graduation or the first grandchild’s smile – but I don’t want to hang on for regrets, people I need to say sorry to, people I need to finally get angry with. Wade through the rubbish bits and spend time on the golden.

What will I leave behind? Will they know that I love them? Can I write down how special they make me feel, how lucky and loved and cherished I feel because of them? Will they remember me? I want to be remembered. I want there to be enough pictures, maybe it’s even time to give the camcorder a final chance. I’d like to read how much my lover loved me but how much better to look at him on screen and hear him telling me.

What about the funeral? Religious or not religious? Hymns? readings? A good funeral is a wonderful thing. Too many are sad and sparse. When I die, drag them in off the streets. I want a full church. I don’t care if you have to promise them a free lunch and balloons, I want quantity when it comes to mourners, not quality. I want to choose my own hymns staring with “Be still for the presence of the Lord….” and ending with “Lord of the Dance” I want someone who knows me to read “Today is not a day for adultery” (Roger McGough since you ask). I want to be carried into the church, to be present physically as well as emotionally for all of the service.

We’re all dying, each and every day but only some of us realise the truth of it. Two weeks. Two months. Two years. Tomorrow, someone will fall under a bus and be gone, just like that. What meaning did their lives hold for them and for others?

I want to live my life in the here and now. I want to speak to my children and hear what they have to say. I want to know what they’re thinking and why. I want to do amazing, marvellous things, to meet shocking, special people. I could build a list of places to go, music to listen to, paintings to see. There are so many marvels in this world, so many miracles. I am not content. The world is so much bigger than me.

Fuck the attitude taken to unavoidable suffering.

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

I will die the way I’m supposed to die and if that means badly then so be it. My death is not about the rights and wrongs of it all. How dare people tell me to be cheerful. How dare they try telling me to be positive and strong.

Fuck cheerful. Fuck strong.

Let them try waking up to their own mortality and then tell me to be bloody strong about it. My death isn’t about them it’s about ME. My death is all about me and I don’t want to be strong or cheerful or silent about it. For once I don’t want to have to think about other people’s feelings. I’m not walking in anyone else’s moccasins. Not today buddy!

Today I’m dying and if you don’t like the way I’m doing it then piss off and take that sad face elsewhere. I don’t have to be cheerful – you have to be cheerful. I don’t have to be strong – you have to be strong.

People are not born with a purpose, they have to make one. If people were fated to live their lives with no free will then it is only the manner in which they live their lives that makes the difference. Only the way of living would matter since success or failure would be pre-determined. But then of course I don’t believe in fate. In part it seems that success and failure are so very subjective. & so many successful people seem to me to be so very unhappy.

I don’t believe that we have to follow a path laid out for us. We have choices. Choices have consequences, some good and some bad. How we deal with those consequences, the manner of person that we are, want to be and become, these things will determine our lives and our lives’ purpose.

I do not believe their is any meaning to life beyond that which we make (with God’s grace) through the choices we make and the relationships we create. There is no meaning in life because the story isn’t yet told and we are still creating it but perhaps there is meaning in death. Perhaps in the end, all that we can have is a purposeful death, one with meaning.

 11+ what?

I’m beginning to see similarities between death and the eleven plus system. Obsessive, much?

Whilst clearly both are brutal and difficult to fathom, I hadn’t realised how important a sense of faith would turn out to be for both tragedies.

Being of the goy-ish side of the north london housewife divide, faith comes with a rather comforting view of the afterlife – I have one! My understanding (which may be faulty) is that Judaism is a lot more ambivalent about the Kingdom of Heaven. Given that my friend is dying (we all are but at least you and I don’t have a timetable) it is surprisingly comforting to believe that there is a place for her in heaven, that it doesn’t all come to an abrupt, pointless end but rather that there can be purpose; there is a transition rather than an ending to be negotiated. My faith is simple and very open to the criticism of naivety but at the end of the day, for me it is immeasurably helpful. I wonder whether I’ll be so strong in faith when it happens to me.

A woman I know once told me that she was incredibly cross with God, angry at the way things worked out with her husband. Having worked for the church all his life, he was finally taking time off through retirement to be with her. Just two days in, he suffered a stroke and was rendered incommunicable, seemingly insensate. He lingered for another two  years. How can anyone make sense of such things? With my child crying in my lap at the news that Auntie was going to die, that the doctors couldn’t fix things, what do I say?

How much worse must it be if it’s your own death, your own child?

Faith is a funny thing. There are so many things that I don’t understand in this world and yet I don’t doubt that God made the world just as it is (not sure why but expect to find out eventually). I don’t doubt that Jesus lived and died for me and for you too. Having children helps to understand love. Love isn’t earned or deserved. Love just is. I believe that God loves us. He loves us better than I love my daughters. He wants us to be safe, to be happy, to gather us up and hold us. He recognises that we have to be left to make mistakes if we are to grow. He knows that we will be hurt, that we may hurt other people and yet he still loves us.

So despite the dreadful fact that my friend is dying, almost my entire mind has been given over to the imminent results of the 11+ exams for my youngest daughter. Her sister breezed through with interviews from all of the (very academic)  private schools. She was offered a place at a very good state CofE school on the basis of my work at the local church. It all went well and being the first, I didn’t know anything special was happening so totally failed to enjoy it.

My youngest girl has not had an easy ride. The very good CofE school was taken to the ombudsman on appeal last year so there was no guarantee she’d get a place. In fact our LEA has a shortage of places for girls (relying on the private sector to take up the slack) so we’re not in the catchment area for any local school for the first round. The first letters back from private schools were rejections. We’re very sorry… no interview… Only three schools called her for an interview in the end, one first tier academic, the other two not so.

So the state announced first and with huge relief we were offered the CofE school. Many were not so lucky. An extraordinary number of our Jewish friends were offered the local failing Catholic school. It felt like some Tesco-like substitution, fish fingers for nail polish, faith for faith.

Finally the private schools letter day arrived. The hours passed and the post failed to arrive. Texts from friends, success and disaster, started to arrive but still no post. Eventually I cracked and phoned up. No from the academic school but yes from both of the others. There isn’t much difference academically between the three schools available though one is free and the other cost around £15,000 a year. Our first child goes to private school so how fair would it feel to pay for one but not the other? The state school is a quite a long way away but not as far as her sister’s school.

Two of her friends faced the dreaded waiting list scenario. One because she hadn’t joined the PCC so couldn’t tick the right box for the CofE school and the other because she didn’t have a less academic fall-back option. These girls are ten years old. They have sat (and failed) exams already. How much more inhumane can  we make their education?

I don’t like private schools: the financial elite buying their children benefits over the rest of society and I detest the idea of faith schools segregating off people from each other. But the world is becoming more and more stratified. My children won’t have the chances that I had to move up a socio-economic group. I want them to have better choices. How can I do that in a world where success and failure are becoming so much more narrowly defined?

For my daughter the key criteria for school was simple: shorter days and shorter term-times making for more free time to play. After 12 months extra tuition, free time was definitely a priority. Our neighbour attends the closest school . She’s happy, human and generally normal. Decision made.

Everyone tells me that this is the least of the problems that I will face as my children grow up. Apparently, I need to pace myself better. I’m going to work on my faith.

No matter how horrendous, I at least had practical choices and really only good choices when it came to schools. The money is set aside. Imagine not having anything to choose from. Imagine having no control over your child’s destiny. Imagine having to wait, and wait and wait, feeling helpless facing up to an education in a school no one else wants to go to, and the “wrong” religion to boot. How many times can you tell someone to hold their nerve, to have faith in the system before it starts to sound hollow.

We all love our local primary school. If it has simply fed through to a similar secondary school, we’d have all been happy. The number of faith schools and private schools around here give an illusion of choice but whose choice is it at the end of the day? The schools choose us not the other way around and to believe anything else is folly.

I’m going to work on my faith. I want to trust that like the lilies of the field, my children will be clothed in glory. I want to believe we can help my child grow to be valued and useful to the world in which we live with a positive self-image, a successful happy person. I want to hold my nerve even though to many I seem to have bottled it at the first opportunity. I want to believe in the system. I will continue to vote for governments that look to establish community comprehensive schools. But at the end of the day, I will throw money at each and every problem life throws up for my children. Knowing that most people haven’t the choice. Knowing it is fundamentally unfair. I will do this because I can.

 Not Happy

Text received: Diagnosis day – symptomatic relief only. Collected daughter from school. Meltdown. Wants mummy. Husband cried. Please pray. Trying to keep the faith.

Prognosis, yes or no? Husband wants to know how long. Son adamant should not put a due date on it. Of course google has the answer – 8 months in Scotland, 12 months average in London.
Don’t know what to say or what to text. Just want to cry, to hide my head under the blankets and cry.

 Not young at all:

I know I’m old because:

  1. My daughters tell me that I’m looking good for my age: they’re being serious.Comments about looks and age are always killers. They start nicely enough with some compliment about the dress or make-up but always turn around into something less fun like laughter-lines otherwise known as wrinkles. I look at my girl’s skin, lush and soft, and can see exactly what I’ve lost. There is value in being polished, and let’s face it the world post 40 splits into “can’t care less” and “polished to death”.
  2.  Sex in general is much more fun. There really isn’t too much point to sex with young men, unless you want to view it as some kind of charitable outreach. Men under the age of about 30 just don’t have a good enough idea of what to do and it’s all over so damn quickly. They don’t understand the basic geography. They’re so scared of failing that it ends up as some sort of egotistical sprint and all that can be usefully learned is disappointment. Not that women are allowed to be disappointed. If a woman doesn’t have at least one orgasm she’s considered abnormal by the man she’s faking it for. Sometime in their thirties women stop caring so much about the man in their life and start to develop a bit of ego. A vibrator helps. Learning what makes you feel good should be a pre-requisite to full on sex, along with looking through the std websites and childbirth videos. How old do your daughters have to be before a vibrator is a valid birthday present? Probably never but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea in theory.
  3. I play a lot of tennis, no really, lots of tennis, most days and some nights. Some women take up bridge, I took up tennis pending a physical meltdown at which point I plan to transfer to the bridge team. It’s always good to have a back-up option.
  4. I care about pension reform. Really, I do care. I want to know what the government plans to do about the ticking time-bomb that spells demographics for my generation. I look at people 15 years older with their defined benefit schemes, their children safely through full time, no-fees university education and their houses in France. I want to spit with jealousy.  I want a flat rate pension that doesn’t care that I’ve spent 10 years looking after the children so my husband can spend ridiculously long hours at the office. 10 years dealing with patronising deliverymen who call me Missus and demand I be there to let them into the house some time from 8am to 1pm. It’s not like housewives are allowed to have a life to keep them sane! I know what savings I’ve got set aside. I know how much income my savings will generate and guess what -it’s not enough!
  5. I’m old enough to be given a bird bath for a birthday present and think it a fair present. Once you start putting out birdseed in the garden, separating out the tits from the sparrows, then life is definitely on the downward slope age-wise. Engaging in a bitter war against squirrels with cage like feeder contraptions is a clear indicator that you’ve passed over the brow of the hill and are about to descend into Garden Centre mania. I haven’t yet reached the nadir of planting out annuals, or (whisper only) bedding plants but I know that it isn’t far off.
  6. I like rhubarb. There are all sorts of fruit or vegetables that only people of a certain age will eat. They’re not all bad. Okay so cauliflower is a bit love it or hate it, but what on earth is wrong with a bit of marmalade? What’s wrong with rice pudding? I’m a woman who eats cake: only young girls and old women eat proper cake, especially the type with cream.
  7. I make my own jam. Moreover, I make jam and allow it to be sold at the local fete.I also donate cakes. I then spend the entire time at the fete worrying that I won’t sell. There is always some sad bugger whose jams are left behind. It shouldn’t be personal but it is. In fact, in an ideal world my jams would sell out in the black-market trading just before the fete opens to the public. Half the stuff goes before the hoi-polloi can get to it.
  8. I go to church. There is a serious correlation between age and religious observance. Churches (and temples and synagogues) have always been full of old people. The dead and dying tend to want to enter into some kind of dialogue before the event. We don’t want it to get too personal but we do want to have talked a couple of things over. My oldest girl once asked me if I though that I was religious. When I said no, she laughed. I can remember my grandmother going to church twice on Sundays and once mid-week. It doesn’t seem so big a deal to go once a week after a very late Sunday breakfast. We live next door to the place after all.
  9. I floss. Only people of a certain age understand that flossing is essential to good dental hygiene. No one wants to lose their teeth but the young never seem to think it will happen to them (rugby players aside who are just insane to start with). My mum was part of the post-war generation who voluntarily had most of their teeth removed at the first sign of decay. False teeth are not something I’d wish on anyone. A tacky magazine article pointed out that life expectancy is increased by about 6 years if you floss – well maybe all the other correlating factors like being middle-class, going to the dentist and being prepared to answer questionnaires also have an impact – but there is a clear correlation between how long you live and a clean mouth. I got really excited about this when a former nurse agreed that lots of old people catch infections through their mouths. Apparently loads of bacteria and bleeding gums are a disaster. Not only do I floss but I am now committing to those interdental brush thingies. Maybe the real sign of age is the combination of hypochondria and OCD.
  10. I care less. I just don’t have the energy to get excited by too many things any more. I never really could be arsed but spent huge tracts of my time coerced into doing this or that for some good cause or grand idea. I am increasingly okay with being a lazy lardy arse. Caring less, I actually get much more cross when the things I do care about get messed up. I am a grumpy old woman, a crone.I’m beginning to see the ebb and flow of it all. Still terrified by the transitory nature of life, I look at some of my older acquaintances and marvel at their stoicism. Growing old is not for wimps but is definitely better than dying young.

Walter

Every Friday I meet up with Walter. My husband and his wife are in on the arrangement.

M teaches my daughters piano and I hang out with one of my most unexpected and delightful best friends. I didn’t expect to fall into friendship with someone 40 years older than me. With no warning whatsoever I find myself being told off by my children for laughing too loudly and generally having too good a time. When I try to explain to A afterwards what we were laughing about, it makes no sense to him. He can see the story is amusing but not hysterical.

Friendship seems to come in different flavours. Often it seems to come from shared experiences, from living through the same trials and tribulations, the same life events. I have friends from my very first job, from when my children were born or from the parents of their classmates. Some of my closest female friendships date back decades and span life-changing events for both of us. History builds connections that survive. My girlfriends have survived divorce (theirs and mine) marriage (to arses, continuing) children and very different parenting styles (call me Attilla the Mum – I’ll just call you delinquent).

My connection to Walter is nothing like anything else. To start with he’s a man – I don’t really do male-female friendships except with my husband who is obviously “Best Friend” a much harder category to get into than “lover” “husband” or “partner”. He isn’t going through the same stages of life. He’s been there and done that all long ago and is now watching with interested or so  but amused eyes as his children go through it all again. We don’t really have a huge amount of history together through 5 years does seem to have flown past.

Walter is gentle and kind mostly. He is wise and sensible mostly. But just occasionally Walter is wicked, and absurd and amazingly irreverent. We talked about death. I asked his advice since no one I know has died before and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing. He was calm and helpful, a useful sort of conversation that I can’t imagine having with anyone else. Then we started talking about funerals. Walter wants to be cremated. This will upset his son and daughter-in-law who are fairly orthodox Jews. Walter is a German Jew who escaped to Britain just before the war got going. His ideal breakfast might well involve bacon. But culturally he is Jewish and being aware of the cultural reluctance to cremate him, he has made sure it’s written into his will. At this point the conversation veered.

“Do you think I can specify the cheapest coffin? I mean it’s not like it will be used for very long. Maybe I could ask them for one on loan. Maybe we could go for the eco-option of cardboard or perhaps it would have to be ply” We wandered off into the cunning plan idea of re-usable coffins and what kind of hook and eye system might work as a release mechanism as the body was tipped into the furnace. Of course it would have to be quite robust or you would run the risk of a disaster as the coffin was carried up the aisle. Imagine if you had one bearer shorter than the other and the coffin at a tilted angle suddenly released it’s load into the lap of the congregation.

Walter and I looked at each other. His eyes crinkled up at the edges, the way they do when he’s tickled pink by an idea. The giggling started and then the chuckles, then the full on laughs.

“Do you think they manage to re-use any of the furnace energy? I mean it seems so wasteful to be burning all day long and not use it for something. It would be good for the tea urn at least for the tea and cakes afterwards.” We wandered off into a discussion of whether or not a tea afterwards would be a good idea. I was firmly in the yes camp but Walter was not convinced. In the end he agreed that maybe I should go ahead but only if I specified M&S provisions (maybe they do a black box for nibbles?)

And then what happens to the ashes? We had previously talked about the merits of trees. I’m firmly of the view that ashes around a tree in a suitable garden of rest would be best. Public spaces are a disaster – dogs would end up peeing all over the tree. Private gardens get sold. Crematorium gardens are best with no dogs, access pretty much guaranteed and a useful tea shop for when it rains.

Although he has flirted with the idea of an apple tree (then the grandchildren could eat the apples and recycle him) we came to the conclusion that a long-lived pot plant would be best, a sort of yucca thing, one of those green plants that lasts forever and can be moved about. In the morning his children (you see there would be enough to sprinkle at least two plants, one each) would be able to say “hello dad!” If M went for the same arrangement, they could be a matching pair. His daughter-in-law would be horrified – even more laughter at the look we could both imagine on her face at the thought of it!

Just thinking about the conversation makes me chuckle even now. The fun of it all! A can see it’s vaguely amusing (if in bad taste) but he see the delight in it for either Walter or me. Maybe a shared sense of humour is all that friendship requires, the ability to laugh with someone. If you laugh with a person, if you share a sense of the absurd nature of the world then you can’t help but love them a little bit. They become friends if you’ll let them and really good friends too because we all need a bit of joy in our lives.

Walter is vastly and incredibly in love with his wife of 54 years and when she walks into the room his smile lights up the world. She is his best friend and they complete each other. He would say that marrying M was the best thing that could happen to him. Because of her, he felt connected to the world, she took a somewhat reclusive introvert and gave him a family and a social network of friends. They had their own series of acronyms developed over the years, such as TiGyTyO (thank God its over) but in reality they didn’t need them. They could finish each other’s words.

Every Friday they met for Shabat meal. One week the daughter’s family would come to them, the next week they would go to her house. They are so proud of their children; so please with their grandchildren. But how did such secular Jews manage to have such observant children? Their granddaughter is heading to Cambridge university – the phone rings with congratulations from their friends. Their grandson has qualified for a highly selective secondary school – the phone bells ring out. Life is full and complete.

Dying Manners:

The British are not good at death. We are not good at dying at all.

My fears are growing: am I becoming a stalker? The first Friday I stopped by with flowers, lots and lots of bunches of daffodils all golden and full of life, limited. The second Friday I took tulips and magazines. The third Friday I took food, “not just any” food but M&S stick in the oven, no work kind of food.

When does kindness become intrusive? Had I crossed over the boundary between thoughtfulness and that type of bullying hospitality we all dislike? A text arrived.

“ Slept most of today. Wanted to call but feeling just too emotional. Thank you. Flowers made me happy. Magazines fun. Things make a difference. Just texting. Determined to fight. World not such a cruel place. Sorry for typos. Sorry to be so soppy. I am v lucky. Thank you friend.”

I want to cry. I don’t feel lucky. My friend is dying and the world is a very, very cruel place indeed.

Why are we so bad at death? It happens all around us and yet every time we come across it, it is such a surprise. Some years ago a friend from the church said that the one unforgivable act was to do nothing. Doing nothing is never an acceptable option. We do nothing for fear of doing the wrong thing but leaving the dying to die alone is a dreadful thing. People disappear all of the time.

Apart from me, who sends flowers, who drops around with magazines? Who sends texts asking about her children? I would like there to be so many of us, that my friend feels surrounded by us all, gathered into our arms, reassured and remembered by us all. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were so many of us that she felt irritated by our attention? Wouldn’t it be great if she was swamped by our love, distracted by our stuff. Better to be too busy, to be deluged than to be alone. A lonely death.

Better for me to get it wrong now, than to be left with what ifs and regrets later. And still I am left with the unescapable selfishness of a North London housewife – my friend is dying and how can this all be about me?

 Friends:

Having children challenges friendships. There is the competition between family and friends for all sorts of things: time, energy, tolerance. I thought that my friends and would make similar parents. I was wrong.There is a woman that I love. I know that if my world were coming to an end, she would be there for me. Quiet and capable, she would move me in and let me live. She’s done it before. She would do it again.

Her son is horrid. Beyond belief. Rude and nasty.

I love my friend but I do not recognise the mother of this boy.

We met up on holiday once. The kids went surfing. Every day he screamed on the way down to the water. He threw himself around on the floor like a five year old. He wasn’t. Every day when we went to collect them, he would scream at his mother, my friend of twenty years. Every day she would placate him, answer calmly, quietly.

When I collected them on my own, I would see his shoulders hunch as he walked up the sand. I could see his face turn sharp and angry as he stepped away from the boats. Smiles disappearing. Without his mother to harangue, the shoulders dropped back. “Please” and “thank you” appeared without prompting. He returned to the child of the water, photographed smiling and shouting with the others, racing by along with the wind.

He wanted to play tennis with me. He really wanted to play. We collected him from the shore. He started. I lost it.
“How dare you be so rude?”
“ I wasn’t talking to you..” He looked puzzled at my interference.
“No, you were talking to my oldest friend, someone I love, someone I care about. Why on earth would I play tennis with someone who treated one of my best friends so badly? You are being horrid for no good reason. No one wants to spend time with someone so mean and nasty. You need to take some time out to think about what you’re doing and what it tells everyone around you about the kind of person you are.”
“Now pick up that towel and stop acting like a five year old”

My friend stood still throughout. Her child picked up the towel, dried himself off and we all walked home together. After a while, still seething I started to wonder whether or not I’d stepped over some friendship boundary. I’m not good at boundaries, especially in a temper.

I apologised for telling her son off.

“No, it was fine. He needed to be told.”

Why didn’t she tell him? Why does she allow him to treat her like dog dirt? I do not understand why a woman, so strong and independent in her working life, can allow her ten year old son to be such a tyrant. Does she even notice that he despises her?

I love this woman. I do not know her.

I’m not good at friendship, too introverted, too extreme, too something or other – lazy most likely. I have a few friends, and they are all important to me. I try to work at friendships. If I worked harder, I’d have more friends. My friend BF1 works harder and has more friends as a result (also a childhood spent in the youth detention centres commonly know as boarding schools). I asked BF1 about our friend “Quiet&Capable”.

Insults don’t seem to register. Hostilities seem to be ignored.  I can see the echo of this in my own relationship with Q&C. There is a determination to focus on what can be done, what we can make happen to move forwards, a refusal to acknowledge the bitter, to dwell on hurt.

“Borderline autistic, aspergers” BF1 comments with the brutality of long term friendship. Not socially inept so much as indifferent. Worn out by it all.

My friend is caring; she loves her children. She works long, hard hours in a stressful job that demands much of her. If she doesn’t have any energy left at the end of the week to pay attention to her son’s rudeness, is it surprising? We are all blunted by the world we live in, the stresses constantly chipping away at our reserves. Stress induced aspergers? She wants her children to love her. She will not acknowledge the fact the her son does not.

Not loving her, makes her want his love more, gives him even more power in their relationship. She begs for his hugs and kisses. Her other children are pale imitations of this perfect child, this unobtainable, problem love.

I blame the father.

Scary at the School Gates:

My youngest went exploring in our bedroom. She found the condoms (it could have been so much worse). A couple of days later whilst driving somewhere the question arrived. “Mummy why do you have condoms in your cupboard?”
“Because every so often, just once in a while, Mummy and Daddy have riotous sex.”
“Oh, okay then…Can I go to R’s tomorrow for a playdate?”

I’m a liberal living in north london. What did people expect me to say? Clearly the idea of having a riotous sex life is pretty aspirational with two pre-teen girls in the house but I’m okay with aspirations. When one of the mum’s at the school gate whispered the “news” that my hero had told the entire class about the Q&A session, I can admit to being a bit daunted but overall I’d rather sex was mainstream than not. I might move the handcuffs though (joking?).

Short Sharp Smack:

When I was young, my mother hit me, hit me hard with a leather belt. It didn’t work. It didn’t make me better, kinder, gentler, more polite or even more obedient. It just gave me a feel for violence that even today I need to manage.

When I say that I was hit, I’m not talking about one-off smacks, though in polite conversation that is all anyone will admit to. The truth about violence is that it’s never a one-off, never a short sharp shock. Violence is a threat, an enduring promise of “what ifs” and “watch outs”. It is living your life in the knowledge that someone who is supposed to love you is quite prepared to hurt you, hard.

I remember a fight with my sister. Territory of course – who had the right to play in the living room her or me? I remember being there first. I remember a totally just cause with the righteousness of a child. I also remember my mother totally failing to agree and asking me to leave and being told “no”.

There was a kind of horrified triumphant look to my sister’s face as my mother’s hand went back. I remember the first slap, the shock of it as it my head flung to the side my jaw loose. The second slap was harder, my jaw clenched. The third slap knocked me to the floor. I remember blood. I remember looking her in the face and saying quite clearly that she could just keep on going, she could hit me ‘til my head fell off and I was not moving. She left the room. After a couple of minutes my sister left too.

Violence doesn’t work. Unless you let it. The fear of violence only works until the threat is exercised. Once exercised, the only lesson learned is that “might is right” Even now, I can feel my anger moving towards the physical, the glorious, shameful need to throw, to stamp and storm, to smack.

I have smacked my girls. This is a mark of my failure, my shortcomings only. I can count the times on the fingers of one hand yet I am not excused. Violence is not excusable. Provocation counts for nothing when an adult hurts a child. Violence is always an act of shame. Yet the child recognises the failure of control, the weakness in the adult. If we are lucky they forgive us for our fear and our lack of control. If we are very lucky indeed, they will not internalise the physical message that we are sending and will escape this inheritance. I do not want my children to hit my grandchildren.

The husband of a friend remembers fights with his younger brother fondly. Fondly? I wonder what his younger brother remembers. Like many people, he sees no problem with fights getting physical between his three children. When they were smaller he seemed to delight in the smacks and slaps, the rucks and wrestling between the oldest girl and her brothers. Now they are older, the violence is harder to recall, to control. Fights spill over. An argument at the zoo resulted in a punch thrown at the sister.

He believes in smacking as a method of control, a last resort that seems to my eyes to arrive all too quickly. I would not want my daughters to marry his sons. I will not agree to a sleepover at their house. His wife is one of my best friends.

A Game with Balls:

I play a lot of tennis. At my best, I am calm and controlled. All too often I revert to my four year old self: cross and wild. The surprising thing is watching it happen to your partners.

I used to play with B in the team matches. Every time we won it was because of her wonderful game. Every time we lost it was because her partner was rubbish. It was difficult not to take this personally – I’ve never managed not to –  but after a while you realise that whenever she loses and whoever she plays with, if she loses it isn’t her fault. When she talks about other players, even those much much better than us, she’d always find something to criticise. They can be beaten. They’re not so good. Walking off court after a good thrashing, she’d still be saying that they weren’t as good as us (aka her) and they only won by keeping the ball in play.

But they won! The whole point of the game is to keep the ball in play. Hitting the ball out means you’ve lost the point. You’ve lost. We might like to imagine that life is a game of outright winning shots, of triumphant slam dunks but in reality people win because they don’t screw up. The person who screws up least, wins the game. When you’ve lost 6:0, you cannot say that you played better. You played crap. Everyone knows that you were woefully outplayed and to say anything else is embarrassing. To attribute a 6:0 loss to your partner is equally absurd. Unless they were the only person on the court, to bagel a set is to have failed abysmally as a pair.

The funny thing is that in real life B is a person that I’d call in trouble and trust her to be there to help me. If I’m stuck a million miles away, she’d put herself out to take care of my little girl. It makes me wonder what kind of child she was, which character is “real”. In tennis I have little patience, lots of temper and more than a touch of OCD obsessive. When I miss a shot in a game, I have to force myself not to repeat and repeat the attempt to try to put it right. I struggle to play more than a couple of shots in a rally before trying to close it down with a winning shot (too often a losing shot). In drills, I can rally for twenty hits or more. I can be a steady Eddy. I just don’t want to sit in the game that long – too much of a hurry. As I get older, will the patience come?

Playing the odds in any competitive game will make the difference between winning and losing. To play the odds you need to know what you can do and to do it, to not get distracted or obsessive. You must play the shot that works for you, you must play your game. This is harder to do than you might think. I have lost to canny old ladies who keep the ball in play with constant loopy lobs to and fro, backwards and forwards. A steady little old lady and an ambitious youngster willing to run can be a dangerous combination.

I hit the ball hard with spin, topspin that makes the ball twist head over tail as it sails through the air and bounce high, slice which makes the ball twist in reverse and will skitter through once it bounces. With spin I can hit the ball hard and deep, keeping it in the court. My slice backhand is good. I’m introducing a top spin backhand that takes effort (yes) and judgement (no – sadly lacking) so I play left court. My forehand is best with topspin. Flat balls bounce out.

My serve is good. I can hit a respectable flat serve though I really need to spend more time practicing direction. Best of all I have a slice serve that swerves through the air. People never really get a slice serve. They’ll happily return a flat ball with extra vim and call “good serve” as they play a winning return. They’ll look at the slower second serve with contempt until they miss-hit it into the net. You can watch women get crosser and crosser with themselves as they singularly fail to return a “slow” unpredictable serve. One of the great ironies is that the courts that I play on don’t actually do that much with spin. Flat and even tarmac gives a slowish steady bounce. When we play away games on carpet, slice does the most amazing things.

I have no touch, or rather the touch of an elephant. Touch shots in tennis include drop shots (disaster, working up towards this from a backhand slice might be worth pursuing) and lobs. My lobs started out as so-called hospital lobs (the kind that get smashed straight at your partner at the net) and haven’t really moved very far.

There is an eighty year old woman, A, who plays the most beautiful, aggressive lobs that can be imagined. They fly up just out of reach but begging you to try at them from the net. They fly down the middle of the court with no clear owner. They bounce within inches of the baseline. In an ideal world the two players will both have a go and may even bounce off each other if communication falls apart. Even if it isn’t an outright winner, it creates a gap on court for the next ball to fly towards.

My volleys are good enough. I need to remember to slice the balls. I need to put them away. The main problem with volleys is being at the net. I don’t like being up there. I don’t like getting involved. It’s not a case of laziness but rather of caution. I am too timid at the net, too lacking in commitment. For a North London Housewife, I am surprisingly lacking in aggression. What does this say about the child I once was? Maybe it makes sense that I grew up to be an accountant after all.

Mostly now I play with my mad Russian friend. She is tall blonde and athletic and has the opposite problem to me at the net – she loves it too much! The way to win against her is to pass her down the line. She will plonk herself in the middle of the court to volley away any balls coming over the net. She feels no fear and no compunction about smashing the ball at the opponents. In fact, her volleys aren’t great technically but given her enthusiasm it doesn’t make much difference. She’s scary! Without the skill to avoid people, she’s very, very scary. It’s nice to be stood behind her in a game.

In a game she will want to win from the start. She will push, push and push. We have turned around disasters. She is generous with her praise but bossy as hell. For someone who doesn’t read the game so well, she feels very entitled to dictate terms. Luckily for me, I don’t mind being told what to do on court. We communicate well. We both move well. We’re beginning to come together as a pair and that feels good.

With such a small team, we never get to play a whole season with the same person and dipping in and out of pairs has a charm of it’s own. Every Monday I play in a game with L. I’d like to play some competition games with her but she’s one of those people who can’t seem to commit to dates in advance – not so very North London! She’s left handed so I play right court – good for my overall game and for my forehand. Like lots of women, her weakest shot is her serve and she moans continually about it. before, during and after games. She is too scared of double faults to hit the ball hard yet bemoans her lack of pace. She can place the ball accurately but there is nothing scary about her serve. Return of serve becomes an opportunity to play a winning shot. She loses momentum from the start.

But she is a canny player. She knows what she needs to do. She is quick and determined. She finds the gap on the court. I like playing with her. She’s fair and honest in her calls. No one likes a tight call. We all do it. We all see the ball land where we expect it to land not where it does on fact curve into. We all look to see the ball on the other side of the line rather than clipping it. When the ball goes very fast (even at our rather meagre club level, 50 mph is very achievable) some women don’t even  see the ball land. Once you pass a certain age, eyesight becomes vague and vanity means glasses are not an option.

L is generous in her calls and I prefer that. My russian moves in and out of generosity. As the game gets tighter, her calls tighten up. B’s calls start mean and end mean. “Take two” is a frustrating but common call with some partners. If you win a point by cheating the next is given away on guilt, your’s or your partner’s. Who wants to win that way.

I play a lot of tennis: Monday – C, L & J Tuesday – Ladies morning, Wednesday – lesson and Friday doubles with B, N and S.
Every so often I get a call to play at David Lloyd on Sunday. The game is hard and fast. Sometime I win, sometimes I lose. There is a lot of changing partners, mostly not D Lloyd team players. The latter are incredibly dour in a game. At the end of the day, it isn’t Wimbledon. We’re not Williams sisters! The tennis is always fun but sometimes the people you play against can be bloody hard work.

Tennis – social, competitive and something that can be dropped at a moments notice to go pick up the kids from school or to open up house for workmen.

And Still my Delight

Husbands are funny creatures. Loving someone as an adult, someone pre-prepared, is a dangerous business because you can never really know who they are. You think that you know them and then something happens, some trigger or other long buried in the past, and the suddenly you don’t know them at all. Worse still they’re in your bed, your life, your head and you don’t know what they’re about to do. You have to trust them. You have to trust to your own imperfect history with them, that they will stick within the boundaries agreed.

My sister once said that it was important to like your husband as well as love him. Imagine waking up one day, looking at your children and seeing the face of someone you don’t like very much. day in, day out. A reminder of dislike.

You can dislike people that you love. Not liking what your loved ones do or say is part of parenting. It cannot be a sustainable part of marriage though. We are more forgiving of our children perhaps because we know that their flaws are ones that we have had a hand in creating.

Marriage is a choice. I choose to live my life with you and only you. This is a positive thing. To stay with someone through choice rather than compulsion (societal, financial) has to be a good thing, doesn’t it? I don’t understand marriage as anything other than an act of choice, my choosing. I concede that that your choices matter but all I can do is trust that you choose me and will continue to do so. And your choosing to wake up with me in the morning is my blessing.

Why do I choose you? Well, it isn’t for your sleeping habits: chronic insomnia bred of five children brought up in a two bedroom house or your looks:  the eyes are beautiful, soft and gentle, taller and skinnier than me helps, but let’s pass on the Nacht nose and nervous twitches. I could do without the temper, seldom seen but far too sudden.

I love your kindness, the way that you think about other people. I love you cleverness : clever with words, with puzzles and numbers. I love the speed of your thoughts, your understanding directly without pause or hesitation like a radio 4 broadcast. I like the fact that you “get” me and that you seem to like the bits of me that I like best.

I don’t like to think about it too much, but you’re probably smarter than me, at least in a cerebral, intellectual way.

Both of us have had pretty inadequate state educations, limited to passing from A to C with no detours for B. You never seem to have read as a child (or adult) so there are masses of things that you just don’t know. It always amazes me that you’re so good at crosswords given how patchy your general knowledge seems to be. But maybe cryptic crosswords have more to do with secret codes and formulae than anything literate.

You are quick and smart without being judgemental. Sometimes, the logic of your position is irritating but never untrue. Your kindness mitigates against your speed. You don’t seem to lose patience.

Emotionally illiterate describes most men but not you. You’ve said that most of your man-management skills developed post-fatherhood and I can see why you make that comment. Dealing with teams at work must feel a little bit like dealing with a four year old toddler group. I think that you’ve always been prepared to listen. I’ve always loved that part of you.

You don’t over-analyse people and events unless prodded into doing so. When I go over the same ground for the nth time, you gently move me on. You tend to panic first and plan ahead. I plan and then panic. As long as one of us is calm, we seem to be able to muddle through.

I like the feel of you, the gentleness of your touch, the hesitancy and waiting, letting me set the pace. Sometimes I’m too lazy and we pay the price.

A friend once laughed when I said that we were very similar. I didn’t understand. To me, we have always shared the same values, the same ideas of right and wrong. To her, we were like chalk and cheese, dramatic versus retiring, gentle versus abrupt. I see two people both committed to talking, both conflict averse both valuing family and intimacy. We are strategic, intellectual, looking to the long-term for our plans and objectives. I see consistency, safety, boundaries and strong moral bases.

Well into our second decade & you are still my delight!

Prognosis:

I’m starting to hate text messages.

Lung tumour malignant. Not sure about A/P lymph nodes. They show 2.9 SUV on PET scan & 2.5+ suspicious. Left lung 14.28. 50% type cancer in non-smokers. Lovely letter from DM. Neighbour came over. Her mum passed away only 3 weeks after cancer diagnosed in Poland. She cried when I told her. All very raw. Still not sleeping, horrible, vivid nightmares. Pls keep praying.

Husbands:

Why do best friends marry weirdos?

I’ve had two husbands. When I separated from my first (perfectly nice but not for me) man, my friends’ husbands were decidedly put out. You might imagine they liked my ex enough to keep up a friendship with him rather than me, but it never seemed to work that way. It wasn’t that they liked him best. They just couldn’t cope with the idea of a woman setting aside her husband. One kept trying to suggest that I might want to change my mind despite all evidence to the contrary.

Women don’t get divorced casually. There is too much time, energy, emotion and money at stake in divorce. No one likes to fail. Most women I know have been thinking through the options for at least a couple of years beforehand. When the break finally comes there may be a trigger (numbered vitamin pills so he could check I was taking the folic acid prior to getting pregnant) but the trigger will never be the sum total of “why”.

Why are other people’s husbands so concerned that women should stay married? Maybe they understand the fragility of their own position, the vulnerability they feel for themselves. Marriage works for men. It doesn’t really work for women in the same way. More and more often it is the wife divorcing the husband. Men will have affairs and generally act like bastards but they don’t really leave the marital home very often.

My best friend is on her third long term relationship. She’s been married once and had children (one each) with the last two. I introduced her to the second. She found the others all on her own.

Memo to self: Never again introduce anyone to anyone!

Her first husband stopped working after a year or two and decided to be an entrepreneur. This seemed to involve sleeping in to a very late hour, thinking a great deal of himself but not much by way of graft. No one could ever work out what it was that he was selling. He was lazy, shiftless and idle right up to the point at which she walked out when he suddenly discovered that idleness without money was much less fun. He found a job. Last thing we heard, he was working, married with children and presumably as happy as the rest of us. It took her years to leave him, years to admit that he was a waster, a scrounger and she would be better off without him.

Her second “husband” lasted until his son was about six weeks old at which point he ran for the hills. There had been some indications of his total uselessness as a husband (letters from the woman he was being unfaithful with being the prime evidence – just to let my BF know what a shit he was being when he dumped his girlfriend).

This is the fool I introduced her to when on the rebound from her first marriage. “Great for sex, just totally amoral and not good long-term” was the introduction I gave him. I’d had an on-off relationship with him at university. My friend at the time pointed out that he was the kind of guy that would use my untimely death as a chat up line with his next girlfriend. It was never the same after the truth of her comment caught up with me.

As it turned out, he’s not such a bad absent father. He sees A every other weekend and sometime during the week. He takes him on holidays each year, visits grandparents and almost manages to pay a third of the cost of keeping him. he earns much more than BF but pays much less. BF has learned to bite her tongue and develop a thick skin.

The third husband is a keeper. He’s older and wealthy enough to maintain a decent lifestyle with time free for holidays. There’s always a price though -he comes with children from a previous relationship and a clingy, creepy ex-wife. Despite have totally passed all responsibility for his first two children to their totally inadequate mother, he expresses endless opinions on the rearing of BFs son. She is polished and well-turned out. He no longer fits his black-tie.

After all of these complaints, I can still see why she stays with him. I couldn’t. She’s much tougher than me.She invests more in a wider range of friends who can give her the emotional feedback and social interaction that he lacks. He likes doing things with her (albeit on his own terms). They take luxury holidays, eat out, go to the theatre. They are friends.  At some level, I can see what she gets out of the relationship.

My real problem is with the husband of BF2.

April

Ideas?

Text arrives (really hating my phone now):
Husband working @ home. Sister down from Scotland. Phone from school – O crying again.What can we do? Sis says just a private person so refuses to talk about it. Must be so frightening. Don’t know what to say. Ideas?

The main preoccupation when dying seem to be making other people happy – how weird is that? Weird but normal.  I imagine doing the same thing, stressed about my child’s stress trying to make it easier to deal with something that just can’t be dealt with. How can anyone cope with the fact that the person you love most in the whole world is going to leave you. How can any 13 year old girl deal with the idea that her mum is going to be dead in just 8 months time. She won’t have another Christmas with her mum. She won’t have another birthday. She will be alone. Alone.

Counselling was suggested and written off out of hand. I can’t say I blame her. Maybe when they’re ready to talk, it will make sense. Maybe Macmillan or Marie Curie could find some other children to help talk through the anger and the pain. When Beloved met up with O at Costa, it was clear that she didn’t want to talk about her mum. Beloved was just relieved and let it go. They both pretended that nothing was happening. Was that the wrong thing to do? Can there be a right and wrong way to cope with such a nightmare?

The Man She Married:

Best Friend 2 is married to an arse. Most best friends are but he takes the genre to a whole new level. He’s one of those men who clearly splits women into two groups: wives and whores. I probably belong in the second category.

When I separated from my first husband, the transfer from one group to another was sudden and clear. My calls were unanswered and unreturned. This may explain why a diary has suddenly turned into a bitch fest. Of course, in any normal marriage where it is the woman who manages the social diary, this kind of husband engineered social exclusion wouldn’t be possible but for BF2 it is the man in the marriage who holds the key to the diary. It wasn’t until I was safely the other side of singledom that I was allowed back into their house and family life.

His arseness shows itself in many ways. not least of which is the manner in which he continually undermines BF2 with her children. The boys are encouraged to ignore their mum, to contradict her and generally make life miserable. It’s them against her and Dad’s on their side. He wants to be his son’s best friend even though there’s a forty year age difference and let’s face it, he should have enough friends of his own age. He doesn’t need a friend. He needs a father.

The intimacy lacking in the marriage is to be found in the father-son relationship. Twisted to be sure. So the oldest boy is encouraged to ignore the mother, his sister and brother, to prefer golf with his Dad in the pouring rain. His school don’t understand him. He’s too clever. He’s bored. When his father does his homework for him, he’s helping out. When his mother says that’s enough he must finish his meal, the Dad eats it for him. Conversely when she tells him to go away and leave the adults to eat, his Dad passes over his plate “The boy’s hungry”

The younger boy is doomed. He isn’t sporty. He likes to sing, to act and make music.He’s also seriously smart. His Dad has signed him up for cricket and football. He’s started to develop stomach ache at the thought of it. HIs brother tells him he’s not “normal” as if that were something to aspire towards. He sees his brother playing up and getting his own way. When he tries the same, battles ensue inevitably ending with smacks. Eventually he’ll end up asking “Why doesn’t Dad love me as much as A? Why does he always get his own way?”

In the long run, it will be the spoilt favourite who loses out but let’s face it,  one has a pretty miserable time (and lots of future therapy) coming to terms with the fact that their Dad doesn’t love them as much as their sibling. He will probably end up better educated and nicer. God willing he’ll have a happier life and a better partner. But in the short term having an arse for a Dad sucks big time.

So why does BF2 stay with him? She’s smart and successful, pretty too. Maybe she buys into the whole lady/whore thing too. I can’t imagine them having sex. Since they have clearly managed to do so on at least two occasions, this seems weird. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I can’t imagine her enjoying sex very much.

When we played Mr&Mrs they won by a landslide. They know each other much better than I know my delight. They understand each other incredibly well. Perhaps my ideas of intimacy only work if you find yourself with the right guy. She’s successful. He doesn’t interfere. Men who can stand living with very successful women aren’t that common. It undermines their sense of self. She must love him. Mustn’t she?

 The Worst Parenting Jobs Ever:

Flushing toilets: Doing the rounds in the morning/before guests arrive/before going to bed.
Why can’t children flush toilets on their own? What makes it even remotely acceptable to leave poop floating in a toilet bowl, anytime?

Saying No: As “Attila the Mum” I don’t really struggle with the discipline side of things but occasionally find myself half way through explaining why “no” is the right answer and realising that I’ve got it wrong and the answer should be “yes”. As the girls have got older, more rational and more able to string a cogent argument together it’s beginning to happen more than I’d like. I’ve decided that the right thing to do is to agree to think about it for next time. Concede ground but buy time to make the internal adjustment. I’m really not very good at sudden changes (Another way of saying I’m bloody minded)

Sleepover servant: I don’t mind the theory of sleepovers – 1 or 2 girls come back home and stay the night. If it’s a Friday night, they can hang out most of Saturday before heading home. If It’s a Saturday night we head off to church at 1030 so there’s more of a built in deadline.

What I don’t like is the way in which Mum turns into a domestic servant responsible for putting together beds in messy bedrooms (why can’t they roll out the mattress and sleeping bag themselves?) and supplying non-stop pizza/pop/popcorn. In the morning Dad disappears downstairs (no man allowed when other people’s daughters might be running in and out of bathrooms – who invented that rule?) I’m left to tidy up the rooms.

In reality, I miss my lie-in with coffee and newspapers and am just grumpy as hell. Of course we’re not the most popular sleepover destination. As one girl put it: Do you always go to bed this early?

Homework projects: By and large I’m not one of those mothers that does their children’s homework for them. It would be considerably easier if I did. The worst job, is dealing with the sudden last minute panic when a piece of work has just been remembered or worse still some project has just gone wrong in some disastrous manner.

I hate bodge jobs. I hate having to run around like a blue arsed fly gathering together bits and bobs of useless “stuff” I do not care about learning logs. I see no value in making endless models of this that or the other. Who cares? They care. They care desperately. Their life will be blighted if they don’t have the perfect model superhero made out of an egg.

Only in North London, middle class, over-achieving, North London could we be faced with so many totally nonsensical dressing up days, models to be made, projects to be completed. Give it a break. Let them play.

Answering vastly awkward questions while driving along in the car:
Do you think you should be able to touch my fanny mummy? This came up on the way to a swimming lesson after a conversation in school with PC Dave about appropriate and inappropriate touching. Apparently he regaled the class with a whole series of examples including children burned with cigarettes by their family members.

On the following day having made an appointment with the head teacher to discuss PC Dave I asked whether perhaps it might have been an idea to talk about appropriate loving relationships first. The girls have all had years of talks about stranger-danger including the rather ridiculous classification of “safe”: family (statistically the most likely abuser) people who work with children (really, what about Soham?) people in uniform (paedophile priests?).

Every so often I try to stress how most people are just generally good people and will try to be helpful but do any of us think that building up such distrust between children and adults is a good thing?

The head teacher pointed out that they couldn’t give warning about forthcoming lessons (I hadn’t asked for any) because then the children who needed to be told this behaviour was unacceptable  might well be taken out of class. Scary but true to think that there will be abused children in class with my daughter.

Schools teach a fear of deviancy before they teach about love and trust. Now of course in my my house we have had these discussions already so maybe school are just relying upon the family getting there first.

Why do people get divorced, don’t they love their children anymore? This one popped up driving a playmate home whose parents were just going through a rather nasty custody battle. I have blocked out my answer, too traumatic, too walking on eggshells.

Heaven sounds nice. Why don’t I die now and then go straight to heaven? Mostly having a religion is a good thing. It answers a lot of questions but this one was a bit tricky on the way to piano lessons.

Telling children bad news: Rejection letters from schools (11+) Auntie J is going to die and no, there is nothing that can be done about it.

Text Update:

The text arrives; my heart sinks. Sunday was D’s birthday and had a complete meltdown. Always thought I’d behave with dignity in times of trouble but impossible at moment. Hardly ever wake before 11 or 12 but maybe we could chat late. If decide against treatment then we’ll have to meet up of course. Can I call you and take it from there? J XXX

Ginger Queens:

Everyone should have a cat. I have two ginger queens: one fat and happy the other thin and nervy. Cats help to maintain order in the universe – they come first.

My cats are geriatric 14 year olds. The fat cat is just like a teddy bear, plump and cuddlesome. When we took her to the vet, I asked rather anxiously about her weight. “Big boned” said the vet, clearly besotted. As she’s got older, she’s become more and more chatty, more realistic about the demands she can make in a household with two children. Every morning she comes into bed with the coffee and sits on my lap for a cuddle. Stroking a cat first thing in the morning waiting for the caffeine buzz to begin the day is a brilliant feeling.

Her sister is a less relaxing, more needy affair. She’s a truly North London kind of cat, in other words neurotic, demanding and anxious. She’s not got great personal hygiene either. Bad breath and a pee stiffened tail make for a less than pleasant morning experience. Every Winter she gets sick. Every Winter at some exorbitant cost at the vet, she pulls through. She was only the first or second cat in the country to catch kennel cough (dog’s disease). Now she can’t go a year without some upper respiratory tract infection. She has arthritic legs and gammy teeth. You might wonder why we bother.

She is however the most beautiful cat that you will ever see.Where as her sister is cuddly, she is elegant. Her sister is ginger with a greyish undertone, but she has a glorious white chin and socks. She has the most amazing eyes.

When it was pointed out that both cats might not live forever (over breakfast – thanks dad) there were tears for all of 5 minutes. “Can I choose the next ones?” came the question. So much for pet ownership developing a sense of empathy and responsibility.

June (No idea what happened to May)

2nd June: The Text you don’t want to Receive

J: You have no idea how happy I am to be able to reply to you today.

Operation went okay. On morphine for few months so not too much pain. Unfortunately confirmed cancer spread. Awaiting reports to gauge prognosis as stage 3 and hopefully not 4. Hey ho, here now and very grateful to be so. There were a few complications and had to go into my heart looking for spread.

Love to the girls and A. Will call soon and God wiling catch up.feeling a bit less withdrawn and alone – can only be a good thing. J XXX

4th June: Under the Weather

Caught a cold from Beloved. She gets the respiratory illnesses whilst Hero comes down with skin diseases. We don’t share towels in our house.

I hate colds. I hate feeling not properly sick, just bunged up under the eyes, all puffy and tight. I have no energy or enthusiasm. What kind of dictator does that make me? Not benign anymore just lachrymose. Great word lachrymose, exactly right for today.

Apart from the fact that having a cold has got me out of travelling to Devon to see his mum and dad which is a bit of a result. They’re separated legally for more than thirty years,  less than ten miles apart and it takes roughly two hours to get to them in the car even belting along in a barely legal fashion.

We got up at 730 (it’s Saturday for goodness sake – that’s not humane). We showered and started breakfast. He took one look at me, head in hands, not moaning but loitering in my best forlorn manner and said maybe I should stay home. Beloved started acting up. I should definitely stay home. It would be easier without me. Too knackered to be insulted, I rolled over to the sofa and sighed.

It isn’t that I actively dislike his parents. I hardly ever see them. I don’t know them well enough to dislike them. His dad has an mbe for work within the community mainly with disadvantaged kids, quite ironic since he abandoned his own 5 kids all under the age of 12 to his less than well wife living in the middle of nowhere. A breakdown. He then insisted the house be put in the name of the kids, not his wife, who was left to bring them up on social with the occasional food parcel for the poor from the local church.

She brought them up to be mostly happy, functional members of society. They all work, pay their taxes and look after their families. How can this not be admirable? My problem is a total lack of connection. I find the mother-in-law (mil) totally humourless, totally passive-aggressive fundamentally ignorant about current (let’s say last ten years) affairs and really difficult to share airspace with for more than thirty minutes at a time. It isn’t her fault. It isn’t really mine. Without a sense of humour, or a stock of small-talk about everyday issues how can two people bear each other.

He doesn’t seem to like her very much either. He’s also quite likely to bog off mentally at least and leave me to entertain her which is a bit of a big ask. The kids always run off to the garden so there I am, stuck in a smelly room (did I mention personal hygiene is a concern) with someone who doesn’t have much to say and takes offense really easily with anything I say.

The second wife is easier company but the dad is losing his marbles quite quickly now so there’s a trauma building. It doesn’t help that the dad used to hit the kids, especially my partner who has blanked out huge tracts of his childhood. There are also worrying hints from the sisters about inappropriate touching on adolescent visits, drunken visits in the middle of the night.

My children are never sleeping over. They’re never being left unattended with either. I wouldn’t trust them with my cats, never mind my girls.

I’m feeling rubbish, a whole day stretching out in front of me with no sawing, sanding or polishing of floors to worry about, no strangers in my house. My house is quiet for the first time in more than two weeks and I have access to all of it. My eyes ache, my throat is sore and my nose is streaming.I have a cat at the foot of my bed, the sun shining in through the window and a nap waiting.

10th June: Cultural Differences

We were thrashed in our last tennis match: 4 sets, 6/1 6/2 6/1 & 6/2. Depressing. They were simply much better than we were. They played better tennis, more consistently. We should still have taken a set. Why didn’t we?

Our first pair (P&J) took just two sets, one from the third pair and one from the first but our third pair (S&Z) also managed to take a set from the third pair. On paper at least, the mad Russian and me are the second pair so if S&Z took a set, we should have as well.

Their second pair was unbeaten through the night. They weren’t the best individual players but they were by far the best pair. They played a tight game, hard and fast cross court and not hitting it out. We were never going to take a game from them. Bizarrely we had more of a chance against the first pair, who had a lovely but less consistent 15 year old playing left. We only took 2 games. Which brings us to our set against the third pair.

Chronologically, we played the third pair first. Realistically it was the only set that we could have taken. Their pair consisted of a young woman (18) and a less young woman. Why did we lose?

I had a cold. I was a little bit slower, a little bit less assertive in my play. Less consistent. It took a game for my first serve to come in, though there were no double faults. Throwing the ball high, a gusty wind didn’t help my serve. I caught the ball a lot but should probably have caught it more. Patience has never been something I’m good at. I was very cross with my partner in the first set.

Mad Russian arrived late. She arrived loud and stressed. Complaining. During the warm up, she couldn’t get a feel for the court surface – a sort of woven carpet with lots of sand for extra slip and slide. The balls were bouncing true but skidding through after the bounce very quick and low. She whinged. A lot. She insisted on serving first (the worst bit of her game) with the sun behind her because her glasses were uncomfortable. I was made to serve second into the sun. There were a lot of balls hit into the net.

A long time afterwards, as we started to play a social game on Friday I said we should perhaps sit down and talk through how we could have taken the set against the third pair. This is British code for “I’ll tell you what I could have done better and you’ll tell me what you could have done better”

Mad Russian answers “ You need to practice your serve. Your serve is really bad. It makes me nervous in a game, too many double faults, too many times catching the ball….” She goes on until I tell her to stop really firmly. We’ll talk afterwards. The set is rained off after a couple of games so afterwards never arrives.

11th June: Resolution

Told the Mad Russian that I was not going to try to change my serve and she therefore had two choices: Deal with it or play with another partner.

Pushing her stress back so that she has to deal with it was the only practical response. I can’t change my serve. I don’t want to – I like my serve. It is generally regarded as the best bit of my game, one of the best serves at the club. My serve is pacy, with slice for my second serve. I double fault but I also ace. Overall my serve does not come back with interest. Reasonably often, it doesn’t come back at all. We usually win my service games. In the last match we didn’t win one but it wasn’t because of the serve.

She could have (but shouldnt have)  complained about many parts of my game (lack of consistency, lack of bravery etc) but to complain about the serve was stupid.

She started to back-pedal. “I don’t explain well. You just need to get it in. It doesn’t need to be so risky. I don’t want to play with another partner. I’m happy playing with you…”

Whatever. I do not mind if she plays with someone else. I am happy to play with her or to watch her play with someone with a safer serve. I cannot change my temprament, being cautious does not work for me in tennis.

Put up, shut up or move on. I’ve told her the choices. Practical choices. I am not taking responsibility for her stress.

Dropped an email to the captain in case it came up at today’s round robin match. She called. “Am I okay? Mad Russian is just transferring her angst about losing, blaming her partner. Please don’t try to change your serve. Your serve is great. You’re playing really well. Please just ignore her. I’ll have a word with her…”

Reassured S that I’m okay to play with Mad Russian, that I’m not going to get arsy about it but that I’m also not going to be her whipping boy – she needs to deal with her own stress not spread it about. S doesn’t need to talk to Mad Russian on my behalf. I’ve said what I needed to say. All done and dusted.

I won the round robin. My partner and I beat Mad Russian and her partner 4/2 (best of six games then swap partner).

I served my serve to Mad Russian. It didn’t come back.

14th June: Beauty & Beholders

In the playground every morning, there are some immaculately turned out women, well-groomed, made up, dressed beautifully. Some of them have had a lot of work. At times of the month, some of the faces don’t move at all no matter how lively the words coming from their mouths. They probably photograph well.How important is it to look beautiful? Every morning I wake up, roll out of bed, shower and coffee to make myself human. Make up isn’t part of my routine though I know it works. I know that I would look more wide-awake, more attractive if I could be bothered to put on some lipstick.

It isn’t that I don’t care about my appearance at all. My clothes all match. I wear colours (bright, cold) and shapes(fitted) and textures(smooth, luxury, man-made silky)  that suit me well. I am old enough, and care enough, to know what works for me and to arrange my wardrobe to work.

I spend an extraordinary amount on my hairdresser. I am religious about making appointments for every 6 weeks, alternating cut with cut and colour. Every month I go to the local salon and am waxed to within an inch of my life. I’m considering laser hair removal as a less painful (though more expensive) method.

I am anything but low maintenance.

Make up just seems a step too far. And because I can’t be arsed to spend 20 minutes each morning putting on the slap, how could I possibly justify botox (injecting poison into wrinkles is pretty mainstream here) or taking a knife to my face.

When I was younger, I was pretty not beautiful or exotic but pretty. Being pretty meant that I got enough attention without make-up. It wasn’t something that I needed. It wasn’t a habit that I acquired. I had things other than my looks to worry about (mad mother mainly, academic steps required to escape secondly).

Maybe make up is an acquired taste like blue cheese or marmite. I can competently put on make up for a night out, look and feel brilliant and receive endless comments on how great I’m looking. The very next morning I will wake up and roll out of bed without even thinking about putting on a mask – it feels false, like fancy dress a type of pretend.

My girls are just trying out eye shadow, blusher and the rest. They have the most beautiful faces, the most wonderful skin. I’m a lazy role model.

Only women of a certain age notice wonderful skin. When you have it, you assume it will last forever, juicy and plump. Then it’s gone. Age spots appear. Your skin becomes tighter, dryer, more fragile looking.

Beauty is important. Being attractive means you will get better jobs, more people will want to be your friend, your lover. Maybe I should spend more energy on encouraging my girls to dress up.

But beauty won’t help you keep the job if you’re not competent. It won’t help you keep a friend if you’re not kind.

Being beautiful comes at a cost in terms of men’s expectations and women’s assumptions. My girls are beautiful. More importantly they are kind and clever. Most importantly they are loved and loving.

This should be enough shouldn’t it?

15th June:  Ants in her Pants

Finding two bugs happily munching their way through the detritus in my eleven year old’s knickers has to count as one of the low points of the day. Finding three more grazing in the next pair of dirty pants was worse. The third pair was also infected at which point I totally lost it and started googling bed bugs.

The bugs were brown and quite slow moving. I found them in the middle of the day albeit in a fairly dark laundry basket. Aside from colour, they don’t sound much like bed bugs (fast moving, nocturnal, blood sucking). These creatures, whatever they were, were getting fat off the rather poor hygiene exhibited in not-so-pooey pants.

All of the clothes were washed at 90 and then tumbledried. If it will kill bed bugs then it should do for their knicker based mates. I feel itchy just thinking about it. The room was scattered with insecticide (ant poison) causing the bugs to disperse across the carpet where the hoover was waiting. The contents of the hoover bag were immediately bagged up and taken outside.

On the following day the room was inspected and hoovered again but none could be found, maybe that’s all there were. I’m trying to work out how often I have to hoover in case of eggs (every other day?) and how expensive it’s going to be in terms of hoover bags. If they do turn out to be bed bugs then we’re screwed – professional intervention is the only way to get rid of them as they’re poison resistant.

On the more positive side, I’d rather they were bed bugs than some kind of parasite. They were very happy in those pants!

28th June: Textmate

J: Hi. How are things? Sorry not to call but been ill again and  back in Royal Free. Hope all is well with you and yours. Hugs. J XXX

Just as life is settling into it’s humdrum routine a text from my dying friend arrives and it all seems so very petty. What does it mean to live in the moment? How do you keep hold of that sense of purposefulness?

Breathing in and out. Deep breaths.

Somewhere inside me a voice is screaming. Nobody wants to die. I’m scared by how thin the veneer between my happy healthy life and her sad and painful struggle seems to be. A lot of her friends have disappeared now, running away from the contrast, the difficulty, the awkwardness. How do we keep on living when nearby a friend is dying?

Breathing in and out. Deep breaths.

July

6th July: The Day After

Survival is key. It is the overwhelming relief that an event has come and gone successfully.

In the end, the confirmation day went well. The service was crowded but beautiful.

The candidates for baptism and confirmation were well behaved, took it seriously enough to speak their lines well and with grace.

The congregation was around 300, maybe more. They managed to sit and stand where appropriate, sing when required and generally enjoy most of it.

There were the usual suspects who pushed forward to the front and had to be moved back to make room for the godparents of one congregation member. And there was the pushy, grabby parent who having brought nothing but herself and her child proceeded to eat our food, drink our drink and then bitch about the poor organisation of the entire affair.

Why do some people do that?

In general, parish events are great for sharing with people who really haven’t got the money, the time or the energy. The congregation are good at gathering up the waifs and strays. I was very glad to gather in N and her two daughters, less so whe M and her two kids started to moan, She was like a small dark raincloud in the middle of the sunshine.

N hadn’t brought anything (never does) but then she has a half wit for a husband, no cash and really just not enough energy for living. It was nice that she sat down and shared lunch and some of the fun and games. Her kids enjoyed the bouncy castle and the rentabooth while she had some time to enjoy the sun. She had some grace about herself compared to M who, in a similar situation (brought nothing, helped organise nothing) just spent the entire time bitching.

18th July: Summer Show

The school summer show came and went in duplicate. It felt like saying goodbye, sad and thankful all at the same time. It hasn’t been a bad school for my girls but I’ve had enough now.

I’ve had enough of the passive aggressive head mistress. I’ve had enough of hanging around waiting at the school gates trying to avoid the usual suspects. I’m bored and so is she. We’re all ready to move on now, ready for big school.

Her SATs results are identical to her sister’s results, all 5s and over-achievement. Apparently the schoolfriend who passed for the same school as my eldest managed 5As as opposed to my baby’s 5Bs. We’re talking 5% here and there. I can’t cope.

Do I think she’ll get into a good university – yes!
Am I cross about her not scoring as well as her sister – yes, I will never forgive or forget the exam result !

She is more than able to succeed in life, more than able to end up with an excellent degree, a great job, enough life choices to be happy.

I can’t bear her primary school. It reminds me that I could have made different choices. I could have sent her to a prep school that fed into one of the private schools that we’d have been happy with, one of the academic ones.

Her Dad reminds me that the school she has ended up at is in the top 25 academic schools in the country so not so slow then. He reminds me that he at least is perfectly happy with the school that she’s going to. It will be good for her to be out from her sister’s shadow, to be called by her own name for a change.

Still cross. Still think that I might have made the wrong choice all those years ago. Good enough parenting? Still not sure about that one.

20th July: Summer Holidays

The long break is here for at least one of my girls. I’m not yet mad but definitely on the way. Beloved broke up last week and is already struggling to avoid boredom. Hero has another couple of days to go and can’t understand why her sister is whinging.

We have two weeks at home before heading off to Wales. The original plan was to take the girls for a week with friends (one each) and then Dad to come for the last two weeks sans friend. It all looked good. Our neighbour’s child said she’d come to keep my eldest company. A school friend would come with Hero. Suddenly it turns out that the neighbour can’t come after all. They won’t be back from their own holiday until the day after we’ve left.

The neighbours have form. A couple of years ago we agreed to book a (very expensive) holiday cottage with them and another family over Christmas. two months beforehand, as the £5000 bill came payable, they pulled out. I shouldn’t have trusted them this time. I don’t know why I ever thought it would come good this time. Now we’re a bit stuck. We’ve committed to Hero’s friend so there will just have to be the three of them and me.

We’ll cope. It is very annoying though.

More to the immediate point, what on earth am I going to do for three weeks until we head off to Wales?

27th July: Textmate

Still in hospital, Home later. J XXX

What possible reply?

29th July: Textmate2

Now HAve pleurisy and pNeumonia in other lung. WIll find out Wed if malignant. If is then all over. Too weak for chemotherapy. Still in GP surgery as still anaemic and in lots of pain. D off sailing today. Love to girls. J XXX Phone driving me mad.

August

4th August: &3

Going to try to walk to waitrose in hour or so. If still BReathing will try to call you. Love. J XXX

 

There is nothing to be said yet I feel a need to reply. So many people have disappeared, too uncomfortable just listening. How do we cope when there really is nothing left for us to do but wait to die?

8th August: Stepchange

Trying to decide what to have for breakfast with the kids at the holiday cottage in Wales: sugar filled cereals in small bright boxes (with better nutritional content in the cardboard) or toast with equally sugar filled jan or nutella? It isn’t even my own jam – we’ve run out and not been able to make it out to the farm to pick more fruit.
Sod it – we’ll have both.Eldest daughter arrives in the kitchen, pants in hand. “And what is that supposed to be?” she asks nodding in the genreal direction of her knickers. “That is your period love” comes my less than congratulatory reply, and so we’re off into the wild unknown world of menstruation.

As it happens, my period has just finished so I do happen to have some tampons in the bathroom. “Uncomfortable” comes back the comment and “when can I go and get some pads?” It all seems a bit of a sad inconvenience this puberty business. It gets in the way pf playing Sims on the computer and collecting shells. At 13 she must be one of the last girls inher class to start so there isn’t much mystery left to this “women’s business” not that there would be at such a sensible, competent girls school. She’s one of the lightest and therefore latest. Given the next forty years or so of monthly bleeds, I’m glad that her body took it’s time. The youngest looks much more likely to move on at a quicker pace. Joy!

11th August: Café Society

We live in a different country. Stopped off for lunch at a cafe. After 5 minutes or so, it struck me that the children running around and about belonged to the girls on the next table. Children of 8 or so were the daughters of these girls in their late teens. My life is lucky. My daughters’ life is privileged, born lucky. God forbid that they end up pregnant in their teens but if they did, they wouldn’t end up walking their daughters down to the nearbye caff for a special treat. They wouldn’t end up counting out their coins to see whether they could afford a can of coke to share.

These young women looked to be excellent mothers. Their kids were clean, well-dressed and polite. They didn’t scream or whinge like some of the tourist kids. They weren’t out of control or running riot. And still my heart sank to see them turn and push the youngest out of there in a pram, back home to see what was on telly.

I come from this. My life was laid out for this. My mother and sister both found themselves living this life from week to week, limited choices all played out within miles of their birthplace. Escape was all I wanted to do from the earliest that I can remember. Escape. Choices. Money of my own, with no strings attached and no prior commitments. Money to mind my own business and make everyone else mind theirs.

If nothing else, let my daughters be independent. Let them earn their own money and make their own choices, good or bad. God send my children good health and the sense to make good choices. Let me worry about the bad choices and build for them a safety net.

This part of Wales is beautiful. Lovely, wild and wonderful to visit. Today reminded me of how little there is to celebrate for those people living here all year long. Summer money from the tourists. No money in the Winter. Jobs gone. Work gone. Struggling to make ends meet. Shops and businesses closing down. Here this year but gone the next. Full of English painters come to capture the brilliant light, the hills and the waves.

Pity the Welsh born to it: no art school for them, no high expectations and middle class buffer to help fund their way through the hard times. Nothing to do but sex and shandy. Lovely place for a holiday.

12th August: Textmate

Husband taking me to Costa around 3pm. Fancy meeTing up for coffEe?This PHone is DRiving me MaD. Love to all. J XX

12th August: A small black mouse

I set off down the stairs to go and fetch the papers from the garage. There on the stairs, I see a small black mouse (no clogs, Wales not Amsterdam) it scurries down the stairs and I lose it near the door in the living room. Maybe it’s gone out.

When the cleaner and owner arrive at around 10 o’clock, I mention the mouse. “Are you sure it wasn’t a vole? You know, They tend to be darker and smaller. Pretty little things.” Well, actually I don’t know and I don’t care. It was a mouse thing, a rodent and not pretty at all.

Hopefully, like Elvis, it has now left the building and won’t be an issue.

Twelve hours later the mouse reappears in the upstairs twin room. the girls are half delighted and half horrified. I drive up to the garage (the first place that I have reception for my phone) and call Mair Richards. She mobilises her son to come over.

Dafydd is young, friendly and armed with 2 decidely inhumane traps. Hero is horrified. Beloved musters all sorts of arguments about the inconsistency of a vegetarian being prepared to kill a fellow mammal.

I am unmoved. The mouse must die.

13th August: Married Bliss

Husband arrives. The girls are tired from kayaking (in the rain) but still slightly exultant because the mouse has managed to avoid the trap but eat the cheese. Little do they know that whilst collecting Daddy, the traps are being updated with a new secret ingredient – mars bars!

As we enter the house, there is an expectant hush. We examine the trap in the kitchen. No mouse. We examine the trap on the stairs. No mouse. The hole in the corner of the room upstairs where the mouse originally appeared has been blocked up.

Each morning from now on, the first person awake will check the traps. I want the mouse dead. The girls are only reconciled to the murder by the idea of holding a full on mouse funeral, grave, prayers, maybe even hymns.

I tell the husband that I’m not staying if the mouse can’t be caught. He huffs and puffs. This is the first day of his holiday and he is not at all put off by the ides of a mouse. “They’re quite sweet really and it is the country”. I lived in the countryside for the first 18 years of my life and never had to share my house with vermin.

Let’s wait and see what happens.

19th August: Not Great

So we’ve managed to make it as far as 13 without head lice. A second trip to the stables and a very itchy head afterwards leads to an inspection. Something moves. Something not very friendly.A panic trip to the nearest pharmacy and a recommendation later, finds me sat in the bathroom with Beloved and her mountains of hair (she can sit on it!). Helpful hints include: split hair into four sections and work your way methodically from one side to the other, first ensuring all hair is doused in the lotion, wait for 10 minutes while it essentially dehydrates the live lice, then comb out the dead lice and eggs.

The lotion should last for six applications (may take more for longer hair).We get through half a bottle. There isn’t much point being stingy but I still can’t see how we could have got through less and saturated all of that damn hair from scalp to ends.

She sits next to the bath on a small stool. Having combed the lotion through her hair with a normal comb I make the mistake of looking into the bath. As I’ve been going along, even the normal comb has flicked dead and dying head lice into the bath before the real removal business begins. She’s wearing a white long sleeved t-shirt and they start to show up on her neck, sleeves and most especially her back, presumably as they start to die and let go of her hair.

She can’t see most of them but starts to freak at the ones on her front. We start with the nit comb. It hurts when it reaches the short hairs near her nape. She stops panicking and starts crying. Motherhood sucks.

After each pass through her hair, I wipe the nit comb on wet wipes (recommended by some children’s book or newspaper article). Each pass through her hair finds a dead adult louse and hundreds of eggs. There are so many head lice that now I’m looking, I start to see them just lying around waiting to be combed out. There are hundreds of lice and presumably thousands of nits.

Staying with the method, each section is combed from scalp to hair ends, with the odd louse and more than 20 – 30 nits in each brush through. I try to work through each section until no more nits appear. They don’t disappear. Eventually I give up and decide to work around until each section is reduced to less than 10 nits.

3 hours come and go. I work left to right, right to left. The next stage rquires me to wash out her hair with shampoo, no conditioner, to remove the lotion.The instructions say to wait for 7 days, check for live nits and repeat. For bad infestations (pretty sure that this is a bad infestation by now) it might be necessary to repeat again at day 14. The 7 day cycle is to allow the 7-10 days for the eggs left behind to hatch, if you’ve missed any eggs.

I’m fairly certain that we’ve got at most 80% of the eggs –  there were just so many.  I don’t know how long she’s had the lice on her head. Let’s assume they arrived last week when she first borrowed a hard hat to go riding, that would mean 7 days worth of interrupted growth resulting in millions of creepy crawlies. It could be the result of an earlier infection. Maybe Hero’s friend had the original infestation and she’s had two weeks as an incubator.

Either way, with so many nits still attached to her head I’m not sure that leaving them for 7 days interrupted is a good idea. I send husband off for a clean nit comb to check everyone’s head. He’s grumpy. He hasn’t had to sit, combing out crawlies with a crying daughter. Still, he’s the one who spends the next hour in a grump.

We check the other heads in the house. All clear. I decide that while we wait out the 7 days til the next treatment I’ll sit down with my oldest and a bottle of condiditioner and the nit comb to try and remove more and more of the nits. If I come across a live louse, we can try applying the lotion again (once hair is dry).

This has not turned out to be such a great holiday.

20th August: Quality time

The mouse has not been seen since the traps went down, mars bar not withstanding. Maybe it was a vole and just wandered in. In the meantime, at least an hour a day is taken up in the bathroom, conditioner on and nit comb out. With no internet connection, I’m winging it based on half remembered conversations in the school yard.

The chemicals will nuke the live head lice (hundreds, brownish wingless and freaky but all bar one removed on the first day and none seen since). As I recall, nothing will get rid of the eggs, the nits themselves, other than careful brushing with a nit comb.

The nits are brownish grey and stcik to the hair. I think that they turn white once the nit hatches into a louse. Thankfully the husband has bought a longer than average nit comb for her longer than average hair. With a tonne of conditioner it goes through her hair easily enough but I’m getting increasingly paranoid about what contitutes a nit and whenever I’ll be confident enough to stop combing. The incubation period is 7-10 days.

On the plus side, Beloved’s hair has never been softer and shinier. I’m considering whether or not I should start to condition Hero’s hair once a week just to improve the gloss (and perform a not very surreptitios search for nits).

Beloved turns to me one week in and asks “ So do you think this counts as quality time?”

26th August: Going Home

A long drive home is never a good thing but I’m ready to go. I want to be back in my own bed, with appliances that work an absence of wildlife (in the house at least) and permanent hot water.It’s been good for the girls to realise that there is no God given right to a hot bath at any hour of the day, that spiders really will leave you alone if you leave them alone and that cable tv isn’t universal.

It is too easy to forget how very lucky we are and also how isolated we are in our little wealthy, North London bubble.

There were riots in London while we were on holiday and a stock market crash (not good for the pension but I’m coping, probably a good time to buy). Some of the kids targeted N’s restaurant, just a straight-forward robbery: “Hand over your wallets and jewellery…” They legged it when the kitchen staff headed out into the restaurant armed with pots, pans and knives.

I can’t get my head around the whys and wherefores of it all. The newspapers are full of “broken society” comments but really? 90% of the rioters were boys aged 15-25 (the usual criminal demographic). More than 25% were already known to the police. The weather was warm and dry. The police held back on the first two nights. Maybe it was just a perfect storm of hysteria waiting to happen.

Smug comments in Wales couldn’t hide the fact that around where we were staying there just wasn’t much to steal. Every year another shop disappears from Fishguard and the town gets tattier and tattier. London is such a great place to live, vibrant, diverse, wealthy, unless of course you’re not.

What if you’re not wealthy enough to afford all of those beautiful things the beautiful people are wearing. Not wealthy enough to buy the gadgets and gizmos the beautiful people fill their houses with. Not wealthy enough to afford the welcome given to foreigners who compete for jobs and housing.

Only 350,000 people pay the 50% tax rate in the country. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.

30th August: textmate

J: So sorry. Life is weird. Still trying but not ready for a funeral yet. Only son understands. Took sleeping pills away from me yesterday.
Feeling disgusted. Crying.

Son didn’t go to Cambridge. Hasn’t done personal statement. Can’t be bothered. He’s on medication and has been referred. So very sad. For such a kind kid. Wants to self-medicate, take stuff I’ve warned him against.

Have told him this is NOT RIGHT.

Husband not at work – will be problems. Have advised kids to get gene tested but son won’t. Doesn’t want to know.

Text to J: Life so bloody unfair. You do such good things, make such a big difference to children’s life. Love you. Always in our prayers.

J: Family! Do not want to stress my kids. Just want to do what makes them happy now.

31st August: Not Good News

J: Cancer spread to brain. Not good news. Prognosis weeks not months.

September

6th September: First Days

Waking up at 630am is fiercely ungodly. It shouldn’t be allowed. Hero starts in her new school, heading off with an old school mate and our neighbour (big buddy arrangement) so not only do we have a return to early mornings but need to fit in an extra shower between 630 and breakfast at 7am.

We have three showers in our house. It can’t be beyond the wit of man to manage to get a family of four up, washed and fed in time for school. Their Dad will just have to use the shower in our en-suite. There is nothing wrong with this shower but I know as soon as it is mentioned, he isn’t happy. No whinges but a teddy bear face, a shrug of brave resignation. What’s the problem – it’s a shower over the bath not stand-alone.

I decide to ignore him. Let him be barve and self-sacrificing. The choice is clear – use the en-suite or wake up at 615am.

9th September: Early Days

Seven more years. On her first day at big school, she woke up early and was bouncing out of the house. One the second day she was cheerful enough. By the end of the first week, her eyes are struggling to open and she wants to go back to sleep.

On the plus side, I’m really enjoying taking her (and her friends) to school in the morning. As is often the crazy way in London there is a mad control freak window of opportunity to enjoy. Leaving the house at 740am, stopping to collect 1-2 mates and we’re off for a trouble free journey. I’m back home at 810am. Leave just 5 minutes later and there are queues everywhere.

She needs to arrive for register before 820am. We arrive early enough for her to potter about and settle. The arrangement with the friends will cause some problems down the road but we’ll cope. I can already see the fractures as the other two girls from her primary class start to pair off together.

We’ve had a couple of conversations along the lines of “I haven’t got any friends/Nobody likes me/I don’t like my new school” I’m hoping that things will sort themselves out. Having made a fresh start once, hopefully she’ll manage the transition to university with more confidence (I know I’m stretching but at least it’s positive).

I hope this all comes good – I don’t like it when my baby is sad.

12th September: A Good Run

Running is soul destroying and painful but it does work. It really does help your body lose calories, build muscle and focus on how it feels.

Telling myself this as I force myself up a hill, at slower than snail pace doesn’t cut much mustard. I have never once managed to have any endorphin high from exercise, and I’ve exercised a lot at various stages. The best that I can manage is a sense of calm, peaceful acceptance that I’ve done my best and can now chill out. Tennis is brilliantly competitive and social but just doesn’t use up the calories.

Running is utilitarian but given the current physical condition I’m not in, utility is god.

13th September: Followed by a slow stumble

I can barely move after yesterday’s run. The friend’s mother comes along on the school run and we head into Kenwood for a walk. The sun is shining and all is well in the world (apart from amazingly painful thighs). Rather pleasingly, she is even less fit than I am and struggles even more than me (and my aching thighs) to get up the steep bits.

We share a satisfying bitch about friend 2 and her botox before heading towards the cafe. Of course we get lost but in  good way. Everyone is cheerful and points us in the right direction. Sometimes the world is just a good place to be.

19th September: TextSuccess

J: My son is a triple scholar. So proud. Can’t stop crying. Love to all. J. XXX

15th September: Summer Book Club

I am beginning to hate the book club, the books that I would never choose for myself yet am obliged to read only to find that I’m the only person who has managed to get through it.

Before I go to Sleep SJ Watson

– the scariest book I’ve read in a long time. Imagine waking up not knowing who the man next to you really was and then looking in the mirror and not recognising who you were.

One Day David Nicholls

– I struggled to see the point of this unless it really was just about the pointlessness of life and death.
How to be a Woman Caitlin Moran

– I laughed and laughed through this book. The autobiographical stories were brilliant

Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother Amy Chua

– This is really all bout North London mothers on steroids.

Embassytown Chia Melville

– A bit too dry for me but an interesting idea about how language defines experience and vice versa.
Unnatural Selection Mara Hvistendahl

– rings far too true and ominous. The idea that it is the sensible middle classes that are first to kill off their girl children throughout the world is too close to home : the idea of individual choices contradicting the societal best and how to incentivise different behaviour (gender selection, private education?)

19th September: House of Cards

CS Lewis’ an Observation of Grief is a gutting read, all too believable it has made me weep. He describes how the death of his beloved has blown away his faith in God, as though it were a house of cards seemingly beautiful and well constructed but all too fragile when faced with reality.

In 4 short chapters I am obliged to face up to the sheer impossibility of my friend dying, knowing still that no matter how much I rationalise it will be a total shock. What do I say to her children? What can I do for her son and daughter?

Lewis describes wanting to be with people but not engaged with them, to be surrounded by sound, by chatter but not obliged to talk. He writes about the inaninity of people’s comments, the pointlessness of it all. What value is it to be told that your beloved is with God when all you want is for them to be with you? Here and now, you just want your loved one back home with you.

He rails at God for giving him this perfect love only to take it all away. Is God bad or mad, certainly dangerous? Would it be better never to have known and loved than to love and lose a sense of being loved. He’s scared of falling back into his crotchety old batchelor ways.

He worries about forgetting his beloved, of reinventing her in his mind to soften the edges of her character until she becomes a cliche, a crutch to comfort him. Meeting an old friend he is shocked at how much he has forgotton, mis-remembered the details. Having lost her in the flesh, will he also lose her in his mind and memory?

Above all there comes the scream “Where is my God?” Screaming and shouting out his pain, needing his God desperately, “Where is my God?” And the answer is silence. The door remains closed. Silent.

And yet, the storm quietens.

Would he have been without his love for fear of the pain to come? Well, all marriages must face up to this final parting and would I stay single to avoid the very real pain to come? I’d wish, in my cowardly fashion, to be the first to go but I couldn’t wish my love undone, my marriage dissolved and all the joy in my life unlived.

Is God mad, bad and dangerous to tease us with this feeling of completion only to take it away? Can I accept that God’s plan isn’t my plan and that perhaps having learned the lessons of love with my beloved it is time to move on to the next lesson? What if it isn’t about me at all? What if the timing of all of this is really about my beloved and what is best for them? How can it be best for them to leave me? Quite easily really, if I accept that my vision is limited.

Would I wish them back, Lazarus-like only to know that death was still to come. How cruel would that be?

Lewis finds that as the passion calms, so does the pain. The door is open. In his pain, bashing his head time and time again against the lintel, the door remains open until he is calm enough to cross the threshold. As his panic calms, her face returns to his mind brighter and brighter than ever before. She is there before him, quiet and certain.

This grief has been about him and his needs first and foremost, about his beloved a poor second and about God only a very little. There has been neither time nor will to celebrate his God or his beloved. If he could re-write the days, he would celebrate her joy and joyfulness.

And as he starts to celebrate once more, his love grows, his faith grows once more, ruefully in the knowledge that the house of cards remains just that, a false confidence waiting to be blown over.

20th September: Strange Days

My baby is coming to terms with the changes in her life, yet still… Disaster strikes. The plant is knocked over with the blinds pulled and all hell breaks loose. Screams. More screams. Tears and the world starts to come to an end. Childline is threatened.It all seems so fragile these days, so very nervous a balancing act between success and abject failure. How do we learn to be confident? Is it all a matter of caring less about things, a sense of proportion? New beginnings are hard, not just on the person starting anew.

It ends with a hug and repeated apologies. I don’t want her to be sorry. I want her not to do it again, not to lose control over something so very pedestrian. Save it for the end of the world, or at least an unfaithful lover.

But I’m asking too much. How can she promise to be calm and considered when that isn’t who she is at all? She jumps at life and grabs it wholehearted. She doesn’t understand the idea that things don’t always work out, for no good reason. Life isn’t fair at all, my love.

And every night she prays that God should send a miracle and J shall be cured of cancer. Please let her not die.

27th September: Textmate

J: Hope you had great holiday. Lung cancer spread and no more to do.They reckon some weeks left. Kids fighting. D has tachycardia and won’t go out. Love J XXX

J: Sorry brain cancer now.

October

5th October: Good Enough

Reading another scary CS Lewis book – The Problem of Pain – I find myself putting it down and running away. I’m part of the good-enough generation. The idea that actually it might not be possible to be good enough, that one must strive to actually be good, is terrifying.I’ve read enough books that warn me not to strive too hard or worry too much about being the perfect mother. I should aim towards being just good enough, don’t screw it up too badly and they should turn out all right.

But what if it isn’t good enough. What if the reality is that God calls us to be the best that we can be in life, to try to be good not just good enough?

It isn’t enough simply not to be bad. “I didn’t throw the punches, but I stood by and didn’t stop them hitting him” would be a fail in these circumstances. It is necessary to interfere, to be involved and to risk oneself. We need to challenge bad behaviour, meaness of character as well as acts. But we need most of all to challenge our own complacency.

Did I do the best that I could have done? Was I kind? Was I helpful?

If God loves us, it is despite our sins because we inevitably fail to live up to our own ideals never mind God’s ideas about what would be good and sufficient.

I’d like to hide behind the idea of relativity but I do believe that there is true goodness not relative good and bad if only because it seems so easy to spot genuinely good people, ideas and ideals. At least from a distance, Desmond Tutu seems such a good man. All of the saints and saintly people one hears about, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela etc all share some ideas about common decency, respect for each other and forgiveness. They all seem painfully aware of how far short they themselves have fallen short of their own ideals.

Good people don’t seem to believe themselves good.

It seems so very difficult to cope with this idea of continually striving and failing to be a better person. I’m running far and fast away from the ideas, knowing that I can’t possibly be successful.

My religion isn’t so much a comfort as a challenge suddenly. I’m struck by the realisation that it always has been and I was just missing the point for the first 40 years.

15th October: Angels Fear to Tread

Reality often fails to live up to expectations. I never seem to learn the lesson. I find myself holed up in my bedroom, hiding from an over-abundance of very loud, barely there teenagers in training. And I mean very loud.It seemed like a great plan – get them all together and just let them all hang-out at our place. That was before the (surprisingly smelly) man called to say he could fit in our painting so could he come along and touch up the woodwork please missus? Even without him, I’d be hiding. I’m long past wanting to interact with 12 year olds. I don’t have any maternal urges left after the trials and tribulations of dealing with my own 2 delights.

They are not quite as bouncy as boys the same age, but they could cackle for their country in the witchy olympics. The bitching cannot be understood until witnessed. They are so damned loud. And big! They take up the whole house. God forbid that they want to start making something (why did I encourage them to take up art projects?)

Three weeks of holidays, one without husband and an overabundance of young girls – hard work if not quite the disaster it could have been – should have taught me my lesson yet I keep on signing up for more. Surely at some stage even my blindness has to wake up to the fact that en-masse they are just not fun.

Don’t get me wrong, my girls are wonderful. It’s the other ones that I have a problem with. The ones who comment on my girl’s appearance (two months trauma in the making) the ones who refuse to eat, or talk or play, the ones who pick a fight with another guest but despite clearly having a lousy time of it, won’t go away.

The National Geographic has just run an article on teenage brains – another country – whereby potential reward, in particular social kudos weighs significantly heavier in the scale than most downside risk. This could go on til they’re 25! I’m not sure my ears can last that long.

26th November: All Hallows

Halloween is coming, the third largest celebration in the calendar measured by money spent. Trick n’ treating is a tradition embraced with true fervour in our household but does come with it’s own trauma built in – choosing an outfit!The outfit must be good enough to earn a compliment but not so good as to stand out from the crowd. It must be different from last year but not too different from our friends. The first 30 minutes of any halloween gathering consists almost entirely of costume evaluation and ranking.

The winners are not necessarily the best costumes but rather those with the confidence to carry-off whatever they’re wearing from the recurring Harry Potter witch to a shoe-box (don’t know, don’t care).

I’m tempted to suggest that my girls just get in their bitchy undermining comments first rather than waiting for the devastation to come. Something along the lines of:
“ Cat/witch/bitch/shop-bought/home-made again?”
” Haven’t seen that before”; or even better,
“gosh you’re brave”

We do this again and again because it’s supposed to be fun. It never seems to live up to the early promise though despite the tears and tragedy, neither girl will ever admit she’d prefer a night in with a video. The lure of shrieking loudly outside in the dark (occasional rain not withstanding) and gathering up buckets of sweets from bemused pensioners and dedicated parents, proves too much temptation, year on year. You would imagine they’d get too old but no, never.

We’ll start out in the garden with the chinese lanterns this year. Every so often one gets perilously close to the neighbour’s shed but the authentic horror induced in the grown-ups seems to make it even more hilarious for the kids.

At around 630pm they’ll head off down the street with the Dads while I man the sweet tin at home. They’ll wander up and down, ending up somewhere near Jonathon Ross who always does a good show (4 horseman of the apocalypse one year, KrispyKreme donuts the next).

About an hour after heading out, they’ll arrive back home, bedraggled with laddered tights, gummed up teeth and big eyes.

They’re almost old enough to have a proper party with a halloween feast afterwards – not sure what the food would have to be to compete with all that chocolate – but let’s save that for another year. Bedtime at 9pm. No chance.

November

4th November: Waiting

I find myself waiting for a text telling me that she’s dead. The six week progosis is now up. Another friend and I agree to call in at the house. Safety in numbers.

Knocking on the dooor, I want to run away and am ridiculously pleased when only her husband opens the door. Do I want to see my friend or not? I don’t know the answer any more. She is too tired, too depressed for visitors so I hand over my pot of manuka honey and leave, relieved. I have tried but am ridiculously glad to have failed in my mission.

As I leave, my friend arrives with an orchid.

She is too sad to see us. Her boy (and husband) are in counselling for depression. Her daughter has started to self-harm. She knows that she is about to die.

I want to weep. I am too glad not to have to see and talk to death, present and obvious.

I want to weep.

Another friend calls looking for an update. I send the text.

We all go back to waiting for the message that tells us the wait is over.

8th November: High Maintenance

North London Housewives have a reputation for being high maintenance. Do we mean physical or emotional? I’ve a feeling that compared to most women, I’m quite low maintenance but then I would wouldn’t I?I don’t wear makeup routinely. Passive-Aggressive tennis partner has been known to physically gasp when seeing me wearing lipstick and confide in suitable stage whispers that I could be quite pretty if I were to work just a bit harder.

My morning (and evening) routine consists of fairly basic hygiene, washing and brushing of teeth. I’ve never been big on skincare. I know that I should wear sunscreen when I’m playing tennis outdoors but generally forget. Cleanse, tone and moisturise isn’t a refrain that slips naturally from my tongue.

I’m reminded of a question suggested in the Caitlin Moran book: “ Would a man ask/say that?” If not, then it probably isn’t something to worry about, men not being very prone to self-deprecation or dismissal. Men shave (mostly) They wash generally. The best men will wear some sort of perfume to smell nice for the rest of us. Aside from the shaving, I’m a de minimus kind of groomer, along with the men.

However, the shaving issue is vexing. Hair freaks women out in this country and I’m no exception. I don’t want to be described as a hairy, hirsute kind of gal. I used to shave, have bleached my upper lip, never really got into depilation creams etc but now I wax.

I go to my local salon once a month and let Lisa wax my legs, underarm, fanny, upper lip and eyebrows.

Afterwards I lie back and have a facial, the non-surgical facelift which aims to maintain muscle tone in my face. It probably doesn’t do much good but it surely doesn’t do any harm. I vaguely think that it might mitigate any incipient signs of Bells Palsy which both my aunt and sister suffered from.

Recently I’ve begun a foray into more permanent hair removal with laser removal of my underarm hair (it hurts lots to wax here) and just this week I’ve had my first session on my upper lip (again, hurts lots).

Lisa was born and brought up in Rhyl, North Wales, quite close to where I was brought up. She sounds like my childhood home, scouse sensible. I like her.

She’s young, maybe thirty, and married to an older man, a roofer about forty with three kids aged about 19, 15 and 11. In many ways she’s an extraordinary person. The three kids started out living with their mum and her new boyfriend though not officially because that would mean she’d lose her benefits. The ex-wife sounds feckless rather than malicious, lazy rather than spiteful but she isn’t a mother that you’d wish to have.

The oldest boy couldn’t cope with the boyfriend so moved in with Lisa and her man. Not many new second wives would be happy with that but Lisa was fine with the responsibility. He fitted into their household with what I imagine was a sigh of relief. He came for a week and has never gone back.

She keeps a clean, organised home. There is always food in the fridge. Clothes are washed and ironed.The heating works. It sounds so obvious but the ex-wife’s house can’t guarantee any of these things. The other children have spent weekends and holidays with Lisa regularly. She has clear boundaries around behaviour, bedtimes, mealtimes etc and the kids get to see a regular organised household where both parents work and contribute.

In many ways Lisa lives a little-Englander life and sees the stereotype that conservatives criticise so often. She works hard, lives with a man she loves who also works long physical hours. Their money is tight but they have managed to buy a two bedroom flat in North London. They support themselves and his three kids.

Th ex-wife has never worked. She lives off benefits. She has an on-going relationship with a man who works but connive to avoid the appearance of a relationship, maintaining two houses so that she can receive a council house (four bedrooms) and benefits for her and her three kids (the last child from the new man). She trained as a hairdresser but gave that up at the first whiff of pregnancy.

Her house is not clean or tidy. She’s more likely to pop down to the chippy or pub than she is to have food in the fridge. Her children are not always washed and clean when she sends them (late) to school.

She adopts crusades (her daughter was bullied so he switched her to a new school six months before the end of year six)  but drops them when they become onerous leaving other people to either sink unsupported or desperately try to rescue the situation.

Throughout the trials and tribulations of their lives with their birth mother, Lisa has stood calm and strong, supporting these children who are nothing to do with her other than a drain on her financial and emotional resources. In many ways, I regard her as a bit of a hero.

If those children turn out ok,that is, happy tax-paying individuals, then their mother will take the credit but clearly Lisa will actually own most of the responsibility. The children know who is really there for them. They may love their mother, but they know that Lisa is the bedrock of their lives.

Some of the things that Lisa tells me shock me into a sense of reality. By their nature, facials are quite confessional but the confessions usually travel both ways. Secrets are shared. Bitching is a sympathy sport.

As the recession starts to bite, Lisa tells me she is considering taking out a loan to pay off her credit card bill in full. She tells me that the credit card isn’t really a problem, she can still pay off the minimum repayment without problem.

I am speechless. I can’t imagine not paying off my bill in full at the end of each month. On a practical level, the interest rate charged on credit cards is astonishingly high and it is so stupid to run up debt that costs so very much. Overall, Lisa’s  strategy has paid for my credit card balance (zero interest for monthly borrowings all repaid).

I am speechless because someone who earns so little ends up paying interest at a ridiculous rate to the banks but I’m also totally shocked that anyone can regard being maxed out on their credit cards as not a problem. Running up a large permanent balance on your credit card is a debt problem.

Lisa isn’t stupid by any means. She has been conned by society into believing that debt is okay. It isn’t okay. Debt is a bad thing. It starts to drive your life and lifestyle. I don’t want my girls to buy into the idea of debt as an acceptable way of life. I want them to save for things that they can’t quite afford to buy.

But of course my children are likely to be financially blessed. It seems so very unfair that my girls will by financially cushioned through their youth and education, helped when they set up home and provided for when we die. They already have pensions to help in their old age and savings to fund university or their first house.

10th November: Cousins

The cousins are coming, ready the house and family. We need at least twice as much food as anyone could conceivably imagine being eaten, and for the sake of my own pride, the house must be beautiful. My lover is the oldest of five children. The youngest is a brother my age with three boys, tightly packed around the ages of my girls. We see them rarely but for my girls it is always a treat.

In his own way, Uncle J is as obsessive and compulsive about food as I am. His obsession is sugar. Mine is salt. We both insist on a variety of carbs to be eaten each day by our children.

In the end he is both more relaxed and more uptight than I remember. They bring wine, beer and a tin of chocolate biscuits as gifts. He manages only to flinch slightly at the butterred popcorn I hand out to the boys when watching a video. I’m happy to see that they only need two loaves of bread for breakfast.

Rather oddly, they turn out not to be into eggs for breakfast unlike our girls. We settle for boiled eggs and soldiers rather than scrambled. The adults tuck in. The boys go long on the nutella chocolate spread, with sidelong glances at their dad because they can’t quite believe that it’s happened.

In the long run, I think that perhaps they are a bit more into sweets and sweet things than my girls. With my oldest, I’m more inclined to try and push calories into her, than to manage them away. The only reason I’m not cramming chocolate into her on a daily basis, is concern for her teeth.

Are we happy with the control freakery that we’re demonstrating as parents? His answer was clear and probably the same as mine would be. We can only do our best. We must bring up our children, to the best of our ability for the benefit of their health and well-being.

If my girls turn out to reject vegetarianism and/or christianity, then that is a choice they will have made. I can only do what I believe to be the right thing. Eventually they have to make their own choices.

The girls and boys teamed up easily and quickly. It was as if no time had passed since their last meeting. When they remember the visit, the adults will surely fade from memory and only the children will remain.

We talked about plans for the olympics 2012 – roll on the next visit.

12th November: Hysterics

Screaming ab-dabs from my hero who suddenly wants to cancel her percussion lessons in school because of stress. Let’s shoot the person who told children about stress.Stress is perhaps not the real reason for the hysterics. She wants a drum set. The transition from wanting a new-drum kit to the screaming ab-dabs took about as long as my suggestion that she might get a drum kit instead of the requested nintendo ds 3D for Christmas.

It also turns out that she’s told her peripatetic teacher that she has a drum kit already, which could perhaps be re-explained as one is on it’s way at Christmas. So she has to back-track on a foolish porky-pie and consider losing her most wished for present – no wonder she’s stressed.

I wish that we could go more calmly through the problem. Tears and tantrums make it so much harder to find out what is actually going on. Even now I’m only speculating as to motives and consequences.

We come up with a plan.

I will write a letter to her teacher asking when she can move from the drum kit onto more generic percussion within the orchestra. Her dad makes comforting noises about the possibility of a drum kit and nintendo ds 3D.

In the end we go to bed calmly enough. School on the following day. Drums on Tuesday.

18th November: Parent’s Evening

The new school is very communicative. We have a report (marks for effort as well as attainment) and now we have the very first parent’s evening, somewhere between an organised scrum and a riot.The consensus is that she’s smart and focused in class. She works hard and is generally well-behaved. Her art teacher loves her – she acts with confidence and effort. She isn’t scared of drawing. Her drama teacher rates her highly though describes her as eccentric – odd? Probably not, since everyone was working so hard to be positive.

The maths teacher sees her as being safely in the top half of the class and therefore a likely candidate for the top set from the end of this term. There will be tears if not all of the girls in the car each morning get into the top set.

Her latin teacher (and head of year) thinks that we need to build on her confidence, the willingness to fail (totally lacking) and take risks by trying new things. I agree that the hysterics are trying.

Both her English and RE teacher agree that she can’t spell. The science report is good, though her homework can be scrappy and has been late. Her geography teacher rates her highly but wants her to be more careful when measuring and reporting scale. Her French teacher is worried that she’s missed too many lessons for her percussion lessons with a peripatetic teacher.

Areas to work on: spelling, checking work once complete

20th November: When a tradition is not

Every New Year for as long as I can remember, we have gone to BF2’s house for New Year. Last year did not go well.It has become increasingly difficult for the girls to enjoy the night out. The house is cold. Inevitably my girls end up sleeping together in a cold loft room rather than sharing with the daughter of the house. The child of another family who come along has priority because she’s the stranger to be looked after.

The middle child, the favoured son, is increasingly horrid to the girls. They get freaked out when he starts beating up his younger brother and picking fights with his sister. They don’t understand when the dad is rude to BF2, when the favoured boy chooses to hang out with his dad rather than the kids.

They dislike the scrounging from the grown-up table, not because they object to the crisps or sweeties but because they know that I disapprove and they shouldn’t partake. Two sets of rules are difficult to police.

What should we do? They don’t want to go and it’s their holiday as well so we shouldn’t. How do I tell my friend that my children don’t want to come this year?

If I were brave and straightforward, I would just say that the girls want something different. Instead. I’m going to make some sort of family excuse. His mother has not been well, and has been taken into hospital. I’m going to tell BF1 that we have to go out of town to see family.

Coward.

So what shall we do instead of visiting BF1? There are supposed to be fireworks on the square at new year so maybe we’ll stay up and go to see them instead. Shall we have a family meal, lateish in the evening and then head up to see the fireworks?

We have a plan.

23rd November: Sudden Melancholy

One day I shall be old and tired. My body will slow down and stop working. One day I will die. Yet the thing that leaves me in tears is not the thought of decay and decline but rather of losing my loves. I am fearful for my children, for my lover.I would like to be brave and hopeful but just right now I feel scared. I worry that my Beloved is too solitary, too skinny and too often ill. I worry that my Hero is unhappy at her new school, that she is struggling to find a safe calm platform to build her life upon.

Will my daughters always love me? I fear not. I know with absolute certainty that  I will always love them. I am a hostage to their fate, their whims and wishes. I will always wait to hear from them, their successes and (with dread) their failures. I will always feel murderous towards those people who threaten or harm my girls. I will be fearful of those people my loves invest with their own loves and laughter.

When their own loves arrive, will I begrudge them or is love truly an inexhaustable resource that grows and grows?

Oh my darling girls, I pray to God to keep you always safe from the dark. Let your lives contain enough challenge to help you grow in health and happiness and no more. Do not send temptation into your lives. God send you uneventful lives, lives of strength and calm.

If harm comes our way, let it come to me not you. And when I die, let there be only tears of sadness not of regrets or anger. I will try to be the best mother that I can be. At times I fail. We all fail. But I will keep on trying.

God send me the strength to be what you need when you need it and to step out of the way when you need me to not be there.

24th November : Stereotypes

I am a saver who enjoys spending. I routinely set aside money each month for my pension, my children’s pensions etc. The money that I have left in my bank account, I spend guilt free. But saving is a habit built out of fear not happiness. It is still a habit I would wish for my girls.The average private pension in this country amounts to no more than £2000. My daughters’ pensions already total around £40,000 each. The oldest is just 13 years old. With compounding (and despite the best efforts of the stock market to crash)

I want my daughters to have more freedom in their lives than I have had. When they get to their thirties or forties, I don’t them to be on the treadmill trying to set aside money for their old age and at the same time to afford their children. At some level, I want them to be able to choose vocations rather than “safety”. If they want high powered, well-remunerated careers, let it be because that is what they want not because they have to work so hard to survive.

I trained as an accountant because after my degree I couldn’t think of anything else that I wanted to do and it was so important to me to be financially independent.

My mother was totally dependent on my father’s money and almost despite himself, it poisoned the power dynamics in their relationship. It allowed her to play games, trading off emotion for money pay-offs. I never wanted to walk down that pathway with any lover of mine. The irony is that I’ve ended up with such a traditional, stereotypical marriage and family.

I am a housewife, living at home managing the house administration and caring for my girls and husband. We even got married eventually making it all legal.

I married a relatively wealthy man, about eight years older than me so more settled in himself and in his career. I worked in finance earning well into six figures so never expected to live the stereotype. I would say that there was no sexism in my life until I had children and then maybe sexism isn’t the right description.

I took the minimum leave with my first girl. It didn’t help. There was a management change and the arse who became my lover’s boss and my boss’s boss, took against the idea of both of us working within his group. I was made to leave my lovely safe, high powered successful career and move into projects. Three months after my return, the git changed jobs so he essentially destroyed my career for nothing.

When you come back to work with a new baby, the trick is to come back to a safe working environment. So much else has changed, that you want a job that you can do standing on your head, and do well not just pass the time. Being thrown into a new role without a safe support network whilst struggling physically and mentally to adapt to a new child just isn’t a good place to be. I didn’t like my new role and the people around me didn’t like me being there.

After a second pregnancy I took a long maternity leave. This time around, the bank was bought by another bank, management changed and in my project role I had no supporters to keep my job open for me. It was given to someone else. I had no job to return to. Trust us they said (after I got the lawyers involved). Come back to another project and we’ll look after you.

Six months after the most miserable time since auditing, I persuaded them to make me redundant. I haven’t been back to paid work since.

This leaves me with a number of problems. I believe in women working. I believe in female emancipation, in women’s rights. I would call myself a feminist.

Yesterday, my Beloved said she wanted to grow up, earn some drop dead money and retire to being a housewife like me. I love my life but I’m not sure I would see it as something for my girls to aspire towards.

25th November: Journeys

Every morning I drive my youngest daughter to school. I like the journey, the chat about everyday life and the day about to unfold. I don’t like the petty politics with the girls who cadge a lift with us.Every afternoon when she gets home, I am asked if we could drive alone, without the girls we take along with us. One or the other has said something, done something mean or petty. My Hero does not want to sit in a car with them. Today it all came to a head and she’s decided to try the bus tomorrow.

A text has been sent out letting everyone know that I’m not driving tomorrow because she wants to try out the journey. It puts the parents in a strange place. The mother of one of the girls regularly brings everyone home (apart from Wednesday when her daughter has an after school club).

Even though I won’t be taking her daughter to school tomorrow, I expect her to bring mine home. Is this reasonable?

She doesn’t work so is available to drive to school both morning and afternoon. Every Wednesday I take her daughter with no thought of a lift home. Last week, when her daughter had some playdates after school, my Hero planned to come home by bus. The occasional day where she takes her own daughter to school is probably not going to be a problem.

In actual fact her daughter, let’s call her, Only Child (OC) isn’t the problem. The other “friend” the child of a not very amicable divorce, let’s call her Divorce Child (DC) is the one that seems to wind my love up. I’m surprised.

Three girls from Hero’s primary school have gone to her secondary school. They were split between classes, which seemed strange at the time but has turned out to be the right process. As with all threesomes, someone has to be Billy-No-Mates and it turns out that this role is my daughter’s. The other two still meet up regularly for lunch or break. They have regular out of school playdates.

Hero started out feeling excluded and unhappy but as she’s made friends in her own class, this seems to have abated. It really comes down to the school journeys, the time collecting stuff at the end of the day, the time available for teasing, joking around and making fun. Hero feels picked at. She doesn’t like it. Why should she let them back into her life in the morning when they’ve said goodbye on such a sour note?

DC has flashes of the kind of mean bitchiness that young girls are famous for. I wouldn’t have thought she would turn out to be such a problem. She’s personable, short red-haired and smart. She wouldn’t say boo to a goose when adults are around.

I like her mother (Nervy) lots though my lover is less enamoured. He would say she is too needy, too dramatic and nervy. Nervous people make him (and most people) nervous in return. She’s funny and self-deprecating. From the state of her personal life, she has absolutely no sense of self-preservation though and I’ve finally reached a stage of life where I don’t need to rescue people.

She left her safe but dull marriage, entered into at a ridiculously young age to the boring ex (B-ex). With three children it wasn’t an easy decision but as always with divorce, it takes much longer to make the decision than outsiders realise. even within the marriage it was a shock to B-ex and took ages for him to agree to move on with things and start to process the divorce.

When he finally did move on with things, he became very business-like, functional and organised. He moved to make the most of his situation. As it always does, the argument moves onto money and who gets what. It wasn’t pretty. It never is pretty. Having sorted the property, B-ex moved onto  an emotional settlement and met and married another South African quite quickly but not as quickly as his ex-wife found a husband.

Nervy met her new husband on-line. He was a journalist working in Washington DC and after a couple of passionate exchanges, he moved to London. A family friend helped him find a job as an editor with the Financial Times which he kept for about a year or so. We’re told he gave up his job to pursue the dream of becoming a photographer. Another friend suggested that perhaps he’d been more pushed than walked.

He hasn’t worked since. He’s depressed. He has a phobia about meeting new people and putting himself into strage situations (not classical characteristics of self-employed photographers).

Nervy has started working part-time to help bring in some money. She’s paying for him to have therapy, as well as for his “60 a week habit” and nightly jaunts down to the pub. He feels disassociated. She’s going to add his name to the title deeds on the family home (bought with help from her parents and her share of the divorce settlement). She gets cross when people point out that this isn’t really a sensible thing to be doing, that she needs to look after her own interests and take off the rose-tinted spectacles.

She has gone from being a  pampered North London housewife who felt like a caged, contained pet, to being the only breadwinner on the treadmill of financial necessity with dependents. I’m not sure that anyone needs this amount of reality in their lives. Money might not make for happiness but clearly poverty does make for unhappiness.

B-ex comes trick or treating each year and seems a decent enough man. I can believe that he’s not very exciting, that he’s not great in bed with a strange shaped willy (they all are). I can believe that he was an insensitive shit when Nervy suffered post-natal depression. These are all the actions of a distracted emotional frigid person ie. most men brought up to see their worth in terms of providing financially rather than investing emotionally in their families. I just don’t think that the new guy is much of an improvement.

Anyway, whilst I was surprised at how tricky their child DC was turning out to be, none if the other mothers canvassed for advise were at all shocked. One had made the absence of DC the primary criteria for choosing a school for their own daughter. The other had some very tricky conversations with her own daughter about how divorce unhappiness might make DC act out and become a bit more tricky. I’m not convinced by the divorce rationale. Maybe she’s just mean.

I like the mother of the other journey mate, OC, though the dad can appear a bit of an arse in the way that PR schmoozers always seem to be. At lunch, he wanted to talk about himself, his ideas, his exploits. Maybe I only object because it’s a role I like for myself too much. On subsequent meetings and occasions, I’ve like him. He’s warm and generous with his time, his smiles. I can see why she likes him.

She’s a wee bit insecure, always putting herself down in that way some women do. He doesn’t seem to spend much time building her up but neither does he run her down. Maybe she makes him feel bigger by making herself seem smaller but that’s hardly the worst game a married couple can play.

Insecure Mother (IM) is quick to describe her own lack of educational achievement in company, her lack of experiences, travel or otherwise. The funny thing is that she’s a delight to spend time with, witty and wise, gentle and barbed all at the same time. Any lack is entirely self-determined. She’s lovely.

Her daughter, OC, is hard to manage as an adult because she doesn’t have the same boundaries the other girls have. She doesn’t have the same respect for boundaries, the idea that adults are in charge in any given situation. Her home-life must involve a lot more negotiation than I engage with my daughters. As a result, she’s more likely to challenge an adult’s decision.

Processes take much more time and energy with her. In the long run, it probably won’t do her any harm to be a bit more sceptical about authority, a bit more willing to challenge and dispute with authority. I’m glad that I don’t have to live with it day-to-day though.

If I wondered what the new school would be like, and thought about the girls going with Hero would be like, it was OC that I’d worried about not DC. I was wrong. OC may be more difficult for me because she confounds my expectations, but with her peers she seems straightforward enough. She knows that she is well-loved. She doesn’t need to play games.

DC is altogether more corrosive. Hero must ask herself what price she is willing to pay for a car journey home, 4 days a week. I am happy to take her but not to hang around waiting to pick up at the end of day on a regular basis. If she wants a lift home, we have to take the friends in with us in the morning. Quid pro quo.

Roll on new friends, new relationships hopefully more straightforward times for my Hero. Now all we have to do is negotiate the forthcoming Christmas party invitations.

26th November: Disreputable

Tom is a tramp. For the last couple of years, he has taken to living in the doorway at St Jude and in the shelter of the Church Rooms he stashes his gear in the corners of the garden or, on particularly paranoid days, up a tree.

He lives with the church not because he has any sense of religion but because everyone else around here has one by one raised ASBOs to move him on. He has been banished from the neighbourhood, street by street, as householders take against him as a neighbour. He gets cross when the organist practices in the church because she wakes him up in the middle of the day when he fancies a nap.

I have some sympathy with them. He pees and poos all over the church steps, knowing full well that some unlucky churchwarden will come along and clean up after him.  The detritus from his life, litters the life of the church. He seems careless with his medication, leaving pills, syringes etc lying around. He is a difficult neighbour.

Sometimes I come across him in the middle of the day tramping around the nearby shops. I always say hello and ask how it’s going for him. He has always answered me and always been perfectly polite. For me, this feels like a tiny piece of bravery.

Tom talks to himself. He shouts out to passers-by or indeed to invisible people, arguing some obscure point throwing himself about physically. He is clearly out of control by some measures and any attempt to interact with him, feels risky. But he has always been polite. Always been reasonable.

He is so removed from everyday interaction that I hope small, controlled greetings can give him some sense of contact. I’m not sure what I would do if he started a more serious interaction as a result. I’d like to believe that I could be brave but I’m scared that I’d run away.

Talking to my daughters, it became clear that they too were scared. I needed to decide what message to give and I believe that we need to be more inclusive. My girls will say hello to Tom. They are nervous but polite. This has to be the right answer.

A couple of years ago Tom was arrested and locked up for a couple of months. He was accused and convicted of throwing stones at some children. It turns out that they had been teasing and taunting him. Should he have been locked up?

Last year things got so bad that the churchwarden called Tom’s mother to come and talk to him. He’d started grinding out the mortar from between the bricks, costing the church quite a lot of money to repair. His mother arrived, a small Irish woman along with Tom’s 18 year old daughter. She was struggling with her son. He refused to register for benefits and so essentially was denied them. She was struggling to feed and clothe him from out of her own statutory benefits.

Tom had been a husband, a father-to-be with his own business. One of his twin baby daughters died and his life fell apart. He couldn’t cope and went AWOL. He has never been able to go back to the real world.

So I’m left feeling sorry for Tom the tramp that no one wants near them but not quite sorry enough to let him near me. He reeks of sweat and urine. I can’t quite cope with him defecating on the church steps. I cant bring myself to be good enough to invite him home. I can shake his hand as a sign of Christmas peace but not in every day.

God send me the grace to be a better person.

28th November: First Frost

Cold, magical first frost arrived today. My lover is away on work (Mumbai) and the temperature has dropped in a number of ways. There is less heat to the discussions with my daughters, less heat in the house generally.When he’s away, the house falls a bit flat. I sleep better because I’m not being woken up in the middle of the night as he fidgets, but I miss the warmth of him in the morning, those five minutes before the second alarm goes off and the day begins.

Breakfast is more straightforward without him. My Beloved and I try to avoid fights without him to referee between us. We’re both old enough and sensible enough to manage the situation. The main benefit comes from not having him rub up against Hero. He teases her too often, meaning to be gentle and failing. It always goes just a step too far leaving tears or hysterics. It strikes me as strange that our family temperament has such a black-white dynamic.

Beloved can have me spitting with anger without trying. Hero can have her placid father apoplectic within minutes. Neither of the alternate parents will be able to understand how the parent-child fight could have started so quickly. I often don’t notice what Hero has been saying or doing to wind her father up to such a state (neither will she necessarily).

With Dad away, the morning runs smoothly but also calmly. It becomes more predictable. This morning, it seems that I am expected to give Beloved a lift to the station in her father’s absence. I’ve surprised myself by being quite amenable to the idea. I’m not normally so helpful but it is nice to have 5 minutes with her. As she gets older, it becomes harder to connect, easier to find other things to be occupied with rather than listening to each other.

I hate the cold.

For the last month or so, people have taken to playing the “put another jumper on” game, the one-up-man-ship around who has put the heating on last or least. I don’t get it.

I am uncomfortable when the temperature falls below 20degrees. In my ideal world the house temperature would never fall below 22degrees but I accept that this is probably too warm for my lover. I’ll turn the thermostat up a degree or two only to see it move down after a day or so.

When I was growing up, we had no central heating to speak of. We eventually had some storage heaters, old huge banks of bricks, covered in a thin metal box . They heated up slowly and erratically, barely taking the edge off the cold in the mornings. My father wouldn’t have gas in the house so central heating was never going to be achievable on a practical level. In my teens, we had a new fireplace put in that would heat some water and also one radiator upstairs in my bedroom.

I remember feeding the fire to bank it up just before bedtime, being first down in the morning and raking out the fire and re-starting it from embers. It was a dirty thankless job. When we put a fireplace into our house, I surprised myself by wanting a real fire rather than a gas “real flame”.

Why after all of the fuss  of my childhood would I volunteer for the extra work and mess? The answer comes from having an existing central heating system that moves a real fire from being a necessary job to being a decorative feature. In part,  I quite like the real fire because of my control paranoia: if the gas and electricity fail, we will still have some means of staying warm. It fits in with the stockpiles of food and water upstairs in the loft.

I hate feeling cold. Last winter was exceptional with three weeks of serious snow leading up to Christmas and more weeks afterwards. We used both the central heating and the fire to keep us warm. Living in a hundred year old house, one becomes aware of all of the inadequacies of historic building techniques, the drafts and freezing windows.

Two years ago, we paid a carpenter to come and re-hang our doors, touch up our window frames and above all, insulate, insulate and then insulate some more. The house isn’t warm but it is certainly warmer. The work was completed before the really cold winter last year and I was very glad for it to be completed.

On the down side, we still have old style windows so we suffer from condensation on windows Autumn through to Spring, when the warm indoors air hits the cold windows. One more job for the morning involves mopping up the water away from the woodwork (too many window frames rotted way). Eventually, the answer must be to put in secondary glazing but it’s a hideously expensive job. We’re not there yet but it’s a job moving up the to-do list.

So rather late in the year, the frost has arrived and we’re off to school muffled up in our coats. The seasons roll forwards.

29th November: Infidelity

I have never been unfaithful to my lover, not this one, not through more than thirteen years of partnership. But when I was younger, married to another man, I couldn’t make the same claim.My first husband was a perfectly good man, kind and straightforward, smart and sensible like all good yorkshiremen.

Before we married I had a flirtation with a man at work, met on a training course, exotic and (at the time I thought) very sexy and smart. On a couple of occasions this spilt over into sex, quite fine and fun sex. I have always loved the idea and (mostly) the reality of sex.

Yorkshire wasn’t living with me, not even in London so looking back I’m not sure how connected I felt to him. Sexy was there with me in the city. He was someone to hold onto the night that I was made redundant  (perfectly reasonable as I was a lousy, entirely uncommitted auditor). I moved out of London and up to Chester before marrying and moving to Holland. I didn’t see Sexy for many years but rather foolishly I stayed in touch with him through letters. Life moved on.

When Yorkshire was made redundant and started his MBA back in the UK, I stayed behind in Europe for a year and was miserably lonely. Sex with Yorkshire has been infrequent to say the least.

Throughout our marriage I had felt unattractive and criticised. He didn’t seem to like the bits of me that I liked best. I was too loud, too dramatic or extreme. I wasn’t respectable, sensible. It wasn’t his fault particularly. We just didn’t fit at some level. I was unhappy.

Sexy came over for the weekend. Sex was fun and entertaining enough but he talked about the women at his workplace with disdain. By the end of the weekend it was clear that it was a disaster waiting to happen. I abandoned all contact.

My amoral university boyfriend came over for a couple of weekends. We slipped into sex from warmth and too much wine and familiarity. If he hadn’t taken up with a best friend, it might have moved forwards (ultimately a big disaster so a lucky escape).

Moving back to the UK, finding a job and setting up home again with Yorkshire went smoothly enough but the unhappiness remained.  A year or two in, I met my Lover. I knew that my marriage wasn’t working and finally I had the sense to realise that I needed to move on from that relationship. I did not start anything more than a flirtation with my Lover before talking to Yorkshire, mostly at my Lover’s insistence on clearing the decks.

Yorkshire cried when I asked for a divorce. He drove home to his mother that night. I felt hurtful and horrid. Two years later I was divorced and settled with my Lover.

Infidelity was wrong on a number of fronts, whilst clearly a betrayal of my vows of faithfulness, I came to realise that prohibitions against sin are often there for very practical reasons as well as moral ones.

Infidelity distracted me from the very real problems in my relationship with Yorkshire. It provided me with a sense of intimacy, albeit false, that stopped me dealing with the lack of intimacy in my life. There was a sense of excitement and an edge of fear to it all, something to think about other than my unhappiness, a distraction.

My relationship with Yorkshire was never quite right. It was born out of fear and insecurity (mine). I was at fault for entering into the marriage in the first place and for staying within its comfortable but unhappy confines. I still don’t really know why he married me. I still feel guilty at the pain I’ve caused him though mitigated by the knowledge that he went on to have a happy marriage with my neighbour (very East Enders) and to have a son the same age as my Hero who attended the same school (same class) at primary school.

Yorkshire and I should have stayed good friends and not ventured into anything more intimate.

It is a mistake to try to build relationships from weakness, propping up each others failings and inadequacies. It is important to admit failures, deal with them and if they can’t be fixed, move on cleanly.

Every day I wake up and decide to stay in my marriage. I make no promises. I hope and pray that my Lover makes the same decision to stay.

Affirming my relationship each and every day seems to me to be a position of strength. When I say that this is what I do, people are horrified, disbelieving even and I have never understood why. They seem to assume that being clear about the choice I make each morning, makes the possibility of choosing to leave more real.

Only my relationship with my daughters is non-negotiable  from my perspective. I can never leave my girls. They may always choose to leave me of course – the nightmare of parents everywhere.

But with another adult, in all relationships everyone needs to make this decision “stay or go” and does indeed make a choice whether or not they’re willing to admit it to themselves. How much sadder it seems to be to drift in life in comfortable confinement or worse to be trapped in active unhappiness.

Infidelity is wrong because of the hurt it causes to a person who should be able to trust you. It is wrong because it helps to sustain a damaging relationship, failing and falling long beyond the point at which we should cut and run.

Infidelity is wrong because it allows people to run away from the reality of their situation. It is a sin. One of many sins that I must own up to and probably not the worst one.

30th November: Textmate

J: Thx for honey. Will text soon. In a very dark place. Haven’t seen or spoken to sister for 2 months. Hope you’re all well. Hugs. J. XXX

December

3rd December ; Christmas Market

This year we had a Christmas Market, just to make it fractionally more stressful than the usual Autumn stress-fest. 36 pots of jam were duly despatched to the jam stall. The cake stall was waiting.I’m not great at cakes but I do make a wonderful gingerbread house. Starting at the beginning of the week, I made the biscuit walls and roof for six baby houses. At Waitrose, I couldn’t find clear boiled fruit sweets so I risked sherbets – big mistake! They fizzed and fizzled leaving pock-marked unappealing windows. I persevered thinking to cover them up somehow. I made them into their house like shape with chocolate frosted cement. The next day, I made the biscuits for two large houses, but first went out on a more serious sweet hunt. I was tempted by Frost’s clear mints but there seems something off about mint flavoured windows. Luckily Frost also make fruit sweets.

Looking at the baby houses, compared to the larger clear windowed monsters it was clear that they wouldn’t sell. I started again. On the Friday before, i woke up and went hunting suitable sweets to decorate the completed houses. The little ones were simple, with a single sweet snowman attached to the front and a drift of icing sugar. For the larger houses, one to sell and one to keep, minimalism was never really an option. Chocolate buttons make good tiles for the roof. Smarties make good bunting drifts from the eaves. Snowmen stand guard at the doors and for our own house, I found the usual sweet sugar mice.

Having gone to all of this trouble, made the jam, the houses, collected a box of books to sell on the book stall and decided to sell the pirate ship on the toy stall, the one thing left to stress about, is the fear that ones carefully constructed products won’t sell! The large house was auctioned for £25, though they went early (1130am). The little ones went for a fiver. I believe they contributed to the fact that for the first time ever, the cake stall took more money than preserves. Some of my jam was leftover, but given how much I gave to the stall a couple of jars isn’t enough to stress about.

I gathered my ego and left the fete heading off for a cold but jolly, competitive but successful (2:1) tennis match. Lovely day.

6th December Christmas Dinner

Mad. My lover was home from Mumbai, the church had it’s annual market or fete, there was a tennis match in the afternoon and best of all, last night we had our best friends Christmas dinner.Every year we try to get together. This year, BF1 took charge and organised the event – in Putney! I can’t remember the last time that we went south of the river (just) but the evening was worth it. I’ve known these women for more than 20 years and love them dearly. Their husbands are a bit more of a challenge but taken in the right spirit and with a sizeable pinch of salt they can be entertaining.

The restaurant was a smart-casual Italian local, not cheap at more than £80 a head but pretending to be. The food was unexpected in a not very satisfactory way. There was a very strange mozzarella salad which had slightly undercooked butternut squash and some candied peel with almonds. I’ve never had such a strange starter. The pasta course was straightforward though small and desert tasted like a bread and butter pudding but looked more like a creme caramel – weird!

We didn’t go for the food and therefore it couldn’t let us down. We went for the company and were not disappointed. Maybe the strident argument from the boys (not mine) added to the joy of the event just because of it’s extremity. They could model for grumpy little Englander, all doom and gloom. The country is down in the dumps. The Euro disaster has doomed us. We are being asked to pay too much tax to support scroungers and layabouts within the underclass. Why are we ie. the rich not loved? We should be loved and treasured and appreciated!

There was a brief foray into the relative merits of labour politicians. The education system was panned of course and then we found a respite in discussing holidays.

I love planning holidays almost more than going on them! On holiday, for me it’s all about the photos, the sights to be seen (including people).I hate staying still on holiday, love moving on from place to place. Next Summer, we have the Olympics coming to London so ofcourse BF2’s husband wants to leave town and country to get away from the fuss. The relative merits of Florida an California were discussed. I mentioned the proposed 3 weeks in Wales and an invitation for their daughter to come with us for the first week. No chance.

We made the same invitation this year only to be brushed off because they are in Scotland for the Summer. They could afford the airfare from Edinburgh to Cardiff for one girl. I don’t really understand why he’s so adamant about this. She’d love a week’s break from her family surely?

7th December: Childhood

When I was a child my mother hit me, hard, not with a slap but with a slipper. It happened often enough for me to lose track of the number. I’ve tried and failed to not hit my daughters. Each time has been my failure not theirs. Each time I’ve apologised but known that apologies are woefully insufficient. Physical violence, especially between people who love each other is always a betrayal. If I could take it back…

There have been a handful of times, maybe four or five where I have been frustrated and cross beyond belief over stupid things. A refusal to get in the car, or stay in the car. Hero had a stage of opening the door in a moving car. Screamed at beyond reason, my temper has frayed with dreadful consequences.

Even now, I findmyself trying to find excuses for myself knowing that there really aren’t any excuses to be made. I’m supposed to be the grown up, supposed to be in control. Lashing out in temper, frustration and fury is the behaviour we’re supposed to train our children out of not validate by acting out.

My mother hit me. His father hit my lover. One of the major reasons my lover was so glad to have daughters not sons, is the avoidance of acting out once more a dreadful father-son dynamic. It seems to me that either people follow blindly their parent’s model or rebel to the opposite extreme. There seems to be no correlation between positive and negative role models as to acceptance or rejection, at least at a “reasonable” level.

Maybe I should be glad that my parents were so extreme that there was never any thought in my mind that they were normal. I remember crying myself to sleep at night, asking God why he had sent me to this place, to these people. Why must I be hurt in this way? What possible value could this existence have for anyone?

Unfortunately, I’m sure Hero has had the same reaction after an unfair division of sweets or tv controller one evening. There is some comfort in knowing that she can get so upset by trivialities. I wouldn’t wish her to know the feeling of going to bed hungry, bruised and cut, cold emotionally as well as physically.

I can’t remember ever being told by my mother that she loved me. Was it generational? I tell my girls all the time. At bedtime prayers we pray:

God send xxxx sweet dreams tonight.
Help her to remember that she is special.
Help her to remember that I have always loved her.
I love her now and I will always love her,
Now and forever,
I am so lucky to have been given her as part of my life.
Amen.

I mean every word.

7th December : Textmate

J: A bit down (again). One of D’s friends mum passed away. Younger than me. Now friend kicked out of school for taking and pushing drugs. Correlation? Friend was so straightlaced at primary school. D off to Cambridge for interview later. Learning to walk with stick to the kitchen.Royal Marsden discharged me – nothing to be done now. Just very sad.
Hugs. J. XXX

8th December: Cat Hospital

Min cat has been at the vet hospital for three nights. So far they haven’t killed her or lost her. This is counted as a success.Every morning they have phoned to give an increasingly pessimistic update. She doesn’t have a temperature but… Her blood tests are normal but….

Min cat has a cold. After her last dental at the vet resulted in the loss of two teeth and an allergy or sensitivity in her mouth, I guess it came to a choice between eating or breathing (very wheezy) and she chose to breathe. Dehydration set in. The trip to the vet became inevitable.

After night one, I was told she seemed to have re-hydrated nicely but wasn’t yet eating. Blood fine. Appetite not yet. But I should be prepared for more tests (expensive) in case there was a growth in her nose.  I said no to tests for things that we can’t treat.

Symptomatic relief is fine. We don’t have insurance. Having already cost us thousands, she is on a “do not resuscitate”
countdown.

On the second day, her bloods remained fine and her temperature was good but there was blood in her nasal discharge (nose bleed?). Prepare myself. How long before tests? Answer: Quite a long time actually.

This morning her blood and temperature are fine but….

She has a small localised swelling. It could just be a swelling. It could be an abscess in her mouth, infected from her nose. The treatment for the abscess would be the antibiotics for her nose so the latter is an unlikely scenario but moot any way. Do we want to test? Answer: No, let’s wait and see whether it goes away as quickly as it came. About the blood in the nose – it seems to have gone away.

At some level, pet insurance has made the treatment of pets into a bit of an expensive nightmare. Being able to test for something terminal seems a bit of a waste of time to me, especially when it costs thousands of pounds. I’m not convinced the vet is corrupt but…

Well, there was that tv expose at medivet a year or so ago and they do keep pushing the worst case scenario. If she’s eating and vital signs are essentially normal then we should bring her home. I don’t trust them.

9th December: Terminus

The next text from J may well be the last, may well be the one from her husband telling me that it’s all over. My heart sinks now every time I see something arrive from her phone.

Christmas is coming and I’m scared that my friend is going to die.

12th December: Continuus

J: D found Cambridge very diverse. Met a boy from Glasgow high who wants to read maths at Trinity.Time for him to move on.His friends are so privileged, All looking at Oxford and US. So proud he’s grounded. J. XXX

13th December: Options

My oldest girl is choosing GCSEs (at least two of them) so we’re all going along to the school to chat to her teachers. The school chooses 8 subjects , more or less, and she gets to choose 2.

She has to study Maths, English Lit, English Lang, Physics, Chemistry, Biology before we start. Then she must choose between Geography or History (History) Mandarin or Spanish (Spanish). What’s left?

She is veering towards Drama, Art or  RE. She could choose any of the following: Music, IT, DT, Geography, Mandarin or Latin. Her lowest mark in her current report is for Mandarin (which she doesn’t like so much) so clearly that  choice is made.

Her main problem is that she seems to think the subject that she chooses should be useful. The school insists on 8 very useful subjects. Surely that’s enough utility for anyone? I don’t believe in utility as a value for education. Learning is valuable in and of itself. I want Beloved to enjoy her education, to grab it wholeheartedly and find something to love within it.

Life is hard enough and work can be dreary. The only way to get through a lifetime of work is to find something that will sustain you through the hard times.

Ironically as a woman who always intended to be financially and emotionally independent’ I’ve ended up as a stereotype – mother, wife, housewife. Rather worryingly my girl seems to think that being a housewife would be a good outcome. I am deeply ambivalent about this.

I’m happy that she recognises that I have a good life but wouldn’t want her to be limited to my outcome. I want her to have adventures, as I did, before settling into work and family.

Ofcourse it will all take care of itself in the end. There is no such thing as a job for life or a single career path any more. However she sets out, it won’t be a single straight path but rather a wandering meandering journey.

Very few women are lucky enough to have the choice to stay home with their children. Money. In the end, doesn’t it all come down to money. I may not want her to set out wishing to be a housewife, but I do hope that she is lucky enough to have the option, the choice.

16th December: Christmas Cheer

Decided to put together a basket of Christmas jollies for J last night. I’ve never been so sad buying such lovely things. A gradual sense of gloom just settled upon my shoulders as I made my way between the tinsel. Brent Cross was heaving with happy excited people and I found myself becoming sadder and sadder. Eventually I managed to pull away home with everything only to find myself becoming more and more desperate to deliver the basket.

What if she died before I delivered it? It’s difficult to believe how paranoid I felt but suddenly it became clear that death was a very real possibility. I interrupted a trip to my ex-churchwarden friend who at 72 is very familiar with the whole death debacle, rushed home and drove straight over to J’s house basket in boot.

No one was home. Where were they all? Nearly dead people don’t make unexpected trips away so were they all at hospital? Was she dead? What on earth was I supposed to do?

I left the basket on the doorstop.

On the way home I started to panic about whether the basket would still be there when they got home. What if someone stole the basket? Would that be a good or bad thing if my friend was dead? Would you want to come home from hospital grieving to find a basket stuffed with Christmas cheer waiting for you, not to mention a bottle of whisky and two itunes cards worth a fair bit of money.

I decided to abandon all hope of sanity at this stage. Thief or no thief, I wasn’t going to go back to the house and bring the basket home to sit in my house and accuse me. Though I’m not at all sure what it would be accusing me of since surely the intent of the gift was a good thing. If the basket was stolen, I’d at least tried my best. If it was there and she had indeed died, then I’d at least tried my best. If it was there and she was alive, all was good with the world.

This morning I got a text thanking me for the basket.

The only thing harder than living a good life must be dying a good death.

30th December: A good Christmas

It was a good Christmas with the minimum of fuss and maximum of fun together. I like my family. As always, the year comes to and end and I ask myself how I’ve done as a parent. Not too fucked up yet but it’s getting harder to say that.All of the presents arrived in time, even the gift outsourced to my lover to arrange (blackberry for beloved).

The nativity play worked, more or less, though the boys were noticeably worse on their lines than the girls. The modern theme and the use of the microphones worked well and the usual accolades “best ever” came flooding in.

I wondered whether it would feel less sociable this year without the neighbours around to hold a Christmas Eve party and of course we’d decided not to attend BF2s New Year’s Eve party.

Having started out with the BM’s Christmas party with piano to play and songs to sing, kicked the holiday off to an excellent start. Christmas Eve was almost better for being quiet. The Christmas morning routine is almost set in stone now.

8am Wake up, children bounce onto the big white bed with Christmas stockings to open. Showers and downstairs.

9am Parboil potatoes and parsnips. Assemble Christmas pie ie. risotto into pastry case, cover with chestnuts and cranberry sauce. Assemble raspberry trifle. Pre-heat oven.

10am Breakfast usually pancakes though this time around my lover used shop bought and they weren’t as good!

1030am Church. Midnight Mass remains an aspiration but after a very late BM party and disastrous temper from the girls the day after, I’m not sure we’ll ever make it to a late Christmas Eve service. Maybe the nativity play is enough for Christmas Eve. This year we were responsible for coffee after the service and it went fine. It was relatively stress free perhaps because we have no turkey to time.

1200pm and back home to open our own presents. We usually make it though the parent-child presents and leave the extended family gifts until later.

1.00pm Potatoes into oven to roast followed by parsnips and the pie.

2.00pm or thereabouts lunch:

Mushroom & Chestnut Pie with a cranberry glaze
Roast Potatoes & parsnips
Broccoli, brussels sprouts and carrots.
Bread sauce, Cranberry Sauce

Quite sometime later, (usually a day later) Raspberry Trifle.

Dinner is always a bit hit and miss, usually leftovers

All about me!