No 52. David Cameron is not right about grandparents (or anything?)

These last few days I’ve been undergoing the Family Test. Not Cameron’s Family Test to check if I’m one of that happy group of Normals who will benefit from his excellent policy decisions, but the true Family Test — a tour of Mini’s grandparents.

This disastrous idea came about because of the annual Holiday Question (HQ).  The HQ always used to be “who will I go on holiday with, and can I persuade them to walk up big hills with me?”. In my recent brief and disastrous time as part of a couple  it was “is there anywhere on earth we can go without becoming Angie and Den circa 1987?”.  Now the HQ is “is it actually possible to have a holiday alone with a toddler?”.  (I’m sure that David Cameron thinks the holiday question is “will the taxpayer think it’s ok if I holiday in my third home in St Tropez?).

I really don’t know what other lone parents do.  If you’re broke, forced to take time off at the most expensive time of year and no longer able to do normal singleton holidays, you have two options: sit in a cave for two weeks with Cbeebies on a loop, or descend on relatives in the hope of conversation and occasional respite.

And Lo!  My idea of a grandparental tour was endorsed by the great man himself — David Cameron has told me the truth once more: apparently grandparents are the saviours of the modern age. They yield billions to the economy in unpaid childcare and he approves, deeply.  I may not be a building block in his big society (lacking a marriage certificate), I may not pass the family test (being a blood-sucking single parent) but I CAN contribute to Dave’s grand vision by having baby boomer grandparents for Mini.  Perfect.

Ye gods!  I was yet again sadly let down by DC’s vision of life in Britain today.  The only grandparently duty performed was to follow me and Mini round the house with a hand-held hoover until I could take the psychic torture no longer and wrenched it from said grandparent’s hand promising to leave each room backwards as I hoovered up after the biscuit-shedding beast.

To be fair, one step-grandparent did take Mini to the post office for an hour. I’m sure Dave has already calculated the £7.25 she has saved the nation.

The reality of 21st century grandparenting is apparently to take as many cruises as possible while sloshing Pinot Grigio around and gaily yelling “I’m selfish and it’s great!” (A direct quote).

Perhaps Cameron’s speeches would ring slightly truer if he voiced the Boomer-creed — “I’m selfish, and it’s great”. It would then be clearer that his perpetual use of the word “family” is really just a way of ignoring the voice and needs of the single, the childless, the poor and the disadvantaged

 

This post is dedicated to everyone who hasn’t enjoyed their holidays. I raise a glass to every moment of supressed rage, every misunderstood comment, every unhelpful hint, every pointless compromise. And here’s to getting back to work. Cheers

(This post is laced with additional bitterness as my laptop is broken so I was forced to write it long-hand [my Berol callous from 1990 still bears the load] and then pinch  a PC from a friend to type it up as the library is closed on Tuesdays due to budget cuts.  Thanks again DC)

 

No. 51 Your mum will always be your mum

Ah, my mother. Truly, she loves a drink. Last weekend we went to Brighton together for a break from our respective caring responsibilities. It was hot, it was rainbow-bright and in a slightly hysterical fashion we managed to wander through some of the most unsalubrious parts of the city downing 250ml of wine at a time.

After about 10 rounds of “oh, let’s have one more”, we both realised it had gone too far and, laughing maniacally, staggered into the b and b.

It was then that my mum decided she was “just too hot” and attempted to put on the air-conditioning. This involved climbing onto the bed and pressing a button at ceiling height. I panicked slightly as she teetered on the edge of the bed, so decided to try to help her. Completely miscalculating how much I’d had to drink, I fell off the bed sideways (rather like Delboy in the pub scene) and tore a ligament in my shoulder. For the next 30 minutes I lay on the bed shouting “mum, I think I’ve really hurt myself”, while she pottered around the room, completely ignoring me and talking to herself

“Now, what am I doing? Have I done my eyes?”

“Mum, I think I’ve really hurt myself!”

“I’ve done my eyes haven’t I?”

“Mum, really, I think this is bad.”

“Where is my shoe? Oh dear, I think I’m a bit tiddly”

“Mum. I can’t move my arm. I think I’ve really hurt myself”

“Have I done my eyes?”

Once I had recovered slightly (two days later) I realised not only that I hadn’t torn my shoulder — only pulled it — but also that we had both played out the exact same roles we did in my childhood: she blithely ploughing her own furrow, and me shouting for attention in the background until she told me that whatever I was complaining about was “psychological”.

When it turned out that there wasn’t a tear in my shoulder she, eyes rolling and tongue tutting, declared that was the reason she hadn’t paid me any attention in the first place.

The roles you establish with your parents never fade.

Sadly, in the last two months I have lost both of my grandmothers, and hearing my 71-year old father break the news that his mother had died really brought home how, no matter how old you get, your mum is still your mum.

I’m incredibly grateful for what my mum has given me. Although I turn into a petulant teenager whenever we’re together, there is no naughtier drinking partner, nor better rock in crisis. I just wish she’d passed on that cast-iron stomach…

This post is dedicated to my nan: 26 Dec 1912 — 21 July 2014

No 50. Being a woman remains, essentially, embarrassing (and other controversies)

This week at work, I grabbed a small bag of err… “lady items” from under my desk and strode past my team, exuding line-managery team-leadery confidence. I turned the corner to the loos, bumped into my director and then noticed him kicking one of my tampons across the hallway. He breezed past. Time froze as I realised I had been sashaying past my team shedding Lilets like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail.

This kind of nonsense is so common for me I didn’t even blush, but instead just retraced my steps and gathered them up from the floor/the team-members who had picked them up for me.

Part of the issue for me is increasingly awful eyesight, but I still think the majority of my humiliation incidents are just fall-out from being a woman and a mother. Boob still accidentally hanging out after feeding: check. Skirt caught in pants after weeing: check. Half-shaved armpit/eczema cream in hair/mismatched earrings: check. Child unwrapping and partially eating your used lil…

OK, let’s draw a veil over that one. It’s too vile even for me to share. But you get the picture.

Perhaps the femaleness of someone’s body is essentially funnier, lesser, more embarrassing than the maleness of someone’s body. Boobs and vajazzles and cellulite and hair extensions: silly and impractical and vaguely humiliating?

And that idea took me to the thought that I rarely allow myself to have — that men, as a class, despise women, as a class. Or as another writer once put it “men, in essence, see themselves as 100% and women as 70%”. Whether it’s chuckles about women drivers or abuse within relationships, there is a shared root of superiority.

Now, I know (and hope) that most men of my acquaintance will balk at this, but I don’t think the men in my circle of liberal friends are necessarily representative, and a more global perspective is needed.

Violence by men causes more death and disability worldwide amongst women aged 15-44 than war, cancer, malaria and traffic accidents. At least 1 in 3 women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused, with the abuser usually known to her. In Rwanda up to half a million women were raped in 1994. In developing countries women produce 80% of the food but are more likely to be hungry than men. And even close to home: last year 1,070 men were convicted of rape in England and Wales despite the fact that approximately 78,000 people were raped – of which the vast majority were women and girl-children.

I often make a joke of the physical and social fall-out of being a woman, a lone-parent, a feminist. But perhaps, in the words of Morrissey “that joke isn’t funny any more”.

This post is dedicated to all the wonderful egalitarian men in my life.

Sources: World Bank Study World Development Report: Investing in Health, New York, Oxford University Press, 1993: General Assembly. In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women: Report of the Secretary General, 2006. A/61/122/Add.1. 6 July 2006. Food and Agriculture Organization, The feminisation of hunger what do the surveys tell us? 2001, and The state of food insecurity in the world 2005, Rome: 2005, p17: Uk rape: MOJ, Home office, ONS

No 49. “don’t smell the jaycloth!” and other pearls

As I lurch ever closer to my final countdown Top 50 things I’ve learnt since becoming a single parent, I thought I would give you a few of the pearls of wisdom that didn’t justify their own post:

1) Whatever you do, don’t smell the jaycloth. There is no way of knowing if that stain on the sofa is chocolate or poo. Grab a jaycloth, wipe it off, but whatever you do, don’t let curiosity get the better of you and bring that mutha anywhere near your nose

2) Speaking of smells, get used to a weird, unidentifiable odour that you will chase round the house going “where IS that coming from? Can’t you smell it? Really? Are you just being polite? Is it coming from the bin? No…”. Who knows if this is milk in the cushions or wee in the carpet – it’s there for life

3) It really is the best of times and the worst of times. Yesterday was my birthday. I was lying in bed with Mini while she stuck hairclips in the gaps between my fingers. She suddenly looked delighted and shouted “birthday cake!” as she realised the clips looked a little like candles. She “blew them out” and tried to sing me happy birthday. Cuteness!!
It was 5am. Not so much cuteness.

4) Weetabix can solve the London housing crisis. Sustainable building at your fingertips – once something is bonded with milky Weetabix it will never come apart again. I’d happily live in a block of flats made of nothing but breakfast cereal. It will last longer than the prefabs being thrown up at the moment.

5) I now know why gin is called “mother’s ruin”

6) Reading mumsnet is like having the superpower of telepathy. Never have so many other female minds been opened up to me. There is no attempt to keep up an image, nobody selling product, no artistic veil. Want to know what’s happening in real people’s relationships? Go on mumsnet. Want to get information on anything from making chocolate cake in a cup to how many women like weird things in bed. Mumsnet.

7) You find out who your friends are. And they are, truly, amazing.

8) When you’re trapped at home, Facebook is addictive. I purged 50% of my facebook friends when I became a single parent – fearing I might splurge all my personal bile to current work colleagues, church-acquaintances from the 1990s and people I am still mildly trying to impress. I’m glad I did. With only half the number of posters, I am able to occasionally rip myself away from it to do useful things like feed my child.

9) There is nothing funnier than your own child letting out enormous, man-sized farts and saying “ooh, pardon me” as though they’re 50 years old.

10) Not following the expected route can be the most rewarding experience of your life.

This post is dedicated to everyone who has read this far. Here’s to the Final Fifty!

No 48. I’m living like a girl

The Like a Girl advert has been all over social media this week: another example of thought-provoking gender-aware marketing (even if it IS by Proctor and Gamble). It mirrors the recent Dove, Pantene and No.7 adverts, but with the crucial difference that Always aren’t pretending that women’s empowerment is based entirely on looking good. It’s also reminiscent of the Ban Bossy campaign; challenging the many acceptable ways of talking about women negatively.

I’ve always been a feminist, but my beliefs and feelings have clarified since I had a daughter: and my feelings are pretty much disbelief and anger. There are so many disturbing, seemingly unstoppable trends – whether it’s insidious cultural noise or more serious complicity with abuse.

Last month I found out that my niece (aged 9) now refuses to wear shorts and dresses… she has stopped doing sport where she needs to show her legs, because apparently they are “too hairy”. She has already got the message that it’s more important for her to look a certain way than to run fast, to be free. Unless she can get over this, is there any chance at all now that she’ll be a runner, or a swimmer or just a lover of jumping around in the sun? What else is going to be squeezed out of her enjoyment in life over the next 7 years?

And then… The combination of that grim-sounding Magaluf sex video, Rolf Harris’ conviction, the fact that so many women are abused by their exes by the publication of sexually explicit images online…

…And that this latter action is not currently illegal.

How is this possible? How is it possible for someone to take a private photo or video of me and put it up for men to laugh at or wank over, and this isn’t a violation of my human rights and protected by law? Our laws are not keeping up with the tidalwave of bullying and woman-hating in new media. We need a speedier solution than years of dragging bills through parliament.

It may be the hair-dye talking, but I feel that the time for a revolution has arrived. Having skirted round the edge of direct action for a number of years, it seems that words no longer make change happen: it’s all about the action. And if you can film that action and not get prosecuted, so much the better.

As a teenager I wished I was a man. It seemed to be the only way to have a fulfilled, free life and to be the person I wanted to be. But I think differently now. I want to be a woman – but a woman in a society that behaves radically differently from how ours does. And I for one am ready to be part of that revolution.

This post is dedicated to Gloria Steinem – “Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself”

No 47. My dating stock is at an all-time low

Imagine, if you will, the small-ad: “Wanted: reasonably able-bodied man.  Must enjoy being woken at 5am and eating shepherd’s pie every day.  Does not need own hair or teeth but does need power-tools and a high tolerance for poo on the soft-furnishings.”

(And I’d even be prepared to remove the line about him needing power-tools: I’d just really like to get my flooring fixed before all the furniture slides to one side of the room).

I have never been wholly sure of my USP. Height? Humour?  The ability to turn my tongue upside down? Those things are all still true, but my dating credentials have taken a severe battering since the Mini came along.

1)    I no longer know how to talk to adult males.  My standard chat-ups have always been music, films, books and “yes, I like the same as you, therefore I like you”. All I really like now is getting as much sleep as possible, eating Soreen and watching Mini singing “Incy Wincy Spider”.

2)    I have biceps that are visible through my sleeves.  They’re so prominent I may even take to calling them “the guns” (a la Ron Burgundy) and kissing them when I see them being goggled-at.  I think I may have had a pre-disposition for mighty-arms but having never done any sport, it was never tested.  Carrying a beefy child around every day has brought out my natural ‘assets’. Do men like dating women who can lift them with one hand?

3)    Unlike the biceps, the rest of my body now sags and lurches at every step.  It’s not that I’m that much heavier than before, it’s just that whereas before my wobbly bits were more of a firm fruit, they are now very much a bag of glue – seeping out of clothes in unexpected directions.

4)    I cannot be spontaneous:

“Fancy a drink after work? Want to pop out for a coffee one weekend?”

“Err…. Let me check for three weeks’ time whether I can get a babysitter or to see when Mini might be with her dad and… hello? Hello…?”

5)    I have a child standing on my lap 6 days out of 7.  Although I personally think that Mini is the Greatest Human Who Ever Lived™ I’m aware that not every man wants to have a tiny creature sticking her fingers up his nose, bossing him around and getting in the way of late nights/late mornings/holidays/fun times/drinking/sleeping/travelling… (add to the list at will)

6)    I am 37. Much as I complained about being single in my teens, my twenties and my early 30s, the long slow drag towards the menopause now seems to be a gallop.  The last three guys I know who got attached all plumped for someone ten years their junior.  So, mathematically, I’m looking for someone approaching 50 who doesn’t mind having a toddler in their lives.  I feel my fishing pool may have just dried up entirely.

After 18 months in Purdah I was considering re-entering the dating-fray but I think I may withdraw for another 18 years.

Or at least until my biceps can be contained within my clothes.

 

This post is dedicated to anyone who can find me a man with power tools and a penchant for fruit loaf.  (My feminist heart sinks at this, but while my ability to read maps and do quadratic equations is excellent, I cannot use an electric drill without putting lives at risk. I’m sorry to let you down sisters).

No 46. The holy family has been re-invented

While trapped under a whirly hairdryer for two hours trying to persuade my fringe to stay pink, I began eyeing up the magazines they’d plonked in front of me.

I’m not at home in a beauty salon.  I’m so clearly a hairy hippy at heart, I worry they think I should be chopping off my hair at home with a potato peeler rather than exposing my ignorance to the gay and the good of the salon. And so, in an attempt to blend in, I picked up ‘Ok’.

As I flicked through I was increasingly creeped out. I had guessed there would be scores of eerily smooth ladies in see-through dresses.  But I didn’t expect the pregnancy porn.  Page after page of fecundity.  And each photo was composed in the same weirdly religious way.  The heavily made-up Madonna was grasping the top and bottom of her stomach (I assume to show that she was pregnant rather than, HORROR, fat).  In a very few of the pictures the mother was ‘bravely’ alone, holding her round stomach as though it were a life-belt.  But in most a man stood next to her, always in the same part-protective, part-oppressive pose – with one arm over her shoulder and the other shoved under her bump so far it looked like an assault.

With little experience of women’s magazines, I’d always thought the lie they sold was women being forever young, forever thin. But the truth is they’re selling something even more noxious: the lie that the point of your life is to be well-groomed, conformed and owned. You are the sum of a tight dress, a man and a baby (preferably inside you).  This is the pinnacle of female achievement.

I guess this has always been the case – from Woman and Home to Hello we’re sold a particular package of the future. But it was especially annoying this morning because I’d just finished reading Richard Littlejohn reiterating his views that most of what is wrong with the world is 1) single mums and 2) women who work. On the one hand there was a man telling me I’m a societal problem, and on the other hand a bunch of women telling me I should aspire to be a decorative womb under someone’s arm.

Thankfully I was rescued from these rather angry thoughts by a nice woman washing my hair and then telling me I looked “quirky” with the newly dyed fringe.

Quirky works for me.

 

(This post is dedicated to the pensioner in the chair next to me at the salon. She had just won £60 on the result of the Brazil match and was planning to bet on every match, win, and spend the money at Bestival. I think she had moved from ‘quirky’ to ‘totally peculiar and eccentric’. A most excellent path I plan to tread myself.)