No 55. “The future’s not set…”

I am being mentored as a ‘woman in leadership’ (lead me to the biscuit tin, oh mighty leader!). As part of this mentoring I’ve been asked to create a vision board of what my ideal future would look like. This is akin to something you would do in year 7 art – cutting pictures out of magazines and sticking them onto a piece of paper.

I’m struggling to make it work.  I’ve currently got one picture of a big bookcase, one of a hot air balloon and another of Nick Cave.  I hadn’t realised that reading, floating and murder ballads were going to make up such a big part of my future.

When it first became just me and Mini, I focussed on surviving. For me this survival phase lasted about a year and gradually, over the last ten months, I’ve been working out what living looks like.  But it’s still very much in the present tense, and the idea of envisaging my utopian future is a bit of a stretch.

I may even be going in the opposite direction – planning for dystopian chaos.  I’m not at the Sarah Connor stage just yet (despite the biceps), but with the news getting more apocalyptic every day, there’s part of me that wonders if my leadership vision board shouldn’t be filled with pictures of Ray Mears and plants to forage for rather than images of arts and culture.

To quote Terminator, “the future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.”  And to quote Kindergarten Cop (all Arnie films carry equal philosophical weight on this blog), “kindergarten is like the ocean: don’t turn your back on it”.

This post is dedicated to the Quakers I met today. A vision of peace, community and equality, all dressed in splendid jumpers.  Respect in every way to you all.

No 54. Every day is judgment day

Today, judgment sat upon me in its black-capped splendour.  This blog has, in part, been an exercise in how to get to grips with being a single parent while wrestling with internal and external judgment, but I was blindsided today by a judgment that hadn’t troubled me for over a year.

A Christian friend let me know what she had felt and said, but not related to me, two years ago, about the fact I was living with someone i wasn’t married to.

I had always known that a significant proportion of my Christian friends had had hidden feelings about this, ranging from pastoral concern to condemnation, and I was aware that there must have been discussion, prayer and gossip about my situation of which I had no knowledge.  But to be presented with the reality of some fairly bleak words that were spoken about me — which I won’t chronicle here — was something of a shock. (I hasten to add, following some PMs, that I don’t think my friend did anything wrong and I hope nobody thinks I’m judging her with this post…).

And so i’ve decided to lay all of my judgments bare, to ensure that nobody is ever knocked sideways by surprise condemnation from me.

So…  Silent Judgment Be Heaped Upon You if:

1) You looked at the naked pictures of Jennifer Lawrence. In the words of everybody’s mother: “you did it because everyone else did? If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?”.  Truly, shame.

2) You let your dog poop on the street and don’t clear it up.  This is probably a universal judgment, but if you’ve ever dealt with a two-year old delightedly picking up something brown and squashy from the pavement, you’ll feel it deeply.

3) You post personal love messages to your spouse in public fora while you’re sitting right next to them. I know this is me being a bitter old hag, and nothing to do with you sharing your happiness, but tough, i’m judging you.

4)  “oh no, i couldn’t eat anything, that coffee filled me up”.

5) A particular frown and sigh from the judging chair is reserved for you if you posted on “women against feminism” (although I have a strange affection for the website because of its splendid use of parenthetical remarks (which i favour myself) to make misogynistic comments (which i don’t favour quite so much))

6) You use the phrases “Biblical manhood” and “Biblical womanhood” to prevent individual Christians from expressing their true talents and characters, but instead forcing them to conform to norms that are, essentially, not Christian.

7) You don’t help people with buggies on escalators (cf: pretty much every post i’ve ever written)

8) You were born in the 80s or 90s and are now an adult.  Just stop it, ok?

To be honest I could go on through to 300 judgments but I fear i may alienate all those i know and love, so i will pause there and get back to watching Battlestar Galactica. I’m sure I’ll be injudiciously adding to the list as the bottle of wine goes down…

This post is dedicated to the man in the Museum of London with whom i had a splendid conversation about how women’s increasing removal of body hair has correlated with the increasing bushiness of men’s beards. We theorised that there is only so much hair available in London at any one time.  Truly, we are wise.


No. 53 we’ve come a long way, baby

14-09-12: nf – 12:53, 3.02, 5.30, 7.20. Day: S8.18-9.03, F9.33-10.10, S11.05-12.10, F12.15-12.30, s 12.45-2.30, F2.33-3.00, F4-4.20, S5.45-6.00?, F6.15-6.35, F8.45-9.20

On the train back from a conference today I flicked through my notebook and found the first few pages covered in code: dates, numbers and letters all in my handwriting but momentarily impenetrable.

It took me a few seconds to recognise what they were: the detailed record of night feeds (nf), feeds(f) and sleeps(s) of a small baby. What demented loon would do such a thing??!  Well, err… me apparently, when Mini was 5-8 weeks old.

Mini’s dad and I were having a trial separation and I’d made the rather odd decision not to tell anyone but rather to pretend he was still coming home every evening — adding an unnecessary strain into an already trying situation.

Like a maniacal worshipper, I monitored everything she did, trying to get a sense of control back by measuring the (hopefully) widening gaps between feeds and wake-ups.  I remember poring over these numbers hoping for a pattern that showed “things are getting better”.

Looking back on those scribbled notes, it all seems rather anguished – a person dragging themselves through the day minute by noted minute.  And it made me realise how far Mini and I have come. I’ve let go of any semblance of control as it’s far too clear who’s really in charge.  And right here, right now, life is very sweet.


This post is dedicated to Fat Boy Slim (and the songs of 1998)

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!