No 69. Fathers’ Day can be redeemed

Lots of us are slightly confused by fathers’ day (fathers included).  On mothers’ day it was always clear that you were meant to get something nice for your mum, give her a rest and maybe make an inedible meal.  On fathers’ day, is it the same protocol?  Is it a day to give dads a break from fatherly duties, or rather for them to spend time with their kids (as in some 1950s parallel universe where children are wheeled out to meet their fathers once a year, dressed in white, while daddy smokes his pipe and pats them on the head)?

A friend of mine once spent a sunny day drinking in a pub, went home at 6.30, read the kids a bedtime story and was back in the pub by 8.  He was warmly applauded for the attention to his family. And the praising went on for at least two rounds.   (If it had been a mother doing the same, I fear we would have focussed more on her alcoholism/neglect and perhaps her ‘poor husband’ would have been applauded for looking after the children while she drank.)

It’s common to patronisingly praise a man for looking after his children, or listening to them, or changing their clothes or feeding them: as though there is something inherently unusual about being a good dad.  Our collective internal picture of fatherhood has some serious issues.

There is too often a distance, or even a bitterness in a lot of people’s relationships with their fathers – and (in my new circles) also with the fathers of their children.  Having hung out with enough lone-mums to last a lifetime, I know the abandoners, the adulterers, the liars, the thieves and the abusers all too well.  And all of those stories have taken the shine off the occasion.

Mini didn’t see her dad today.  She barely knows the days of the week, let alone special celebrations, so she was happily unaware, and it gave me time to think about what fathers’ day now means to me – with my own great dad happily cycling round the hilliest bits of the world, and the father of the person I love most in the world, absent.

Maybe fathers’ day should be about redemption – about making something good out of some imperfect relationships.  And for all those who have been deserted or hurt or neglected, that today should be about transforming that damage into something good.

This post is dedicated to Kate T and her brilliant poetry finds. (And, surely, to my own lovely dad too…)

Last night while I was sleeping
I dreamed — blessed illusion! —
I had a beehive
inside my heart,
and from my old bitterness
the gold bees
were contriving white crumbs
and sweet honey.

No 68.   One woman’s lift is another man’s toilet

I had hoped not to write any more words about bodily functions.  There are only so many times one can wax lyrical about the contents of a nappy before one realises that the Pulizer Prize is not in one’s future (even if one does use the gender-neutral pronoun so elegantly). We’d made it through potty training. We’d made it through the constant removal of pants.  We’d even made it through a rather bleak fascination with what happens to poo once it goes down the loo.   But we’ve not made it through the urine.

And sadly I’m not talking about Mini’s urine.  She’s certainly had her moments. My favourite (least favourite) was her repeatedly removing her nappy at 2am, weeing on the mattress and shouting maniacally “don’t take your nappy off mummy! Don’t take your nappy off!”.

This wee belongs to someone else entirely.

Transport for London have installed lifts in as many of their larger stations as they can manage.  Most of them are so labyrinthine-ly impossible to find that I avoid them, and prefer to continue working on my biceps up and down the stairs.  But, one exhausted afternoon at Bank, I decided to make my way down a few miles of winding tunnels from the DLR to the northern line and into the lift.

As soon as I got in, my eyes starting watering. The stench was horrific: it was like an ammonia coffin. Given its location, my best guess was that pissed city workers had decided to use it as their own personal men’s room at the end of a long night’s bonhomie and back-slapping.

And then I got really p***ed off.  Perhaps it was delayed trauma from the election result, or a toxic-high from the urine, but the pee-soaked lift suddenly symbolised something that made me angry.  The only people who use those lifts are the elderly. Or people with disabilities. Or the daytime carers of young children.  The only people who use them are the people who need help on the stairs or who are using a particular station because they can’t get their wheelchair out on the rest of the line.

The people doing the pissing almost certainly don’t fall into those categories.

The people doing the pissing lack the imagination to understand what it feels like to either rely on the kindness of strangers or use service-provision that someone (more powerful, more thoughtless and more entitled) has made as unpleasant as possible

I was reminded of my interaction with HMRC about tax-credits. I was reminded of the 32,675 single parent families who have had their benefits capped in the last two years – and how 70% of them have a child under five. The government doesn’t insist that lone parents of pre-schoolers seek work, but with the cap, they’ve made it impossible for some to even pay their rent.

The facilities and benefits being provided for those of us who are forced to use them (not through choice, not through laziness, not because we are scroungers) are literally being p***ed on by those in power.  And I think that’s worth being angry about.

This post is dedicated to all the lovely men who have never weed in a lift.  May your future be sunny and bright, and all your Christmasses be white.


No 67. Romance is dead (though innuendo is alive and well)

My new, lightly-bearded, neighbour is kindly blasting Bond themes into my kitchen at high volume.  I say “kindly” as I’m aware he’s doing it to disguise the sound of enthusiastic afternoon bed-action.  Ah, young love. I’m unsure how to go about telling him I’d rather have my wall vibrate to the rhythm of his bedframe than the terrifying stylings of Shirley Bassey, so I’m just trying to block it out by listening to Soundgarden at a tinnitus-reawakening volume.  Superunknown and The Man with the Golden Gun don’t make the most soothing blend but at least I’m not hearing all about his “powerful weapon” any more.

The most confusing thing is why he’s chosen a compilation of Bond tunes as his seduction soundtrack.  I can’t imagine “they are all I need to please me, stimulate and tease me,” creating anything other than the feeling you’re on the set of a Carry On film.  And a badly-timed swelling crescendo could put the best of us off.

So, to help him out, I’m going to put together a little romantic playlist.  This is really what we ladies are after…

Perhaps start with a bit of Henry Rollins’ LiarThe truth is the greatest aphrodisiac after all.

As you make your way to the bedroom, how about Bad Actress, a reminder to fake everything except what really counts (what a horrible person you are).

Maybe go from there to something sinister (is this romance or is this a prelude to a slow and painful death at the hands of a maniac?) with Bullet for my Valentine’s Hit the Floor or for those who prefer the volume lower, a soothing murder ballad by Nick Cave and Kylie.

I’d create a longer list, but I wouldn’t want to make assumptions, so would probably finish up with If you want blood. This has already featured once on my break-up playlist, but it deserves another outing, given the greatness of Mark Kozelek and its perfect encapsulation of the slow, sucking death of love.

With so much aural evidence, I can safely say that ding, dong, the romance-witch is dead.  No jokes about dongs please.  There’s enough of that in Diamonds are Forever.

This post is dedicated to all the lovely people who have offered to help me go to my dental appointment since my last rant.  Romance may be dead but friendship is alive and kicking, and apparently very willing to listen to me babble following sedation.

No 66. 10 things you need a partner for (an annoying buzzfeed-style list for single parents)

  1. Putting up curtain rails. I have attempted this. Please imagine a pair of quizzical eyebrows over a disappointed looking window.
  2. Opening jars. Though not a weedy feebleton, I do have issues with jars.  Even now, I occasionally find something that Mini’s dad has put the lid on and I’m completely unable to get it open again.  It’s bad  co-parenting etiquette to phone your ex just to shout at them for having superior upper-body strength, but when I couldn’t get the stove-top coffee maker open after the break-up, I fear I may have succumbed.
  3. Lie-ins. Parents you meet in the park at 8.30am, who are “there to give their wife a lie in” become your nemesis.
  4. Moving furniture. Wardrobes, chests of drawers and shelving effectively become “built-in furniture”.  No more of that “might this look nice over here?” nonsense.  The house will look the same for the next 10 years.
  5. Being ill.
  6. Making decisions. When there is nobody’s opinion to ignore, you can never truly have the courage of your convictions. This is especially true at 3am when deciding whether your kid needs to go to A & E
  7. Surgery. A subset of 5), but one that’s currently particularly galling, as I have to cancel a planned dental op due to lack of cover. Who needs a working mouthful of teeth, eh?
  8. Getting anything at all out of a church service. Sitting in crèche every week is perhaps not the spiritual work-out you were looking for.
  9. Privacy. You may wish to go the toilet alone, shave alone, throw up alone, have a personal conversation with your doctor, but you can now only do these things between the hours of 11pm and 4am. That’s the window when your child will definitely leave you alone. Maybe.
  10. Eating out. As a couple you can eat in shifts, look after the child in shifts, socialise with the friends you haven’t talked to properly in two-years in shifts. Alone, you end up hungry, irritated and unable to even remember aforementioned friends’ names.

This post is dedicated to everyone who’s read a Buzzfeed List whilst loathing both themselves and the author.  Our brains are being slowly dissolved.

No 65. I’m not holding out for a hero

You know the shtick.  A beautiful, tired-looking woman waits tables in a restaurant as her third job.  A rich — or ex-special-ops — older man orders a cup of coffee. They click. He is drawn into a conversation about her sick kid/violent ex, and decides that this is the one. This is the one he’s going to rescue.  Of all the needy, gorgeous ladies out there, he’s gonna “take on” this woman, her problems and her child. They will either end up together (romantic), or she will end up dead (slightly less romantic, but he’ll romantically avenge her death, so that’s alright).

I’ve been watching a bit too much Netflix recently, working my way from one trashy action series to another, and the single-mum-in-need-of-rescue is a dominant narrative.  The framing is so ubiquitous it’s becoming hard to imagine what an equal relationship as a single-parent might really look like.  The stereotype forces all these women into using their vulnerability as their USP, waiting for a paternal presence to sort their lives out for them; give them a fresh start, or get them killed.

I’m not averse to a bit of rescuing.  Mini has been sick all week… my ceiling has a weird leak in it… I wouldn’t have kicked up a fuss if a chisel-jawed American had helicoptered in and sorted it all out for me (though I don’t think Liam Neeson fixing my tap washers and cleaning up vomit would get much financing as a concept).

It’s a challenge working out what a single-mum has to offer a prospective partner.  Everything is so much more complicated and timetabled and unclear the second time around.  So perhaps that’s why so many resort to holding up a hero-mirror for their suitors: please rescue me, rescue me, rescue me. It’s a tad depressing.

On the plus side, you tend to get a great soundtrack.


This post is dedicated to Massive Attack and Madrugada

No 64. Don’t try to imagine the worst thing you can imagine

Standing in the fourth circle of hell, looking in, is as close as I can get. This week I learnt of the death of a toddler.  Even third-hand, three steps removed, standing on an outer ring, the pulses of invisible grief from the centre have shocked me into looking away.

I refuse to think about the tiny details: I’ve blacked out the sliver-thin window onto the thing I can’t imagine.

In the early days of Mini’s life my baby-friends and I talked quite openly about the dread that would grip us about our kid dying. We were still humming from the hormones of birth and it felt completely natural to face the darkest thoughts, and talk about them. But as the tidalwave calmed down a little, we all put those fears into a carefully locked box and tried not to disturb the seal too often.

Younger people revel a little in the thrill of grief, working out what it feels like when a pet or an acquaintance or a distant grandparent dies. But as the griefs of life pile up, deep emotion is at our fingertips all too readily without having to roll it around our hands and play with it. The deaths of friends, relationships, parents, marriages create a well of sadness that is all too easily accessed.

I’m not surprised how little we acknowledge the paralysing fear of a child dying.  It’s something so unhealthy to talk about, so voyeuristic to look at in others.  But when the reality strikes, even in someone else’s life, the acidic ripples are unavoidable, and all you can do is try not to be knocked down.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth… will be able to separate us from the love of God”

This post is dedicated to the small, empty space at the centre of the circle.

No 63. You really do get by with a little help from your friends

I have a very sophisticated anti-intruder system at my house called Nine-Foot-Rose.  It’s not a giant, terrifying old lady (though, I wish…) but rather a triffidy plant with inch-long spikes and a killer attitude.  The taller it grew, the safer I felt, until last week when it came crashing down in high winds – taking the rotten trellis with it.

I realise that this disaster is hardly up there with war, earthquake and flood but I went into emergency-panic meltdown and decided the best response was to sit tantruming on the floor, rather than doing anything about it.  Just what any sensible grown-up would do.

I couldn’t fix it by myself and was convinced that every burglar in the neighbourhood would be rubbing his hands with glee at Rose’s demise. It felt symbolic of life in general: the never-ending stream of January colds, sad news, work, snot and wee (potty training) had left me pretty close to collapse, and I was all up for following Rose’s example – lying down with a mighty groan and not getting up again.

But then, I was rescued.  A true, Disney rescue. A group of friends picked me up off the floor, armed themselves with a variety of tools, took Mini away from me and spent two hours babysitting, drilling, hammering and cutting, until the trellis was up and the (decimated) rose was back in place. My contribution? I made cups of tea.

From being paralysed by alonenes and incompetence, I became surrounded by practical love.  There are so many cliches about friendship and 28,423 excruciating memes telling us how precious friends are.  But for all their naff pictures and terrible fonts, the memes are true.  Friendship is what makes life rainbow-coloured. Friendship picked me up and made me put the kettle on.  Friendship is the only thing that keeps us going through the January cold and dark until the sun starts shining again.

This post is dedicated to Rachel.  An incredible, dedicated friend to so many and a much missed colleague and wise counsellor. (Rachel Stevens: 8 February 1978 – 7 January 2015)

“Some people go to priests, others to poetry. I go to my friends.” (Virginia Woolf)