Monday, 29 August 2011

We'll weather the weather whatever the weather, whether we like it or not

Summer has been so coy, hasn't had the confidence to remind us what intense luminosity she possesses.
Autumn is now upon us, yet my new pencil case, shiny shoes and scratchy shirt are nowhere to be found. I still feel the 'back to school' stab of dread, and it still smarts (I blame working in schools). Every September, I  think back to that poignant moment during summer, the one locked in the photograph section of you brain. Some years it's being in a boat, hair all warm like fibre-optic lights, sea and sky equally serene, perfect, everybody feeling smug and content - moments like this aren't meant to last long.
Eating dry, charred meat holds special significance in summer it feels right - washed down with barely acceptable wine. A similar feast any other time of year would lead to melancholy.

Summer is not my favourite season, it promises so much, lies to you, leads you to think all of life's best moments are those mentioned in Will Smith's Summertime.

Autumn exaggerates it's charm too, skipping through a shag-pile carpet of rust, gold, copper feeling delighted about your new scarf...maybe very briefly, once.

Spring, so inspiring, (anagram unintentional) and it's been a while since the last big Christian celebration so everyone's aching for another.
Egg-box and tissue-paper daffodil pictures decorate the fridge, mounted on flimsy, faded school paper. Summer has been  stealing Spring's (thunder? No - spotlight) lately -  she has no shame, and neither do we.

Winter, flu-jab -  it's time to prove yourself, so please don't let me down. Central heating, such a wonderful luxury, but one day something much better will be invented and we will all talk about the days of large painted metal eyesores spoiling our walls.

Winter 2010 - you excelled yourself, Summer is a girl, Autum is a boy, Spring is a lady but Winter, you are a real beast. A local man was killed by an icicle, Raj had to walk the treacherous 5 miles to his shop, we ate casseroles made from the stuff in the freezer which usually gets binned.
My family were all near, we sat together watching the most beautiful scene as the sky emptied endless unique flakes of delicate frozen water. Time stood still, we drank hot chocolate made from a giant melted slab of Cadbury's Dairy Milk and we stared at the snow globe world.
I was so happy.

Gloves and hats are for wimps - lukewarm milk for me

My favourite Winter track, and it seems I'm not alone - a comment below it  reads:

This is stunning, I have loved it since I first heard it, I was trying to get a friend into this who originally felt it was a mess, but I think the trick is to listen to it like jazz, let it flow in and flow out without trying to pick bits out. To me, its beautiful, soul moving and something elemental, like a mountain stream falling over rocks on a snowy mountain, sounds stupid I'm sure.

Yes, it does sound stupid, but don't worry, one day the whole world will understand...

Friday, 26 August 2011

So, tell me a little bit about yourself...

Lots of mums at the park yesterday had badly dyed hair. The lighter hair which had been dyed looked like it had been done with a running-out felt-tip pen. The darker dyed hair looked that purple/brown/red/black hue which emerges after washing a cheap black t-shirt 73 times and leaving it to dry in the sun.

Some women had taken great care with their appearance; full make-up , coordinated clothes, new shoes and costume jewellery. Some were wearing clothes I'd even be loathe to put on to creosote the fence.

I was struck by the associations I made in my mind just by looking at people. The ladies with top of the range pushchairs, highlighted hair and coordinated clothes - they would have a spotless house, big TV and have probably been to Spain to get that tan. Their partner works in garage and plays football on the weekend.

There is a clique which I am familiar with, but have no desire to enter, despite them all being pleasant and intelligent. Whenever I eavesdrop on their conversation, there seems to be an element of bragging. While they may not be bragging about upgrading from a 32" TV to a 50", bragging is still bragging and I can't stand it. The odd amusing anecdote being exchanged about your kids is one thing, but harping on as if they are child prodigies impresses nobody. I read it as either poor social skills and insecurity or as projection ( I can't brag about MYSELF so I'll harp on about how great my kids are, it's the same thing).

If it's not the children they're showing off about, it's what they had for dinner (and you can guarantee it'll be healthier, tastier, more complex and more responsibly-sourced than yours). These mums are all dressed like 90's new age travellers.

I like small-talk, and feel it's underrated. Sitting next to a stranger and managing to find clues as to their lifestyle and background is like a game for me. Most people seem happy to chat for hours about themselves, even talking about quite personal details.

Very often, when I've stumbled upon a particularly self-absorbed individual, I curse myself for ever letting them see my 'tell me more' expression.  Gruesome details about operations and the minutiae of someone's diet being the least favourite topics.

It's usually grandparents I talk to at the park, they seem to have more confidence and time. Many parents come to the park en masse, or if they're alone, stay for no more than 10 minutes.
I like looking for patterns in conversation and usually find the same things seem to matter to people of certain age groups.
By around 60 years of age, I notice most women have a very rigid routine. "I go to Marks and Spencer's every Thursday, and I buy their tins of chunky chicken - have you tried it? I'll just open a tin of that for me and my husband, and we have potatoes and peas with it, something easy because I'm looking after my granddaughter".
I will reply with a blatant lie, such as "that sounds nice".

I often feel a bit worried, am I going to have more time one day, children grown up and left home?  I'll be working part-time or maybe even retired (if something miraculous happens to our finances) and all I'll do with this spare time is stretch out the mundane crap I have to do, and make it seem like a whole day is needed to wipe around the toilet and put some tea towels on the washing line before making a ham sandwich?

I'm not suggesting that people become boring or set in their ways at a certain age, that wouldn't be fair because all of the most interesting people I know are a lot older than me.I just don't want another 3 decades to pass and still be waiting to win the lottery, feel healthy and have bags of free time.

Anyway, yesterday I sat by a young mum of 3 who looked poor and shy. It turns out I was right about the poor bit, not the shy. Initiating the conversation with confidence, she seemed like someone who was going to relate her entire life story to me from as far back as she could remember.
I wasn't prepared to find out how it feels to be on the other side - this girl wanted to know all about ME. I tried all my deflection tricks, none of them worked.

By the end of the afternoon she knew my children's ages, names, the schools they go to and what food they like/dislike. My name, age, work history, interests and marital status. Where I shop for groceries, what films I like, what parts of my body I hate - all this was skilfully gleaned. Despite it not being my kind of conversation, we discussed celebrities we'd like to look like, (she chose Cheryl Cole, I chose Christy Turlington - which shows how long it's been since I last thought along those lines because I had a paper round when she first caught my eye on the cover of Vogue).

I was beaten at my own game, by a girl ten years younger than me, a girl who seemingly had little in common with me.
I thought about it afterwards, she's got three children, had her first at 21, she doesn't work, doesn't socialise with other mums because it's "hard work when you're tryin' to keep an eye on the kids", she brings her own food to the park "cos it's cheaper" and loves a bit of small-talk,

We had plenty in common.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

She talks to you in monochrome

The sky looked like a swimming pool this morning, it made me feel all energetic and excited. It didn't last, I now sit and look out at a sky resembling wet-wipes I've taken my eye make-up off with.

Evening sky over the M4 a couple of weeks ago

It's so grey today in South Wales, slate roofs, grey terraced houses running either side of the murky river Taff, grey mountains. It's so green too, something I never appreciated until I didn't see it everyday, Slough to Cardiff and towards the valley was like finally adding a fresh, crisp salad to a meal of boiled potatoes and fish.

View from bridge to train station, I live near the red-brick school

Ladies walk past en route to the corner shop, permed grey hair frames their grey-skinned faces. On the way back, they clutch a grey newspaper in the crook of their arm.  Window panes used to be framed with colourful gloss painted wood, now they are all white PVC, speckled with grey dust.

Current view

Cars are black or silver, white towels flap on washing lines, a black cat walks like an Amazonian super-model along the grey concrete wall. They cut the tree down, the tree which spoke to me every summer since I moved here. I could have thought I was mad, but my neighbour cried when they cut it down, she loved it too. Cigarette poised, and blowing her smoke into the evening sky, she would echo my thoughts "I love the way that tree rustles in the breeze" I'd tell her about closing my eyes and the tree became the sea.

Lyn no longer smokes, she was ill when they killed the tree, that's why  it upset her, and now she wants to be well, smoke and ash will not help, just turn all the pinkness of her lungs black-grey.

The birds, all of them black, the grey gulls are out too, always slightly less anxious when bin-day is upon us. White, cream or grey blinds and net curtains help conceal my neighbours' black TV's, cream sofas, chrome accessories.

My town, it's all being demolished, sadly!

Black computer, white screen, black coffee giving me grey teeth. The rain has just arrived, it looks like the pretend rain on black and white films, or interference on a rubbish old television screen.
I used to think the 'olden days' were black and white, I thought colour didn't exist when my parents were small. I wonder if my children will feel the same.

Caption competition

The title inspiration for this post comes from Adult's 'Hand to Phone'... "she talks to you in monotone": (which unless you like emotion-less unnatural robotic music, you will HATE!)

Monday, 22 August 2011

Women, eh?

Yesterday, I spent £15 at the corner shop - this is a record. We needed milk, butter and a few other essentials, but I didn't have any cash. The cash machine charges £1.59 for withdrawals, and Raj charges 40p for you to pay by  card (as long as you spend over £6). My skewed logic told me it was better to spend  £6+ on over-priced groceries than to spend £1.59 for the pleasure of taking MY money out of the bank. I bought The Times, because aside from the red-tops this was all that was left. We don't buy a Sunday paper every week because I like to see it trashed,  every single supplement creased, pored over and shuffled (but sometimes by Wednesday it is still pristine) . I go through phases with the Sunday paper, sometimes buying The Observer, The Independent, The Guardian or The Times -  and then never buying one because we're visiting OH's mum for a salty, grey Sunday lunch; boiled to unrecognisable proportions.

Raj, slightly more animated than usual on a Sunday morning following a sale which will ensure he can retire next year, said "thanks Lisa, I see you have a busy day ahead" (big paper, cleaning products, baking supplies...). Now, I've been a customer since I was 7, and Raj has only recently started to address me by name - shame it's not my name.
 "Lisa doesn't suit you at all" said Rob when I told him - but I can't bring myself to correct Raj, for some reason.  And Rob, sorry - but  I don't like 'partner' or 'OH'  and 'Mr Being of Sound Mind' or 'Mr BoSM' doesn't have a ring to it. I've outed you, again.

I spent the day making lunch, making wedding invites for a friend, paying frequent visits to the washing line (I have to stand and stare at the washing for a few moments once it's on the line, sad, but it's one of my favourite sights) and drinking tea and coffee. The boys spent the day entertaining themselves -  happily running in and out of the house, saying "bum" to each other and laughing hysterically.  Between cutting, sticking, basting and pegging, I read the odd article, flicked through the supplements and mainly rolled my eyes and tutted as I did so, even expressing the 'deep-in-thought' sound - hmmm

Rob read a little more of the paper than me, and ended up feeling quite angry about an article on a book about VNC (so called spying) software, which, as a user of the software, he felt was highly exaggerated and misleading (the book, that is).
I got slightly irate after reading yet another journalist using Katie Price as an example of the worst possible example of modern feminist values. Can't they think of anyone else? I see her as just a narcissist with a hint of body dysmorphia, like any number of other celebrities from the beginning of 'fame' to the present day.

The article was a damning critique of Sally Bercow, wife of the House of Commons Speaker John Bercow. Her decision to appear as a contestant on Big Brother reads like the crime of the century against the feminist movement. Nice article; run down two women, and then throw the word 'feminism' in to make it sound like you're on women's side. I'm not about to go off on a rant about feminism, it's too complex to tackle in a blog post -  this is about 'bitching'.  Spending the day cooking, cleaning and engaged in lightweight craft involving hearts and glitter would not stand me in good stead for the Feminist of the Year title, would it?

I'm a bitcher. Oh yes, I've slipped one in about the mum in law's cooking already. At the park earlier, I made several comments like "hasn't she got a full length mirror at home?"  when a lady in a black jumpsuit and white underwear went past. I've joined in with character-assassination style gossip sessions about colleagues. I've always been surrounded by women , never really worked with men; out of 90 students on my college course,- all but one was female. I've only had close friendships with women, I've had one reasonably close friendship with a guy - he was gay and  took bitching to a whole new level. Bitching in my life would have been difficult to escape. I do try not to get carried away with it though, and always have a soft spot for the under-dog, whoever they may be.

I read once that women get bitchier during ovulation, more competitive. Some women must be dropping eggs like a battery hen if that's the case. I carefully avoid all-female group situations, they scare me and I don't really know how to behave in such a setting. The staff room at work equalled mental torture for me, I liked 98% of my colleagues individually, put them together though, and I thought they were vile. All-female workplaces are very difficult, the competition is incredible, you'e always going to be 'too' something. 'Too' pretty (no such luck there) too ugly, too 'nice' too soft, too hard, two-faced...

Back to the article, Camilla Long writes - "For all his irritations, John Bercow seems like a nice man, evidenced by his repeated support of his wife..."  hmm, many a wife-beating rapist 'seems like a nice man' too, Camilla, and are you suggesting he's so nice she should have done what HE wanted, not what she wanted? Supporting your wife = a bad thing?
"...overwhelming current suspicion that she is no more than a fameseeker with arguably fewer feminist credentials than Jordan". Why compare Sally and Jordan, twice, Camilla? Is Jordan famous for having a famous husband and admitting to alcohol abuse? No.
How about comparing their passionate support of Autism-related issues, if you're going to compare them for something they share a common interest in?
Katie Price isn't afraid to admit she loves attention, it's hardly a secret.

Anyway, these articles are meant to get you annoyed, or just agreeing, because brash women are such easy targets for bitching about. The magazines were no different, Ruby Wax and her admission that she wasn't maternal and couldn't look after her 3 kids, but hey, she had a nice man to do that for her.

Another article had me very close to actually vomiting because I attempted to read it straight after my roast " MUMMY BLOGS HAVE MOVED ON FROM MATERNAL MARTYRDOM TO FOCUS ON FUN..."
I got as far as "Sharmadean Reid, owner of the so-hip-it hurts WAH Nails chain and mother of 6-month-old Roman, even carried on working during her 48 hour labour. "I still had things to communicate to my team" she says."
SO DID I, LOVE... "Is that chicken still in the fridge? It'll be gone off now, bin it. Ask your mother if she wants any more clean clothes for the toddler, bring me some clean knickers later, and some more pyjama bottoms. Don't forget to put the bins out. Please tell all my loyal internet chums that I'm a bit busy for now ROFL but I luv them loads and can't wait to get home and discuss my 5 day hospital ordeal at length, sore nipple woes, and how my 'ickle man has made me the proudest mummy in the world, "

Maybe it was hormones or something, but the papers got my blood boiling yesterday, despite several brilliant articles which made me glad I bought it. Next week I may get The Star and see if that manages to offend my contradictory feminist values quite as much. There'll probably far more to bitch about - "look at the state on her".

What do you reckon?

Saturday, 20 August 2011

She's got no class

My dad worked for a construction firm when I was younger (actually, it was very recently he moved into an office environment). We didn't have a car because he had use of a transit van, and my parents were always quite careful with their money. The van reeked of diesel and oil, and in the back was a metal trunk full of rags. These rags were what became of unsaleable second-hand clothes, and dad would clean his hands with them, wipe minor spills, and stem leaks. The fabrics were often colourful, lurid, psychedelic, some would be old children's clothes or t-shirt remnants with some long forgotten fund-raising logo like "Telethon '78".

Sometimes I'd go to work on a Saturday with dad, wellies on, and end up sitting in a dumper truck, JCB or Caterpillar and pretend to drive it. One of his colleagues would inevitably give me 50p or £1 which would seem like a fortune considering you could still get 2 sweets for a penny and a bag of crisps for 5p.
Dad would always be nursing a wound, usually to one of his fingers, these could not be described as 'cuts' because the gash would be so deep I'd imagine I could see right inside to the bone and the flesh would look like a cross section of a blood orange.

Mum always had at least one job (sometimes three) but seemed to always be home too, cooking, cleaning, putting the washing on the line. Dinner would be classics; Shepherd's pie, liver and onions, casseroles, sausage dinner...
I always ate all my dinner, (nothing changes) and though some of the meals I now prepare are more exotic there's  a similarity to the routine.
My brother was always up at the crack of dawn, guzzling the leftover milk from a giant bowl of cereal and shouting to ensure everyone was awake. He had too much energy and was always trying to invent a machine by taking apart household appliances.

A typical working-class family, my parents liked to go out for a drink, and holidays would be Butlin's when I was younger; Spain, Menorca, Portugal and Bulgaria later on. Typical working-class, only on the surface though, any assumption that they enjoyed watching soaps, playing darts, and were uncultured would be wrong. They read a lot, listened to Radio 4, enjoyed plays, hated mainstream TV, were broad-minded about political and social issues and were very 'green' before it was fashionable.

I enjoyed watching Alan Bennett and Mike Leigh plays with them, and from this I think I 'got' the class divide thing quite early on. In Leigh's Nuts In May I empathised with the character Ray, caught in the middle of an embarrassing clash of values.
 At my primary school, during harvest, we used to take parcels with food in to be delivered to local elderly people a. My mother wasn't a fan of this scheme, she worked as a home help and knew the elderly locals had plenty of food and a loving family looking after them. Not wanting to give food away just to rot/go out of date, she gave my brother and I a bottle of Fairy Liquid each with a dishcloth secured to them with a rubber band. A friend laughed as she proudly showed off her box brimming with tins of 'Pek' ham, Oxtail soup, custard powder and fruit salad. There was another family who were of the same opinion as mine, they were forward-thinking Guardian readers,  stood out like a sore thumb amidst the car-factory workers who invariably described them as 'weird'. I was delighted to see their children arrive with a small bunch of flowers each which they'd picked from the garden that morning and tied with some wool. Someone else like us.

Dad excelled at school, but chose to mess around and left early; mum is Dyslexic but went through school being told she was thick.  Both have ended up doing soul-destroying jobs, physically exhausting and uninspiring. My brother and I are following their lead, school didn't do anything for us.
So, the cycle seems to be continuing, my eldest isn't finding school very interesting and I can't summon up any enthusiasm to return to education.

Destined to struggle, make very slow progress and have to pretend to be interested in popular trends? I could escape - if I wanted  to prove something to myself (or anyone else) I would. My determination and willpower are second to none when I've got a bee in my bonnet.  I used to feel inferior to people who'd been to university, travelled, spoke with confidence about politics and so forth. I used to clam up in conversations with people I deemed 'better' than me - felt I had nothing to offer.

Now, I realise that it's not class which stopped me from progressing in the past, and what stops me now. I just think we're a family who don't care to be defined or fit in. We have our own language based on amusing lines  overheard through the years, it takes a while to learn, but people worth having in my life are fully versed in it. Rules have never been followed very closely, social norms always questioned. In high school I tried to stand out instead of blend in. Now, I'm finally realising nobody has the expectations of you that you think they do, I don't need to try so hard to adapt. Being 'me' isn't ever going to happen -  I don't know who on earth I am.

I can't believe it's taken me this long to realise. I've spent hours wondering what the point of this post is, and wondering whehter or not to post it.

If anyone has any ideas, answers on a postcard please....

Thursday, 18 August 2011


On the second week of OH's holiday (recovering after a busy first week nodding at dog-walkers and choosing between plain bacon, or bacon and egg sandwiches at the caravan) we did 'nothing'. Nothing planned, that is.

Monday, on a whim we took the boys to Techniquest for a few hours, and did something naughty - pretended the 4 year old was 3 so we didn't have to pay for him (anyone else do things like that and feel paranoid all day?). At Techniquest, adults feel quite justified in behaving like an 8 year old and not just any 8 year old - an over-indulged bad-mannered one. Men were even dressed like children, wearing those trouser/short hybrid things, sandals, cap and slogan t-shirts.

I have been to Techniquest too many times, mainly through work and a few times on toddler day (when it's free). I ALWAYS find the behaviour of the adults accompanying their children irritating, infuriating and above all, fascinating. Playing on the accepted notion that everything can be mauled, parents and grandparents seem to just 'go for it' and act like it's a day out for their benefit. Your child wants to play a bit longer with the bubble machine, but something else has caught your eye? Time to shout "come on, hurry up" to your enchanted son.
You can guarantee, if there's a queue for the puzzles, it's because uncle Mike and daddy are battling it out together, competing for Alpha male status. If you feel eyes burning into the back of your head, and a sense that you're being willed to move on, it'll be Oscar's dad, itching to take over from your kids.

That's the men, on to the women. Loud is the best word to sum up them. Why do females suddenly get loud once they're a mum?  Ladies, please, resist the urge to continually raise your volume by 13 decibels every time you mention your child's (oh so unusual) name. I've heard that name before, it isn't unique, clever, meaningful or THAT important. Also. shouting at your children for absolutely nothing is something to be done at home, not  in a crowded place. "Anwen, QUICK, wash your hands, QUICK, you TOUCHED the toilet, come on, give them a GOOD wash. PUT SOME soap on, QUICK, come on, you're messing around and trying my patience". You, madam, are trying MY patience, and those deep sighs because I held the door open and your child hesitated to walk through - pathetic.

Changing rooms at the swimming pool are the worst places for this loud, shouty behaviour. Getting dressed after a swim is unpleasant enough, without several high-pitched wails from mothers across the room "don't let your towel touch the FLOOR". Maybe I am a bit noise sensitive, but it is for reasons like those described that I avoid crowded places. Usually, I'll arrive somewhere super-early (often waiting for it to be opened) avoid the cafe, and shoot off before the hoards of loud, hungry, thirsty parents arrive.  My parents started this trend, and OH is happy to carry it on as he hates crowds full stop.

I don't think children should be seen and not heard, but this sounds like a great idea for the parents.

The rest of the week was spent trying to fit too many clothes into not enough storage space. I gave OH an option - take the boys out so I can catch up on chores, or vice versa? Surprisingly, he chose the ironing.
We had a lovely time at a Rhondda Heritage Park you have to pay £2 per child to use the park, but I don't mind. There were only 3 other parents there, it was so peaceful. I knew one of them, so sat with her and put the world to rights. We even went to the cafe, so's not to hamper the progress at home -  that too was a success. The cafe is airy with an art gallery at the back, craft materials for the children and huge windows overlooking a densely wooded area. It was then, I think, that I realised  parents are better on their own with the children, you focus on just them and speak quietly, directly to them.

 I got home, OH looked flustered, he said " I feel like one of those bosses who go back to the shop floor and realise their staff are putting up with shit. This ironing board cover is useless, I've got nowhere, it's demoralising".  I suddenly felt better about not always being on top of the chores, and smug about the pleasant day I'd had.

I forgot to mention that at Techniquest, I spent the entire time catching glimpses of myself in the many reflective surfaces, thinking "am I really that fat?"  just like Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 2 when he sees other versions of him.

This week, we really have done nothing, the weather is vile and I'm too tight to take them to places which charge admission - a couple of outings is enough.  Staying in and shouting at the boys for being boys sometimes beats going out and watching a public display of it.

What do you reckon, are we too loud, generally?

Monday, 15 August 2011


Yesterday, with just one reasonably compliant son in tow, we went to Cardiff. Usually we have the two younger boys, and trips to the city involve a picnic at Bute Park, a museum visit to look at the wolly mammoth and albatross (these are the only animals the boys ever mention when we say 'museum', despite there being some enormous dinosaur displays).

 My eldest is frying in Turkey with his dad, and middle son being spoilt staying with his nan in Newport, so we decided to venture into the part of the city where money talks. 

I've clearly been living in the past. The very recently developed St Davids II shopping centre houses shops the like of which  I thought Cardiff would never see. Firstly, Jo Malone  -  I was so tempted to spend the £40 I'd put aside for shoes and school trousers on a Lime Basil and Madarin candle, but I found the strength to put it back. LK Bennett - bereft of customers, even window shoppers. Cath Kidston - newly opened and a frenzy of activity. Even MEN were in there, holding up floral accessories and grinning. Not that I went in, I'm not a fan of her designs. 

We walked through the arcade and it was like a mid-nineties teen film set. 'American Candy' was selling small bags of coconut M&M's for £3. Krispy Kreme was bustling; huge queues, kids leaving - happily sporting  little paper hats emblazoned with the logo - great advertising ploy. Adults waltzed out of there with boxes of doughnuts - happy to pay £10, but probably think a whole chicken should cost no more than £2.50. A stall selling milk shakes made with bars of your favourite chocolate had a fair sized queue. The Disney shop was rammed full of spoilt kids (I actually like the shop, but have some very painful memories which I'll share one day). Nobody looked particularly happy or serene, it was almost like they were shopping and 'having coffee' so that they could go home and update their social networking forums to say 'just had a Krispy Kreme, NOM NOM, LOL, greedy!'

What was I doing there, then - just the same I suppose, doing something for the sake of it. I did have plenty of 'aren't humans weird?' moments - one being watching children thrash around in a large pool inside giant inflatable orbs . Another;  a tourist dressed in brown polo shirt, navy silk trousers, black patent leather shoes and white towelling sports socks, posing unashamedly as his partner took photographs of him with incredibly dull backgrounds. Maybe he had initially packed a suitcase with casual/sporty/smart clothes and now was left with just a small selection of items from each category to wear.

I'd started the day in an almost foul mood. Readers, male and female alike -  I'm sure you recognise that snappy/terse tone, face like 'a slapped arse/ripped dap' (Welsh one, that) deep sighs, wistful glances - accompanied with an "I'm FINE,  just tired" upon being asked sweetly "everything OK, love?". 
You don't? Either you're an angel, or you live with one - lucky you.

Being out on what became a reasonably sunny Sunday did lift the pale shadow of unnecessary doom and gloom. 
I let my son out of the pushchair, (it can't be comfortable)  he made a beeline for a giant metal ornamental structure outside John Lewis. He was in his element; playing peek-a-boo, trying to scale it or use it as a slide, it was hard to feel anything but happy.

The rest of the day went on to be thoroughly pleasant, as did the evening.  I beat my running  personal best  by 2 minutes. We had a lovely curry for dinner, a longer evening of peace than usual as a worn out toddler settled down before 7 pm, very satisfying.

This morning I planned to do some grocery shopping, I checked my bank balance first - NO MONEY. Put the washing on the line, settled down with a cuppa - RAIN.  My right knee is smarting, that'll teach me for trying to canter instead of trot. OH bought UNSALTED butter - he's in for it when he gets home from work. The foul mood threatened to make a comeback. Threatened.

I thought to myself  "I'm going to get a full-time job, we can't go on like this".

Then I surveyed the photographic evidence of yesterday's happier moments. Children are worth going without food and candles for, aren't they?

p.s  If you do ever visit Cardiff, this brilliant website lets you know the only shops worth going in. I'm sure the other shops have nothing you can't see in your local shopping centre.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

I wasn't going to do a 'riot' post...

...but it just sort of happened, because it's all that has been on my mind. I fear I've left myself wide open for a beating - never discuss religion or politics - right? Apologies for it being so long.

 I hope the shocking and repulsive behaviour we've had to sit back and watch this week has some positive outcome in the next 30 years. Sure, it's great that people are showing solidarity, coming together to clean up the visible mess. But the invisible mess will take more than a pair of gloves and a broom to clean up.

What about the kids of these kids, what the hell can we do as a wider community to help show them right from wrong, if you've never been shown, you can't make decisions and  just become another sheep.

I am not 'excusing' any of the sickening behaviour we've seen, I just happen to feel everyone is to blame in part. Me included. I DO look at someone in a track suit/hoodie with all the 'chav' trappings and turn my nose up. I do. I've joked about it.

BUT, I also had plenty of middle-class friends who had good upbringings; healthy dinners eaten as a family, well stocked book-shelves, Ecover washing-up liquid, piano in the living room, intelligent conversations ...and sadly, at least 3 of these friends I had, I know - they would have been there, frantically trying to grab trainers, gadgets and anything - just because they could, and 'everyone  else' was doing it.

There is no self-righteousness attached the reason I wouldn't have joined the other looters when I was a teen. I just would have been scared and frightened. Self-preservation would rule, not just pity for the poor shopkeepers and my community pride.

 I do know I'd feel it was wrong and disgraceful if I saw someone smashing up our corner shop, I would NOT think it was funny, clever or a good way to display anger at 'the system'.

 I hope my suggestions for a happier life don't come over as 'holier-than-thou' either. I have very few answers, but if they work for me, maybe they'll work for someone else too...

I'm getting rid of more stuff. I don't buy much 'stuff' because we don't have the money and I hate shopping (even charity shopping can get me down). People give me stuff all the time, carrier bags brimming with stuff. Clothes my friends' kids have outgrown; towels, bedding, shoes, toys, furniture, catalogues (which I use for craft), cutlery, crockery, books...

By the time I've finished with this stuff, it's looking grim. Towels are only fit for the dogs home, bedding only fit for the salvation army bin (too embarrassed to take threadbare bedding to the charity shop and hand to a human). The clothes will have been through at least 4 boys adventures; toilet training, climbing, splashing in puddles, vomiting. Crockery will all be chipped, cracked and useless (though, my sister in law sometimes takes smashed crockery to use as drainage for her orchids).

Toys will be sad, missing their arms and eyes, batteries dead and leaking, and missing that vital component - rendering it redundant. Books will sometimes be creased or the pages welded together with porridge/drool (not mine) - but usually fit for another few generations of readers.

Still, I feel incredibly guilty about getting rid of stuff, even though it's not going into landfill, and even though I didn't buy it. There's enough stuff in the world for everybody to be entertained and comfortable - surely? No, people seem to want more and more and more new 'stuff'.

Is there another way to enjoy life, without buying 'stuff'?  I think so, I've learned to go without buying stuff, and my happiness has increased accordingly.

Like fashion? - no need to go to Top Shop and buy, just have a look and create your own version of that £75 dress with a bit of imagination. Chances are it's a re-hashed look from a generation where they did it better anyhow.

Bored? Go for a walk or a run, seriously - it's that easy to appease boredom/mild melancholy. Look at the sky, the trees, birds, even looking at a dual carriageway from a bridge gives you an interesting perspective, helps you to understand your place - small but capable of rising above.
 Breathe in, the air tastes different all the time. When I run past the river I smell the pungent (akin to stale urine) purple weeds and it reminds me of playing as a child. I inhale the damp trees scent and it reminds me of  those childhood days at Autumn's end -  when all the years warmth is over and no more outdoor play looms, you feel sad but don't know why.

Nobody listens to you? We all go through that phase, few  care about teenagers' views, or those of the elderly/infirm. People seem to go through a stage between 30 and 55 where they're a valid member of society, before and after those ages - invisibility envelops you. "Not Economically Viable" to quote a line from the film Falling Down.

Hungry? Eat protein as well as sugar. For the price of a bottle of Coke and a Greggs steak bake, you can create a healthy meal for at least 2. Your body needs vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrates to function well - they should teach you the importance of that at school. Eating well can help overcome a lot of physical, even emotional problems.

Full of nervous energy?  Put the X-box controller down and create something - you have a talent, maybe you just haven't discovered it yet. Try making music,  drawing, painting, photography (even if it's just using your phone camera) write a song, poem or story, try your hand at sewing.

Listen to some different music, there's a reason millions of teenagers found solace  listening to The Smiths - the words are being sung to you, for you. The best person to surprise is yourself.

Sad, lonely, feeling unloved? Talk, it's not easy at first -  it doesn't feel comfortable, but even seemingly obscure fears, hopes and dreams once aired, can become shared goals. The biggest, cheesiest and truest clichĂ© of all - 'you are not alone'.

For me, I've realised life doesn't change all that much between leaving school and joining the adult world.  At work, there will be people who make you feel you're not as good as them, that you don't fit in. Work itself can be boring,  lacklustre. Money worries plague even the most seemingly 'well-off' people at times. The structure and routine that going to work encourages does help you to get through life though. You will meet some of your closest friends through work, too.

Relationships are never easy, but learning to accept differences, explaining your actions and finding a routine together helps. Agree to disagree, pre-empt arguments and work through them before they escalate. Misunderstandings should never lead to relationship breakdowns, the pattern will only repeat itself in your next relationship.

Raising children is part instinct, part luck, part weeding out the good advice from the bad, and mainly about confidence. We make mistakes all the time as parents, and don't ALWAYS have the answer, the chances are you're the most special and important person in the world to your children, that's what makes it so hard and also so easy.

What is life all about?  Maybe it's about always making sure the next generation have a better life than you. Life often imitates art, make sure you choose art to admire which reflects what you want to be.

I'm  sorry - all those mums I deliberately avoided at mother and toddler groups. You were very young, reeked of fags,  gave your children loads of sugary treats, sat looking at your phone and avoided eye-contact. This didn't mean I couldn't at least try to strike up a conversation and show you some respect. Your children were a bit naughty, and I worried my children would get hurt, but I, of all people should understand.

Those teens outside the shop, spitting all the time, swearing loudly, getting in the way, making inappropriate comments...I should say 'thank-you' when you eventually get out of the way, not tut and then whine to Kay and Raj for half an hour about it. Adults like that used to annoy me as a teen.

Was I a 'good' teenager? No. Did I have impeccable manners, behave within the law all the time and endear myself to adults - no way.

I did know what was right and what was wrong, though. I was afforded an enormous amount of freedom, grew up very quickly and experienced things between the ages of 14 and 18 most people don't until they start university or leave home.

What is THE  answer? Is it a return to religion? Capital punishment? National Service? More power for teachers?  I have read all these suggestions, and I don't feel hopeful. Mending a broken community will  require huge change.

What is your suggestion?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Keshling's Charity Swap parcel arrives...

I've just had a nice bath. Always a 'nice' bath isn't it? And a 'nice' cup of tea. I missed having a bath last week - I'm old fashioned like that.

There was a neat pile of mail waiting when I got home today, but I pushed that to one side. I wanted to look at my parcel from Keshling full of charity swap goodies (organised by Lakota).

 I tore off the tape and opened the box:

It's white crispies mummy!

I open the gift bag...
True. I'm old fashioned like that

First thing I spy is this (and I WILL be thinking of you when I enjoy a brew):
No mouth, no nose - but a cracking hairdo and  gorgeous frock detract from this minor omission by the artist

Now, let's tear open the wrapped items...

Isn't it a beauty?


Clever Babcia

And there's more...

You kill me. No, you REALLY do


LOVE these

*Insert hat joke of your choice* I actually have this very hat in silver - what a coincidence

Next to be unwrapped - something I've wanted for ages

An apron! I can 'look' busy now. Check out the tan lines too - drinking in the sun is not big OR clever kids.

A little window display with my new teacup, tea cosy and very apt phrase on the card. Couldn't find a frame for the card - but I think it looks great in the vase?  Doesn't the cup coordinate well with my favourite teapot? 

I thoroughly enjoyed the swap - I don't get many presents. I'm not the kinda girl who gets flowers, chocolates and Valentine's cards. I did moan to OH that nobody has ever won me a teddy, so he got busy on the 'grab' machine. I cannot stand soft toys, but did find the strength to smile when a proud OH thrust this beauty into my hand, with the accompanying line "don't say I never give you anything"

Who said romance is dead?

Thanks Keshling, you've been a brilliant swap buddy, it's not like I give much away with regard to my tastes in second-hand goods, but you did me proud.

Thanks to Lakota for organising this, it was no mean feat.  I look forward to the Christmas  swap!?

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Today was a good day

 The males in my life woke up all grumpy and snappy after a light, broken sleep. I, on the other hand woke up refreshed and eager to make plans to enjoy the sunshine. I soon realised today was not a day for hill walks, picnics and strenuous activity. "Let's just have a quiet day", I said.

"When in Rome" became the catchphrase of the day, and I found myself mirroring the behaviours of the neighbouring caravan owners. Before 9 am I had cleaned the windows, washed the net curtains and engaged in some very lightweight small-talk with the elderly neighbours who were supervising the sparrows as they feasted on wholemeal bread (they prefer it to white, apparently).

I was fortunate enough to hear the story of what Margaret had planned for John's tea four times, she told me first. Margaret had corned beef sandwiches for lunch, but John has been to work all week, so a corned beef salad wouldn't suffice. Sliced turkey breast for John, he's been boiling in London, so doesn't want a roast dinner. Margaret kindly donated the leftover corned beef to the sparrow fanciers, explaining the salad dilemma she'd been faced with. John's 6 o'clock dinner was plated up in the fridge by 9:30.

The lady in the caravan next to Margaret worked her socks off all day. Wiping, sweeping, dog walking, washing, cooking, shopping - no wonder she looks so fit; her husband is dying of cancer and he just watches her, looking sad. Margaret's salad story didn't seem to interest either of them, nor her quips about being worn out from clearing the cobwebs from her decking.

The kids had a nap at midday, so did OH. The sky was clear, the sun made it's boldest appearance this week, no way was I going to sleep through it's performance. I pottered a little, read for a while and then decided to worship the sun. I sat for a couple of hours, blatantly  basking in the heat. I had a few glasses of water, 2 glasses of wine and a bottle of mixed berry cider, I only remember needing the toilet twice.

I drifted in and out of intense daydreams, Margaret punctuated them at regular intervals with random statements. "Turkey is stinkin', never been there 'cos all our friends came back with bad stomachs".
I relaxed deeply, in my meditative state I was able to cancel out the yapping dogs, frolicking children and lawnmower sounds.

I thought about the people above me, flying to Turkey, Greece, and Spain every 15 minutes from the nearby airport. I thought about the people around me, caravan  owners - mostly retired and their grandchildren growing up. I thought about my sleeping family, I wondered what drama lay ahead for us all in the coming decades. I thought about Margaret, in her seventies, yet still getting excited about seeing her husband. I thought about the poorly people around me, life nearing it's end - simple things mattering now. I thought to myself, there is nowhere else I'd rather be, and nobody else I'd rather be right now.

I wonder if John enjoyed his turkey salad, Margaret said she'd take it out of the fridge about 45 minutes before he got in.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Dressed for Success

It's raining, the sky looks like a blackboard which has been wiped clean with the palm of my hand. The sea looks like the water paintbrushes have been soaking in. The boys are fine; swimming, climbing at the park and walking a lot seems to have sharpened their appetite, and three healthy meals a day are being wolfed down with gusto. We've been swimming, we have wi-fi, I have access to blogger and I can't seem to stay away.

An elderly lady completed at least 15 lengths of the pool at an impressive pace, she got washed and dressed the same time as us.
Showering naked, she drew a lot of stares from young boys. Crepe paper skin, tiny frame - maybe size zero. Lots of care was taken with drying, a very well rehearsed, methodical routine was observed. Talc was gently sprinkled onto her tiny hand before being sort of 'thrown' onto her armpits. The scent of parma violets and lavender filled my nostrils for a moment. Moisturiser next, slowly but purposefully she covered her arms and legs in a fine film of cream, changing the brand for her feet, a peppermint aroma was evident, I almost tasted it.

Clothes - lacy, mint green underwear, a silk petticoat with cream lace trim and a beautifully cut fitted dress;  her  light, belted mac was the exact length of the dress, followed by co-ordinating peep-toe kitten heel shoes.

I expected to see a Mason Pearson brush emerge next, but no; a simple black comb did wonders for her  matte silver hair. A slick of peach lipstick and a spritz of Charlie bodyspray, she was ready. Everything was neatly returned to her FILA rucksack, I felt a pang of disappointment - surely she has a pretty bag at home which would do the job.

We left the changing room at the same time, my hair dripping onto my t-shirt, chipped toe-nail varnish pepping out from Regatta flip-flops (my mum's, slightly too small).  Our eyes meet, she smiles and says "what a lovely skirt dear"  I reply, "oh, thanks - it was from a charity shop, only £1.75!".

I do myself no favours...