Friday, 30 September 2011

Watching you watching me to see you looking back at me

This week I've been staring a lot at people I don't know personally, but have noticed them 'around'.
Some of these people look back at me with a hint of recognition in their eyes. I'm probably "that woman who's always pushing a screaming kid around town".

This brief, extra late Indian Summer, though welcome, and very much expected by me, is strange. The park smelt rotten, the festering, damp, autumnal mulch, intensified by the alien heat rays. 

I got to the park early every day to enjoy the initial peace and increasing warmth with my monkey of a son;  the squirrels, birds and the park keeper our only company.

By 10:45, the squirrels are hiding and out come the pigeons, ready for some of Greggs' finest crumbs, dropped by the hoards of toddlers who arrive.  Peace will be restored in under 24 hours, until then,  goodbye park, I have been frequenting you all my life and will never completely give up on you.

As I exit the park, I recoil by HSBC bank. The "loud, chopsy thin woman" which is a rather poor nickname (coined by my mum) is even thinner. If she was 7 stone before, she now looks less than 6, a walking corpse; skin like flaps of peeling PVA glue hang from jutting spiky bones. Her voice is now ghoulish, I can imagine her saying "help meeee" in a terrifying whisper. She no longer chats for too long to the charity shop volunteers, she's fading. I don't think she's as old as she looks (which is about 190) and I think she is clever, though she seems like a 'difficult' person. I stare and recoil a few more times - how can someone so poorly be out and about?

In the market, I see a man who scares me, if I'm near him in a shop I go all cold and tense. I'd say he's in his mid to late 60's, he never smiles, there is no evidence of an emotion, positive or negative, on his face. It's the upright walk which unnerves me, that and the eyes of a shark.

A new addition to my 'I've seen you before' file, intrigues me. I reckon I'll get to know her one day, she seems worth getting to know. I like her clothes and the way she looks up, not just around. I'd say she's in her mid forties, lives alone, and suffers from depression - her eyes look quite sad, like they're desperate to be rinsed out with cold water and shown a bright picture.

The last in today's list is a lady who has lost it. Once, she looked the part. In the 80s she 'nailed' (I hate he use of that word all the time) the big hair, frosted lips and stiletto-revealing toe-cleavage look. Time has been unkind, and I reckon moving on (there goes another crap term) would be a good idea. Ordering all the discontinued 'Sky Blue Pink' Constance Caroll lipsticks from some obscure website, still back-combing her hair even though it's brittle and grey, and spraying an emphysema-inducing amount of Insette hairspray to hold it in place, has done her no favours. She doesn't smile. She used to smile a lot. I bet she's got bunions.

When I become "the woman who USED to push a screaming kid around town" I hope I look happier, not sad and lost.

Do you have any nicknames for local strangers? 
Rob and I have hundreds. Just in a small section of the street we have: 

'My Ex' (so called because he asked me on a date once when I first moved in - I declined)

'Your mate' (I call the guy who lives over the road Rob's mate because Rob fixed his  computer once. He lives in the dirtiest house imaginable and is rather eccentric, very much NOT Rob's mate)

'Snoop Dogg' (He lives opposite and is never without his dog. Seems a nice guy, but has the worst hairdo; fringe which comes to his eyebrows, long hair to his shoulders; cut short at the sides for his ears to poke out. Oh, and a moustache to complete the look. And 70's addidas track suits which would fetch a tidy sum on ebay)

I'm a very nosey neighbour.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Meet Loren - Korea Girl

The 'Korean' pose

Loren is a 23 year old English Graduate from South Wales.I met her through a mutual friend earlier this year, and she really encouraged me to give blogging a whirl.

A very early interest in clothes led Loren to pursue a career in the cut-throat world of fashion journalism. Good internships, let alone jobs were in scarce supply, so she decided to take on an adventurous role - teaching English in South Korea.

It's one thing to go travelling with a friend to experience different cultures, but I believe you don't get the full experience unless you fully immerse yourself.

Here Loren answers some prying questions for me ( I really am that nosey).

What made you choose Korea?

Money was my main motivation in choosing Korea.  I'd heard that you could save quite a lot working here, something that is unfortunately necessary to get my future off the ground in this time when graduates are expected to work for little or no money.  I was also intrigued by the country.  There's a lot of negative stuff posted about it on the internet, particularly about being an English teacher here.  This contrasted deeply with the glimmers of interesting stuff I read about the zany fashions, kitsch culture and the up-and-coming music scene.  I decided to contact bloggers to see what they thought and the response was overwhelmingly positive, urging me to go for it.

What does a typical working day entail?

School is a 10 minute walk away for me so I leave the house at 8:20 and head there.  Typically I teach about 3 or 4 lessons a day in classes of 40 high-school boys (15 year olds).  Luckily I have a coteacher who handles discipline so I can teach without worrying about that, plus most of the kids are very focused and determined so I barely ever have a problem.  They can be a little loud or grumpy, depending on the weather and what they’ve eaten: they get very agitated just before lunchtime on a humid day, for example.  I stay at school until 4:30, preparing lesson plans, helping out with any grammar/ linguistic queries the other teachers have and proofreading any work that needs looking over.

What do you do in your spare time?

In the evenings I’ll grab dinner with someone or eat alone at home. Eating out is incredibly cheap here, you can get a decent meal for 3 quid and the portions are enormous.  It’s actually cheaper to eat out as a single person than it is to eat at home alone.  Korea also has burgeoning obsession with coffee so since I live in a bustling University area there are tons of coffee shops around.  I like to sit and read or write in them since they all have WIFI.  In fact, Korea has the fastest internet speed in the world and there are plans to blanket Seoul in free WIFI in the near future.

On weekends I generally visit Seoul.  As the second largest city in the world, there’s always something going on here.  A typical weekend would be to have dinner with friends on the Friday evening, normally something more expensive than usual such as galbi (Korean Barbecue) or maybe something western.  On a Saturday I do some exploring and in the evening I’ll go out to Hongdae where all my favourite bars are.  There’s always some kind of party organized by someone on the expat scene so you always see the same faces out, which is fun.  The Sunday will be spent hungover, shopping and/ or eating.

What is the food/drink like?

I’ve already mentioned food twice so you can assume that I love it! Korean food is cheaper than western food so I try to eat that as much as possible.  At the moment I’m obsessed with mandu, which is the Korean version of chinese steamed dumplings.  I also love galbi because it’s such a sociable idea to sit in a restaurant with your friends, cooking your own meat.  Korean food comes with tons of side dishes so even if you feel like you’ve ordered a small meal it often turns into a big one.  I’m not always a fan of the side dishes though, they’re often very strange foods such as jellified roots and fermented vegetables.  Koreans eat kimchi with everything and I mean EVERYTHING.  Kimchi is fermented cabbage, salty and spicy with an odd slimey texture.  I can’t stand it but it’s meant to be some kind of superfood so I try to eat a little of it now and again.

I can’t mention drink without mentioning soju.  You can get a bottle of this Korean vodka for 75p.  The drinking culture in Korea is pretty crazy.  The country is meant to be so conservative but then you regularly find yourself sitting next to an inebriated passed out middle-aged man on the subway.

What is the weather like?

The weather isn’t great. When I came it was cold but within a month it started getting considerably warmer.  We had six weeks of gorgeous sunshine but then rainy season started.  Rainy season is meant to last for a month but this year it was more like three.  It’s hot, grey and humid and everyone gets very irate.  Koreans told me that this is the worst rainy season they’ve ever seen.  Clearly I brought the weather with me from Wales!  It’s autumn now and the cool, dry weather is a bit of a relief.  I’m worried about the sub-zero temperatures that winter is going to bring but on the bright side that means I get to go skiing for the first time.


The scenery isn't the best.  I miss looking at the valleys.  Korea has dry looking mountains, surrounded by apartment blocks.  The cities are packed with people and the architecture is functional as opposed to beautiful.  I have been to some gorgeous places in Korea though, but you do have to seek them out.  I've also been to some places that would have been more gorgeous had there not been a random ugly building plonked obscurely in the midst of a scene.

Best thing about Korea?

Most people say the public transport.  I have to admit, that is a huge draw for me.  I live in a city 30k away from Seoul but I can get there in 40 minutes for less than a pound.  A few weekends ago I visited the east coast of Korea for a few days, taking 3 hours on a bus to get there, at peak time during a public holiday.  The bus took exactly the time it was scheduled to take and cost me 14 quid return.  It’s so cheap and convenient.  It seems like a boring answer but what it means is that the best thing about living here is the freedom to visit anywhere else in the country at the drop of a hat.

Worst thing?

The worst thing is that because Korea is so homogeneous there is a lack of multi-culturalism and a high proportion of casual racism.  I get stared at constantly, especially when I'm not in Seoul.  Also the language barrier can cause problems but you just have to adapt to that.  You get really good at impromptu charades.

Have you made any good friends?

I’ve made some great friends, more than I thought I would.  Initially I planned that if I failed to make any friends I would just acquire a cat and go on adventures with it in tow.  Luckily I’ve made a great group of friends and I meet new ones every week.  There’s a feeling amongst the foreigners that everyone is in the same boat so most people are very friendly when you meet them out and about.  I’ve made some great Korean friends too, although this is usually harder than making friends with non-Koreans because Koreans can often be shy and are very nervous about using English in front of a native speaker.

How long do you think you'll stay?

Possibly a couple of years, maybe more.  I will eventually be coming home to start a career but at the moment it’s a relief not to be living in depressing recession-era Britain.  I'm also looking into moving to some other countries to teach since I'm feeling the wanderlust.  I'm thinking Taipei in Taiwan, Buenos Aires in Argentina or Prague in the Czech Republic

Smiling, at a sporting event? Unheard of

What is your dream job?

My dream job is to be a fashion or features editor on a national magazine.  Failing this, I’d just like to be paid to write. 

Any funny tales?

Far too many.  Mostly funny weird though. The strangest thing that happened to me is probably when I was at the Buddhist Lantern Festival in April. I was minding my own business, checking out the art stalls, when a shaven-headed female monk in robes came up to me, around 10 more monks in tow.  She presented me with some art made from a rubbing that she had just done and then all of the monks encircled me.  They took a picture with me and left me flabbergasted, as fleetingly as they had appeared.

Currently listening to? 

K-pop! Nah, not really.  It’s a bit too bubblegum for my liking.  Although I do love Big Bang and 2NE1.

Currently reading? 

Diary by Chuck Palahniuk.  He’s one of my favourite authors and luckily I managed to find this in the foreign book shop in Seoul.

Loren, and some other creative pals in Korea have set up Chincha?! a great website offering a snapshot of the best things Seoul has to offer.  She'd be delighted if you'd have a look and let her know what you think.

Follow Loren's blog where you won't find lengthy self-absorbed rants, just cool stuff like this which only take a moment to enjoy, but leave you inspired:

The Thorium dream  



Naughty Barbie (as a former Barbie addict, I LOVED this [yes, me - a Barbie fan as a kid])

Thanks Loren for letting me grill you. I think your ambition is admirable - you deserve the success which will inevitably come your way.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


Bored on a Saturday night, how has it come to this?

I've enjoyed my day - only one son here this weekend, so I handed the park and train track making duty over to Rob and hit the charity shops. The prices were BEYOND unreasonable, I only came away with 2 cardigans, some crazy earrings, an old map of France to use for crafting, some photo-frames to destroy and a couple of books and toys for the little ones. Total spend £11 and I hope to make some money from the frames once I have tarted them up.

I went for a 4 mile run, passing glamorous ladies off out on the town, numerous take-aways wafting the odious MSG aroma into the evening air, hundreds of boy racers drove past, souped-up Subarus, Citroen Saxos, and sporty Fiestas filling the gap where testosterone, intelligence and wit should be.

I'm still 'dieting' so a bottle of wine/cake/bag of cashews/hummus and crusty bread are out of the question - not to mention the giant bar of Michel Cluizel chocolate I want.
We've plenty of films to watch - but Rob always falls asleep half way in - very annoying when I've squinted my way through intense subtitled dialogues (hate wearing my glasses) only to find I have nobody to talk about the film to at the end.

All the books I'm currently reading are super-depressing, the stuff of nightmares, all I want is some light-hearted fun (not interested in the X-Factor once the initial auditions are over).

Moan finished, I've decided to copy Lakota and do an A-Z of me post. I have been thinking of doing one for a while, so here goes:

A - Age
34. I feel older, look older and don't do anything to try and look younger. No creams or potions in this house.

B - Bed Size
Double, really uncomfortable mattress, one of the numerous things which need to be replaced

C - Chore you hate
Cleaning the oven is the worst

D - Dogs
We don't have any pets. I'm allergic to most hairy animals, and find dogs' neediness and fierce loyalty rather pathetic as opposed to appealing.  I do know what it's like to love a dog though - always had pets as a child

E - Essential start to your day
A pint of freezing water downed in one, followed by super-strong tea - at least one. My bladder is pretty strong, luckily.

F - Favourite colour
Grey, purple, orange, green - like them equally

G - Gold or silver
I don't own either- I'm more of a pewter girl. Given a choice  - silver

H - Height
5' 7"

I - Instruments you play
None, I got thrown out of violin class because the teacher couldn't handle my slow-to-learn brain. Cello teacher told me music wasn't my forte, even the recorder proved a challenge for me. Shame, I 'feel' like quite a musical person!

J - Job title

K - Kids
3 boys aged 12, 4, and nearly 3

L - Live
Pontypridd, South Wales

M - Mother's name
Linda, very opinionated but only family get to hear the opinions - good job, she's made grown men cry with her truths
Looking good at 60, I reckon

N - Nickname

Juice (obv - rhyming), Frank Spencer (dad's name for his clumsy daughter)

O - Overnight hospital stays
5 days is the longest, my youngest son was born early and I had an infection which can be lethal if passed on to the baby during labour.Very lucky it was detected before his birth.
I enjoyed people-watching, enjoyed being waited on, and bonded with my baby far better for being in hospital. Nothing but praise for the staff, bloody boiling in there though! And the tea wasn't up to my standard.

P - Pet peeves
Litter, waste, cars taking over the pavement as well as the road, raffle tickets, junk mail, empty jars being returned to fridge//cupboard I'm afraid the list could go on all night)

Q - Quote from a film

"It's not Jesus, it's just a fella" - Whistle down the Wind

"The box - you opened it. WE CAME" - Hellraiser

"Nobody understands clothes here Barbie" - Ken, Toy Story 3

R - Right or left handed?

S - Siblings
Brother, 2 years younger

T - Time you wake up
every hour, get up at 7 ish - love mornings though, and very late at night - hate 2pm - 6pm, I'm grumpy and lethargic.

U - Underwear 
Mother-in-laws old bras, and I get knickers for Christmas. Nothing matches. Can't justify the expense of underwear, and if I got run over, my knicker and bra choice would be the least of my worries. I take my bra off as soon as I get in anyway, they are all over the house for guests to find and feel embarrassed about.

V - Vegetable you hate
Mushrooms why would anyone want to eat fungi?

W - What makes you run late
Rob. Nothing else, I hate being late, punctuality is VERY important to me. Rob gets ready to go out 5 minutes after he should have been somewhere - I have learned to bit my tongue ('til it bleeds).

X - X-Rays you've had
Last one was on my left index finger. It got jammed  when a child slammed a door into it. That finger never gets warm, it's always ice cold, and painful in the winter.

Y - Yummy food that you make
I asked Rob, he said curry, and pizza. Has to be all fresh spices (my hands are always yellow from fresh turmeric) and pizza dough has to be made by hand, with home made sauce - no tomato purée.

Z - Zoo animal
Elephants, they are so prehistoric looking, and such emotional animals, and my favourite colour

Some pretty pointless facts there, for a pretty pointless evening! Having said that - I'd love it if you'd join in because I'm so nosey.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Je ne regrette rien

The sky was perfect earlier, gold, pink and lilac with clouds the colour of a Russian Blue cat. A reward for putting up with days of damp, uninspiring weather.

I'm not sure if it's the change of season, but I keep getting the sense that something dramatic is about to happen. It's not a sense of impending doom, or a stomach-churning excitement (I was probably 10 last time I had that) rather a feeling that something unprecedented is looming.

When I was single, before having children, I would agree to go out with friends [on the weekend] early in the week. If, by the weekend, a feeling of nervousness or foreboding overcame me, I'd cancel the night out  - sometimes just hours before. My auntie used to do the same to my mother, causing untold frustration.

I regarded these feelings as warnings or premonitions and trusted my instinct so much, I let my moods dictate every choice I made. Of course, I'm more realistic now and realise that self-fulfilling prophecies were what I was creating - not accurate predictions.

The last time I had an exceptionally strong feeling I wanted to stay in was around 13 years ago. I had arranged to go out with some girls I used to work with, it was a netball fundraising event. The girls scared me, they were loud, brash, and shared a camaraderie I have struggled to achieve with groups of females; it fascinates me but I'm not sure I'll ever feel that 'sisterhood' thing.

I should have felt comfortable, I looked OK (I very rarely felt OK about my image) and was enjoying my life at the time. Something was gnawing away at me, I couldn't shake it off and it hung over me like a cloud the colour of licorice. We got a minibus into Cardiff, and I started to cry uncontrollably, embarrassingly - this was out of character for me - even after 4 pints. I suddenly felt frightened and lonely, it was all very strange.

By the time we got to the nightclub, I started to perk up, I pulled myself together and danced the night away.  Two ridiculous looking blokes lurked around most of the evening, one 6' 5", the other around 5 '5" (apologies to those who don't work in feet and inches any more!). The taller bloke pestered me non-stop, I did my best to ignore him, but was polite - he seemed harmless enough.

As the end of the night drew nearer, I was bombarded with phone-number requests, it's hard to believe how much times have changed since then. Now it would be a mobile number or "are  you on Facebook?" (no, by the way). I refused to give my parents' phone number out, but did divulge my surname, which is on the first page of the phone book, and there is rarely more than one other entry of the same name.

That was all he needed to get hold of me the following week.  Friends and family admired his persistence, and encouraged me to go on a date. I'm not about to suggest I was forced into this union, and of course I could have called it off any time, but there was a strange bi-polar pull throughout this relationship, it really did feel out of my control at times (maybe the excessive alcohol consumption played a part).

I went on a few nice dates before I was just used as a plus-one for engagement parties and trips to the pub, I was treated like an accessory.  I was unhappy early on, but kept on going - there may be some truth in 'treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen'? I struggle to think of a reason why I didn't just call it off.

A few weeks in, I went to Ibiza for a fortnight with a childhood friend. My friend had met a guy a few months before and was besotted (they eventually married last year) and I think she would have liked to cancel the holiday. I made the most of it, shared drinks with some familiar faces from home, befriended the most gentlemanly group of Scottish guys I've ever met, and forgot about home. My friend pined, moped and went through the motions of 'having fun'. I had a whale of a time.

Coming back to a cold, wet Wales after a fortnight of parties in the sun was a massive anti-climax, back to reality with a bang. I had planned to knock the relationship I'd started before the holiday on the head, but it picked up where it left off.

Nine months later my fist son was born, and the unhappiest 2 years of my life ensued. I enjoyed motherhood, despite the obvious shock that comes with the arrival of your first child. I didn't say that just to make it look better, I genuinely felt complete with a child of my own to care for. He was a placid baby, quite clingy, an erratic sleeper (isn't EVERYONE'S first?) and a fussy eater, other than that, a dream child.

The relationship was horrendous though, and I had such reservations about becoming a single mum, I stuck it out and endured some very bad times.

Of course, I don't regret going out that night, because everything that is right with my life is right because of what followed on from the chance meeting of two totally incompatible people. I learned lessons quickly and painfully, but learned them nevertheless. Our son enjoys one of the most successful shared-parenting arrangements I know of, and I believe his life is richer for it.

I made a series of decisions, none of these experiences were 'fate'. It would be all too easy to keep blaming mistakes on something ethereal.

This week though, I have asked Rob on more than one occasion - whose idea was it to have these kids? The nights have been difficult, with the little ones now sharing a room, and the youngest wanting to jump in bed with his brother - musical beds at 2 am is not fun.
Obviously, I wouldn't change a single thing - my sons are a source of pride and joy (sometimes).

I'll carry on drifting, making a variety of decisions based on 'gut feeling' and others on rational thought. A parallel life will run in my head - more than one most probably.

As long as I don't repeat past mistakes, I'll live my whole life without regret.

Any regrets?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Organised Chaos?

As much as I'd like to be one of these people who has a place for everything, and everything in it's place - it's never going to happen.
I don't write lists, don't have a calendar with birthdays on; I memorise addresses, postcodes and phone numbers (even mobile numbers sometimes). I rely on the other mums to remind me about school events (they know what I'm like) because even having a letter with important dates on the fridge doesn't make a difference. I have a system in my brain, but not a physical system to back it up.

Flicking through the photographs on my phone, I decided it was high time I deleted most of them - they are no better than the ones people used to take to finish the film off when they were desperate to get it developed. It's a small step, but getting more organised will take time.
Please don't recommend I join the Fly Lady revolution - even she couldn't save me.

I tried, but I couldn't bring myself to delete them, I wanted to think first about the story they told.
If someone found my phone, what on earth would they make of the owner?  Besides quickly deducing that I have 3 sons, I'm not sure what the photographs taken on days out say about me.

The other file on my phone which could give something away is the 'notes' application. I DO write some things down.
I write down ideas which pop into my head when I'm daydreaming. I only started doing this recently, Rob is the king of list-writing and he told me to start typing thoughts and conversations into my phone in case I forget them.

I just read through some of these notes - they're all very much centred around making observations about others' appearance. So I'd come across as a right bitch:

  • Her hair looked like a lolly with all the juice sucked out
  • Is the opposite of aero-dynamic, terra dynamic? He looked neither
  • Rob said "she looks American, doesn't she?" Me: "yeah, a boiler really but so well groomed and with those gleaming white teeth it's hidden well"

Aren't I nasty? I must write more pleasant things in future - there are only one or two: "the trees grew at strange angles; looked like cocktail sticks protruding from a pineapple at an 80's buffet. The leant in to admire their reflection in the river".

I don't have a state of the art phone, so apologies for the poor quality of the shots...

The 'peaceful' collection - these were taken during the moments you feel able to take a full, deep breath - moments which can be all too rare:

Nostalgia - I had my tea in this cup every morning as a child. There's a yellow and red one too - very happy memories:

Charity shop buys - spot the spelling mistake, and if you see a better knitting pattern than this gorgeous canary yellow number, please let me know:

I like the light and shadow in this:

 The people in the background of this picture entertained me all day, I didn't even notice my son had a bucket on his head because I was distracted by the couple who kept telling their son to "bugger off and play or you can go home and watch TV in your bedroom"

There are countless more, but I won't bore you - holiday photos are boring enough, let alone random pictures taken on my jaunts.

I think these pictures highlight my nosiness. There are about 20 photographs of the sky, and loads of my hand, wearing a ring Lakota kindly sent me ages ago. I wanted it as my profile picture - but I have the oddest wrist bones. I fell once and when I got up someone said "aargh - look what you've done!". I was fine but he assumed I'd broken my wrist:

I'm never going to get my act together, am I? Wasting time blogging about nonsense when there are a hundred chores to complete.

What do you like to photograph?.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


Being 'grounded' was never really a punishment doled out to me. I learned all about being grounded once I became a mother.
I missed my freedom sorely, going to the shop for milk was now an activity requiring planning. I missed the continuation of my former life. I had started to become more self-assured and then I met someone hell-bent on beating me down.
I'd allowed all this to happen, it had unfolded slowly like a good story. The story ended badly, but self pity was not an option. I had made this uncomfortable, messy bed, I was tired - had to lie in it.
The days were long, I read crap books, listened to crap music and endured 'the soaps'.  How did I end up with someone who watched 'the soaps'. No offence, soap fans, its just that I was told The League of Gentlemen was sick "turn it off" whilst abortions, domestic violence, criminality, adultery and divorce were being peddled as entertainment night after night.
Alternative futures were imagined, day after day. My existing friends no longer fitted in, I had aged. My new 'friends' were nice, but not able to help fill the void within.
My imagined friends liked to sit, chat and eat. No subjects were taboo, or off-limit. My imagined friends lived all over the place. No embarrassing rugby and dragon related patriotism.
My imagined friends had style, a unique, confident edge. Dinner parties left me feeling exhilarated, refreshed, learned.
My imagined friends inspired me, listened at the right time, advised at the right time, and made me smile at the right time.
I'm lying in bed with a feverish, sick, coughing, clammy 4 year old. My phone is linking me to another place, previously undiscovered.
I am still 'grounded'.
BUT, I found those friends, who were in my head. You lot.
Thank-you. Please come to dinner soon.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Mr Fennel and Mr Green

I used to clean 2 houses, an hour a week in each house, and I'd leave with £10 - easy money.
Mr Green was an unhappy soul, one who'd never get over his wife's death, never accept he could no longer do all the things he used to, and never accept my inferior cleaning skills.

Mr Fennel, a retired Sargent, lived happily in retro squalor. Cleaning the house was the least of my priorities when I got there  - "sit down girl, have tea and cake with me" I was a bit of company masquerading as a domestic help.

Mr Green would subject me to a 5 minute run-down of his latest health scare before instructing me to polish the myriad ornaments, trinkets and photographs (sporting achievements of offspring circa 1982).
I never seemed to fit in all the chores within an hour, he insisted I dust all 6 Venetian blinds by meticulously brushing each metal strip. I'd always leave there feeling I'd earned the £10.

On to Mr Fennel, 80 years old, widowed ("she was a good woman, very smart - but she liked to spend MY money all the time"). A very tall man, even at 80 Mr Fennel commanded a presence, I instantly respected him the day I met him.
Mr Fennel's cakes left everything to be desired, made with sour butter, rotten eggs and burned dried fruit, it took all my strength not to wretch (I have a VERY strong stomach). I started making my own, to "save him the trouble" but he always insisted I'd done everything wrong, before polishing off 3 slices.
I'd spend the final 20 minutes cleaning, but he always walked behind me saying "leave that girl, I already cleaned that" (when? just after decimalisation came in?).

One week, after Mr Green had decided I was OK after all, he told me his life story. It was mainly unremarkable, peppered with financial struggle, sacrifice and "lovely holidays in Majorca", where the majority of the 'lovely' trinkets originated. The story ended with advice - "don't ever smoke, my wife died of lung cancer, and all my problems are down to fags".
It seemed strange that he was so pre-occupied with the cleanliness of the blinds at first, but I realised his late wife was fastidious and liked the house to be gleaming - he wanted to keep this pride alive.

Mr Fennel liked to spend the hour bragging about who he knew, where he'd been, and what he'd done. I think he liked to imagine I was in awe of him, and once he said "If I was 20 years younger" (hmm, you'd be 60, still 3 times my age and very much on the back burner of potential suitors). 

I always felt a bit sad cleaning both houses, imagining that when they die, all the house contents being given away in one fell swoop. A lifetime of collections and memories, all creating a feeling of nostalgia - eras, decades, experiences frozen in time - a stagnant pool. The buzzing of a nebulizer replacing the buzz of family life, children running in and out.
The scratch of a cheap biro on paper, circles being scribbled 'til it bleeds ink - a crossword where they used to be the scratch of a record, a couple dance as they make up after cross words.

Mr Fennel sat like a caged lion, he still had fire in his belly, he looked strong, didn't seem to care much for the ever-decreasing circle of life which was all around him - in his mind he'd always be a handsome young man.

Mr Fennel's advice for me was unforgettable. Nothing to do with health, money, relationships or experiences:

"Always buy loose tea, Lucy, none of that tea-bag muck. Jesus, I'm glad I had my teeth in when I said that!"

I laughed uncontrollably - maybe he did still 'have it'.

I liked Mr Fennel.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

You're the one for me, fatty

Studio portraits, I feel, are invariably utterly hideous. Grinning babies sat on a sheepskin rug, 'tired' looking ladies plastered in slap, soft-focus lens, inane grin or sultry pout - we've all pretended to like such a photograph.

"Why, then", I hear you ask, "have you go one as your new  profile picture?"

The Lucy in that picture was having a rather pleasant time, courtesy of a popular supermarket's promotional team.

After successfully losing a couple of stone using a popular supermarket's on-line diet programme, I received an exciting e-mail. I no longer have this e-mail, but it read something like:

Hi! Following your astounding weight-loss using our internet service, we wonder if you'd be willing to take part in a photo-shoot, to inspire others...

I thought, "astounding? 2 stone?" would have to be able to travel to London (all expenses paid) some time in the next fortnight

Ooh! London, all the way to London, from Wales! A hotel, a make-over, a break from the children - why not?

So, I replied saying how excited I was to receive the e-mail, and that I'm available any time (you'd better believe it).

The next e-mail from the PR lady was an apology.

Sorry Lucy, the e-mail was sent to you in error blah blah blah

I was disappointed, but pretended not to be, a bit embarrassing, I suppose -  me thinking I would get a chance like that. I replied and added some 'before' and 'after' shots, I said I'd love to be considered for anything similar in future.

The next day, I was inundated with calls and e-mails, I was to be whisked to London, stay at a hotel, bring your partner, it'll be a great day out, you'll be treated like a Queen!

So, Rob, my youngest son, (then 9 months) and I got on the train, and had a wonderful time in London, fitting in a lot of  tourist - type stuff and exhausting ourselves lugging a pushchair on and off the tube at peak times.

The photo-shoot and make-over the next day was thoroughly enjoyable, I clicked straight away with the make-up artist and was amazed at how long it took to get me ready for the glare of the lights. I was treated well, met some great people and felt 'alive' for the first time in a while.

I think the clothes are dreadful, office-wear for the lady who hates clothes shopping - if I'm being polite.

"You can keep all the clothes Lucy!"
No thanks, haven't any room in my empty bag over there.

A few months later, in January 2010, I appeared on the cover of the supermarket's promotional magazine,  photo-shopped and airbrushed.

The spiel inside was all "lonely single mum gorges on pies, scotch eggs and synthetic cream chocolate éclairs all night, meets prince charming, he shows her she's beautiful on the inside, and she became less of a boiler, after our wonderful diet.

 The amount of weight I lost was exaggerated, along with the tale of how I got fat (having 2 kids in 16 months was more of a factor, with one of those screaming solidly for 2 years).

I was also given free membership to the diet programme for life, which, rather tenuously, leads me to explain 'why I blog' (bear with me).

I started to use the diet site's support forum, once I had free access, and discovered a section dedicated to word-play  games. I logged  on daily, and along with a couple of other ladies, composed limericks, took part in word-association games, A-Z games, and, most enjoyably, entered 'The Virtual Pub'.

I struck up a very good rapport with the moderator of the forum, and we 'became' 2 hapless old alcoholic tarts, making up weird and wonderful tales, getting very drunk, lost, arrested and shaming ourselves at the Virtual Pub. Outrageous 'ladette' type evenings were dreamt up, I never seemed to run out of new material.

I didn't ask much about Claire's personal life, but new her children were grown up, and that she travelled a lot, all over the world. We shared diet bores, and a toilet humour I seldom find with females I meet day to day.

Claire suggested I start a blog, said I obviously enjoy writing, and it'd be a good outlet. She was spot on. When I followed her advice, the diet, and indeed the banter on the forum, went out of the window.

I now need to lose about 20lbs to get back to the weight I was back in November 2009, when I went to London.
I can't complain though, perhaps I wouldn't have started blogging without the photo-shoot mishap. I'll leave my profile picture up until I'm happy with my weight again (I know - it's never gonna happen).

I'm very happy to be blogging, and despite being a starter and stopper type, I reckon I'll stick at it.

Meanwhile, I found a photographic reminder of the chaos I endured every day before dieting. Yes, I hate my kitchen, yes, I detest my nightwear too.
My body shape is not dissimilar to 'The Honey Monster's is it? All top-heavy.

Oldest son wearing all red because he was in team 'Coch' (Welsh for red) at school, I didn't dress him like that regularly.

Can you spot 20 dangerous things? I bet you can...

So, hope I have explained in some way, the reason for the gurning over-made up studio shoot, and what lead me to start a blog.  And to think, I was going to try and be 'anonymous'...

...I leave you with a rather apt song, and an apology, for ever being happy to promote a popular supermarket.


Saturday, 3 September 2011

Don't give up?

It dawned on me this evening, following a conversation with a friend, that I've spent half of my 34 years surrounded by children. I've worked with 'children' aged between 6 weeks and 19 years old in a variety of settings (12 - 19 year olds in a special school).
This work is tiring, in a mentally draining way, and as with most jobs, mindless paperwork and bureaucracy often spoil any real chance of progress.

 I would never claim to know a lot about children, and I am quick to defend people who are not a parent, because two of the most inspirational people I have ever worked with are childless.

The time is approaching for me to rejoin the working world, I blogged about my feelings regarding this a while back, here
I will soon be applying for a job at the local University canteen (maybe). The working hours are ideal - 10-2, term time only, so I can't miss the chance to work, yet still fit in child-care commitments. The other big thing - no children to 'tend' to in the day.

Part of me longs to live a more structured life, one where the washing has to be on the line by 8 am OR ELSE. 
Financially, work would just mean some of the debts accrued since I've been home with the children could be repaid - working would by no means provide cash for holidays and fripperies. 
Work may lead to me gaining special new friendships or forge opportunities, and even though I've only been out of work for 3 years, I could finally shake off the awful 'lady of leisure' tag given to me by  some working people.

In all honesty though, I do not think being in gainful employment will be the answer to all my prayers.
I'm not a great 'team-player' - my ideas often go down like a lead-balloon, my sense of humour seems to offend more than entertain, and I usually get on like a house on fire with "that weird Italian lesbian from the agency" (true story).

This is the spot at my local petrol garage where the staff  take their cigarette break

Ideally, I'd enjoy having a few months on my own - children all in school. I could go shopping sans pushchair, browse the charity shop wares in peace, maybe even go to a cafe and have a drink; daydream and look out of the window.
I could clean the house in one go, instead of having to keep stopping to escort a child to the toilet, provide a snack, or glance at Mr Tumble and think 'no, he's not bouncing a little blind girl on his knee, surely?'

Starting this blog in February has led me to discover so many inspirational people, and that is no exaggeration or vain attempt to flatter anyone. Many of the people I admire are 'doing their own thing'.

I never realised I enjoyed writing, simply because I didn't do it. I used to keep diaries, but the last one I kept was in 2002, which reads like the memoirs of a chronic misery with a severe dose of hypochondria (I can't imagine why).
 When I get a job, I'd imagine this blog will be put right at the bottom of my priority list (not that I have ever compiled a priority list). This would be a shame, I really enjoy reading blogs, keeping mine and 'meeting' so many interesting people (the likes of which I never seem to meet in real-life).

The whole 9-5 existence is a great way to fill your life, compartmentalise your time so there is a limited number of hours in which to indulge in passions or folly.  Wine and fine food on the weekend, sandwiches and weak coffees through the week, swallowed with a heavy dose of mindless banter  - "did you watch the X-Factor?".

I know this life beckons, it calls my name, tells me I'd be great on the tills at Tesco, or helping a group of children with challenging behaviour to overcome their problems (I really do enjoy this, it's what I always did best). I also know, though, that once I get a job, that's it until my late sixties at least - working and coming home to cook, help with homework, taxi boys to clubs, get everything ready for tomorrow, organise life's mundane yet essential activities, and flop, exhausted, onto the sofa every night.

Before I succumb though, a foolish little voice keeps squeaking away, (though admittedly, it's getting more faint) saying - "come, follow me, there is another way, YOUR way. You CAN live your dream, you can be what you want to be, just believe".

I am torn.
 Tell me, do you like your job? If you are retired, a student, self-employed or unemployed, or indeed a man/lady of leisure - what is your take on it all, I'd love to know?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Hang the DJ

Keshling added my name to the list of people she'd like to know more about from a music taste perspective. I was happy to oblige, after all - this was going to be a music appreciation blog (hence 'Being of Sound Mind').

I refuse to use the words 'tagged' and 'meme' as they make me feel a bit sick, like when a child sucks chalk, or you stand on a piece of banana and it feels like a slug.

Keshling produced a fine list.
I'm always impressed when someone can play an instrument, and I'm always impressed when music is a big part of  a person's life. Keshling - you're on to a winner.

Last week, Loren asked "is it OK to fancy someone purely based on their music tastes?".
I had to reply "yes, of course" because that is what brought Rob and I together initially.
I could cope with a man who had different music preferences to me, but not someone who doesn't enjoy music at all, happily listening to Radio 1 in the daytime.

'Songs' - probably not the right word, I tend to listen to music without words (which I know is a crime to many). Choosing 5 is very difficult, the list has altered daily in my mind...

1)  808 State - Pacific State.

I was 12 years old, watching Top of The Pops and eating Battenberg cake.
Something happened. I heard music which matched my brain pattern, it was this ^ ^
 My love affair with electronic music began that evening...

2) This love affair became torrid, tempestuous and unruly. My late friend (more about her here) and I used to sit in her large bedroom with a pot of tea, toast with cream cheese and jam, and listen to Aphex Twin as we made collages from striking images we found in magazines and newspapers.

This track always struck me as haunting - melancholy and beautiful. I listen to it very occasionally now, I have to be ready to spend the rest of the day in a reflective mood, with a slight sadness lingering for hours afterwards. This is electronic music at it's best, even though it's nearly 20 years old. I know it can be incredibly boring listening to other people's favourite music, but I'd love your feedback, particularly on this track.

3)  My father and I were huge Twin Peaks fans, we looked forward to watching it all week. The final episode left a lasting impression on me, and Jimmy Scott/Angelo Badalamenti's dramatic rendition of Sycamore Trees added to the sensory overload. I think I'd like it played at my funeral, with a backwards-talking dwarf dancing around my coffin, then again - I'd be dead so what's the point in arranging something only I would find amusing?

4) I'll keep it short, this one is 'our song'. Not that we get all emotional over it, or plan on shuffling uncomfortably to it *when* we get married (or is that 'if' - Rob?).
The lyrics are so sickly, but I love them.

5) I'm not a  Björk fan, but this track does something for me, maybe it's because I have 3 boys, and 'boy' is in it? 

I look forward to posts from the others who are joining in. If you'd like to let us know your 5 song list, I'd love to hear them....