Moving House (2)

Hello

This blog has moved house, to here. It’s been treated to a beautiful makeover from the very talented Jo, A.K.A The Geek Fairy. Thanks a million, Jo.

I’m going to carry on writing the blog, because things keep cropping up that need writing about. One of these is the massive upheaval of moving house, which I wish was as smooth as moving your blog from .com to .org. Find me not packing and stressing out about that over at the new place.

 

 

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Let’s Just Do It

What’s that saying? It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

I don’t think it counts in the case of a single parent. I always think it must be easier to be alone from day one than to know what it’s like to have someone else around and then for them to be gone.

It took a long time for me to notice the gap, because it had always been there and it’s all I’ve ever known. I just sort of floated through my early twenties thinking phrases off naff fridge magnets such as “everything will be OK in the end and if it’s not OK yet it’s not the end yet.”

And then you get a bit older and it feels like ‘the end’ or the ‘happy ever after’ or whatever it is should actually be happening by now and you start to think in a not-wanting-to-sound-like-Bridget-Jones-but-it’s-inevitable-sort-of-way: shit.

Sometimes, increasingly more frequently,the gap makes itself known: when every (evil, impossible, expensive, high-up, halogen) light bulb in the house has gone, when I have had a good weekend surrounded by friends and then I am here at my desk, just like always, craving company, when I pluck up the courage to open a bill and imagine it halved. And most of all, when I need to make big decisions.

That’s the toughest bit of all: the decision-making, especially those that pertain to a child’s future. What if you get it wrong and your child is sad and there’s no one to blame but yourself? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to talk to someone else about it and hold hands and leap together?

For a long time I’ve not been happy where we live. It’s OK. I mean, there’s frequently dog turd on the doorstep and the street stinks of skunk (“Mummy, what is that smell?”) but it could be a lot worse. I want to live somewhere where there’s a bit more going on though, where I know more people and there’s a community.

I worried about it for ages. I went on about it on Twitter for years. Then I started to talk to Tom about it.

“All the good schools are full, so you might have to go in one that’s nowhere near as lovely or nearby as the one you go to now.”

“It’s fine Mum, honestly.”

“But won’t you miss your friends?”

“No, I mean I do like them, but I’d actually like to meet some new ones.”

“What if you have to go on a waiting list for swimming lessons?”

“That’s fine. I love swimming, but it is a bit of a pain having to walk home from the pool in the winter.”

“What if, what if, what if?”

“It’s fine Mum, getting stressed is not the way to do stuff. Just relax and it’s all OK.”

Good mantra for a fridge magnet, maybe?

“Honestly Mum, let’s just do it.”

So, we got to the stage where we were viewing houses and visiting lovely families we know who live nearby. Tom was very impressed by all the cats.

“Let’s just move here, it’s like Cat Land,” he said.

Then we found the one, the house, but the back yard was tiny.

“There’s no garden, what will you do in the summer?”

“I’ll sit outside and read a book, maybe make a picnic for my toys. It’s fine.”

And he says it all in the most grown-up, laid-back voice.

So we’re off, we’re doing it. It’s all go, go, go. We’re moving into our new house early next year.

I just wish I’d remembered to check whether the light bulbs were evil, impossible expensive, high-up, halogen.

 

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Chill Factor. E.

It’s one of the biggest mysteries in Manchester: Just what is the little e on the end of  Chill Factore for?

Tom and I wonder this every time we go past the massive building next to the motorway. Are they trying to say “Chill Factory”? Is it some sort of a mathematical formula? Is it silent? So preoccupied was I with the errant vowel that I never really thought about what happened inside. As far as I was concerned, Chill Factore (e?) was a place for people who could ski and snowboard – and I was not one of those.

So, when I got an invitation from Chill Factore to visit during Half Term, I accepted. It turns out you don’t have to be able to ski or snowboard to go there, so it looked like it could be a fun day out for Tom (and a chance for me to get on the inside and find out about the e.)

We set off first thing on Monday morning. I had a cold – not what you really want when you’re going to a ski slope, but I was sure it wouldn’t be that chilly inside. When we arrived, Tom was wrapped up in winter gear and I asked exactly how cold it was going to be. Zero degrees, apparently. Although I’d read somewhere that the snow was real, that hadn’t quite registered with me and I imagined some sort of plastic slope. I decided not to bother with the special gear – after all, I’d just stand at the side, shivering and taking photographs.

As soon as we walked out on to the slope, I knew what they’d meant about the snow being real. The air was fresh and cool and the stuff underfoot was the real crunchy, powdery deal. Tom had the chance to try sledging,  The Luge and tubing.

I’ll explain: sledging is obvious – the thing you dream of doing every winter when you’re a child but only actually get a chance to do approximately twice in your life (unless you live in the mountains). The Luge is a fast, toboggan-style slide, (inspired by the Cresta Run at San Moritz, if you know what that is). Tubing is where you sit in a massive inflatable ring and get launched down a hill with a mini half-pipe at the bottom.

“Err… are the grown-ups allowed a go?” I asked, as I watched Tom carry his sledge back to the top of the slope with a massive grin on his face.

Next thing, we were racing each other. It was the most fun I have had in ages.

The Luge looked frankly terrifying and I said I’d stand back and watch. But again, when I saw Tom’s face as he tore out of the thing, I wanted a go.

“Just think of Cool Runnings,” said the staff member at the top of the slide.

“Tha – ” and I was off, really fast, sweeping up the sides and racing the 60 metres to the bottom. Then doing it all over again.

Last up was the tubing.

“Don’t spin me,” I said on the first go, then “Actually, can you spin me?” on the second.

Watching Tom career down the slope in his mini tube was scary, but he loved it and jumped straight on the travelator to the to top. The tubing was Tom’s favourite as well mine. When I asked him which of the activities he enjoyed best, he said “definitely the doughnuts.”

What had started out as a way to fill a Half Term morning turned out to be one of the best days out we’d had in a long time. Tom keeps talking about it and I think the next time we go past, the discussion will be less about the e and more about when we can go again.

Oh and about the e – apparently, it stands for ‘extreme, exciting or whatever you want it to mean.’ Excellent.

My verdict: Manchester’s great at precipitation but usually fails on the snow front. This is a great way to have some magical, wintry fun without waiting until you’re 100 for the next proper snow day. It comes with a choice of places to eat, a pub and a viewing gallery for those not joining in with the action. As with many attactions, I’d like to see some single parent family prices, rather than the outdated ‘Family of Four’ package – but this is a widespread issue. Overall, the prices seem quite high, but money can’t buy snow and this is a top notch indoor day out. Go to  Chill Factore in the run-up to Christmas and you could see Santa, Peppa Pig or characters from Ice Age, beating the standard shopping centre grotto by miles. There’s also lots of other fun stuff to do there, including being launched down the slope in a massive transparent ball, snow play for toddlers and extreme sledging. We give it an e for enjoyable.

Find out more about children’s parties and Christmas fun here and the activities Tom and I enjoyed here.

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Lemonade

The bargain basement late night delivery slot from the supermarket is great. While everyone else in the country is out spending pay day night in the pub or at a really good Halloween party, I am answering the door in my pyjamas with a towel on my head. I let the delivery man into the living room and he curses as he trips over the booster seat, then asks me just why I ordered twenty bottles of fizzy water (it’s just better than still, OK?) and if I plan to bathe in it (eurgh.)

At least I didn’t have to carry it all home from the supermarket. That and the pumpkins, all three of them. So, when my little boy comes downstairs in the morning, it will be like Father Christmas has been in the night, even though it was nothing like that.

We’ve got a whole week off to spend together. No juggling, no guilt: just us two and pumpkins, leaves and Frankenstein stuff. It’s nearly as good as Christmas, maybe even better.

“I’ll leave you to drink your lemonade then,” said that delivery man as he left.

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Make it Work

Make it work for single parents campaign
When Tom was one and I’d finished my degree, I went out looking for work with bags of enthusiasm and a massive, naive smile on my face. I’d done it: had a baby, graduated and I was ready to begin a career. I had no idea how difficult the next bit was going to be.

Paying a childminder to look after my son, I attended dozens of fruitless interviews. I lived with Mum in a small town, where work, particularly well-paid, part-time work, was scarce. I knew I was going to have to commute to a city, but also that I wouldn’t be home in time to collect Tom for 6pm, when most childminders finish. Eventually, I became self-employed and managed to save up to move out. I got a part-time job with Saturday shifts, but that nearly fell through when I found that many childminders who worked weekends charged huge premiums. Back then, I got help with nursery fees (I don’t know if I would under the current system.) The nursery was great: open until 6pm, all year-round. I got a shock when Tom started school: suddenly, it’s expected of you to do half-day or 3pm pick-ups – and it’s closed for 13 weeks a year.

Last week, David Cameron said (amongst other things) “there is only one route out of poverty and it is work.”

I don’t often agree with Mr C, but I do there. For those who are able, work is wonderful. Most people moan about their jobs sometimes, but we’d be lost without them. I for one don’t know what I’d be doing all day while Tom was at school if I wasn’t working. Work keeps our minds busy, sets a crucial example to children, it challenges us and of course, it pays the bills. But I am lucky to have qualifications, the ability to work flexibly from home and family and friends who help out when they can. It’s not that straightforward for others.

Despite common misconceptions, 59% of single parents work – and according to Gingerbread, the national one parent family charity, most of those who don’t desperately want to. The problem is that too many barriers stand in the way; many single parents need to have access to courses that will qualify them to work, affordable childcare, flexible hours, or wraparound clubs at schools. And after childcare and housing costs have been taken into consideration, work needs to be beneficial (Gingerbread say one in five single parents who work full-time are living in poverty.) Even with the new ‘Universal Credit’ system, childcare costs can outstrip wages.

Gingerbread want to make going out to work an achievable route out of poverty for single parents. That’s why they’ve launched the ‘Make it Work for Single Parents’ campaign, which ultimately aims to get 250,000 more single parents into work by 2020. You can read the full task list here.

Gingerbread are asking single parents to add their voices to the Make it Workforce. It’s a chance to tell the Government and employers what you need in order to be able to go to work. Click here to see what’s being said already. Even if you’re not a single parent, you can get involved in the campaign, by telling someone you know who is, or writing to your MP.

Work is the only route out of poverty (apart from perhaps winning the lottery) but it has to work for those who want to do it.

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Sticky tape

The fact that our family is small is something we’ve been talking about a bit this week. Tom has to make a family tree at school. Even though the teacher explained in her request for photos that all shapes and sizes of tree will be celebrated, I knew Tom’s was going to look particularly tiny and lopsided. So, we had the chat about how lots of people love him and it’s a shame the cat isn’t allowed on the tree and then he gave me a massive squeeze and told me I am the best thing in the entire history and it all felt OK.

Fast forward to this evening: My sister was coming to meet Tom after his swimming lesson and we were hurriedly wrapping her birthday presents and writing her cards in the foyer of the pool.

Being organised (I thought), I’d bought one of those paper gift bags, so that I could just wrap the presents in tissue paper and shove them inside, without any need to worry about things like scissors or Sellotape.

“What are you doing?” asked a little girl from Tom’s class, peering over the table.

“Wrapping my auntie’s birthday presents,” said Tom.

“You need Sellotape,” she said, as I wrapped a sheet of tissue around an umbrella and twisted it at the ends (like people do to make presents look like crackers at Christmas, even though it isn’t Christmas.)

“We haven’t got any Sellotape,” I said, plonking the brolly into the bag and moving on to the chocolate.

“When my mummy wraps presents, she always uses Sellotape,” said the little girl.

“My family,”  said Tom, stopping to add in a word, “my little family –  is a bit disorganised sometimes, but we make a great team.”

True, that.

This is a divi tree from the Caribbean. They never grow very big and lean one way because of the trade winds. Photo: Aruba Divi Tree – Eagle Beach by Serge Melki on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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Little Coat – Big Coat

What are you doing this weekend? If you’re in Manchester tomorrow (Saturday), pop into the Arndale and do some good.

One of my favourite things about winter is zipping my son into his warm winter coat (actually, he tends to do that himself these days, but you know what I mean…) There’s a certain glow from knowing that your child is warm and cosy – and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably guilty of taking that for granted.

Manchester isn’t known for its tropical climate, so a decent winter coat is a necessity for anyone living here. Unfortunately, it’s not a given for many children in the city. Last week, the M.E.N. reported that 42 per cent of children in Manchester are living in poverty – that’s twice the national average. The way the Government is going, the situation isn’t going to improve any time soon.

The Wood Street Mission has been helping local families for over 140 years. Last year, they helped 9,300 children living in poverty. Project Little Coat / Big Coat aims to collect coats in perfect condition for children whose parents or carers can’t afford to buy them new ones. It’s a simple idea: just take a pre-loved coat to fit a child or young adult to Halle Square in the Arndale tomorrow. As well as the knowledge that your child’s old coat is going to someone who really deserves it, you’ll get a voucher entitling you to 20% off a new coat at selected Arndale shops. So, if you’ve got any too-tiny coats kicking around under the stairs, you know what to do. Find out more about the Little Coat – Big Coat appeal here.

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