Monthly Archives: February 2009

Grounded for Now

Tonight, my friend came over and cooked us an amazing sushi feast: She spent Christmas and New Year in Japan with the same friends I visited last August and I couldn’t wait to see her photographs and hear all about it. At the end of the month, she is moving to Madrid. All of my friends move abroad! I have a couple in Australia, the ones in Japan and now one in Spain. In fact, everybody seems to be jetsetting at the moment – my sister has just been given the opportunity to fly to Australia for a ridiculously low price with her friend, who works for an airline. For a moment, I felt jealous, but then I remembered the amazing travel opportunities I have had over the last few years.

My ten year passport expires in June. Before I got it, I had never been abroad. As children, we always holidayed in the UK: Everywhere from The Lake District to South Wales to Sussex. I hated it because friends at school were always jetting off to exotic places and we never got the chance. I got my passport in 1999 because we went on our first family holiday abroad, to Majorca. Since then, I have visited ten countries in ten years: Spain (x4), Greece (x3), Turkey, Cyprus (x2), America (x3), India, Jamaica, South Korea, Australia and Japan.

I was lucky enough to get a part time job in travel while I studied, enabling me to get quite blase about going abroad. My passport is crumpled, dog-eared and full of stamps and the gold emblem on the front rubbed off long ago. In my opinion, the ability to travel is one of life’s greatest gifts and I have been lucky enough to have more than my fair share over the years. I adore the feeling of taking off on a plane, embarking on an adventure, grappling with local languages, immersing myself in the culture of a place. As Bill Bryson says: “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.”

In the current financial climate, I can’t even afford to renew my passport, let alone book any flights, so it looks as though Tom and I are grounded for the time being.

Still, we already have plans for a week in Devon in June, as well as a weekend in the Lake District. In the past ten years, my obsession with travelling the world has made me forget the joy of holidaying in the UK. I can’t wait to rediscover a different kind of childlike wonder:  One of rock pools, ice cream, Beatrix Potter and Kendal mint cake. I can’t wait to explore Britain with Tom, but not before I have slipped in a weekend visiting my friend in Madrid before my passport expires.

In other news, Tom had his first hair cut yesterday. People kept mistaking him for a girl. I have no pictures of the results because he wouldn’t sit still but I couldn’t bear to have them cut too much off so it is still quite long. He was a joy and sat really still like a little man in his special high chair, then when it as finished he kept posing in the mirror. I love this photograph of him looking very serious in his cape…

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Loftiness

This morning, I waited an hour for a man to come and see about insulating the loft for free. I was in a hurry to catch the train to Southport to meet someone. When Loft Man eventually arrived, I watched with awe as he clambered up to the high celiing and disappeared into the hatch.

“What’s it like up there?” I asked, thinking about this vast space that is constantly above me but which I have never seen.

“Horrible,” he said, dusting himself down, “Cobwebs, spiders and a hundred years of dust.”

I’d been vaguely, secretly hoping for a tea chest full of musty books, an interesting painting, a secret diary, something from the war, maybe a couple of bin bags full of beautiful clothes from a few decades ago.

“Nothing else then?” I pleaded.

“Nope. Anyway, the deal is I get to have anything vaulable I find up there – you wouldn’t have gone up and found it anyway.”

Blummin ‘eck. I wouldn’t mind but it turns out we can’t have the free insulation anyway. Plus, he managed to dislodge my bathroom fan, causing a shower of plaster and that century-old dust to fall into my bath.

I burst out of the door in a hurry to catch the train, aware of the pendulous fan, swinging from its wire over the bath. I wished I had done the washing up straight after my friends left the previous evening and I felt as though I had forgotten something.

It turns out that the new yellow buggy isn’t quite as good as the Maclaren at negotiating the 30 steps at the train station. Today, after about 5, I had to stand at the top of the stairs and crane my neck to try to see the people on the platform.

“Hello!”  Can anyone down there help me with my buggy please?” Embarrassing.

After a little wait, a kind man gave me the help I needed, but I had to enlist yet more help when I got to Southport and my wheels got wedged beneath the train on the way off.

When we had eventually safely disembarked the train, I took Tom to Marks and Spencers for his lunch – it is quite child-friendly and right by the station.  We sat down at one of the little tables and had a good chat. It still feels surreal: Sitting directly opposite a toddler in a dining situation, just the two of us, nattering like adults. I don’t do a ‘baby voice’ when I speak to Tom, so it really is just like we’re both grown-ups.  I was quickly reminded of his age when he pulled a rather sheepish face though:

‘Tom do you need the toilet?’ I went to touch his jeans to see if he had had an accident and he stopped me.

“No Mum, you’ll get a wet hand if you do that!” That was a yes then.

I looked under the table and saw a puddle. I managed to discreetly tell a waitress the probelm and she was very nice about it. I whisked Tom into the loos and undressed him. It was then that I realised in my fluster to leave home I had forgotten the bag of spare clothes.  Thank God for the Very Hungry Caterpillar Cosytoes: I hid his naked body beneath it and rushed out on to the shop floor. These weren’t just any spare clothes, these were M and S spare clothes: I ended up forking out £12 on some too-tight tracksuit bottoms and a set of three space invaders underpants.

When I met my friend, I kept apologising to her for being flustered and as the conversation continued, just plain exhausted.

“What have you done since you got up this morning?” she asked. I told her everything and began to see just why I was so worn out. I just do everything on autopilot and rarely get a chance to stop and consider how tiring it all is.

So, this afternoon, before coming back to Manchester, I went to relax in one of my favourite places on earth, Kernaghan Books in Southport. Situated in a beautiful Victorian arcade, it is a magical world of antiquarian and secondhand books: Huge leather-bound chunks, yellowing Penguin Classics, decorative poetry volumes. The walls are lined with high shelves and there is a maze of nooks and crannies to get lost in. They sell old copies of fashion magazines, annuals and even slightly eerie sepia family portraits. This is, of course, exactly how I had envisgaed the hidden world of my loft. Tom sat cross-legged reading to Rupert Bear and allowed me to have the wind-down time I really needed. As we left, he stared upwards and said

“I’m looking at that painting fing – my Mum’s got a painting fing like that.” He pointed at a banner of The Kiss by Klimt.

I got home tonight and started looking to see what’s going on at the art galleries tomorrow, thinking that I could take him for a really fun day out. But no, I am exhausted and tomorrow is going to be one of those days where we curl up on the sofa with The BFG and Yellow Submarine and perhaps just about make it to The Sunny Shop for some crumpets. I can’t wait.

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Pramfaces and Pramoholics

The pram.  Alongside nappies, the emblem of all that is considered to be rubbish about parenthood. “You want to spend your twenties forging a career and travelling the world, not changing nappies and pushing a pram about”.

Pramface, that horrible word, defined on Peevish’s online Slang Dictionary as:

pramface Noun. A teenage mother, usually from a council housing estate. Coined by the online gossip site, Popbitch, and originally a woman with the facial looks of a poor single mother as seen around a housing estate. Derog.

What constitutes ‘the facial look of a poor single mother as seen around a housing estate?’ I wonder.

Before I had Tom, someone very kindly donated me a pram. It was beautiful with a big bouncy chassis and I loved taking him for walks in the park in it during our first hot summer together.

Shortly before Tom’s first birthday, when I was researching what model to buy online, I became aware of a breed of women who call themselves pramoholics. Pramoholics stop at nothing in their quest to get their hands on the latest pushchair but are quick to discard it via Ebay if it turns out to be a case of form over function. How ridiculous! Who cares if it has got three wheels, or cup holders, or comes in hundreds of zingy colours? All I wanted was something durable that would get us from A to B. I decided on a good old-fashioned Maclaren, just like Mum had for me.

My sensible attitude to prams went out of the window when I came across the Lulu Guinness Maclaren Quest. I’ve never been a sucker for designer labels but this had ‘I Love You’ written all over it in a gorgeous, bright, retro font. How inconspicuous. I don’t know what I was thinking but I knew it was the one, and when I found an offer online to get it for the same price as the grey or the navy model, my mind was made up.

My Maclaren has been brilliant over the past two years. It has carried Tom through the Australian rainforest, bumped up and down the trecherous 30 steps at our train station goodness knows how many times, and been like a packhorse when it comes to carrying shopping. As I don’t drive, it is a bit like my car. On one occasion, I called in on a friend on the way back from town with a weekly shop and a 6 foot tall palm tree all balanced on the back of my beloved buggy. Sometimes, it feels strange to walk without it, having nothing to hang on to; it’s a bit like a zimmer frame.

So, it was with great sadness and a bit of swearing that I watched a wheel roll off it in the supermarket the other night. I had been playing buckaroo again and however much my shopping weighed, it was enough to tip-up poor 15kg Tom. I called Mum.

“It’s a sad day Mum. My Maclaren finally died.”

“I thought you were going to say that, I was looking at it last time you were here – right back wheel?”

“Yup.”

She told me I would have to go to a charity shop for a new one. I couldn’t find one. I looked into getting wheels on Ebay, started Googling and kept finding myself on pramoholics forums. Then, the following evening, she called again.

“Would you push a bright yellow buggy? I’m in Mothercare and there’s one here for £50.”

“Yeah I would Mum, but I haven’t got a spare £50.”

“Oh it’s alright, I’ll treat him.” she said, as though Tom would have been the one who would have had to have gone to Mothercare and part with £50. Good old Mum.

I went out on Saturday night. I have piled on the pounds and my dress was too tight, but I didn’t realise this until I was in the front seat of a cab to town with it riding up obscenely high. Trying to hitch it down without flashing the poor driver was no fun. The club was one of those places where people don’t really dance and let themselves go but stand around like mannequins, pouting and looking beautiful. My lumps and bumps would have ruined the perfection of it all so I kept them under wraps. I left my coat on all night long and didn’t feel the benefit when I stepped out into the icy air in the early hours. I’m never doing that again, so action had to be taken…

Tonight, my friend and I trekked the hills of Swinton, giving the new buggy a trial run. It’s going to take some getting used to, the angling, stuff like that. In the morning, I am determined to resume walking to Tom’s nursery instead of getting a cab, which saves time but costs money. I will cut through the estate and the park. So, if you see a poor single Mum around a council estate with the facial look of someone who is unfit and flustered, it probably isn’t a pramface, it’s probably me.

 The Maclaren’s Best Bits

In Tropical North Queensland

In Tropical North Queensland

Considerably less tropical - Heaton Park a couple of weeks ago.

Considerably less tropical – Heaton Park a couple of weeks ago.

The last picture of the Maclaren before it broke.

The last picture of the Maclaren before it broke.

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Broken Smile

It is 4:30 am and I have finally managed to finish the essay I have been writing for weeks. (Well, I’ll sort out the bibliography in the morning but the rest of it is done.)

This past week the blog has been incredibly busy, peaking at 115 hits in one day and that’s mainly thanks to  Kate Feld at The Manchizzle (http://www.manchizzle.blogspot.com – sorry I still can’t work out HTML), which the Guardian calls ‘The pick of Manchester culture and hub of blogging goodness’.  Thank you Kate for recommending me! In the past week, so many people have been in touch and told me they enjoy the blog, which is a massive boost to my confidence.

My Shitty Twenties started off as a tentative dip in the bleak blogging waters, but a few very good friends encouraged me to go public with it. I felt a bit shy because I didn’t think people would want to read about me and my son. I still wanted to get a message across though, a message that life doesn’t end with parenthood, no matter how unexpected it is or how far away it is from the ideal.

The essay I wrote tonight involved a great deal of feminist theory and one article I had to read for it was Toril Moi’s I Am Not a Woman Writer (Feminist Theory vol.9 (3) http://fty.sagepub.com). In it she writes:

A novel or a poem or a play, or a theoretical essay for that matter, is an attempt to make others see something that really matters to the writer. Inspired by the American philosopher Stanley Cavell, I want to say that when a writer presents a work, she is really saying: This is what I see. Can you see it too?’ In this gesture there is a hope – not certainty – that perhaps others may come to share her vision, if only for a moment.

This hope makes a writer vulnerable. She has to be willing to say what she sees, to stake everything on her vision without any guarantee that she will be understood. To write is to risk rejection and misunderstanding. To create a work of art, says Sartre, is to give the world a gift nobody has asked for. But if we do not dare to be generous, if we don’t dare to share with others what we see, the world will be the pooerer for it. And sometimes someone actually does get it. When a reader feels that a book really speaks to her, she feels less lonely in the world. Literature holds out the hope of overcoming scepticism and isolation.

The same rule, I would say, applies to the art of blogging. I am glad I dared to share.

And now I need to get some sleep as in the morning I have to deal with a poorly son who is complaining, amongst other things, of a ‘broken smile’ (chapped lips.)

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