Monthly Archives: August 2010


Obscenely good sunsets

Could anything better sum up the grim reality of returning from paradise to my crap terraced street than the Bin War? For two-and-a-half years, I have put up with the bizarre anctics of my neighbours, who will go to great lengths not to knock on my door and say “Excuse me, why do you keep your bin in the alley?” or even, the extremely far-fetched “Would you like a hand bringing the bins in and out?”

I have received letters ‘from the council’ written on a typewriter and returned home drunk to find my bins pinned up against the front door. Half of the neighbours have long drives:  acres of space for their bins, which they decorate with wildlife stickers. They love them so much that they pay someone to come and clean them.  I have listened to people beneath my bedroom window at 7am TALKING IN REALLY LOUD VOICES ABOUT THAT GIRL WHO NEVER BRINGS HER BINS IN and Tom’s Auntie J has had a stick waved at her and been asked why I don’t bring my bins in.  Still, no one has bothered to ask me. (It started when Tom was a baby and I had to either leave him in the house alone or drag him and the bins around. Now it’s because my yard is too small for a load of bins.)

(And I am stubborn.)

Recently, the neighbours stepped things up. They formed a residents’ society, for people who have got time to get upset by things like tall trees, building work, dog shit (actually, that does bother me) and their beloved bins. When I got back from my holiday, the latest residents’ newsletter was on the mat, with a biro rectangle and an asterix around the article ‘Wheelie Bins (again).’ Oh go away. I’ve just been sleeping on a beach in a place where the bins are old olive tins painted with hippy hyperbole.

Then the council finally got involved. They sent me a letter (not done on a typewriter) threatening me with a fine. It told me to move my bins on to my property but not too close to the house, in case they got set on fire. How you are supposed to keep three wheely bins away from your house when your yard measures 6 foot by 5 foot is beyond me. Faced with an actual real-life fine, I brought them in. There is now no room whatsoever for Tom to play outside. I can almost feel the warmth from my neighbours rubbing their hands together.

Why does anyone bother with reality? I thought today, washing up and staring at the neat row of bins beneath the kitchen window. In came my best boy, right on cue:

“You alright Mum? Is yer ear hurting? Do yer want a glass of water?”

And I snapped out of it. Spending the aftermath of my trip on codeine had probably softened the blow.  It was a delayed post-holiday comedown. Last week, I gawped at a shooting star (I don’t think I have ever seen one in real life) and my friend who lives there laughed and told me they see that there all the time. Grim reality just means that the contrast is cranked up when you go away.

Top of my priority list now is finding Tom a home with a garden, instead of a walled rubbish tip. He loves those wildlife bin stickers.



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The Book and Other Stuff

Me and my notebook

I am back and alive. When I arrived at my destination by boat last Sunday morning, a Turkish man who had taken a particular shine to Tom when we were there ran over to me gesturing ‘small person’ and fixing me with a quizzical gaze. I felt guilty and had to grab a translator to explain that I had not completely abandoned him. We only spent two days there, but Tom had made a big impression  – people kept introducing me: “Remember that cool kid who was dancing on the bar? This is his Mum.”

It was strange being back there without him, but when I spoke to him on the phone, he was busy and happy and could visualise exactly where I was (sadly the tortoise who lives by the toilets was elusive, so I couldn’t keep my promise to say hello.) I wrote loads. I found the perfect desk in the shade in an al fresco library and the words just flowed.

On Saturday night, when I returned to the port, I had a few hours to kill before my flight. I spent some time loitering outside a tattoo parlour and chickened out, then decided I had better pick up some gifts. I heard the usual shouts of “Lady, lady” as I wandered around and paid no attention, but one shopkeeper came running after me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Lady!” he said, catching his breath, “Where is my beautiful boy?!”

He’d let us wait in his air-conditioned shop for the boat when we were there in June and hadn’t tried to sell us anything.  Tom had drawn him a picture, which, it emerged, he had hung on the wall. I had photographed the two of them, beaming and he had asked me to email him the photo to keep. I had thought it a bit strange and forgotten, but he really was completely harmless…

“Your son, you took picture with me and said you would send. Every day I check computer and it is not there. You forget?”

“Yes, I forgot. I’m really sorry.” I said, remembering the exact page his email address is scrawled on in my notebook.

“Where is he?”

“He’s with his grandmother.”

“When you see your son, please give him big kiss from me. And do not forget photograph.”

“Of course.”

“Your son, he is very happy child, like sunshine.”

“Thank you for remembering,” I said, still shocked; he must see thousands of tourists every day.

I flew with sea water in my ear and ended up arriving back in Manchester in agony. My punishment for refusing to go to bed on the last night and swimming under the stars. Standing outside a Salford chemist where they serve you through a metal hatch, shivering, with sea-shaggy hair and black eye bags, wearing flip-flops, writhing about in the worst pain I have had since labour was a low moment. A few minutes later, I was codeine-soothed and off to sleep. When Tom came back, he insisted on bringing me a constant stream of glasses of water and cuddly toys. He really does look after me.

There’s an interesting debate over at Jenn Ashworth’s blog about blogging pitfalls. Some time ago, I was offered the chance to write a  book about the back story of this blog. I toyed with the idea for a long time, feeling strange about privacy and stuff. I have finally decided I need to tell the story though and I have grasped the right way to go about it. I found the perfect point to begin while I was away and got going with it. Now I can say, with confidence (and a little nervousness) that – ahem –  my book will be coming out next summer. There you go. I’ve said it now…

My best writing spot


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Grey with Green Bits

I keep having that argument with myself, the one I’ve written down here before. The one about the city versus the countryside. I’m writing at the moment about moving back to Mum’s just before I had Tom. It’s reasonably rural there, but it’s also by the sea, which seems like a perfect place to raise a child. Most people move from the city to the country when their kids learn to walk, I did it the opposite way round.

I made a video on my old camera phone of Tom learning to walk in Mum’s back garden. It was a hot day, there were loads of daisies out and you could hear wood pigeons cooing in the background. He was walking in circles round the rotary washing line, holding on to the metal pole. Every time he let go, he fell down and laughed. It was idyllic, but I was hell bent on getting back to Manchester and carrying on with whatever I felt I’d interrupted when I had Tom.

These days, I’m feeling guilty for letting my non-mothering life take over. I’ve let my emotions and concern get sapped by situations where they’d be far better lavished on Tom. The realisation has resulted in an ultra high-density love for him that’s impossible to describe.

Perhaps if I was in the countryside, none of that nonsense would have mattered. Maybe I could hack it out in the sticks. Those stone cottages look good in the sunlight, but bleak in the winter. Then again, our street looks bleak in the winter; everywhere looks bleak in the winter. Friends and I took Tom on a drive out to Ramsbottom.  It was a beautiful afternoon, but I left feeling scared to take the country plunge. Ramsbottom’s quaint (unlike its name) and I don’t think I can do quaint on my own.

At Mum’s, all you can ever hear after dark is pheasants and then at dawn, people shooting the pheasants. I prefer the reassuring wail of sirens and footsteps on the pavement outside making my living room floor shake. Last week I heard a couple kissing and getting a bit breathless under my window, further down the street a window gets smashed from time-to-time and the wheely bins are always rumbling around in the night, but I’d rather have all of that than total silence.

I’m never completely alone anyway, because my neighbour, (who I keep accidentally referring to as my housemate) is brilliant and has a car. We don’t have to drive far for our twice-weekly trips to the woods or the river. Tom loves being boyish: wading through puddles, hunting for bugs and building dens. Yesterday, we picked and ate wild Salford raspberries. I’m still shocked that these shady, empty places that smell so wild are only down the road, but that makes them even more magic.

It is time to stop trying to relive student life but I don’t think I should lock myself and Tom away in a remote cottage just yet. Everyone knows Manchester gets grey sometimes, but it suits it. We’ve still got good friends here, we’ve still got space to run around. It’s grey with plenty of green bits. When babysitters allow, I can order a late cab to town and be home again by three. The perfect way to spend the next day? Not lying in bed feeling low but den-building and bug-spotting with my intrepid, happy boy. For now, Manchester is home and Tom loves it too.


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My Shrekky Twenties

I always try not to swear around Tom. I would definitely never say the eff word in front of him. Mum works with young children and says there’s nothing worse than a small child coming out with an expletive they’ve obviously heard at home. I quite agree, but sometimes it is difficult to get through life without swearing. This was a particular problem when Tom was a baby. Getting out of the house having got yourself and a baby ready is quite a challenge. (Nowadays, Tom can dress himself and choose his own outfits, which is always fun, given the fact he thinks co-ordinating means dressing from head-to-toe in the same colour.)  It’s even worse when you have public transport to catch. I was forever clattering down the staircase of our local train station, Tom screaming in his buggy, the changing bag flapping against my feet, saying a breathless “shit” for every one of the 31 steps.

Tom hadn’t been at his lovely private day nursery long when he picked up on it.  I was strapping him into his buggy at hometime, when he chucked a toy on the floor and shouted  “Oh dear!”

“He’s always doing that,” I said to the nursery boss, “Throwing things deliberately, pretending it’s an accident and saying ‘oh dear.'”

“It’s not just ‘oh dear’ he says though, is it?” said the Nursery Boss.

“Oh?” I was genuinely oblivious.

“Yes, we have noticed him saying s-h-i-t a few times.”

I was mortified, but made a conscious effort to stop and happily, seemed to nip it in the bud.

Fast forward two years, and I admit to getting a bit lackadaisical. I vaguely remember saying “shit” in front of Tom a few weeks ago and quickly telling him that it was a naughty word he must never, ever repeat and that I was extremely bad for saying it. Thankfully, he’s got a good memory and you only have to tell him something once. I do try not to swear unless there’s an absolute emergency, but I am only human.

I was talking to my neighbour last night when I slipped up and said ‘shit’.

“Mum!” said Tom, “That is a very naughty word.”

“Yes Tom, you’re absolutely right. It’s a really bad word and I shouldn’t ever ever say it.”

“Why can’t you use one of those other words you’ve got instead?”

“What words?”

“You know: fiddlesticks, crumbs, sugar butties.”

Ah yes. I didn’t realise he’d picked up on those.

“Or Mum, instead of that one you just said, how about ‘Shrek’? It still starts with’ sh’ but it isn’t a bad word.”

Great idea.

“Why did I swear again?” I asked my neighbour. “There was a very good reason, I know that.”

“You realised Bestival clashes with his first day at his new school.”

“Bollocks, yeah, that means I can’t go really can – ” Oops.

The Bestival business is not a real emergency. It’s a bit crumbs, but worse things happen at sea. I need to get better at this. If I do mess up though, I’ve always got my walking, talking swear word thesaurus to give me a good bollocking.


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