Monthly Archives: August 2011

We love MCR

That’s Manchester, not My Chemical Romance.

Manchester is home and Tom and I love it very much. We’re not there at the moment, we’re in the countryside. It’s beautiful and peaceful and a million miles from Manchester, but we’re thinking of our home city today and wishing we could be there for I Love Mcr Day.

A response to that horrible rioting a few weeks ago, I Love Mcr Day is all about showing how proud we are of our city (including Salford – the two go hand in hand for us.) If you’re in Manchester, get involved. Proceeds from the sale of I Love MCR t-shirts and the day go to Forever Manchester and RECLAIM,  a charity I am proud to have worked with and that is very close to my heart. Don’t miss the party in Exchange square, the free cakes, performances and all round brilliant, Mancunian atmosphere.

(Back to the web ban.)

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And relax

I don’t normally accept free things to write about on the blog, but when lovely Living Social offered me a spa day, I was never going to say no.

I thanked them profusely, made a mental note next to the date in my brain… and forgot about it.

Suddenly, it was spa day. I didn’t have anything that felt posh enough to wear to the hotel. I had to dig out the iron. It’s been stowed away at the back of the kitchen cupboard since I tried to iron Tom’s polo short for school last September. I only left it on the arm of the sofa for a second while it warmed up and I got Tom’s toast out of the toaster and it burnt a big hole in it. That sofa has been in the family longer than me. I tried carrying on ironing the shirt after that, but the hard clumps of  seventies fabric that were melded to the iron transferred on to the white shirt, leaving a brown crust.

I digress, anyway. Sunday’s ironing disaster was different. I used the kitchen sideboard this time, but the wire of the iron got caught on a bottle of rum, which clattered to the floor. The dress and the kitchen floor were covered in rum and broken glass. I was late. I’m never ironing again. I had to put on a clean, creased dress. My printer broke, I couldn’t get my spa day voucher to print out. When I was on my hands and knees under the table looking for the right printer wire, I noticed a pile of shrivelled baked beans from Tom’s lunch the previous day.

It was only when I made it out of the front door and into the calm of the outside world that I began to think about what the spa day might actually entail. As it happened, it was just what I needed. I had my nails filed and painted, a bloody good back massage (“Gosh, your shoulders are tight,” said the therapist,) a glass of champagne and a two hour swim. I didn’t have to rush home because Tom was at his Nan’s. I swam up and down for ages, pretending I was on holiday in the sea, forgetting about real life. When I got out, my fingertips were wrinkled, which made me think of the baked beans under the table at home, which made my heart sink.

I walked straight through the front door, cleaned up the beans then put on the Marigolds and sorted out the rum and the glass. As well as brilliant beauty deals, I’ve also spied professional cleaning on the list of daily offers from Living Social. I could do with one of those next. It’s definitely worth signing up to them, I’m not just saying it.

In other news, I couldn’t manage without my Mum, who shook her head as she bundled up Tom’s school polo shirts at the end of term.

“They’re grey!” she said, “I wish you would wash light and dark things separately.”

She returned them to me this week, not only ironed but bleached. They’re gleaming.

“Sometimes my Nan has to help my Mum do the washing and ironing,” Tom explained to his Uncle, “She isn’t really old enough to do it herself.”

We’re off to Just So Festival tomorrow. Tom is very excited. I am intrigued.

After that, we’re going to the countryside and I am going to work on the book. My laptop has broken so I am taking this vintage iBook which doesn’t even go on the internet and shouts at you when there’s an error. Yes, that’s a pile of washing in the background. Clean but definitely not ironed.

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If I could speak to Dave..

I’d rant for a good hour or so. Here is some of what I’d say:

Stop blaming everyone you can think of for the riots, especially those who you think won’t argue back.

Stop touting ridiculous, draconian measures that you know will excite your supporters. (Where do you propose the families of rioters will go to live when they are evicted from their council homes?)

Stop saying this happened because of children who have no father.

By blaming the absent fathers, you’re saying that single mothers are doing a rubbish job.

If you think the children of single mothers are to blame for this, are you suggesting parents should stay together at all costs? Research conducted by Refuge* recently revealed that one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence at some point in her life. Don’t blame that on your ‘Broken Britain’ – it’s been happening since time began. Should these women shut up and stay put, for the sake of a ‘happy family’ and a tax break?

My son has no father. Sometimes, he interrogates me about where his daddy is and I can’t answer. All I can do is bring him up the way that seems best.

So far, it’s going well. A couple of weeks ago, my son won a trophy, for his outstanding attitude to school life. Last week, his sports teacher said he is ‘an absolute joy’ to teach. His school report described him as ‘a lovely, bright little boy’ who is ‘very well behaved’ and has ‘impeccable manners.’

I know there’s nothing worse than a parent boasting about how wonderful their child is, but there is a place for it here. Lots of other single mums are also raising lovely kids.

Don’t get me wrong, my son is only five. I know there’ll be trouble and angst in ten years from now. But he watched with horror when he recognised his local shops on fire on the news last week. I’d like to think that if he was fifteen when Salford Precinct, just down the road from us, was being looted, he wouldn’t have joined in.

My son hasn’t got a father, but he does have family and friends who love him dearly and help me endlessly. I know I am lucky to have so much moral and practical support – support which some parents, single or otherwise – simply do not have. Some parents struggle. This where brilliant projects like Reclaim come into play. We can help children to become leaders in their own communities, to realise their potential, to buck stereotypes, to have ambition. It works. Some of the most sense I have seen in the media about all of this has come from the young people of Reclaim.

I went back to university and finished my degree when my son was a baby. I don’t think I could have done that with the changes you have made to the system. Having a degree made me more employable and enabled me to get a good job. It was only then that I could afford to stop claiming child maintenance. I wouldn’t have been able to start claiming it in the first place had there been a charge of £100, plus money deducted from the rare fiver a week I got. That’s what you’re about to start doing. Charging people to claim child maintenance because they have ‘chosen’ not to come to an amicable arrangement is a spectacular example of the ignorance your government has for people living life as it really is.

I know I’m lucky Dave. I know my education has made it easier for me than it is for others, but what does that mean for the next generation?

Education just got more elitist. EMAs have gone. Degrees will cost 50k. There is no incentive for children to stay on at college.  They are watching the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. They’re bored, they’re frustrated and they’re furious. They’re constantly told that massive tellies and flash trainers will make them look good but there is nothing to make them ever think that they will be able to obtain them. They feel like they’ve got nothing to lose.

There is no excuse for what people did to their own cities last week, but there are some explanations as to why it all began.

If Britain is broken, who broke it?

Last week didn’t happen because of single mums, but a lot of it was to do with you and your policies.

If I could speak to Dave, I’d say all of that and a whole lot more… I wonder if he’d listen.

*Show your support for the 1 in 4 Women Campaign. Help break the silence: http://www.facebook.com/oneinfourwomen

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Time on

We celebrated the trophy in style at Kendal Calling.

Tom tried break-dancing to House of Pain, flinging himself around on the grass.

Afterwards, I walked him back to our tent as a sea of people walked towards us on their way to the music.

“If you think about it, a festival is like a little town,” Tom said, “all the tents are the people’s houses and they can go and have some tea or do some shopping or have a dance.”

“That’s basically it,” I said.

After the last portaloo wee, I wrapped him up in a t-shirt, a hoody, two sleeping bags and a duvet on top.

“I feel like one of those toys. You know, the little ladies with rosy cheeks where there’s one inside another one then another one inside that one and another one and another one and-”

“A Russian doll?”

“Yeah, a Russian doll.”

Then he fell asleep, leaving me to sit on an Ikea bag in front of our tent, listening to the festival sounds. There’s the constant rumble of generators and distant bass, the crash of sprung doors as people play portaloo roulette, the beep beep of a vehicle that’s reversing, the tshhhh of laughing gas rushing into balloons, the lyrical sound of other people’s tent zips, the eerie whirr of wind-up torches, the call of idiots shouting out the name Alan and the clatter of feet along metal walkways. I didn’t mind too much sitting there listening to all that instead of the live music.

The next morning, Tom woke with hayfever. I didn’t really know he had it, but he was coughing and streaming and red around his eyes.

“Do you want to go home?”

“No way,” he said.

So I gave him an antihistamine that knocked him out, meaning I got an unexpected massage while he snoozed on some hippy cushions in the corner of a tent. He came back to life in the evening, dancing round the field like he owned it. Even though it was Saturday night, I wasn’t bothered about going back to the tent when he was all danced out – I was getting more sleep than I ever do at home.

On the last day, Tom had his face painted like a lion and I made him some ears and a tail and he paraded round the festival with a load of other kids. Then he fell asleep on some blankets in front of Blondie before his uncle and a lovely man who we’d only met at the festival took turns to carry him home.

It rained for the first time all weekend on Sunday night and when we woke up on Monday, it was misty and dull. Everyone was quiet as we packed up our stuff and tried not to think about real life. Tom tried to help me lift a heavy bag and toppled over in the wet grass.

“Do we have to go home?”

“Unfortunately yes,” I was stuffing the last few bits of clothes out of the tent down the sides of my rucksack.

“Yesss!” he said, beaming, “I get to see my trophy!”

The next festival we’re off to will not require me to walk away from the party just as it starts. Just So Festival will be all about Tom. This is a festival where kids are in charge. I just hope parkour doesn’t clash with Punch and Judy.

The opposite direction to everybody else.

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